What if we approach each day as praxis - in which we make intentional choices, repeatedly with the goal of getting closer to making our life a work of art?
Both of my kids have been playing the violin from age five, and since they are learning via the Suzuki method, I read about Suzuki’s method in his book: Nurtured by Love: The Classic Approach to Talent Education
In his book, Suzuki makes the argument that every child can learn to play the violin if they practice. And while learning to play the violin is indeed wonderful in and of itself, Suzuki further claims that the practice of learning actually leads to developing beautiful human beings. My kids were taught by their teachers that practicing the violin is not something you have to do, but it is something that you get to do. Also that in learning to play the violin, you learn how you learn. Each person learns differently and at their own pace. Within the Suzuki method, you must keep going, however slowly, with the intention of improving - even at smallest intervals and most definitely after repeated trials and failures.
“To make a resolution and act accordingly is to live with hope. There may be difficulties and hardships, but not disappointment or despair if you follow the path steadily. Do not hurry. This is a fundamental rule. If you hurry and collapse or tumble down, nothing is achieved. DO not rest in your efforts; this is another fundamental rule. Without stopping, without haste, carefully taking a step at a time forward will surely get you there.”
― Shinichi Suzuki, Nurtured by Love: The Classic Approach to Talent Education
I find so much hope and solace in knowing that being careful and intentional is the best course. Nothing happens overnight - even when it seems like it does for others. We don’t lose weight or learn a new language quickly. We can’t sew a quilt or write a book overnight, but we can choose a life of praxis in which we are thoughtful in how we carve out time to do the things that we really want to do.
We make time to intentionally journal, meditate, cook a delicious meal, walk our dogs, breathe, or sketch. Doing these things everyday - or most days- becomes the rock we roll up the hill. When we concentrate on doing them and reflect on them afterwards, we begin to notice how we are changed by our actions. We become better at drawing, running, or cooking, or maybe we notice how much we have learned about our dogs after dozens of dozens of walks. These seemingly small practices are actually sacred moments brought to us by sacred choices. You don’t have to practice, you get to.
I know this method of Mr. Suzuki works because I get to listen to my kids play their violins every day. I hear how they have developed, how they know books and books of songs like the backs of their hands, and while sometimes they drag their feet to practice ( it can still feel like have to), once the violin is in position and they begin to move the bow across the strings, they sound like I get to. Maybe they also know something of the commitment and intention that they have practiced these years can be applied to anything new that they want to make part of their lives. If they don’t know that now, I am hoping they will be able to understand that when they are olds. For now, I am certain that there bodies sure know it. Their fingers, their chins, their breath, and their wrists know praxis well.
When we choose to look at our life as a practice and each day as an opportunity to try again, we continue to grow and evolve as humans. Now if this same praxis is applied to practicing our creativity - to infusing each day with practicing - pushing - evolving our creative selves - of continuing when we are stuck, what would be possible for us?
What do you practice? What would you like to begin learning or incorporate into your praxis of life?
PS I encourage anyone interested in educational philosophy to get their hands on Nurtured by Love. It will be life changing. I am definitely planning on reading it again and again!
Turning thirty-eight has got me thinking about my younger self, but not in the way you think. I don’t wish I was closer to thirty than forty. I really don’t want to revisit my twenties. No, I want to go further back -- to a time when I was a shame free and unrestrained five-year-old.
I have this memory of crouching over our dining room table with my siblings. We had tiled the table in sheets of paper, securing them with scotch tape. On top of our giant sized paper, Frankensteined together, we drew roads, houses, buildings, and parks. We took our map into the third dimension by cutting tiny paper trees and stop signs, and by folding and taping a flap, we erected them in parways and at intersections. The experience of creating with abandon, with limitless possibilities, was indeed thrilling for my little creative brain and tiny hands. Our creativity was fueled by each other’s ideas and agreement that we could built it, our own world. It seemed like we were getting away with something. I was grateful that our Mom didn’t interrupt our game. She wasn’t upset with the scraps of paper littering the floor. I felt on top of our little paper world.
This sense of creative power is something that I have worked my whole life to return to. I want to hold on to myself at age four or five - full of curiosity, possibility, play, and wonder. I do not know much about early childhood development, but this seems to me to be the age where our sense of self and personality are fully rooted. We haven’t been negatively impacted by the socializing forces of school. We haven’t been taught to doubt, to fit in, or to be normal. All of which curb creativity.
We all have this fearlessly creative five-year-old in us. We can find her again. It’s my life’s goal to get her back. I’m confident that play and creativity are part of the process of finding her. Also, I need to let go of fear of judgement and cut away any attempt of “fitting in”. These limiting ideas should litter the floor like the rain of paper scraps.
Yes, my five-year-old self still exists, and she is probably cutting paper trees, or getting lost listening to records in the corner of the dining room, or she is feebly sewing pink gingham pillows for her Barbie dolls, making enormous stitches with black thread.
Can you remember when you were five? What did you like to do most?
On repeated treks to the barn to feed animals or weed the garden, the loft called to me. It almost glowed like a neon sign “you need to be working here. Something important is going to happen here. Make me your studio!!”
I both heard the call and felt it. I knew it to be true. I needed to make the barn loft into a barn studio. Unfortunately it was full of furniture, old doors and screen windows, and various forms of mouse nests. Furthermore, I was starting a very busy new job which was Keeping me even farther away from the future, dream studio. There wasn’t time for transformation let alone making art.
Eventually though, while I was away, Pat worked to clean out the loft, update the roof, and insulation sprayed in its rafters. And 2 years ago, at last, I was able to move in just in time to work on a painting commission. I had found my creative home! I made a place to make creative leaps, to dream, to be organized, to be messy, and to be “in process”.
And it’s been wonderful - I have since tweaked the space to meet my needs as my process and work goals evolve. This past summer, I created two distinct zones in my studio. I know, who knew I needed zones? But, in one area, I added more storage for quilt fabrics, liberated countertops, and organized all my sewing notions onto a rolling cart that could always be kept at hand. The space feels vast and free in a way that makes it easier to sew and make quilts. It feels like a place that I want to stretch out my wings and get to work.
In contrast, in a dark corner, I created a safe drawing nook that feels secret and tucked away. I even bedecked the slanted ceiling with twinkling lights. It’s here that I like to paint my illustrations and let my imagination open doors of curiosity. It feels like your grandma’s magic attic, like you want to curl into a pink chair with an afghan and read a good story. I never thought that being hidden - feeling safe - would allow me to take more creative leaps. I never would have known it except for listening to my intuition and allowing the place and space to tell me how it wants to be used.
I know that sounds crazy, but I let spaces tell me how they want to be used all the time. I think it helps me to feel safe and comfortable so that I can be productive. When I used to clean houses with my Mom, I would often pass the time daydreaming about the people’s houses that I was dusting. I would think about how the house was designed, how their rooms were arranged, and sort of dream about what I would do with the space if I lived there. There were houses and spaces that I still think about today -- that still inspire me. A space can become a place for something, and if you listen, it will definitely tell you how it wants to be used.
When I write, I need to feel safe and comfortable so that I can be vulnerable. I often found find myself in my bed with my notebook, laying on my stomach. What place embodies vulnerability and safety more than the bed? When I am feeling really stuck and depressed, I will go to the woods, and find a spot to sit and write. Sometimes, getting out of our creative spaces leads to out most productive work.
Now that the cold has set in, I have abandoned my lovely, unheated barn loft studio for the warmth of the house. I shuttle armloads of materials over from the studio and have to find nooks and crannies in the house to tuck them into. It’s ad hoc and messy, but my fingers are warm. I find myself drifting from from room to room, hauling my bits and bobbins with me. There is always a trail of thread or cloud of eraser dust in my wake. I’m an art nomad who will often find the sunny spots to work in, like a sleepy cat.
Working from home can be messy. The lines between work and life are even more smooshed together, which is hard because I have a hard time with this boundary as it is! When my creative life spills into the my mundane life, I’m reminded of a story I heard of a busy mother ceramicist who was often working a lump of clay on a kitchen counter next to her dinner prep. It wasn’t ideal, but it was Okay. Kids got fed, and art got made. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do.
I think the most important thing for nurturing your creativity, no matter how limited you are by your real estate, is to to create SOME place for your creativity. In doing so, you are legitimizing its value in your life. You are giving it a place to grow and thrive. You are allowing it to take up space! This is so significant for your creative practice, and these places could range from a tiny corner to a big barn loft.
You could convert a closet into a studio or a secretary desk. Your space might be a spare bedroom or a corner in a basement. It could even be as small as a journal, a sketchbook, a file folder on your desktop, or a list of ideas on your phone.
It could be a tackle box of supplies or a tote bag of yarn, but giving your creativity a physical presence in your physical life will make practicing it more significant and meaningful in your life. You will be immensely rewarded as will we, your fellow humans. And your creativity will only grow from there, it’s place!!!
Where do you like to be creative? Is there anything that you absolutely need in your space to be creative? Are there any places that really inspire you - that you’d like to incorporate their feel into your own creative places?
Have you ever wondered about your own creativity? Where it comes from? What purpose does it serve in your everyday life?
For me my creativity and freedom to express it, has been essential to my life. It's not something I'd be willing to live without. Lately I've been wanting to better understand its origins and its value. Perhaps, I'd even like to argue that I think creativity is essential for humans to practice with regulalrity.
As an art educator, I’ve taught 18 month old toddlers through adults, and the toddlers, the under 6, hold zero doubts about their creative selves. They are ready to jump into any endeavor with enthusiasm and without fear. It’s as we grow up that we learn to doubt our own creative urges. We believe that if we can’t do something in a perfect way that it is not worth doing. I am here to argue that like physical exercise, like intellectual learning, we have to practice being creative throughout our whole lives. I’m certain that if we do, we will be living more fully for ourselves and our communities.
Creativity is about nourishment, joy, and sharing. It's also about observation, wondering, and solving prolbems. I am going to continue my quest for creativity, because I want to understand more specifically how it enriches us, why it’s essential to our being human, and what it has to offer the world.
So Far, this is what I believe with regard to creativity:
A Working Creativity Humanifesto
What are your thoughts about creativity? How do you practice creativity in your everyday? Do you want to develop your creative practice further? What would you need to help you develop your creative practice?
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There is an artist in Oak Park, IL that makes art from literal garbage. Bryan Northup collects the styrofoam and plastic that often packages our food, reconstitutes it as sculpture of food --such as sushi. Northup literally takes what seems to be garbage and turns it into art that provokes us to think about the mundane objects that fill our lives and our landfills.
Creativity is more than just making a thing with your hands. It’s noticing a toy smushed into asphalt, hearing music in the chaos of traffic, and seeing connections where there doesn’t seem to be any. It’s cutting up scraps of fabric to rearrange in ways that are pleasing to the eye of beholder and soul of the maker. This is creativity at its best, when it manifests a thing from seemingly thin air.
Being creative is being able to see potential, to see into the future and make that happen--to birth it. It’s bringing to life a poem, a recipe, or a garden design.
All of these things moments of creation have power.
And it’s important to not lose sight of this power to practice it. It can pull one out of depression, and it can foster joy. Practicing creativity can be inspiring for another person to follow suit with their own creative project.
Make something from nothing.
The world is hungry for what you have to offer. It’s hungry for you!
When is taking time to pause more productive than relentless action?
These last couple of weeks have been intense-- creatively, mentally, spiritually, physically, nationally, globally--really in every way.
And I’m tired. I feel spent, worn, and crispy.
I don’t like to complain because I am not doing actual hard work like digging ditches, managing a classroom of kids, or enduring grueling commutes. What’s more, I am actually being fed by my work. Still, there are moments when I feel empty, dull-minded, and sluggish.
I know that a moment of rest would bring fresh air and new perspectives to my work, but I have this compulsive, workaholic part of me that tells me that either I do not deserve a break, or maybe that the rest period would not feel as good as getting another thing crossed off my list. I think that there lies the crux. I need to switch my motivation for doing the work from crossing something off a list to feeling grateful to do something with thoughtful intention. Being able to be present to my work is absolutely dependent on having breaks from it.
Furthermore, I know that my work suffers from not taking a break. I know that I can get trapped in a tunnel vision world and that resting, getting out of the work, would mean gaining perspective. But I am so willful and stubborn I judge myself for wanting rest. I try to schedule it but there always seems to be another thing to do.
Right now I’m caught between wrapping up a couple big projects and birthing some new exciting ones that are begging for my attention. As a result it is very difficult to focus on what needs to be done today -- in this moment.
So, I am very much still learning how to make rest part of my routine. Any advice out there? I try to get to a movie now and then. I like to walk in the woods and pet my cats.
Do you feel it’s a challenge to build rest into your routine? Do have guilt associated with rest?
What’s your favorite way to recharge your creative energy?
When doing community art, you build community by surveying a community's assets. Instead of focusing on the deficits, a community sums up all that they have to offer one another -- their knowledge, skills, spaces, gardens, businesses, artists, etc. From there, the community can create solutions for any needs they might have.
These last two years of developing my own business have been fraught with many life lessons, trials, and tribulations. It wasn’t until recently that I have realized (through the help of podcasts and other wise - minded souls) that I have been operating from my own lack instead of my assets. I have been stuck in my deficits.
When I began two years ago, I was in need of healing. For a variety of reasons I was angry, wounded, depleted, and creatively starved. I was desperate, eager, impatient and ready to begin. This neediness meant that I was expecting certain outcomes from my work, which was largely unfocused and exploratory.
I was reacting to the years of taking care of kids, teaching others art, and looking enviously over the shoulders of students wishing I could be making art instead of teaching it. Although I did make art whenever and wherever I could, I felt starved. It wasn’t enough. So, this is where I located my creative business, in this hunger to create -- this desperation to feed my soul.
So, that is what I did. I have been gorging and indulging myself in creative projects (night and day), but there was still on emptiness, a sense that something wasn’t right.
I was still feeling the lack -- lack of sales, lack of time to do all of the things that I wanted to do, and lack of purpose. It felt self-indulgent. There was a sense of entitlement, too. I felt like I was putting in all of this hard work, I should get something in return -- sales, attention, or a pat on the back, and when I did receive these things, it didn’t feel deserved. Even though, I intellectually knew that nobody owed me anything, I was stuck in the lack, the hunger for some reward.
I own my sense of entitlement. I own my hunger, but it is also good to step back and see the expansive view of our culture. We are raised as Americans, in our glorious capitalist society to want - to yearn. To be reared in consumerism means that we are only satiated from external sources. We do not look for our own internal assets. We are taught to dwell in lack, because living with a sense of lack means that we will be consumers for life. The fact that what our soul truly yearns for can not ever be bought ensures us that we will continually consume, forever in search for the thing that will take the hunger away. We live in the lack, because it’s good for big business.
So, I began to wonder what would happen if I operated from my assets. It turns out I have a lot to offer. (We all do!) Instead of asking what the world owes me, I look for what I can offer.
One such offering is my belief in creativity. I believe that we are all creative people. Creativity is a huge part of our humanity. Like anything, creativity has to be practiced, developed, and nurtured. When we have creativity in our tool belt, we can literally create the worlds that we want to live in. We don’t have to buy our worlds, we can make them ourselves. It is truly a superpower that big businesses would love for us to forget. So, I have begun by sharing my own creative process in hopes that my experiences inspire and give courage to others to make and do their wildest dreams.
Moreso, I want to offer further support (to be determined) that will help all of us to do more of what our soul calls us to do. If we all pay attention to that voice inside, our lives will be enriched as well as all of the lives around us.
I want to spread the love that I feel when I make art. I want others to feel the wholeness that I feel. I want everyone to realize their creative selves, because it's in the creativity that we can heal ourselves, heal others, reshape and rethink our worlds, and be full of joy and wonder.
So that’s it! Let’s make and do our creativity until the cows come home!
Thank you for listening!
You are here! So, go forth and create!!
This week, I’ve been thinking about how sometimes the stories we tell about ourselves and the stories we have heard about ourselves can be limiting. Even worse, the stories we tell ourselves can lead to our getting stuck, like those black dotted squares in Candy Land.
There is great power in owning our stories and rooting our identity in them. Our stories grow in power (for better and for worse) the more we repeat them. I have stories about how I became an artist, how I act as a mother, my role as the youngest sibling, or my relationship to work. It feels secure to know who I am and how to present myself to others. But all of stories, unless they are like the film Roshomon, only tell one version. They are confined to one perspective. What’s more, if we get locked into a story that happens to be limiting, it could become damaging to us.
For instance, I am struggling with the story titled: “I am terrible at marketing story”. I am wondering what would happen if I start telling myself a different story. Maybe, I can write one that goes like this, “I am intelligent and creative, and willing to learn and experiment with marketing. This could be a way to expand my creativity while growing my business.”
The first story might be true, but it certainly doesn’t help me grow my business or get better at marketing.
The first time I experienced this power of changing the story was as a freshman in college. I had matriculated with a sense of dread that I was going to gain those freshman 15. You remember those 15 lbs. from beer, late night pizza, and cafeteria soft serve? They would likely be the first 15 on my way to being an overweight and unfit adult. I had been telling myself this story since I was a chubby child. In fact, my story was informed by another that I apparently asked for a diet coke at age 3. The implication is that I have been weight conscious since a toddler. Another story that was repeated while growing up was that our family joked about being a “fat family”. So, as a result of these negative stories, I didn’t exercise, hated running, and drank a lot of diet coke.
Then, a few weeks into being a first year, while walking through the arched doorway of my dorm, it hit me that I didn’t have to believe that story. I challenged myself to start running. Soon, I was attending fitness classes with friends and eating salads for lunch. In fact, I didn’t gain those freshman 15, and I brought jogging and fitness with me into adulthood.
I realize this sounds super obvious. Maybe everyone has moments like this as we take our first steps into adulthood, but still, I testify that reshaping your stories is a simple powerful tool.
Another story that I’ve been thinking about lately is the story that I am too emotional. This is a story I have heard my whole life. I am easy cryer. Not just at movies and weddings, but at work, at school, and in public. My tears are easy to come by, but instead of feeling like my emotions are a weakness, a betrayal, or a vulnerability, I am choosing to look at them as a superpower.
Listen, my emotions make me feel more alive, better able to be empathetic, and more expressive in my art, My emotions help me to connect with others, too. So I plan on telling my new story of me as emotional superhero on repeat until I have rewritten the whole book, and new patterns have formed in my brain.
When rewriting our stories, It’s good to question the source. So, I might wonder why is being emotional considered a weakness? Where does this idea even come from? Well, that’s another blog post, but realize that if a story is keeping you stuck, try rewriting it and see what happens. Of course there is the danger of ignoring a true story in favor of a superficial one. Superficial stories will also keep us stuck, and they have the potential of hurting others. Unfortunately they are much more difficult to recognize because in seeing the true story we might have to recognize our own pain, but there is hope in being able to incorporate that pain into a new story that involves healing.
Have you had experience with rewriting your stories? or getting stuck in a story?
These last couple of years have been an experiment in prioritizing the things that I love to do --- really focusing on the things that fuel me as an artist and a person in this world. I’m a little obsessed with the question of what would happen if everyone pushed themselves to do whatever gave them the most joy. What would happened if we put our hearts on our to-do list?
I don’t mean erasing the things that we all have to do, but instead grounding our choices in our heart so that we look very critically at where we are putting our energy and make adjustments when we are wasting energy on thoughts and actions that do not serve us. For instance, I know that I can waste too much time on video clips, in comparing myself to others on social media, or in procrastinating doing the things that I don’t want to do. Being more efficient in where I choose to put my energy, makes it easier to to the things that I really and truly want to do.
I have heard from many wise people that if there is something that you are aching to do, find a way to do it. It does not matter how small the start, just put that dream on your to-do list.
That might mean, you make a note in your phone, record a voice memo of that idea, start a journal devoted to your dream project, or make a mind map (one of my favorites). Don’t be afraid to just say or write it. It has to start somewhere, and keeping it in your heart prevents action. So, put it on your list!
Here are some ideas that are nagging at me to be added to the list. I feel afraid to even say them. So, I will write them here for my first step:
Okay, now you can hold me accountable for taking action on these ideas. I think my next step is to make some mind maps brainstorming possibilities. Maybe after writing about them, I can create a more focused action plan--lots more list making! Your heart’s desire can be small things - like: hosting movie nights, wearing red shoes more often, learning origami, writing snail mail, or starting a book club. There are infinite ways to put our hearts into the world that simultaneously enrich it and feed our souls.
Listen, we owe it to ourselves and to the world to keep excavating our heart’s desires and putting them out there. After all, that is why we are here.
I chose "Pandora" as my high school Latin name. I was attracted to it at first because of it sounded cool, but as I read her myth, I became disheartened to learn that she was blamed for letting all the evil into the world because of her curiosity. I remember thinking this sounded a lot like Eve and the apple. Okay, world, consider your lesson learned. If women are curious, ask questions, wonder, or investigate we will cause harm to humanity. Got it!
As easily as it is to see through these patriarchal paradigms, these archetypes can be sticky and are most definitely woven into our cultures. They may have even left footprints on our patterns of thinking--even on us Feminists.
So, when we internalize this mandate to contain our curiosity to prevent evil from happening, we women risk stifling our creativity and intelligence. Maybe we stay deep inside the margins of safety. For instance, I never thought I could be a filmmaker. So, I never considered it, but if I was 18 right now, I would most definitely apply to film school.
This self-stifling may happen in small ways, too. We may prevent ourselves from trying something new for fear of negative consequences. I’ve been wanting to take a tap dance class for months, but am holding myself back. Who knows if following this curiosity could lead to inspiration, a new hobby, or a friendship? It may lead to nothing except an elevated heart rate, but I won’t know for sure unless I take the damn class!
Sometimes I get overwhelming urges to try a new medium or technique, and I have to put everything aside to dive into it. Recently, I saw these amazing rugs made from recycled materials in intense colors. They were made using a basket weaving technique that I was familiar with. So I tore fabric into strips. I carefully chose yarns, found my fattest needles, and got to work winding and binding these textiles into a tight spiral. It grew very, very slowly--- at a snail's pace. I soon realized that it didn't look close to as beautiful as the one that inspired me. Taking a step back I realized that if I continued, the time devoted to making this rug would classify me as insane, and that maybe I settle for a set of coasters or a trivot. Ha! I don’t regret getting on this new creative train. I had to get it out of my system to make way for the next curiosity, which may lead to something new and interesting!
Often the worst that can happen by following a creative curiosity is that you acquire some new gear or materials that costs money and storage space. You can hold on to these or pass them along. Sometimes an abandoned curiosity will resurface at a later opportunity, or it may lead to another curiosity. I do believe that everything that you do feeds into itself and eventually you might not know where it is leading.
I have an artists friend, Faith, who was mostly interested in painting and drawing portraits. She was also making instructional videos about her drawings, but she always knitted for fun. Eventually she incorporated her knitting, a creative curiosity, into her drawings and made videos about the whole process to make these amazing portraits. Had Faith never gotten curios about knitting and remained curious about how to make portraits, she wouldn’t have discovered this new technique of portraiture.
Also, these curiosities could be for pure joy’s sake, too, and joy only beckons more creativity. It encourages us to take more risks - to be playful. In fact it seems the exact opposite of evil comes from opening the curiosity box, we only become empowered by it. Imagine that indulging your curiosity brings you joy, creativity, and experience while also fighting the patriarchy. So, it looks like it is time for all of us to adopt the name Pandora, and get to work embodying creative curiosity!!
Anna Lentz, artist and writer, blogs about making a creative life connected with nature at Spring Bird.