Saturday, October 16, 2010

Is it just me, or does this bush look like a pig?

Sometimes creativity is inspired and spontaneous; sometimes it’s the result of hours of planning and intricate execution. Sometimes it’s just plain accidental and perhaps only in the eyes of the beholder. The pig took me by such surprise, I almost fell off my bicycle. Then again, I see pictures in clouds, so you decide: was this pig topiary or just shear accident?

I came across a video by Brenda Walker that explores the use of technology in the area of creativity. For those of you who know me, you’re probably laughing hysterically. I’m more or less known as a techno-dinosaur. It doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate those who have the skill. Check it out: then type in Brenda Walker 2020, Creativity and Technology, Shaping Ideas.

The next couple of months are going to be crazy-busy. Instead of weekly blogs, I’m cutting back to a monthly entry for a little while. Please check back in November. May you enjoy the shift of seasons.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Just Because You Don’t Know How

…is no excuse not to try. I’d be a rich woman if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone say, “Oh, I’m not creative; I don’t really know how to do (this or that, fill in the blank).” Most of us didn’t have a clue how to walk when we were infants, but at some point the desire to get somewhere fast overcomes the fear or clumsiness or outright pain that often accompanies those first few steps. Most of us didn’t give up because we tumbled over the first few attempts we made.

If there’s something you’ve yearned to do, but lacked the support or courage to try, or feared looking ridiculous, or failing, this blog entry is for you.

I’m thinking back to the things I would have missed that have enriched my life if I’d given into the belief that I didn’t know how to do them. Have I done them all well? No, not all of them; but there was joy in the doing and in the walking through the “I can’t(s).” I’m thinking here of my first sewing project when I was pregnant. I come from a long line of quilters, tatters, knitters, crocheters—women who created family heirlooms that have been passed down and treasured through generations. Not being a real eye-hand kinda gal, it wasn’t until I was pregnant that the heirloom treasure bug bit. Not being in the possession of a sewing machine, I was determined to make a welcoming gown from the prettiest, girliest, softest flannel, by hand, for my daughter that would be passed down to her children, and their children, and so on. And I did it. Well, sort of. If she’d been born 18 lbs, maybe 26 inches long with a pin head, it would have fit her perfectly. We didn’t get a lot of use out of it, but I loved every stitch in that garment. Fortunately, she had twin boys.

The point is, I tried. I’d been looking for a way to sort my thoughts and share some things I was learning about altered states of reality back in my late forties. Friends said, “You should just write a book.” Write a book? Are you kidding? I don’t even have an MFA; I don’t even spell all that well. “That’s what editors are for,” they insisted. Editors? How do you find an editor? The task seemed daunting. What if I wrote a book and it didn’t sell? (Don’t get ANY writer started on that one) I figured out the structure by reading other books in that genre. I asked a million questions of other writers. I found out how to locate and work with (and pay) an editor, and the value of having someone in that role. I learned about query letters, synopses, marketing plans, agents, and how to receive rejection letters without disintegrating. I tried different genres: short stories, novellas, screenplays, non-fiction, blogging. It literally opened up a whole new world for me. After years of efforting and reams of paper, I’ve even been rewarded by having a few things published.

Then, songs started floating into my head—songs that were waiting to be written by me, it seemed. But I don’t know the first thing about composing songs, I complained. I read music, I sing, I play a little piano, but writing music is a whole different animal. I couldn’t possibly… People do it all the time, I rationalized; how hard could it be, really? Okay, so it’s hard. There’s a whole lot to it that I had to learn by trial and error and humiliation and feeling totally stupid. I asked a million questions of people who were doing what I wanted to be doing. I figured out how to use a music composition program on the computer that turned my creations into sheet music that could be printed out or played back on the computer. How cool is that? After more years of efforting, and reams of paper, I’ve actually had some of my songs performed by professional musicians. The reward of hearing something you’ve created brought to life by performance is mind-boggling.

A friend joked, “Is there anything you don’t do?” Widows, I replied. Then again, how hard can that be? Two final words of encouragement, just try. I’d love to hear about your experience.

Until then, here is some inspiration to hang onto—a moment in the life of someone who refused to believe she couldn’t: Enjoy.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Non-Ordinary Reality

A client recently recommend a book for my bookshelf called, Are You Getting Enlightened or Losing Your Mind? How To Master Everyday And Extraordinary Spiritual Experiences, by Dennis Gersten, M.D.

I thought this synchronistic because in my adolescence I was fascinated by the question, what’s the difference between psychic and psychotic, since they share so many features. In the book, Dr. Gersten says, “One of the only things that saints and schizophrenics have in common is the fear of being ridiculed and called ‘crazy’ for their visions.”

As an adult clinician, I’m uncomfortable using diagnostic terms to label a client’s symptoms or experiences. It often seems limiting, reductionistic, and hurtful. I have psychic friends and acquaintances. They’re not ‘crazy’; their lives work well for them. I also work with people who have experienced what is normally considered psychosis (a break with reality often accompanied by hallucinations), whose lives don’t work so well.

After all these years, I still dwell in the gray area. Is the difference really whether you can make it work for you or not? My first attempt at writing non-fiction was a book I called Raven Stories and Other Non-Ordinary Tales. Here are a couple of excerpts from that manuscript:

Sometimes we just don’t know how to file or make sense of experiences we have. Ours is a cognitive culture.

For several weeks, my friend Marsh called in alarm to report a recurring eerie, bone-chilling, dream. In the dream she experienced a particular event as if it were actually happening to her, yet she wasn’t in the dream itself. She recounted sensory perceptions in vivid detail, unique in all her experience. A month or so later I received another panicked call. She had just read in the newspaper an account of her ‘dream’ as having just happened to someone else.

“Sounds like you’ve had a cross-over experience,” I said, trying to sound calm and reasonable. “This is when you experience something in your body that is actually happening to another individual.”

“This just can’t be real!” she replied. I was sure she was shaking her head in disbelief on the other end of the line. “It doesn’t make sense, it can’t be proven,” she protested. Her grasp on what she defined as reality was being shaken.

“It’s real because it happened,” I said. Not much consolation for her, but the best I could do. I pulled out a quote for back-up: “Such vision is for those who see with the Soul’s sight—and at the vision will rejoice, and awe will fall upon them—for now they are moving in the realm of Truth.” Plotinus, Enneads

In a chapter called “A Child’s Way of Knowing,” I relay this story:

My daughter’s friend, twenty-two year old Alice, remembers her childhood guide, Almaden. She describes him as “a knowing, a presence” inside her head who spoke to her without words. She first became aware of him when she was eight years old, standing beneath a cedar tree in her Sierra Nevada mountain homeland. He guided her through the forest, told her how to find a creek, and to gather certain stones with holes to string for an amulet bracelet to keep her safe. One day she and her sister were playing in a circle of trees they called “the camp.” Books, bags of cookies, an old woolen blanket, and a woven basket of treasures gathered from earth (pine cones, rocks, bird feathers, etc.), were strewn about. Almaden told Alice that he would straighten up the camp while they were gone, and she passed the good news on to her sister. When they returned shortly, the camp was clean!

“It never occurred to me that I shouldn’t hear him,” Alice said. “He just sort of was—it never seemed like anything unusual or worth mentioning to anyone.”

As a child growing up in semi rural Iowa, my very own invisible playmate, Mary Ann, and I had wonderful conversations over my miniature china tea set in the playroom. My parents tolerated (the idea of) her until my father accidentally sat on her. I let out a blood-curdling shriek which catapulted my father from the couch and raised his blood pressure several notches. I don’t remember Mary Ann visiting much after that.

The world of children is rich with intuition and magic, though it appears so ordinary to them. As writer Anne Lamott says, “When we listened to our intuition when we were small and then told the grown-ups what we believed to be true, we were often either corrected, ridiculed, or punished. God forbid you should have your own opinions or perceptions—better to have head lice... So you may have gotten into the habit of doubting the voice that was telling you quite clearly what was really going on. It is essential that you get it back.”

I also remember walking through the redwood forest one autumn morning a few years ago. My pace quickened against the chill in the air. Suddenly, I had the experience of elongating, growing taller, longer of limb. I felt my arms swinging in time with my steps which had become slower and more rhythmic as if I’d fallen into a pattern over a long distance. I felt the earth beneath my bare feet (which in ‘real time’ were clad in tennis shoes) as I strode. I was in a male body, like one of the plains runners in Africa in a documentary I’d seen recently. I’d never before experienced the perspective of someone seven feet tall until that moment.

Dr. Gersten refers to this phenomenon as identity transformation, where the individual feels she has become someone or something else without the terror of losing her own personality. The experience lasted only minutes, and when I came back into my own body, my first thought was, “Well, that was rather unusual.”

Are these “real” altered state experiences or merely brain chemistry at work? I’m no closer to having formed an opinion about that than I was back in adolescence; but I’m still fascinated by the question.