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  • Kelsey Olesen

Struggles with Creativity

Welcome to 2023!


It feels like an eternity and also a second since the beginning of 2020. I am grateful to still be here, and I still feel the immense pain of what everyone in the world has gone through in these past few years. As a creative person, you can sometimes become overwhelmed by empathy or anxiety. These past few years have definitely been that way for me, so I imagine they have been difficult for you too. As we try to move forward in our lives, it may feel difficult to remember why we're doing this creative practice or to even connect with the passion we feel about our art.


I have tried to be still, tried to speak up, tried to see a therapist, all to reconnect to my selfhood and creativity. So far, no solution has worked, so I have come to share my experience in the possibility that other creatives are struggling as well.


Three years ago, we were all in a different place. Mentally, emotionally, maybe even physically. Perhaps we felt like we understood the world, like it was a nut we had cracked or a present we were constantly unwrapping. Artists are meant to reflect the world they see back at those people in the world, to entertain, inspire, critique, question. But what happens when the world turns on its head? When "unprecedented" becomes the "new normal"?


What do we artists reflect back at the world then?


Whether we lost someone to Coronavirus, cut ties with radicalized friends or family members, or just struggled with each small decision like it had life-or-death consequences, we all experienced the pandemic as a collective trauma. You could see it in everyone from the people who refused to quarantine--as if they were too afraid of being alone with themselves--to those people who are still unable to go about their daily lives due to compromised immune systems or continuing, massive anxiety. You hear it in the voices of those who scream "It's just a cold" and those who cry "It's still not over."


The pain most traumatic is perhaps the silent one, of hundreds of thousands of people no longer in this world or in our lives: those who contracted Covid through no fault of their own, those unable to receive medical attention at clinics overrun with Covid patients, and those who could not get a vaccine due to lack of insurance or necessary documents verifying their existence in their country of residence.


How can any artist process all this? Boil it down. Turn it into a reflection for the audience to look at? When we can barely stand to look at it ourselves.


Moving on with life, for me, means writing again. While some of my friends became writing-fiends during the quarantine, and happily have great works to show for it (check them out here: Shannon Bowring, Jen Dawson, Rachel Romero), I collapsed in on myself. I could not write. I still cannot write.


For some of us, our creativity is a release valve. It allows us to put into words or image that which we cannot express or find within ourselves. We can reach a deeper place within ourselves when we create. Perhaps that is why I, and perhaps some of you, have been stuck in this moment. For to reach within ourselves, to bring to light that which we feel most deeply, would be akin to screaming at the sky.


It is generally not considered socially acceptable to scream at the sky.


I stand in a field with my fists raised to a bright blue sky.

I was on a train outside of Nuremberg, Germany. Before the pandemic, I had lived in Prague and hoped to visit all of my friends and family who lived nearby. In the pandemic, I fled to California, my visa was rejected by the Czech government, and those people who I had hoped to spend more time with became nearly inaccessible. Three years later, I took the risk and the long flight to Europe to see some of my favorite people in the world. But I also had an ulterior motive. The last time I remembered writing with any joy at all, I was in Prague. I wanted to try to find myself again, and perhaps, through the support of my friends, I could.


So, on the train, my friend and I are five minutes from arriving in Nuremberg for our transfer when we come to a complete stop. An announcer comes on the intercom and, in German and then English, says, "This train is stopped for an indeterminate amount of time. Nuremberg Train Station is closed."


I was shocked. We were sitting there in a high speed train, not moving. The screen above my friend's head says "Arrival in Nuremberg in 5 minutes." It continued to say that for half an hour.


I grew frustrated.


My friend listens to the German instructions for other options. We decide to get off the train. We take the subway system to Nuremberg Train Station. We are delayed as I try to buy a ticket for the subway. We arrive at the Nuremberg station to find that it is not closed, but rather the track our train was on is blocked. My friend finds the one train that will take us to our final destination. We run.


We run to the platform. We jump on the train. My friend realizes it's the wrong train, for trains are backed up on one another on the same platform. We jump out. We sprint down the platform. We see our train. We watch the doors close ahead of us. My friend bangs on the doors as I run to catch up. The train doors do not open. The train takes off out of the station.


I put back my head and--very un-German-like--scream at the sky.


Train station with no train at the platform.

This is what it feels like to not be able to be creative. To not be able to write. Or draw. Or paint. Or sometimes even engage with the world.


It is being five minutes away, but that place of creativity is closed to you. It is trying to find another way, any way, to get there, regardless. It is arriving in the right place at just the right time, and then watching that art pull away from your outstretched fingertips.


You want to blame someone, anyone. You want it not to be your fault, but it would be nice if it was someone's fault. But there is no dragon to fight, no Evil Dark Lord to unseat. There is just you, standing on the train station platform and screaming like a wild creature.


It is just the soul-crushing fear that you may never be able to catch another train. That you are stuck here. Forever.


This post is a new kind of therapy, the hope that through talking about it, the "new normal" of my creative life will not be forever. It is about reaching out to others who might feel the same way and letting you know, "You are not alone." I am in this with you, and so might many other people be. It is also the desperate cry for advice, for if anyone knows how to catch that new train and open up the station of creativity again, they are welcome to share.


For if the last few years have shown me anything, it is that artists create the most important things in life. When we were cut off from one another, afraid for our lives and the lives of those we love, and worried every day about what would come next, we turned to art to get us through it. We watched movies and TV shows, played community video games, read and wrote books, scrolled through videos, learned how to bake cakes and do our makeup and paint our nails, and found connection in what beauty we could find. It was in our darkest moments that we looked to art to save us from ourselves.


I believe in the power of stories, of art, of creative pursuits. I believe that even the most frivolus, escapsit fiction can save the life of someone on the edge.



So despite, or because of, the global trauma of 2020, 2021, and even 2022, I hope that 2023 will be the year you and I find the courage to reach into our hearts and give the world back whatever we find there.


Write on.

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