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Cognitive Dissonance and Creativity in the Time of Covid

Shortly after dawn I watch animated droplets chase a cement truck down the Moncure Pittsboro Road — white nanobots against the saturated green. I’d woken hours earlier to the roar of rain and felt my way through the dark to close the bedroom window, thinking, “Maybe this will get things moving.” It seems silly this morning, but my nighttime brain was mixing metaphors, equating the downpour to a cloudburst of creativity.

I’ve been fighting writers block for weeks.

When Bob and I first tucked into the primal adventure of our lives, I anticipated an unprecedented flow of words. They would spill freely, unhampered by social distractions just like the times we had left the country and reinvented our lives. I pictured me and Bob in a sampan, bumping our way down a river clogged with Covid refugees, an island of two navigating a foreign landscape.

Writing would be as easy as falling off a log. All I had to do was pick up my Pilot G2 gel pen and float to the fertile gulf. I would delve deep, spending hours on my back porch rocker with my legs stretched out, scribbling furiously, capturing dialogue and irony, blithely blasting through the log jams.

I would build an easel of my knees and sketch a fantastic world. I would capture the glories of spring in watercolor pencil, nuanced with brushstrokes of global angst. I would be the Edward Scissorhands of Art, flinging finished work to the lawn as my fingers rushed to start another.

But that surge in creativity has not been forthcoming. Instead, my words repeat in dull loops, rolling beneath my feet, refusing to carry me anywhere. My sketch pad sits patiently on a dusty shelf.

Granted, it is April and we have planned a tight garden, every square inch of that old swimming pool measured and groomed. I’ve been shuffling compost and mulch around the yard in our wheelbarrow, have made that grey plastic tub the epicenter of my world. No time for art.

But, who am I kidding? Were it any other time of year, I would be squandering these extra hours polishing the copper-bottom pots, cleaning out cupboards, and squirting canned air on my crumb-infested keyboard.

On cold mornings perfect for writing, I zest lemons and bake pound cake. I flip pancakes and chop onions instead of fleshing out my stack of first drafts. In the evenings, after reading mountains of corona-virus news, I labor over The New York Times crossword before turning off my browser to play solitaire with a stiff, new deck.

Like many, I’m suffering from cognitive dissonance, unable to reconcile my sinfully simple day-to-day routine with the sour news of death. When I close my eyes, I imagine that I’m sitting at a table with Bob on a Mediterranean veranda. We touch glasses, our eyes shining, and turn our faces seaward to await the mushroom cloud.

And so I eat lemon pound cake while the planet wobbles, and I find myself choking on the unfairness and the uncertainty, the loss of stability, life, and livelihood. I can’t ignore the sight of our social systems folding in on themselves like a house of cards.

I want desperately to write of something else, to try and capture the light of hope. I’d like to believe world governments and their people will rebuild a more equitable world on the ashes of this pandemic. In my dreams, people who have been forced to cook for themselves will retain the habit, the gardens they have dug will remain weed-free, and government will fix our healthcare fiasco. In my dreams.

By Camille Armantrout

Camille lives with her soul mate Bob in the back woods of central North Carolina where she hikes, gardens, cooks, and writes.

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