Tag Archives: creativity

Projects: The Back Burner

Even regarding a life-long passion, I think a person can be too devoted to something. Note I said “something,” not “someone.” I’m not here to deny that kind of passion. In fact, I rather enjoy it. I just think that, sometimes, being too devoted can get in the way of accomplishing anything.

Take projects, for example. I know many a crafter or artist who has a back room filled with fabric, yarn, beads, canvas, clay, or patterns, but nothing at all in a state of completion. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When the muse refuses to cooperate, it helps to have a backup plan. There’s always a different pillow to stuff, doll to repair, painting to start, song to write, or sweater to knit.

I’ve had my share of unfinished needlepoint, counted-cross stitch, and latchhook projects, but they fell to the wayside as my eyesight has worsened.

I still have partial writing projects, though, simmering on the back burner.

I have recently had my first book published, but I’m here to tell you it’s far from the first one I wrote. I had more or less abandoned it and gone on to other projects when exactly the right publisher appeared, hungry for exactly the manuscript I had in the back of my drawer.

The fact that it was in the back of my proverbial drawer (actually a folder on my computer) may have meant that I had despaired of placing the manuscript, but not that I was done writing. All through my life, I’ve had several writing projects going, in various stages of completion. When one stalled, I would work on another.

I once wrote a murder mystery, a thinly disguised version of killing off my Rotten Ex-Boyfriend Who Almost Ruined My Life. I figured if that didn’t make me feel better, I could kill him off again in the sequel. But aside from a few positive comments on my “voice” and some great advice from Sue Grafton at a writers’ workshop, it went nowhere except to the back burner. And has stayed there ever since. Will I ever turn up the heat on it? I wouldn’t rule it out.

I tried again, with a nonfiction book this time about cartoon character Lisa Simpson. I ignored the fact that Fox would have a thing or two to say about a book based around one of their copyrighted characters. This time when I submitted a proposal to agents, I got back the one thing I never expected: not an acceptance, but a really great rejection letter. It was obvious from it that the person had done a thorough reading of my manuscript and thought about exactly why it wouldn’t fly.  Then she told me, in detail.

I abandoned that project (no back burner for that one, just lessons learned) and moved on to blogging. I had been blogging weekly for several years when it occurred to me that I had enough material for a book. A friend suggested that I give it a try. So off went proposals for Bipolar Me. Dozens of proposals, for several years. No dice. Eventually, I gave up. Back it went, on the burner or in the drawer, until an indie publisher swooped in and resurrected it. Now it’s available on Amazon, Nook, and Apple.

I haven’t completely given up the idea of fiction. I’ve got a new mystery that’s pretty close to being finished – if only I could figure out what needs to happen in that one pivotal chapter that still hasn’t come together. Right now, it’s on the back burner, waiting for a burst of creative fire to get me going on it again.

I’ve also got a number of humorous essays from this blog that I’m eager to turn into something. That’s what I’m working on now while I wait for the mystery to come together. And if neither one of them shows any forward motion, I’ve always got these blogs to write. I may never run out of manuscripts, circulating out in the world, stagnant on my hard drive, or on the back burner, just waiting to bubble.

At least they only clutter up my hard drive and not my whole study.

 

 

Creative Genius? Are You Crazy?

It is often said that there is a thin line between genius and madness, usually with a further remark about someone who is straddling that line. But do genius and madness really have anything to do with each other?

For a start, let’s use the terms creativity and mental illness. When we talk about genius, we often think of Stephen Hawking or Albert Einstein, geniuses in mathematics and theoretical physics. Or we think of prolific and significant inventors, like Thomas Edison and Elon Musk. And when we talk about mental illness, we usually envision killers – suicide bombers, spree killers, sociopaths, and the like.

Those views are limited, however. Creativity – or creative genius – encompasses art of all kinds. Picasso’s paintings, Johann Sebastian Bach’s music, Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture, Rodin’s sculptures, and so many others are works of creative genius as well.

Now we come to the intersection of creativity and mental illness.

Emily Dickinson had Social Anxiety Disorder.

And Abraham Lincoln suffered clinical depression. So did Charles Dickens.

Bipolar sufferers include Beethoven, Schumann, and Isaac Newton.

Charles Darwin, Michelangelo, and Nikola Tesla were all obsessive-compulsive.

Autism, dyslexia, and various learning disabilities affected Einstein, Galileo, Mozart, and even General Patton.

And Van Gogh! Let me tell you about Van Gogh. He had epilepsy. Or depression. Or psychotic attacks. Or bipolar disorder. Or possibly some combination thereof. Something, anyway.

They must have been! They were geniuses! And some of them acted crazy! Van Gogh cut his ear off! Surely he was insane!

Well, really, no one can tell if any of those diagnoses is true. None of those greats is known to have undergone psychoanalysis by a real doctor who actually met them. Some of the diagnoses didn’t even exist while the creative geniuses were alive. We make assumptions based on what we know about the famous and what we know of psychiatry – very little, in most cases.

The same is true for famous villains and criminals. Nero was a pyromaniac. Saddam Hussein was a narcissist. The Marquis de Sade was, well, a sadist. Ted Bundy was a sociopath, or a necrophiliac, or had antisocial personality disorder, or, well, something. He was crazy!

(In point of fact, mentally ill persons are much more likely to be victims of violence than to commit violence.)

What do we actually know about creativity and mental illness? Damn little. Get five people in a room and try to get them to agree on a definition of “creativity.” Design a scientific experiment to measure the connection between creativity and mental illness. You can’t do it without a definition of creativity and a list of which mental illnesses or conditions you are studying. And any results would therefore be subjective.

One thing I do know about creativity and mental illness is that creative people can be reluctant to admit their diagnoses for fear of being dismissed as a “crazy artist” or stigmatized. Brilliant glass artist Dale Chihuly only recently revealed that he has had bipolar disorder for years. In an interview with the Associated Press, his wife, Leslie Chihuly, said, “Dale’s a great example of somebody who can have a successful marriage and a successful family life and successful career — and suffer from a really debilitating, chronic disease. That might be helpful for other people.”

Indeed. Many people who have psychiatric diagnoses – or who suspect that they might – are reluctant to seek help. Many believe that taking medications for a mental disorder, in particular, might impede their creative flow. That is, they too are equating their creativity with “madness” and refuse to treat one for fear of losing the other.

In fact – and as a person with bipolar disorder I say this from experience – getting treatment can actually improve a person’s imaginative, creative, or scientific output. Level moods, time not lost to depression, freedom from the pain and fear of worsening symptoms, and other benefits of psychological and medical help can increase the time and the vigor and the passion that a creative person puts into her or his work.

That’s one of the reasons that it’s so important to erase the stigma associated with mental disorders. We could be missing out on the next creative genius.

Art Is Love. Art Is Work. Art Is Football.

Art is love.

Deep in our hearts, most of us long to be artists. Most artists, deep in their hearts, long to be some other kind of artist.

I can write, but I would really like to be able to sing.

Dan can sing, but he would really like to be able to draw.

Jason can draw, but he would really like to be able to paint.

Peggy can paint, but she would really like to be able to write.

And all of us wish we could be better at the creative things we can do.

Art Creative Imagination Inspiration ConceptWhen I say “creative things,” I’m not just talking about the fine arts, either. Quilting, cooking, crocheting, and woodworking can all be creative acts. It all depends on the imagination, the love, and the attention you put into it.

Art is a process as much as it is a product. The process itself is valuable, even if the art never reaches professional levels. It expands the mind without drugs. It stretches your creative muscles without workout clothes. It brings frustration, and satisfaction, and courage, and effort, and pleasure, and giving all together. Just like love.

Art is work.

Remember the old joke: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice!” It’s not enough to want to create art. Even singers born with perfect pitch have to practice breath control, projection, and reading music.

Dan will not learn to draw unless he tries, fails, tries again, takes classes, studies other people’s drawings, starts with something simple, practices, and practices, and practices. He may never become an artist in the sense of selling his works, but he will improve. And if he doesn’t improve enough to satisfy his inner longing, he can try photography or songwriting.

Art is work for your brains. And for your hands. And for making them work in sync. No one was ever born at the height of their creative powers. (Well, maybe Mozart, but I bet his compositions improved from when he was a child prodigy to his later works.) You may be born with creativity – we all are – but you will never make anything of it unless you use it.

The workers who made up the Bread and Roses movement had it right. Originally a call for both fair wages and dignified conditions for workers, the slogan has been used in poems and songs: “Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread but give us roses.” Roses are what feed the heart. So does art. Art is necessary to our lives, a fact that has apparently been forgotten by everyone from politicians to businesspeople to educators.

Giving up on art is a sad thing. Never trying is worse. You may not be depriving the world of brilliance, but you are depriving yourself of potential and joy.

Art is football.

Young people playing sports imagine that it will propel them to the Good Life – fame, glory, sex, and millions and millions of dollars. Art can do that too. It allows a person to aspire to gallery shows, museums, art auctions, becoming a household name, and millions and millions of dollars.

Of course, that happens to only a select few persons – football players and artists alike.

But that’s not the point. If you truly love your art – or your sport – you do it anyway.

That’s not to say there are no ways to get recognition. You can teach art to others, just as you can coach pee-wee football. You can enter your artwork in local competitions and even state fairs. You can sell it at a booth at an outdoor art fair. You can give it to friends as birthday and holiday presents. Or you can keep it to yourself, for your own enjoyment, as Emily Dickinson did. You can even combine two of your passions and do art about athletics, like Leroy Neiman.

Nurture your art as you would a relationship. Throw yourself into it as you would work. Improve at it as you would at sports. Grow and your art grows with you. And as your art grows, so do you.

 

 

Color My World

Pencils Abstract Background

I don’t know anyone who admits to coloring within the lines when they were kids. Coloring outside the lines was a sign that you refused to accept the rigid dictates of uptight coloring book manufacturers and compulsive kindergarten teachers. It was a badge of freedom and creativity and, for some, poor fine motor skills. It was how the more inhibited of us let our freak flags fly.

Now coloring books are back again, only this time for adults. Or at least adults who color within the lines. Elaborate rose windows and fantasy castles await, ready to be embellished with wee flower petals or swirled ribbons of psychedelic hues.

These grown-up coloring books are touted as the next best thing to meditation, so I thought I’d give it a try. My brain could use the time off from my mundane-but-still-complicated life. However, meditation (and yoga) are pretty much out for me, as my lotus-sitting days are long past and I need help to get up off the floor. Coloring seemed a reasonable, less physically challenging alternative.

I took up the hobby despite the fact that I gave up needlepoint years ago when my eyes refused to cooperate with close work and my hands began to tremble at the touch of nearly blunt needles. At least, I figured, I couldn’t draw much blood stabbing myself with a pencil.

I began coloring around the Christmas holidays – a mistake because of its sudden popularity. The store where my husband works sells coloring supplies, but he had to fight for the very last box of 72 colors. (I haven’t told him that blueberry, aruba, denim, mediterranean, and tidal wave are all the same shade of blue. Berri, wildfire, rose petal, and terracotta are all pink.)

At last, with 72 pencils and coloring book in hand, I’ve joined the coloristas. My book offers Spirograph-type geometric designs, assorted animals, and a few Rorschach-style shapes. I color them all with stunning inaccuracy and near-random color choices, producing mediterranean owls, rose petal turtles, and pages that look less like a cathedral window and more like the Grateful Dead’s laundry basket.

But I don’t care. It is soothing and sort of creative, plus I don’t have to frame the completed pages or clutter up the refrigerator door with them. They can stay in the book where only I can see my freak flag flying.

I’m certainly not going to show them to any kindergarten teachers.