Getting in the Conversation

DSCN3513I love Ted talks. I watch them in airports, while waiting for my son’s practice that are supposed to be over but aren’t, wherever I have my phone and an extra 18 minutes. So when I saw the format was coming to the fairly rural community where we live, I high-tailed it down to the box office for tickets.

I was not disappointed.

I live in a rural community where often people lose their vision to the daily grind. They sacrifice new ideas, learning, and vision to the comfort of the way it’s always been, even if that way is unhappy and uninspiring. Conversations revolve around the weather and whatever lines up with a particular world view that dominates a mental landscape. There’s not a great deal of diversity which often means not much diverse thinking. It can feel stale at times. It can rub off on you if you spend too much time rubbing up against it.

However, this past Saturday night there was energy in the air that was motivating and anything but stale. Eight speakers were launched by Shasta Taiko, a drumming group that originated as a group of friends and now performs in Mt. Shasta annually. The performance set the tone: this would be an evening of listening to someone moving to their own passionate beat.

One speaker, Jason Roberts, inspired listeners to make a difference in their communities just by doing things. He pulled off neighborhood restoration projects in Texas, breaking all the rules of what “could” be done, to create lively centers where families came out and brought the cities to life. He had been motivated by a trip to Europe where he saw that people of all ages were out in the streets unlike the “bad” areas near his home in Dallas. The takeaway? Just follow your crazy ideas. Just do something.

Matthew Diffee, a New Yorker cartoonist, talked about his process which starts each day with a whole pot of coffee and a blank sheet of paper. He explained how he comes up with his winners, and promoted “quantity over quality.” As a writer, I did so appreciate this. Gives credence to Lamott’s “shitty first drafts.” (seconds, thirds…) Just hearing how a cartoonist creates inspires me. It all comes back to showing up with the blank page on a regular basis.

One speaker from Cedar Rapids, Iowa was named Andy Stoll. His talk was on “Startup Alchemy and Rural Places.” He said that when he graduated, he wanted to understand how all kinds of people do things, so committed to travelling the world–with no money. My husband and I talked to him after he spoke and asked him how he did that. Bottom line? He just got really good at making friends. He’d tell them the truth–he just wanted to learn more about their culture and how they thought.

What kind of ideas could we manifest if we all entered into this larger conversation with such an attitude? How would this reflect in our systems and structures, in our art and our writings?

After the event we talked to people we don’t usually talk to. We listened to what they were doing, thinking about, excited about. Threaded through those conversations (with various people of all ages) was such possibility and promise. My husband and I even skipped our traditional Saturday night movie (Woody Allen, at that) to continue talking to a young archaeologist and her partner, a young man ready to embark on a micro-biology Masters’ Degree in Scotland. After they left, high school classmate Bill Jostock stopped by the Grape Escape, a small wine bar in downtown he told us about, and we continued the conversation.

The whole night reminded me of the importance of talking to new people about things that matter and old friends about new things. To listen, without agenda. To approach humanity with the idea of being a student of the University of the Universe. It’s no coincidence that the words are so similar.

Uncursing Creative Genius


Friend, fellow writer, and my critique partner, Darbie Andrews, sent me this amazing Ted talk on creative genius this week. Her timing was spot on as this is something I’ve been mulling over for the past few weeks. (Tedx commercial break: I’m a big Tedx fan and will be at the Tedx in Redding on 9/7 at 2. Hope to see you there!)

Elizabeth Gilbert speaks on emotional underpinnings of the creative process. After sitting in “Jobs” last night with my husband on date night, I told him as we were leaving, “This isn’t a movie about the history of Apple Computers and technology. This is a movie about the ups and downs of the creative mind, and all the benefits and liabilities that go with that that.” We see Jobs’ eyes (well, Ashton Kutcher’s actually)  fire up when he’s in the zone, visioning what the future will look like. He walks into his designer’s room and says, “Stop whatever you’re doing and spend the rest of the day creating something you like. Something useful.” That’s a guy who appreciates the creative process.

But with that creativity comes a dark side. Jobs’ relationships suffered. All of them. And he suffered because of it.

How do we manage the creative process without matching the fate of so many respected writers, artists, and other creators who’ve come before us? Long time writer whose “freakish success” Eat, Pray, Love (as she calls it in the talk), Gilbert takes a look at Greek and Roman times as a space to return to when thinking of creative genius. That, at moments, God shines through, and others recognize Him.

Back then, it was believed that creative spirits were something that existed outside of the creator rather than inside as is the current cultural thought. She argues that this current cultural thought could be the undoing of our great creative minds as they obsess on such things as “Will I ever be able to top that last thing?” when they’ve had success or alternatively, “What if all my work is for nothing and nobody ever sees it?” before they feel successful. It all rides on the individual. At least with the old model, there is someone else to blame when things go poorly, and to share the success with when things go well so the ego doesn’t get too overblown.

If you’ve ever struggled with the emotional landscape of the creative process (and to one degree or another we all have), you’ll appreciate Gilbert’s prompt on how to strengthen our creative future both individually and collectively.

Go. Watch it now. You’ll be glad you did.