What defines us in an age of uncertainty?
It is not so much a question, as it is a realisation that many have responded to throughout the world in action. As unprecedented times confront us with nothing but our own imagination, we are left to contemplate our worth in this unexpected solitude by revisiting the very talents we have been predisposed to; talents we have perhaps been lucky enough to even develop. Such thinking has pervaded my own mind, and flashed its philosophical cleavage (or bulge) to seduce me to the realm of similar reflections.
As a wallflower, sitting down to think is not a pastime I am unfamiliar with. However, confronting myself with the type of question that takes me into the dragon’s den of my self-developed wisdom leaves me in less and less anticipation as to the outcome. Self-critique always seems to flavour the conclusion.
If you were to evaluate your worth when given the time, what would your own experiences testify to? What happens when you cut away at the wall of thorns made of your self-criticism, to reach the sleeping beauty of your own potential?
Into the belly of the beast
The Coronavirus pandemic has brought half the world to a sudden standstill. As entire communities are locked down and spurred on to practice social distancing, many find themselves isolated from their spheres of influence and interaction. A quiet now drifts through the air where smog once blotted the sky over entire urban landscapes, and the streets are filled with nothing but the memory of the daily bustle that once boomed through its spaces.
Our external rhythms have slowed, or stopped altogether; our routines have been adapted, or thrown into disarray. While the balance of our outside worlds seem to have shifted overnight, it has deeply affected our inner worlds. By not roaming outside, we are left no choice but to wander the realms of our thought. Sadly, when left to navigate the thorny realm of our personal reflections, we get stung by its roughly hewn lattices and poisonous nature. We look into the dragon’s maw, and risk it snapping shut and consuming us whole.
Idle mind-wandering and the dangers of looking too far in
Left to their own devices, many have resorted to hobbies that have never formed part of their repertoire of interests. An abundance of free time has inspired masses of people to get creative in the ways they choose to spend it, discovering talents they would not have ventured to explore otherwise. For others, a period of practice has presented itself for the talents they have always possessed, and they have used this to the benefit of a bored populace who now find themselves with the time to be entertained thereby. Yet, some with unique aptitudes find themselves lost in comparison, unsure of the exact value of their gifts in a world where more pressing concerns draw the eyes of the people. I happen to be one of the latter…
As the world faces a pandemic, I find myself stricken with an entirely different ailment: a writer without a will to write. Knowing full well that this was not simply a case of the seasonal writer’s block, I threw myself into the full-blown expertise of my introverted diagnoses to glean what I could of the source of this problem. So, I looked inward for the answer…
Surely, I needed to write something. With the time at hand, I could fathom no more fruitful way to utilise my talents. I was a gifted wordwizard who could turn a phrase with a slight of hand. I was imaginative, inquisitive and introspective and I could not fathom how I could lack an idea topical enough to write on. The world was spewing out amazing things in the absence of its semblance of normality, and here I was left with the hollow echo of my own creativity.
In this train of thought, I had done myself proud at least in one sense: I assessed and affirmed my worth. I knew what I had to offer. Regardless, I still ventured down the road of shallow comparison looking to the works of others that I envied to be my own. If not sourced for inspiration, than comparison never really did anyone any good. Adding to the point that I was not much one driven to a compete, these comparisons of accomplishment were not in my favour. At the end, I am left with a heady concoction of guilt, time wasted on rumination, and the strong bite of self-critique… with just a sprig of frustration to round it all off.
Left unoccupied with engaging material, the mind wanders idly into the forlorn realm of ‘the self’ where it starts to look for the root of the problem. Psychology could partly view self-attribution of personal difficulty as being very empowering. However, in our striving to better ourselves and in the habit of exercising self-blame by taking responsibility for our own troubles, we mix criticism into the brew of our introspection instead of taking stock of our value. Is it not astounding how we are resourceful when faced with tangible crisis, but less so when faced with inner struggle?
Accomplishment in a time of crisis
Somehow, I had built forth on the perception that I needed to squeeze something from the fruits of my talents to serve to the world. The time was ripe for the picking; the moment plump and juicy with the potential it promised to yield something tasteful.
Artists, writers, and influencers were sharing their unique contributions with the world, and I was suffering an evaluation apprehension to do the same. Life was giving us lemons, yet I could not even seem to make lemonade when everyone else was mixing cocktails. While many creators were getting drunk on accomplishment in a time of crisis, I was getting more and more sober on my own perceived shortcoming.
If I could not add worth to the world as a wordsmith, then what was I actually doing?
I was at a loss without the volubility of my inner voice. The erudite, analytical and novel ideas that sprung up from my self-talk seemed fairly barren compared to the halcyon days of blooming topics I once had in reserve. It was not so much that the world had nothing going on worth writing about. But when pandemics, suffocating healthcare systems, and crippling economies are the banter or the day, I’d far rather read on the sense spoken by experts, analysts, academics and researchers as opposed to posing as one myself. The world sorely needed the voice of logic, not the voice of jesters wishing they had some to spare. The price had already been paid in taking heed of knowledge that was not to the benefit of a much-needed solution. Societies now needed to evade the charismatic blows thown by charlatans and instead listen to the warnings of the educated.
Considering the crisis we all face, I reprimanded any attempt at writing something that could be a distraction, a whimsical release, or some late and unwelcome conjecture formed in light of a lack of knowledge. The pragmatic contribution of the hard sciences was not something I could add to during this time. And while I was perhaps academically versed in the discourse to be held around the effect on social dynamics, there was enough noise being made on that front by experts who already needed to feel included.
Right now, I felt like nothing more but the run-of-the mill citizen – locked down, locked away, and locked in with musings on the wasting worth of a wordsmith. I was etching away at incomplete sentences and clever quips out of a a starving attempt to write something digestible. So is the bane of creative comparison. It leaves us fiddling away at ideas that are not worth our time; all for the sake of supplementing the effort we feel we need to extend when we measure our contributions by the output of others.
Remembering the Way of the Wallflower
Contextual evaluation is often crucial to the art of attribution. Though we are inclined to take responsibility to how things take shape within our lives (such as a dry season of writing), we often misplace a balanced consideration of the way things turn out in favour of feeling in control. We would rather attribute the turnout of events to our own talents and efforts than to external events or luck. When we feel in control, this gives us the confidence to try and change things for the future, and that in itself is a powerful boon. Nontheless, it leaves us with an immense pressure and expectation that is difficult to live up to, and most often unfair to the quality of the output that we are capable of creating.
Lockdown has not left me isolated as it has left many. Instead, I have found myself in the extended company of the man I have come to love. While the world is posed with a crisis, we were posed with an unexpected challenge: the impromptu establishment of familiarity in sharing a life together. What was meant to be a visit turned into an extended stay. As a result, I have found myself otherwise engaged in the building of a bond – through shared time, shared responsibility, and shared space. A wallflower locked in with a social butterfly; both being faced with the sudden pollination of a relationship that is very new to us – one that perhaps now doesn’t feel so new at all.
I find myself getting to know a home that is not yet technically home, in a town I have not yet moved to; I am looking for a job in a time when job openings are as scarce as good political leaders; and I am involved with the daily adaptations of a life that has sketched a different pattern from any I have ever familiarised.
Perhaps I have not drawn from my talents as a writer for the sake of creation, because I was drawing on my predispositions as a wallflower for the sake of adaptation. Quiet living is an art that few know the guidelines to. It is a craft that is well-known by introverts, and perhaps best shared with a world used to an extroverted habit. When faced with nothing but your own thoughts for the majority of the day, one needs to process the manifest content thereof; content usually forthcoming from our interconnected existence with the outside world. Added, is the requirement of traversing many of the same pitfalls that lies in our path that we would face in conditions of normalcy. Internalised pressures and expectations remain constant, despite its setting while among others, or by ourselves. The way we choose to react to them remains constant in turn.
Lockdown has driven me to inadvertently draw on all my strengths to meet many of the same hurdles I was quite adept at facing under ordinary conditions – strength in reflexivity, deeper processing, and meaning-making. Realising that has made me aware of an important lesson that could outlive this time, and perhaps similar times thereafter.
Our predilection for achievement will always trump the circumstance, and so will the pressures to achieve such success appeal to our minds as we are socialised to act in the frame of self-actualisation. What we prioritize to achieve for the long-term, instead of short-term feelings of fullfillment, is what defines our character in times when we have the opportunity to reflect on them. Thus, it is in priority that we might just find our keeper; it is in priority, that we just might not feel so idle…