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100% Crayon-free Creativity

My friend received an email newsletter from SARK last week, sparking an interesting debate.

SARK (who legally changed her name to “Susan Ariel Rainbow”) is an author and creative coach known for writing entire books by hand in multi-colored crayon. She’s all about dragging your inner child out to play.

I used to love SARK. Her “How to Be Happy” poster hung on my dorm room wall years ago.

Then her instructions started to annoy me; I can’t read my handwriting if I journal upside-down in magic marker. And ever since getting mugged, my instinct for self-preservation prohibits “inviting someone dangerous to tea.”

I feared my irritation with forced playfulness was a sign of bitterness or cynicism.

And then my friend Kerry received SARK’s latest invitation for a “Dream Boogie!” and said, “You know what? I think I’ve outgrown SARK.”

I made some indelicate comment about inner-child crap making me want to gag myself with a crayon. But her statement was spot on.

It Happens to the Best of Us

A week or two ago I was putting together a post about my aversion to “structured play.”

But I kept moving on and writing about other things. I wasn’t sure where it was going. I knew I had recently made friends with my resistance to six-year-old silly. Then I read Kerry’s comment about SARK and I realized my point:

It’s okay to grow up.

I physically cringe every time I hear adults talk about their inner children. Other artists, moonlighting as psychotherapists, have told me that my aversion to play is a sign of stunted creativity. That I needed to “loosen up.” That I’m a blocked artist and my Muse is starving for a playdate.

Know what I realized? I can generate 75,000 words of creative content per month, 100% crayon-free. I don’t have to wear purple pants, or heal my orphaned artist child, or paint strident affirmations on my mirror to be creatively productive. Nor do I have to be a starving artist, a drunk, or an egomaniac to be a successful creator.

I can make my own definition of creativity. I can be exactly who I am.

A few weeks ago I went to town in my journal, and everything I’d been fighting came pouring out. It was during South by Southwest (SXSW), which is a huge music festival in Austin. I didn’t go to SXSW, but lots of people in my online community were blogging and Tweeting about it.

When I moved to Seattle to be a music journalist six years ago, SXSW was Utopia. Now, eight days of non-stop shows, travel, crowds, and late nights in dingy clubs sounds like cruel and unusual punishment to me.

When I stopped enjoying concerts, my default lament was, “I’m getting old.” I tried to rally – forced down some Red Bull and Advil and continued raging latenight rock ‘n’ roll. I didn’t want to become those folks I made fun of in my twenties. “You’re going to bed? I’m going out!!”

Growing Up without Selling Out

I still love music as much as ever. But the truth is, I’d rather spend my money on a crazy pair of headphones and bliss out to a new album in the comfort of my living room. My definition of enjoyment has changed now that I’m all growed up.

I love spending my Saturday nights at home with the Page, curled up on the couch reading library books, ordering a pizza, playing Scrabble, renting a movie. I enjoy going to bed at 10:00 because it means I can wake up at 6:00 well-rested. While my city is still asleep, I can write in the sunny window of Cupcake Royale, my whole fabulous day ahead of me.

I’m not a kid anymore. And there’s no judgment in that statement. I can be an adult and remain playful. But my version of play doesn’t require writing journal entries in crayon.

Our ideas of ourselves can change and grow. How we define happiness, courage, and success can change. In fact, it should change.

I don’t see my days of care-free youth as particularly attractive anymore. I was self-absorbed and self-destructive. What’s important to me at 34 is not what was important to me at 24. If it was, I probably wouldn’t still be around.

The other night, my friend Nathan said, “It’s ironic that a girl so into Fight Club would end up creating a website about self-improvement.” I laughed out loud – that hadn’t occurred to me. When I was younger, I was fond of quoting Tyler Durden:

“Self improvement is masturbation. Now, self destruction…”

I have tattoos and piercings and on more than one occasion, I’ve shaved my head. My hair has been every color of the rainbow, but it’s presently quite brown. I also wear khakis and sensible shoes to work. Text-book normalcy wasn’t a smooth transition for me. For a while I felt like I was “selling out.”

And then I realized I’m happier now than I’ve ever been in my life. Happy in a glowing, content, fulfilled way. Like after a big, nutritious meal. Warm rock time. Not maniacally inspired, not drama queen up-all-night artiste.

I’ve changed my definitions. My view on life, art, and productivity is now steeped in rationality and logic. I don’t wait for inspiration or happiness to sweep me off my feet. I make it happen. Daily. That doesn’t make me any less “creative.”

I have a framed Peter DeVries quote for my writing desk that sums it all up for me:

“I write when I’m inspired. And I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.”

So, I guess I’ve outgrown SARK, too. And I’m okay with that. Anybody need some extra crayons?

5 comments

  1. Yes, we age, and while we can search for our inner child all we want, we can’t erase the experiences we have lived through, learned from, survived. It is good to be playful at times, but it is also good to be wise and it is always good to sit down and do the work. It is the work that it is the creating.
    I really, really, really, like the way you think. And write.

  2. I received the very same sark “dream boogie” email that your friend did! and when I felt my eyes rolling as I read it, I realized that I too have outgrown sark. You’ve expressed my feelings exactly. Excellent, witty essay!

  3. Bravo for elaborating on how we’ve kind of outgrown that need to make our journaling this huge emotional production with sparkles and all that (pardon my English) crap! It IS kind of a nice send-off to realize that I’ve moved on. I’m not saying we don’t need to work it out with our inner demons, but I simply don’t need the prompt anymore. And while I still admire and respect what she’s got going on, my relationship with SARK, and the Kerry that related to SARK, seems to have come to a close. I know that there are probably millions of journal writers out there who have benefitted from her wisdom! She can offer a lot of creative solutions to blank page woes. While my comment was kind of a dig at the fact that the woman’s gone overboard with her product, I found myself pontificating that I’m glad I’m on my way whilst reading your post.
    In fact, I felt a gentle pat on my back on my way out her door as I deleted the email. I’m sure she’s tucked a couple of crayons in my pockets without me knowing – perhaps disguising them as the delish purple or green (and grown-up) pens I write with these days. I think the lesson she was/is teaching was learned. I bet I got an A. 😉
    (Although if you ask her, I got a big, giant purple A++++++. AND some sparkles. And rainbows. Drawn by hand. On paper she made.)

    • Kerry: No doubt SARK has helped millions of people get more creative – myself included. As I always say, if something works for you, use it. If it doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to try something else. My stumbling block came when I kept listening to other people’s opinions of what should work for me, ignoring my inner resistance to a tool that no longer got the job done. So it’s okay if you want to talk things out with your inner child a la SARK, and it’s equally okay if you’ve decided it’s time to move on and try something new. I certainly still work with my inner demons on a daily basis, I just tend to do it in black and white. I agree that there’s room for everyone and every approach in the land of creativity. That’s what’s so fabulous about it. <3

  4. I would like you to know that you’re one of my inspirations for journaling. Please don’t stop posting.