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Play in the Time of Fear

collage by christine terrell

I woke early this morning in this current netherworld of COVID-19 thinking about fear. Fear isn’t something I spend a lot of time wrestling with, mostly because I grew up with a bunch of Yankees who modeled that fear was just life and that the job of living was getting stuff done anyway.

I’ve also come to realize in the last few years that fear is actually the bread and butter of the art making business. None of us really know what we’re going to make next, yet we do it anyway. Over and over and over. Constantly confronting the unknown and laughing in its face is really powerful stuff. I’ve come to think of it as creative courage.

But artists don’t have exclusive rights to creative courage. In fact, you’re practicing it every day too, you probably just don’t recognize it for what it is. Parenting is a great example of creative courage. No day of parenting is like any other day of parenting. Kids' moods and brains and hearts are all over the place and it’s impossible to know exactly what’s best at any given moment, yet each day we take care of them to the best of our abilities using the resources we have available. Tomorrow we’ll reassess and try to improve where we can. That’s creative courage. Looking the unknown square in the face and saying, “Yup, I see you, you big, dark, gaping hole of nothingness and I’m going to walk in and fill up that space with color and light. I’m going to create what’s next.”

And creating what’s next in the face of this current crisis is top of mind at this moment of global crisis. Oddly for me, it coincides with an idea I've been exploring for expanding my practice to include more facilitating and coaching around creativity, focusing particularly on how our expression--or suppression--of it impacts our mental and physical health. There’s lots of programs and coaching geared specifically for helping creatives be more creative, but there’s almost nothing out there designed to get regular, everyday folks back in touch with their innate creative force. So, I’m not sure if I’ll pursue that or not, but it has put this creativity-courage idea front and center in my mind.

The fact is, at the moment, we really have no idea what’s going on with this virus. We don’t know if we’ll be looking back 6 months from now and laughing about how crazy people went over toilet paper, or if, frankly, we’ll all still be burying loved ones. And it’s that space that is so torturous for human brains. Not only are you grappling with the factual fear of the virus, your brain is busy narrating an endless string of fictional fears.

I think this is where play can come to the rescue. I know it seems super counterintuitive to consider playing while all this bad stuff is going on, but stay with me.

I have a whole rant about how creativity is a birthright and how most Americans have been systematically robbed of that gift, but I’ll spare you the details and just give you the upshot here. Creativity is the cord that connects your hands and your heart through your brain. It’s what happens naturally when the head-heart-hand trinity is in alignment and balance. Too much time spent in any one of those places is bad news, yet our society grooms us to ping pong back and forth between head and heart, while almost completely ignoring the hands. Bringing your hands back into the picture through play completes the triad and elevates what otherwise is just two dimensional.

So, how do you play in the time of COVID-19? Normally, I'd say get out and take a class, but for now that's not an option. No matter, there are a million ways to play, but if you haven't done it since you were eight and feel like a deer in the headlights, I’m going to suggest my favorite easy play session--collage. It's super lighthearted and requires absolutely no special material, tools or skills and you can easily do it all on your own.

30 Minute Collage Play Session

    1. Gather these supplies from around the house. Do this for 5 minutes.
    • old magazines/newspapers/junk mail/catalogs/random paper scraps
    • white paper or old cereal boxes or cardboard
    • Scissors
    • Elmers glue (and small paintbrush) or gluestick
    • timer
    • if you have pencils, pens, markers, paint, feel free to use them

    2. Sit down with your stack of materials and just start going through page by page. Cut or rip out anything that catches your eye--words, images, parts of images. Don’t think, just cut. Do this for 5 minutes.

    3. Once you’ve amassed a bunch of cut outs, set the stack of source materials aside. Pull out a piece of paper or cereal box and start gluing things down. Again, don’t think, just glue. Do this for 15 minutes.

    4. Stop gluing and look at what you have. What's missing? Add some color, pencil lines, thought bubbles, a few more glued objects, whatever feels right. Do this for 5 minutes.

    5. Congratulations! You just played.

    You might look at what you’ve created and realize it actually has a lot of meaning to you. The words and images you chose while ‘not thinking’ actually do an amazingly accurate job of visualizing some of your internal dialog. That's great! Use the collage as a jumping off point for journaling or planning out the next few weeks or as a conversation starter with your partner. Play like this often brings thoughts and ideas to the surface so you can more consciously explore them.

    You also might look at what you’ve created and think, “I have no idea what this is.” That's 100% fine as well because it's likely that you feel better than you did 30 minutes ago. Using your hands is not just an expression of creativity, it literally makes your brain happier.

    Still not feeling fully confident to play on your own? I'm thinking about hosting an online collage workshop where we can play together, separately. Let me know if you're interested and I'll send you a link once all the details are worked out.

    Go play!

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