A few weeks ago I walked out of our local art supplies shop with a set of acrylic paints and a new blending brush. I’m not a painter, and I spent way too long staring at the rainbow of paint choices, wondering what I should choose. Eventually I picked out a set of colors and brought them home to my newfound painting studio–and by ‘painting studio’ I mean a spare corner of floor space on my porch.
I had no idea what I was doing as I spread out an old sheet across the floor, lit some candles in the windows, and set to work on my blank canvas. I mixed some of my brand-new colors as the smell of sage rose with the curling tendrils of steam from my teacup. It felt like a sacred experience, approaching these colors while surrounded by the inky black night outside my windows. There was no agenda, no objective; no reason to be there other than to explore and marvel at the brilliant cobalts and stunning violets that my brush created as it blended the layers of paint.
It was creating without working. And I loved it.
The importance of creative escapes
Over the last month or so, I’ve been quietly creating in ways I never have before. I’ve been out in the forests, capturing the sunsets on video; I’ve been at my laptop, working on digital design; I’ve been at the kitchen table, blending fresh-picked herbs to make new blends of tea; and I’ve been at the canvas, working with paints.
I’m no master herbalist or veteran videographer or award-winning painter (far from it!), and until today I wasn’t even planning to share any of these things publicly. But I’m sharing them because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the various roles that creativity plays in our lives, and how that can change through the years and leave us seeking new creative paths.
Ever since I was a tiny child, I knew that I loved creating. Specifically, I knew that I loved writing–I spent many an evening sequestered in my bedroom creating stories, all the way from grade school to high school. I loved the imagination, the possibility, and the escape, and that I would have given anything to be a writer someday.
Well, that someday happened. And I am beyond grateful each and every day that I get to use my creative skills to earn a living. That’s a huge honor and privilege, and not one that I take for granted.
But I’d also be lying if I said that writing was still the creative escape that it once was.
When you move beyond just trying out a creative pursuit to working at it everyday and then to making a living from it, it not only stops being a refuge–it can’t be a refuge in the same way that it was, simply due to the fact that people know about it.
When I was a child, one of the things that drew me to creating stories was that it was something that was only for me, where there were no rules or expectations and I could create whatever I wanted.
Now, my writing life isn’t free of expectations. It’s not free of deadlines or others’ opinions or the pressure I put on myself to keep working at my craft and getting better at it.
None of those are bad things, mind you; deadlines help keep me organized. Expectations and the pressure I put on myself help me light that fire I needed to move from ‘amateur’ to ‘professional.’ And others’ opinions help you get better too, whether that’s advice that drives you to do better next time or praise that lets you know to keep doing what you’re doing well.
But creative work is still work, and as a creative person, there are times where you want to immerse yourself in a pursuit that’s…not work. To return to that magic of exploration. To explore in a place where there’s no rules. To make something that’s just for you, because it’s fun to make, even if it’s something the public may never see. Especially if it’s something the public may never see.
The pressure to publicize
Most of my work, as a writer and a journalist, by its very nature involves communicating with the outside world and making things public. I don’t think that’s a bad thing; if you’ve spent any amount of time here, you’ll know how much I believe in the power of story and the ability to harness that to change the world for the better. It’s what I believe in and what fills me with inspiration as I wake up each day.
But I also think there’s a huge amount of pressure to publicize and commodify every aspect of our private lives. We feel compelled to post photos from that cool hike on Instagram or share pictures of each family gathering on Facebook. We watch young families turn into vloggers, documenting the daily lives of their kids for the whole world to see. We come across articles with titles like 10 Ways to Make Money from Your Hobby in 2023.
It’s amazing when you can turn your hobby into something that supports yourself, and I will be the first one to admit that I love posting photos of my northern surroundings on Instagram.
But I also think that part of creative health involves reserving some of your creative energy just for you, without pressure.
I feel better when I’m trying new things and keeping some aspects of my creativity just for fun and exploration.
It’s fun, firstly. But it also refuels my creative energy in a way that makes me more inspired to get back to my writing. I think that all of our creative work is better when we are well-rounded individuals, and getting out of my comfort zone and trying a new creative project is one of my favorite ways to round out my life a bit more.
And so as we settle into the darkest time of year, a time for introspection and evenings indoors, I’m going to be focusing on bringing more balance into my creative life–to keep working at the craft that’s become my occupation, and also to get my hands dirty with things that are totally new to me.
Growing older doesn’t mean saying goodbye to your inner child. In fact, rediscovering my inner creative child is one of the best things I’ve done this year. <3