Empty

My toddler loves to empty things.

If she sees any type of container–a laundry basket, a box of tissues, her diaper bag, a bucket of toys–she seems compelled to remove the contents and toss them on the ground. Children can be so unpredictable, but this emptying out compulsion is something I’ve come to count on.

I step away to make the bed (miraculous), only to turn around and find that my nightstand is bare and a scramble of pens, post-its, books (bookmarks no longer in their places, of course), tissues, and chap stick litter the floor. And there she sits, munching on a tissue, the proud monarch of mess on her throne of debris.

It drives me nuts.

But this morning, I challenged myself to hone in on one of my daughter’s activities and allow it to inspire my creativity in some way. After all, children are creativity masterminds. There were so many actions to choose from–wiggling, waving, putting anything and everything in her mouth–but a vacant tissue box on the floor jumped out at me. Why is she always emptying things? How is that useful? How on earth could something so frustrating inspire me in any way?

As is often the case with that kind of thinking, I immediately came up with a string of answers.

We empty things to make space for new material. This tiny human I am raising is constantly discovering new things. Doesn’t it make sense that she acts out that magical process by picking up and putting down objects? It’s as if she is sorting through her educational encounters. “This is a thing. Got it. Next. This is another thing. Got it. Next.” She is processing information at super hero speed and constantly desires to make room for more. She wants to experience each item–even if only for a moment–before she discards it for the next thing, so of course she touches things and tastes them. She empties things out so they can get filled up again. If only we did the same sort of thing in our artistic practices.

As adults, we tend to clutter our lives. Often creativity gets crowded out. If we clutter every vessel we have with junk–even supposedly useful junk like laundry and dishes, facts and figures–how are we supposed to find room for our creative endeavors? What’s more inviting (and perhaps intimidating) than a blank slate? A bare surface beckons to be written, painted, or danced on. But we can be pack rats when it comes to our lists and insecurities and empty spaces can be hard to find.

So let’s relearn how from our little ones. They let it all out. They cry with every fiber of their being. They exude joy. They notice and touch and taste everything. For better or for worse they are ready to soak up anything the world has to offer because they know how to be both empty and full at once. After all, emptying out containers isn’t a tidy affair. The stuff has to go somewhere and an empty vessel can mean a messy floor. Creativity itself is clutter if we let it. The longer we deny ourselves creative outlets, the more gummed up we get with projects we could have, should have, would have done and we just keep cramming creativity into every crevice until we are so overstuffed that we can’t move. And we wonder how our children have so much energy.

I am still in my pajamas. I didn’t shower yesterday. My bathroom needs to be cleaned. I’ve got a stack of procrastinated paperwork. I am overwhelmed with to dos, but I feel like I am running on empty, because I’ve given my all to so many scattered parts of my life. But I chose to follow my daughter’s example today. I opened my laptop. I acknowledged and exited out of every document and browser tab except for this one. My playground. I opened a blank blog post. I smiled at the empty space and started writing.

And it is enough.

No matter what else happens today, I will go to bed knowing that I accomplished something creative. And I will try to make room for more tomorrow.

***

TAG! YOU’RE IT! 

*What’s an action that your child does that you could allow to inspire your creativity today?

*Take just 5 minutes out of your day to sit with a blank sheet of paper or a blank document. Doodle, write, scribble, fold–do anything you want with it. The product doesn’t matter. It’s about the process of making time to do anything at all.

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