Saturday, April 21, 2012

Stimulating creativity

Snuggler's been asking to watch TED talks with me in the evenings. It's a nice cozy thing to do: sit on the sofa with my girl and learn new stuff. We've seen my favorite Brene Brown talk, a humorous piece on book-cover design, and a talk on creativity. We listened to Abigail Washburn sing hillbilly Chinese on the banjo and heard Itay Talgam discuss leadership styles of conductors. The other night I clicked on How Do We Heal Medicine? by Atul Gawande. Snuggler was skeptical of the title, but once it got going she was absorbed -- and impressed.

I love anything that makes my kids' brains -- and mine -- stretch in new ways. Because while it's fun to know factoids and useful to absorb information, it's the thinking part of learning that is exciting. I want to raise thinking kids. More than that, I want to raise a thinking me.

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No matter what my primary interests may be, tangental and seemingly unrelated ideas are often surprisingly helpful thought-fodder. Last year when I read Gawande's book about checklists, it seemed to have a ton of implications for parenting. Reading up on how we make choices has affected my faith and everyday life.

Like everyone else, I trend in the direction of my tastes. I am oh-too-capable of living in a world of my preferences, of stuffing my brain with marginally interesting input. But filling my mental databases doesn't necessarily spur me on to anything new or take me anywhere different.

The times I grow are usually correlated to when I'm given a jolt from an unexpected direction. Which is why I've tried to develop the habit of reading books on topics I know nothing about, watching lectures by people I've never heard of, and occasionally even opening -- and reading and thinking about -- links supplied by my other-end-of-the-political-spectrum Facebook friends. 

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One day I had to go down to the ballet studio, and while I was there I read Twyla Tharp's fabulous book, The Creative Habit. A couple of moms wandered over -- one is a pediatrician, the other a professor -- and asked about it. I raved about what good ideas it has about how to be consistently creative. They looked at me blankly. 

It took a while to dawn on me that these moms don't think of themselves as creative people. I was shocked. I mean, what's the alternative? To simply consume? To exist? To plod? We're all creative. We have to come up with solutions to problems, no? We're all part of creating a better community, creating ourselves into better people, creating lives of worth and meaning. Which means it behooves us to think about what we can do to become more adept at all those things. Maybe TED talks aren't the entire answer. But I daresay they help.


  1. that book's been on my list forever. i think i'll see if my library has it...

  2. Can you explain what TED talks are?

  3. Click on any of the links in the first paragraph of the post, or go to They're talks about new/emerging ideas in technology, science, the arts, and life.

  4. I love the TED talks. I listen to my favorite ones again while reading the subtitles in Italian. For me, I'd rather the thinking part drive the fact-cramming part, although this is unfortunately not how schools work, and therefore eventually not how anyone's education works who wants to go to college. The lovely thing about your list is that I don't think I've seen any of those!

    And I find myself wishing mightily that Sir Ken Robinson's TED talk was right, but I'm not convinced. He strongly implies that if you follow your dreams, the money to keep them going will happen.

    I very much enjoyed the Twyla Tharp book when I read it several years ago. One of the best things she says is (yep, it's on the cover) creativity is a habit. As in, it's not whenever-you-feel-like-it. You go into your studio or wherever you go and you slog through the icky nothing's-working days. But if you persist, you do grow through it.

    And I too have gotten blank looks, or even protests, when talking about the ideas in this book. I guess the issue is that the whole cramming/earning things so easily gets the upper hand. But we can still create little oases for creativity, even is they're small.

    Hope this makes sense. I wrote quickly.

  5. Laura, I'm with you on Sir Ken Robinson. He sets up an artificial either/or between dreams and practicalities. Part of what turns dreams into realities is the grunt work that you neither care about nor want to do. Also, in all my years I've only met two people whose dreams were big enough to drive them through the crud that stood in the way. Most of us have dreams that aren't all that compelling.

    Then again, I wonder if part of that is semantics: if I substitute passions for dreams, it makes more sense. And yet not all passions need to be pursued full time, or as commercial enterprises. But in today's world, where there's so little emphasis placed on developing passions, perhaps Sir Ken Robinson is smart to overemphasize that it's *possible* to pursue one's dreams.

  6. Well, Julia, you know me so you probably know what I'm thinking about--classical music careers. Even if you've got a kid that doesn't mind grunt work, you have to wonder about the sanity of letting them pursue such a competitive field.

    Did you watch the Susan Cain TED talk yet? The misspelled cheer didn't really translate into Italian, but I loved it anyway.