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A Lame and Sucky Holiday Haiku that Is Nonetheless Filled with Sincere, Albeit Poetically Awkward Yet Syllabically Correct, Sentiment: Presents All Unwrapped. Give Yourself a Gift Today: Creativity.

December 26, 2009

As you may have guessed, I am a bit obsessed by creative processes. As an autoethnographer and artist and poet and teacher, I spend a great deal of time being creative and thinking about why I need to be creative and how my creative processes work. Then I spend even more time dissecting my insights, trying to devise ways to encourage creativity in others. Everyone has a creative spirit, but not everyone has recognized it. It’s all well and fine to talk and write and read and theorize about creativity, but really, it’s something that has to be experienced before you can understand it on a personal level. Appreciating the creative work of someone else isn’t the same. I recently described this at a conference as having an orgasm of the mind. Until a person actually has an orgasm, all the talking in the world won’t make it real any more than watching a movie of someone climbing Mt. Everest equates with doing it yourself.

All of this wandering and wondering in the fields of creativity is related to my interest in making learning fun. I’ve talked to enough people to know that for most of them, learning is fun as long as they’re learning something that matters to them in some way, either because it helps them reach a larger goal or because it holds some appeal linked to personal interests. I have always loved poetry. My grandma didn’t have a lot of books. The Bible was her favorite reading. But she had a large collection of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books and shelved along with them was my favorite, The Best Loved Poems of the American People, which I read and re-read, often aloud. I especially loved the story poems like “The Hell-Bound Train.”

Most of these poems, even the ones I once knew by heart, have disappeared from my memory, although I can still recall lines from Percy French’s ”Abdul Abulbul Amir.” I think I remember these lines because I loved the way the names felt in my mouth as I said them. There was the Abdul of the title and Count Ivan Skavinsky Skavar. Go ahead, read those names out loud: Abdul Abulbul Amir. Ivan Skavinsky Skavar. Those sounds are what poetry is all about.

There are many hazards to being a poet. One is to be perpetually misunderstood and eternally unappreciated. In this affliction, the poet is joined by most of the rest of the human race. She or he is alone, but at least, as a poet, is able to express those inchoate longings for belonging more—well—poetically, articulating suffering and angst and sometimes even making them rhyme. Many of the best-loved poems rhymed, although among real and serious poets for some years now, rhyming has been a bit out of fashion. Those who rhyme are the lower-classes of poets, not its aristocracy. Unfortunately for me, I like to rhyme and thus reveal myself as one of the hoi polloi, a lovely little rhyming word for the masses of commoners whom I join in appreciating such versifying.

If you are so afflicted, rhyming is an irresistible impulse. “War on drugs,” someone says, and I immediately think: War on slugs! War on thugs! These are both good things, both worthy of further consideration. My mind keeps going through the alphabet. Bugs (hmmm—pair this with slugs and have something gross for sure). Dugs (quite possibly there’s something breast-related here). Hugs (I wouldn’t propose a war on hugs, would I?). Pugs (nah, don’t want to do dog stuff today). Mugs (so many teacher gifts, so little time to drink). Rugs (on heads or floors?). Smugs (oh, those goody-goody people). Tugs (the boats or the pulls?). Shrugs. War on shrugs? Who cares about lifted shoulders? But then I realize: War on shrugs! Yes! That’s it. I have something to say about that. Yes indeedy.

War on shrugs. An all-out battle is needed against those useless half sweaters—all sleeve and shoulder and no body—that remind me of the hand-crocheted grey yarn armor worn by Lancelot in a high school production of Camelot, designed to emphasize the hero’s arms and shoulders, leaving his chest area free for the obligatory emblazoning of something lionrampant-ish or fleurdelis-like maybe. I can’t remember and it doesn’t matter anyway.

I must stop myself and tell you how this is related to student success. What you’ve just read is actually another neurobics exercise for your brain and creative spirit: the rhyming game. You can play it alone as I just illustrated, or with friends: Throw out a word and come up with valid rhymes until someone—the lame-o loser—is stumped. I will leave further variations to you.

Play the rhyming game with yourself and see where your thoughts take you. Need a word? Start with bat or goose or red.

We didn’t have any money. My mother said we’re going to pick names from a hat and do something for each other. We wrote poems for each other. It was the best Christmas I ever had.
• Tom Cruise
, Inside the Actor’s Studio

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