"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.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Nitric Oxide

If you’ve stood over a print table in your studio, or sat on the couch stitching, you’re familiar with the flush of pleasure that accompanies a creative act. Making is good. And making is broad – encompassing all kinds of activities. Yesterday I roasted vegetables straight from the Farmers’ Market, and broiled peaches with brown sugar and cayenne. A dollop of vanilla yogurt and Yowza! It was as rewarding to be in the kitchen as it is to be in the studio.

And guess what? The creative acts firing up your hands and unleashing your imagination are actually having a positive effect on your physical body. Chemically. No kidding.

I’ve been listening, as I’ve mentioned in other posts, to Christiane Northrup, in a presentation called Inside-Out Wellness. Dr. Northrup is famous for her research into women’s body and mind issues. It’s no surprise that she’s writing about menopause now, because that’s the stage of Life she is experiencing herself. But what she has to say is relevant to any woman at any age, and what she has to say about nitric oxide is relevant to everyone, male or female.

Nitric oxide is produced in the body naturally, and released in abundance in our nervous system as well as all of our organs when we engage in sensual and sexual pleasures. Don’t confuse nitric oxide with nitrous oxide – that’s laughing gas, and while this new research might make you happy, it’s nothing to laugh at.

Doris Ogden, Ph.D. works with Dr. Northrup, and wrote, “ Her latest book offers astounding new information about nitric oxide, the Wow! molecule that continually resets our ability to connect body, mind, heart, and spirit. To activate this, we don’t need a pill or a patch, but we do need to care for ourselves. Dr. Northrup prescribes plenty of sleep, exercise, life-giving foods, letting go of resentment, and opening up to affirmation and love.”

And based on what she’s written, an hour you spend knitting or gardening, or painting or indulging yourself in making – in whatever form pleases you – is raising the level of nitric oxide in your body. It’s akin to the runner’s high we’ve heard so much about. The activity itself contributes to well being in a way that can be documented.

It’s a struggle to find balance in our lives. We take on too many projects, we care for the people around us, Life throws curveballs we haven’t anticipated. In the course of care taking and plain old living we often lose track of ourselves. Listening to Dr. Northrup’s inspiring encouragement to make and do the things that bring pleasure – for the sake of good health - reminded me of this Wiccan passage, which is relevant no matter what your spiritual path:

“All of our activities should be influenced by the pleasure,
not the pain, principle. We have not come into the world to suffer,
or to inflict suffering.
Every day do something that is good only for you. Selfish?
No. Self possessed.
Balance it out by doing something equally good
for the benefit of all...
This will depend on your opportunities.
Only you will know what you can do.
If you are an artist use your power to be original-
to try to heal the wounds you see around you.
Everything we do needs passion to be done well.
Passion is precious. It indicates good mental health.
Use it as an important energy source all day.”

Take care of yourself. Indulge in a bit of creative making today.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Facing Down Fear

Last Monday I finally got back on my bike.

Two years ago on July 3, I went for my morning bike ride. The summer air is still fresh and cool in San Antonio at 7 a.m. I counted on my ride to clear my head –setting the tone for the day.

A mile from the house I encountered a small, white dog. He was so small he didn’t worry me. I didn’t even brake when he rushed the bike.

In what seemed like an eternity – but in what was probably less than a minute – I was face down, skidding on the pavement. The dog leaped into the pedals. I was thrown over the handlebars and onto the street.

Nine stitches in my mouth, two wrists so badly bruised I couldn’t drive for a week. Knees so jazzed up from hitting the street – literally – that I couldn’t exercise for several months without feeling the pain.

And no way could I bike.

I kept thinking about it though. I loved to ride. The gym didn’t do it. Running wasn’t a fit for me. I needed movement. Flow. Air.

It was a thought spurred by Dr. Christiane Northrup that got me back in the saddle. Dr. Northrup is a noted women’s health advocate. I’ve been listening to a great recording featuring her. Being reminded of the power and resilience of the female body is empowering, but what really struck me was the reality of what LIFE does to us if we allow it. Gradually, because of fear-based experience, we shut down. We take good things out of our lives. We lose our enthusiasm.

Sometimes we are just plain overwhelmed. I used to go to the post office and frequently noticed a woman come out of her large, weed-entangled house next door. Dressed in a bathrobe and slippers, she puttered in the yard and sometimes came across the street, presumably to check her mail. I went to that post office a lot over several years. The house grew noticeably shabbier and more infirm, as did its owner. One day I pulled into the parking lot and the house across the street had collapsed. “That could be me,” I thought to myself. “Too much house to take care of. It gets harder and harder…”

Eventually all human projects disintegrate and disappear. Only Nature perseveres.

I thought about selling my house, but decided it was a little early to go that route.
But after my accident I stopped biking.

We humans are fragile creatures and we would be foolish not to take care of ourselves. But every time we make a choice to leave something out or eliminate an activity we enjoy because we no longer have the courage or enthusiasm or heart to do it - our world narrows slightly. And then the inner house gets shabby. The lights dim.

I don’t want to live in the dark. Screwing up courage to get back on the bike took planning – and a fair amount of positive self talk. Consider cultivating this positive self talk, and pepper it with a nice dash of defiant self-esteem. I bought a better helmet, but also decided to focus on each block of my ride more carefully. If I see a dog, there isn’t any guarantee we can share the street amiably, but I deserve to be there too, and I am going to take my chances. Feeling the air is worth it. I choose each morning not to be afraid. Or to feel the fear and do it anyway.

And isn’t that what every tough, self-empowering choice is about – every single day? You may be afraid of what won’t happen if you go into the studio, but go there anyway. You might be intimidated about speaking up when it isn’t socially or politically correct, but how will you feel about yourself if you remain silent?

Don’t allow your world to narrow. Claim some small part of your joy back today. And relish the experience of it.

Friday, June 18, 2010

More Visual Poetry

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my consideration of the visual as a poetic opportunity.

Thanks to the readers who shared their own thoughts on this rich topic.

Busy lives ebb, flow and rollick. Mine has just calmed enough to allow additional thought and research time for visual poetry. To my delight, someone else has been on it - and for awhile. I discovered this is visual poetry in a late night web session. I am entranced. ALL those artists out there exploring the notion.

It is so encouraging. Check it out. I am pleased to say my submission was accepted and soon my chapbook of visual poetry will be in the company of many entertaining, magnificent, thought-provoking others.

More later, when my order of assorted chapbooks arrives.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Considering Craftsmanship

It’s humbling to admit that I’ve been in this field long enough to recognize myself as an artist/teacher people think of as established. That’s a weird feeling when you know you are still learning all the time. But it’s true, and it brings with it a certain set of realizations that are slightly uncomfortable because they’re hard to talk about without offending someone. They’re the elephants in the room.

I’ve been reading a great book entitled Shop Class as Soulcraft, by Matthew B Crawford. A white collar think tank guy, Crawford chucked it all to open a bike shop specializing in vintage motorcycle repair. He surveys historical twists and turns in the gradual separation of skills and labor into blue collar and white collar jobs, and in the process makes a strong case for the intrinsic value of learning to do something well. To choose to practice fine craftsmanship.

“Craftsmanship entails learning to do one thing really well, while the idea of the new economy (current social trend) is to be able to learn new things, celebrating potential rather than achievement.”

That pretty much sums up one of the concerns I have about my field – that is, textiles and surface design. What about refinement? What about craftsmanship?

Don’t jump my case. There is a huge indy craft movement out there – if you aren’t aware of it, check out Handmade Nation, or spoonflower.com or just Google indy craft movement and see where it leads you. This is GOOD. Making SHOULD be taken back from an elitist art world that's been pushing the self-serving notion for about a hundred years that most of us aren’t artists, won’t ever be artists and shouldn’t even try. A little bit of rebel energy is exactly what we need here. Every human's birthright is the flush of pleasure and adrenaline that accompanies the experience of making. Let’s just take art out of the equation entirely. It’s only a word anyway.

We all have to start somewhere. Yes, students copy teacher’s work. It’s a basic step in the learning process. Yes, some people never get past derivative, and some people never get past pre-packaged commercial products – paint by numbers, embroidery kits, and quilt books that dictate where and how much fabric to buy in order to copy the pattern to the letter. The proliferation of pre-packaged kits for children is horrifying. And what a shame. Because self esteem comes from jumping off into the creative unknown. Even if it doesn’t work out perfectly, it’s still yours and it’s still ok. And you can do it again. And get better. It just takes practice.

Consider. We are fortunate to live in a time and culture where we can have and do just about anything. Magazines arrive daily, packed with new approaches, fun things to try, new twists on old materials. Go, go, go. Collect them all and win a prize. Try this – you’ll be finished in an afternoon. And then try this – it’s fast and easy. Fast and easy. Fast and easy. Yikes.

I want thought. I want practice. I am a teacher. I see myself even more clearly as a guide. I don’t want to shut down anyone’s creative impulse and I don’t want to shut down the fun. But I’d love to slow things down.

And I do want to keep focus, and craftsmanship and refinement in the picture.

Consider. Anyone who writes for the public and/or teaches has a huge responsibility to monitor the levels of self-interest that fuel an essay. So I’ve thought long and hard about whether it's fair to be critical of the fun and easy approach. Isn’t it ok if it gets people started? Won’t people eventually long for depth and breadth in their process?

Maybe. I've realized it's not for me to judge. But it is for me as the public guide I espouse to be, to stand firm in my belief that refinement is good. Finding your own visual voice is good. Learning to do one thing really well is excellent.

Remember the old adage – "You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find the handsome prince?"
Gee just writing that phrase gave me the creeps. It’s so sexist and dated. But the basic premise is true. Human beings have preferences and until you try out a lot of stuff you don’t really know what your preferences are. But once you do know what they are, there is merit in sticking to them. It’s the basis of good mental health to know your center and honor it. That might mean sticking with one thing and getting good at it. Going for the achievement of something really fine, just for the enjoyment of the challenge. Something perfectly crafted in an imperfect world.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Personal Time Saps/Addiction

True confession time. I have been in the throes of an addiction that almost got the best of me.

I’ve been playing Poppit on line.

It all started in February in Las Vegas. I’d never been. Never really had an interest in Vegas to tell the truth. But my oldest, dearest friends convinced me to join them, which is how I found myself sitting at a slot machine at nine o-clock in the morning, with a glass of champagne in one hand and a controller in the other – madly trying to pop clusters of multi-colored balloons. Two days and 40.00 later I’d shot my gambling wad such as it was, and I was hooked. Thank God we were booked on a noon flight home.

Then a couple of months ago I started surfing the net, researching my interest in visual poetry. Don’t ask me how the little devil on my shoulder materialized, but when it whispered “Google Poppit…” I didn’t even think twice. Done. I was introduced to Club Pogo on-line game land.

It started innocently enough. I played for free and the games were interspersed with tedious commercials for Levitra and an assortment of other products I don’t want or need. (and BTW has anyone else noticed that Levitra sounds an awful lot like levitate? Is that deliberate?) I fooled around playing Poppit, but it wasn’t happening and the ads were boring so I never lasted long.

But then the real trouble began. I discovered an on-line tutorial of Poppit tips. I started winning. I wasn’t scoring big, but my Type A personality kicked in, and I started obsessing about getting better. There was a logic to the game that appealed to me and I found myself playing for an hour at a time – as a reward for finishing this or that boring admin task. And I played in airports, waiting for flights to Ohio, where I’ve been helping my mother move into a new house. I was stressed and tired and in retrospect – vulnerable. Poppit was the path of least resistance. And anyway, wasn’t I warding off Alzheimer’s by keeping my brain active?

Vanishing were the hours spent thinking and writing about the creative process. Studio time? I only had a few minutes here and there because of the hectic schedule. It was so much easier to play another round of Poppit instead. After all, maybe I could beat my highest score. Once I got it figured out I’d probably quit playing anyway.

I kept playing until one night last week, when I wakened at four a.m. because colored balloons were popping in my dreams. It was worse than an ear worm – a song you can’t get out of your head. I felt crazy. I had to do something.

I decided to quit cold turkey. I still wanted to figure out the strategies that have given long term players an edge - some of them have racked up millions of points! I happen to know how long ButterflyWingLV has been playing in order to amass more than 17 million points. Since 2001. I know what her win and loss record is because there are actually stats on line, and one of the most seductive aspects of Poppit is the ability to look up high scorers and compare yourself to other players.

But amassing 17 million points since 2001 – how many studio hours does that translate into? I don’t even want to know. It’s not for me to judge. All I know is that I want my unassigned time to go toward something that matters, and Poppit isn’t it. Winning? A kick. Strategy? Satisfying, I guess. But meaning? Priceless.

My whole Poppit experience is just another reminder that we have choices and can exercise free will for the use of at least some of our unassigned time. And that D word – discipline – is what it comes down to. I started writing Studio on my To Do list, and then I blocked out time on my weekly calendar – as a reminder of what really counts. Marriage counselors advise couples to set aside time for togetherness – whatever form togetherness takes, and artists must set aside time for making. Because without intention, insidious, unimportant trivia sneaks in and eats up time.

So think about your own day to day. Got a Poppit equivalent? Consider popping it. The artist in you will cheer. No one has enough time. Choose to make the most of yours.