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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Crying For No Reason

In a video that's circulating (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4o-VplYrqBs), a 10-month baby responds to her mother's sad song with tears. Tears collecting in the eyes, then sliding down the cheeks.  Sadness isn't one of the 7 pure affects that Sylvan Tomkins recorded in 6-weeks-old babies, but this sure looks pure to me. Enjoyment, one of Tomkins' affects, is visible on the baby's face at the beginning of the song. She attempts to imitate 3 or 4 of her mother's words with her lips. Then the tears begin to collect.

We don't think of babies being sad. Red-faced crying when they're hungry, shrieks when something hurts, but not tears of sadness. But our emotions are sensory responses to our experiences, not cognitive responses. The mother sings the song's sadness, wraps the baby in her own emotional field, the baby responds. As adults, we don't always know why we cry. An image, a song, a few words of kindness, and the tears appear. We don't decide to cry. We don't "think" about the reasons for our crying unless we're asked.

We don't think of babies being lonely. One of my grandsons was adopted when he was nine-months old. When he was four, his mother was pushing him on a swing, higher and higher. They were still laughing as they left the playground, hand in hand. He said, "I was so lonely until you found me."

That emotional responses can't be tested in pre-verbal children doesn't mean that they're not being felt and remembered. That we don't have reasons for our own emotional responses doesn't mean that they're not real and valid.

  

  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What Is Creativity?

What is creativity? I've been trying to puzzle through this question all week.

The facts that I know bring up more questions: 

(1) Every culture on earth will, if it has enough resources to survive, begin to add decoration to themselves, to their pots and cave walls. They will dance and sing. They will tell stories. Does this mean that creativity is an inherent human drive?

(2) Creativity is not limited to artists. Entrepreneurs are creative. Workers are urged to "think outside the box" - to come up with creative solutions to problems. A friend was recently complaining about her life. She was under so much pressure; she needed time and quiet; she had no money. Another friend, a secular person but a retired therapist, said, "Why not become a nun?" Where did that off-the-wall idea come from? She doesn't know. "I just wanted to jog her thinking into a new path."

(3) Creativity is such a powerful force that it has historically been suppressed and punished. Are we then crippled, mentally and emotionally, if we're not allowed to live and work creatively? As we would be physically, if our feet were bound, or if we were malnourished? 

(3) Julia Cameron, in The Artist's Way, says that "God, The Great Creator"is a form of spiritual electricity that we can tap into. Is this another name for the same field that Sir Rupert Sheldrake calls  morphogenesis? He characterizes this field as an information, not a creative, field. But I know two inventors who claim that, if they have an idea for a new widget, they'd better get to the Patent Office in two weeks before someone else beats them to it.

What is creativity?     

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Creative Problem-Solving

When/how do we get answers to our creative problems? Seldom by trying to think our way through, a method that seems to get more circular and frustrating the longer we keep at it.

I knew an electrical engineer who had developed a strict problem-solving regimen. He laid out the problem before he went to bed, then thought no more about it. The next morning, while shaving, he opened his mind to any ideas that might float up, no matter how irrational or unrelated to the problem they appeared to be.

A writer friend finds answers when he goes for a walk with the intention of staying in the present and opening all his senses to whatever flows in. The scent of honeysuckle and new-mown grass on one such walk provided the solution to an unfinished story he'd put away months ago, a story unrelated to either honeysuckle or grass.

In her Writing and Wellness newsletter (http://www.writingandwellness.com/), Colleen M. Story writes that she keeps a notebook by her bed for the answers that come in that dreamy, not-quite-conscious period between sleep and waking each morning.

My ah-ha moments often come in the shower. When I lived in an old house without a shower, I relied on ideas coming at the intersection of Rtes. 27 and 518, where there was no stoplight and where I sat in my car for a long time with my conscious mind only partially engaged.

In each of these anecdotes - and I have many, many more - either the problem-solvers are open to sensory experiences or their minds are in a semi-conscious state. In all of these anecdotes they were ready to accept solutions that they would have discarded as illogical if they had been "thinking" about the problem.      

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Know Who You Are

I'm an avid follower of The Voice. This season the coaches' theme seems to be "Know who you are." Based on the genre the contestants choose, the music they choose within the genre, and the persona they present on stage.

Not easy advice. If we continue to learn and grow, we must continue to adjust our self-images. Like children whose shoes fit fine yesterday, we don't become aware of the need for a new image until the old one begins to constrict us.

Unlike children, who know when they need bigger shoes, adults tend to rationalize their discomfort. We blame ourselves when the towns we live in or the jobs we have become too small. When the people around us no longer understand what we're interested in or what excites us. We try to fit into the outgrown shoes instead of shopping for new ones.

As in any creative process - for we are always creating who we are - frustration and pinching is often what we need to re-assess ourselves. Who have I become? What will feed this new person? Who will make room for me?

  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Lessons Learned from Potty-Training.

I was thinking this morning about how/why we have dis-integrated ourselves, separated our heads from our bodies.

It occurred to me that potty-training is the last time in our lives when we're taught to observe what our bodies are telling us. We ask toddlers to let us know, or head for the bathroom, when they need to pee or poop. We praise them when they do.

But do we ask toddlers to tell us when they've had enough food? We're more inclined to try to spoon in "just one more." Perhaps reprimand them if they spit out that spoonful. One of my grandsons wanted one blueberry for breakfast. One. When his "Music for Toddlers" teacher asked each child what they'd had for breakfast, he said, "A blueberry." The teacher told him that was impossible, and persisted until his mother stepped in and confirmed that was his breakfast of choice, gathering "bad mother" looks as she did so. Twelve years later he was on both the wrestling and football teams and something of a gourmand, able to produce a tasty wine sauce should the mood strike him.

The subject of pooping having been raised,  the word "control" came next. I never use that word with my voice students. I want them to find their healthy, natural voices. But in the beginning they all want to control the quality of the sounds they hear, and invariably use a subconscious sphincter-like action somewhere - throat, abdomen, chest - to do so. I've come to believe that they associate control with potty-training. They've been praised for that muscle closure, so by gosh, that must be the right way to use all their muscles.

I once asked a friend what control meant to her. She extended a clenched fist that could have meant she was holding on to what was hers or that she was ready to punch someone. That's not control.

Control of one's body and one's life is being able to consider a number of options and choosing the one that seems best at the time.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Positive Role of Despair

I had just finished writing a letter yesterday to a friend who wasn't sure whether her new idea was born of desperation or inspiration, when I received an email from another friend in despair, sure that he'd never get his novel published.

When clients walk into a session declaring "I can't do it," "I'll never understand," and other variations of frustration, I've learned that will be the session in which they will have a breakthrough. A workshop participant spent half an hour last month telling me all the reasons why he couldn't possibly share his writing with anyone else. Two sessions later he did read his work and thanked the other participants for what he recognized as a transformation.

Despair may be a necessary step in creation. Any new idea, any new piece of writing, any new song, is based on past experience, old assumptions, old techniques. Partway through the process we find ourselves somewhere else, somewhere we had not intended to go. Instead of the landscape we saw ahead of us when we began the project, we find ourselves in a swamp, not knowing which tuft of grass will support us, where we should take the next step.

Arriving at the "I can't" or "I don't know" place is a signal that we're going in the right direction. We have already created something new. And we ourselves are not the same writers or singers or entrepreneurs who began the project. Despair arises when we try to force the project - and ourselves - into the old parameters with which we began.  

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Indecent Sentimentality


It is no longer the sexual which is indecent, it is the sentimental.”

That’s the Roland Barthes statement that Zoe Heller and Leslie Jamison were asked to comment on in The New York Times Book Review of September 28.

The word sentiment was originally rooted in the senses. We had a sensory experience to which our body responded with an appropriate emotion and action. We labeled that sensation a sentiment.

All well and good. That’s how the human body operates. But we seem to have wanted to separate our identity as humans from our bodies for centuries. Since Plato, for sure, and by the time Descartes declared “I think, therefore I am,” the separation was complete. The first philosophical wanderings in that direction were probably to answer the question, How do humans differ from other species? But as we began to identify ourselves as human because of our thought processes, rather than our physiological processes, to be rational became the ideal state. Other tribes, other peoples who did not think the way we did were barbarians who should be ruled by us, their lands taken away, their bodies enslaved. Colonialism, nationalism, caste and class systems all arose from differences in thinking, differences in what it meant to be rational.

Rationality became the province of educated men in Western cultures. Sentimentality became the province of women, who were not considered educable. As so often happens with words that become associated with the feminine, “sentimental” acquired a  derogatory definition - a superficial manipulation of the emotions. Unfortunately, “emotional” still carries some of the stigma associated with sentimental.

But by elevating the rational, the mind, above the sensory experiences of the body, we’re completely disregarding all the scientific evidence about how the mind works. Sensory information initiates an emotional response first, then physical, then mental.