In 2011, the little black book came in the mail. 80 blank white pages. My goal was to dream on these pages – to draw, to journal my life, to create. I had signed up for the Brooklyn Art Library, a unique project that offers anyone with an interest in creativity the aforementioned sketchbook. Once I had turned the pages into art, I would mail the book back to the library. The staff would catalogue it and add it to their collection of thousands. I would be personally fulfilled – art and writing have always had a role in my life – and part of an international creative movement. Beyond a scribble on the first page, I never drew a thing. As a full-time employee and mother of a teen and pre-teen, life butted in. I was busy. The little black book stared at me. The deadline to submit the book creeped up. Eventually I admitted defeat and tucked the book into a drawer. At the time it was the necessary choice, but I have always tried to keep creativity in my life. A study has discovered that 75 percent of people don’t believe they’re living up to their creative potential. I can only imagine a huge portion of that would be parents. We produce meals, provide entertainment, chauffeur, clean up, and often work outside the home. Although 80 percent of people think “we all have the potential to create” and “creativity brings my imagination to life,” who has time for optional passions? Turns out we should find the time – and not only for internal satisfaction. Parents who are stressed, both by non-parental demands and by the pressing need to be great parents, have a greater chance of raising children with behavioral and emotional problems. These children may also not do as well at school. If being creative is your “me time,” it will help you de-stress. You’ll also be setting an example for your children. Creativity in childhood fosters important life skills. Our children learn to analyze situations and problem-solve. They come up with new ways of thinking. They learn to experiment, make mistakes, and learn from them. They improve their self-confidence. (Ditto for us grown-ups.) Plus if you’re taking “me time,” your children may be getting “me time” too. This unstructured time has been shown to boost focus, creativity, problem solving, and self-control. It may even predict success in school and later on in life itself. So find a way to carve out the opportunity: before your kids wake up, after they go to bed, once they’re immersed in their finger paints or homework. Then get creatively cracking. Too rusty to know where to begin? External motivation is a great, well, motivator. As for me, I’ve signed up for the sketchbook project again. The book is currently on its way in the mail. Being proactive, I have already drawn four pages, which I plan to glue in. This book, I’m determined, will not be filed in a drawer. You too can take part in this project: see details below. Plus learn about four other kicks-in-the-butt that can restart you on your creative path. Now grab that pen/needle/whatever and get going!
1 | Put it to the page
You too could be the proud owner of a new blank sketchbook! For a moderate fee, the Brooklyn Art Library will mail you a sketchbook (with optional drawing supplies), provide you with a choice of non-restrictive themes, give you a fill-that-book deadline, and set you on your way. No need to be a professional artist here. Even children can submit – so get your kids involved on their own sketchbooks too! Once done, send the sketchbook back in to be added to the world’s largest collection of sketchbooks – over 36,000 from over 100 countries. Not only can people visit the library and browse the books at the Brooklyn location, but the library often goes on tour, bringing your creative efforts to people across the United States. Plus your book can be digitized and appear online. You even get a tracking number so you can see exactly where, when, and how often viewers enjoy your book. Collage, doodle or document your vacation. Make people laugh, make people cry, or just make a mess. How you fill the book is up to you.
2 | Stitch it forward
Knitting, crocheting, weaving, spinning, bombing – crafts made with yarn abound and are celebrated each year on I Love Yarn Day. On October 14, 2017, dust off your own needles and paraphernalia to join this seventh annual effort to create and share the yarn-based love. Get free patterns and tips on the website, learn from expert designers and bloggers, and join the community on social media through the hashtags #stitchitforward and #iloveyarnday. Put on by the Craft Yarn Council, the day is not only meant to motivate you, but to motivate those around you. With the theme “Stitch It Forward,” the day encourages you to share your skills by teaching them to at least one newbie. Not only can you get your parental quality time, but, if they’re old enough, you can head your children in this creative direction too. You’ll get a tangible item and feel expansive. Plus research has shown that yarn-based crafts can help you reduce your stress, improve your mood, increase your memory, and more. One study even showed that knitting can reduce burnout amongst nurses – which is likely true for parents too!
3 | Be collectively silly
You tell your kids to dress respectably, but maybe it’s time for you to throw that rule out the window – or rather, into a subway car. Nourish the exhibitionist in you and learn how to deal with situations on the fly by taking part in the annual No Pants Subway Ride. The event is put on by Improv Everywhere, whose tagline is “We cause scenes.” They invite you to join them for this annual prank, which takes place in dozens of cities in dozens of countries. (Join the mailing list to be notified of the next date.) Here’s what you do: Take off your pants (but leave on your underwear). Get on a subway. Pretend nothing strange is going on – even as other pants-less people get on and off the train. The only requirements: a daring attitude, the desire to have fun, and the ability to keep a straight face. The goal, says the founder, is to share an experience and bring people together through absurdity. Our kids get to play – with no rhyme or reasoning – so here’s a chance for you too!
4 | Add to your talents
The above suggestions assume you already have some creative skill (or at least the ability to strip). But what if you’re more inclined to add to your talents? Learning in person is a great way to proceed, so check out the offerings at your local art studios, craft stores, colleges, etc. If you live in New York or can travel there or to select other locations, you could try a Creativity Workshop, specifically focused on writing, photography, drawing, mindfulness, and other activities that explore the power of the imagination. If a book is more your style, take a look at Austin Kleon’s "Steal Like an Artist" and accompanying journal. Here you’ll learn 10 tips about being creative – including how to steal ideas from others. If you’d rather shuffle than flip, the Art Sparks Creative Project Deck gives you a month’s worth of ideas. There are also many opportunities to learn online. Search the options at The Great Courses or Udemy, or find classes specifically focused on creative pursuits at CreativeLive or Creativebug. Proceeding at your own pace is an ideal way to fit the learning in.
5 | Tune out
Then again, sometimes the best way to be creative is to not try to be creative. Research has shown that taking a walk – outside or on the treadmill – helps ideas flow and can generate novel concepts. As the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” This also extends to movements like running, dancing, and yoga. Even if you have a child in tow, schedule the walk around nap time, tuck the smartphone away, and take advantage of zoning out with just you, the stroller, the passing world, and your thoughts. Not only may creative ideas come to you at the moment, but the effect extends to when you get back home too. You’ll be ready to tackle your creative projects with greater zest or, if nap time is over, immerse yourself in the imaginary world of Disney characters like you never have before!
I now know there are steps I can take to change how I think, to find the true me again. That is why I am going to take better care of myself this year. In fact, that’s the only resolution I care to make. For both my own health, and as an important example to my kids, this year, I'm resolving to practice a kindness that starts from within.