creativity, learning, lifelong learners, workshops, writer's conference, writing

Tribal Art

“Think back to your childhood. What did you enjoy doing? What were you naturally drawn to? When you were a little girl what made you happy?”

“Take your time. Dig down into the deep recesses of your mind.” I continue, noting a few furrowed brows in the room full of women.

“Some of us will have to dig deeper than others,” I add with a smile, and good-natured laughter erupts from the corner of the room where two women in their seventies sit.
Did you spend hours outside poking anthills with sticks? Follow your mother around as she cleaned house, begging to dust the furniture? Love working with your grandmother in the garden? Were you a voracious reader, devouring books like the chips in a Pringles can?

A younger woman looks up from the sheet of paper in front of her. “I’d almost forgotten! I used to spend hours making Barbie doll clothes! They weren’t very good; just quilt scraps my mom gave me that I cut holes in for the arms.”

A single woman in her thirties, the Barbie clothing designer sports spikes black hair, a ring in her nose, and arms covered with colorful tattoos. She looks the part of a creativity group member, but the truth is, all of the women belong; something about creativity appealing to a restless stirring inside them.

Thirteen women attended the inaugural meeting of the inelegantly dubbed “Lifelong Learner’s Creativity Group” I began at the library where I was employed in 2017. Forming the group made sense for a librarian. A 2015 Pew Research study revealed that adults who use libraries are more likely to consider themselves to be lifelong learners, actively pursuing learning opportunities. The group was consistent with a library’s mission to engage learners and inspire thinkers, but organizing it was not simply a job-related, altruistic move. It had been months since I’d experienced the kind of creative energy that ignites in a room full of people interested in the same thing. I’d seen it happen in writing classes I’d taught and at writing conferences I’d attended. I missed the passionate exchanges about writing and the rush of adrenaline that came with speaking and practicing one’s passion, the camaraderie of being in a room full of people that shared that passion. Those women needed what the creativity group could offer.

So did I.

As we took turns introducing ourselves, it soon became apparent we all had one thing in common; we wanted to add creativity into our lives and suspected that doing so would make us happier.

We were correct in that assumption. Scientific research demonstrates that practicing creative pursuits results in a happier, healthier life. The activity can be as simple as journaling, playing an instrument, or spring gardening, so long as it has meaning for the individual.

I didn’t make friends easily for most of my adult life. I was too busy raising eight children. That changed in 2011, when I attended my first writer’s conference, connecting with women and men interested in writing and publication.

writers conference 002
Cedar Falls Christian Writers workshop 2011

A year later, I’d discover the value of friendship when my husband unexpectedly died and some of those writers attended his funeral, becoming a support system of sorts. I made additional friends outside of that writer’s circle through a workplace setting, classes I taught, involvement in grief ministry, and by forming both a Bible study and the creativity group.

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” entrepreneur and motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said. The Longevity Project, which studied over 1000 people from youth to death found that the groups you associate with often determine the type of person you become. If you want a stronger faith, become part of a faith community. If you want to be more interesting, spend time with interesting people. To be more creative, hang out with creative individuals. Find your tribe.

It wasn’t long after I traded in that library job for one as a Program Coordinator at a Spirituality Center that I began a similar group there, aptly named “Artisan Souls.”

Something extraordinary happens when I facilitate groups and conduct workshops. I’m so exhilarated by the energy in the room, I’m hardly aware of the passing of time, and I leave those meetings deliriously happy, a soaring feeling that can last for hours, even days. Researchers call this joyful state “Flow,” the loss of time and self-consciousness that happens when we’re completely absorbed in an activity, whether it’s intellectual, professional, or physical. Flow can be achieved through activities such as running a race, playing the violin, or writing a book, as long as the activity is voluntary, intrinsically motivating, requiring skill, and challenging in some way. A growing body of scientific research proves that flow is positively correlated with happiness, and that people who experience a lot of flow also develop increased concentration, performance, and a higher self-esteem.

I enter the state of flow when I write or conduct workshops, but I’m open to experiencing it through other avenues, which explains one of the tenets of our creativity groups; to try new things. In these two groups I’ve painted on canvas, designed Vision Boards, practiced hand lettering, and made jewelry.

painting with James Kennedy Public library Lifelong Learners

One month, a member of our Dyersville library group brought ukuleles for everyone, insisting we’d be playing a tune by the end of the evening. As my fingers fumbled clumsily with fret and chords, my cheeks flushed with embarrassment. I wondered why I wasn’t catching on when the women on either side of me made it look easy. Then I happened to glance up. A woman across the room was having just as much trouble as I was. Our eyes met, and we both laughed. I didn’t have to worry about failure or looking foolish. I was there to have fun, not to become a musician.


I’d found my tribe.


creativity, learning, life, research for new book, writer's conference, writing

~Creativity Calling~

“Each person has a unique creative sensibility, but that can so easily become buried beneath the stresses and responsibilities of adult life. Sometimes a re-awakening slowly occurs by one taking hold of a thread of something that’s linked to something that remains pure inside each of us, a longing for expression, safe from the judgments or order imposed by the external world.”- Eileen M. Clegg, in “Claiming Your Creative Self”

Some writers avoid reading anything related to their current project. I’m the opposite, immersing myself in the topic for weeks as I delve into what has already been written, taking copious notes, and printing out page after page of pertinent research. The reading and research not only helps me narrow down my broad outline, clarifying what I want to include as well as exclude from my own book, but also helps me write my book proposal. Perhaps some of these authors will be approached for a blurb endorsement, or the book’s forward.

I began research for Coupon Crazy in 2009, reading books about couponing, marketing, branding, and ethnographic research on related topics. I needed to unearth archived newspaper and journal articles to dig deep into the history of refunds and rebates. I interviewed 50 avid couponers from all over the United States. By the time the manuscript was complete, I had 20 file folders, as in actual paper file folders, packed with research.

creative books2.jpgA few of these creativity books were shelved on my desk for four years, waiting to be plucked from the “to-read” stack. Some I recently purchased might end up as keepers. Others will end up being turned in for credit at HalfPrice Books. An especially observant reader of my blog might realize a couple of books have already disappeared from my generous research stack, while new ones have magically appeared. One book that disappeared greatly disappointed me when the author’s real secret to creativity in women seemed to depend on three things: #1) a discretionary income of some means, #2) copious amounts of solitude, and #3) either have no children, or one child. My book’s intended audience is more the woman at home with young children, a woman wishing to hone the lost domestic arts, or the empty-nester who thinks it is too late for her to do anything creative.

Maybe a woman whose desk looks something like this:

mom writer deskI bravely shared this horrifying 1996 photo on my Facebook page a few days ago. I also plan to incorporate it into my power point on utilizing creativity in the everyday. While some might see a mess, I see an extremely creative period in my life. I’d had my first book, Homeschooling From Scratch, published a few months before, had recently been paid $200 for a Chicken Soup essay, and wrote regularly for several national magazines, such as “Backwoods Home” and “Home Education.” I was an avid couponer and refunder, sending for cash and gifts through the mail and saving hundreds of dollars at the grocery store. I ran a home business selling used books and helped my husband operate a bookstore. I was also into bartering, trading used books with women all over the country, in exchange for educational materials and high-end brand name clothing for my toddler.

What I didn’t have was money, solitude, or obviously, since toddler Emily was our sixth, a lack of children. Yet I managed to utilize my creativity, even if it wasn’t in the domestic arena.

An extraordinary thing can happen when you immerse yourself in an interest. The process can ignite your own passion for the topic. I was never so involved in couponing as I was during those years I worked on a book and developed a coupon workshop.

Being around other writers does the same thing for my writing. I know from experience that a writer’s conference or a room full of students eager to learn about getting published energizes my own writing. Members of a group can feed off each other’s creativity. For a long time, I’ve talked about either joining, or beginning, a lifelong learner’s group of some sort. While I am a member of the Iowa City branch of the National League of American Pen Women (NLAPW), an organization of professional women artists, musicians, and writers, I don’t make it to the meetings that are mostly held on Saturday mornings or a weekday in Iowa City.

As a reporter for 18 months, I had the incredible opportunity to interview a lot of creative people; writers, artists, quilters, a yoga instructor who also held journal-making classes, a fiber artist, and countless others who fascinated me in their endeavors. That I was paid to sit down and talk to them never ceases to amaze me. I’ll never forget the woman who came to our interview with sheets of notepaper in her hand. She’d prepared for our interview on lifelong learning by jotting down a long list of simple things that brought her joy.

In my new job as a Senior Services librarian I’m responsible for planning, and presenting, programs for a “certain age.” I’ve spent the better part of two weeks working on a power point to present at a local retirement center, on a topic I’m already well-versed in, the lost art of letter-writing.  In the process, I’ve done a lot of research on the history of the postal service, unearthing facts I was unaware of that I am sure will fascinate and entertain. The “lost art of letter writing” morphed into “Mailbox Memories,” a program I’d love to present elsewhere.

It occurred to me as I’ve been researching creativity that my new position also offers me the opportunity to begin the very group I’ve been yearning for at the library where I’m employed. This means the reading and research I’ve been doing now serves three purposes; #1) for my book project #2) for a power point that can be presented at libraries and women’s groups, and #3) as background and inspiration for the lifelong learners group I’ll soon be forming, a creativity co-op of sorts.

Now, back to the books~ I expect our first meeting might involve reading one of these books and discussing the concept of creativity.



homeschooling, learning, writing

My Summer of Content

You might think I’ve been on an extended summer vacation, considering how little I have blogged the last month or two, but other than our single dismal camping experience we have not taken a “summer vacation” per se. What has been a vacation for me
has been the respite from homeschooling and all that it entails. While we lean towards a more relaxed type of homeschooling, there is still the planning for each day, and the implementation, and I am the one who has always been responsible for that. David and I expect that this year will likely be the same except that more of the implementation will be on him while I pick up additional writing projects.

This summer, the summer of 2011, will go down in the book of my life as my summer of great content. Not content, as in what it contained necessarily, but content, as in very happy and fulfilling. After a long winter of discontent; grieving my mother and having my grandson diagnosed with cancer, it is a much-appreciated change to experience a summer that I will always be able to look back on and say, “Now that was quite a summer.” Besides the obvious; Jacob is nearing the end of his cancer treatment, David getting an all-clear at his five-year-checkup, and me learning to live without a mother while discovering I carry a part of her inside, there are these reasons for my joy:

I’m now writing features for the local newspaper, and find that I actually enjoy interviewing local residents and business people. When my innate shyness gets the best of me, I do something fairly odd, but that works for me: I pretend for a moment that I am either my mother, or in the case of interviewing five residents of a nursing home, that the interviewee is my mother. I’m not sure why this helps me but I always loved drama and acting and it is easy to pretend for a moment that I am not myself, but the curious and outgoing enigma of a woman that was my mother.  She loved meeting and talking to new people. On her infrequent bus and airplane trips she’d come home with new friends she added to her address book. With this practice in my secret arsenal of social tricks (I also take off my glasses before I do public speaking because then I only see blurry friendly faces) I find myself relaxing and enjoying the interview after that initial ice is broken. Now I look forward to meeting new people and finding stories behind the stories.

I’ve also nearly completed my book this summer. The final two chapters are the two that should have been the easiest to write; one profiling interesting couponers and the last chapter which sums up the “how-to’s” in coupon use in case readers are intrigued enough by the history of avid couponing to want to take it up themselves. I would be fine with leaving that chapter out entirely since others do such a good job of teaching couponing (see Jill Cataldo’s Super Couponing website) but somehow the book doesn’t seem to be complete without at least an overview of couponing. The profile chapter has turned out to be more time consuming and maddening to write than I ever imagined. There is no dearth of couponers to choose from anymore. Just Google the word “Extreme Couponer” and dozens of news reports about couponers pop up. However, my goal is not to feature “extreme couponers,” but instead, a wide variety of avid couponers who have worked couponing into their life in a less extreme manner. I feature rich couponers, middle income couponers, females, males, and several coupon users who have developed an important part of their life around couponing.  Those two chapters are still in the rough draft stages but the rest of the book is mostly complete. (I say mostly because changes in the world of coupons are happening every day, and I am working those changes into the manuscript, and because a publisher is likely going to want further edits.)

This was also the summer I had three essays chosen for publication in the fall; two for future Chicken Soup books and one for a new series God Makes Lemonade. I have submitted other essays and entered several writing contests this summer, as well. In other words, I have really been writing. And that sure feels good.

And then, who can forget the experience of my first writing conference in June, the Cedar Falls Christian Writer conference? I had no idea what I’ve been missing. I am already looking forward to next year’s conference.

Writing-wise, this has been a very productive summer for me.

And it all ends in one week, when school begins.

Not really, of course, but I can’t help feeling a small, but looming dread of a new school year and the mornings that will no longer be mine.

Homeschooling is a lifestyle, I quote another homeschooling mother in an article for next week’s paper. I have to remind myself that it is a lifestyle that includes a lot of flexibility and creativity, and what better way for a homeschooling mother to
show her children that learning is lifelong, than to practice that herself? This summer my children observed me scouring the Internet for pertinent facts and figures to insert into my articles. They’ve watched me juggle bylines with household tasks. They’ve seen me be what I want them to be: creative. And those creative juices won’t just shut off like a switch on August 17th when another school year begins. On the contrary, I’m in the process of organizing a winter writing course for young homeschoolers and will continue to write for the newspaper and finish up my book. One of the greatest things about homeschooling (and having a husband home), is the inherent flexibility that will allow me to leave home a few afternoons a week to do~what else~but writing.

Words of wisdom from my mother’s Memory Book:

Try lots of activities and work when young. Find out what you like to do, what you are good
at and get into doing that- even if it doesn’t pay well. Use your talents.”