Creativity in the Time of Cholera (or Whatever Else Stands in Your Way)

Do you remember being young and feeling like you had all the time in the world? Despite working two jobs, you still had time for your friends and hobbies. Even with a young child, you found time to tinker in your workshop or paint on the back patio. The time then comes where sleep becomes non-negotiable and creativity, for many, begins to dwindle.

By the time we reach our mid-twenties, life comes at us fast. Each of us is presented with a buffet of options for the entree: career, marriage, children, nomadic travel, playing video games in our parents’ basement, further education, becoming a starving artist, and countless more. Or, perhaps, we end up at the food bank, being served something a bit less desirable.

On top of the big commitments, we have several side dishes to help fill in the free time: friends and extended family, exercise, travel, cultural events, listening to Baby Shark on repeat, meditation, and perhaps even dabbling in the arts.

When life gets crazy, creativity becomes a choice. Many people will gladly forgo creation for a round of golf or brunch with friends. However, others may wish to tap into their creativity, but aren’t sure how to squeeze their old creative habits into their tiny pockets of energy and free time.

Creativity in the Time of Cholera (or Whatever Else Stands in Your Way)

So, we’ve established that you are busy, chronically ill, or burned out in your career, but you want to begin exercising your creativity again. It all feels so daunting, though. How can we tap into our creative energies when we are juggling a crying baby, chronic fatigue, an angry boss, brain fog, and the everyday stresses that are par for the course of life?

Creativity can finicky. Life can be unpredictable. Commitments take precedent, especially in the case of caretaking for a parent or child. However, creativity comes in many forms and allows for much flexibility. Let’s get started and bring something new into existence, however small it may be.

Lean into the Uncertainty

It is easier to brainstorm ideas and create art when we feel good. Creation becomes challenging when we’re stressed about work or family, or during an illness flare-up. In these times, our first response may be to mourn our “old self” and question why we can no longer think clearly or shore up new ideas.

Instead, give yourself the gift of patience and compassion. Accept that there will be hard days and better ones. You are allowed to modulate your creative priorities and other needs. It can be frustrating when you’ve just read the latest book on building habits but approaching art on a day-to-day basis is freeing. You are not a failure if you don’t stick to a routine. Like our lives, our creativity should be a living, dynamic process.

Switch Mediums

With needy young children, immense brain fog, or a demanding career, we may be left with little cognitive energy or the tiniest pockets of time in which to work. But that need not be the death knell for creativity. If your preferred medium is more complex, such novel-writing, writing music, or landscape painting in remote locales, consider a temporary shift. Replace mentally exhaustive hobbies with simpler ones.

Instead of writing novels, take up blogging. Instead of painting, try cut-and-paste collage or digital art on your tablet. Perhaps even shift your creativity to something practical, such as cooking and baking, or knitting wool socks. If your energy is especially low, coloring books are a great way to evoke your artist’s heart without using too much bandwidth. If all else fails, simply rearranging books, houseplants, and artwork in your home is often enough scratch that itch.

Plan without Executing

Creative types often set their sights on a vision and set out, step-by-step, to create the art of their mind’s eye. When chronic illness, family obligations, and demanding projects at work get in the way, it can be difficult to see a project through to fruition. Rather than get frustrated at the lack of progress, it can be helpful to celebrate the plan without expecting to execute.

If you love writing short stories but are having a hard time seeing them through, jot down the basic premise and give yourself a pat on that back. Rather than writing new music, play an old familiar song and savor the beautiful sounds that you are creating. You may have once been labeled the next Rembrandt but your brain is stuck so, instead of painting something novel, just copy another masterpiece and practice your technique. Progress is better than perfection. Your brilliant idea will be ready and waiting for you when you have the time and energy to bring it to life.

Lower Your Standards

Perfection is a luxury of youth. With our busy lives and associated limitations, we must learn to settle for good enough. Ask yourself this: If you only had one hour per day to spend on creative projects, would you rather create something new and mediocre each day or spend two weeks perfecting a single project? There is no right or wrong answer. However, personally, I have found I prefer the former. In this season of life, I prefer tossing wildflowers over pruning the rose bush.

Don’t feel the need to hold yourself to any standards in regard to creative projects. If you blog, proofread once before posting, and accept that there may be a few minor errors. If you sew, it’s okay to cut corners and skip some of the fancy seams and extra details. When cooking, it’s okay to substitute ingredients if you’re missing something or have some extra produce that needs to go. Our time is precious and chasing perfection is often not the best use of that time.

Embrace Art as A Healing Tool

Transmutation is the act of changing something into another form. If you feel stuck due to lack of alone time, pain, grief, or a headache, channel those negative emotions and transmute the feelings into something else using your creative energy. Rather than allowing the heaviness to consume you, capture it and then shape it into something new.

Rather than considering your latest creative project “work”, think of it as an opportunity to confront your shadow self and face the hard emotions. After the death of a parent, arrange a bouquet of flowers or plant some bulbs in the yard. If you’re in the flare-up period of illness, learn how to make candles or goat’s milk soap to later enjoy. When facing a layoff or a divorce, dance to your favorite music. View creativity as a way to chip away at the pain and stagnancy. Making art for yourself can shift the energy and help rekindle creativity.

Just Make Something

All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.”

Frederico Fellini

Whatever you are going through, whether it be the death of a spouse, cancer diagnosis, new management at work, the “terrible twos”, or a general sense of overwhelm, firstly, know that you are not alone. The human experience is one of suffering, joy, and everything in between. To feel these emotions is to live.

Secondly, think of the pearl when feeling particularly discouraged. A grain of sand–an irritant–gets into the oyster and, over time, that pain is crafted into something beautiful, cherished, and long-lasting. We, too, can transform our suffering into something magnificent.

It’s incredibly easy to makes excuses as to why we cannot exercise our creativity.

The challenge lies in weaving creativity into our lives when the road becomes steep and rocky. However, the benefit to doing so is developing a keenness of sight–an ability to notice that sparse wildflowers popping up from between the rocks, rather than focus on our calloused feet and long journey ahead.

To choose creativity in the times when it is creative energy does not flow freely is the choice to live as freely as possible and imbue our lives with purpose when the meaning of it all is particularly hard to see.

You can find more from me on my personal blog:

34 thoughts on “Creativity in the Time of Cholera (or Whatever Else Stands in Your Way)

      1. Omg I thought of you because I was reading something in a book about perfectionism yesterday…I can’t remember the quote….but it skated what you wrote

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I love this Esoterica. It speaks to me directly and hits home. You’re right, we can become so focused on what’s impacting on us that it holds us back. Your approach of looking for the small opportunities to tap into our creativity, to be ourselves and nourish our creative souls sounds enlightening and energising, refreshing. Thank you for posting this ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Brenda, I’m so happy to hear this resonated with you. In my own experience, I’ve found it so easy to get tangled superfluous details and lose sight of what it is to create. To create is defined as the “the act of making”, not the act of making something perfect, unique, or life-changing. I love your phasing to “nourish our creative souls” and I think that’s just what we need, as human beings, to feel fulfilled. And we don’t need perfect circumstance to find that sense of fulfillment.❤️

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  2. I found myself mesmerised this morning watching a video of figures drawn with dry erase markers on a ceramic plate. When water is added, they float off the surface. You cannot pick them up because they are extremely fragile. Art can be anything and creativity knows no bounds. I will hold the thought about the pearl with me as I go about my week. Thank you.

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    1. Maggie, I’ve never heard of that form of art, but it sounds intriguing and something about the fragile, fleeting nature of the medium appeals to me. Yes, art can be anything, can’t it?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have been through many ups and downs both with chronic health issues and severe, debilitating stress, so my creativity has ebbed and flowed. I let go of my expectations many years ago, and just allow myself to follow where I am being led, whether it be a couple of years spent ripping up colorful art papers and then gluing them down onto cardstock, channeling my anger or grief into physical, dynamic art or just doing something simpler, and easier. Through all of those moments, I have artwork eventually come out of the pipeline.

    Artwork where only pretty pictures are created may not serve us through all our storms. Sometimes we need to paint the storms, and other times we need to find a quiet corner to be able to doodle in! There are no rules, no right or wrong, and art can be used selfishly, just for ourselves only as a therapy tool. It can be ugly, imperfect, scary. It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else or have anyone’s approval. It is a conduit we go through in life!

    PS, your 2 post have sparked me to write about this topic too, for I deeply relater to it!

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    1. I’m so pleased to hear this resonated with you, Tamara, and I look forward to seeing what you have to say about the topic. 😊 Like you, I had no choice but to let go of expectations and just follow wherever I was being led. I love how you point out that art can be ugly, imperfect, scary, and used selfishly; so much of what I’ve created has been just that, but I’m at peace with the imperfect because art has become a tool and a conduit–a path forward.

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      1. People question the worth if they don’t understand it. It is worthy if it helps us! It is part of the greater body of work we create in our lifetimes! Sometimes we just need to let go of other’s expectations of us and run with it!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. What a great post full of amazing suggestions and inspiration. I love your sentence, “Transmutation is the act of changing something into another form.” I’m not sure I’d ever heard the word transmutation – but I loved how you used it! I agree that we all need to embrace our creativity – no matter where we are. As Brene Brown says, “Unused creativity isn’t benign, it’s malignant!” Thanks, Erin!

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    1. Thank you, Wynne. Also, what a great theme for the month. 😊 I love discovering (and sharing) obscure words, and also enjoy connecting with fellow word-lovers haha! I had forgotten that quote from Brene Brown, but it’s really a show-stopper. I could spend a lifetime musing over what that means and how the “malignancy” might manifest in our lives. I agree with her that creativity is *that* important, and it’s a shame so many go through life suppressing the part of themselves that craves creation.

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  5. Very encouraging, Esoterica. As I read it, I had another thought. If we define making or remaking as creative, there are tasks in which one might join with others to achieve something bigger than oneself. Meaning can be found alone or in a building project requiring many hands. Thanks for your stimulating essay.

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    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Dr. Stein. I love the idea of creativity manifesting through folks working together to achieve some greater purpose. I’ve certainly felt the surge of creative energy and the satisfaction that comes from working with other, so I think you’re on to something.


  6. I’m going to follow in a very loose way on Dr Steins comment regarding the creative process. I think that it’s very common to picture the word creativity in terms of art of all kinds or writing- I know that’s where my head always goes first thing. But when you really look at how the word is defined it encompasses so much more and is used in many different aspects of life… Business innovations, scientific alternatives to long held theory, even the solution to a long standing problem in a community setting like improving traffic flow. We really are talking about creation at the most basic level so I would suggest that while you may have had to set aside one aspect of your creativity Erin, you ultimately did choose another outlet, another form of, or new side of yourself to highlight your natural abilities and that is the time, energy and dedication in researching those health issues and creating change. Not only for yourself and partner, but now by sharing what you have learned. Out of something bad, rather you realize it or not, you have created a positive 🙂

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    1. You make such a great point, Deb. Creativity can take all forms, and perhaps at it’s core is a willingness to navigate life with open eyes and a willingness to change… just as you’ve highlighted. I had never really considered the health research and tinkering with lifestyle changes to be a form for “creativity”, yet at a basic level it was an invitation or invocation of something new. I love that perspective, Deb. Thank you for helping me see my journey through a wonderful new lens. 😊

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  7. I’m still learning that “Perfection is a luxury of youth.” I know it’s a waste, I know it’s a mistake to try to attain it, but my brain still goes there. It’s funny too, I don’t expect it of others. Just me. My way to beat is to continue to remind myself of its wastefulness. This is one of those great reminders. Thank you!

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    1. I can relate on so many level, Brian! In my case, the only reason I abandoned perfectionism was a complete lack of energy and inability to achieve anything close to perfection… but that let to mental justification of half-assin’ it and, thankfully, the justification has stood strong as I’ve regained energy. It’s a real battle, though!

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    1. I would add that you could think of all those necessities, like work, housekeeping, childrearing and maybe even getting through a chronic illness, as opportunities for creativity, perhaps as opposed to art as it seems you are thinking about it in this post. I can say this from the vantage point of being retired now for quite a while. Now I have the time to create art!


      1. Yes, you are absolutely right! Having been through varying degrees of functionality with chronic illness, I’ve learned where I can and cannot cut corners and how to get the most “bang for the buck” when it comes to energy expenditure. Reflecting back, there was certainly an element of creativity there. Thanks for your comment!

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  8. Great post that speaks so much to me, Erin. I would say that parenting, not cholera thankfully, got in the way of my free time to pursue my creative goals.

    But as I reflected on recently, life itself is the greatest inspiration. And as you noted, when we lean into the moment, we find those ways to express that inspiration that comes from life. In my case, it’s through my blog, which also serves as cheap therapy. 😆

    I love the tips you provided in your post. They’re grounded in reality and pragmatism and I know many people will find them helpful!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Ab. I approached it from the perspective of chronic illness, but I highly suspected the same challenges crop up for parents. I agree with you fully–life is the greatest inspiration, as blogging is some great, cheap therapy! 😆


  9. Erin — I’m so sorry…I thought I replied to your post this morning and realized I THOUGHT I did….but I didn’t. Sigh! I love the expansive thinking you demonstrated…it’s liberating to think of creativity in individualized, purposeful ways or simply for the sake of open-ended joy. Lovely, encouraging…oh-so Erin! ❤️❤️❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Vicki!! Yes, I’ve learned over time that creativity can be whatever we need it to be, and can manifest in whichever form makes sense at a given time. Wow, yes, it really is a liberating approach, isn’t it?! ❤️❤️❤️

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It really is…especially when you allow yourself to BE whatever feels right in the moment…follow YOUR path. Such a great post, Erin. I read it three times! 🥰

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