Covid and the Muse

Throughout the course of this pandemic, creatives, for the most part, seem to have fallen into two categories.  There were those who took complete advantage of the lockdown, going into a kind of creative hyperdrive. They recorded new albums, wrote poignantly beautiful poetry and painted their own personal masterpieces. But then there were others who hit a creative stupor, which ranged from melancholic befuddlement to a complete shutdown of inspiration and vision.

I fell into the latter camp.

In the early days and weeks of the pandemic, I was writing at a brisk clip. There was a lot going on obviously, externally and internally, and plenty to reflect on. Things were jamming per usual….and then mud. Each day became more overwhelming than the one before. Events started happening faster than I could process them. A mental paralysis took hold.  And I sunk deeper. I’ve experienced many periods of creative drought over the years, but never a sudden death like this. It almost felt like a borderline loss of basic cognitive function.

Initially, I didn’t worry about it too much. I knew the pandemic was changing me. Like so many others, I took an inward dive, pondering the big existential mystery and looking for clues. I found that I was becoming more relational than ambitious, or maybe to better articulate it, more interested in connecting than creating. At least that’s what I told myself for several months. But as time went on, my lack of creative drive started to concern me. There was a gnawing void that that I couldn’t ignore but was helpless to fill. Without writing, who am I? This is perhaps a question generated by the ego, but valid all the same.

The muse is a tricky bitch. She won’t be cajoled. Nor will she be browbeaten. Seduction is futile. Guilt is impotent. The muse withholds until she is damn well ready to relinquish. And so for months now, she and I have been sitting here, staring at each other from across the table, this laptop the only thing between us.

To be clear, the only person who cares about my lack of creative output is me. While I have a handful of faithful (and greatly appreciated) readers, it’s not like there are masses of followers anxiously awaiting my next post. And besides, I’ve always been hesitant to throw words into the cacophony just for the sake of throwing words into the cacophony. There’s a lot going on. Do I really have anything new to offer or a perspective that hasn’t already been expressed? And if I can’t answer that question, then why bother writing?

But see here, there’s this thing: Joy. The joy of writing. The god-kissed magic of playing with words, imagery and rhythm. The raw vulnerability of sharing truth and feeling. The titillating tightrope between ferocity and tenderness. These are all the elements of fire. These are all the elements of love. Oh what I would give to free fall in that joy again.

Some 18 months or so into this pandemic, things are different but not exactly better. The vaccination showed promised. But Delta, the ultimate love child of stupidity and obstinance, rages on and on. Meanwhile, Hurricane Ida bitch slaps the gulf coast, wildfires consume the west and violence – political, economic and physical – perpetuates with relentless fury at home and abroad. I gave up sunny optimism years ago. But still, I never thought I’d see days like this. Humanity is a quagmire of misery and fear.

So then, what are we latter half creatives, the stalled and the stymied, to do? The muse has lit a cigarette and kicked off her shoes. We flail around, desperate and exhausted. Yet, she lifts nary a finger to help. It would seem then that we’re on our own. What is the path and where do we find it? How do we reclaim ourselves and how much does it even matter?

I don’t have any answers. I can only venture to guess. I believe we start with one word, one note or one courageous stroke of a paint brush. And we hope to god there’s still something there.

"Just beneath the surface of the mud, there's more mud here."  - David Crosby