I like to do things with my hands and move my body around. Whether it’s building things, folding paper, hiking, tending to plants, lifting heavy weights, doing pirouettes, belting out songs, or kneading bread, it provides an escape from intellectual work and intense thinking.
I like to let my mind wander; it’s often when I focus on my body and let my brain work out problems subconsciously that epiphanies happen. Playfulness and fun are great sources of inspiration and creativity.
One thousand cranes
According to Japanese legend, someone who folds a thousand origami cranes is granted a wish by the gods, or eternal happiness and good luck. In my case, I had just moved to a new place during a difficult personal time. I was looking for a way to keep myself busy that would require some focus while allowing my mind to wander. So I started folding cranes.
I folded about 750 cranes in 2018, a hundred throughout 2019, and finished the last 150 during the 2020 pandemic. I strung them up according to various color patterns, and assembled them all into a full senbazuru (千羽鶴). Folding the cranes helped me process what I needed to process, and seeing them on display often brings back feelings of perseverance, aesthetics, and resilience.
Another activity that encourages mind-wandering is coloring books. Coloring requires focus while simultaneously offering complete freedom in the choice of colors. When the outside world feels like too much, coloring books are a way for me to retreat into a quieter bubble for a little while.
In a world of climate catastrophe, rising nationalism, systemic oppression, end-stage capitalism, and widespread injustice, allowing yourself to be absorbed in coloring a mandala for a couple of hours is a great way to reset and return, if even briefly, to mental homeostasis.
When you make decisions all day, following the instructions to put together a LEGO set can be very relaxing, especially as you see hundreds of small bricks magically turn into a spaceship or a four-story building.
Building LEGO sets was probably my favorite activity as a kid. I rediscovered them as an adult, and along with them the joy of turning random bricks into a finished artifact. Since then, I have accumulated a little collection of sets, from cute botanical sets to fancy display pieces to storytelling-rich scenes. I am currently designing some homemade creations as well.
Wood & stuff
I also like to build new things, often for a functional purpose. Several homes ago, I built a modular home office with shelves out of Ikea poles and wood planks. More recently, I built a platform to anchor a squat rack that serves as a home gym. I also built a modular deadlift platform out of lumber and plywood, which I can adjust for block pulls and deficit deadlifts.
As of 2022, I’m slowly getting into more ambitious woodworking projects, partly motivated by the need to store books from my ever-expanding personal library.
I find plants magical; a little water and a little sunlight and voilà, your pothos is now trailing for several meters? Magic, I tell you.
For many years, I was afraid to get any sort of plants for fear of unwittingly killing them. At the beginning of the Covid pandemic, when I was stuck (like many others) alone in my small studio in San Francisco, I felt the need to surround myself with plants so I wouldn’t be the only thing alive in my apartment.
This was all well and good until I decided to leave San Francisco a few months later and move to the East coast. I didn’t want to leave my plants behind, so the only way to take them with me was to rent a moving truck and drive it across the country. Most of them made it unscathed and have acclimated well to their new environment. Some of them have now grown so large that I have to organize my apartment around them.
Garden in a bottle
Another pandemic project was little terrariums with succulents. I combined figurines from Etsy, succulents, moss, geometrical containers, and kitchen jars to create some little scenes that add some whimsy to the space.
Activities that focus on my body help me “get out of my own head” in additional to improving my physical health.
In 2018, I started powerlifting as a way to get stronger and reduce the risk of injury and mobility issues as I get older. While the weights I lift won’t win any contests, I like the physical challenge and the focus necessary to go through the movements using proper form.
Shortly after, I also started a ballet class for adult beginners, as well as ballroom dancing lessons. Both felt like a good complement to strength training. I sadly had to leave dance behind after I left San Francisco, but I have managed to resume lifting.
After I moved (back) to the US, I was having trouble finding good bread. Having grown up and lived in France for most of my life, I was unhappy with the limited options available in the small California town where I was living.
In 2017, I took a few days off work to participate in a breadmaking workshop at the San Francisco Baking Institute. For five days, I learned the theory and practice of flour types, yeast, preferments, gluten, shaping, scoring, steaming, and baking loaves. At the end of the day, I would bring all the bread I had made that day to the Wikimedia office, to the delight of my food-loving colleagues.
For a while after that, I made different kinds of bread at home, with a preference for ciabatta (for its simplicity) and brioche (for its festiveness, and because it reminded me of my childhood in France). Later, I moved to the city and found a great bakery that made excellent bread, so convenience won. I ventured back into my breadmaking ways during the 2020 pandemic.
I love to sing, I’ve performed in (and directed) plays, and I’ve written scripts containing an incredible amount of puns per paragraph.
I started singing in junior high school as part of the school’s chorale and then its maîtrise (a fancy word for a children’s choir). I kept singing in choirs on and off through high school.
In college, I joined the choir, wrote the book for the two musicals we staged, and directed them. With a few friends, I performed in an a capella quartet-then-quintet for a few years. I also joined the Enfoiros, a group of students who perform concerts and organize other activities to support low-income folks in the region.
Also in college, I joined the drama club and starting performing in plays, including the lead role in Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s Le Libertin,” in which I played a philandering Diderot in a bathrobe. For two years, I was on the organizing and writing team for the Interclubs, an annual series of shows designed to showcase all the student clubs in one cohesive story.
The Covid-19 pandemic has put musical and other stage endeavors on hold for now, and my only audience these days is probably my neigbors when I’m singing, well, enthusiastically.
Curiosity & learning
It’s no exaggeration to say that learning is probably my favorite thing to do. I spend a lot of my free time learning about All The Things and trying to keep my little gray cells stimulated.
Books, books, books
I’m putting this last because on the list while it does relate to fun and creativity, it’s also more of an intellectual activity than what I have listed above. I love to read and learn, and I’ve accumulated a sizable and ever-growing personal library. My interests are extremely varied, and you would be hard-pressed to find an overarching theme for my collection.
I used to find the piles of unread books daunting, until I learned about Umberto Eco’s antilibrary and decided to embrace tsundoku. Being surrounded by books now brings me comfort rather than guilt. I do manage to read some of them once in a while. I like having the opportunity to learn about so many topics, the books at my fingertips, waiting for the right moment of inspiration.
In the past few years, I have kept a reading log to track my progress. I hope to one day build an interactive visualization using this data, inspired by Marey’s famous train schedule.
I learned English and German in school, although my German was never conversational. A few years ago, I took two semesters of Spanish at the Instituto Cervantes, and I’ve been using Duolingo to keep learning since then.
I’ve been curious to learn more about other language families, so I started learning Tagalog with Rosetta Stone, but took a break until I could learn more about its grammar another way. I’ve also made some first steps in Arabic.