Physicists tell us that the more we know about where a particle is, the less we can know about how fast it’s going. This idea is meant to help us understand the limitations of our knowledge in the quantum realm, but it seems to pretty handily capture what it’s like to sit on your sofa in a Netflix-induced coma for weeks on end, knowing that the closer you get to becoming one with your upholstery, the harder it is to tell if you’re coming or going.
We live in Northern California, so we’re well into week three of quarantine, and while I’m happy to report that it finally feels like we’re settling into a rhythm – a very jangly, jazzy rhythm, but a rhythm all the same – that shift has also come with the sudden realization that I finally have the chance to do many of those things I’m always claiming I never have time to do. Go through all those old family photos and make a scrapbook. Sketch, paint, draw, decoupage, dance. Get the kids to bed and go straight to my writing, knowing that having nowhere to go in the morning means I can sit up with it as long as I want.
So why is it that I fall asleep, slack-jawed, at 9 PM, after spending the day devoting laser-like focus to Words with Friends, re-watching Sherlock for the umpteenth time, and napping with the cat?
Because uncertainty isn’t just a principle, it’s also a condition. Usually, creativity flourishes within it. Uncertainty causes us to question what we know, to imagine possibility, to perhaps even see the world in a different light. It is, in fact, essential to creating art. But even though air is essential for breathing, expecting to take a refreshing constitutional in gale-force winds is nuts. And even though water makes up more than half of our bodies, that doesn’t mean we thrive when fully submerged in it. By the same token, a little uncertainty can be the sand that creates your creative pearl, but when it lands in your life like a ton of rocks, it will probably squelch any and all desire to voluntarily court vulnerability or wander gleefully into the unknown terrain of your mind.
As I’ve said before, an artist’s primary medium is herself. And when the self is heroically navigating unprecedented levels of stress, perhaps it’s OK to say it can’t be relied upon for much of anything. Perhaps, if you’re kind and gentle and appreciative of it, it will actually want to talk to you when all this passes. Because once you’re on the other side of this, once you’ve given all you have to slog through what feels unbearable and impossible, you’re going to be even braver and stronger, with more than a few stories to tell.
Art: The Fog Warning, Winslow Homer