Posts Tagged ‘Creativity’

On little cat feet

October 21st, 2008    -    12 Comments


Children’s books that forever changed my life.

It turns out I have an affinity for things French (besides fools and fries). Today I send you in the direction of a cat that travels, in the inscrutably self-actualized nature of a cat, across the entire country of France to find his original home.

This is the sweetest, shortest evocation of a spiritual sojourn that I have ever read.

The Cat Who Walked Across France
By Kate Banks
Pictures by Georg Hallensleben

Kitty lives in a stone house by the sea until the day he is shipped north, with all the other lifelong belongings of the old woman who once scratched his ears and stroked his back. Soon he is forgotten among the unclaimed and disused. Until one day he leaves.

Children playing ball would chase after him. And the cat would scurry up a tree. But when he nestled in its branches, he would remember the tangy smell of lemons ripening on a branch under a window at the stone house by the edge of the sea. And he would move on.

May we all move on through a life as lush as the French landscape until we reach a wide open front door, settle into a warm, familiar spot and come to rest, knowing we are home.

Earlier recommendations here and here.

The last to leave the shelf

October 19th, 2008    -    8 Comments


Children’s books that forever changed my life.

I often tell people that every book they read to a child they read to themselves, and therefore not to miss the urgent message that is being delivered into their own hands, from none other than their own lips, and through their own eyes.

Of late, as I’ve recounted, the shelves of my daughter’s room have been cleared of those things that never had much to give or from which every use has already been wrung. A few children’s books remain, all of which my daughter has outgrown, none of which I have or ever will.

This week I’m going to recommend them to you. Some are rather obscure; others, not. Each of them arrived into my hands and heart when I needed them most. Every time I read them is precisely when I need them most. I entrust their magic to you.

Pierre’s Dream
By Jennifer Armstrong
Pictures by Susan Gaber

Pierre is a lazy, foolish man who has no job, no interests and no hobby besides sitting under the olive trees in the afternoon thinking of dinner. That alone recommends him as a hero to me, however in this telling he does far more. He falls asleep, and he begins to dream a dream of fantastic proportions and unbelievable feats.

“Very realistic,” he murmured. But as it was his dream, or so he thought, he had no fear. “For of course, I can wake up at any time,” he reminded himself.

Pierre taught me to stop distinguishing between those things I only dream of doing, and those I do. He teaches me still. The distinction, you see, is only fear.

Pierre’s dreams are very realistic, and so are yours. Wake up and surprise yourself beginning with this book!

Opening the box of my heart

September 26th, 2008    -    26 Comments

A letter to my daughter on my birthday.

My dear heart,
It is customary in these parts to post letters of reflection on our children’s birthdays. But at my age and altitude, a birthday is everyone’s birthday and I can no longer split the difference.

There were stirrings that something was up with you of late. A scurry and hush as I walked into your room. The scattered remnants of things cut out, disassembled, refashioned. You assured me that I would love the present you were making for me, if only I could wait.

This was new for you. Not new to make something, no that isn’t new. But to make and keep a secret of your own. To guard yourself so well and to let excitement crest in your own sturdy chest.

In the morning I came into the kitchen and found the surprise you had snuck overnight onto the center of the table, mimicking every birthday of your own, starting the party at dawn, because not one moment of a day so long awaited can be wasted.

I found a box.

Inscribed with the curious glyphs of a language you now own:

Decorated with pictures of your friends and family, the people and the places you inhabit with and without me:

Labeled emphatically with the contents, the contents that cannot be named or contained:

Opening it, I already know that everything is inside.

I love my life.

Wake up and start coloring

June 17th, 2008    -    6 Comments


From time to time something happens to remind me there is a buddha in the backseat. And then I realize there is one in the front seat too.

“Mommy, has the world always been in color?” she asked.

Hmmm. That’s a good question. It’s been in color for as long as I’ve been around.

“Same here,” she said.

***
What she said: There’s still time to cast in on the BlogHer tag line voting in which your correspondent, kmiller, is contending. And if you’re telling me that you can’t vote because you can’t register because you don’t have a blog, this could well be your invitation to start one.

No inside, no outside

May 21st, 2008    -    12 Comments

Another thing my dog showed me.

Just the idea of it had me pacing anxiously. But there it was in black and white:

Molly should be STRICTLY CONFINED for the next 2 months in an airline kennel, crate or equivalent.

All my doubt and consternation rammed up against this barrier. Say what? A dog? A big dog? A big running, jumping, happy-go-lucky dog? Behind bars? For how long? Say what?

Truth is, just the idea of having a dog – a healthy, ambulatory dog – had seemed confining enough to me. And now the walls were squeezed to an inconceivably narrow enclosure.

We lugged the crate into the house. It loomed over the room. Black, menacing, punitive. Her prison. Our prison.

Molly walked inside the pen. She walked inside and laid down. She laid down and relaxed. She fell asleep. She snored her doggy dreams. When she got better, we began leaving the door unlatched. She ambled in by herself, undisturbed by what you or I might judge as the cruel separation of inside and outside.

She has never been anything but completely unconfined in her confinement, because she has no idea of confinement.

Me? I have been thrashing my head against these bars all my life.

Some are a quicker study.

A real girl

April 21st, 2008    -    16 Comments


A little while ago my daughter directed me to one of her favorite on- and offline passions.

Mommy, come see.
A writing contest.

I think you could win because you’re a really good writer.

It seems to me that I don’t hear that very often from a real live person, or a least not often enough.

Still, I let it slide a bit, because although my daughter is certainly wonderful, she’s not that kind of wonderful, not that kind of competitor, not that kind of hero, prodigy or star. And neither am I.

When the time came to write the essay, I had to keep it real.

When the time came to mention the honors, they told us she was quite real enough.

I hope you’ll read all about it. Georgia was happy enough with the essay, and her prize, but happier still with the cardboard kingdom it inspired one Sunday in the garage.

That’s my real girl. And this is the real-life lesson she keeps giving me: believe in yourself and each other just the way you are.

No one you know

April 10th, 2008    -    20 Comments


Children need to believe that the world is an interesting and safe place. Without it, they cannot grow and explore. When we rear our children to fear other adults we truncate their growth. Human development occurs within the context of real relationships. We learn from whom we love.

–Mary Pipher in The Shelter of Each Other

I scarcely gave the circumstances of my daughter’s life much thought before she was born, occupied as I was with my wished-for baby as the imagined end of the process. But soon, I faced up to the obvious. Here on this earth she would be mostly alone, without the company of kin. [Insert tears here.]

Not only were my husband and I older parents and she an only child, my parents were older and soon to be gone, my sisters older and far away, my nieces decades older and also far away, my husband’s parents farther away and his nieces way farther still.

But as soon as I mustered the gumption to roll a stroller down the hill into our two-bit town, I saw relievedly how it would go. With every coo, grin and bat of her lash, my baby drew people to her, perfect strangers, who filled her eyes and ears with the marvel and music of love. I saw her future instantly: She would draw people to her, and she would never be alone. She would always be loved and her life would always be full and new, if I could keep mustering the gumption to leave the house.

And this makes known my third and final ingredient in my personal program to cultivate childhood creativity.

Ingredient Number 3: A Stranger

It is difficult to trust people, I know. It is difficult to trust teachers, I know. It is difficult to trust other places and even other children, I know. But when we don’t, when we burrow and hide, when we reverse and recoil, when we bind ourselves too tight to our better judgment, creativity curdles. Full and thriving, life doesn’t just depend on the new; life is the new. Life is, by definition, strange. It is always enhanced by the kindness of strangers.

But now I can see that strangers are not always strangers, rather just people with new and unfamiliar gifts. The strangers who will serve and inspire your children may well be the same-old friends, family and neighbors; those with high recommendations and faultless referrals; or they may be the untried and unknown; the teacher you most dread in the school you’re dead set against; and the troublesome kid in the back row. We cannot know or second-guess which strangeness will spark creation’s promise, only that it will. Life is forever new and unfolding; endless and – get this – good.

The stranger my daughter needs most is very often me, when I emerge from my shadowy house of fear and follow her into the bright light of an unknown world where we frolic and swirl to the marvel and music of love. That could be today. It could be any day. Anyone stopping me? Anyone stopping you?

If you still doubt the pervasive and positive influence of strangers, consider this: No one you really know was involved in the writing of this post. Or the reading.

***

Find out even less when you read the first two installments of this three-part peculiarity on creativity: paper and story. Or go back to the beginning and start all over again.

Turning the page

April 8th, 2008    -    6 Comments


This is a story about a girl who lived in a museum. Once upon a time, there was a girl named Opal. She decided she was going to run away. But where? Then she knew where she was going. To the Natural History Museum. Then she packed her bags and left for the Metro train. So she got on and read. Then she got off and went into the Museum.

Last Thursday my daughter took a field trip with her second-grade class to the Natural History Museum. She asked if she could take a notebook with her to write down what she saw. Lately she has been stretching her character a bit, trying on the props of an older girl, an older girl who might write in notebooks while standing in a museum. I said of course. I always give way when I see her stepping into a new and slightly oversized part.

The night after the field trip I snuck a peek into her composition book and saw that she had written the story above. You might be more startled than I was. I recognized the story as that from a book she’d recently read, and the name of the character as that in another. Those two stories now live in her story. They also live in this story of Georgia writing a story about going to the Natural History Museum while going to the Natural History Museum.

Whether we realize it or not, we make every story we ever hear our own. In that way, stories never end.

Thus was made clear the second ingredient in my personal program to cultivate childhood creativity.

Ingredient Number 2: A Story

Some stories come in books, that’s true. Some come at bedtime. Some come to second-graders riding in school buses. But stories are not always stories. Sometimes they are paintings or photographs. Sometimes they are songs or poems. Sometimes they are beads on a string. Stories begin with just anything.

Stories beget stories as life begets life.

Our children are more sagely aware than we are that life is a story. Best not to take the story so seriously, because nothing we make up is as true as the original. Besides, we can always start over again.

***
I’m making up a story about creativity this week. Here’s what got me started.

Rock paper sawdust

April 7th, 2008    -    8 Comments


The other weekend my daughter implored my husband to help “her” build a trundle dollbed for her “sisters”. She was about to take possession of yet another doll, a doll she didn’t need and had nowhere to put but that “she” had duly earned. More about that later.

My husband, being the creative type that he is, “helped” her draw up plans and set up shop in the garage. When I came in a few hours later, Georgia was “working” on the construction from behind the walls of a corrugated “house” loosely assembled with the 24 empty cookie cases we have laying around. Less about that later. Mounds of sawdust had been swept into a landscape. She’d laid a “carpet” of rag towels and discarded sheets, and she was curled up in her cozy make-believe, casually supervising the ongoing carpentry. And she wouldn’t come out. All day, she wouldn’t come out. She was in bliss. And I thought to myself,

Oh my, I have made this childhood thing far more complicated than it ever needed to be.

Thus I was inspired to offer the first ingredient in my personal program to cultivate childhood creativity:

Ingredient Number 1: Paper

One of the things I feel so self-satisfied about is the investment I’ve made in drawing pads for Georgia over the years. (Target should feel good about that too, but the last time I checked, they weren’t yet satisfied with the sum total of my purchases.) A surviving remnant of my daughter’s preschool days is the crate of writing and drawing supplies that resides by our dining room table. It ends up collecting a lot more than writing supplies, but I cull it at least once a year and feel self-satisfied about that too. Here are kept the rubber stamps, stickers and pens, the paper and glue sticks, the maze and puzzle books, the crayons and colored pencils we still use every day, and a veritable landfill of Happy Meal toys.

Georgia is a terrific reader and writer, as I’m annoyingly quick to boast, and I like to think that I contributed cleverly to her early literacy.

But now I see that a piece of paper – the fundamental building block of my personal program of creativity – doesn’t have to be a piece of paper. It can be a box. Or a rock. Or an old towel or sheet. It can be sawdust. It can be string. It can be just anything.

Just anything is the one thing that I consistently withheld from my daughter in her formative years. I never wanted her to use just anything, and I seldom allow it still.

Let’s say I’m a creative work in progress.

***
I’m making a mound of sawdust out of creativity this week. Here’s what got me started.

In estimation of snails and elephants

April 4th, 2008    -    21 Comments


There is a lot of show and tell about creativity these days. I understand the interest. Not so much now, when I can see and delight in my daughter for how colorful she already is, but in the earlier days of child-rearing when I was certain that someone other than me – a specially trained music teacher, art teacher, or storyteller – could do more to prime my daughter’s creative instincts than I could. I sought out those uniquely qualified people, I entrusted the both of us to their able hands, and my daughter and I got out of the house and enjoyed ourselves immensely. These activities were creative exercises, but they were not at all necessary to cultivating creativity.

I was doing it backwards. I thought of creativity as one of a myriad attributes to be managed; an aptitude to instill. Now I see creativity much differently. All children are creative and all adults are creative because life is creation itself. Spontaneous, dynamic, unpredictable, inexplicable and rich with inherent and inscrutable meaning. Creativity doesn’t always look like what we think it should look like, though.

***

The feeling that we lack creativity has given rise to a naturalistic movement – which could soon dwarf even Martha Stewart – giving us lush pictorials on creativity. Everything in displays of this kind defy my imagination: handmade, homemade, artistic, ingenious, and productive beyond human comprehension, or so it seems to me. After absorbing these images, soaking in a simmer of envy, disbelief and despair, I often feel my inspiration evaporate, more certain than ever that I am creatively disabled and DNA impoverished. I am, to be sure, no elephant among artists.

This is not at all the feeling I get after visiting at a certain address in Madison or resting under the blue sky in Virginia, each of which makes me feel right at home with my own kin.

And not so with Ginger Carlson, author of a new book called Child of Wonder. Ginger is an education consultant, teacher, speaker and mother who contacted me a little while ago and offered to send me her book. I instantly agreed for reasons of universal karmic indebtedness. Having plowed this tough turf myself makes me eager to pay back the kindness of strangers. Ginger’s work is full of practical, encouraging, well-researched pedagogy and sane advice for nurturing creativity in your children and yourself. And get this: not one of these ideas requires that I sew, knit, embroider or quilt; grow my own leeks; gather fresh gooseberries; keep small farm animals; make my own curtains; distress my own hardwoods; or hold a paintbrush in my nostril. Those are all clever and worthy ideas but they are ideas that I’m not likely to use today unless I twist them into a switch and beat myself back into my cozy snail shell.

***

Ginger covers many of the same bases but without an outcome-orientation. In other words, her take on creativity isn’t about how it looks, but about how it acts. Her approach to being creative is more than crafts. To wit, some of the unintentional Zen wisdom I gleaned from her pages:

“Let your child be alone.”
“Step outdoors.”
“Don’t ignore the wind.”
“Move your eyebrows.”
“Collect paper clips.”
“Don’t underestimate snails.”
“Question your agenda.”
“Say yes more often.”

In short, I liked Ginger’s use of the everyday and everywhere, the breadth of material and resources, which touch on all the ways we fear we will fail our children’s natural curiosity.

What I liked most about the book is that Ginger asked me to read it. I, for one, recognize that single act as a creative leap of the boldest kind.

And that gave me the creative opportunity to say yes.

Furthermore, she has inspired me to inch along all next week talking about creativity, during which I will make almost no apparent progress and few will call it pretty, least of all me.

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