Creativity in Life

The word “creativity” may make you think of artsy types, ready to craft a mask, whip up a painting, play an instrument, or pen a novel. And it is, in part, but it’s also about coming up with something new. In this case, let’s consider creative new ways to communicate, to stay connected, to motivate employees to stay engaged and do their best work even while working from home, and also, to entertain ourselves and find some joy in even the most trying of times. And, for those of you who would like to stretch yourself in the traditionally creative sense, keep reading, I have a few ideas for you too.

“Necessity is the mother of invention”-English proverb. We have found this to be true during trying times in our history which turned up products that changed lives. Take a look at the list of things we may never have had without tough times that caused someone to think outside the box.

  • Toll House Cookies: Ruth Graves Wakefield accidentally created the recipe while baking for her guests as the owner of the Toll House Inn. During the great depression, running out of baker’s chocolate, Wakefield settled for cutting a chocolate bar into pieces assuming the chocolate would melt. Instead, it hardened into tiny chips and became the first chocolate chip cookie. Families in the area of the Inn sent the cookies to their soldiers overseas who then shared them amongst the troops and began writing home begging for more–they became a global phenomenon. She eventually gave the recipe to Nestle, who compensated her with the only thing better than money: a lifetime supply of free chocolate.
  • Basketball: The game was invented in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith, a sports coach, but for the first three years, it was actually played with a soccer ball. Then in the midst of a recession, Naismith encouraged A.G. Spalding to create a ball specifically designed for the new game. With few changes, this is the same Spalding ball you see on the courts today.
  • M&M’s: “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.” During the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, Forrest Mars, Sr. (of the Mars Company) saw British soldiers eating pellets of chocolate coated in a hard candy shell. The shell kept the chocolate from melting in the soldiers’ hands. Mars patented the product and started producing M&M’s, exclusively selling to the military in World War II.
  • Pilates: Physical trainer Joseph Pilates conceived the idea of the workout known for core strengthening, flexibility, and balance while a prisoner of war in an internment camp during WWI. He honed his method of “contrology” on fellow inmates, aiding in the rehab of injured veterans. After the war, Joseph Pilates immigrated to the US and collaborated with dance and exercise experts to nail down the system we know simply as “Pilates.”
  • Meetup: New Yorker Scott Heiferman was in his apartment on September 11, 2001, when two planes crashed into the World Trade Center. In the aftermath, he found himself surrounded by neighbors he’d never even met. Following the tragedy, Heiferman observed the desire for community and that led to the creation of social networking site Meetup, where users can meet like-minded individuals in their area and make plans for face to face meetups.

And today there are already examples of crafty new products, businesses pivoting to meet new demand, and new uses of existing products. I’ve seen several ads for keychains that look similar to bottle openers but have been designed to open doors, press elevator buttons, and other tasks acting as a stand-in for fingers on high touch surfaces. In other countries there have been 3D printed handles attached to refrigeration doors in grocery stores that can be opened using a forearm rather than a hand. And businesses, even locally, that were previously in the space of building cabinetry that have now taken up crafting acrylic barriers for public spaces in an effort to meet the new demands of safety for businesses. School shop classes and computer labs have in some areas started implementing use of their equipment to create face shields. Shortly after the virus struck and stay-at-home orders were issued, restaurants were finding ways to create online bodega offerings by continuing to buy from their suppliers in bulk and then make household sized quantities of products available in a market that was difficult to find many products. And this next story I hear about our teens… While it may not be one of productivity, these kids are inspiring to me because this ingenuity is exactly what we need in our future generations. There was an article written about a year ago titled, “The Hottest Chat App for Teens Is… Google Docs” which describes that our teens are creating google docs, sharing them with friends—often as they sit in class—and due to the nature of Google Docs ability to see live updates by any of the document holders, are chatting with their friends much the way our older generations used to with passed folded notes.

Stories like these are inspiring to me, I love to watch the way people come together in support during times like these that are so difficult in so many ways. And to see that some businesses are able to find new ways to bring in revenue at a time many financial forecasts have flattened, it’s inspiring and has me hoping that others are looking for ways to do so themselves. I’ve also read that groups of co-workers who are now forced to work from home but are single, and thus, feeling very alone, have begun creating Zoom calls every morning with their colleagues so they can virtually sit side by side and do their jobs—and not feel so isolated. I’ve also read that there are nurses, who are understandably fatigued and stressed and overworked, that are finding ways to lighten spirits during their shifts. One story that stuck with me was a nurse who had two patients on a non-Covid floor who had to frequently get up to urinate, requiring help each time. The patients were apologetic, feeling they were pulling the nurse from more important duties. She reassured them, and realized they had senses of humor that would appreciate this boost—she created an “award” for them at the end of her shift for “most frequent use of the facilities”. The initial embarrassment was turned into a laugh for the patients and the nurse and lightened the mood all around.

And, now for the creatives and the creative hopefuls among us—let’s inspire you to keep going with your talent or your desire to learn a skill. Want to learn the guitar, or learn new songs? Fender has online classes found here in bite-sized pieces. How about the piano? Want to learn with Harry Connick, Jr showing you the ropes? Check this out. If writing is more your style, there’s playwriting, guidance for getting that novel written you’ve had rattling around in your brain, or a cool article from none other than Judy Blume, of tween girl fiction fame, with some tips on writing a children’s book. And if you’re looking for some visual art inspiration, I was impressed with this page Berkeley put together. There are also some great online art classes being offered by artist collectives like this—there is some free content to get you started and the classes utilize a number of different medias, from painting and sketching, to mixed media. And for the parents among us looking for outlets for the kids, take a look at Camp Creativity for some fun free content.

Let this be a time of creativity. The change in perspective by introducing a new idea lightens the spirit, helps move through darkness to hope, and may prove the path to a whole new business or product. If you are a supervisor to others, take some time to consider new ways to motivate your team—the morale boost can help not only their mental health but the fiscal health of your business. If you are a health care worker, are there ways to inject some levity in your day in even small ways? Quality patient care and provider burnout are uniquely tied together, so look for ways to help ease your daily stress, even if you simply create an “award” to bring a laugh. Are you working from home and lonely? Consider starting Zoom calls with colleagues so you can still have some office chatter while sitting in your home office. And, if you’re a parent facing burnout, look for Facebook groups for your area or for parents with children of similar age, or take a look at Meetup to find some peer support. Often, having those groups can make you feel less alone in your frustration and you find humor in commiseration. All or any of these ideas can help prevent or alleviate the depression and boredom I’m seeing so often around me.  Take a chance – take a leap – and try creatively something new in meeting a need you or others around you have.  

Wishing you creativity and hope this coming week,

Dr. Beth

Sources for past inventions and products:

https://www.interestingthings.com/gallery/20th-century-inventions-in-times-of-crisis/

An Exercise for a Time of Adversity

I’ve been working on my thoughts for the blog this weekend – one I promised on growth in adversity. And I’ve written it once, had it edited, and am issuing a fully rewritten one now. Obviously, adversity is hard to go through – and challenging in other ways. The meditation that had hit my inbox on Friday that spoke to me about growth in adversity was from Henri Nouwen in “You Are Beloved.”  And what strikes me today in it is the same and yet different after more meditating and doing a finger labyrinth meditation today.  The quote is: 

“The great conversion in our life is to recognize and believe that the many unexpected events are not just disturbing interruptions in our projects [or lives], but the way in which God molds our hearts[.]…Our great temptations are boredom and bitterness. When our good plans are interrupted by poor weather, our well-organized careers by illness or bad luck, our peace of mind by inner turmoil, our hope for peace by a new war, our desire for a stable government by a constant changing of the guards, and our desire for immortality by real death, we are tempted to give in to a paralyzing boredom or to strike back in destructive bitterness. But when we believe that patience can make our expectations grow, then fate can be converted into a vocation, wounds into a call for deeper understanding, and sadness into a birthplace of joy.” [changes mine]

What my labyrinth walk, a talk with a friend this morning, and the above from Nouwen have all pointed me toward is – – release.  Release is necessary to grow in times in adversity.  In fact, it was just in rereading the quote that I realized that the onus was on God and Spirit to mold – not me to change.  And then release of what?  From what?  To what?  Ahhh – there is the rub at times.  From even knowing that. 

What we often want so much during difficult, really adverse life events or times is to KNOW.  Know what we are to do next.  Know why something happened.  Know how to change it.  Know how to prevent it.  Know how to keep life from changing as it has been comfortable for us. And in the last weeks, months, or even days, we each have had to face down varying levels of demons or challenges in our lives.  Think about it for just a moment – what are you facing right now?  Is it illness?  Is it not understanding your partner or spouse?  Is it not knowing what to do next to help someone?  To help yourself?  Is it financial difficulty?  Go ahead, take a few moments to name the situation for yourself. Write it down if you’re open to doing so before you read on.

Now, what is it that you are trying to control in that situation?  For me, often it is outcome.  I want to be able to create a change or gain an insight in order to grow and move.  Or I want to create that space and hold it for another.  But my goal or method is not the answer; often, it is allowing the answer to unfold.  It is … release.  And yet being with someone or sharing the process with someone without knowing is to walk in darkness alongside them knowing that is enough.  As you are aware of what you are trying to control – perhaps a parent from getting Covid or dying from it alone in an ICU; maybe how you will pay the bills in 3 months when the severance runs out or tomorrow when there is no money; maybe how your employer is responding to changes in life recently; or maybe how you are managing your day-to-day life in the midst of a mild or moderate depression.  Give yourself a moment to pause, and again write down whatever outcome you are trying to control.

Next, I’d like you to find an object that reminds you of that issue.  A penny for a financial one; a rock for a stubborn issue you can’t seem to get around or influence; a Bayer Aspirin bottle for a loved one who is ill; these are some ideas to get your mind going.  If you can and choose to do so, take a few minutes to go find it in your home and return to finish reading. Pause here.

Then take the item you have chosen and hold it in your hand. Gently, as the hand is with the birds in the image above. Consider this item as fragile, even if, at first glance it isn’t. Your emotions about the issue this item symbolizes may be fragile, so treat this item with tender care. As you are meditating, look over the item you’re holding and see what feature you might not have noticed previously.  Release what you think you know, and turn it over and look at it with new eyes.  Consider what it has to show you.  I’ve had a very craggy rock Finley brought in the house that I’m using for my exercise in this.  And as I’m looking at it, I’m seeing an eruption in the top of it that is very sharp and discolored and today am aware of that as the focus – not the rock.  It is helping me to see the pain in something from not a heavy place but from the sensitive, hurting place.  What is different about the item in front of you – what hadn’t you noticed about it previously?  What is the message about the situation from that perspective?  Consider spending a few moments writing about that.  You might think about it in these terms if you get stuck on this part. 

I saw the _________________________ as representing _________________.

What I’d never noticed about the ___________ was ___________________________.

I’m aware now that it is possible that ________________________________.

As you finish the above exercise, what is the takeaway for you?  What have you learned by simply looking for the small factor you hadn’t considered or known about or been aware of as clearly?  Does that allow your view of the adversity you experiencing to shift?  And what does that mean to you about moving forward? Take some time to think about this and make some notes about it before moving on. Pause here.

Going back to Henri Nouwen’s writing – adversity, change, growth, understanding, and finally, joy are the stages of movement when moving through adversity and emerging in a new place.  What we must do is release ourselves from having to understand and know — and then, only then, we can begin moving towards the change, growth, understanding and finally joy that comes from that release.  The baby bird in the above picture wasn’t born with the ability to fly, it needed tending to and nurturing until ready to be released from the nest in flight. Only then, after time, after growth, came the release. I hope you can find your way to it through the above exercise too. 

Peace and calm be yours this week.

Take care,

Dr. Beth