Your Creative Side is Anorexic

Where'd that big booty go? When you were a kid, your creativity was well-fed.  All day long, teachers and parents and baby sitters and best friends were asking you to draw, paint, cut out, glue together, and play with things. You didn't even think it was weird, to sit at the kitchen table with a pile of play-dough and spend twenty minutes trying to make it look like a zebra. Your creativity was fattened up on a daily basis, with cool experiments and art projects, school plays and dance lessons.

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When you were a kid, your creativity was well-fed. 

These days, your creative side is anorexic. 

Creativity isn't kid stuff. Your brain (yes, your adult, fully-matured brain) needs creativity to stay sharp and happy. Doodling and singing and putting together puzzles shouldn't stop once we reach our eighteenth birthday. But, too often, it does.

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Creativity isn't kid stuff. Your brain (yes, your adult, fully-matured brain) needs creativity to stay sharp and happy.

I had a revelation today. After waking up from an amazing dream (in which I sang and danced before a joyous crowd), I sat down with my sweetheart for a guided meditation. "Head Space" is the app we use, to get ourselves centered for the day. But today it didn't go so well. The patient British voice instructed me to focus on my breath one minute, and then let my mind wander the next. Over and over, I was asked to focus and let go, focus and let go. It was strange, how quiet my mind was when given freedom, and how it resisted when asked to focus. 

"How do you feel?" asked Alex when the meditation was over. I looked over at him, baffled.  I felt horrible. Not the way I usually feel after a meditation, I thought. 

"Fine," I tried to answer, but the words stuck in my throat. I opened and closed my mouth like a fish. No noise came out. 

I felt depressed. Something about that exercise, about focusing and then letting go, made me realize that I'd been ultra-focused for weeks. I woke up in the morning thinking about writing my book, filling out job applications, returning phone calls, and editing interviews. Where was my sense of play? Where was the time of day when I let myself go?  Even riding my bicycle needed to have some purpose: I had to be headed to the library or the grocery store, I couldn't just being going for a ride. Why this pressure, to only engage in activities that are "productive?"

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Why this pressure, to only engage in activities that are "productive?"

"I want to watch TV," I told Alex later. He looked at me searchingly. It was noon on a bright sunny day, and I normally never watch television during daylight hours. 

"Okay..." He said slowly, "There's probably something good on." That's the man I love: responding with patience and positivity to whatever crazy thing falls out of my mouth. It wasn't the TV itself that held such allure, it was the idea of doing something entirely unproductive. I was gonna curl up on the couch, feel cozy, and be entertained. For an entire hour, I was going to crawl inside someone else's imagination and see what fantasies they'd cooked up for me. 

In the end, I didn't watch TV. I went downstairs and danced. I opened Youtube in my browser and started pumping hip-swinging tunes into the living room, while I wiggled my fully-grown-adult body around like no one was watching. Throughout my entire childhood, I'd attended jazz, tap, and ballet classes. I've got so many big moves stored in my muscle memory that I'm a liability at dance clubs (there's just no room for a proper arabesque in there).

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I thrashed and sailed, darted and twisted, spun and fell (artfully), this afternoon, remembering how often I'd been encouraged to dance as a youngster. Abruptly, upon entering adulthood, that encouragement had stopped: no one had paid my tuition and dropped me off at dance school in years.

That's what being an adult is, I realized: being your own parent. We can tell ourselves, "Why don't you go play outside?" just as often as we tell ourselves, "Knuckle down and get this done before dinner." 

"Adult play" is a loaded phrase. For most people, it brings to mind sex toys and lace-up corsets. True, a romp in the bedroom is a great way to blow off steam and get creative, but adults shouldn't rely on sex as their only creative outlet.  Unless, you know, that's your life's passion. In which case: go for it. 

We can start feeding our creative side again. A once-a-week soccer game or ping-pong night can do wonders. And if it feels awkward at first, that's normal. Chances are, you haven't played in a long time. Give yourself time to get back in the swing of things.

If physical sports make you feel obsessed with winning, then you might try something less competitive. Bring a friend to a Sip-N-Paint night at a local art gallery. You'll get the opportunity to slap some paint on a canvas while you sip wine from a stemmed glass. Who knows? Maybe you're good at it.  Or maybe you feel ridiculous and embarrassed and never want to go again. But try it.

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You'll get the opportunity to slap some paint on a canvas while you sip wine from a stemmed glass. Who knows? Maybe you're good at it. 

Remember, creativity is like a superfood: You weren't thrilled with chia seeds when you first tried them, but you got used to the slippery texture and wholesome taste, didn't you? Right. Because those omega 3's were worth it. You didn't want to eat them every day, but you did. Inspired by the idea that they'd make you healthier, you became a chia seed champion: blended in smoothies, sprinkled on salads, mixed into oatmeal, etc. That's what you've gotta do with this creativity thing, too: It's something you ingest regularly, because it's gonna help you live longer. 

Be brave. Make time for something that isn't useful to anyone. Ride your bike slowly, through someplace beautiful. Or ride down a steep hill and scream with delight. Just follow your curiosity: forget about purpose. 

If you're still struggling, try this: whip up a batch of homemade play-dough. Really, you can. It's three ingredients, takes two minutes to make, and is perfectly legal. You're a grown-ass adult. You can do anything you want. Sitting at your kitchen table and sculpting dorky flowers out of play-dough is allowed. And if you ask me, it's encouraged. :)

Have fun playing!