Creative Isolation with Stacey Astill

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As we are spending more and more time indoors, we're sharing a series of articles about creativity in isolation to demonstrate how important the arts are to maintaining good mental wellbeing. We spoke to Stacey Astill who is a Librarian, member of the Litfest organisational team, Poet and prior Manx Bard of the Isle of Man.

Q. Tell us who you are and what you’re offering

I’m Stacey Astill from Keyll Darree health and social care library. We usually love to make a big song and dance about World Book Night (any excuse to dress up!) but this year things are a little different. Inspired by the Recreate Art History photos in which people recreated artwork with things lying about the house, I thought we could do the same thing with book covers to celebrate World Book Night.

Q. Why is it important that you are offering this service/product?

I think it’s incredibly important for people to feel connected right now. There’s a lot of scary and upsetting things happening across the world and to be able to take an hour out of that to engage in a bit of creativity and silliness, or just to look at what other people around you have created can help people feel less overwhelmed. It can be harder than usual to be creative during this time, some people have less access to supplies than they usually would (I’ve been missing the craft cupboard at work), and sometimes it’s hard to think of a project to get going with. Hopefully this will help people feel a little bit creative with whatever they have about the house and bring them a little bit of fun. Ideally, it’ll also get people thinking about their favourite books or introduce some new ones into their lives as they browse the entries.

Q. What role do the arts play during a time like this?

The arts are such an important outlet during difficult times. As well as my library job I also study Allied Prisoners of War (PoWs) in Europe, their diaries are full of poetry, drawings, songs, and descriptions of things they created while incarcerated. Creativity is a great outlet, it allows expression which may not be possible otherwise. These men sometimes struggled to express their feelings openly due to the society they were brought up in (stiff upper lip!) but they would feel able to write down a poem they had heard someone recite in camp about missing their families, or fallen comrades.

I think there’s something extremely special about seeing a shared feeling expressed through poetry or images – it demonstrates a shared closeness of many people feeling a similar emotion and being glad that someone has put it into words. I am so glad of the poems, creative writing, and drawings throughout the diaries I study because they can tell me much more than a day’s diary entry. Although the situation isn’t the same at the moment, many of us are stuck in a small place for a long period of time and have to battle boredom to remain mentally well. These are challenges which PoWs also faced, and I hope we can deal with this experience in similar ways – supporting one another and being creative.

Q. What are doing to keep yourself sane during self-isolation?

Like half the population I’ve been making more bread! I’ve also been tackling my garden while self-isolated to make sure I’m getting outside every day. I’m in the tail end of thesis write up, so it’s easy to end up sat inside over the computer. When I’m not working, I’m studying!

I have also been trying to build in some more time to read though, and doing a spot of yoga in the sun to appreciate the birds chirping and the sun on my face. It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by the news about what’s happening across the world, so I’m trying hard to stay in routine, not panic too much, and appreciate things where possible.

Q. What is your one tip to help people stay motivated to engage with creative activities at the moment?

This is a really good question, as someone who failed out of NaPoWriMo (national poetry writing month – a challenge to write a poem every day for April) on the second day I’m not sure I’m best placed to answer. I’d say maybe find your creativity in a different place to usual – if you’re not getting anything from your usual go to then try something else.

Find out more via @ManxLitfest on social media

Follow Stacey's Poetry page @StaceyAstillPoetry

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