Let’s start with a confession: I had four kids in 5 ½ years. I feel like I need to confess that because no one in their right mind would have that many kids in such a short time. Because of my self-imposed baby boom, my use of creativity for many, many years was limited to things like planning how a Brownie troop could earn their camping badge (ideally without actually camping) or figuring out how to be three places at once. Did I mention that I have always worked fulltime? I was running on fumes.
Now my kids are older: next year I’ll have three in college (imagine someone searching under couch cushions for loose change- that will be me) and one in high school. They hardly need me to structure their days for them, and I find myself with some spare time. My (paid) job is not what I consider creative except to the extent that I try to write reports that won’t lull people to sleep. My brain has become a bit fidgety. I need to give it some activities somewhere between watching t.v. (I do that, too) and a craft project (I was not an effective Scout leader due to my limitations in this area).
I feel lucky that this time of my life has dovetailed with an excess of technology, which has made creativity easy and affordable! Here are my go-to tools to stimulate the right side of my brain without too much effort (did I mention that I have been struck my inertia since I rarely have to do anything after I get home from work?):
We’ll start with the easiest one since it’s ostensibly the basis for Music Mom. I have frequently touted the splendor that is Spotify, and I continue to do that. For only $9.99 a month (=two lattes), you can literally listen to whatever music you want. Last week I made a playlist of 92 songs based on Rolling Stone’s best songs of 2013. How else would I have discovered the song “Old Love/New Love” by Twin Shadow (never heard of them) from the music of Grand Theft Auto V (wait, video games have soundtracks? Future blog idea!).
I’ve also expanded the music I listen to via music-related podcasts- a number of my favorite songs last year were discovered this way. My favorites are Sound Opinions and All Songs Considered. I listen to them while I’m walking to work. On occasion I also walk for fitness reasons, and I need something to distract me from the fact that I am exercising, albeit mildly. All of the podcasts I listen to are free on iTunes. Perfect!
I stopped reading when I was about halfway through What to Expect When You’re Expecting and became convinced that birthing a child with a fatal disease or accidentally killing it was inevitable. A couple years ago, however, my mom gifted me with an unwanted Kindle (she prefers the E-Reader), and I picked up the reading habit again. There are a lot of books that are available electronically through the library, and I’ve also gone old school and started reading real library books from time to time. And assuming you return your books on time, library books are free! (Warning: library books on Kindle disappear after two weeks- it can be a bit stressful) Last weekend, I had nothing to read and the library was closed due to cold weather. I ended up buying a book for only $1.99 (half a latte) and it was one of my favorite books I’ve read in a long time (“The Rosie Project” – highly recommend).
But what to read? I used to feel my chest constricting when I walked into the library because there are sooo many books, and who wants to waste time reading a bad one. A year or two ago, my aunt introduced me to Goodreads, which is available online and also has a good phone app. You can keep a list of books you want to read, see what the average reader rating was of any book, and peruse what your friends are reading and what they’ve rated well. Goodreads will also make book recommendations based on what books you have rated highly. Since I discovered Goodreads I literally read all the time (and if I start a book and don’t like it, I don’t keep reading it. It’s not school, I can do that!). Note: reading is free, the library is your friend (actually your taxes are paying for it anyway, so you should take advantage of it). Oh, I also joined a neighborhood book club. Look at me, I’m social!
I started my blog a couple years ago. I went through a romantic period where I thought maybe I could make writing more of my livelihood, but the bottom line is that I write because I like to, and I’m better at writing than talking (If I were trying to tell you all this verbally I would not be able to think of my words, and my thoughts would be horribly disorganized. You would become confused and stop listening). Writing a blog is free on sites like this one or Blogspot. Many people express their opinions on their blogs, and other less confrontational people (like me) stick to more neutral topics. Both are fine, the point is you can write whatever you want to.
I use the term photography loosely. Everyone has a camera in their pocket in the form of a phone these days. During December I started taking pictures of Chicago landmarks dressed for the holidays and posting them on my blog Facebook page. It turns out people love looking at pictures! My sister suggested I start an Instagram account, which I did a couple days ago (met with a very tepid response from my kids as they fear adults are infiltrating yet another form of social media, proprietary only for high school and college students apparently). It’s amazing how you look at things and take notice of your surroundings when there could be a cool picture in it. Today I went for a walk at lunch hoping to find some interesting shots. Maybe Instagram will help me lose weight! If any of my kids read this they will have rolled their eyes no fewer than five times in this paragraph alone. Here is a picture I took this week (it's the Chicago River in case that's unclear). It turns out snow and cold can create some really cool pictures. Who knew!
There you have it, my arsenal to keep me from becoming one with my Excel spreadsheet. With the exception of Spotify, none of this requires much of an outlay of money or effort (like I always tell my kids: if it’s too much work, just don’t do it). What do you do to prod your brain with a bit of creative stimulation?
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