A Deeper Look at Coloring Books

I must confess that I have adult coloring books. And that really does feel like a confession to me. Isn’t coloring the stuff of children? I’m slightly embarrassed by this activity, but I find it very comforting at the same time.

In a world that feels increasingly out of control, coloring is wonderfully predictable. There are established boundaries. And while these boundaries do exist, I still get to choose how pretty to make the spaces within them. It’s my way of feeling creative without actually expending too much mental energy on it. I can get lost in the patterns and set my anxieties aside for a brief, colorful moment.

So when I came across an article entitled, “The Dark, Forgotten History of Coloring Books”, I didn’t want to read it. I didn’t want my multicolored bubble to be burst in any way. But, as is so often the case, curiosity got the better of me.

It seems that coloring books first came out as a way to induce submission in children. They were used to teach them how to behave. It’s part of the reason so many of us are loathe to color outside of the lines. Them’s the rules, after all.

The first coloring book was called The Little Folks Painting book. You can see it here. It includes lessons which are really warnings about not being disobedient. Don’t play tricks on people. Don’t be selfish. Don’t oversleep. According to the article, one of the lessons is,

“Never be discontented, never wish for anything you cannot have.”

Well, now, isn’t that creepy? By coloring, we’re being compliant. We’re being contained. We’re learning to accept the things we cannot control. By killing time in this way, we’re also not being trouble-makers. And John Lewis reminded us how important it is to make good trouble.

Even more chillingly, the article says,

“To color is to inhabit a world designed by others, to dwell in an environment where you are left with no options but to memorize what is already there… After days of coloring these diminutive dreams, I came to see the energy I spent on it as dimming my capacity to imagine how a future can be conceived and built.”

Shades of 1984.

So will I stop coloring? Probably not. Sometimes you just need to shut off your brain. But it’s crucial to remember to turn it back on.

Maybe I’ll have to come up with even more ways to make these designs my own, besides simply choosing which colors go where. Perhaps I’ll use the designs as wrapping paper for a gift. Or maybe I’ll fold them into Christmas ornaments. Maybe I’ll take the author’s suggestion and tear them up and make a collage. Or I’ll create a tattoo.

I’ve always been rather noncompliant. I don’t suspect that will change any time soon. I do believe in certain rules and regulations, simply in order to live without chaos. But I hate the idea of being manipulated in any way. So yeah, I’m apt to color outside the lines of life.

But every once in a while, it’s nice to let others make the choices for you, if only on the page of a coloring book. As with any habit, though, moderation is key. I don’t want to turn into a Stepford colorer. That would not be good.

The_Little_Folks_Paint_Book

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Strong Personalities

Just the other day I got told I have a strong personality. I get that a lot. The observation usually comes from a man, and it’s not intended as a compliment. I’m also often told that I “speak my mind” or am “opinionated”. (Uh, isn’t that an opinion?)

I can’t deny any of those descriptions. I’ll often speak up when others are afraid to. And if you ask me my opinion, I assume you want to know what it is, so I oblige you. I’m baffled as to why these qualities are supposed to be negative.

Yes. I have opinions. Everyone does. Never once have I insisted that anyone agree with mine. I’m not a bully. I never have been.

I also refuse to be bullied anymore. I was bullied half my life, and I’ve had it up to here. I stand up for others just as often as I stand up for myself. Again, tell me why that’s a bad thing?

Recently I’ve started considering the source of these criticisms. These people never make the same observations about men. Or if they do, they’re transformed into compliments. That’s interesting. And they are usually people who are, or would like to be, in positions of power over me. I’m quite sure that they’d prefer that I simply shut up and do as I’m told. They don’t want me to think, or have an opinion, or be strong, or even have a mind to speak. I’d be so much easier to deal with if I were soft and compliant.

Sorry to disappoint. Not gonna happen.

xena

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