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Entries in creativity (4)


Creativity, Usefulness and Moving to Selfish

I read an interesting article yesterday about the effect of family life on creativity. Here. Go read it.


You didn't really read it, did you? 

Anyway, this article is by a writer and she talks of how her artistic life has been impacted by family in what seems like a negative way, but, then, in the end, there's a semblance of bittersweet conclusion about how things are really just different now and not necessarily worse. Or something.

Don't like that summary? Well, that's what you get when you don't read shit for yourself. They're called consequences, Beav.

As my children get older and as my vocation is increasingly child centered (teaching, running a school - which is not the same as family centered, but still relies on this idea of maintaining order not disrupting it), I find myself less and less able to be truly creative. Like, in an artistic way.

Now, it we're talking about "I have a piece of pita bread, some sketchy looking turkey and a third of a tub of cream cheese and it's 7:20a.m. and I have to be at work in fifteen minutes and I need to make two lunches -- TURKEY-PITA-CREAM-CHEESE-SURPRISE-VOILA," then I'm freaking Picasso. This kind of creativity is not enough. This is really problem solving. This is an outflow situation. It doesn't renew. It takes.

I really just want... Just to be alone in a space for a while where I can disrupt the normal cadence of life and think about things in a new way. I want that fire and passion of looking at reality, saying "this is not the only way things are -- they can be like this, too! Aren't we all uncomfortably energized and ready to live it all in this new way?" 

But I have Life stuff. Stuff that has to happen so that we can, you know, eat and maybe wear clothes that don't smell. And, then, there's the stuff going on inside my head. This brings to another point and by "point" I mean "tedious human struggle." I have this horrible thing of believing that worth equals usefulness to others. Well, wait, this is true thing -- to a degree. It is important to be useful, but it's equally important to be self serving.

When I was growing up, I had a parent that told me I was selfish, a lot. It damaged me. Not in a terrible way that's unrecoverable, but in an innocuous way that shows up when you're forty and you're like, "well, isn't this some fresh hell I thought I had dealt with already?" I've got to tackle this demon that clutches at my throat every time I think of doing anything that doesn't directly benefit someone besides myself.

I'm not selfish. I've proven that to myself. I am now the opposite of selfish. I'm specifically a martyr like that other parent who didn't call me selfish. Isn't that something. You know, the only time I'm not benefitting someone else is when I lay down in my bed to sleep or watch TV. I think I even rationalize using the bathroom as a general public service. Backed up people with urinary tract infections are not good for the planet. Just saying.

The problem with working to the point of exhaustion is that you end up in bed watching a Netflix/Hulu marathon. Although, I did change it up this week by diverting to a Serial marathon.

(Oh, Adnan, BRO, why did you smoke the pot that day? You can't remember where you were because you were too HIGH, dawg.) 

I have to work on this whole being creative, taking care of myself, redefining self worth stuff. Who else is annoyed by the prospect of having to figure something out when when you've reached midlife? That is some serious CRAP. I really thought that forty was taking the red pill and realizing that we're all in the Matrix so we can all just chill. Or maybe it was the blue pill. Or, damn, maybe I took the blue pill and that's why we're having this conversation.

I have plans of attack, though. Maybe I'll share them with you. Maybe. I am planning to start listening to Season 2 of Serial now, so best laid plans and all that.

P.S. I just typed and retyped the word "download" three times. It went down like this:




I thought you'd enjoy that.

Hey! Mike Scheinberg and I have started producing Hey! That's My Hummus! again. New episodes to download. Check it out on our website. Or you can download from iTunes.



Did Jared Leto Steal Someone's Part?

I first "noticed" Jared Leto in Oliver Stone's "Alexander." Not because he's dreamy - which he is. Hephaistion has always been one of my favorite "characters" in the Alexander story. Leto was wonderfully heartbreaking as Alexander's friend, companion and lover.  Just a great, great actor.

I studied acting for a small portion of my life a very long time, and I know a great actor when I see one. It's more about performance. They expose our own messy, beautiful humanity to us in a way that is both comforting and uncomfortable.

Anyway, enough acting theory. I haven't even seen "Dallas Buyers Club" because I'm very committed to catching up on "Supernatural" and I'm only on season 3 and commitment requires priority, etc. Apparently,Leto plays a transgendered character, and heated discussion has resulted from this casting of a straight (is he? I have no idea) man as a transgedered person. Man. I really, really want this to be a world where straight people can play gay people and the other way around.

Where a Democrat can play a Republican.

A Latino can play a Middle Easterner.

White can play black.

Wait. Scratch that.

We don't live in that world, though. The biggest indication of this fact is that we're still talking about it, and we're still talking about it because the casting of "privileged" individuals in the roles of minority characters continues to resonate poorly with those minorities. It underscores the feeling of not being seen, not being represented and thereby being invisible even when when attempts are made at making us visible in the movies.

When I was fifteen, I auditioned for "The Miracle Worker". I read for the part of Annie Sullivan. If you're unfamiliar with the work, Annie is the young, blind woman who teaches Helen Keller how to read and write.

She was also Irish.


I didn't get the part. It wasn't because I wasn't a good actress. Because I was. May still be. The United States' was sparse on Middle Eastern looking women in those first few years after the Civil War, so that was the real obstacle. The beautiful, pale complexioned, auburn haired girl that was cast as Annie ended up playing the part really well, so all's well that ends well. (See what I did there?) 

But, you know what? If we'd done a production that was set in India, I don't know which play that would be -- let's say an adaptation of The Far Pavilions -- most of the actors would've been white because the majority of Indian people would've been busy being doctors and IT Managers and that'd leave some parts uncast. The white folks would've worn tastefully darkened their make up and perhaps donned darker wigs. Their elegantly fashioned costumes would have helped propagate an adequate suspension of disbelief and after all that, and nobody would have even noticed that they weren't Indian.

Except actual Indian people. They would notice because even the best make up in the world cannot make you something that you are not. It will only offer the suggestion of what you're supposed to be representing.

There is an undercurrent of a point being made about how those who inhabit the fringes of visual hierarchies are simply offered as "suggested" members of the broader reality being constructed. A whispering bubbles beneath the darkened eyeliner, the painted face, the boy in a dress, "Acknowledge their presence, but you don't have to think about them as actual real people if you don't want to."

Jared Leto is a fine actor -- an incredible actor. I'm glad he won an Oscar because that guy had me at Hephaistion. My admiration for Mr. Leto aside, though, I maintain his casting is a highly evolved, very subtle version of black face. You can say he's a bankable actor and there are financial considerations. You may be right, but I seldom find a speck of integrity or compassion in arguments that rely on "it's about the money" as the strongest point for their case. It may be about the money, but we should take a firm stand on whether we feel it's right or not.

The money ends up following our convictions at some point. 


Dark at Five

Mud Island, Memphis. From the roof.

I will not write a post about how I can't think of anything to write.

I will not write a post about how I can't think of anything to write.

I will not write a post about how I can't think of anything to write.

Too late.

Maybe you know what it feels like to create, too.  To offer up.  To show. To produce.  To teach.

Sometimes, you get busy thinking that you're making stuff (writing) that you forget to look around and check to make sure that you're actually making stuff (writing) and when you do, you're all, "HOLY... what the... I must've taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque (I'm not writing and I miss Looney Toons) ."

You have money in your pocket, but no words on your paper.

And then you get more confused because you look at people who are chasing their dreams down with such intensity that they seem dispassionate to every other thing and you think... what?

Is that how you get what you really want?

Just tune everything else... every one else out?

I don't want that, but I have something I want to achieve and it's kind of big.  It's not like a little thing.  I mean, not that anyone's thing that they want to achieve is little.  But mine is especially not little.

Everyone you love deserves to feel like they're a priority. Sometimes like they're the priority. You can tell when they don't feel like they're a priority, too, can't you?  Because they pretend to cry because they can't eat lollipops for breakfast or because they climb a makeshift ladder of pilows and footstools and start throwing brown rice all over the floor or because they make a snide comment that they insist has nothing to do with this issue, but you're just sure it does.

That's when I feel I have to pick between them and the thing, but I don't want to pick. But I feel like I have to because last year I promised myself I'd write 4000 words a week, and I'm only writing about 450.

Is this the place that you see in movies and hear about when you're a teenager?

The place where you decide?  Where you either become Jimi Hendrix or a middle school music teacher?  Which is a TOTALLY GREAT JOB because even though he died a legend, Jimi Hendrix did, in fact, choke on his own puke which is just, let's face it, highly undesirable.

And this kind of underlines my point.  You have to choke on your own vomit to be great?  Who writes these rules?  I have issues with these rules.  They are stupid rules.  Plus they are gross.

Truth is, I don't "sort of" do anything, and I feel very out of my element in this deciding place.  I feel like I'm "sort of" here and "sort of" there. I "sort of" have things to write, but the real thing is... is "sort of"even worth a big ball of tears, brown rice crunching under your feet for weeks and an argument you just don't feel like having one more time?

I don't know if it's worth it or not, but I don't know how to stop wanting to write and I don't know how to stop feeling frustrated when I don't but I hate the sound of (expensive) brown basmati rice crunching under my feet.

It's so crap, as the British say, that I have to "sort of" do anything.

But that's "the job," right?


So. Yeah. Dreams.  Pursuit. Stuff.  Money.  Family. People.

I don't know.


It gets dark here at like 5p.m.

I'm sorry, but that's just ridiculous.

Gift: Writing Exercise

writing promptsA million years ago, I posted a writing exercise on my blog.

Right now, I'm going to do an uncharacteristic thing and write something like, "You totally don't have to read this.  It's probably really lame.  I mean, don't read it.  It's fine."

I'm comfortable writing about myself, the world, anything, really, in open and direct terms.  But, I want to be good at other kinds of writing.  The thing is, a writing exercise doesn't do much good just sitting on your hard drive.

I'd love to hear what you think.  And, not just, ""Wow, so good."  Or, "Keep practicing, you'll get better."

Tell me what you think and how you think I can be better.  If you feel like it.  It's probably totally lame.  I mean, don't read it.  It's fine.

Also?  I'd love to see how you would do this exercise.  E-mail me and let me know if you write something similar.


Prompt: Read A Letter To Dear Abby (or like) but ignore the reply.  Write a piece that centers on or resolves the conflict.

DEAR ABBY: I work with another woman who always comes to the office in professional attire. She is lovely. My only problem with her clothing is that it's so devoid of color that it makes her appear incredibly drab and depressed. She wears all beige, all black or all white, which does nothing to enhance her beauty.

She is a quiet person, so I understand her not wearing flashy reds or loud colors, but a little bit would bring out her inner vitality.

Would it be presumptuous of me to suggest she might add some color to her wardrobe, or should I just leave it alone? Should I buy her a scarf to brighten up all those muted ensembles? -- SUFFERING IN BEIGE-LAND



It was a small package with a card taped to the bottom.  She picked it up with muted surprise, it wasn’t her birthday. Panic enveloped her as she considered the possibility that she may have forgotten a holiday or some special event when co-workers were supposed to exchange presents, and one that had somehow completely missed her attention.  The feeling was momentary, of course, because that sort of thing never happened to her.

If anything, she was meticulous.

Meticulous about work, about cooking, about driving, about talking, about dressing.  No, she hadn’t forgotten some special event.  Someone had just given her something for no clear reason.

Sara peeled back the purple wrapping paper with a sense of wonder.

She fumbled with the rest of the packaging and opened the box.  A scarf.  Specifically, a bright red scarf.  She picked up the silky material and pulled it out of the box.  A note card in a slightly muted shade of the wrapping paper fell on her right foot.

She bent over quickly to pick it up and read it as she straightened up.  Flourishing letters loudly declared “Sara, a small gift to brighten your day!  Best, Janine!”  The exclamation points had hearts instead of dots.

Strange.  Besides brief interactions in office meetings, a few group lunches and several coincidental meetings at the company coffee pot, Sara didn’t really know Janine.  A gift to brighten her day?  What did Janine know about her days or whether they even needed brightening or not?

She spread the scarf out on her table and examined it.  It was so... red.  A minute later, she carefully folded it and placed it in its box, resolving to thank Janine for such a lovely gift and firmly deciding that this is just the sort of thing that her little sister would wear.  Since Janine didn’t know Sonia and the mathematical probability of them ever meeting was infinitesimally small, re-gifting was a win win situation.

After clearing her e-mail box, Sara set about the task of thanking Janine for a gift that had just been given for the sole and strange purpose of “brightening her day.”

Holding the boxed scarf in her right hand, she poked her head over Janine’s cubicle and stood silently watching the older woman intently pecking at her computer.  Sara smiled to herself as she thought of all the endless questions she had answered for Janine about simple things like setting up smartboxes for her e-mail or how to retrieve her Intranet password.  Janine was legacy in the temp business... invaluable in her experience yet slightly irritating in her ignorance.

“Hi,” Sara smiled as she lifted the box, “what’s all this about?”

“Oh, honey, I hope you liked it... I just saw it in the store and thought of you.  It was on sale...  I just wanted to get it for someone.”

“It was really sweet of you, I love it,” Sara felt uncomfortable with the effortless way the insincere words flowed from her mouth.  She hated lying, but she also knew that sometimes it was better to lie than to spew truth in an unsuspecting face.

“I’m so glad!” Janine’s subtly dismissive air vanished and a new energy spurted forth, “you know, you’re just so beautiful, honey... like a young Sophia Loren with your dark eyes and everything.”

The conversation had officially entered total and complete awkwardness.

“I just thought, with your coloring and everything, what you really need is something to accent it... I love the neutrals you wear, but without accents it all looks so drab.”

Sara felt her face fall a little, but just for a second.  It was imperceptible to Janine, and it would have been so to anyone else standing there.  She recovered within fractions of a second.  The feeling migrated from her face and settled deep inside her core.    It raced down into her throat and sent a pinching feeling into the center of her chest.

In one moment, she relived everything.

She heard her mother extol the virtues of flowing materials in pastel patterns that reinforced a sense of femininity.

She saw her father’s scowl as she emerged from her bedroom dressed in faded graphic tees and torn jeans.

She remembered her sister’s eyes rolling at chunky lace up boots.

Slowly, but surely, she had expelled the t-shirts, the worn out jeans and the boxy shoes leaving them to their fate in cartons destined for Goodwill.  It hadn’t been intentional, really.  It was just a slow, peaceful letting go.  As each piece disappeared, it was replaced by another item that garnered a nod of approval or a look of admiration.  It had felt worth it then... each relinquishment had earned just a little more love from the people she loved best in all the world.  So many years later, with her parents gone from this world and her sister immersed in a life of her own that left little time for inspection of a big sister’s wardrobe, the victory no longer felt like a victory.

So many years later, she had started thinking about the things she had lost in order to win.

Now, here was this stranger telling her that she needed more color.  Everyone, even strangers had opinions, didn’t they?  This will make you better, I can make you better, you can be better... or, simply put, you are not good enough the way that you are.

This feeling would be eternal.  It didn’t make sense to brood.  Walking away from this choice would leave a hole that she didn't have the slightest idea how to fill.  It was better to just keep walking on this path, and, besides, she was tired.

She regrouped, held the box up again in a seemingly loving gesture that masked the deep resentment she felt.  She smiled hard, “Yes, that’s a good point, I think... thank you so much, I really appreciate it.”  And, like she had done so many times before, she quietly swallowed another’s contempt for the truth of who she really was.

She saw Janine beam at her and then she watched as the woman’s eyes float back to her computer screen.

“You’re welcome, honey.  It was nothing, really.”

Photo Credit: Bright Meadow