To Stop and Not Slow Down: Creative Practices (or, Lack Thereof) During Chaotic Times by sb. smith

Sometimes, it’s all we can do to spend a whole afternoon lying on the floor. Especially this year. Between a pandemic, episodes of climate chaos, political and social instability, civil unrest, and the like, us creative types have a lot to process and incorporate into our work. It’s no wonder, with how “on fire” our social worlds are, we might feel that continuing our work seems like a back-burner activity we hope to find time for another day.

           Many multiply-marginalized peoples’ worlds have already been on fire and are always on fire, even without a pandemic, episodes of climate chaos, civil unrest, and so on. Queer and trans people, Black, Indigenous and POCs, the poor and working class, houseless folks, disabled and chronically-ill people, and so on often experience an unfair share of stressful life events and trauma. But multiply-marginalized peoples often still excel in writing, creating art, and more.

           A huge help to my writing and art practices as a disabled person constantly barraged with the ongoing trauma of ableism (among other related hardships) is looking to other people whose worlds are on fire in similar ways. I watch and learn from them, and observe how, exactly, they still hold down creative projects and practices in chaotic and uncertain circumstances. Is there a particular way they incorporate rest into their practice? Do they prioritize their wellbeing above productivity and output?

           Overall, I think we writers, artists, and the like really need to re-evaluate our ideas about productivity and labour. We need to consider whether these ideas are rooted in capitalist values that oppress or if our practices are shaped to suit our lives and realities. Sometimes we are forced to overwork ourselves in the name of making money to survive, of course. But, when it comes to creative productivity that is at least somewhat un-attached to paying the bills, we should not be moulding our lives to be able to produce, produce, produce as much as possible just for the sake of saying we’re “always doing something.”

           I always share the example from my life in which I was moulding my life in unhealthy ways to be able to be as productive as possible. During my third year of university, I had multiple jobs, was taking full-time classes, had volunteer positions, and more. One night, as I made my weekly to-do list, I tried to brainstorm ways I could cut back on eating and sleeping so I could free up more time in my day to get things done. I thought about strategically drinking coffee for more energy, asking my doctor for caffeine pills, drinking meal replacements, and more. As I brainstormed, I had a moment of clarity in which I realized I was asking too much of myself. I had caught myself doing this at a fairly far-gone stage and, almost two years later, I’m still working to reduce my workload and prioritize rest today. I encourage others to think proactively about the concepts of rest, labour, productivity, and so on so they can avoid getting to a similar place as me.

           I also encourage others to come to a halt when they need to, if they can. Sometimes, overwhelmingly stressful circumstances might come down to putting a pause on creating, but stopping momentarily does not mean slowing down for the long run. If our day-to-day is pure survival or if we deeply need rest, it’s okay to put down the pen or paintbrush or whatever preferred tool, because you can’t get blood from a stone. You can’t bleed life into your work if you’re lifeless. If “still creating!” or “always doing something!” despite being in the midst of chaos and trauma means neglecting personal needs, pushing ourselves and our bodies to the brink of exhaustion or breakdown, then our creative practice is not serving us and it won’t serve anyone else, either. If we need to pause and catch our breaths, so be it.

            With that said, as a fellow writer and artist, I recognize that the impulses to create often still exist in moments of pure chaos and survival. Sometimes, I think, these impulses stem from a need to self-soothe or release the energy of emotions. As well, some people find their creative endeavours to be a form of self-care. But, when I have creative impulses in moments when I need to eat or sleep or do some other mundane thing to survive, I try to find little ways to, sort of, file them for a later date. Personally, I keep a notepad on my phone full of writing and art ideas that I can come back to. Sometimes I’ll take an Instax photo of something around me and scribble a caption on it. Other times I’ll just take a photo with my cell phone or write something that happened to me in my dayplanner or journal. When it comes to capturing feelings or experiences more directly so I can revisit them in my creative process later, I just try to slow down for a moment and take everything in. I let myself observe and feel as deeply as is safe for me in that moment. And I think this part helps more than just my creative process.

            If we can find ways to muster up some little documentation or jotting down of an idea in moments of pure hell, that can really serve our long-term creative practice when we’re unable to be productive or when we’re unable to create work that meets the standards we’ve set for ourselves. Most importantly, we need to be okay with our creative work in whatever form it takes, even if it ends up being messy and unorganized and chaotic (which, by the way, can itself be a reflection of our current circumstances that we can creatively draw from later). And we need to be okay with whole afternoons spent resting–maybe even lying on the floor–when we’re not creating, knowing that rest will sustain our creative practices and knowing that we can come back to our work anytime.

Artist Bio

sb. smith (she and they) is a fat, genderqueer, bisexual, mad, and disabled person of poor, chronically-ill Scottish and Irish descent living on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land (known as Vancouver, British Columbia). They were the editor of Disabled Voices Anthology (Rebel Mountain Press, 2020), and her writing and/or artwork has been published in Maclean’santilang., Rooted in RightsPortalSad Girl ReviewNavigator Student Press, and more. They also have writing forthcoming in Arc Poetry MagazineBurning Jade, and The Quilliad.

Instagram: @sbsbsbsmith
Twitter: @sbsbsbsmith

About Kickstart Disability Arts

Kickstart Disability Arts and Culture is a Vancouver based arts non-profit that supports and promotes artists who identify as living with disabilities.

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