Our First Haiku Contest: Tea and Creativity!

January 5, 2012

Tea and Creativity

Posted by Deborah Atherton

It often helps us, as we struggle to find time to do our creative projects, to have a little prompt, some gesture that tells us that it is now time to get serious, and sit down with our work.  We tell ourselves, “After I finish reading the paper, or cleaning up after dinner, or eating lunch, I will go ______ (you fill in the blank – paint, or sort out my photographs, or edit some video, or write).

For me, this is most often a cup of coffee or tea (you can see my earlier post on coffee and creativity here ). I wake up with coffee, and then switch to tea later in the day.  Coffee is my first burst of inspiration; tea sustains and comforts and helps me bring ideas to fruition.   

 Tea, like wine, has its devoted connoisseurs, the people who will tell you that if you do not drink the white tea made from buds that bloom only for a week and a half every other year in some obscure province of China, you have not really experienced tea.  Like Captain Jean Luc Picard, I enjoy a nice cup of Earl Grey, hot, when it is available, but honestly will settle for lesser brands, at any temperature, when it is not.  It is the making of the tea, the ritual of heating the water, pouring it over a tea bag (or sachet or leaves, if we are being elegant), that creates the moment of peace, the little separate space, that allows you to launch yourself into the next hour of your day, the hour when you will have a little peace to do your creative work.

As firm believers in the drinking of coffee and tea to support  creative endeavors, and to help inaugurate what we are sure will be a wonderfully creative New Year, The Intuitive Edge invites you to participate in our first annual haiku contest with seventeen syllables on the subject of coffee or tea and creativity.  Use your vivid imaginations – and we know enough of our readers to know that this is not in short supply.  The traditional Haiku form used in English is 17 syllables (5-7-5), but this is the Intuitive Edge: give yourself a little room for creativity.  

We offer this haiku from the great Japanese master Matsuo Bashō, who some say invented haiku, on starting your mornings with tea:

drinking morning tea
the monk is peaceful
the chrysanthemum blooms

The prizes for the winning entries will be, of course, be Starbucks cards (we are here to support your creativity in many ways!) to help you break new creative ground in the New Year.  All entries must be in by midnight, January 22nd, GMT (which seems to be the clock WordPress runs on.)

Please post your entries here in the comments section. You will retain all rights to all seventeen syllables after they have first been posted here.  Good luck, and we look forward to your entries!  

I leave you with these final words from Matsuo Bashō: “The haiku that reveals seventy to eighty percent of its subject is good. Those that reveal fifty to sixty percent, we never tire of.”

Advertisements

How We Survived Our Zombie Apocalypse

October 25, 2011

by Deborah Atherton

Occasionally, Leslie and I go away to shore hotels (off-season) to work on our creativity book. This weekend, we chose Asbury Park, New Jersey, one of our favorites, because of a great hotel rate.  To our shock, when we arrived, we were told that we were still in time to get makeup for the Friday night Zombie Events. Seeking quiet, we had unwittingly landed in the greatest Zombie convocation in the world, the culmination of which was a Zombie parade, set to break the world record for most people gathered for a Zombie walk.

Our first impulse was to flee on the next bus back to Manhattan; but the trouble with those great rates is, you have to pre-pay, and running into Zombies is probably not grounds for getting your money back.  Judge Judy would dismiss us instantly. Instead, in the spirit of the Intuitive Edge, we decided to explore, and ask questions.  We first went to question the guy on the Boardwalk who does the Zombie makeup.

“Why do people dress up as Zombies?” we asked. He shrugged. “It’s the new fashion,”” he said. “For a while people loved vampires—True Blood and all that. And then werewolves.  But now people like Zombies. It’s just fun.”

“Are you a Zombie?” Leslie asked.  “No, not me,” he said, “I just do the makeup.”  “But who does want to be a Zombie?” “There is no demographic,” he said. “Old, young, skinny, fat. It’s just fun.”

We proceeded to the information booth.  “Are there qualifications to be a Zombie?” Leslie asked. “No,” they told us. “All you have to do is pour a little blood over your face and join the crowd. And,” they continued, “Don’t forget, we are going for a world record!”

We remained puzzled, and began to walk back over to our hotel.  We ran into a number of Zombies, all of whom were extremely polite, considering they were undead, and a few square dancers, who had also chosen this weekend to convene en masse this weekend. Apparently the whole world had chosen this week to come to Asbury Park.  But as we walked back, we saw a huge, beautiful, inspiring bonfire on the beach, with sparks flying to the heavens, apparently surrounded by Zombies, square dancers, and their happy children.  We decided to stay.

It ended up being a very productive weekend—we wrote and strategized and tried to practice what we preach, creating a schedule of goals, and times, and accountabilities for the book and blog.   And as time went on, and a parade of Zombie nurses, prisoners, chefs, fairy princesses, and even a mermaid sailed by, we realized that Zombies are all about creativity.  Zombie creators spend time and energy creating costumes, makeup, and back story for their characters, and then join together to share their work—and of course eat brains.

It turned out to be the best place and time in the world to work on our creativity book after all.

The festival reports over 12,500 people attended.  Just a nice quiet October weekend on the Jersey Shore.

Asbury Park, New Jersey

October 22, 2011

 


Why Don’t We Do the Work We Love?

September 21, 2011

Posted by Deborah Atherton

Recently, Leslie and I were having lunch with a good friend and colleague who has just begun to write seriously.  She posed the question:  Why is it that we don’t do the thing we in theory want to do the most? (For all three of us right now, it is finishing a book.)  Why is it that our weekends and evenings fill up with chores, errands, TV, email, etc., etc., and suddenly it is 11 PM Sunday night and nothing has been written? 

The classic answer for this, of course, is resistance (something explored really brilliantly in Stephen Pressfield’s The War of Art), but, as Leslie said a few blog posts ago, let’s for a moment resist calling it resistance.  Maybe this isn’t always our inner critic at work, blocking all change and creative effort in our life; maybe this is something else.  Because we all enjoy working on our books; when we set the time aside, it is almost always good time, not frustrating or self-critical time.  

As we discussed the problem, we realized all three of us tended to do the same thing: we feel that we have to block out a day (or an afternoon, or a week!) to work on our projects, and that we can never find a separate block of time long enough (or quiet enough) to really stretch out and enjoy working on it.  And so we postpone, and postpone, waiting for a time when we accumulate enough vacation days, or can take a break from clients and obligations for long enough, to REALLY get some work done.  But what happens, of course, is that that time never comes, and our projects pull further and further away from us, until they seem to have left us entirely.

Last year, when I was facing just such a dilemma, trying to finish a novel and thinking I would have to go away somewhere to make any progress, my friend, the amazing coach Cindy at Less Drama Queens made a suggestion: can you find one hour a week to work on it?   At the time, I was highly doubtful that I could get much done in an hour a week – I had a whole book to rewrite!  But I had already allotted my vacation time, and I didn’t really have much choice.  So, somewhat reluctantly,  I tried it.

And it worked.  Every Saturday morning, instead of rushing off to the dry cleaners, or picking up a few groceries, or (let’s be honest) catching up on Top Chef on the DVR, I worked on my novel. Interestingly, the hour often expanded into two, and sometimes even three, time I would have sworn I didn’t have. But there it was. And because I was obligated only to that hour, I honored it. Everybody, except maybe Hilary Rodham Clinton when the Mideast is exploding, has an hour.  We just don’t think we can do anything with it: it’s only an hour.

But that hour a week worked for me: it took more than six months, but I did finish editing the book.  It is a lesson that it is hard for me to remember; I still think longingly of all the work I could do if I just had about a month to go sit somewhere quiet and write.  Someday, I’m sure, I’ll get that month (although whether I am able to actually sit down and write for that stretch of time is another issue!)  In the meantime, I try to remind myself: just one hour a week, and eventually you can finish anything.


On Not Going It Alone

August 7, 2011

Recently I had brunch with a wonderful pianist, Benita Meshulam, and we were discussing the joys of collaborating.  She has recently begun a piano duo with Allison Brewster Franzetti, also an amazing pianist. “After all these years of being lonely on stage, I have a real partner to share the experience with,” she said.  “It’s so much better not to have to always perform alone. The loneliest walk is from my dressing room to the stage, and now I don’t have to do it alone.”

Part of our cultural mythology is this vision of the artist alone, writing or sculpting or drawing  in solitude. The solitude seems to validate the experience , verify the genuineness of the self-communion.   We imagine J.D. Salinger in cranky hermit mode up inNew Hampshire, or Van Gogh in tortured self-mutilating mode in a garret.  Virginia Woolf told us that every writer needs a room of her own, and it seems so obvious that we all immediately nod in agreement.

But although Virginia Woolf had a room of her own, she also lived in a constant social whirl of friends, writers and other artists who argued with her, supported her, designed her books and  furniture, and brought her their work for publication and critique.  As anyone who reads her diaries knows, she was very seldom actually alone.  Many artists do feel the loneliness of creating in solitude, or taking the stage by themselves, and get quite self-reproachful about their dislike of creating by themselves.

But there is actually no rule that you have to lock yourself in an empty room  to create, or even create or perform or present work with others.  Starbucks sometimes seems to exist largely to serve the needs of people who can’t stand to write in a room alone.  Of course, actors and musicians and other performers have always known the joys of performing together—but writers? Photographers?  Composers? Painters?

Well, maybe you can’t write music at Starbucks with all those world instruments jingling in your ears, but you can almost always find a less lonely situation that eases that anxiety about solitude and being in the creative process by yourself.  Whether this means having a trusted other who sits and reads while you are working, or actively collaborating with other artists on a film or musical or book or mural—or duo piano performance—sometimes the presence of another human being (or non-human being—there is a reason some writers are always photographed with their dogs at their sides) is the exact missing ingredient to spur your creative process.

Sometimes all we want is an empty, quiet space to do our work, or to walk out on to a stage and face the crowd or critics by ourselves—but we don’t have to be alone with either our ideas or our audiences if it doesn’t work for us.  Collaboration can be one of the most exciting and fulfilling modes for any artist to work in—although you still might want that room of your own to go home and decompress in at the end of the day!


Creativity and Late Bloomers – Learning How to Become Mindful

July 3, 2011

I recall seeing the title of a book written by Nora Ephron called I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other  Thoughts on Being a Woman.  Now,  I am not going to blog about necks  or the psychology of aging and women.  But just hearing this title quite honestly turned me off, because it sounds so negative.  And I am not a person  who  aspires  to being positive in a tone that makes it sound like life is just a bowl of cherries .   However,   I have consistently discovered in my life  that when faced with a choice of mindsets,  I ALWAYS   feel better and seem to get better results in whatever life endeavor I am trying to achieve, when I tell myself or try to tell myself   to maintain a positive  mindset.  (Although this doesn’t mean that my inner critic is not trying to get heard!)

So in this post,  I want to talk about the issue of aging and  how to maintain hope about engaging in a creative endeavor.  It is so easy to think it is just too late.  But while it might be  too late to become a ballerina, it might not be too late to enjoy seeing others dance.

I was especially inspired when I read that  David Seidler received the Best Original Screenplay award at age 74  years old.  He said, “my father always said to me I would be  a late bloomer.”

He also said “I have heard I am the oldest person to win this award. I hope that that record is broken quickly and often”.   I hope so too.  And not just for the big fancy accolades  like his but for accolades of any kind. It could  be  as simple as someone at 90 years of age in a nursing home taking a painting class .

So  what do I mean by being mindful?   In an extremely upbeat book written by Ellen Langer, entitled :”Counter Clockwise, Mindful Health and the  Power of Possibility,”  she describes it like this, “It is about the need to free ourselves from constricting mindsets and the limits they place on our health and well-being, and to appreciate the importance of  becoming the guardians of our own health.”  I’d like to suggest that this same belief  can be applied to one’s relationship to their creativity.


Why Are We All So Tired?

April 7, 2011

by Deborah Atherton

Why are we all so tired? 

Lately almost everyone I know has been telling me that they are very, very tired.  Many of us, of course, have very good reason to be tired; we work all day, and then we try to write or play music or paint or blog or do photography at night and on weekends. This is the fabric of our lives; we are used to spending our days overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things we are trying to do.   And everyone is just getting over some bug or another, and dragging themselves slowly into spring.

But I feel what I’m hearing lately in people’s voices is something more than that. Although we’ve all been living for at least a decade now with a different sense of how unpredictable and frightening the world can be, the last few months may have threatened our precarious sense of balance in a new way.  Earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear disasters—we’re indirectly experiencing so many events completely out of our control that even the new and scarier world we’ve gotten a bit used to has been turned on its head.  Many of us can’t bear to watch the news for more than a few minutes at a time, and when we do, we watch with a kind of fascinated horror, and perhaps it makes the things we are trying to do—find the right chord for a song, finish a portrait, rewrite a scene—seem kind of unimportant.  Just getting up in the morning and paying attention to what is going on around the world is exhausting right now—how can we push ourselves to take one more step?

I’m not sure I have the answer to that, except that there are all kinds of ways to bear witness to the world and the other human beings in it, and exercising your own creative spirit might be one of them.  If it can only be five minutes of thinking about your project, or five minutes of sketching or writing or looking through a new lens, that is five minutes of sanity and calm that will move you closer to your larger goal.  Once I heard a Zen teacher talking about how, if you can not find half an hour for meditation, you can surely find fifteen or ten or five—or two—and I believe the same holds true for creative endeavors.  It may seem like a useless effort, it may seem like a tease, but really—is it going to make you any MORE tired to dedicate five minutes to shaping something new?

Maybe not – maybe it will even have the opposite effect, and encourage you to try ten minutes tomorrow.  Or maybe it will just have to be five minutes every day until the news is a little bit more bearable again and we can dream a little bigger.

 


It’s Okay to Fail

January 23, 2011

by Leslie Zeigler

In light of the fact that today is the first day of the new year,  I wanted to blog about something that would be both inspiring and supportive to anyone who is yearning to be creative but afraid or for someone who is afraid to go to the next level in their creative process. I decided to be counterintuitive.  I listen so often to many people who report that what stops them from bringing their creative dream out of hiding, is somehow related to a fear of failing.  It may not be explicitly stated in that way, but that is what it relates to.

I was actually moved to write about the value of failing after listening to an interview Oprah had with J.K. Rowlings. In that interview, J. K. Rowlings, in a humble and earnest tone of voice, revealed  that it was when she hit rock bottom that she experienced the freedom  that really helped her to begin to write. And we know the rest of the story from there. Now it is not likely that any of us will  achieve the level of creative and commerical success that she did.  But that is not the point.

We live in a culture that dramatically emphasizes product over process. Being creative may never lead to external success or exposure.   But wouldn’t you feel freer to at least try to begin to write a poem, take a photo, ponder an idea for a short story, novel, non-fiction book, sign up for a singing, pottery, or dance class if you could accept that failure is an essential ingredient  of the gig?  And it really doesn’t have   to be so scary.  It does mean that you will have to learn how to strengthen your muscles of resilience and persistence.