"Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark. 
In effect, the people who change our lives the most begin to 
sing to us while we are still in darkness. If we listen to 
their song, we will see the dawning of a new part of ourselves."

Rabindranth Tagore

Existential Intelligence is the sensitivity and capacity to engage questions about human existence – how we got here, whether we have a purpose, and whether there is meaning in Life. Existential intelligence embraces the exploration of aesthetics, philosophy, religion and values like beauty, truth, and goodness. A strong existential intelligence allows human beings to see their place in the big picture, be it in the classroom, community, world, or universe.

First proposed by Howard Gardner, existential intelligence is one of nine theorized intelligences and is considered to be amoral – that is, it and the other eight categories of human intelligence can be used either constructively or destructively.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Artist's Way

Zenna hopped out of the car. She was nine, and on a girls’ softball team for the first time.

“See you at noon!” I called, as she disappeared onto the diamond, and into a sea of other small girls wielding baseball bats.

I turned to her four-year-old sister, Charlotte, belted up in the back seat. “Let’s go over to my house and water the garden.” She smiled and nodded expectantly, remembering the fun of playing with the hose.

Charlotte and Zenna are half-sisters. Charlotte’s mother, Erin, was my ex-husband’s second wife. I know it gets complicated; these co-mingled families with multiple spouses and children. Suffice it to say that I felt it was important to reach out to Erin (since I was familiar with her husband), and inviting Charlotte to spend regular time with us gave our daughters a chance to feel like real sisters.

The drive from the ballpark to my house winds through a gorge and across a dam. The trees were in full flower. The green was greener than green. What a glorious morning. Perfect for playing around with the hose in the backyard with a four year old.

Halfway up the last hill, the car sputtered to a stop. Holy cow. Out of gas. One of my specialties. My artist brain gets going on a creative track in my head and before you know it the car is coasting to the berm. I once ran out of gas in the middle of Nebraska, thirty miles from any gas station. That’s another story.

This current story is so old it happened before everyone and their brother had cell phones. What to do? I got out of the car and opened the back passenger door. As I was unbuckling Charlotte’s seat belt, a young man in a Ford truck pulled up. “Looks like you could use some help.” he observed. I explained the gas problem and he detached a mobile phone from the dashboard of the truck. What were the chances? In no time at all, I’d reached my darling Darling, who agreed to bring the gas required for our rescue.

The nice young man drove away and I sat down on the curb, patting the spot next to me. Charlotte sat. She turned and peered under the hedge at our backs. She reached into the hedge and pulled out a slightly soggy tortilla, and examined it with interest. “Don’t touch that!” I squawked. Yikes, what would her mother think if she knew I was allowing her baby to play with street trash?

Charlotte looked at me with very serious, enormous brown eyes. Without saying a word, she went to the car and took out the rather large satchel she’d brought, which I assumed contained her swimsuit and nightgown. Reaching into the satchel she retrieved a large pair of yellow rubber gloves. Pulling them securely over her small hands, she returned to the curb. With a look I can only describe as triumphant, she picked up the tortilla and turned it over several times, studying it before she tossed it back into the hedge. I burst out laughing.

I think of this story often because it is a great model for our artist selves. Do you carry your satchel of assorted tools and supplies with you on your daily rounds? What do you need to pack, in order to freely examine the surprising, sweet, dirty, and random objects that cross your path?

Sometimes lessons come in simple packages, like the logic of a four year old.

When I regaled Erin with Charlotte’s story later in the day, I asked her what she thought inspired the addition of the rubber gloves to Charlotte’s repertoire. The answer was easy for her. Harriet the Spy. Now there’s a model for artists. If you’ve never read it, pick up a copy soon. And start packing your satchel.


  1. Love this story! One time we were setting up at a camp with a group of junior high kids. There were no outlets and we wanted to heat water for cocoa. (It was a cold, damp night) There was a single light bulb hanging down from the ceiling. I pulled a screw in outlet from my purse and we were in business. Needless to say, I was the heroine of the night. I don't even know why it was in my purse.

  2. The story speaks to me of freedom--the freedom to see and touch and interact with this incredible world. Playing golf the other day, I found a skeleton of a leaf--magnificent! What else is out there? All the miracles our maturity often overlooks. Rubber gloves, yes. Freedom in yet another guise--thank you!

  3. This story, after the admonition of part one, remnds me of The Happiness Project's rule: the opposite of a great truth is also a great truth. We can't carry everything with us all the time, but there certainly is some stuff we simply shouldn't let go of. How to decide what goes in what pile? That's the challenge.

  4. You sounded like my husband! As we walk the dog in the city, I'm always picking up things in the streets and along the sidewalks that interest me.....no gloves! I often think, after the fact, that I should pack a pair of latex gloves in my pocket 'just in case'....but I never do! The one thing that I do pack is my iPhone,not so much for the phone as for the camera, sketchbook, notebook, etc.