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Friday, September 28, 2018

Be Open to Everything, But Limit Yourself

While cleaning out my files today, I ran across this: Mathematical Art Galleries. One of those galleries can be accessed HERE. I always cringe when I hear people say they are not good at math. I get it. I don’t really want to learn about cars or circuitry, but that doesn’t mean I have to reject it at the very mention of the subject. I can still enjoy a good discussion about car repair or learn what I need to learn to teach children how to make clothing with electronics that light up. 

To me, creativity is being open to all things. Not at the same time, of course. And that’s what I am working on next month. Clearing out unnecessary books and quilting materials. Here it is, on record. I am making a commitment to clean out books I will never read, fabric I will never use. I want to make room for the new.

Quilter’s often go through this. It takes so long to make a quilt that I frequently get sick of it long before it is made. I have put three quilts away (partially completed) because I have learned that I will like them when I’ve had a break.

I am a hoarder, and I’m not sure what the causes are. Yes, there is a family tendency towards this, but I have made so many changes in my life. Why do I still think I can read another book when I add it to the pile on the floor next to the shelves that are full - two sets of shelves? Why do I think I can make hundreds of quilts in my lifetime when I know they take anywhere from a few months to a couple of years each? 

As changes in my life have occurred, I have been able to change, so I know I will be able to do this, too. By limiting myself, I will free up time to do a few selected things. I will still work on several things at once, to stave off boredom, but I will let go of the ones I started and didn’t like all that much. I’ll be reporting back on my progress next month and let you know.

Friday, August 10, 2018


In the biography of Buddha, the narrator described his enlightenment: that every moment that had ever existed had led up to this moment. 
Europeans refer to The Enlightenment as a period in history in which reason and individualism drove prevailing thought, with a host of scientific discoveries and developments, leading to democratic governments. Unfortunately, it frowned on "unscientific" methods. If you couldn't measure it, it was invalid. As a species, we are prone to settle in to our comfortable opinions and prejudices until something comes along to disturb our complacency. Invariably, it does.
We are presently faced with the destruction of our planet through greed, ignorance and sheer overpopulation. When there were less than a billion people on earth, our impact was not as noticeable. Today there are 7.4 billion people, most of whom are located in urban areas. The time has come to use our creativity to restore our planet to health.
I read a little known magazine called Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, which had an article about new products being developed from wood. The sustainable forests of northern Minnesota will someday be used to create biodegradable polystyrene-like plastics  because we have realized the hazards of plastic. Wouldn't it be nice to have a plastic bag that decomposes? This shows me that the path is forward, using our creativity, rather than backward into what used to work.
If you think global warming is not caused by humans, you can skip this paragraph. For those who do, there is a great book called How to Change Minds about Changing Climate by two climate experts, Seth Darling and Douglas L. Sisterson. They describe the complexity of our planet's ecosystem. It will take creative minds to work together on all aspects of this problem. Meanwhile, our government lags behind in policy that would help.
As a teacher, I look to education to help. Education, however, is also a reflexive system. It responds years, perhaps decades after a need is determined. Meanwhile, those who can afford enrichment for their children find that they have placed their children apart from a society that has no idea what they do. Computer science is one such field. If Hillary had known how to get her emails through a computer instead of a Blackberry, if the public had known Facebook could be manipulated, if putting everything online hadn't made us vulnerable to cyberattack, if tech companies hadn't become monopolies, how different would our government be? People! You need to learn everything you can about computers! They are not going away!
I am responsible for my own enlightenment. I have begun to see the power in nonfiction reading, although I still love a good novel or poem. The more information I have, the better the choice I can make.
I am responsible for feeding my creativity. Through quiet days and attention to detail, through creating feedback loops with other people, through reading about creativity and creative people, and through connecting with myself on a regular basis, I hope I am offering the world my best.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Creativity and The Influence of Others

We are each of us a product of our family, community, country, continent and world. My mother was born in 1915, before the telephone, electricity, and hearing aids. She lived on a farm in Southwest Iowa (Red Oak) and had little access to materials that sparked her creativity. Her family struggled to survive the Depression, so there was no encouragement for the arts. She left the farm for the big city of Chicago and became a nurse. Her mother taught her to sew without patterns and also to play the piano. She sang all the time, tried whatever new craft came along, and taught me how to sew. I think she could have been a musician or artist if she had been encouraged. She was a great nurse.

My father turned down uncles that wanted to put him through college, so he worked as a truck driver to support our family. Luckily, he had an uncle that bought a ranch in Colorado, so he learned to love the outdoors, something his grandchildren and great-grandchildren are still enjoying. He read all the time, and could answer any question I had about the world. He taught me to love classical music.

I was lucky enough to be born in the city and grow up in the suburbs, where academics were challenging, music was available, and the arts were valued. As a very young child, I watched black and white television. I learned to play violin in third grade and played until the end of high school. I sang in church and school. The greatest influence on my creativity came from my parents, but it was my grandmother who quilted. I loved her quilts, looking for my favorite fabrics every time we visited. She showed me how to hide a knot and told me the standard which many quilters try to live up to: 10 stitches per inch. My older brother was the only poet in the family until I began in 1996, but a decade ago I met a second cousin that wrote a column for the newspaper.

I had three children, all of whom learned to sing and play instruments. My oldest son became interested in computers and has not pursued the arts. My middle son, however, has continued to use musical and theatrical talent in his church. My youngest, a daughter, pursued photography, painting, singing, and playing several instruments. Her work as a speech (voice) therapist helps singers in opera and on Broadway. Each of my children has been influenced by the same suburban school district I was. They attended different universities, which also had profound influence on them. The advent of computers, social media, and cell phones strengthened the connections that could be maintained over a great distance.

This is the story of my family’s creative influences, but what about the great musicians and artists? Gaugin and Van Gogh tried living together in France. Pablo Picasso changed the course of art forever. German composers profoundly changed the course of music, but so did England, France, and Poland (to mention only a few of the greatest composers’ countries). 

When I get together with my friends at “Poetic Lights,” we share a common background. We read and study one poem, then write five different poems in response to it. Each of us is unique, although we share the common human values and experiences. We influence each other by pointing out things others may not have seen.

When mentors find us and encourage us, their influence extends into generations. Have you found a mentor yet? This can be one of the most important influences you will ever have. You may have one in more than one area of your life. Many of us have spiritual advisors, academic advisors and counselors. Psychologists and Psychiatrists help us understand the workings of our mind. Friends give us gifts, both material and emotional. Who do you look to for emotional support? Do you have a hidden talent you would like to develop? I salute you.

Friday, May 18, 2018


In my sewing room I have a cornucopia pincushion spilling the letters C-R-E-A-T-E. That’s how I feel about sewing. It’s also how I feel about writing. In fact, creativity is something that is limitless and it doesn’t cost much, either. Almost every day, something new is written about creativity. For example, I once used The Artist’s Way to improve my writing. The method is good for any artistic endeavor, but it required writing three pages a day. Some days those three pages would take an hour. (This is not possible with three kids and two jobs, so this had to take place at a latter decade in my life.) Almost invariably, when I got the junk out of my brain by writing it down, other ideas were able to flow more freely. Often on the second page, something significant would jump out at me. I began to see that writing every day makes my writing better and reveals to me some hidden aspects of my psyche. I think the best art is a partnership between the id and the ego.  

A new book by Michael Pollan describes his experiences with psychedelic drugs, which he calls medicine. He described his hallucinations as the melting away of the ego. Used with those facing death or experiencing depression, there has been some success in helping those people achieve peace. His book is called Change Your Mind. You can hear Timothy Leary describe a psychedelic experience on YouTube.

It is possible, though, to change your mind without the aid of such drugs. I learned meditation in a yoga class in Urbana, Illinois. Getting quiet and clearing your mind of all clutter often allows ideas to float up into consciousness. Choosing an object and focusing on it can also help clear the mind. One meditation I still remember is to stare at a candle flame. When you close your eyes, the flame is still there. Trying harder to see it makes it disappear. Relaxing and allowing it to shine will help the image last longer. Getting sidetracked by an idea makes it disappear immediately. Brain training.

Lumosity is described as a brain-training program. It works on attention, long- and short-term memory, auditory processing, processing speed, and/or logic & reasoning. Creativity is not listed. It is harder to encourage a skill when there are many answers. Brainstorming is a skill that can be taught, however, and it essential to the creative process. Some simple brainstorm rules are (1)
  • Defer judgement.
  • Encourage wild ideas.
  • Build on the ideas of others.
  • Stay focused on the topic.
  • One conversation at a time.
  • Be visual.
  • Go for quantity.
You know you are in a group of creative people when they listen to your ideas and don’t criticize them immediately. If you’ve had the frustrating experience of “brainstorming” with people who don’t know how, you’ll know how limiting it is. I have heard that early Apple Computer pioneers were to take two unrelated objects and find the connections between them —hence the mouse.

How can an individual brainstorm? 
1.Take an idea. Make a word web (2). Which words are important to you? Which ones can you leave out without changing the main thrust of the idea? Which ones are ideas you hadn’t thought of before? 
2. Take two objects. Describe what they have in common and what is different about them. What do you know about them and their history, i.e., scissors and Rubric cubes? How have they impacted your life? What will the scissors of the future look like? The Rubric cubes?
3. Dig out three pictures of yourself at other ages. What was most important to you then? What is most important to you now?
4. Make a list of everything in one room of your house. How do those objects reflect your personality?
5. Type in a word in a search engine and then choose the Images link.

(1) Effective Brainstorming Techniques, 2018,, accessed 5/18/18.
(2)Reading Horizons, How to Make a Word Web,, accessed 5/18/18.