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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

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.