LONDON – Have you heard? Five out of the top ten best sellers on Amazon right now are coloring books… for grown ups!
That’s right, folks. Drop the briefcase. Cash in that advanced degree. The secret to happiness and success in life lies in that box of Crayolas your three-year-old is clutching.
If, like me, you were initially skeptical when news of this trend hit your inbox, you’re in good company. As a columnist in Britain’s Daily Telegraph so eloquently put it: Has the creeping infantilization of the adult world reached a new nadir?
I think the answer is “maybe.”
I say “maybe” because there’s not just one version of the adult coloring book making the rounds these days. The fabulously ironic Sad and Useless website had this hilarious send-up of what it looks like when grown-ups start drawing their fantasies. One caption proclaims, “It’s like kindergarten, but with more drinking!” Personally, I love the “Hipster or Homeless” exercise, where you’re supposed to take two identical images of a bearded man in a jacket and make one look respectable and the other … not so much.
But before you choke on your own snark, I’d like to invite you to step back for a minute and reflect a bit more on the latest development in the get-in-touch-with-your-inner-child movement. Apparently, this isn’t just about crafts for toddlers. Preschool for adults is now all the rage in Brooklyn, where it’s apparently a new requirement that to be successful, one must get in touch with one’s inner child by acting like, well, one’s own child.
There are lots of reasons to think that this might not be the craziest craze to take the adult world by storm. Some experts have touted the links between coloring and wellness. The detailed focus and creative energy that come together when you sit down to draw is purportedly useful in reducing stress. Others champion the under-acknowledged role that nostalgia plays in reconnecting us with the uninhibited, unencumbered pleasures of childhood. What could be wrong with that?
I think the answer is “nothing.” I’ve got a very pragmatic reason for wanting to re-introduce coloring into mid-life: I can’t afford a therapist.
As someone who has long championed the value of talk therapy – for myself and for others – I’ve hit a point where somewhere between the mortgage and the school fees and the bill for the weekly groceries – therapy and all of its trappings have gone right out the window.
Therapist? Get real. I live in London, where I can barely afford a cup of coffee, let alone the luxury of spending an hour with someone to let them help me map my relationships with my family for the thousandth time. (If only!)
As a result, and for the very same reason that on the advice of a similarly cash-strapped, therapeutically minded fellow-traveler friend, I recently downloaded a free app that lets me practice mindfulness on my cell phone, I’m all about the coloring books. Because whatever it takes to be in the moment, get out of my head and forget about my troubles in my old kit bag and smile, smile, smile? I’m all over it.
And here’s the kicker: I don’t even need to buy one. I already own some! That’s right. When my daughter turned 11 last autumn, some foresightful friend’s parent – perhaps recognizing my daughter’s incipient maturity (or my own lack thereof!?) – gave her Johanna Basford’s Secret Garden. (Secret Garden and its successor, Enchanted Forest, are among those setting the trend in this new wave of grown up coloring books).
So, no, I’m not embarrassed to be hauling out the magic markers and the colored pencils this weekend. I just hope one of my friends will drop by to join me…and bring along their copy of Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams to read aloud. Now that could be an interesting “therapy” session!
Delia Lloyd is an American writer based in London. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Financial Times and The Guardian. She blogs about adulthood at realdelia.com.
Image: Crayon Fence by Laffy4k via Flickr.com