Tag Archives: creativity

Creating vs. consuming

Happy Friday, everyone! Also, happy Groundhog Day for those of you who pay attention to that sort of thing. When I woke up this morning, it was -10F without windchill. Brrrr! No matter what that groundhog says, we in Minnesota know it’s going to be MORE than 6 weeks of winter…

groundhogs

The most adorable groundhogs ever! Or at least I thought so. Photo credit link

So I crawled back into bed with my coffee, expressed gratitude to the universe that I can work from home this morning since I do not have in-person meetings today. I also gave thanks for the web and for remote teleconference meetings, which allow my work to be mobile and flexible.

Then I proceeded to get “lost” in some podcasts for a while before I meditated. When I finally did get myself out of bed and to my computer, I read a bunch of blogs, and really had myself a jolly old time. It reminded me of when I used to read Facebook and email from bed when I started the day, taking in a bunch of incoming stimuli before I’d had a chance to even wake up.

It was not a healthy way to live, and I would find myself in “reactive” mode by starting that way. I was subject to the whims of whatever was tossed at me by the social media “feeds” and whoever had sent emails to me. I have written before about my need to limit media consumption and to limit the noise of outside stimulation.

All of a sudden while reading and commenting on blogs, taking it easy, I realized it was 8am! That is the time I typically start work, even when I work from home. On a typical day, I am up around 5:45. I like to meditate and write before I have had a chance to get carried away by the incoming distractions of other stimuli. My goal is usually to have my post done by 7 or 7:15 so I can then switch gears and get on with the rest of my day.

Writing gives me energy and feeds me in a way I did not realize was possible until my recent commitment to daily blogging. By engaging in some creativity in the morning, my mind feels fresh and rejuvenated. Even when inspiration strikes me the afternoon or evening before, I like to spend a little time editing and re-working a piece before publishing.

Today’s altered routine got me thinking about creativity versus consumption. We live in a culture of constant consumption, and nearly constant invitations to buy things, or acquire more. Sometimes we fool ourselves into believing these things will make us happy, and that they are important. I can even be tricked into thinking acquiring more and more knowledge will make me happy.

To some extent, acquiring new knowledge does make me happy. The human brain is programmed to seek novelty and avoid pain. We get a dopamine hit when we learn new things and encounter new stimuli. But that constant rush of new information sometimes causes a plateau of that feeling. We need a break from it, and it can feel a little like that uncomfortable feeling after eating too much Thanksgiving dinner…

Ugh.

Another impulse we have as humans is to create. Elizabeth Gilbert and Brene Brown have some great reflections on this highly inefficient and yet joyful part of our existence. Human beings are capable of creating things purely for the joy of it, for the satisfaction of making something new.

Music, art, fiction, poetry. These are not critical to our survival on a day to day basis, like food, water and air to breathe. And yet: they are critical to our survival as a species, as a united consciousness of humanity. They are ways we express meaning in our lives, and communicate to others, connect to people and the world around us.

Brene Brown says that creativity is not optional. I am paraphrasing here but she explains that “unexpressed creativity metastasizes.” (This is from her Magic Lessons podcast with Liz Gilbert). Brown has studied the habits and practices of “wholeheartedness” and people who live fulfilling lives. In order to live healthy and full lives, we must engage creatively in some way. We must go beyond working, consuming and working and consuming.

So I ask you on this Friday: how will you engage creatively today? What will you do to express this amazing and wonderful gift of being human? If your work allows and encourages creativity, fabulous! If not, consider how to create something instead of just consuming today. Whether it is a meal made for a loved one, a silly little rhyme made up for a child or a short story you have been dying to put on paper, indulge your creative spirit. Just for the joy of it. I dare you.

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Re-learning to Play

Work is hard and play is easy, right?

Well… when you are young that is certainly true. Or if you are a cat or a dog. They pretty much have play and napping down pat. They have mastered it, and I probably ought to pay attention to these furry, wise teachers a bit more.

As an adult, I have not always valued PLAY enough. Brene Brown refers to her discovery of play when she was looking for the keys to living a wholehearted life. She was explaining to a friend this discovery and described it this way: “these people seem to fool around a lot” and she did not even know how to describe it.

Caught in a culture of always doing, striving, working, she could not even identify what these wholehearted people were doing, but it was PLAY.  It was engaging in something for the pure fun of it, for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose. Huh? Do people get to do that?!?

It turns out that it is quite healthy to do that, and those of us who have forgotten the art of play may want to spend some time joyfully re-educating ourselves. It is not just for kids! And it can involve some snuggle time with your honey, but that’s not a requirement.

For me, the best part of play, when I really do lose myself in it, is that I come back to my “grown up life” refreshed and relaxed. Vacation can be a great place to play and try new things just for the fun of it. I have a harder time getting into play mode during the work week, I admit. But I am willing to learn. Hey, if the science tells us it’s healthy, I am ON BOARD!

Occasionally, when I am on a really fun project or I am designing a workshop with my “partner in crime” at my job, work can actually feel like play. I love that. Some part of me strives toward that in terms of longer term career aspirations. I will get there. It is all about intention.

As we head toward the weekend, I am considering how hubby and I can get some play time. He has worked long hours this week after the snowfall and I know he will need extra rest. But I am using my creativity to brainstorm a few options. I am sure he will have some ideas as well.

How will you play this weekend? How will you take joy in this act of living and celebrate it in a way that is fun? Do you feel less guilt about it knowing it is part of living and healthy and fulfilling life to play?

 

Exercising my writing muscles

There are benefits to exercising our writing muscles!

On Friday I worked on a first draft of a 2-page case study proposal for an application to the “Entrepreneur-in-Residence” program in my company’s business incubator division. I am totally jazzed about the opportunity, 2-3 positions open for this 12-18 month commitment. It is a chance to work with teams using human-centered design in order to solve health care problems in under-served and under-resourced areas of the world.

This gig is designed as a program manager role that will eventually continue with a project at the end of the period if it has potential for commercial development, or move onto another leadership role within the company upon completion. With the networks and contacts I would have following such an opportunity, even though there are no guarantees, I am all in!

When opportunities like this have come along in the past, I typically read the materials and then spent weeks agonizing about what to write, putting it off until only a few days before the due date. This time around, I took a couple of hours without distractions and just banged out a first draft of my thoughts. Yep, I put down some “B minus work” to get my initial thoughts out of my head.

I am sure when I go back in a couple of days to look at it, I will have different insight. I will likely revise quite a bit of the first draft. Plus I started in the afternoon and I am sharper in the morning, so I know I can rework and possibly re-organize the writing. Since I was not familiar with the disease state or the country where the issue was identified, I had to do some initial research on the web. Once I have a chance to fully explore the questions that I footnoted for myself, I am sure I will enhance the draft.

I am proud of myself, since I stepped outside my usual habit of obsession and worry, and just got down to work right away. I am sure there will be SOME obsessing and worrying as I complete the first application (I cannot simply be someone ELSE). But it is progress to me that I started early this time, so there is plenty of time to polish and reconsider in the next couple of weeks. I plan to turn this one in at least a week in advance and to ask a peer to read through the draft.

So this daily blog “exercise” is proving to help me in an unexpected way. I am getting used to getting the words down on paper first, so I can have adequate time also to “marinate” my thoughts while my subconscious goes to work in the background on creative approaches to the problem presented. Writing can always be revised. Indeed, for professional writing that is probably a good idea. Given past habits of procrastination on writing projects, this is good progress for me.

To me, that is worth celebrating. Hope you take action today on a project that has meaning for you! Cheers!

Activism needs introverts

If you have not seen the Ted Talk by Sarah Corbett bearing the title above, and you are interested in the topic, please watch it. Slowing down and thinking deeply is one way we make social change. I encourage you to view the video and/or view the transcript. I suspect many of you out there, as writers, reader and thinkers (that is what we bloggers do best, right?) may also be introverts.

As someone who is deeply concerned with the future of our planet, and many of the challenges facing us in the world today, I struggle sometimes with how to get involved.  Back when I used to do more political activities and campaign organizing, I realized these activities had tendency to burn me out. So I have been considering other ways I can engage people in social change. Sarah Corbett’s video is a beautiful affirmation that there are ways to become involved in a quieter way, and her story is powerful.

Introverts can make great leaders, when channeling their efforts in a way that fuels them. If you see yourself as a leader, but also know that you require a certain amount of solitude and down-time to recharge your batteries, I also recommend Susan Cain’s work. Her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking was game-changing for me. I saw myself in her work and realized that I was not the only introvert trying to fulfill my potential in an extrovert world.

Solitude can be a crucial ingredient to creativity. Having time for “deep work” and reflection are critical to choosing activities that are most productive and strategic. Our workplaces, schools and world is not really set up for introverts to thrive. Group work is encouraged in schools and required in the workplace. Offices is with “open” plans are designed to spur interaction a cafe-like atmosphere.

I had to fight to defend my office cube last year to be sure I could get a quiet corner to work when the clinical research floor went to an open plan. I spend 40-60% of my time in meetings (mostly teleconferences since my team is international). But when I need to focus on a particular project, I appreciate at least having some walls to keep out noise and block out peripheral distractions. I also work at home 1-2 days a week when I am not traveling, so that helps me manage my introvert energy. Also: I do not have to wear grown-up clothes on those days! 🙂

What about you? Are there strategies you use to go out into the world and get the work done you need to accomplish, while also honoring your introvert needs? For me, I am always sure to plan a lot of down time to recharge after I have had to travel or lead meetings. I would love to hear from you on this topic if you care to comment below.

 

Woman as Creator

There is a funny lyric in an Ani diFranco song that I like in her latest album from the song (alrighty):

next time i watch a man give birth
i’ll try to picture the creator as a dude with a beard
’cause right now i gotta say it’s seemin’ kind of weird

Ani Difranco Binary

Album cover from Binary

When we make a meal for our families, it is work. But it is also creation. It is making something out of other raw materials. It is a sacred and ordinary act. And yet, it is de-valued, and trivialized as “women’s work” so often.

What if we saw each act of caring for another human being as an act of creation? What if we considered our interactions with other people as a way to “create” an experience? How might this change our view of being a Creator?

What if we play with the notion that to create is human? To clean one’s space and arrange one’s home is to create an experience for oneself and one’s living companions.

I am not a fan of cleaning. I dislike it, actually. Right now I pay for the privilege of cleaning help once a month. Usually what happens before each cleaning is that I scramble about our rented townhome and spend time de-cluttering and putting things away, sorting and organizing.

I always saw home-caring as an unsavory burden, something that recalls times when my Mom asked me to clean my room. Usually I would go upstairs, begin the process, and then find a book that had been buried in a pile, and start reading.

Hours later, Mom would check on my progress. I had often finished the book and totally forgotten about cleaning my room. Dear Mother: thank you for your patience in raising me. I have been truly blessed.

When I consider that cooking and cleaning are acts of love for ourselves, and for the people who live with us, it creates less resistance for me. I used to joke that I refuse to conform to a “Latina stereotype” and therefore I calmly refuse to clean up after others. I have been in long-term relationships (one was an 8-year marriage) with men who loved to cook for a reason: I had no intention of carrying that load.

These days I am attempting to clean and organize my space because I would like to set up a true “office” at home. Right now my dear husband has ceded the dining room to my home office. But someday I would like to use it as a dining room again.

This means that I will spend time clearing out the spare room and fully cleaning and de-cluttering it. The job is intimidating to me, I admit. I have an interest in minimalism, and I completely cleaned out the closet in my spare room in the Spring of 2017.

Then Summer in Minnesota arrived, and with it, the desire to spend far more time outside, as is appropriate and necessary for a cold-weather people. No regrets on this, none whatsoever. But I am far from achieving a more minimalist ideal.

Now that winter has arrived, with it a bit of snow, and a desire for warm drinks and inside time, I will recommit to the KonMari effort I started back in the Spring. I am letting go again, and clearing space in my home and in my consciousness for the next “big thing.”

Returning to the original theme of this post: think of all the ways in your life that women are creators. For me, I realize I am the creator of my own life, and of my own experience. If I do not like where it is going, I have the power to change it. I can choose different actions, and create different results.

Women have always been Creators, giving birth not only to babies but to new ideas, to different ways of working in the world. Given that so many have been responsible for the care of our families, with or without mates to share the load, we are by nature creative and innovative.

When we fully own that creativity, and celebrate it, we begin to create great change in the world. We refuse to be caged in a reality that undervalues women. We begin to understand that our value comes from our own sense of worthiness, and that nobody’s opinion of us is more valid than our own belief in our efficacy.

Women of the world, we are Creators. Do not deny it. The world needs what we are willing to share. Let us have the courage not to worry about the “messiness” that occurs in the process of creation. Let us instead embrace the satisfaction we can take in truly owning our creative natures.

 

 

I write for me, not for you

If you get some value out of what I write, then it is a bonus.

But I write this blog for me, not for you. That probably sounds selfish, doesn’t it? Yes, I agree. I used to think blogging was the most selfish, narcissistic thing to do. Probably roots back to a decade ago when I lived with someone who blogged three days a week and had difficulty keeping a day job.

He was pretty selfish and narcissistic, come to think of it. Hmm. I now forgive him for the ways in which he took advantage of my kindness, and I appreciate what I learned in the process.

Some people like to talk, and like to hear themselves talk. It gives them comfort when words spout out of their mouths, and they get to “be” out in the world in this way.

Some of us prefer to write, and it gives us comfort when words spill out onto the page or a screen. But it is not so much about “being” in the world, as it is a way to figure out what we really think, what we really want.

What is the difference, then? As an introvert, I prefer the latter. I used to work for a boss that told me she figured out what she wanted to do by bouncing ideas off someone out loud. It was a way of brainstorming and getting to a solution.

Once I truly understood her process, and that it was enormously helpful to her, I could stop running off and trying to implement all of the ideas that flowed out of her like a fountain.

For me, an introvert, I like to let words flow out on paper, or leak out from my fingertips onto my screen. Then I can go back and edit, select, revise and “mine for meaning.” I accept the concept of shitty rough drafts – thank you my dear Anne Lamott.

Not all words are precious, and the majority of them are not. (Thank you, Liz Gilbert.) But words can be a process for us, a way to dig down into the marrow of a situation, really an exploration and an excavation. The provide clues to what we desire and our buried hopes and dreams can re-emerge this way.

Decision fatigue

Other creative media can do this too. Sometimes I engage in whatI call “color work” with my pastels and sheets of newsprint paper. It involves choosing colors I want to work with, using broad strokes on the page, and then smearing the colors with my hands and fingers in a way that is pleasing to the sensations in my fingers.

Writing (in black and white) seldom provides this pleasing sensation. Though it comes much more easily to me than “color work,” my right brain yearns to play with my left brain sometimes. When I indulge it, my soul seems to reward me with deeper insight now and then. When I hear an internal dialogue about how I am not an artist, or that people would laugh at me if they could see this, I quiet that critic and realize it is not about them, it is about me.

It is about bringing my whole self to more of my daily life, my logical parts and my creative parts. It is about bringing the inner fountain to outer manifestations. When we generate and create a lot of ideas, a lot of them will be crap. No worries, mate. That is the nature of ideation and innovation. A few of them might be decent, and maybe a tiny number of them will be brilliant.

But the practice of generating and letting those ideas loose? That is where the magic lies. It is the flow and the discipline of doing this every day, or every Saturday, or twice a day or whatever your preferred rhythm.

This is what brings me joy these days, creating color work that nobody will ever see, and generating words and ideas that please me, or sometimes challenge and annoy me. What a gift, the privilege of doing this. I am eternally grateful that this universe has seen fit to grant me this opportunity, as I know not everyone has as much freedom to do the same.

May you write and read for you, dear reader. If it touches others in some way, invites them to do the same, may we celebrate this incredible privilege together.