Sometimes I cannot believe how lucky I am. The other day I was invited to a private tour of the Habsburg exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. One of the museum’s esteemed curators, Eike Schmidt, PhD, led our small … Continue reading
I’m reading Anthony Bourdain’s book, Kitchen Confidential, and finding myself within the pages. For those of you who don’t know anything about Bourdain, he is a traveling TV star, author and chef who describes his young self as a thrill-seeking pleasure … Continue reading
The following books arrived like loving elders at just the right time to teach me lessons that would change my path in significant ways. Each of them gave me a taste of who I am and who I could be. It’s … Continue reading
In 2008 I began to wake up from the deep sleep of ‘supposed to’. I was married, living in the suburbs with three children, a loyal husband, part-time nanny and weekly personal training sessions. It was what I wanted (it’s what most people want, right?) and it was wonderful in many ways, but something was missing.
I only knew who I was supposed to be. I was based on external scaffolding. I was my children’s mom, my husband’s wife, a woman with a personal trainer and a woman who needs a nanny even though she’s a stay-at-home-mom. I was fit from training and maintained perfectly pedicured toes. Outwardly, I was healthy and polished. Inwardly, I was a dark cave unexplored. I had no idea where the rocks and stalactites were, nor did I know the pure deep stream that existed in the unlit catacombs.
I was listless and low energy. I felt depressed and wondered if there was something wrong with me. How could I be down when I had so much?
Enter Brenda Ueland.
While picking out a gift for a writing friend, I noticed a book called, If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit. The author’s name, Brenda Ueland, caught my eye. I read the back cover. I picked up a copy for my friend and myself.
Between the covers of her book I found a woman who lived dreamily and daringly from 1892-1985. She both conserved and exuded energy. She was a writer, wife, mother and boundary pusher. She championed the diverse students in her YWCA writing classes. The poet, Allen Ginsberg, called her a ‘Courage Teacher’.
As I read, my eyes opened gently. In her, I found it was OK to crave solitude. I learned I wasn’t the only one who felt trapped in a relationship. I learned that creativity isn’t all based on skill and massive productivity. I found a non-judgmental teacher and kindred spirit in Brenda Ueland.
Solitude Lets Imagination Slip In
…It is the dreamy idleness that children have, an idleness when you walk alone for a long, long time, or take a long, dreamy time at dressing, or lie in bed at night and thoughts come and go, or dig in a garden, or drive a car for many hours alone, or play the piano, or sew, or paint ALONE; …With all my heart I tell you and reassure you: at such times you are being slowly filled and re-charged with warm imagination, with wonderful, living thoughts. ~ Brenda Ueland
My personal trainer suggested running. Running gave me time to myself. Ideas and daydreams came to me as I ran, walked, shopped and meditated, alone. Glimpses of my internal world fueled me. My step got lighter and my depression lifted. I felt my soul fill-in. Solitude became a drug I couldn’t live without.
Everyone is Creative
Everybody is talented, original and has something important to say. ~ Brenda Ueland
Brenda Ueland believed if you told your story without over-thinking or trying to be impressive, you were interesting. Writing is just talking on paper. She said everyone should write about themselves. Writing or creating is a generosity to be offered freely but not forced upon anyone.
She encouraged making mistakes — she tells us to congratulate ourselves for making daring, honorable, ridiculous mistakes.
Work freely and rollickingly as though you were talking to a friend who loves you. Mentally (at least three or four times a day) thumb your nose at all know-it-alls, jeerers, critics, doubters. ~ Brenda Ueland
Brenda made me believe I could write. She showed me that writing doesn’t have to be something I make up. It can be something I write down that comes from within. Childhood stories, lessons learned, grown-up healing process. It all counts as writing and a form of creativity. I never thought I was creative until I read If You Want to Write.
We did not admire the same things. I loved abstractions: truth, greatness, heroism. He liked plain facts and cleverness. ~ Brenda Ueland speaking about her then husband
Many of Brenda’s words and thoughts lined up so closely with my real life it was eerie. I began to recognize a deep and real disconnect between my husband and me. Did we really know each other? Like each other? Would we expand and grow more as humans without each other? I thought so.
All that time I was inwardly wanting not to be married anymore; to be free, alone. ~ Brenda Ueland
Real Love Can Be Found in Listening
Unless you listen, people are weazened in your presence; they become about a third of themselves. Unless you listen, you don’t know anybody. Oh, you will know facts and what is in the newspapers and all of history, perhaps, but you will not know one single person. You know, I have come to think listening is love, that’s what it really is. ~ Brenda Ueland
I began to listen more. I found listeners who offered conversation in an alternating-current style — we took turns talking and deeply hearing each other. I experienced a nirvana of self-realization. My spirit became clearer and clearer. I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning. I no longer felt alone in my need for solitude. More and more ideas flowed through my mind and onto my notebook pages as I made time for idleness and writing. My marriage started to teeter but I felt warmth from the two-way love listeners I discovered as I ventured away from my previously defining scaffolding.
The saying goes, When the student is ready, the teacher appears. Brenda Ueland appeared when I was ready. She opened my eyes to an internal world of love, listening and creativity and an external world of authenticity and courage.
Do you have a personal transformative hero? How did they help you see you? When was the last time you reveled in idleness and imagination?
Suggested further exploring:
Me – Brenda Ueland autobiography
If You Want to Write:A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit – Brenda Ueland
Strength to Your Sword Arm – Brenda Ueland
The Introvert’s Love Affair with Solitude: Will It Always Be Taboo? – space2live.net
I hate to admit it, but one reason my marriage failed was because life was too good. Success was overwhelming and numbing. We had it all —money, big home, healthy kids, personal trainers — and I missed the simplicity of my childhood. I longed for meaningful experiences with family, less complexity and the sincere words of passionate friends. I missed poignant living. I missed being me.
The Catastrophe of Success
In, The Catastrophe of Success (New York Times 1947), Tennessee Williams writes of his experience with overnight success after the release of his play, The Glass Menagerie. He claims to have been, snatched out of utter oblivion and thrust into sudden prominence. Upgraded from rented rooms to first-class suites. The life he led prior to Menagerie was one that required endurance, clawing and scratching and holding on tight with raw fingers. He missed that life and became depressed and disenchanted with his new existence. Continue reading
Steven Tyler (lead singer of rock band Aerosmith and former American Idol judge) admits to blowing $20 million on drugs. He’s seen the highest of creative highs and the lowest of strung-out lows.
I (Brenda) have relatively little experience with drugs. Sure, I experimented in college; two inept attempts at smoking pot. One resulting in temporary paranoia and the other in zero effect at all due to user error. Who knows instinctively how to inhale from a skull pipe?
I do know about wanting more and being numb.
I read Steven Tyler’s autobiography, Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?, and developed an admiration for the artist that goes beyond groupie.
Who hasn’t drifted through life at one time or forever in a cocoon of distractions?
“Susan Cain is a closet extrovert.”
So read the juvenile and snarky comment on introvert author and champion, Susan Cain’s blog. Susan’s heavy presence in the media (TED Talks, NPR, morning shows) during her book promotion (Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking) made it seem like she thrived in the limelight and fed off constant interaction, much like an extrovert. Still, I resented the insinuation that it is impossible to be popular, engaging, passionate and an introvert.
I know many who are drawn to solitude but are frequently sought out for coffee, dinner, roller derby, pillow talk, etc. Introverts are in demand. They are rarely lonely not only because they enjoy their own company but because others do as well.
Why do those who cherish alone time often have many friends and invitations?
Perhaps it’s a simple case of supply and demand. Introverts love large swathes of free time. Time with no plans except enjoying their own company — listening to music, reading, watching meaningful movies, meditating, writing, painting, resting, investigating life in-depth. Securing and making time alone a priority leaves less time for socializing. Therefore any time available for interacting is precious. And anything precious is a must have.
Energized and Energizing
Why do some introverts seem like extroverts? Besides the pressure many of us feel to be outgoing and gregarious (the American way), there are other reasons why introverts exhibit extroverted energy.
Introverts love to go deep into subjects or work they find meaningful. According to Susan Cain and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, these core personal projects or passions allow an introvert to display extroverted abilities, such as large-scale socializing, public speaking or unbridled enthusiasm. Valued work gives us purpose and energy via an intense connection with our feelings and impressions. Our imagination and intuition are tapped and spill out in the form of ideas and inspiration. We are internally energized but in turn energize others with our passion, drive and excitement. We all know people who glow with energy and light. We want to be with them. Want to feed off their buzz.
I’m sure this is the energy and enthusiasm Susan Cain demonstrated as she eagerly promoted the work she had dedicated seven years of her life to. She wanted to help/support/empower other introspectives. The value she found in this mission gave her energy and strength to chat away the days with talk show hosts and sign endless copies of her book.
My bet is that she returned home or to her hotel room at night and collapsed. As exciting as her mission was, a key trait of introverts is to recharge in solitude.
Creativity and Community
Introverts are often thought of as disconnected or remote. But there is something that bridges contemplative folks with their community. Creativity.
True, introverts like to spend time in stillness without interruptions and hoards of people. But what do they do in this stillness? Connect with themselves. Find clarity regarding personal issues they are navigating. Go into a state of flow where ideas, feelings and associations come together to resolve conflict, reveal beauty or simply provide renewal.
Quite often these times of stillness produce creations that are helpful and valued by the community. Perhaps the purpose of creating is not to express ourselves but to connect? Picture a road-weary truck driver who practices guitar at night in his cab and eventually becomes the truck-stop entertainment. Or a broken-hearted baker who heals herself by silently kneading and rolling dough into the most delicate pastries. Creativity, of course, does not always stem from sorrow. Imagine a blissful painter who spends hours alone in her studio caressing canvas with soft brush strokes. Or a dedicated psychiatrist who spends years researching and publishing the causes and treatment of catatonic schizophrenia. All of these scenarios ultimately provide gifts to the community.
Take a minute to recall how alive you feel after seeing an incredible movie or hearing an evocative song.
Creators are inspiring. They pique our interest. They give us permission to expand beyond our daily ho-hum. They display courage in their originality. They provide solutions. They make us feel less alone.
No wonder others want to know them, spend time with them and be like them.
There is also research suggesting that creativity is based on in-depth immersion in a topic AND collaborative interaction (Keith Sawyer, Does Solitude Enhance Creativity? A Critique of Susan Cain’s Attack on Collaboration). Space for both introverts and extroverts to shine and work together for the greater good. Another reason introverts are in demand.
Of course, extroverts are creative too but the purpose of this post is to show how introverts find popularity despite their penchant for alone time.
Introverts aren’t all disconnected loners. Many are quite popular. Some are even confused for extroverts.
Know any popular introverts? Why do you enjoy hanging out with an introvert?
If you liked this post, you might also like:
Introverts and Creativity: A Critique of Susan Cain’s Argument – Professor Michael Roberto’s Blog
Gifts, Connections & Community (Part 2) – Keith Jennings Wandering and Wondering the Creative
**There is a new temperament title that is gaining notoriety. The ambivert. An ambivert is someone who falls basically dead center in the introvert-extrovert continuum. Anyone know someone who may qualify as an ambivert? Some days I wonder if I am more of an ambivert than an introvert.
I taped Jorge Luis Borges’s poem, You Learn, to the wall above my desk. It’s helping me through the married to not married transition. It whispers messages about love and endurance when I need them. Often my eyes drift to the poem and gently land on a line or stanza…
So you plant your garden and decorate your own soul
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers…
Where We Turn in Crisis
We often discover poetry during a crisis. When we are most vulnerable. When we are willing to let beautiful expression and resonance tap the soft spot where we bleed and heal. Poetic imagery helps us understand through sensations and feelings rather than a gathering of knowledge. It soothes our inner world with artistic light and universal meaning.
Let us not forget that music is poetry. Song lyrics speak to us like intimate friends. Melody puts its arm around us and walks us forward. Singing shifts us little by little from victim to survivor. From being alone to being one with all.
Poetic Ritual and Writing: Keeping Us Sharp and Satisfied
Poetic verse is not passive. It engages us and makes us discern, ponder and investigate. It turns our focus inward and then outward. How is this me? How is this everyone? For this reason poetry writing is as valuable as Sudoku, crossword puzzles and reading in the battle to maintain mental acuity. In the article, A Mad Obsession: Poetry on the Brain by Cynthia R. Green, Dr. Milton Ehrlich is mentioned for his late-in-life passion for crafting poetry. Ehrlich began his sincere poetry writing at the tender young age of 70, when he transitioned from working full-time as a psychologist to working part-time. Dr. Ehrlich is now 80 and has published three books of poetry. He writes about wisdom earned from experience and the conflict and comfort found while exploring our inner psychic worlds.
I am always working on a poem and seem to crank out a new poem almost every week. I think about it all the time. Some would call it a mad obsession. ~ Dr. Milton Ehrlich
I myself spent a year reading and writing Haiku poems. I stumbled upon a beautiful little book called, Haiku Mind and was hooked. I made it a ritual every morning to compose one of these small wonders. I loved capturing the birth and death of a moment in a set of syllables organized in a simple 5-7-5 pattern. Stripping everything away but the seed of truth, which showed itself with a tiny burst of light. I highly recommend the practice. Note to self: reinstitute haiku habit.
Poetry in Education
I remember learning the technical aspects of poetry in school. Iambic pentameter, rhyme scheme, 5-7-5 syllable structure. I memorized and recited a rather long poem in sixth grade about getting a haircut and washing your car. I vaguely recall it being humorous. I have no recollection of how I felt when I read the poem other than I was proud of my memorization skills. I have no residual feelings of attachment to the words or message. What a shame. I wish I would have chosen a poem I was so drawn to that I had no choice but to learn it by heart.
In The Sun Magazine’s article, Written on the Bones: Kim Rosen on Reclaiming The Ancient Power of Poetry, poetry therapist (healer?), Kim Rosen, says memorizing a poem is more like conquering it than entering into a relationship with it. Learning by heart denotes a willingness to be moved and changed. She says no one told her in school that poems were conscious-altering substances. No one told her rhythm could free her mind, alliteration could allow her feelings to flow and rhyme could crack open her thought patterns.
Perhaps this is exactly what children need to be taught in school. Surrender your pride and allow yourself to be moved, changed and healed. The willingness experienced will carry you through life’s crises. Openness will expose you to beauty and opportunities you will never see with a memorization-muddled mind.
I know of a boy closing in on the final days of a three-year chemo regiment for ALL (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia ). His body and spirit are weary but he’s made it. Six weeks ago his 6th grade Language Arts class did a poetry unit. Kids were assigned a poem to read and answer questions about. This boy read the poem, Another Mountain by Abiodun Oyewole. The final lines in the poem are, But my wings only work, after I’ve climbed a mountain. Instead of stuffing this poem in his crammed backpack and forgetting about it like most kids did, he took it home and shared it with his mom and instead of putting it in the recycle bin after that, he folded it neatly and put it the important papers file.
I take Jorge Luis Borges’s poem, You Learn, to heart. I grant it access to my subconscious and spirit. Every day it seeps in and guides me through this time of transition. It teaches me how to tap into vulnerability and heal the wounded spots. It teaches and I learn.
Where do you experience poetry?
In music? Within your faith? At poetry slams?
Has poetry ever helped you heal?
If you enjoyed The Power of Poetry then you may also like:
JFK Eulogy for Robert Frost – Los Angeles Times
The Journey – Mary Oliver
The Invitation – Oriah Mountain Dreamer
Spirit of Summer – Space2live archives
Decisions, frustrations, squirrel energy and caffeinated thoughts. I’ve been in my head too much lately. Check-lists and ringing phones have left my spirit mechanical and my soul longing for poetry, beauty and prose that flows. I wish for living that transcends the business end of it. Please Universe extend some humanity, some oneness, a sprinkle of stillness and a sense of awe.
Self-Actualization and Peak Experiences: What We Live For
Abraham Maslow included peak experiences in his list of characteristics of the self-actualized individual. Self – actualization is the tippy top level of being on Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs pyramid.* A self-actualized person has all their basic needs for food, shelter, protection, belongingness and esteem satisfied and rises to an existence that includes the desire to self-fulfill or become everything that one is capable of becoming. Self-actualized individuals have a propensity for peak experiences; intense moments of joy, awe, wonder, oneness and ecstasy. Following such experiences the being is strengthened, renewed, inspired.
Have You Ever Had Your Breath Taken Away By…
Music: The purity of one note sung into the sun that originates in the earth rises through bodies and rests in tears that spring from jaded eyes. Songs reminiscent of long ago scents, settings and the sideways smile of an old lover. Space between lyrics where souls wedge in and expand. Singing without thinking because you are in a good place.
Kindness: Love when there could be bitterness. A hand that reaches for yours when you are mired and distant in your own sadness. An offer of listening with no expectation of repayment. Selflessness that makes you want to be a better person.
Resonance: Stories that powerfully echo your own. To be known. Kinship based on common joy and suffering. Meeting the eyes of others and seeing yourself in them. A connection that makes you a little more brave, less alone. Message received. I feel you. I am you.
The Humanities: Art, music, theater, philosophy, literature, history, religion. Clarity from the ether of imagination manifested into words, melodies, dialogue, prayers. Bold art that whispers to your heart. Literature that befriends and awakens. Weeping from beauty and catharsis. The human condition defined and transcended.
Empathy: A child sobs when he learns of the tormented life of another. Witnessing the belittling of another and never being the same again. An ache felt deeply for another. Raw compassion. What moves us to help.
Stillness: The hours in the morning before the house is up. God, the Universe, your inner voice or your imagination speaking through silence. The moments after you ask for help and the ones after it is received. The pause and quiet beneath the veneer of noise. Where peace and metaphors come from. A calm to be found within and without.
Nature: Retreating to the woods to feel small and infinite at the same time. A non-judgmental sanctuary of light and silence. Hearing morning doves outside your bedroom window the day after your lover moved out. Feeling less alone. Watching with your children as a hawk circles and pierces the edgeless sky.
Thank you for allowing me to indulge in flow and awe. To attempt to put into words the ineffable. To escape my clockwork mind.
I feel much more connected to myself and you.
Do you think introverts have more peak experiences than extroverts? What do you need to reconnect with yourself? Tell me of a peak experience that changed you.
*At least on the most commonly referred to versions of the pyramid. Maslow later added a level about Self-Actualization he called Transcendence.
- Self-Actualization and the Suburban Mother (space2live)
- All Day Long Wearing a Mask of False Bravado: Stop Hiding Your Sensitive Nature and Thrive (space2live)
- Moving at the Speed of Introversion: Living With a Slow Richness and Loving It (space2live)
- Peak Experience (mylifeinspacetime.wordpress.com)
- Key Characteristics of a Self-Actualized Person – (Morning Coach)
- My Places In The Sun (listentomethunder.wordpress.com)
May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.
One of life’s most delicious experiences is engaging in art with elementary school children. At this age their hearts and minds are open and enchanted. Enthusiasm is cool and sarcasm is limited.
Why did we decide that institutionalized teaching is more important than freedom of expression? Budget reasons? Easier to control students? Why is art such a small part of a school’s curriculum? What ever happened to crafts? Why don’t kids learn about artist’s lives? Are they too salacious or unorthodox?
Why Art Is Just As Important As Math and Reading:
1. There is no wrong in art. No good. No bad. Just art. Kids learn to create for pleasure not praise or approval.
2.Art creates something on the outside that comes from the inside. It teaches the ability to turn inward for guidance. This will come in handy during decision-making and difficult times. How many adults can do this?
3. Art is about the experience not the results. There is nothing more satisfying than being in a state of flow, losing track of time, being.
4. Artists are brave and do their own thing. They exemplify courage in their stance against the status quo. They are role models for independent thinking.
6. Artists often struggle financially but do it anyway. Money is not a primary motivator, a compulsion to create is.
7. Art grants space to use imagination, to think differently. Innovation is a survival skill.
8. Artists practice and practice. Art teaches persistence and perseverance. Author Steven Pressfield says the more you practice your craft the more spiritual it becomes. The work is sustaining.
9. Art teaches that school isn’t the end all be all. There is more to education than a classroom, curriculum and text books. Creativity can strike anywhere.
10. Art in education shows that being an artist is a viable vocation. Art moves people and that is priceless. How’s that for a success story?
11. Art is hands on. Instantly applicable. You don’t have to absorb it now and regurgitate it later. Get messy, feel it, now.
12. Art gives different kids a chance to shine. A creative soul is just as intelligent as a math whiz. Both are valuable contributors to the world.
13. No homework. Kids can go home and play!! Learn how to thrive in an unstructured environment.
14. No two pieces of art are exactly alike. Different is good and absolutely acceptable.
15. Art has no boundaries. There is freedom to create what you dream regardless of race, sex, religion, IQ or socioeconomic status.
How have the colors of art affected your life? Would more art in schools better prepare children for the real world?
Schools Kill Creativity? – elephant journal
Soul Painting: Beyond Artistic Talent – space2live