Sleeping Around in London

Before I start today’s post, I must disclose.  I sleep some,  but not enough to think and walk at the same time. My 11-month-old still nurses through the night.  I get up when she cries at night because I want her to fatten up and grow long.  And, she is my precious baby after all. So, against medical advice (my physician sister-in-law looks out for me–  she thinks I need more sleep),  I sleep some and figure, someday I’ll sleep more. And besides,  I can always find a chair to land on if I feel a thought coming.

It turns out, you don’t need a set amount of sleep at precise intervals to think original  thoughts.  Creativity scholar Mihalyi Csikzentmihalyi found highly creative people work with their bio-rhythms.  They arrange their lives to sleep when tired but work when they’re sharp– regardless of hour.  My current baby-controlled schedule is not ideal ( i.e., running a 5k this morning seems impossible) but it’s not horrible for creativity.  I’ve had plenty of brilliant insights in between mid-night naps (unfortunately, I don’t always remember them by morning)  and I’ve found my sharpest hours seem to fall between 1:00 a.m. and dawn (if, I’ve slept early and deep the previous three nights).  I’ve made peace with my sleep issues and continue. My good friend Jennifer says, In a year, things will be different.  She’s right.  I can imagine longer nights a year from now.

Some friends– a high-flying London couple, are about to have their first baby.  She’s a novelist.  He’s a club DJ by night,  international lawyer by day.  Their spacious Hackney flat has plenty of space for the gear they’ll need and they both love kids. They’re more than ready;  they’re giddy non-stop with anticipation.  There’s only one small problem.  They love their current party-almost-every-night, sleep in, work late and do it all again life rhythm.  Last time I visited them,  the guy asked,

Do kids HAVE to go to bed early?  I mean,  that doesn’t make sense.  My sister is adamant.  She says, Just wait.  You’ll see.  Kids HAVE to go to bed super early. It’s just the way it works. But why would that be?  I mean, as long as they get the amount they need–  you know, like 8 hours,  or whatever.  Right?

I said,

I don’t know. I suppose you could convince your baby you live in another time zone–  you could carry around a full-spectrum light lamp in your diaper bag and shine it on your kid’s face at sundown.  And shut the blinds in her room in the morning,  so she still thinks it’s night. That shouldn’t be too hard–    days are pretty dark here in London anyway. I don’t know.  I haven’t tried it.

I don’t remember where our conversation went from there.  But now (two years later) I wonder if they’ll try to make the baby adjust to their time.  Will they lug her around London’s night-scene in a sound-proof bassinet?  I doubt it.  I think the novelist will nix any exceedingly silly plan.  But she is pretty flexible and does like to try things out.

In any case,  the man’s question is a good one.  Do babies need to sleep when 7:30 p.m. hits wherever they are?  I’ve always stuck to a traditional bedtime.  But, I’d love to watch the London couple trick their baby into sleeping exactly when they’d like her to sleep. If they pull this off,  they should write a book and I bet it would hit the bestseller list on Day 1.

Talking Real Science.

This morning before breakfast, I walked up the hill behind my house with my 11 yr. old to check out her new make-shift ant lab. She walked with notebook and pencil in hand, ahead of me.  Still, she turned often to wait while I coaxed the toddler with us to keep the pace.  I recognized the ant lab’s layout instantly from a sketch she’d shown me earlier–  open roof,  six-inch high wood-plank outer walls and cross-walls placed to funnel ants to imported sugar-water.

So,  my daughter said and pointed to one corner,  that’s where I’ll bury one magnet.  And, she pointed at a different corner, that’s where the other magnet will go.  I asked her questions, told her the study seemed interesting and we started back home, both satisfied we had done well.

I need to backtrack a bit here.

Last week, a few minutes before we left home to attend classes,  this same 11 yr. old asked,  Oh, mom.  Did you sign my science project proposal? I had not.  But she had the paper at hand,  ready to sign and a pen to sign it with.

Visually scanning the paper, I asked What’s this?

She said,  Oh.  We have to turn in our science project topics today.  You see, she pointed to the top of the paper I held, there’s the question I will work on. I read,  “Is the direction a plant grows affected by light?”   I faced my daughter.  She raised her brows.

I started, Darling? but paused to find the right words.  I asked how she planned to run her experiment.  She explained.  Then I let loose, Everyone in the world,  including you,  knows plants grow towards light.  Everyone!

She half-smiled.  So, what should I do then?  I have to turn this in a few minutes from now and it can’t be late.

I said,  Yes.  But you can’t turn this in.  It isn’t a question a self-respecting scientist would ask. I launched into a mini-lecture on how the scientific process is to catalyze new discoveries,  not to serve as an end in itself.  She ended up turning in a question she thought interesting–  about the possible musicality of pond frogs. We both knew the science teacher would deny this project.

But,  I told her,  while your teacher is rejecting that question, you buy time to come up with a really great new idea.  The science teacher did reject the frog idea.  And my daughter did come up with a much better project and re-submitted a question.  Neither of us knows the answer to this new question and (as far as we can tell)  nobody else (in the entire world) does either.  Her new project?  “The effects of increased underground magnetism on red ant colonial patterns.”  She’s got six weeks to figure things out and a good plan sketched out.  What she does not have, is an answer.

On our walk down the hill this morning,  she told me about some of the questions other students had come up with and we talked about those.  One student is studying volcanoes ( there’s got to be at least one, right?),  another is studying whether fruit floats.  But who cares?   My daughter knows her question is good and she’s excited she will discover something new— something no one in the world yet knows.  Now we’re talking real science–  and I couldn’t be happier to see her excited about it!


* Wait.  Please stay a little longer:  You may have noticed I’ve changed my blog’s look.  What do you think about that?  Is it better?  Worse?  In bad-taste?  Tantalizing?  I’d love to hear your opinion.  If you’re new here… I’d still love to hear what you think about my site, creativity…the Universe!

Rousseau and Me, We Don’t Agree– A Post in Two Parts and a Coda

For five days I’m writing about the most interesting methods people have used throughout history to raise brilliant children of all types. Yesterday I wrote A Mad Poet and a Sane Mathematician.

Part I:

Around this time– a year ago, I longed to walk outside with my toddler or stand by the pond with my five-year-old checking out brand-new tadpoles. I wanted to bake bread or travel to Ethiopia or  just drive an hour to visit my sister. But I couldn’t. I could wiggle my toes a bit and shift my weight from left to right, but no more than that– doctor’s orders.  If I moved more than that, contractions began immediately. But the tiny person growing inside me needed to swim around in amniotic fluid another 15 weeks.

The slightly-open window behind my chair let in crisp air in waves.  I heard swallows swishing around high in the sky and chirping. Birds so happy to have arrived safe from Argentina and ready to build spring nests under the eaves of my house.  My toddler wanted to share my chair,  but we couldn’t both fit.  She cried and begged me to pick her up.  Later, she dragged her wicker rocker and set it next to me.  I read her books.  My 7-year-old and 5-year-old brought me little snacks of oranges or cinnamon toast.  My 10-year-old made pasta for lunch.

Several weeks later, resting still, this time in a hospital bed, I couldn’t focus to read.  I couldn’t think in complete sentences either. I just lay there, with my uncomfortably quiet mind.  Living requires action–  and without it you seem barely human,  let alone a competent parent of little children.  I stared at their photographs taped to the wall in front of me. All those smiling faces kept me company. But I couldn’t touch them or kiss them.  They couldn’t tell me the stuff they thought or what kept them awake at night. So still, I drifted in and out of mind for hours.  One night, in a moment of both subtle desperation and fierce maternal agency a thought came to me.   My mind’s eye followed the thought as it entered and spread across my consciousness.  It is time to study my children in the way that thinkers do, with closed senses but open mind.  The timing could not be better.

This thought– It is time to study my children in the way that thinkers do, with closed senses but open mind, expanded until it took up so much mental space it squished the limbic helplessness out of my soul.

I’ve wanted to study the lives of sixteenth century Spanish monks or figure out how the Universe really began.  But figuring out Creativity from its simplest reduction to viral idea-spreading– that I could study until I die.  And here I had time!

Instantly I felt the luckiest woman in the world– with a laptop, speedy internet access and several bright children with budding creative powers to think about and later observe. That night I started Creating-Brains, this blog.  I also e-mailed my friends with the link so they’d read my first post and make it all official before I chickened out.

Part II:

Months earlier, I had read the most interesting book on human development theory–  Jean Jacques Rousseau’s classic Emile. Here Rousseau writes the life story of his young aristocratic charge– Emile and chronicles his growth to astonishing mental independence. When Rousseau ends his tutorship (20 yrs. long)  he introduces Emile,  a virgin thinker, to the world.

So how did Rousseau raise Emile?  Here are some highlights:


  • Never wore binding clothes.
  • Ran around barefoot,  even in Winter.
  • Took frigid showers outdoors, even in Winter.
  • Lived in a bare cottage, alone with his tutor, in the countryside.
  • Ate plain food.
  • Cultivated one habit– Have no habits (no bed time,  no wake time,  no set daily schedule whatsoever).
  • Knew no books, was not read to and did not know how to read until age 16.
  • Had no friends.
  • Learned through experience only ( i.e., poking a real skunk to learn it stinks, and not reading about it).
  • Led his own life with little human interference.
  • Had a tutor who followed him from afar outdoors, but sat with him to discuss humanity’s grandest questions to close a day.
  • Could ask his tutor anything and get a question for an answer.
  • Ran free.
  • Lived happy.
  • Thought for himself.

Rousseau’s Emile was an imaginary character (Rousseau was a philosopher, after all).  But the methods used to educate Emile influenced Western thinking about childhood development and education for two centuries.  The Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts, the Idler in the UK and the International Unschooling movement are examples of today’s Rousseau-groupies.

But what does Rousseau’s Emile have to do with me hanging out in the hospital,  far from my charges?  Plenty (stay with me here). First, disclosure–  a host of loving , sometimes fun,  but always responsible people cared for the kids when I could not. Also, Super-man ( husband) cut his work days dangerously short to come home.  He also spent too many nights awake nursing sick kids (yes, they all got the flu) or warming midnight bottles for our toddler. But back to Rousseau and me: in gist– my children lived a lot like Emile. Rousseau theorized and Emile turned out super human. But real children, I learned by being away, do not thrive cultivating the habit of no habits. Also, real children grow confused, rather than fonder, for lack of gentle touch. But worse of all,  the independent life reeks of danger for little ones and free-thinking is small without limits.

I resolved, then,  as I began to study my children to also study their broken mama and by sheer mindfulness and consideration, we’d learn to live right.  Together we’d learn to live the Creative life,  which, as I’ve written often since my first post,  is not without habits or discipline.


Several years ago,  I would have disagreed with every iota of Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother– the book I’ve mentioned several times in this series.  I would have suggested Emile’s lifestyle as the enlightened (and opposite) alternative.  Not today– Chua’s not totally wrong.  Discipline does breed brilliance. But Chua is fundamentally wrong,  because disciplined skills without philosophy make for hollow output.

So there it is.  I’ve told you another piece of my story and dragged you through contrived concepts.  But, stay with me…there’s more to come!

I’d love to hear from you and learn what you think.  Leave a comment.  I love reading comments!




A Mad Poet and a Sane Mathematician

For five days I’m writing about the most interesting methods people have used throughout history to raise brilliant children of all types. Yesterday I wrote To Yell or Not to Yell.  That is My Question.

Young Ada Loveless lived on a grand estate with her noble mother in nineteenth-century England. The 9 year-old romanticized her father, a famous English poet living in Greece on self-imposed exile. She had never met him and as a child, knew very little of him. Ada asked her mother when he’d be back, but Lady Anne Isabella Byron never told her daughter the colorful truths about her dad– Lord Byron.  When he died a hero to the Greeks for financing their war of Independence from Turkey, all Ada knew is that he fell ill and died far away from her.

Ada’s father–no ordinary poet,  is regarded as one of the greatest British poets of all time and remains widely read and influential. He was also no ordinary man.  Good-looking to boot–he loved many women and men leaving broken hearts in his wake as he traveled the world. One English socialite once disguised herself as a page to enter his bed-chamber.  Of Lord Byron she said, he is “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.

Ada’s dangerous-to-know father’s father (her grandfather) was “Mad Jack”.   And his grandfather (stay with me here) committed suicide.  Lord Byron’s mother ran the Byron estate while the men made ill and herself suffered from ongoing melancholy.

When Ada insisted on hearing stories of her father,  her mother sought the advice of a trusted neighbor– the Scottish polymath, Mary Somerville.  Somerville provided a sure solution:  rigorous education in mathematics.

Lady Byron took the advice and hired mathematics tutors for her daughter at a time when girls did not study math.  The helpful neighbor, Somerville,  became Ada’s lifelong mentor.  Together,  the two women (and the many hired tutors) educated any potential “madness” out of little Ada.

I’d say they did well.  Ada became a prominent mathematician in Victorian England and never showed a traced of madness. She worked with Charles Babbage drafting the blueprints to the world’s first computer and she wrote the first computer program in history.  Ada turned out not mad nor bad and probably not very dangerous either.

To Yell or Not to Yell. That is my Question.

For five days I’m writing about the most interesting methods people have used throughout history to raise brilliant children of all types. Yesterday I wrote Poor Baby?  Nope.  Strong Baby.

Sirena Huang started violin lessons at age 4 and made her professional solo debut at 9 with the Taiwan Symphony Orchestra.  I watched her play on TED several months ago and she’s been on my mind lately.  Especially after reading Amy Chua’s book The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I’ve seen musical prodigies before, but what blew me away when I watched Sirena, is how articulate she is and how at ease she seems on stage.  This kid must practice six hours a day,  just like Amy Chua’s pianist  and violinist daughters.

This is what I’ve thought: Does Sirena’s mom use the same techniques–mainly (as seen from a Western parent’s perspective), verbal and emotional abuse?  Is Sirena so well-spoken because her mother makes her practice (the Chinese way–i.e., a million times with no bathroom breaks or dinner) speaking as well?  And, does Sirena get as little sleep as the Chua daughters?
I will have to contact  and interview Sirena’s mom soon,  or at least before she writes her own book on raising a musical prodigy.
Musical prodigies–more common today than fifty years ago because of  Sinichi Suzuki’s method of music education, learn to play the violin or piano, like we all learn to speak–through immersion.  With the Suzuki method, children begin lessons at three years old. Parents attend all lessons and learn the instrument along with their child.  Practice sessions, ideally short–but plentiful throughout the day, become a main ingredient of early childhood. Perfection is the goal.
Amy Chua (a.k.a., tiger mom) got the perfection part correct. But she missed Mr. Suzuki’s core belief:  children learn best surrounded by lots of love and approval.  For Suzuki, the hard work of learning the violin, such as, is not experienced as hardship by a young student;  like learning to speak your native language is not a hardship.  The point of early music education is to make the learning seamless. And the point of music education is to uplift the human spirit through inspiration.  Suzuki said,
It is necessary to be concerned about the importance of educating a really beautiful human spirit.
But Suzuki wasn’t the first to think young children quick-studies of difficult instruments. The first young musical prodigies– Nannerl and Wolfgang,  lived in18th-century Austria.  The siblings (11 and 7 ) traveled Western Europe by horse-drawn coach on cobblestone streets and muddy roads with their father, who had taught them ( the piano and violin, also respectively) with love and encouragement.  The girl, Nannerl, played the piano for her family the rest of her days, and that is about all we know about her. But the boy, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music.  His music became part of Western popular culture. You can hear Mozart’s music in TV commercials, movies and cartoons, even today.
When the Mozart children performed in Germany 235 years ago, a young tenor of the German court sat in awe listening in the audience.  Eight years later, when his son Ludwig learned to speak,  he began teaching him music. Beethoven’s father, Johann, used Amy Chua’s methods–well, she actually used his.  He yelled, screamed and beat his son to the point of sobbing at the piano.
Is there a lesson here?
Here’s what I take from these stories:
I am partial to Beethoven because his music is so much more emotionally charged than Mozart’s– it makes grown men cry spontaneously, still today. But, both men were Highly Creative musicians.  The loving-inspiration method worked to make Mozart one of the top musician/composers of all time.  But the angry-yelling Johann, also seems to have produced musical genius–as shown in his son, Beethoven.  Regardless, both parents did have something in common. Both sat or stood beside their children as they practiced and helped them along every step of the way–in the beginning.  That, is the lesson.
The lesson for Amy Chua is: She did not have to yell at her girls to get them to Carnegie Hall, after all.  She could have been more like Mr. Mozart,  if she had been so inclined.
I’ve included Sirena Huang’s TED performance below.  For the sake of my personal comfort (and with best wishes for little Sirena) I will assume her mother raised her like Mozart –not the Chua girls.  Check it out!

Hee! Hee!–Freud Slipped With Piaget

One of the best things about having young children is that they think your jokes are funny. This morning, my two-year-old needed help getting out of the bathtub. I held out a clean towel for her to step into, wrapped her up and set her on the bath-rug. I watched her dress–undershirt first, then flowery cotton dress.  She then stood smiling with feet apart and hands on her hips. I smiled back and said,

Look at you!  You can dress yourself!

She stayed put for three seconds.  Suddenly, she raised her eyebrows and said,

Oops!  I forgot my panties!

She searched the area.  Then looked to me for help.

Where are they?  Where are my panties?

I shrugged and whispered as if telling her a secret,

I think they are hiding!

She burst out laughing. We both melted into giggles at the slightest hint of silliness for an entire hour.

A stand-up comedian friend of mine once said,

Humor is the highest expression of human intelligence.

This assertion seems a bit of a stretch, but it isn’t too far off.  The fact that my two-year-old gets my little jokes means she can tell the difference between imagination and reality–surely this is a sign of at least budding intelligence.

Although most cognitive psychologists today would agree with me, this flies in the face of what Jean Piaget and Sigmund Freud believed about children’s cognitive abilities. Both believed children produced so much fantastic, unreal play because they couldn’t tell the difference between imagination and reality. Cognitive psychologist Alison Gopnick says,

The picture we used to have of children was that they spent all of this time doing pretend play because they had these very limited minds, but in fact what we’ve now discovered is that children have more powerful learning abilities than we do as adults. A lot of their characteristic traits, like their pretend play, are signs of how powerful their imaginative abilities are.

One of the most respected philosophers on Creativity, Arthur Koestler, believed the moment you get a joke is a crucible between higher intelligence and lower reflexes. In his 1964 book The Act of Creation, he says,

Humour [sic] is the only domain of creative activity where a stimulus on a high level of complexity produces a massive and sharply defined response on the level of physiological reflexes.

My joke anthropomorphizing my daughter’s panties was far from brilliant. It was almost reflexive.   I didn’t think about it.  It popped into my head and I said it. But if not a measure of my intelligence, my daughter’s reaction to it proved she’s smarter than Sigmund Freud or Jean Piaget would have thought–and that is just plain cool.

Setting my Family’s Emotional Thermostat

Two seasons have passed since I started Creating Brains earlier this year and my biggest challenge remains time management. Penciling in time for me to write just isn’t enough. Minutes for me to think and write are held at bay, far from me, until my home’s emotional thermostat is set to positive.

The days are getting shorter and some my family is waking a little later and a little slower every morning. Six in the morning is still pitch-black on a moonless Autumn day, but my littlest children, the 7 month old and the two-year old are up, regardless.

I light two candles, place the baby with teething ring in hand on her bouncy recliner and pick up my toddler.  If I start the day in whispers, the others will sleep an extra hour. But there is a price to pay for such quiet.  When my older children are asleep, the younger ones don’t like it. They prefer singing, dancing and loud planning of things to come, first thing, before sunrise. So the little ones are confused.  They aren’t sure why they are wide awake in the darkness but the others are not.

I had planned to write this morning,  but my laptop will stay lonely until I care for my little people.

If the children feel neglected, thoughts crash. If the children have not yet found their own flow, interruptions come and my running mental stories, good or bad, vanish.  Insight fizzles. Brilliance dangles unfinished.  My mental life melts to inconsequence and I no longer remember what was so exciting about women in Science or David Bohm.

With the new early morning darkness the homeostasis of my hours is changing. Setting my family’s emotional thermostat to positive so my children get busy with their own projects is like directing a chamber ensemble.  It is an art.  This week I will embrace this art and nitpick to find the sore points of our morning routine so I can write and think and Create.

Busy Mother Hired Allomother of Good Spirit

Highly Creative people keep favored routines.  For ten days I’m posting about the routines of individual Creators, historical and current. My previous post: Painting to Find Beauty & Meaning.

Sarah Blaffer Hrdy

Evolutionary Primatologist, Writer

For nine years, Sarah Blaffer Hardy and her husband commuted between Boston and India as Sarah studied primate behavior and Daniel, a specialist in infectious diseases, studied rotaviruses. “It was the happiest time of my life— being outdoors with animals who were beautiful and fascinating, solving a puzzle, leaving problems and everyday life behind.” Then motherhood changed everything. At 31, she had her first and “very wanted” daughter.

What she terms “the honeymoon period” gave way to frustration because she couldn’t find time to write or do research. On one of her last trips to India, she took along a paid allomother (a nanny). Katrinka developed “virulent diaper rash— she was one unhappy child.” One evening Hrdy came home to find that the toddler was being attacked by a troop of monkeys trying to snatch her cookie. The overextended biological mother suffered agonies of guilt. On the flight home, sick with pneumonia and a fever of 104 degrees, Hrdy lay across the middle row of seats drinking water from a baby bottle. The day they got home, the baby-sitter quit. “Fieldwork is incompatible with having children,” Hrdy concluded. If she wanted her children to have a greater sense of security than she did growing up, she had to give up her field research.

With more children came more compromises. In 1982 an international symposium on infanticide in animals and man was scheduled at Cornell University after the due date for the birth of her second child. However, a strict no-babies rule was imposed by a male co-organizer. Daughter Sasha arrived just a week before the meeting, and her mother’s plans to establish breast-feeding were thrown into disarray. Hrdy nursed in the evenings, while a friend who was also nursing fed Sasha her breast milk during the day so Hrdy could present her paper. It worked. Son Niko was born in 1986, when Hrdy was 41. “That was the year I won a Guggenheim fellowship to write a book on the natural history of motherhood,” she recalls, “which somehow did not get written that year.” It did not become a book— the 700-page Mother Naturefor another 13 years.
Those experiences have made Hrdy a fierce advocate for good day-care programs, which she considers the modern substitute for a tribal network of allomothers. She visits centers around the world to study their techniques and lobbies government childcare agencies for higher standards. “Stability, stability, stability,” she reiterates. She finds it inconceivable that anyone doubts that quality day-care programs are worthy of public funding. She says the woman who drowned her five children in the bathtub in Texas is a tragic example of the need for a support system. “She should not have been alone in that house with five young kids and a record of depression— it’s a no-brainer. Not even a mentally healthy woman should have to be in that situation.

Hrdy realizes her privileged circumstances are far different from those of most mothers. Katrinka had a series of au pairs, and both younger children had long-term caregivers. All went to boarding schools in New England, and both daughters went on to Harvard. Hrdy feels irritated by the accusation that her theory of cooperative breeding is a rationalization of her own choices, but she acknowledges being the rare female of her generation who has integrated maternal and scientific voyages of discovery. Trivers, who once doubted her ability to do it all, says, “Sarah’s solution has been allomothering— which she’s writing about. She employed helpers at the nest. And the children have had the benefits of two mothers: Sarah, who’s a loving mother, but busy. And a second one, a young woman of good spirit.
She’s a fabulous mother,” says Katrinka (her daughter), a history teacher and crew coach at a boarding school in upstate New York. “She feels bad about the time when she was busy with research, but I don’t remember that.” When she tells friends that her mother is an expert on infanticide, people often say, “Hey, you’re lucky to have survived,” but the joke has grown stale. “My cute mom,” says Katrinka. “Her theories are pretty modern— she’s got all these wild ideas about family, but our own family is kind of traditional— family dinners and everything.”

In the late afternoon, sunshine lights up the nearby California coastal range. This is the second oldest set of hills in the country, Hrdy says. They remind her of India’s Aravalli Hills, the place where she spent the most satisfying years of her working life. Binoculars around her neck, she listens intently, hoping to locate the troop of wild turkeys that rove the 1,000-acre farm. Last year the Hrdys harvested about 300 tons of walnuts here. “We wanted this place to make enough of an income so that it can support itself, and the kids can keep it,” says Hrdy, who has done a study comparing inheritance patterns of daughters and sons. At the moment, the only child who seems interested in farming is their son. “I admit it [the farm] looks bad,” she says. Niko, 16, is away at prep school. Allomother Guadalupe de la Concha “started grieving a year before he left,” says Hrdy.

Hrdy, the alpha female, possesses an airy study filled with fertility goddesses, engravings of primates, family photos, and shelves of books so high she needs a ladder. But the real work gets done in the tiny, distraction-free closet in the study that her children call the cave. In this room with no view, the scholar lives her real life, the one in her mind.

(Thanks to Discover Magazine and Claudia Glenn Dawling)

Schedule Queen & Mother or Four

Highly Creative people keep favored routines.  For ten days I’m posting about the routines of individual Creators, historical and current. My previous post: Same Routine for 52 Years & No Teaching Job.

Susan Wise-Bauer

Writer, Historian, English Professor, Founder of Peace Hill Press

Where is your favorite place to write? Time of day?
Last year, my father turned an old chicken shed on our farm into a separate timber-framed office for me. Until then, I’d used a little room in our attic. There were points to being the madwoman in the attic, but I had so many books in piles that there was only a narrow path between the door and my desk. My new office is close to the house, but because it’s a separate building, I can’t hear the children thumping and yelling while I’m working.

As far as time of day—I probably do my best work first thing in the morning, and on mornings when I don’t go running, I enjoy going down before sunrise with a cup of coffee and getting right to work. But this is a job for me; I keep to a pretty strict schedule, and when it’s time for me to write, I sit down and get started.

How do you make time for research and writing when you’re also homeschooling your children, teaching at William and Mary, finishing your doctorate, running a family farm and publishing company, and active in your church community? Do you keep office hours? Burn the midnight oil? Make your kids take 4-hour naps?

No, just two-hour naps.

There are four intersecting answers to this question. First: I enjoy my work, and I work at a naturally quick pace. Everyone’s got a different natural tempo; my parents say I was born on fast-forward.

Second: Although I’ve done all of those things at various times, I don’t think I’ve ever done them all simultaneously. When my children were smaller I taught more and wrote less, and didn’t have a publishing company. Now that I’ve got a publishing company and a busier writing career, I’ve taken a teaching leave from William and Mary (I’m a “research associate” right now, which means I can keep my faculty privileges without teaching—I couldn’t function without my year-long-checkout-no-limit-no-overdue-fees faculty card). I’m still active in my church community, but I’ve limited my involvement to one major volunteer role and I’m getting more ruthless about declining every other opportunity. And as for the doctorate—well, I’m thirty-eight, and I’ve just finished my dissertation defense, which is not exactly fast-track. It takes longer when you’re leading a regular grown-up life.

Third: I have a lot of help. My husband has a flexible schedule and does a good part of the home schooling; we divide our work and family responsibilities between us. We both parent, we both work, I do the cooking and he does the grocery shopping. My mother has taught all of the children how to read and continues to work with the younger two. My father manages the farm and is the CEO of the publishing company—I handle the creative end, and he handles the business end. Plus my mother and I share a housekeeper, and I have a personal assistant who comes in once a week to get me organized and do all the random things (from dry cleaning to library runs) that I haven’t gotten around to. No working wife and mother does it all—she hires help, or else decides what to leave undone.

Fourth: I am the Schedule Queen. I have a master family calendar that I keep both in a Daytimer and on my iCal—the iCal also has all my work deadlines on it, so that I don’t schedule a family vacation and a manuscript delivery for the same week. Our days run on a very regular pattern: the kids always know what they’re supposed to be doing, which parent is on kid duty and which is working, and what the next part of the day holds. Unless I’m on vacation, I’m up by 6 AM, go running, shower, and either get to work or start on my day with the kids by 8 AM. We have lunch, regular afternoon alone time/rest time, regular bedtimes. That may sound a little Von Trappish, but it sure lends itself to peace and order. (Also we have one day a week where we all sit around in our bathrobes and eat popcorn for breakfast if we feel like it.)

(Thanks to Mindy Winthrow).

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.