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Posts Tagged ‘being creative’

10 lessons creatives can learn from athletes

In behavior, blogging, books, culture, design, photography, work on December 20, 2014 at 12:39 am

By Caitlin Kelly

As some of you know, I was a nationally ranked saber fencer in my 30s, a sport I took up when I moved from Canada to New York. I’ve been athletic since childhood — competing in swimming, diving, sailing and other sports, and recreationally playing squash, softball, badminton and skiing, horseback riding, cycling and skating.

But working with a two-time Olympian as my coach forever changed the way I think, behave and react to stressful situations.

Having just finished a 15-week semester teaching college writing and blogging, it became clearer to me once more what useful lessons any creative person can learn from competitive/serious/elite athletes, like:

Dancers work through pain every day

Dancers work through pain every day

Pain is inevitable, suffering optional

We’re all facing challenges, whether finding clients, paying our bills, drumming up ideas, collecting late or missing payments, seeking inspiration. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and depressed when it piles up, but much of this is — sadly — quite normal. Knowing that others are facing similar issues, and finding solutions to them, will give you a necessary sense of perspective. We all struggle! Some show it more than others. The most successful, though, are able to pick up and keep going.

Your competitors are fierce, determined and well-prepared — are you?

It’s naive and foolish to think your success is going to happen quickly and smoothly. If it does, cool! Champagne! For most creatives — whether you’re a fine artist, graphic artist, writer, photographer, film-maker — it’s a road filled with people every bit as determined to succeed as you are. Possibly much more so. Find the smartest and toughest mentors possible; take classes and workshops to sharpen your skills; attend conferences to see what everyone else is up to.

A great coach is essential

I would never have considered it possible to compete at a national level were it not for a tough coach who pushed hard and knew exactly what excellence looked like — and what it required to achieve. It’s hard to get up to speed if the only people you turn to for help and advice are all working at the same level as you, or below. Aim high!

Practice, practice, practice

I’m amused by people who say they want to write — but never do. Nor they read. That’s a toughie, really. Athletes spend hours watching footage of themselves and their competitors to analyze what’s working and what’s not. Then they get to work on their weaknesses. It won’t happen if all you do is wish and hope and read blogs about other people succeeding. You have to do it, too. A lot.

Take time to notice -- and smell!

Take time to notice — and smell!

Your mind and body need to rest, recover and recharge

In a gogogogogogogo culture, where everyone is always tweeting and trumpeting their latest success — a grant, a fellowship, a new book, a big fat gig — it’s tempting to compare yourself unfavorably and feel you’re falling behind the pack. No matter how hard you practice, train and compete, you also need downtime to rest your mind and body. Take a hooky day. Sleep in. Play with your kids/dog/cat. Take in a matinee or a museum show. Pleasure refreshes our spirits. Rest recharges our minds and bodies.

Stamina is key!

It’s tiring to stay in the game, week after week, month after month, year after year. It’s also difficult to stay if and when you’re weary, fed up, hurting from rejections. Stamina — which includes mental toughness  — is often what separates champions from also-rans.

What are your competitors doing better — and how can you do so, too?

No matter your creative field, you need to stay abreast of developments. What new skills do you need to be acquiring? Do you need to find a new teacher?

Just keep writing (and re-writing!)

Just keep writing (and re-writing!)

Someone is always going to lose. Sometimes that’s going to be you

Yes, it hurts! No one likes losing and it can feel like the end of the world when you do. Take it as a testament to the strength and dedication of your competitors.

Is this your best sport?

If things are going badly, no matter how hard you try, maybe this isn’t your game. It can be very painful to admit defeat (or what looks like it) but it might be worth considering if your very best efforts keep producing little satisfaction or success.

Working through pain is simply part of the process

We live in a world that focuses all its energy on winning, happiness and success. But we’re all likely to have down times — illness, lost clients, a period of creative frustration. Knowing it’s all part of the game reminds us of that. A pain-free, disappointment-proof life is usually unrealistic…and resilience a key component of creative success.

 

 

How creative are you?

In beauty, behavior, blogging, books, children, culture, design, domestic life, education, entertainment, Fashion, journalism, life, Media, women on July 6, 2013 at 12:27 am

By Caitlin Kelly

creativity

creativity (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

I’ve been told for decades that I’m creative, which I consider one of the highest compliments anyone can ever pay me. (Of course, compared to people like famous musicians/artists/choreographers/thinkers, I know I’m not.)

So, for the hell of it, (and as research for a story for the BBC’s website), I recently paid $173 to take the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking, which measures creativity — using a variety of criteria, from emotional expressiveness to openness to ambiguity to humor.

The assessment takes about 45 minutes, with a variety of visual and verbal tests, like a page containing a large black tilted oval with instructions to turn it into something — anything you want! — within a few minutes, then write a caption to describe your choice.

Other elements gave me a drawing to describe and interpret, a product to improve and a number of unfinished lines to turn into drawings or designs of my choosing, all with my own added explanatory captions.

I mailed my booklets back to a distant midwestern address and waited, with bated breath.

What if I wasn’t creative after all? 

Luckily — whew! — I turned out to be in the 98th percentile, which felt good.

Now my much larger life challenge is to actually use this skill much more often, for work and for play.

There are days — and while I’m grateful to be this busy! — I feel like a one-woman industrial production line, moving as fast as I possibly can, gulping down lunch, to get the work out the door.

As a writer, this seems very much at odds with the notion that what I do is creative.

Ford assembly line, 1913.

Ford assembly line, 1913. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But I simply have no time to stare into space, waiting for some Muse to show up and tap me on the shoulder.

When other writers, (usually of fiction), complain about writer’s block, I laugh. I have no such luxury if the mortgage is going to be paid on time and there will be gas in the car and food in the fridge.

Here’s a post I wrote — chosen for Freshly Pressed — about the ongoing choice for those of us who make a living doing artistic work, between being creative (noodling, thinking, musing revising) and being productive (shipping.)

Serious question.

I’m not persuaded one can be both all the time.

We all need time to think, reflect, ponder, meander, take some detours, some of which — being immediately unproductive — lead into dead ends, some of which lead us off into totally new and hugely profitable (financially or creatively) directions.

Shutting down the production line for a while — silence! solitude! no immediate income! I’m wasting time! — can feel terrifying.

It’s absolutely necessary.

But we don’t talk about the downtime, the quiet moments of connection and insight that can, when allowed to blossom quietly unforced by another’s schedule, birth wonders.

Whenever I’ve taught or lectured on journalism, I crush a few young dreams when I make clear that traditional news journalism more resembles an industrial assembly line than an artist’s studio.

Editors aren’t terribly interested in whether you’re feeling creative — they want accurate
copy/content/visuals and they want it now!

Here’s an audio link to one of my favorite radio shows, Studio 360. The entire hour is devoted to a discussion of creativity, and ends with a seven-year-old girl talking about her paracosms — worlds she has created and populated.

Selfridges has a Krispy Kreme Doughnut shop wh...

Selfridges has a Krispy Kreme Doughnut shop which has its own doughnut production line thing. Tasty. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are you a creative person?

How does that play out in your life, personal and/or professional?

The pleasure of working by hand

In beauty, behavior, culture, design, domestic life, life, women, work on September 11, 2012 at 1:08 am

Adding vintage embroidery to a new pillowcase

I spent the morning covering a pillow with vintage fabric, likely from the 1930s. I stitched the seams by hand, unreasonably happy when it was done.

This evening I stitched some vintage needlework, probably from the 1960s, onto new pillowcases. The whites don’t match exactly,  but that’s part of the charm, I think.

I love sewing by hand.

I find it meditative, soothing, calming. I think of the women, going back centuries, likely millennia, who used their needles and thread — whether a bone needle lacing dried gut or a gold needle sewing silk by a 17th. century fireside — and feel connected to them, and to the long history of domestic arts, no matter how simple my attempts may be.

I have a sewing box. In it are spools of thread, hundreds of antique buttons of mother-of-pearl and brass and glass I keep collecting, with no specific use in mind. I just find them lovely to look at and to touch. I don’t use a thimble so I often prick my fingers. I have, and use, pins, stabbing them into a little pin-cushion I’ve had since childhood, now impossibly politically incorrect — a pillow of red silk encircled by tiny Chinamen holding hands.

It feels good to disconnect from metal and plastic — Ipods, Ipads, the phone, and, most of all, the computer that makes me feel like a cow attached to a milking machine (all production, all the time!) — and re-connect with soft fabric. I wonder whose skin it touched, who designed it and printed it and wore it, where and when it was a part of their life before adding beauty to mine.

Now Jose is off pricing sewing machines for me…and turns out we’re part of a trend, among both men and women, reports The New York Times:

Once the domain of apron-clad matrons tasked with domestic busywork, sewing, like knitting before it, is making a comeback. At 3rd Ward, the number of monthly beginner classes has doubled to four. Purl in SoHo offers popular sewing seminars. The number of members at BurdaStyle, a five-year-old social network for sewing novices, grew to 753,184 in mid-May, an increase of 47 percent from a year earlier, the company said.

And sewing-machine sales are booming, with sales in the United States expected to top three million in 2012 at SVP Worldwide, the maker of Singer sewing machines, up from 1.5 million a year more than a decade ago.

While some of the craze can be chalked up to the popularity of reality television shows like “Project Runway,” sewing instructors say students in their 20s and 30s, particularly women, are embracing sewing also as a form of self-expression and a way to assert their independence.

“What once was considered a womanly task is now a way of defining oneself,” said Patti Gilstrap, an owner of Flirt, a clothing store in Brooklyn that teaches introductory classes in alteration and skirt making.

The other day, hoping to revive sun-faded fabric on a balcony pillow-cover, (vintage linen I’d bought in Paris), I soaked each piece in dye, one yellow, one deep blue, then hung them on the clothesline. It worked! I felt absurdly self-sufficient — $4 worth of dye, an hour of my time and a plastic bucket.

Pioneer Girl!

It’s too easy and expensive to just buy new stuff. I love it when I can restore older things and keep them in use.

What do you enjoy doing by hand?

Crayons and paper and pens — oh my!

In art, beauty, design on January 29, 2012 at 1:04 am
Art Show - DSC 0035 ep

Image by Eric.Parker via Flickr

This week I did one of my favorite things ever.

I ordered personal stationery for myself, and another set for Jose and I, at Scriptura, a lovely shop in New Orleans where I last bought these things in 2004. Some stores are so perfect you can’t wait to go back, and this is one. You perch on a cane stool at a wide wooden table and their helpful staff spend as much time as you need — while the letterpress printer from 1906 clanks away in the back room.

Now that’s my kind of shopping: personal, attentive, quirky, historic and stylish!

Mine will be white cards with a lime green border, my name printed in a soft orange. Ours are kelly green (!) printed in navy blue. Total cost, just over $100. Score!

I stocked up in Chicago in November at Blick, a 101-year-old store that was totally intoxicating. I bought felt pens with brush tips, an art book, several great binders to hold my loose recipes.

There are such lovely papers to be found, everywhere I travel. Toronto has the Japanese Paper Place, Florence offers gorgeous marbled papers at Il Papiro and the art supply section at Paris’ BHV. Ooooh la la!

There are few things that make me so completely happy as knowing I have lots of gorgeous paper, pens, watercolor, pens, brushes, and my camera…beauty just waiting to explode out of my fingertips.

When we have dinner parties, I make individual place cards for everyone. At Christmas, I make and send out some of our own home-made cards as well. This year was a fun photo I took of Jose — who is not a huge hulking guy — carrying in our tree on his shoulder. Another year it was a photo he took of two canoes, one red, one green.

I grew up in a home full of creativity and feel bereft if I don’t have ready access to the tools of making stuff. My Dad paints, sculpts, works in silver, oil, etching, engraving….The only medium he doesn’t work in, ironically, is photography (although he was a film director for a living.)

We traveled across Canada by car the summer I was 15, sleeping in motels or our tent, and he filmed and I drew. I treasure my drawings from my travels as much as my photos: a temple in northern Thailand, a glass of Guinness in the Aran Islands, a sculpture in Paris, a courtyard in Queretaro.

Drawing, and painting, makes you sloooooow down and really look at whatever it is you are appreciating.

Here’s a fun New York Times story about one of my favorite art supply shops anywhere, Lee’s, on 57th. Street in Manhattan.

Do you love art supplies?

Have a great source to share?

Appointment Radio, On Today — Studio 360

In culture, Media on December 20, 2009 at 9:54 am
Cover of "Creative Mind"

Cover of Creative Mind

Have you heard of — or heard — Studio 360? It’s broadcast on 145 local stations, (listed on their website), and is hosted by Kurt Andersen, a former magazine editor and author, whose voracious notion of culture informs the material. I live near New York City so I’ll listen to it today on WNYC, 93.9, where my dial is always tuned anyway, at 11:00 a.m.

I know, I know, the whole idea of “appointment” media is so old-school. Podcasts are it. Not for me. I love the idea of hunkering down for an uninterrupted hour, at a set time, to focus completely on an intelligently-chosen and interestingly-presented set of ideas and arguments. Today, at 1:00 pm., for example, you can hear the show at WGCU in Fort Myers, FL and at 3:00 p.m. on WKCC in Kankakee, IL and KAJX in Aspen or KPUB in Flagstaff.

For years, it was broadcast here at 10:00 a.m. Saturdays and my weekend began with it. I grew up in a family of people who earned their living from their creativity: my father made documentary films and television series; my mother was a broadcaster and journalist and my stepmother wrote and edited television scripts. So I grew up knowing — unlike the common fantasy that you wake up divinely inspired all the time — that being creative is sometimes sloggingly hard work, and earning a decent living from it, is even more challenging in a larger culture that worships at the shrine of Wall Street.

The show’s motto is “Inside the Creative Mind”, and every week — from cartoonists to film-makers to musicians to playwrights — it delves into every aspect of culture. Not, thank God, pop culture, although that also gets the occasional nod. Studio 360 instead heads into deeper, sometimes darker territory, thanks to Andersen and his producers, who come from Kansas, Chicago and Copenhagen, among other places.

It’s ironic how little attention we pay — in a “knowledge economy” — to where ideas come from, how they develop and what we do with them. I love this show for reminding us of the centrality of creativity.

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