The Gifts of the Pandemic

I was asked this morning what I consider to be the gifts to myself of the pandemic and resultant lockdowns this year. A strange question, to be sure. But not a ridiculous one. Many of us have found something important this year – maybe something we’d forgotten, or lost, has been rediscovered – like a love of walking through the woods in the evening. I’ve returned to charcoal drawing, and I’ve loved it.

Maybe for some of us, we’ve taken up a new hobby, learned a new skill. I’ve been trying my hand at wood engraving. Not a great success if I’m honest – but like all things worth doing, sometimes we have to work at it. Although I am wondering if I really have time to take up another creative venture – the composing and art already take a lot of my time when I’m not teaching.

So it’s not a ridiculous question. But it’s also not just about what we’ve done, or not done. It’s also about, for me, a chance to re-evaluate where I am going. To push the boundaries a little with my creativity, and to see where it takes me. I have a song to sing, and it’s not much use if I’m the only one hearing it.

The older I get, the more I realise my limitations. I will never be able to put up shelves straight. DIY is just not my thing. But I’m aware too of the limitations in my energy levels. I am a workaholic. I am utterly driven, so much so, that I become hugely depressed if I have got to the end of the day and I have achieved nothing, if I have ticked nothing off my todo list. But lately I’ve noticed that I just can’t keep pace with my self.

So I sense that the time is coming to begin to think about making some changes. Making more room in my life to do the things which give me life, and strip away the things which drain me. I don’t mind being tired, even exhausted, at the end of the day, if I’ve been creating. Because that’s a good exhaustion. That’s life affirming and ultimately energising. But all the other things which drain my time and energy? Including, dare I say it, teaching?

As I say, maybe it’s time to start looking at my options. I’m not as young as I once was, and it becomes increasingly difficult to lug crates of musical instruments around the school to make sure the kids are getting a good quality musical education. I love the kids – and they do give me huge return on my investment, but all the other stuff in education – lesson plans, inspections, assessments – they just drain. They give nothing back. If I could teach without those things, maybe it’s something I could still see myself doing in five years time. But at the moment, I can’t see it lasting.

That might seem negative. It might not seem like a gift at all. But sometimes gifts come in the shape of myrrh, as was the case in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago. Myrrh was the spice used by the rich to embalm the dead. Maybe the gift of the pandemic to me, in the end, will be to force me to ask myself what needs to die, in order for me to live?

Art in a Time of Pandemic

It’s been hard for creatives this year. It’s been hard for everyone. But for the many many people who depend on selling artwork, or creating live performances, it’s been really hard. In the past few years, I’ve used Open Studios as the main forum for selling my original paintings. Where I would normally sell 30 original paintings, this year I’ve sold one.

I’m not complaining – the present situation has hit everyone hard. And I am so very thankful that I don’t depend solely on selling paintings. If I did, I’d be sleeping on the streets. I’m grateful that I have other work in music education. But there has had to be a certain amount of belt-tightening.

But on the other hand, the enforced lockdown has been really good for my artistic soul. It’s given me a chance to slow down, to appreciate again the beauty of a garden, the wonder of creation. It’s given me head-space to write, to create, to make music. Sure, my period of creativity hasn’t necessarily reached a huge audience this year, but it’s been good for me to take time out of the hectic pace of normal modern living. And I’ve loved it.

So art in a time of pandemic is not all about loss, and woe. Actually, for me, it’s often reflected my rediscovery of nature. And for that, I am, in a strange way, thankful.