Category Archives: Creativity

Spiraling: Writing the Unthinkable

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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.

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

 

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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.

 

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Sometimes I closed my eyes and drew.

 

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Here’s more of the labyrinth.

 

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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.

 

Gentlemen in the Rain, Women in the Sun

How fitting that a play highlighting Proteus
would play on a day with various weathers,
rainy and warm then steamy and warm then pouring and warm
then breezy and cool then cool and calm then warm and calm
with the sun changing clouds into haze and then,
when Sylvia crossed the threshold from backstage,
that moment, I would swear it, did the sun
come out, full on,  and turn her blonde hair into blazing
waves of light. I still can’t see, can’t comprehend
why Valentine forgives his awful friend,
why Sylvia forgives her Valentine
for giving her to an inconstant man.
The woman seeming pitiful I get.
The man offending everyone I get.
I choose to see the Bard as having gaps,
not my heart not my brain with this big lapse.

_____

 

Every Thursday this semester I’m trying to do at least one big thing that reminds me I’m teaching only two courses, and have been allowed the grace and space to spend 20 hours a week on my creativity research.

 

Waiting for Two Gentlemen of Verona to start this morning, I was able to touch base with one of the many wonderful folks at APT who do their work offstage—at some point this fall, I’ll be doing some interviews about creativity (and especially, ironically, when they try NOT to be creative).

 

But it was the play itself I was most focused on today.

 

After all—why research creativity without enjoying the fruits of creativity that my fine little town has to offer?

 

Nice job, everyone—very nice to see Marcus Truschinski in another leading role, and Travis Knight right there with him (and very fun watching the high school girls at the matinee get all swoony).  I think no one does fragility mixed with strength the way Susan Shunk does—it’s like glass and steel all curving around each other. Nice job, Steve Haggard as Launce, and Will Mobley as Speed, using their terrific comic timing to sharpen the focus of the students who were, for the MOST part, dealing admirably with the distractions of rain and wind and then bright sun and heat.

 

And I swear, the sun really did come out right at the moment Abbey Siegworth stepped onstage in her tower.

 

This isn’t my favorite Shakespeare play by any stretch, but I’ve seen APT do it well two times now, and seeing it today gave me fond and bittersweet memories of the last time.  Then, it seemed to me and my friend Lee (may she rest in peace), the director emphasized every possible bit of homo-eroticism in the play (which made Valentine’s actions a little more understandable, if he’s as in love with Proteus as Julia is)

“That was hot,” Lee said to me when we chatted in the aisle right after a performance one night. As I remember it, I could only nod yes.

*

 

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.

Creative People Say Yes (Sometimes)

I once came upon my cousin Reid practicing different ways to say “no.” He was 3 or 4 at the time. “No, I couldn’t possibly,” he said. “Absolutely not.”

He was onto something, that little ‘un. At least in my family, saying no takes practice.

Saying no? I’m big on it. Sometimes I’m even good at it. I certainly like the IDEA of saying no.

I’ve written about a fair number of times:
“How do I do that? How do I become the sort of person who says no to things?”

Clitter-Clatter Clutter Time , which references two terrific posts by my favorite tattooed Lutheran blogger, Nadia Bolz Weber, “The Spiritual Practice of Saying No,” and its companion piece, “The Spiritual Practice of Saying Yes!”

The Sarcastic Lutheran says, “The people who are inclined to say yes to everything do all the work and then burn out and become resentful about the people who are inclined to say no to everything. It’s as though the world is divided into martyrs and slackers.”

I don’t make a very good martyr or slacker, either one, not for very long.

I worked enough 50+ hours this spring semester, I worry my slacker credentials are in danger of not being renewed.

Busy as I’ve been, I’m nowhere close to martyrdom. I have some regrets, but I don’t regret all of the times I said yes. (Or came up with something to do that no one even asked me to do.)

Recent things that added to my to do list that I am particularly happy to locate in the land of “yes!”:

  • In addition to volunteering in my son’s classroom at the River Valley Elementary Studio School a couple hours a week, presenting a lesson on storytelling, with a way of talking about narrative arc that was a big hit.
  • Leading the Westby Co-Op Credit Union Board of Directors and branch managers in creativity exercises.
  • Serving as a (paid) reader for writing sample/placement tests for incoming UW-R students, and as a local developmental writing coordinator (unpaid).

In general, I am unrealistic about how the number of things I try to get done will fit into the number of available hours, and I don’t necessarily do things in the right order (which sometimes does and sometimes does not qualify as procrastination).

Thus, some of my commitments (such as returning student work promptly) suffered this spring, and probably, saying “yes” to new stuff impacted the ongoing stuff.

In general, I need to parse, pare, and prune my To Do list.

So, in one way, I totally get Kevin Ashton’s “Creative People Say No.”

He is right that “We do not have enough time as it is. There are groceries to buy, gas tanks to fill, families to love and day jobs to do.”

And he is right that “Time is the raw material of creation.”

Time is a precious resource. It must be guarded. I get it.

But wow did that blog post bug me.

(more on page 2!)

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


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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.
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(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 Salon.com 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.”

SO WE’VE KNOWN THIS FOR A LONG TIME.

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.)