Archive for the ‘Creativity’ Tag
I come from a family of eight. Two brothers, three sisters, and two parents. I adore them all. Last year my youngest sister started a birthday tradition among us. On (or near) the day of our birthdays, everyone in the family sends a ‘tribute’ email, saying one thing they admire or appreciate about us. It is wonderful being the recipient of these thoughtful messages, but just as nice is reading what people have to say when it is someone else’s birthday. Recently it was my oldest sister’s birthday, and my brother sent out his birthday tribute. This is an excerpt of what he said:
“She was not born a patient one, but yet is the most faithfully patient person I know.”
When I first read this I laughed, remembering all the family trips and outings when I would hear her voice from the backseat of our big chevy van asking, “When are we going to eat?” But my laughter quickly turned to tears as I thought about all that my sister has accomplished over the years, and the hardships she has endured. She is an amazing example of faith and perseverence. I grew even more emotional as I thought about each member of my family. I have seen so much patience in the midst of hardships. Were any of us born with natural patience to help us weather our storms? Maybe.
Sometimes I approach life thinking I am limited. I have certain traits and attributes to get me where I want to go, but where I lack the needed attributes – discipline, focus, patience, I’m afraid I will fail. Thinking about my sister made me realize that with work and perseverence I can grow and develop the traits I need to help me reach my goals. It helped me see in a very clear way that life, in so many ways, is a process of growth and development. It takes time. It takes work. But it fills me with hope knowing that I can aspire to be the person I want to be, even if she sometimes seems beyond my reach.
Four weeks ago I posted about the chaos of summer, and the challenge it is to find time to be creative in my home full of busy little bodies. Here was the conclusion that I came to:
My creative life is not compartmentalized. Who I am doesn’t have to be something separate from who my kids need me to be. It is time for me to learn how to feed on chaos.
A good friend of mine, Emily, who is Co-Editor-in-Chief of the The Exponent, an online publication for LDS women, asked to repost my blog entry on the Exponent blog. I received several comments from readers, including one with a frankness that made me laugh. It went like this:
Let us know when you figure out how to feed on chaos.
I appreciated the honesty of this remark. It is one thing to say you are going to feed on chaos, it is another thing entirely to start taking it in in great mouthfulls. But this is what I have learned in the past month.
First – I am a person who needs calm and quiet when I work. I can’t set my computer up at the kitchen table and expect to get anything worthwhile completed on my novel when kids are running in and out the back door looking for more popsicles or crying over bee stings. I know that about myself. It is just how I am, and that is okay. For me, feeding on chaos does not mean completely succombing to it.
Second – I don’t need to set aside long periods of time to be productive. I used to think I needed at least an hour hollowed out from my day where nobody and nothing could disrupt me from my writing. But that doesn’t work when you are feeding on chaos. I’ve learned that ten minutes of quiet can be enough. In fact, if I get up from my computer after just ten or fifteen minutes, I find that I haven’t exhausted my creativity like I would if I sat down for an hour or longer. After ten minutes I leave my quiet office with my mind still open and reaching, and as a result ideas follow me around the rest of the day. Much better ideas than the ones that come while I am sitting at my desk, pleading with my computer screen to somehow make the words come out right.
So I feel like I have, in some measure, learned how to feed on chaos. I’m not going to win any contests for speed or productivity, but I’ve been able to be where I want to be with my family and still keep my creative self alive, and that makes me happy.
Last week while attending the fabulous Salt Lake City-based conference, Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers, I had the opportunity to hear from many talented writers and children’s book people. In break-out sessions, keynote addresses, and workshops I learned how to improve my craft, stay motivated and hard-working, and follow the dos and don’ts of the publishing industry. And during a lecture by Jennifer Hunt, Editorial Director at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, I learned how to be visionary. Hunt encouraged conference participants to be purposeful in our writing. To know why we are writing and what we hope to achieve. She shared her own goals and vision with us — what she called her manifesto — and invited us to craft manifestos of our own. Last night I sat down with all of my notes from the conference, gathered together my thoughts and feelings about writing, and found a manifesto of my own. It helped me see beyond the manuscript I keep staring at on my computer screen, and to recognize that there is so much more to my writing than just finishing the latest draft.
I write in order to understand what I see and feel; to name it, describe it, and find where it connects to universal experience and truth. I write to create; to give myself that challenge of bringing to life something that is imagined, but real.
The kids are home from school. I want to be thrilled about it. I spent the last two months counting the days with them. Envisioning the warm summer afternoons, watching my kids grow. Learning together. Reading together. Playing together. But after just one week, I am trying to hold together the loose and fraying ends of my sanity. What is my problem?
It’s the chaos. Now, if you saw the monthly calendar on the fridge with its minute outline of each day’s schedule you’d know that absolute laws and principles govern this little universe of ours. Chores, reading time, activities, field trips and lessons. I’m trying to balance that with the free time that summer requires – lazy hours to enjoy the sun, the spray of sprinklers, the chase of a butterfly. Hopefully I can pull it off. But what I am finding is that all my little people want all of me all day long. There is no quiet time or empty space to work on my writing.
I really want to enjoy this summer with my kids. And so far, I am loving our time together. But something has to change if I am going to survive – or if I want my kids to still like me by the end of the summer. An article I read recently in the June/July 2010 issue of Quilter’s Home magazine made me realize that the change has to be in my perspective.
Professional quilter Matt Sparrow is the father of eight children, and works from home. In his Quilter’s Home article, he shares his experience.
“Here’s a typical day at the Sparrow home: Kids drawing on the walls with permanent marker; clogging the sink with toilet paper; turning on the tap and walking away; and taking my pins, scissors, marking pens and thread to stash in the treasure chest of things they love to hide from Dad.”
Okay. So that sounds similar to what I experienced today. Mine went more like this: Kids fighting over the toy light sabers and injuring each other in the process; a full bowl of breakfast cereal spilled all over the floor; an ant infestation in the laundry room; and a two year old sticking a plastic bead up his nose and getting it stuck there. And that is just scratching the surface.
So how do you deal with all that? Here is what Sparrow says: ”I had to accept the head-slamming idea that my creativity would wilt and die if it couldn’t feed on chaos.”
Head-slamming is right. I’ve always need an empty room and total quiet to write. But my gut tells me to listen to Sparrow. Especially when he follows that up with this question: “Did you ever consider that the very things you thought were holding you back may actually be guiding the path you were meant to follow?”
That is it. The perspective I need to maintain my sanity, my creativity, and to save my summer. My creative life is not compartmentalized. Who I am doesn’t have to be something separate from who my kids need me to be. It is time for me to learn how to feed on chaos.
Tonight I attended a quilter’s guild meeting in my little town. The topic of the meeting was the Jane Stickle quilt of 1863. Several of the women in the group recently returned from a trip to the Bennington Museum in Vermont where they went to view Jane Stickle’s masterpiece, and were exhilirated and inspired by their pilgrimage. Some of them had even undertaken, over the past year, to make their own reproductions of the intricate quilt, which contains a total of 5,602 pieces, and displayed them at the meeting.
As I sat and listened to them recount their experiences reproducing and visiting the Jane Stickle quilt, I wondered at their homage, and at my own feelings of reverence for this woman and what she created.
Census reports tell us that Jane Stickle was born Jane Blakely on April 8, 1817 in Shaftsbury, Vermont. Married to Walter Stickle sometime before 1850, they did not have a family of their own. They did, however, take responsibility for at least three other children. In an 1860’s census, Jane Stickle was listed as a 43 year-old farmer living alone. She eventually reunited with her husband, but during that time alone she lovingly created what is now known as the Jane Stickle Quilt. As a reminder of the turbulent times the country was going through, she carefully embroidered “In War Time 1863” into the quilt.
There is so much left out of that brief history, but also so much revealed. The bare facts and the story they outline put me in mind of master historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and the course I took from her while I was in college. In her book, Good Wives, she is able to glean rich details from the lives of simple women through historical records as sparse as a county probate inventory.
Even more importantly, Ulrich directs students of women’s history to the ways women of all ages have found expressions for their intellect and art, even if it is in the quiet, historically transparent realms of house and home. While I was taking her course, she introduced us to the writings of Alice Walker. Specifically her essay entitled, “In Search of our Mothers’ Gardens.” Walker writes about the legacy of slave women and their descendents. Working women with no time or outlet for their creative, artistic voices. “When, you will ask,” she writes, “did my overworked mother have time to know or care about feeding the creative spirit? The answer is so simple that many of us have spent years discovering it. We have constantly looked high, when we should have looked high — and low.”
Walker then points us to another quilt. One that hangs in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. A priceless quilt “made of bits and pieces of worthless rags,” but “obviously the work of a person of powerful imagination and deep spiritual feeling.”
Walker goes on to describe her own mother’s flower garden — a place “so magnificent with life and creativity, that to this day people drive by our house in Georgia — and ask to stand or walk among my mother’s art.”
And here is the part of Walker’s essay that touches on the feeling – the appreciation and awe – that was present at the quilt guild meeting tonight:
“I notice that it is only when my mother is working in her flowers that she is radiant, almost to the point of being invisible — except as Creator: hand and eye. She is involved in work her soul must have. Ordering the universe in the image of her personal conception of Beauty.
Her face, as she prepares the Art that is her gift, is a legacy of respect she leaves to me, for all that illuminates and cherishes life. She has handed down respect for the possibilities — and the will to grasp them.”
It is this legacy that we cherished tonight at my quilting meeting. We were profoundly moved that a simple woman, through ingenuity, art, and persistence, could create something so astonishing. And we found validation in the work of our souls.