When was the last time you slowed down? Like, really slowed down? Until the coronavirus pandemic pulled the mandatory emergency break 6-months ago, many of us may have answered...never?
Despite ongoing efforts to be mindful and stay present, I often push myself beyond when my better judgement tells me to take a break. This sometimes looks like finishing one more email before letting myself take a lunch break (ok, make that 2 more. No, wait actually 5!). Sometimes it means cramming so much into our schedules that we don't stop to consider what these activities are actually our priorities, or never taking a vacation from work until our health gives way and forces us to rest. And as common as these situations are, something is always lost when we forget to pause. In our rush to the (ever-moving) finish-line, we forget what the next step of a process truly is. We fixate on an opening-night performance before we've begun rehearsals. We pick the paint color before we've finished sketching the blueprint. We decide that a virtual course needs Masterclass level production before creating the curriculum.
If you're like me, thinking about an ideal outcome starts out exciting but soon takes a sharp turn to Anxiety Town and sometimes a detour to Paralysis City. It makes us lose sight of how the landscape is constantly shifting around us. Sometimes the next step is rest and recalibration. Sometimes it is the pause that allows us to notice the landscape and decide where to place our feet next. Of course, sometimes daydreaming about the perfect hue of Sherwin Williams is exactly what is needed to motivate us to sit down with those blueprints. But how often do we rush to the end because we are scared of the messiness of the creative process, afraid we'll be judged (or worse, judge ourselves) on the unfinished-ness of our unfinished work? Afraid to take the next step imperfectly.
Bloom Creativity's first round of in-person playwriting workshops were scheduled to begin in March, just as the threat of coronavirus started to be taken seriously here in the Northeast US. We canceled the 8-week course and refunded deposits. Then I slowed down and took stock. What could we offer now that the world felt very different than it had a few days before? Wanting to feel useful amidst the upheaval, I reached out to those who had signed up and offered them a free virtual afternoon workshop instead. I had never taught online before but despite a few technical issues with students connecting to the video-chat, it went relatively smoothly and people had positive feedback. In fact, they wanted more! Unsure of my own capacity in early days of quarantining, I slowed down again and checked in with myself. Would I have the emotional capacity to keep teaching even as other areas of my life required heightened attention? Part of me wanted to charge ahead regardless (thank you, preconceived notions of productivity and professionalism!), but with encouragement that only a great therapist or a catastrophic pandemic can provide, the wisdom of slowness prevailed; I offered only what I felt I could commit to. We held classes on a week-to-week basis, taking a few minutes at the end of class to schedule the next lesson two to three weeks later. We completed the entire curriculum, over the course of three months, in this way. Bloom's first virtual course!
I'd had aspirations to eventually create online playwriting courses for a while. But in my pre-pandemic imagination, this entailed polished pre-recorded lessons and fancy online learning software. In reality, we logged into Google Hangouts on Sunday afternoons and had classes similar to what would have happened in-person except we were in our living rooms. Some adjustments were necessary, but much of the class adapted to virtual learning without too much difficulty. I modified exercises to work over video-chat and set up a Pinterest board in place of magazine pictures for a character-building prompt. We took extra time to check in with ourselves and each other at the start of class. We created space to process the fact that we were living in the middle of a global pandemic and enjoyed the leisurely biweekly pace that allowed our energy levels to replenish. It was an exercise in continual recalibration. It was a reminder that slowing down is worth it.
I encourage my playwriting students to release their visions of perfection and focus on taking the next step imperfectly. The pursuit of perfect outcomes can make the process of getting there painful at best and impossible at worst. Your vision will still be there for you after you write a "shitty first draft" of that scene you've been avoiding. You are allowed to change or throw out cumbersome dialogue before anyone ever sees it. But I cannot write a first draft of a play, no matter how “talented” I am, if what I am actually trying to write is a performance-ready draft. And I can't write that performance-ready script without a first draft. (And chances are, the first draft isn't as bad as you think it is). This pandemic is reminding me that this applies to all aspects of life, not just writing.
Have you given yourself permission to not be "productive" recently? Have you taken time to reconnect with yourself, and to adjust to our ever-changing world? When I began envisioningBloom Creativity in the summer of 2019, I could not have predicted the gigantic disruptions that 2020 had (maybe still has?) in store. But by giving myself permission to truly step back and not "be productive" (whatever that means) has paradoxically allowed me to take meaningful steps forward without burning out. When the unpredictable meteorology of life rolls through it often behooves us to slow down and see what the weather brings before rushing to fulfill preconceived plans in the name of productivity.
So before rushing into the next offering at Bloom, I am taking the time to listen (both internally and externally) to see how Bloom can best be of service. Maybe there will be more virtual workshops and classes. Maybe more blog posts. Maybe something for kids learning at home. I'm toying with the idea of offering a creative writing "tasting menu" for folks who want to try out several genres and see what calls to them. What would you like to see?
Leave a comment or email me directly (firstname.lastname@example.org) to let us know what you are craving or share a way that you are slowing down this week.
Seeds are being planted and taking root. They will sprout in their own time. Be slow & stay tuned!