Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What Is Creativity? - 26

I've been teaching creativity, in one way or another, for over 30 years, but it hadn't occurred to me until I began writing this series of blogs that the creative experience isn't limited to the creator.

I'm a reader of submissions for the women's literary journal, Minerva Rising. I'm currently reading novellas for their contest—25 of them, so far— and have been running the emotional gamut with them. Irritated and sorrowful that a very good writer had not edited her excellent story; sometimes disgusted because writers had not learned the craft at all; educated by the craft of another; blessed by a story that left me in tears. And then mesmerized by a story about a pilgrimage to Santiago in the 12th century.

I can't turn off my editorial eye when I read. Missing commas and hyphens, the incorrect use of colons—I notice them all. I realized, as I finished the pilgrimage story, that I'd been so caught up in it that my critical faculties had lain dormant after the 1st few pages. I intended to read a couple of chapters at a time, but I read the entire novella in one sitting.  I've never been able to empathize with pilgrims making that journey, never able to walk in their shoes, and yet I willingly followed the protagonist throughout her journey. I know little about the 12th century, but I believed I was there. Not a Roman Catholic by faith or a believer in miracles, I nevertheless would have have been happy if the protagonist had decided to become a nun and accepted the "coincidences" or miracles as truth.

I suspended disbelief, logic, critical tendencies and was both transported and completely involved, mind, body, and soul.

As a teacher, what I'm trying to help clients release their natural voices, whether in singing or writing. When they do, I'm again, as with the novella, unable to critique. I'm just there with them in the present. I had that experience with a singer/songwriter this week. Ordinarily, I would have suggested that she not lift her larynx, as she was doing for some lines. But I didn't say a word.

If, as I believe, creativity comes from an integrated self, then it must have the power to integrate the reader, the listener, any of its audiences. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

What Is Creativity?- 25

Smith Hagaman died last week. Unless you're from North Carolina, or are one of the too few people who have read his books, the name will mean nothing to you. But Smith is an inspiration to me.

He began to write at the age of 86. He had a story in his head, and he decided, "If not now, when?" He was a reader but, other than a letter-to-the-editor or two, he had never written. He knew nothing about the craft of writing, only that he wanted to tell a story. He sat down and wrote for six months. He said later that if, he'd worried about how he was writing, he'd have given up.

But then he took the crucial next step: He learned the craft. He went to workshops and readings, he joined a critique group and a marketing group. He hired an editor. Me, as it turned out. And what a joy he was to work with. "Why?" That was always his question. When he understood why his first scene didn't work and what the reader would expect from a first scene, he rewrote it in a week.

And he researched the details. He had been involved in a plane crash during World War II, so he already knew what that felt like. But if his fictional crash occurred in the Arctic Circle, what would the survivors find to eat? He consulted the foremost expert on the flora and fauna of that region. I had a problem with the scene in which an Irish priest comforts a dying Jewish man. Smith consulted a rabbi and found a prayer that I didn't know existed, even though I'd sung in synagogues and been fascinated by Hebraic rituals for more than 30 years.

Smith ended up with more than a good adventure story. Because he asked "why?" throughout his life, each of his characters is on some sort of quest. One of them—the Irish priest—questions his own faith. The laws of physics, engineering and mechanical problems, and an underlying spirituality all come into play. And he manages to engage the reader with the most unsympathetic character imaginable . . .Ah, I don't want to give away the ending.

When Smith asked if I would write a blurb for the book and sent me the galleys, I truly could not put it down until 4:00 a.m. For a good read, do get hold of "Off the Chart," by Smith Hagaman.

A wannabe writer at 86, Smith had two books published, and was at work on a third when he died.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

What Is Creativity? - 24

In a recent "For Better or For Worse" comic strip, Elizabeth was told by her teacher not to use her fingers to answer a question in addition, but to use her head. I understand that we eventually run out of fingers for numbers higher than ten. That's why we invented the abacus—so we could manipulate pebbles or beads with our fingers to make calculations. And, of course, we still use our fingers to punch in numbers on our calculators.

And yet,"Don't use your body, use your head" describes our educational system. Yes, phys ed, supposedly "educating" the body, has been added (and subtracted) from time to time, but school still teaches us that learning is a head game.

Moving awkwardly from arithmetic to sex, here's something else I read this week:

The immune system is a marvel. Our innate immune cells recognize a problem and move immediately to our defense; adaptive immune cells are created to deal with a specific pathogen, and immune memory retains them for future use.

Our immune cells dramatically affect our lives in another way. In "A Sexually Aware Immune System?," by Gretchen Reynolds (The New York Times Magazine, October 25, 2015, p. 22), we're told that, in sexually active women, the female immune system responds to the reproductive system by increasing the level of immune cells that recognize and ignore nonhazardous foreign cells (like fetus cells) during the menstrual cycle. And, that the level of antibodies living in the reproductive tract varies during the cycle—as that level drops, the germ-fighting antibodies in other parts of the body rises.

On the male side, chemicals that communicate gender and reproductive status are picked up by nerve endings in our noses and go directly to the sexual regions of the brain. We’re not consciously aware of the odor, but we respond nonetheless.

Do you see why those two clippings—the comic strip and the "wellness" article—are lying in my Creativity folder? I believe that learning, as well as creativity, begins in the body. And the converse—that until we know what our bodies know, we'll never understand how our heads work.