All posts by Emmeline Chang

The Pandemic Has a Hidden Gift for Artists

Art by Djero Adlibeshe via Adobe

The other day, I was revising one of my tea stories. It’s set on a tea plantation in British colonial India while an epidemic is taking place. 

As I reread it, I realized certain things felt off. I had written this story well before COVID-19 appeared. Now, after months of living in the middle of a pandemic, I saw nuances I hadn’t captured in the story.

You see, I’d never had the experience of living when disease was spreading and people were living in fear of infection and death. I’d never been hyper aware of my own symptoms or worried I might infect someone I loved. I’d never been sick with something that might kill me. Rereading my story with my new awareness, I could tell that the parts about the epidemic weren’t emotionally right.

So now, with my new experience, I’m rewriting parts of the story. 

This brings me to another thought: Although this pandemic might be hard–and can derail our creative work–it can also be a gift to our art. 

Of course, I don’t mean to minimize the suffering people have been through. It’s truly terrible. Still, suffering has always been part of the human experience. 

So while we can grieve the ways the pandemic has hurt people, we can also recognize: This pandemic has given us a deeper awareness of all it means to be human. And a deeper, fuller understanding of the human experience creates more profound art. 

Whatever reactions you have to the pandemic are valid. Whether it’s fear or rage or despair, whether it’s peace because of a slower schedule, whether it’s loneliness or grief, whether it’s gratitude for the health and food and income you have… all these are part of your pandemic experience. All these are part of the human experience.  They are part of who you are as an artist. 

And you, as the magical creator you are, can bring them into your art–as a gift for your future readers, listeners, and viewers. 

Of course, if you’re in the middle of serious grief or trauma, now is probably not the time. Take care of yourself, heal, and just be. 

But if you’re well enough, take the fullness of this experience. Plumb the depths, and create something you never could before.

You can do the best work of your life. 

Make it so.

When You’re Dealing With SO MUCH

Photo by ussatlantis via Adobe

I’ve been silent for a while because a lot is going on. Beyond dealing with ALL THE THINGS that are part of life these days, we sold our house, moved, and are in the process of buying another one. 

So I’ve been focusing on the basics: serving clients, taking care of the family, and remote schooling our two children. And of course, doing what creative work I can. 

This brings me to a reflection: When circumstances are extreme and it feels hard or impossible to do your creative work, the first step is to ACCEPT.

You might be saying, “No! I create my life. I make things happen. I WON’T accept it. I WILL do my art.” So, let me be clear: I don’t mean you should give up on your creative work.

However, see your current situation with open eyes and full compassion. 

These are not normal times. Maybe you’re remote schooling your kids while running a household, squeezing in a job, or doing freelance work. Or maybe you’re reworking your artistic career for this socially distanced world. Maybe you’re supporting a family member who’s an essential worker, helping people out financially, or dealing with the lingering symptoms of COVID-19. Not to mention everything that’s happening as we approach the most consequential election of our lifetime.

You’re dealing with a lot. Allow yourself to take that in and accept it, with understanding and compassion for yourself. 

Once you can really BE with the current circumstances, you can stop beating yourself up for not writing, composing, or designing as much as you once did. Or stop seething with resentment over all that’s in your way.  

You can look at the situation AS IT IS and find a way to do your art in these times.

Maybe you work at a different time of day. Or in a genre that fits better with your schedule or social distancing. Maybe you work in tiny chunks, or on different subject matter, or with new partners. 

Whatever it is, the first step is to accept. One of my teachers once referred to “the radical acceptance of everything.” This isn’t a passive, limp slumping down and giving up. It’s a wide open, arms open ability to be with the world, in this moment, with deep presence and compassion and love. 

This is a place of peace and strength. A place of quiet. A place that allows us to create.

Allow yourself to find this place. Your creative self will find its way through.

My most beloved novels by Black authors (5)

As artists we bring imagination to history.

During this time, I’m sharing some of my most beloved novels by Black authors.

Day 5: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

I’ve long been inspired by novels where magic realism tells us something powerful about reality. Underground Railroad does this for the historical Underground Railroad. 

#blackvoices #blackfiction #blacklivesmatter

My most beloved novels by Black authors (4)

Art is where ideas and life come together. In art, politics and empathy, vision and reality meet.

During this time, I’m sharing some of my most beloved novels by Black authors.

Day 4: Crossing the River and The Nature of Blood by Caryl Phillips (www.carylphillips.com)

Decades ago, Crossing the River and The Nature of Blood inspired me by going so far beyond the “ethnic identity” novels that were breaking through in the 1990s. They are powerful examples of how novels can open a whole new realm of experience and awareness.

#blackvoices #blackfiction #blacklivesmatter

My most beloved novels by Black authors (3)

Artists envision possibility for social change–and create understanding and hope to make it possible.

During this time, I’m sharing some of my most beloved novels by Black authors.

Day 3: The Famished Road by Ben Okri (

Artists envision possibility for social change–and create understanding and hope to make it possible.

During this time, I’m sharing some of my most beloved novels by Black authors.

Day 3: The Famished Road by Ben Okri (@benokri)

When I was getting my MFA in fiction almost 20 years ago, The Famished Road inspired me to with a whole new vision of what was possible for my fiction. I loved its combination of politics and magical realism–and the view into life in Nigeria.

#blackvoices #blackfiction #blacklivesmatter

When I was getting my MFA in fiction almost 20 years ago, The Famished Road inspired me to with a whole new vision of what was possible for my fiction. I loved its combination of politics and magical realism–and the view into life in Nigeria.

#blackvoices #blackfiction #blacklivesmatter