Posts Tagged ‘creativity’

Mark Twain wrote “Tom Sawyer” more than 80 years before actors Jodie Foster and Johnny Whitaker were born. But when I picture Becky Thatcher and Tom Sawyer, I’m seeing kid versions of Jodie Foster and Johnny Whitaker. That’s thanks to a 1973 musical version of the novel which, while not the best adaptation of Twain’s work, is unfortunately the one that sticks in my head.

Any time you lift words from the page and set them in motion there’s the risk your interpretation will be met with “I don’t get it” or worse, “That sucked”. But if the alternative is that nobody will ever hear those words if you don’t do it, it’s a risk worth taking.

The founders of the poetry film collaboration project Motionpoems were worried that great poems were going unread because people just weren’t reading poetry. So maybe they’d be more interested in WATCHING it.

Motionpoems pairs contemporary poets with filmmakers to create short film adaptations of poems. Some are animated, others live action, some dark, some funny, some so far removed from what a reader might get out of just reading the poem that you might watch it twice because it’s so interesting.

See for yourself. In the waning hours of National Poetry Month and as spring is FINALLY coming to my corner of the Midwest, here’s the Motionpoem “Ecclesiastes 11:1” by Richard Wilbur, film adaptation by Faith Eskola for your viewing enjoyment.

If you find a Motionpoem that speaks to you, feel free to share it in a comment!

Brushing up on my creative skills

Brushing up on my creative skills

My youngest nephew had a baby quilt with one square turned wrong side out. I know this because I made it for him.  Not that way intentionally, of course.  When I handed the stack of cross-stitched squares to my husband who was assembling the quilt (he sews better than I do), one square was facing stitches up.  When it was time to add that square, he just grabbed it and started sewing. Neither of us noticed the error until he held the finished quilt up and there it was near the bottom. I was horrified.

No one will even notice it, said my husband, who is not a good judge of what people notice because he doesn’t notice a lot of things. I will, every time I see it, I said. He refused to dismantle the quilt and fix it and while I knew I could rip it apart in a heartbeat, I couldn’t sew it back together in any presentable fashion.

When we gave the quilt as it was to my sister-in-law, I pointed out the backward square and apologized profusely. She just laughed and said that meant no one else would ever have one like it.

I create a lot of things – artwork, stories, crafts – and I give most of them away to friends and family because that makes me happy. And while I used to agonize over every detail, building and rebuilding the same project over and over until it was absolutely perfect, now if I find a little creative quirk in the finished piece, I leave it.  Because creativity isn’t about perfection, it’s about uniqueness. What makes the things YOU create unique to you?

Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties. – Erich Fromm

Cottonwood Jail

The whole of Cottonwood (they number 12) are watching as I turn off the highway onto the gravel. Along the dusty path, buildings are scarce: a handful of houses, empty school, vacant grain elevator. A church slumps at the edge of town, peeled and pained by the prairie winds. Crows and turkey buzzards perch on its pinnacle, the steeple aslant.

I turn at Main Street and though it would be quicker to cut the corner and cross the barren lots, respect keeps me on the abandoned road, strewn with tumbleweeds and washouts. My four-wheel-drive skirts the ruts and comes to rest at the Cottonwood Jail.

The barbed wire fence holds me at bay but I walk the ditch as close as I can get, skirting the boundaries of trespass. The sun blazes overhead, puff clouds dotting the blue straight up for miles. The wind ruffles the yellow prairie grass and raises a howl from the darkened shack. The spectre of a former occupant, the last unfortunate led from his cell, across the dust to the square, up the steps, over the boards, under the dangling rope? Retribution awaits, its shadow hovering over the pine planks.

My camera quick draws from wrist strap to hand and I shoot into the sun, striking shadows with floating faces. I shiver in the heat, and retreat to my car, glancing both ways across the wide open field, feeling the weight of the watching. I make for the highway without looking back.

On the steps of the church, in the shade of the steeple, a pair of wizened cowboys watch me depart. Spitting the last of his chew into the dirt, the younger says to the other, “Puttin’ the jail sign on that old chicken coop was the best idea you ever had.”

“Ayuh,” says the elder, squinting across the prairie beneath the shade of his gnarled hand. “Those tourists eat that shit up.”

The truth of man’s existence revealed…on a Soo Line railroad car:

Who knew philosophers carried spray paint and hung around railyards?

I did. Because I looked. What’s the best rolling poetry you’ve ever seen?


What if it wasn’t madness? Maybe Van Gogh lopped an ear off because he couldn’t stand to hear people say about his work, “What is that?“ Tortured artists. We’re everywhere.

This week I took the first step towards freeing mine. I took a painting class. It’s been a long time since I’ve been that artistically inclined. About 37 years, in fact, and back then it was a Saturday morning art class my mother signed me up for at the local youth center. A roomful of 8 to 10-year-olds drawing, painting, throwing clay and eating paste. My best effort in that class was a 18” x 32” charcoal drawing of a Great Dane (don’t ask me why I drew that – we didn’t even have a dog).

Since then, I’ve amassed an impressive collection of art supplies that I don’t know how to use. Sharon Welch is helping me to change that. She owns a funky cool little art gallery in our city’s tiny art and theater district and through a chance email, I wound up with a spot in her latest painting class. You might remember from my “Crazy Mayans” post that learning to paint is one of my goals for 2012.

I showed up at her gallery on class night with a random collection of art supplies and a bit of trepidation. I can be very competitive and impatient when I don’t pick things up as quickly as I think I should (check out my grade school report cards – it was a popular teacher comment). My problem with painting isn’t that I’m lacking inspiration but technique.

Sharon quickly laid out the basics – using the different brushes, composing a painting, choosing color combinations. All the things you need to know to START. Then we started. I was using acrylic paints, the other three all watercolors. Two chose to do sunflowers, one other hit upon a mixed media project, and I went with Van Gogh’s “Chair”. I’m not a huge Van Gogh fan. If I had to choose a favorite from his works, it would be “Starry Night Over the Rhone” (tranquil) or “Skull With a Burning Cigarette” (what the hell?). “Chair” just looked like something I could handle.

Sharon is a born teacher. She guides, suggests, demonstrates, inspires and most of all, supports. There is no “wrong” way to paint; just ways to do it better. The vibe in general was nurturing, even the interaction between students, and it showed when we lined our work up at the end of the night. My first thought when I saw their paintings was, “My God, they’re amazing!” My second thought was, “Shit, I should have done a sunflower.”

Embarrassed by my apparent lack of skill, I resisted the urge to toss my painting out the car window on the drive home and brought it in to show my husband. Ever helpful, he said, “Maybe you can fix it?” I took it upstairs and threw it on my writing desk, which is where it sat until this morning when I really looked at it.

Sometimes first tries suck. And that’s O.K. There are people who hit home runs their first time at bat and people who bunt and foul and strike out for years before knocking one over the fence. I’m finally realizing that it doesn’t matter how many swings it takes as long as you don’t quit swinging. The next class is in two weeks and I don‘t know if I’m going yet. But I bought some more brushes, sketched out a couple of ideas, and “Thompson’s Tuffet” (as I’m calling it) is now propped up on my writing desk for inspiration. If the youth center crowd could see me now.

The question has been asked and answered, to and by someone who is not me. She said yes, which is good. Because if I’d been asked, I’d have said no. Which is also good. For me.

I like blogging because it makes me think, not only about what I want to say, but sometimes simply about what I WANT, period.  Back when I posted “20 Questions”, I wasn’t sure if the job I had interviewed for was something I really wanted. It had some definite pluses: travel, public speaking, chance to work with old friends, and (this is a HUGE one for me), no more “Director on Call” duties one week a month. But it also had one glaring minus: the lack of creative opportunity.

That was the first thing one of the interviewers mentioned when she stopped by my office today to tell me I didn’t get the job. “J” was my previous supervisor for 12 years and she wanted to break the news to me in person for two reasons: to explain why I didn’t get it and to ask what my answer would have been had they offered it.  It came down to creativity, in both cases. Having the chance to be creative every day is like having air to breathe – I need it. They knew that, and they also knew I wouldn’t get it in that job. The position is 20% creative, 80% administrative. In a typical 40-hour work week, that’s one day of inhaling deeply and four days of holding your breath. “J” said they had no doubt I could do the job but that the day-to-day “drudgery” of it would have done me in. Left me gasping for that creative air. She asked if I’d thought of that. I had, which confirmed for her that had they asked, I’d have declined.

I know the woman they hired and she’ll do a fantastic job. They’re lucky to be getting her and I told “J” as much. As for me, while the job I have now isn’t perfect (no job ever is, no matter how great it sounds), I get to do something creative EVERY DAY and that makes it worth showing up for, even on the worst of days. So tonight, I’m hoisting a glass of my favorite red wine and nibbling a bit of L’Artigiano chocolate (courtesy of my friend, Lynnette, over at Wordtabulous. You were right – it’s fabulous) in celebration of my NOT getting the job. So raise a glass with me, friends…to opportunities best missed. SALUT!

In the early 1960’s, only trashy girls moved to the big city to go to art school. Nice girls studied to be beauticians, secretaries, nurses or teachers. That’s what the mother told her daughter when the girl announced that she wanted to leave their small Midwestern town to go to the Twin Cities and study art. So instead the girl moved to a different big city and became a secretary.

At the same time, thousands of miles away in the South, a father was telling his son that he wasn’t going to spend any money sending him to college to study music but instead the son could have a fulfilling career working for a local car dealership. So the boy joined the Air Force.

Encouragement and opportunity; my parents each had one but not the other. They made it a point to give my older sister and I both. They didn’t push us in any particular direction, but if we were interested in doing something creative, they did what they could to give us the chance to try. We learned art, dance and music. Took trips to the public library, museums and exhibits. Read books. Thought, wondered, explored. Our family wasn’t rich by any means; my parents made what sacrifices they thought necessary to make sure we knew there were opportunities in the world to be creative and that everybody had the right to take advantage of them.

I don’t have any kids (aside from the 46-year-old husband and two delinquent dogs I’m raising) but I have great nieces and nephews. The two youngest, who are 8 and 12, and their parents were just here for the weekend. We have several visits a year and from the time the kids were small, I’ve tried to share with them the joys of creativity. And I think it’s paying off. Throughout the three days they were here, we did the popular kid stuff like go-kart racing, miniature golf, and giving my husband’s Playstation a workout. But the oldest also gifted us with a drawing she’d done of a fancy dancer at a pow wow, something she aspires to try. And the youngest asked if he could record his voice speaking into the microphone that hooks to my laptop. There was a trip to the Discovery Center, the local children’s science museum. The eldest sat down at the desktop computer and wrote a pretty decent short story about trolls. The youngest took note of the origami pelicans I’d practiced making and asked if I would teach him how to make them, which I did. And when they left, it was with the promise that they would come for Halloween (my favorite holiday) and help us decorate the yard and record creepy voices to scare the neighborhood kids.

I have no more idea of what my niece and nephew will grow up to be than they do right now. But whatever it is, I hope that I helped to provide, even in a small measure, encouragement and opportunity when they needed it. And that when they have the chance to pass that along to someone else, they’ll do it.