Posts Tagged With: creativity

Lessons from a Jigsaw Puzzle

Jigsaw-Puzzle4My mother did it.  She bought a jigsaw puzzle – 1500 pieces – for the family to put together as we gathered over the holidays.  Well ‘the family’ became me.  Even though it’s probably been over a decade since I last put together a puzzle, it wasn’t long before I was in puzzle mode again.

In this state of mind I sit down to try a handful of pieces.  I pick up one, find a place where colors and patterns match, and turn it around to see where the shape fits.  When I find a match and the pieces click together, a feeling of satisfaction rolls over me.  Then my hand reaches for another piece.  Quickly ten minutes become half an hour becomes two hours.  I am engrossed in the process – getting to know the shades of blue and gray of the area on which I’m working.  The shapes of the pieces.

Usually it takes me at least an hour to really get into this state of mind.  The intensive focus allows me to differentiate small gradations in shades and shapes.  As I sort through the pile of pieces, I start to intuitively know where to try each piece.  This light grey piece with a slight fleck of pink goes over here in the upper right corner.  That more taupe looking piece with a faint white line will go where the ocean meets the shore. Eventually over a week of these moments, I finish.

This creation took time.  Piece by piece a final picture came into view.  But it wasn’t merely the quantity of time that was important, but how this time was dispensed.  I didn’t take five minutes here and five minutes there throughout a day.  Instead, uninterrupted hours of time allowed me to get into this groove.

When I finished it hit me how important it is to make space for this use of time within other areas of my life.  Often I take shortcuts to finish a project.  Or, I think I can get by with scraps of time here and there.  So, I leave half an hour to put together a graduate student discussion.  Or, sit down to write for only 15 minute stints.  Or, think that I can finish a quilt one afternoon.  Then I wonder why finishing large creative projects eludes me.

A book revision needs some in-depth attention.  Those quilts – well the picture just doesn’t come together in only 15 minute increments every other month.  Each time I site down in these short spurts of energy, it’s like I’m starting all over again.  Before there’s a chance to really become attuned to the project and make significant progress, I stop.

It’s time to get into puzzle mode and allow myself to be carried away by the creativity needed in the large projects before me.  There may not be a picture on a box to direct the completion, but that only makes it more inviting to begin.


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Live Your One Creative Life Fully

During the seven years I worked with Notre Dame AmeriCorps, Sister Judy Tensing would always admonish AmeriCorps members to live their one life fully – their one precious life.   The eleven months they were serving a local non-profit were not merely a time to get through, it was a part of the limited years we all have.  How we choose to live them, no matter the circumstances that surround us, shapes our character.  As I listened to her, I would sit back and continue to be amazed that people would give a year of their lives for such work.  Since I was a staff member, I saw myself looking from the outside, not really catching that this statement was also for me.

Three years after moving on from this job, I heard echoes of this sentiment in the words of Ann Voskamp – we should live our one creative life fully, making it a gift back to God.  Later in the week I heard the words of Shane Claiborne that we should engage the broken world with the creativity of our lives.  Throughout the time at the 2012 Festival of Faith and Writing other speakers would say similar things.  Our creativity is not something to take out only when time allows, or only for those appropriately gifted, or once all the real work is done.  No, creativity is a response to life.  This one life that God has given us.

This creative life implies each person has her own response to creation in her life – not something to be copied.  It’s part of being made in God’s image, the ultimate creator.  Not a cog in a wheel or a nameless part of an assembly line.  Not something to be saved up for special moments.  However, it’s so easy to do the opposite. When I have time I’ll be creative.  When the space is available.  When I am sitting on the edge of the ocean.  Always later I will be creative.  But the perfect time and place don’t seem to present themselves.  Often I just want to get through the next hours.  I can’t imagine another path.

Yet, as these words of living our full lives weave through my mind, I realize that most days I’m not looking at this path fully or seeing the person in front of me as an image of God.  Usually I’m thinking about the next thing on my to-do list. With such a limited vision, how is it possible to access that creative part of self?

There is more to life than the narrow images before me. It is possible to look up and out and view a new way.  It may start with a simple practice of taking time between activities to breathe and acknowledge the reality around me in a given moment.  Eventually I may see the beauty in the lines of numbers on a spreadsheet, in the flower growing out of a cracked sidewalk, and in a crying child.

Where does this spark of creativity lie in you?  In six days God created the world.  He imagined and spoke it into being – filling it with life and creating humans to be a central part of it.  We can carry a bit of this creativity in the midst of our own worlds – no matter what they look like now.


Categories: Journey Living | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Ideas in Place

Sitting at a desk in front of a blank computer screen or piece of paper – that is the image of the writer beginning to work.  Ready to dump creativity onto a blank canvas.  But how often does that really happen?  Yes, writers need to develop a discipline to sit down and write.  I’m doing that at the moment.  But sometimes this needs to take place away from our normal environment in order to engage new creativity muscles.

Many years ago, in what seems another life, I had the opportunity to spend a day at an unusual idea generating site – the Eureka! Ranch.  Before arriving, I thought we would be in yet another office space, walls lined with newsprint ready for a day of brainstorming.  However, when we drove into the parking lot it was immediately apparent that this place would be different.  We were not entering an office complex, but parking in front of an actual ranch house – complete with full-length front porch.  Once inside the doors color, sound, and images were everywhere. Our facilitators used a multitude of games, pictures, and conversations to help to generate ideas beyond those that we already held.  It was not only about getting down what’s inside, but providing an environment that nurtures more.

As writers we’re not creating the next great toy or tool or program that needs to fit in with the marketing expectations of the public.  Writing is a solitary activity, except for times of feedback from friends and editors.  Yet, we too are creating a product that will have an audience.  We are looking for new ideas that will connect with other people while still being true to our individual strengths and interests.  What external stimuli help you to make these connections?  For me it’s often a place – especially places that put me in other stories.

When I wrote my comprehensive exams for a masters degree in English I left the campus of Xavier University.  In ten minutes I was in Cincinnati’s Eden Park sitting on the lawn with bluebooks and pen in hand.  Being able to look up and see the sun and gaze at the gardens was so different than sitting at a formica desk under fluorescent lights.  I don’t know if I wrote anything more insightful in this place, but my spirit sure was different.  I didn’t freeze up when I encountered a difficult question and I felt that I was in the midst of serious play – even during a timed exam.

Later, while working on ideas for papers during my doctoral studies and finally a dissertation, I again went outside – on walks, to museums, and even across the country.  At times I would just sit at home in front of the computer, willing ideas to come.  I would also force myself to write and put words on the page – often very uninspired.  But when I allowed myself to go out, something would snap inside and I would picture a new way of putting together the ideas.  At some point in the process I would have to sit and compose, edit, and rewrite, and rewrite.  However, mixing up the places where I did these things made a difference.

Where do you need to go to create?  To the park down the street, the desk in the midst of bulging library shelves, or even overseas.  Places between your current life and the one you envision.  Places where you walk in, take a large breath, and relax.

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