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Friday, May 18, 2018

Brainstorms


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, https://www.ideou.com/pages/brainstorming, accessed 5/18/18.
(2)Reading Horizons, How to Make a Word Web, https://www.readinghorizons.com/documents/community/vocab-word-webs.pdf, accessed 5/18/18.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Library of Congress




Have you discovered the Library of Congress yet? This poem is the poem for today, “Aunties” by Kevin Young.   

This is an immigrant boat:  

Creativity can be spurred by any item, but the Library of Congress has an abundance of resources based on history. The list of formats has fifteen types of historical artifacts, including interviews, books, films/videos, legislation, and, well, you get the idea.

It is a compilation of information on what we’ve done as a country. People have spent their careers studying some aspect of life in this country and others, and the repository is available to everyone. Choose a topic, choose a format, and you have your choice of what material you want to use. I once wrote a poem about immigrants from a picture of some great blizzard that piled snow up to the corrugated roof. Now that had to be cold. Yet the women stand in the snow with no jackets, so it must have been relatively warm. If you’ve read Pioneer Women by Joanna Stratton, you have some idea of the struggles people went through when they left their homeland in abject poverty with the hope of a better life. You could even write a story about it.

The next time you are stumped for ideas, just take a digital stroll through these resources — a marketplace of ideas.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Creative Individuals and Creative Environments



While searching for information on creativity, I ran across a two-hour lecture by Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi at Exploratorium Video (A). He is the author of the book, Flow (1991). He lectures on creativity, and begins with a point many of us might find difficult to accept. Attention plays a crucial role in creativity. We all have pictures of the “Mad Scientist” or “Crazy Artist” as stereotypes of creative people, but it really starts with paying attention to something. Something catches our eye, and we begin to wonder. That wonder turns to fascination and we are hooked on creating something. As many writers know, it is impossible to be productive if you can’t focus for a long time. Creativity may drive one to start a creation, but actually sustaining that creative process is much more rare. Multitasking is actually very inefficient. (B)

Dr. Csikszentmihalyi claims
 “small c” creativity enriches everyday life, and can lead to “big C” creativity or the work of geniuses. Only 5% of the people in any field do the best work. Price’s Law says that the square root of those contributing to a field will produce half of the work of the entire group, but as the percent of people goes up, the number of contributors goes down. (A)

Certain aspects of interaction in a social system determine whether a person’s ideas will be accepted by our cultures:

Domains, “…which make up a culture, are ways of doing things, recipes, laws, belief systems, values that, taken together, create a symbolic environment.” A person must immerse the self in one domain to refine abilities. For example, the great chefs in Chicago first have become focused on cooking and learned everything they could about it. Then they were able to take those skills to create new combinations of food.

Ninety nine percent of people are glad to learn how things are done, and just reproduce it. “There is a small subset of people” who try to do something new that is a transformation of a domain.

The second aspect of the interactions is the field. There is a gatekeeper who insures that the good ideas are transmitted. A firm’s management transmits ideas to the industry culture which is picked up by the individual workers. The selection mechanism is very important. In  industry, management hasn’t always been trained in how to select good ideas. If there are too many people doing this, it is easy to become overwhelmed; i.e., one of five hundred new patents get approved.

The domain or field may stagnate because it doesn’t accept new ideas. Csikszentmihalyi used the example of the movie industry and twelve thousand people who worked on films. If half of the creators came from the center of the field and half came from the periphery, the movies were better quality. Those who have a vested interest in avoiding change can inhibit new ideas.

Creative people have the ability to lose themselves in their work, whether they are poets, cell biologists, or professors. Csikszentmihalyi calls this process flow, because creative people have described it to him as being carried along. “Flow is necessary for creativity, but it is not sufficient.” 

They also have the ability to switch to convergent thinking easily. They may organize their time differently to accommodate their need to work. The drive to create takes precedence over other commitments. 

While the characteristics of creative people were discussed, I found a simpler list on the web page:The Second Principle The work of Leslie Owen Wilson, Ed. D.(C)
    1. Genuinely values intellectual and cognitive matters.
    2. Values own independence and autonomy.
    3. Is verbally fluent; can express ideas well.
    4. Enjoys aesthetic impressions; is aesthetically reactive.
    5. Is productive; gets things done.
    6. Is concerned with philosophical problems, for example, religion, values, the meaning of life.
    7. Has high aspiration level for self.
    8. Has wide range of interests.
    9. Thinks and associates ideas in unusual ways; has unconventional thought processes; can make unusual connections to unrelated ideas or things.
    10. Is an interesting, arresting person.
    11. Appears straightforward, forthright and candid in dealings with others.
    12. Behaves in an ethically consistent manner; has consistent personal standards.

They can also move from one end of characteristics easily to another.

What kind of environment fosters creativity? I found another list on this web site: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life, by Steven Aitchison (E)

  1. Creative environments celebrate risk.
  2. Creative environments tolerate uncertainty and leave space for the unexpected.
  3. Creative environments embrace failure and leave plenty of room for mistakes.
  4. Creative environments are chaotic.
  5. Creative environments are diverse and interdisciplinary.
  6. Creative environments are active.
  7. Creative environments are comprised of weak ties.
  8. Creative environments have high levels of trust and intimacy.
  9. Creative environments offer attentive, discerning audiences.
  10. Creative environments strike a balance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

If your creativity is being stifled, perhaps it is your environment.


  1. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, The Creative Person and The Creative Context, Lecture of 2008-3-12, Exploratorium Video, https://www.exploratorium.edu/video/dr-mihaly-csikszentmihalyi-lectures-creative-person-creative-context, accessed 2/16/18.
  2. The average human is able to process 114 bits of info per second. Processing language is 60 bits per second. Half of all we process is taken up by one person talking. 
  3. Wilson, Leslie Owen, Ed.D., Characteristics of Highly Creative People, The Second Principle, https://thesecondprinciple.com/creativity/creativetraits/, accessed 4/11/18
  4. Aitchison, Steve, Ten Characteristics of Highly Creative Environments, Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life, https://www.stevenaitchison.co.uk/10-characteristics-highly-creative-environments/, accessed 4/12/18
  5. Anthony, Whitney, https://www.stevenaitchison.co.uk/10-characteristics-highly-creative-environments/

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Inspiration

Where does creativity come from? Where do ideas come from?

When I sat down to write this month’s blog, I was really stumped for a topic. I had attempted to define creativity and show how writing is affected by it in previous posts. Where did I go from there? A week went by and I had no answer. Then, a good friend talked about Pinterest. She said that while some people say it’s a waste of time, she gets ideas there. That was the inspiration for the topic this month: inspiration.

Most writers know that you may have an idea of what you are going to write about, but once you sit down to write, ideas come to you unbidden. Is there a pot somewhere inside of you where ideas are stored, or is the idea bubbling up from all human consciousness? Or some other source that no one really knows about?

One of my quilts used a pattern I had gotten in 2002, when visiting my daughter at Lawrence University. I began cutting the background squares in January, several years ago. I put it away when spring came, and inadvertently put the pattern between the pages of a book. The next January, I got the squares out, but could not find the pattern. I decided to go to Pinterest to create my own snowmen. I was amazed at the number of different snowmen available. A snowman is from one to three white balls and some odds and ends, yet I saved 31 distinct links, ignoring hundreds of others. I then found the original pattern and used it instead of creating my own. Halfway through the quilt I decided it was boring, so I added more interesting fabric and changed half of the snowmen's orientation and facial features.

Inspiration can be trivial, as with the snowmen, or vital, as with great thinkers of our time. Some of my favorites are Jesus Christ, the Buddha, Muhammad, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Thomas Merton, and many poets and writers. It can come from friends discussing fart spray in a book group (The Righteous Mind), or strangers on the train.

Inspiration can come from outside. In my annual examination for prevention of melanoma, my dermatologist told me I have a normal geography of the skin, listing the bumps and moles as she examined them. This is a great idea for a poem, which would be different for each person who chose to write about it.

In my summer school classes, gifted children are taught a basic skill such as programming or sewing. They seldom need encouragement to come up with ideas for projects. In fact, their ideas are usually far beyond their ability. They all love Strandbeests and art quilts. 

I once wrote a poem using a dream. I was living on a farm, and in the dream I was driving on a dirt road in the country near the ocean. Ahead was a shining city, and a traveler stood by the side of the road. I said, “That’s where I’m going.” The reply was, “Don’t forget to enjoy yourself along the way.” I have since found my way to the big city, but that dream is a fond memory.

Great music, conversations overheard, and hooves on pavement create powerful stimuli to open our minds. Christine Swanberg recently reminded Poets and Patrons that a simple phrase, such as, “Whenever I hear…” can take us out of our routine and open our minds to new ideas.

Perhaps the strongest sense for memories is smell. When I moved back to the Chicago area, I went into my mother’s bedroom for something. I opened the bottle of Wind Song perfume and smelled it. I was instantly taken back in memory to my childhood. The bushes in the back yard were smaller and there was no fence as I stood there, transported back decades. I will always associate that smell with her, just as I will always associate Chanel No. 5 with my first husband. I had never had such expensive perfume.

Inspiration can be visual, auditory, or intrapersonal in nature, Where does creativity originate? I don’t think anyone really knows. That may take another blog post. Meanwhile, pay attention to the inspiration in your life. It’s free and abundant.