There was a recent article about coloring books in the New Yorker, which annoyed me greatly. Apart from the fact that the pomposity of this online publication is often a bit grating on my nerves, it annoyed me because it felt like a stodgy lecture on growing up. I’m thankful my mother was never a fan of those because it allowed me to see them for what they are: thinly veiled judgments.
I think many of you have read the article, but if you have not, you can find it here: http://www.newyorker.com. If you are uninterested in being not-so-subtly lectured, however, it might not be the right article for you. It listed the many reasons that the rising consumption and popularity of coloring books for adults is indicative of a social problem, a lack of responsibility in the next generation of adults.
The quote that best sums up the entire article, if you are intrigued by the argument (and it is intriguing), is this one:
“But it is also part of a larger and more pervasive fashion among adults for childhood objects and experiences. This “Peter Pan market” has roots in publishing, beyond coloring books (the growth in sales of children’s and young-adult books to much older readers has been well documented), but it is far from confined to that arena.”
As a colorbooker, writer of YA fiction and reader of YA fiction, I feel that it’s important for me to say a few things. I’m a very successful adult. I have many responsibilities that I fulfill very well. I make money. I have three jobs. I help my children through difficult concepts and issues. I have suffered several severe traumas throughout my life. I get through the day, every day, even though I have a serious mood disorder. I go to therapy so that I can understand trauma and disorder. I write for serious publications in order to help others face their traumas. I can write seriously, ponder seriously and live seriously. I just don’t always do so because life is for living and having fun is a wondrous part of that living.
Apart from adulting, I also create, entertain, laugh and, yes, play. Not to say the New Yorker article didn’t attempt some neutrality (she says, somewhat sarcastically). The article very open-mindedly supplied, “Coloring might help to release tension, but it’s a fundamentally more directed and restrictive activity than painting something from scratch.”
Ah, yes, yes, “fundamentally directed” and “restrictive.” So that makes it non-creative? I would argue that it allows people who want a little light entertainment a form of entertainment that engages their senses in a way that social networking and watching television do not. Is it okay that a busy mother might want to sit down with her children and allow them to think that Spiderman could be pink? We engage in conversation about the norms of color and we play with those norms, and the end result? A little beauty, time to reflect and breathe, time to add our own twists on something flat that needs expanding. So I’m not eager to agree that doing that is a lazy form of creativity.
Even if it is, so what? Apart from the maxim that “adults must put away childish things” (which could have many different interpretations; perhaps they don’t carry blankets with them, anymore, but can they not have their comforts) why is it wrong for grown humans to play? Aren’t hobbies like hiking, scrap booking, running, even blogging, or *gasp* opinion piece writing a form of creative play? All play really is is engaging in an activity for amusement’s sake.
If something is fun does that make it un-adult? I hope not. I read Harry Potter, all books from Sharon Chreech, Avi, Collins, Trenton Lee Stewart, Ritter and many other successful YA writers. I do this for the same reason many readers flock to the books: they reveal the complexity of the human existence in ways that are fantastic and entertaining, but that does not mean they are not often serious, even adult. Can I enjoy Tolstoy? Yes. But I think it takes a certain sort of creativity to craft a piece of literature that is both serious and playful. My favorite adult authors do that as successfully as my favorite YA authors.
The New Yorker article attempts to paint adults of the next generation as loafers, coming home from college and moving in with their parents. Perhaps the social situation you’re referring to, New Yorker opinion columnist, isn’t so much the problem with adults seeking playful therapy, but actually has to do with the fact that there is in influx of people with degrees and not enough jobs to fill them? Perhaps the amount of debt a person has to acquire to actually become seriously educated is causing emotional and financial instability in the next generation. Perhaps, in order to take a break from a job that they took in order to make a living but does not pay well enough to satiate the loan sharks, they pick up some pencils or pens and play.
I’m not sure what kind of society a person has in mind when they disparage adults from taking a break to create, in whatever form they choose, but it sounds a dull one. I’ll pass. I have some coloring, running, opinion piece writing, YA reading, college teaching, mothering and tea drinking to do. And all of those things are great fun.
P.S. In the comments, if you color, I’d love to see your work. 🙂