Creating space to escape life’s stresses for a while
Sometimes when things seem a bit overwhelming, you need a place to run away and hide, or heal for a while. There’s a story I heard this week about lobsters. What do lobsters have to do with anything you ask? Well, let me tell you.
It was an excellent analogy about how as lobsters grow, their shell becomes uncomfortable, and they need to shed the shell in order to eliminate the pain and pressure of a shell that doesn’t fit anymore.
So they hide for a while beneath a rock to stay safe from predators while the new shell grows back, and everything’s fine … until the lobster grows too large for its shell again. The stimulus for growth is the pain of the shell the lobster needs to shed. Unlike us, the lobster doesn’t take a pill for its discomfort, it simply sheds the old shell and grows a new one that suits it better.
The moral of the story is that perhaps stress serves a function in our lives that we should embrace instead of medicate. I thought it was a neat way to look at something we typically view as a problem instead of a stimulus to create a better life.
I think I’ve been in the “beneath the rock” mode for a while lately. It works for me. I tend to go from feeling strong and good about things to the opposite end of the scale, and then feeling pretty vulnerable, I need to lay low and regroup for a while. And especially now with the political circus almost at full rage and people polarizing everywhere, the world can seem like a pretty stressful place these days.
Well, I’ve been preparing a place just for that, although I didn’t exactly realize it as I was doing it. About a year ago I decided I wanted to create a place that would encourage me to do things I hadn’t been doing, that I wanted to do more often. I figured if I saw it every day, it would beckon to me and draw me in. So I went about trying to create an art studio.
I began by moving some furniture around my sunroom. Light always motivates me. When asked where I want to sit at a restaurant, my answer is always, “By the window!” And I am always envious of those who have big windows in their workplace.
Unfortunately, I’ve not been so lucky. But at home I have a room full of light all year round, so that made it an easy choice for the studio.
Once I got the furniture in place, I tried to imagine the room as a studio and what I would need. I did some research online to see what other artists did to create a studio and filled an entire Pinterest page with the ideas I found. I took photos of friends’ studios and snuck some of strangers’ studios. I made aerial diagrams of the room and made lists of things I should start looking for to make it functional and fun to be in.
I scavenged the house for bookshelves I could move to that space, and managed to get a lot in place with just my own determination. It slowly starting taking shape, and I was excited.
I went to the dollar store and found all sorts of cheap storage ideas in happy, bright colors that matched the wallpaper in the room. I went to thrift stores to find inexpensive and fun items that would make the space a joy to be in. Little by little, I added something here and there, and the space began to gel quite nicely.
I pulled a taboret I have filled with craft items from an upstairs room and set it near the window in the sunroom. Each drawer is a different color, and it cheerily catches the light of midday. I brought everything that was colorful and fun from every corner of my home. Plants, little sculptures my kids made in grade school long ago, art books, magazines, poetry books, jars and bottles filled with marbles. That’s right, I have many of those. No one can ever say I lost my marbles, because I know where each and every one of them are.
My grandmother used to put marbles and other little trinkets in the soil at the base of her houseplants. I always thought it was a very fun and playful habit of hers, so I do this too. It reminds me of her and her childlike sense of humor.
I gathered anything at all that was colorful and interesting. Seashells, oddly-shaped Italian glass bottles, vials of bubble soap, numerous unfinished art projects, journals of all shapes and sizes – lined and blank alike, goofy odds and ends from the clearance racks at local craft stores, colorful storage baskets and bins … all bought for a song by scoping out discount shelves all over town.
And the art supplies. Oh, what fun those were to gather! A variety of paper, for pencil, ink and paint. Several kinds of glue, several glue guns, many tubes and palettes of paint, brushes of all types and sizes, pens and pens and even more pens. At least six coffee cups filled with any variety of writing implements. Dozens of markers, stamps, stampers, stamp pads, and of course, little toys scattered throughout everywhere you look. I must have my toys.
I hung some artwork I’d made decades ago in school on the wall for inspiration. I placed a bookshelf behind the couch so I can read on lazy weekend afternoons or take a nap if I please. The two usually go hand in hand. Read a little, nap a little and read a little. Until the dog comes along, having had enough of waiting her turn. She nudges my hand with her cold wet nose, reminding me that it’s time for a walk. She’s more like a personal assistant than a dog, and she keeps the house on a tight schedule.
Earlier this evening though, I realized something. I came across a little coloring book a friend gave me a few weeks ago. It’s not the first one I’ve gotten as a gift, as they’ve become quite a popular pastime. You’ve probably noticed the amazing variety displayed at the craft stores lately. I take the time now and again to drop everything, no matter how busy I am, and color for a while. Not to create anything amazing or something with meaning, but just to be in the activity of making. It’s sort of a Zen state for me. And many times when things are the busiest is the best time to just stop and “make” for a moment.
Everything falls away, quite far away, and for a time I can get completely lost. My brain empties out, the stress melts away and I’m just happy and relaxed. It’s the rock I can hide beneath until my shell grows back. And what I realized tonight is that the space I created is not really an art studio. That’s not what I’ve created here. I’ve created something even better.
I’ve created a play space. A place where time stands still. A place where I can come to putz, make, design, mend, experiment, create, ponder, make a mess and be in the moment and not have to adult for a while. It’s a healing place where the sound of markers hitting the surface of a coloring book or a wet brush passing over canvas can erase the stresses of life. And a daily dose of that is all I need to recover and be able to face the world again.