Category Archives: creativity

Confusion Endurance

On the same day that I was thinking about confusion and how often I feel plagued by it–on the exact same day–I read this following passage.  It’s from a book I’m using for a creativity class I’m teaching this semester.  “‘Confusion endurance’ is the most distinctive trait of highly creative people, and Leonardo probably possessed more of that trait than anyone who has ever lived.  Principle number four–Sfumato [Italian for “nuance”]–guides you to be more at home with the unknown, to make friends with paradox” (Michael J. Gelb, How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, 10-11).

I don’t really get confused by large life unknowns, but small things confuse me more and more, and I’m worried that it’s a sign of deteriorating mental capacity.  The irony of this is that I am becoming more physically fit than I’ve ever been in my life, and I have very fast reflexes.  But I sometimes forget how to spell words like peave peeve.  The other day, I had to read the word “speach” three or four times before I was completely sure that it was spelled incorrectly.  Maybe you only get one or the other–you can be mentally sharp and physically sluggish, or confused and athletic.  I don’t know, and I’ll probably forget that I wondered about it by the time I finish writing this sentence.

Below, random observations on the issue of confusion:

  • If you are confused by your own skin care regime, something has to go.
  • Many people often do not know the date.
  • Perhaps you can remember EITHER your child’s principal name OR that she buys her shoes at Talbots, not both.
  • I’m never sure which set of lights will come on when I press the light switches in the kitchen.  
  • It’s okay to respond “I don’t know” to your child’s question, even if you do know but lack the mental stamina to answer.
  • My kids and I continue to go to the Baskin Robbins “drive-thru” even though they never get our order right.  Ever.

    The doors that lead to my classroom. Does anyone understand this?

I understand the value of embracing ambiguity and paradox.  In fact, I appreciate it and find it very liberating.  But not when it has to do with forgetting where I stored my $700 anti-teeth-grinding device.

Is it aging?  Hormones?  Stress?  A brain tumor?  Something I thought about this morning on my way from the car to my office but can’t think of now?  Do other people experience the sensation of your brain being about a nanosecond behind the rest of your body?

It would be so kind of you to let me know if you do.  But if you don’t, and really think this is the sign of a brain tumor, please don’t write to me.

The poet Rumi understood confusion, which is fine if you are a Sufi mystic who twirls around in circles reciting poems, but not so great if you are a middle-aged woman trying to remember the location of your son’s track meet.  But, as Rumi reminds us, on the other side of uncertainty is kindness, tenderness, compassion.  And also, I would assume, remembering Michael Gelb’s quotation, creativity.  Potential.  “So, it’s okay, my poor overtaxed brain.  I’ll try hard to love you anyway.  Just please remember to pay the mortgage because that really sucked last month when you didn’t.”

What confuses you?


Zero Circle 

Be helpless, dumbfounded,
Unable to say yes or no.
Then a stretcher will come from grace
     to gather us up.

We are too dull-eyed to see that beauty.
If we say we can, we’re lying.
If we say No, we don’t see it,
That No will behead us
And shut tight our window onto spirit.

So let us rather not be sure of anything,
Beside ourselves, and only that, so
Miraculous beings come running to help.
Crazed, lying in a zero circle, mute,
We shall be saying finally,
With tremendous eloquence, Lead us.
When we have totally surrendered to that beauty,
We shall be a mighty kindness.

Rumi

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Dining with David Whyte, Part 2

It’s taken me a long time to get up the courage to write about this experience because I was afraid I would sound like a braggy name-dropper.  But maybe it’s that enough time has gone by, maybe I’ve eased up on myself, or maybe it’s reading about artists like Summer Pierre, who set 6 and 12-month creative goals for themselves, and have the self-permission to pursue them without getting in their own way.  I love this kind of humble confidence–the simple, fierce belief that you, and everyone else, have the right to do something other than what David Whyte calls waking up every day into the “great To Do list” of your life.  (Summer Pierre is AMAZING, BTW.  Must-reads on her web site: “100 Things,” and the story of how she gave birth to her son on the side of the highway in NYC).

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Wise Young Voices: The Best Mother’s Day Gifts

In my quest to become more domestic (more on this soon), I’ve been scouring “Ladies Home Journal” and “Women’s Day.”  In one of these magazines (or perhaps it was “Real Simple”), I read about one mother’s approach to Mother’s Day, and though she was pretty vague on the details, the bottom line was this: she asked each of her 9 (or 12 or 15) kids to write (or draw) a message to her.  The confusing part of the article was that sometimes the messages related to Mother’s Day and some to her birthday, but never mind.  Nothing about motherhood is perfect. 

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Antilamentations. Or Why You Should Make Lots of Mistakes.

My apologies for not beginning this year’s Lenten blog on the first of Lent, but I have a good reason.  I was the victim of the ferocious digestive virus that has been circling our city like a plague of locusts.  First Gabe got it.  He puked all over himself while sitting in his car seat on the way to daycare.  Oh, the crying.  The stench.  The longing for a new car seat.  And he had been totally okay ten minutes before.  Then last Monday, I was at work, fine one minute, and doubled over in pain the next.  And seriously, the only thing I could think of to do was to call my mother who lives 800 miles away.  I didn’t, but still. 

So, I spent Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras cursing every morsel of food I had eaten in the last week, and Ash Wednesday piously fasting, but only because if I ate anything I’d see it again in some form in about 30 minutes.  Anyway.  Welcome to Lent 2011.  For some background on both Lent and why I am writing this Lenten blog, please click here.   At least if you read that, it will lift the tone of this post out of the toilet.  Literally.

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Summertime and the (Family) Living Ain’t Easy

I’m interrupting my regularly scheduled slog through the 43 Eternal Truths to bring you this update on our family’s summer, which started when the boys got out of school back in May, i.e. about 700 years ago, and to announce the invention of a family summer plan which may or may not get all of us through to September alive and sane.

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Project ‘Spread Cheer @ Work:’ A Disappointing Start

One of the books that has been, to steal a phrase from Jennifer’s comment on yesterday’s post, an oxygen mask for me lately is The Artist in the Office: How to Creatively Survive and Thrive Seven Days a Week (or AITO for those in the know) by Summer Pierre.  AITO started out as a handmade ‘zine, motivated, as I understand it, partly by boredom and frustration, and partly by the desire to speak to everyone who feels like they are living two lives: their “wage slave” life and their creative life: “Day after day, this is how it goes: You get up, go to work–and save your ‘real’ self for the cracks and corners of your off time.  Your 9-5 work might pay the bills, but if it’s not giving you an outlet for your pent-up creativity, it’s time to make a change” (from the back cover).  The ‘zine was a hit, and is now a real live book, available on Amazon and other real live book selling places.   

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Halfway There & Filled With Gratitude

Yesterday marked the halfway point of my “Radical Lent: a Poetic Approach to 40 Days in the Wilderness” Project.  As it is a project, and as I often remind my students of the importance of “early deliverables” that give you a chance to step back and ask yourself how things are going, I’ve decided to do that today.

Actually, I began this blog, From the Heart, in earnest on February 15th.  It was already lurking in my private cyberspace closet for a little while before then, but on February 15th, I took what felt like an audacious and presumptuous step, and asked people to consider subscribing to my blog.  Then I texted my sister to say that I felt sick.

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Your Worst Fears Come True/”Everything is Going to Be Alright”

Good writers seem to know a lot about neuroses.  Anne Lamott, for example, is so exactly right when she describes her students’ fears about being writers because she  is smart, observant, and has experienced them all herself: “[They] want to know why they feel so crazy when they sit down to work, why they have these wonderful ideas and then they sit down and write one sentence and see with horror that it is a bad one, and then every major form of mental illness from which they suffer surfaces, leaping out of the water like trout—the delusions, hypochondria, the grandiosity, the self-loathing, the inability to track one thought to completion, even the hand-washing fixation, the Howard Hughes germ phobias. And especially, the paranoia” (Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life).

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Board Games vs. What If Questions: Another Parenting Dilemma

Last week for some New Jersey public schools it was Winter Break.  On Monday, one of my friends in Pennsylvania posted on Facebook that her “togetherness quotient” had expired; on Tuesday, my sister, who was at home in New Jersey with her three small children, texted me to ask who was responsible for the concept of “winter break.”  (People with no children and timeshares in Arizona, apparently).  On Wednesday, we discussed the equally absurd notion of taking small children “on vacation,” and on Thursday she reported that one of her sons had asked her a question that started with “What if…” and she had interrupted him before he could go any farther.  “I just couldn’t take it,” she said.  “I even said to him, ‘please stop, I can’t handle that kind of question right now.’  And yes, I’m a terrible person.”

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# of questions about creativity=many; answers=none

There ain’t no answer. There ain’t gonna be any answer. There never has been an answer.  That’s the answer.”  (Gertrude Stein, 1874-1946)

1. Is everyone creative?

2. Why does it feel wrong to say no and not quite right to say yes?

3. What is the difference between creating something and making something?

4. In Hebrew only God can create; humans make and God creates.  What does this mean?

5. Does being “creative” always involve restlessness?

6. If creativity a force, where does it come from and where does it go? 

7. Why does creativity seem so far away sometimes, and so close other times?

8. Is being creative a choice

9. Is not being creative a choice?

10. Why are we attracted to the idea of creative genius?

11. Why would having answers to these questions feel both comforting and dissatisfying at the same time?

Joyce Carol Oates wrote: “[Emily Dickinson] was not an alcoholic, she was not abusive, she was not neurotic.  Neurotic people who go through life make better copy, and people talk about them, tell anecdotes about them.  The quiet just do their work.”

12.  Oates means this to be normalizing, comforting, challenging the idea of the tortured artist.  But Emily, were you…sane?

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