Called to Be Creative, creativity, death, faith, grief

Remember the Best. Erase the Rest?

eraser pencilSorting through my vintage pencils yesterday, I came across this interesting specimen that sports an eraser as long as the pencil itself. What a novel idea, though I’m not sure how the length would fare with actual use, the rubbery tip giving with any pressure. Surely it would break off? My first thought was to search eBay for more of the same, to give out at writer’s workshops. “Erase the Rest. Go with the Best,” is perfect advice for writers. Rough drafts are…well, rough… They aren’t meant to be submitted. I always advise edits and revision. Reading pieces out loud to hear rough spots. Making sure the final manuscript is well-edited before submission, and even then, setting work aside until morning and looking it over again. Good writers only submit their best work.

But what about memories? Should we attempt to erase bad memories, concentrating only on the good? At first glance, that seems sound advice. It stands to reason that if we only think happy thoughts, we’ll be happier. Science supports this platitude. I discuss the elements of happiness and creativity in my upcoming Called to Be Creative

“More grief?” someone commented two years ago when I shared I was working on another book. She didn’t attempt to hide the derisive tone or the eye-roll. The words stung, long after her quick apology.

For the record, I’ve written about couponing, refunding, saving money, friendship, and caregiving. I’ve had hundreds of articles and human interest pieces, unrelated to grief, published in magazines and newspapers.

But, yes, it does seem that grief sneaks into my everyday conversation.  Thanks to this morning’s Facebook’s “Memories on this Day” app, I can say with some assurance that it was eight years ago today we discovered my young grandson’s cancer had returned. According to a heart surgeon later that month, it was also the date my husband’s evening shoulder pain indicated the first in a series of small heart attacks.

Those aren’t pleasant memories by any means, and some might wonder why I even address their “unpleasantness” on my blog.

Those memories are part of me. I am who I am today because of them. As much as I wish my husband had not died that March, or my grandson the following year, they did. I can’t erase the truth, nor should I, considering how those losses changed me.

“Interest in how trauma can be a catalyst for positive change took hold in the mid-1990’s, when the term ‘posttraumatic growth’ was introduced by pioneering scholars Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun. Posttraumatic growth occurs when a person utilizes hardships and life trauma to grow in their interpersonal relationships, spirituality, appreciation of life, personal strength, and yes, creativity. This proved true for me on all fronts. I’m no longer the person I was before I lost mother, husband, and a grandson in the space of three years. In the seven years following my husband’s death, I signed six book contracts, coordinated an annual grief retreat, became a public speaker and workshop presenter, established a large network of mentors and friends, and developed a personal relationship with God in the process. My husband foresaw the professional achievements, but no one who knew me just ten years ago could have predicted either the spiritual or the relationship changes, least of all me.” — from “Called to Be Creative”

While it’s true my next book is about creativity, loss and grief do make several cameo appearances. How could they not? The death of my mother in 2010 prompted the idea for the book. If a woman raising ten children in a poverty-stricken household could manage to create, wasn’t there hope for the rest of us? If she left behind a creative legacy in a masterpiece of a well-lived life, how could we do the same? For two years, I delved into research, interviewed people who were living a creative life, and formed two different creativity groups to test my jumpstart activities on. The result is a book that is meant to educate, inspire, and ignite the latent creativity we all carry within us. Grieving my mother was the impetus to write the book.

“The creative process is far too often inspired by our most painful experiences rather than our most inspiring ones. It would not be a stretch to say that for many artists, authenticity and tragedy are inseparable,” Erwin Raphael McManus writes in The Artisan Soul: Crafting Your Life Into a Work of Art.

If I could erase the bad memories; the moment the doctor closed the door after informing my daughter her five-year-old son had cancer, the sight of my husband in a hospital bed after stent surgery, the five long seconds of disbelief when I discovered him unresponsive in his chair— would I? Would I delete those moments? After all, it is those vivid memories that bring a piercing ache to my chest, a single sob choked back, the threat of tears in a public place.

Perhaps my latest creative project answers that question. When I decoupaged the top of an old desk, I chose photos, newspaper clippings and words that inspired and lifted me. I glued the word Miracle next to my grandson’s photo, not because we were given a miracle healing, but because his presence in our life, however short, was the miracle.

desktop

God was there in all of it…in every single moment. While I thought my heart was breaking in two when my husband died, it was actually breaking wide open, allowing me to become a different person. In those dark months that followed, I knew instinctively what I needed, and I turned to God. He walked before me and with me.

I revel in the good memories of those people who have gone Home before me. I am grateful for the loved ones who are still here. I count myself blessed.

But no, I would not erase a slew of bad memories to risk losing even one good moment. Those memories made me who I am, they are a part of me, and I will not apologize for mentioning them.

 

artist, Called to Be Creative, creativity

What Were You Thinking?

“What were you thinking?”

I imagined my husband’s reaction. Heard his voice in my head when I opened up the box containing my latest win on eBay; 600 vintage advertising pencils.

You read that right; 600 pencils. (And the husband’s voice, despite his death nearly eight years ago? If you’ve never heard the voice of your dead father, mother, or other loved one who has passed away maybe you just aren’t listening close enough.) 

What was I thinking when I ordered 200 pencils before Christmas? Whatever possessed me to order another 600?

pencil1
My first lot of 200
pencil
600 “vintage” pencil lot, those to the left of the box are actually art pencils, to the right, definitely NOT vintage. Sorry Hannah Montana, you don’t fit the criteria~

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What was I thinking? This:

Legacy of the Magic Pencil: Engaging power point presentation on reconnecting with your innate creativity, this workshop serves as a jumpstart to the creative life each of us was designed for. Presentation includes a brief background on creativity research and a reflective writing exercise that encourages looking back to childhood interests for clues to our true passions. Attendees will receive their own “magic pencil,” as a reminder that sometimes all it takes to succeed in our writing is for a single person to believe in us; our own self.

With my book, Called to Be Creative, coming out in September, I’m looking ahead to hosting workshops and presentations on creativity. I’m planning at least two trips in late 2020 and early 2021 that will combine pleasure (visiting daughter Emily in CA and sister Joan in FL) with business (promoting my book). Each person who attends one of my workshops will leave with their own magic pencil.

But these can’t be just any pencil; they have to be genuine vintage, in decent shape, with an interesting name or place imprinted on them.

pencil2
These are the kinds of pencils I’m looking for! The Stanley Home Products one is identical to my mother’s “magic pencil” mentioned in my book.

Not all of the first batch of 200 met that criteria, and less than half of the 600 will. In fact, I was initially disappointed when sorting through them to discover the majority were actually art pencils; pastel, watercolor and charcoal. At least I was disappointed until I tried a few, and then I was in awe of the deep, bold colors. It suddenly seemed fitting that much of the lot I’d purchased in honor of my artistic mother consisted of art pencils. It also seemed fitting that inside the box I discovered a single thin Stanley advertising pencil identical to the one that prompted the topic of this book in the first place:

After the last of my mother’s things were removed from her house, I walked slowly through the rooms, checking for missed items, dusting every bare surface. My three youngest daughters trailed behind me. The inventory check and last-minute cleaning also served as a delay to saying goodbye to the home I’d grown up in. The house had become a refuge for me in the previous months while I’d treated it as a private writing retreat. It was hard to let it go. It was the final day before we’d close the house for good and turn the keys over to a realtor.

Running my dust cloth along the windowpanes of the front porch that had served as Mom’s workroom, I contemplated all the hours she’d spent in there. My fingertips hit an object that gave a little, sliding across the sill of one window. It was an extremely thin pencil emblazoned with advertising. I held it aloft for my daughters to see.

“Look. One of Grandma’s magic pencils,” I teased. “Just think. This is a pencil she probably used to draw rough sketches for what would later become a painting.”

The girls were well aware of Grandma’s talent, impressed by her wood carvings, her barn board and canvas paintings, and the quilts and teddy bears she’d crafted. They considered her a bona fide artist. Their mother? Not so much. Scribbling down words hardly seemed a creative endeavor in comparison to painting, drawing, or wood carving. They’d never even seen the thin folder I kept hidden away in a cabinet: quirky sketches and pastel creations I’d saved from the art classes I’d loved as a teen. I’d always been enticed by creativity in its many forms, skipping the more useful home economics classes for art, drama, and creative writing.

That afternoon, I sat at my kitchen table, my mother’s pencil in hand, a sheet of plain white printer paper in front of me. “I used to enjoy art classes,” I thought wistfully, wondering if I’d retained any artistic ability. As a teen, I’d labored over sketches depicting the bare bones of winter trees, with looming trunks and spindly branches, never quite having mastered the leaves. My art teacher had praised those drawings.

I began sketching, pleased to see a tree taking form on the paper. I hadn’t noticed eleven-year-old Katie approach. I looked up when I heard a gasp, my eyes meeting Katie’s incredulous pair. I smiled at her apparent shock, holding up the pencil with a flourish.

“You drew that?” she asked. “You can’t draw! It really is a magic pencil. Can I try it next?” — From Called to Be Creative, Familius, Sept. 2020

The pencils that satisfy my criteria will nearly fill my leather-look tote-bag with the map design, the one I plan on taking with me when I travel.

bag

I can imagine it now; the inevitable hold-up at airport security when the noise of rolling pencils in the bag attracts suspicion.

“Open it up,” one of the airline security workers will order, and I’ll do so, revealing hundreds of sharpened pencils.

His eyes will narrow. His lips tighten. He’ll call one his co-workers over. They’ll lean in for a closer look. Whisper to each other. Finally, they’ll look up from the tote, shaking their heads, and one of them will say it:

“What were you thinking?”

 

creativity, talents

Childhood Calling

In Called to Be Creative, to be released by Familius Publishing September 1, 2020, I encourage readers to look back to their childhood interests to discover where their natural talents lie. (italicized sections taken from book)

“Whether it was cooking, gardening, spending time with animals, sketching, writing, empathetic listening, or music, there was something you were drawn to as a child, an activity that brought you joy, that you can reignite now, as an adult.” 

I revisited my childhood this past week as I organized letters my mother had written to my grandmother in the 60’s and 70’s.

moms letter

I skimmed through more than 200 of Mom’s letters in two days, observing at one point as I read, that it was her voice in my head. What a treasure her words are now, providing a glimpse into the heart of a mother who believed every one of her ten children was endowed with certain gifts, talents she observed and recorded in letters to her mother.

Weekly Reader

I have no copy of the poem or Weekly Reader letter, nor can I remember ever seeing the published version, though I have a vague memory of an elementary teacher reading it to the entire class.

oratory

I did know what I “liked to do” back then; writing, drawing, and public speaking, but I never imagined those endeavors making any money. Certainly none of them constituted a “career” of any sort. Instead, when I began attending classes at the University of Northern Iowa, it was with the intention of becoming a teacher. Quickly disillusioned with that idea, I ended up graduating with a B.A. in Psychology, enjoying opportunities to conduct research and write papers. I may have been one of few students who actually loved essay tests. Nine credits shy of a Masters in Family Services, I left college to serve my own growing family, taking finals in the hospital bed after giving birth to my fourth. For the next thirty years, I struggled to maintain a semblance of creative self through freelance writing. As for the public speaking, as an isolated homeschooling mother of eight, weeks could pass when the only adults I spoke to outside of my husband were the butcher at the grocery store and our mailman. I rapidly lost the ability to string two coherent sentences together, which makes it all the more remarkable that I now take great pleasure in public speaking. I never feel more alive than when I am speaking in front of a room full of people.

“It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to predict that the little girl who spent hours reading and scribbling out stories might someday become a writer herself. Nor is it difficult to imagine the high schooler who won awards at speech contests someday becoming a public speaker. Yet I didn’t return to those roots of elocution for nearly forty years.”

Forty years is a long time to abandon a talent even my father had recognized when he’d admonished me to “use your gift for good, not evil,” and yet the fact that it took forty years to return to it should encourage my readers. It is never too late.

“Imagine the possibilities; a mostly stay-at-home, isolated mother of eight who could barely string two sentences together to communicate with the butcher and mailman, now speaking in front of crowds, designing power-points, and conducting workshops. After thirty years of writing articles and essays, that same woman somehow manages to sign six book contracts in the space of six years. If this woman’s broken self, laid bare by grief, could learn to reach out to others and discover a job in midlife that fulfills all her passions, incorporating everything that her soul has been seeking, where might your search for meaning and purpose lead?” 

Isn’t it time to find out?