Creative closeness in a time of social distance

As we adjust to our new reality, poets, writers and arts organizations have quickly risen to the occasion, creating virtual opportunities for people to connect while isolated at home.

“Even though we’re physically separated we can still be very creatively close. There’s a lot we can do to stay connected,” said Danielle Mitchell, founder of The Poetry Lab which normally offers in-person, community poetry workshops.

Based in Pomona, The Poetry Lab got its start in Downtown Long Beach in 2013, the brainchild of Mitchell and the late Markus Manley, founder of WELabs.

Last week, when it became clear that social distancing could help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, Mitchell immediately sat down to rethink her approach. She was disappointed to cancel her upcoming events, but like many in the literary world, she noticed organizers and writers quickly pivoting.

“The ability to adapt rapidly to change is a creative trait,” she said. “We’re not sitting around saying, ‘Everything is canceled, the end.’ It seems like every hour something new pops up, some kind of virtual event that definitely wasn’t scheduled three days ago.”

The Poetry Lab has started offering writing prompts, such as the one above, every other day until the end of March, utilizing the hashtag #creativecloseness, which was born after Mitchell asked herself, “What is the opposite of social distancing that is still safe?”

A lot of organizers seem to be asking themselves the same question. Many virtual open mics, livestreamed book launches, at-home performances and online write-ins have appeared in less than a week.

Understandably, everyone’s reaction to stress is different, and some of us need to incubate before we can reemerge in this new capacity. It’s normal for grief or anxiety to come in waves. It’s also essential that we stay connected—in whatever form that takes.

Anyone is welcome to step inside the world of the literary community and use these spaces as a catalyst to write, think, process, feel and share. The prompts that The Poetry Lab posts are not just for writers already accustomed to the solitary act of writing. Plenty of the prompts are designed for freewriting and journaling, also. They’ll repost anyone who responds to the prompt (make sure to tag The Poetry Lab) in an effort toward community and solidarity.

It turns out, writers and artists have a lot to offer during a crisis. Virtual open mics are another phenomenon cropping up quickly. Now, regardless of where you live, you can tune in on Zoom, Google Hangouts, Instagram Live or whichever platform you prefer to share something you’ve written or just listen to the outpouring of creative expression.

Shy But Flyy, a prolific Long Beach poet, singer and event organizer, jumped into the mix, transitioning one of her regular open mic events to an Instagram Live event with just a few days’ notice. For two hours last Monday, she hosted a lively online event of poets and musicians. Around a hundred people tuned in.

“I do shows often once a night, either performing with a band or hosting, so it was very abrupt to have all my shows canceled,” she said. “I don’t like to stress over things I can’t control, so my initial response was, ‘What can I do now and how can I still bring people together?’ As an artist, I couldn’t just do nothing.”

Shy But Flyy seen here hosting Riveted at the Elinor, has had to make adjustments and learn new methods to stay creative and connected. Courtesy of Steven Deeble.

So she learned how to livestream from YouTube, and though she says it was a bit of a learning curve, the feedback from participants was so overwhelmingly positive that she plans to do it again. Performers and audiences alike said they felt more connected afterward.

“It’s fun sharing each other’s work through these moments,” Long Beach resident Sambo Sak said after experiencing an Instagram Live open mic hosted by Stefanie Gilmore, also known as Beach City Poetress.

Knowing how important these innovative art events are for mental, emotional and community health, the Arts Council for Long Beach has launched into full-blown advocacy mode, initiating a campaign called #KeepArtsWorking. The goal is to help alleviate financial stress for working artists struggling with loss of income from canceled teaching jobs, performances and other in-person events.

“As the Arts Council, we are committed to advocating for artists because we recognize how valuable the Arts are in times of crisis,” said Griselda Suarez, Executive Director of the Arts Council for Long Beach.. “The arts help illuminate, alleviate and recuperate not only our bodies and minds, but also our city.”

In order to keep the creativity flowing, independent artists have begun adding donation buttons to their websites, increasing their calls for patronage on platforms like Patreon and adding new online services.

Those of us who have dedicated our lives to alchemizing raw experience into art know there is a world of hope that emerges simply by moving a pen across a page. The door is wide open for anyone and everyone to use any tool at their disposal to process emotions, channel creativity, and connect meaningfully with others.

Slam champion and revolutionary poet Matt Sedillo makes his living performing at college campuses all over the world. With all of his upcoming appearances canceled, he is now offering tutoring online to help people develop their own style in poetry.

“I’ve gone through the stages of grief and acceptance,” Sedillo said, “and I’m ready to look at what’s next.”

Here is a shortlist of virtual literary events and resources that will surely grow as the weeks go on. If you’d like to share a virtual event or opportunity, please feel free to email me at [email protected] or reach out on Facebook.

VIRTUAL OPEN MICS

The Ugly Mug Poetry Open Mic

  • Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Longstanding poetry open mic in Orange, offering a virtual open reading on Zoom for poets. For more information, click here.

Instagram Open Mic Hosted by Beach City Poetress

  • Wednesdays, 5:30 p.m.; Sundays 6 p.m. Follow Beach City Poetress here.

Instagram Open Mic hosted by Shy But Flyy

  • Regular dates TBA, follow here for updates. Open mic welcoming both music and poetry.

VIRTUAL WRITING PROMPTS AND WRITE-INS

#CreativeCloseness Writing Prompts, The Poetry Lab

  • Every-other-day writing prompts on Instagram. If you write to the prompt, post it and tag them, they will reshare your words on Instagram. or Facebook.

Virtual Womxns Write Inn hosted by Uptown Word & Arts

  • Writing group for womxn writers to share work, discuss writing and socialize, facilitated by liz gonzález on Zoom. Message Uptown Word & Arts to join their website.

#WeekendWritingPrompt from The Long Beach Literary Arts Center

  • Follow on Instagram for a new writing prompt every Friday.

CURATED READING LIST

Even though bookstores are physically closed, Jhoanna Belfer of Bel Canto Books is offering to curate a personalized reading list based on your interests, shipped straight to you. Follow/message Bel Canto Books on Instagram.

RESOURCES FOR PROFESSIONAL ARTISTS/WRITERS

COVID-19 Resources for Artists and Arts Organizations—National Endowment for the Arts

Resources for Artists and Booksellers During the Coronavirus Outbreak

List of Arts Resources During the COVID-19 Outbreak—Creative Capital

Coronavirus/COVID-19 Resources for Artists—Springboard for the Arts

Emergency Funds for Freelancers, Creatives Losing Income During Coronavirus—KQED

COVID-19 Freelance Artist Resources—independent aggregated list

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