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Break from Creativity: The Aquarium


Creative Ruts

If you’re like me, you have your go-tos when it comes to knowing what you like. For example, on the creative side, I’m a writer. Any time I want to make something, it’s always in the form of words. For my friend D, it’s art (specifically oil paintings). I know a musician who likes to zone out on her computer creating tunes. I look at the software program with all those fancy buttons and dials and I feel overwhelmed. But it’s her sanctuary. Mine is usually a blank Google word doc.

But sometimes words wear my brain out and if I read one more sentence I feel like I could never read a book again. I regret even writing that sentence.

What happens when you’re sick of doing what you love? Well, you don’t quit. You take a break.

After years of trying to understand my habits and tendencies, I learned that when this happens, it’s usually because I’ve got tunnel vision about my work and have gotten lost in my own vortex. Sometimes this is good, especially if you’re engrossed in working on something you’re excited about or need to meet a deadline. But when it’s not, and writing brings more fatigue and anxiety than energy, it’s time to step away, just for a bit. There’s also a good chance you’re in a stylistic rut.

A Different Creative Activity

One solution is to do something completely out of your element. Perhaps connecting to a place that reminds you of simpler times. To me, nature was an obvious answer. I thought of water.

Here in Toronto, we don’t have many water spaces I like (Vancouver and its proximity to the Pacific ocean spoiled me). So finding anything aquatic was a reprieve.

I went to Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada. It was local and only a twenty-five-minute walk from my apartment in downtown Toronto.

When I think of aquariums I think of children; as a kid I remember all the programming targeted at young minds whom we try to get interested in nature. It’s also a great idea for a date. Who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by a giant glass structure filled with vivid blue waters and wild marine life with a cute guy? I digress. 

What Can an Aquarium Offer?

The minute I entered, I knew I made the right decision. Something about the quiet blue waters in the tanks calmed me down and slowed my brain. Also, all the guests around me seemed like they were on vacation. Funny how going to a tourist destination even in your own city can make you feel like you’re away from home.

As I took the slow, walking escalator encapsulated by the vast tank, I encountered a stingray swimming above me with its’ calm body flinging like a loose wave. I surveyed the deep blue hue of the water, and it transported me back to a water park I visited in Mexico. Mentally I was already on vacation; oceanic visuals replaced the horrible short story draft I’d been wrestling with in the last couple of days.

The beautiful corals–bursts of pink and orange–made me want to pick up a paintbrush. I took photos, planning to print them at the local drugstore so I can compose a quick watercolour painting.

The jellyfish section was the most stunning part of my visit. Their translucent bodies (can we even call them bodies?) while they bounced up and down in contrast to the changing light fixtures of blue and green and orange. I felt I was at a fancy event hosted by some celebrity who rented the aquarium for the night and wanted to wow her guests. Mentally, this space became not only educational but luxurious.

I sailed–pun intended–through an exhibit about a sunken ship in the Great Lakes, and the way the story was told took me back in time. Glancing through the black and white photos transported me back to the 1970s–a time capsule more engaging than any YouTube or Instagram video, negating the effect of a smartphone screen. While digital imagery provides quick access, manual photos bring grounded tangibility.

I saw a blue lobster, which reminded me of how we rely on the sea to feed us, and how we’re desecrating our marine life. Will my niece and nephew be able to their lives with easy access to seawater? I also thought about how little we know of what lies beneath our deep oceans.

Thoughts and Recommendations on the Aquarium

Before I left, I bought postcards for my neice, nephew, and a friend. While it’s nice to document an experience in a post like this, it’s also important to share it with others. Most people post photos through social media but I love to personalize the experience by writing a postcard to someone. I also find I tend to be more open about how I feel when I physically write to a loved one. Perhaps the finality of writing on ink makes my feelings more real.

If you’re going through a creative rut, I recommend going to the aquarium if:

  1. You need a nature break from the concrete jungle. 
  2. Are curious about how colours play out in nature. 
  3. You’re out of ideas or your work starts to feel stale.
  4. You want to feel like you’re on vacation without actually leaving your city, even if it’s just for a few hours.
  5. You’re looking for ways to present information in a short succinct way, and make it interesting so people would read it. I found some aquariums do this well, and some fail at it horribly, with poor didactics (didactics are the written excerpts you see next to an exhibit e.g. a painting or photo).
  6. You love browsing gift shops, sometimes enjoying the experience there more instead of at the actual exhibits (I’m guilty of this too sometimes!).

The aquarium gave me the break I was looking for: immersing myself in colours, creatures and crustaceans. It made me forget about the self-stuck writing hole I had a habit of inadvertently getting myself into. In essence, it pulled me back into the present. After that, going back to the keyboard didn’t feel like a chore, but a welcome back to my home. I now also had the equilibrium I didn’t realize I needed.



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