Friday, February 29, 2008

Authenticate This!

I keep running across this concept of authenticity this week... and sadly it seems to show up in the idea that creativity is only something that can be pursued "seriously" by professional artists and seriously, I've come across two books and a few websites -this week alone- that seem to promote this idea. It's usually cloaked in the idea that you need to devote yourself fully to an artistic endeaver in order to be successful at it. Now, perhaps that is the case if you plan on becoming the next Picasso, but what about if you simply want to create YOUR best work? What if you have a busy life full of many interests and simply want to make painting a part of those interests? This elitist attitude makes me incredibly angry for so many reasons, not the least of which is the limiting perspective it takes on everyday living. I truly, deeply believe that it is possible to approach every part of your life creatively, whether that means being intensely aware of your surroundings and living "mindfully", or approaching a traditional art, such as painting, and making the practice of that art a part of your everyday life. Now, the small-minded individual might say something like "how do you take out the garbage creatively? By walking on your hands?" No, you take out the garbage like everyone else. BUT, while you take that garbage out you notice the smells of the morning, the textures of the street and listen to birdsongs in the trees, maybe think about the way all these things combine to make a morning, THEN you are taking out the garbage in a way that transcends the ordinary.

What can be more authentic than that?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

my inspiration right now...

This is from Scottish watercolor artist Bryan Evans, whose work I find absolutely mesmorizing... more pictures of his work can be found at

Friday, February 22, 2008

learning to fall in love

"One way to learn to fall in love with another person is to learn to fall in love with other things. This might mean...learning to spend time with one painting rather than rushing through a museum looking at all the paintings. It might mean...learning how to love a landscape by attending to and learning about its details. It might mean...learning to understand that human perception and thinking is not only organized by human-made objects but, as well, is influenced by the non human-made world. It might mean...meditating on one's own breathing, trying to calm the constant noise of the mind."

From Dennis Sumara, Why Reading Literature in Schools Still Matters

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Rephrase and Regurgitate

So, normally I'm a girl who loves school. Love it. That's why I keep going back. Repeatedly. Mostly, I really enjoy being around the kind of academic environment where people are always asking questions about their world, and finding interesting ways to tackle those questions. I usually enjoy my homework, especially when I have to do research papers where I get a chance to explore something that I've always wondered about, or get stimulated to think about something in a new light. But this semester I'm burdened with two (out of four) classes where all the assignments are just regurgitation of facts and theories, things I "need to know", and need to show the profesor that I know. In one of the classes, I even have exams. I haven't taken an exam class since my undergraduate years, back in the stone age. Now, I'm still in the phase of my graduate school years where I only get to ask "how high", and not "why am I jumping", so I suck it up. But tonight I'd much rather be tackling the interesting questions in life instead of just rewriting my textbooks. Bleah.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Walking with Rien

Tonight PK and I went for a walk along the shores of the bay. The light was pale, and faintly glowed of sunset. The dog rushed ahead of us at every turn, digging and pawing at the snow, looking for something smelly to roll in. As we passed through fields abandoned by farmers, and along the edges of conservation land, the winds picked up and whipped across the open land. At the end of the trail, Canada Geese scattered themselves across the ice flows and among the salt grass, their dark heads nervously lifting now and again to watch us. The scene reminds me of one of my favorite illustrators, Rien Poortvliet. These two pictures are from some of his many books.His nature drawings are so vivid, they nearly jump off the page. One thing that always amazes me is how informed his work is, how you can tell that he has spent hours just sitting and observing the world around him. He uses a limited palate of colors-lots of muted burnt sienna and blacks, a little yellow and green now and then. His Gnome books are brighter, but I am drawn to his wildlife studies again and again, and always notice something new living in the corner of his work. I am always inspired to pick up my pencils and sketch something when I look at one of his books.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


I’m thinking a lot about space and environment and rituals these days, perhaps because I’m visiting lots of different classrooms this week. In some, student work is closely confined to a bulletin board, lined up in neat rows. In some, the visual stimuli explode beyond the borders of the bulletins, over the walls and on the ceilings, sometimes trickling down the hallway. It is clear which rooms are designed with the students in mind-the ones where there are different kinds of space-comfortable furniture for silent reading, lamps to change the lighting from cold industrial to warm homelight. Space that is designed to help them become absorbed in whatever kind of learning is appropriate for them. Perhaps I’m thinking a lot about space because I am organizing mine, trying to reduce the feeling of clutter that seems to overwhelm me so easily when I try to release into a project. I think it's critical to set aside a space of one’s own, a place where you can leave the paints out, the glue drying, and the book cracked open on the arm of a chair. Someone commented on the idea of creating transition rituals, even for things like going to bed, and I think that is especially important, and that your space can help with the transition. For me, I want both my home studio and my classroom to signal to those that enter, including myself, the idea that “serious creating happens here.” Tonight PK and I moved a new bookcase into the study, and I unpacked books that smiled at me like old friends. The piles of texts are off the floor, and I feel grounded, like I can easily find the things I need for referencing or inspiration. For me, the space feels more comfortable and supportive. I missed my twelve different translations of Beowulf while they were stored away. Heofonum.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Barrier #5

Cute, but hard to work around...

Friday, February 8, 2008


Today I observed an inspiring class at a local high school. Students were studying immigration into the Americas in an interdisciplinary humanities class, and were given the assignment to research their own family histories and tell their own stories of immigration. Instead of the traditional research report, they were to present their findings in multigenre format. They had to use at least 4 different genres- art, letters, journal entries, poems, photography, etc. The range and creativity of what students brought in was impressive—everything from family artifacts like journals and documents, to “invented” journal entries aged with tea to resemble primary documents, to poems, collages and elaborate storytelling performances. In some portfolios it was clear the students were strong writers, in others, the concepts were expressed through art and other visual media. Their ancestors had arrived with the pilgrims, were shanghaied by the British Navy, fled the potato famine, left Pakistan for India during the collapse of British colonization and generally taken courageous steps in hopes of finding a new life in America. What a creative way to bring to life the stories of this diverse group of teens in a way that honors their individual learning styles!

This weekend the Pirate King is off on the high seas, and I have my own homework to complete… its time for physical clutter to vaporize. After all, I can’t paint or draw if my pencils and paper are buried under Christmas decorations…

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Making Some Connections

It’s raining outside, cold February rain that makes me want to huddle under a blanket with a Pina Colada and wish I were someplace tropical…Instead, I’m thinking about the preparation people do to “get creative”.

One of the reasons I’m so interested in this idea of fostering creativity is because of what I want to get from my own quality of life. But, I am in graduate school studying to become a teacher and a reading specialist, and I want to study this idea of the creative experience in order to bring it into the classroom. What is that makes students love to read and write? What are the ways that I as a teacher can improve their chances of having intense reactions to literature and art? How can I get them to think beyond the next test and appreciate the beauty of the world, and words, around them?

There are so many concepts that intersect around this idea of intense flow experiences and creative thought—they are hard to sort out and unify into an overarching idea, but I’m trying. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how nature plays a role in creative thought, and about how to help teens create a strong bond with their own special place in nature, or just their own place in general. In my last post, I described an intense experience that I had in a “special place”. But what if I had never had a secret place of my own? Would I have been in the right frame of mind to experience a flow state if I was squashed into a tiny apartment with screaming siblings and the sounds of gunfire outside my window? In the last two hours I’ve heard two interesting stories about preparing for a certain kind of experience. The first was while I was driving home listening to BBC World Service, where I heard an interview with Dave Clayton, who designed the opening credit sequences for a number of major movies, including Seven (Listen to the whole interview here: ) Anyway, Clayton describes the opening credit sequence as a way to transition people from the outside world into the right frame of mind to see the movie…hence, the creepy opening credits of Seven, with Nine Inch Nails in the background. Interesting, I thought, here is a way to transition people into the world of the movie…preparing for them to lose sense of the outside world and become absorbed in the story. Then, not an hour later, PK was telling me about how he used to set up a hammock in his backyard, drape himself with mosquito netting and settle down to read a fantasy novel…he described it as the only time he ever became totally absorbed in a book so much so that he lost track of time and forgot to eat lunch….remarkable, if you know PK. So here it is again, a ritual (setting up the hammock, creating a safe space to enter the book) that leads to a flow experience. Interesting. So now I have two clues about how to progress…help students find their own way to create an entrance ritual that works for them. But what does that look like, especially in a classroom with thirty students and only forty-five minutes between bells?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Mental Clutter

When I was in high school I lived across the street from a large field that sloped down to a beaver pond surrounded by several square miles of woods and swamp. I was a night owl then, and sat awake until 2 or 3 in the morning, playing guitar, reading or writing. Sometimes I would sneak across into the field and lean my back against a pile of hay bales that formed a sort of barrier between the field and the house, and offered me a feeling of shelter from anything that might sneak up behind me (and believe me, there were beasts aplenty in my little stretch of wilderness). It was a calming place, and one where I could sink into the ground and release the stress of too many classes and homework, too much mental stimulation. One night, the darkness was blue, and the trees across the field were muted shadows against the sky, and I saw movement, barely, across the open spaces of the field. The shapes were so indistinct that it took several minutes to really accept that something was there, and the edges of everything blurred together in the dusk and the movement of something almost there. But they were there, a herd of deer, and I sat there for an hour, watching them feed as the moon rose higher in the sky, until at last they scattered back into the trees. At that moment, while watching them, the world seemed to pulse, and the night was alive with barely-seen forms and my realization of all that the darkness could shelter. I left the field with a feeling of heightened awareness, of inner peacefulness and calm.

I’m thinking of those deer because of my creativity barrier brainstorming last night, when one of the top things on my list was “mental clutter”, and is the thing plaguing me tonight. There is too much buzzing around in my brain-classes, ideas, stresses about doing my taxes, and I’m wishing I could sit in my field and let it all melt away, find some calm and clarity again. But I made some small steps towards a creative writing piece, and I suppose it’s those little steps that eventually get you across the line…

Monday, February 4, 2008

Creativity as Religion?

I’ve been reading an interesting book called The Creativity Book, by Eric Maisel, Ph.D. Basically, this is a year’s worth of guided exercises designed to help people become what he calls “everyday creative people.” Now, PK and I can be pretty creative when we get down to it. We cook creatively, we garden creatively, we paint and draw and think about things a lot and in many different ways. I feel like we approach things creatively in general. As I write this, PK is in the corner drawing, creatively. But what we are thinking about more and more these days is how to bring it to the next level, and how to motivate ourselves to do so. How do we publish our writing, show our artwork, and get things to a high enough quality that people might want to look/read/eat/listen to what we have to say? How do we tune out the everyday distractions? I bought Maisel’s book thinking it would be interesting to take a more analytical approach to this idea of “everyday creative” and see if there is anything there that can take us those few steps further. One thing I like about it is the approach he takes to creativity. He emphasizes the mystery and ceremony of acts of creation, and encourages the reader to embrace creativity like a religion, to be worshipped daily in small acts. This is an interesting thing to think about, since flow experiences sound very similar to reports of profound religious experiences. I'm not particularly religious myself, but there is something appealing about thinking about creativity in a spiritual way. That said, some of the exercises seem a little silly…but I’m going to spend some time tonight thinking of five barriers to my creative progress, and maybe that’s a good start.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

some thoughts on flow experiences

Have you ever experienced the serendipity of suddenly encountering a concept everywhere you go? I’m having days like that now, as I think about flow experiences. I’ve been hearing this concept talked about in the radio, in classes, in random conversation-with different names, but the same idea. And I think that figuring out how to get myself in the right frame of mind for this kind of mental state is one of the keys to tapping into my creative self.

I first learned about the concept of flow when reading Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards. While she doesn’t use the same terminology, she is addressing the concept when she talks about “Right Brain” experiences. Basically, a flow state is when you become so deeply absorbed in an action that you seem to lose track of time, the rest of the world slips into the background and the things you are working on become fluid, like water “flowing” downhill, your work is seamless and just feels “right”. A flow experience can happen anywhere, in any medium, though is particularly linked to activities involving highly stimulated senses, such as competing in sports, artistic and other creative endeavors, or in highly emotional states, such as around death or trauma. Anyone who has ever become so absorbed in a book that a whole day has slipped by, or been “in the zone” while hiking, or running, has experienced a flow state. I recently had a conversation with a girl who described an incredibly powerful flow experience she had while playing soccer in high school, when a girl she hated, and had just cursed out, slipped in goal, hit her head, and died only a few feet in front of her. Her reaction to the power of that day’s emotion was amazing, and as she recalled an event that happened many years ago, her voice shook and it was clear she was re-experiencing it over again in her mind. That day was emblazoned on her memory because of her intense flow experience.

Imagine if we lived every day with that kind of clarity. Would it be too much to handle? Do we need some sort of filter over our lives to keep an even keel?

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Dipping into the Creativity Pool

This journey of exploration is starting as a response to the pervasive feeling that PK and I are not living up to our potential as creative beings. We have spent hours thinking about this, talking about the idea that we are living a life too controlled by outside chaos, too much by the idea that we need to be here at x time and have to complete these 12 things before night falls, then night falls and the darkness and the cold and all we want to do is fall in bed and sleep, only to wake the next day and do it all over again, without time to play instruments, paint, draw and otherwise think about things in a creative way. There is always something to clean and organize, someplace we have to be, sometime to be spent on something more pressing. We are trying to answer these questions: How can we live lives full of creativity, driven by a desire to build the world around us into something better, deeper and more distinct, rather than follow along like sheep, only to die like sheep in the end, with nothing remaining to mark our passage along the path of life? How can we learn to exist more in the now than in the might-have-been? This blog will chart our navigation of those sometimes murky waters.