Tag Archives: Creativity

(360) The Artist’s Way


Twenty-one years ago to this day, I began a journey that would be something that would have a profound impact on me. It was the WAY — The Artist’s Way — a book by Julia Cameron that started me on a path of understanding the true nature of creativity.  This is my “W” in the Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.

What It Is

The Artist’s Way is a twelve week program that helped me discover my creative self. It consists of some basic tools and then twelve weeks of exercises that help us, what Cameron calls, recover a “sense” of something lost — Safety, Identity, Power, Integrity, Possibility, Abundance, Connection, Strength, Compassion, Self-Protection, Autonomy, and Faith. It is based on her belief that there is a Great Creator who works through us, and our job is just to put the footwork in and the rest will follow.

I have found this to be true.

My Experience

Throughout the winter of 94-95, I found myself deeply involved in doing the exercises as precisely as I could to get the maximum benefit. I remember going out of my way to find different kinds of workshops to take — like maskmaking — and buying things I ordinarily wouldn’t buy and using, such as watercolor pencils. As I worked through the process, I discovered so much about myself that had been hidden.  This included acknowledging harm to my inner artist as well as uncovering the blocks that I put up to her.

I have a notebook just dedicated to what I wrote during that first time through. I subsequently put myself through the program again, I think two different times. But nothing has ever had the impact as that first year. There were many things going on in my life at the time, and this work grounded me and brought me a sense of myself I did not have before. That sense has never left me.


A couple of years after I completed TAW (as it is called by veterans of the program), the internet came into vogue. I was on America Online, and found an online community for TAW. From that message board I became friends with two people locally — Carol in Akron and LuAnn in Bainbridge. I am still friends with these ladies today. There were others as well, and I recall in September 1997 we all got together for lunch.

Carol next to me, LuAnn across. Love my Artist’s Way friends!

The TAW group from all around the country supported me throughout my surgery, sending me messages which I printed out and had in a book in the hospital, as well as painting their toenails purple as a show of solidarity for me through the cancer scare.  I felt their love and support and prayers from afar. It was miraculous.

Where It Led Me

What I learned was that once you remove the blocks to your creativity, anything is possible. In the Introduction to the book, Cameron says the main things to learn are: Get out of the way. Let it work through you. Accumulate pages, not judgments. This put into practice consistently in the many years since has made me a believer. Cameron believes creativity is a spiritual experience. Given what I have witnessed in my own life, I would say it is mighty fine religion. I am grateful that this book exists. It always makes a list of the top books that changed me and changed my life.

In her Basic Principles on page 3, Cameron says “As we open our creative channel to the creator, many gentle and powerful changes are to be expected.” Rereading that just now helped me see that putting myself through this program twenty-one years ago was opening up a channel. I cannot describe any direct, earth-shattering event that happened as a result. What I can say is that once the channel opened, it has never closed. And that has been the best gift of all.


(330) These Five



I saw These Five, creative and engaged, bringing out the True North in each other.

I saw them taking turns on the tightrope; the others a net below.

I saw the Roundtable of Solidarity that feeds and nourishes monthly.

I saw the Trail Brazin’ blog taking These Five to those dangerous woods, the places of discomfort and release.

I saw the Writing Marathons and Retreats, time in nature and extended conversations, wrapping a ribbon around their unity, re-establishing, reconnecting, transforming.

I saw the path to dreams coming true, higher purposes being realized, and stepping beyond the ordinariness of life, if even just for a micro moment, pen in hand.


This is another spin-off from the Sanibel Island Writing Conference.  I used a process from Nick Flynn’s book A Note Slipped Under the Door.  In fact, the poem by that title (by Charles Simic) is the mentor poem for this.

I first was inspired today by the Rumi poem on A Year of Being Here website.  I took one of the lines and thought I’d write from there.  I wrote this:

Thanksgiving carries us to the heart of the Beloved, and my writing friends have carried me to the heart of my writing soul.

But then I didn’t know anywhere else to go.

So I decided to find some images. The rest of this process is from Nick’s book. I used it this week with my 8th grades as their final exam for our One Book, One School novel with wonderful results.

The first step is to find the images and do little sketches:

image image

The next step is to “write long” about each image.  This is to get in deeper.  Then pull from there to create the poem.

Trail Brazin’ friends — my sister writers — Happy Thanksgiving from the depths of everything you have helped me to become over the last 30 months.  I am grateful for every moment we have spent together, and look forward to all that is to come because of our relationship. You have helped me find the joy my heart desired.



(316) Top Ten Important Lessons for Writers from Edwidge Danticat

One of the themes at the Sanibel Island Writer’s Conference was that it was the 10th Anniversary, so a booklet of Top Ten Lists was put together. I purchased the book (for $10, of course), and it has inspired me to bring this project to my students.  We will be making class books of Top Tens.

In delivering her keynote last Saturday night, Danticat gave us her Top 10 Most Important Lessons About Being a Writer.

  1. Your story matters.
  2. Only you can tell that story.
  3. Don’t wait for the muse.
  4. Have some discipline  — it is the center of all creative endeavors.
  5. The best time is now.
  6. You can start small, but dream big.
  7. Don’t give up.
  8. Seek fellowship wherever you can get it.
  9. Keep growing.
  10. The rule you teach yourself — this is the most important rule of all because no one can teach you. You have to teach yourself.

(310) “Don’t let your heart be broken by this world”

What a day. What a day. What a day.

In my history with the Sanibel Writer’s Conference, this was the best.  From beginning to end — not one false moment.

Here is my Haibun commemorating this golden day.

Nick Flynn

Bright day. Leaving all my worries behind. Stepped into the courtyard. Talked with another participant about Yiddish words. Small classroom for Nick Flynn’s memoir workshop. Chocolate chip muffins. He arrives. He looks like his name would be Nick Flynn. Light blue eyes piercing. And how is this for synchronicity — there is a wolf on his black shirt. In small letters it says GODDESS. He says, “Trust the images your self-conscious gives you.” And I’m here. Trusting. Conditionally. As he advises. I told him of the synchronicity. We hugged. Then shrimp tacos at Doc Ford’s. Leslie Jamison on Flash Memoir. We study a piece of writing. She says, “Write into the mystery of your life.” Then the prompt: Write a letter to a stranger. I find one from 1981. I write to surprising understanding. I read out loud to the class. Emotion erupts. I hold back tears more than once. My back spasms. Who knew that had been buried so long? Another prompt. Dangerous objects. The stories we tell are charged with electric emotion. This is a climatic, memorable afternoon of my writing life.

Leslie J

No-see-ums are biting when we return to the courtyard. Inside the auditorium I write this while a panel discussion goes on. Soon the cocktails and music and conversations with new friends will ensue. It has been a perfect Friday. And it is only 4:10 PM.

Giant dragonflies

Oversee the gathering

Writing is our call.

clouds Dragonfly

Then the concert.

Bern sang like Dylan

His Martin guitar ringing

Slide into the sound.


Dan Bern finished the night with this song. Here it is from a previous Sanibel Conference. He is better than ever. I will be singing this for a long time to come: Don’t let your heart be broken by this world.

(304) Rested at Last

I have had an underlying feeling of exhaustion for weeks. Last night I could not stay awake past 8 pm. I went to bed and slept for nine hours. Finally I feel rested.

This has resulted in a day with a lot of creativity flowing. I took my mandolin in for my lesson today–I’ve been studying guitar the last six months or so, and to play the mandolin again was delightful.  I am writing a new short story, and I finalized some creative project ideas for my students. In the back of my mind I keep thinking: what about the blog?

The last couple days at work I felt a shift–a shift in me, and a shift in the attitude of my students. I am thinking that maybe, just maybe, we are finally getting into a norming stage. I think I wrote before about the four stages of groups or teams: forming, storming, norming, and performing. I do hope that the signposts I have noticed are true indicators. Perhaps then I won’t feel so tired all the time.

Meanwhile, I continue to enjoy the gorgeous weather we are having and the purple orchid blossoms on our lanai.  Here they are again. They continue to surprise and feed me with their soft and deep purpleness!  (P.S. Happy Birthday, Layne)


(300) Perfect Day (?)

Number 300.

For 300 days in a row I have sat down to write on this blog.  Rather mind-boggling for me.

Woke up tired again today. I took yesterday to try to recoup some energy, but I’m not sure I did. I still have a list a mile long of things that need to be done. Not enough hours in the day.

It occurs to me that even with the mighty “list,” I am making time for my writing. This is the gift of the blog.

Facebook memories sent me an idea for the blog today. Two years ago at this time, the musician Lou Reed died. My favorite song of his is “Perfect Day,” and so I thought I’d share my favorite video that goes with it.  However, that video is no longer available.

But I found another one — a cartoon someone made for the song — that is really about things not being perfect. This resonates with me today. When things don’t feel perfect, it is our attitude that matters. I can feel things are perfect when I am in the present moment. Things are imperfect when I rely on others too much or when I ruminate on all the stuff that isn’t getting done for whatever reason. Sometimes it feels like too many things take too much concentration, and I just don’t have that much focus!

So here is “Perfect Day” with a question mark — because when it comes to the Five Questions, certainly many of them have to do with this subject — how to feel alive, how to be human, how to appreciate beauty, how to love what is next, and how to be creative — all in this imperfect world.

(291) Sand and Flowers

Hours of detail work into creating the sand mandala

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to watch some Tibetan Monks create a huge sand mandala at the Cleveland Museum of Art. The mandala took nearly a week to make. The end product was not to display it, but to ceremoniously return the sand to the earth — in this case, a pond on University Circle.

I was reminded of this practice this weekend when I heard about the Flower House event in Detroit.  Floral artist Lisa Waud purchased a dilapidated house and invited florists from all over the country to turn the house into a huge flower display. The event is just this weekend only; afterward, the house will be torn down and any reusable parts repurposed. The ground will then be used for a flower farm — the wilted flowers the beginning of compost for the garden.

I love the idea of this, and the effort to make something beautiful, not for money but for the process.  It is something that is fleeting, like beauty often is.  But the best part is that both of these kinds of art are about the gifts that nature offers us.

See more pictures at the Flower House website.

Flower House

(290) Taylor + Ryan = Inspiration


Last October, Taylor Swift released here wildly successful pop album 1989. I think all of us heard “Shake It Off” well before the album came out and we continue to hear it today, followed by “Blank Space” and “Bad Blood.” Swift’s songwriting talent is seriously praised in all circles, but it didn’t make me interested in the album. Suffice to say, I knew it was probably good, but not my listening focus.

Enter Ryan Adams.

Adams is also highly praised, but not an artist I have followed much. I have absolutely nothing against him: he was just a “one of these days” musician — one of these days I will investigate him more fully.

Today is that day.

Adams recently released an album that is a reworking of the entire Taylor Swift 1989 album. Yes — you heard right. In less than a year, he re-created each song in a new way. All the reviews were coming in with high fives. This was a success. Taylor loved it. Adams said he was humbled by it.

The idea of this struck me as massively creative. The process artist goes through constantly fascinates me. The fact that Adams — a worthy star in his own right — would take this approach was original and inspired. Yes, songs get reimagined all the time — but this was different.


I decided to check it out, and immediately I could tell the praise was definitely warranted. I already liked “Blank Space” quite a bit, but Ryan’s version brings it closer to the heartbreaking reality of the lyrics. The same can be said for “Shake It Off.” The song “Out of the Woods” gets the most critical praise for its atmospheric approach and deepening of the lyric.  In fact, from the opening track, “Welcome to New York” until the very end, this album feels like Springsteen in another dimension. It has helped me understand the praise consistently heaped on Swift for her songwriting. I consider Springsteen an incredible wordsmith — and with Ryan Adams at the helm, Swift’s songs take on an entirely new magnification, the lyrics rising up to meet us. My favorite of all is “How You Get the Girl.” This is when taking the song from a female voice to a male voice intensifies the lyric. I’m so inspired, I intend on teaching myself how to play this on guitar this afternoon — as soon as I’m done praising it here. Which is now.

Check out Adams singing “Blank Space” below. Check out the album. For $7.99 on iTunes, you can’t go wrong.

(277) Calling the Muse, 2006

I am a bit delighted at having found this old notebook. There are writings from 2005, 2006, and 2011; a real strong collection of writing exercises. I will continue to share here, as I am finding many of these still carry a great deal of meaning.

In a section from July 13, 2006, I am working through some exercises by Deena Metzger from her book Writing for Your Life. In this one the prompt is

Imagine your muse, female or male. Invoke the muse. Call the muse to you. (p. 188)

Here is what I wrote:

I found her lying on the ground, nearly face down, in decaying leaves at the edge of a forest or a field. Off in the distance fires were burning.

She looked up. She wore a light-colored dress, thin material, pretty, feminine detailing. Her hair was long and curly, a gorgeous auburn. She is young. As she lifts her head from the ground, I find she’s covered with dirt. I wonder — how could you end up here, in the dirt, my beautiful muse?

I call Wake up. I’m here. Cannot believe she’s glad to see me after the way I treated her.

Wake up, my beautiful muse.

I take her hand and gently wash her face with a warm pink washcloth. The blessing of this action overwhelms me. I want to promise I’ll never do that again — leave her in the dust, at the edge of the forest. But I feel I cannot and do not dare make a promise I cannot keep.

She smiles. She knows and golly, she doesn’t mind. She knows what she has to offer. She can’t force me to take it.

(264) Art as Inspiration

Today I learned about a website put together by Sally Taylor (daughter of James Taylor and Carly Simon) that is like an “art telephone game.” I am still learning my way around the site, but took this photo and wrote three haiku for today. I am hoping to find a way to incorporate this into my classroom for writing.


We are always tied

Closely to our perceptions

Not reality


Much like some people

Cool on the exterior

Warm heart reflecting


Love how the one rope

Does not show itself attached.

Freedom within reach.