How Creative Dead Ends Can Lead to New Paths 


As part of The Washington Post’s “Post Pandemic” series, Katherine May recounts her gradual turn away from reading, and her resultant shame about it. “Bookish is a blood type; it is a nationality, and I was exiled. The guilt was immense,” she writes. 

Her piece invites us to consider how we process the loss, whether permanent or temporary, of parts of ourselves that feel central to our identity, both personally and professionally. Who are we if we change? Are we still us? 

As creative people, it’s inevitable that we sometimes find ourselves stuck: unable to paint, unable to read, unable to write. But May’s piece opens for us a doorway to self-compassion. Perhaps our hearts and minds are simply working overtime to process something (a pandemic, say) that takes precedence over even the parts of ourselves we hold most dear. 

And what feels like failure, like a charred and empty field, may, in fact, turn out to be the site of something new, like purple fireweed blossoms popping up from blackened soil. The periodic disconnect from our usual practices, from our ingrained sense of ourselves, may have things to teach us. For May it certainly does. 

Tiptoeing back into reading, May sees its value in a new light. “I had always seen my bookishness as a marker of my love of solitude,” she reflects, “but lockdown showed me that reading was fundamentally social, even if the bulk of it happened alone.” 

Where is change or loss leading you? What can you see now that you couldn’t see before you crossed over the fallow land? Perhaps your dead end will open onto a new path. 

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