It’s Snowing On My Blog!

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.  –Albert Einstein

Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung believed you are born whole and then lose pieces of yourself in the crucible of childhood. Often what you lose with time is a sense of wonder at the small and large mysteries of life on Earth.

I live in a part of the world where the Sun is king and although it often rains in December, it is rarely cold enough for snow.  But I grew up in New York.  As a child, I often sat by my kitchen window on my birthday, hoping to see the first snowflake of the season.  The thought that the season’s first snow could come on my birthday filled me with happiness. Even as an adult, I’m happy just to remember how much I loved snow on my birthday years ago.

Last week, my 11-year-old daughter filled her bathtub with sweet-smelling bubbles, gathered some in her hands and tossed them above my head to make it snow on my birthday. She laughed and danced around me and we both ended up moist all over with soapy water.

Snow is still beautiful and mysterious to me and my daughter’s gesture combined my past memories of snow with a beautiful new memory.

Today– in memory of my childhood wonder of snow and the new memories we make daily, it’s snowing on my blog!

 

 

 

Characteristics of Highly Creative People: Working Wherever They Can–When They Can (Part 4)

For ten days I’m writing about what it really takes to be Highly Creative and whether greater opportunities make for greater Creativity. Yesterday I wrote Using Strengths and Shadows.

Highly Creative people find ways to get their work done.

Creativity scholar Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi says,

Creative individuals are remarkable for their ability to adapt to almost any situation and to make do with whatever is at hand to reach their goals.  If nothing else, this distinguishes them from the rest of us.

Sometimes getting your Creative work done requires walking around the city, pushing your baby’s pram, fervently hoping she takes a long nap. J.K Rowling did. She walked to Nicolson’s Cafe, almost every morning, to write Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Other mornings, she walked to The Elephant House Cafe instead.  Rowling chose her place of work based on when and where her baby Jessica finally fell asleep in the pram.

Maybe, your daily walk is much longer, so you relate more to Nobel Laureate Biophysicist, Manfred Eigen. Eigen worked among the most distinguished scientists in post WWII Germany at the University of Gottingen. But before he enrolled as a student there, he escaped a Russian POW camp and walked half-way across Europe to reach the university. Gottingen University had not yet had a chance to open when Eigen arrived, but he waited and was admitted with the first cohort of students, even though he lacked a high school diploma.

Not all Creators have to stroll their babies to sleep or walk 1,00o miles in the snow to do the work they love. You may instead, work in Manhattan, but can’t seem to Create in your nice office. In an interview with Guardian reporter Sandra Deeble, writer Malcolm Gladwell says,

I hate desks. Desks are now banished.

I refer to my writing as ‘rotating’. I always say ‘I’m going to rotate’ because I have a series of spots that I rotate.

There’s one in the lower East Side [in New York City]. The waiters are all Australian and they play The Smiths all day long which I find so fabulous. I always go there on the weekends. Then there are restaurants in Little Italy that I go to. I often go to these places in the middle of the afternoon, when they’ll let me linger.

Gladwell started his working life as a newspaper writer.  He says,

I loved the newsroom. When I left it I wanted to recreate the newsroom and the closest thing to a newsroom is any kind of random active social space… A café where “different people are doing different things” is perfect.

Having life going on around him is something Gladwell describes as “the right kind of distraction“.  He says, There has to be some sort of osmotic process. In a newsroom, you soak up a lot of what’s going on around you.

Psychologist Nicholas Humphrey remembers his Nobel laureate grandfather taking him to the lab one early morning, the day after Christmas. They went to measure the heat output during muscular contraction in lab mice.  Humphrey says,

His instrument was so sensitive to vibration that every car passing in the street outside,every footstep on the landing, created a false reading.  So a day like this [when everyone else was sleeping off their Christmas dinners]…was the ideal time to make a perfect measurement.

He could have done the experiment alone, but science for my grandfather was nothing if not a family affair, and he had long been in the habit of engaging his children and grandchildren as assistants.

Highly Creative people adapt and use what they have to get the work they love, done.

Sometimes You Need Boredom, Sometimes You Don’t

Highly Creative people need rich food for thought and plenty of time spent alone to digest it.

My brother-in-law recently moved his family to live on a lonely 200 acre respite in the Midwest. Yesterday, my 6 yr. old asked her now-Midwestern-cousin in a phone-call,  So. How are you? He paused and said,  Ahh.  Really bored.   He has plenty of time to figure out his world alone in his new place, but he’s also hungry for more life to digest.

My little girl commiserated. She said,  Me, too.  By the sudden tone-down of her voice and lopsided half-smile, I could tell she wasn’t really bored at the moment. She was happy to be catching-up with her cousin.

Last week, my older daughter had almost the exact same conversation with the boy’s 11 yr. old sister. The difference was that this daughter did not say Me, too.  Instead she said, How can you be bored?  You live next to a lake, in a forest!

My 11 yr. old usually comes home full of energy, laughing easily and generally happy, from her time at school.  She loves group projects, parties and listening in on adult conversations.  She also prizes her time alone as if it were a scoop of ice cream to top off a delicious meal.  Time alone is the dessert on a well-spent day. But to feast on alone-time all day, would make her sick.

Creation demands food for thought from an outside world and firsthand experience with real people. Creation also requires alone-time.  But there is no universal formula for time well spent. French philosopher, Gaston Bachelard, said,

There are children who will leave a game to go and be bored in a corner of the garret. How often have I wished for the attic of my boredom when the complications of life made me lose the very germ of freedom!”

My nephew and niece needed energy from the world and expressed that need as oppressive boredom. But on busier days, boring moments might feel more like freedom.

If bored, apathetic or blocked, you need outside inspiration.  If spilling over kinetically, or stunned into submission from being in the world and thoughts scatter like Autumn leaves, you need to come into your own internal world.  Mental energy for Creation is state-specific and personal. Learning to meet its demands will only improve Creativity.

The Manisfesto for Children, of All Ages

Take thought of the seed from which you spring.  You were not born to live as brutes. –Dante

Highly Creative people do not retire.

The Creative spark, often first felt in childhood, is never forgotten.  To forget and let go of Creative work is to invite slow death by apathy.

Creativity scholar E. Paul Torrence followed 400 children from kindergarten, observing how creativity blossomed in some subjects and withered unattended in others throughout their lifespans. He began this project as a young psychologist in the 1950′s.  As some of his subjects entered their 30′s, he recognized certain characteristics of children who grew to lead Creative and happy lives.  Torrence wrote a Manifesto for Children, based on his observations.

The Manifesto for Children

E. Paul Torrance

Don’t be afraid to fall in love with something
and pursue it with intensity.

Know, understand, take pride in, practice, develop, exploit
and enjoy your greatest strengths.

Learn to free yourself from the expectations of others
and to walk away from the games they impose on you.

 

Free yourself to play your own game.

Find a great teacher or mentor who will help you.

 

Learn the skills of interdependence.

Don’t waste energy trying to be well-rounded.

 

Do what you love and can do well.*

Torrence’s Manifesto encourages children to stay true to creativity and childhood’s treasured dreams, but his advice applies to any person who, as a child, worked –full-to-bursting with creative energy.  As Nobel Laureate Neurologist Rita Levi-Montalcini says,

The moment you stop working you are dead…For me, it would be unhappiness beyond anything else. …I don’t work for the sake of mankind.  I work for my own sake.

*© E. P. Torrance (1983) Manifesto for Children, Athens, GA:
Georgia Studies of Creative Behavior and Full Circle Counseling, Inc.

Constraints that Increase Creativity, Part 5: Pursue What You Love

This is the final post in a 5-day series about constraints that serve as kindling for Creation. Yesterday I wrote Ignore or Fight Bad Advice & Other’s Expectations.

Highly Creative people constrain themselves to what they love.  They pursue it with urgency because a lifetime pursuing a passion is not enough.

There isn’t time to dilute love with well-roundedness.

Our family gathers in the Music Room most evenings. Our old piano is here and our shelves are stuffed with great books.  There are Kapla blocks to build with and a wooden castle with queens and kings to play with. Last night my three older children sat here,  listening wide-eyed, as my husband read them Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

I walked in to gather my 2 yr. old  and carry her off to bed, but caught my breath and stopped short when she turned to look at me and said, I writing. We both looked down at the red crayon lines across the open spread of a beloved storybook. She smiled at me.

My little girl knows I require a pen when I read. Reading for me is like playing ping-pong with the book’s author. He serves an idea, I respond. I underline sentences I love, or  like. I circle paragraphs I’ll re-read someday. I write questions and insights as they hit me, in the margins. I don’t write only in books I’ve borrowed, antique editions or those so lame they say nothing in so many words.

Five hundred years ago, only men of high social status wrote in books.  High society women sometimes ventured to depress a tiny fingernail mark on the margins of a passage worth revisiting. Today, nobody would snatch my book for my scribbles in it.

So I watched my child draw more lines, about three inches each from top to bottom on printed words she loves. When she put her crayon down I scooped her into my arms and made a mental note to move untouchable books to shelves she can’t reach. I carried her to bed grateful I had not spoiled her budding like of writing.

Betsy Lerner, literary agent and author of  The Forest for the Trees, says,

When I meet a new writer, at some point I usually ask if he or she wrote as a child.  I have found that the impulse to write, to record one’s private feelings, often appears at a very early age, with few exceptions most authors started writing in childhood.

My 2 yr. old’s interest in writing may be fleeting, but I hope she will find a love before she reaches puberty. When she does, I’ll encourage her and give her freedom to pursue it.

Creativity scholar, E. Paul Torrence, wrote a Manifesto for creative children and gives this advice,

Don’t be afraid to fall in love with something and pursue it with intensity.

Biologist E.O. Wilson found ants fascinating as a child and studied them the rest of his life. Primatologist Jane Goodall has also spent her days pursuing a childhood passion.

As a little child, Goodall collected eggs from the hen-house behind her grandmother’s place. She saw hens sitting on eggs and wondered, Where on the chicken was there an opening big enough for an egg to come out of? She asked her grandmother.  But the question remained unanswered to her satisfaction.  So, she hid.

One morning while the hens were pecking at grain in the yard, Goodall crouched between two hen-nests. She sprinkled hay over herself  as camouflage and hid still for what seemed to her like forever.  She watched her subjects come back into the hen-house. Goodall says,

Presently the hen half stood and I saw a round white object protruding from the feathers between her legs. Suddenly with a plop,  the egg landed on the straw.  With clucks of pleasure the hen shook her feathers, nudged the egg with her beak, and left.

In the hen-house, Jane Goodall found her love of observing animals in their natural habitat. She pursued this love to make grand discoveries about primate behavior and forever changed scientific inquiry within biology. Some of her insights challenged what it means to be human.  Goodall even founded the Jane Goodall Institute to inspire new generations of naturalists in their own pursuits.

Childhood holds the dreams worth pursuing.

Late-blooming Creators dump well-roundedness and uncover dusty childhood dreams.  Then with wisdom granted by experience, they pursue what they lived for as children.

Letting Feelings Pass Through

This morning, my 6 yr. old walked past my work table with head turned back towards her brother. She said,

I’m not in the mood for laughing right now!

She turned into our Music room, turned on the CD player, plopped on to the couch and closed her eyes to listen to Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

My 6 yr. old gets the dramas Jo March, the heroine of Little Women.  At the moment, Jo is turning down her best friend Laurie’s proposal to marry him.

Laurie says,

If you marry me, I’d be a perfect saint!  You could make me into anything you want.

Jo says,

But I can’t change the feeling.  And it would be a lie if I said I do, when I don’t.

My daughter knows more about this in first grade than I did at 18 when I spent a year in South America.

Latin Americans are stereotypically passionate. They don’t handle feelings, but let them pass through as life energies. I learned this after my good friend Fernanda was snubbed publicly by an ex-boyfriend’s new fling.

I walked her home, chatting about nothing important.  At her front gate, she thanked me for keeping her company and said good-bye.  Then she yelled toward the kitchen,

Mariana?

Tell everybody I’m in a bad mood. They mustn’t bother me!

That evening I asked Fernanda how her family handled her request for space.

What do you mean?

I may as well have asked how her family felt about her laughter or need for time with friends.  Her routine to recover from life’s slights and mood breakers fazed no one at her home.

This was a revelation to me, because I thought her dramatic license a bit self-important.

Years later, I heard Barney, the purple dinosaur sing a Spanish version of the children’s classic  “If You’re Happy and You Know It“. This alternative version included two verses, “If You’re Sad and You Know It” and “If You’re Angry, And You Know It,” both of which are absent from the English version. Latin children are coaxed to frown if they are sad, and stomp if they are angry.

Bad moods come and happy moods go, every day you breathe.

When upset, Jo March turned to her notebooks to write or “scribble”, as she called her writing.

My 6 yr. old finds listening to Jo’s story lifts her mood. I’m happy to see her take action.  Hopefully, like Jo, she’ll also  someday find Creative work to channel all of life’s moods into.

Focusing on Other’s Expectations Inhibits Creative Development

Any healthy two-year-old knows when, how and by whom her driving passion to explore the world is blocked.  This morning, my two year old looked me straight in the eye and said, Now go away.  She knew I would curb her next experiment.

Earlier she cuddled beside me smiling, her cool bare toes wiggling against my leg as I read her The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything, for the fourth time. But then, my 5 month old woke up. The 2 yr. old said, Mama, I wanna hold the baby. Keeping a steadying hand at her armpit,  I sat the baby on the two-year old’s lap. The novelty tickled each some place inside the chest and they both giggled. The 2 yr. old’s smile faded, suddenly, when she noticed my hand on the baby. That’s when she looked me straight in the eye and said, Now go away.

My daughter identified me as a blocker instantly, before even imagining her next step. I laughed.  Calmly, she persisted, Now, go away.

The 2 yr. old outs who or what gets in the way of exploration, naturally. She persists in pursuit of ideas and dreams. But by age ten, many of us lose that confidence to say, Now, go away.

Creativity scholar, E. Paul Torrence identified the time when many children begin honing in on others’ expectations to the detriment of creative development as the fourth grade slump.  Some children Torrence studied never recovered from the fourth grade slump.

Of others in his 60 yr. longitudinal study of Creativity, Torrence said,

As they entered their late 20′s…many of the participants in the study were awakening to the fact that they had been wasting their own creative energies by playing the games that others had presented, rather than using their own creative strengths.

Many of them were [still] having difficulty in learning to free themselves of the expectations of others and to walk away from those imposed by their parents, teachers and others.

Highly creative people keep the 2 yr. old’s ability to spot creativity blockers. They focus on their dreams and ideas. The more creative the person, the more automatic the response to blockers, specially the blocks posed by others’ expectations.

Highly Creative people block the expectations set by others with the persistence of the two year old.

Following Childood Dreams Leads to Lifelong Creativity

One of the most powerful wellsprings of creativity seems to be falling in love with something.–E. Paul Torrence (Creativity Scholar)

My 8 yr. old is searching for a lifelong creative passion.  After watching Spain: On The Road Again, starring New York Times food writer Mark Bittman, my son said,

Mom? I know what I want to be when I grow up. I want to be a food critic. I said, Hmm. He said, Like Bittman. I smiled. He said, And, an inventor.  And a comedian.

He didn’t wait for a reaction. He just walked out the front door, slowly and half-smiling, to ride his bike. Like many children his age, he’s a serial monogamist. Now, a few months later, he dreams of designing Legos for life. When he told me of this new dream, I said,

A Lego designer? What do you mean, like making cool stuff with Legos, or…

He said, No Mom.  A Power-Miner designer.  Just like Will.

I’m not sure how Will got such a hot job, but I suspect he’s an engineer. I told my son this but he wasn’t interested.  Again, he walked off, slowly and half-smiling.

Some highly creative people recognize their life obsession very early.

Music producer Quincy Jones wanted to play the trumpet for the rest of his life, in 5th grade. Details were irrelevant.  He just kept playing and followed his childhood passion into adulthood.

Hungarian writer Arthur Koestler, when asked by his kindergarten teacher, Why do we learn? said, In order to become famous. She also asked him what he would do when he grew up. He said, Make stories. Koestler did not plan out his dream step by step. Dreams usually are fuzzy, after all. Still, he became a prolific writer and died one of the most famous twentieth-century writers.

Creative passion begins in childhood.  But, taking your childhood love seriously is, unfortunately, rare. Most of us, put aside childhood passions, thoughtlessly, like setting an old doll on a shelf and leaving it, knowing you’ve outgrown it.  You grow up and follow new, more practical life goals.

Renaissance artist, Michelangelo said,

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.

But,  as Lebanese philosopher Kahlil Gibran said,

The things which the child loves remain in the domain of the heart until old age.  The most beautiful thing in life is that our souls remain over the places where we once enjoyed ourselves.

So, I consider my little boy’s biggest dreams seriously. I will watch him flit around until he finds true love and when he does, I’ll find ways to help him pursue that dream.

Creativity’s Terrain, Part 8: Childhood Dreams Lead to Creativity

You have less control over your environment and the environment in which your children grow than you think. The variables are infinite. For two weeks I’m writing about Creativity’s Terrain and the variables you can control. Yesterday I wrote about Writing.

Pregnant Mary Duncan tolerated only iced oysters and iced champagne the summer before Isadora’s birth.  Her daughter Isadora Duncan, mother of Modern Dance, said,

If people would ask me when I began to dance I reply, ‘In my mother’s womb, probably as a result of the oysters and champagne–the food of Aphrodite.’

Isadora knew in her deepest core she would dance, always.  But by age 7 she despised ballet and classic dances. She says,

The dominant note of my childhood was the constant spirit of revolt against the narrowness of the society in which we lived, against the limitations of life and a growing desire to fly [to] something I imagined might be broader.

A voracious reader, at 18, Isadora got a first chance to dance her way by convincing a prominent 1895 New York theater manager she would create a dance expressing America, for children. She said to him,

I am indeed the spiritual daughter of Walt Whitman…  I bring to your theater the vital sound that it lacks, the soul of the dancer.  For, you know,”

The man said,

That’s quite enough!

But she marched on,

The birth of the theater was the dance, and the first actor was the dancer…and until the dancer in all his spontaneous great art returns to the theater, your theater will not live in its truest expression!

She got a part in a pantomime.

Many years later, a 4th grader and future Professor, Randy Pausch, made the following list of things he wanted to achieve:

Being in zero gravity

Playing in the NFL

Authoring an article in the World Book encyclopedia

Being Captain Kirk

Winning Stuffed animals

Being a Disney Imagineer

In his famous Last Lecture, Pausch tells how he achieved his childhood dream list.

The father of Creativity scholarship, E. Paul Torrance, found children, with clear ideas of what they loved to do and  happy dreams of what they wanted to become, turned out to live rich Creative lives. Torrance said,

As a matter of fact, this indicator (having or not having a future image that they were in love with) was a better predictor of adult creative achievement than indexes of scholastic promise and attainment in school.

Not every child is so perspicacious regarding her future.

Writer Willa Cather reclaimed her Creativity when, as a grown woman, she stopped admiring and started remembering.

Within your childhood joys and dabbles is the seed of your Creative truth.

Remember.


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