Finding creativity in stillness

My Sunday ritual, no matter where I am in the world, is to read The Sunday Times with a cup of tea in bed. I have done this for the past seven years, reading perfectly pressed copies delivered to hotel room doors, or scrolling through digital articles on my laptop at home. I start with India Knight’s column in the magazine, move through the news section, peruse stories from around the world and always finish up with a highly scented dose of fashion courtesy of Style. This navigation is purposeful and leaves me wanting to spring out of bed, put on the perfect ‘spring/summer 2020’ outfit and start writing my novel.  

This morning, waking up in the English countryside, is no different. Lockdown has settled itself comfortably into its second week, but life trudges on regardless. I waddle up my parents drive in my pajamas and dislodge the thick grey bundle wedged between the gates where the paperboy delivers it and return, just as my tea is ready to pour. It is imperative that I am not disturbed by anyone or anything at this time, otherwise the peaceful mindset of near sleep is spoiled. 

Each week I find one or two articles capture my attention and hover around me for days. As Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday passes, the seeds percolate and sprout, sometimes leading to my own piece of writing or projects. More often than not though, my mental capacity is used up on the mundane. Commuting, navigating a full day of meetings and then cooking a balanced and nutritious meal in under 30 minutes leaves little room to indulge in passion projects big or small. However, as I, along with the rest of the nation, find myself forced into exaggerated inertia, these ideas burst up through the surface and flower at an alarming rate.   

“Boredom is one of our most creative forces,” Dr Sandi Mann, a researcher at the University of Central Lancashire who specialises in understanding the benefits of doing nothing, tells Jonathan Leake in this week’s Sunday Times. “If you ask people to do absolutely nothing, to the point where they get really bored, they then become creative and start thinking in novel and productive ways.” 

The case for starting a project, long admired from afar, has never been stronger. The phrase, “I’m too busy right now,” has been banished to our BVV (Before Virus Vocabulary)

This has certainly felt like the case for me in the past fourteen days. But I am not alone. While I gorge myself on articles and books and write with a feverishness not experienced since my journalism post grad, friends tell me about spending hours pouring over once dusty art books and setting up outdoor studios to paint in the garden. My sister, normally allergic to the written word, has polished off three books in the past month. The case for starting a project, long admired from afar, has never been stronger. The phrase, “I’m too busy right now,” has been banished to our BVV (Before Virus Vocabulary). 

One friend, who loves everything about food, sends me pictures of dishes she has spent hours preparing; each flavour carefully selected and loving stirred in.  Another emails me recordings of new songs he is crafting, still in draft, but beautiful in their incompleteness. My favourite comes in the form of a photo of a friend’s dining room, completely covered in paper memorabilia collected over the past three years, finally ready to be sorted and pasted into glossy Aspinal albums. 

But it’s not just creativity which is evolving. Exercise now means going for a bracing walk, charging up muddy hills or dashing along country paths rather than attending SoulCycle classes on Great Marlborough Street. Each day I tramp through fields near my house, where skylarks dance above long grass and call a friend (quelle horreur) who I may not have spoken to in weeks or maybe even months. We have infinite things to discuss, often on my part, breathlessly. All of a sudden, conversations have the air they need to flourish. 

With all the background noise suddenly silenced, I am gripped with the prolonged mindset to take time for my body as well as mind and soul. One day, I sit on the side of the bath carefully taking the polish off my toenails. They will now have a chance to breathe until we once again submerge ourselves into the reality of open toed sandals and social norms. I find myself washing my hair less frequently too. Without the need to scrub away pollution from London traffic and mysterious Tube substances, it rewards my blow dry ban with soft, happy curls. 

Similarly, my bank balance is squealing with delight as my daily coffee habit, needless shopping to sustain a work wardrobe nobody even notices and holiday plans all wilt away. The only shopping I now want to take part in is for extravagant loungewear such as this silk charmeuse robe from Liberty or these topaz La Perla pajamas. I  have not placed either into my virtual basket though, preferring to save my money in a Monzo pot titled ‘Post Lockdown Living’. Slowing down means leaping off the treadmill of constant consumerism and enjoying wearing the same old fleece I had since school.

The golden edge to an elongated lockdown is that these practices will have the opportunity to grow roots, hopefully with the view to surviving the next few seasons. These new rules for the future, where we put more emphasis on the quality, rather than sheer quantity of life we live, could prove to be the exact medicine our society needs. Reading Dr Mann’s words this morning, I feel my toes wiggle as they curl over the precipice of what could be Britain’s, and the world’s, most creative period since the Second World War. If not, at least most of us will have had a nice rest.

Lauren Saving

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