I believe that we all have strands of creative code hard-wired into our imaginations. These strands are as solidly imprinted in us as the genetic code that determines our height and eye color, except they govern our creative impulses. They determine the forms we work in, the stories we tell, and how we tell them. Twyla Tharp
When I was 11 years old, I started a “Things to do when bored” list. It had suggestions like: write letters, work on alien photo album, put on a show, make puppets, puzzles, skulptures, beads, baking, watercolours, design clothes… etc.
Many of the things on that list (which I still have) are things that I would like to spend my time doing now (even ‘phone Eryn’ is something I wish I did more often), and though I rarely slow down enough to feel bored, I do occasionally get stuck doing the same things over and over again and feel a need for inspiration.
I’ve read in many places that remembering what you loved as a child can help you find your calling as an adult. While this is certainly true for some of us (the scene above is not that different from how I like to spend my time now), it doesn’t necessarily have to point you towards a career. Going back to childhood passions can simply help you be more passionate in your life today.
A creative life is a juicy life, filled with activities that ignite our curiosity and keep us engaged.
Finding those things that inspire us and bring us joy should be a top priority. If your days feel mundane, or you’re looking for a spark to set off a fire, see if you can look through old photos or journals to find what got you excited as a kid.
I’ve always loved nature and reading through some old journals, I found these “nature log” entries that make me chuckle today:
8 years old: “I went to the John Janzen nature centre. I saw a live horned owl, some stuffed animals, salamanders, snakes, a frog and bees in a see-through hive. We made finger puppets.”
9 years old: “I went for a walk in Forest Green Park. We saw 3 squirrels, 2 chickadees, and a few holes in the bottom of trees and one had poop in it.”
10 years old: “Out in the middle of nowhere, we found a beaver dam. It was really big and the beavers were still using it. As we drove on, we found a big hill made of coal and red shale. Dad said that it had been burned. We found a melted rock that looked like bone.”
I used to devour my monthly Ranger Rick magazines, I loved learning about endangered species, and I especially loved being able to identify plants and animals around where I lived. As I moved through adolescence I lost some of my connection to the natural world, but it never left me completely. The more time I spend in nature, the more I’m inspired to learn about it, and to incorporate it into my artwork. It’s a connection that I can nurture by going for walks in nearby nature areas, hiking, and going back country camping.
I sat down and thought about some more ways that my childhood interests have stuck with me into adulthood, and how they influence my creative journey:
- When I play with paper mache, I feel a childlike sense of glee at having my hands covered in goop. When I visit a historical building, or archaeological site, I get that familiar shiver of mystery and wonder that I did from reading Nancy Drew novels and longing for a secret passageway of my own. When I start cutting and glueing papers, I feel a sense of possibility, like anything can happen.
- I have piles of notebooks filled with poetry, stories, and writing prompts. I used to write with abandon, just to get things out of my head and make sense of the world. I don’t often feel the same urge to write just for the sake of writing, though I try to cultivate that urge with regular journalling.
- I still love the way it feels to put on a costume and become someone new. I still seek refuge in quiet corners, like when I was feeling down and would bring a pile of books, a flashlight, and a blanket into my closet. I still feel at home in libraries, physically surrounded by thousands of stories and ideas.
- It’s been a long time since I’ve tried calligraphy, pottery, or water colour painting, but I do love creating sculptures, drawing patterns, and playing with acrylic paints.
When I think about these things, I feel energized. I want to get a stack of books from the library, crawl through a field of clover staring at bees, dig out my rock collection, find a mystery to solve – or create one – and learn German, Arabic, and Korean. I want to get messy, make something up, go exploring.
Following the trail of childhood wonder can only lead to bright shining moments where the burdens and anxieties of adulthood gently lift, revealing what’s really important. If you want to bring more passion and joy into your life, go on a journey through time and find what used to make you smile. It will probably still bring a twinkle to your eye.
What did your childhood self chase after? How did you fill your days? How much of that have you brought with you, and what else can you incorporate into your daily life?