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It really bugs me when I hear someone say, “I’m not creative,” or “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” It bugs me because not only is it probably not true, I used to be one of those people and it took me years to realize how wrong I was. I had confused “creative” with “artistic,” and because I had internalized something said by an insensitive grade school teacher, I believed that I could “not do art.” My youthful attempts at art were not as representational and as proportional as were those of some of my classmates, therefore, I couldn’t draw. Which in the mind of a child equal “can’t do art.”

And if you can’t do art, you aren’t creative, right?

I believed that misstatement and internalized it to the point that I gave up trying to be creative. I allowed one person’s ignorance of art to create barriers and limits to my self-expression. In doing so, I was actually creating something; it just wasn’t something I should have created.   In truth, realistic, representational art is one tiny piece of the whole creative thing, yet that is the one aspect of artistic/creative expression that we expect all “creatives” to be able to do.

How ridiculous is that?

Not only does it limit the range of those who seek to define themselves as “creative,” it limits all of us as well. It would be like saying that orange is the only color that counts. All the other colors are there, of course, but they aren’t really colors, just pale shadows compared to orange.

There are lots of ways in which to be creative. LOTS of ways. You can be creative with food or paint or words or beads or car designs or architecture or methods of teaching or ad campaigns or ways to communicate with the world. I finally realized that I was a very creative person, just like you, and I found the best ways for me to express that creativity. In the external world, I do that with words and abstract color and beadwork. In the internal world, I create myself anew each day. When I realize that I have been repeating a mindless pattern of thoughts or beliefs that hold me back, I get creative with my inner self and find the words I need to shift me out of that space. My external creations are not always for the benefit of others. Sometimes I just have to slap some paint on a canvas in order to feel right with the world and I don’t really care what it looks like at the end of the day. But my internal creativity always impacts the external world. When I create a more compassionate me, the world is a little better place.

If you are one of those people who say, “I’m not creative,” it’s time to challenge that statement. Take the time to explore your thoughts and feelings: how do you want to be creative, and how can you support your creative shift away from limitation to expression? The only person to answer that question is you, and I’m positive you’ll find a creative way to do it.

 

McKenzie River, between Sahalie Falls and Koosah Falls

McKenzie River, between Sahalie Falls and Koosah Falls

We live in an area with lots of natural waterways, yet only one makes my heart sing: the magnificent McKenzie River.  As rivers go, it’s not tremendously long (just 87 miles), but it feeds me in a way that I cannot fully explain, and am not sure that I fully understand.

I love the geology of this river.  Borne of snow melt and rainfall, it originates in Clear Lake, an aptly named lake so clear you can see the submerged trees that have stood silent vigil since the lake’s creation by volcanic activity a mere 3,000 years ago.  The McKenzie flows south from this lake and tumbles over huge basalt flows and eroded granite boulders, dropping 100 feet at Sahalie Falls and another 70 at Koosah Falls a short half-mile down the road.  From there, the river rushes toward the Carmen Reservoir, then it vanishes below ground, seeping through the porous volcanic rock to re-emerge about three and one-half miles west at Tamolitch Pool, a clear, brilliant blue pool of icy cold water.  The river continues its swift path down the mountain to the valley floor east of Springfield, then meanders west to meet up with the Willamette.  There is a “fire and ice” element to this river that wraps around me; swirling energies of blue and red and black that almost lifts me off the ground.

I love the colors of this river.  From crystal clear water in all shades of blue to rocks of brown, orange, and grey shimmering in the depths, and the variety of greens lining the banks, there is a stunning palette of color.  The force of the water as it rushes down the rocks creates heavily oxygenated pools that are pale turquoise and full of bubbles.  The shadows of the tall firs that line the river give certain pools a more stately blue-green appearance.  The moss is a shot of bright green and the many twisted roots are a study in brown and white. 

I love the synergy of this river.  There is massive life here as seen in the abundant flora.  There is also massive death here, yet every death in this river feeds other life.  The living tree becomes the decaying log that creates a slow current pool or backwater where life can take root.

I love the sound of this river.  The roar, the gurgle, and the splash are truly music to my soul.  When I stand on the pathway between the two waterfalls, the roar is loud enough that I have to use my “outside voice” just to be heard.  If I could have that sound outside my window I would never have another sleepless night.  It sings: you just have to listen to hear it.  There is a pool above Sahalie Falls that whispers and splashes and entices you to come and play (although I don’t advise it).  It mesmerizes you and surprises you and changes every time you visit.

There are fish in this river, and my husband does his best to thin that population, but that’s not why I love it.  I love this river simply because it exists; because it sings and it dances and it laughs as it rolls down to the valley.  I love this river because it feeds a part of me that has felt empty for a long time, a part that the desert in which I lived for so long could not touch.  I sit on the rocks along the water’s edge and I listen to the sounds, watch the play of light on the water, and know that I am home.

Privilege

Privilege.

Perspective.

Perception.

These are words that hold a great deal of meaning and power, and yet we often do not talk about them.  We certainly don’t teach our young how to understand the social implications these words carry with them.    The realities of privilege, perspective, and perception are at the root of a majority of social ills, and until we admit and accept this fact, those ills will never go away.

How I perceive a situation and the perspective from which I view it are dictated by the degree of privilege that I hold in society in general as well as in the specific situation. There are layers upon layers of privilege, and their relative value can vary from one part of the country to another: wealth, skin color, education, gender, age, religious affiliation, marital status, abilities, appearance, kinship, employment, and political views are the categories that come immediately to mind.

For instance, in the United States, a white, blue-eyed woman of a certain age with a four-year college education is afforded a moderate degree of privilege: I am looked upon favorably (in general) by the society in which I live, but I am not anywhere near the top of the heap.  My income level is the main factor in keeping my degree of privilege below the upper echelon, but it is not the only one.  My gender alone would limit my degree of privilege in almost every circumstance, with the exception of those in which no males were participating.  But even so, a white female is consistently afforded a higher degree of privilege than is a black male, unless that male has a vastly higher income.

In our society, money can buy a great deal of privilege.  In fact, the word “privilege” is probably identified with wealth more often than with any other circumstance.

To see the world through the eyes of a wealthy, white, adult male is a very different experience than it is to see the world through they eyes of a poor, brown, juvenile male.  The former may never have experienced discrimination in any form, while the latter experiences it daily.  The two will never be able to truly understand the perspective of the other, because the level of privilege afforded to one is utterly foreign to the other.  This difference is why those who are afforded the greatest degree of privilege will often deny the lack of privilege of others, as evidenced by racism, sexism, ageism, etc.  The person who has no experiential knowledge of such a lack of privilege simply cannot wrap his/her head around its existence, and so dismisses all claims of racism, sexism, etc., as an over-reaction or misinterpretation on the part of the disenfranchised.  A virile, heterosexual, white male who has never been groped or vulgarly propositioned, or witnessed these events first-hand may not understand the violence implied in such things.  His level of privilege protects him from even seeing this happen let alone experiencing it.  But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, and for him to declare that a woman who is shaken by such an experience is somehow overly sensitive, or to dismiss the perpetrators of said behaviors as “just having fun,” is to abuse his level of privilege.  For those who hold the most privilege in society also have the most power to make changes and protect those who hold the least.  Yet far too often we see the privileged make dismissive statements, effectively silencing the voices of the less privileged.

When enough voices are raised in protest, those who hold privilege may become afraid of losing their privilege and fight back, often violently and with great anger.  Women who write about their experiences and call for a change in the culture will be threatened with violence.  Even women who are only writing about their jobs or their insights in a “male dominated” field can be threatened with violence. (1,2) Their children are threatened with violence as well, even from within their own group (religious, political, artistic, economic, whatever).  Most, but not all, of these threats come from males who perceive her comments as a threat to their level of privilege.  The sad thing is that other men fail to hold those who threaten accountable.  They prefer to let the woman stand on her own or find support in other women, than to use their privilege to help her out.

This is true of women as well, lest you think this is an anti-male rant.  Women who comment on the difficulty of being parent and full-time worker, or social inequities; who share their experiences of abuse, or who “make waves” in other ways that might shake up the status quo, are defamed by other women.  The specific slurs flung in her direction may be different when coming from other women, and the threat of rape or bodily violence against her or her kids is less likely (but not unheard of), but the vitriol is still evident as these other women fight against a perceived threat to the privileges they hold as wives of white males.  This is less frightening but more depressing than the threats from males, and both can inflict long-term harm.

Men are also threatened with violence (3), but the proportion is much smaller, and rape threats almost non-existent.  Those who object to women blogging about topics such as technical careers or video games or their military experiences, etc., may not like what they read because it is at odds with their perceptions, and therefore challenges their level of privilege (men have “always” been more technical/gamers/in the military, therefore women have no place in this sphere, etc.).  The fact that their perspective says that their privileges will be affected if women have a greater say in the world does not give them the right to push back violently.  Their privileges will be minimally affected, if at all.  And what needs to change is the perception that women playing a greater role or having a stronger voice will eliminate the male privilege.

When the privileged feel their status as a group is somehow threatened, they push back. (4) We see this with the religious right today in the constant hand wringing over the “war on Christianity.”  Said war does not exist.  What does exist is a growing body of citizens who are no longer being silent about their own religious views, who have felt subtly oppressed by the dominant religion, and who want (and deserve) to be treated with respect.  While the privilege of belonging to some flavor of Christianity is not as high on the list as it used to be, it is still an extremely potent degree of privilege.  It is unlikely someone who does not espouse affiliation with a Christian denomination could be elected to political office (5).  Non-Christian parents in heavily religious states fear losing custody battles over this issue (6), and some people who lack this specific privilege are simply not trusted because of it (7).  And yet the cry that Christians are being persecuted is heard almost non-stop.  Their perception of persecution is an inaccurate one, but one that can be understood.  If my belief structure has been dominant in my culture and suddenly I realize other belief structures want to hold the same level of privilege that I hold, I might be afraid or resentful.  I might not trust their beliefs to keep the country running the way I think it should, so I might fight back.  I might perceive that their desire for equal rights was a direct threat to my right to practice my religion, particularly if my religion has a strong emphasis on converting others (their demand that I stop doing so in order to respect their right of religious belief might be seen as a revocation of my right to convert others).  My perspective that my belief is the only correct one might lead me to perceive insult and threat where none was intended.  And I would be creating more harm and distress than would be necessary, because I was unwilling to change my perception of the situation.

This is also true in race relations in this country.  I find it ludicrous that anyone could actually believe that the United States is somehow in a “post racial” phase.  One review of the incarceration rates in this country would surely change that perception (8).  Secondary education rates show a similar disparity (9), as does the unemployment rate (10).  Of course, these numbers are all influenced by the degree and type of privilege held by various groups.  If you are wealthy in this country, you can be unemployed and still remain wealthy by having invested well.  This is a privilege that only the wealthy have access to, and is an excellent illustration of the idea that “privilege begets privilege.”  And to be that wealthy, you are probably white (not a requirement, mind you, but a distinct likelihood).  This confers privileges to your children that the children of your housekeeper will never have access to.  Nor will the children of those people who teach your children how to read and write.  It is incumbent upon those who hold such privileges to at the least be aware of them, even if they don’t want to do anything to share them.

And yes, this is about class and race and gender and all of those things I listed above.  We are all striving to live the best lives we can and provide the best opportunities for the generations that follow.  It is up to us to make every effort to move past the idea that “my privileges are mine and I can’t let them go” and into a place where I know that “my privileges can be shared with no harm to me.”  There will always be inequities, but we don’t have to live in a society that is so greatly out of balance.  If we make the effort to understand the perspective of the “other,” try to make that leap toward grasping how they perceive the world, and open up our hands a bit to share some of the privileges we have, how much nicer and less fearful might this world be?

*******

Privilege: A special advantage or right possessed by a certain individual or group.

Perspective: a way of regarding situations, facts, etc.; the lens through which you view the world.

Perception: how you interpret (intellectually and emotionally) what you observe and experience.

  1. “Sexual Threats Stifle Some Female Bloggers,” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/29/AR2007042901555.html
  2. http://tigerbeatdown.com/2011/10/11/on-blogging-threats-and-silence/
  3. http://men-factor.blogspot.com/2013/04/threatening-manboobz-not-cool.html
  4. http://www.politicususa.com/2012/08/09/missouri-votes-to-allow-christians-to-discriminate-against-non-believers.html
  5. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/06/21/atheists-are-still-the-most-unelectable-minority-group-in-america/
  6. http://www2.law.ucla.edu/volokh/family.pdf
  7. http://www.americanhumanist.org/HNN/details/2013-04-why-do-people-fear-atheists-analyzing-the-brookings
  8. http://www.nij.gov/journals/270/criminal-records-figure2.htm
  9. http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=72
  10. http://www.deptofnumbers.com/unemployment/demographics/

Stories

I’ve been thinking a lot about stories lately.  The stories we read, the stories we watch, the stories we tell others about ourselves, and, the stories we tell ourselves in the privacy of our own minds.  Before you decide that this is just another “change your script” post, I ask that you read a little longer.  I’m not here to tell you that in order to be happy/successful/whatever you need to change your story: that message is already out there for anyone who needs it.

I simply want to remind you of the power of stories in general. Little stories combine to make up bigger stories; my stories join with your stories and your stories join with the stories of other people, all to make up a complex tale of humanity.  Some stories are made up completely from our imagination, some have bits of fact embedded within and others are fully factual.

 We are surrounded by stories everywhere that we look: books, movies, and television may be the most obvious places to find stories, but we find them in the way that children play, in advertising, in the clothes that people wear, the way that shops are laid out and goods are displayed, the way that food is made, prepared, and consumed, and even the way that we drive and the routes we choose to take are all stories (or parts of them).  Our education is full of stories, too, and not just the literature and language courses but all courses: we hear science stories and math stories and history stories and social sciences stories and philosophy stories and…

 You get the idea.  Our lives are filled with stories, and these stories do more than entertain and educate us: they shape us, as do our responses to the stories.  The stories that I tell not only reflect reality, as I perceive it, they help to shape that reality.  When I hear a story, I choose whether or not to accept it as it is, or to change it internally.  If I read a story about a political figure, I can choose to accept it as it is written, disregard it as untrue, or accept that it may have some basis in “reality” as it is collectively defined but that it may not be complete.  In any case, once I make that decision, I then have to decide whether or not I internalize this story and incorporate its message into my own worldview or not.  Whichever I choose, I will most likely make that decision in the blink of an eye and without any input from my waking self.  This is an unobserved, subconscious act on my part, and when I later paraphrase that initial story in a story of my own, I may not remember where those ideas came from.

Part of how we construct our stories is where we choose to focus.  Over time, the area of focus will be determined automatically, based on where we have focused before.  A great way to develop a better understanding of oneself is to shift focus in the middle of an experience.  Let’s say that I am riding the bus, and I fall into the usual habit of focusing on how hot and uncomfortable I am.  If take a moment to shift my focus onto other riders, I will have an entirely different experience than I usually do, and I’ll add depth to my daily routine.  It will provide a perspective that I did not have before, and will pose questions that I might never have asked before.  My perspective can be further broadened if I am able to make the leap from simply focusing on others to imagining myself in their shoes.

 One of the things we need to move beyond is the idea that there is only one way to tell or interpret a particular story.  For instance, I will tell the stories of my youth one way, my mother will tell them another way, my father will tell them a third way, and so on.  And all of these would be “correct,” in that they reflect the perspective and the memory of the person telling it.  There is no single way to tell the story of me, just as there is no single way to tell the story of you.  My story will change over time, and not just because I will add new paragraphs; the earliest threads of the story will be altered as time and experience shift my gaze from one aspect of the story to another.

 One of the ways that my story has changed is by becoming aware of the presence of all of the stories around me.  When I watch a documentary program on television, I am aware not only of the story that is being presented, but also of the stories that the filmmaker chose to not tell but that might have been.  Why this story and not one of the other possible stories?  What other possibilities were there?  In other words, why did the filmmaker point her camera in that direction, and what lies just out of the shot?  If this is a subject of interest to me, the knowledge of stories left untold can lead me to do personal research.  And if I choose to look at life in that way, it reminds me that there are countless angles and directions in which to point my lens.

When I realize that all my thoughts and words and deeds and beliefs are my stories, that gives me control over them.  I can rewrite my stories, if I choose to do so.  If my collected stories make me happy and help me to engage in activities that make other people happy, then it is unlikely that I will refocus my perspective.  Nor would I be expected to, although a shift in focus can always bring in new ideas.  If my stories don’t make me happy, if where I choose to focus my lens brings me pain or grief or anger, than maybe I need to shift my gaze a bit, widen the aperture, and let this new field of vision shape a new set of stories for my life.

My Blog Was Hacked

Well, for those of you who follow my blog, allow me to apologize for the strange post you received.  I did not, nor would I ever, post something as stupid and ugly as that.  And if I did, I would certainly not subject you to that.

I will, however, be adding something scintillating and new to these pages soon.  Probably after my short sojourn in sunny SoCal. 

Again, sorry for the hacked post. 

In my continuing observations on death, I’ve been thinking about stuff; namely, about what our stuff says about our lives to those who are left behind.  When a loved one has the task of going through the detritus of my life, what will s/he learn about me?  Will it shock/dismay/offend? Or will it bring a smile/inspire/ignite a memory?

I began pondering this after the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado.  In particular, I wondered about how the parents of the out-of-state college students would cope with finding photos of their children posed with people they don’t know.  I’ve noticed that the college-aged people I know are fond of taking photos of themselves and their friends with the phones, which doesn’t allow for much description.  When that grieving mother opens her child’s laptop and sees her daughter’s smiling face, surrounding by the faces of others, would it help her grief to know how those people mattered to her child?  It seems to me that knowing who those people are and how they fit in her child’s life might bring her closer to the child she can no longer hold.  Knowing her child’s friends might give her insights into her child’s life away from home, insights into the person she was becoming. (note to self: label all my photos!)

When someone dies after a long life, the family assumes there will be few surprises to be found amongst the flotsam and jetsam of that life.  I suppose most of the time that is true, but what about when it isn’t?  How does finding out that grandpa loved something (or someone) that he kept secret affect your memory of him?  What if we discover that grandma had a huge secret that she could never tell anyone?  How would that change the story we carry with us about that person?  We know that diaries and personal letters are private things, but it is common to read the diaries and letters of the deceased.  It helps us to learn more about that person and find connections and memories in the words on the page.  I find the idea of having to keep a part of my life secret, for whatever reason, unbearably sad.  I would be just as sad to find out that a deceased loved one felt that secrecy was necessary in his or her life as well.  I think that just might break my heart.

Then of course there is the stuff that no longer has any meaning but that we simply haven’t let go of yet.  The remnants of childhood, the books we haven’t looked at in years, the debris of a failed relationship.  What story does that tell our survivors about us?  That we can’t let go of what is no longer useful?  Or maybe that we simply haven’t thought about it in so long we’ve forgotten it exists?

Image

What might someone learn about me if they had to go through all of my stuff?  Assuming my spouse and I died at the same time, a surviving parent or sibling would need to deal with all of the stuff we’ve accumulated over the years.  I like to think that there would be no surprises, that our friends and families know us well enough to know what to expect in that situation.  We certainly don’t all think the same way or believe the same things, but we know that about each other, and it is still possible to love each other and get along with each other while avoiding contentious conversation topics.  I don’t want to cause anyone more grief at my passing based on a discovery that I was too afraid of losing their love to be myself.

What about you?  What story does your stuff tell?  Does it tell your story, or someone else’s?

Originally posted at TheIlluminatedLife.com.

I went to a memorial service this weekend and it got me to thinking about how much I dislike traditional funerals and memorial services.  This one was quite nice, actually, although two hours is a bit long to sit in multi-purpose room chairs.  But the venue was lovely, with lots of windows to look out onto green growing things in all directions.  I like being surrounded by abundant life while celebrating the life of someone who is no longer with us.  It feels much more healing and organic than being lined up in rows, sitting on hard seats, cut off from the world around us.

As I drove home, I decided that I should let the people who care about me know what I would like, should they feel compelled to gather and mark my passing with some sort of shindig.  So of course I decide to do this as a blog post.  It somehow feels less threatening and more generic that way, whereas sending this to everyone in a personal letter might feel like I expect to go any day now (I really don’t).

I know that whatever form of ritual is used to honor the deceased is really designed for the living and not the dead, but I would like to think the wishes of the dearly departed matter to someone.  I fully expect to die after some of you and before others, so at least one of you reading this should still be breathing after I no longer am.  That being said, here are my thoughts:

1. If you do feel compelled to gather, do not call it a funeral or a memorial service.  I suppose I could live with (wink) calling it a celebration of life, but I know so many creative people that I would hope you could come up with something a little more festive.

2. Weather permitting, gather outside.  Do not cut yourselves off from the living world to honor my life.  That just feels wrong.  If the weather sucks, gather someplace fun, like a museum or an indoor labyrinth or a roller skating rink.  Again, be creative, but don’t create a burden for yourselves.  That would make me very unhappy.

3. No organ music.  Well, there are two, and ONLY two exceptions to this request.  If you hold the party in a roller skating rink, then organ music would be not only acceptable but appropriate (keep it light – no heavy dirge-y kind of music).  The other exception would be if some enterprising organist out there gets the urge to play “In The Garden of Eden,” by I. Ron Butterfly, in which case you should all flick your Bic at the end.

4. No straight lines.  Holy Hera, how I hate straight lines.  You know me, I like curvy, flowy kinds of things.  So no pews, no chairs lined up, NO STRAIGHT LINES.  Sit in a circle so no one has to stand up and walk to the front in order to share whatever story they want to share.  I fully expect to die an old woman, which means my friends will all be old (and, not surprisingly, mostly women), and I don’t want anyone to break a hip walking up to a podium.  By the way, the age of the probable participants should also be taken into consideration if you want to hold the party at a roller rink.  I’m just sayin’.

5. Play music people can sing to and, if they are able, dance to.  Bring drums and tambourines and maracas and let it all out.  Play “Dust in the Wind,” by Kansas.  Black should only be worn if it makes you look smokin’ hot, in which case, do it up right.  Otherwise, wear vibrant colors, hats and jewelry, sandals and flip-flips, or whatever else you feel most yourself in.  Don’t worry about what other people will think about your attire.  This is a party, remember?  Come as you really are.

6. Skip the biography.  You know how at traditional funerals, there is the biography, the music, the tearful poetry and then everyone adjourns to someone’s house where they tell the fun stories, they laugh and cry and relate to each other as human beings who are connected by the deceased?  Well, skip the first part and go straight to the laughter and the stories.  Nobody cares where I was born, only that I was.  Bring your favorite photo and tell the story of that photo, as that is much more interesting that the fact that I went to an elementary school that no longer exists.

7. Do not put yourself out.  It would annoy me to no end to think that my friends did something that they felt compelled to do (out of tradition or social pressure) or something that put an undue burden on them, simply to mark my passing.  If cooking helps you deal with loss, go for it.  If organizing a party helps you feel closer to me, groovy.  But screw tradition and tell social norms to take a hike, okay?

8. If I die before the majority of my friends, I’ve decided that there should be no single party, but rather a round-robin type celebration.  I’m going to be cremated, so anyone who wants/needs to see the urn can let my husband (or my executor) know, and the ashes will be sent from one group to another.  Let the Tucson people gather in Tucson, let my friend in NY do what she needs to do without traveling across country, etc.  If you don’t want or need to see the urn, that’s fine by me.  But don’t expect my grieving spouse to put together any kind of gathering.  That is simply not going to happen.  He also won’t want anyone to come visit, as he will not be in a good space for entertaining.  Send him a card, let him know you are thinking of him, but don’t come up here unless he asks.  I’m serious (and this includes you, mom).  Do not poke the bear, you won’t like it.  If you think I hate funerals, you should talk to him about them some day.

9. The main thing is this: if you care about me and want to do something to honor my life and our connection, then just be the best, truest, most authentic you that you can be.  Today, tomorrow, before I die, and after.  Nothing would make me happier, and it’s all I ever want for, or from, any of you.

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