Writing and Wellbeing is a Spread the Word series featuring writers sharing how they nurture themselves and their writing, particularly in the strange and startling times of Coronavirus. Jasmine Cooray is a poet, counsellor and facilitator from London and has known Spread the Word for many years. In this post, she writes about anxiety, play, mindful writing and more.
I want to preface this post by acknowledging my position of immense privilege, particularly in the current climate: I do my creative and mental health work from home in safety and am variously resourced. These factors allow me spare brain with which to write. I know many people are not in this position. If you’re only just making it through each day and managing to eat something and wash some part of you, well done. If you are one of the people holding society up right now, at great risk, I hope you can be as safe as possible. We are indebted to you.
At the moment, we have a productivity rhetoric swimming around, and it has its teeth in creativity too: ‘write that novel!’ Though we might have more time to create, it’s also true that a lot of people’s nervous systems are currently flooded with stress, making even the basics a struggle. Thankfully there is a counter-rhetoric: ‘you don’t have to come out of this time with a finished trilogy and a sourdough business’.
When creativity becomes overly pressurised, I think of it like a talented child hothoused into stardom – existing just to perform to others, wrung of joy, and disallowed play.
Play is rooted in experiment: ‘what happens if I do this?’, and can also be a secret weapon against anxiety. Anxiety is an attempt to prepare for the future by imagining it. Sadly, no amount of preparation in our minds readies us for the future. When tragedy comes, we just experience the stress twice: once in imagining, once in the moment. Building tolerance for the present moment, whatever it contains, is how we resource ourselves. Play is a way of being present.
So if writing is how play manifests for you right now, play. Take the opportunity to not worry about ‘getting it right’.
Mindful writing is also a way to do this: observing yourself and your surroundings in detail, to slow down, to let things come without force.
Our rhythms of living have slowed, but maybe instead of increasing ‘productivity’, we have an opportunity to create from a ‘want’ rather than a ‘should’ place.
You might prefer to write as distraction, escape, or as self-reflection.
I noticed since lockdown I have returned to gentle daily journaling, to land in contact with my own thoughts. Maybe this has happened as a response to the sudden loneliness and grief of isolation. To be responded to is a primal human need: we form our sense of self through how others respond to us. So when my human contact diminished in March, I could feel myself panic, as if the mirror showed me no one. Do I exist if no-one can see me? Then the writing arrived, and I found my form again in its reflective surface.
I personally find simple ritual calming and grounding. My journalling ritual involves sitting in my pyjamas on my balcony (full of dead pot plants and pigeon splatter) with a very strong, sweet cup of tea, and writing until I don’t want to anymore. It might be loads. It might be two words.
Your writing ritual might involve sitting at a desk or on the sofa, putting on music, lighting a candle. A beautiful journal or a scrappy exercise book. Ritual is about protecting a moment. The details are up to you.
Routine isn’t helpful for everyone. Some people need structure and normalcy, some find it pressurising and artificial. If routine or ritual helps you to make writing grounding, then great, but if your writing needs to be able to come and tug randomly at your sleeve, and you have time to follow it to your notebook for ten minutes, so be it. Renounce the ‘should’ voice. Do what feels right for you.
Finally if you do have the capacity to think creatively right now and want a gentle way in, here are some online sources of creative writing prompts:
I wish you all as gentle a time as possible, and encourage you to follow your creativity where it wants to go, without pressure, if and when it arrives.
Jasmine Cooray is a poet, counsellor and facilitator from London.
Published 23 April 2020