“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.”
~Henry David Thoreau
For our tenth year of teaching, Amy and I have decided that we are going to spend more time focusing on our creativity. We are going to simplify our lives so that we have clarity about what we truly value. As we get older, we both notice that the material things are less important to us than they used to be. We need to get rid of the literal and metaphorical clutter so that we can discover and display our true passions.
In 2003, Amy and I were walking down a street in Tucson with our Writing Project friend Jan Sabin. We were there to attend a National Writing Project Rural Sites Retreat with the theme “Blending Voice and Place” […hmmm…an influence on our blog title?…]. Keynote speaker Tom Romano inspired us with an emotional multi-genre presentation about his wife’s battle with cancer. No PowerPoints or droning on … just a lot of passion and truth. We had never watched such a creative presentation. To us, Tom was and is a teacher-writer guru. Also, this was our first Writing Project conference. We were a little star struck by the whole experience.
Anyways, while we were strolling down the Arizona sidewalk and enjoying the absence of the usual First of March lion’s roar (we left heaps of snow back at home), Amy told us that she had too much clutter and needed to downsize. “No more buying salt and pepper shakers,” she said. Exactly at that moment, we walked under a sign that read, “Be more.”
“Did you see that sign?” Amy said. We turned back to look and saw that the other side read, “Have less.” I’m not kidding. It was a serendipitous moment. We laughed about how this was Amy’s “sign” and we snapped a couple of pictures. Years later, we still are learning how to “Be more, have less.”
A few years ago, Amy and I took a poetry class at NMU where we met a friend, Matt Maki. This past year, we went to Matt’s poetry reading “The Jesus Year” at an amazing place in west Ishpeming called “The Joy Center.” We admired the raw honesty of Matt’s poetry and fell in love with the spirit of The Joy Center. When Matt recently announced that he would be leading a book study there on The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron, Amy asked me if I would join her.
So this is the beginning of our 13-week creative quest. We attended the first meeting this past Thursday. I’ve read the first chapter and have participated in several suggested writing exercises. In an introductory chapter titled “Spiritual Electricity,” Cameron states:
“As you work with the tools in this book, as you undertake the weekly tasks, many changes will be set in motion. Chief among these changes will be the triggering of synchronicity: we change and the universe furthers and expands that change. I have an irreverent shorthand for this that I keep taped to my writing desk: ‘Leap, and the net will appear.’”
Leap we will. One of my dreams is to write a book […even while putting those words to paper, my inner critic whispers, “So cliché, everyone wants to write a book.”…]. I’ve thought about it for years, but I do not even have a first page. I’ve done lots of other writing, some of it published but most of it written in draft form in notebooks scattered around my house. I hope that I will get past this creative block by nurturing my inner artist. Meanwhile, I need to shush the critic.
I know, too, that one of Amy’s dreams is to publish her poetry. Perhaps this class will quiet her inner censor and provide her with the encouragement to send out those poems…and, believe me, she pens fabulous poetry in her notebooks!
So we are going to do this with two basic tools. Throughout the program, and hopefully longer, we are to write morning pages. Each morning, we are asked to write at least three stream-of-consciousness pages. I often wake up early with some anxiety about the day’s events. I like to write in the morning, so this should work for me. I can get all that negative energy released. Tom Romano calls this quick writing “trusting the gush.”
This reference, Romano says in Crafting Authentic Voice, comes from Walt Whitman, who said this about writing poems:
“And the secret to it all is to write in a gush, the throb, the flood, of the moment – to put things down without deliberation – without worrying about style – without waiting for a fit time and place … You want to catch the first spirit – to tally its truth. By writing at the instant the very heartbeat of life is caught.”
Let the gush begin. I feel comfortable sharing my thoughts with Matt and others in the group, too, because Matt isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. The truth will be welcomed. On Facebook, Matt has “TMI Tuesdays” where he posts thoughts from the day that most people wouldn’t reveal. Matt’s had his share of criticism for this, but I hope he doesn’t change who he is. Nothing grabs the interest of a reader more than the truth.
The second tool is the artist date. Once a week, we are to set aside about a two-hour block to nurture our creative consciousness. This one will be more difficult for me. I’m not in the habit of setting aside much time for myself. This week, for example, I thought about participating in an Introduction to Jewelry Making Workshop at Bella Beads on Wednesday night. Participants make a necklace to keep. This sounds great; however, then I remembered that I told my daughter I would take her to a hip-hop class at the same time. I’m sure all parents run into these time conflicts. I do know, though, that I can’t pick the kids over me every time. There needs to be a balance.
Amy and I believe that taking the time to nurture our creative sides also will help us engage our students. While reading blogs from our National Writing Project colleagues, we drop in on many conversations about nurturing the spirit of “make” in the classroom. Writing teachers around the nation engage students by having them “make” or “play” or “experiment” in the classroom, and then write about their processes. While Amy and I believe in this, we’ve experienced raised eyebrows from a couple of teachers and parents when we’ve introduced creative projects. The comment is that “they’re just having fun, not learning.” We know, of course, that we need to focus on academics but we also know that tapping into their creativity can help students engage with the material and retain it longer. We’re curious how other teachers balance these scales.
After our first Artist Way session last Thursday, Amy and I stayed at The Joy Center an extra couple of hours for “Out Loud,” an open mic session with local writers, musicians and artists. While we talked about our amazement with the talent that surrounded us, Amy and I took a moment to express our gratitude to each other for our friendship. It always leads us to new and interesting places. We’ll continue to support each other in these creative endeavors, and we believe that tapping into our hidden gifts will help us to ‘Be More.’
“In a sense, as we are creative beings,” says Cameron, “our lives become our works of art.”
We are ready to take that leap and to see what we can create.