Living in Tulsa 'Tine: Grieving, Healing, and Connecting on Socially Distant Tulsa Time. Episode 5: Pursue Creativity

Living in Tulsa 'Tine: Grieving, Healing, and Connecting on Socially Distant Tulsa Time. Episode 5: Pursue Creativity

May 15, 2020

Well, another week has come and gone and the world is slowly starting to open up. So does that mean we will go back to the way things were? I don’t have a crystal ball, but I doubt it. So, what will it mean? I don’t know. I really don’t. What I DO know is that it will be different. Things have changed, and sometimes changes are irrevocable. And change, well, change is hard. Even when we want it. Even when we have worked for it, planned for it, and initiated it ourselves. Change is hard. And change is stressful. And stress can do all sorts of things to us. It raises our heart rate and blood pressure. It messes with our digestive system. It causes our muscles to tense up so we get muscle pains, back aches, headaches.... and we get thrown into grief, whether we realize it or not.

We long for the way things were: going to a restaurant and sitting down with a group of friends, or heading to the theater to watch a long anticipated film, or gathering to watch a graduation or a sporting event. And for all too many, we long for someone who is no longer with us. This virus has left a lot of people bereft of one of the people most precious to them. And even then, they have not been able to honor them and their grief in the ways they always have in the past. Our traditions are interrupted.

So people have had to be creative. People have found a number of new and meaningful ways to celebrate the lives of those who have gone. And creativity is getting people through this pandemic in many other ways. Restaurants have found new ways to serve customers, stores have changed the ways they do business, and companies have figured out how to retool what they do to produce needed products. Creativity.

So, what about you and your creativity? Wait, I’m not going to ask, because I already know what a lot of you are going to say: “Oh, I’m not creative. I can’t so much as draw a straight line!” And my answer to that is what it always is: “Poppycock!”

Thursday night on the Tonight Show Jimmy Fallon interviewed Mo Willam, the famous children’s book author and illustrator. This is what he said:

“Science is going to get us out of this. But art is going to get us through this. We’re going to be able to understand what’s going on. We’re going to be able to handle our emotions....There is no such thing as a wrong drawing.” Mo Willems 5-14-2020 (you can find some creative ideas with Mo here: http://www.mowillems.com/)

How timely is that?

You see, I believe that we all have the ability to be creative, and so does he. Every child has this drive to create. They scribble, color, build with blocks or LEGO, paint, make up games or stories, act out little plays, create jokes... the list is endless. They do it for fun. They do it to relax. They do it as a social connection with others. But for many of us, over time, we give in to comparing ourselves to others that have a kind of expression of creativity that gets a lot of notice and praise. So we say to ourselves, “I’m not as good as they are. I’m just not creative.” So we stop expressing ourselves. And we miss out on a lot, because there are wonderful benefits to expressing our creativity.

May I tell you my own story about reconnecting with my own creativity?

I grew up with an extremely artistic sister. I used to draw and paint a lot. But then I eventually stopped. I gave in to comparing myself to her. And in my mind, I never measured up. Oh, from time to time I would try something, but never for long. Then I went through my own rough season of loss. For fifteen years I did "hard”, ending with the last three years being over the top with loss. My heart was broken and I did more vegetating than anything. Then a very wise friend of mine started talking with me about creativity. She is an Art Therapist, so she immerses herself in creativity. I started attending her professional trainings for CEUs for my license. In each training she had us create something. I felt so awkward at first. I could hardly think of what to do, let alone how to do it. Over time I began to relax. And I began to learn some basic principles. I learned from watching others, and listening to them as they talked about their art. I learned from looking at different types of art. I learned from tips and encouragement. These important truths have become my guide:

  • You don’t have to have the whole idea in order to begin. Just start.
  • The art will tell you what to do next. Trust it.
  • There is no “right way” to do art. Anything goes.
  • Don't judge what you are creating. More than I believed in the past, my art is a part of me. So judging it is judging myself.
  • If I’m stuck, go out and walk around and then come back. Or shake my head and look again. Ideas WILL emerge.
  • There are no mistakes. When there is what you consider an “oops”, consider it a happy accident, a message from your unconscious, and just go with it.
  • Ask someone you trust to be non judgmental to give you their honest opinion. I don’t know how many times I have asked, what do you think about this? Is this better? Or this? And no matter what they say, I do what I want. But it is freeing to hear other perspectives.
  • If you’re afraid of trying something, try it anyway.
  • Whatever you do, keep creating.

I don’t love everything I’ve made. But I have loved the process. And I have gained so much! During this quarantine it has been more challenging to keep creating. Before it hit I was getting together with my friend, and several other friends, two times a week to do art together. It was a wonderful break in my week. So as my stress was going up staying at home, I realized that I had to get back to being creative. It makes a difference.

So here are some benefits of creativity:

  1. It reduces stress. Studies show that engaging in creativity affects the body in much the same way as meditation. It lowers blood pressure and heart rate. It improves deep breathing. It relaxes muscles. And it promotes a general sense of well being. It causes our brain to release GABA, an anti anxiety chemical in our brains, as well as endorphins, which are happy hormones.
  2. It renews brain function. It promotes the development of healthy neurons. And research shows that adults who engage in craft based creative activities can lower their risk of central nervous system decline like dementia, by 50%.
  3. Creativity involves using both hemispheres of the brain, so it improves cross hemisphere communication, and coordination of processes across the brain.
  4. Engaging in creative activities can improve your mood and help you process thoughts and feelings. Scribble your feelings, or create a collage from magazine cutouts or different objects or scraps. Sing, dance, plunk around on an instrument, make up a song, knit, crochet, sew something, write a poem or doodle. Express what you are feeling creatively.
  5. Try art with a group... a very small one right now, the people you are in quarantine with. Or do a FaceTime or Zoom meeting with others and make art together. One of my friends has been doing this off and on and it’s fun to participate. Studies show that people, who engage in artistic activities in a group, feel happier, improve their social contact and communication skills.
  6. Engaging in art can improve your overall physical health. Studies show that the immune system is strengthened when people engage in various forms of creativity. Art therapy is used in some hospitals to help cancer patients, children who have experienced trauma or severe illness, and to help people cope with chronic pain. Yes, it can actually help reduce pain.
  7. Take a moment and engage your inner child. Be playful. Have fun.

So this week try something new. Create. Take care of you. You’re the only one who can.

-- Emilie McCartney Smith, LPC