It would have been my fifth year doing National Novel Writing month; and yet, I almost didn’t do it.
I spent the last year feeling as if my creativity had been sucked out of me raw; as if someone had siphoned it out of me, slowly. I started making lists to try to determine the problem. Was it confinement fatigue, a result of a terrible stint at a call center, was it because I had settled into a relationship? Without inspiration, I started to feel so shockingly average. It sounds cocky to admit it, but I’d always considered myself a special person.
I had always succeeded at school, at art; and sure, I wasn’t athletic, but I had good genes.
But what happens when age starts to chip away at our naïve self-exceptionalism?
There wasn’t a specific day; but rather, an unknown minute and unknown hour in which I realized I was simply ordinary. Like out of a scene from Groundhog Day, I crawled out of bed every morning, a cup of fresh espresso required to turn me from grump to pleasant. I took miserable public transport to a job that I hated. I spent hours in front of a screen. And no, not just at work, but on my phone almost every waking hour of the day. And when my face wasn’t glued to my phone, it was in front of one of the two TVs in my house. And don’t even ask me how many laptops I have lying around. The motivation to do anything escaped me. I had to force myself to do anything. I was, for the first time in my life, lazy. And that was embarrassing.
Perhaps I’m just part of a shared millennial disappointment, in which we were promised the world and more if only we worked hard enough.
Most of us approaching our late twenties realized this wasn’t the case. Years of globalization, outsourcing, rolling back labor protections and affirmative action coupled with a predatory housing market had ensured our adult selves that we wouldn’t make it. Not the ways we’d dreamed of anyhow.
Things were looking up for me, however. In August I landed the teaching job of my dreams. Perhaps being back in the classroom, back to a part of my old self, would spark my creativity again. It did a little, but it wasn’t quite the source it was before. Or perhaps that was just in my head. A phantom limb of an inspiration long since lost, or amputated.
Taking a selfie with Arielle from Jvari Monastary in Mtskheta.
By the time November rolled around, I was six weeks into teaching and ready for a vacation. Two weeks off earned me some quality time with my best friend in Georgia, right around Halloween and the time that NanoWrimo was supposed to start. Feeling my writer’s block at its fullest, I almost didn’t do it. But I couldn’t not do it. If I stopped writing who was I anymore? If I stopped creating, was I even myself? The self I’d come to terms with and grown into all these years. Who am I now?
I told myself I had to do it, even if I half-assed it. Plus, James Blake had just come out with a killer new album that I had to write to. Georgia, although nowhere near the setting of the novel I was working on, proved itself inspiring, nonetheless.
Because, as it turned out, my creativity wasn’t being stolen by covid or boyfriends or shitty office jobs. The culprit was technology.
In front of Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta, Georgia. This 11th century cathedral claims to hold Jesus' authentic burial clothes, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
When I was younger, one of my favorite things about traveling was turning my phone off and mentally unplugging for a week or two. This was back in the day when travel data plans were astronomical, and no one turned on their cell phone while they were on vacation. These days, being in the European Union, I could jet over to Malta and still have cell phone coverage with no extra cost to myself. It’s hard to get away from 5G these days, and it takes a trip to a remote location to do so. And Georgia was just that spot.
Seated in the Caucasus mountains, Georgia has a unique proximity to Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia. Georgians like to tout their tagline: the crossroads of the silk road. The bridge between east and west indeed. High up in the mountains, Georgians maintained a strong cultural identity even during periods of overrule. When communism ended, as other countries behind the iron curtain, they looked West. But unfortunately, Russia remained at their doorstep, and Putin has openly stated that he would invade any bordering country that entertained thoughts of entering NATO. He made good on his threat, back in 2008. The U.S. didn’t bail them out, so Georgia hasn’t been able to join the EU or any Western alliance, thus inhibiting their development. For me, this was ample opportunity to go off the grid.
Rather than paying for data for two weeks, I just used wi-fi when I was at my best friend’s house. Plus, Tbilisi has free wi-fi in different parts of the city. Anywhere outside of those ancient fortress walls; however, and my phone was just a pretty brick that took photos. Toward the end of my trip, I found myself on a three-hour drive home with nothing to entertain me. Outside, the sun had set long ago. And after a dozen glasses of wine, my companions had passed out next to me, partaking in sweet sleep. I was left to my thoughts. As I often had been, growing up.
Views from Signagi, Georgia. 🇬🇪
I daydreamed. I daydreamed about my book, the characters, what I needed to write, what I was stuck on. I daydreamed about how I used to daydream.
And I realized that I didn’t daydream anymore. And that daydreaming used to be the source of my creativity. Technology was sucking that away from me, bit by bit. Instead of allowing time in my day for my mind to run free, I mindlessly scrolled through Facebook because I thought this form of vegging was “relaxing”. Because I thought this type of distraction was “me time”. In reality, it had been poisoning my imagination for years. And I was none the wiser.
I’ve heard it often said that creativity is like a muscle, you have to use it in order to tap into it, in order to make it stronger.
When I returned to Paris, back to my average apartment, back to what had become my average life, I told myself I had to write anyways. And write I did. It wasn’t ever the amount that I wanted to write—a 400 or 700 average per day. But I organized my novel and gave it a direction moving forward. I wrote enough to inspire myself to finish what I had started years ago, and not give up. I’m not saying you’re gonna find it on a shelf near you anytime soon, but I did write myself out of writer’s block. And I identified the virus that had attacked my imagination. Now it was time to try to find the antidote.
How do you stay grounded in an overly internet-saturated world?