Four Ways Creative Hobbies Can Help You Flourish!

“If we learn to embrace our own messy, creative selves,  we give others permission to do the same. We help create a world that  is more welcoming of the creative spirit, and we make it possible to find a greater connection with others and with ourselves in the process.” –Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire, 10 Habits of Highly Creative People

Why Creativity?

When my Designing Your Life partner Jocelyn told me that she wanted to prototype four evenings of  collage and tea this summer, two things didn’t resonate with me.

Collage and tea.

I’m sort of pragmatic and minimalist, so accumulating  materials for collage makes me a little nervous. I generally drink tea only when I’m ill.

But two other things did.

Trying out a new creative medium would give me the opportunity to test whether Mark Manson’s “5 Boring Ways to Become More Creative” actually worked.

If they worked…I could evaluate how becoming more creative (by attempting collage) affected my sense of well-being.

Suggestive Research

The article “Doing Something Creative Can Boost Your Well-Being” suggests that people who engaged in a creative activity the previous day reported an increased sense of flourishing: “an overall sense of meaning, purpose, engagement, and social connection.”

To test this hypothesis, I could:

1. Attend four evenings of CrafTea Friday.

2. Produce four collages.

3. Track next-day behaviors related to flourishing.

Purpose

If something is creative, it’s because it triggers  some degree of surprise or excitement within us—it reconfigures  existence in ways we could not have previously imagined.”–Mark Manson, “5 Boring Ways to Be More Creative

The day after the first CrafTea Friday, I find myself on a  mission to see the world through the eyes of an elk. Yeah, that sounds a  little weird. Maybe I should back up to the collage activity itself for  context.

I begin with a collection of pre-torn images, magazines, catalogues, etc. and a 5″ x 8″ card on which to paste them.

I select an image of a crowd outside of an art gallery where a banner proclaims “Wildlife Photographer of the Year.”

I select an image of an old-fashioned light bulb and another image of a man camping in the wilderness. Is it his dream to  become a wildlife photographer?

No, he’s too big to fit on the card with the banner.

I reject the man and audition a wildlife image that might appear in the exhibit. What’s with the light bulb, though? Do I lose  that?

What if one of the animals harbors a secret desire to capture its surroundings through photography? What images would that creature photograph?

Meaning

I pursue my mission by finding new meaning in the local free libraries in front of people’s houses. I was never curious about  the books they might contain because I use the Multnomah County Library  for that. But now they’re a potential source of images. The randomness of contents that precluded me from searching them for reading ideas might  be just what I need in coming up with subjects for elk photography!

Engagement

The creative process of having a collage-in-progress increased my awareness of surroundings beyond the free libraries.

While I never minded accompanying E. to the local art supply store (coincidentally named Collage)  because there was always something to look at, having my own work-in-progress drew me to notice some cute animal stickers by the  checkout counter. Circle back to meaning: what if these were the images  that the elk photographer wished to capture?

Subsequent engagement: taking a closer look at the weekly shopper flyer that usually went immediately from mailbox to recycling, raiding another free library for a copy of People magazine. I also took a closer look at past months’ images on the Audubon wall calendar.

Social Connection

An organizing inspiration for CrafTea Fridays was SoulCollage,  “an easy, enjoyable, intuitive collage process for self-discovery and  community.” So my experiment design doesn’t control for doing creative work in isolation.

But a couple members of my Saturday meditation group thought that CrafTea Fridays sounded like fun when I mentioned it the following morning.

At Zoom Game Night, I think I joked about hoping that I was better at collage after a particularly feeble attempt at Pictionary. A few people expressed interest in seeing my results.

Another conversation during Connection Hour about my initial lack of interest in either crafts or tea prompted someone to say that both crafts and tea sounded like fun, so I invited them to come to the next one.

Empathy, Compassion, and 9/11

I had a conversation with a neighbor a few days ago. He was relaxing on a zero gravity chair on a beautiful early summer evening. I stopped to say hi. He stopped to let me know about all the trouble in the world.

His golf game hadn’t gone well. Neither had Texas. Police weren’t doing their job, people were losing everything in floods in New York.

I was reminded of visits to my father’s aunt’s house when I  was young. She lived in a Chicago suburb similar to the one we lived in. The only difference was that she obsessed over crime reporting and was afraid to leave her house.

Temper Your Empathy, Train Your Compassion

The next day I re-listened to an interview with Rutger Bregman, author of on The One You Feed. Humankind: A Hopeful History. The part about empathy and compassion starts at 45:02 if you’d like to listen. Here’s my paraphrase/condensation of Bregman’s answer. 

When I use the word empathy, what I mean is this capacity that humans have to imagine ourselves in someone else’s shoes, to really feel on an emotional/mental level what other people are feeling.

And a lot of people think that empathy is the solution to so many of our problems. And for a long time I also believed that indeed empathy is the answer, but I changed my mind.

What Paul Bloom shows in the book Against Empathy is that empathy is not some light that lights up the world and lets you see everything clearly, it’s more like a spotlight or searchlight that helps you focus on one person or one group while the rest of the world fades into the background.

Why is it problematic? Because we just give too much attention then to that one person or one group.

If you think about the Middle East, for example, in many ways, there’s too much empathy there and not enough distanced rational compassion where people try to zoom out a little bit. What happens? The  Palestinians commit an attack and there are victims on the Israeli side and there’s obviously a lot of empathy for the victims. People who feel more empathy want more vengeance. So there’s an attack from the Israelis on the Palestinians and there are again a lot of casualties. And people feel a lot of empathy for the victims and it goes on and on and on.

So the problem there is not a lack of empathy. People feel  an ENORMOUS amount of empathy for the victims. ENORMOUS! and that’s why  they want action.

What happened after 9/11 in the US? It was like a TSUNAMI of empathy. And we all know what happened after that.

What we need here is something different.

What scientists have shown us is that there is a really  distinct phenomenon that we call compassion. We can even see it in the  brain. When people feel compassion, a different part of the brain lights  up.

As a parent, when your kid is afraid of the dark, you  don’t want to feel empathy. You don’t want to be afraid of the dark as  well. You just want to sit next to the kid and comfort the kid and say  look, it’s fine, you don’t have to worry about that. There are no  monsters underneath your bed, check it out, see, no monsters at all.  That’s more the compassionate approach.

It’s more distant. It’s a bit more rational as well. You  care about the person you want to help, so it’s also about love. You  don’t allow yourself to be swept away by the suffering and the fear and  the feelings of someone else. You recognize, “Look, what you feel is  what you feel, and I recognize it and I see you and I want to help you  with it but it’s not what I feel.”

The Co-Rumination Trap

Revisiting Bregman reminded me of a section from Ethan Kross’s book Chatter, on working with the voice in our heads:

To demonstrate that they are there to offer emotional  support, people are usually motivated to find out exactly what happened  to upset us—the who-what-when-where-why of the problem. They ask us to  relate what we felt and tell them in detail what occurred. And though  they may nod and communicate empathy when we narrate what happened, this  commonly results in leading us to relive the very feelings and  experiences that have driven us to seek out support in the first place, a  phenomenon called co-rumination. Co-rumination is the crucial juncture  where support subtly becomes egging on. People who care about us prompt  us to talk more about our negative experience, which leads us to become  more upset, which then leads them to ask still more questions. A vicious  cycle ensues, one that is all too easy to get sucked into, especially  because it is driven by good intentions.

The most effective verbal exchanges are those that  integrate both the social and the cognitive needs of the person seeking  support. The interlocutor ideally acknowledges the person’s feelings and  reflections, but then helps her put the situation in perspective. The  advantage of such approaches is that you’re able to make people who are  upset feel validated and connected, yet you can then pivot to providing  them with the kind of big-picture advice that you, as someone who is not  immersed in their chatter, are uniquely equipped to provide. Indeed,  the latter task is critical for helping people harness their inner voice  in ways that lead them to experience less chatter over time.

Time, of course, plays a role in our ability to offer  perspective-broadening support to the people in our lives. Studies  consistently show that people prefer to not cognitively reframe their  feelings during the very height of an emotional experience when emotions  are worked up; they choose to engage in more intellectual forms of  interventions later on. This is where a certain art in talking to other  people comes into play, because you must walk a tightrope to take upset  people from addressing their emotional needs to the more practical  cognitive ones.

Compassionate Conclusion

I agreed with my neighbor that terrible things happened to  people every day. I also said that for every terrible thing there are  countless acts of kindness. I asked him which anonymous act of kindness  he wanted to perform. He mentioned his work with the Oregon Food Bank  but had to cut our conversation short. It was coming up on 7:00 p.m. and  he and his neighbor rang a tribute to essential workers to show their  appreciation during the pandemic.

What act of kindness would you like to perform? Please share in the comments.

Photo by Liza Summer from Pexels

Five Habits to Increase Creativity

It turns out that creativity is a skill. And like any skill, you can practice and get better at it. In fact, just learning about creativity and how it works can help. –Mark Manson, “5 Boring Ways to Become More Creative”

What is Creativity?

While listening to Mark Manson read his essay, “5 Boring Ways to Become More Creative,”  I was surprised by how much of what he wrote rang true about writing. I was excited to try the concepts out on collage: a medium where I have no experience.

How can I tell if it works? Manson quotes in italics: If something is creative, it’s because it triggers some degree of surprise or excitement within us—it reconfigures existence in ways we could not have previously imagined.

Prior to Jocelyn’s CrafTea Fridays, I could not have previously imagined doing collage, so that leaves surprise and excitement!

Focus on Doing the Work, Not Flashes of Inspiration

Creative people don’t “find time” to be creative—they put in the time to be creative.

It’s no surprise, then, that when you look at the creative geniuses throughout history to find commonalities, the most glaringly obvious one is that they simply worked their asses off more than most people, and longer than most people. There’s almost a direct correlation between how much someone created and how original their work ended up being.

I approached the disorder of the collage table without a clue what I was going to produce. The supplies included a 5 x 8″ piece of card stock to hold images, a folder full of pre-torn images, remnants of other people’s collages, a variety of magazines from which to draw images, some scissors, and glue. It wasn’t hard to start placing things on the card and monitor my reaction (for any surprise or excitement).

I kept an image of an art museum exterior with a banner reading “Wildlife Photographer of the Year” and a crowd of people. It was the work that produced the idea, not the other way around.

Collage Supplies

Do “Normal” Things

Salman Rushdie was a copywriter for a big New York ad agency, writing some of the industry’s most classic campaigns during the day and working on his novels at night.

Andy Warhol worked in the ad department of a magazine and was a designer for a shoe manufacturer. It was in these jobs that he experimented with many of the techniques that would later come to define his now-famous design style.

Most of the internet would have you believe that boring, stable jobs somehow kill creativity. But in many cases, the boring corporate life actually allowed these people to put food on the table and hone their crafts at the same time.

The ideas that built my collages came because I was doing “normal” things, not despite the fact.

Admittedly, accompanying my partner E. to an art supply  store increased the probability that I would discover the cute animal stickers that I could employ as subjects in “Wildlife Photographer of  the Year.”

I passed many free library posts in front of houses every day on my walks. Taking a pause to check a few out was the only deviation from my “normal” routine. I found a couple of image-rich  children’s books, one of which I’d use in my second collage, and a People magazine I’d use in my fourth.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Be Bored, Not Distracted

When you’re bored with nothing else to do, you’re faced  with the realization that you have the agency to choose what your life will be in that moment. And as empowering as that thought might seem, it’s also really fucking scary.

Do I try something new? Something that might help me but might not? Something I might be good at…or completely fail at? Do I  just sit here? OH MY GOD, MAKE IT STOP. WHERE’S MY PHONE???

…there is no difference between inspiration and lack of distraction. They are the same thing.

Though I arrived at my second inspiration by “doing the work,” leafing through one of the children’s books I’d found, my idea to  “Color The Picture” of a yak by cutting up other images to fit the  outline proved, well…boring. The yak is not a particularly colorful creature, and the colors available to me in the children’s book images  lacked variety and gradation.

I decided to stick with the boring concept instead of  distracting myself with another idea. E. suggested that I try a book  that contained more photorealistic illustrations of landscapes. I  decided to use these to color the picture, along with select images from  a weekly shopper.

Color the Picture

Treat Ideas Like Investments: Buy Low, Sell High

Art shares a lot of similarities with undervalued stocks. At first, when people hear of a novel idea, a lot of them will  laugh it off as ridiculous, outlandish, unnecessary, or just plain dumb.  It’s here that the artist “buys” the idea at its low value, then finds a  way to refurbish and “flip it” into something of higher value that the  world understands and appreciates.

The art that surprises and excites me most in local  galleries often involves the upcycling of materials artists likely found in recyling bins.

My experiment with upcycling involved an envelope of  advertisements (junk mail) that I had no interest in other than the mild  curiosity of how I got on the mailing list.

The scenario that I came up with by combining the offers and pasting them to a junk mail card, brought a smile to my face. If it  brings a smile to yours, that’s two more smiles than it would have  generated if I simply recycled the materials.

Exceptional Offers from Premium Brands

Find the Most Creative People in Your Field and Steal from Them

Research suggests that the process of creativity starts first with immersing yourself in the domain you’re interested in. That  means: first, study your ass off. Before adding something novel (and  valuable!) to any body of work, you first have to know what that body of work is and get good enough to at least emulate it, if not surpass it.

My first challenge was finding a collage artist I admired.  My second was finding someone whose style I had the skill level to  imitate.

John Strezaker is able to create some striking imagery by making hybrid faces out of two photographs. These composite faces surprise and excite me and challenge me to see the world in a previously unexpected way. Because the technique  doesn’t involve combining hundreds of sources in one collage, it appeals to me as being thrifty if not easy.

I found a cover photo of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez on  an issue of People magazine in a Free Library. I botched my attempt at a  Ben J. Lo, but continued playing with faces.

An image of Kate Winslet roughly filled a 5″ x 8″ card.  So, I decided to cut that face into shapes like a puzzle and piece them  together. My concept: the surprise would come from the inherent  imperfections of my skill in reassembling the puzzle. That was the plan, anyway…

Until the wind blew the pieces off the canvas, I lost a  few, and I realized I’d have to start guessing where things went and  gluing them into place.

I decided to make a puzzle of Winslet’s name as well, and  was surprised and excited that I would be able to finish this series where I started it, with an elk!

EElk Ate Twins

What’s Your Medium?

Collage probably isn’t my medium because I don’t like  accumulating and organizing materials. I enjoyed the process of making  them and releasing them into the wild by depositing them in the  Ainsworth Art Exchange.

Ainsworth Art Exchange