Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ultimate in Creativity

Nanilin and All Her Girls and Boys

Motherhood is the ultimate when it comes to creating.  The miracle of cell division into a human being is mind-boggling!  It seemed fit to end our month long look at creativity with a post on mothering.

Today, we celebrate the birthday of my oldest daughter.  She has the sole distinction of being the one through which I became known as Momma, or Ma, or Moooommmm, depending on the mood of the child speaking.

It is difficult for me to grasp that she is a thirty-something adult with two children of her own.  Often when I think of her, I picture in my mind the little girl with a pixie cut trying to grapple with little sisters.  I have to remind myself that some of my friends are the same age as she is.  How did that happen?

Being a mother calls a woman into creativity whether she realizes it or not.  (Let me state that the term "mother" is about both those who give birth and those who take a child into their heart and home through adoption.)What is more creative than a mother trying to come up with a solution that will keep her baby quiet during a church service?  Isn't it creative when a mother juggles work, home and life, finding time to bake cookies or read a book or create a way to make folding laundry a fun family event?

What a delight to watch my daughters as they discover their own creativity as mothers.  How surprising to hear my words come back to me time and again; evidence that what I said or did actually stayed with them.

Of all the creative pursuits I have participated in, none has been more rewarding, more demanding, more time-consuming, more delightful or more enjoyable than motherhood.  Thanks, Gwendolyn for giving me the title of Mom!

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Collaboration: Creativity and Then Some!

One of the most productive forms of creativity is project collaboration.  Working with another artist, writer, actor, etc. enhances the creative efforts of a project.
 Lori and I  (2000)

In the past, I have collaborated with some amazing and gifted artists. Lori Gundlah, a dear friend and concert pianist, accompanied me on piano as I read my poetry.  I also collaborated with Trish Harms, a dance educator.  We did tag team workshops in a middle school where I taught a poetry lesson within the subject matter, then she came into the class to teach some form of movement. An example would be in math class, I taught the students to make diamante poems.  Trish taught them to make shapes with their bodies.

 Trish and I (2000)

Project collaboration can be fruitful, but it can also be problematic.  These tips are good to keep in mind.
  • Keep it small.  Project collaboration with too many people gets confusing.
  • Be willing to compromise.  Divas and drama queens need not apply for collaborations.
  • Don't be afraid to think out of the box.  Writers and dancers can collaborate, as can artists and musicians.
  • Have fun!  If it's not fun, something is terribly wrong.
Later in the spring, I am looking forward to collaborating with Louise Minks, a local artist and kindred spirit.  She has traveled to Africa, painting pictures from her travels there.  We will be facilitating a program together called, "Possible Dreams for the Children of Africa."  I will read from my book of poetry, Gogo's Dream: Swaziland Discovered.  Louise will read from a book of short stories she wrote about her travels, as well as show her artwork. While we are still in the development stage of our project, collaboration with Louise is exciting.

This excitement flows over into my other work.  That spark of creativity that was ignited by collaborating with Louise is burning brightly in my freelance work, my crafts and even my housekeeping!

What types of project collaborations have you tried?  I'd love to hear about your stories, ideas, experiences and dreams.


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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Challenging Creativity

YIP Day 322 - The dreaded blank pageImage by Auntie P via Flickr

The Dreaded Blank Page

I am pleased to welcome guest blogger, Amy Souza to Words from the HeartAmy is a freelance writer and editor in Arlington, Virginia. She founded SPARK in 2008. The project began with 20 participants—10 artists and 10 writers—and February 2011 marked the completion of its eleventh round. In total, 279 people have taken part, many of them multiple times, resulting in (at last count) 738 new works of art, writing, music, and video. Learn more about the project at

Think Inside the Box
by Amy Souza

Have you ever felt fear when faced with the blank page? You want to write, but can’t decide where to start. Or you get deep into a story or poem but something’s not working and you’re not sure what to do next. Setting a few limits might help.

We like to dream of complete creative freedom to make anything we want and great swaths of time devoted to nothing but our art. But I’m a big believer in parameters. Working with zero boundaries can leave you numb or anxious, or make you spin your wheels for so long you never bring a piece to completion.

As a writer and an artist, I often set limits when starting a project or when I feel like I’m hurtling out of control. Forcing myself to stick to a limited color palette, for instance, saves me from the (very real) urge to use every tube of paint I own on one canvas. Rules—even arbitrary ones—can actually foster creativity. That’s why writing exercises are so popular. Freed from the what-will-I-write?! panic, your artistic self emerges and takes off.

 Photograph by Lene Gary
Window photo/poem  
Read Amy's poem in response to this photo by clicking here.

In 2008 I started a quarterly project called SPARK, in which writers, artists, and musicians use each other’s work as inspiration. At the beginning of each round, participants get paired with someone working in a different art form and send each other a file from their portfolio. Then, during the 10-day project period, everyone creates something new, using that initial piece as a jumping off point. (So, a writer responds to their partner's painting or song by penning a new poem or story; a photographer responds to a story by making a new picture.) Essentially participants get three main parameters—a starting prompt (a painting, photo, poem, story, or song), a goal (to create a response piece), and a deadline (10 days). The point is to find in someone else’s work a bit of inspiration—a spark—then go from there, creating whatever you’d like in response.

During one round, I decided to make a “found art” sculpture—something I’d never done before but felt moved to try based on my partner’s inspiration poem. I carved part of a tree that had fallen during a windstorm then adding melted crayons and morning glory vines, shot some photos, then distorted those using an online imaging program and voila! One of my favorite pieces was born.

I have now completed 11 rounds as a writer or an artist and, because I often work with more than one partner, I’ve created 20 responses. I can say with certainty that none of those stories, poems, or artworks would have come into the world without the simple parameters provided by SPARK.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Light vs. Dark

Today, I have the great pleasure of introducing guest blogger, Eliza Fayle who believes all women over forty are fun, intelligent, sexy, and real.  (A concept it took me almost fifty years to realize!)
Through Silver & Grace, as a magazine editor, jewelry designer, and intuitive mentor, she guides women as they shine the light on all four of these qualities. You can find her at and while there, be sure to join the Silver & Grace Community by signing up for the newsletter. I highly recommend visiting and joining the Silver & Grace community.

I am really not keen on winter. Not keen at all. This is particularly challenging, because in my section of Canada, the snow and cold can move in the beginning of November and not leave until the end of March. That is five whole months! Blech.

However, I love the concept of winter.

I am a firm believer that without darkness there is no light. I love stories that demonstrate this concept, and my favourite comes from a brilliant, albeit short run, animated TV series called God, The Devil, and Bob.

The premise of the show is that poor Bob, an ordinary human, is caught up in a bet between God and the Devil. In my favourite episode, God forgets to acknowledge the Devil's birthday. The Devil is upset by this slight and retreats to Hell. He takes up painting and invites Martha Stewart in to decorate. And he's not coming out!

Meanwhile, up on Earth, humans are wandering around haplessly. There is no strife or challenges in their life. All the good things completely lose their meaning, because there is nothing to compare them to. Worse yet, everything stagnates. No new ideas are generated and spiritual and personal growth comes to a standstill.

God becomes frantic and begs Bob to get the Devil back in action. Meanwhile, the Devil has become melancholy and no longer enamored with painting and Martha Stewart's frilly curtains and perfectly arranged centerpieces. Easy sell for Bob, the Devil goes back to work, and balance is restored on Earth.

Okay, a totally silly example, but to summarize:

  • Light forgets to acknowledge the importance of Darkness 
  • Darkness ceases to exist and the world is thrown out of balance 
  • Light and Darkness recognize they need to work together 
  • Balance is restored

Both my garden and I need Light and Darkness to be balanced.

The literal winter gives my plants a rest. It also kills some non-hardy ones off. The plants that are reborn in the spring were meant to be in my garden. Those that die off are not.

My periods of figurative winter give me a much-needed rest from the frantic go-go-go of creativity. As I come out of these periods, ideas are reborn into something new and wonderful, and I put effort into them. Other ideas are killed off, which simply means they are not worth my time and energy.

I have greatly enjoyed my recent period of figurative winter. I took the time to kill off some ideas that are no longer my focus. I also created some wonderful new ones. Now I am ready to shine light on them and help them grow.

As for literal winter, well, let's just say it is time to restore some balance. Both my gardens are more than ready for spring.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Une Surprise 

By Timoléon Lobrichon [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

No discussion about creativity would be complete without a look at surprises.  Think about it.  In order to surprise someone, a person must creatively produce a facade that keeps the other person from knowing the truth until the facade is dropped.

People who are gullible, seem to be the best surprise recipients.  They never suspect anything. As a young girl, I was such a person.  I never suspected that when my friend and fellow Girl Scout, Laura asked me to come over to her house to play, that she had organized a surprise birthday party.  All the neighborhood kids where there.  I actually cried, because I couldn't believe that anyone would do such a nice thing for me. 

I am still friends with Laura.  We don't see each other that often, but we keep in touch with letters and emails.  Her kindness left a lasting impression on me; one that has had positive after affects. Whenever I do something for someone else, I remember Laura, her kindness to me, and believe that in some small way, I am sharing the joy she gave to me.

This brings me back to being creative.  

Doing nice things for people is even nicer when you can do them in secret.  Back when my girls where little, at Lent, we would send flowers to people who had touched our lives throughout the year.  Each of my daughters would pick a person they wanted to honor.  We would send flowers with a simple message of, "Happy Spring!"   The florist was instructed not to tell who the flowers were from, so people never knew from whence the flowers came.  Our little secret gift was the product of some creative brainstorming on what to do that would be a sacrifice that would do some good. (The sacrifice was the cost of the flowers, which came from not having pizza for supper one night a week.)
Be creative...think of ways to do things for others...let your creativity bloom like the crocuses pushing out of the snow.  Surprise!

Speaking of creativity and surprises, I wrote today's post as part of the WOW-Women on Writing Blanket Tour for Letter from Home by Kristina McMorris. This debut novel is the story of three young women during World War II and the identity misunderstandings they and the men in their lives have. Ask yourself: Can a soldier fall in love with a woman through letters? What happens if the woman writing the letters is different from the woman he met the might before he shipped out, the woman he thought was writing the letters? Is it still love or just a lie?

Like many authors, Kristina has had a wild selection of "real jobs" everything from wedding planner to actress to publicist. She finally added novelist to the list after Kristina got a peek at the letters her grandfather wrote to his sweetheart(a.k.a. Grandma Jean)while he was serving in the Navy during World War II. That got her wondering how much two people could truly know each other just from letter writing and became the nugget of her novel.

In honor of her grandparents, and all the other families kept apart by military service, Kristina is donating a portion of her book’s profits to United Through Reading, a nonprofit organization that video records deployed U.S. military personnel reading bedtime stories to their children. You can learn more about the program at
If you comment on today's post on this blog or any of the others participating in Everybody's Talking About Surprises, you'll be entered to win a special surprise prize! It includes an personalized copy of Letters from Home, a Big Band CD, Victory Garden seeds, and more. To read Kristina's post about surprises and a list of other blogs participating in Everybody's Talking about Surprises visit The Muffin.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Creatively Saving Mother Earth

Cheyenne Grandmother Margaret Behan blesses th...Image by jondoig via Flickr

 Cheyenne Grandmother Margaret Behan Gives a Blessing

Mother Earth is in big trouble and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand the implications. We are killing the very Life that sustains us.
The International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers has been coming together each year, since 2002, to collectively and creatively bring awareness to the problems that we all face and to offer ideas that bring healing and change. This group of elder women from around the world, will meet this year in Anchorage to call on the Creator for "Healing the Spirit from the Light within."  These amazing women are no strangers to the creative powers.

Creativity helps solve problems.  Our over consumption of electricity is killing our planet.  The link here (Virtual Lantern) offers an idea the Grandmothers have suggested to creatively get people aware of the electricity we waste. 

On this site, people around the world can create a virtual lantern as their commitment to turning off your lights on March 26 at 8:30 p.m. during Earth Hour, as well as becoming more aware of wasting energy.  There are other activities and resources available on the site.

Please join me in creatively finding solutions to heal and protect Mother Earth.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Women, Creativity, and Writing

 Kath and I on top of Mt. Greylock

This post is written by a special guest, Kath Fearing, my friend and fellow writer/poet.

Many women write better, more creatively, more cleverly than I do, but I’ve come to realize that that is not the point. The point is that I write – not to be the same as someone else, but because it allows me to be the individual I am, and it fulfills me in a way that nothing else does. Simply put, writing makes me feel whole, creative, and so alive. Writing what’s in my heart is like opening a door – closed tight through a long, cold, tiresome winter – and letting in the sweet fresh air of spring.

In my stories for children, I write about flawed characters; aren’t we all flawed in some way? However, my characters find out who they are at the end of my stories. In addition, they become comfortable with, and accepting of, who they are, or who they have become. It is my hope for my readers to understand and accept who they are, and to accept those around them for who they are.

In my book Champ, 12-year-old Todd, (whose father died suddenly, and as a result he has become confused about who he is) comes to understand (as I did when writing his story) what a family is and why they are so important. After saving his grandfather from a fire, he realizes how much he loves him and cannot bear to think he might die.

Todd leaned over and touched Grandpa’s hand. He put his head down and sobbed into his chest, “I know you don’t like me, but…I’m sorry about your painting, Grandpa. I’m sorry about the accident…I’m sorry.” Todd lay there with his head on Grandpa’s chest, praying for a miracle to let him live. Then he felt something. Did he squeeze my hand? Todd put his head close to Grandpa’s ear and whispered, “I love you, Grandpa. You can’t die. You can’t.”

In my book Adisa’s Basket, a she-lion threatens Adisa’s life. In this lion, she sees herself as a selfish young girl, and realizes she must kill the lion to free herself from her selfish youth.

This lion knew me,/she had been watching me,/waiting for me to come to her./Her dark eyes looked through me,/into my deepest part and beyond,/and I saw myself in her eyes,/and I was ashamed of what I saw -/ selfish, closed to others-/and I did not want to kill the beautiful cat,/but she offered to sacrifice herself/to heal me;/and tears welled in my eyes,/for I knew she must die./I took slow, deep breaths,/whispered to her…to me,/I tremble with fear, beautiful one,/but I must kill you.

My second book of poetry is entitled, Old Heart: Yesterday and Today. Poetry is a unique creative outlet. Where else can I rail against war so succinctly, so simply, except in a poem? 

Here is one entitled “Sons”.

Do not glorify that man-made hell
that leaves our mothers’ sons
scattered across
battlefields of hate,
broken into a thousand bloody pieces,
their sweet promise lost,
never beheld again;
and still,
women give their sons away,
to be counted,
listed on some spreadsheet
minus tally-
all ours,
all the worlds.
In each mother’s heart
an everlasting emptiness;
and, soon,
the age-old battle begins anew,
nothing solved,
only numbers tallied,
names listed on a slab
in the town center,
graves dug…
see them there,
row after row,
how brave,
how gone,
how lost
are we?

Perhaps we write to understand ourselves, and those around us. It is said that poets and playwrights tell stories of the human condition – of who we are as people.

I’ll close with a wonderful thought from Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens. “I realize that while I am writing poetry, I am so high as to feel invisible, and in that condition, it is possible to write anything.”

All my books are available at

Bio: Kathleen is a member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), The Knoxville Writer’s Guild, and the Tennessee Mountain Writers Assoc. has had four stories and a poem published at She won fourth place in the Writer’s Digest 76th Annual Writing Competition in the children’s category, and Honorable Mention at the 2010 Tennessee Mountain Writers’ Conference.

Kathleen holds a doctorate in education and taught children’s literature, as well as other courses at various colleges in western Massachusetts, including the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She reviewed newly published children’s books for local newspapers and radio stations in western Massachusetts for many years. As a radio producer, her children’s radio programs won first and second place awards from the Massachusetts Broadcasters Association.

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Planting Seeds of Inspiration

Composite image to illustrate the diversity of...Image via Wikipedia 
Creativity blossoms when the seeds of inspiration are brought to fruition.

Who goes around planting seeds of inspiration?  We all do.  
Parents and teachers plant seeds of inspiration each day with simple statements like, "What a great writer you are!" and "Wow, this is a lovely picture. Can I hang it up?"  Friends inspire us by being there through thick and thin.  Strangers inspire us when their lives cross ours in unexpected ways. For example, witnessing a young woman helping an older woman who appeared to be homeless inspired a story I wrote several years ago.

Whatever we say or do can inspire others.  Just as there is great diversity in plant seeds, so too is there diversity in the seeds of inspiration we sow; this is the reason why it is so important to be mindful of our words and actions.  A child that is constantly told negative things, grows up believing these things to be true unless others are able to plant seeds of hope and trust.  Then, as the child grows, the weeds can be pulled, allowing the other seeds to blossom.

As you can see from this post, thus far, I have been inspired by gardening, a gift given me by my Momma who had a green thumb.  Honestly, she could take a dead plant and bring it back to life!  Everything and everyone in our life can inspire us to create.

Allow me to plant some seeds among you...I invite my readers to send a post to me on creativity via email ( It can be a story of who inspires you, or how creative women are or just about creativity in general.  The posts should be no more than 750 words.  Send me a short bio, also, so we can let everyone know who you are.  I will be posting these guest spots from now until the end of the month.


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