Christmas Day, December 25, 2011

Before we get started, here's a little David Sedaris stocking stuffer that we found at NPR. We hope you're having the best Christmas ever this year!

Peggy's Progress
        (Not to be confused with John Bunyan's tale of agony and doom!)

Uh oh, you caught me. I confess. I am a total slacker. It's been two months since I first wrote about embarking on my creative path. The trouble with publicly stating my intentions is that I have to admit just as publicly that I have made no progress whatsoever, zero, zilch.

Did I tell you before that I wanted to play with concrete? And did I? No, not exactly. I did manage to get to the library to get some books on how to work with concrete and how to get the creative juices flowing. That selection of books gives you an idea of just how easily I can get stuck. I love pouring through the pictures for design ideas and recipes for what mix of concrete to use for structural versus decorative pieces. As usual, I research and study up on methods, techniques, and how-to's but I never just get in there and get my hands dirty and do it. For some reason I think I have to have a complete idea or design in my mind before I tackle a project. With no defined ideas and no designs the project is a non-starter.

It's easy for other things to take priority since I didn't commit the time, or allow myself the time to devote to a project just for me. Oh and here's another good one. I told myself I shouldn't be spending money and didn't have the cash to go buy the supplies I need. Never mind the fact that a sack of concrete (a big sack at that) costs about $4 and Home Depot is 2 miles from work and on my way home. Trying to be more creative is not unlike trying to lose weight.

One of my other library selections is Julia Cameron's Sound of Paper. For those of you who aren't familiar with her, Cameron is a prolific and inspiring writer whose many books offer encouragement along with quick and easy tools to spark creativity and imagination. "The Sound of Paper" is an easy read but it's probably more useful as a refresher course and companion to Cameron's classic, The Artist's Way, which she wrote 30 years ago.

The Sound of Paper offers simple tools that get to the heart of the resistance I experience on my path to creativity. Many of these tools are also available on Cameron's website. One of the staples of her work is to schedule "Artist Dates" for yourself.

"An Artist Date is sacred time. It's time set aside to nurture our creative consciousness. Think mystery rather than mastery. Think pleasure, not duty. Choose an expedition that enchants you, one that truly interests your inner explorer. In planning and executing Artist Dates you should expect to encounter a certain amount of inner resistance...Commit yourself to overcoming your resistance."

Such dates can be visiting a gallery or museum, or browsing through an art store or thrift shop. Now hear this! I hereby commit to an Artist Date with myself on Tuesday, December 27th, 2011—to explore the great outdoors and gather some plant materials to play with, maybe for some sort of winter decoration. I'm off from work next week, so no excuses this time. And now that I've committed to it here I'll have to provide proof for you next month—so watch for photos of my exploration.

My other resistance point is procrastinating by pretending to study up on, for instance, how to work with concrete. For that Cameron tells us to:

"Try this: The artist soul thrives on adventure. Many adventures require that we muster the courage to be a beginner...That photography course says, get out the camera; shoot a few rolls. Yoga for beginners requires that I stretch myself physically and mentally...Life is filled with adventure if we are openhearted. List five things you would love to do, if you didn't have to do them perfectly."

My list would have to include:

  • Make a decorative concrete piece for the garden
  • Design and build furniture for the studio
  • Make my own natural earth plasters for interior walls
  • Make light fixtures
  • Do yoga

Funny, these sound like New Year's Resolutions and that's exactly how I'll treat them. The fact that she gives us permission not to have to do it perfectly first time out is really liberating to me. Up 'til now I've been more inclined to just not try—but watch out for me in 2012!

In his book, The Power of Play: Learning What Comes Naturally author David Elkind quotes Albert Einstein to demonstrate the interconnectedness of play and love.

"I took violin lessons from age 6 to 14, but I had no luck with my teachers, for whom music did not transcend mechanical practicing. I really only began to learn when I was almost 13 years old, and mainly after I had fallen in love with Mozart's sonatas. The attempt to reproduce...their artistic content and their singular grace compelled me to improve my technique...I believe, on the whole, that love is a better teacher than sense of duty."

To have fun, and play, calls upon us to be more like kids. To get over our self-consciousness about being a beginner, to follow our hearts and just go for it and have fun. To get out and play in the mud, or in my case, the concrete and the wood, even if I don't have all the skills or a design on paper. That's how kids do it, no plan, no road map to what lies ahead, or as Ellen Langer says in, On Becoming an Artist: Reinventing Yourself Through Mindful Creativity

"Our attitudes about talent are all wrong. It isn't that the talented 'know' what they are about to do as much as that they are willing to start something and see where it leads them."

She also points to this funny story from artist and retired faculty member of Art at Cabrillo College in Aptos, CA, Howard Ikemoto:

"When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work. I told her I worked at the college—that my job was to teach people how to draw. She stared back at me, incredulous, and said, 'You mean they forget?' "

The point of Cameron's quizzes, echoed by Einstein and Ikemoto's daughter is to remind us how wonderful it can be to think and play more like a kid—to be able to tackle new things as a beginner without being self-conscious and full of reasons why we can't or shouldn't do it now. I do have all kinds of fun, now I just have to remember how to play.

Stuff We Like

Many of you will be familiar with already. Their web site defines TED this way:

"TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design..."

TED spreads these ideas primarily through a series of conferences held in various locations throughout the year. The participants, and even the audience for these conferences are hand chosen for their innovation and creativity in their respective fields. The general public knows about these conferences through the TEDTalks listings on the web site. Again, from the TED web site:

"TEDTalks began as a simple attempt to share what happens at TED with the world. Under the moniker "ideas worth spreading," talks were released online. They rapidly attracted a global audience in the millions. Indeed, the reaction was so enthusiastic that the entire TED website has been reengineered around TEDTalks, with the goal of giving everyone on-demand access to the world's most inspiring voices."

We really like TED a lot. The range of topics covered by TED's talks is mind boggling, and we could not begin to do it justice in this short space. So we will just provide you with a list of links to some of our own personal all time favorite TED talks (in no particular order) so you can see for yourself.

Sir Ken Robinson    Schools Kill Creativity, Feb 2006
Bring On the Learning Revolution! Feb 2010
Jill Bolte Taylor A Stroke of Insight, Feb 2008
Elizabeth Gilbert On Nurturing Creativity, Feb 2009
Dan Pink On the Surprising Science of Motivation, July 2009
Bobby McFerrin Bobby McFerrin Hacks Your Brain with Music, June 2009
Brene Brown The Power of Vulnerability, June 2010
Theo Jansen Theo Jansen creates new creatures, Mar 2007
Derek Sivers How to start a movement, Feb 2010

Of course this list is not and cannot be complete. We are always discovering old talks (there are over 900 of them) and the people at TED are always adding more.

Next Month's Interview…

In January we will take a slightly different tack from our recent interviews, all of which have been with artists who have been on the creative path for several decades. January's interview is with Amy McKay, who is from a younger generation of artists.

Amy's story illustrates the impact that today's chaotic economy is having on the lives and career choices of creative people everywhere. You will find some surprises here.

Amy paints and shows in San Luis Obispo, California where she lives with her husband and their two young children.

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