Lessons from The Music Room No. 7: A Year– Huge Difference!

For one year– from Spring2010 to Spring 2011,  I turned my growing family into a laboratory.  My purpose– to set each of us on a Creative path of our own.  We began in the grand central space we call The Music Room.  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. For one week I’m writing about what I’ve learned this year– about Creativity and what it takes to live it. My previous post: Two Creative Types.  Today’s post is the last in this series. 

How you live and the things you do make a huge difference in the span of one year.  I realize this isn’t news to most people.  Backpacking across Europe at eighteen, interning at the White House after college or getting pregnant and delivering triplets– these things will definitely change your life forever, in the span of one year. But, when I started this Creating Brains project,  I really was not sure where we’d be in one year.  Setting each of us, my five children and myself, on a Creative path of our own, seemed more than daunting, although not impossible.  Check out what has changed for each of  us in the last twelve months:

Spring 2010

  • Baby:  Living at UCSD Medical Center — the NICU.  Taking caffeine straight and pure through a tube (caffeine: oxygen saturation stabilizer for pre-mature babies, who knew?).  Three pounds.  No eyelashes yet.
  • Two-year old:  Waking every two hours at night because of early (for her) weaning.  Innocent.  Taking two-hour walks outside every morning with our Thai Au pair. Always happy to see me.  Hooked on chocolate soy milk.
  • Five year old:  Quiet around new people.  Sober.  Often sitting in my recliner when I’m not home.  At peace sitting on daddy’s lap with head on his chest, clutching pink Blankie.  Happy to be read to.  Wondering what will happen next.  Always happy to see me.
  • Eight-year old:  Elusive.  Looking for things to do.  Sometimes playing with Legos.  Practicing spinning a basketball.  Explaining everything to his five-year-old sister. Temporarily hard-of-hearing.  Playing a middle school jock in local production of High School Musical.  Attending endless rehearsals sitting through hours of watching others with bigger parts.
  • Ten year old:  Shoulders sagging with responsibility.  Ready to cry.  Looking for things to do.  Telling others (siblings, baby-sitters, family helping out)  what to do.  Getting ahead in Math.  Playing  “brainiac” in local production of High School Musical.  Attending endless rehearsals. Taking long walks outside with iPod.
  • Me:  Spending every other night in hospital with new baby.  Seeing her every day no matter what.  Singing to new baby.  Holding new baby.  Pumping breast-milk she can drink when I’m not with her. Traveling an hour each way to see baby.  Chatting with my dad about politics, neuroscience and family history as he drove me to the hospital every day.  Hugging every one when I get home.  Sitting with each child.  Listening to their troubles.  Reading them stories.  Drinking good water.  In the moment–  future unsure and far away.  Husband working full-time and helping two-year old go back to sleep (every two hours) at night.

Spring 2011

  • One-year-old:  Opening every cabinet door and drawer.  Crawling and laughing at the same time–  when I try to dress her in the morning. Eating lentils, rice, mission figs, strawberries, baguette butts and broccoli.  Heavier every day– lovely fat legs.  Speaks– Mama, Dada, blah, blah, blah, la, la, la. Yells “ah”!  Nursing every two hours at night. Laughing.  “Getting” she’s part of a family (I can’t prove this,  but I’m super-sure).
  • Three-year old:  Sleeping without waking at night.  Wanting to live on cake, whip cream, chocolate milk, ice cream and candy. Loving outings of any kind (favorites: library, bookstore) .  Missing our former Thai Au Pair– June (gone back home) and saying “When June gets back…” .  Always happy to see me, except when I ask her to put her cowboy boots next to the front door.  Playing Legos with her brother and playing tiger with daddy.  Saying, “But mama..” a lot.  Playing indoors a lot.  Spending time looking at picture books.  Hoping to be included in everything her siblings do.
  • Seven year old:  Initiating conversations with anyone interesting.  Walking to grandparents’ house to chat and help with household chores. Looking up horse prices and horsemanship summer camps.  Happy, mature and calm, except when goofing off with her brother (often).  Always happy to see me. Grateful when I kiss her good-night or tell her a story
  • Nine-year old:  Waking before 6:00 a.m. Busy with Legos. Being “helpful” (his word) by spending one on one time with three-year old.  Cracking up over his bodily-function themed jokes.  Reading comic books.  Looking forward to the rest of the day, and tomorrow and the far future.  Incredibly positive.  Counts his blessings.  Taking piano lessons.
  • Eleven year old:  Sleeps in a little (compared to all the early birds).  Organized.  Hating tardiness of any kind. Getting ahead in Math and Science. Reading for pleasure.  Hand-making tortillas as a snack.  Loving her long hair.  Laughing often.  Spending quiet time with herself– walks, drawing, reading.
  • Me:  Teaching college History. Writing seven pages of un-edited dribble every day, long hand. Driving a lot– taking kids everywhere. Remembering past adventures.  Chatting with my mom every day– finding joy in her health improving.  Mourning my aunt’s (and her family’s) tragic death (3 weeks ago).  Missing my grandmother who lives so far from me. Needing time alone everyday, getting some some days. Singing to baby.  Laughing with three-year-old.  Adjusting to developmental changes in eleven-year-old.  Reading The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore– brilliant new novel.  Missing husband when he works long. Having so much today, the future gets little of my mental energy.  Questioning.  Deeply happy and tired in turns, or even at the same moment.

So there you have it.  My children are bouncy.  Some of them have passions to strive for.  I’m writing.  The future is shining.

This year has made all the difference in the world.

Yep.  It has!

Lessons from The Music Room No. 2: “Just Do” Cold Showers and Write Short Lists

For one year– from Spring 2010 to Spring 2011,  I turned my growing family into a laboratory.  My purpose– to set each of us on a Creative path of our own.  We began in the grand central space we call The Music Room.  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. For one week I’m writing about what I’ve learned this year– about Creativity and what it takes to live it. Yesterday I wrote The Creative Life is a Struggle.

The Nike slogan Just Do It works well enough as my family’s current task-accomplishment (including all things creativity-related) plan.  I hope this is only temporary because I’m a big fan of the perfectly tuned schedule.

When my first daughter arrived my mother said,  She’ll take over your life until you get a good schedule.  But once you’ve got a schedule you’ll have time for anything you want.  And so it was.  At six months my tiny girl woke at 6 a.m.  I bundled her up, strapped her into a jogger-stroller and ran several miles before breakfast.  We ate at 7:30.   Then I sat her facing the bathroom shower on a bouncy chair with toys so I could shower in peace.  We took walks, sang songs, giggled and read books.  I made her baby food from scratch and tried complicated recipes (i.e., Shitake-mushroom fried polenta topped with tomatoes, slivered almonds and parmigiano-reggiano) for dinner and she watched me.  Twice a week my lovely mother-in-law took over, while I took off for grad school.  I’m barely scratching the surface here.  More than a decade later (I may not be young), I still believe a perfectly tuned schedule is best.

That’s why I’ve tried all sorts of plans and schedules this year to put this creativity thing on rails. But all of them required more energy than they generated.  I nixed each plan when it turned more needy than a child.  Who wants a needy schedule?  I don’t.  Real kid voices (expressing human needs) filter into my dreams at day-break Sunday through Saturday. Check out my current (not-so-needy) 5 item schedule:

  1. I nurse the baby.
  2. I head for my semi-private wake-up chamber–  the cold shower.  (Did I use the word “cold’?  Freezing is more appropriate this time of year– Freezing showers are perfectly safe. I choose to do this, OK?)
  3. I dry my body with the available clean towel.
  4. I pull on my best jeans, dab on the lipstick.
  5. I run the rest of the day (it’s kind of a blur– except when I follow my two-year-old outside and read at the same time, or when I drive to kid-classes or when I lecture at the University. And all running stops when I write.  Which I do almost every day. Some days I even write three pages of long-hand free thought.

Someday I’ll return to a perfectly tuned routine– all Highly Creative people fashion favored schedules.  To read some favored routines I’ve come across check out my series: Routines.

But back to now.  Let me tell you, with five children under twelve–  it’s just impossible to follow a perfectly tuned schedule.  For children each little habit expressively worked on (e.i., flushing the toilet after use or signing every piece of artwork) takes thirty days of practice.  Perfectly tuned schedules are built of a thousand little habits.  You do the math.  So instead, we all meet in The Music Room and make short lists (one for each person above five-years-old) and each finds a way to do it.  On Sundays,  I often have only one item on my list– Write.  And I do.  Of course I still bathe the baby, drive the kids to hit tennis balls and make lunch.  But those things tend to get done list or not.  A one-item “To-Do” list makes you happy at the start but turns exhilarating when you’re finished.

Just Do It is the motto of the determined desperate.  The person who came up with the motto (don’t tell Nike)–  a serial killer about to die for his crimes and ready to get dying over-with, was certainly desperate.  I admit I’m not always determined or desperate.  But this post is proof Just Do It is working out for now.


Today (March 21, 2011) is…

…The exact One Year Anniversary of Creating Brains!

To my faithful readers:

Thank you for sticking with me. Just knowing you’re there adds intensity and relevance to every word I write. Thank you!

To those who’ve left comments:

A capital THANK YOU!  Your feedback keeps me thinking–  what a gift.

To all my Hitters (is that a word yet?)– Creating Brains has been visited over 9,000 times so far!  Whoop-y! Hurray!

Thank you all for visiting.

No Mother–No Whips

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 the intro. to this series: Baby, Who Cares If It’s Cold Outside!

Amy Chua, the author of the controversial new book The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is the unabashed, if occasionally faux-contrite, heroine of her story.  The message is clear: her musical prodigy daughters could not have attained their brilliant success without their tough-love mom. Chua is more than queen of her home. She’s more of a micro-managing-manic, dictator/empress combo.  Chua’s emotionally abusive tactics aside, today we place tremendous value on a mother’s involvement in her childrens’ lives. But the truth is, loads of brilliant people from the past had little maternal influence as they grew-up. Still, the most striking truth I’d like to tell Amy Chua, is that the extreme tough-love stuff, may not be necessary either.

Read on for one super-interesting example that makes both my above points:

In early sixteenth-century France, the mayor of Bordeux, Pierre Eyquim read much and talked philosophy with whomever would listen– but his ignorance of Latin (the language of books), left him but a well-regarded dabbler. His son would have no such limit. Pierre Eyquim would make sure of that.

Before any Latin lessons, Pierre’s third baby boy–Michel needed to survive past infancy. The best way to do this, thought this father, is to raise him among peasants–and away from the soft life of the Eyquim family chateau.  The elder Eyquim also hoped the boy would acquire, by osmosis, an intuitive knowledge of the commoner’s ways.  This, Pierre seemed to think, would come in handy and even endear Michel to those  same commoners he would surely rule some day.

So to toughen his son up, Pierre had baby Michel’s wet nurse remain in her own home. Michel went to her –instead of the other way around, and she raised him barefoot alongside her own children– plus the goats and chickens, in a thatched-roof peasant’s cottage. Michel did not smell, see or feel the soft touch of his real mother until his third birthday.

Then, the next phase of Pierre Eyquim’s plan began. Historian Sarah Bakewell says,

The second element of [Michel’s] experimental education would prove totally incompatible with the first.  Back in his family home [the grand chateau], little peasant Micheau was now to be brought up as a native speaker of Latin.

The little boy leaped–rather abruptly, from the peasants’ rough Perigorian to full Latin immersion, totally bypassing French.

Again, Sarah Bakewell says,

This was an astonishing project for anyone even to think of, let alone put into effect.

No one at home spoke any Latin. Finding a native Latin speaker would be almost impossible.  But Pierre remained undaunted. He  found a German tutor–who spoke flawless Latin but not a word of French, for his son. Everyone else in the household was banned from speaking to or around the little boy–until they could speak in educated Latin.  The tutor became the most important person in Michel’s early childhood.

Whatever happened to this little child so oddly educated?  He grew to become the most influential philosopher of the Renaissance–Michel de Montaigne.

Through the years, Michel de Montaigne recalled with fondness his father’s plans and ways.  Of his early education and skills acquisition, he later wrote,

[I learned] without artificial means, without a book, without grammar or precept, without the whip, and without tears.

He also said,

My father and mother learned enough Latin…to understand it, and acquired sufficient skill to use it when necessary, as did also the servants who were most attached to my service.  Altogether, we Latinized ourselves so much that it overflowed all the way to our villages on every side, where there still remain several Latin names for artisans and tools that have taken root by usage.  As for me, I was over six before I understood any more French or Perigordian than Arabic.

What would compel Michel de Montaigne’s father to follow such a plan? Historian Sarah Bakewell says,

Command of beautiful and grammatically perfect Latin was the highest goal of a humanistic education: it unlocked the door to the ancient world…as well as to much of modern culture, since most scholars still wrote in Latin.

If you spoke well, you must be able to think well. Pierre wanted to give his son the best advantage imaginable:  a link both to the lost paradise of antiquity and to a successful personal future.

Michel de Montaigne maintained a love of learning throughout his entire life and often credited his father for that gift. In turn,  Michel gifted the Western world with some of its greatest ideas.   He influenced Blaise Pascal, Shakespeare and Ralph Waldo Emerson and even helped usher in a new era of religious tolerance throughout Western Europe.

Not bad for someone who’s mother did not hold him or talk to him much!  And also, not bad for someone who never really cried over his lessons.

Predictable Life with Scrabble

Highly Creative people keep favored routines.  For ten days I’m posting about the routines of individual Creators, historical and current. My previous post: Schedule Queen & Mother of Four.

Vladimir Nabokov

Russian American Writer

After waking up between six and seven in the morning, I write till ten-thirty, generally at a lectern which faces a bright corner of the room instead of the bright audiences of my professorial days. The first half- hour of relaxation is breakfast with my wife around eight-thirty, and the creaming of our mail.  One kind of letter that goes into the wastepaper basket at once, with its enclosed stamped envelope and my picture, is the one from the person who tells me he has a large collection of autographs (Somerset Maugham, Abu Abdul, Karen Korona, Charles Dogson Jr., etc.) and would like to add my name, which he misspells.  Around eleven, I soak for 20 minutes in a hot bath, with a sponge on my head and a wordsman’s worry in it, encroaching, alas, upon the nirvana.  A stroll with my wife along the lake is followed by a frugal lunch and a two-hour nap, after which I resume my work until dinner at seven.  An American friend gave us a Scrabble set in Cyrillic alphabet, manufactured in Newtown, Conn.; so we play skrebl for an hour or two after dinner.  Then I read in bed—periodicals or one of the novels that proud publishers optimistically send us.  Between eleven and midnight begins my usual fight with insomnia.  Such are my habits in the cold season.  Summers I spend in the stumbling pursuit of lepidoptera on flowery slopes and mountain screes; and, of course, after my daily hike of fifteen miles or more, I sleep even worse than in winter.  My last resort in this business of relaxation is the composing of chess problems.  The recent publication of two of them (in the Sunday Times and The Evening News of London) gave me more pleasure, I think, than the printing of my first poems half a century ago in St. Petersburg.

(Thanks to The New York Times and Mason Currey)

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).

Creativity’s Terrain, Part 7: Write to Express Ideas & Find Your Place in the World

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 the value of Reading, a lot.

If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do things worth writing. -Benjamin Franklin

Highly Creative people write.

Martha Graham, mother of Contemporary Dance, wrote draft, after draft, late into a thousand nights to translate her ideas into human movement. Graham said,

I did not want to be a tree, a flower or a wave. In a dancer’s body, we as audience must see ourselves, not the imitated behavior of everyday actions, not the phenomenon of nature, not exotic creatures from another planet, but something of the miracle that is a human being.

Architect Christopher Alexander wrote many books, including The Order of Nature series, to empower future designers, both professional and amateur, to create work inspired by true human needs.

Nobel laureate Neurologist, Rita Levi-Montalcini published dozens of scholarly articles detailing her discovery of human Nerve Growth Factor, as well as In Praise of Imperfection, her autobiography.

Across domains, Highly Creative people communicate their ideas through the written word. They also write to understand their own ideas. Playwright, Joan Didion says,

I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.  What I want and what I fear.

American writer, Ernest Hemingway said,

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

Creator and mentor to Artists across disciplines, Julia Cameron, recommends keeping a large notepad and paper by your bed to write as soon as you wake up, everyday.  She says,

In order to find our creativity–or for that matter, our spirituality–we must begin where we are.

Cameron recommends using writing as a compass. She says,

The tool that best helps us find our spiritual bearings is called Morning Pages…

Morning Pages are three pages of longhand stream of consciousness that locate us precisely in the here and now.  They are written first thing upon awakening and they tell us–and the Universe–what we like, what we don’t like, what we wish we had more of, and what we wish we had less of, and what we wish, period.

So, write to find where you are and what you need to be Creative. And write to explain yourself and your ideas to the world.  But, write.

Creativity’s Terrain, Part 5: For Children, Protected Solitude and One Tool

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 The Importance of Solitude.

Some children tend to play alone happily, naturally.  Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung called such children introverts.

For extroverted children, the more, the merrier, is the rule.  But, regardless of whether a child loves crowds or hangs out more often alone, Creative development requires solitude.

You can protect a child’s time to provide the requisite solitude.
I recently chatted about Creative development in childhood, with my friend, the French novelist Natashka Moreau. She says,

I was trying to figure out what it is that most triggered (or maybe not ‘triggered’ as much as ‘allowed to flow’) my curiosity and creativity. It is that my parents left me alone, quite a bit, when I was young.  Although, I think they did that because they saw I was never bored on my own.  I already enjoyed being alone. I cherished these solitary times, from a young age.

Being left alone helped me feel even more comfortable about being alone.  It gave me a sense of independence. Such independence greatly helped me later on, in my relationships and in my writing… For writing, and for creativity in general, solitude is necessary.  Interaction is crucial too, but processing these interactions properly  happen through taking a step back and figuring it all out by yourself.  I need this thinking time, this retrospection.  I don’t know if [my parents] gave me so much time, intentionally, as a sort of discretion, but I am grateful to have had it.

You can also pay attention to a child’s interests or curiosities and pick a perfect gift to enrich their solitude.

  • Albert Einstein’s father gave him a magnetic compass to figure out.
  • Photographer Ansel Adam’s father gave him a pass to San Francisco’s International Exposition where he studied exhibits at his own pace.
  • Creator of Modern Dance, Isadora Duncan’s mother took her to beach, every day, so she could dance with the wind on the sand.

Again, Natashka Moreau says,

My favorite thing I got for birthdays, were little diary books,  pale pink with lines.  You could close them with a little key, which allowed me to write all kinds of things. They came with ink pens and you would just change the color of the ink to turquoise.  Between 5 years of age until I turned about 11,  I wrote  so much little stuff. Probably not very interesting, though. I don’t know where those books are now.

Later,  I used black ink and wrote on white paper.

To play alone children need free time and one good tool, not necessarily a conventional toy,  but one with near endless possibilities.

Creativity’s Terrain, Part 4: Play Alone

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 Fear and the Power of Love.

A creation of importance can only be produced when its author isolates himself, it is a child of solitude. -Goethe

Time to be alone with your thoughts is indispensable to Creation.

Inventor Nikola Tesla said,

The mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. Originality thrives in seclusion free of outside influences beating upon us to cripple the creative mind.  Be alone—that is the secret of invention: be alone, that is when ideas are born.

Highly Creative people are either comfortable with solitude, or fight the loneliness and play alone anyway. The point of alone-time is to let your mind wander without intrusion.  You don’t need a lonely prairie or monastery to achieve a quiet mind.  Every day, thousands sit alone with their thoughts, at Starbucks. Coffee shops aren’t exactly temples of peace and quiet.

Solitude, is a state of mind.

Literary critic Daphne Merkin felt deep loneliness as a child.  The laughing and crying and general chaos of living with five siblings seemed only to exacerbate her neurosis. She began a lifelong attachment to psychotherapy, at ten. Merkin writes,

All those years, all that money, all that unrequited love. It began way back when I was a child, an anxiety-riddled 10-year-old who didn’t want to go to school in the morning and had difficulty falling asleep at night.

What I do know, aside from the fact that the unconscious plays strange tricks and that the past stalks the present in ways we can’t begin to imagine, is a certain language, a certain style of thinking that, in its capacity for reframing your life story, becomes — how should I put this? — addictive.

As an adult, Merkin had time to work alone, but her mind still would not let her.  Entropy stood at the gates of each thought and so she sought a hand to pull her through, three times each week,  even into her 50’s. Painful though her fight against loneliness has been, Merkin found a way to achieve a peaceful mind long enough to think and write Creatively.

Find a way, a space and a time, to play alone happily.  Give your children the gift of being alone, not as a punishment, but as a lifelong treasure.

Creativity’s Terrain, Part 1: Throw Out The Trash

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 the Introduction to this series.

Creativity dies in a bed of apathy.

Trash is whatever breeds apathy for Creative work.  Highly Creative people live, breathe, love and hate over their work. The good and bad breathe passion into the task at hand.

Albert Einstein, ended his days hating Quantum Theory and fighting  fellow physicist and friend Neils Bohr to throw it out of the academe.

Apathy-breeding trash is highly individual. What is trash for you, is not trash for me.  An idea, object, task or anything else that takes up time or space must be worthy of your Creative work. If not, throw it out.  For architect Sarah Susanka, trash came as small, urgent tasks. Susanka says,

I’ve been conditioned to believe, since childhood, that an effective person takes care of problems, as soon as they arise.

That doesn’t sound like a bad thing…But, until I recognized this pattern in myself, I never understood why the part of being an architect that I enjoyed most–the design part, where you sit down and develop the shape and the character of the house or addition you are working on–would always be the last thing I’d get around to during my day…

I’d take the design work home with me, and do it late at night,  when there was nothing to interrupt me.

To reverse the trend, Susanka began cultivating apathy for trash, rather than allowing trash to belittle Creativity in her life.

A few years ago, I noticed my daughter’s time at the piano rose and fell with the seasons. Our mid-November days seemed thickest of all, with her music. But, Summer Solstice seemed bare of even one 5 minute interlude of live music. The cause: her teacher took the summer off to hang with her children. The result: I cut this pattern toward piano apathy by switching to a year-round teacher.

For me, a social group turned out to be trash I had to let go of.  Good people all, they gathered at a park to open vapid minds and share nothing deep, true or controversial with each other while watching their children play. I came along hoping a child of mine would make a friend. But soon realized the cost of regular attendance was quite high.

Plato said,

People are like dirt. They can either nourish you and help you grow as a person or they can stunt your growth and make you wilt and die.

Eventually, I gave up on the group and sighed in relief to be done with that social experiment that left my children and I a little sadder and a little duller every time.

For my children, high action kid’s movies seem to leave them limp and less able to dream of possibilities.

Existential Psychologist Rollo May said,

Hate is not the opposite of love; apathy is.

The amount of trash you allow in your Creative Terrain is something you can control.  Beware of apathy.

Creativity’s Terrain: Introduction

I turn my oven’s temperature knob as high as it will go, then change into spandex. I’m about to bake pita bread.

Making fluffy, perfectly hollow pita bread is so easy sometimes, I do it when I can’t think of what to make for dinner. The required 6 ingredients: yeast, sugar, water, flour, salt and olive oil, sit by a stainless steel bowl on the counter.  Everything looks ready.

But, as any seasoned baker will tell you, there is so much more at play in making pita bread puff out, then a good, hot oven, the right ingredients and athletic wear to speed up moving trays in and out of the oven.

I’ve gone through spells when everything seems just right, but only flat-bread comes out of my oven. Perfect pita is born of high heat, live yeast, weight-standardized flour, light sea salt, heavy olive oil, tepid water, perfect timing, a moment of non-equilibrium, chemical thermodynamics, the earth’s weather and more. No matter how many times I’ve made pita bread worthy of stuffing, I don’t control every variable.

David Shenk, author of The Genius in All of Us, points out how little control you have over your own environment and the environment in which your children grow.  The variables are infinite.  But you can prepare the terrain so energy explodes, puffs-up, obvious to be indisputable, with surplus joules to share,  like a perfect pita.

For two weeks I’m writing about Creativity’s Terrain and the variables you can control to foster Creation.