I wasn’t expecting to write about sewjo (I don’t know what I was expecting to write, to be honest – I’m as much a fly by the seat of your pants writer as I am sewist), but a chance conversation with one of my dear fellow makers early on Sunday morning gave me pause to reflect on how lockdown has played with our desire to make in unexpected and sometimes unwanted ways.
Many of us are ‘just not feeling it’. The urge to make has dwindled as the lockdown, and its dreary incomprehensible aftermath, has trudged onwards. ‘I’ve lost my sewjo!’ comes the cry from the jungly depths of Instagram stories.
For some, there’s a relaxed ‘hey ho’ bide-my-time attitude, but for others this is a genuinely worrying and previously uncharted terrain; what if it never comes back?
Following on from part one in the Lockdown Sewjo series [what is this, The Sopranos? – Ed], today I want to talk about creativity and why an elusive sewjo doesn’t have to be a SAD THING.
For those of you on a creative high right now, riding the tidal wave of more time and less distraction, this may seem completely irrelevant. But, without wanting to play the harbinger of doom, chances are, at some point, your desire to make might take a temporary hit.
I say temporary because more often than not it’s just a blip and, after a little downtime, inspiration hits and you’re back on the wagon. Sometimes, however, the blip goes on for a bit too long and starts to feel uncomfortable.
So, what can you do when you topple into the creative abyss?
Yup. Sometimes you just need a rest.
Downtime is in itself crucial to the creative drive. Psychologists call it gestation. In fact pretty much all terminology relating to creativity is rooted in procreation lingo: the product is your baby, doing ‘it’ is the act of conception, the post-conception lull of inactivity is the gestation period, and delivery is birth. Well I never!
In some circles, gestation is considered to be the most important phase in the creative process; ideas need to be incubated, thought processes simmer and settle and sift, impulses concretise.
Lying on the sofa watching a box set is, therefore, an absolutely necessary part of your self-care as a creator. Doing nothing is, in this respect, a good thing to do.
I wanted to explain the importance of gestation before I head over to my next point, because I am not suggesting the way to battle through a creative block is to waft around despondently. It’s just that lying around beating yourself up because you are lying around isn’t going to help at all. Best enjoy it and understand it’s all part of the merry-go-round.
The real issue during lockdown is not, I suspect, that everyone is simultaneously entering their creative gestation period. Wouldn’t that be ideal – at the very moment we have little to do other than loaf about in our pyjamas the muse slips out the door and says she’ll be back in three months when the pubs open.
Nope, that is not what is happening here.
Something far sadder and unsettling is afoot. The lockdown has created a societal state of depressive anxiety. I’m not claiming this is of a clinical level – though it will be for some of us. But on a general collective level, the likes of which most of us have not previously experienced, we have undergone what is effectively a kind of trauma. I won’t be the first to describe it as a period of mourning. So much that we hold dear – family, friends, work, security – has been torn away. For some, permanently so.
One of the signs of depression is an inability to take pleasure in the things that ordinarily bring joy. Again, I’m not suggesting that because your sewjo has dwindled you must be depressed. I’m suggesting that this sense of loss, of mourning, of sadness – whatever its extent in your particular circumstances – is very real and pervasive and takes its toll in ways that can be, at first, imperceptible.
Maslow, the guy behind the theory of self-actualisation, argued that creativity was the pinnacle in a hierarchy of needs, and that only once you scaled the heights could you effectively self-actualise. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, when so many needs further down the pyramid are in doubt – personal security, employment, resources, health – our ability to self-actualise through creative activity would diminish.
A lack of desire to sew is a fairly understandable response to changed circumstances in our daily lives. And, as I wrote in part one – on a purely practical level, if we are not going anywhere, why would we need any new clothes? In this sense not sewing, or losing one’s sewjo, is a perfectly logical response to existential conditions.
Now what if you want your sewjo back, and pronto? What if you know you don’t need that frock but you want to cheer yourself up with a bit of frosting – only you can’t will yourself into doing it and when you try it all feels a bit… flat?
It takes two
Well, I have a theory. It’s not groundbreaking, but it works for me and maybe it will work for you too. Maybe it’s already working for you – you just didn’t recognise the mechanics.
You need TWO creative obsessions: while you’re doing one, you will want to do the other, and in a symbiotic dance they keep each other alive.
One creative activity can sustain you while another wanes, and keep everything ticking over while you take downtime.
Flit to another creative pursuit you love. In my case, it’s painting (yes those are tubes of oil paint on my beloved fabrics in the picture above). Maybe for you it’s writing, or knitting, or needlework, or cooking, or carpentry or gardening. Or all of these. Whatever it is, throw yourself into it and don’t give the sewing a second thought. Allow your body and mind to forget about sewing altogether, if you need to.
I always find that whenever I throw myself into one area, I’m thinking about the other. It simmers away in the back of my mind and sometimes if flares up and I can’t resist returning to play. In this way the two activities keep each other warm; when one simmers the other comes to a raging boil. Sometimes they both boil, and I wrestle with choosing between the two, more often they both simmer, and that is when I take downtime.
Maintain the instinct
One last thing about creativity: it’s like learning a language. You always have the capacity, but with neglect your instinct blunts. Over time you begin to forget this word, that phrase, until, eventually, it feels like a chore to return to it. Brushing up to your previous standard is hard work. If you’re not careful that work can be so off-putting you never return.
So, if you are feeling a loss of sewjo, but you want to keep your hand in, I would recommend plundering the depths of less pleasurable tasks.
It sounds counter-intuitive, I know, but for me it works. When the muse takes flight, I sew for others. It’s a mechanical, functional, reflex kind of sewing. Some people call it selfless sewing but I think it’s a form of self-care: keeping the engine oiled, ready for the next long haul. When I’m firing on all cylinders I rarely want to sew for others, so this window, devoid of inspiration though it may be, gives me time to clear a backlog of less-than-exciting tasks. If you have the energy, get all the mundane sewing jobs out of the way to keep up muscle memory and clear the runway for when sewjo decides to land.
The takeaway? Be kind to yourself. This is a global emergency. If your sewjo has vanished without a note, it’s understandable. Give yourself the grace to let go if you need to. Take some time out, turn your mind to other creative activities, undertake mundane tasks, or simply do nothing. Whatever gets you through is what matters right now. The creative spark will flicker when you least expect it, and when it does you will be ready.
So, do you have creativity down like a well-trained pet or are you wondering where your sewjo went? Do you juggle more than one creative passion? Let me know in the comments below – and don’t forget to subscribe!