When I was a child, I especially loved summer nights in our backyard—the smell of fresh-mowed grass, swinging and sliding on our swing set as dusk settled. I remember feeling completely happy, completely safe, hopeful as I would crane my neck to the gathering night sky. I remember loving my life right in that perfect moment.
As an adult, nature’s act of sunset is often missed. The smell of fresh-mowed grass is left behind. The idea of perfect peace is lost in the busyness of day, the endless emails, Twitter, and to-do lists. It troubles me how quickly I lose this. It doesn’t take anything but me taking the time, me changing my perspective.
As adults we get told “no” a lot. We can’t spend time doing whatever we feel like, we have to do grownup things like pay bills, make meals, finish laundry, and now we have to mow the lawn rather than play on the swing set. We get told “no” when we eye that last donut on the plate, or when we want to just enjoy a quiet cup of coffee but instead have to help a friend who’s having a hard time.
The constant “no” wears on our spirits. Perhaps we begin to see only the “no” in our life and not the wonders we used to see. Back when we were kids, “no” was a complete disaster. It meant we had to come inside from our swing set as darkness settled on our backyard. It meant we had to end our imaginary play, in which we were pioneers and making grass and mud stew (quite tasty!), it meant we had to pick up all our Legos and wooden spools or we had to tear down our inside fort, made up of every blanket my mother owned. And it hurt, but only for a second. We quickly let go, reassured by my parents that we could play tomorrow. We were able to redirect our creative into hopes for the future.
As adults, we don’t have that luxury. Packing up the fun today doesn’t mean we will get the fun tomorrow. And we take too much of that disappointment to heart as grownups. But I’d like to see more of us (am I an adult now? this means me!) learn to redirect ourselves into being more hopeful about tomorrow’s “fun.” Being told “no” doesn’t have to sap us of all creativity. The dullest of details can be opportunities to be creative.
Alexandra Stoddard, one of my favorite creative people in the world (before Martha Stewart, there was Alexandra Stoddard) writes about she often dresses up to pay bills. Or she lights a candle, puts on her favorite music, and reads a book in her favorite chair by the window. I love this. Suddenly, a simple task becomes completely new.
I believe repetition is a result of us looking at our tasks in the same old way. All it takes is looking at these tasks in a new way. The morning dishes is a chance to catch sunlight in the glass, the laundry as a way to color-code a sock drawer, or walking the dog down a different street to look at front porches and the new gardens in spring. It doesn’t take much. How easy we could change our entire outlook on life and our creativity.
Thus I’m learning not to fear creativity, but to remember what it was like when I was a child. The feel of sunshine on my face makes me happy and gives me a longing for summer days by the river. Or as we watch my three-year-old niece delight to put on a frilly apron just to help her aunt wash the dinner dishes. It’s her favorite thing in the world. What is it about doing dishes that makes her so happy? It’s because she can be creative. She’s learned to redirect her “no” into something that gives her the same feeling of creativity.
I think we can do the same.
Action Step: What is one thing you can do differently today that you’ve done a hundred times before?