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Things Are Only Impossible Until They’re Not.*

June 16, 2010

For Monday, June 14, 2010

Creativity represents a miraculous coming together of the uninhibited energy of the child with its apparent opposite and enemy, the sense of order imposed on the disciplined adult intelligence.• Norman Podhoretz

I’m a sucker for conference sessions that address issues related to creativity. If the “c” word is somewhere in the title, I’m there. Most of what I heard in such sessions in Washington, D.C., confirmed things I already know, like the speaker who said that people need time to think. This seems self-evident, yet the pressure to multitask (serial unitask is what I call it) and work “efficiently,” AKA quickly, is intense in many professions.

I’ve written before about engagement as one of the themes of fun in learning, and my workshop, “Don’t Let Space Be Alien in Your Life,” also addresses the need for contemplative time. It’s comforting to hear other people who’ve reached the same conclusions based on their work with students. It’s not that I don’t believe in efficiency. There are things I want to complete quickly so that I can move on to others that require a more thoughtful and time intensive approach. This is why I sometimes call myself an inefficiency expert.

I am also reminded of things I know but don’t always articulate, like the speaker who said that teachers need to be creative role models. I sometimes forget to make it clear to teachers with whom I work that there is a difference between being creative yourself and leading students to discover their own creativity. Creative leadership for teachers also includes setting up conditions under which others can find their creative spirits. It also requires keeping your mouth shut sometimes when you know an—not the—answer.

I often use quotations to jumpstart my creative thought and that of my students; here are three such braindances:

One: Trust that little voice in your head that says “Wouldn’t it be interesting if…” and then do it. • Duane Michaels (Note: We get off the train in Minot, North Dakota, to walk around a bit and I pick up today’s Minot Daily News. My husband’s horoscope (Aries) on page A7 says, “Trust your imagination. Instead of wondering how things are or trying to find out who has the right answer, just make it up in your head the way you prefer it to be. Your way is as good as any.” I don’t believe this is necessarily so since some ways that people come up with are not only lame, they’re dangerous and wrong, but that’s what horoscopes are for—providing delusions in the guise of useful information.)

Make a list of at least five interesting things that would be possible in your ideal world.

Today I’d begin my list with, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if I could eat a big meal and somehow store food like a camel stores water so I wouldn’t have to eat again for several days? I call these extraordinarily tasty meals camelfood. If I could, I’d have been able to eat all of the scrumptious spinach, mushroom, onion, tomato omelet I got yesterday instead of leaving two-thirds of it on the plate. Nothing that’s been available since has been anywhere near as good. I’m hungry and I hate eating “Mt. Everest food,” the kind you mindlessly munch just because it’s there.

Two: Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. • Lewis Carroll

What are six impossible things you’d like to believe?

I’d like to believe that it’s possible to switch my motivation on and off with a literal switch that allows me to get lots of productive work done when it’s on and relax without guilt when it’s off.

Three: It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. • Henry David Thoreau

Write about at least one thing that is more significant than it might at first appear to be.

The long, long, scarcely populated and sometimes empty spaces we pass through while on the train remind me how big this country is and how difficult it is to imagine an infrastructure of public transportation accessible for everyone. Politicians and pundits who live in big cities where buses and subways and cabs are readily available sometimes speak with contempt of those who won’t give up their cars, but until there’s reliable public transportation available, forgoing automobiles is not a realistic option for many people. Simply saying that Americans are addicted to their cars as though they’d have a way to get to work or the doctor or school or wherever they need to go without personal transportation ignores crucial issues. Horses, anyone?

What do you do to wake up your imagination and get your creative juices flowing?

Sometimes imagination pounces; mostly it sleeps soundly in the corner, purring. • Terri Guillemets

* Title quotation delivered by Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), Star Trek: The Next Generation.

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3 comments

  1. I basically wanted to say, “Hi.” I’m half way (almost) through a Masters of Education degree, and I’m trying to work with teaching teachers how to teach creativity, but I’ve hit several walls. One is frustration with trying to fold creativity into the Instructional Design format and the others are personal life issues that require time and life energy. But due to the time warp aspect of the internet, I found your syllabus for Everyday Creativity from 2008, and thought, “I’m not crazy.”


    • Hi, Heather,

      I encourage you to stay in touch. You are NOT crazy, but it can sometimes seem as though you are. I am currently teaching a course called “Creativity in the Classroom,” and as we identified key issues that interfere with being creative teachers and leading for creativity, some of the challenges are the assessment piece, the time piece, the fact that models are not structured with room for creativity, and the time and energy that it takes for teachers to not only be creative, but to grapple with the systemic realities that seem to encourage conformity. I hope to hear from you again since it comforts me to know that there are kindred souls working in the world. W-OZ


  2. Will you please mow the lawn? Do I have to. Will you please straighten the living room? It’s not my mess. Will you please unload the dishwasher? I did it yesterday. Ahhh….. Wouldn’t it be nice to hear the words, “Sure mom! I’d love to help”, or “What do you need help with today, mom?” or “Mom, is there anything you need.” After 17 years, I’m still waiting. Change is possible. Maybe I’ll hear those magical words tomorrow.

    Writer’s Note: Two days after I wrote this rant, my daughter came to me and asked if I needed to her to help me with anything. I nearly fainted. Miracles can happen.



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