Creativity in times of chaos

"Nobody’s got their act together, and that’s fine. That’s the beauty of life." - photographer John Stanmeyer

Earlier this year, I attended a discussion between photographers Lynn Johnson and John Stanmeyer.

Lynn Johnson: Have you ever been in balance?

John Stanmeyer: Never

Lynn Johnson: It’s impossible. I don’t think it is attainable, balance. Maybe the balance is the work itself.

I’ve been thinking about balance in these times where I feel like I’m walking about with my heart in my hand, feelings raw and mind caught up in the spiderweb of uncertainty that is our present. I spent part of election day hiding in bed, trying to calm the anxiety coursing through my body. I spoke to a friend about wanting to write, but waiting to do so until I could calm my mind and find balance. And she responded, “Oh, you’re waiting for the perfect conditions to write,” which reminded me that there are no perfect conditions. We meet life and ourselves as we can, where we are at, and in that chaos, we find a creative way out.

In 2019, I worked with Chinese painter Liu Xiaodong on a project on the US-Mexico border. He lives in Beijing, but when the pandemic descended, he got caught in New York City. Immediately, he began to paint. Maybe the balance is in the work itself.

Greeting uncertainty with creativity is hard, especially at times when the world feels upsidedown. Creativity, I remind myself, has nothing to do with productivity (the capitalist obsession). I think part of my mania for writing letters over the past few months has been wanting to create things that have nothing to do with productivity.

This is a reminder to myself not to wait for the perfect. It doesn’t exist, and yet so much beauty comes out of our imperfect efforts.