I have never changed my mind about anything as quickly or completely as I changed my mind about adult colouring books. I found the trend mostly baffling and maybe a little dumb. But I saw some in a bookstore the other day and I immediately said to my friend, “Well, I'm not leaving here without one of these.”
And indeed, reader, I did not.
Let me clarify: When I say “adult colouring book,” I’m referring to a specific subset thereof. I don’t mean the Benedict-Cumberbatch-is-your-boyfriend colouring books or novelty colouring books based on beloved TV shows. These are silly and whimsical, and—while I am all for silly and whimsical, let’s just be clear about that—they don’t seem like they would actually be that fun to colour? I mean, even if you make Barnabus Crumplecake into an alien and colour his skin with polka dots or whatever, you’re still just filling in a big human head over and over. (I’m sorry, Benny, I like you and your big head. Really.)
In the admittedly brief time that I have had this colouring book, it has filled a particular activity niche for me, which is “something to do with my hands while I watch Netflix.” Other activities in this niche include: knitting, painting my nails, texting, putting candy in my mouth. End of list.
Why do I need to do two things at once? Why can’t I just sit quietly and enjoy a TV show? In part, it’s because I feel a little less lazy if I’m making something while I wile away the hours with Friday Night Lights. But also, I’m watching TV in the first place to relax, to quiet my mind, and often my mind is loud enough that it shouts over Coach Taylor. I really do think that a lifetime of multitasking has left me occasionally incapable of subduing the entirety of my mind with one activity. If the front of my mind is occupied by the show, and the back is focused on picking colours and staying in the lines, there’s not room for much else. It’s a sort of mindfulness that’s more like mind-fullness.
There’s something very satisfying about watching the colour slowly spread across the page, about seeing your thought and effort create a tangible, pretty thing at a reasonable, predictable pace. This rarely happens in life.
It takes a good while to colour one of these things in completely—a few hours, I’d say—and there’s something very satisfying about watching the colour slowly spread across the page, about seeing your thought and effort create a tangible, pretty thing at a reasonable, predictable pace. This rarely happens in life. (One of my most charming or insufferable qualities is that I make everything into a metaphor for life.)
I haven’t become a hardcore colourer or anything. I’m sure my interest in this hobby will wax and wane with my whims, just as it does with knitting and nail-painting and cooking things that aren’t quesadillas. But as someone who can’t sit and breathe deeply and try to calm my thoughts for even 30 seconds without getting itchy all over, it’s nice to have something other than meditation that still feels meditative. To sit and follow the lines to an end that’s within sight.
Julie Beck is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where she covers health.