Phoenix

It can be hard to find beauty as you walk in the wasteland… And some days, seasons, in our lives feel just like that: devoid of beauty, wasted, bleak. But there is hope, friends, always hope. My friend Kristi reminds us to look to the phoenix. Grieve the losses, yes, but look for the new arising from the old.

re:create recess #18: Kristi Grover

Phoenix: a beautiful mythological bird resembling an eagle. It burns to death at the end of its life cycle…and from the ashes another phoenix arises.

As a young child I was absolutely fascinated by the phoenix myth I encountered through story. As an adult I continue to be intrigued by the imagery. I can look back over my life and clearly see many parallels when I consider various eras, relationships, and energies as they emerged, blossomed, and later flamed out—some slowly and quietly and others in a sudden whoosh of flame, leaving behind only ashes.

Yet, each time, those ashes held the promise of re-creation. Ashes are, after all, soil for new growth. They may appear to be a dull, gritty waste but they are in fact rich with nutrients and conducive to vibrant new life. Re-creation.

In the story I read as a child the protagonist is a young boy who has experienced a series of losses. He is lonely, suddenly living in an unfamiliar place, and not clear about what to do next. He strikes out on a solitary, aimless ramble in the woods and comes across a tiny phoenix emerging from what looks like a campfire. They become friends and share wondrous adventures until one day when the phoenix disappears.

The boy’s search for his trusted companion leads him eventually to the same place they first met. He witnesses the flames engulfing his dear friend, and grieves as he accepts that their time together has ended. Eventually he gathers himself to leave until a small sound causes him to look back and he sees a tiny new phoenix emerging from the ashes. Suddenly there is hope and the promise of new adventures.

In my life I have seen this pattern repeat in various ways. A good friend moves away or some other change causes the end of a once close relationship. A dearly loved family member dies. A move severs connection on many levels. A health challenge suddenly arises which effectively closes off meaningful work.

Even good, happily anticipated changes hold some significant loss. I was overjoyed as I anticipated being married to my beloved one, yet also privately needed to grieve significant losses as my life changed quite dramatically. As my children grew into maturity and moved off into lives with their own families, friends, and work, I could rejoice in the new beauty I saw as they grew into the promise of early years, yet there was also bittersweet acknowledgement that a precious window of time closed—family life on this particular level. What helped me in these times, and others like them, was knowing that a new era of life would open up eventually with its own extraordinary beauty.

Each time I needed to accept the change, grieve what was lost, and honor memories. And then I needed to wait patiently until it was time for a new beginning. As a woman of faith, I needed to trust that God was working things out in ways beyond my understanding and that He would bring into my life new relationships, work, or insights which would open the way to new adventures in my life journey with Him.

It is hard to wait, harder still to wait in hope with an open, trusting heart. I have often thought at such times of the answer I would give to young children in my care when, school day over, they waited while all the other children were picked up by a parent or led off to another activity. “When is my mom coming?” they would ask, sometimes with tears. And my answer would always be, “She’ll be here at just the right time.” For young children, waiting is very hard, even agonizing.

Even a two-minute delay feels like forever when everyone else has someone to be with or something wonderful to do. But Mom or Dad or Nanny or Grandparent always did show up eventually and they’d embark on new adventures together, grief eclipsed by the promise of excitement ahead.

In my “wisdom years” now, I’ve lived with chronic pain, cancer, tough challenges to my marriage, deep concerns for my children’s safety as they headed off time and again into dangerous places to do the work they believed God had called them to do, the end of relationships with various family members and friends due to death, moves, changes in work, and many other challenges.

Each loss has needed a time of grieving: remembering the good and trying to learn from the difficult. And always, always, at just the right time—not necessarily the time I would choose but the right time—new opportunities, new challenges, new relationships have emerged. I am given the opportunity to be “re-created” once more. The ashes of loss are real but the promise of new adventures ahead is also real.

I will choose to both honor the beauty of what is gone and welcome the beauty of what lies ahead.

some things that are true about me

My work in life is as a teacher and storyteller.  I take joy in many things – time spent with children and my family and friends, working in various ways for justice, hiking along high mountain ridge lines and walking in the woods and sitting quietly to stare at the ocean, hearing people share their life stories and affirming them, writing and reading, rainy afternoons by the fire with my small grey cat, listening to music and singing and dancing, intelligent conversation and laughter, making a home.  These and other things are true about me but the truest thing is that I am a child of God.

 

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Forward

Oh friends, how I have needed the words and wisdom of this post…! Even for those who don’t think of themselves as Creatives, our very lives are adventures we have the privilege to create. Ann yearns to cheer-lead and encourage, and I’m certain others also need the cool refreshment she’s offering, the gentle nudge to keep going. Let’s keep moving forward, stronger for moving forward together.

re:create recess #17: Ann McDonald

Forward.

I’m soul stirred by the concept of inhabiting forward motion lately.

Truth? I’m not even sure I know what that means, but it feels like the daily practice of choosing to leave yesterday completely behind so today and tomorrow can actually be new…

…new places and spaces where creating is fresh, not simply re-purposed from what we’ve always done.

There is this holy unrest in me to move forward. To see what is possible.

We’ve got something else to build, you and I.

It’s not time to settle in and get small.

The concept of soul-downsizing offends me, as I see some of my acquaintances fold up hope and shrink back in fear. Considering their ideas and dreams old and of no use…they call it wisdom. But it feels more like embarrassment or self-judgment…that comes not from God, not from love.

I believe our best upsized soul days are ahead. Let’s walk those days out together, you and I. It isn’t exit stage left just yet…no matter what age or cycle.

My heart yearns to cheer-lead and encourage in this season.

To remind us we’ve got something never before seen inside of us that wants to be created and come out.

Jesus came to give us abundant life and there is a piece of abundance that includes more.

It’s the “lying one” that came to steal, kill and destroy.

If our thoughts start to steal hope in us, they need to go.

If our dreams start to kill the blessing of prosperity, they need to go.

If our imaginations turn destructive, they must bow to the name of Jesus…and find, in that name, grace for hope in today and most certainly, tomorrow.

Everywhere I turn, my heart burns to lift our collective countenance.

To empower us to the next heap of joy. Not sappy happy, but deeply seeded, “heaven is actually real and it wants to break in on our every-day” kind of joy.

There is this piece of me that yearns to stand on the park bench and get my Berkeley preacher girl on:

“Take the music lessons at 80”
“Learn to ride the horse at 70”
“I heard about this couple named Sarah and Abraham who had a family after 90….”
“Build the idea you’re afraid of into an abundantly prosperous business at 30 – 60 – 100”
“Start an orphanage”
“Bring water to a village”

Why? Because we can’t create those things from a place of downsizing in our soul. They must come from a place of hope and courage. Those things come from abundance…

“Write the book”
“Write the book”
“Write the book!”

Why? Because you may not see yourself as an author, but heaven knows you as one…and time is waning, the veil is thinning…

As I see it, we humans are a resilient and marvelous bunch. Every single one, created by God with something great inside, but we must steward our part forward.

It’s not easy, but sometimes it is. Sometimes there is grace for today to forget and forgive ourselves so we can live our best fearless day with dreams abandoned to the impossible becoming possible…

This is my re:create cry in this season.

Re:create what is impossible without God.

Try.

And so this holy unrest in me to move forward. To build something new. To be something I’ve never been.

Forward. Upsized. In spirit, soul and vision.

Stretch our tent pegs to the right and to the left.

Every day we get a new chance. Every day. Every day we set the coffee and pour a cup for Jesus, convinced at some point He will, in fact, show up to drink.

What is our everyday hope? Do we still have one? Can we even find one in all the noise?

What is our tomorrow dream?

Don’t downsize your soul and fold it up because it feels hard or heavy.

Turn on the lights at home. Buy a new pillow. Have a dinner party. Have a dance party. Host a prayer group that keeps the music on and the feet walking while the prayers ascend…

So many questions I know, but for the Creative, questions stir life.

There must be unanswered questions that move our soul into places in glory we’ve dared to dream of…

For today, let the spaces and places you inhabit move you forward…not hold you back.

And here dear one, is our collective key: the doors only open forward…

Xo – Ann

Creative Ann McDonald has been designing spaces & places and enterprises from ideas for over 30 years. Having lived & worked in New York City, Beverly Hills and now the San Francisco Bay Area, she exists to empower people to do great things. Ann believes joy is strength and if God said it, it must be true…even when we can’t see it just yet. Her Idea to Implementation curriculum is part of the 7 Mountain Message, she mentors Kingdom Entrepreneurs & equips people to create prosperity from ideas.

She and her husband Patrick have recently co-created a new health minded endeavor, Forwardshape™, set to launch Fall 2017. The purpose of Forwardshape™ is to empower a multi-generational movement away from shame, regret, unbelief and unforgiveness into joy, peace and righteousness in the everyday. To join the movement free of charge prior to launch, visit www.forwardshape.com.

 

 

All of the Above

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone say “I’m not creative” just in the last eighteen months. I disagree. We are all creative, as humans created in the image of a creative God. We’ve misunderstood creativity. We’ve unlearned the creativity so natural to children. We’ve allowed the critical voices to occupy space in our heads and censor us. Honest: I often feel like I’m not creative, or not creative enough, especially when I look at others who engage in creativity different from my own. So I need, as we all do, regular bursts of encouragement from creatives like my friend Nancy.

re:create recess #15: Nancy Ingersoll

reCREATE. Creating over and over again, or having fun (as in recreational). Why not both? Yeah, I choose all of the above.

After all, I choose more than one discipline for my job. I have so many job titles that a friend helped me narrow it down to a single overarching title. So, I am a full-service creative resource. That title covers all of it. Part-time graphic designer for marketing collateral, part-time high school teacher (photography & yearbook), and part-time artist (even that is diverse since artist includes photography, hand lettering, and graphic design). Notice the common thread there? All of them have me creating or fostering creativity in others.

Additionally, I consider myself a life-long learner. I occasionally attend workshops, periodically enroll in online classes, and dabble in a constant battle of self-taught topics. In each, I’m almost always creating something, but rarely duplicating my efforts. Cooking, painting, hand lettering, a myriad of computer/digital based topics, and a few randoms that still fit into the creating category (like the time I attended a tiling workshop and had the carpet ripped out and a tile entry in our house laid before my husband was home from work).

I was hired to teach photography at a a three-day workshop this summer, which makes sense since I teach Advanced Placement Photography at the high school level. As part of the gig, each of the five instructors were asked to come up with a secondary topic for a mini-session on the last day of the workshop to provide a breadth of instruction for each of the attendees. My pick was typography. You see, I know from preparing to teach other things (from the second grade Bible class to each of the ten subjects I have taught in high schools), that the teacher gains just as much from the research and lesson plans.

I have adored typography for ages. It was one of the few college textbooks I did not sell back when the class was over. In addition to creating graphic designs for marketing purposes, my role as Yearbook Advisor has had me examining fonts annually to pick a new mix that works well together, provides personality, and maintains content readability. Creating does not have to be the act of inventing. Creating includes curating and arranging.

While most of my creating involves some visual product, there are a gazillion forms of creating: from writing to playing an instrument, from gardening to cooking, from flower arranging to fashion stylist, and so on. All of which need ideas to feed them.

I am not a real writer, like a few of my friends who have top-selling books or regularly published blogs, I am an idea girl. I tend to give away half of these ideas to students who are stumped or to marketing clients who want to execute something new. Okay, not all of my ideas are given away for free, these are parts of my job. But I also occasionally share some of my ideas, on my totally irregular, sporadic and un-calendared blog.  And of course, I keep a few ideas for myself to create artwork that ends up in my online shop (which has shipped to thirteen different countries, last count).

For a long time, I have integrated my faith into some of my art. But, for fear of what others thought, I kept those pieces to myself. In March 2015, I gained the courage to post some of it on social media. I kept those to small doses, buried between other ‘regular’ posts. Exactly two years later, I participated in a faith-based hand lettering challenge which had me posting a verse everyday for a month. I realized that my faith-based art received a favorable response and I was able to let go of the fear and embrace the fact that my hand lettered Bible verses can inspire others and serve as a means of conversation starters. By conversation starter, I mean that it can open the door to share the Gospel because it is a sign for those with questions that you are a believer, or it can be a reminder to stop and reflect on the message and pray about it. Prayer is also a conversation—a conversation with God.

So the point of me sharing all of this is that everyone can create because creating comes in many forms, and you should never hold back.

 

Photo credit: Christy McCarter Photography, http://christymccarter.com/

Nancy is a California native with an affinity for typography. Professionally, she is both a teacher and a practicing artist. She teaches a high school Advanced Placement Photography class, hence the instagram name, and does freelance design work in addition to creating her own artwork, most of which recently have been hand lettered faith-based pieces. She and her husband live in the San Francisco Bay Area; they have launched two kids through the UC system, one recent graduate and one still in school.

 

 

 

 

instagram | @thephotocottage https://www.instagram.com/thephotocottage/
website | nancyingersoll.com
hand-lettered fonts | https://creativemarket.com/thephotocottage?u=thephotocottage
print on demand art | https://nancy-ingersoll.pixels.com/index.html?tab=galleries

 

Books: June-July 2017

Eight books in two months. Six fiction (including one YA), one creative/motivational, and one feminist manifesto. Seven female authors, one male; one Nigerian and one Swede.

What are you reading?

BeartownBeartown by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Backman’s fans will come to Beartown expecting Ove and Britt-Marie, but they will not be found here. Beartown itself will remind readers of Borg, the town in which Britt-Marie discovered a love for soccer through her unexpected affection for those who played it, but in Beartown Backman has diverged from his old, odd characters to focus on a youth hockey team coming of age under pressure of a town that has all its hopes pinned to them.

Despite Backman’s clever writing and insight into human nature at its worst (and occasionally, best) I almost put this one down. Be warned: for those sensitive to the politics that rage around the issue of rape, this is not the book for you. The story is nuanced but for me the end didn’t justify the means.

“Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes much easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil. The easiest way to unite a group isn’t through love, because love is hard. It makes demands. Hate is simple.
“So the first thing that happens in a conflict is that we choose a side, because that’s easier than trying to hold two thoughts in our heads at the same time. The second thing that happens is that we seek out facts that confirm what we want to believe–comforting facts, ones that permit life to go on as normal. The third is that we dehumanize our enemy. There are many ways of doing that, but none is easier than taking her name away from her” (273).

The Pull of The MoonThe Pull of The Moon by Elizabeth Berg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A 50-year-old woman leaves husband and grown daughter behind as she drives away from her life. Except, she doesn’t. Oh, she drives. But she keeps her loved ones with her as she writes letters to him and journals for herself. She calls her daughter once, and writes about that, too. As she moves forward in the present, she reflects on the past, another way of moving into the future. And while it may outwardly look like she’s running (driving) away from her life, she’s truly reconnecting with herself in order to return to it, renewed, more fully whole than ever before.

In Wild, Cheryl Strayed hiked herself into the woman her mother raised her to be. In Moon, Nan drives herself into the woman she wants to be. I wonder if any woman of a certain age could read this book and not recognize something of herself.

It’s so humiliating, she told me. It’s like you’re being punished for something and you’ve no idea what you’ve done wrong except age. She didn’t really hear what she said, she didn’t hear the natural acceptance in her voice of the idea that aging is a crime. But I did. And when I heard it in her, I saw it in me” (104-105).

“And now, in my own stillness, I hear something. ‘Where have you been?’ my inside body whispers to my outside one. Its sense of outrage is present, but dulled by the grief of abandonment. ‘I had ideas. There were things to do. Where did you go?’
“What can I answer? Oh, I had some errands to run. I had a few things to do. I needed to get married and have a child and go underground for twenty-five years, be pleasantly suffocated. I meant to come back. But the bread crumbs got blown away.” (125)

The Most Dangerous Place on EarthThe Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

“I hate careless people,” declares Jordan in The Great Gatsby, quoted by Calista in her first paper for Miss Nicoll’s Mill Valley High School junior English class.

Every character in this novel is careless. All of them: students, parents, teachers, administrators. Even the ones who begin with a care deal with them carelessly: drugs, alcohol, parties, escapism, suicide.

Johnson’s writing style is crisp, with clearly-developed characters. Set in an affluent San Francisco Bay neighborhood, anyone who lives in an affluent neighborhood knows people just like these: the sporty pretty boy; the beautiful and introverted loner; the too-smart-for-school kid who takes his smarts to the street; the too-sensitive special needs kid; the popular A-student who can’t scratch the surface; the parents (all of them), abusive in their attention and neglect; the idealistic young teacher; the jaded administrator.

The problem is, her characters are all stereotypes, and Johnson puts each into worst-case scenarios. Stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason, because they are recognizable. I so wanted this book to take a new look, a different angle, provide new insight. Sadly, no. And here’s the real catch: in any one class, in one mesh of overlapping friend-groups in one high school graduating class, you won’t have this many significant tragedies.

By the last few chapters, I just felt depressed. Who wants to spend novel-length time with careless, contemptible people? I’m certain that was to Johnson’s point, that money has the power to hide the warts and sins, but she took it too far. Her writing style commends her (hence the two stars), but this story doesn’t.

The MuseThe Muse by Jessie Burton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A unique take on the “Haves and Have Nots: Wealth, Power, Talent” theme, set alternately in London in the late-60’s and Spain in the late-30’s. Odelle, a young woman from the Caribbean, moves with her best friend to London. She has no wealth or power, but she has talent, makes some good decisions, and in the process makes life-changing connections. Her friend shows her a spectacular painting which belonged to his late mother that he might want to sell at auction, and this moment connects them to the story set in Spain in the 30’s. Teresa has nothing but her wits; her brother Isaac wields some power but lacks talent; the daughter of their new employer, Olive, has wealth and talent but no power beyond the relationship she dangerously winds around the siblings.

Initially this book felt a little slow, but then I read the entire second half in a day. I just wish I could also have seen the paintings, because Burton did such a beautiful job describing them that I know they would be breathtaking.

“This is what she taught me: you have to be ready in order to be lucky. You have to put your pieces into play” (p5).

Writers may relate: “I knew it was true that I had stalled again on my writing. For once, I was too caught up with actually living my life to stop and turn it into words. People like Lawrie–who never wrote a single line of prose, as far as I knew–seemed to want those who did to walk around with a pad and pencil hanging round their neck, jotting down the whole thing, turning it into a book for their own pleasure” (364-365).

The NestThe Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Over the last year, The Nest kept popping into view. I’d pick it up, reread the book jacket, and put it back down. Dysfunctional family? I have my own, which is more than enough. Thanks, but no thanks. But when my neighbor shoved it in my hands, saying she’d just finished and really enjoyed it, and I had to read it before returning it to the library, I gave in.

So glad I did! This is not my family. Thankfully. But I totally relate to each one in all their mess and love them the more for it. Start to finish, I found this a completely satisfying–and entirely too quick–read. One of my favorite things about it was its structure, batting back and forth between the four siblings, but then also between everyone who over the period of this year intersects with them: spouses and children, of course, but also coworkers and friends and neighbors and enemies. What seemed at first like diversions actually intensified my desire to keep reading, because who knew what would happen next?

The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your PassionThe Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion by Elle Luna
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my new favorite book for anyone creative, anyone who longs to tap into their creativity, or anyone feeling at a crossroad in life. Through words written and painted, through paintings and photographs, through quotes from some of history’s greats, Luna nudges us to find our unique Must, to dialogue with the Shoulds holding us back, face our fears, and take one new action to honor our calling TODAY.

“All too often, we feel that we are not living the fullness of our lives because we are not expressing the fullness of our gifts” (ix).

Swimming LessonsSwimming Lessons by Claire Fuller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“What could go wrong?” the characters ask each other, repeatedly.

When careless people rush in, without honest and caring communication, a lot can go terribly wrong. Several lives filled to the brim with heartache can be the consequences.

Fuller’s writing is precise and beautiful. She gives us a story in which not a lot happens while emotions seethe beneath the surface as each character moves forward through the mistakes they and those before them have made.

So much can go wrong. And yet, life does goes on.

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen SuggestionsDear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Quick, thought-provoking read. To me, most of it seems common sense, except I know her fifteen suggestions are not ‘common’ enough. I wish all new parents, all middle schoolers, and all high school seniors (three critically life-changing junctures) could read and discuss this book–how society could be different!

Suggestion #1: Be a full person. How many women lose themselves in motherhood, signing their kids up and carting them from one activity to another while forgetting that their own life is worth something, too.
Suggestion #5: Teach her to read. Parents, teach all your kids to read, and help them read widely. If you don’t like to read, find something you will like to read. Reading is essential!

And so many of the other suggestions stem from here: reading gives one words, language, and ability to question, to consider the significance of assumptions that show up in our language, to communicate with ourselves, others, the world.

Words matter. They help shape our worldview. We need to talk with our children, to help them understand their lives and their place in the world. This book can help to lead the discussion.

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Everything Thrums

As I prepare this post, Teen has the TV on while watching videos on his phone and Tween stares into the computer game abyss. The competing sounds drown out the natural world: birdsong, chattering squirrels, leaves rustling in the (too) slight summer breeze. My friend Bruce encourages us to listen, to tap into the flow, to tune our ears to the thrum of God’s creativity. But first, to deal with the noise…

re:create recess #14: Bruce Lawrie

When we were little our play was filled with creativity. Children can conjure up whole worlds before sitting down for a bowl of cereal only to dismantle their creation in favor of three or four more elaborate universes they assemble before lunchtime. I used to spend hours with my Revolutionary War army men that I ordered from the back cover of one of my Spiderman comic books after saving for months, hundreds of tiny molded plastic figures, red for British and blue for American. Great sagas unfolded out back in the sandbox behind the old farmhouse where we lived in Indiana. Regiments of infantrymen and drummer boys, backed by rows of cannons, fought epic battles in the shifting sands, deluged by flash floods emitted from the garden hose, bombarded by bricks and cinderblocks from above, set aflame, in one of the more gruesome and memorable battles, by my dad’s lighter I had snuck from his desk.

One of my daughter’s favorite forms of recreation when she was young was creating endless shows: plays, book readings, operatic arias, puppet shows, tumbling exhibitions, karate demonstrations, ballet, rock-n-roll shows, modern dance, the Macarena. The only encouragement she needed was a momentary lull in the adults’ conversation.

Maybe it’s because kids are so fresh from the Creator that their recreation revolves around creation. Imagine the fun God and Jesus must have had as they sung the cosmos into existence, reveled in the creation of the DNA helix, grinned at each other as the two trillion galaxies unfolded. How they must have marveled together at the first beloved child they breathed into being. Everything thrums with God’s infinite creativity. The mountains proclaim it; the Pacific shines with it; the Milky Way aches with it. Our kids are filled to the brim with it and when they play they are swimming in it.

As we age our creativity is dulled by worry and planning and all the other grown-up thoughts that fill up our heads. When adults make art they set aside the constant murmuring of these internal voices long enough to allow the Creator’s love to flow through them again. To create is to connect with the Life we sense pulsing just beneath our day-to-day reality, just out of sight. We catch glimpses of it, hear faint echoes of it, but can’t quite hold onto it. To pick up a pen, a paint brush, or a lump of clay and take the first step in search of what lies below is to reach out for the unknowable. We hope to capture a bit of the Light, something real that others can feel and connect with. To create art is to connect. These mirrors we build—a poem, a sketch, a line in a play—manage to reflect truth in a way our words and thoughts cannot.

It is as if these truths pre-exist us and it is the artist who discovers them, hacking through the thicket in search of something she herself can’t fully describe. The writer sits at her desk and aims in the general direction of where she caught a glimmer of Light. She writes and rewrites, not yet clear herself on where the piece is headed, cutting, editing, and editing some more. And then slowly she begins to see where she is going, perhaps she is on to something here. She reads her work aloud again and again until she discovers she may have found it, or a bit of it, the truth just beyond the veil. Built from words, her poem is a vessel that holds more than the words themselves can convey.

In 1964 Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias first heard the distant echoes of the Big Bang, an “inexplicable hum” they picked up on their radio telescope in New Jersey. Apparently, when the Word and God got together to kick things off, they started by humming a tune. To sing and to dance is to align yourself with the Flow, to experience the harmony of Father and Son. How easily our kids pick up on the joy singing through the world, ready at a moment’s notice to boogie with all they’ve got, to run and leap in the fading evening light, to curl so thoroughly into a story being read aloud to them before bedtime that their bedroom, their daddy, their teddy dissolve into the unwinding tale. Perhaps we can learn from them, turning our senses like a finely tuned radio telescope to the music of creation. Perhaps we’ll discover the song that moves us to play with our Creator.

Bruce and his creative daughter

 

Bruce Lawrie lives in Moraga, California. His work has appeared in Portland, Notre Dame, The Best Spiritual Writing, and elsewhere. Links to published stories: Who am I Lord, My Turn, and The Ride of a Lifetime

When It Clicks

College, first semester freshman year, I had a professor (in a non-writing class) who taught me one of the most useful skills I have ever learned: freewriting. “For the next minute [or three, or five], put pencil to paper and Do Not Stop! If you cannot think of anything to write, write that. If that bores you to tears, draw dots. Keep your pencil moving until more thoughts come. Do not reread what you’ve written and DO NOT EDIT! Just keep your pencil moving down the line, down the page. Now WRITE!” I have used this approach bazillions of times in my life to come unstuck. I have taught my teens to do it, and now I know even Jack Kerouac knew the way of (what I call) the brain dump. Add exercise, physical play (any kind of play that moves you), and your freewrites might click in ways you’d never imagined…

re:create recess #11: Paul Quinlivan

There I was, somewhere deep in the middle of Gifford Pinchot National Forest, a few miles west of Mt. Adams and East of Mount St. Helens in Southern Washington state, when everything clicked. I had already walked over 350 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail from Crater Lake, heading north toward the Canadian border. I had sweated and cried, been scared and felt calm, lost myself and then allowed myself to be found, seen unspeakable beauty (see Sisters Wilderness) and brokenness (think miles of forest ravaged by a forest fire); I had experienced nearly every emotion you could name and then a few more, but something still seemed incomplete even if I couldn’t name it. That was, until things clicked.

At some point it happened. On a random patch of trail in the middle of the woods I suddenly had the urge to create. Poems somehow appeared in my mind. Images from my past and present converged and all I could do was ride the wave of creativity. When I reached my destination that afternoon I was in a tizzy with poem after poem, story after story, attempting to document all that came to me. And I use that language intentionally, because it came to me. It was probably in me all along, but I needed that moment, that ‘click,’ when the cosmos of the world came together and all made sense.

I am a firm believer that each of us has a multitude of moments such as this throughout our lives. Most often they pass us by. We have become unpracticed at either noticing or doing anything with these moments. Too busy running between our jobs and children’s soccer games and faith community meetings to slow down enough to actually document the spirit of creation coming upon us. Or maybe we are blocked by shame, or fear, or the voices of inadequacy or doubt and self-contempt to risk the tangible act of putting into the world all that floats around in our minds and bodies. Whatever the reason, we don’t take full advantage.

Those that create professionally are not all that different from the non-creative others except that they pay attention to the moments and cultivate practices–rituals–to document the waves of inspiration. Jack Kerouac famously engaged in what he termed “spontaneous prose,” sitting at his typewriter documenting everything that came to mind. Most of it was probably crap and rarely became published work, but then again some of those words gave us a classic that defined a whole generation of artists. I also believe that the best practice, or ritual, to bring forth these inspired moments is play, an activity that takes us out of the creative blocks we have put in place.

I spend the majority of my professional life as a mental health therapist working with adults, adolescents, families, and couples struggling with the effects of abuse, complex trauma and general relational discord. While there are many technicalities to what healing might look like for my clients as a general rule, if I could invite them to play more, to recreate, they could begin to have greater freedom in their lives and their treatment. Recreation invites us back into our child selves when the world was safe and large and whimsical. It means, like a child, we engage in an activity where we don’t hold back our imagination for what the world could be and how we could be active participants in it.

For me to get to this place, I go on long walks. As I hike my body begins to remember what it was like to be free to explore the beautiful expanse outside my door. Inevitably, somewhere along the way I forget I am walking and something clicks, and I am taken again by the spirit of creativity.

Place of my Youth
Have you ever watched a sunset over a mountain?
The rays playing in the branches, the alarming mist.
It fades to its becoming horizon leaving the tree tops on fire
The sky begins to melt from a bright blue, to navy to purple
The air cools and wild ducks make their final peace with the disappearing lake edge
The expanse above welcomes the darkness as the eldest, brightest stars grace the veil until their sisters and cousins come to dance across the world above
inviting you to remember your youth
Have you ever watch a sunset over a mountain lake?
I have. It has awakened my soul.
Father, Husband, Friend, Therapist, Hiker, Surfer, Mystic, Writer, Farmer and Teacher are but a few of Paul Quinlivan’s many monikers. He lives with his lovely wife Alyssa, 20 month old son and 5 month old daughter, 4 chickens and their South American dog in a slowly gentrifying suburb of Seattle. When he is not attempting to recapture his artistic self through writing he works to help others find themselves as a therapist at a local community mental health agency and in private practice. More info on Paul and his practice can be found at www.wildgoosecollective.org

 

Practicing Re-Creation

Today’s guest post makes me so happy, in part because I recently got to spend an evening with this friend…in person, after WAY too many years (we have spent more years not seeing each other than we were old the last time we saw each other–yikes!). And because, as long as I’ve known her, this friend has demonstrated through her daily actions how to live creatively. I have watched her practice, keep at it, create, for the years we lived nearby and on social media over the years we’ve lived far away. I can’t wait for y’all to get a glimpse of this talented artist (by the way, she was also the first person I knew who actually said “y’all” and it has stuck with me ever since).

re:create recess #10: Amy Bailey

“Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”― Kurt Vonnegut Jr.A Man Without a Country

When I think of re-create it conjures all sorts of deep aesthetic and art education theories and other related thoughts. Overthinking, no doubt. I am an art teacher. I facilitate creating. I feel blessed that my job is a chance to celebrate the unique and praise the process and growth in students. It’s an amazing thing to see the world from their own framework as they are influenced by nature, their interests, the limits and strengths of the supplies and art medium, art history and cultural awareness promoted in the lesson we are embarking on that given day. It’s a matter of how to be creative, how to be more unique, how to encourage creativity in others that stays with me most of my waking hours. My job is to pull creativity out of students despite their mood, what they had for breakfast and if they got a detention last period or aced a test. Yet, I make more excuses for myself about making ways and time to create.

It’s all re-creation and it’s all attempts to transform.

While I get to embrace creativity and it’s a natural part of who I am, I find it important to nurture my artistic side and battle with the challenge of making time for me when I’m not busy working and being a single parent. As an art teacher, so often I am creating art samples for my lessons at work and get these little moments to create that benefit my work and benefit me. Yet that doesn’t fulfill me as much as my own personal projects.

When I beat myself up inside that I haven’t made something big and artistic lately, destined to be posted on Instagram or mega-crafty Pinterest, I have to take a step back and reframe my feelings. Creative moments are not always about the big creative moments. They’re often little outlets in the day, from creative ways to send sweet words of love and encouragement to a new spin on a favorite recipe, a well-cropped photo on my phone, color choices to liven up my day. Then when life is most balanced, there is time for studio art production and writing a blog entry. 😉

That has to be very intentional. So how do I translate that to adult life? It should be easy, but it’s not.

What I hold to about creating is: it’s all really re-creation. Honestly, it’s all been done before.

When I am devoting myself to re-creation, those are some of the most refreshing times for me. Honoring the past by re-creating the symbols that connect the past and present for me are some of the healthiest and rewarding artistic moments I can have.

It’s never because I can make it better than the original; it’s because the original makes my life better. When I make a chalk pastel and charcoal blue jay, in no way do I make it better than the original forms in nature, but rather it connects me to a time in life that is gone. So I go back to the same subjects and draw them and paint them and print them, as a measure of preserving memories.

One of my favorite subjects to transform in art are blue jays. Losing my mother one month before my son was born left me in a helpless state away from friends and family figuring out parenthood with a spouse working eighteen-hour shifts. I had this sweet bundle to take care of and the awesomeness of that responsibility was terrifying and wonderful.

One day, I was feeling very alone as a new mother, wishing my mother was alive so I could pick up the phone and talk to her. As I cried out, I heard an awful squawk over and over again outside my window. I went to the window to find a couple of blue jays chattering right outside. In the two years of living in that duplex in downtown Denver I had never seen blue jays hanging out, nor heard them disrupt my day.

It clicked with me immediately that my bird-loving mother had this strange admiration for this grouchy, feisty variety of bird. Her bird feeder would be full of sweet and beautiful smaller birds and charming doves. She loved them all, and had this wonderful patience and love for this colorful, bold and confident bird. She collected bird figurines and spent a long time tracking down a jay. I had often wondered, because most people did not like jays enough to have one in porcelain!

So there I was with a newborn, grieving my mother, and these blue jays were calling out. I had to be bold and I had to remember I was not alone. As they squawked at me, I felt my mom was there. Now as I see blue jays flock around my house from time to time, I remember to catch my breath and know her love is with me. I must be bold and press through the challenges of my day.

It’s important for to hone in on those subjects that honor the past and celebrate the significant memories. Transforming it to keep it alive and vital in the journey.

Honoring the past and re-creating the symbols that connect the past and present for me are some of the healthiest and rewarding artistic moments I can have.

So I go back to the jays and draw them and paint them and print them as a measure of preserving my mother’s presence. The jays nag and nudge me to not dwell on what is missing and to fill life with the things that are loving. Creation, when I am most focused, re-creates feelings that call me back to times when my heart had less scars.

Amy Bailey is an artist, art teacher and proud mother of 2.