So, colouring books for grownups. That’s a thing, now.
It happened so suddenly. One night, my mother in law told me about an article she had just read about how colouring can help depression and anxiety, and how they were making special books designed to soothe one or the other. The next day – the VERY NEXT DAY – I went to our local drug store and BAM, those same books were there.
The next time I went into Chapters I saw even more, with even fancier, more intricate designs.
I was intrigued.
You see all of those pictures and they seem to just beg to be coloured. They are beautiful, and all they are missing is your own artistic touch.
(As a random piece of trivia, I won a colouring contest when I was a kid and it netted me a $100 gift certificate to Toys R Us. Unfortunately, I let my mother talk me into giving HER the gift certificate to use as needed for gifts for friends’ parties. My mother gave me a verbal IOU of $100 which I was hypothetically supposed to be able to cash in on an as-needed basis. Eventually, after much wheedling, I managed to convince her to part with $40 of it for a stuffed porcupine puppet. Then we moved to Curacao where there was no Toys R Us so I called it a loss.)
I tried colouring along with Owl in one of his books one day, too, and it was pretty fun, even if I did feel like I was showing up my five year old.
Then reports started pouring in from friends. One with anxiety says she really enjoys it. She finds it helps give her focus, takes her mind off of her anxieties, and refreshes her a bit. Another friend has actually set up a standing date with one of her other friends to colour together. They love it.
It seems like there’s good science behind the fad, too. Colouring seems to inhabit the perfect space between “too challenging” and “not challenging enough” to create a near-meditation state. You can focus on the task while letting your mind wander. Instead of thinking about your breathing or something, you think about your picture.
Heavens knows I need something to help me get into a meditative state because I’m not doing too great lately.
So I have been seriously thinking about colouring, but there was something that was holding me back, and it has nothing to do with Toys R Us gift cards.
The honest fact is that I’m not very interested in colouring. I mean, it sounds fun, and it looks fun, and I think I would like it if I were on vacation and just wanting something to do. But I’m not on vacation, and I have a long list of recreational activities that I would rather do when Owl is either in school or asleep and Fritter is sleeping.
Writing is pretty high on that list, as is reading and binge-watching The Walking Dead alone or watching QI with Perfect Husband (by the way, if you enjoy intellectual British humor, rare trivia, and Stephen Fry, but you haven’t heard of this show HIE THEE TO YOUTUBE THIS INSTANT).
When I have some semblence of mental energy, I write. When I don’t, I collapse in front of Netflix or I read. Colouring would be ignored in both instances. I certainly wouldn’t want colouring to take up potential writing time. My writing, no matter what it is, feels productive. Colouring wouldn’t. Like Netflix, it would be purely recreational.
So I put it on the backburner.
Then, last week, I was visiting my friend the Farm Fairy at her knitting store, and she was pushing me, yet again, to try knitting.
She is always trying to get me to knit, and I always say no. I’m not good with my hands. My fingers aren’t nimble. Maybe it’s because I spent my childhood galloping around on four legs pretending to be a horse instead of dressing dolls. Maybe it’s my poor spatial skills. Maybe it is because I am left handed and my mother is right handed and when she tried to teach me knitting left handed she got all confused and gave up.
“The thing is,” said the Farm Fairy, as her puppy licked my baby’s face and Fritter chortled and pulled on the puppy’s fur, “I took a break from knitting to prepare for this big trade show, and when I was able to start again I realized how much I missed it. It’s sort of meditative, because it’s repetitive and you need to pay attention a little, but it’s also the sort of thing you can do while watching TV or chatting with your friends. It’s something for your hands to do, and I realized that I worry about things a lot more when I don’t knit.”
After all, the colouring books aren’t a unique way of de-stressing. Psychologists have observed the same effect from other repetitive, only-slightly-challenging activities, like playing Tetris. They all lead to “flow”.
In fact, I bet that was why everyone got obsessed with Flappy Bird.
PH likes to clear-cut things in Minecraft. Talk about repetitive tasks. I don’t know why, but he will spend hours in Minecraft simply demolishing huge mountains. But more on that in another post.
Anyway, my point is that knitting is just as good an activity as colouring. It is repetitive, mindless, but also requires a certain level of focus.
“Think about it,” said the Farm Fairy. “What happens to dogs when they don’t have enough to do?”
“They bark, destroy things…” I said.
“Spin in circles, chase their tails, suck their flanks… they develop stereotypies, right? Destructive ones. People aren’t so different. They need something to occupy them, something repetitive to do just to keep their hands busy.”
She makes an excellent point.
Plus then instead of just instagramming my colouring pages, I can actually have THINGS that I could MAKE for people.
And the nice thing about being able to make people gifts is that they have to cherish them no matter how crappy they are because I MADE IT FOR YOU.
Besides, the world is full of nerdy knitting projects that I would love to be able to recreate. If I could do that while watching The Walking Dead I would actually be improving my productivity!
What about the fact that I’m spatially impaired with poor manual dexterity?
Yeah, there is that. Well, you don’t know until you try, right? And the Farm Fairy is a good teacher.
So I had my first lesson last week, and it IS fiddly and difficult for me, but I spent all this week knitting while listening to QI. I feel like I’m able to focus more on the dialogue while I knit. My mind doesn’t wander as much. There’s no room for mind wandering. The knitting and the conversation eat up all the brain power I have.
Plus in the end, I would get a square, blue dishrag. So my evening productivity was already going up.
I finished off my first knitting project, the dishrag, today. Here it is:
I don’t know about you, but I think it’s beautiful.