I went to a Master’s student’s presentation Friday morning at Prescott College on creativity and leadership. I have been assisting the student with APA and writing for their Master’s thesis work in the Education program this semester, and he invited me to attend.
I am SO glad that I did!
It was my first time meeting the student in person, and I could feel the positive energy in the room as I walked in and found a seat.
Big smile. Bright eyes. A bird on his shirt. Yep, I was in the right place.
I sat down beside professor who had been a pivotal member of my own dissertation committee at the college. It was her embracing of the possibility of weaving creativity through the creative voice and creative writing into academia that helped me pave the way for my own doctoral research into the role of the arts in self-sustainability.
This student was remarkable, truly. He was able to put complex concepts few into words—a single phrase—in a clear and succinct way that provided deep meaning without pretension. His message was clear and easy to grasp. I felt like I was attending an inspirational Ted Talk, and I wanted more!
His research method was Autoethnography, with an Arts Based Methods lens. Ah, memories of my dissertation. I felt a fire of excitement and motivation beginning to flare up. Here was a person doing the kind of work I have been called to do, in his own way. I felt immediate connection and solidarity.
The student had been inspired to conduct a 30-day creativity challenge to see if it might inspire him in his role as a leader. The challenge reminded me of one a friend recommended I embark upon in the summer 2012. My friend had suggested that I try writing a song a day for 30 days. I called it A Month of Music (AMOM).
What I discovered—at least, what I can recall after nearly four years—was that it did not take more than a few minutes of structured creative time for me to feel like I was improving as a musician and that I had accomplished something meaningful.
The student spoke to this during his presentation. Greatness in 5 minutes was how he referred to the beneficial repercussions of carving out a short period of structured time each day for a creative endeavor.
He spoke of the way this challenge changed his perspective on his day, the value of simply creating over the need to create “something good,” the success and sense of achievement he felt in creating a piece of art every day, and the freedom he felt being unbounded by time (i.e., he didn’t need eight hours to create something of value).
What did he learn from the experience?
We crave creativity. ~ Joshua Feldman
Friends and colleagues were beginning to ask if he might share the prompts he had used for the 30-day challenge, and he realized he could take this experience on the road in the form of a workshop.
This daily practice had become akin to a mindfulness practice. A small amount of structure—as in the way some individuals might cultivate a meditation practice—amounted to a great deal of benefit.
Creativity allowed him to be vulnerable and humorous. It encouraged him to move beyond fear and into a space where it did not matter what he created so long as he was creating.
These are the exact reasons I try to structure my day around creative endeavors—writing and songwriting in particular but also walking in the desert, swimming, and practicing yoga.
The more I practice, the more I can feel balance and buoyance in my energy level, lightness of heart and spirit, sense of purpose, and the feeling that I am living up to my potential as an artist. I also feel that I am leading by example in demonstrating a new definition for success that allows for a sustainable and balanced existence. Thus far, it has not been financially lucrative but has offered mental health benefits and spiritual growth for mind, body, soul, and especially my heart.
Just a few minutes a day of creative practice shifts my entire perspective. I feel more confident, and I sense that I have accomplished something meaningful with my day.
I firmly believe that I am not alone in craving creativity. While moving through the creative process can be scary, I find time and again that people are drawn to it and are transformed by even a short time immersed in a creative experience. I also think people respond to structured creative experiences (i.e., a songwriting workshop) because it is in these contexts that they are given permission to just be creative in a safe space where there is no judgment or critique. They can be weird or vulnerable, sing out of key or in key. It does not matter. It is the act of being creative that is important.
Creativity does not happen in a vacuum. ~ Joshua Feldman
I am an energy chameleon, and the vibe I sense from another person(s) can wholly affect my emotional and psychological state. Time and again, I am filled with such vibrant hope and love after moving through a songwriting workshop. Strangers become friends. A creative community is created in the space of a short hour.
And I am finding that songwriting as a group provides a unique opportunity for solidarity and teamwork. I watch quieter individuals slowly coming out of their shell, feeling safe to just be present and sometimes to share thoughts and ideas.
Later in the afternoon on the same day, I offered an Interdisciplinary Arts workshop with a faculty member of Prescott College who is also a friend. She led the participants through a movement activity and then visual arts and reflection, each activity building off the last. The students moved in unique way in the courtyard outside the classroom. It was like watching Cirque du Soleil. Such unfiltered beauty.
Then, they came inside and drew their movements and reflected on the meanings behind the words my colleague had used to instruct: Start, Pause, Reverse, Transform, Stop.
We moved into songwriting, and I asked the participants to share what came up for them with words or phrases. They wound up sharing a solid paragraph each, so I went with it. I had not been entirely sure how to songwriting portion would unfold, and here it was unfolding.
After every person who wished to share had shared, I invited everyone to peruse the words and look for themes, patterns, and correlations from one paragraph to the next. As they spoke, I highlighted the words and phrases. Then, I opened a new document, copied and pasted the entirety of the text, and deleted everything that had not been highlighted.
What remained were the beginnings of a song, a poem that can be sung.
I invited people to suggest the movement of phrases or additional phrases from the original text.
Then, I explained the role of the chorus and verses in a song. The chorus tends to be a universal concept or emotion that people who have not shared in the experience of the verses may still be able to relate to. It is easier for people to learn if it is simple and not too long.
So began the shaping of the chorus. We wound up with three or four possible choruses. I explained that one story may have many paths to follow, and that it was our job to determine which chorus path made the most sense for our story.
A couple people came up and sang variations on the choruses we had come up with. Then, we did more shaping, and a third person offered to sing. One could sense the feeling in the room. This was our chorus. People already were starting to sing. I figured out that the key was Bb and began strumming as they sang.
We made a couple of recordings of our singing. People asked if we could work on the verses. Since there was not much time remaining, I suggested that volunteers sing a verse, and we would join them in the chorus. I passed out rhythm instruments, bells, and a Tibetan bowl for anyone who wished to play an instrument. What followed was pure beauty and community solidarity of purpose. It was moving, to say the least.
As I reflected on the experience later in the evening and the following day, I realized that the experience had been unlike any other workshop I had led, and I believe the reason is that the group had a shared experience before writing a song together. This shared experience helped bring common threads into their reflections. Their drawings even had similar patterns of swirls and lines. And because there were correlations, the words and phrases for the song all spoke to people in a shared way. In other words, there was less concern on my part that one person’s story may not make it into the final group song. Every single paragraph shared by a member of the group had words and phrases that made it into the final version of the song.
Perhaps, this kind of creativity is what will save the world?