Dancing Girl
Dancing Girl (Photo credit: Just Mary Designs)

Creativity is not efficient. She has a different relationship to time than most of us. A minute can last a day and a day can last an hour. She loves all the seasons. She is on intimate terms with the sun and the moon. It is New Year’s all year long at her house, what with celebrations for the Celtic, Hebrew, Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese, and other New Years too numerous to mention. Creativity loves to gossip with the birds and put on her masks and beads and dance with the animals. Although bright colors amuse her, she most often wears neutral tones. She is especially partial to off-white.

Some people consider Creativity selfish because she does what she wants I have always found her to be gracious and most generous. She is certainly complex. If you have only met her in a serene mood, her flair for drama may offend you. She is not your aunt with the porcelain teapot who plays chamber music. If you are one of those people who only go to see her when she is starring in a major melodrama, you will not hear her rain songs. If you insist she is mad, you will never see how still her face is when she returns from a dream.

Sometimes Creativity disappears completely or wanders around the back alleys for weeks at a time. She has a strong need to be occasionally anonymous. If you run into her at the post office line during one of these periods, you will probably not recognize her. She is in a different place. It is almost as if her blood has slowed down. When the blank period is over, Creativity brings her free self home with her. Her skin is new. She is ready to work. More than anyone else, Creativity understands the secret meanings of the months when nothing seems to get done.

J. Ruth Gendler, The Book of Qualities

The Book of Qualities is a beautiful little book that portrays human qualities as characters and gets to the heart of each of them. The assorted qualities Gendler brings to life also make a great journaling keyword list, too.

More on creativity next time! 

You Are What You Do

The to-do list
The to-do list (Photo credit: Digging For Fire)

You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do. –Carl Jung

The future is filled with a profusion of things to be done, or at least things we say are going to be done, even if we only say it to ourselves. They are listed on our calendars and to-do lists, jotted down on random scraps of papers as reminders, declared as New Year’s resolutions, itemized as goals to be achieved, and enumerated on “bucket” or wish lists.

Some of these are things we have to do. Some are things we think we should do. Some are things we aspire or hope to do. And some are things we want to do. So that’s at least four categories of things to be done. And those categories can be broken down further.

  • Of the things we have to do, some are easy and automatic, some are annoying and difficult, some can be put off for a short time, some require drop-everything-else attention, and some have unpleasant consequences attached to their not getting done.
  • Of the things we think we should do, some are bad habits we want to change, some are good habits we want to take up, some are admonitions from our Inner Critic, and some stem from our own or other people’s expectations.
  • Of the things we aspire or hope to do, some reflect our highest and best intentions, some are things we’ve previously attempted and failed at, some are challenging but exciting, and some seem always to be the bridesmaid, but never the bride.
  • Of the things we want to do, some can be easily satisfied (instant gratification), some require a little or a lot of planning, some are like itches that have to be scratched, and some are pie-in-the-sky dreams we don’t really expect will be realized.

These are just some of the categories, and the list is by no means exhaustive. I’d suggest you stop right now and write down everything you have to, should, aspire to, and want to do, but you probably already have too much to do. I know I do.

Things to be done can be a vicious taskmaster ruling our every waking hour and ready with the lash should we fall a few steps back. Once in thrall to things to be done, we tend to forget we played a role in creating the beast in the first place.

If it’s true–to any extent–that we are what we do, a good question to stop and ask from time to time is, “What am I doing?”

Fear of Cannibals

Sketch of the Essex being struck by a whale. S...
Sketch of the Essex being struck by a whale. Sketched by Thomas Nickerson 20 November 1819 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

or, Learning How to Read Our Fears

Fear is one of the components of any significant transition, especially those made in midlife and later. At least the fear that accompanies these transitions seems to have a different flavor, maybe more urgency. But fear finds all of us at some point in our lives. We are human; therefore, we have fears. The question is, what do we do with or about them.

Karen Thompson Walker, author of The Age of Miracles, gave a TED talk in June 2012 called “What Our Fears Can Teach Us.”

As we grow up, we’re often encouraged to think of fear as a weakness, just another childish thing to discard like baby teeth or roller skates. And I think it’s no accident that we think this way. Neuroscientists have actually shown that human beings are hard-wired to be optimists. So maybe that’s why we think of fear, sometimes, as a danger in and of itself.” Don’t worry,” we like to say to one another. “Don’t panic.” In English, fear is something we conquer. It’s something we fight. It’s something we overcome. But what if we looked at fear in a fresh way? What if we thought of fear as an amazing act of the imagination, something that can be as profound and insightful as storytelling itself?

She has an interesting premise, which is that if we look at our fears as stories, they might be able to teach us something.

Now we might just as easily call these fears by a different name. What if instead of calling them fears, we called them stories? Because that’s really what fear is, if you think about it. It’s a kind of unintentional storytelling that we are all born knowing how to do. And fears and storytelling have the same components. They have the same architecture. Like all stories, fears have characters.In our fears, the characters are us. Fears also have plots. They have beginnings and middles and ends. You board the plane. The plane takes off. The engine fails. Our fears also tend to contain imagery that can be every bit as vivid as what you might find in the pages of a novel….Fears also have suspense.

 What Will Happen Next?

Just like all great stories, our fears focus our attention on a question that is as important in life as it is in literature: What will happen next? In other words, our fears make us think about the future. And humans, by the way, are the only creatures capable of thinking about the future in this way, of projecting ourselves forward in time, and this mental time travel is just one more thing that fears have in common with storytelling.

Of all the possible things that could happen next, what fearful outcome(s) do you focus on? What’s your fear story? Walker’s TED talk centers around the 1819 sinking of the whaleship Essex more than 3,000 miles off the coast of Chile–an event that inspired parts of Moby Dick. The ship’s sailors had to make a decision about what to do–mainly which shore they should try to reach.

Walker quotes Vladimir Nabokov as saying that the best reader has a combination of two very different temperaments:  the passion of an artist to get caught up in a story and the coolness of judgment to temper his or her intuitive reactions to it.

The sailors of the Essex, Walker says, had the artistic ability to vividly imagine many horrific outcomes–including being eaten by cannibals–but they were unable to apply the coolness of judgment to them. They were not adept at reading their own fear stories.

Reading Our Fears

Who or what are the cannibals in your imagination? Why are they so compelling? What is the likelihood they will actually “get” you? Does their specter swallow your attention and take it away from what actually needs attending to or from seeing things more clearly, more coolly?

Properly read, our fears can offer us something as precious as our favorite works of literature:a little wisdom, a bit of insight and a version of that most elusive thing–the truth.

Watch/listen to the complete TED talk:

Living, Aging, and Creating

Crazy Music
Crazy Music (Photo credit: pfly)

A dozen quotes to ponder, laugh over, or even use as journal writing prompts.

I kept thinking there’s bound to be something else. I could hear it sometimes, but I couldn’t play it. – Charlie Parker

For many people, reality is an acquired taste. At first glance, you may have uncomfortable and disturbing experiences. – Robert Fritz

I left myself, drove all night without stopping, called myself from a phone booth to say I was sorry it had to be this way. – Sy Safransky, “The Sun” magazine

If you are lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it. – John Irving

Who I am is just the habit of what I always was, and who I’ll be is the result. – Louise Erdrich, “I’m a Mad Dog Biting Myself for Sympathy.”

He closed his eyes. He was aware of so much, and it all escaped him. – David Plante, “The Woods”

We outlive ourselves. We look back and recognize no one. – Joyce Carol Oates, “Childwold”

If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are headed. – Lao Tzu

It is common sense to take a method and try it; if it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something. – Franklin D. Roosevelt

If you have a talent, use it in every which way possible. Don’t hoard it. Don’t dole it out like a miser. Spend it lavishly like a millionaire intent on going broke. – Brendan Behan

A person dies for the first time at the age when he loses his enthusiasm. – Honoré de Balzac

If you prepare for old age, old age comes sooner. – Dr. Robert Anthony

The Consistency Hobgoblin

Eat Your Vegetables, They're Good For You!
Eat Your Vegetables, They’re Good For You! (Photo credit: the bridge)

Consistency is a concept that has developed a bad rap, at least in some neighborhoods. I’m not sure why this is but I suspect it’s because consistent has become another thing we should be, at least in regard to developing those habits that are good for us. Right off the bat, labeling a habit as being good for us automatically makes it a tough sell. If it was something we were going to enjoy, we wouldn’t have to persuade ourselves to do it on a regular basis, would we?

For some, consistent = boring and repetitious. It connotes a lack of spontaneity and freedom and engenders an instantaneous desire to rebel. It evokes, for those folks, the mental image of swallowing an evil-tasting pill. Ugh.

For others, consistency is nearly as elusive to achieve as locating the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It seems like a really good idea. At least they’ve heard that it is. Not being consistent at maintaining good for them habits makes some of these people feel bad about themselves and what they perceive of as their lack of will power.

For yet others, consistency is but a speck in the rear view mirror as they speed past it all the way to rigidity. Good ideas, good for them habits, personal goals or intentions—all are transformed into self-imposed rules that must—and will—be adhered to no matter what.

Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are dead. –Aldous Huxley

Maybe we ought to look a little deeper into those things we think we should be more consistent about. When you hear yourself say I know I should be [fill in the blank], stop and ask yourself why you think you should be doing—or not doing—whatever it is. Because it’s good for you isn’t a good enough answer.

If you can’t come up with a better one, maybe you’re putting the cart before the horse. Maybe you’re trying to make some positive changes without having clearly defined what you are aiming for in the long run. What do you want to get out of being more consistent about [fill in the blank] and why do you want that? What is the overall positive outcome you’re trying to achieve?

If you’re aiming for something you really want, and you identify the steps it will take to get there, it’s a lot easier to be consistent about taking them. I don’t mean to imply it’s that simple or easy because it isn’t. But if you have gotten to this point and you know the what and the why of the habit you want to change or begin or improve, there’s a process, outlined by Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit, that can help you do it.

Habits are powerful, but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness, or can be deliberately designed. They often occur without our permission, but can be reshaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our lives far more than we realize—they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense. –-Charles Duhigg

Since there’s an element in the formation and continuation of habits that is outside of our conscious awareness, we may as well stop beating ourselves up over our track records in regard to consistency. Much more useful to learn how to work with what scientists call “the habit loop.” Duhigg’s book is a great place to start.

~ ~ ~

Thank you, Beverly, Jean, and Linda. 🙂