Thoughts on Creativity — Newsletter #48
A'musings #17 (Jan 2014)
Each Board Member has looked at what theme is active or has their attention, reflecting or musing on it as an artist from a creative process point of view. This is about sharing what it is to stand on the threshold of our own creative edge! It illustrates how the creative process applies to more than just making art. The creative process can be an integral part of our lives providing inspiration and direction.
by The Creative Edge Board of Directors:
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This New Year, I find myself surrounded by my family. It is a bittersweet time. Last Sunday, my father was diagnosed with advanced stage liver cancer. Yesterday we called in Hospice.
In October, my son was in a terrible accident that totaled his car, and left him with multiple fractures to his upper body and severed tendons in his hands. He moved back home with us, so that we could care for him and get him back and forth to the VA Hospital for surgery and to Monterey for his hand therapy sessions. He is healing well. The right hand and clavicle will take time but we are so grateful he is alive and nobody else was involved.
Our Granddaughter, who lives with us, is now in her senior year and looking forward, with some nervousness and apprehension to graduating and moving on to college life, as Roy and I are looking towards our move to Florida. He and I have been cleaning out closets and garages and making seemingly endless trips to the goodwill. Everything must go— 39 years of accumulation— not only ours but much of my parents belongings, which came to settle with us 14 years ago and were accumulated over a much longer period of time.
So much history is passing through my fingertips . . . fingertips which, I have come to deeply appreciate, since my son had lost the use of his. Mine can pick up things and hold them and then smoothly open in a gesture of letting go and all the while a bitter sweetness enveloping my heart.
And so it is . . . a time of letting go and a time for the promise of New beginnings. I have not yet felt the surge of creativity . . . have not had much time to focus on New Year's Resolutions and Dreams for the future . . . and yet my family and I have surrendered to the unfolding that seems to be carrying us through each day. I feel tender buds opening in the midst of it all— there has been a long draught— I look forward to the promise of gentle rains.
Spring lies just around the corner for each of us and I trust my Dad will once again be pain free and dancing across the heavens, cheek to cheek, with my Mom.
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The Feminine Dawn of Creation
From an early age, I have observed the concept of creativity as being linked to the masculine. My Christian education made a point that "man" was created in the likeness of the "Creator." As a catechism student the mere suggestion that the Creator could be female, was met with a scolding frown. Later, when I first learned that Spanish words had genders assigned to them, I questioned why "el creador" and "el artista" were masculine.
As a child, the association of creativity with masculinity bothered me. This resistance made sense, as I was a girl who felt at least as creative, if not more, than most boys I knew.
After college, I began to explore some eastern philosophies, including yin-yang. The masculine line yang is practically defined as the creative principle. Masculine and feminine meaning did not correspond directly with western symbolism. However, it was clear that creativity was not only a masculine trait, but one of the prime representations of the masculine yang line.
In time, I was able to respect the concepts of masculinity and femininity, both eastern and western variations, as helpful philosophical tools. I learned to appreciate the masculine and feminine within myself and within all of us. Still, something about creativity being masculine bothered me.
As I reflected on why this was, it occurred to me that this association was not conducive to inspiring creativity within me. As I desired to be creative or inspired, trying to force it did not create an environment for creative light to enter. For real creativity to flow, there first needed to be a clearing of preconceptions, distractions, and ego, to allow an opening for inspirations to bubbled up or shine down.
While reconsidering the meaning of I Ching hexagrams in a broader context, I could see now how they illustrate, rather than oppose this reflection. Six masculine yang lines composing Heaven (1)* represent creation and light. The six feminine yin lines, which make up Earth (2), denote an active receptivity to creative energy and enlightenment.
The dawning of creation occurs before the full light. Further, the progression of yang light slowly rising through the yin earth strikes me as a metaphor for the change of season from winter solstice to summer solstice, as well as an evolutionary dawning of the creative process.
Beginning in the receptive darkness of yin Earth (2), light is Returning (24), as the winter solstice has past and the growing season will soon begin. The nourishing Conduct (19) of Spring promotes blossoming, while fascinated involvement bestows the Peace (11) that comes with focused, creative immersion. The sunŐs Great Strength (34) empowers, and reminds us that the strength of our voice and vision can serve to inspire others. A preserving, vigilant call to action helps us to Break-through (43) into the dynamic light of the creative spirit of Heaven (1) yang.
I look forward to the day when I can once again dance in the inspired light of the creative bliss. But I'll have to let that desire drift away for now. It's time to turn down the lights, and listen deeply in the quiet night for the creative call.
*(The name of I Ching hexagrams are italicized, with the corresponding number placed in parentheses.)
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Grief has replaced anxiety. For over three years I watched and listened to my sister as she bravely fought through two major painful surgeries, chemo, nausea, neuropathy, hair loss, and the fear of death and leaving her family. For more than three years I watched and listened to my brother as he bravely fought through two major painful surgeries, chemo, nausea, neuropathy, hair loss and the fear of death and leaving his family. Waiting, hoping, praying; knowing that with their late diagnosis of different types of cancer, the outcome may not be positive.
DEATH has stopped me in my tracks; slammed me to the ground; taken a choke hold on me and won't let go. One sibling gone, dead at age 65. Another followed a few weeks later, dead at age 63. How much grief can one person endure? How does one handle so much emotional pain?
Art . . . . .
I haven't been able to write or draw or paint or sculpt or be with people. Each time I try I end up in a puddle of my own tears. Kind words gave me the opportunity to look at this and I realized that I am creating art with my youngest granddaughter's 2nd grade class. I am in the process of putting together an art project with them for a silent auction fundraiser for the school district. Each classroom in the district is asked to create a piece of art for this fundraising event. It has been a wonderful experience working with the students and now putting their art together has finally given me something I can do; through the tears; through the doubts, through the pain. Working through grief through art.
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In one of my earliest memories of cooking, I am standing on a chair helping my Grandmother make a cherry pie. When she proceeded to place dots of butter atop the fruit before applying the top crust, I exerted my will by insisting that butter did not belong in a pie.
Later on, while taking home economics in high school, I found ways to educate my mother. Some of my newfound knowledge was likely to avert food poisoning. Others were grounded in a tendency to be too precise; finding out that more corn in a casserole was not equivalent to more flour in a cake.
After I began teaching home economics, I started to see ways to stretch and modify, enlisting students' experience of how pastry was made in their home. I had a relative known for her pies who stirred the pie crust ingredients because it worked best for her. This revolutionary, efficient, and effective method sort of stirred the possibilities for more creative individualized approaches.
I was further stretched when assigned art classes. This meant returning to school and finding out that teaching art classes reached a quiet focus that was preferable to a cooking lab—as you can imagine.
With the art classes, some of my rigid ways started to fade. Like finding that equal parts of blue and yellow doesn't produce green. So, learning to trust my eyes, my intuitions, my tastes expanded my homemaking skills, softened and stabilized my boundaries, and eased the task of teaching into a more fulfilling and sustainable blend of growth, recovery and discovery.
Another shift in my cooking is now under way. I find myself pushing too hard to complete a project. I get frustrated in what becomes a struggle, and I become weary and nervous about outcome, cleaning up messes, and feeling that I can't handle as much as I used to be able to do. My patience is thin and some projects just need revamping.
Thus, I am challenged to slow down and simplify the process. Some meals are now a couple days of preparation. Roasting vegetables seems easiest and most flavorful, making nice additions to salads and pasta. My granola fills the house with the smell of roasted grain and is the closest I come to dessert or pie. And sometimes I roast apples or rhubarb with minimal sugar, flour, and those dots of butter!
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For me, this year's topic is "Change!" In January, little did I suspect Lou and I would sell both a Monterey rental house and our home of almost forty years and move to Forest Hill, a senior retirement complex before Thanksgiving!
Consciously, it all started suddenly in May after returning home from a vacation trip to Italy. As you may recall, in 2012 we embarked on a series of renovation projects to transform our home so we could live out our lives in it. Although Lou had been ready to move for years, I in particular was determined to stay put in our Stratford Place home. Perhaps the renovation projects were an unconscious movement toward preparation for this surprising change.
Interestingly, on impulse, we decided once more to check out local retirement housing just to confirm our decision to stay in our home. We had done this in 2001 and again in 2008 concluding the Monterey facilities would be our first choice if we were to move. However, now the Park Lane no longer met our criteria. When we arrived at Forest Hill (formerly Forest Hill Manor), the new cottage we liked in 2008 was still available. For some reason it was never occupied!
One cannot fight fate! The bright sunny apartment had our name on it! Passing the entrance physicals and financial screening, we quickly found Real Estate agents for our two houses and began downsizing. Down sizing from 3200 square feet with loads of storage space to 1300 was the amazing part. It was only made possible by our family's full participation and many trips to Goodwill and the dump. We moved in to our new cottage on October 8, 2013.
With no real regrets, we went to our creative edge and jumped! A wonderful teacher of mine, the late Edith Sullwold once told me the hardest part in life is learning to let go! We had so much stuff to part with! Strangely both Lou and I were ready. Lou sold her beautiful piano and harp and I released almost all of my art works and personal treasures I have been accumulating for the last thirty-five years and longer. The strongest feelings for me were of relief not feelings of loss. In particular, I felt a lightening of ever increasing maintenance responsibilities and attending to the never-ending list of chores home ownership brings! There comes a time in life when simplicity beckons. For us, this was the time.
The creative opening to change comes with being in the present moment—letting go of both past and future then looking for present opportunities or possibilities. Learning to trust intuition as a guide is also necessary. Ultimately, answers to the next step in our lives or creative project are found deep within if we make room for them to surface. By letting go of our long-held personal life structural constructs, there is an opportunity for deeply hidden desires or choices to surface in our consciousness.
Paying attention, sometimes a subtle impulse leads to a profound positive change.
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Fire breaks out of the secret depths of the earth and, blazing up,
illuminates and beautifies the mountain, the heavenly heights.
—I Ching, Pi/Grace
I have always been fascinated by fire. Some of my favorite family memories were created around a campfire, where we good-naturedly fought over control of the designated fire stick whose blackened tip was used to keep the flames going. I loved to stare into the ever-changing flares, watching the reds, oranges, yellows and even blues dance and swirl, creating intriguing shapes and shadows that were fuel to my imagination. Even now I can use my mind's eye to look around the family circle and see my parents, sisters, aunt, all our husbands and children, family friends and even the family dogs—faces that have changed over the years, but stayed firmly and lovingly rooted in my heart. The flickering flames glowed at the center of us all, illuminating our features with a blazing, luminescent light so much more alive than the usual incandescent sheen. The shadows behind us were deeper—beyond our small circle the unknown, unseen crouched, but within the fire's sphere, we were safe and warm. The fire in the center brought us together. This is the power of fire—to illuminate and beautify its surroundings. This fire lives serenely in my heart, keeps joy alive, reminds me I am never alone and ignites the warmth of family connections.
And then, in my usual way, my mind flips this thought end over end, and I have the image of the destructive nature of fire. Fire inside a mountain—an eruption of killing lava, burning all in its path—this is a different kind of fire! This fire doesn't bring beauty and illumination—this fire feeds on fear, thrives on devastation and cannot be denied. This is the fire of obliteration and annihilation!
I think of the fire of anger, exploding outwards to disrupt and destroy. This kind of fire has always been particularly scary to me: when anger erupts I respond by stepping back and shutting down, going into protective mode. Some people leap towards angry flames, ready to do battle, energized by the fight. Some people glorify in how their own anger wells up and spews, recognizing it as a healthy response to injustice or misdeeds that allows them to vent their frustrations in prelude to reasoning and cooperation.
But historically I do not react to anger well. And because of that, when my own anger erupts, I mentally cringe, then berate myself for self-indulgent disgorging and cruel attack on others. I swallow my anger, even knowing it can burn me from the inside out. And now, as my body goes through the inevitable changes of midlife, that fire inside me roars out unexpectedly, often hurting those I love the most.
Sometimes, though, I can turn that heat into creative energy. If I can stop criticizing myself long enough to allow something more to be expressed, that fire can morph into passion, taking me on startling artistic journeys. The fire is there—inside me, a part of me—and when I accept its living presence, the hot-blooded flames can bring amazing gifts. Fire, in its most docile form as well as its most untamed, is transformative and life affirming. Let the fire break out of your secret depths! You never know what beauty will be illuminated!
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Barbara Rose Shuler:
On occasion life hands us experiences that reveal whole new creative frontiers to us. My creative bases have been writing, theater and broadcasting/voice work. I have dabbled in gardening, cooking, a little visual art, photography and other pursuits with varying results.
When the need arose a few years ago to fix up my family home in order to rent part of it to raise money for the healthcare expenses of a family member, I stepped onto a creative edge. Financing the care lit the fire of purpose in me so I plunged in. First built in the early 20's in Pacific Grove, my house possessed a homey charm and the appeal an earlier era but clearly was not suited for a rental.
So began the fascinating journey of overseeing a renewal of the main part of the house while living in the downstairs apartment. To my surprise making decisions about the look and textures of house came easily and the work unfolded smoothly.
It turned out to be fun and satisfying in ways I could not have imagined before diving into the project. The ripples of concern fed by stories of house overhauls gone awry disappeared. I discovered in myself a knack for house renewing.
Along the way, a miracle of funding help arrived for the important health care expenses that made renting the house unnecessary. Now it's me who gets to live in the house happily surrounded by the results of my design choices.
Similarly, in recent years the challenges of care-giving two declining family members have taught me in a visceral way that we humans have unrecognized creative resources within us that can be called upon when needed.
We are stronger and more capable than we imagine. I think most of us learn this as we move through life but it is worth remembering when facing a formidable assignment or circumstance.
The Creative Edge teaches us that living itself is a creative process, that what we learn through art, through crafting an object of personal expression calls upon the same well of inspiration and inner knowing that helps us meet the challenges of our days.
Asking "How can I bring creativity to this or that situation?" has helped me as a caregiver, a householder, a friend, and in all manner of encounters, including great loss.
So these are my musings for the moment. I will be traveling soon, flying north to meet a friend to help with the opening of her family's fine new restaurant by the sea. I know little about this phase of a restaurant business. But I expect to pitch in some useful way. These are inventive and dedicated folks who are fun to be with. And no doubt there will be creative edges before the doors open.
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THE GIFT OF BEDS— A TRILOGY
One, with Olivia, longtime friend.
The second, a single bed, after the bed occupied by my husband and myself before his death, became too large for myself alone.
And, thirdly, an afternoon sitting on my daughter and son in law's bed as the winter sun melted thoughts into words, lovingly spoken.
Olivia, now in her last month on earth, Hospice Care underway. I arrived early afternoon. Her husband in the next room. Her grown daughter, now caretaker of this family of three. When told of her illness, over a year ago, Olivia bargained to see another Christmas. And, she did. This year, I helped her put up a small tree, lengthening its height with a fallen pine bough found on the way to her home. That afternoon, she needed to lie down, snuggled into her double bed. I lay atop the quilt, next to her, much like schoolgirls on an overnight. We shared secrets, laughed, reminisced, but mostly, we both spoke of our happiness, aware of grace that follows us on this unpredictable worldly path. We delighted in verbal misunderstandings as we spoke to the ceiling where dappled light played, then tired and faded out completely. Olivia's daughter brought us snacks, individual wooden bowls with crackers, lunch meat, atop fresh blackberries. We giggled our delight. Then early evening made itself known, sleep began its visit to Olivia, and I left to make my way home before dark became my blanket.
Nightly, I nestle into my own bed, singularly placed against the wall of a room that used to hold my son, now with family of his own. During winter, the electric blanket warms my bed before I enter. My mind collects memories, before sleep, or during dreamtime, thoughts of beds that held me. My teenage years, where a shared room with my sister offered twin beds, but distant thoughts. College beds, dorms, education most meaningful as girls becoming women shared experiences of love and lust, and imaginings of future lives. And also, later in my life, recollections of marriage beds that brought forth birth and the sheer warmth of skin next to skin.
Malina, my daughter, lives close, but rarely do we find untethered time together. Recently, she wanted advice on redecorating. I wanted a lemon from her tree. Her husband, out on errands on this Sunday—we tour her house, discuss colors and textures and paintings that she wishes to hang in her guest room and study. Ideas bounce back and forth. We end up sitting on her large bed, speak with out the veil of "hurry" and though I am her mother, deeper feelings arrives, ones that brings new respect to this woman that I already admire. I visualize the sun's warmth as symbolic of ancient campfires, or wood burning stoves heating up for meal preparation, or any place where heat encourages family. This day, her bed firm, our connection firmer than before as the years add up to age.
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Louise Gray Tindell:
A cloud stood humbly in a corner of the sky.
The morning saw it and crowned it with splendor.
When I get the chance to come back to the ocean, I am awed by the power. I love the ocean on sunny days when the blue sky stretches as far as the eye can see. The waves come rippling onto the shore, splashing on the beach with a faint crashing sound, then slowly sliding back into the sea as it loosens its grip on the land. A gentle breeze helps my mood while the sea soothes and relaxes me. I look at how immense it all is and marvel that I'm only looking at the top of it. Below that blue surface who knows how many life-forms are swimming about and living the lives given to them. The sun warms me and I lazily reflect how much we have in common with the inhabitants of the ocean. Just like the ocean with its currents we too have different currents only we call them "the wind."
The ocean has its thermal layers as do we, but ours are decorated by different types of clouds. Clouds are another feature of nature I enjoy, watching the various shapes forming and dissolving while they're blown along by whatever winds prevail at the altitude they exist. Many a pleasant time has been passed watching for dragons, horses, sharks, or whatever to briefly form. Some look like cotton puffs scattered across the sky while others are just large and fluffy. There are people that refer to these as Stratocumulus, Altocumulus or Cirrus. I prefer dragons' heads, cotton puffs, or sweeping clouds that look like a horse's tail or a large whiskbroom with a curve. As each cloud drifts and reforms that particular exact shape will probably never be seen again, like a snowflake as each an individual unlike any other. A cloud, unlike a snowflake with only its rare shape, will go through many individual shapes in its lifespan and entertain those of us willing to take the time watching for familiar shapes to briefly form. And that ongoing changing is probably the most important lesson we can learn from the ocean and clouds.
With this New Year, 2014, I plan and hope others will give some time to relax and let the mind wander freely, unfocused on any particular task. Also I want to take time to not only look at what surrounds us but feel it too. For me, putting time on a calendar is helpful.
It is so profound that each new day brings a palette of different colors and mysteries. I am gifted each day with deep appreciation of this. The creative process is in all of us. When I am showing my creation to another person or group, I feel a tug of war between fear and joy. That is when I can go outside and watch the clouds slowly drifting across the sky to renew my energy.
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