Creatively Coping, By Touch

Seven creatives share how their craft helps them cope, and stay in touch.

“I discovered it was my form of therapy. . . to be able to use my hands to create small intricate detail in a slow and meditative process. . .” ~Rebecca Phillips

By Kristin Jones

It’s easy to despair right now. Many of us face very real threats: to our health, our livelihood, our sense of well being, our security. Without work and a social life to constantly distract us, our thoughts can turn against. Even though Memphis is preparing to re-open parts of the city and there’s a small measure of normalcy promised, everything is uncertain and continues to be so.

We can succumb to our very real powerlessness at the constantly shifting landscape of the world or we can learn to re-focus on what we can control, and especially we can learn to create more joy in our lives. I’m not going to tell you that anger, despair, and sadness won’t crop up anymore; they will, but it’s about learning to shift our focus instead of dwelling on what we can’t change.

“There is something very therapeutic about sitting in a calm room full of plush living plants. Keeps me grounded.” ~Amanda Willoughby

The author, Kristin Jones, attends to her indoor garden

“When I’m painting . . . it’s almost as though my hands guide my mind into another dimension. . .” ~Jess Tinsley

As a freelancer in film and television, my industry has essentially come to a halt. As someone with an autoimmune disorder and chronic respiratory issues, it’s dangerous to leave the house right now. As someone whose mother was recently diagnosed with cancer and whose treatments are being delayed, the outrage is real. As someone whose aunt and uncle were recently diagnosed with the coronavirus, the worry can be overwhelming. I know that my story is common. I also know that I am very lucky.

I would assume, broadly speaking, that all of us are in pursuit of a happier life. That’s harder to attain and maintain in a pandemic, or any crisis, because happiness is a feeling that’s cultivated over long periods of time. Perhaps, especially now, we should be focusing on joy, a brief moment that we can feel in time.

While we tend to associate joy with frivolity and that nagging voice in the back of our heads telling us there are more important things in the world, I find that when we are faced with persistent stress, creating moments of joy is one of the easiest tools of resilience.

People with sunnier workspaces sleep better and laugh more. People who display flowers are not only happier, but they have a better memory. Even the smallest moments of joy, like witnessing a rainbow or sunset or even adding sprinkles to our dessert, can repair the cardiovascular system, lower inflammation and blood pressure, and flood our body with cortisone and epinephrine; all of these things not only create positive emotions, but it keeps us healthy, keeps us alert, and allows us to respond to any crises at hand.

I’ve long advocated mindful activities as a way to find joy and tune out those thoughts for a few minutes; it’s not always easy for me to sit and meditate or practice yoga. I’m a creative person by nature so what brings me joy is working with my hands. That can mean arranging flowers, planting herbs in my kitchen, baking bread, and I could watch someone else welding or working with clay or painting all day.

“I can’t help but notice how many creative ways people are coping, from gardening and baking, to construction and welding and repairing.” ~Kristin Jones

Creatively Coping: Click through the photo gallery below to go on a tour with local Memphis creatives. Use the down arrow on each photo to read their personal narratives.

“. . . someone asked me what the most important thing in my life was . . . after a moment I said ‘my hands and everything I can do with them.'” ~Geoffrey Brent Shrewsbury

I began sewing and knitting years ago with an intention to use it as a way to counteract stress and anxiety in my life; the beautiful sweaters and dresses were merely a by-product. Through the slow, repetitive hand movements of knitting, I was able to release the built-up anxiety and stress in an incredibly satisfying way. With sewing, my favorite part was handling the fabric; I chose to work with soft flannel, satin silks, and plush velvets. Without realizing it, I had begun gravitating towards creating small moments of joy in a time in my life where little relief could be found.

Visit the full profile stories of each artist: Jess Tinsely ; Rebecca Phillips ; Amanda Willoughby ; Katie Burriss

Kristin Jones, knitting

Shortly after I took up sewing and knitting, I followed my impulse to make all foods from scratch. Kneading dough, crumbling butter, flour, and sugar together, and doing what felt like sorcery in the kitchen yielded the same joyous results, and once again, getting to taste and enjoy delicious food was merely an outcome of an incredible process.

In the last year, I’ve continued on this quest and taken it a step further; I have a wonderful little garden, most of which is edible. The second week in quarantine, I picked up a box full of plants from the sale at the Botanic Garden. Nearly every day I’m checking the soil, checking the plants, and with my herbs, harvesting tiny portions for dinner or infusing cocktails. The abundance, the renewal, and again, working with my hands creatively feels so invigorating.

“Cooking keeps your hands quite busy . . . peeling, chopping, mixing, stirring. . . which helps me get out of my head.” ~Amanda Torres

Humans are very tactile creatures, especially when stressed. Instinctively, we reach out, we touch, and we remind ourselves that we are here. Those little touches are our ways of looking for ease, and eventually, looking for joy. I try to limit my social media during these times, but I can’t help but notice how many creative ways people are coping, from gardening and baking like me, to construction and welding and repairing. 

We’re all a little lost right now, and if we’re extra gentle on ourselves, we can just be and create something new and beautiful from a space of acceptance. Instead of submitting to feelings of helplessness, learn to reliably lift your spirits through everyday, physical objects. Joy is all around us, just waiting to be accessed. <>

“It’s an adventure within a confined space . . . keeps my soul light without being overwhelming.” ~Katie Burriss

Special thanks to the local creatives who quickly lent their stories and photos for this therapeutic diversion: Amanda Torres, Amanda Willoughby, Geoffrey Brent Shrewsbury, Jess Tinsley, Katie Burriss, Rebecca Phillips

Visit the full profile stories of each artist: Jess Tinsely ; Rebecca Phillips ; Amanda Willoughby ; Katie Burriss

Kristin Jones is a local costume designer and bespoke maker in the Memphis area for film, music videos, and concerts, and whose clothing designs have been published in magazines around the world. Her musings have appeared in the Huffington Post, though you can find her most often at Kristin Magdalene.

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