By Lynda Cohen Loigman
Throughout my life, I’ve done a lot of different things in an effort to be “healthy.” I’ve tried multiple diet and exercise regimens. I’m diligent about yearly mammograms and I go to my doctor when something doesn’t feel right. I’ve made an effort to reduce stress. I am mindful of mindfulness. It’s true I haven’t always succeeded, but since entering adulthood I have tried my best to pay attention to all of the factors that can shape a person’s physical and mental well-being.
Except for one.
For the longest time, I didn’t understand how important that one thing was to my overall happiness. For years and years, I ignored it, until I was practically ill from its absence.
As a child, I drew all of my older brother’s book report covers and made all of his shoebox dioramas. My parents didn’t know how to stop me. It wasn’t just the art projects–I tried to do his written work too. But by the time he got to seventh grade, I was banned from helping, and was told to find other ways to express myself. I made dolls out of walnut shells and tiny aquariums out of empty tic-tac boxes. I wrote stories and poems. I sewed and colored, and while I did those things I belted out every song I could remember from the annual television airings of West Side Story and The Sound of Music. My parents begged me not to spill glue on the floor. They asked me to stop singing so loudly in the kitchen. They told their friends I was “creative,” but it didn’t really feel like a compliment.
As I got older, it was hard to find time for craft projects, but I held on to a few creative pursuits. I wrote poems (bad ones) and I acted in my high school’s musicals. In college I was in an a cappella group. But once I was in law school, my creative life came to a screeching halt.
Don’t get me wrong–a lot of wonderful things happened to me during law school and throughout my legal career. I met my husband, we got married and had our first child. After eight years of practice, I quit my job and we moved to Chappaqua. A few years later, we welcomed our son and our family was complete.
When our youngest was in preschool, I had several hours to myself each morning. But the more free time I accumulated, the worse I felt. Despite the beautiful town we live in, the wonderful friends, and the daily satisfaction of helping to raise our family, I was discouraged. I went back to work part-time–but the sense of purpose I craved didn’t materialize. I was unhappy, and I was pretty sure I knew why.
The word creative is defined as follows: “relating to or involving the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.” Was making paper dolls with my daughter creative? Making up silly rhymes for my son? Singing with my children, dancing, reading them stories? Of course it was. All of those moments were creative, important and incredibly precious. But there is a difference between creative play with children and personal creativity.
I have friends who are miserable unless they exercise vigorously every day. I have friends who have given up meat or dairy because it makes them feel better. I have friends who take medication to lower cholesterol or blood pressure or to curb painful anxiety and depression. So why couldn’t I recognize that I needed a creative outlet to feel healthy? Perhaps I knew already, but I wasn’t able to admit it. After all, isn’t that common when it comes to our own health and wellness? We put off exercise, we promise to start our diet tomorrow, we refuse medication that might help us because we see it as an admission of weakness.
I’m happy to report that I finally made my creative health a priority. It took turning 40 to give me the push that I needed, but I enrolled in a writing class, and after six years, I finished my novel. Now, writing is my medicine. The process, and all that comes with it, is as important for my personal health as any diet or exercise.
We all have things we need to do to stay healthy. Maybe your doctor has told you to stay out of the sun. Maybe you’re on Prilosec or Lipitor or Ambien. No one is going to give you a prescription for creative fulfillment, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need one. If you need a strong dose of it, chances are you already know. Hopefully you won’t wait as long as I did before you add it to your life.
Lynda Cohen Loigman, whose Chappaqua Library’s presentation is featured on the opposite page, grew up in Longmeadow, MA. She received a B.A. in English and American Literature from Harvard College and a J.D. from Columbia Law School. She is now a student of the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College, and lives with her husband and two children in Chappaqua. She is a failure at enforcing reasonable bedtimes. Her first novel, The Two-Family House, was published recently by St. Martin’s Press.