Creativity – Nature or Nurture?

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Are we born to be creative, or is creativity learned?  In 1996, an article ran in Psychology Today.  It was written by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and it’s titled “The Creative Personality”.  The lead reads:

Creative individuals are remarkable for their ability to adapt to almost any situation and to make do with whatever is at hand to reach their goals.”

That sounds about right.  So, is the creative mind the result of genetics, or is creativity something that needs to be nurtured?  Or, like most things… is it a combination?

Take music and art for example.  Anybody that’s interested in music can take music lessons.  People can learn precise drawing techniques.   They can gain the technical skill required, and they can practice.  It’s been my experience that sometimes as person can be quite skilled, but something’s missing.  The music doesn’t flow through them.  The emotion is missing from the art.  Are they short on natural talent?

What about the idea that mental health is tied into creativity?   You can turn to Scientific American for information on this topic.  Scott Barry Kaufman, in his 2013 article “The Real Link Between Creativity and Mental Illness”, sets the record straight, saying:

Mental illness is neither necessary nor sufficient for creativity.”

As someone who make their living as a writer, I’m going to stick with Mr. Kaufman.

Now… I would argue that creativity is at least partially the result of a genetic predisposition.  Under the guise of submitting evidence, I’m going to brag about my family.  My oldest son plays the drums, and makes beautiful custom furniture for a living.  His wife is a wedding and life event photographer.  My second son plays guitar, and does tint and vinyl graphics for vehicles.  He’s married to a talented pastry chef.  My third son is a bass player, and works as a videographer and photographer.  His wife is often his second shooter.  My daughter is an artist, a photographer, and a high school art teacher.  She’s married to an artist who is also a photographer.

My sister owns an art center that also teaches dance and theater.  Her husband plays bass.  Her oldest daughter has a party paper business, and her younger daughter is an actress in New York.

From this anecdotal evidence, you could conclude that heredity has something to do with creativity.  You could also guess that creatives attract other creatives.   My children have the benefit of having a maternal grandmother and grandfather that are talented musicians.  They also have a paternal great-grandfather that was a gifted musician.  Their maternal great-grandfather and great-grandmother were also musicians.  I guess it was hard for them to avoid a love of music.  Too bad it skipped me… although I sound great singing in the shower, it’s mostly technical skill, I think.

Whenever they talk about budget reduction in schools, they seem to pick on art and music first.  So many kids get the perfect opportunity for their talent and enjoyment of the arts at school.  What will happen if we lose that at some point?  Will we, as parents or grandparents, be equipped to nurture and encourage kids in the arts at home?

Is a creative personality enough, or is training, development, an encouragement necessary?  I think that we need both to find ourselves and lead the creative life.  Going back to the article in Psychology Today, Mihaly calls it “full-blast living“.

I love that!

-Cat

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Are We Gawking At?

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A lot of people in my generation don’t know who Chris Cornell was. So, the news of his death was not of interest to them.  They didn’t realize that although he had a four-octave vocal range, he was an acquired taste.  Not everyone liked his singing voice.  I did.

I’m not going to sit here now that he’s dead and tell you how much I loved him and how grieved I am.  I liked him, and it’s sad for his family.  He died on the day my youngest grandson was born, so I won’t remember the day in a mournful way.

So, I wanted to write a piece about Chris, but realized that I didn’t know much about him.  I knew that he was the singer for Soundgarden and Audioslave, and I like his solo work as well.  When I went on the internet to research a little, I immediately regretted it.  I can now tell you five things you need to know about him, his wife, his first wife, and his kids.  In fact, five things you “must” know about Chris Cornell.

Now, I’ve got this list of ten interesting things I know about him.  But I want to talk about just one.  The articles all state that he had problems with depression, drugs, and alcohol, but that he went through rehab.  They say that he’s been clean since 2003, and that he’s helped other addicts to stay clean.

Fast forward to now.  His wife says that there’s no way he could have committed suicide, since he was making plans to do stuff on Memorial Day.  When she spoke to him that evening, he was slurring his words.  He told her that he might have taken an extra Ativan or two.  

When a musician dies, it’s usually drugs or suicide.  This looks like a combination of both to me.  I know it’s hard for his wife to accept, but if someone takes an extra Ativan or two, they’re not clean, and they are self-medicating.  

If you think I’m judging, I’m not.  We go about our lives with a very distant relationship with our mortality.  I only know one person that was obsessed with the fact that they were going to die.  They’re dead now.  

The truth is, most people don’t want to know if you’re hurting or depressed.  For all the publicity that mental health awareness gets these days, it’s still considered something that happens to “other people”.  I’ve seen people take a hard stand against suicide, depression, and mental illness. Like they think it’s made up, or self-inflicted, or the person is seeking attention.   I believe we all have our vulnerabilities.  

People say that if you’re feeling depressed, you should talk about it.  To whom?  If someone is suffering with depression, they are carrying a heavy burden.  That’s what depression is.  Exactly who is it that wants to talk about that?  If you suffer from anxiety, you’re scared all the time.  Do people want to talk about that, or should you take Ativan?  Change your Facebook profile pic for a day, yeah.  But have a real discussion?

So, once again, I’m impressed by how fragile we are.  I do feel sad that Chris Cornell, for whatever reason, couldn’t talk it out.

That’s enough cheer for a Monday night!  Thanks for listening…

-Cat

My Favorite Football Team

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So… here it comes!  It’s that time of year again.  Let’s be distracted from politics for a few minutes.  Let’s talk non stop about the teams, the halftime show, the commercials, and all of the other hoopla surrounding – THE  SUPER BOWL!

This is actually a lonely two weeks for me.  I have nothing relevant to talk about.  Last year around this time, my coworker, Nate, asked me who I liked in the Superbowl.  I told him that I didn’t care.  He then asked me who my favorite football team was.  I told him that my favorite football team was “Art and Music”. He seemed puzzled by that.  When I went on to explain that I preferred art and music to football, he looked even more perplexed.  I told him that I wasn’t into sports.

My first husband loved watching sports on TV.  I wanted to like it.  I tried to like it.  I pretended to want to try to like it.  It didn’t work out for me.  When I left him, he told me how great it was to be able to stay up all night and watch the game.  He didn’t have to worry about ruining someone’s night, making someone cry or be angry.  I told him that was okay.  I didn’t have to listen to it, watch it, or have it wreck my plans, or waste my time.  In other words… it worked out for both of us!

I hit the jackpot in my current match!  His favorite football team?  You guessed it… art and music.  What a world of difference!  We never talk about sports, we don’t watch sports, and we don’t plan our life around sports.  He will sometimes watch golf if we’re home and it’s on.  I’m okay with that… it doesn’t make much noise.  True fact – before I wrote this post, I asked him “Hey, the Superbowl is this Sunday, right?”  He responded by saying “How should I know?”  I Googled it.  It’s this Sunday.

Is it in our genes to watch sports?  I never watched sports growing up.  My Dad’s trophies are more for the chess team and debate team.  I grew up with two sisters.  None of us played sports.  My family encouraged my love of art and music.  It wasn’t until I started dating my first husband that I learned about TV trays for Thanksgiving.  I have four grown kids.  My oldest loves his football.  My second son isn’t really into it. My third son hates sports.  My daughter can take it or leave it. 

I made all my kids play sports when they were growing up.  I see the value in it, and wonder if I would have been better off for playing when I was young.  By the way, I loved watching my kids play.  My boys were all pretty athletic.  My daughter was the first girl to complete a season of football with the Boys and Girls Club in our area. Other girls had come out in August to practice, but had not played once the season started.  I remember the first play of the first game Catie was in.  She got knocked about ten feet out of her cleats, and landed squarely on the ground.  After that, she developed tenacity and coping strategies, and didn’t fall for that again.

I love to go to a live sporting event.  There’s so much to see, and it’s all happening at once!  I just don’t want to devote the time it takes to follow it on TV.  I get it, I’m just not into it.

I hope your team wins this weekend.  I know mine will!

– Cat

 

This Year, Give Yourself More Meaning

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I’ve seen some posts from people lately reminding us that not everyone is filled with cheer at the holidays.  Some folks are grieving for loved ones who are not here to celebrate with us.  Sometimes, it’s a long distance separation that puts a damper on the holidays.  Lack of resources may leave some people frustrated and fed up.

We call this the season of miracles.  The Christmas message is one of hope… Glad tidings, if you will.  We tend to romanticize Christmases past.  When you contrast those memories with todays realities, you can feel profound disappointment.  Remind yourself that it’s like comparing Summers as a kid to Summers now.  Like comparing Saturday mornings eating cereal and watching cartoons with grown up Saturday mornings.   I’d like to share some things that I’ve found add deeper enjoyment to this time of year.

Whether you are Christian, or not, you can gain an understanding of Christmas, and its symbolism, by reading the first four chapters of the New Testament in the Bible.  These constitute the “gospel” of Jesus Christ, and tell of his birth and the first part of his life.  This may be Holy to some, and merely interesting to others, but will help you reflect on the point of it all.

Shop within your budget.  Don’t kill yourself with credit card bills the first of the new year.  I’m not telling you this because I’ve never done it.  I used to do it quite a bit, but since I stopped, Christmas is a lot more enjoyable for me.  By all means, buy gifts for those you love, just don’t take out a loan on your 401k to do it.

Do at least one or two “Christmasy” things.  There are a ton of feel-good holiday movies on television this time of year.  If you are lucky enough to have a light display nearby, go have a look.  We try to take at least one trip to our favorite garden center, to see the model Christmas train display.  I know that some of you get annoyed by carols of the season.  I like to sing along.  I do get funny looks at the grocery store, so sometimes I turn it down to a hum.

Don’t let the pressure get to you.  Sometimes, I think it’s easy to feel responsible for everyone having the perfect Christmas.  Like so many other things, just do your best… and don’t stress!  My friend, Amy, would recommend that you pause and take a few yoga breaths when that happens.  It may seem corny, but she never steers me wrong with that.  If you’re so inclined, it’s a great time for prayer and meditation.  Those efforts can also have a calming effect when you’re needing to press pause.

It doesn’t matter if you’re gathering with a big family, or doing Christmas on your own this year.  Remember to be kind… to yourself and others.  Be thankful for Christmas memories.   Be emotionally present for this year’s celebrations.  And look forward to what’s coming up in the New Year. It’s going to be great!

– Cat

 

The Resurgence of Vinyl

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I love to recall the sensation of hanging out in the basement of my house when I was nine or ten years old.  I would listen to records with my best friend.  I can’t recall whether my first record was The Beatles Rubber Soul, or The Best of the Monkees.  I know we played the heck out of them.

I discovered college radio when I was eleven and we moved to the Washington, D.C. area.  I pulled the covers over my head at night, so no one could hear my transistor radio. I listened to WGTB, out of Georgetown University.  I would hang out at the record store while my Mom did the grocery shopping.  The record store guy (that’s what I called him) would help me decide which 45 record I would buy that week with my allowance.

I would listen to records with my parents too.  I loved my Dad’s Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell records, which soon became my own.  As my musical tastes became more diverse, my record collection grew.  As a teenager, I would have preferred to spend all my time in my room listening to records.

Then came 8 Track tapes.  Fast Forward to cassettes… pun intended.  Wowsers!  I could record stuff off the radio, and listen to it later.  What a concept!  I still listened to albums occasionally, but you can’t play an album in the car.  To this day, I love to listen to music while I drive. A couple of years ago, I donated my cassette collection to Alexandros, because he’s one of the few people I know that has a cassette player. Also, because I knew he would appreciate them.

About the time I found myself single again, I bought a CD player.  I was skeptical, but everyone raved about the sound quality.  So, of course, I started a CD collection.  I have about 300 of them downstairs in a cabinet that I bought especially to keep them in.  I never listen to them.

I have Spotify now.  I make playlists, and share them with friends and family.  I especially love to make collaborative playlists.  I have a portable speaker, a set of wireless headphones, and bluetooth in the car.  I can listen to these never ending playlists everywhere.  Gotta love technology!

I’ll tell you what else I have now.  A record collection!  With my husband’s collection and mine combined, we have an archive that stretches back into the mid sixties. One problem… He took care of his albums.  Me, not so much!  He has a “special” stylus to play my old albums on.  I love to go to record store day, an annual event with exclusive releases.  Rediscovering vinyl has been like seeing a best friend you haven’t seen in years.

Our collection has some Opera, Classical, Folk, Rock and Roll, and “Other”.  He has a first pressing of Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother.  I have my original Lou Reed Rock and Roll Animal album.  I lost quite a few albums when my kids pilfered them as teenagers.  That’s what I get for taking Dad’s. Talk about karma!  My son, Travis, recently confessed, and made it up to me by replacing my Frank Zappa Overnight Sensation album with a brand new one.

How does vinyl sound so good?  During our time apart, I forgot vinyl’s distinctive sound.  Now, when we have some time to burn, I love to sit in my basement and listen to records with my best friend.  It’s funny how that worked out.

– Cat

My Struggle With Jazz

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I love the notion of sitting in a jazz club in Summer.  Hot and sultry, the music washing over me.  Back in my reality, I have a hard time enjoying jazz.  The slow, bluesy jazz isn’t so bad, but that snappy jazz just makes me feel confused.  I’m not sure why it bothers me.  Who cares?

I pride myself on appreciating all types of music.  When I listen to jazz, the first song is always good.  I’m thinking “I like this, it’s great”. The second song is just okay, and by the third song, I’m done.  I want to like it, but for some reason, I just don’t.

I brought this up one time in a closed Facebook group for an eclectic station that I listen to on satellite radio.  I commented “I’m not clever enough for jazz”.  I meant it as a joke, but the remark was not taken lightly.  The response was rapid.  “You need to have more of an open mind”, was the general consensus.  It was clear that these people cared a great deal about my impairment.

I talked to some people I know that love jazz.  My daughter, Catie, is a big jazz fan.  She recommended some pieces to me.  She talked to me about how jazz made her feel, and how it was such a wonderful musical genre to explore.  I wanted to get on board that train!  Some of the pieces she recommended to me were enjoyable at the beginning.  But, they soon melted into chaos, and that’s the part I have a hard time with.

My son, Tyler, who is a musician and loves jazz, took the time to explain to me the construction of a jazz piece.  I found it fascinating as we listened to a song together; identifying the different parts as they played out.  I think I liked having a stimulating conversation with him better than the music itself.  Although the technical aspects were interesting, it didn’t improve my appreciation.

Now, I know that in this crazy world we live in, with all it’s real problems, that this may seem trivial.  And it is.  It’s just something that I think about now and then.  Are there any other jazz skeptics out there?

 – Cat

Growing Up In a Musical Family

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When I was a kid, we didn’t watch much television.  My parents didn’t own a color TV until I was grown and gone.  On a regular basis, we would spend evenings playing music and singing.  My Father played the guitar.  Mom has many musical talents.  She would play the piano, and sometimes pick the banjo.  She plays the bagpipes too, by the way, but usually not in the living room.  My sisters and I would sing along, and we worked our way through a big Alan Lomax songbook.

If you don’t know, Alan Lomax is famous for collecting songs from all over the United States.  Most people credit him for introducing millions of people to American Folk Music.  This type of music is the foundation for my love of music.  Like children do, I took this blessing for granted.  It wasn’t until I was much older that I grew to appreciate these evenings gone past.  I didn’t know that in some families, they didn’t get together in the evening to make a joyful noise.

As I became a teenager, I turned to rock and roll, and expanded my journeys into musical landscapes.  As a young adult, I liked all kinds of music.  I went to live concerts with my parents, and then my friends.  I started my own family when I was quite young, and had four kids in short order.

As a young mother, I often doubted that I was doing everything the way I should. One thing I know I got right as I worked through the days bringing up those sweet babies.  They had a soundtrack!  Through the years, I made sure that we listened to all kinds of music.  I shared and recounted the old songs, like most parents do.  But I’ve never been afraid of discovering new music and moving with the times.

We listened to music at home and in the car.  As soon as they were old enough, maybe sooner, I would take them to see live music whenever I could. Now, we share musical discoveries with each other.  We still see and appreciate live concerts.

 Before long, they were each moving to their own rhythm, so to speak.  My oldest son, Thom, is a fantastic drummer.  He always amazed me with his ability to pick up different drumming styles within a minute or two.  My second son, Travis, plays guitar and sings, the same way I did growing up.  I’m always impressed with the way he sounds, whether he’s playing electric or acoustic.  My youngest son, Tyler, is a beast on the bass.  He’s a versatile bassist, and has a love for writing music as well.  I don’t get to hear any of them play as much as I would like to.  They have discovered that when you have to adult, you don’t get as much practice time in. 

My daughter, Catie,  is a huge fan of music, like me.  Her ears devour every new sound, every old familiar tune, and she sings to her son.  My grandchildren are the next generation of music lovers.  One of the best feelings in the world is when I sing to my grandson Carl, and when I’m done, he looks at me and says “again”.

When my Grandmother died, they buried her with her harmonica.  She started playing that when she wasn’t able to play the piano any more.  I love my musical past, and my musical future.  I’m so grateful that my parents took the time to teach me to appreciate a good song.  I’m also blessed when I hear my kids sing it back to me.

– Cat