Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What is Creativity? - 30

A friend sent, in her Christmas package, a 3-page clipping about  Random International's Rain Room, an art installation. Very popular, with a wait time of up to 13 hours to enter. And to "experience" rain without getting wet.

My friend reminded me, with a note, of an installation we'd gone to at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York a decade or more ago. Neither of us can remember its name or the name of the artist or why there was a sign warning people with a heart condition not to enter, but we both remember the experience. We were instructed to walk into the room barefooted. The floor was covered with 6 inches or so of a sand-like material. The only object in the room was a lighted fat candle on the floor at the far end.

The experience was profound and inexplicable. To describe a piece of art is impossible. I can tell you what was in the room; I can tell you that the effect on me was deeper than meditation. That I was very aware of my feet and their connection to the ground through the medium, and that the candle flame, because it involved the eyes, seemed to bring my entire body into the present. But I can't share the experience.

You had to have been there. And even then your experience would have been different from mine.

I haven't experienced the Rain Room. Perhaps being "in" rain without getting wet would also be profound. The inspiration of the Room was a quote from Thoreau as he saw and heard "the unaccountable friendliness" of rain from inside his house. But do we ever stand in rain and experience it as friendly? Or are we always looking for shelter - the next doorway, an umbrella, anywhere to get "out" of the rain?  

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

What is Creativity? - 29

I've heard some thought-provoking comments recently about discovering creativity.

A friend told me that, when she retired, she deliberately set out to find the parts of herself that had been hidden. "I knew there was more of me, I just didn't know what that 'more' was."

She joined a writing group, made a lot of new friends, was elected to the board of directors. She began to write poetry, setting herself a biweekly deadline to produce a poem or two to read at open mic.

She enrolled in a painting class. That's were she found herself. Painting has become a major part of her life. She looks at the clock—2:00 a.m., and she's still at work. Her work sells. It's selected for juried shows.

Another friend told me she had found her self during one of my workshops. "Presenting Your Work"was a workshop for writers who had finished a book and needed to take the next steps, from writing query letters to agents and publishers to appearing at bookstores to read from their published work.

She was terrified of that last step. She had had a humiliating teenage experience that had convinced her she should never perform in public. Although she had lots of good ideas, she refused any committee work. She even dressed in neutral colors to become move invisible. Now she was expected to read aloud from her book? In front of other people?

She's now agreeing to be part of a panel discussing aspects of her work, and finds she enjoys engaging with the audience. Yes, she'll talk to aspiring high school writers. And she's acquiring a brightly colored, flowery new wardrobe.

It's the use of the word "self" in both these comments that I find so interesting. The implication from both these women was that they hadn't known who they were. And that they now have new identities, new self-images.

Is it possible that we are not who we truly are until we unblock our creativity?  

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

What is Creativity? - 28

Yesterday Steve Mitchell and I were working on our book, tentatively titled "The Creative Experience." We were discussing early experiences of singing, both from the standpoint of singer and listener. Certainly we hear and feel sound vibrations while we're still in the womb. We moved on to early childhood, and the child who sings while playing, not a song she's heard, but her own song, one she's made up. We posited, from our own memories, that the vibrations themselves may have been comforting, almost a subconscious tuning of the self.

Then today I received this message from Meredith Holladay:

"I was grumpy and irritable from my day and had a literal pain in my neck that felt as though vertebrae were catching somehow, preventing me from turning my neck. So I went outside and laid on a blanket under the stars and started toning and making buzzing noises, directing the sounds to the different parts of my body that felt tight and angry. Also moved a little--micro movements with the sounds. In about 30 minutes the pain was gone in my neck and I had free range of motion again. And, without forcing anything, I suddenly had more energy and a desire to sing. So I came inside and just started doing free form vocal exercises and had so much fun that I sat down and started practicing songs again!!

The power of vibration!"

I intended to write a post today about a study which found that singing had a measurable positive effect on the immune system, but why bother with boring studies?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

What Is Creativity?- 27

“What’s becoming an important part of my life are voice lessons. I began the end of April, to see if I could learn to sing. Bad experiences in elementary school squelched something in me that wanted out. To my utter amazement I found that I could stay on pitch. If I didn’t already believe in miracles, this would have convinced me.”

That’s a quote from a Christmas letter written to family and friends by Miss Sarah Headsten, a silver-haired, retired social worker and cancer survivor. Not only did Sarah sing wildly off pitch when she began to study voice, she sang hymns so heartily that other church members made sure they sat at least three pews away from her. And yet, two years after she wrote that letter, she was singing programs of Gershwin and Ellington for residents of assisted-living facilities.

“Something in me wanted out,” Sarah wrote. That “something” was the creative spirit, which is inherent in humans.

Back in pre-recorded history, humans sang. We sang before we spoke. We told stories before we learned to write. We danced, tuning our bodies to the rhythms of the universe and our lives. We drew pictures in the sand and on our walls, decorated our cooking pots and our spears. We made totems to align us with nature and amulets to protect us.
The need for creative expression is secondary only to the need for survival. Every tribe, every civilization that has had enough food, shelter, and water to stay alive has felt the need to feed themselves spiritually as well as physically.

We still see this need in young children. A three-year-old sings a tune of her own as she watches trees move in the wind. She is exploring and learning with her body. If we asked her what she was doing, she would probably answer, “Nothing.” She was just being. Being human.

But do we expect the aging to live creative and productive lives? To develop and express freely their inherent human need?

The belief that we’re “over the hill” when we reach the age of 40 or 50 is pervasive in our culture. A “mid-life crisis” has become a meme. A nurse told me that when she walked into her office on her 50th birthday she suddenly broke into tears and couldn’t stop sobbing.

What if our culture expected that late-life meant the opportunity to set new goals, start new careers, give our imagination free rein? What if we expected the aging to search within themselves for submerged talents, as Sarah Headsten did?