When I was young, going back to school after an extended period of absence was always painfully difficult. You were behind in your classes – fractions, what are they? Resuming relationships with teachers and peers was tricky. And the confinement of the classroom was never as comfortable as the freedom of home.
Picking up your creative work – or any work – after a long period away is just as hard. If you were in the middle of something, it’s hard to remember how you got there and where you meant to go next. If you were just about to start something new, any ideas you had about it have probably lost their freshness and zing. It’s hard to sit down at the desk, the computer, the easel, your musical instrument – it’s hard to fit yourself back into the tools of your trade. Nothing feels quite right. It’s as if while you were away, you turned into someone else – someone who doesn’t know how to do what you were quite comfortable doing a few weeks or months before.
The funny thing is, it’s probably true. You’re not exactly who you were before whatever it was (and it can be so many things, from health, to an intense work situation, to being a caregiver for others, and on, and on). The experience has probably changed you, and you may not be able to pick up exactly where you left off. Your project, your dream, may not take the exact shape you had planned for it before the interruption. The trick, I’m finding, as I try and fit myself back into my own creative projects, is to take some time and not expect anything to look the same three months later. I’m different, and so my work has become different, too. Maybe it’s an accelerated version of what happens when you pick up a story you wrote ten years ago – or look at a photograph you took twenty years ago. It was a substantially different person who wrote that story, who peered through that lens. You, always you, but not quite the same you. Maybe you write a little differently now. Maybe you want to pick a new key, or another palette. Instead of tensing yourself up and pushing through to finish, it might be a moment to relax a little and allow some experimentation. Your work waited this long, it can wait a little longer, and reap whatever benefit can come from the unanticipated interruption, and being forced to look at things in a new way.