Tips, Writer's life, Writing

Level Thinking – Habits for meeting deadlines

Last week I wrote about habits we need to build and use each time we start major projects. This week I’m looking at the other end, habits we need to use as a major project draws to a close. That’s a fancy way of saying, surviving deadlines.

“I am so grateful to my husband/wife/spouse/partner/kids for learning to survive on cold pizza/respecting my closed office door/being able to amuse themselves when I was on a deadline.”

In one form or another, I’ve seen this sentence in dozens of book acknowledgments.

Deadline.

That word has a wonderful way of concentrating the attention. We know it’s coming; in many cases we know the exact date it’s coming. Here’s what we need to do to get ready.

Once more, get enough sleep

Just like last week, the first thing we need is enough sleep. Those of us who have faced deadlines are now rolling on the floor laughing because we know that sleep is the first deadline casualty. Just let us survive on three hours of sleep a night for the next two week’s and then, I’ll go to bed and sleep for a week.

The body doesn’t work like that. Research has shown that we can’t recover lost sleep, but we can put deposits into a sleep bank by pre-sleeping. So if we know or even have an inkling that a deadline looms in a couple of weeks, we need to go to bed an hour early or get up an hour later, or take a nap during the day. Every extra hour of sleep that we rack up goes into the sleep bank for withdrawal at deadline time.

Pre-everything

Deadline preparation includes pre-everything. Pre-shop for personal items we don’t want to run out of at ten o’clock at night. Pre-cook and freeze meals. Pre-make a list of no-cook/little cook meals and post it on the refrigerator door. Most of all, prepare our friends.

Good, healthy relationships are ones we can take to the bank

Good people, in healthy relationships, love to help. Good people in healthy relationships may have no clue how to really be helpful, so we might have to prime their pumps.

Who do we know who is a good person, with whom we have a healthy relationship? ” Be honest. If we love our sister dearly, but there are issues, deadline time is not the time to rely on her for support. If we have a friend who resembles a remora (a sharksucker fish with an appendage to take a firm hold against the skin of larger marine animals), a voicemail message a la Jim Rockford, may be in our best interests.

“Hi, it’s Sharon. The Wicked Witch of the West and I are on a horrendous deadline until the end of October. Call the witch’s castle after Halloween and we’ll do coffee.” Tip: set our available date a week later than we think it will be. Maybe my deadline is really October 22, but I don’t have to tell anyone that. And I know I will want to use the extra time to decompress.

When we’ve whittled the list down our list to a three to five good, healthy people, ask each of them for one specific thing. “I’m heading for this horrendous deadline. Could you

  • bake me one of your wonderful apple pies?”
  • call me once a day for the next two weeks and leave an encouraging message on my voice mail?”
  • go to the library for me once a week and leave the trashiest romance novels you can find in my mailbox?”
  • come to my house Tuesday at 12:30 and force me to go with you for a quick lunch at Gobbles?”
  • go walking with me for a half-hour every afternoon at 5:00 o’clock?”

The big five for working under pressure

Excuse me for a minute, while I take off my writer’s hat and put on my nursing cap. Yes, I still have one. It makes me look like a sailor on shore leave. Here’s the straight gen on five healthy deadline habits

  • For every cup of coffee or tea we drink, drink one cup of water, too. At the very least, this forces us to take bathroom breaks more often. Also, even 2% dehydration, an amount too small to make us thirsty, decreases our ability to concentrate and be creative.
  • Every hour, work for 50 minutes, and then get up and move for 10. Set a timer if necessary as a reminder.
  • Nibble on raw vegetables, whole grain crackers, fruit, and nuts. If allergies are a concern, find healthy alternatives that provide fibre and, above all, complex carbohydrates, the kind that metabolize slowly. 30 minutes of brain activity lowers brain glucose level by 2 to 5 grams, which we need to replace every 30 minutes. And, no, we can’t save it up by working 6 hours without nourishment, and then eating a few cookies. Energy in has to balance energy out.
  • Some people write with music in the background, some people don’t. In any case, listen to music every day. This does not mean blaring rock. Go for something soothing, inspirational, maybe even mystic.
  • Turn off the television. Really off. Leave it off.

“Background TV is an ever-changing audiovisual distractor that disrupts a child’s ability to sustain various types of play. [It] is potentially a chronic environmental risk factor affecting most American children.” ~Marie Evans Schmidt, research associate, Center on Media and Child Health. Boston’s Children’s Hospital, July 2008. If television is bad for children, it’s gotta be bad for the creative child in all of us.

Above all, remember that deadlines are temporary phenomena, like tornadoes and strobe lighting. We will get by with a little help from our friends.

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” ~Douglas Adams, English humorist & science fiction novelist (1952 – 2001)

I  hope you’ll be back next week, Tuesday, September 16, for Write the Novel — Flash Symbols, micro-details that, like tertiary plots, add zest and sparkle to a story.

Next Thursday, September 18, we’ll finish up the habits series with Habits for Ending. Far too many of us celebrate far too little when we finish a major project.

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My point of view, Writer's life, Writing

Level Thinking – Habits for Starting a Book

Unless you’re in one of those unfortunate families that started school in mid-August, I’ll bet the kids where you live aren’t really back in school. I mean, really back in school, not in the adjustment phase. Somewhere past new clothes, new haircuts, new backpacks, and into sensible breakfasts, homework after supper, and refrigerator doors festooned with schedules.

I always loved going back to school because I was a routine-loving gal, who was overly fond of school supplies. Okay, I had a touch of obsessive-compulsiveness, and I adored school supplies, especially new boxes of crayons, all sharp, pointy, and standing in rows. The first thing I did was gently tip them out onto a soft surface so they wouldn’t break, and reorganized them by color families. Obsessive-compulsive.

“I only write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.” ~W. Somerset Maughan, writer

Contrary to the myth that writers are free-spirits who have lousy health habits, bohemian lifestyles, and sustain their productivity with coffee, other substances, and good reviews, writers who keep going for the long haul develop healthy, successful habits. We need different habits for starting a major project; for handling pressure; and for ending a major project.

Let’s start with starting a project. What habits do we need to develop?

Enough sleep

When we begin a major project, the first thing we need is consistent, restful sleep. Current recommendation is at least 7 hours a night, but a huge portion of adults are getting by — or think they are getting by — on 6 hours or less every night. Night after night. Here’s 7 reasons that is a very bad idea.

At least once a week, we need to sleep an extra hour. Until Daylight Savings Time ends on November 2, we might need to sleep an extra hour twice a week. The reason is that our bodies run on a 25-hour cycle; clocks run on a 24-hour cycle. Getting extra sleep one or two morning a week resets our body’s internal rhythms.

Plan Treats

Set-up treats ahead of time. One year my family gave me a tea subscription. Every two months, a small package of tea arrived. Some months that little gift was just the boost I needed to keep going.

We might pre-purchase gift cards for ourselves, or season tickets to something fun, or set up a dozen envelopes with a little mad money in each one, to be used in the future for small treats when the writing is either going terrific or really, really rotten. Creative people desperately need good things to look forward to on a regular basis, so we have to pre-prime the creative pump by assuring ourselves, in advance, that goodies are on the way.

Honor Research and Inspiration

Announcing that we are establishing a routine for research comes easier for many writers than justifying the other types of time. “I’m off to Majorca to do research,” slips easily from our mouth to be greeted by our friends’ jealous groans. Don’t we wish? More often, it’s “I’m off to the library to strain my eyes at the microfiche reader,” but even our non-writing friends understand that writers must do research.

We also need to establish inspiration habits, which are completely different than doing research. Research fills our notebooks. Inspiration fills our hearts. Think of collecting inspiration as being akin to a sailing ship taking on provisions before the crew sets out on an around-the-world journey. We need to start our book journey with our creative quartermaster stores filled to the brim.

However we organize our new creative project; whether it’s in notebooks, folders, or on an electronic writing program, devote a section to Inspiration. Collect quotes and pictures. Bookmark 25 to 50 web sites for people people and activities that get our juices going. Visit those sites regularly for quick pick-us-up inspiration.

Honor thinking

Most of all, when we begin a new project, we need time to hear ourselves think. This is often the hardest thing to justify to ourselves. “But I think about my book all the time: in the shower, in the car, while I’m waiting in the dentist’s office, etc.”

In a study about work, first graders were presented with two pictures. In one a man hoed his garden. In the other he sat back in a chair with his hands behind his head, staring into space. The children were asked, “Which man is working?”

One first-grader selected the man staring into space and could not be dissuaded to change her mind. Her father was a writer. She recognized that sitting back in a chair, staring into space was work for some people. We should all be so lucky in our family and friends.

Shut out the world

As writers standing on the precipice of a new project, the most deadly line we hear begins, “As long as you’re not doing anything . . .” My advice here is simple. Lie. Outright lie if you need to. “But I am working on something. I started my new novel last week and I’m already up to my eyebrows in research and outlining.” Then go to our offices, set every electronic device we own to babysit itself for while, and sit in our chairs with our hands behind our heads, staring into space. It will do us and our incipient plot worlds of good.

Let’s see, what are we working on?

Next Tuesday, September 9, on Write the Novel, I’ll have thoughts on Flash Symbols — micro-details that hook readers in very sneaky ways.

Next Thursday, September 11, come back for more habits writers need, or how to survive living in a pressure cooker.

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Art, I made this, My point of view, Writer's life, Writing

Level Thinking – Merit Badges 4

Today we conclude our summer series of merit badges for writers.

 

Merit badge Writers of a Certain Age

For those of us who have been around a while

Writers of a Certain Age

This one is for writers who have been around a while. We began our writing careers writing in longhand or using a manual typewriter. We remember how mimeograph ink smelled and the way it turned our fingers purple. We erased on carbon copies with a small brass stencil and a crumbly erasing pencil, which had a white eraser on one end and a stiff blue brush on the other end. We sent a SASE with our submissions and bought International Reply Coupons if our submission was going to another country. We had to look up words in a dictionary and did research by going in person to the library.

We’ve been around for a long time and this badge celebrates our persistence! You go, girls and guys!

Merit Badge Writers of the Purple Page

To celebrate those slightly embarrassing things we’ve written

Writers of the Purple Page

This is for those of us who have written—let’s say anything involving parts of the body or clothing, which throbbed, heaved, ripped, or enlarged, or characters blessed with milk-white skin and raven locks. If we’ve ever written anything that would embarrass an elderly, conservative relative. If we’ve ever written fan fiction, and had a hot date with someone else’s character. If we’ve ever written under our burlesque name.

Burlesque, for those of us who don’t yet qualify for the Writers of a Certain Age badge, was a form of entertainment popular in Britain and the United States from approximately 1880 to 1920. It involved ribald humor and dances that would embarrass an elderly, conservative relative. The women who danced in burlesque theaters worked under pseudonyms, sort of nom-de-danse names.

To find your burlesque name, take the name of your first pet combined with the street you lived on when you were ten years old. My burlesque name is Blackie Freemont, which has a nice ring to it. I may name a character that one day.

Of course, this formula doesn’t work, if we lived on a numbered instead of a named street. In that case, try this alternate formula: combine an object that is either sweet or has a lovely odor with the name of a bird. Rose Nightengale? Robin Cinnamon? Hey, those beat out Bowser 68th Avenue.

What better symbol for writers of the purple page than a Mardi Gras mask? As they say where I come from, Laissez les bon temps roulier—Let the good times roll. If we’re a little hesitant about going public about having written purple prose, you have my permission to keep this badge in a drawer instead of displaying it on a badge sash.

Merit Badge Stop Me Before I Volunteer Again

It’s okay to stop. Right now. Really.

Stop Me Before I Volunteer Again

I don’t have to explain this one. Those of us who have earned it know who we are. Even though our contributions are hugely appreciated it’s okay to stop volunteering! Why not spend the next few months at our word processors instead? Writing a new novel would be hugely appreciated, too.

We can’t burn the candle at both ends forever.

I hope you’ll be back Tuesday, August 19, for Write the Novel: Primary Plots. After all, they are what the book is about.

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Art, I made this, My point of view, Writer's life, Writing

Level Thinking – Merit Badges – Part 3

Today we continue with our series of merit badges for writers and readers because we all need an Atta-a-Girl once in a while.

Series Maven

This is the second in our badges for readers as well as writers.

Sometimes we just have to have it all. Every book in a series, lined up in perfect order on our bookshelf.

 

Merit Badge Series Maven

Waiting for the last one

Award yourself this badge if you will go or have gone to any lengths to own a complete series and/or read it in order. This includes—but is not limited to—bugging librarians, requesting inter-library loans, dropping not so gentle hints to friends and family as to what you want for your birthday or holiday gift, sending out general SOS calls for books on the Internet, driving to another city to buy a copy of the book, or paying an exorbitant amount for the one book needed to complete your series.

Book Tour Survivor

Being a writer isn’t easy. Being a writer on a book tour is a test of humor, stamina, patience, planning skills, and the ability not to trust GPS to get us where we need to go, but rather take out a map and read it.

Merit Badge Book Tour Survivor

What do you mean, you think we’re in the wrong state?

 

Award yourself, and any traveling companions, this badge if you have done at least 2 of the following:

  • Laughed until you cried listening to other authors describe the machinations of their book tour, only to find out later that everything they said was true and then some.
  • Spent three hours making conversation with two bookstore employees and the store cat because you scheduled your signing opposite a major local sporting event, the Rolling Stones return tour, and/or the worse weather the town has had in 50 years. “We never have hail in October, honest!”
  • Added an extra stop on your tour at the last minute, but without checking a map. Then you found out that the Springfield you thought you were signing in—the one only 30 minutes from your last stop—isn’t the right Springfield. The one you’re committed to is half-way across the state, but not to worry. You can still make it if you drive all night.
  • Eaten the most incredible meals, in the most bizarre circumstances and laughed yourself silly while eating it because you know what a great story this will make at the next convention you attend.

Extreme Researcher

It’s not easy being a writer’s family member. There are questions significant others learn not to ask. Do I smell gunpowder? Why is there a raw chicken in the sink with knitting needles stuck in it? The Poison Lady returned your call. She’ll be home tonight if you want to call her back.

They also learn to adopt a nonchalant stance and fix their eyes on the horizon as we ask police officers if we can hold their tazers; airport baggage security checkers what’s the weirdest thing they’ve ever found in a suitcase; and construction workers how long it would take a body to sink into freshly poured concrete.

Merit Badge Extreme Researcher

Does this or doesn’t this look like a poison blow fish?

Award yourself this badge when you have done at least one activity from each category listed below in order to research a book:

Research in extreme places

You’ve done any of the following activities for a book: snake or other wild animal handling, skydiving; scuba diving; mountain climbing; rappelling; skateboarding, break dancing, in-line skating over the age of 55, or cave exploration. Going with a guide through Carlsbad Caverns doesn’t count for the last one. We’re talking the light-on-your-helmet, wedging yourself through tiny holes kind of cave exploration.

Danger pay research

Gone on a ride-along with a police officer or taken a civilian police course; learned to fire a gun or fight with a knife, taken up a martial art, or attended a para-military basic training course. Give yourself full credit, and award yourself the badge, if you served in the military.

Researching the law

Done something slightly illegal. If you’ve done something blatantly illegal, I don’t want to hear about it. I’m putting my hands over my ears. I’m not listening. La-la-la-la-la-la-la.

As often as not our whole self…engages itself in the most trivial of things, the shape of a particular hill, a road in the town in which we lived as children, the movement of wind in grass. The things we shall take with us when we die will nearly all be small things.

~Storm Jameson, That Was Yesterday, 1932

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Art, I made this, My point of view, Writer's life, Writing

Level Thinking: Merit Badges for Writers – Part 2

Last week, I began a series of merit badges for writers. I’ve expanded this week to include a merit badge for readers as well.

First Aid for Writers Badge

First Aid for Writers

First Aid For Writers

This is not a badge for ordinary events, like printer jams or sightly missed deadlines. We should award ourselves this badge when we’ve survived those worst days of days. We’ve lost an entire manuscript and the last time we can remember making a backup was three months ago. Our publisher declared bankruptcy and didn’t tell us. We found out about it on Facebook. The agent we love sent an e-mail saying she’s re-evaluated her life and is changing careers. Real life has dealt us such a blow that we’re not sure we’ll ever be able to write again.

Here’s how we can render first aid to ourselves

  • Stop.
  • Sit down.
  • Say, “Sweetheart, you are in pain. Relax. Take a breath. Let’s pay attention to what is happening. Then we’ll figure out what to do.” ~Sylvia Boorstein, Zen teacher, author, and psychotherapist
  • Breathe slowly and steadily.
  • We are all part of a strong writers’ community. Trust other writers. We will be there to help.
Extreme Reader Badge

Readers need merit badges, too

Extreme Reader

Readers deserve merit badges as well as writers. Any reader can award herself this badge when she has completed at least 4 of these requirements.

  1. Someone has said to her at least once, “Turn off that light and go to sleep. Don’t make me come in there.”
  2. She finished a book sitting in the bathroom because she didn’t want the light to bother a significant other.
  3. She owns more than one book light. [I think our household’s current count is 7, but only 3 have working batteries.]
  4. She left clothes home in order to take more books on vacation.
  5. Her TBR (to-be-read) pile doubles as a piece of furniture.
  6. She’s left a bookstore or library thinking her collection is more extensive, and better organized.
  7. The first thing she does when moving to a new town is to find the library. Then she worries about non-essentials like schools, grocery stores, gas stations, and fire, police, and ambulance.
  8. The first gift she buys for a newborn is a book.
  9. When the clerk asks for her debit card, she automatically hand them her library card because it’s the most accessible one in her wallet.

Books are like lobster shells. We surround ourselves with them, then we grow out of them and leave them behind, as evidence of our earlier stages of development. ~Dorothy L. Sayers, mystery writer

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Level Thinking – Merit Badges for Writers, Part 1

1950s Girl Scout Handbook

My old friend

For those of you who don’t remember the dim mists of time, the 1953 edition of the U. S. Girl Scout Handbook was the last edition published before there were Juniors and Cadettes, each with her own handbook. Daisies and Ambassadors weren’t even a gleam of a thought. Nope, back in 1953 you were a Brownie, then a Scout, then a Senior Scout.

I bought a second-hand copy of this book because I’d unearthed a denim jacket on which I’d sewn my badges and other awards; I blush to say I couldn’t remember what all of them were.

I loved merit badges. Not only was earning them fun, but it was neat, at the end of the school year, to hear my name called and receive the badges, a smile, and a Scout handshake from my leader. Then came the fun of sewing them on my sash. Long before there were sewing machines that embroidered for you while you did something else, these 1 1/2” green circles were miniature art.

A few designs, like Adventurer, were ambitious, the entire badge covered with pale blue thread over which a tent and two green trees were embroidered. Most were a colorful symbol on a green background: a telephone for Clerk, a winged ballet shoe for Dancer, or a tea cup for Hospitality. Since the tiny line drawings in the handbook were black-and-white, it was always a surprise to see what color the real badge would turn out to be.

Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas reclaimed the merit badge idea for adults. She began writing what would become the You-Can-Do-It!: The Merit Badge Handbook for Grown-Up Girls. Her idea was that women, particularly middle-aged women, should continue to explore the world in the same way girls explored it by earning merit badges. Lauren died in a plane crash before she finished the book; her two sisters collected her notes and got the book published.

They also founded the Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas Foundation to provide funding toward activities benefitting women and children’s health, education, and welfare.

I think Lauren was on to something. Goodness knows writers, who labor long hours in solitude, could use a few atta-girls. So this summer, I’m issuing a series of Merit Badges for Writers. My badges will have a purple background in honor of purple prose. Feel free to design and make yours any way you want. If you want some suggestions and instructions, go to the Merit Badge Page on my website.

Writers’ Merit Badge #1: Creativity

Merit Badge for Writers: Creativity

Let’s reward ourselves for our creativity

Award ourselves this badge when we’ve learned to think about writing in a new way.

  • Try keeping an idea journal with images instead of words.
  • Take a creative class, maybe dance or  pottery; make something that relates to the story we’re working on now.
  • Play in water or with colors.
  • Create an inspiration board.
  • Hold a tea tasting.
  • Do all we can to wake up our senses so we’re writing with our whole body, not just part of our brain.

Badge creation should be a fun, community effort. If you design your own badge or have an idea for one, get in touch with me. If we can work out a design, I’ll display your badge on my web site.

Next Thursday, July 31, Part 2 of Merit Badges for Writers: First Aid for Writers and Extreme Reader

But first, on Tuesday, July 29, we’ll continue our critique series with VSOP – Very Special Old Port. This one isn’t as obvious as the three we have done before, so come back next week to find out what that’s all about.

______

Writing quote for the week:

Ours is a circle of friends united by ideals.

~Juliette Gordon Low, who brought scouting to the United States from Great Britain

 

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Art, I made this

Art I Love – Cowgirl Shrine

Yesterday morning we started our annual descent into western madness with the opening parade of the Calgary Stampede — The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.

For the next ten days it’s non-stop partying, shows, midways, agricultural displays, rodeos, and some of the strangest food going. Here’s the new and (so they say) exciting foods offered this year on the midway.  Personally, I might have to sample the bacon wrapped corn-on-the-cob, but hold the maple syrup, please.

In honor of all things cowgirlish, here’s a shrine I made several years ago after reading Carol Owen’s wonderful book about shrines.

For the makers out there, the base is foam core board, with a mulberry paper covering and lots of Golden® matt gel to hold it in place. The writing was computer generated and printed on tissue paper, then attached with more matt gel.

I had so much fun attaching everything I could find that might relate to a cowgirl theme: western cloth on the roof, miniature white hat (the symbol of the Stampede), milagro charms, deputy’s star, miniature quilt made with Roy Rogers/Dale Evans fabric, beads, cow buttons, stars, letter beads that say “Go west, young woman,” a copper bracelet, a miniature lariat, and an air-dry paper clay face. The really spooky thing is how much the face turned out to look like me. Complete accident.

Cow Girl Shrine Front

Cow Girl Shrine Front

Cow Girl Shrine Back

Cow Girl Shrine Back

Cow Girl Shrine - One Side

Cow Girl Shrine – One Side

Cow Girl Shrine - Other Side

Cow Girl Shrine – Other Side

Detail of cow girl's face

Detail of cow girl’s face

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Art, I made this

Art I Love: Prompt Sticks

A few years ago I made a set of art prompt sticks. Prompts are a way to take a work in a new, often unexpected, direction. When I get stuck, I pull a stick at random and think about using what’s described on the stick in the piece.

For the makers among us:

Container is a plastic vitamin bottle with the top cut off. Cover in air dry clay. Score with a blunt tool to incise a pattern. Paint with acrylics. Add a round of craft felt on the bottom. Sun emblem is also air-dry clay, painted with acrylics.

Sticks are colored craft sticks. Tape a piece of tissue paper to a piece of plain bond paper. Type as many prompts as are wanted, leaving enough space between them so there will be room to cut. Print the prompts on the tissue/bond paper combination by running it through a printer. Cut the prompts apart. Attach one prompt to each stick with gel medium.

By the way the blue stick should read “Add a contrasting color,” though there are ways to add contracting colors to make something look smaller.

This is a project that’s a lot of fun to make and use with children.

2014-06-28 PromptSticks

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Art, I made this

Art I Love: Pea Pod Fairy

 

We’re working hard on this blog on Tuesdays with Write the Novel and Thursdays on Level Thinking, so I decided on the weekends, we need to relax and look at the pretty pictures. Welcome to the first posting of Art I Love. It’s a once a week feature of art I’ve made, art I’m working on, and occasionally, art I wish I’d made.

All gardens, whether they cover several acres or flowers pots in a windowbox, need garden fairies. Here’s a pea pod fairy I made after reading one of Salley Mavor’s books. If you aren’t familiar with Salley’s wonderful miniatures, treat yourself to a visit to her site.

For the construction minded among us: embroidery floss wrapped wire, air-dried clay face, embroidered wool felt clothes, Kool-aid dyed wool roving for the hair, knitted wool cap. Pea pod is embroidered wool felt and air-dried clay peas, painted with acrylics. She sits 4″ tall.

Pea Pod Fairy

Pea Pod Fairy

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Art

Level Thinking: Creativity and Aging

Susan Perlstein is one of my favorite people. She founded Elders Share the Arts in New York City, and is the Founder Emeritus National Centre for Creative Aging in Washington, D.C. Several videos of her speaking can be found on-line. Search for her name.

These are some things  I learned from  her about creativity and aging.

Creativity is scary as well as having a lot of positive values. The arts are deep play. Current brain research shows that as people age, both sides of the brain integrate. Younger people tend to be more right-brained or left-brained, but older people are whole-brained. One surprising thing that brain research has shown is that when the brain is stimulated with real creativity, brain tissue grows more dendrites, that is, the brain reserve gets larger. The immune system also grows stronger.

In North America, the shift from a negative, medical model of aging into what can older people offer has happened since 2000. Elders Share the Arts (New York City) started by collecting stories and transforming them into all art forms. This grew into the first landmark research on creativity and aging in the US. The research was carried out between 2001 and 2005. Since then every study done has added to the body of knowledge that show that the health of older people involved in creative artistic expression group improved significantly in all areas. They:

  • lived longer
  • visited the doctor less often
  • took fewer medications
  • incurred less health care costs
  • had fewer falls
  • increased their visual acuity, if they were engaged in visual arts
  • had more friends and social contacts
  • increased their sense of mastery and control over their lives, even in non-art areas
  • had increased confidence
  • increased their ability and willingness to problem-solve and locate and use resources
  • experienced less depression
  • appeared to have a deceased risk for entering long-term care

The National Center for Creative Aging also came out of that research. They continue to promote art projects for older people. The organization’s goal is to pair as many senior’s programs as possible to arts organizations on the local, state, and national level. They have wonderful on-line resources. If you are involved in any organization for older people, this is a great site to check out.

Total respect for life experiences is the base and heart of artistic programs for seniors. These are not “keep busy” projects. We are talking professional art instruction, public performances and art exhibits, and social integration into a multi-generational group.

Stop thinking of arts for older people as follow-the-dot kits, sing-alongs, etc. where all the person has to do is slap on some paint or try to remember the words to old songs. Real creativity starts with the blank page, the lump of clay, a drum, or an empty stage.

Stop using bland, non-controversial subjects, such as having older people paint a bunch of flowers on a table. Tap into the individual and cultural heritage that every older person has and allow art to grow out of the richness of that heritage.

Real artists deserve real working space, and real display space. Stop thinking of art for older people in terms of “Art Corners” furnished with second-hand furniture and third-hand, close-out-sale art supplies, where finished projects are Scotch-taped or pinned to a bulletin board with thumbtacks. Get artists into real art studios, real performance spaces. Mount the pictures, frame them, and display them in galleries. Put actors, poets, musicians, and writers on stage. Make CDs. Do desk top publishing. Organize living history festivals and present them in real venues.

Think partnerships. It’s not a matter of corporations or governments making a donation and walking away. Close the circle by taking the art back to those same organizations in the form of art displays, performances, etc.

Train people already working with older adults in the arts; train artists in working with older people.

Form intergenerational liaisons and projects whenever possible. Connect to local school curricula and build artist/school links, such as linking a seniors’ centre and a school in the same neighborhood.

If you want a look at some older people totally immersed in their art, I recommend both of these films, which I throughly enjoyed.

 Film: Do Not Go Gently: the power of imagination in aging

2007, 57 minutes, US production, narrated by Walter Cronkite. This film once had it’s own web site from which it could be ordered, but that site seems to have disappeared. The link is to the Internet Movie Data Base listing for this filem

Explores the thoughts of older artists and others involved in creative aging. How important is imagination to the experience of being human? What are the most inventive artists expressing at a very old age? And why? This is a very powerful film, featuring:

  • Arlonzia Pettaway, 84, quilter from Gees Bend, Alabama.
  • Frederick Franklin, 93 ballet artist, who’s still dancing and teaching younger dancers
  • Leo Ornstein, over 100, musical composer and pianist
  • Several groups around the US, which offer artistic programs for their senior members

 Film: Still Kicking

2006, 35 minutes, US production

Amy Gorman invited Frances Kandl to journey with her throughout the San Francisco Bay Area searching for female role models—very old women, still active artists, living with zest. While Amy chronicles their oral histories, Frances is inspired to compose songs for several of these women, many well past 90, culminating in concerts celebrating lives liberated by age. Artists featured:

  • Frances Catlett, 95, painter
  • Ann Davlin, 93, dance and piano teacher
  • Madeline Mason, 101, doll maker
  • Elsie Otaga, 91, ikebana artist
  • Grace Gildersleeve, 95, rug weaver
  • Lily Hearst, 108, pianist

“If you don’t have a sense of wonder, you can’t create. Wonder begins when you ask a question to which there is no clear answer. The question and answer must flow through one another. The question must be the answer and the answer must be the next question.” ~Ted Blodgett, City of Edmonton, Alberta poet laureate, 2008-2009

If you’re following my Tuesday series on Writing a Novel, I hope to see you back on Tuesday, March 18 for Character Development, Part 3 — Expanding the Starter Kit

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