Archive for the ‘creativity’ Category


Once You’re Out Of The Business Of Daily Public Writing, It’s Hard To Remember How You Ever Did It. Or Why. Or Even If You Could Ever Do It Again Because Where Did That Time Come From And Where Does It Go Now?

March 11, 2012

The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium. • Norbet Platt

I miss my daily writer self—the one who blogged every day for an academic year, putting the words out there, good and bad, and moving on without regret or revisiting to correct, expand, or edit. What I wrote that year is a treasure trove from which I can draw gems to polish and use in further iterations of thought. There are plenty of clunkers too, but I’ve always been a treasure hunter, a woman of the “sharp eye,” the eye that my Grandpa Wilkins used to tell me to use during our weekly visits to the dump and to the Shantytown that surrounded it where his best friend Whitey lived. I found lots of useful trashy treasures there.

I have other blogs now and usually write once a week on at least one of them. I post occasional pairs of breast quotations and related thoughts. I just began dog8, a place where I’ll post alternative “homework” assignments. I have a blog devoted to autobibliographical musings and another that focuses on the use of quotations as inspiration. Insights into the various Collectorys that define my professional and artistic life can be found in my blogs and my posts. But what I miss is the regularity and inevitability of that daily public commitment. It’s different if I don’t have to do it.

If I don’t have to do it, I usually don’t post because nothing feels significant enough. Why bother? But as I reread my work from those months of dailies, I realize that significance sometimes arises from the seemingly insignificant. Thought is complicated and thinking my way into meaning often takes time. There are seeds planted in one post that reappear as delicate and tender shoots in another, get nurtured to sturdiness in still another, and blossom months later online or elsewhere in my life. Meaning is hard to make and significance accrues. Some people blog to see how many followers they can acquire. Although I know that this would be satisfying, I can’t bring myself to care. I write because I want to remember what I’m thinking, and while I entertain the fantasy that some of my words might mean something to someone else, my first audience is me: are my words true and meaning•full?

I toyed with the idea of making a new year’s resolution to post every day for an entire year. I know myself well enough not to engage in this foolish failure set-up. I do write every day, but I don’t write finished pieces daily. And I want to write poetry. And make art. And do research. And plan classes that will be fun and entertaining and significant. I want to put together the perfect outfit with seven varieties of leopard print or one that mixes and matches eleven different patterns in a fiesta of subtle and harmonious clashery. I want to find a place for the latest mask I found at the Goodwill. I want to read. I want to stay connected to countless people and things and places. And I want to take a walk. I want to take a walk to the Goodwill and look for more masks and leopard print and plaids and books and all the other realia that enchants me and makes me smile. And I want to sit and do nothing. And think. I really like to think and record my thoughts. That’s why you’ll see some of them here.

What words are true and meaningful for you? What thoughts do you record?

I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all. • Richard Wright, American Hunger, 1977


Some Thoughts On Inspiration Accompanied By A Poem About The Same, Untitled Because I Suffer From Titular Disinspiration*

June 2, 2011

When I’m inspired, I get excited because I can’t wait to see what I’ll come up with next. • Dolly Parton

I often feel uninspired, empty, unable, unmotivated, even disinterested when it’s time to write whatever it is that I ought to write or have to write or even want to write. It doesn’t matter how urgent the task is, there are times when I need to put words together and I can’t prime the pump. Not only do the words refuse to flow, I can’t even squeeze out a sentence or two. I’m reminded of this as I listen to my students grapple with finishing final projects this quarter. They don’t have any words left—everything has been wrung out of them and flung onto a page somewhere. They are dry.

Because my own writing isn’t done at the end of a quarter, finding inspiration is a daily challenge; experience has taught me I need to jump on it when it arrives. This jumping can be jarring to someone who’s talking with me—and I’m often inspired by things that other people say. I try to capture them immediately because I know if I don’t, these ideaseeds will disappear. I am aware that this habit of writing things down while someone is talking could be considered distracting and rude, so I always try to explain. That’s why I was delighted recently when a friend pulled out her journal and began writing after I started jotting down what she was saying. “Take your time,” she told me as I started to apologize, “I want to write a poem ‘cause you inspired me too.” As she wrote, I began this as-yet-untitled poem (I am loathe to disturb another poet at work):

Working title:

Untitled Due to Avoidance of the Obviousness of the Repetitive Line and Subsequent Titular Disinspiration

W-OZ, May 2011


Inspiration is hard to find.

It’s sneaking away,

hiding out, hoping you’ll

quit looking, pretty sure you’ll

give up the search. It

might be stashed in

the garage, up in the

rafters with the unicycle that

broke Uncle Charlie’s arm. Or

maybe it’s under the

stairs in a blue cardboard hatbox

filled with family photos from

that long-ago outing to the

Grand Ole Opry where cousin Sugar

danced in the aisles while

Dolly Parton sang.


Inspiration is hard to find.

It’s eluding the search,

and it could be

lying low, disguised,

hunkered down

in the basement behind

those dusty boxes of old Mason jars

grandpa was going to use

to brew beer till

grandma found out and put

the kibosh on his plans. Perhaps it’s

at the pool hall where he

went for consolation and you

tap danced on the bar.


Inspiration is hard to find.

It’s camouflaged as banality,

dressed up as the prosaic,

costumed in the ordinary,

masquerading as the

dull. It’s pretending to be

boring, up in the attic tucked

away beneath the eaves in mama’s

maple dresser, under the mothballs

and ballet slippers and dried

carnations tied with

pink ribbon from the night she

met your dad.


Inspiration is hard to find.

So when you do,

you need to grab it,

pin it down,

tie it to the bedpost,

lock it in the closet,

handcuff it to the banister,

set it in the rocking chair and

tell it to stay there—or else.


Inspiration is hard to find.

You need to drag it from its

hiding place, sweet talk it out to

the back porch, charm it,

cajole it, coax it onto the swing or

sit with it on the steps or

lie beside it on the soft summer grass,

staring at the stars and the moon

together until it can’t

resist you.




I’m sure you can ferret out the meaning in this poem, although while I was writing it, I was not thinking of any particular point I wanted to make. It is only in retrospect, after finishing multiple iterations, that I see the relationship between the poem and much of my work as an artist and poet and teacher.

What is your advice for the uninspired?

I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning. • Peter DeVries

* Come up with a good title—and not the obvious one that I am avoiding—and I will include your title with your name (title provided by. . . . .) whenever I use this poem.



Becoming A Thaumaturgist*

July 15, 2010

We are the music makers, we are the dreamers of dreams. • Willie Wonka

It’s my last day of teaching until fall. I’ve been teaching six days a week and traveling on the seventh and I’m ready for a break. It’s not that I mind teaching. I’m grateful both for the interactions with students and for the opportunities to keep learning.

There’s no way to teach with passion without continuing to learn. When you teach, you look at the world differently. You listen to the radio with teacher ears, watch television and movies with teacher eyes, and scrutinize just about everything you see for its usefulness in the classroom. You read books and magazines and newspapers and websites differently. Your walks through the neighborhood or through the mall or on the beach or in the woods become ideafests.

You think once, twice, three times before tossing away an empty box or a paper sack or leftover yarn or other bits and pieces and scraps. Lots of it you get rid of because you know there’s no way you can store it all (although I try), but you become a hoarder of ideas, an imaginer of possibilities, a magician of what ifs, taking this and turning it into that for the delight of your students.

I teach experienced teachers as well as those who will just be getting their first classroom in the fall and if I could give each of them a single gift, it would be the gift of boundless enthusiasm for their job. I am tired, but I am not tired of teaching.

It isn’t just teachers who function as thamaturgists in the world. How can you bring delight into someone’s life today, this week, this year?

Anyone who can be replaced by a machine deserves to be. • Dennis Gunton

* A thaumaturgist is a magician, a worker of wonders and miracles.

Note: I will be presenting at a conference next week, so will be on the road and sporadically connected as I’m able to be. I’ll be posting when I can.


You Have My Permission To Plan And Live Your Perfect Creative Day, So What Are You Waiting For?

July 13, 2010

I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities. • Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss

One of the students in a high school alternative program I taught in once looked around the classroom and said, “We’re all just a big old bag of idiosyncrasies, aren’t we?” I was pleased for two reasons: first of all, she’d chosen idiosyncrasy as one of her words of the week and had now used it correctly in a sentence, and second, because she was beginning to recognize one of life’s realities, that no matter how alike we may appear to be on the outside, each of us is an individual.

I thought about what this student said recently during another class I’m teaching. As homework, I asked students to design and live their perfect creative day. They were also asked to “capture” their day in a chewing gum box I provided thanks to Orbit® Mint Mojito, my favorite. I saved these empty boxes all year long, preparing for this assignment. Just in case you needed confirmation, teachers really are crazy.

Students shared stories of days with their children and partners and relatives. Boxes were turned into dioramas of Crater Lake and a beach in France. They held pictures and shells and rocks and other artifacts. Each story was different and yet each revealed a common theme, the desire to connect with space to refresh the mind, to forget the rush, to have permission to take time for delighting yourself and the others about whom you care.

One student told us that she hadn’t wanted to do the assignment. As a teacher and new mom taking graduate classes she had little enthusiasm for thinking about a perfect creative day. She pinned the box to the refrigerator with a magnet to remind her of this undone task. Her husband asked about it and when she told him why it was there, he got very enthusiastic. He took a day off from work, they took their baby to daycare, and they spent the day together watching movies, eating pizza, and luxuriating in the kind of coupleness that can get lost in parenting.

Another student talked about how much she enjoys having people over for games and barbecues. Her ideal creative day would be spent surrounded other folks. It energizes her. Her words reminded me of that other student years ago, the one who talked about idiosyncrasies, because although I love teaching and get endless energy from interactions with an enthusiastic class, my ideal creative day would be spent with no more than one other person, and it would be enough to be comforted by that person’s presence and only sporadically interact. I need time alone.

I need time to think. To write. To read. I like to wake up early in the morning so that I can do these things. I do not want to leap from bed and greet the day. I want it to arrive languidly, with reality seeping gradually into my being as I am gently drawn from the world of imagination into the daily whirl of accomplishment. In my ideal creative day, that segue into the daily whirl wouldn’t have to happen and I would be free to go wherever I wanted without obligations. But I wouldn’t plan anything. I’d go where my thoughts took me.

Here’s your home•work for today or whatever day you happen to read this: Design and live your perfect creative day. Store it in the gumbox of your mind and revisit it often to remind you to do this again. And again. And again.

I remembered a story of how Bach was approached by a young admirer one day and asked, “But Papa Bach, how do you manage to think of all these new tunes?” “My dear fellow,” Bach is said to have answered, according to my version, “I have no need to think of them. I have the greatest difficulty not to step on them when I get out of bed in the morning and start moving around my room.” • Laurens Van der Post


Little Surprises Around Every Corner, But Nothing Dangerous!*

July 4, 2010

A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men. • Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

The fourth of July is one of my least favorite holidays, not because I’m not patriotic, but because I don’t like fireworks unless they’re being set off safely by some professional who knows what s/he is doing, preferably at Disneyland, where I can enjoy them from a distance while waiting in line to ride on the Matterhorn or It’s a Small World or something else where I’m outside and can see the sky. You already know how I feel about parades.

I don’t enjoy hearing fireworks explode near our house. I am reminded of the neighbors we once had whose sons were old enough to know better but still liked to put pieces of some sort of high explosive under manhole covers and blow them up. It was stupid and dangerous and their father thought it was hilarious. Those of us who lived close by were less entranced.

If you want to light the fuse on Dragon Dazzlers, Pop-Em-Off Whiz Bangers, Whippety Snap Surprises, and other fanciful sparkly stuff, do it somewhere else. Endanger your own property. Not mine. Not your neighbors’. Having fun that causes someone else anxiety seems to skew the whole equation of delight.

Alas, it is easy to rant, isn’t it? I meant for this post to be a reminder that you can Sillybrate a Mirthday in many ways and to share with you how to make an “Ire Cracker,” a RecycleLit idea from Dr. Z’s House of Fun. And so I shall.

“Ire Crackers” were born when I was trying to decide how to use a big box of empty toilet paper rolls delivered to my classroom.** My first idea was to use them for Toilet Paper Roles, a classroom version of literary/pop culture charades in which the roles were hidden in the rolls (lame wordplay never fails to amuse me as you’ve probably noticed). We stapled one end shut and used a binder clip to close the other end until it was drawn from a big basket. A version of this activity allows the use of toilet paper to create accessories and props. You can recycle this paper to make toilet paper modeling clay.

“Ire Crackers” was a stress relief idea we thought up while we were trying to figure out a clever delivery method for our anonymous messages of good cheer to faculty and staff, family and friends, and utter strangers. I’ve always loved Christmas crackers and it was just a small step from sharing some of these traditional celebratory treats I’d picked up cheap at a ninety percent off after-holiday sale (since seen in Harry Potter) to making our own. It was student who said they reminded him of fire crackers and a short mindtrip from there to “ire.”

How to make them? Stuff the toilet paper tube with good cheer. Jokes and silliness and inspiring quotations and little gifts. I like to use small bottles of blowable bubbles, balloons, bubble gum, and other things that “blow up,” in keeping with the firecracker idea. A bit of tissue paper wadded and stuffed in each end of the tube keeps the treasures inside.

Wrap the tubes in tissue paper, using a piece large enough to gather and tie on each end. Tie off the ends with ribbon or string. Decorate the crackers, writing a message on the outside. One of my favorites is this quotation from Nikita Khrushchev who reportedly said, after he was replaced as Soviet premier, “Life is short; live it up!”

What’s your favorite holiday and how do you celebrate it?

Live and work, but do not forget to play, to have fun in life and really enjoy it. • Eileen Caddy

* Quotation courtesy of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka in 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

** Why the box? I always recommend that teachers provide opportunities for folks at home to contribute to the life of the classroom. I created a wish list that included things that don’t cost any money along with the other stuff like smelly markers and crayons and paper and feathers and sticky-backed googly eyes—all the things that a teacher often has to purchase with her or his own money so that there’ll be a variety of creative materials to inspire students. The box of tp rolls was a particularly generous contribution that lasted us for several years!


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.


Shelf Analysis From The Land Of W-OZ: Using Scraps And Patches To Create The Bitpiece Life

June 6, 2010

When you reread a classic you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than was there before. • Clifton Fadiman

I am a bricoleur, a patchworker. I do not make quilts from fabric, but I do piece together many kinds of things whether I am creating a home, a classroom, a piece of art, a poem, or an outfit. I am expert at making something from nothing and I am also adept at connecting the disparate and creating a cohesive whole.

In most lives insight has been accidental. We wait for it as primitive man awaited lightning for a fire. But making mental connections is our most crucial learning tool, to see patterns, relationship, context. • Marilyn Ferguson

The naturalist John Muir said that when we tug at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to the rest of the world. Thus it is with life. In the act of exploring one thing I often find it attached to another, and another, and another, and have seen in my own life the unexpected connections Mary Catherine Bateson (2002) describes in Full Circles, Overlapping Lives, when she says that “[e]veryone has the chance to discover the patterns that order multiple ways of being human: through the arts, through the media, through conversations with the neighbors” (p. 18).

Learning and living. But they really are the same thing aren’t they? There is no experience from which you can’t learn something. • Eleanor Roosevelt

The metaphor of quilting provides me with an organizing construct for my life and it was with great delight that I realized the significance of my favorite Oz book, The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1913). My Aunt Mildred had a complete set of Oz books and I read each one many times, but my favorite character in L. Frank Baum’s collection is Scraps, the Patchwork Girl of Oz. She is a self-proclaimed original who has been accidentally given too many brains and too much cleverness.

What we remember from childhood we remember forever—permanent ghosts, stamped, inked, imprinted, eternally seen. • Cynthia Ozick

The Patchwork Girl’s story doesn’t really matter. Her adventures haven’t stuck with me. But her character has. She is what I long to be, heedless of the opinions of others and secure in her own idiosyncratic ways. She is delighted with her self. I do not want to emulate her carelessness, but as a child, I admired her self-assurance. I still do. It is not easy to revel in who you are.

Arrange whatever pieces come your way. • Virginia Woolf

In a letter to his publisher in November of 1912, Baum discusses the process of creating his fantasies, saying, “A lot of thought is required on one of these fairy tales. The odd characters are a sort of inspiration, liable to strike me at any time, but the plot and plan of adventures takes me considerable time…I live with it day by day, jotting down on odd slips of paper the various ideas that occur and in this way getting my materials together. The new Oz book [The Patchwork Girl of Oz] is at this stage….But…it’s a long way from being ready for the printer yet. I must rewrite it, stringing the incidents into consecutive order, elaborating the characters, etc.”

Baum was a bricoleur too. Many artists are. Many people are. Researchers certainly are.

Human life itself may be almost pure chaos, but the work of the artist is to take these handfuls of confusion and disparate things and put them together in a frame to give them some kind of shape and meaning. • Katherine Anne Porter

Indulge in a bit of shelf analysis. What stories or characters from childhood are significant for you? Why?

The stories of childhood leave an indelible impression, and their author always has a niche in the temple of memory from which the image is never cast out to be thrown on the rubbish heap of things that are outgrown and outlived. • Howard Pyle