You are reading the “New Normal” series, for which I’ve invited a few beautiful souls to open the doors, figuratively of course, to their homes and lives, and share the stories of their new reality — how does that look and feel? How are they adapting? How has it shifted their mindset and approach to life? But I’m most excited to share their #stayhome and #WFH tips and recommendations in the self-care guide at the end. In this chapter, I speak with Rachel Loh, artist and founder of The Starving Artists, whose photos, for me, open a window to a unique view — hers — of the world; whose words are my ticket to the seat to the soul. I am confident that you, too, will enjoy her rumination on these strange days of the “new normal”, her state of being, new ways of creating, and more.
“I’m used to working at home and by myself, but I’ve never faced such intense loneliness in my career than I have during this period. I’ve had to find new ways to cope emotionally, new ways to occupy my time and new ways to create.”
Karman : How are you today, Rachel?
Rachel: Hi Karman! I’m feeling incredibly productive and hopeful for the first time in a month. Blessed and thankful. Hope you’ve been keeping well, too.
K: Life has taken quite a turn, and there’s a whole new rhythm, a “new normal”. What has changed for you?
R: Ah, where to begin. My life has changed in so many ways and so little in others. This new stage we’re all in has affected the way I perceive life hugely.
As a freelancer, I’m used to working at home and by myself, but I’ve never faced such intense loneliness in my career than I have during this period. I’ve had to find new ways to cope emotionally, new ways to occupy my time and new ways to create. All of which called for major adjustments.
There are stages of acceptance and grief with the enforced isolation we are all facing. It was critical for me to go through all the stages even when I didn’t know I was going through them. For weeks, I was angry for no reason. Frustrated with my lack of productivity, the lack of resources, looking at the same walls everyday… but once I learned to create a new, important space in myself to adapt, I began to form new habits.
My new normal has led me to soften my grip on the expectations of myself, be more aware of my negative emotions, and mentally ease myself by learning when to be unproductive.
“I’M NO LONGER INTERESTED IN THE FRIVOLOUS, ONLY THE HONEST AND RAW.”
K: Where is the most challenging adjustment, and where have you discovered or maintained some measure of joy, calm and positivity?
R: The most challenging adjustment is definitely having to grapple with me being very tough on myself mentally. I never used to really notice but when my mental landscape isn’t the clearest, the way I’ve spoken to myself hasn’t been the healthiest. I’ve always been able to use it to further my goals in the past, but since there’s little to no work these days, that has become a challenge to speak well to myself!
These days, I am using my love of learning to create joy and meaning in my daily life. I’ve signed myself up for free online courses, explored more philosophy and created more art than ever.
K: How are you creating differently?
R: I’ve definitely been exploring a lot more on existentialism, our place in the world, and allowing emotions (unexplainable sadness) to wash over me. It’s allowed me to look a lot deeper into myself, and I’m grateful for the time now to create. I’ve also been heavily improvising on the things I have and the environment I have at home to create rather than renting a space outside. I’m no longer interested in the frivolous, only the honest and raw.
K: This time is definitely forcing us to rethink a few things in life and consider what truly matters.
R: I would say that as someone who isn’t pursuing a mainstream path that I’ve known what really matters in life quite early in life, but in this crisis, it’s allowed me to remember even more that it’s so important to practise mutual aid. Helping one another, reaching out and extending far beyond our reach is critical. It matters to look outside our own lives to recognise that we are privileged when we have the ability to help someone else besides ourselves.
K: In what ways do you see (or hope to see) the world, your world and your self being different when we’ve emerged from this on the other side?
R: I’m hoping to see myself continue on this appreciation and acceptance journey! More importantly, extending it to others and not just myself. I hope we can all recognise our privilege and bring light to those less so.
K: In this season, what does self-care look like for you these days?
R: Definitely reading, meditating and writing down what I’m grateful for on a daily basis. Evaluating my day in a non-judgemental perspective is the kindest thing I think I can do for myself!
RACHEL’S #STAYHOME SELF-CARE GUIDE
Emma by Jane Austen. I’ve had it forever and have never picked it up. Definitely read The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Seeing Ourselves: Women’s Self-portraits by Frances Borzello and The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
I’m listening to…
A lot of Max Richter and Tom Misch just because I love how their songs are spaces to think and feel. I’m also loving The Great Women Artists podcast as well as Philosophise This! podcast.
The last thing I watched that made me smile…
Star Trek: Enterprise
Measure of a Man (Season 2)
Uplifting Instagram accounts I follow…
I’ve been really loving @subliming.jpg and @ryancarlstudio on Instagram! I also love @socialdistancingfestival — a new platform helping creatives carry on their shows and events because of the cancellations. I never fail to smile when I see artists supporting each other through the movement #artistsupportpledge, where we all help to buy art and once we reach a certain amount of sales, we take a part of that to buy another artist’s art!
Photography: RACHEL LOH
[Editor’s note: Sentiments and thoughts expressed here are accurate as at April 1, 2020, when Rachel wrote back.]