My Creative Experiment – Silence, Day Five.

After a number of great responses to yesterday’s post I’ve decided to write a blog each day for the rest of the week, to continue sharing the experience of my self-imposed silence in our city and the creative insights that are bubbling up.

It’s sad but one of the stand outs that has really come through in all of this is how prominent the negative position is in so many people.

I know we’re all probably getting a bit tired of inspiring quotes over images, self help affirmations and videos pledging positivity but, from this silent standpoint, it seems that they really are necessary. Perhaps they’re not working, perhaps they’re saying the wrong things, but having been just a receiver for most of this week it’s quite striking how easily the negative can take over.

The realization struck me gradually and, to be honest, I didn’t really want to share it because it’s not all that happy or positive and I like to be happy and positive. I like to be cheerful but I think it’s important to stop and acknowledge that sometimes people and their actions are not.

In the first day or two of my silence it was quite easy to slip past the funny looks and focus on the lovely barista who made my coffee from a handwritten order that I passed her. She responded with a note back asking my name and was sure to include a smiling face on my coffee cup. At the AGO the first ticket taker was weirded out and dismissive but when I returned to get a map the second was lovely and smiling and wished me well.

Through the weekend there were a lot of laughs and it was sunny and beautiful so it was easy to sit outside and paint and draw and enjoy the silence without interacting too much with people who were unaware of my state.  I felt bad for not being able to respond to people in the elevator but it really wasn’t too big a deal, I was learning how important it is for some people to be recognized and participate in community. It really is quite wonderful and heartening.

Then, I started noticing that while I received much positive feedback there were also negative trends happening, or maybe I was just noticing them more as I began to feel more isolated.

At a gallery a person I would have expected to be open and interested was rude and dismissive, she was outwardly hostile to me to the point that a colleague of hers was apologetic.

For some reason I started getting emails and comments that were focused on defining my experience. There were notes talking about rules and breaking rules, questions about whether I was conducting myself properly within the boundaries of the exercise.

It seemed that others were suggesting it was too extreme or indulgent, while a certain segment tried to define it as a monastic or spiritual experience. Out of nowhere something that was inspired by a reading about an opera singer with a tired voice was taking on a completely different meaning and I was limited in my ability to respond.

At somepoint in sharing my findings I not only opened the door to generous, curious feedback but also to more negative, limiting, possessive responses. And receiving them was inordinately painful.

Where at other times I might pass them off more quickly here, trapped in my silence, I was unable to vent and so was forced to sit with the questions.

Am I legit? Have I been cheating by putting out blog posts or corresponding by text on occasion? Am I supposed to be looking deeply inward to find an ultimate truth about myself? Have I got this all wrong?

I thought the whole experiment was to be defined by me. My intention was to spend a week without speaking in order to shake up my understanding of communication in the hopes of allowing new forms of expression to surface. I clearly defined the guidelines to myself suggesting that written notes, texting and emailing were not to be abused as a replacement for conversation but could be used for making plans and generally staying sane in the everyday interaction that a week in the city calls for. Was this wrong? Where was the rule book that I was supposed to be following and why had I not been informed of its existence? What was it that I was supposed to be adhering to?

It may be naive but I was really sad. I expected skepticism and many rolling eyes but it didn’t even occur to me that I would receive this kind of active, limiting feedback.

I know it sounds as though I was shaken, and I was, but thankfully it only lasted a few fleeting moments at each point of confrontation. Each time I received the  comment, felt like shit for a minute and then remembered this is about me and my work. Creativity, expression and, I think, life are about making what is in to what you want it to be. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but we all must live by our own values, our own rules. I would think on that, get really pissed about the person imposing their perspective on my experience and then try to move on.

I suppose the real lesson here, today, is that when you invite people in to your space through sharing endeavors that are close to you you must be prepared for unexpected responses and you have to be courageous. It’s easy to get upset, to be a victim and to give up ownership over your creation. It’s easy to allow someone else’s definition to dominate but I have come to the conclusion that it’s not very valuable or brave.

Not everyone will understand, not everyone will connect to the intention of your work, whatever work that is, and people will naturally, for whatever reason, be compelled to limit, define and just generally rain on your parade.

In terms of creation, of innovation and big ideas it really is to be expected. There will always be critics. My experiment certainly isn’t revolutionary or ground breaking but it has garnered skepticism and surprising reactions nonetheless.

So perhaps now is the time to remember, to ingrain in ourselves, that any ideas, works or rumblings that have made a real difference have always been met with conflict, skepticism and, sometimes, outright denial but that is because they were new. They couldn’t stand up to comparison because there was nothing like them to adequately compare them against.

As for the next three days, hopefully there won’t be many more of those voices and hopefully they will be even more easily brushed aside. At this point, I’m resolved to do a little meditation tomorrow, to create something beautiful and to reconnect to my own intentions for the project. I am resolved to steer the work and myself away from those forces that are focused on what is lacking.

This isn’t about introspection, yoga or solitude. It’s not about following a prescribed set of rules or denying myself pleasure, happiness or connection. On the contrary, this exercise is about expanding my available routes to happiness, pleasure, expression and connection, about finding new ways to reach people and becoming a witness to communication. That said, it’s not supposed to be easy and I hope I’ll  learn more about myself, my priorities and my process along the way…

Much love in the meantime and Happy Tuesday!

xx

shhhh via woolandmisc

Why Google’s Chairman Says Everybody Needs a Coach

Summer camp registration is now underway so now we at The Campus are pushing forward with our coaching and workshops.

Coaching is a bit ambiguous, especially when it comes to creativity, but I think Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman and past CEO, hits the nail on the head in his chat with Fortune.

Before I started my silence experiment I had a long chat with a friend who is looking to start her own business. She has a great idea but was struggling with the realities of executing and the details. I reminded her that she had just come up with the idea, that, in fact, she was still in the creation phase where ideas come up and should be written down and enjoyed. The creation phase is not the time for focussing in on the realities but rather the stage at which one should be thinking expansively and without limits. It’s the time to keep every thought and allow time and space for more to bubble up.

It is rare that the first ideas are the ones that we stick with but it is ALWAYS the first ideas that lead to the second, the third and so on. Along that train of thinking will be the gem and if you cut off your flow of ideas with analysis too early then you’ll likely miss the great one you were heading toward.  She responded by telling me that I was the right person to call, that she needed to talk to a coach. I was so very complimented, but it hits on a deep truth.

Through school, sports and childhood we have parents, teachers and others to help encourage us,  help us pick ourselves up when we’re down and to hold a mirror of reality in front of us when we’re caught in our own, sometimes narrow, point of view. As Schmidt says, “One thing that people are never good at is seeing themselves as others see them. A coach really, really helps.”

Creativity coaching does just this, sure it’s hand holding but it’s also exercises and strategies to help you harness the gifts that you might not realize you have. It’s help knowing when to let loose and when to reign in and analyse. Lastly, it can offer clarity about what your creative strengths are and what and how to improve those areas that might need a bit of work.

Here’s what Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, has to say on the subject…

Eric Schmidt

My Creative Experiment – Silence, Day Four.

“You must forget all your theories, all your ideas before the subject. What part of these is really your own will be expressed in your expression of the emotion awakened in you by the subject.”  ~ Henri Matisse

So – it’s day four of the week of silence and I’ve got to say, in some ways, it’s not as hard as you’d think. In other ways, it’s completely excrutiating!

First, some observations… silence can actually be a pretty great indicator of who your friends are.  It is incredibly isolating to not speak, it’s uncomfortable and annoying and pretty boring so I can imagine hanging out with someone, interacting with someone who’s silent to be all of those things too.

That said there have been a few people who have made plans and hung out over the past couple of days and even more who have sent emails and texts and fb messages just to say hi or to talk about times they’ve been silent. All of the interaction has been so awesome and supportive. Not one of them has suggested I can’t make it through to Friday or that the experiment is crazy or ridiculous and I love them for it. It’s clear – work like this brings along people you wouldn’t expect, those who are curious and kind and it’s heartening. Thank you.

Another realization – people ask so many questions! In life, everyday people must ask hundreds of questions. I reckon inquiry is one of the least recognized parts of our day. Sure, most of the que ries are mundane but, really, questions kind of keep the world moving and standing back to notice that has been really interesting.

Also – I talk a lot of crap, and so does everyone! Part of this exercise, Twyla Tharp’s reasoning, is to look at what we talk about and to look at its value. What are we saying? Is it important? Why? I think that while there is much conversation that is interesting and valuable there is also a lot that is valuable but not so interesting. This weekend I had an awesome time with a generous friend who played along, chatted and connected with me despite my non-verbal state.

Through notes and gestures and eye contact we “blabbed” through recent events in her life, not overly exciting or valuable, and into a realization that was quite profound. I don’t know if she’d expressed it outwardly before or if it was quite so significant to her but what I do know is that the not so valuable chat is what got us there. Those conversations that may not appear to have value are often the bridges that take us to meaningful revelations. 

Speech can be compulsive. This is a HUGE realization for me. Holding back over the past few days has highlighted just how reactionary speech is. The few times I’ve broken the silence (there have been three or four phrases that escaped) have been as follows…

1)   Sorry!  – I was at the AGO, sitting drawing a painting at a station with an tablet. Someone came along to reset the ipad and, without any thought the word slipped from my lips.

2)   HEY! – in the car with a slightly distracted friend who didn’t notice that people had entered a crosswalk.

3)   Bless you! – this one’s obvious, though I didn’t know the person at the restaurant who sneezed.

4)   “I’m putting this back” – the biggest transgression. This too was compulsive. I was at the grocery store with mum and for whatever reason didn’t think to hold it in.  I was so disappointed that I didn’t even enjoy saying the words! Silence takes so much concentration – more on that in a minute.

So – what do these have in common?? Well they’re either politeness or emergency. Interesting that they should have equal value in my mouth…

One of my biggest troubles with this exercise is that I feel incredibly rude most of the time. For as much as we believe Toronto to be snobby and rude and impersonal there are loads of small opportunities for connection and interaction that happen every day. Not being able to react to them is one thing but, not being able to connect, to interact has me noticing how much it jars people who do attempt connection when they are rebuffed. Silence is a weird one too because while I try to smile and be open I’m still not talking and that is even stranger.

One massive gift has been the alternate forms of expression – I spent Friday afternoon drawing and colouring and listening at the AGO. Saturday afternoon I was painting and drawing. Something to try – take one small phrase and make it a focus. Write it, draw it, paint it, sing it, dance it – play with that phrase. I couldn’t turn mine over in my mouth and chose not to send it back through the wires immediately and the words became some small form of art. I found so many different ways to write and paint them.  I stretched my brain and I’ve discovered I really love producing visual art. Not just for fun as I thought before but in a much deeper way…

Lastly, on concentration. It takes so much. I thought entering this that it would be hard but I thought so quite flippantly, that it would be tough because I’d want to gossip or order food. It is hard because for a speaking person talking is natural. Constantly holding back responses, not being able to ask questions. It’s so very hard. To be honest it’s actually physically exhausting and I’ve had headaches for much of the weekend!

I’ve had a few people suggest that I don’t need to keep to the full week, and some suggest that I can’t, that, of course, Laura has to go overboard and can’t just do the typical 24 or 48 hours. That’s been interesting too. I don’t know if I’ll make it a full week. I don’t know if I need to but it does feel as though I’m about to happen on something interesting so, at this point, I’m going to take it day by day and try not to make this about proving other people wrong because apparently, even in silence and frustration I’m still very stubborn.

Happy Monday!

Wishing you an amazing, expressive week…

xx

L

The Dance, 1910 Henri Matisse

The Dance, 1910
Henri Matisse

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Your Shake? Limitations & Creativity

Embracing limitations can open up incredible creative horizons…

Here’s a great TED talk from an artist who used a physical ailment expand his artistic expression instead of crushing it

Also – Doors Open is on today in Toronto, maybe you should explore in the sunshine??

 

Embrace the Shake

 

My Creativity Experiment – No Speaking, One Week.

That’s right. No speaking, at all, for one whole week.

Anyone who knows me this is a pretty extreme experiment, I’m nothing if not chatty, but I’m spending the next week in silence so I can explore.

It started with a suggestion from Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit, an amazing book that outlines her routine and methods for staying creative over almost fifty years as a choreographer. She is innovative, award winning and incredibly disciplined and has produced more than one hundred sixty artistic works: one hundred twenty-nine dances, twelve television specials, six Hollywood movies, four full-length ballets, four Broadway shows and two figure skating routines.

As Tharp says, we diet elsewhere in life so why not in our creative lives? Her reasoning behind not speaking is that it forces one to look at what is worth saying and what is not. As a starting point that’s fascinating but for me I’ll also be using it as an exercise in discipline, an exploration of what I could be creating but am not because I’m distracted and an opportunity to become a better listener, observer and communicator.

So – the logistics, right? How will I ask for coffee? Order dinner? Make plans? What am I going to do without speech?

Well, I’ve sent around a little email to close family and friends explaining the experiment so they know that I won’t be picking up the phone and that I can only use text messaging to make and confirm plans – not chat. I’ve also printed up a couple of cards to aid me on my journey and help explain for those people who want to hear more.

I’m still going to be working, posting for The Creativity Campus and communicating to keep the business ticking along but, as unless I can’t avoid it for work, I won’t be speaking again until the evening of Friday May 31 when I head out to celebrate the birthday of a wonderful friend.

In the meantime – here are the cards

Happy Friday everyone!

Have an amazing weekend

xx

L

I'm Not Speaking

May I Please...

Creativity in Action – Liu Bolin, The Invisible Artist

Liu Bolin is a mixed media artist from Shandong Province in China. He uses paint to make himself invisible as an exploration of civilization and its development. He travels around the world and paints himself into real world scenes creating vignettes filled with social commentary .

The photograph below is part of his supermarket shoot which looks at the way that foods in the supermarket are harming the people of China.

Bolin is an incredible example of how we can use creativity to draw attention to those aspects of life that matter most to us, how we can use our art to better the world.

Watch his TED talk for Bolin’s explanation of his work, process and motivation.

Liu Bolin

Friday Fun – Stop Motion Videos

It never ceases to amaze me the incredible, international talent and creativity that can be found from my desk…

All it takes is a little hunting and you can find some amazing stop motion animated videos online.

Here are some of my favourites – Why don’t you share you favourite stop action videos in the comments section?

Happy Friday!

(Notes on) Biology, Ornana Films

Benigni, Elli Vuorinen

Change: The Happiest Stop Motion Video Ever, Samian Chow, Sean Dougherty and Chad Colby

Frictions, Steven Briand