I spent my birthday this year alone at home, carefully tucked away from the Coronavirus scourge (#WearAMask). I sat in my apartment with the lights off, still licking my wounds after being laid off from my new job at the height of the pandemic. I was so new that I wasn’t even sure I’d qualify for unemployment. The sci-fi TV pilot I’d been working on sat neglected on my computer screen while I wondered how I would make June rent (I’d already missed May). If Sade was the “King of Sorrow,” then I was Prince of Self Pity.
The next day, I watched four Minneapolis police officers choke the life out of George Floyd and the country – then the world – erupt in anger, fire, and rage.
This unprecedented time in our history – a worldwide pandemic, nationwide lockdowns, depression level unemployment, Black Lives Matter protests/uprisings in all 50 states and around the globe, and more – has impacted us all. For Black creatives, it can be a uniquely difficult time. Our art is channeled through our emotions. It’s a reflection of who we are in that moment and the world around us. But when the world around you is on fire, creativity can be the furthest thing from your mind.
When the Coronavirus pandemic first began, Twitter and Instagram philosophers loudly mused that now was the time for us to complete our career-defining works. If we didn’t, it wasn’t because we were busy with work, school, or family issues compounded by the pandemic. No, we were just lazy slobs who lacked the discipline of social media influencers up hustling at 3am. If you were serious about your craft, you could finesse this lockdown and rise and grind your way to productivity. That’s what real artists, real hustlers do, right? Turns out, not always.
For me, being stuck at home all day made me feel like my brain was placed inside of a box that kept getting smaller, dulling my focus. I couldn’t write as I wept over the continued slayings of my skinfolk or worried about paying rent. And I definitely couldn’t write as I awaited news on family members battling COVID-19 in the ICU. And that Oscar-worthy screenplay that would finally land me a spot in Jordan Peele’s iPhone favorites list? Well that would have to wait.
I say all of this to you, fellow Black creative, because whatever you feel right now as you try to navigate your finances, your job, your health, and your art, is valid. And if you haven’t realized by now, you are not alone. Your fellow creatives are getting through this experience the best ways they know how, and few if any of us know exactly what we’re doing. And you know what? That’s OK.
In a world where your very Blackness is viewed as a threat, simply being here is an act of defiance and courage. The talents you have and skills you’ve worked for are manifestations of your audacity to exist. But don’t fret about living up to your potential. You honor your gifts simply by making it through another day. Please don’t beat yourself up or allow others to shame you for not being more productive. Not now. Not ever.
If you need to take a minute, a moment, a month, or even more to get yourself together, do that. Retreat into your tortoise shell of introversion if you must. If you need to seek out therapy or treatment to deal with feelings of anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns, do that too. I don’t know what all burdens you carry, but the pressure to perform doesn’t have to be one of them.
That book you planned to write, music you haven’t finished composing, or half-done artwork will still be there waiting for you. Come back to it if, and when, you feel whole enough to give it the attention it deserves. And if you end up having to scrap it altogether, that’s fine too.
And to those of you who are able to thrive during this period of uncertainty, please don’t feel guilty about your success. If you’re able to create new art in the midst of this chaos and achieve your goals, then keep doing your thing. I’m happy for you and proud of what you’ve already accomplished. Keep going. Just remember to have empathy for your fellow Black creatives out there and hold the door open if you make it on through.
I love you and support you, fellow Black creative. And so does everyone here at Black Nerd Problems. Times may be tough, but you’re tougher. And even when you’re not, we’ve got your back. #BlackLivesMatter, including yours.
Mental Health Resources and Creative Tips:
2.) The Trevor Project (LGBTQ+ youth crisis line)
8.) 44 Mental Health Resources for Black People Trying to Survive in This Country (SELF magazine article)
9.) Screenwriters Rant Room Podcast episode 314: Interview with writers Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes (topics include discussing writing during the pandemic)