Category Archives: Creativity Workshops

I Choose to Be Here

It’s the middle of Finals Week. Other semesters, I’d be thick in the muck of a grading backlog, trying to get caught up so I could start grading finals. This time, I came soooooo close to having the backlog done before finals started coming in.   Didn’t quite make it, but I’m still in a good place, on track to have grades turned in on December 23.  Which is before Christmas. Which is fantastic.  (I hear from my family I’m not very pleasant when I’m still grading over Christmas.)

Because I am a master procrastinator, and because over the years I’ve been slower than I’d like to in terms of returning graded work to students, I have a spreadsheet going back more than ten years with precise records–when students turned things in & when I returned them.  This semester wasn’t my best ever, but it’s the best in a while.

Why? Was it because it was a lovely, unencumbered semester in which my family life was smooth as pudding and my work life was also smooth and lovely? NO.  We’ve found 7th grade challenging in my house. We’ve been virus magnets this fall. And at work? Well , my campus administrator is moving on. In a couple weeks. And there’s work to be done.

And, oh, what else? Let’s see. My campus is in the process of merging (though we’re not supposed to say “merging” any more, I don’t know why) with a larger campus. All over Wisconsin, fine, little campuses are merging (not-merging) with fine, larger campuses. This has resulted in many, many more meetings and phone calls and emails. None of which are my favorite things about my job.

And yet.  And yet.  I’m feeling as genuinely copacetic as I have felt in a very long time.

Here’s one reason. In September, I listened to Episode 057 ,”How to Stop Fighting Against Your Life & Fall in Love With It Instead,” of the Courage and Clarity podcast. It’s a great podcast–each interview has two episodes. One is the “courage” episode, in which a woman entrepreneur explains how she broke away from her regular life and had the courage to do something risky.  The “clarity” episode explains some specific process or task.

On Episode 057, Steph Crowder (the host, and part of the triumvirate at, which I love, seriously, ♥, and which I’m sure I’ll write about more at some point) interviewed Catherine Rains, the Hotel Artist.  I was hooked early on, because they were talking about “resistance toward the day job.”

Even before the merger-not-merger was announced, I was finding my job challenging. Maybe everyone does?  But I’m working with Fizzle because I’m trying to develop a side hustle in creativity consulting, and part of the motive for that is being able to retire from my day job, which I’ve been doing since 1991. So even though I wouldn’t say I was miserable in September, was I loving my job? Happy to be there every day? Giving it my best? Prolly not.

A lot of this episode resonated with me, but this especially:

Catherine says that at some point she was in an academic job that wasn’t thrilling her, but she was captivated by a phrase she thought of, “What you resist persists.”  So she started doing what she called a game, of saying, “This moment is my destiny” any time she was in an unpleasant moment at work.  She also said, “I have lived my entire life to be sitting here at this moment doing this thing.” She said these things “over and over again for three months, and at the end of three months, I realized I had fallen in love with my job.” Catherine also talks about:

  • “learning new ways to surrender to what’s in front of me, as opposed to resisting it.  Because resisting it is what keeps you stuck where you are.”
  • “I think that what makes people think that they haven’t gotten far enough is because they’re resisting where they already are.”
  • “When I stopped trying to get somewhere else, and fully sunk into where I was, that’s when the next step revealed itself, without me doing anything.”

There was just level after level of resonating for me. Somehow I decided to go for it.  I tried saying “This moment is my destiny” and that phrasing just didn’t resonate with me. Maybe it felt too whoo-whoo. But then I tried, “I choose to be here” instead, and snap!  Every moment when things at work seemed tense, when I was feeling tired of any particular task, when I just wasn’t feeling the love for what I was doing, I said to myself, “I choose to be here.”

It wasn’t as if everything was suddenly rainbows and sunshine, but there was a subtle transformation. Work just felt good. Within a week or two (which seemed sudden), I wasn’t working on my side-hustle to escape my job. I was working on my side-hustle because it was an important thing I wanted to develop to spend some time on now and more time on later.

Work just felt good.

So then when the seismic announcement of the merger-not-merger happened (about which I have many thoughts and feelings), my response wasn’t doom and gloom or terror. My gut-level response was positive. And still is.  And as we move through the muck of making a massive transition for this merger-not-merger (about which I have multiple thoughts and feelings), I’m still saying “I choose to be here.” It makes a huge difference.

It’s a huge part of why I’m feeling so mellow during finals week, looking forward to a full day of grading tomorrow, a Solstice bonfire tomorrow night, more grading on Friday, then an email to students asking them to check my data entry one more time, and then turning in grades on Saturday. Then celebrating Christmas starting on Christmas Eve. And actually taking a week between Christmas and New Years where I don’t check work email. At all.

So right now, at the end of a tumultuous semester, I’m sitting in front of my Christmas tree feeling copacetic even before I take a single sip of the brandy I’ve poured myself. This whole method isn’t just for tense moments at work. It’s also for moments like this. I choose to be here.



Missing the Magpie

Here’s a long overdue shout-out to my good friend Robert, who contributed to my Indiegogo campaign last year (thanks, and thanks again!). His contribution and others allowed me a “half-battical” last fall, which meant teaching two courses instead of my normal four.  I spent time working on creativity research, and I’ll be offering my first 2-hour workshop this Saturday.


You know how everyone is always posting all kinds of everything on Facebook & Twitter and some of it’s great but so much of it is….not?

What if someone had a blog in which they gathered all kinds of awesome stuff in one place, week after week?  That’s what Robert’s “Magpie Monday” did, and even though there hasn’t been one in a while, it’s still WELL WORTH a look-see because he finds awesome stuff, such as Bookshelf Porn and Ask Baba Yaga and a site with details I didn’t personally actually know or remember about the Piano.


I’m missing Magpie Monday, but at least there are nests to look back through!

Spiraling: Writing the Unthinkable


Lynda Barry had us draw spirals today.

I got to do a workshop with her in her Image Lab at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, where she is a (jolly good) fellow. It was a writing workshop, but we drew a little. We spiraled.


When we were getting ready to write, or when we were listening to someone else read, we drew spirals.



We were supposed to draw it as tight and close as we could without having the lines touch. I got too big on this one and it turned into a labyrinth.



Sometimes I closed my eyes and drew.



Here’s more of the labyrinth.



Eyes closed for a bit.

I like how these pics look a little spooky. I went to scary places today, and I even wrote a ghost story.


Half-battical and How

My son used to scare me when I got home from work by leaping out of the foxhole he’d dug in our yard. I miss those days, though I’m glad to say we filled in the foxhole before anyone broke any bones stepping in it inadvertently (nominee for person most likely to have done  that = me).

I miss the days when he dug tunnels and canals and poured water all over. A filthy, dirty, muddy, mucky kid–that’s the mark of a good summer day in my book.

So when I tell you that I feel as though I’m now sitting in a hole in my backyard that I dug over the last year or two–not big enough to stand up in, just big enough to sit in–you should understand a few things.

1. I had a lot of help digging this hole.

2. It isn’t muddy because we haven’t had much rain AT ALL lately.

3. I’m actually sitting inside my kitchen as I’m writing this.

4. It wasn’t easy, digging this hole, but I’m very happy right now, sitting in it.

I could have, a year ago, or two years ago, or three years ago, applied for traditional funding for a sabbatical, and because I have a good project and because I write good proposals, I probably could be on a fully funded sabbatical this semester, teaching zero classes.  The UW Colleges doesn’t have enough funding to fund very many sabbaticals, but it still funds a few (three this semester), and if you take one semester instead of a year, you get your full salary and benefits.

I took a full year ten years ago, traditionally funded. My husband and I figured out how to make the 35% pay cut work. It worked.

This time, for a variety of reasons, the traditional funding route did not appeal to me at all. (As I’m spending my MWF on campus teaching two classes, I continue to reflect on WHY that did not appeal to me at all.  Will probably write about it soon.)

Instead, I chose the route of trying to raise my replacement costs. I’d hoped to raise around $24,000 before July 1 of this year, and if I had, I’d be teaching zero classes this fall.

It turns out there are parts of fundraising and being a grant-hound I’m good at, and then other parts, not so much.

I think this is symbolic of something.

I think this is symbolic of something.


But with a lot of help,  I made it halfway, and I count myself lucky to be in a place where my dean agreed that the money I’d raised could “buy me out of” two of the classes I would normally teach, and where my business office geniuses figured out the logistics.

Teaching zero classes for a semester would be a terrific break and give me ample time for my project.

But teaching two classes instead of four is lovely. And it gives me a good chunk of time.

So, for example, today I get to go have lunch with a friend and talk to her about what kind of creativity workshop she might benefit from.

That’s my project–designing creativity workshops for businesses, organizations, and individuals.  Right now, I’m in the surveying/needs assessment phase.

At the end of my half-battical (because I made it  halfway, get it?), I’ll be ready to work with people to help them become more creative in measurable, useful, and wonderful ways.

Thus all my funders, all the people who helped me dig this hole–thank you.

One example I will have, henceforth, of BEING creative is the fundraising I’ve done, which is, of course, one of the big reasons I was so drawn to the idea of doing it.

Today’s creativity reading (I’m trying to get caught up on all the web pages, blogs, articles, and books I’ve put on my reading list) is “Twelve Things You Were Not Taught About Creative Thinking in School.”    Several of them seem relevant to what I went through as I was fundraising–#2 “creative thinking is work” (yes, exhausting–I sort of collapsed from it in early July). #7 “expect the experts to be negative” was truer than I expected. I had a ton of support, but there are people who JUST DIDN’T GET IT, why I was not drawn at all to seeking traditional sabbatical funding.  #8 “trust your instincts” is what I was doing, what I’m still doing. I don’t really understand all of why my gut was telling me LOUDLY to raise my own funds, but I listened.

#9 “There is no such thing as failure” is a comfort to me, as I tell myself that halfway is terrific. It doesn’t feel like failure, having cobbled together the $11,534 needed to replace me in the classroom.

And finally for today, #10, “You do not see things as they are; you see them as you are.”

And right now, I see myself blissed out in a hole in my own backyard.

This is symbolic of how awesome my yard is.

This is symbolic of how awesome my yard is.

Marnie’s Idea Mill–churning out great ideas since…NOW.

I am pleased, excited, terrified and astonished to be announcing the launch of Marnie’s Idea Mill, a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.

I’m raising money to replace myself in the classroom, so that I will have time to design and implement workshops on creativity.

Thanks in advance for checking out the site and considering making a contribution!

You can help other ways–posting the link on your own Facebook page or blog, retweeting, or forwarding to people who might make a contribution will help, too.

I also welcome feedback on any and all parts of this project.

Also accepting good wishes and blessings!

Metaphor 1.1

Metaphor 1.1

The perks I’m offering include a shout-out on this blog, a copy of Each Other’s Anodyne (a hand-sewn chapbook, a collection of my poems about teaching), feedback on your own creative writing, customized sonnets, and personalized creativity coaching sessions.

As of today, I’ve raised $10,000 in contributions and pledges toward the $24,000 total I need ($6,000 per course x four courses). My fundraising goal on Indiegogo is $4,000, and the deadline for the online campaign is June 17.

My ultimate deadline is July 1.

When I say I love impossible things, I am not kidding.

But I’m trusting Marnie’s Idea Mill can make some magic and attract some magic and make creativity workshops possible (which will then generate even more magic).

Because I am married to a man who is 1/4 Finn, who has read the Kalevala multiple times and also cheers for Finnish drivers in World Rally racing, I know that the Sampo is a mill that generated an infinite supply of flour, salt, and gold.

It was made by Ilmarinen (using a forge, that, as my husband likes to point out, the Kalevala never mentions being destroyed–so maybe it’s still out there…) for the Mistress of the North, who turned out to be a nasty sort, and after a complicated series of events I couldn’t quite follow as my husband described it, the People of the South decided to steal the Sampo. The boat it was in sank, but pieces of the Sampo washed ashore and prosperity accompanied even those pieces.

There used to be a store in Madison called the Magic Mill, which I loved, but it closed. The Sampo, though–that’s a really potent metaphor.

The Sampo one of the images I had in mind when I decided to call my Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign “Marnie’s Idea Mill.”

Idea generation is a huge part of how we measure creativity, so I wanted a metaphor of something that generates. Mill seemed kindlier than factory somehow….

Plus, we have a wide assortment of Peugeot hand grinders (my husband is also 1/4 French).

Another old, old story I had in mind is from 1 Kings 17. In it, Elijah curses the land of Israel, “there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.” The Lord sends him to a brook where ravens care for him, and then to a widow, who, when asked for a wee bit of bread by Elijah says, “As the Lord God liveth,” (which I think would now translate to “holy crap, man”). She says she barely has enough to keep herself and her son alive one more day. But Elijah blesses her barrel and says it will not be empty until God sends rain. (I always thought that should be until a few months after the rain showed up, but I’m sure it worked out fine.)

For me, this is a story about living from a place of “enough” rather than a place of “not enough.”

I am trusting there is enough good will and money in the world to help me meet my goal of designing workshops to help people become more creative–more people who can forge amazing mills, more prophets who can see plenty when the rest of us see scarcity….

More where there is currently less.
(You can read more about my creativity research, my fundraising, and my ideas for workshops on various pages here on my blog.)

When a Marriage Makes

When a marriage makes a baby,
no one is surprised.
When a marriage makes a mess,
well, likewise.

When a marriage makes a record,
it is some kind of sign.
When a marriage makes a book,
that book, that marriage–they’re mine.


nath doing the hand-sewing

nath doing the hand-sewing

old school

old school

This. Feels. Amazing.

This. Feels. Amazing.

40 years ago, I put together a collection of some of my own poems along with outright thefty poems cobbled from Beatles lyrics & birthday cards. It was made of typing paper, bound with construction paper and yarn. This was in order to get out of trouble in 3rd grade (having been squirrelly in math class).

I still hope, eventually, to publish a collection of poems through conventional channels, but how lovely it is to have a husband who can take a manuscript of my poems related to teaching, and make of it…a book.

Lazy, Lazy Thinking in the Noon Day Sun

I always used to talk about racism when I talked about logical flaws in my composition classes–that stereotypes came from generalizing badly. Sample size too small, oversimplifying, etc. (I don’t spend much time on logical flaws now, and I miss them–such fun names! Such color and metaphor–one day, the Straw Man smelled a Red Herring and Ergo, Propter Hoc!)

It never occurred to me until I read “Study: Racial stereotyping linked to creative stagnation” on that racism was connected (in inverse proportion) to creativity. It makes sense, though.

I’ve written once before in this blog on the notion of lowering associative borders, in a post called “I Can’t Get No Satisficing.”  Having high associative borders is similar to what this study (described in more detail in in this article, “Racial Essentialism Reduces Creative Thinking, Makes People More Closed-Minded” in Science Daily) calls categorical thinking.

The lead researcher, Carmit Tadmor, and her co-authors say that although creative stagnation and racism “concern very different outcomes, they both occur when people fixate on existing category information and conventional mindsets.”

The study is hopeful that people can change their thinking. I am too–part of the reason I want to begin doing workshops on creativity is that studies show people can become more creative thinkers. We’re not stuck with what we were born with.

What I would call a “creativity workshop” is typically called “enhancement training” or “creativity training” in cognitive research. Hsen-Hsing Ma published an article in 2006 with overall terrific news about the possibility that we can become more creative.

Ma cites an early researcher, Paul Torrance,  who found that “programs teaching children to think creatively were at least 50% successful.” Another study from those rockin’ 1970s by Mansfield, et. al., showed “most evaluation studies of creativity training programs seem to support the view that creativity can be trained.”


For the 2006 article, jazzily titled, “A Synthetic Analysis of the Effectivieness of Single Components and Packages in Creativity Training Programs,” Ma did what is called meta-analysis of studies (reading LOTS of studies on an issue and summarizing and analyzing their results), showing the following:

Good news item #1: “Overall, the finding of this study confirms the result of Torrance’s (1972) investigation; namely, that children can be taught to think creatively.”

But oh, gracious, the news is better than that:

“This study also found that creativity training programs tended to be more successful with older participants than younger ones.”

So–watch out old racists and stagnant thinkers everywhere. The times they are a changin’ (NOTE: if you’re old enough to recognize that song, you’re just the right age to benefit from creativity training.)

We can become more creative.

We can become more creative.


(Image from Creative Commons on flickr, “Coloured Rooms Doorways-Brian Eno Speaker Floers Sound Installation at Marlborough House” by Dominic Alves.)