When I was an editor living in New York City, I had an hourlong commute on the train to and from work every day. In that time, I would read, take in the crowds on the R and N trains and eavesdrop on conversations around me. (I could have written a book on what I overheard on the subway, but it made fodder for story ideas.)
That commute, coupled with making over rooms in readers’ homes (part of my duties as a home/lifestyle editor), made that era of my life the most creative to date. Great ideas came to me quickly and executing them was easy. I was not only good at my job, but I had time and energy to be inspired outside of work too. I took interior design courses at Parsons School of Design and tackled DIY projects in my Brooklyn apartment on the weekends.
Now? Let’s just say that it took me about 20 minutes of staring at this blank page before I figured out how I wanted to start this. And I can’t even tell you the number of projects I’ve envisioned but not yet accomplished in my home.
These days, my long, contemplative commutes have been replaced with 45 minutes in the car, some of which is spent singing nursery rhymes with a 2-year-old on our way to day-care drop-off or trying to calm my crying baby whose gotten hungry while we’ve been stuck in traffic (he’s been coming to the office with me).
My thoughts are on the practical instead of on the imaginative. I think about what to make for Genevieve’s lunch, which loads of laundry take priority and schedules. My creativity gets tested in different ways — how to hide vegetables in tonight’s dinner, for instance.
I lack the time to just think and dream. I lack time alone to think with a clear head since to-dos, work, deadlines, kids and a husband compete for any free space in my brain. And my guilt, albeit misplaced, holds me back. So when I do have free moments (like at 3am when I’m awake and nursing), it’s much easier to scroll Facebook and Instagram feeds than to search for new sources of inspiration.
Carving out time for myself is important. I know. I’ve read lots of articles on the subject and even written a few, but most of them talk about the importance of allotting 30 minutes or more to physical fitness instead of exercising creative inspirations. But stretching the creative muscle is arguably just as important. Studies show that creativity reduces stress, builds self-awareness and confidence and sharpens our problem-solving skills.
In doing research for this piece, I read several blogs about people who goaled themselves to do a project a day for 365 days to unleash their stifled creative spirit, and I have started and stopped Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, a book that encourages daily first-thing-in-the-morning journaling to rouse creativity, more times than I care to count. Truth be told, anything that requires that much devotion and ritual stresses me out.
Instead, I give myself permission to once again wake the creative spirit within me. As I write this, I’m also making myself a written promise to take better advantage of my alone time. That means turning off social media when I breast-feed in the middle of the night, running (the form of physical fitness I manage to work in a couple of times a week) sans headphones and giving myself a mental timeout during those rare times when both kids nap instead of using those precious minutes to clean or organize. I vow to allow my mind time and space to just wander in hopes of refueling those sparks of creativity I remember fondly.
I anticipate the resurgence of my inspired mind to take some time, but I know the results will be so rewarding. My previous self painted old furniture, re-covered secondhand chairs and made original artwork in addition to coming up with dynamic story ideas.
Here’s to finding her again.