When I read Claire Burge’s book on creativity, I stream music from my 60s station. Sometimes the 70s. I was born into a middle place of sorts, on the landing strip separating the Baby Boomers from Generation X, and to which I belong depends on what government agency is defining the terms. This is the music of my childhood, though I listen to it now through the markedly older, wiser, more jaded ears of an adult who actually knows the meaning of (most of) the words.
If I’m honest, and I should be, I don’t just listen to the 60s and 70s when I read Claire’s book. I listen to them all the time. But most especially now when I read Spin because she calls me back to a time when those songs weren’t the Oldies. Harry Chapin’s boy hadn’t yet quite grown up to be just like him and Cat Stevens was first finding out it was a wild world. My babysitter Mrs. Illig sang “Leaving on a Jet Plane” with John Denver while she washed dishes at the sink. I poked at the mac and cheese on my plate at the table nursing childlike hopes that she would really go. And I didn’t care when she be back again.
When I read Spin, I make a practice of doodling in the white spaces, of coloring in the illustrations, and pondering these stories. Claire tells of her family’s Friday night ritual, a visit to her grandmother’s for hot cocoa.
She always taps the tin of cocoa. I can hear it, and that means warm cocoa is a few short minutes away from being inside my tummy. I hear the little pot touching the side of the ceramic cup she pours it into; I hear the tin being opened and the quiet means the cocoa is being measured out in her always-present precision. The slight beating sound: spoon whirring against ceramic side means that she will be appearing through the doorway any minute now. …
This is Friday night.
I recalled not Friday but Saturday nights, and pulled out details in my mind as I colored.
My dad worked in broadcasting when I was small, and I thought we owned every record ever made. If we didn’t have the song on a vinyl LP to play on the the console stereo, he still knew it and could whistle it like nobody’s business. Radio and record players took a back seat to the television on Saturday nights though, when my family gathered in the living room with popcorn and Pepsi (always Pepsi at the Willingham’s) for the Jackie Gleason Show. After Jackie was cancelled by the network, it was Mary Tyler Moore, and Bob Newhart, and Carol Burnett.
I passed a chronological milestone a few days ago, one that gives me the authority to reflect officially on the good old days. I can now say with impunity that modern television can’t do better than these. That today’s bands have a lot of work to do to catch up with Don McLean and Eric Clapton. Hell, they can’t even keep up with The Association. I can say that now. I’m also going to say that I my best stories started back then, those that happened when this black and white world of the Oldies was just beginning to fade into early color.
Was the Saturday night family ritual orchestrated in the hopes that it would form an anchor in the the development of my childhood creativity? I’m guessing it wasn’t quite like that. Not like the way I color pages as I read them as intentional ritual. Not like the way I listen to a particular genre of music as ritual when I write. Not the way I spent a couple of hours recapturing these stories on paper every Sunday morning for a couple of months earlier this year, its own kind of intentional ritual.
While I don’t think I’d fully made the connection before I started reading Spin, I think these informal rituals of childhood did in some way form the basis of my creativity now. I think that’s the heart of the question when Claire asks “What family traditions have you carried over from childhood into your adult life? What traditions have you forgotten about that meant something to you?”
And some others of us, I think, lived in such a way that our childhood memories are marked by something other than formal traditions. But did we then have our own private rituals that helped us navigate those years even so, traditions that helped make the space for us to develop in the way we have?
Discuss Your Creativity Process with Us
We’re reading Claire Burge’s new release Spin: Taking Your Creativity to the Nth Degree together this month. Are you reading along? Claire shares delightful, tender stories about her childhood, followed with questions activities about the sorts of people we find most interesting (or that live in small black boxes), about the sensory experience of fear, about fascination and curiosity.
What activities did you explore? Did you find roots of your own creativity in your childhood experience?
Review the “9 Disciplines that Make the Process of Creation Happen Instantly” (Chapter 18). Tell us about one or two that have worked for you, or a new discipline you think you might try, and why.
What did you do on the pages of Spin to make the book your own? Perhaps you’ll share your thoughts with us in the comments, or link to a post you’ve written at your own site.
Join us for the full discussion of Spin: Taking Your Creativity to the Nth Degree
November 6: Where Do You Hide? (ch. 1-10)
November 13: Creativity Needs Ritual (ch. 11-20)
November 20: Chapters 21-30
November 27: Chapters 31-39
Cover photo by Claire Burge, used with permission. Illustrations by Brian Dixon. Post by Will Willingham.
Buy Spin: Taking Your Creativity to the Nth Degree now and join us for our book club discussion
Spin—An Illustrated Print Edition, Journal Sized, $19.95
Spin—An Illustrated PDF Edition, $11.99
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1. Yes, I’m reading along — in fact I read the first 20 chapters last night. (I only recently got the book!)
2. I’m too much of an uptight, scaredy cat to mar the pages — which is odd because I underline and dog-ear and circle and hi-light in all of my other books and novels. This is the very first session on creativity that I’ve done. I keep waiting for some rules and boundaries.
3. I didn’t explore any activities beyond thinking about them — due to time constraints; but, I recognize that my creativity (journals and poems and stories) as a child had every single thing to do with folks not “getting” me and me needing an outlet for my weird, wild, wacky self. The blank pages were my friends… they not only listened, but they pretended very well to appreciate my oddities.
4. Regarding what disciplines I might try, I’ll give #3 a whirl; but not #9 as that goes against every unwritten rule out here in the rugged wildWoods where people value (& protect) their privacy – oftentimes with gates and dogs and things that go boom! If I did #2 I’d never get to another step… or is that the point? That in the barfing it all out, we find some nuggets of beauty in the heap?
Do you listen to music on low volume or high? I cannot think with music rattling about in the same room. Have you always been able to do this?
Miss Claire – what do you mean by #8 in chapter 17? And chapter 20 made me super sad for the little Claire. As an adult, how do you balance out individualism in your creativity with consumer demand?
Thanks so much for all of this. It’s a mighty uncomfortable place for me; but, I’ve talked poetical lipstick on chimps has been my friend for several years… meaning: I trust ya both.
Will Willingham says
Darlene, I read most of the book in a single sitting, and now I’m going back through just these few chapters each week. It’s a great book to take in whatever order or pace suits you.
For those of us who live in order and structure, I think saying that “there are no rules” can kind of throw us out of whack, so I won’t say there are none… But I’ll say it’s okay to stick your toe over the line. Nobody’s going to slice it off. Just like you’re thinking about the exercises, but not sitting and deliberately “doing” them — that’s a great way to approach it, I think.
That #2, writing down everything on your mind before you start, I think that can just be a way to get some of the things that are pressing you out of the way so you can be free to daydream a little. If I write down things I need to take care of on my list, then I can stop thinking about them, trying to remember to do them, and I just have more mental space to focus on … sometimes nothing. 🙂
I listen to music high and low. When I’m writing, though, I either turn it off or listen to instrumental only. Otherwise the words get a bit tangled. 😉
Glad you’re here with us. I am. 🙂
D, to answer your question first about #8 in Chap 18 (assuming its 18 and not 17): I’ve noticed for myself when I spend too much time consuming anything: fast food, television, entertainment, anything really that my creativity decreases radically. When I step away and become more conscious about being part of the creation element, my creativity radically increases. When stated like that it seems so obvious but being a consumer is a trap that people fall into without even realising it. I think for someone like yourself living so far in the woods this is not really such an issue. I could be wrong but I would say that city dwelling makes being a consumer easier.
Rules … there really are none and I think that is the hardest part for any creative to accept. Can expression have rules? Should expression have rules? I don’t know… Maybe this should be explored more…
Yes, ma’am, miss Claire, I see now that 18 is a stand-alone, 1-page chapter.
What about being a consumer vs. being a rustic dweller? I spend a lot of time doing firewood, washing dishes by hand, hanging clothes to dry – no matter the season, making meals by scratch, starting the fire, waiting for the wood cookstove to heat so I can boil, fry, or bake, etc.? I’ve thought that if I had a d/w, microwave, fast food access, instant heat, etc, then I’d have more time to be creative; but, in all honesty, I know that the core of me would be stifled because I like chores and hard work.
I reckon it has to do with balance. And priorities. And seasons of life.
Regarding rules, really, I like to know them so that I can inch over ’em just a wee little bit. A rebel rule follower. The bulk of me stays inside the lines but the fringe of me dangles out.
And yes, for me expression needs to have rules — rules that are governed by morality. Obscenity, profanity, and the like sure don’t float my boat, creative or otherwise.
Where does being a child of God fall into creativity? Since we are as you say “part of the creation element,” do we create to point others to our Creator? This word “create” is so God-grande, isn’t it?
Genesis 1- (NKJV)
From “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” to “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (1:1; 1:27)
It’s mind-boggling, to say the least. Perhaps we create so that we, too, can see that it is good … and perhaps that is when we feel very close to Him?
Claire Burge says
d, i have pondered long what you have said here about creativity being governed by morality.
for me, morality is grey. i know it isn’t for everybody but the last few years of my life have taught me this.
for example, the f word is a very big part of the irish culture. in my african culture it is not part of everyday language and it is most definitely not part of everyday speech and yet it in ireland it is.
does that make the irish immoral?in a black and white world, yes. in a grey world where context is everything, no.
for me creative expression is everywhere. even in the darkness some call immorality or evil. if you study the neurological workings of the psychopath, there is creative disruption. if you study cancer, there is creativity at play.
i think we open ourselves to a lot more of Life when we are willing to consider both sides of the coin. and rather than placing a label on it, simply allow it to be what it is. in its own context, outside of our own.
Maureen Doallas says
Spinning Your Private Oldies
Color the middle place intentional,
the connection to before fully made
to the question after — a milestone
passed like that wild Saturday night
you made popcorn with Eric Clapton
just beginning to fade in your heart.
If something is forgotten, be tender.
The network of time has its way
of practicing catch-up.
Just listen to the older music inside:
the vinyl opened, a little pot to quiet
the whirring, the adult appearing
again, and you guessing that Friday
night’s officially cancelled. Jaded
ears can’t hear the band of sound
that calls you back a few short
minutes, that is your particular anchor.
The details of these good old days are
colored like the pages of other stories
carried in our black boxes of memories.
You don’t even have to work at nursing
their meaning over the years. You read
them the way you still sing as you spin
that LP Mrs. Illig never could listen to.
Will Willingham says
Fun, Maureen. 🙂 Mrs. Illig would be impressed to know she made it into one of your poems. 🙂
Maureen a friend of mine and I were chatting in Greece recently about the middle place. That place where too few of us choose to make ourselves at home. We tend to live on the extremes… constantly chasing the next high and trying to escape the lows. She is of the opinion that the most contented life is the one that has learned to live in the middle.
Your poem’s opening line is the most powerful for me because it brings this very point home.
find the people
i am thinking about people and how much other people are necessary to creatives. more than a one-way communication is necessary. we all know that it takes more than one person to do almost anything.
i find most all people to be interesting. it’s really all in the changing perspectives of how i see and listen.
i learn things with others; about them, as well as myself.
it can be harder to work with others, but, i think that a group that works well together in some aspects of creativity is a good thing.
Will Willingham says
I liked that suggestion of Claire’s, to consider the kinds of people we find interesting, and more, for me, to consider what it is that makes them so interesting. I don’t live in a place where it would be natural to just sit and observe in a public place (very small community and it would be seen as odd and worthy of concern) but when I’m in other places, I enjoy watching folks, wondering what they’re thinking. Like you, it can change how I see.
Sometimes, even in a small place, it’s kinda fun to over hear parts of conversations. But, it’s also fun to go to busy places to people watch.
I can’t say that i have spent time with any one person, lately. That is an area that could use some stretching in my creative thinking and perhaps a plan.
So fascinating that you highlight this point about small communities. Having grown up in a 12 Mil population city, moving to rural Ireland 5 years ago was somewhat of a shock to the system for all the reasons above 😉
Nance the finding the people chapter is the one closest to my heart. It is the one that reminds me to keep pushing my own creatives boundaries because I am a very results orientated person, I tend to seek out the bottom line all too quickly without absorbing the details. Stopping and appreciating all kinds of people just because is something akin to lifeblood for me. It is why I aim to travel so extensively.
Who is the most recent character you really enjoyed spending time with?
i like finding myself talking with a stranger. something i wasn’t allowed to do when i was a kid. it can be in another country, state, or in the store down the road.
traveling will surely increase your chances to stop and appreciate more people…many kinds…same and different. I actually think that most people tend to focus more on result. We usually travel, wanting to get to our destination as fast as is possible. But, after awhile, this gets old. And what you are talking about here, absorbing some detail, and finding something interesting along the way, is refreshing and can make all the steps along the way much more rewarding.
Megan Willome says
I like what Nance said. I think rituals are most important when your world falls apart. They provide an anchor–oh, yeah, I’m supposed to make tea now. Or whatever.
Will Willingham says
Rituals are good for that, Megan.
I had a college prof who suggested that whatever we were drinking when we studied we should drink when we took exams (beer, coffee, etc, though of course he couldn’t let students bring beer into class on a state campus, so he suggested coffee). I’m not going to be able to explain the science of it, but it had to do with how the brain was stimulated during two different activities by the common element of drinking coffee. Drinking tea is one of those rituals for me, as is the music I listen to. I know the tea is for you, too. 🙂
yes megan, yes.
You have to tell us your favourite songs? I can hear the radio but I want to sing along 😉
Jumping in late to the party but glad to be here Spinning with you all. Claire, it’s a wonderful book! I ordered it on Kindle yesterday and read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. Is it a coincidence that my sleep was so restful and, for me, long? I don’t know… but it just made me feel good to read it. I wish I had gotten the hard copy… my jar of pencils wants to color along. I’m not as far along as everyone, but I’ll be there soon!
At first I couldn’t remember any childhood rituals, but then a fragrance of sweet sugar crept into my mind… it was from buttercream frosting in all the colors of Christmas time scattered in bowls across the huge dining room table and PILES of Christmas cut out cookies on plates and trays, waiting for their icing. I loved getting off the bus after school and walking into the house to that smell and sight. We could decorate any cookie in any style or fashion… no rules! One of the few times I remember feeling so free to muck around and create freely. No rules… they were the most beautiful (and heavy) cookies, laden with icing spread with knives or piped from bags and plungers, candies, colored sugars and chocolate jimmies! You know what? I had completely forgotten about the vivid details of that ritual! Thank you Claire!
Will Willingham says
You’ll have to color in a separate notebook, Donna. The doodling is half the fun. 🙂
So glad to have you joining in.
Why didn’t I think of that? 🙂
P.S. I hit a wall with the “Creativity needs Fear” activity … and so decided to “sketch it out” and that made all the difference. http://thebrightersideblog.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-diagnostic-elevator-and-reflections.html
I totally agree with you about this:
“While I don’t think I’d fully made the connection before I started reading Spin, I think these informal rituals of childhood did in some way form the basis of my creativity now.”
I think I want to spend some more time digging for mine.
Claire Burge says
Donna I am so glad you came along for this ride even if you jumped in a little later. I do hope you share some of your creative childhood journies coming alive at some point. I would love to see them 🙂