I waited in line at a Michaels craft store recently, completely overwhelmed. An event I was planning had me running all over town. Two major work deadlines loomed. My son was just over a nasty, high-fever virus. My own sinuses were headed downhill. Passover was coming, and shopping, cooking and furniture-moving were required to accommodate our houseful of guests. Everything on my agenda required that I make some sort of decision in either the parenting, professional or hostess-ing arenas.
My eyes rested on a tall book called “1000 Dot-to-Dot Cities.” Designed by Thomas Pavitte, it’s a book of 20 international cities, each of which comes to life when the reader connects a thousand numbered dots.
Later that night I cracked a fresh Pilot Precise pen and started on page one, at number one. Half an hour and a thousand tiny dots later, there was Amsterdam, only slightly wobbly from my imperfect lines. I felt something I hadn’t felt in awhile—a sense of energized accomplishment.
Much has been written (including a previous post by me!) about the trend of adult coloring books. Intricate designs and colorful pencils beckon grown-ups to connect with the simple, meditative task of filling in a picture however their artsy hearts desire. Articles tout stress reduction, emotional regulation and other tangible benefits, and stores are stocked with ever more dazzling themes and designs.
But at a time of prime stress, I realized after completing Athens, Barcelona, Chicago and Delhi in my new book, that even coloring can feel like a to-do burden. I want and need to feel creative, to make something simple and lovely. I also want to quiet my thinking brain, follow directions and draw a straight, unquestioning line from here to there.
Granted, coloring doesn’t ask much of me, but when I’m deep in a stress zone, even selecting which shade of green to use is too much. I make myriad micro-decisions every day, each of which has repercussions I may either enjoy or regret. What a relief to sit with a pen and a book, and focus on something I can’t possibly do wrong, even if it sometimes takes a full five minutes to get from 404 to 405. All I had to remember was that it was there, waiting for me to find it.
As I got more organized for Passover, I contemplated this idea more and more. What is Passover, after all, if not a story about following directions, commemorated with a mindful meal shared in a proscribed order? Fleeing Egyptian slavery for unknown freedoms had to be scary, as well as exhilarating, for our ancestors. Luckily for them, they were given direction, first as they followed Moses through the parted sea, and later in the form of the Torah that guides us to this day.
Of course, the Torah is nothing like a dot-to-dot in its clarity and directness. Neither was the wandering reality our people faced for 40 years in the desert. And most of the time, I want to be tasked with creating the world around me, making decisions that bring color and vitality to my life, my work and my family.
But to take time each day to relax into a task that is complex but achievable, straight-lined and clear, feels, to me, exactly like freedom.