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Monday, October 28, 2013

Julia Cameron

"Art opens the closets, airs out the cellars and attics.  It brings healing."

— Julia B. Cameron
American Writer, Artist, Filmmaker
1948 -

Some would say that our hearts and souls become clogged with the emotions of living.  We suffer real and imagined hurts at the hands of others.  Overtime this pain begins to clog up our metaphoric arteries, blocking our hearts and souls.  We become unhappy and disenfranchised.  We are discouraged and depressed.

One avenue to salvation is involvement in the arts — writing, painting and singing, etc.  Writing opens the attics of our minds and allows us to clean out the cobwebs, chase away the mice and restore sanity.  Painting airs out the musty smells in the basements of our hearts, removes the boxes of ancient memories and fills us with hope.  Music soothes the soul and heals the heart.

Has your involvement in the arts helped you to heal the heart and cleanse the soul?  Has creativity brought you happiness and salvation?  Are you on the road to healing the hurt of yesteryear? Are you a better person today because of your creative work?

Sometimes we fight who we are, struggling against ourselves and our natures. But we must learn to accept who we are and appreciate who we become. We must love ourselves for what and who we are, and believe in our talents.

Creative Practice
In her book, The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron teaches the powerful tool of morning pages.  She suggests that people spend time every day writing anything that comes to mind.  One is not writing for publication, but to practice writing — to aid in the healing process.  This week spend 30 minutes each morning writing whatever enters your mind.  Don't pause, stop or reflect.   Just write.  Keep the pen on the paper and write.  (The key is to write longhand, not with a computer.) This begins the cleansing process.  And if you have not read her book, now would be a good time to do so.

Julia Cameron was born in Illinois and raised in a suburb of Chicago.  She attended both Georgetown University and Fordham.  She began her career at the Washington Post and later the Rolling Stone.  She met and married Martin Scorsese in 1975 and divorced in 1977.  

Cameron is best known for her book, The Artist's Way, in which she explores creativity as a spiritual path and helps people to unlock their creativity.  She has written 30 books  including the novel, The Dark Room, and is an award-winning poet, playwright and filmmaker.  You can find out more information about her and her work at:

Here is a video of Julia Cameron talking about the spiritual path to creativity.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Susan Cain

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

by Susan Cain
American Author
1968 -

I am a closet introvert. Most of my life I have functioned as an introvert, but in my work I take on the persona of an extrovert. Susan Cain calls me a pseudo-extrovert -- someone who for various reasons takes on the identity of an extravert. Cain's thesis is that for most of the 20th century, Americans worshiped people who were extroverts and discouraged introverts. We see this in a school system that encourages socialization. In the last 30 years parents have taken this to the extreme with extra-curricular activities almost every day of the week. Outgoing, friendly people are celebrated. The book worm, the loner, is discouraged. 

My wife of 40 years, on the other hand, is a classic extrovert. She was born talking. She has never met a stranger who she couldn't start a conversation with. We can be sitting in the Drs. office and she will strike up a conversation with someone sitting in the next chair. In the mornings, I prefer silence. Since I don't talk, she turns on the TV so she hears someone talking. She is outgoing and friendly. Everyone falls in love with her. People when they first meet me see me as grumpy and grouchy even though I am not. I am just very quiet. We are opposites that were attracted to each othe
r. What has happened in the last 40 years is that I have taken on some of the behaviors of an extrovert and she has taken on some of the behaviors of an introvert. We have learned to live together.

Susan Cain has amassed an enormous amount of research demonstrating that society, business, communities and even marriages need and benefit from having both introverts and extroverts on the team. Steve Wozinak, inventor of the Apple computer, needed a Steve Jobs to market and sell the computer. 

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingWe are all to varying degrees somewhere on the introvert - extrovert continuum. If you are an introvert or an extrovert or in a relationship with one or the other, then you need to read this book. Business people should read this book to understand their employees, their bosses and their peers. Teachers should read this book to understand the differences in the personalities of the children they teach. Husbands and wives should read this book to understand each other. 

If there is only one book you are going to read this year, it should be Quiet by Susan Cain. This book could save your marriage, your job, and your life.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Jane Kenyon

"I think that writing . . . was my effort to understand and control what was happening to me.  For me poetry's a safe place always, a refuge, and it has been since I took it up in the eighth grade, so it was natural for me to write about those things that were going on in my soul."

Jane Kenyon
American Poet
1947 - 1995

Is your art a safe place for you — a place of refuge from the chaotic world in which we live?   Does it give you control of things you have no control over?  Does writing help you understand who you are and why you do the things that you do?

Why do you write poetry?  Or paint?  Or tell stories?  I keep going back to this question in my life.  And I still do not know the answer.  I can mouth the  platitudes with the best of them.  "I do it because I have to."  "I have no choice.  Something inside has to get out."  Yet, those really don't answer the question.  All I know is that I write.  Why I write remains a mystery.  I did not have a miserable childhood.  I have not suffered physical or emotional abuse.  I have had a normal life — a safe life.  The paradox is that the secure life gives me the freedom to be wild in my mind.  My mind can go to places my body would never venture.

Does writing create a safe place for me?  I would not say that it creates a safe place for me.  I think writing creates a happy place — a peaceful place.  And probably most important — a creative place where limits do not exist, where I can go crazy, where I can pretend to be somebody I am not.  What kind of place does art create for you?

Unlike some writers, most of my writing is not autobiographical.  I enter the lives of characters I invent.  Even the poet writing the poem is a character.  The poet is not me.  Maybe a facet of me, but not me.  Are you the writer or the persona of the writer?  Does the writer exist or is he only the vessel through which the writing flows?

Creative Practice
This week pretend to write from the point of view of someone who is not you.  Pretend the writer is not you.  

Jane Kenyon was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  She graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. and a M.A.   While a student, she met the poet, Donald Hall, and they were married in 1972.  He was nineteen years her senior.  Four collections of her poetry were published in her lifetime.  She died in 1995 at the age of 47 from leukemia.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times; but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, till they take root in our personal experience."

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
German Writer / Politician
1749 - 1832

All wise thoughts have been said thousands, perhaps millions of times by writers, preachers, philosophers and other creative leaders.  That original thought that you had has been thought before.  That love poem you wrote because of your feelings has been written thousands, maybe even millions of times before.  That landscape painting you made has been painted thousands of time before. Yet, and this is the brilliance of Goethe's statement, each of us must rethink it for ourselves.  Each of us must find our truth in the world — in our experiences.

As creative leaders we seek originality — something new to say.  Yet, what we find is that it has been said before.  Originality comes in how we say it, not what we say.  When we say something in a new way, we may open up new windows of insight - new ways of thinking.

We are taught many things as children, but if we don't question what we have been taught, we will never be truly wise.  We will live off the wisdom of others, but the wisdom will never take root in our hearts.  We will never be truly wise.

Creative Practice
This week take an old idea and say it in a new way.  Take an old story and write it from the point of view of another character.  Take an old poem and rewrite in a new form.  Take a long poem and capture its essence in a haiku.  Take the emotion in an old poem or story and paint it.

Goethe was the son of Johann Caspar Goethe and Catharina Elizabeth Textor.  His father was 38 and his mother 17.  All their children died at early ages except Goethe and his sister.  Goethe was taught by his father and private tutors.  He studied Latin, Greek, French, Italian, English and Hebrew.

Goethe published his first collection of poetry at the age of 21.  In 1774 he wrote the book, The Sorrows of Young Werther, that would bring him world-wide fame but not fortune.  His body of literary work included epic and lyric poetry, prose and verse dramas, memoirs, literary criticism, scientific treatises and novels.  He also wrote over 10,000 letters and made over 3,000 drawings.  Faust is his most celebrated literary work.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Henry Miller

"There are no perfect beings, and there never will be."

— Henry Miller
American Writer
1891 - 1980

Do you strive to be perfect in your writing, your painting, or even your music?  Perfection is a pursuit that plagues many people.  Ever since Adam and Eve were tossed out of the Garden of Eden, human beings have sought to return to the land of perfection.  As a child, I sought perfection at school, at church and in the home.  I attempted to become perfect in the eyes of God.

In fourth grade, my teacher, Mrs. Windley, pulled another boy and myself aside and told us that we needed to be leaders on the playground.  We needed to stop the other children who were misbehaving.  I, of course, had no idea what she meant.  Supposedly, because we behaved so well, she wanted us to influence the other children.  I had no idea how to do that.

I have tried to write the perfect poem, the perfect short story, the perfect novel and failed miserably.  Early in my career, I would spend hours and hours rewriting and revising.  I usually reached a point in my revising where the words returned to what I had originally wrote.  I had come full circle and I knew it was time to stop.

I read a story once of a Japanese haiku poet, who in his lifetime had written thousands of haiku.  When he was dying, he destroyed all but three of his haiku.  He felt the others were not good enough — were not perfect.

I have spent a lifetime struggling against the false god of perfection.  I know I will never be perfect, but a part of me still seeks to reach it.  The lesson I keep relearning is that it is okay to fail — to make mistakes, to be human.  Failure is part of the human state.

In the American society, we put people on pedestals and make heroes out of them.  They become our perfect idols.  We worship them.  And then when we discover that they are human, we vilify them.  They have let us down.  We condemn them.  We do it to our sports heroes, our politicians, our artists.  Nobody is perfect.  Our heroes have clay feet.  Our heroes will fail us.

Are you a perfectionist?  Do you punish yourself for your failures?  Do you judge yourself too harshly?  Have you learned to forgive yourself?  To accept your mistakes?  To understand that it is okay to be human? To realize the Garden of Eden does not exist?

Creative Practice
This week revisit some of your creative works that you consider to be failures and look at them through fresh eyes.  Learn to accept it.  Send it out into the world with all it flaws.  Also, take time this week and forgive yourself for the mistakes that you have made.  Accept the fact that you are human.

Henry Valentine Miller was the son of Heinrich Miller and Louise Marie Neiting.  He was of Lutheran German descent.  He was born and raised in New York City.  He attend college for one semester.

Miller was married five times (talk about failure) and had three children.  He worked for Western Union.  He wrote his first novel that was never published at the age of 31.  His second and third novels were not published until after his death. (More failure.)

Henry Miller painting
In 1930 Miller moved to Paris and began working on Tropic of Cancer.  He met Anais Nin who became his lover and financed the first printing of Tropic of Cancer in 1934.  The book was banned in the United States on the grounds of obscenity.  He continued to write novels that were banned. (More failure.)

Miller moved back to New York in 1940 and then to California in 1942.  In 1961 Tropic of Cancer was finally published in the United States by Grove Press.  The publication led to a series of obscenity trials that tested the laws on pornography.  The U. S. Supreme Court 1964 declared the book a work of literature.  Eventually his books were all published in the U.S.

Miller also painted more than 2,000 watercolor paintings in his life.  He was a friend of French painter, Gregoire Michonze.