Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Seniors, COVID-19 and creativity

By BILL CLARKE, Commentary | Published October 20, 2020

“Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten. Then when you hit puberty they take the crayons away and replace them with dry, uninspiring books on algebra, history, etc. Being suddenly hit years later with the ‘creative bug’ is just a wee voice telling you, ‘I’d like my crayons back, please’.”
-Hugh MacLeod, author

Nancy Monson, author of Creative Wellness said that like many older adults, she’s been feeling empty, numb, shell-shocked and dumbfounded by COVID-19.

“I’ve been socially isolating as directed, except for daily walks. I’ve often had trouble concentrating on work and worry about spending,” she wrote. “A few days after the first directive to stay at home, I pulled out some of my sewing and quilting supplies and embarked on a series of small projects and found that while I’m creating, I forget about COVID-19 and the attendant health and financial crises. My art is my little respite, distracting me from worries and giving me a sense of self-satisfaction.”

One fallout of the pandemic is that a great many people, especially the furloughed, the unemployed and those working remotely suddenly found themselves with more time on their hands.

Time can be a blessing or curse depending on how you look at it. If time is frittered away with no meaningful activity, it can lead to isolation, stress, anxiety and depression. If you have inadvertently become a time fritterer, you probably feel deep inside that you should be doing something to keep your mind and body active and engaged. But, what should you do to make better use of your time?

Those of you who are already retired have a different challenge. Although you may have settled into an active and engaging retirement routine, the forced isolation may have taken you away from things you did with other people or groups. You now have a desire to break away and be involved with active and engaged people.

The message

Find ways, in spite of the isolation, to use your talents, regardless of skill level, to get engaged in a hobby or art form or activity that you might have done previously but abandoned or something you always wanted to try. It involves the challenge of expressing your innate creativity.

Author Monson continues, “Many people don’t think they are creative, while others simply feel too keyed up and anxious to know how to begin using art or a hobby as therapy. They may put too much stock in making something noteworthy rather than simply drawing, painting, journaling, sewing, knitting, baking or whatever for its own sake.”

But it’s the act that counts, not the end result.

In fact, a recent study from Drexel University found that engaging in creative activities for 45 minutes a day reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol—and you don’t even have to be good at the activity for it to be calming.

If you haven’t been engaged in a creative activity in years, how do you find your area of interest? Here are some examples of activities for older adults. Perhaps one of these examples will strike a chord of interest.

My retired dentist was experienced at working in confined spaces doing intricate repairs. He saw a picture of a “ship-inside-a-bottle” in a magazine, became fascinated and ended up using his unique skills to build his own ships inside a bottle.

A senior adult at St. Thomas Aquinas started a challenging and creative task of writing an “ethical will,” a codicil that communicates the values, experiences and life lessons that you desire your family to follow after you are gone. A fascinating venture into your legacy.

A retired neighbor became enamored with contemporary art after visiting the Museum of Modern Art. He enrolled in an art class at a local college and started painting contemporary art images with strange shapes and colors, not very marketable but highly satisfying.

A colleague in the Chancery became interested in a display of handmade quilts at a crafts market in north Georgia. She did some research, bought materials and equipment and ventured into what has become an absorbing retirement hobby and potential source of income.

A retired school teacher bought some woodworking equipment at an estate sale and began making figurines, rather crude at first but his skills improved with practice and he is now creating beautiful, handmade wood sculptures that he gives as gifts and sells at flea markets.

A retiree from Good Shepherd Church became interested in genealogy and after a ton of research has traced back his family roots to the 12th century. This interest has connected him with many people and stories he never knew before.

An article in the Atlanta newspaper chronicled the creative efforts of a group of seniors in a retirement community who were confined to their rooms where they received all of their meals in clear plastic containers. When the quarantine was lifted, they had a huge number of containers. They organized a team to design and build something from the containers. The result was the creation of a giant replica of the COVID-19 virus, all handmade. Their creation is on display and the plan is to destroy it as their symbol that the virus has been brought under control.

Lastly, an example from my mother. She had a lifelong intense devotion to Our Blessed Mother and wondered what she might do to provide more honor and recognition. She read about how to make rosaries out of string. She bought some string, followed the directions and soon was making dozens, then hundreds of rosaries that she donated to Catholic missionaries. Her handiwork touched thousands of people around the world.

Everyone is creative in the image of our Creator. This time of forced separation can be an invitation to rediscover former passions or explore new areas entirely. The list of possibilities is endless—music, writing, painting, drawing, collecting, cooking, gardening, research, woodworking, acting, dancing, singing, knitting, photography, pottery, sewing, scrapbooking, fixing things, puzzles and more. Whatever it is that sparks your interest, enjoy the journey of engaging the imagination gifted to us by our Lord.