The Dot and The Outsider

I read two distinctly different books this week that are the opposite ends of one spectrum. “The Outsider” by Albert Camus and “The Dot” by Peter H. Reynolds are, on the surface, completely unconnected, one being a short novel about a condemned man and the other a children’s story about creativity. For me, these two books hold a different gaze on the same subject, being different.

In “The Outsider”, the main character is unapologetically odd, which leads to his fate, being condemned by society. In “The Dot”, the main character is encouraged to create her original art, a dot, by a teacher, which leads to acclaim. On one end, being different is despised, on the other it is praised.

What these two books capture, in altogether contrasting mediums, is the influence of perspective in telling the story of our lives. In “The Dot”, a teacher’s praise of an early art attempt, leads the character to define herself as an artist and continue creating works of art. The teacher could have just as easily said the dot was ‘not art’ and the story would have reached a dismal conclusion. Not a typical move in a children’s book, granted. In “The Outsider”, the character is on trial, two portraits of his personality are presented to the jury. On one hand he could be an amoral, cold-blooded killer, on the other he could be a confused, weird man caught in a bad situation. The story that is believed is the one that seals his fate, but is it true?

A story can uplift, a story can kill. Words are powerful. Words are more than description of a fixed reality. Words and stories sculpt life itself. So, I wonder, what story are you telling about yourself? Is it the one you want to be true? This is the role of affirmations; they are specifically designed to counter unhelpful stories that we may have heard about ourselves. It takes a strong character to withstand a negative culture. Deliberately telling a different story about ourselves, as these two works show, can completely change our lives.

Tell a better story.

Nurturing Creativity

Elizabeth Gilbert. She rocks. I hope she always keeps writing. I hope she always lets the magic fairies that live in her walls sneeze their fairy snot all over her.

Watch. 🙂

 

Create

I am always astounded by the diversity of creativity all around us. I truly believe that each person has a creative spark inside. Whether it is art, music, writing, you name it, there is a wonderful diversity that is present within the human mind. Even now more than ever before, art and creativity have become accessible to everyone. We can now read tweets from writers on the other side of the world, we can watch movies from independent filmmakers, we can buy art directly from the artist. The potential is huge for a return of the cottage industry, where local and handcrafted items are the sought after luxury items, and artisans of all stripes are now carving out their own careers where none existed before. Magic!

Create something new today.

Making Patterns

I have always been intrigued by patterns. In sewing, the pattern pieces look nothing like the final project. Odd jigjagging pieces somehow transform themselves into sleeves and pants. Knitting patterns are similar. An encoded language that requires keen deciphering to create sweaters and mittens.

Yet with all patterns the wisdom can be unlocked with training and practice. Creating the pattern, however, is a skill closer to writing. It is pure creativity. Working within a structure and creating something altogether new. Challenging, yes. But also immensely satisfying.

The iterative process when creating a knitting pattern seems to be an accepted part of the process. You try it one way and then another. Stopping, starting, unravelling and starting again. It requires persistence.

In writing, we can easily get caught up in trying to make the first draft a masterpiece. But writing is more of a craft than anything else. It needs to be practiced, over and over. Persistence is key. And also loving the process itself.

When I knit, I love the sensation of it. The feel of the wool, the rhythm of the needles, the careful counting, the slowly lengthening work. There is a satisfaction in each tiny loop, one closer to completion. The tiny steps are all marked off and row by row, the project gets done.

Writing a longer work is much the same. Tiny little steps. Each word a little loop that carries you along. Every idea and image captured is a tiny victory. Slowly the work takes shape. The satisfaction of crafting.

Pencil Sketches

English: Closeup of a pencil tip.The graphite tip rambles
over the coarse mountains
the paper maker left.
How can I get this straight?
When I rest my head down
my eyeball zooms in on the crumbles and bumbles
of this attempt,
this stroke.
Struck right in the dark.
Moving slowly in drawn out circles.
My pencil curves around my Venus mound.
Arching out of the soft sweet flesh,
It pushes the tip deeper,
grooves left from my vigour.
Pressing on.
Press
and
press
and
Press the corners into smooth curves,
So I don’t forget
the tender cut
from the first sheet touched
with yellow HB, chopped from virgin trees
on mountainous slopes
carved
from fresh thoughts.
Curling into tight spirals
the sharpened tip
looks deep into the fresh
pressed page.
A face, an eye, a soft curve
animated,
quick tempo
short strokes
fill in
the subtle textures.
Pencil line traces
define my softer edges
and bring me closer
to my pink end.

The power of praise

Sometimes, it is all too easy to criticize. We offer our opinion on any number of subjects with the misguided idea that we may somehow be helping the person to be better or correct their presumed deficiencies. But when the critical arrow is pointed at us, we suddenly see the injustice. In subjective fields, like writing or art, it becomes increasingly apparent that criticism is not truth, just opinion. In this world there is something for everyone.

à chacun son goût

Watch this video to see what I mean.

The people in this video are one, important thing. Brave. Think of the courage it takes to dance at all, let alone in public.

Looking for the things to praise in another can train your inner critic to take it easy on you. The less our inner critic runs the show, the more creative and free we are. So sing, dance, be!

Intentional Writing

Affirmations are a wonderful tool to change your conscious mental habits. Often our mental chatter is pretty negative, but with consistent practice of positive, loving thoughts we can change everything about our lives. We naturally filter all of our experiences through our world view. If we are pessimists, then every experience is a royal drag; if we are optimists, we can only see opportunities in our challenges. Since different parts of our brains are involved when we write compared to when we speak, writing out your affirmations can help increase the impact they have in your life.

Louise Hay has a fantastic book filled with affirmations for just about every condition or situation. She mentioned that she changed her handwriting based on the work of Vimala Rodgers. Vimala has created an intentional handwriting system and explains that each letter has a unique meaning. She suggests that by changing your writing style you can change patterns in your life.

It is an intriguing idea. I like the idea of writing carefully in a beautiful style. I’m not sure if changing your writing to match Vimala’s is as important as being intentional with your script. I resist her suggested style mainly because I have developed my own calligraphic style that I have such fun writing.

I love calligraphy and I spend far too much time playing around with font choices when I’m starting a new creative project. I often write my affirmations and intentions in calligraphy and I have found that my wishes can manifest very quickly for me when I do. I write with a pen so rarely these days that it is a fun adventure to write with both creativity and intention.

What a neat thought, though, to change our everyday writing from a bunch of scribbles to something beautiful. Perhaps that is a metaphor for the change in our thoughts; as our writing becomes more beautiful our thoughts do too.

Inner Ally vs. Inner Critic

My writer’s group homework this month is to make friends with my Inner Ally and ask her “What makes me great?” as a writer. A large part of our discussion centred on the dynamic between our writing selves and our inner critic. We tend to have very well developed inner critics with very loud obnoxious voices, but our inner allies are … where are they… what do they sound like…what do they say?

The idea of activating your inner ally comes from SARK’s book “Make Your Creative Dreams Real“. It is a wonderful resource for anyone in a creative field. It is filled with many wonderful ideas to kick your butt out of bed to start living your creative potential. Highly recommended.

The inner critic is gruff, grumpy, easily dissatisfied, easily distracted, scared, tired, and demanding. The good news is that the critic is easily distracted. I like to visualize my inner critic as a demanding, bratty child that is just causing trouble because they are bored. I give my little critic something fun to do while I work like going to the playground. I have spent a lot of time with my inner critic, but not much with my inner ally.

Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, displaying her a...

Image via Wikipedia

My inner ally has a voice like a good friend, she is kind and patient, she is enthusiastic like a cheerleader. She is also strong and can happily say no to things that pull her off track. She can roar as loud as any goddess and is always looking out for my best interests,like a mama bear protecting her cub. She is the part of me that speaks up whenever I say ‘No, thank you”, and whenever I say “I choose…”. She is soft and comforting, like a warm hug, but just never try to convince her that it is ok to compromise your spirit. She is no pushover and that is a very good thing. If I were to draw her, she might look like Wonder Woman, feminine and strong. Or she might look like a fierce goddess like Kali, who slays demons of ego, but saves babies on the battlefield. Or she might be like a jungle cat, nursing her babies in between hunts. Or she might look just like me.

Just Keep Writing, writing, writing, writing!

Keyboard

Image by ericnvntr via Flickr

I’ve been writing everyday since early October as part of the 2011 Post a Day Challenge. I love it. It is a challenge to my writing muscles and to my ego. I’m now convinced that a regular commitment to writing is the antidote to any form of writer’s block.

I’ve been through writer’s block before, while writing my master’s thesis. I clearly recall the clenching rush of panic that would sweep through me every time I approached the computer. Then, I was paralyzed by the thought of the thesis defense. Truly, criticism is the great slayer of the creative impulse. I got through it then by making a commitment to show up at the keyboard and solely focus on one sentence at a time. The 2011 Post a Day Challenge feels very similar to me.

It has the same familiar wrestle when I sit to write. The inner critic peers over my shoulder and suggests that I have nothing to write about. But everyday I have something to share, so everyday the inner critic gets quieter. So the more I write, the easier it gets. I find it frees up space in my mind, it quiets worries and tames the ego.

I have been given a great reminder that to be a writer you must write. Not just once in a while, but everyday, like breathing. I created this blog as a place to freely write without trying to get it perfect, or limit myself in anyway. It creates a safe haven for my fledgling creative impulses.

I suggest this to any other writers out there.

  1. Create a cosy venue for your writing where you are not restricted by the annoying taunts of your inner critic. Think of it as safe space where the normal rules don’t apply to you.
  2. Write from your heart. Don’t delete anything. Keep moving forward.
  3. Write something everyday. (As my husband put it “SEO’s don’t care what you write. You could write ‘Fart. Fart. Fart.’ and it would increase your visibility”)
  4. Give yourself praise for the act of writing, not for how good you think it is. I like to read my posts again after they are published. I also get a little thrill out of the feeling of being a member of the postaday2011 tag. You could also find some gold stars and reward your inner kindergartener.
  5. Editing is dead last. Leave it alone. There is a reason why every major writer has an editor who is a whole separate human being. Creating and editing are two completely different skills. Think of it as adding the ice cream to your pie before you bake it; it makes a giant mess. Seriously, don’t edit till the end.
  6. Enjoy the process and hang on for the ride!

Here Come Clown Feet

I recently went to the Cirque du Soliel production of Ovo in Calgary. It is a truly mesmerizing performance where we are greeted with the many ways a human body can move. I am amazed at the creativity of the performance, the costumes and the brilliant live music.

More than the actual performance, there is something truly magical that happens at the circus. Business men and women, weary from a long week, ooh and aah, they laugh and gasp. They get shaken out of their every day experience and they become filled with wonder. The beauty of Cirque du Soliel is the sense of play and fun that pervades every aspect of the performance. As adults we often forget to play. We are reminded of the importance of play when we hang out with children. With kids, everything is play, every experience and object is regarded with an attitude of play. You can almost see them calculating how much fun they can have in any given situation. Us big people would do well to play more in our lives.

Play is not just important to health, it is vital. We take great care to eat our vegetables, drink water and exercise, but how often do we just play for the sake of fun. This is not necessarily the same as playing a game; where there are rules, points and winning on the line. I’m talking about goofy, pointless, rule-less, free-form fun. Things like stomping through a pile of leaves or rolling down a hill. I have the honour of watching a little master of play, my three-year old son, create new ways to have fun with leaves and sticks and rocks. He is teaching me how important stopping to have fun is for a person to be whole and complete. True health is remembering how to play like a child.

So play is something we should all take very, very seriously. 🙂 And the talented artists and athletes that work at Cirque du Soliel take their play very seriously indeed. That is why I would love to give them reflexology treatments. The whole concept of running away to join the circus is fascinating to me. I think they would have some of the most interesting feet, and interesting stories, I might ever encounter.

I imagine that they are all nomads at heart and they find their home wherever their feet land. Their feet might be rough and tough on the surface, but they are probably some of the softest, most flexible feet around. Flexible feet are a mirror of a flexible body and, more importantly, a flexible mind. Pliable feet indicate a willingness to change and the courage to become better in all aspects of life. When I feel that flexibility in a person’s foot I can tell that there is a courageous and sensitive heart connected to those feet.

The foot is the anchor of our body. Our whole skeleton is balanced over our feet every time we take a step. Our feet are the pivot that we use to see the world. Imagine, if our feet are that important to us, think of how important they would be to an acrobat. Landing, leaping, balancing… it all comes down to the foot.

I think each performer’s feet would be very different. There would be very big feet and some tiny feet. Some might not feel much at all, and just feel relaxed after a treatment. Others might have crunchy bits, hidden away under well protected callouses. The crunchy bits, as the theory goes, are uric acid crystals in the foot. They give a very distinctive crunch, crunch, crunch when they are worked and sometimes I can even hear them. The crunchies, or cornflakes as my husband calls them, are almost always associated with a reflex point for the body where energy needs to flow. Reflexology is all about reconnecting that flow of energy, or chi, so the result is vibrant health. And health would be so important to someone who uses their body as an instrument of art.

The circus performer, I imagine, has a number of challenges to keep a high level of energy for shows night after night. Besides the actual physical demands of their performance and training, they are living and working intensively with the same group of people day after day. Keeping and maintaining relationships, with co-workers and with friends and family back home, might be one of the biggest challenges of the job. I imagine after living a life in the circus, no one outside of it could really understand the joys and struggles that make it so captivating. It is a roving family of independent, intensely creative people, who have jobs that have little room for error.

Hmm, that makes me wonder if they have callouses on their pinkie toes. The baby toe is a precious little piggy. It represents independence and control. When there are callouses or stiffness in the little toe, it generally reflects someone who is seriously perfectionistic. It can also go the other way too, instead of having too much control, they don’t have any control and addiction issues can arise. Check out your own pinkie toe and see if this holds up for you. Just ask yourself, how many times have I stubbed my baby toe? Could there be a connection to control there? See! 🙂

I wonder if the performers are as brave with their hearts as they are with their bodies. Do they have courage when it comes to other aspects of their lives. I would imagine that some would be brave on every level and maybe some who would like to be. How fascinating it would be to see beneath the makeup and costumes to the person underneath. The child at heart. The person whose job it is to teach us to remember to laugh, to remember to wonder, to remember our joy. This is more than a circus act, it is magic.

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