When It Clicks

College, first semester freshman year, I had a professor (in a non-writing class) who taught me one of the most useful skills I have ever learned: freewriting. “For the next minute [or three, or five], put pencil to paper and Do Not Stop! If you cannot think of anything to write, write that. If that bores you to tears, draw dots. Keep your pencil moving until more thoughts come. Do not reread what you’ve written and DO NOT EDIT! Just keep your pencil moving down the line, down the page. Now WRITE!” I have used this approach bazillions of times in my life to come unstuck. I have taught my teens to do it, and now I know even Jack Kerouac knew the way of (what I call) the brain dump. Add exercise, physical play (any kind of play that moves you), and your freewrites might click in ways you’d never imagined…

re:create recess #11: Paul Quinlivan

There I was, somewhere deep in the middle of Gifford Pinchot National Forest, a few miles west of Mt. Adams and East of Mount St. Helens in Southern Washington state, when everything clicked. I had already walked over 350 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail from Crater Lake, heading north toward the Canadian border. I had sweated and cried, been scared and felt calm, lost myself and then allowed myself to be found, seen unspeakable beauty (see Sisters Wilderness) and brokenness (think miles of forest ravaged by a forest fire); I had experienced nearly every emotion you could name and then a few more, but something still seemed incomplete even if I couldn’t name it. That was, until things clicked.

At some point it happened. On a random patch of trail in the middle of the woods I suddenly had the urge to create. Poems somehow appeared in my mind. Images from my past and present converged and all I could do was ride the wave of creativity. When I reached my destination that afternoon I was in a tizzy with poem after poem, story after story, attempting to document all that came to me. And I use that language intentionally, because it came to me. It was probably in me all along, but I needed that moment, that ‘click,’ when the cosmos of the world came together and all made sense.

I am a firm believer that each of us has a multitude of moments such as this throughout our lives. Most often they pass us by. We have become unpracticed at either noticing or doing anything with these moments. Too busy running between our jobs and children’s soccer games and faith community meetings to slow down enough to actually document the spirit of creation coming upon us. Or maybe we are blocked by shame, or fear, or the voices of inadequacy or doubt and self-contempt to risk the tangible act of putting into the world all that floats around in our minds and bodies. Whatever the reason, we don’t take full advantage.

Those that create professionally are not all that different from the non-creative others except that they pay attention to the moments and cultivate practices–rituals–to document the waves of inspiration. Jack Kerouac famously engaged in what he termed “spontaneous prose,” sitting at his typewriter documenting everything that came to mind. Most of it was probably crap and rarely became published work, but then again some of those words gave us a classic that defined a whole generation of artists. I also believe that the best practice, or ritual, to bring forth these inspired moments is play, an activity that takes us out of the creative blocks we have put in place.

I spend the majority of my professional life as a mental health therapist working with adults, adolescents, families, and couples struggling with the effects of abuse, complex trauma and general relational discord. While there are many technicalities to what healing might look like for my clients as a general rule, if I could invite them to play more, to recreate, they could begin to have greater freedom in their lives and their treatment. Recreation invites us back into our child selves when the world was safe and large and whimsical. It means, like a child, we engage in an activity where we don’t hold back our imagination for what the world could be and how we could be active participants in it.

For me to get to this place, I go on long walks. As I hike my body begins to remember what it was like to be free to explore the beautiful expanse outside my door. Inevitably, somewhere along the way I forget I am walking and something clicks, and I am taken again by the spirit of creativity.

Place of my Youth
Have you ever watched a sunset over a mountain?
The rays playing in the branches, the alarming mist.
It fades to its becoming horizon leaving the tree tops on fire
The sky begins to melt from a bright blue, to navy to purple
The air cools and wild ducks make their final peace with the disappearing lake edge
The expanse above welcomes the darkness as the eldest, brightest stars grace the veil until their sisters and cousins come to dance across the world above
inviting you to remember your youth
Have you ever watch a sunset over a mountain lake?
I have. It has awakened my soul.
Father, Husband, Friend, Therapist, Hiker, Surfer, Mystic, Writer, Farmer and Teacher are but a few of Paul Quinlivan’s many monikers. He lives with his lovely wife Alyssa, 20 month old son and 5 month old daughter, 4 chickens and their South American dog in a slowly gentrifying suburb of Seattle. When he is not attempting to recapture his artistic self through writing he works to help others find themselves as a therapist at a local community mental health agency and in private practice. More info on Paul and his practice can be found at www.wildgoosecollective.org

 

Embroidery

Today’s post resonates in my creative soul. During a recent conversation about creativity I heard myself say, “I need a hobby that is not also my job.” I write for work, I write for my blog, and I write for my sanity. And sometimes, I just need to slam the computer shut. Which doesn’t stunt my urge to create, however. This post explores that conundrum: when what you love becomes your work and then loses (and gains) a little bit of shine. And also, why does creating for others feel like generosity while creating for self feels selfish? I’m going to have to sit with that question for a while…

Create Challenge #36: Annie Nybo

I am lucky enough to have a job in a creative field, and blessed that my hobby (reading) is what I do (editing books).

But the downside of that is that reading and writing become work to me, and my personal reading tastes have changed drastically because of it. As my career has grown, so too has my need for another creative outlet, and so I have spent the past several years knitting, cross-stitching, and embroidering up a storm.anybo-regrets

The thing that strikes me upon writing this, however, is that I find it nearly impossible to own that talent. When people compliment my work, my first response is to tell them how easy it is. (And guys, it is. Cross stitch is really freaking easy if you can count). It feels wrong to get compliments on some hipster sayings I sew when I look at tapestries from the middle ages. Suddenly my little Darth Vader doesn’t look so great.anybo-vader

I can’t even literally own my own work—I find it hard to create for myself. I dream up projects for other people, but I do not have a single piece of my embroidery displayed in my room. And I think it’s because making something for myself feels selfish. What a waste of time when I could be making something as a gift.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds it challenging to create for themselves. To create is to be vulnerable, and it’s nerve-wracking to be so enamored of something you’ve made that you’d show it off.  In the way many of us have been raised, that smacks of pride and arrogance.anybo-dove anybo-cali

But the urge to hide and deflect and demure is one I want to quash in the coming year. Because true creative freedom comes in being able to say, “I made this and it is good.” And I wanted to call attention to and honor the space within us all that knows we’re talented—even if that talent is remembering state capitols—and owning that spark.

This holiday season, I will be sewing many gifts, but in between all the projects I will be finishing one for myself, one that I’ve worked on for almost a year. As I finish, and try to finish strong, I will have to constantly remind myself that “it is good.” I don’t need to sell it or give it away, I can be proud of a job well done. That’s not arrogance, that’s understanding oneself.anybo-elfanybo

Annie Nybo is a children’s book editor and lives in Brooklyn, NY, where she reads, sews, and plays video games.

Once a Musician…

I played piano from the time I was five years old until nerves exploded in my fingers and caused me to bomb my first college piano recital. I have only ever been able to play notes on the page, carefully studied and ingrained into muscle memory. Which gives me all the more appreciation for friends like Dan, who create their own music with fingers and love.

Create Challenge #22: Dan Rodowicz

Several months ago, upon recommendation of our Human Resources department, I attended a communication seminar (based on the Process Communication Model, if you are familiar with this). Doing a ‘deep dive’ with a group of strangers isn’t something with which I am exactly comfortable. Nearly everyone in my first small group predicted I would be an “Imaginer” since I told them that I am a musician. As you can see from my chart, nothing could be further from the truth.DRodowicz chart

What’s funny is that I don’t much think of myself as a musician anymore. I’ve been playing music since I was five, and survived undergraduate and graduate school in music. I have taught both privately and on the collegiate level, and performed and recorded with some amazing and well-known musicians. I compose and arrange music, though not as often these days. I even served as Interim Music Minister at my Bay Area church for a year. While I don’t consider myself a musician, I guess it is at the core of who I am—and who I will always be.

Frankly speaking, I was the typical kid—I hated practicing. Typically I sight read my piano lessons. Only rarely did I receive the wrath of Sister Rose Imelda’s ruler.

I found my passion for music in the fourth grade when my parents bought my first spinet organ. I’ll never forget the day it arrived—I started playing the minute I got home from school and, except for a short break to eat dinner, I played until bedtime. That was the first instrument I could play and “color outside the lines.” I didn’t have to play note-for-note any longer. I could even play a few chords different than what were on paper. I could experiment with different sounds, different rhythms, and different styles. I found musical freedom!music

I have incredible respect for classically trained musicians who practice hours on end to reproduce something composed by someone else. I just don’t find the joy or sense of accomplishment they do. For me, whether it’s playing some jazz with other musicians, writing a new song or arrangement or just noodling on the piano at home, I enjoy being able to explore new musical territory at every juncture.

While I love the spontaneous creativity of playing jazz, I feel the greatest sense of accomplishment when I complete writing a new song. They always start out as a tiny idea—or “motif”—and then need to be shaped and transformed into a finished product. Sometimes, what starts out to be a great idea ends up sputtering away. But it’s most rewarding when I bring that song, including the arrangement, to completion. Of course, it isn’t so bad when someone actually likes what I created!

And when I compose, I find it easiest when the inspiration comes from someone meaningful to me. Whether it was “Tiny Ballerina” inspired by my dancing little daughter, Chelsey, or the wedding music I wrote for my wife, Leann, and our family—those are the nearest and dearest to my heart and I think that it is evident in the finished product.

So, as I head off to my “real job,” I guess I have to accept the fact that I am, and always will be, a musician.

DRodowicz travelDan Rodowicz is married to Leann and they recently relocated from the Bay Area to Laguna Niguel, CA for his position as National Sales Manager for the Institutional Solutions Group at Yamaha. They have three adult children: Andrew, Kate and Chelsey. He loves to travel, play Words with Friends, study foreign languages, drink good wine with good friends, is an avid Green Bay Packer fan (even though he was born and raised in Philadelphia) and is most comfortable on his bicycle when not seated at a piano.

You can hear some of Dan’s recordings and arrangements, including from his time as organist for the Oakland A’s baseball team, here.