The Creative Epiphany – Creativity is Kept Alive With a Youthful Heart

 Photo courtesy of funstuffblogandreviews.wordpress.com

This time of year is especially appropriate for allowing your inner child to surface – all you have to do is to dig deep and remember the wonder of Christmas Eve. The excitement, the anticipation, the joy of that time in your childhood comes rushing back as if it were yesterday, and if you have children or grandchildren or even little friends who are going to experience that precious time then you are fortunate indeed to see it again through those innocent eyes. Seek that out, cherish it and use it to fuel your creativity.

What separates the older “grumps” from the older but still “young-at-hearts” among us lies in our ability to recollect, imagine and live again as if “for the first time”  the meaningful and memorable windows in time when we were the most engaged, inspired and  impressed. Lucky be you if you have some of those special moments in time to recall; I know there are those out there who do not. And If you do not, your job is to find special moments now…that is your mission…make up for lost time…live milestone moments again the way you want them to be. Get it right and hang on to it while you can. Be young at heart.

I have always believed that as creative people our BFF – best friend forever – is imagination. I have written about imagination before in these blog posts, clarifying her relationship with creativity. Those two beautiful qualities do go hand in hand. And so if your imagination is running on empty, if you have gotten a little rusty in the day-dreaming department, or if you have allowed the stark reality of things to get its icy grip on you, you are probably missing the creativity also. Pessimism is your worst enemy when your creativity is taking a leave of absence. Creativity will not feel welcome when you are bleak with pessimism. Kids are seldom pessimistic. The hopes, the dreams, the fascination with the smallest details, the amazement at each unfolding day is what children manifest for us. How long has it been since you talked to a 5 year old? Spend 10 minutes at that and you are made of stone if you are not smiling and engaged and wanting more of that magical stuff.

When I paint with my adorable, 5 year old, curly-haired niece, we mix colors – red and blue make purple, her favorite, and her eyes widen in surprise. Yellow and blue make green – astonishing! MAGIC! Several weeks later she asks me, “How can we make white? I am all out of white.”

She asks us all, gathered around the table for Thanksgiving, when the pilgrims are going to join us for the feast. Good question. I wonder where they are. They are late. Wonder if they’ll be here in time for the pumpkin pie.

Without this in my life I would shrivel and die a little,  bit by bit. It is one of the reasons I moved back to Denver – I missed the  children in my family, having lived in a 55 and older community for about 3 years. No Halloween. No Easter egg hunts and no Christmas Eve spent tracking Santa and putting the cookies and milk out on the hearth. Some of this needs to rub off on us if we are to remain truly alive and engaged in all the stages of life. For every thing there is a season and a reason.

This quote was recently brought to my attention by a dear friend and fellow artist:
Science fiction author Ursula Le Guin wrote, “The creative adult is the child who has survived.” Wise artists practice daily with their inner youngster, and the task doesn’t lighten with success. Your child may slip into the shadows when more pressing professional concerns take hold.  Excerpted from the online newsletter of Canadian Artist Robert Genn.  Visit his website at http://www.robertgenn.com

Pablo Picasso had something to say on the subject as well: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”Pablo Picasso (Spanish cubist painter, 1881-1973)

I encourage you to live in the NOW of this joyful season. Don’t be the rain on anyone’s parade! Whether or not the Christmas season coincides with your personal beliefs, choose the “good tidings of great joy” section of the celebrations and ride along on that. Find your innocent and wondrous inner child and use it for the greater good, because you can’t go wrong with that, and your creativity will thank you for it….BELIEVE.

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The Creative Epiphany – Little Jo and the Devil Pony

youngjo Thunder is the one with the wild look in his eye..

It was bright and early on any Saturday morning when I was six or seven years old, down by the barn on our country property. I was skinny and small, maybe 60 lbs, not sure. Fresh out of bed and still not really awake. Wishing I could be listening to my Saturday morning radio shows up at the house. Strawberry blonde hair that curled up with summer perspiration  and blue eyes, unrevealing as yet of the budding determination behind them.

I knew it was time to ride Thunder again, probably get thrown off and lucky, I hoped,  to land safely without fracturing my neck. Mom was sure I would be injured. Dad was fearless, and I was caught in the middle somewhere. I knew the perils of horseback riding, had been taking formal riding lessons for weeks, so I also knew that, in spite of my size, I would rather be riding any full grown normal horse (we had two of those in the barn, just 3 stalls down from Thunder…and I loved them both) using an English saddle than to have to get on the back of that black devil pony from hell and that damn western saddle.

If I heard it once I heard it a thousand times, as I picked myself up off the ground and put my hat back on, trying not to cry after being tossed like a pillow over the top of Thunder’s head,  “Jo, show that pony who’s boss! Get up on him and try again! Come on, hurry up. He’ll warm up to you.” But actually he never did. I learned to ride him, but with great respect and constant  trepidation for what might transpire at any given moment, if he decided he didn’t like some bird or some weed or some sneeze…he was unpredictable. He had a consistent wild look in his eye, because he was nuts. Like a cowboy’s bad dream. Truly demented.

Those mornings eventually taught me more than how to get Thunder under control, but of course I didn’t know it at the time. I now know, however, from that time on, confronted with any problem whatsoever, I choose to walk through it over the hot coals rather than around it. The lesson was learned, more out of wanting to NOT look like a chicken than from wanting to be brave. I would rather hunker down and weather the storm than sneak around it going sideways to avoid the issue. But honestly, sometimes walking through the center to the eye of the tornado and out the other side  is nothing but crazy and I am just saying that you can get tossed around and badly bruised every once in a while with your perhaps foolhardy bravery. It does not work 100% of the time, to look a situation right in the eye and decide to challenge it. Violent situations with people and guns or wild animals are a couple situations that are best not confronted armed only with your steely-eyed determination and your slightly red hair.

But down through the chapters of your life, as you face adversity and all the problems that life brings, if you are engaged and truly living it, you must take it all on like a champ. You learn what to accept as a challenge, what to avoid at all costs, what to stand and fight for and what to flee. Which battles are worth engaging and which to ignore. You learn what can be negotiated and what cannot. You learn that some people are reasonable, and can be “talked off the cliff” and some will never know what reason is. You learn that sweating all the small stuff will just wear you out over time and that you need to save your energy and your big guns for the life-changing battles.

Yes, Thunder has become a symbol for me. Black as night, hoofs like thunder, the maniacal look in his eyes and the ability to run like the wind…you have to give that kind of life-form a lot of respect.

The Creative Epiphany – Places I Remember, Simpler Times

youngjocowgirl

The Beatles’ song lyrics that always grab me go like this:

There are places I remember, all my life, though some have changed

Some forever, not for better, some have gone and some remain.

All these places had their moments, with lovers and friends, I can still recall

Some are dead and some are living, in my life I’ve loved them all.

As I sort and pack and sort some more (during this difficult week of bad news) in preparation for the move back to Colorado, I am finding boxes of photos and mementoes long forgotten of a simpler time. Look, here is Thunder, my mean little pony, appropriately named, jet black in  temperament as well as his horsehair. That pony threw me over his head every chance he got. I grew to hate the sight of him, but eventually we arrived at some level of tolerance for eachother. Still, I always believed he was a killer at heart.

I remember the tallest pine tree just off our flagstone terrace, a tree that overlooked the backyard hill of our big country house on Munger Road. In the summer the tree dripped with sap, and I climbed it barefoot. My feet were sticky until school started in the fall when I had to wear shoes again. Nearly every evening I would climb to the very top, a considerable height for a skinny young girl. My parents sat just below having cocktails as the sun went down. From my perch at the top of my world I could hear their conversations to perfection, no one aware I was there. I learned a lot about life and I owe it all to that tree.

Oh the hayloft in the barn. Early morning sun filtering through the cracks between the wall boards revealing the random dance of dust motes in the air. Watching my kittens run to me from across the hay strewn floor as I brought their daily saucer of milk, weaning them from their mama. That hayloft was a retreat from the world for me. I would spend hours there with the horses, the kittens and the roosters crowing in the chicken coop nearby. It was in that barn that I got my first kiss when a boy from my 6th grade class walked miles to visit me, sweetly and respectfully becoming my first boyfriend.

The attic under the high pitched roof of the main house, where we needed help to open the trap door at the top of the stairway, our entrance to another world. As the rain pounded and roared on the roof just above our heads, hours went by as we played “pretend” wearing props such as wide-brimmed hats with feathers on them and black capes and using old furniture for the walls of our forts.

Of course my playhouse out in the horse pasture, nestled under some trees, far enough from the house to feel isolated and adventurous, close enough to run home if a thunderstorm came….the neighbor’s cows often escaped their pasture, wandering onto our property through the same hole in the fence that never managed to stay secure. When the cows surrounded our playhouse we looked out the windows and pretended they were horses being ridden by Indian warriors, and we, the cowboys, staged an entire afternoon of wild west show-downs wearing the cowboy outfits and six-shooters in holsters that Nana and Grandpa had given us for Christmas. We won when the cows finally wandered away and the ranch house was secured.

Mr. Kress, our beloved caretaker and man of few words, in the winter months would knock twice at the back kitchen door every evening about 5:30, greet us, then come in to tromp down the basement stairs and shovel enough coal in the furnace to last until about 7am the next morning when he would come back and do it again. Many nights he was covered in snow accumulated in the walk from his house down the hill to our back door. In the summer months he spent his evenings mowing grass – acres of grass – sometimes until the sun was down. As soon as the front yard was done it was time to do the backyard again. Mr. Kress is a character lovingly remembered; when I was able I followed him everywhere, watching him and occasionally exchanging a few sentences.

These are just a few of the favorite places of my childhood – the ones that shaped me, enhanced my  imagination, fueled my creativity and made me the independent tomboy I was and still am. The tomboy grew up to be an adventurous young woman who decided to go west to college instead of staying in Ohio as my parents strongly wished. In that one decision, which was hard-fought and finally won through downright pleading as well as presenting relevant facts and information, my life changed forever. I knew instinctively that I needed the wide open spaces of the west. When I landed in Colorado to attend CU in Boulder, I knew I was exactly where I needed to be. Next to the mountains and a mile high – with vistas worth painting at every glance.

Still my favorite places from childhood fill my thoughts in the wee hours when I can’t sleep. The common thread is the peace, comfort and freedom these humble but rare places brought to me then, and continue to bring now in their remembering. From all the memories that fall away over the years, the ones we keep are the ones we need the most. And in the words of Jeff Probst of Survivor fame, “The adventure you are ready for is the one you get.” And I am ready to go back to Colorado for the next chapter. It feels like home to me.