Friday, June 21, 2013

Creativity: Alive and Thriving

I spent the last week teaching a Creative Writing and Art Class at the St. Peters Cultural Arts Center. For the good of the class and all those registered, I focused on the writing component while another instructor handled the art. If you have ever seen any of my artwork then you understand the need for this arrangement. My creative measures do not extend to the graphic arts unless you count drawing bubble letters and I am fairly certain this does not qualify. 

Each day the youngsters completed an assortment of writing projects and then illustrated them using various mediums.  The class size might have been small but the energy and creativity levels oozing from that room was high. The children re-wrote fairy tales from the villain’s point of view, described what they might hear if given an opportunity to be a fly on the wall, wrote persuasive arguments to encourage their principals to bring their favorite celebrities, created poetry of varying lengths and styles, and worked on revising and editing.  Simply put, those kids wrote, drew, and created their little tails off. 

And as always, because it never fails, I learned more than they did. One of the writing prompts this week involved the kids responding to the question, “Do you think reading fiction is a waste of time?” You would have thought I asked them if toilets were a bad invention or if the I-pod is dumb. After calming from their initial anger for suggesting fiction was a waste, their responses were compelling and thought-provoking. 

The young writers, ranging from ages 9-14, shared their beliefs, reminding me that age doesn’t always bring wisdom. Without revealing their identities, I would love to share some of their nuggets with you. 

“Fiction allows us to escape reality, even for a little bit. It takes us on journeys that we would never be able to go on in our real lives.” Student, age 14

“Reading fiction lets us use our imaginations and be creative. We can dream up whatever we want.” – Student, age 11

“Fiction is better and cheaper than therapy.” – Student, age 14 (I had to stifle a laugh with this one. It's funny and spot-on!)

“Fiction is important because there is usually some truth hidden behind it.” – Student, age 13

“Reading fiction is not a waste of time. We wouldn’t have some of the best characters without fiction.” – Student, age 9

These friends know what they like and their passion runs deep. Carry on!

Another project we enjoyed occurred today even as the creative juices were running low. I asked them to write a short story about a chance encounter between themselves and a fictional character or group of characters. I prepared myself to read multiple stories involving Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen and the like. Once again, the kids surprised me. Several of them wrote in great detail about a meeting between characters from their own stories and themselves. Their characters have become so alive in their individual voice and tone this week. These aspiring writers are devoted to their creations, just like you and I might become attached to a familiar storybook character.  

I loved working with the kiddos this week. Their passion and energy spread around the room like a fire, igniting each other. With their courageous storytelling and detailed art, they created sensational work. I am honored to have a small hand in the process.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Beautiful Magic

   It was magic I tell you, magic! Twenty kids, ages 8-12, gathered on Tuesday for our second annual Youth Writing Camp and created beautiful magic. I’m not sure who had a better time – the kids or the adults leading the camp. Yep, it was one of those kinds of days. 

   In the months leading up to camp, I tried to consider every possibility – what if none of the kids wanted to share, what if someone had an allergic reaction, what if some of the adult leaders suddenly couldn’t come. Alas, the stars aligned and none of these modern-day Shakespearean tragedies occurred. From start to finish, the day ran pretty close to clockwork and even better, there was laughter and a lot of it. 

   Our young writers created works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. They worked on revising and editing, tasks that no writer, regardless of age or experience, enjoys too much. These emerging writers, creative and vibrant, embraced every challenge. At the end of camp many shared their works with pride and youthful energy. 

   Saturday Writers Youth Writing Camp would not have been the success it was without the tremendous help of so many others. A very special thanks to Margo Dill, Erika Whitfield, Nicki Jacobsmeyer, Jo Gardner, Sarah Angleton, Debora Grandison, Bill Spradley, Jennifer Hasheider, and Rebeca Wise for their ideas, enthusiuam, and dedication to our youth. I am grateful for the collaboration and know our teamwork made the day what it was – amazing!

Photo Credits: Saturday Writers

Friday, June 7, 2013

And what do you do?

I received an invitation to attend a networking lunch with a new group. Excited, I changed my schedule to attend. I view networking events as opportunities for three things: creating new connections, exploring opportunities, and my favorite, people watching. 

After having survived this particular event only by the skin of my teeth, I am forced to admit the broad generalizations I held about networking events were ill-conceived. Not a little off the mark but out the ballpark incorrect. Please don’t tell my husband. I hate admitting I am wrong. 

I confirmed there is a secret world out there. A world people like me don’t understand. In this world, all the sales people conspire to create dastardly plans, campaigns to make the non-sales people feel invisible and obsolete. They accidentally allowed me to attend one of their meetings last week. As an educator, writer, and non-for-profit advocate, I didn’t belong there. I quickly found myself trapped in a sea of business card exchanging, name dropping, and high-pitched fake laughing. 

After a short time, a few of them figured me out. After my commonness was revealed, basic courtesies like the give and take of conservations and eye contact became just too much for some. In their secret world, created by who you know rather than what you know, I became invisible. People would chat long enough to assess my value to them. After deciding I had none, if they bothered to appropriately close the conversation, I noticed them looking past or through me, but no longer at me. 

I found myself feeling alone in a room full of people. Watching them, I kept thinking many of them should be in theater rather than sales or perhaps in addition to. There is no possible way these people could be this energetic, loud, and animated all the time. When my lunch check arrived, I expected to find an additional fee for the show I just suffered through but apparently the spectacle is free to world members. Relieved to be spared of the expense, I left before anyone asked me to demonstrate the secret salesperson handshake. 

Please don’t get me wrong. Networking, when done correctly, is great and I appreciate the value in having opportunities to meet with like-minded professionals. But that’s where the rub occurred in this instance– the whole like-minded idea is critically important. Am I opposed to sales people? Of course not. As writers, we have to sell our ideas and ourselves in every query and pitch. As an advocate for the AHA, I have to convince people to share their charitable giving with our organization.  A fair amount of salesmanship is involved in doing this, in addition to raising awareness. What bothered me was the immediate dismissal I encountered and watched happen to other people over the course of three hours. 

At the end of the day, we all want to matter to someone and have others recognize our value, even if it doesn’t immediately serve them. Maybe I am just old-fashioned but that should be at the core of creating connections. One thing I know for sure, the next lunch I attend will be in the company of those who I know do this – my family! I just hope they remember to bring their business cards.