Saturday, December 10, 2011

What Happened to That Good Old Fashioned Christmas?

We decided on a midnight clear to go a-wassailing at Bubba's Bar and Grill. Granted,  mama was in her kerchief and I in my cap and we had just settled down for a long winter's nap, but it was such a silent night and we yearned for some holly, jolly Christmas cheer.  So, dashing through the snow, we decided to partake in the most wonderful time of the year at Bubba's. 

When we got there, we were dismayed to find that no one was rockin' around the Christmas tree, as we had envisioned.  Instead we found many bleary-eyed patrons at the bar, apparently having a blue Christmas. Nonetheless,  we decided we could bring some tidings of comfort and joy, found a booth and perused the menu.  When the waitress made her way over, I smiled cheerfully and said "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, eh?" 

To that she replied, "Whadya want? Just so ya know, we're out of the special." 

She obviously was in need of a cup of cheer herself! I noticed that the menu was remiss on many holiday items and thought it possible that they may have neglected to put them on the menu. 

"Bring us some figgy pudding!" I joyously pronounced! "And bring it right here." as I patted the greasy table in front of me.

"Ya gotta be kidding, right?" she barked.

"And perhaps a side of chestnuts roasted on an open fire!" 

"Listen, pops, we got no figgy pudding, we got no chestnuts! We only got what's on the menu!"

I tried to maintain my calm good humor.

"Listen, my dear, we have come over the river and through the woods to share some Christmas cheer! In the air, there's a feeling of Christmas! Can't you feel it?"

I waved my hands around above my head so she could feel it.

"I'll take a beer," Mama said.

Now I was becoming a bit miffed.

" I came for wassail and figgy pudding, by golly! Where are the silver bells, the children laughing, people passing? Dammit, I wanted smile after smile! I was dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know...."

The empty eyed people at the bar were starting to stare.  The waitress bolted toward the bar and a burly man in red came over.

"Hey, I'm the manager here. You got a problem?"

Oh, my word! I was stunned! His eyes-how they twinkled! His dimples how merry! His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry! Although he smelled quite strongly of Jack Daniels, I was sure, quite sure, that this was the jolly old elf himself!

"My good man," I said. "I was asking the lovely young lady for some wassail and figgy pudding, in celebration of the holidays! Glad tidings I bring to you and your kin!"

"Ain't got no kin and I ain't got none a'them things that you ordered! I'm gonna hafta ask ya'll to leave." 

I noticed some of the other gentlemen at the bar coming forward. Although, at first, I thought they may have wanted to wish me happy holidays, I saw no joy in their eyes.

"Do you hear what I hear?" Mama's eyes grew wide.

Out in the parking lot there arose such a clatter, I sprang from my seat to see what was the matter. When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a screaming squad car and someone yelling, "Over here!!!" With a large uniformed driver so large dressed in blue, I knew in a moment there was nothing I could do.

"Officer Rudolph, here. Let me take you folks back home."

I looked at the car with its strobing red lights. Of course, it all made sense.

He spoke no more words, but went straight to his work, holding me firmly with nary a jerk. Opened the door for the missus and me and nodded at the manager solemnly. As we sat in the back and drove out of sight, we heard the manager yell,

"Tell Elderly Angels to keep their folks locked up at night!"

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Guide to Being Yourself by Jennifer Louden

I absolutely adore Jennifer Louden. She is right up there with Anne Lamott and Brene Brown. She makes it all simple, real, doable, imperfect. This is from an email today about simply being ourselves, which you would think was the easiest thing to be in the whole wide world. Yet so many of us struggle. Here's her take. Savor!
1. Dedicate yourself to wholeness. Perfection appears to be a much sexier partner but is actually a demon lover who will suck you dry and leave you bitter and broken.
2. Acknowledge what you experience and how you feel. It’s not about you being right and someone else being wrong, it’s about claiming your experience. It’s your experience and seeing it, feeling it, sitting with it, helps make you you.
3. Healthy desire birthed all of creation. Let it birth you, again and again. Being yourself springs from knowing what you want.
4. Healthy desire is never about perfection (outcome). It is about going deeper than your mood, deeper than your stories of what is allowed or possible, into the sensations and energy of desire itself, and letting that move you into inspired action.
5. Healthy desire is the source from which you renew your commitment to what matters most to you. Acting on that commitment will mean constantly unfurling into the unknown. The sooner you make peace with doing that (yes imperfectly which means people will be pissed off at you) the more energy you will have for adventure!
6. Every time you say “I can’t because…” you are giving your power away to someone or something else, which is giving yourself away. Power is a foundational spiritual quality. Pretending that you don’t have power or that you are not responsible for your life is the quickest way to hell. Trust me on this one.
7. Have practices that help you open your heart, love yourself, and witness your thoughts and reactions. Because here’s the hysterical truth: there really isn’t a separate self to be and that is the most delicious discovery of all.
8. Waste no time guarding the self you are forever becoming. It’s one thing to have strong boundaries and another to jealously guard your heart.
9. There is no destination. There is nothing to fix. No I to dot, no test score to achieve, no number in your bank account that says, “I’m done! I did it! I’m me!”
There is only this – rice crackers crumbs, cold tea, sun streaming through kitchen window, beating heart, time for a stretch.
Catch more of Jennifer's kindness and wisdom at:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Who Can I Trust?

Not the usual way. I have found over the last few years that there are times you shouldn't trust. When that gut feeling just jabs you at your very core and you justify away, "Oh, that is just my fear. I will forge ahead anyway." Enter lesson, usually at least somewhat uncomfortable, often downright painful.
No, the trust should be in yourself and your own innate knowledge and sense of what makes you comfortable or uncomfortable. Trusting that jab in your gut is the trust I am talking about.
Here's a little background fairytale for you: Once upon a time, there was a little girl who lived in a make believe world. She scaled trees, played with insects, talked to imaginary friends and wise voices in her head. She drew, and painted, and wrote and the world was a safe place. But when she grew up, the outside voices told her that she couldn't continue living that way. That where she needed to live was called REALITY. This new world was quite frightening to her. Whereas in her old world, she knew she could trust without limit, in the world called REALITY, she found that there were often voices with conflicting messages, that asked her to trust things she would never have trusted in her deep world of imagination, of heart and soul. Little twinges emerged, most often in her belly, but she ignored them because this new REALITY was where she was told she must dwell as a grown up. Many years later, as she struggled with fits and starts, heartbreak and confusion, one of those small voices from her past broke through.
"Trust ME," it said.
"But you are from my old world, you are only imagination. I must listen to the voices of REALITY now," she plaintively responded, although the pain in her soul kept tugging at her, trying to get her attention as a small child would.
The voice, strong and clear, emerged and rang throughout her being. "I am YOUR reality. The REALITY of the world is many-faceted and full of illusions and perceptions. It can only be trusted with much DISCERNMENT. I can help you with that, but you must first come back to US, the voices who sustained you with love and tenderness, truth and heart-knowledge.  Please come back. We are here for you and will always be speaking with your highest good in mind."
And so, tentatively, she began to make her way back. Although the voices of REALITY were loud and often quite alluring, she started noticing the little signals that her voices would send. She would watch REALITY and wonder why so many people listened to the loudness, the confusion. She knew that each one of them had their OWN reality, those quite, loving voices, that held their heart and soul with such gentleness. She wondered....
And then she stopped wondering, and went back to her trees, and insects, her drawing and painting and writing. She played in the mud and made fantastical creatures. And when REALITY became too loud, she closed the window and talked to -- and trusted --  the wise voices in her imagination.
The End.
So, this started with the word TRUST. But the caveat is that the particular trust I'm speaking of is born of the self-nurturing inner voices that sustained you before REALITY broke through. Sure, REALITY is there, big and large and, at times, frightening. No doubt, at times, it looks quite appealing as well. Family, job, material wealth (or lack thereof), community all live in that world of REALITY so there is absolutely no way to ignore it. But those little voices of so long ago arm you with intuitive twinges, gut-growling-seizures-of-the-most-epic-proportions, love-warmth, self-honor and heart-space -- DISCERNMENT. Listen. Feel. It may take awhile to conjure those voices up from so long ago, but they are still there. Grab some crayons, write a poem. take a walk in nature...NOT along the side of a busy road, but where there are actual trees, water, birdsong.
Listen. Then trust. Go ahead. I dare you.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

When I need to be reminded...

When I need to be reminded that life is good, that I choose what I give attention to, that if I rein myself in, watch my own simple sphere of existence and leave the loudness and harshness behind, I turn to Mary Oliver's poetry. At times in my life when I can become easily overwhelmed by the unknowns, I often come back to this particular poem, and I regain that strength and faith in the orderliness of the Universe to give me just what I need. Some days the journey is more difficult than others, but when I read this, I am reminded that we are all on that journey and I am not alone.

The Journey
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save. 
© Mary Oliver.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

In Support of Daydreaming

"People who lean on logic and philosophy and rational exposition end by starving the best part of the mind" William Butler Yeats

Photo by miss_mimee
As I write this, it is a wet day in south Florida. This is not the rainy season, so a wet day usually means an oncoming cold front. Yes, I feel the front coming in through the glorious cross breeze. I have spent the morning finishing a sculpture, writing a soliloquy to the morning (a writing project) and spent  hollow time on, You tube and facebook. I am now contemplating a nap.

In our society, what I have spent my day doing would be considered a waste of time-- I don't make a living from my sculpture or my writing. Therefore, it is unproductive and I could be considered by some to be downright lazy. To me, the vastness of what I have learned today could fill chapters in a book. My sloppy sculpture of a horse turned into a magical unicorn and my writing exercise lent me an opportunity to empathize with a person who hates mornings (I love them). My foray on gave my imagination great fodder for my upcoming move to North Carolina. Where else can I window shop for historic homes with fine old woodwork, bright nooks and crannies for a studio AND a barn and workshop?

My time on You tube led me to listening  to music that filled my heart and watching Lady Gaga perform theatrical miracles. It led me to a PBS documentary about a man suffering from ALS who chooses whether he wants to commit suicide. It opened me to people and things I would never have encountered in my daily life. My time on facebook allowed me to connect with friends while wearing my comfy pajama bottoms and a big tee shirt from Castlewood Canyon. My nap will allow me time to spend in my dream galaxies where the other night I cleaned out old Christmas trees that I had been hoarding in a huge warehouse for years. I have some amazing dreams!

While I have wasted away my day, the vast majority of people I know have busied themselves with important things, working at soul numbing jobs, networking, talking on the phone, pushing around papers, signing things. You know, the things that really matter to our well-being on this planet, right? Being a student of the human condition, I have come to a shocking conclusion. When did we become so numb that we need to hire coaches and therapists to help us find ourselves? To sort out what it is that just may make us happy? It is indeed a conundrum.

I have a simple solution: daydreaming.  It is wildly entertaining, quite the stress buster, and gives the right hemisphere something to do in this world of left-brainedness.  My daydreams find their way into my writing, into my art, into my dreams. And I don't need to pay anyone to tell me how to be happy. Of course, if I feel the need, I probably can just dream up an adventure to take my mind off my perception of misery.  If I feel like shopping, I go online to Etsy and pick out the most glorious handmade articles and collect them in my favorites. Window shopping on steroids.

And when all the daydreaming has tired me out, I pull up my big fluffy comforter and take a nap.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Who I Am...Honestly

Digital Image by Imagine Studios
I have decided to be honest these days. For far too long, I prayed to the god of perfection. So I sat myself down and decided who I was, honestly, imperfectly, authentically. And here is what I came up with:

I am a wildly imaginative soul in a slightly lazy body. They  fight with each other over creating, tidying, or just saying to hell with it and taking a nap.

I talk to the trees, to horses, to bugs, to God...generally anything non-human. I find humans somewhat disconcerting as they always want to complicate things that are really quite simple. And humans who are broken always seem to want to fix other humans so they don't have to focus on themselves. Seems like a darn waste of time if you ask me.

I am over-the-top-blessed and secretly afraid God will figure out He has given me the blessings of several people by mistake and say, "OMG! I have given you Dick and Jane's blessings by mistake. I will have to take those back, my dear. Now run along and suffer like everyone else."

I am a slob, which I don't consider awful at all, even though everyone else seems to think that tidy organization is the way to go. I am surrounded by the things that inspire me. I would build furniture out of books if I could. And tidying up would seriously cut into nap time.

I'm not fond of photos of myself. They really don't look like me at all. I often wonder how they can reflect back this slightly lumpy body and mildly wrinkled face when I am really quite striking and beautiful.  Another oops on God's part. I must have gotten Jane's body by mistake.

I have always listened to the voices in my head. I worried at one point that this may be a bit odd. Then I realized that the voices in my head were really the only ones that mattered.

I love clay and paint and paper and ink and pencils and glue and all the things that allow me to create a piece of magical something where there once was nothing. I still believe in fairies. Shhhhh...don't tell anyone. They may think I'm crazy.

Oh, I AM a bit crazy, you know? And that's okay. The voices told me so:)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Everyday Creativity by Carlin Flora, Published in Psychology Today

The tattoo artists throughout Russia's prison system have never had lessons in painting technique (nor, apparently, hygiene training). They don't have ink and tools at their disposal. And yet they create entire murals on one another's chests and backs: onion-domed cathedrals, intricate cobwebs, chilly grim reapers. And they're not just beautiful decorations—they are coded biographies, telling those in the know their bearer's history and affiliations.

One would be hard-pressed to find a tougher environment than the jails where these artists work. Their ink is made from soot shaved off their shoes and mixed with urine. It's injected via guitar strings attached to electric shavers. The tattoos are a brutal mafia ritual. But they're also a mark of determined resourcefulness and self-expression.

When we think of creativity, we think of Mozart, Picasso, Einstein—people with a seemingly fated convergence of talent and opportunity. It's too narrow a set of references, because the truth is that all sorts of people, possessing various levels of intelligence and natural ability, are capable of engaging in fulfilling creative processes. Just because you'll never be Brando or Balanchine doesn't mean that you can't harness your idea-generating powers and make your life your own masterpiece.

Some do so every day. Pete Herzog noticed that his three kids rarely drove the expensive battery-powered toy car he had bought them for Christmas because it was always out of juice. One afternoon he spotted a broken solar-powered garden lamp rolling around and took off its panels. He hooked them to the toy-car battery, using parts he melted off the lamp's circuit board. Now the car, left to bake in the sun all day, is always ready for joyrides.

Herzog is director of the Institute for Security and Open Methodologies, a nonprofit dedicated to researching how security works in all aspects of our lives. His job requires him to think like a top-notch computer hacker. So it's not surprising that he can solve nagging problems in his own backyard. But he doesn't think of himself as a creative person! Buying into a limited definition of creativity prevents many from appreciating their own potential.

That would be a shame in any era, but in today's economic environment, no one can afford not to innovate, whether it's doing more with a shrinking budget (household, corporate, you name it, it's contracting), or positioning oneself to join a new industry. You may have to be creative to survive right now.

The good news is that you can build up your innovative abilities in many ways—by doing things (noticing details in your midst, wearing your hair in a new style) that don't sound intimidatingly ingenious. You can simply get to know your personal problem-solving style—everybody shines at different stages of the process; understanding where you fit in gives you a big advantage. And perhaps most important is adjusting your overall attitude toward life—approach your experiences with an open mind and cultivate the belief that possibilities and solutions are always within reach, and you'll be equipped to handle any challenge with flair.
I: What Is "Everyday" Creativity?

"Every day, we use language to speak sentences that have never been spoken before. We express thoughts that have never been expressed. All of this is so deeply ingrained that we don't notice how creative it is," says cognitive scientist Art Markman, co-editor of the book Tools for Innovation.

The concept of everyday creativity was defined, assessed, and validated in 1988 by Ruth Richards, Dennis Kinney, and colleagues at Harvard Medical School. They defined it as expressions of originality and meaningfulness. Rebecca Whitlinger, the executive director of the Cancer Caring Center in Pittsburgh, tapped both areas when surveying her voluminous and seemingly useless collection of bridesmaid gowns, in all their gold lamé and satiny peach splendor. The clichéd promise "You'll definitely wear this again!" swelled into an evil chorus each time she opened her closet. She resolved not only to wear them again, but to wear them everywhere. Whitlinger enlisted friends to take snapshots of her wearing her maiden gowns to construction sites, to passport photo sessions, to the voting booth, and even on a parasailing expedition.

Then it occurred to Whitlinger to translate the shenanigans into a fund-raising event for Cancer Caring Center. At "Ushers Unlimited and Bridesmaids Revisited," guests were encouraged to wear an outfit (such as a bridesmaid dress) that they would ordinarily be unable to wear again. "A couple got married at the event, making it the World's Largest Wedding Party," she says. Novel? Check. Meaningful? Well, the fund-raiser grossed $90,000 between 1998 and 2001.

"It's too bad that when considering what endeavors may be creative, people immediately think of the arts," laments Michele Root-Bernstein, co-author with Robert Root-Bernstein of Sparks of Genius. "It's the problem-solving processes they exhibit rather than the content or craft that make them so. Just about anything we do can be addressed in a creative manner, from housecleaning to personal hobbies to work."

Imagine you wake up one morning and put on electric-green eye shadow instead of your usual beige tint. Then you call a friend and invite her on a spontaneous road trip to a city you've never visited. While there, you order dessert for lunch at the local diner. Then on the way home you tell a long, hilarious anecdote that makes your friend laugh for two minutes straight. Would you call such a day merely interesting, or an expression of your creative self?

Zorana Ivcevic, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at Tufts University, is a scrupulous collector of everyday creativity. By quizzing college students about the frequency of hundreds of potentially creative acts from joke-telling to road-tripping, she was able to come up with a taxonomy of expressive behaviors anyone can easily try. Making wacky recipes and dying your hair an unusual color qualify, as does working on a scrapbook of memories for a friend or making oneself the center of attention.

While some students fit into more traditional creative slots, as amateur dancers or musicians, or serious scholars and budding scientists who had already contributed to professional fields in some way, many others expressed themselves through more routine acts. About 30 percent weren't creative by any standard, which marked them as "conventionals."

Ivcevic found that students who practiced forms of everyday creativity share, on average, certain personality traits with their "officially" artistic classmates—qualities lost on the conventionals. They share a tendency toward open-mindedness and curiosity, they are persistent, and they are positive, energetic, and intrinsically motivated by their chosen activities. Whether engaging in everyday creativity could foster such personality traits in the conventionals remains a question, but other studies show that taking up creative pursuits actually makes people more flexible and less judgmental.

Adaptability, in fact, is what Jennifer Schweikert considers the source of her own creativity. A Virginia-based interior "re-designer," Schweikert reinvents and reworks what a client already owns to make rooms functional and stylish. "I was a military brat and married a military man," she says. "I've moved 28 times in my life, so I have a tendency to accept what I'm given and to make it work."

When Schweikert encounters a new space, she quickly sizes up what needs to be done and then, in a serenity prayer of sorts to Ste. Martha Stewart, she determines what she can change and can't change about the space. Recently, at a temporary women's shelter apartment, the problem was a door with an uncovered window facing a common room, violating the tenant's privacy.

The most obvious solution—installing a curtain rod—was ruled out since she couldn't drill through the steel door . "I took a piece of Plexiglas, spray-painted it black, and cut it to the size of the window opening. Since it would be good for the residents to still be able to use the door window, I glued heavy-duty magnets to the four corners to make it removable," Schweikert says. The shelter's director reproduced her innovation in all of the building's apartments.

The first step to increasing your creativity quotient is believing you can. Even if no one has ever assigned the adjective "original" to anything you have ever done, you must acknowledge that you have inventive powers. Don't think about making something from nothing or exposing your deepest feelings—just acknowledge that you can solve problems better if you approach them with a different mind-set.

The Root-Bernsteins cite playful experimentation, a willingness to learn from mistakes, and persistence as keys to unlocking creativity. Laura Bergman, a mother who lives in rural Pennsylvanian Amish country, began an odyssey by picking up discarded glass she found when out running errands. She felt compelled to collect the shards and didn't censor her dumpster-diving impulse. One day she spread her shards across the dining room table and was taken aback by their sparkling beauty. "This old glass is as pretty as any gem," she thought.

Bergman slowly taught herself how to cut, drill, and wrap glass. As she started to sell her pieces in town, she noticed that customers loved to hear the history behind the jewels, so she began including a "story of the glass" with each item. Eventually, she was able to leave her job of 15 years as an advertising manager to run a jewelry company.

When psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi studied eminent people, he found that they held almost contradictory impulses and qualities within: a desire for solitude but also a need for social stimulation; superior knowledge on a subject but also a childlike naïveté. These qualities seemed to fuel their ability to come up with great ideas and their ability to execute them—quite a combination. Exploring the less-prominent parts of your personality could activate the same yin-yang nature found in creative geniuses. If you're usually a busy bee, slow down and explore your lazy side. If you're very girly, dress like a tomboy.

Creativity coach Eric Maisel suggests that those who want to up their extracurricular creativity output figure out what really turns them on and cultivate the quality of creative desire. "You need to distinguish between interests and passion, because mere interest won't sustain you over the long haul," Maisel says. "People are convinced they need to become more disciplined, but when you are passionate, you don't need to cultivate discipline; it follows naturally."

Take the tiny town of Holguín, Cuba, where a hip-hop group dazzles audiences without the track-making and mixing software on which their American counterparts rely. Such programs are not commonly found on the island, and anyway an hour in a cybercafé costs as much as a month's worth of food. The group has devised a low-tech solution for creating melodic loops to rap over: They literally cut and paste together repeated sections of cassette tapes. The ultimate result is just as affecting and danceable to fans. The behind-the-scenes process is tedious, but for them, it's a small price to pay to do what they love.

II: Problem-Solving Styles

The real question isn't "How creative are you?" but rather "How are you creative?" Innovation is rarely a one-step deal; the trick is figuring out how you solve problems. That way, you can build on your strengths and team up with people who compensate for your weaknesses, says educational psychologist Donald Treffinger.

Brainstorming often launches the process, as does framing the dilemma at hand. We've all heard that there are no such things as bad ideas during initial brainstorming sessions. But during office meetings, barely- formed suggestions are often immediately shot down.

If you want to come up with truly original schemes, it's essential to separate idea generation from idea evaluation. Otherwise, you'll be too quick to dismiss seemingly implausible yet brilliant notions. Tina Seelig, executive director for the Stanford Technology Ventures Program and author of What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20, asks her students to come up with the best business idea they can muster and the most horrendous start-up idea imaginable. She then dramatically rips up the "good" ideas and redistributes the "losers" among the students, with instructions to turn them into viable proposals. One student's joke of a bikini shop located in Antarctica was morphed into a jet-set-friendly exercise camp called "Bikini or Die," designed to get clients in top form for the beach. A "cockroach sushi" pitch became an exotic restaurant featuring non-traditional foods: "La Cucaracha."

Stumped? Get out the eraser board: Visual thinking can yield more initial ideas than written lists, says Markman. "It's often easier to sketch relationships between concepts than to describe them. You can use arrows and boxes to say things that would be difficult to put into words." And since many different areas of the brain  are involved in vision, sketching essentially calls in more brainpower to fuel your abstract-thinking abilities.

Treffinger and colleagues at the Center for Creative Learning provide an online test to help their clients in the nonprofit world figure out their personal problem-solving styles. "Explorers," in their framework, are great at coming up with completely novel ideas but not as good as "Developers" at executing and making them work. "Developers may have gotten the idea that they are not creative," Treffinger says—think engineers—"but both groups are equally creative."

Another style point turns on whether you are "Internal"—meaning you like to gather and think about information quietly, by yourself—or "External," drawing energy from talking and sharing ideas with others. The final dimension to Treffinger's test gets at what you emphasize when making creative decisions—harmony among people or the demands of a task . Those who conform to the "Person" style seek decisions that all involved can comfortably buy into, whereas "Task"-oriented people base their decisions on facts and what makes logical sense. Work groups made up exclusively of developers (detail-oriented craftsmen with no architect to give a big-picture plan) or explorers (a film director and set designer without a producer to tell them what's possible and within budget) would both be at risk for total dysfunction, which is why a balance of styles yields the best collaborations.
III: Start Innovating

Even if your heart is fully in it, you still need to get into the habit of creating. Creativity coach Maisel believes that your waking hours are best since they enable you to apply your "sleep thinking" to glitches in your haiku-writing, furniture-designing, or quilting. (Studies confirm that "sleeping on it" indeed allows for stellar solutions to make their way to the forefront of your mind.) Furthermore, Maisel sees carving out morning time for a creative pursuit as a way to infuse the rest of your day with existential meaning. The boost you get from your 7 a.m. compositional breakthrough could propel you through a rote desk job.

If you take up a creative project you may soon fall prey to what Maisel calls unfriendly self-talk: "I'm not talented," or "Why should I bother with this—there is too much competition out there." First, listen to what you're saying to yourself, then dispute the utterances that don't serve you. Lastly, substitute more affirmative statements and get back to work.

The most important thing anyone can do to improve creativity is to find unsolved dilemmas to address, says Robert Root-Bernstein. He suggests starting today at work: Why not force yourself to come up with 10 ways for your office manager to save money, or take what your team is good at and think of 10 new ways to turn those skills into a new service you could sell.

We spend so much mental energy either avoiding or unproductively mulling over problems that the idea of chasing and embracing them seems strange, and yet it is a hallmark of the creative orientation to life. Seelig warms up her students by telling them to solve a problem they have with an object already in their homes. Last semester a young woman faced the headache of a looming moving date and no way to haul her boxes to her new digs. She sifted through her half-packed possessions and found an unopened case of wine, left over from a party. She put an ad on Craigslist—"Case of wine in exchange for a ride with my stuff across the Bay"—and quickly secured a willing man-with-van.

Just because a solution is orthodox doesn't mean it's not excellent. Take one of the winning teams in Seelig's challenge to earn cash over a weekend with just $5 of seed money: The students were told to make as much as they could and to report back to the class on Monday in a quick presentation. A sharp observation of their college town yielded one team's plan to make reservations at popular restaurants and later sell them to hungry parties waiting in lines. The enterprise raked in $200. (And it's perfectly legal.)

One team generated much more—$650—by turning the problem inside out. "Their insight was that their most precious resource was their three-minute presentation time on Monday," Seelig reports. "They decided to sell it to a company that wanted to recruit the students in the class. The team created a three-minute 'commercial' for the company and showed it to the rest of the students during their allotted three minutes. They recognized that they had a fabulously valuable asset just waiting to be mined."

IV: More Benefits of Creativity

Stumbling upon a way to eliminate a nagging concern or pushing your abilities to new heights is wonderful for its own sake. But living life imaginatively comes with additional benefits—and can even enhance your most important relationships.

"Personal problems usually result from people having mismatched expectations of each other," says Robert Root-Bernstein. "Imagine yourself in the shoes of the person with whom you are having problems. Try to imagine why they respond to you the way they do. Look for patterns of behavior that solve or avoid the problem you are having. Playact the new behaviors in your mind, and try to select the best ones." The attitude shift alone, from "Oh God, we're fighting about this again?" to "What's a new way to handle this argument that keeps being replayed?," is in itself calming and therapeutic.

Parenting can be the ultimate opportunity for exercising creativity. When Seelig's son was 15 years old, the avid athlete asked for an expensive bicycle. She was reluctant to shell out the cash and could have just said no. Or she could have said yes and then felt resentful about the purchase. Instead, she asked him to come up with a creative solution: "What do you think you could do for me to make this worthwhile?" she asked. He countered with an offer to do laundry and cook dinner three times a week for the rest of the year. They both felt very satisfied with the innovative arrangement.

The hectic routines facing parents of little children can sap any desire to do extra work. But Gretchen Rubin, author of the forthcoming The Happiness Project, found that if she went to the trouble of getting up early on holidays, dying her children's food (black on Halloween, red on Valentine's Day), and spreading treats and decorations on the table, the girls' delighted reactions to their novel breakfasts actually energized her.

Ruth Richards, one of the researchers who coined the term "everyday creativity" and a psychology professor at Saybrook University and Harvard Medical School, has uncovered even more reasons to start innovating. Expressive writing has been shown to improve immune system functioning, for example, and older people who think more innovatively tend to cope better with aging and illness. Engaging in creative behaviors, Richards argues, makes us more dynamic, conscious, non-defensive, observant, collaborative, and brave.

Creativity provides opportunities for self-actualization. "It makes you more resilient, more vividly in the moment, and, at the same time, more connected to the world," Richards says.

Ivcevic's study supports Richards's idea: Students who were engaged in everyday creativity had a greater sense of well-being and personal growth than non-creative classmates.

One day last year, in another constrained prison environment, the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the Phillippines, Warden Byron Garcia noticed a horde of orange-uniformed prisoners clustering in the yard and found the bright waves of colorful forms in motion intriguing. Since he wanted to start an hour-long exercise program anyway, he began leading the inmates, many of whom are accused of committing violent crimes, in group dance numbers set to disco and pop classics. The inmates' interpretation of Michael Jackson's Thriller leapt over the barbed wire and spread throughout the world via YouTube.

After Jackson's death last July, 1,500 inmates rehearsed a routine to the song "Dangerous" for nine straight hours, delivering exactly the kind of tribute that fans wanted—a sincere expression of joy and freedom. It didn't get them out of jail, but it got them somewhere.
One Bright Day

Here are some tested tips for injecting powers ofinnovation into your routine.

Wake 'n' Write: Creativity guru Julia Cameron swears by free writing (no self-censoring) until you fill three pages. Get intrusive worries out and productive ideas flowing.

Relationship Shake-Up: Practice creative loving: If your partner annoys or upsets you, react the opposite way you usually do. You might be pleasantly surprised with the result.

Disrupt the Daily Grind: Jolt your brain out of automatic pilot by taking a new route to work.

Don't Compete, Collaborate: Team up with a coworker who has complementary skills: If you're a detail-oriented person, find a big-picture partner, or vice versa.

Daydream in Long Distance: Psychologically distant thoughts spur creativity. Think about designing a new product in Bali and your perceptual abilities will soar.

Search for Inspiration: Go to a museum or sit for a few minutes in a beautiful building or park on your lunch break. Try to notice all of the aesthetically pleasing details surrounding you.

Get Ahead: Start tackling big projects now. Procrastination does not fuel creativity, despite what procrastinators tell themselves.

Hit a Blue Note: Decorate your cubicle or home office in blue, since a study showed that blue surroundings boost creativity.

Be an Aficionado: Creative people often have hobbies, and those who play musical instruments are better at associative thinking. So dust off your old guitar or stamp collection.

Sleep on It: Think about a thorny problem before you go to bed. REM enhances creative problem-solving and may even deliver the answer to you at dawn.