January: Hibernate, Marinate
I’m not entirely sure how to begin this email, because “happy New Year!” doesn’t feel right. I will say this instead: welcome to 2021, we are here together.
This is the beginning of the third year of Creative Fuel. Usually this emails comes out on the first Friday of the month. However I gave myself a deadline extension last week since the first Friday was also the actual
first day of the month, and I was being diligent about taking a winter break. The beginning of this week rolled around, and I had my subject matter in mind and was mentally crafting the paragraphs. I thought I would have it finished and scheduled a few days in advance.
I am glad that I didn’t, because of course things look very different at the end of this week than they did at the beginning
—the joy of historic elections in Georgia secured by the hard work of BIPOC-led grassroots organizing
colliding with the pain of an attempted coup fueled by white supremacy, whose roots run centuries deep in our nation’s history.
How then to proceed with a newsletter focused on creativity?
Creativity is a part of the human spirit. It is inextricably linked to what is happening around us, woven into our human experience. What plays out on a personal level, a national level, a global level… this is all a part of it.
While it feels like an entire year has transpired in the last week, we are officially 8 days into this new month and new year. We have a cultural history of high expectations come January 1st, a lot of energy put into the whole “kicking off” of a fresh slate of 365 days. I know that particularly in light of 2020, there’s probably an extra sense of desire to do just that this time around, to wash ourselves of the grime of last year and walk into these first days refreshed and ready to take on what comes at us.
Most of us however are not ready, or not ready in the ways that we usually feel. We are tired. We are broken. And with exhausted souls and minds we have watched a horrifying moment of American history play out right before our eyes.
I always like to treat January as an “in between” month, and as I went into this month, I wanted to write about hibernation and marination. These two essential components of the creative process often go overlooked and undervalued.
Nature is giving us a cue right now: we are in the midst of winter, no wonder our bodies crave hibernation
. It is not a time to go, go, go, to produce, produce, produce. While we can’t hibernate in the way animals do, it’s worth finding our own version because we need time to rest and refuel.
In this seasonal dormancy, there is less light, we feel slower, a little cloudy perhaps. At this time, our ideas also need time to settle, percolate, and marinate until they are ready to come to fruition. Both the concept of hibernation and marination require us to actively give ourselves the space, time, and permission to not do, but to be.
All of this was on my mind early in the week, and then Wednesday and Thursday played out. I caught myself wondering if creative lessons were not really of the utmost importance. Perhaps I needed to shift.
So I sat with my ideas. I even went back to read what I wrote last January
, a look at the time capsule of my thoughts before a global pandemic became a part of our everyday reality. The thoughts then were—perhaps not so surprisingly—very similar to what’s on my mind right now: dropping expectations, allowing time for a deep breath before moving forward.
We would be feeling all of this without
our current state of national affairs. So just think how much our usual societal expectations of production and outcome are exacerbated in this current moment. “The logic of capitalism — and the way we’ve internalized its mandates for constant productivity — means there is no pausing for national crisis,” wrote Anne Helen Petersen
this week. Petersen continues, “this is the black heart of productivity culture: the maniacal focus on the individual capacity to produce elides the external forces that could (and should!) short-circuit our concentration and work ethic.”
We need to pause. We need to feel.
This week has felt dark. It is dark. It also comes on top of so many dark weeks that we have pushed through. In the wake of that darkness, there are so many times when I ask myself—in the face of chaos, pandemic, pain, and oppression—if art and creativity are superfluous.
They are not. Art and creativity are essential. They are what weave us together. They are what bring us joy. They are what spark change.
Yesterday, journalist and author Laurie Penny posted a picture
of a note sent to their writing students, reminding all of us that creative work matters, and that to maintain our balance we must look at the horizon. “... If there’s one thing I know about fascism,” Penny wrote, “it’s that it can be fought by relentlessly telling stories about how the world could be different, how it IS different.”
This is why we need art, in all of its forms, not just today, but every day.
We need collective creativity. Creativity opens us, reminds us that there is potential, that there is something new to be made.
To bring that into the world, with the energy required, we need to allow ourselves the time to pause, the time to feel, the time to mourn, the time to rest, the time to hibernate.
We need to keep making art. You may have ideas right now, or you may feel entirely depleted. Either way, take a break, breathe. Art making does not have to be every day. In fact rest is as important to the act of creating as the creating itself. By hibernate, I don’t mean checking out. On the contrary, what we need right now is to watch, listen, and feel. We need time to process.
In darkness, we still have the capacity to learn, and our greatest life lessons are often born of the situations we fear the most. They tell us who we are, and who we want to be. But they require us to pay attention and to listen. They demand that we slow down, that we avoid charging through.
Are you listening right now? Or are you pushing and charging right on through?
If we push through, we risk missing the lessons that help us build the framework for how we move forward. Artist Danielle Coke made a visual of what a cycle of inaction looks like,
and I think it’s worth spending some time with. In moments of tumultuous chaos it is so easy to say, “what can I do?” But that question only serves us if we set up a plan for long-term, sustainable action and participation.
In the wake of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death in September, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez posted an emotional and impassioned video addressing
that exact question, and art was included. “Art is incredibly inspiring and incredibly important. Right now is the time for artists too," said Ocasio-Cortez, “... good art compels to feel and to act.”
If the events of this last week, or the last year, or the last decade have caused you to wonder what you are doing or what you could do, listen to that voice. In this time of hibernation, take stock. Take inspiration from Stacey Abrams, who after her gubernatorial loss did exactly that
, and then when she was ready, made a plan.
What gift are you offering? What role is your creativity serving?
Asking yourself not just what you will do
, but who you will be
Because let me say this: we need you and your creative self. We need your voice. We need your art.
And in order for us to show up in that way, we have to rest and refuel.
We need to hibernate so that we can listen, we need to let our ideas marinate so that when we are ready, we can fully commit to a plan of creative action.
Hibernate, listen, feel.
Think, process, learn.
Take stock, go slow.
Do these things so that we can all move forward, eyes and hearts open, ready to receive, ready to create change.
A creative routine can be a way of encouraging your mind to let go for a few minutes every day. Especially in hibernation. Daily drawings (or semi-daily, because sometimes I play catch up) have become a very important part of maintaining balance and normalcy for me, so I made another monthly list of prompts. These are prompts with no expectations, just that you show up. They are intended as drawing prompts, but they could be writing prompts too.
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Now, go dream. Wonder. Make stuff. Repeat.