One thing I’ve learned during my 28 years of writing is that creativity is not infinite. Each time I sit down to dream up imaginary characters and the vivid worlds they inhabit, I’m tapping into a source that resembles a bucket more than a bottomless well or a flowing stream. If I don’t take time to refill that bucket, sooner or later my creative “juices” are going to run dry. Julia Cameron first drew my attention to the need to replenish my creativity in her book The Artist’s Way, and she taught me several ways to do it. She calls one of her ideas an Artist’s Date. This is time away from writing when I take my creative child somewhere to play. Last week, when writing became a chore and my nagging, inner critic started telling me that every word I wrote was drivel, I decided I needed to refill my empty bucket.
How I spend my artist’s dates varies. It has taken time—and trial and error—to discover what invigorates me and gets me writing freely again. I’ve learned that I’m always energized by feasting on the fruit of someone else’s creativity, so a trip to the Chicago Art Institute or even an afternoon with a cup of tea and one of my favorite art books is enough to get me going again. So is attending a concert or taking time to relax and listen to a Beethoven concerto. I’m married to a symphony musician so I get to fill up with a lot of great concerts. But since nature is one of my very favorite creative muses, I decided to spend my artist’s date at the Chicago Botanic Gardens.
I know the calendar says April but Chicago is still gripped by a spell of blustery winter weather and 30 degree temperatures that just won’t quit. But even the frozen landscapes began to rejuvenate me as soon as I arrived at the 385-acre garden site, spread out over nine islands and surrounded by lakes.
And when I entered the first of three large greenhouses, my tired soul and weary mind sighed, “Ahhhh….”
The first thing that hit me was the fragrance! Wow! I wish I could add a scratch-and-sniff sticker that would transfer the aroma through this blog but technology hasn’t advanced quite that far, yet. The flowering jasmine was in bloom as well as the gardenia bushes. Did Eden smell this sweet? Along with the wonderful aroma, I was struck by the blessed warmth of a summer day. I shrugged off my coat—and would have kicked off my boots and socks to go barefoot if there weren’t other visitors. I inhaled the pure, clean air and silently thanked my new plant “friends” for creating all that fresh oxygen. It went straight to my brain, cleaning out the cobwebs. What a glorious dose of green—my favorite color.
Feasting on the creativity of Beethoven or Van Gogh is wonderful but this was a banquet of God’s infinite creativity. A flower is a flower, right? Hardly! They came in so many sizes and shapes and colors that it was overwhelming. Every leaf was different, too. How many of us, armed with paper and a packet of colored markers, could come up with such a variety of unique blossoms? And God showed His sense of humor when He created this beautiful, bug-eating, Venus Fly Trap.
The first greenhouse featured sub-tropical plants, the second one tropical plants—complete with banana trees!—and the third one had plants from arid, desert regions. Being a green-lover, I didn’t think I would like the displays of prickly cacti but they had a special beauty all their own
Another favorite book about creativity, Play, by Stuart Brown, M.D., talks about how play “opens the imagination and invigorates the soul.” Brown believes that our creative self is a child and suggests that we return to what we loved to do as a child in order to find restoration. For me, that means playing in the woods near my grandparents’ house and climbing trees. The gardens brought me back to those carefree days of my childhood, if only for a few hours.
And I was sorely tempted to climb this tree but I behaved myself and stuck to the pathways. Maybe next time.
At the end of a blissful afternoon, I finished my artist’s date by dining out with my husband, daughter, and son-in law, adding “taste” and fun and laughter to all of the other sensory delights I experienced that day.
Now, where should I go on my next artist’s date?