BY E.C. MUNSON
Round and round, and round it goes, And where it stops, nobody knows! In the face of such upheaval and uncertainty what do you find yourself doing, what do you notice others doing? How are people managing the vast amounts of time at home, without the regular routines of work and social time? People are baking, ‘cooking from scratch’, starting seeds to plant gardens, turning to music, dance, yoga, guided meditations, art, writing, and even turning back to hobbies and childhood passions.
Families are walking together, having evening ping pong bouts, and digging out those board games. There are online webinars to take while school is on-line assignments, consults, and projects to complete. You can find free lessons, complimentary kits and downloads for adults and children. Or, check out and join any number of Facebook groups to share experiences and trade information. People livestream or Zoom with music jams, hold meetings, attend Open Studios for work with other artists, visit with friends and family on Facetime, and take art lessons or workshops through social media. Parking Lot Cafes in real time are noticeable where cars are pulled up near each other, windows put down, and, correctly distanced, people can chat in real time over a coffee or tea, maybe even a burger.
The need for social contact with others is real and it is being met. But back to the flowering, so to speak, of all these creative-expressive activities. This is a mass movement rippling across the world of people going inside of themselves, of personal journeys into the centre of being, and the explorations of inner realms. Peeling back layers of an onion is akin to the processes artists go through, not without tears and sometimes akin to an endurance test. Perhaps this is a time to turn to the artists and wonder about their experiences of creation and why, just why, they are driven to create! ‘What am I feeling, and how is that filtered through my daily existence?
Who even cares, where can that energy be expressed, when and how will it manifest, and why, oh why, did I ever think I needed to be an artist?’ The inner probing and plumbing of personal depths that provides the impetus to create requires fortitude and honesty to continue the journey of knowing one’s self. It requires space and time, lots of reflective time. And we all are certainly facing a lot of that in the past several weeks. Perhaps those artists’ journeys are valuable then, not only for the artists on those paths, but for the clues of hope they offer all of us on how to make meaning out of chaos and find significance in our lives. Our collectivity, as shown by our societal infrastructures, the daily routines which govern our lives, the grand backdrop of any one culture’s gestalt or ethos, is rarely thrown into our faces as boldly as we are experiencing it today.
We are confronting big truths about our effect on the environment with physical excesses and the impact we have on each other through our governments, economics, and social lifestyles. All of this is ‘grist for the mill’ for a creative mind. This is how art, music, drama, dance, and literature function in a society. They are the mirrors that allows us to see what is happening on symbolic and deeply rich levels. These rear-view and crazy-house mirrors portray what is there, what has happened, and sometimes they become akin to crystal balls, striving to see what lies ahead. Exploring these thoughts with Michele Johnston, an Expressive Artist Facilitator in southern Ontario, led us both to some interesting ‘aha’ moments. We both perceived the pace of life leading up to the pandemic as frenzied for most people and that many of them coped with ‘numbing’ activities or habits. And then abruptly those supercharged and jammed schedules changed, except for the front-line workers.
Now with the phases of reopening our schedules are adapting yet again. Initially, when faced with more time and yet more uncertainties, what were people to do? We saw a proliferation of resources being shared for how to live more comfortably, sanely, and creatively together. People explored widely with e- learning, shared creative activities such as bread baking and planning for home cooked meals, played music, started gardens, caught up on home repairs, and had time for lots of organizing. We discussed that art too, in its broadest sense as Michele sees it, is another way to maintain balance, to help bring us back into the moment. Music and dance can unify and uplift groups of people.
From the windows being thrown open and people singing together in Italy to on-line performances of musicians from around the world, the human response is to create meaning and share experiences. The polarities of how scary change can be becomes balanced in a strange sense by the power that we unleash when, in Michele’s words, we can ‘step into more trust, and move out of our comfort zone’. We all can see the evidence of how like-minded people are coming together with special on-line groups, social media, and meetups. She firmly believes we benefit from ‘holding space with people who are centered and grounded.’ Will we continue to ‘flip the script’, as Michele says, for there surely are new responses we are learning to make. We pause, each thinking into the silence, and then I wonder aloud, ‘what will shake loose, what will we find’?
The image in my mind is of panning for gold. Michele continues her thoughts about the people we surround ourselves with and how we need to create a container, or have boundaries, for that sense of safety, to set up routines. “We can move forward more confidently then into our new ‘normal’, being guides and mentors for each other along the way.” Truly, the art of living is more directly in our hands than it has been for a long time. Let the dance of life continue and may we all find who to ‘hold space’ with and how to make meaning out of what we face, ourselves within and for the world without. ——
Driven to Create is a column written by Connie Munson,local photographer, artist, and writer, which she has developed for artfully exploring ‘the meaning of life’. She is a director on the board of Headwaters Arts, which has their gallery in the Alton Mill Arts Centre in Caledon.