Prior to the pandemic, my TO DO list was top heavy with "shoulds" and "musts." Even in retirement, when much more of my time is my own, it's hard to break the habit I started during thirty years of work while multitasking as wife, mother, and (co)-chief cook and bottle washer. (My grandmother was fond of using that expression.) No doubt I was creative – Halloween costumes and wallpaper swatches come to mind – but I never was intentional about it. I never realized the importance of creativity, until recently, when many shoulds and musts have gradually fallen by the wayside.
What is left is time for reflection, to ask myself, "What are you going to do with this day, followed by the next, with hours to spend as you wish?" Like a gift bag dressed up with glitter, bows and stuffed with bright pink tissue paper – empty – until I decide how to fill it. It is a luxury, I fully realize, that many do not have.
With my mind open to possibilities, I was recently flipping through the spring edition of the Magnolia Journal. I skimmed an article, ready to turn the page, when a series of questions asked me for answers.
What thrills you?
What do you talk passionately about?
And what could that look like if it were distilled into a single word?
Searching for answers beyond the obvious, "grandkids," I put down the magazine and soon found clues all around the house.
All are pictures of things I've created or am in the process of creating. Just the thought of writing, arranging flowers, journaling, working a puzzle, shoveling soil around color-coordinated impatiens, and outlining a hopscotch game for our neighborhood's chalk drawing event...excite me! They (and others) light the proverbial spark inside my spirit which makes me feel alive, healthy and moving forward.
Yet there is nothing magical about any of these particular activities, and none of them, except writing (for me), requires a stretch of time. The bigger picture involves paying attention to whatever our personal creative nudges may be, and choosing to follow where they lead. The upheaval of the past few weeks has amplified those nudges for me. When less is predictable, the more we need creativity to bring new life to what we find in front of us.
To honor my new mantra –Create! – and keep it as intentional as my morning cup of coffee, I've written it on our kitchen chalkboard. It will stay in place as COVID-19 restrictions are gradually lifted, as the temptation increases for creativity to become eclipsed by the ever-present shoulds/musts...and return to the predictable.
I joyfully left my wipes, gloves and hand sanitizer in the front seat of the car. The sign in the parking lot said, "Lock up your valuables." That directive used to refer to my wallet.
For the next hour or so, I wouldn't need them. I could touch anything I wanted and never have to protect or sanitize. It was a new definition of freedom in a world that feels like one big germ.
I stepped onto Huckleberry Trail and breathed deeply of freshness. This 3.5 mile hiking trail begins 30 minutes from our home at one of my favorite Arkansas state parks, Woolly Hollow. The name and place sound backwoodsy, in the best possible sense, where Nature immerses the visitor in her peacefulness.
Yet, as I strode farther into the woods, I found myself dragging along worries and concerns of the day, at a pace that felt more like a workout than a saunter (one of my favorite Thoreau words.) Finally a robin caught my attention with its rebuke, "Slow down; take notice."
I stopped. The silence caught me off guard like suddenly closing the door on a noisy party. I looked for the nearest place to sit down.
A perfect sitting rock lay right in front of me. For the next 10 minutes, 20 minutes, or perhaps just 5, I sat and listened with eyes open and closed, feeling morning sun on my back and hearing the sound of stream, bird and breeze. And when I continued sauntering, I paid attention.
At the end of the trail, I reached out my hand and touched a tree, a parting connection to a place which felt like the normal I miss more every day.
Its texture, smell and calming spirit were still present when I returned to the car.
I did not wipe them off.