Words to Live By – Creativity, Mourning, and the Year 2021

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The first Wednesday of every month, writer Jeff Bowles muses on life, creativity, and our collective destinies as makers of cool stuff. You’re a writer, but have you ever thought about how or why? Here are some words to live by.

Creativity, Mourning, and the Year 2021

2020 was a rough year for all of us. To varying degrees, it was tense, stressful, tragic, contentious, and perhaps most surprisingly of all, dangerous. I had been hoping the new year would bring better tidings, but my 2021 thus far has been a doozy as well.

On January 2nd, one of my poor kitties passed away. It was very sudden, very sad. He was only two years old, and a sweeter animal you’ve never met. Then, just a couple days later, my father called to tell me a relative had died from complications related to Coronavirus and a recent injury. Needless to say, it feels like tragedy and sadness are still everywhere I look.

I’m not a pessimist or a cynic, and I almost always believe the future can be better. This month’s Words to Live By is about creative struggle. What do you do as a writer or a musician, an artist or photographer, when it seems like you’re surrounded by tragedy? How do you stay productive when you’re feeling down or scared or just plain fed up with life? Should you stay productive at all, or is it more appropriate to take some time for yourself?

As I’ve mentioned in other articles, my method of writing fiction is minimalist. I only write 400 words per day, and I typically don’t do it every day of the year. It’s low-commitment, and it keeps me on the ball over the weeks and months it takes to generate a new novel. Having a low workload has been enormously helpful over the past few days. By the same token, there’s been a lot of grief in my household, and I don’t mind admitting that having some kind of daily work process—any kind of process—has helped get my mind off things when it’s all become just a bit too much.

I’m also a musician, an independent singer songwriter, and I’ve got an entertainment channel on YouTube. This is a solution some people choose, work through the pain. It isn’t for everyone. Sometimes it can even develop into something we modern people have termed workaholism. And let’s be honest, there are times in life working through the pain isn’t an option. I’m a creator, and if I’m not creating, I tend to struggle. But we all know how grief goes. Yes, sometimes it can be a good idea to distract yourself, stay busy, keep your chin up, but then again, when we deny our own turbulent emotions too long, they can fester and become something much, much worse.

If you’re going through tough times at the moment, or if you’re just a bit shell-shocked from the surprises and pitfalls of 2020, you may want to take extra care of yourself and the people closest to you. Yes, most of us have become very good at looking after the health of our bodies, but what about the health of our hearts and minds?

About five years ago, my life was in shambles. Mental health issues, stress, and exhaustion got the better of me. At that time, I was forced to place all my creative drives and impulses on the backburner. Things were so chaotic for a while, I couldn’t possibly have written a single word, and the thought of picking up a guitar only filled me with dread. It was appropriate for me to quit at that time. Just up and quit. And what’s more, I wasn’t sure I’d ever pick any of it up again. I should’ve known I could trust myself to do what was right for me. In general, I should’ve known it was better to trust, to have faith, and to give myself the time and space I needed to recover. No guilt, just allow and help myself get well again.

Sometimes when we feel like giving up, it isn’t because we’re weak or because we lack longevity. Sometimes it’s because we do in fact have the right to give up. At least for a while. I’m here to tell you, when the deluge of life begins, and it doesn’t show any sign of stopping, it’s incredibly important to lay down what you need to lay down, take with you only what you require, and face the storm with all the confidence you can muster. The real question is whether or not you can recognize, as I failed to, that the work of life resides in the heart, in the soul, and that patience and self-compassion are incredibly important, crucial in fact.

Having modified my schedule some time ago has been beneficial. I can weather fiercer storms, but I’m always conscious of the fact that I don’t have to do it if it gets too challenging. I won’t work myself to the bone just because I think I have to, not anymore. I miss my dear relative, and truth be told, I miss my poor kitty. I suppose, like many of you, I’m also grieving the world as I once knew it.

Nothing lasts forever. All things pass away in time. That’s especially true of people, places, and eras. Like I said, I’m not a pessimist or a cynic. I believe the future can and will be better. If you’re experiencing similar thoughts and feelings, I urge you to consider your own needs. You may feel better working through it. Then again, you may not. Look at yourself, your strengths, and while you’re at it, look at your weaknesses in equal measure. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. I believe you’ll know what to do; as with most everything else we encounter, it’s all a matter of instinct and timing.

There’s no use denying it: sometimes life can be hard. But that doesn’t mean you have to suffer alone, suffer in silence, suffer instead of choosing to do what’s right for you and for the people you care about most. Take care of yourselves out there, everybody. I’ll talk to you again next month in Words to Live By.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

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