“It was the drawing that saved me,” writes artist and educator Deborah Putnoi in her wonderful interactive sketchbook The Drawing Mind: Silence Your Inner Critic and Release Your Creative Spirit. “Small drawings in stolen moments.”
Putnoi started drawing her hand every day for 5 minutes—during a child’s nap, while dinner simmered on the stove. She didn’t look at her drawing. Instead she focused on her hand, “searching for answers in the etched crevices and wrinkles,” “trying to see again.”
Putnoi also draws everywhere, in front of the TV and in the pick-up line, on napkins and on paper bags. She has to draw. Because when she makes her marks, she starts to see herself.
“‘I am here,’ my lines seem to call to me,'” she writes in The Drawing Mind. “‘See me’ they say like a siren from the deep. The days I don’t draw, I feel disconnected from myself. From my inner world and my surroundings. My hands fidget and feel lost when I don’t draw. So for my sanity, for my connection to myself, I DRAW. I draw on walls and I draw on phonebooks and I draw wherever I can.”
It’s vital to fill our days with activities that connect us to ourselves, activities that remind us of who we are, activities that drown out the noise and let us just be. And we don’t need to wait until we have an hour to devote to these activities. As Putnoi does, we can do them in the little moments of our lives. In a long line at the grocery store. In a doctor’s waiting room. Minutes before everyone wakes up. Minutes before bed.
The key is to be prepared, to make doing this activity super simple. If your activity is reading, always carry a book you’re really excited to read. If it’s drawing or writing, always carry a pen and small notebook. Scribble your surroundings at lunch. Sketch the clouds or your eyes.
Write about the people who are sitting a table away from you having an ordinary conversation, which doesn’t seem so ordinary. Write about your emotions, the sensations you’re experiencing, and the thoughts swirling in your mind. Invent a character who does something out of character. Make surprising or strange collages from magazines, coupon books and anything else you have on hand and plan on recycling.
Get back to playing the piano or singing your favorite songs. Get back to the things that make you feel like you.
And if you’re not sure what those things are, experiment. Try different activities that sound fun and fascinating. This is not silly or minor or shallow or frivolous work—even if you’re doing something seemingly silly, like sketching the shape of clouds. It is not silly to use our imaginations, to take time out for ourselves, to do something that makes us smile or laugh or release our emotions. It is not silly to give ourselves the space to breathe.
These are the building blocks of self-care. This is how we express ourselves. This is how we listen to ourselves. This is how we make sense of things. This is how we save ourselves.
What activities save you? What activities help you to connect to yourself? How can you do one of these activities today?