A dedicated father in a busy career
Even as a dedicated father in the midst of a busy career, Doug Shapiro found creative ways to weave imagination into his life. Drawing inspiration from his family and everyday life, he wrote and published his first children’s book, “The Frox.” Many of us dream of composing a great album, getting back into painting, or finishing that novel we’ve always meant to. But creativity is a difficult practice to cultivate.
In our adult lives, it can be harder and harder to find the time and space for passion projects. We struggle to prioritize creative pursuits over our other responsibilities, and even if we manage to free up some time, it’s a challenge to resist the pull of couch-oriented entertainment or the growing list of to dos that regularly fill our weekends.
Visiting Doug’s home in an Illinois suburb outside East St. Louis, the busyness and buzz of family life are plainly visible. Colorful art projects are pinned up in the hallway; a pair of family dogs scamper underfoot. Throughout the house there are numerous pieces of evidence that this is a family that spends quality time together, from “Mother-Daughter Race” trophies to elaborate Lego constructions and crafts.
Even at first take, we can tell it’s a great place to grow up. Doug and Kim, his wife, welcomed us in for a quick interview before their three kids arrived home from school. Doug is a Regional Vice President for OFS, responsible for managing and supporting sales in the central United States. It’s a busy job, but you wouldn’t guess so from talking to him—his manner is present and warm.
Where did the idea come from to write a children’s book?
“Well, it really came from time with the kids. You know, all day, I'm busy working and when you get home it's immediately dinner, then there's soccer practice or basketball practice or whatever it is. But at night, everything kind of slows down. We’ll often read before bed, but I started actually coming up with stories for the kids myself.”
How did you start doing that?
"I would capture something I saw that day, whether it was some fireflies in the yard or the kids are playing a crane game and I would think back on that moment and say, ‘Okay, what if that was more magical, more creative.’ And I would build a story around that. It became an opportunity to think creatively, to imagine something that's not there. It's hard to go there as an adult. But pretty soon when it was my turn to tuck the kids in, the kids were always asking for a story. That became kind of a regular practice at night.”
So what story inspired “The Frox”?
“I saw a little hole in my son's sock and had the idea, ‘okay, well how did that hole get there? Who put that hole there?’ And then that became the premise of the story. A little girl trying to figure out why there were holes in her socks. And of course, in the story there's a little creature—the Frox, that put them there.”
How did it go from a bedtime story to a book?
“To turn that into real material and into a book, it took focus time and concentration, and that was a longer process. That doesn't happen on the spot. It takes planning and thought. So that took probably a year. I would squeeze that into different parts of my day, because you know, you're working during the workday and in the evenings you're with family and you're doing other activities. So I had to take advantage of quiet time that I found in my life. And in those quiet places, I was able to find that.”
What were those quiet places for you?
“I'm traveling quite a bit and I'm meeting people. You can't always solve problems and help people from your office, you need to be out there and connecting. It can be a very busy schedule, with a lot of time in cars on planes. That time also allowed me to have some creativity, along with self-reflection and self-conversation. We focus so much on communicating with other people, but there’s a real value in taking the time to connect with yourself. So that quiet time and reflection created the space for creative thinking."
What’s next? Do you have other stories?
I definitely have more stories, and I would love to continue to write books. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to go through the publishing process again, but I’ll get there.
So often, we also think of creativity as a lightning bolt that strikes without prompting, or an exhausting slog through the mud. For Doug, it was neither. Sure, the idea for the book was born from a spark of creative thinking, and we would never discount the hard work he did in developing the book for publication. But Doug didn’t wait for a perfect idea to come along, and he also didn’t drag one out of himself by force.
Instead, Doug found a way to weave creativity into his daily life, and eventually the habit paid off. The lesson to be learned in Doug’s story is that creativity isn’t a gift or a fluke, it’s a practice and a mindset.
One last thing that Doug’s story reminds us is that we sometimes think that creativity needs to happen in a studio, or that we need permission or credentials to try our hand at it. Imagination can happen at the foot of your kid’s bed, behind the wheel on a long drive, or on the tray table of an airplane. Doug didn’t need to take a sabbatical or quit his job to find creativity—he simply looked for wonder in the everyday.