Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What Is Creativity? - 32

A few decades ago, I had a voice student who had a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and worked at RCA Labs (back when that company existed) on the high resolution camera that now allows us to see the stitching on a baseball thrown at some huge mph. A most rational man, he had developed a logical plan for creative thought. Before he went to bed, he thought about the problem he was facing at work. The next morning, while shaving, he consciously opened his mind to any wild thought that passed through it. That was often - not always - the solution to his problem.

My morning routine isn't intended to solve problems in my writing - I often get those answers right after I've quit writing for the day - it's just a routine required by old age. The thyroid pill 1/2 hour before breakfast; hot compresses and drops for my aging eyes; a few sips of last night's cold coffee to just get me going. But during that half hour, I often get wild ideas. And I know if I don't do something about them immediately, I'll later dismiss them as stupid.

I had one of those ideas Sunday morning. Last month I had contacted Sarah to ask if I could use her name and age to illustrate a point in an application I was writing. She did give me permission, but said she now had Parkinson's and had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Then early this month I met Christina Soriano, who teaches a dance class for those with Parkinson's and wants to add Alzheimer's patients. Loved her approach because she's able to counteract the smallness in steps, personhood, and voice that is so often a Parkinson's patient's response to the loss of balance. I emailed Sarah about this, wondering if there might not be such a program near her in Philadelphia.

Sarah replied that she could no longer drive. Of course, stupid me. I replied that I'd ask Christina's advice soon, but knew she was going through a particularly busy time right now. Then Sunday morning, with the hot compresses, I remembered that Kristina (I know, confusing, but this other friend's name is with a K), a friend who lives near Sarah, is a massage therapist who used to benefit from lots of different dance therapies. Then I remembered that I'd heard or read the day before that this particular Parkinson's dance program had originated at the Mark Morris studios. And I knew, from research for my dance book years ago, that he often took non-dancers into his troupe. Then I remembered that Christina (with a C) had said she had studied or interned at Mark Morris.

Bingo! I emailed Kristina (with a K), subject "A Wild Idea", with the above information, thinking she was close enough to NY to look into possible training at Mark Morris. The idea seemed so preposterous that I didn't look up the proper website for her, as I would ordinarily do.

Ten minutes later Kristina (with a K) emailed back with the info that there was such a dance program for Parkinson's at a hospital not 5 miles away and she and Sarah would be checking it out.

What amazes me is the process. A bit of research from 30 years ago, something I heard on NPR or read the day before, a memory of Kristina's (with a K) enthusiasm for dance therapy, all of this zip-zapped around the brain and collected into an idea that turned out not to be so wild after all.  

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Poetry in a Tractor Shed

I had wondered, when I first saw Molly Rich's drama students perform in Hickory, why they were wearing T-shirts with Tractor Shed Theatre across the front. Perhaps a nod to the rural nature of that part of North Carolina?

No, their classroom/theatre is a converted tractor shed behind the high school. Here are Molly's driving instructions to the judges of the district Poetry Out Loud competition:

"You will turn in left and ride past the front of the school - go through the gate and around a sharp curve into a student parking lot. Go towards the greenhouse and the red barn-looking storage unit. Go through the wee area at the greenhouse and drive up and you will see the tractor shed and my tan/goldish van. Stars are on the ground and the front door is black and stenciled in white tractor shed theatre." 

Tiny, as theatres go. Warm and full of life, as classrooms go.

9 of her students who had won at the school level were competing for the chance to go to the state competition. Each chose 2 poems, one of them pre-20th century, from the list of 150 poems provided by this National Endowment for the Arts program. 

First up was Howe's "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Ai-yi-yi, I thought. Why would this wisp of a girl choose something so problematic? So easy to slide into that sing-songy rhythm that we all know, so difficult to make distinctive the repetitive last line that ends each verse. She avoided both pitfalls and when she got to the last verse, "In the beauty of the lilies" (a silly, sentimental line), she created a hush in the room. 

We heard "Dover Beach," we heard Dunbar and Emerson. We heard a stunning contemporary poem recited by a wrestler and football player with a magnificent voice—one of those difficult poems in which the individual lines made no logical sense, yet he, and therefore we, understood its meaning at a deep level.

Two great, thoughtful performances, but the winner was even better. 

All of this richness in a tractor shed behind a small school in the hills. 

How far into the hills? After the competition, Julie Kolischak, one of the other judges, and I headed for what Siri said was the nearest restaurant, the Roadside Diner. When we asked to use the restroom, we were directed to another building across the parking lot. Yes, on the corner of that darkened building was a hand-lettered "Restroom" sign. The door to the accommodation was made of unframed boards nailed together, so a bit of a struggle to open and close it. But, hey, I grew up using an outhouse until I was in my teens.
smile emoticon"

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

What is Creativity? - 31

I've been working on a chapter of The Creative Experience for the last three weeks, a chapter about the body. During the process, I wrote out an exercise that I use with voice students. But much more detailed because I wasn't there to watch or listen to the result of the posture changes I was suggesting. That's how I came up with the ideal posture in the first place—by noticing how a shift in a student's hips affected the voice.

When I'm teaching my attention is on the client's body, not mine, which I only use sparingly to illustrate. But as I wrote out each step, I was using my own body to double-check that each shift in position would produce the effect I was looking for.

I was awed, as I am at each lesson I teach, by how beautifully integrated the body is. A slight change in the angle of a foot released tension in my hips that I hadn't noticed. A shift in the position of the torso over the feet released tension in my neck and the back of my head.

After I'd written the last step, I had a teacher-teach-thyself moment.  I was fully inside my body, and fully present in the now. The judgmental tapes from childhood  that I still carry around with me fell away. I've been experimenting with experiencing my life from inside my body instead of my head ever since. It's quite different from any yoga or meditation exercise that I'm aware of. I'm not in my head observing my body, I'm in my body experiencing it and the world around me.

It's not been all fun and games. I discovered an old terror that's been hiding in my body for more than 60 years. A mild case of jealousy that was completely unexpected.

And, yes, I get the irony of learning so much about my own body, after 35 years of teaching other bodies.