Creativity In The Time Of Covid

Updated: Jan 26

Or finding stillness in a pair of knitting needles.

We're going on six months of adjusting to life during a pandemic. Six months. I never imagined I would experience something like this in my lifetime, yet here we are. We continue to live with uncertainty every day. We're hard-wired to want answers, yet very few answers are on the horizon. Early on in the lock-down, when I was feeling almost gleeful about the universe finally aligning with my needs as an introvert, I got reacquainted with my knitting needles. But I can't talk about that without first explaining how I started my journey through yarn... Years ago while rehearsing for "Cascabel" at the Lookingglass Theater, I shared a dressing room with a beautiful acrobat named Genevieve. Her skill was hand-balancing, where you perform a near-impossible set of upside down dance-like movements balancing mostly on one hand. Yes, ONE hand. Her legs and arms and spine moved with the fluidity of water. Her elegance was breath-taking and her physical strength was the stuff that only comic book heroes are made of. I was simply in awe of this lythe Canadian creature. Off stage she was soft spoken and her speech was colored by a strong French accent from her native Montreal. The stillness, quiet and focus she displayed on stage was matched by her moments of down-time when she would sit with a ball of yarn and knitting needles in her lap. If it was quiet in the room, you could hear the clinking together of the tips of the metal needles while the yarn was slowly manipulated and transformed into a garment. That sound is to this day, a kind of music to my ears: soothing and rhythmical. A tiny dance performed by a precise choreography of the needles, as the fingers masterfully maintain the proper yarn flow and tension. I wanted to be as cool as her. I wanted her stillness. One day, I asked her if she could show me how to knit a basic stitch and she gave me some extra yarn she wasn't using, and a pair of spare needles. That was all it took to send me on a journey that continues, furiously and enthusiastically, to this day. Years later, I found out she had a baby, and shortly afterward, I had my own. Our paths were on distant parallel paths where I could sense, through occasional Facebook posts, the same joy and exhaustion of motherhood I was experiencing. I also sensed the familiar frustration of the artist battling to find a way back to themselves... And that brings me back to March of this year.... I was in the middle of planning the reopening of the studio after a short hiatus, when Covid hit the entire world like a bomb exploding in slow motion and I was once again thrown off balance. Teaching had to be reinvented to fit into the rigid confines of a small computer screen. And as the flamenco gods only know, "rigid confines" and "dance" don't exactly belong in the same sentence. I was energized at the prospect of returning to a full studio, and I was now facing myself, alone, in front of the mirror. The learning curve to send choreography instruction through the often capricious virtual highways of communication that is Zoom, was paved with confusion and finally, over the course of a few weeks, some degree of success. But it left me feeling pretty exhausted. Mentally that is. When I came home I craved a different creative outlet. A stillness, if you will. So I sought comfort in Genevieve's knitting needles. Some of my best thinking and planning is done while knitting. Thoughts are less tangled and there's less judgement in them. While knitting you answer to no one. You do the best you can and that's enough. It's uncomplicated. And so much of what we do and experience in life is complicated by how others might perceive us; the pressure (mostly self-imposed) to fulfill expectations. Lately, I'm choosing to let go of this pressure. What we do and how we evolve and make adjustments in our lives is part of our personal journey. Parenting changes us, losses change us, pandemics change us and we must look inward to get through it all. That looking inward takes time and looks different for everyone. It's a solitary journey. At least it has been for me. After 9/11 when I left my agent in New York City and the theater world behind, I spent years working odd jobs in search of something. Eventually I found it. Studio Mangiameli is what it is today because of the odds and ends in my life that threaded themselves in the shape of my teaching and performing and directing shows. It's a direct result of searching and looking inward. A process that from the outside, may seem random or confused. Ultimately however, the more you search and acknowledge those adjustments that need to be made, the more centered you become. And the more centered you are, the more you have to give to those around you. I learned this the hard way, when after a two-week residency with a guest artist back in December, I closed the studio for three months feeling empty, worn out, unable to balance life at home while trying to keep up with the demands of the studio. It wasn't working. I wasn't the same person from years back, so why was I trying so hard to hold onto her? It's remarkable how difficult it is for human beings to learn to be at peace with change, but really it's the lesson that you will find yourself learning again and again...and again. These days I'm happiest when I don't look too far into the furniture, and while I have dreams for the studio and my own dance goals, I often return to my knitting needles as a reminder that NOW is what I can control. NOW is what I can literally hold in my hands. The rest of my plans may very well manifest themselves, or not. But I don't grip them as tightly as I used to. I define my own creative path and what exactly that looks like day-to-day. I'm learning to adjust my own expectations. Less is more. I'm still dancing. I will return to teaching in the fall with a greater focus and presence of mind. The studio will eventually reopen for performances and events. And I will once again feel the rush of rehearsal and the warm embrace of the audience.. And all this won't happen in spite of the hours I spent weaving yarn, or being a mother, or slowing things down to reevaluate. It will happen because of it.

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 Chiara Mangiameli / / 312.593.3865