In December, I read The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp. She presents readers with a prompts to construct their creative autobiographies. Below is my (slightly) edited creative autobiography. Readers, I let this rip Beatnik style. This stream of consciouness is the result of several hours at Northampton Coffee and a few more sitting cross-legged on my bed.
Your Creative Autobiography:
- What is the first creative moment you remember?
When I invented my first imaginary friend.
- Was anyone there to whiteness or appreciate it?
I felt creative when I describing this invisible friend in rich detail to my mother who gave me the impression that my thick description of this fake person was actually real. It fed my imagination in a profound way as if there was suddenly real space to explore my mind.
- What is the best idea you’ve ever had?
I think that the best idea I’ve ever had was when I connected creative destruction (a principle in economics) to shifts in librarianship. I felt wild with imagination, the feelings that I imaged that the Beats had when I was reading those types of books when I was a teenager when they experienced satori. I shared this idea about creative destruction in libraries during a panel at ACRL 2013 in Indianapolis that sparked an inspiriting conversation with one of the Lead Pipe editors that jump started my writing process.
- What made it great in your mind?
I think what made it great in my mind was this sensation that I struck upon a complicated idea that begged to be unpacked, that demanded more attention and brain power. I felt excited about the idea and felt committed to seeing it through. I never felt that way before.
- What is the dumbest idea?
I can’t think of the dumbest idea that I’ve ever had, more this sense that I have thought a lot of half baked ideas, or half formed ideas that idled in my mind long enough to become thoughts that sustained some amount of attention before I realized that there wasn’t anything sustainable about them. That disappointed me, like I didn’t have the brain power to think of something worth pondering for more than five or ten minutes at a time.
- What made it stupid?
Those ideas were stupid because they didn’t demand more attention, that they could not be extended or developed in any meaningful way.
- Can you connect the dots that led you to this idea?
I read a lot of books that would lead to random thoughts. Sometimes I would write them down wondering if these particles would eventually lead to bigger, better ideas. I would later reflect back on those ideas in journals or on pieces of paper or in Evernote to see if they could lead to anything. Generally speaking, they didn’t lead to anything.
- What is your creative ambition?
Until I started doing more sustained writing on my blog and finished my first peer reviewed article, I did not think of myself as a creative person. In many ways I dismissed the idea it was even possible since I’m a librarian/archivist/higher ed nerd. I did not think that writing about libraries or higher education or archives was creative at all. I did not think of myself as a writer since I did not finish a ph.d and would never have occasion to spend years on a sustained topic or idea. In the last few months, however, I began to realize that I am creative; that my ideas and writing are not rote observations, but meaningful contributions to important conversations happening in libraries and higher ed at a time of dizzying change and transition. We are the future we want to be, or as my grad school advisor said, if you don’t like the center of a social circle or department, become the new center, or really, be the change you want to see. When I began to value my own voice and appreciate my own opinions, I began to make the connection that my ideas grounded in reality were no less creative than the ideas fiction writers have. I started reading Brain Pickings and found that my own struggle to write, shift through ideas, and trust my voice and practice were now in the context of creative habit, routine, and practice. My creative ambition is to follow my voice and share my opinions widely, openly, and honestly hopefully in the form more more peer reviewed articles, books, and an engaging blog.
- What are the obstacles to this ambition?
My fear is that I will run out of ideas; I am profoundly afraid of loosing my voice, loosing my power of observation and synthesis, of my ability to make unique connections between far fledged ideas. I think time and energy are also obstacles to this ambition. I also have ambitions to lead an organization; to teach credit bearing courses, and serve in professional organizations more systematically. There is also the challenge of being an adult human who has to feed herself, do laundry, pay bills, and clean her space. Time is a constant challenge for me, how to meaningfully spend it, how not to waste it, and how to get all my needs and wants met. Do I trade home-cooked dinners for more writing time? I don’t exactly know.
- What are the vital steps to achieving this ambition?
I need to have a job that continues to inspire and challenge me. I gain a lot of inspiration from my day to day work, seeing how it connects or disconnects from larger trends in librarianship and higher education, gaining inspiration from my students and faculty, and working with professionals who push and challenge me in a number of different ways. I need additional opportunities to step up and lead at work; managing projects or initiatives always pushes me towards better, more robust ideas. I also need to establish routines that will give me time to write, to reflect. I also need to have better systems for brainstorming ideas, giving myself permission to waste money by buying beautiful paper and pens to scribble gibberish or concept map ideas or dreams I have. Perhaps I should just call it day-dreaming for a professional adult? I also need to have a creative practice board of directions, in the same vein that I have a professional board of directors who can serve as references, dispense advice, and offer support. I am lucky to be a part of an amazing writing group at Mount Holyoke College where I share drafts, spin ideas, and do the same for my colleagues.
- How do you begin your day?
Generally, I begin my day rushing to get ready for work. Once I arrive at work, if I have a meeting first thing, I go to the meeting and then feel behind for the rest of the day. Perhaps in an idea world, I would wake up earlier to have some reflective time to write or jot down thoughts, but that feels indulgent. I like to settle into my workspace before diving into email or projects, but I don’t have an established routine for my start of days.
- What are your habits? What patterns do you repeat?
The past few months have been a huge personal transition for me so I think that I am starting to separate lazy habits from intentional ones. I repeat patterns of checking my finances daily, I drink coffee every morning. I read The New York Times every day; I aim to have zero emails in my inbox every day; I aspire to write SOMETHING every day; I revise my to do lists daily. Accountability to my work is a deeply ingrained habit; I beat myself up when I miss a self imposed deadline, so I do have a habit of revising my own sets of expectations for how often I will publish a blog post, or what my goals for the year should be.
- Describe your first successful creative act.
I think that my first successful creative act was when I was in the eighth grade. Middle school was hard for me; kids bullied me and I didn’t have many friends. I loved school and I loved to learn. Art was a requirement; while I enjoyed it very much, I wasn’t always successful at making unique pieces or capturing my point of view in drawings or sculpture. I tended to make literal things in spite of my desire to work in abstractions. I loved looking at art even as a middle schooler; I begged my parents to take me to MoMA when we were in New York City and wanted to believe that I too could create in spite of my limitations. Anyways, in grade 8, I began drawing on this black paper that when scraped off with a wooden pencil, color would be revealed. I doodled and doodled and finally working in these intricate patterns. I finally made a really tight drawing design that eventually won a nominal art prize from The Boston Globe. I stumbled upon this technique and medium accidentally while trying to make abstractions that I saw in some of the art books I read in the library. I was really proud of myself; my parents still have the piece in their house.
- Describe your second successful creative act.
Grade 8 was an artistic year for me; following my award, the art teacher, who was such an amazing influence and emotional support for me in middle school, invited me a few other students to paint a mural in the school over the course of a few months. It was humbling and exciting to paint a public mural, work with my hands, and get lost in my visions.
- Compare them.
My first successful creative act was a confluence of happenstance (neat medium!) and discipline (I will make an abstraction) and they came together to make a unique piece of art with limited encouragement. The support and encouragement my art teacher offered fueled my discipline to complete the project. The first project was entirely mine; I collaborated with other students on the second project. The mediums were different; the first was a drawing and the second was a large scale, painted mural.
- What is your attitude toward: money, power, praise, rivals, work, play?
My attitude towards money is complicated; on the one hand, I never had ambitions to earn a considerable salary and on the other hand, I really want to have a healthy emergency fund, retirement savings, and the ability to travel where I want when I want. My day to day life doesn’t demand a considerable salary. I don’t have a family nor have the aspirations for have one in the future and I live relatively simply. That said, $10k would change my life considerably right now, considerably for the better. I am not sure how I feel about power; I don’t necessarily have designs to be powerful, but I am aware of power dynamics and organizational change. And influence. I want to have enough power to make changes I know need to be made in my field and ‘wield’ power enough to be an effective mentor and manager in the future. Like may people, I enjoy a certain amount of praise, but I don’t need pats on the back for everything I do. Praise doesn’t drive me; challenges do. I used to be really into rivals and assume that certain individuals were rivals when they turned out not to be at all. Rivals turned my energy away from myself. I try not to focus too much on competition and rather focus on my personal best now. It’s hard, but I find that when I focus on my own projects and goals, I get more done. I love to work and consider myself to have a strong work ethic and enjoy working, but I also realize I hit walls when I can’t work on concentrate very well and I need to recharge. I used to think that I was bad at ‘play,’ but I really enjoy watching sports, reading for fun, taking walks, and cooking for friends. A balanced approach to both is essential, I am not sure I know how to achieve that balance all of the time, but I am experimenting with what works for me.
- Which artists do you admire the most?
Zadie Smith. Jumpha Lahiri
- Why are they your role models?
They are my role models because they don’t seem take themselves too seriously, they work hard at their craft, and write with an authentic voice. I think they are both incredibly smart and productive. They don’t attribute magic to their work and I appreciate that no nonsense approach.
- What do you and your role models have in common?
A strong work ethic and a unique voice.
- Does anyone in your life regularly inspire you?
My mentor is a constant inspiration; she is always able to to see the whole board so to speak and make meaningful connections in her work, she’s an amainzg teacher. I admire her intelligence, keen wit, and strategic mind. My colleague and co-conspirator at Mount Holyoke has amazing enthusiasm, energy, and creativity; she is an excellent storyteller.
- Who is your muse?
I don’t think I have one.
- Define muse.
My understanding of muse is that it is a magical force that teaches artists and inspire them to create. I’ve been unable to self-identity as an artist or writer so I don’t think the concept of a muse applies to me.
- When confronted with superior intelligence or talent, how do you respond?
I want to learn from superior intelligence and talent. I try to befriend those with superior talent and intelligence.
- When faced with stupidity, hostility, intransigence, laziness, or indifference in others, how do you respond?
My blood boils when faced with those things. I tend to withdraw or disengage. Sometimes I also engage to outwit or outmaneuver it if stupidity is in a position of power for me. In those cases, it inspires me to win.
- When faced with impending success or the threat of failure, how do you respond?
When faced with those experiences, I tend face it head on, embrace both for growth. I don’t celebrate success for too long; I am always focused on what’s next. I can learn profound things from both success and failure, so both are necessary for growth. I don’t dwell on either, or try not to, at least.
- When you work, do you love the process or the result?
When I work, I love the process. I feel a sense of loss when I complete a project. I love the result to remind me of the process, but I am more in love with the process than the result.
- At what moments do you feel your reach exceeds your grasp?
I feel that way when I haven’t done enough preparation for a project in terms of scaffolding, an outline, clear expectations of what I want to accomplish or who I am writing for. Nebulous projects or collaborations tend me make me feel that way, too. A strong clear vision is essential for me to create, write, work, and teach.
- What is your ideal creative activity?
Concept mapping my thoughts, outlining ideas, writing and synthesizing my thoughts while reading. Writing is my ideal creative activity.
- What is your greatest fear?
My greatest fear is that I will run out of ideas to put into practice or writing.
- What is the likelihood of either of the answers to the previous to questions happening?
I invest a lot of energy in creating space and time to writing, read, and concept map. I don’t know what the likelihood of running out of ideas is, but I think it fuels me to be present and aware at all times to engage at all times.
- Which of the answers would you like to change?
What is your idea of mastery?
Mastery to me means having nothing left to say or do. I think it’s something to strive towards, but not necessarily achieve.
- What is your greatest dream?
To write books, articles, and blog posts while managing and taking inspiration from a team of librarians/technologists/archivists from a beautiful office at a College or University in a an East Coast city.