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Unproductive Time Well Spent

Published: 11 December 2020 Author: Rebecca Jackson

This article was produced as part of our Digital Commissions series. Rebecca was looking to write about “taking care of ourselves as artists, including methods and structures to reconnect with the fundamental playfulness of making, and encouraging us to rediscover our personal drives for creativity.” The piece took a slightly different course during the events of 2020, and was written following a series of discussion sessions with other artists.

Hello everyone! Hope you’re all staying safe and well. We’ve been in a state of flux for the last 8 (?) months. This shared experience has largely narrowed our social worlds to the domestic and the digital- neither of which are often conducive to a rich creative or collaborative output.

I think that’s the problem: output and productivity have been so difficult for many of us during this period of existing in a survival mentality, so it’s unfortunate that many of us see creativity through a lens of ‘but what have I actually PRODUCED today?’. Its distorted by a Capitalist prism, which by design makes us feel like we’re never enough no matter what we do. Global trauma has a way of making productivity and output seem trivial (which, if we’re looking for silver linings ((AND I AM)), could be a step towards collectively unlearning this).

I certainly can’t say I feel like an authority on the matter of creative output nowadays. I’ve had a good time listening to music and learning more about myself and my relationships, if you can class that as creativity. Like most, I’m still not used to all this, and have found motivating myself to write even this little piece of writing ridiculously difficult.

So instead of my initial proposal of listing productive prompts to encourage creativity, I’ve had some lush Zoom conversations with lots of people with an interest in creativity, and pulled together a series of ‘Unproductive Prompts’ to support re-connecting with any sort of creative voice and looking after yourself, without a focus on any output. Feel free to use and enjoy!

1. Send post cards to people you love in faraway places. Take pleasure in the physical experience of choosing the most silly, sweet or tacky postcard possible. Doodle and draw, find a stamp and post it off with lots of soppy kisses and love hearts drawn in biro.

2. Contact your favorite community arts space or venue. Let them know you’re looking forward to returning to them and ask if there’s anything you can do to support them. Buy their merch, share their events, attend their digital ones and invite your pals.

3. Talk about creativity. When researching this I got so much from just sharing experiences of creative drought, low points in self-confidence, and difficulties getting work off the ground with others. People are generally supportive and aren’t as judgmental towards us as we are towards ourselves. They’ll often have helpful advice and guidance we may never have considered otherwise.

4. Share online and purchase the work of POC, queer and disabled artists if you’re financially able to. It’s still important and always will be.

5. Try and do something little when you feel like it- garden, draw, cook, write, dance, read. Setting massive unattainable goals has never been a productive way to be productive, and this is especially true right now. Just because we’re getting used to living at a distance from each other, doesn’t make living through this any less emotionally draining.

6. Draw yourself in an outfit you feel powerful wearing. Even better if this is imaginary.

7. Email a pal- send them pics you like (photos, screenshots, memes), tell them about your week. This takes the pressure off the immediacy of replying through other messaging platforms. Those of us who are low or anxious know the feeling of watching in horror as the ‘unread’ number on the inbox creeps up, until burying our heads in the sand seems like the only option. However, a one-off email prefaced with ‘btw i might take ages to reply, soz’ could open a communicative door which otherwise may have remained closed.

8. Attend digital events. I was REALLY nervous about this but they’re actually great! You can mute your mic, switch off your camera, and watch in your pants if you fancy it.

Looking at doodle polls and invite lists for digital events also gives you the opportunity to scope out fellow attendees before deciding if you want to go. For many of us being fearful of bumping into an ex-perpetrator or abuser is a massive barrier to physically attending local arts events (organisers take note!)

9. Have a 30-minute scroll through TikTok. Yes, this is a serious recommendation. It’s basically just Vine so if that was your early 2010s jam please download it. Yes, I’m too old for it. No, I’ve never uploaded a comedy dance video (I have too much self-awareness). However, since downloading the app I’ve deleted my Twitter and Facebook, now I get my social media fix from these wholesome lip synching Zoomers. Also, now my 5-year-old nephew thinks I’m cool cos I understand Tik Tok references.

Even when eventually the pandemic becomes a historical moment rather than the unpleasant one we’re currently living through, we’ll need to cling to the skills and relationships we have forged during this. Doing our best to maintain our positive relationships and connections is so important to feel uplifted and confident in our creative voices, as well as satisfied and supported in general.

Thanks to everyone who has taken part in the group Zoom chats over the last couple of months. Much these discussions were pivotal to writing this- and sharing made me feel much better about struggling to motivate myself to actually put pen to paper…

Drop me an email if you fancy joining the next Zoom for a chat about creativity- so chilled it doesn’t yet have a name. Take care everyone! Hope you’re all staying safe and smizing behind your facemasks.

Finally, here are some isolation recs to consume which are joyful, promote creative thinking and restfulness:

  • Being Bored: The Importance of Doing Nothing. This episode looks at what constantly communicating and never allowing ourselves a break from thinking does to our brain. And conversely how being bored and deciding to do nothing can be psychologically nourishing. An absolute game changer for me!
  • The Empty Bowl: A meditative cereal review show co-hosted by Justin McElroy (1/3 of My Brother, My Brother, and Me) and it’s pretty much just 2 friends discussing the different types of cereals they like, intercut with meditative music. I recommend this if only to marvel at the sheer volume, variety, and sugar content of American cereals. Very chill vibes. 10/10.
  • You Just Don’t Get it Do You: Marvel at the insightfulness and goofiness of power couple ex-Geordie runaways George and Eliza, as they discuss media which squanders its potential. They get deep into some utter shite which quite possibly COULD have been good- such as The Walking Dead, the Star Wars prequels, and David Cage’s horrid videogames.
  • Animal Crossing New Horizons: Plant trees, go swimming, buy your neighbour a jumper. That’s it.
  • Princess Kaguya: This animation is hand drawn in colouring pencils, so the way this film moves is mesmerizing. A Thumbelina-esque story which unfolds like a traditional folk tale, down to the magic, suitors, and adventures. Every frame a painting. Every Studio Ghibli film a Studio Ghibli film.
  • Parasite: The only truly bleak recommendation on this list, although it does have some really funny moments too. If you haven’t already seen it, I doubt I can say anything which recommends it following the hype at the beginning of the year, other than it rules and you’re missing out.
  • Cabaret: The musical for people who hate musicals. Based on the semi-autobiographical story Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood, this 1972 classic sees Liza Minelli belt her way through a series of impulsive life choices, in the backdrop of Weimar Berlin. During the Nazis rise to power, there was a sexual renaissance in Berlin, which is explored lavishly through costume changes, stunning setpieces, and musical storytelling unlike anything else.
  • The Dark Crystal: A Netflix original about some hippy elf puppets fighting against climate disaster capitalists by banding together. It’s basically A Bugs Life set in Middle Earth, produced by Jim Henson’s production company, so it’s worth a watch for the technical effects and set design alone. Recently I’ve definitely found delving into dense fantasy lore more escapist and satisfying than ever. There are also some incredible voice performances from a stellar cast. Probably not for everyone, but I adore it.
  • Pose: An engaging, warm, complex, and sympathetic story centring around a new house trying to break through in the early 90s NYC ballroom scene. The series heavily references the iconic 1991 documentary Paris Is Burning in aesthetic, characters and content. Brilliant storytelling, brilliant acting, shining a well-deserved light on a majority POC trans cast and production team (although sadly snubbed by the Emmys this year).
  • The Floor is Lava: Harmless shouty trash- people try not to fall in the CGI lava but inevitably do fall in the CGI lava. Great for if you’re hungover.

Rebecca Jackson is a studio member at The NewBridge Project in Gateshead, and works for a women’s community development charity in Newcastle. She uses different mediums including embroidery, printmaking and drawing to explore themes around private and shared spaces, as well as intimacy, whilst actively seeking out methods to improve mental health.

Image by Rebecca Jackson:
Cats Cradle 2020
Embroidered drawing on recycled tablecloth linen, 30cm x 20cm

This piece is part of Practice makes Practice, our continuous artist development programme run by artists for artists and the wider arts community. It focusses on developing artistic and professional practice, supporting people to gain new skills and experience, and to develop new connections and ways of working.