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Monday, October 29, 2012

Theodore Roosevelt

"With self-discipline most anything is possible."

— Theodore Roosevelt
American Writer, 26th President
1858 - 1919

One of the weaknesses of some writers and artists is the lack of self-discipline which is the key to their long-term success.  One of the hardest things for me to do in college was to sit and study.  There were many activities vying for my attention.  The same is true of many creative leaders.  Thousands of activities are vying for our attention.  We have to be willing to forego short-term pleasure for long-term success.  We have to sit down at the keyboard and write or stand at the easel and paint.  If we don't develop self-discipline, we will never be more than a wanna-be.

Creative Practice:
Is there some creative project that you have been putting off.  Take the time this week to work on that project.  Find a half-hour every day to work without stop.

Theodore Roosevelt was born in New York city as the second child of Theodore Roosevelt Sr. and Martha Bulloch.  He was a sickly child, suffering from asthma.  He took up boxing and exercising to overcome his health problems.  Roosevelt had a photographic memory and spent a lifetime reading books.  He graduated from Harvard.  After graduation, a doctor advised him that he had a serious heart condition and that he should avoid strenuous activity.  He did the opposite.

Roosevelt married Alice Hathaway in 1880.  She died of kidney failure two days after giving birth to their daughter, Alice.  He married Edith Carow, a childhood sweetheart, in 1886.

Roosevelt wrote and published 3 books between 1885 - 1893 while on his ranches in the Dakotas:  Hunting Trips of a Ranchman, Ranch Life and the Hunting-Trail, and the Wilderness Hunter.  

In 1995 Roosevelt became president of the board of New York City Police Commissioners in 1995 and radically reformed the police department.  In 1897, Roosevelt became Assistant Secretary of the Navy under William McKinley.  In 1898, Roosevelt formed the Rough Riders and invaded Cuba.  The Rough Riders became famous for the charge up San Juan Hill on July 1, 1898.  In 1898, Roosevelt was elected governor of New York.  He was nominated as Vice-President in 1900 under William McKinley.  When McKinley was assassinated in 1901, Roosevelt became the 26th President of the United States.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A. E. Housman

"I have seldom written poetry unless I was rather out of health."

A. E. Housman
English Poet
1859 - 1936

A new study conducted by researchers at the Karolinska Institute near Stockholm, Sweden links mental illness to creative individuals like artists, writers, dancers and photographers. Researchers analyzed the anonymous medical records of almost 1.2 million patients from the last 40 years.  The study was published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research this month.  The study shows that families with a history of mental illness are more likely to produce creative family members.

What do you think?  Do you have to be a little bit crazy to be creative?  "I don't think so, but it helps," I say with a grin on my face.  For me the real question is what is normal?  Very few of us are normal.  Some of us are just better at hiding our craziness.  Creative people have to be willing to be different from the norm — to see the world in different ways.  Some of us are able to function in society and some of us are not.

Creative Practice:
Reflect on when you do your best creative work.  Is it when you feeling great and on top of the world or when you are under the weather?  Sometimes my best work occurs when I am not feeling the best or when I am experiencing loneliness.  Pay attention to the time of day when you are the most creative.  For me it is early in the morning if I get up early or late in the day if I get up late.  Study your work habits and change if necessary.

About the Poet:
Alfred Edward Housman was the eldest child of Sarah Jane Williams and Edward Housman.  His mother died when he was 12.  He attended St. John's College at Oxford where he studied the classics.  He was a professor at University College London.  His reputation was build on his classical scholarship.

His major poetry collection was A Shropshire Lad, a cycle of 63 poems which he self-published in 1896.

Study Sources:

Quote Source:
Anne Dillard, The Writing Life, p. 34.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Friedrich Nietzsche

"When my creative energy flowed most freely, my muscular activity was always the greatest. . . . I might might often have been seen dancing; I used to walk through the hills for seven or eight hours on end without a hint of fatigue; I slept well, laughed a good deal—I was perfectly vigorous and patient."

— Friedrich Nietzsche
German Philosopher, Poet, Composer
1844 - 1900

What is the connection between movement and creative energy?  When sitting at my desk writing, I often have the urge to stand up and walk around.  Sometimes I am able to control this urge while on occasion my subconscious takes over and I suddenly find myself walking around.  I also find that some of my most creative thoughts come when I am taking a walk in the early morning.

For the past 25 years I have been teaching a 2 - 3 day workshop in which students sing and dance 4 to 5 times.  Now the dance is not really dance but more physical movement.  The impact on the classes has been amazing.  During the course of workshop people become bonded and connected.  The normal barriers between people fall away and people willingly share about their lives. 

A few years ago I took a class that combined movement, journey and creativity.  We were encouraged to move about an open room with no chairs and find our place in that room — our home.  Then we were asked to find some destination — some place we wanted to go.  And we were to create a path around the room to that point.  We were to move along that path multiple times until it became very familiar to us.  We were also to express our feelings through writing while on this journey.  I found the workshop fascinating.

Years ago when I was only writing haiku, I would take walks during which I would write one or two haiku in my head.  When I reached home, I would write a narrative about my walk and include the haiku.  This type of writing is called haibun and was first written in 17th century Japan by Matsuo Basho.

Creative Practice:
Take a fifteen minute walk and sit down and write for 15 minutes about anything that comes to mind.  Don't stop.  Keep writing.  Don't worry about grammar or spelling.  Repeat this process multiple times during the week.

About the Philosopher:
Portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche
Edvard Munch
Friedrich Nietzsche was born 168 years ago on October 15, 1844 to Carl Nietzsche and Franziska Oehler in Rocken, a small town near Leipzig.  He was named after King Frederick William IV of Prussia who turned 49 on the day of Nietsche's birth.  Nietzsche's father died when he was five.

In 1864, Nietzsche began studying theology and philology at the University of Bonn.  Within a year, he lost his faith and stopped his theological studies.  He wrote his deeply religious sister: "Hence the ways of men part: if you wish to strive for peace of soul and pleasure, then believe; if you wish to be a devotee of truth, then inquire. . ."  He focused his attention on philology.

In 1868, Nietzsche became a professor of classical philology at the University of Basel in Switzerland.  Before leaving Prussia, he renounced his Prussian citizenship and remained officially stateless for the rest of his life.  Nietzsche published his first book, The Birth of Tragedy, in 1872.  The book was poorly received by his colleagues in the philological field.  He resigned his position as professor in 1879 because of health issues.

In 1889, Nietzsche suffered a mental collapse.  In 1898 and 1899, Nietzsche suffered two strokes and was partially paralyzed and unable to speak.  He had another stroke on August 24 and died on August 25, 1900.

Nietzsche is known for his use of poetry and prose in his writings.  Nietzsche was not widely read in his lifetime.  Because of his evocative style, people either love or hate his philosophy and his work even today is very controversial.  Nietzsche's best known writings include: Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil, and The Will to Power.


Without a Home

Swift horses carry me
Without fear and trembling
Through the distant land.
And whoever sees me, knows me,
And whoever knows me, calls me:
The homeless man ...

No one would dare
To ask me about
Where my home is:
I have never been bound
To space and fleeting time,
Am as free as an eagle! ...

Biography Source:

Quote Source: 
Anne Dillard, The Writing Life, p. 33 - 34.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Paul Klee

"Art does not reproduce the visible, rather, it makes visible."

— Paul Klee
Swiss Painter
1879 - 1940

Art does not simply copy the physical world in which we inhabit.  Whether the person is an abstract painter or a realistic painter, each painter must transform the world and make it visible to us.  The same is true of the writer.  Even the novelist with the most realistic dialogue has altered the world so that we can better understand it.  Painting or stories that simply duplicate the visible world fail to inspire us.  They must somehow make the real world more visible to us.

What is your creative vision of the world in which you live?  How does your artistic vision alter the world?  What do you bring to the table that changes the way we see?

Creative Practice:
Write down your artistic vision.  Be sure to write for a minimum of 15 minutes.  Keep writing until you have said everything you can think to say.  Don't try to be perfect or creative.  Don't worry about grammar or spelling.  Simply write and until you have nothing more to say.  If you have nothing to say, keep writing the same thing over and over until something comes.  Start with the phrase, "I see ...."  When you run into a roadblock, start over with "I see..."

About the Painter:
Klee's father was a German music teacher and his mother was a Swiss singer.  Although he was born in Switzerland, he is considered both a Swiss and German painter.  Early in his life, Klee studied music at the encouragement of his parents.  He was very talented on the violin, but chose to become a painter during his teenage years.  He studied art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich.  He married a pianist and fathered one child.  In 1910 Klee had his first solo exhibition in Bern.  His artistic breakthrough came in 1914 when he visited Tunisia and was impressed by the quality of light.  He wrote, "Color has taken possession of me; no longer do I have to chase after it, I know that it has hold of me forever... Color and I are one.  I am a painter."


Red Balloon
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
New York

Flower Myth (1918)
Sprengel Museum
Hannover, Germany

Fire in the Evening
Museum of Modern Art

Quote Source: Clint Brown, Artist to Artist, p. 11.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Jean-Paul Sartre

"A man is always a teller of tales, he lives surrounded by his stories and the stories of others, he sees everything that happens to him through them, and he tries to live his own life as if he were telling a story."

— Jean-Paul Sartre
French Writer
1905 - 1980

What stories are you telling others?  What stories are you telling yourself?  Stories are vital to our understanding of who we are.  Stories connect us with others.  Stories connect us with ourselves.  Stories are the lenses through which we understand the world we inhabit.

My story:  One summer while in college I attempted to read Sartre's novel, Nausea, but the book made me sick to my stomach and I never finished it.

Creative Practice
Tell a new personal story this week -- one you have never told before.  Tell the story several times to different people.  Let the story grow and evolve.  Retell the story with new emphasis.

About the Author
Jean-Paul Sartre was a French existentialist philospher, novelist and playwright.  He was awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize for Literature  but he declined it.


Quote Source:
Jack Maguire, The Power of Personal Storytelling, p. 46.