I love to paint. Not canvases, but rooms. Living rooms, bedrooms, dining rooms. And I love to cut grass, especially when it's really tall. Okay, so maybe love is a strong word, but I do enjoy these mindless, monotonous tasks. Today, I painted my (almost) 12-year-old daughter's room. It was lime green and lavender with a dozen or so wallpaper flowers I'd lovingly pressed on several years ago. She'd decided her room was too "little girl," and asked if I could help remedy that. She chose the color "comforting," a warm tan that, quite frankly, makes me tear up with its maturity.
So I spent this rainy, cold, November Thursday in her room. Dipping a brush into a bucket and tediously and slowly "cutting" the edges and doorways and windows. Then I rolled between the lines, using muscles that will certainly cry out in protest in the morning when I begin coat number 2. At some point, my honey poked his head in the door and asked, "You like doing this? I hate it." I paused, considered his question, and responded, "Like? No. But I don't mind it."
Returning to my work, I pondered our conversation. Painting--and cutting grass--bring me peace. The monotony and mindlessness of the tasks allow my mind to clear. It's akin to sitting still. Not sitting somewhere waiting for something, but truly sitting still. When you focus on a singular task that doesn't require much mentally, your mind is free to rest. And in that rest, thoughts bubble to the surface. So often, we have our fingers on keyboards, touch screens, and cell phones. Our minds are constantly engaged in what we're working on, and we often multi-task. With the attention required of us most of the time, our minds aren't allowed "free play." That unstructured time that allows ideas, imagination, and solutions to float to the front unbeckoned.
This is one of the reasons why I "love" to paint and cut the grass. The other reason is much simpler. Both of these tasks bring instant, positive results. After cutting the grass, you look at your lawn with pride. Appreciating its beauty and your blessings. After painting a room in your house, it lifts your spirits to see how your space has transformed and been renewed so simply.
In writing, the creative process (for me) feels forced if I sit at my computer and try to make things happen. Not only does this result in writing I end up hashing over and over, I sometimes even trash it all together. Because creativity cannot be forced. The writing pundits preach "write something every day." I appreciate this advice and understand its basis. Just as with exercising, if you stay away from it too long, it becomes easier and easier to de-prioritize. But for me, if I stop focusing on the writing, the ideas come more freely. Driving in my car, taking a shower, and yes, cutting the grass or painting, push the noise to the back of my mind so the thoughts bobbing around inside my heart and soul can make an appearance.