Thoughts on Creativity — Newsletter #43
A'musings #12 (Jan 2009)
by The Creative Edge Board of Directors:
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Once again, it is that time of year we reflect upon creativity and how it weaves it's way into our lives and the lives of those around us. My concepts of what it is to be creative have changed over the years just as life has continued to change... for me, that is the true beauty of it. I once thought it was something I wanted to manifest, however, over the years I have grown to understand that it is simply something that is always present whether I do anything or not. Creativity for me now, simply abounds and I am here to rejoice in it's showering abundance.
I found myself looking up Ecclesiastics 3:1-8, "To everything there is a season." I had been reminded of the Byrd's rendition of it, as the melody had been dancing around in my head for some time now... I was drawn to read the written word in its original form.
"To everything there is a season,
a time for every purpose under the sun..."
My mother is not doing well. They found a mass on her right upper lung and we
have just returned from her having a biopsy. She is resting now, so this moment
becomes a "season," brief though it may be, for me to reflect upon things and write.
Mother has become a frail little bird, silently experiencing pain and shortness of breath. She is also rapidly losing her eyesight, living in the shadow lands, her spirit shining bright. Dad falls easily, has his own pain and quietly fears the possibility of something being terribly wrong with his beloved wife of almost 68 years.
So many words go unspoken, but now seems a "season" for the silence of certain words as well.
We watched the swearing in of now President Obama with such joy and gratitude that we were a part of such a glorious time in our history; so touched by the capacity of humanity to move towards and manifest higher ideals with ever expanding hearts.
Creativity is alive and unfolding itself, not in a linear way but in a way that allows multiple seasons to be woven together.
Life is a rich tapestry and I feel so very blessed to feel it's many textures at this time.
What is it to be creative, if not to hold a dream with such "audacity of hope" and surrender to a higher order, that no amount of fear, pain, prejudice or grief can prevent the birth of a butterfly?
To all the butterflies under the sun... you are my inspiration!
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Balance in Uncertainty Uncertainty in Balance
As I think about the year to come, two things come to mind, uncertainty and balance. The first may be obvious, as the winds of uncertainty blow through this season with fervor. "What will this year bring?" has often been a New Year's question, though it seems to hold more intensity than curiosity this year. "Will we recover what we have lost?" "Will we end a war or enter a new one?" "Will our new leaders live up to our hopes?"
The notion of balance, though more subtle, persistently arises as I contemplate the new year. A few months ago, I happened to watch a morning talk show in which a numerologist was sharing her vision of what the next year would bring. She explained how 2009 was a "2" year and enthusiastically announced that this meant we would experience more peace and balance than we did in 2008. The critic in me immediately questioned her reasoning. Wouldn't that make the 2008 a "1" year, signifying unity and wholeness? Hmmm? Maybe, I just didn't get numerology. After all, I never have put much credence in "ologies" that were not offered as a major in reputable universities. It's not that I discount the plausibility of non-scientific, unobservable aspects of reality. In fact, I think that it may be my reverence for the sublime mystery that causes me to cringe when prophecies are proclaimed based on planetary alignments or the number of letters in ones name. Like depicting the marvels of a galaxy in a cartoon sketch, it's fine, so long as you don't take it too seriously.
And yet, this interview has stayed with me. It appears to have grabbed the cheeks of my imagination and refuses to let it go. Maybe it's a narcissistic thing. I was born on the 11th "2," my full birthday, month, year adds up to 47 "2," the letters in my first and last name add up to 11 "2." Maybe I want the numerologist to be accurate, for 2009 to be my year, and for it to be full of peace and balance.
But there is more to it that that. Duality is a concept that has been percolating in my mind for the last decade (or perhaps 11 "2" years). The practice of holding opposing views as simultaneous possibilities can be expansive, albeit tricky. What better time to embrace the dynamic powers of duel perspectives than in a time of uncertainty. Economic recession may carry alternative forms of abundance. The exploration of fear may uncover paths of acceptance. Conflict may hold peace and balance.
What better time, also, to utilize the powers of creativity than in a time of uncertainty, when the inertia of complacency is challenged, and the walls of convention are weakened. It is a time when the voices and hands of the creative are in greatest need. The clay of yesterday's dissolved assumptions carries the potential ideals of tomorrow's creative edge. Let's sculpt 2009 in balance and peace and who knows what will arise.
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We are in an interesting time of both despair and joy! For the last year the stock market and our savings have shrunk faster than since the great depression of the 1930's. In addition, many people are dealing with unemployment and homelessness through foreclosure. In contrast, Christmas, the season of rebirth and joy, is coming. And in the new year, we are promised hopeful change in our national leadership with a new President. Everywhere this duality coexists. The deepest darkness of Winter will soon mark the season's new beginning with cold wet days. In contrast, daylight extends longer and longer toward the promise of Spring.
On one hand in my life, there are physical changes—changes of loss and limitation. Memory and energy are not what they used to be! My golf game is also slipping! On the other hand, with acceptance, I see increasing support for my journey from doctors, workers, family and friends. At the recent growing family Thanksgiving gathering of 21 including 2 Great Grandchildren, I was able to sit back relieved of formal duties and enjoy the party's warmth and success while younger members did all the work.
I spent all last month rebuilding a rental unit solving problems of cleaning, yard work, paint, carpeting, blinds, all sorts of plumbing problems and finally termites before I could attempt to rent again. Although it was expensive and time consuming, I hired at least eight different contractors with their helpers ready to serve my need professionally. Most of them were, or have become friends ready to do my bidding in an honest and fair way balancing out the cost. In another earlier time, I would have attempted to resolve many of these problems on my own and be angry at the expense. Now my limitations lead me into rich expanding friendships and relationships—I am helping the economy too!
What I see as my theme this year is inclusiveness! And of course, relationship is always a part of the issue. This broadening of perspective often comes with experience and aging, at least it has for me. What I like about our President-elect and what makes me hopeful about the future, is his dedication to this principle! The principle of inclusiveness!
The shift from polarity toward inclusiveness is both spiritual and creative. Creatively with inclusiveness all possibilities become available, not just those on one side of a polarity. Of course it requires a special perspective to meld the good and the bad, the discouraging with the hopeful, dark with the light. From the essence of our human spirit, inclusiveness requires a change, a shift in personal perspective—a shift whenever we find ourselves in a polarized viewpoint to include the opposite. It requires holding tension of the opposites in a broadening stance. Given our divisive human nature, this isn't always easy. However, as artists, we soon learn to consider all possibilities for life and for work—particularly including those ideas or emotions that seem alien or contrary at the time! For it is in these that are often found the richest reward!
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Today I came across a phrase that caught my attention:
Be the moisture that goes into the air and feeds the mountain...
from the I Ching Book of Changes
These words hold my attention, sitting here in my warm office on a very cold, wet December night. I can hear the wind howling outside while the rain spatters against the window panes. I think about rain—about moisture—about what it takes to nourish and be nourished in return.
Today I was nourished by a small, warm three-year old body pressed against me in a fierce good morning hug. My grandson, Kaedyn, was over for Sunday morning pancakes. Carrying his white metal space shuttle toy in one hand and his green miniature race car in the other, tan knit hat cocked over one eye, he ran into the house yelling "Good morning Grandma!" even as he maneuvered his toys so he could throw his arms around my neck. His soft cheek pressed against mine for only a second before he left me at a run, headed for the wide open spaces of the backyard. In that instant, my heart filled again with the wonder and joy of having this beautiful boy in my life: nourishment, poured over my soul in one quick movement. What a blessing!
One little boy changed the day for his grandma. Life changing nourishment, offered without expectation of gratitude or return—changing the world, one hug at a time. What could be simpler?
I have much to learn from this young soul who visits me each week. His enthusiasm for life shines from his tiny face every minute of the day. He is captivated by each new adventure: crawling on Daddy's back while his father lies on the living room floor elicits squeals of delight. Hunting in the dark backyard with a flashlight in search of the elusive earthworm is a task worthy of complete attention. When was the last time I put my heart and soul into an everyday task? How would my life be different if I approached everything as a new adventure?
With this new mindset, maybe washing the dishes could be less of a chore, and more of a great opportunity to play with bubbles. Come to think of it, I've always been fascinated with bubbles, especially those that you can blow while sitting outside. I love holding that small plastic bottle of store-bought bubble mix in one hand, with the colorful plastic wand in the other, practicing making the biggest bubble possible. There is an art to creating a bubble that sits for minutes at a time on the end of that textured plastic circle, and I always enjoyed taking on the challenge of its creation.
Alternatively, there is the excitement of making as many bubbles as possible, as quickly as possible, while an appreciative audience leaps, stomps and waves to pop them. My dog Spirit loves this game, although I always wonder what she thinks of the taste of the soap as she bites each bubble with her sharp teeth. Now that I think of it, couldn't I expand into new territory, and hone my bubble making skills on dishwasher soap? Which kitchen utensil would create the best bubble? How many bubbles could I balance on the edge of a crusty frying pan? I know my grandson would gleefully join me in this experiment, his compact body balanced on the top of the step stool next to me, the front of his tee shirt soaked with water within two minutes of starting. If I pay close attention, I'm sure I could learn more techniques to playing with bubbles from this boy less than four years old than I can imagine now with my fifty-something brain. This kind of nourishment—the kind that comes from opening up to the wondrous possibilities inherent in every interaction—is amazingly powerful and transformative. Volumes have been written about it, but for me the lesson comes from a very small source. Maybe, if I can pay attention and not get caught up in accomplishing my endless list of chores, I'll spend less time working without the engagement of my heart, and more time being nourished among the flashing birch trees in my front yard, inspecting spider webs with a three year old teacher.
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Barbara Rose Shuler:
This season—Winter—I have been musing about darkness and light. The interplay of dark and light is the deeply rooted in the human psyche. It's the realm of the mysteries and of momentous journeys inner and outer. During the solar cycle that defines the seasonal progression of this earth of ours, the shortest day of the year holds a unique power over the human imagination.
No other moment in the planet's annual pilgrimage around the sun is more universally celebrated than the Winter solstice. Thus it has been since the dawn of the consciousness that marks our species as different from others. In our culture we enjoy solstice time as what we now call "the holidays"—an extended period of celebration, gathering together, storytelling, religious observances, gift giving, revelry and relaxation.
As individuals we may forget that we are repeating at the holiday time an ancient response to the seasonal cycle whose beginnings are lost to human collective memory. The shortest days of the year have always signaled a time of hope, renewal and mystery, when light is visibly born out of darkness.
Writer Susan Cooper captures the spirit of this shared gladness at the solstice in her poem The Shortest Day:
And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us—listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
I heard this poem recited for the first time last month at the opening performance of the Oakland Revels, a joyful December event that celebrates the coming of the light with music, movement, poetry, story, humor and song, adorned with sumptuous sets and costumes. Revels performances take place throughout the country during Yuletide and draw on many traditions old and new to express our human longing for light and merriment at winter solstice time.
I wrote about Revels afterwards with its aim of igniting the collective human purpose of bringing light out of darkness and hope out of despair. I've been thinking since then about the unbroken chain of winters humans have lived through, the long dark nights interrupted by brief daylight hours and the eons of solstice gatherings and tributes.
"Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us—listen!"
I have also wondered what we may have lost in this era by being creatures of artificial light, easy warmth, abundant food and endless distractions from the rhythms of the natural cycles of the year. Do we perhaps despair more when we disconnect from these long-tended traditions.
When you look into the faces of the revelers—dancing in serpentine formation around the great hall, the ageless joy beaming through their eyes—you know the light of connection will return even to the darkest places of our modern human landscape. You know there will be merriment, hope and dancing down through the ages "...to drive the dark away."
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Not many details remain from my years at Forest Hills High School in New York, but I do recall being entranced by Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay "The Importance of a Good Forgettery." The words espoused that too much information clogs pathways for important necessary facts.
Now, over five decades later, Memory plays her game, makes up her own rules, easily includes Forgetfulness in the lineup while Suspense consorts with Spice to season each day while Intuition waits quietly to become a star.
Lately, E-mail, an unexpected player, who enjoys engaging Delete at random, came onto the scene. Memory has a difficult time with Change, juggles aol.com, comcast.net., sbcglobal.net and all the .coms floating around.
With her head in her hands, Memory sometimes lets E-mail rest, unopened, like an unappreciated gift. But, most of all, Memory enjoys quiet times, when Past visits unannounced, and stays comfortably until flight of fancy arrives to transport Past elsewhere.
This leads into my profession. I help people write and compile their memoirs. I call upon Memory and she, feeling important, usually serves us well. I enclose a recent letter from a student. After you read this, you will understand that my formal education only serves as a beginning. The rest comes through the grace of evolved Intuition who may well outlive Memory.
Thank you for another illuminating year of self-discovery which I didn't think possible at my age. Your gentle, encouraging teaching is so brilliant. I can't begin to enumerate what you and our Friday group have given me.
I know my writing has improved slightly, but in addition, I have found joy in reading again. In reading a list of the "Best Books of 2008," I realized that I am only interested in nonfiction for a reason that I never thought of before. There is a statement from the author, Elizabeth McCracken about how hearing other people's stories makes us feel less alone and I thought: "That's it!"
You and our group have made it possible to live out my years with greater comfort than I might otherwise have enjoyed. Is that some kind of miracle, or what?
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
So, dear educators who taught me much that I no longer remember, you gave me license so that I could take liberty.
For that, I truly thank you.
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Just Assumed I already knew what "better" meant...
These are powerful times of reconsideration: Outworn belief systems are eroding within the currents of our changing circumstances. Certainly we are witnessing on a grand scale, the beginning of a major cultural overhaul.
For most of us, external changes inevitably seem to arouse a stubborn heroic resistance to them. To neutralize this tendency, I can recommend deliberately practicing a shift in awareness by semantically converting the journalist's term, depression into reformation. I've found comfort and inspiration in this practice, because it's allowing me to toss away my emotional armament of resistance and to move forward with an expectation of creative collaboration. Borrowing from archetypal terminology, our warrior/defenders can be freed to morph into creator/magician modes.
Awakening to the environmental and economic urgency of sustainability, I feel as though I've begun to grow again through renegotiating my use of space, time, talent and treasure—as a consumer, as an educator, and within in my studio.
Being able to witness oneself consciously making these choices is refreshing and invigorating. Old patterns of thinking—ingrained How's and Why's of hard-won artistic academia with which we restrict our options—reveal themselves. It feels grand to choose again with evolving ethics, and to knowingly abandon old rules.
Time has become my highest priority. Rather than continuing to warehouse mildly satisfying half-finished canvases, I'm choosing to lavish more and more time in studying for an understanding of what—if anything—was trying to happen in them. Then I focus on fulfilling this new vision of content and substance. Rather than relishing the glib painterly finishes of old, I've discovered a greater joy in reaching for time-consuming subtleties and refinements.
Space is being regained through a culling process: I've loaned out, and given away those paintings which seem to live on their own, and dumped the ones that don't. I've burned all but a few life-drawings from my student days; emptied portfolios, file drawers, and thinned my sprawling library. This ever-continuing process is allowing me to breath easier and stand taller.
Treasure. Profit motive though deserving respect, remains my least consideration. But I can feel that it's begin to stir the pot.
On the cosmic scale: We appear to be experiencing, worldwide and within our own lifetime, the trauma and chaos of another one of mankind's cultural ending and beginning cycles. I know I'm hardly alone in eyeing with curiosity the majestic predictions of the ancient Mayan calendar. Wasn't it almost half a century ago when Bob Dylan sang to us, "...our times, they are a-changing..."?
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