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.



If she were wealthy…

I took home a box of Mom’s notebooks to go through. She had a “dream” book, where she glued pictures from magazines of things she would have liked to use in decorating her home.  She never had the money to do much with those ideas.  I am grateful to my sister Pat that in the last year she made sure Mom’s walls were painted and rugs replaced, and that the colors Mom loved were used.  Some of my best memories this past year involve hours spent at my mother’s house with my sisters painting.   Among  Mom’s papers I found a sheet of paper she had jotted this down:

To ride a motorcycle again
to feel the wind in my hair
to hug the one I love
as we ride in the moonlight.

If we had been wealthy
my husband could have worn
wide legged jeans and engineer boots
like the jeans and boots he wore
before his ankle had been smashed.

If we had been wealthy
my husband wouldn’t have been
working for a lumberyard and
sitting on top a load of wallboard
when the truck hit a train track and
the load slid off and injured him.

If we had been wealthy
a policeman wouldn’t have had to
come to notify me my husband
was in the hospital with a smashed leg
and maybe “other injuries.   Did you
know you’re living in a room of a condemned building?”

If we had been wealthy
his leg could have had
special attention a break
needs when it doesn’t heal right
and leaves him in pain and crippled.

If we had been wealthy
my husband wouldn’t have had
to come back to that room
to swelter in the summer heat
with no way to find relief
or eat the proper food.

If we had been wealthy
a pregnant woman like me
wouldn’t have been walking the streets
to find somewhere else to live,
a basement room perhaps, that
would be cool and safe.

If we had been wealthy
But then we wouldn’t have found
Mrs. Nannini who heard our story
and gave us a room with
a fan for $10 a month and food that
she said were their leftovers-ha!

God bless her wherever she is.

~ I feel as if I have gotten a glimpse into my mother’s soul with these words.   She didn’t wish for wealth in order to purchase furs or jewels, just for good medical care for her husband.   And she turned a bad situation into something good and precious by seeing the good in someone who helped them at the time. Next time I am whining about something, I will remember these words. My mother kept copious amounts of notebooks and notes on things ranging from religion to smoking.  She was the epitome of a lifelong learner, and one of the reasons homeschooling appealed to me in the first place. She never stopped learning.