Creativity and Crisis


The first sentence of this week’s Write on Wednesday prompt stopped me as surely as an unexpected storm surge: “Earlier tonight I was tearing around the kitchen in my usual mad dash to get dinner – putting dishes away, feeding the dogs, preparing a marinade for the salmon, cleaning and chopping some carrots…” There was nothing extraordinary about Becca’s description of her evening routine, and that alone made it seem utterly extraordinary, a glimpse into a half-remembered world where the simple realities – dinner, dishes, dogs – could be counted on to sustain and enliven the routines of life.Chopping some carrots…”

During the past weeks, there have been times I’d have found the thought of chopping carrots unimaginable, if not slightly bizarre. After a storm like Ike (or Katrina, or Rita, or any of the unnamed spinning whorls of water and wind yet to come), routine is an early victim. On the sailboat crazily surfing atop the storm surge, in the condo surrounded by moonlit water where no water ought to be, in the grinding screech of metal on metal and the plummeting and plunging of fiberglass and wood, there is no thought of routine. Survival is what counts. But storms end and water recedes. Emerging speechless from their shelter into the dawning of a fragmented, chaotic day, everyone discovers their world has been utterly changed, and beloved routines scoured away as surely as houses from a beach.

Like injured creatures warily testing first one limb and then another, people ask, “How’d you do?” “How’d the storm treat you?” What they’re asking, of course, is whether you have a house left, or a business, or even a dish to hold some carrots. It’s easy to assume those who emerged from the chaos with their home, family and possessions intact weren’t “affected” by the storm. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Everyone is affected, and the sense of dislocation, the communal feeling of helplessness, the suspicion that life itself continues to surge and to scour is a suspicion that can’t be avoided or dismissed.

Rich or poor, cursed or blessed, old or young, people begin to re-establish their routines in the same ways. They tell their stories, over and over. They stand and stare into space, as though listening for answers to unformed questions. They ask perfect strangers, ” How high’d the water get at your place?” and call people they haven’t spoken to in years, simply to ask, “Are you alive?”

If you catch them in an unguarded moment, their faces seem as placid and impenetrable as the glistening smoothness of the waters which destoyed their lives. If you look more closely, you can see the turbulence beneath the surface, as the mind races to catch up with life. Overwhelmed by events, stripped of routine, forced to absorb the realities of utterly changed lives and reduced to a search for the most basic necessities, it seems there is no time for thought and reflection, no time for creativity, no time for any spirit other than a spirit of gritty determination.

And yet, if there is no time to slow the pace of events or slow activity in the face of devastation, it hardly matters. For healing to take place, for creativity to re-emerge and the spirit to be restored, it is the mind that must be slowed, given rest and allowed to lie fallow as a winter field while time and patience do their work.

Returning home after Ike, I found the crepe myrtle beside my mother’s porch utterly stripped and bare – not a leaf remained on its branches. After a week, tiny bits of green appeared – new leaves defying the season, emerging in utter silence and oblivious to the destruction surrounding them. Today, two weeks later, the tree is fully leaved. Even though it isn’t time to prune, I’ve trimmed a bit, shaping the tree and cutting back enough to encourage even more growth.

Along the ditches and seawalls, where debris once covered the grasses and shrubs, there is a faint green haze of new growth. The water is settling, and returning heron and egret are reflected in the early morning stillness. In the nighttime silence, fish frolick and splash as though they, too, have come home, and a single, unapologetic bit of human laughter ripples into my window on the breeze.

Once again, creation and destruction have battled for supremacy, laying waste to the world and humbling humanity in the process. And once again, creation has the last word. What is true for nature is true for human nature, the nature of human spirit and mind. Time. Patience. Silence. Creation will come.


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11 thoughts on “Creativity and Crisis

  1. Linda: Powerful and poignant… just that picture of the green leaves shooting out is a vivid illustration of resilience itself. I know I can look forward to more creativity spilling out from the experiences you have gone through. Take care and all the best in the rebuilding of home and life.

    Good morning, Arti,

    How nice to find your comment. Even the tiniest bit of routine is reassuring, and to find you – and others – posting here feels far more wonderful than it would have in the past.

    The media love drama and negativity – stripped beaches, piles of debris posted with “we shoot looters” signs, grumpy people who have a multitude of complaints handed to them on a platter (FEMA snafus, inefficient bureaucrats, slow utility crews, etc). Generally speaking, photos of new life sprouting from a tree trunk aren’t going to show up on the 10 o’clock news – and in the end, that’s what got me writing again. Slow, incremental, quiet recovery needs a voice, too.

    I’m rather curious myself to see what else emerges in the coming weeks.

    regards, Linda

  2. The closing is the righteous axiom of nature. Never, no never, did Nature say one thing and Wisdom say another. Life itself is already perfect. Time, patience, silence, creation, destruction … etc are all in a perfect cycle belongs to the great chakra of Nature — Universal Energy.

    Wonderful post, Linda!


    “Never, no never, did Nature say one thing and Wisdom say another.” Exactly so. And it was only a moment after reading those words I remembered other words, from Proverbs: “Wisdom calls aloud in the street. She utters her voice in the public squares.”

    Biblical Wisdom literature clearly sees the relationship between the created world, life events and eternal purpose. I suspect if you looked closely enough, you could see Wisdom herself, stepping through our piles of debris. Now, the task is to listen more closely, to hear what she is crying…

    A good day to you!


  3. Linda,
    There are no words I can write that would completely portray my feelings on reading this entry. I have read every word you have written since your return to your home, and through the power of your words, I have lived it with you. You MUST eventually combine your experiences into a book… you have the images, both mental and pictorial, and the skill to make it the most evocative account of destruction and rebirth.
    Be safe – watch those nails!

    Sandi ~

    I’m just speechless, and so grateful that you’ve been reading along through all this. You’re one of the people whose opinion I value tremendously, and when you add your voice to the tiny but insistent chorus urging me toward a book… well….

    In the meantime, it’s back to picking my way through those nails and boards. Don’t worry – the complete hurricane kit always includes good dust masks and tetanus shots!


  4. I can’t imagine what you’ve been through. But you give me clue with your texts. As always you pinpoint my emotions.

    Hi, Desiree,

    The funny thing about hurricanes is that even in the years none strike, the obsession remains. You track, and ponder, and calculate – and then heave a sigh of relief when one heads off in the other direction. As one fellow said last week, “Finally! Now we can quite worrying about when the next one is going to strike, and begin remembering how to deal with these things.”

    It’s a kind of weird take on things, but anyone who lives in hurricane territory does need to hang on to that communal memory of how to cope. Some suffered much, much more than I did, but everyone realizes that next time it might be their turn. It’s been good for me to share some of the experience with you, and I so much appreciate your visit and your comments.


  5. Life will go one. It has to. Nature knows what it is doing. In the bigger picture of things. We, humans don’t.

    There has been a series of bomb blasts in India. There has not been any kind of let down.One can’t do much about nature’s fury but manmade madness? Seems like we can’t stop that either. How does one explain it when a 9 year old picks up a bomb by mistake and is blown to smithereens?

    I know I am digressing on your post. However, I just want to say that, I am grateful I am alive in the midst of all this madness, which I can’t even blame on the nature.

    How groovy can you get?


    I’ve been thinking and thinking about your comment, and finally, after reading JD’s comment about the natural cycles and the seasonal process of death and rebirth, I’ve begun to gain a little clarity. Hurricanes, like fire and flood, are natural processes, and within the context of the natural world they bring very real benefits as well as short-term harm. We call them catastrophes, or disasters, when they suddenly impinge on our lives – for us, they seem UN-natural, utterly negative and completely unstoppable.

    As you pointed out, human violence and mayhem also seem unnatural and unstoppable. There are more questions than answers here. Can we stop human violence? Can we find benefits in events like a hurricane? In each case, I hope so. In any event, the human spirit is resiliant in the face of all these events – I join you in simple gratitude for life.


  6. Creation as I have understood [not to demean anyone else’s wisdom or understanding]is rendered imperfect since mankind has forfeited his God given rule over it. Even though man is a flawed creature-he is still wonderful, and even if creation is laid under a curse-it still is wonderful. Your story fully bears out the bible saying that God has subjected creation to the death-renewal cycle, in the hope that man would search for God ro:8v20 There is life beyond death and the creation will be set free in God’s time. That is how I understand it, others who are more intelligent than me will have their own insight. I have guessed by your silences the enormous strain you must be under Linda and hope you are bearing up, certainly your out-look is positive. luv Suz


    What you’re pointing to is the oft-forgotten fact that, in Christian theology, redemption is not limited to humanity. The fact that creation itself has been redeemed is stated most simply in that wonderful carol, “Joy to the World”. Phrases like “let earth receive her King”, and “let heaven and nature sing” aren’t meant to be throwaway lines! One of your carols that rarely is heard in this country makes the same point. “People Look East” is filled with wonderful lines. I especially like the third stanza:

    Birds, though ye long have ceased to build,
    guard the nest that must be filled.
    Even the hour when wings are froz’n,
    He the fledging time has chosen.
    People, look east, and sing today:
    Love, the bird is on the way.

    As for my silences, they’re not at all grounded in stress, strain or sadness, unless you count the strain of so much work to do and so little time. And, as I said to a friend recently, there is so much to see and think about, it’s been a little hard to focus. It’s the paralysis of the centipede lying immobile in the ditch, having asked himself a terrible question: which leg should I move next?! I’m starting to move, just a bit – so happy to do so!


  7. Very nicely done, Linda. Very nicely put. Although I might argue the point that destruction is just a part of creation. A clean sweep of the palette. We see it every year with the changing of the seasons, when the cold and dark clears away the remnants of the past summer, making a path for the coming spring.

    Unfortunately, you have to deal with that process on a grand scale which is, quite honestly, devastating. Please remember the seeds are still there, but you have to look for them. Thank you again for sharing these experiences with us.

    JD ~

    Yep, you’re right about destruction (in a variety of forms) being a part of the natural cycle. As I said to Gautaumi, above, flood, fire, hurricane and so on don’t get bad press from Mother Nature, they get it from folks who happen to be in the way when they show up.

    But spring follows winter, new growth rises in burned fields, and people find creative ways to deal with the destruction of their lives. I just happen to believe (with absolutely no proof or rationale) that spring is the season that’s going to have the final word – even though my favorite season is autumn!


  8. Survive, change as necessary, and grow.

    Hi, Daniel,

    Now, there are some words to live by! The slightly tricky phrase, of course, is “as necessary”. But we’ll figure that one out, too!


  9. What an insightful and powerful post. As always, beautifully written.


    It’s always delightful to see you’ve stopped by. Thanks for the kind words – no turtles on this post!


  10. Thank you for reminding me of the lingering rawness of this disaster. We, as humans, so often forget, or choose to forget, that which doesn’t seem to touch us. But, of course, when one of us suffers, we all do. Thank you for that reminder.

  11. Linda, this is amazaingly powerful, as are all your posts relate to this crisis you’ve been through. I can imagine that the mundane and ordinary would be so appealing to you right about now.

    I’m hoping that things even out in your world very soon :)

    You and all your family and neighbors are in my thoughts and prayers.

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