Updated: Apr 15
In the last year, there’s been a lot of talk about how to survive—mentally, physically, emotionally. It feels like every day there’s a new article about how to cope with stress in this age of the pandemic. Working for a digital creative agency, these are some of the things we talk about often. How do we reach people in times of stress?
But I’ve been thinking about this recently and realizing that for me, reading about how to simply survive isn’t enough. It’s been a long time since I read an article about having fun just for the sake of fun—not for self-care, not for wellness, not to just get by. But for joy.
"Reading about how to simply survive isn't enough."
As a working mom, sometimes my “self-care” activities are things I should just be doing anyway, like showering or getting exercise. What may be more important in my life is creative wellness. So, here are a few fast, free creative project ideas I like to do to enrich my creative wellness and promote happiness.
Go for a nature walk—wherever you live.
My son is in Montessori school—an educational philosophy I knew little to nothing about three years ago and am now obsessed with—and some of the pillars are curiosity, self-leadership, and environmental interaction. At my son’s specific school, a big part of this curriculum is an outdoor learning program. That means nature walks, snow or shine.
We live in Chicago in a densely populated neighborhood. Before my son was born, I used winter as the season to hibernate and summer as the season to get out. Now, I’m willing to get out and explore unless it’s dangerously freezing. When I take my nature walks, I’ve been thinking about urban environments as a part of nature. The French call a male urban walker a flâneur and a female flaneuse, and part of the fun of these walks is identifying how the cityscape is a natural landscape. I love seeing how the two contrast and interplay with one another.
Some things have surprised me—for one, I’ve learned that there’s a huge urban foraging scene in Chicago (I’ll never look at dandelions the same). Secondly, I’ve become enamored by what some of my neighbors have made with their small outdoor spaces. And beyond the sacredness of parks and nature preserves, I’m now smitten to see the ways nature prevails in the city, along rivers and in concrete cracks and on the sides of buildings. Taking some time to go for an intentional nature walk every day, except days like this) has re-introduced joy in a very grim year.
Set a timer for 25 minutes and write.
Have you ever heard of the Pomodoro Technique? If not, get ready because it changed my life. What I love about the Pomodoro is that it helps me with both work and play. It gives time so much more intentionality. One of the things that can exacerbate depression in my life is feeling like I’m floating around in an overwhelming, liminal time unit.
In short, the Pomodoro Technique traditionally uses 25 minutes and a timer to do a block of work. You dedicate 25 minutes to that work only, then you take a break and assess your energy level. If 25 minutes sounds too short, you may be surprised how much you’re able to accomplish in that time, and how much better you feel once you hit break time. Looking at an eight-hour workday can seem daunting, but if you look at the workday in terms of 25-minute chunks and breaks, it becomes more feasible.
Besides my role as a creative marketing writer at M&P, I’m also a teacher. With my college students, I like to use the Pomodoro method to get their juices flowing. I’ll give a prompt, set the timer, and they have 25 minutes of uninterrupted writing time in class. Then, we take a stretch break, and sometimes we do it again. The student feedback is usually along the lines of “I was in a trance. I didn’t realize I had so much to say. I can’t believe I got so much writing done.”
So, applying the Pomodoro to creativity and fun, try setting a timer for 25 and seeing what happens. You can use a creative prompt or just roll solo, but have fun and don’t self-filter. Don’t judge sloppy handwriting. Don’t get hung up on grammar and structure. Whatever happens, happens.
P.S. As a mom I totally know what it’s like to desperately need privacy and sacred space. If you’re worried about anyone reading your creative pages, stow them away somewhere that’s just for you.
Grab an old magazine and try a blackout poem.
Blackout poems, also called erasure poems, are when you take an existing text and blackout certain words (with a Sharpie or even Wite-Out) to create something new. One of my favorite poets Mary Ruefle has done this with books including The Mansion and Marie, with results you can read for free on her website. Here are some more fun reference photos by the author and artist Austin Kleon.
You may have also seen blackout poetry on Instagram or even in your children’s Language Arts assignments—it’s a popular practice with a ton of versatility, and the results can be silly if you’re looking for a quick break or meaningful if you’re looking for an artistic breakthrough. Here’s a quick silly one I did, from an article about re-potting spider plants I found in Real Simple:
The result says, Less is often more. You don’t need to make sure you start out on the right foot. You need to sit in standing water approximately once every other year. See? I’ve turned something simple into a philosophy. And in perfect time for April, which happens to be National Poetry Month.
The point of all this madness is to get your gears going for the sake of getting them going. There’s no one way for how to be creative—find something new. For a few moments, find some delight and jubilee in this one precious chaotic life, or as the Greek gods once said, YOLO.