To Be Creative

Happy November!(My favorite month, featuring my favorite holiday.)

Lots of stuff cooking in the Blue Room right now—my next newsletter will include an announcement about a project I’ll be offering free to readers between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Stay tuned.

And my next book, God, Improv, and the Art of Living, will be available for pre-order soon!

In the meantime, I’m catching up on reading, including a delightful book of memoir-ish essays, My Adventures with God by actor Stephen Tobolowsky, about his growing up Jewish in Dallas, Texas. (You may remember him as Ned Ryerson, the insurance agent in Groundhog Day.)

In his essay "The Garden on Orchid Lane," Tobolowsky remembers receiving a gift of a painting set as a child. The lid of the box featured a picture of a beautiful garden. He took one look at the intricate image and handed it back, shaking his head. “I can’t do this,” he said.

His friend handed it back to him and said, “You can do it, Stevie. It’s easy. It’s Paint-by-Numbers. Open it up.”

Tobolowsky continues:

I took the plastic off the box and looked inside. There was a white canvas board. It was covered with little lines. It was like a map drawn with almost invisible ink. Inside each tiny area was a number. Sarah pulled out a brush and a plastic palette that had twenty small containers. Each container had a color, from the deepest green to the lightest shades of pink. Sarah explained, “Each paint has a number. All you have to do is match the number of the paint to the number on the drawing. Stay within the lines and you’ll have a beautiful picture.” She handed the top of the box to me. “Use the cover of the box as a guide. Follow the numbers. You can do it.”

The world felt generous. Someone else was the artist. Someone else did all the work, but the picture could still be mine.

I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read about creativity, and almost all of them insist that we are all creative beings. I believe this is true… but I meet so many people who insist that they are not. A lot of what I do, whether through writing, speaking, or coaching, seems to be about helping people get in touch with that thread of creativity that runs through everything.

Reflecting on Tobolowsky’s words, I suspect the key to creative living is not to try to find the inspiration within oneself, but to see the world as a generous place, full of both guidance and color. Then our job gets much easier—to simply follow the generosity of the Artist… wherever it takes us.


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Image is Paint by Numbers by Alex Watson and used through a creative commons license.