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Saturday, March 10, 2018


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.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Creativity in Writing

Since writing is my new career (very part time), I have really become interested in creativity in writing. When I woke up this morning, I had no clear idea of what I wanted to write except for the topic. I knew that I would have ideas and that I would write something of value, to me if to no one else. I was singing a beautiful arrangement of  "True Light" which reminded me that I don’t have to solve all of the problems of the world today. My mom used to say, “Just be yourself,” as if I could be something other than self,  as if I could figure out which self to be. You can see how busy it is in my head most of the time.

I don’t usually have trouble thinking of things to write about (see first paragraph) but I do have trouble writing freely while the “editor” in my head has a day off. I missed “whole language” in school. Ours was the time of diagramming sentences and correcting spelling and grammar. Logical, clear, but not especially creative. I began writing term papers in high school and got pretty good at it in college. In graduate school, I was blessed with education projects for the classroom which were much more interesting to me. I did write lesson plans which were published in a curriculum my program director copyrighted. My Certificate in Technology in Education required classroom technology projects. Lots of fun! Creativity consisted of needlework projects and craft projects that decorated my house, but were not especially valued by society. It was not until I began to keep a journal that I began to accrue poems. If you told me you were a poet, I would have considered you pompous. Poetry began to sneak into my life unbeknownst to me. It wasn’t until my oldest left the nest and struggled with life, that I began to find solace in poetry. My first poem, written at 5 in the morning over a period of 6 months, won a prize in a local contest (Poets & Patrons) and I was hooked. 

Last month, I posted why we need creativity in the world today. Years ago, I read The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability by James Gustave Speth, that pointed out how limited our search for solutions is. We frequently only choose from ideas which are available in our culture at the present time. Reading The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt I am reminded how much our culture influences our choices. Creativity is the ability to alter the perceptions which have been inculcated throughout our lifetime. Writing with creativity we can show others our viewpoint without insisting they change theirs. We can exhibit the emotions we feel in certain circumstances which may lead them to better understand another person’s viewpoint. 

According to Education World (1), January is Creativity Month, and they had some suggestions for creative writing for teachers.

Daily Writing Prompts are easy to find on the Internet, open a book and choose a word or sentence, or just choose objects around the room and start writing.
More Than Meets the Eye means using visual images to stimulate your mind. Optical illusions or word webs can help stimulate and/or organize.
Video Projects are a way to create short skits or plays and show them to the world on YouTube.
In the News suggests finding an interesting news item/s, such as news from the country of your ancestors, a new development in technology or an art exhibit. 
"What If?" This can go anywhere, from what if you could talk to anyone past or present, to what if you could travel for free?

For those of you who are closet writers, please do take the time to send your writing out into the world, even if it is only on a lowly blog. The world needs your ideas and you are the only one in the world that has your viewpoint. Show us worlds we haven’t thought of, like Ursula LeGuin or Madeleine L’Engle. Share your solutions to sustainability, global warming or income inequality. Tell us how we can lift our spirits to think about possibilities when we are depressed or oppressed. Help us find a way to feed, water and care for the population of the earth. Let’s put an end to poverty and war!

(1) Five Ways to Celebrate Creativity Month,, accessed 1/12/18.
Education World®    

Copyright © 2013 Education World

Friday, December 29, 2017

We Can All Use Creativity

Creativity is an ability we have to see things in new ways, imagine things that don't exist yet, "to bring into existence." (1) At a time when our entire civilization is on the cusp of yet another shift into a radically different existence, we can all use creative leaders who will find the way through the confusing mass of daily opinions we see and hear. Thousands of truck drivers may soon be obsolete, brick and mortar stores will have to learn how to use the Internet if they are to survive, and our governments are struggling with changes in climate, a rise in populism, and shifting currents of power. An entire generation jumped onto the computer bandwagon, only to have India move into the field and compete for every job. Advances in medicine and artificial intelligence are making our lives easier even as they eliminate the need for some of our jobs.

When I feel overwhelmed, I have learned to take some time out for myself each day, do yoga and eliminate the outside world for a few moments each day. I can tell what my state of mind is by the number of times I have to bring it back to observe just my breathing and whatever body parts I am using at that moment. I also learned from years of migraines, that the time immediately following a migraine was full of creative ideas. Being stuck in bed for a day was no fun, but my mind was busy while I was unaware of it. In my experience, creativity arises out of my mind and can't be coerced. It can be coaxed, however. Meeting with other poets and contemplating a poem one of us has brought has led to wonderful discussions and award-winning poems.

This year I will be studying creativity more than usual. In my life, I find creativity in quilting, writing, and gardening. I will be looking into what creativity is, how to measure it, how to encourage it, and how to prevent others from squelching it. I hope you will join me in the journey.

(1) Definition of the word "create" by Merriam-Webster. December 29, 2017

Saturday, November 25, 2017

How Much Does Intelligence Predetermine Our Future?

No one knows. No one. If you're looking for the answer to this question, you'll have to look elsewhere. Can you be self-supporting if you have a severe cognitive or language impairment? The chances are less hopeful. I once had a quote on my bulletin board at the beginning of the school year. It was from Mark C. Baker (The Atoms of Language. 2001), "Humans swim in an ocean of language." I still think about that quote. Especially since I have been to Sweden, where my Swedish produced one good sentence in three weeks, but I couldn't understand the response. In Cuba, the people did not speak English very much. Yet we used body language and a small dictionary to get through conversations and began to understand each other surprisingly well. The combination of cognitive, social and language skills is very powerful.

However, just having those skills at an exceptional level does not insure that a person will be able to be self-supporting as an adult. Ask any addict. Whether their addiction is drugs, spending, sex or gambling, they often trip over their own denial. This can be a potent force in preventing recovery.

Add mental illness, and bffs or family members can end a relationship on a sour note. Jobs can be hard to maintain. I had planned to write every month on this topic, but found myself floundering this summer in the wake of just such a loss.

My parents were convinced that intelligence was the most important part of the psyche. It can do amazing things. I credit my creativity to them and their high intelligence, as well as a good school system that encouraged achievement. The more ideas you are exposed to, the more you can manipulate, right? Yet my parents had no idea how much they could have achieved. They rose out of poverty into the middle class and put three kids through college, but envied those who had much more money than they did. Because of their childhoods, they denied the spiritual aspect of life. Even though they lived by incredibly strong morals, they didn't see how much more a person can do to help others in the world. We children were our parents' world.

Spiritual intelligence is defined by Dorothy Sisk as using a multisensory approach to access one's inner knowledge to solve global problems. The common themes among most world religions are to love others, treat others as you would like to be treated, feed and care for the poor, serve others, focus on the present, be honest and ethical, take responsibility for your actions, make amends for wrongs you have done, make peace and be present in a community.  This form of intelligence has not been studied as much because it is hard to measure, but it is extremely important for leaving an honorable legacy for the future.

Of the many kinds of intelligence that impacts our lives and the lives of others, perhaps social intelligence is the most important. I have had students with autism who didn't develop beyond preschool. They appear cognitively delayed because of their social skills. Doug Sandler lists ten basic social skills needed by adults at his article Ten Social Skills Essential for Success

I think this is why it is so hard to write about intelligence. I have taught children with Down Syndrome who have severe language and cognitive impairments and yet are popular because of their social skills. I have taught students with autism who can memorize words in order to read, but they have trouble recognizing behavior that is embarrassing for others. I have known gifted individuals who have such strong wills that they are certain they are right much of the time, making them difficult to get along with sometimes. It is a testament to the human condition that not one of us is like any other human and it is possible to accomplish amazing things with our lives.