Before You Toss It in the Trash

September 25, 2013

As creative people, maybe the hardest choices we ever have to make revolve around “when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.” And we aren’t always going to make the right choice. Sometime the impulse to just smash or burn or shred or delete whatever we are working on overwhelms us and into the trash it goes. And with that gesture, the greatest idea we ever had or ever will have might go right up in flames or down the chute.  We’ll never know.


Of course, once in a while someone else saves us from our insanity, as Stephen King’s wife Tabitha famously did when she fished “Carrie” out of the wastebasket. But mostly, we have to count on ourselves in these moments of frustration. 

I’ve lost a number of things to disorganization and dislocation through the years—the file I know I saved in My Documents only to find it just isn’t there; the copy of the manuscript that isn’t in the box that I stuck it in circa 1993. But I’ve probably lost more to misjudgment.  “Well this is awful, I won’t ever want to look at it again,” I tell myself in a cleaning frenzy, only to wake up three years later and think—that wasn’t such a bad idea, if I just turned it around and started in a different place—but it’s gone, and not to be simply recreated.

What to do?  We certainly can’t save everything (well maybe those of us who work exclusively on computers can take a stab at it—but although we might be able to save it, finding it and being able to read it in new software ten years later is another issue.) But perhaps we can learn to distrust our rage and frenzies a little.  If something is making us that angry, there might be something to it—perhaps it is our own frustration in not getting the Big Idea out right that is enraging us, not the badness of the Big Idea.  If we don’t have someone as helpful and talented in her own right as Tabitha King around to save us from ourselves, we may want to just take a moment and walk away before we throw the whole thing away.  And it might help to remind ourselves that just because we can’t work through it today doesn’t mean we might not be able to do it tomorrow—or next year, or in three years, or in 2033.

More about Creativity and Hypnosis – The Red Dress

April 19, 2013

by Leslie Zeigler

This is the second installment of my interview with my good friend Ruth Washton, who is both a psychotherapist and someone who practices hypnosis as well.

Ruth told me that there are many ways to induce a trance state, through the use language and metaphor, imagery, muscle relaxation. She likes to use a combination of mindful breathing and suggestions for release of muscle tension. She added that she instructs her clients in the method of deep abdominal breathing and asks them to absorb themselves in the feeling of their body breathing. Breathing evenly and deeply, the thinking mind becomes still as you focus your attention on your body breathing.
red dress
This fosters a very receptive state for internal reflection, exploration, and insight. So How is hypnosis used to facilitate creativity? In a mild trance state, a door opens into the subconscious mind, imagination supercedes the thinking, logical mind, the latter receding into the background. From this place, one can project dreams and aspirations in the form of a future self.

Ruth offered a fascinating example. A client of hers performed as a singer in a choral group, and sometimes as a soloist. Her great love in music was jazz and she had performed as a jazz vocalist in the past. The years went by, she married, had a family, and began a career. But she longed to be singing jazz.

Ruth said, “I facilitated a mild trance state and suggested to her that she imagine herself in a jazz club, on stage, and performing, backed by a group of jazz musicians. I asked her to see herself in great detail, to notice the expression of her body, her face and her voice. When she came out of the trance, she said she had pictured everything quite clearly and in detail, particularly a red dress that she was wearing. The following week,she called her piano teacher who put her in touch with a jazz pianist who invited her to sing with his group. She went shopping and found the red dress.”

This is the second installment of a series of interviews with Ruth Washton and her thoughts about creativity and hypnosis.


September 4, 2012


Is there a relationship between absentmindness and creativity?

Photo by Marcin Wichery licensed by CC-2.0

On a recent Friday night, my mind lit out for home and freedom quite a bit before my body managed to make it out of the office.  My thoughts were revolving around a conversation about history and ghosts at the end of the work day with one of my esteemed collaborators.  I made it all the way to the bus stop before I realized I had left my wallet and Blackberry behind.  Back to the office I trudged, in the pouring rain.  By the time I managed to finally squeeze on to a packed bus, it was past 7. I was immediately distracted by the landscape of the buildings and people surrounded by raindrops, many of them scurrying into Mme. Tussaud’s (a very appropriate place for ghosts and history).

Of course, I left my umbrella on the bus.

If I hadn’t been distracted, I would have walked in my front door at least an hour and a half earlier and a great deal dryer.

Hudson Skyline by Joiseyshoaa via Flckr CC license

I don’t know about you, but this isn’t all that unusual for me. In the middle of necessary daily activities, my mind is often somewhere else, very likely turning what I’m seeing or doing into a scene or story of some kind.  I construct elaborate back stories for strangers (the woman opening a chocolate bar next to me on the bus; the sales clerk at Rite Aid; the barista at Starbucks).  I sink my Manhattan landscape into the Hudson River and envision what the rest of the city would look like.  I have a glimpse of an underground tunnel and instantly the city is connected not just by subways but secret passageways.  I am struck by lyrics to a song that hasn’t yet been written while prowling the sales racks at Macy’s.

In consequence, I usually live in a mild state of distraction. This doesn’t happen when I am sitting down one on one with another human being, or when I am actually working on something that interests me, but when I am in a group activity that doesn’t completely catch my interest, or doing the things we usually do by habit—commuting, shopping, cooking.

Half my creative thinking is done in these intervals of absentmindedness.  (The other half seems to be done when I’m falling asleep or waking up, but that’s another post for another time.)  Although I am not paying attention to the external world, I am completely absorbed in my internal one, and the thoughts and images that come to me while I am barely avoiding walking into open manholes stay with me when I finally make it home and sit down to write.

This state of absentmindedness may be why creative people often say, when interviewed—I do my writing or painting or filmmaking or composing because I couldn’t do anything else.  It can be a bit of a challenge operating in the workaday world when much of your mind is in another place entirely.  But all of us have to operate in both worlds to some extent, and, after all, one feeds the other. The people in your life who value you will learn to put up with your moments of abstraction, and if you are lucky, the people you manage not to run into on the street will pull you out of the path of any oncoming buses.  Our minds, after all, are only absent from this particular moment and place—they are completely present somewhere else, exploring and building worlds and stories and images and melodies.

It might make you late to dinner once in a while, but in the long run, being absent minded is often just part of  being creative.  And, if there is somewhere you really, really need to be, you will just have to join the real world for a little while, knowing that the other world is always there, awaiting your return.

Copyright 2012 Deborah Atherton.  All rights reserved.

Obama and Creativity – What is the Link?

April 24, 2012

A few months ago, one night while watching TV, I watched a story on President Obama sitting down every night and answering ten letters that he had received from the public.  I became curious , and found a more detailed New York Times article (by Ashley Parker in the April 19, 2009 issue). The article described the tens of thousands of letters, e-mails, messages and faxes that arrive at the White House every day.  Each weekday afternoon, a few hundred  end up in the office of Mr. Kelleher, the Director of the White House Office of Correspondence . He then chooses ten letters, which he slips into a purple folder and puts in in the daily briefing book that is delivered to President Obama at the White House Residence.

The real question is: what did it mean to me?  It was really quite simple. If he can take the time to do this task , why is it so hard for me and other people to find the time to be creative?  He found the time to do something he clearly felt passionate about.

This daily action has become a source of  Inspiration for me.  Brian Tracy in his book, Eat  That Frog 21  GREAT Ways To  Stop  Procrcrastinating  And  Get  More  Done  in Less Time   says  “There is never enough time to do everything  you have to do.”  He adds,  “you can get control of your tasks  and activities only to the degree you stop doing some things and start spending more time on the few activities that can really make a difference in your life.”

So is writing that poem, novel, screenplay and/or signing up for that photography, pottery, dance, writing class a priority? If the President can make time for ten letters a day to people he never met, can you devote the same amount of time to launching (or sustaining) your own creative projects?

The Creativity Blockers

April 6, 2012

You know them. You probably live and work among them. 

If you say to one of them, “My photograph just won an award!” Or, “My poem just got published!” Or, “My film just got accepted into a festival!” they may manage a “How nice.” More likely, their eyes will glaze overand they will start telling you about what THEY did last weekend.

Did You Get Much Money for That?

Or they may say to you, (and this is my personal favorite), “Did you get much money for that?” Please notice the “much” here, because no matter what sum, from 0 to 1,000,000, that you received for your hard work, it is clear that it isn’t much at all, in the creativity blocker’s scale of things. Sometimes they offer comments like, “I don’t know why you work so hard on that (painting, blog, musical).” “How many years have you been doing that?” Or better yet, “Do people still do that?”

Are You Famous?

And of course, we’ve all heard this at parties or events: “Should I have heard of you?” “Are you famous?” Once upon a time, I thought it was all innocence and ignorance.  Maybe they really did think that people no longer wrote books, or painted pictures, or (in my case) wrote operas.  Somehow these things were generated from a Great Computer in the Sky, and descended full blown upon us.

But now I realize that it’s not that, or it’s more than that.  Many people aren’t comfortable around poets, or playwrights, or musicians, because even in this age of YouTube and America’s Got Talent, creative efforts are not perceived as something regular people do. And if you are successful at it: if you make a living, or part of a living, at it, you’re even odder.  Somehow, you’re cheating. You’re taking a step away from the way most people live their lives; you’re going into a back room, or out on the street, or even to the bar around the corner with your band, and creating something brand new in the world.  And if there’s one thing people aren’t really comfortable with, it’s change. (There does seem to be a gadget exception to this rule; everyone loves their new cars and smart phones.  I do wonder, however, how much they’d have to say to the person who designed them?)

No Point. No Time. No Good

It’s discouraging.  We’d all like a little acknowledgement for our efforts.  We’d like the people around us to be thrilled with our success, and sympathetic to the disappointments that line the road to any successful creative effort.  We try hard to get them interested in what we’re doing, and sometimes their disinterest seems like a global rejection.  We’re not just hearing “no” from the people who could open doors for us, we’re hearing it from our friends and colleagues and sometimes even our families. “No point.” “No time.” “No good.”

So what do we do?

We find other people to talk to.  We’re lucky, in 2012, that the world is open to us through the Internet. But we can also seek out other people in our communities, even in our workplaces, whose eyes actually spark with interest instead of dulling with dread when we start talking about what we love to do.

And we don’t try and interest people who we terrify with our love of what we do.  The more you succeed, the more you keep going, the less happy they will be.  The jabs and disinterest might turn to something more hostile.  Ever notice how fast people turn on performers who don’t meet their expectations?  (Just try a half hour of any celebrity reality TV show.)  Deep down, they may not feel really normal people are out there acting and singing and making movies and games.

Getting By With a Little Help From Your Friends

We get pretty good at insulating ourselves within circles of friends and fellow creative people as we get older, and find ways to hold some of this at bay. But for those striving to create something in a hostile culture or community or family situation, this can a life-long problem.  And the best solution is finding the people who will support you, even if they are 8,000 miles away and can only IM you at midnight.  Creative people do their best when they can ignore (or go around) the blockers, keep working on their projects,  and get a little help from their friends.

Many thanks to Eric Ember, the Intuitive Edge Photographer in Residence, for his portrait of  Sam suspiciously eyeing Murray, the Intuitive Edge Creative Cat in Residence. And thanks also to Claudia Carlson for the idea.

More about Maslow and Creativity

March 11, 2012

In a prior blog post I wrote about how Maslow was a humanistic psychologist and believed that in  every person  there is a strong desire to realize his or her full potential.  He believed creativity was an aspect  of personality.   Another interesting idea he had was that there are “two sets of forces–one that clings to safety and defensiveness out of fear and one that urges us towards wholeness and full expression of our true selves. . .  One part of us is afraid to take chances  …afraid to bother the status quo…  …Another part is driven by a nagging sense of feeling unfulfilled, that our lives will be incomplete unless we express ourselves in some important way.”

He adds that growth forward  takes place in little steps.  He believed that this slow process made it safer for us to change and grow.

Perhaps you may want to ask yourself:  What do you need emotionally to help you take that first small step or the next step in your current creative project?

Shine and Play

February 5, 2012

by Leslie Zeigler

This is a second blog entry about Sheri Heller, a colleague of mine who is an Interfaith Reverend and psychotherapist as well as a writer,  playwright and actor.  She is the founder of the Philanthropic Theater Group Sistah Tribe.  Sistah Tribe is a collective of women and men who bring to the theater the  culturally  under-served and disenfranchised.

In my conversation with Sheri, I noticed a thread that ran through  much of what she shared with me – which is her deeply held belief that “when we connect to our creative impulses we are deeply authentic. ”  She goes on to say “creativity teaches us about ourselves.”  In her own deeply authentic voice she says,  “I always knew there was an artist in me,  but I didn’t feel entitled to give her permission and in certain ways was afraid to give her expression for fear of my own power being allowed to shine and play.”


How I Learned to Stop Worrying and (Almost) Love Reviews

June 14, 2011

by Deborah Atherton

Once upon a time, in my ever-more-distant youth, I longed for reviews. Reviews meant someone out there had noticed that you existed. And at that time of my life, I also loved reviewing things, and saying exactly what I thought about them, in the most clever way I could. I particularly liked it when authors wrote back, explaining why I DIDN’T GET IT, giving me the opportunity for a second go round. And sometimes, I admit, even when I review things as a grownup (or as grownup as I am likely to get) the old impulse to be snarky overcomes me, and I write down something I know I really shouldn’t.

These days, I’m less excited by getting reviews. Bad reviews remain disappointing, and good reviews still inspire some elation, but I’m far enough down the road to realize it probably doesn’t make a heck of a lot of difference in the long run. Yes, in this day of the Internet, everything you have ever written, and everything anybody has written about you, remains ever-present. But the truth is, nobody much cares. (Unless of course, you are the producer of Spiderman: Turn off the Dark, when presumably whomever provided the much vaunted $65 million dollars wants some return on their investment other than media indignation over the mounting body count.) But I’ve had bad reviews, and I’ve had good reviews, and I’ve had no reviews – I’m beginning to sound like a Sondheim character – and I’m still here. I’m not famous; I’m not infamous. I’m a mid-career artist with a day job which, while it does not make use of my ability to create rhyming couplets, accomplishes some good in the world.

What the young authors who wrote to me, the even younger reviewer, did not understand at the time was that I didn’t have to get it. I might even have been right in my judgments; it is too long ago to remember exactly what prompted them. What I remember today is the thrill of getting a real letter (because in those days, of course, there was no email) from a real writer. And I try to remind myself, when I read reviews good and bad and indifferent, that it is all communication between creators and audiences, and whether I am on the receiving end, or the judging end, what matters is the excitement in that flicker of acknowledgement. Somebody read my work, or watched my work, and whether they liked it or not, they thought a little bit about it and wrote something down in response. And that, in the end, is what it is all about.

And all that being said, if you’d like to read one of my recent reviews (and yes, of course, it is one I liked!) check out:  New History Operas on the Way: Monsters and Wars.

Let’s Resist Always Calling it Resistance

May 21, 2011

We live in a culture that thrives on quick sound bites and formulaic   responses to complicated matters.

For example , I am reminded of a  New York Times bestseller called  He’s Just Not That Into You. I actually never read the book but from what I have heard about it, it sure sounds like a one trick pony to me.   The basic assumption  was that if a man does not return a phone call after a date it is because he is just not that into you.  What if he just lost his job?  What if he is commitment phobic and responds this way to all women? It is not hard to find other books with  a tendency to oversimplify also on the best sellers list.

In that vein, I feel it is often common for people to assume that if someone says the often used comment  “I just don’t have enough time”  in referring to their creative endeavor,  that it is a sure indication of resistance.     What if it is not so black and white?

What if someone just suffered the loss of a parent and is paralyzed by their understandable grief?  Or perhaps a woman is yearning to set aside time to work on her passion of writing yet has just given birth to twins. 

Sometimes it may be about the lack of energy and consequent lack of   ability to focus that may be one way to explain the behavior.  IF someone is weighted down by  a difficult emotion or a new life transition, it can feel like wanting  to get up from the couch with a body that just won’t move.

Sometimes life happens and our behavior  just cannot  be easily labeled.

Keeping The Eye on The Prize

March 18, 2011

I  had  been feeling very blocked about what to blog about this week .  So   I decided to ask a friend for some help who suggested that I blog about the intrinsic  joy   the creative process can offer.  It reminds me of  Buddhists  who   talk so much about the value of  bringing   full awareness to the present moment. I am talking about the more ordinary moments related to just sitting down and spending an hour working on a poem .  ( So I am not talking about the part of creativity related to the bigger dreams of wishing to be on the New York Times Bestseller List or wanting to get your painting  in a local gallery – not that these dreams are not important , they are  but that is not what this blog is about today)  Or it could be the sense of calm and inner peace someone feels after  spending time thinking and jotting down ideas about a character  for a short story.  I know firsthand  how much I enjoy when Deborah and I get  together and brainstorm  ideas for a particular chapter we might be working on.

It reminds me of a quote I read and loved by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi , who says, “the process of discovery involved in creating something new appears to be one of the most enjoyable activities that any human can be involved in.”

So Happy Creating !!