Creativity is Boring

By Shannon E. Franklin

The number of times I’ve slept more than three hours in the last 18 months: zero.

You see, our son has yet to sleep through the night. I was waking up every 2-3 hours since he was born to feed him, rock him, pat him, or just cuddle him back to sleep. And when he finally started sleeping in longer stretches, like 4-6 hours at a time, I still wake up constantly (it’s out of habit at this point) in anticipation of his cries and check the baby monitor or creep down the hall to look in on him.

In a word, mama is tired. No, exhausted. Still.

In my ideal world, I rise before everyone else to have a quiet, peaceful morning that allows time to reflect on my sleeping dreams, journal and meditate. I sip on hot tea next to the window while basking in the fresh glow of the earliest light. I have ample time to feel inspired by the energy of the day and move in whatever direction I’m pulled to create.

*Insert record scratch and enter the real world.

I’m staying in bed until the last possible minute, trying to eek out even three more minutes of sleep before I get dressed, get the baby changed, pack his lunch and diaper bag for the day, and feed him while I gulp down whatever’s fast and easy for breakfast (handful of nuts? Can of seltzer water? A piece of cake?). I do this while helping my partner get ready (he’s doing better now, but for the past three months he’s needed extra help due to a serious but non life-threatening injury). We make the 30-minute drive to drop him off at work, then the 45-minute trip from there to daycare/coworking where I start my overly scheduled day, trying to pack in as much work as possible in the time I have available before daycare pick-up, partner pick-up and the nighttime routine at home.

Yep. There’s quite a gap between the morning of my dreams and that of real life at the moment, but I’ve learned something.

I used to think I needed to be in a very specific mental and emotional state to feel inspired to create. I thought inspiration could come only when I was most at peace and able to be receptive to creative ideas — not when I felt so sleep-deprived that pouring cereal seemed as complex as solving mysteries of the space-time continuum. Creativity, I thought, was having the brilliant ability to generate ideas and express them artistically, visually or through music, dance, stories, etc.

But now, I’m able to find inspiration in my moments of “doing.” Even though I’m the busiest and the most tired I’ve ever been in life, I’ve found that this has actually been my most creative time in some ways, because it is so challenging. Motherhood has opened up an entire world of thoughts and feelings I had not previously been connected to. Being a partner, and parenting with that partner, requires a level of dedication and willingness to have conversations that we’ve never had. And I’m used to the laid back lifestyles of the south and southwest, but have had to adjust to a very different way of living in the northeast.

The opportunities to be creative are all around. In our daily routines, in the conversations we have, in the moments we’re in a situation we’ve never been in before. For me, creativity is being open to exploring different ways of thinking, being flexible enough to problem solve, and finding new ways to engage meaningfully in our lived experiences.

Lately, creativity has taken shape in the following ways in my life:

  • I KonMari’d my bedroom closet and found some items I’d hidden away or never even worn. Looking at my newly streamlined wardrobe with a fresh eye, I tried clothing combinations I never had before and suddenly had a treasure chest of new outfits.
  • I updated my look with an asymmetrical haircut that I feel expresses a part of my personality. I can wear it curly or straight depending on my mood, and I love how different the two styles make me look.
  • I’ve had conversations in which I put all of my effort into actively listening — resulting in a better exchange because I’m able to ask more relevant questions or respond more empathetically.
  • I have recently recognized a part of my personality as one of my strengths, and have been leaning into it fully to improve the quality of my interactions, my relationships and my work.

Even writing these blogs has been a wonderful exercise in creativity because I’m challenged to look at what I’m dealing with on a personal level and tell the story around it in a way that resonates.

These situations don’t follow the typical narrative around what creativity is or looks like, and even I will admit that I’m still not at my best creatively. I read a wonderful article that describes the effects of women not having time to themselves, and it feels absolutely spot on.

In the absence of free time and feeling well rested, holding on tightly to the moments of inspiration and collecting the boring, un-sexy creative wins feels okay for now. I’m taking what I can from this time and using it as fuel to learn, grow and evolve.

I’ll paint my masterpiece soon enough.

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