One Solution to Worry: Creative Commotion

Yesterday morning, in the teeth of the blizzard named Stella, worry kept me from my usual ability to focus. My mother-motor was humming along behind my daily practice and I could not get traction-like my car on the snowy ice in the driveway.

Worry was having her way with me.

Part of me knew, like Miss Clavel in the Adventures of Madeleine, that “something was not right.”

So when I got that phone call from my husband, the one that begins, “Ben is okay, but…” and is then followed by “he is stuck in a ditch off the highway and the police are on their way,” all my instincts were confirmed. Thankfully, my son is fine.

How many calls do we get like this, not only as mothers, but as family members? That brother you love so dearly but who has a few personal challenges to his success? Or your godchild who needs more guidance than she is getting at the moment? You care for other humans, and your instinctual feelers exist out there with them, feeling in to their days and you just cannot get over that hunch you have.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal describes this worry as her kids “weighing heavy on my mind.”

I know I am not crazy on this one, nor am I alone. I cannot write this post without reckoning with the fact that as a mother of a white son, I don’t worry that the police will do anything other than help him out of the ditch. Maybe they will admonish him for being careless, which they did. Maybe they will give him a ticket. But in the panoply of worry, I do not have concern about something more drastic coming of such an incident. In all cases, we need to restore from this worry state.

I have gotten many of these calls from my husband. A broken leg, concussions, driving tickets, lost keys, absent textbooks, emergency teacher meetings, later than usual arrivals home, diverted travel-those upsets that maybe you felt coming?

How do we restore from the worry and then the relief? Yesterday, after Ben texted to say he was home, I tried like heck to get back to work, but my mind was not having it. I needed a break.

So I painted for 30 minutes. I am not a picture painter. I prepare painted pages for the books that I make. This is an occupation that is perfectly scaled so that I can dip in to it for a short time, then get back to work.painting papers like this help me dissolve worry
One of my students, a financial planner, keeps a small painting desk in her office. When she is stuck on something, she steps over to her painting desk for a short time. This act of allowing her mind to rest restores her thinking. She gets playful and new solutions arise.

When I am in crisis mode, let’s call this “crisis commotion,” my mind just will not bend to the task at hand. It scurries around making side plans about emergency exits, if we have enough bottled water, if my son was wearing boots and socks, if she will get her applications in on time. While all this loving care can be useful and appreciated when well expressed, the overflow, the sheer volume of hours I spend worrying-well that is a ton of human potential I would rather divert in to what I call “creative commotion.”

Creative commotion stills the worry beast that sucks up my focus and lets me ease back in to the flow of my work; it clears my mind and invites solid thinking to resume.

Sometimes I pick up my embroidery. Talk about creative commotion! I am not so good at this, but I love to do it. When I turned 16 my mom gave me all the colors of floss from the Coats & Clark rack at J.C. Penny’s. I still have lots of those threads along with many I have picked up along the way. So I let my hands play with a stitch for about 15 minutes.

A post shared by Suzi Banks Baum (@suzibb) on

I won’t say this kind of multi-stream work style is always meditative. That is why I call it creative commotion. While my mind seeks order and safety, my creative spirit loves a mess, loves to wander and drift, seemingly pointless and not at all productive, at least not engaged in making money.

My teacher Paulus Berensohn says,
“It’s not about making a living, it’s about making a life.”

This is where I think the Internet is not our friend. Yesterday, I found myself poking around social media and it did not help me, not at all. How many hours, just off the top of your head, do you spend wandering the halls of Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest? What if you reclaimed, say, just 15 of those many minutes you drift around online and let yourself land in creative commotion?

I have a dare for you.

The next time you feel your focus shaking like your thighs when you’ve been in downward facing dog for too long, I challenge you to change your mode of engagement for 15 minutes. Pull out a book of poetry and read. Knit a few rows on a simple patterned project. Drag some paint around a page. Doodle on a clean sheet of paper. Take a dance break. Draw mustaches on the people pictured in the newspaper. Just take a dive in to creative commotion and see what happens.

Let me know how it goes.


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Many thanks and much love!


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Showing 12 comments
  • Jennifer Gandin Le

    Oh! I’m so glad Ben is okay! And ever amazed by your clear instincts. I’ve noticed that we do very little painting or drawing or any kind of hand-to-media artistic activities here, and a little painting station designed for fun and not productivity is just what we need. I’ll report back!

    • Suzi

      How is it going Jennifer? Clay-clay is great and you only have to dig it out of the rugs and the tiny portholes in electric sockets. Much less impact than paint? xoS

  • Linda

    Glad to hear that Ben is okay! I love the term creative commotion and having an ongoing creative project to pick up when I feel worry – which seems to be ever present these days. I am learning that motherhood continues even as our children become adults!

    • Suzi

      For sure Linda! You have baskets full of that good kind of commotion. What is on your needles now? xoS

  • Brece

    A true example of when your radar is up! Phew! Exactly how much poetry can we read, how many rows can we knit instead of the dreaded social media! And as a way to quiet our mind. French knots here I come! Thanks, Suzi.

    • Suzi

      How about those other kind of knots, Brece? The longer ones you lay down end to end….I will practice and show you. Much love! S

  • Holly Wren Spaulding

    Creative commotion! I like this phrase very much. I too get real comfort from painting, from doing, from shifting gears (and mediums) when I’m worked up. Thanks for this.

    • Suzi

      You are welcome Holly. You are in Michigan right now, I think, stirring your brand of magic in to the wind there. Have a great teach and I look forward to seeing you in person soon. More starlit conversations please. xoS

  • janet

    excellent news that the ditch event was ultimately a non-event and thank you for reminder on methods of brain re-set, which I will stash until such far-off future time as I find myself worrying over someone or something because as you know that totally never happens and I am usually super-successful at a quick mental re-direct.

    • Suzi

      How is the painting going BTW my dear Raisin and a Porpoise? xooxS

  • Jeffrey

    Brilliant framing, Suzi, for one who daily tries to convert his ever-present worrier into a wonderer. Creative commotion – to more of that. Thanks.

    • Suzi

      Thank you for showing up here Jeffrey! What a pleasure. Yes, creative commotion seems to still the other commotion that clutters my path. Take good care of you and yours. oxS