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Archive for the ‘Creativity’ Category

May 4, 2012
WRITTEN BY ELLEN PARKER

Some things should read out loud, especially poetry.

On a recent plane trip, I took a book of poetry by Rumi to read. I have read bits and pieces of his poems and fell in love with his passion.

On an impulse, I picked up a copy of his collected works. Seven months later, my first opportunity to read the book occurs on a plane trip to San Francisco. (A sad commentary on the lack of time for simple pleasures, but that’s for a later discussion.)

After dutifully reading the introduction about ecstatic poetry and the life of Rumi, I was ready for the payoff. The poems.

Silently I read the first one… and was disappointed. No passion, no emotional charge, nothing.  Well, I thought, maybe this one just doesn’t have anything for me. Ah… but not so, the next three were also disappointing.

Determined to connect with the poetry, I skipped forward to the poem that had the “bits and pieces” I first encountered. Again… no emotional impact.

I’m became curious. The first time I heard Rumi’s poetry, it sang to me. It touched my heart. So what’s happening? Then it struck me.

I heard it the first time… it was read to me… the words were spoken.

It couldn’t be that simple could it? Flipping back to the first poem, I read it out loud very softly. Just barely audible to myself. (I was on a packed airplane, after all.)

There was a difference. A small spark of emotion. So quietly, to myself, I recited the next two poems. Again small sparks, but the emotion was tiny, quiet… like my voice.

I put the book away.

Once I got home, and unpacking my suitcase, I came across the book again. I opened to a spot in the middle and read silently the poem on the page. It felt flat, dull and somewhat boring.  Then in a clear, strong loud voice, I let the same poem tumble out of my mouth.

There was the passion; there was the emotional spark.

My body became engage with the meaning of the poem. The words moved through me as I took them in with my eyes. I gave them form with my lips & voice and my ears provided the audience that poetry needs to become alive.

In other words, the poem became me and I became the poem.

That was my first inkling of the power of the spoken word. The words we give voice to have more impact than the others we write. They have a life of they own. Once they leave our body, they can influence, for good or ill, anyone that hears them. Ourselves included, because we hear the words we speak.

Spoken words can’t be crossed out, erased or deleted. They shape how we feel, how we react and how we interact with other people.

Over the last month, I’ve begun to really listen to not only the words I spoke, but also the words of others.  It became apparent that most of us, myself included, tend to speak words unconsciously. What I mean by this is that we speak without thinking about the meaning of the words we’re giving power too. What we say to others, to ourselves, shapes who we are, what we believe, what we value and ultimately the world around us.

If we truly create our own reality, then the words we speak are the bricks and mortar of that reality. We should choose them carefully.

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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.

 

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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.

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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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Man, look at all the spiders out here – I really need to get out here and clean this studio up one of these days.

I need to write. But what about?

I am surrounded by stories but I don’t know the words. I am enmeshed in wonders not yet seen and entranced by the hint of something more going on just beneath the surface.

Do I write a fantasy? A tale of beauty trapped in a bower, awaiting salvation by the prince?

No. Done to death and not my favorite theme, anyway. I prefer that the damsel save herself, or at least that they work as a team. What about the poisoned fruit, the talking fish (no frogs in my pond, sorry), or the magical cat?

Well, all cats are magical, aren’t they, so what’s new about that?

Ah, here is the rain they promise. Soft and gentle, enough to splash its liquid life into the pond but not enough to preclude my needing to water the grass later, I’m sure.

Have I written so many research papers that my pen has forgotten how to fly? My writing partner is far away – I moved, she stayed – and our few attempts at long distance writing “dates” were less than successful. Is that it? Am I only able to create flights of fancy when inspired by another writer? Or am I simply adrift in a sea of words, trapped in a dense web of nouns, verbs and adjectives, unable to string them together and find my way home?

The garden is wildly overgrown. Roses twelve feet high, bending back down to earth by the weight of their blossoms; the lavender is chest high (I’m allergic, thank you), some kind of mint has taken over the small patch in the back, and butterfly bush exploding everywhere in sagey green and shades of lilac. Not to mention the sneaky blackberry tendrils that weave unbidden through the densest stand of branches.

You can’t kill them, you know. They spring up everywhere here, invasive little suckers. They aren’t native, either, and like the trumpet vine and the passionflower vine, they’ll take over everything if you let them. One season is all it would take and you’d need a flamethrower to get more than two feet into the garden.

And there are spiders everywhere. I see four little mamas in their webs just from where I’m sitting and it looks like three different types of spiders (don’t ask me which kind). Brown house spiders, wolf spiders, crab spiders, hobo spiders (same as brown recluse, ‘cept different), black widows – so many types that only Arachne herself would know for sure.

The rain has stopped (see I told you it wouldn’t amount to much) and I can’t even enjoy the reflection of droplets suspended on silken webs. The sky is leaden and grey and no brave beams break through to illuminate.

Do I write of memories long since dead, locked away in musty old houses filled with scurrying feet and muted wings? No, I think I’ll not go down that path today. Maybe when I’m old (and not just gray), when the memories seem as if they belong to someone else. Besides, I’m no good with ghost stories, I scare too easily.

Shoo, little spider, I’m trying to write.

The rain is back: steady, small drops. Maybe I was wrong after all. Maybe it will be enough. Enough to feed, to renew, to refresh. Maybe it will wash the cobwebs from my mind, replacing their dense weavings with something lighter, airier, brighter – like Indra’s Net.

Do I write of brown eyes that light up as he speaks my name? Of a quirky smile and a love that has lasted through thick and thin, pain and joy? No. That isn’t just my tale, it is his, too, and I have no right to tell it alone.

Do I write of floppy-eared dogs with crooked smiles and gigantic hearts? No, I wouldn’t know how to write it without it becoming cloying, maudlin, nauseatingly sweet. Living everyday with such a beast is joy enough, no need to put it in writing.

Geez, that’s the biggest daddy long-legs I’ve ever seen. You can get off my desk now, thank you.

Do I write of giants and trolls, wizards and dragons, treachery, betrayal, honor, glory, and “ever after”? Of gods, goddesses, heroes, heroines, rescues, trials, victories and defeats?

Nah. I think I’ll just make a cup of tea and stare out the window for a while. Let the world write itself today – I’d rather watch the spiders dance in the rain.

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