Following the urge to be artists, or how we can astonish ourselves

I felt I had to follow up my previous blog about the never-ending story with this post on a similar theme.

I was a pre-school playgroup leader for a time when my children were young. For each day’s session I prepared a craft for the kids. I cut out all the bits and pieces so I could give each child with exactly the same materials. I made a sample of the craft so I could hold it up for all to see.

“This is what we’re making,” I said before setting them lose to create.

If there were 15 kids in the group, at the end there would be 15 completely different crafts.

I admired (and envied) how freely those children followed their artist souls and created without apprehensions about what other people might think. I loved how they danced with excitement with their finished products in hand, no matter what they looked like.

A workshop at the writers’ conference I attended recently reminded me of this.

In the workshop led by Cordelia Strube  we worked together to come up with a particular set of circumstances and characters, and then we each wrote individually for about 20 minutes. After the time was up we shared our work.

If there were 20 of us in the group, there were 20 completely different stories.

Once handed the common building materials, each of us scanned them to see what resonated with us individually. We attacked the story from starting points and viewpoints that felt right to us.

Writers in a workshop setting strive to be like those children doing crafts: honouring our artist souls and opening to inspiration, ideas and images, unimpeded by barriers and apprehensions. When we succeed at this, the work we come up with amazes us—shocks us, even—because it’s better than anything we could have foreseen in advance, with all our adult barriers in place.

When we get out of the way of our artist soul, the spirit of the work is good. True.

Astonishing, every time.

 

The never-ending story

In a recent Sunday school class the kids and I played the “Let’s take turns telling a story” game.

I started them off with a character and a general setting and then we took turns with each person around the circle adding new characters, scenes and twists to the story. Plot development by plot development the story unfolded.

Often the ideas that other people came up with surprised us. We’d think to ourselves, “I didn’t see THAT coming.”

At a particularly challenging point in the story, one girl appeared stumped for ideas. She jokingly said, “The end.” But she quickly brushed that aside. “No, no, no,” she said. She gave the matter more thought and came up with an idea.

Sometimes we tried to think ahead so when our turn came we’d be ready. But then the person ahead of us would send the story off in a whole different unexpected direction. We’d have to adapt and think again.

Usually we’d panic a little when our turn arrived. We’d think, “Oh no. What am I going to say?” Once we set the panic aside, an answer always came.

We talked about all this after. We talked about how:

  • Life, like our story, is full of surprises. How often do we say, “I didn’t see that coming!”
  • It’s good to plan ahead but we need to be ready when things go off in a whole different direction. Be open and ready to respond to whatever comes.
  • Sometimes we want to give up. But carrying on is always more satisfying.
  • Panic paralyzes. Calm produces.
  • Working together is way more fun and interesting than puzzling through it on our own.

From this we can remind ourselves not to be surprised by the weird, unexpected plot developments in our lives and to be ready for anything. We can find the determination to never give up, not to panic, and to find some friends to make it interesting.

Have fun living your story.

Apple seed, apple pie: Don’t compare yourself with others

Delicious pie. Dig in!

At what point in your life have you compared yourself with others?

What has made you say, “I will never be able to (sing, act, paint, write, run, kick, score, pitch, speak, draw, teach, etc.) like that? I might as well chuck in the towel now, because I’ll never be that good.”

It happens to writers often. We read a book or passage and think, “That is so well written. I could never have created something like that. Maybe I should just set down my pen (or laptop) right now.”

At the CanWrite conference in Toronto, Canada on the weekend, keynote speaker Alissa York addressed this issue. She said that comparing our fledgling writing projects to completed gems is like comparing an apple seed to an apple pie. If we spend our time drooling over someone else’s pie, we ignore our own seeds. Better to spend our time, she suggested, planting our own seeds in good soil, watering them, placing them in the sun, watching over them and nurturing them. Doing so allows our apple seeds to grow into mature trees that bear fruit with which to make our own version of a delicious pie.

And all the while we are helping our seeds to transform, we can also dig in and enjoy those other pies, instead of wasting time drooling over them.

Bon appétit

The Seven Grandfathers Teachings

Lago Titicaca - According to ancient cultures, it is the birthplace of the sun.

Lago Titicaca – According to ancient South American cultures, it is the birthplace of the sun.

In honour of National Aboriginal Day in Canada on Wednesday, June 21, I am sharing the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers. This traditional story, given to our First Nations early in their history, applies to all people in all times.

__________

The Creator gave seven Grandfathers, who were very powerful spirits, the responsibility to watch over the people. The Grandfathers saw that people were living a hard life. They sent a helper out to spend time amongst the people and find a person who could be taught how to live in harmony with Creation.

Their helper went to the four directions to find a person worthy enough to bring to the Grandfathers. He came across a child, and he tutored the child in the “Good Way of Life.” Each of the Seven Grandfathers gave to the child a principle.

Wisdom: To cherish knowledge is to know Wisdom.

Wisdom is given by the Creator to be used for the good of the people. In the Anishinaabe language, this word expresses not only “wisdom,” but also means “prudence,” or “intelligence” or “knowledge.”

Love: To know Love is to know Peace.

Love must be unconditional. When people are weak they need love the most. This form of love is mutual .

Respect: To honor all creation is to have Respect.

All of creation should be treated with respect. You must give respect if you wish to be respected.

Bravery: Bravery is to face the foe with integrity.

This means “state of having a fearless heart.” To do what is right even when the consequences are unpleasant.

 Honesty: Honesty in facing a situation is to be brave.

Always be honest in word and action. Be honest first with yourself, and you will more easily be able to be honest with others.

Humility: Humility is to know yourself as a sacred part of Creation.

This can also mean “compassion.” You are equal to others, but you are not better.

Truth: Truth is to know all of these things.

Speak the truth. Do not deceive yourself or others.

 

 

 

Bam! Lessons from a child

Monday evening is the regular “library time” for a father and a small boy, and those two are the highlight of my week.

At the time of their visit to the library where I work, I am in the room that houses the book drop. I hear through the door the murmur of their voices and the scraping of a step-stool being pulled into position. The child’s feet climb up one step on the stool and then another as he prepares for his book return ritual.

“Thank you, book. Good-bye,” he says to the first book. He pushes it through the slot. “Bam!” he shouts.

He performs this small ceremony for every book. He returns 10 to 15 books, on average, so his process takes some time. If there are people waiting behind him, he doesn’t adjust his pace; he savours his moment.

I stop whatever I’m doing and savour his moment too. I smile widely.

This child shows me:

  1. He respects and cherishes books.
  2. He expresses gratitude.
  3. He knows how to “be here now.”
  4. He celebrates each moment with a Bam!

Some lessons for all of us, from a child.

Bam!

The Three Questions by Jon J. Muth

One of my favourite books.

Community in mud and flood

footprints in a mud puddle

A walk in the mud.

A few weeks ago I began a blog post entitled “Veering toward the mud.” It was a whimsical piece about a mother with two toddler children I passed on my walk home from the bus stop. All three played with joyful abandon in a deep puddle. Her refreshing lack of concern about how dirty and wet the children became with each passing moment struck me as so rare in these times of overprotective, germ-fearing parenting. I imagined her returning home after to wring out wet socks and turn up their rubber boots to let the water run out. I thought about how, as adults, we veer away from puddles but every child veers toward the mud. At what point, I wondered, do we lose that childlike enjoyment of getting wet and dirty?

I didn’t finish the piece because busy life intervened. I thought, “I’ll get back to it. I hope I manage to do that before our spring mud clears up.”

I needn’t have worried, because then came the flood.

All nature’s forces combined to create flood conditions in the Ottawa River valley and surrounding area that haven’t been seen in the living memories of inhabitants. People didn’t need to veer toward mud and water in the Ottawa-Gatineau area; it veered right into their living rooms.

I took the picture below on Saturday at a local park. This area is usually grass and park benches. The bird in the distance that looks like it’s sitting on a log? That bird is perched on the back of a park bench.

This is a picture of the same area on Sunday. The park bench where the bird sat is now submerged.

park submerged in water

How could I write about playing in water when people a few kilometres from me had to wade through waist-deep water to get to their homes, if they could get to them at all?

There is no joy in that. There is no joy in this mud-ville.

The only solace to be found comes in the goodwill of people. Neighbours who might have only nodded in passing before are now bonding as they work together to fight back the tide. Countless volunteers are spending hours hoisting sandbags for people they don’t even know. The Red Crossas always, first on the scene to give comfort, compassion and the bare necessities for survival—a ledge for people to cling to by their fingernails in their time of crisis.

The only solace comes from community, in mud and flood.

 

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