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Monday, May 27, 2013

Uche Nduka

"Creativity is a way of responding to life.  It's an all-around essence — it's in how you make love, how you cook, how you talk to other people."

— Uche Nduka
Nigerian Poet / Songwriter
1963 -

Are you creative in every area of your life?  Or do you limit your creativity to your art or your writing?  Creativity is a way of life.  It is how we live our lives.  Creativity is about making things better — about changing the world in which you live.  You can be creative while brushing your teeth or combing your hair.  Creativity is about how you see the world — how you experience the world.  Creativity is how we explore the world and learn its secrets.  Don't limit your creativity.  Don't limit yourself.

Everyone is born with the gift of creativity, but many lose the gift on the road to adulthood.  You can recover this gift if it has been lost.  You can expand your gift if it has shrunk over the years.  Learn to apply creativity to everything you do or say.  Learn to be happy with the gift you have been given.  Learn to release your natural creativity to help you deal with the problems of the world or your personal life.

Celebrate the gift of creativity.  Acknowledge the gift that you have been given.  Share the gift of creativity with others.  Believe that you can change your world through creativity.  Free yourself from the shackles of doubt.  Embrace your inner creative being.

Creative Practice
This week apply your creative gifts to areas of your life where you normally are not creative.  Maybe you create a new dish in kitchen.  Maybe you have a creative conversation with a friend.  Maybe you invent a tool to make your life simpler.  

Uche Nduka was born in Umuahia, Nigeria.  He earned a B.A. in English from the University of Nigeria.  He published his first collection of poems in 1988 at the age of 25.  He has since published 8 more collections of poetry.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Fiona Gardner

"One of the most important things about childhood is imagination.  All artists, on some level, are adults who still have access to their imagination, who have figured out a way to carry that into being an adult."

Fiona Gardner
American Photographer / Artist

Potential creative projects are all around us.  It takes imagination to find them.  Fiona Gardner found hers at Ellen's Stardust Diner in New York in form of Miss Subways.  She spent several years of her life working on the project with Amy Zimmer.  

We all have ideas, but most of us never act upon those ideas, and if we act upon an idea, we often don't finish the project.  I have started two novels that I have never finished.  I began a haiku notecard business using my haiku with artwork that never made a sale.  I still have cards sitting on a shelf in a closet.  I had an idea for a sports newspaper that focused only on local sports like Little League, softball teams, etc.  I never even got to first base.  I struck out before I got started.  I once had the idea for a book about the history of Illinois High School Tournament basketball.  I wrote to the state high school basketball association proposing that they fund my writing of the book but received no answer.  A year later they published their own history using a retired sports writer.  They stole my idea and didn't even acknowledge the theft.

But there are projects that I have finished.  My wife had an idea about writing a book on pet loss and the grieving people experience.  We spend four years on the book and interviewed over 100 people.  We published the hardback version in 1998 and the paperback in 2000.  The paperback, It's Okay To Cry, can still be found on Amazon.  The driving force behind the book was my wife.  She held my feet to the fire until it was finished.

We all have ideas.  The key is acting upon our ideas.  What ideas have you had that are still resting in a file folder somewhere?  What ideas have you started but never finished?  What projects do you need to take off the back burner and finish?

Creative Practice
Review your files for past ideas that you have never brought to completion.  Choose the one that you are most passionate about and set a target date for its completion.  Begin working on the project this week.

Fiona Gardner is an artist and photographer based in New York.  She received a BFA in painting from Rhode Island School of Design and a MFA in photography from Columbia.  Her work focuses on women and performance in constructed environments.  She has photographed mermaids, Southern belles and Miss Subways.  Miss Subways was a beauty contest which ran between 1941 - 1976 in New York and used to promote the subways.

Here is journalist Amy Zimmer talking about Miss Subways.  Amy and Fiona collaborated to create the book, Meet Miss Subways: New York's Beauty Queens 1941 - 1976.

Reference Links:


NPR Story: (See some of the Miss Subways, then and now.)

New York Times (Nine Miss Subways)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Lucille Clifton

"I have a feeling that sometimes rather than wrestle and look for words, you have to be still and let them come."

Lucille Clifton
American Poet / Writer
1936 - 2010

People sometimes perceive writers and poets as spending their days wrestling with words until they find the perfect word.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Yes, there a moments of revision and some will revise for years searching for the best word to convey the meaning.  But sometimes writers are lucky and the words appear as if out of nowhere.  A good writer, artist and creative leader learns how to remain still and listen.

Creative Exercise
Find a quiet spot where you will not be bothered by people and their electronic gadgets.  Spend 10 to 15 minutes listening to the sounds both within your head and outside.  Then take out your paper and pen and write for 10 minutes.  Repeat this process 5 times throughout the week.  At the end of the week review your work.  For an artist, repeat the same process and draw instead of write.

Lucille Clifton was born in Depew, New York.  She graduated from high school in 1953 and attended Howard University and the State University of New York at Fredonia.  She married Fred James Clifton, a professor of Philosophy and sculptor, in 1958.  The novelist Ishmael Reed introduced them while he was organizing the Buffalo Community Drama Workshop.  Reed also shared her poetry with Langston Hughes who included them in his anthology, The Poetry of the Negro.

Clifton's first poetry collection, Good Times, was published in 1969.  She was poet-in-residence at Coppin State College in Baltimore from 1971 - 1974.  She was the Poet Laureate of Maryland from 1979 - 1985.  Over the years she has taught at Columbia University, George Washington University, University of California at Santa Cruz, St. Mary's College of Maryland and Dartmouth College.

Clifton published 14 collections of poetry and won numerous awards including the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize in 2007, the National Book Award in 2000 and the 1996 Lannan Literary Award for Poetry.  She also wrote and published 18 children's books.  Her children's book, Everett Anderson's Goodbye, won the Coretta Scott King Award in 1984.

In Clifton's interview with Bill Moyer for his series the Language of Life, she said: "I was not trained as a poet, and I've never taken poetry lessons or had workshops.  Nobody taught me anything much, really.  So, I learned how to learn, and what I learned is that I could be still and allow the world and the impressions and the feelings — I'm very good with feelings — to come to me, and I could use our language to write them down."

Here is Lucille Clifton reading her poem, won't you celebrate with me.

Monday, May 6, 2013

John Holt

"We learn to do something by doing it.  There is no other way."

— John Holt
American Author, Educator
1923 - 1985

We take in information about the world outside ourselves through our senses of seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling and it is through these senses that we learn.  When it comes to the classroom, we learn primarily through seeing, hearing and doing.  Usually one or two of these ways of learning will be dominate in a person, but we learn through all three ways and we can improve our ability to learn in a given way.  

How do you learn?  Are you a life-long learner?  Are you a visual learner?  Do you learn best by seeing something?  There are two types of visual learners?  Those that learn through pictures and graphics and those that learn through the written words.  Are you an auditory learner?  Do you learn best by hearing something.  Do you listen to recorded books?  Are you a kinesthetic learner?  Do you learn best by doing?

So how does this apply to the creative leader?  First, how do you best learn your craft of drawing, writing, or acting?  By reading about it?  By watching others?  Or by doing it yourself?  I think that we learn in all three ways, but we learn best by doing.  No matter how much you read, you have to pick up the brush or pen to be successful.  No matter how much time you spend watching others, you have to pick up a pen or brush.  Only in doing can you put what you learned by reading and watching into practice.   If we pay attention to what we do, we can teach ourselves many things.  Reading and watching others, though, will speed up the learning process.

How about how your audience experiences your works of art.  Do they only experience it visually?  Can they hear it?  Can they smell it or taste it?  To me I experience a story or poem differently when I hear than when I read it on a page.  When I listen to a novel while driving, I become part of the world of the novel in a way that does not happen when I read about the world on the page.  I find my others senses are more engaged when I listen to the book.  I see, smell and taste the world in ways that often don't happen when I read.

Creative Practice:
Take a test to determine how you learn best.  Here is one free test that can be found on line. 

Background on Author
John Holt, born in New York City, was the oldest of three children.  He joined the navy and fought in World War II in the Pacific.  After the war, he became a school teacher and taught in Colorado and Boston.  He published his first book, How Children Fail, in 1964.  The controversial book blamed schools for the failure of children.   His follow-up book, How Children Learn, was published in 1967.  I remember in college that I bought bought books from the Doubleday book club.  He wrote 11 books of which two were published after his death.  Holt became disillusioned with the school system and became an early proponent of homeschooling.  His book, Teach Your Own was published in 1981.