My Road to Creativity, Final: Writing:

I took some drawing and painting classes at the Durango Art Center. I enjoyed the classes but lost interest after a a few years.

However, I was reading voraciously, relishing historical fiction and rediscovered Hemingway and the writers on 1920s Paris. I again started to write free form poetry, writing one sometimes two a day sitting on the patio of my favorite coffee shop in downtown Durango. I filled several Moleskine journals with poetry. 

I was letting my mind go, not worrying about the words, just putting them down. Some poems, I edited or rewrote, others were so bad I didn’t bother with them. What I was finally discovering after so many years was, it made no difference. Then in the spring and summer of 2014, I wrote three short stories, the first prose I had ever attempted. I liked what I had written as did some others who I shared them with. 

In August of 2015, my wife and I did a four week European tour, beginning with a two week cruise from Copenhagen to Barcelona with many stops along the way such as Le Havre, France and Lisbon, Portugal. I started getting sick with a cough on the ship and saw the ships doctor before we disembarked in Barcelona. 

We spent four days and nights in that city which I managed well with my increasingly heavy cough. Barcelona is a beautiful city that we spent time exploring Gaudi’s park, the Picasso Museum and strolling the Ramblas and the shops in The Gothic Quarter. My lungs were feeling like crap. 

We took a high speed train to Paris to spend five days and nights. Paris was more amazing than I could ever have imagined. It was everything and more than I ever expected, there were the outdoor markets, sidewalk cafes, the Musee d’ Orsay, the Pompidou Center, the Eiffel Tower, the city itself and best of all, Shakespeare and Company Booksellers.

Shakespeare and Company, an English language bookstore, is the second permutation, the first being founded by on the Left Bank by Sylvia Beach back in 1919 and subsequently closed in 1941 during the Nazi occupation. The second was founded by ex-pat American George Whitman in 1951, who called it, “a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore”. It is now run by his daughter, Sylvia Whitman. 

I could have spent days wandering and exploring this bookstore, the mecca of so many past great writers, so many new great writers who hung out there. I could  almost feel the vibes of their genius. As it was I managed to get there twice and struggled to keep my purchases to only five books. I am on their email list and have ordered several times from their eclectic selection of hard to find books.

In the meantime, my cough was getting worse and I realize in retrospect I should have gone to the hospital in Paris, but didn’t want to take the time. The upshot of all this was the second night after I got home I ended up in the emergency room. I had full blown pneumonia by then. It did subside in a few weeks, but I relapsed in Mid-December, this time I was pretty debilitated . . . for almost three months.

Being winter, I kept myself in the house and rested. Physically, I was wiped out anyway. Having to slow down from my usually active schedule, I started writing a poem that turned into a short story that turned into a novelette and finally after 96,000 words, I had written my first book, ‘San Juan Sunrise’. It was an amazing experience doing it. It was like my characters took on a life of their own and I simply had to listen to their story. Okay, I know it sounds weird. But I was able to let go and write the story without paying attention to my inner critic, not worrying about the outcome, just listening and writing. 

After all these years, I felt I had finally discovered my creative voice, what creativity truly is. I can’t really describe it any other way other than it is just letting go . . . letting go of any preconceptions, letting go of criticisms (inner and outer), letting go of any worries about success or failure, just letting go and being in that creative moment . . . moment after moment after moment. 

I have now finished my second book, ‘The Awakening of Russell Henderson’. Third one, I have several ideas, but am not in any hurry. I’m working now on marketing my last one.

This is my last post in this series of musings. It was interesting going back and trying to remember this history of wanting to create, to be and artist and a designer and ending up being a writer. I wish I could have discovered writing earlier in my life, but maybe Karma dictated that I was had to do this work over time. But all in all, it’s been an interesting ride. My only advice is to follow your bliss, don’t be discouraged, listen to your inner voice . . . and let go.

Both of my books are available on Amazon.

Thanks for reading this. Be well, safe, and happy . . . and just do it.

My Road to Creativity, 19: Durango

Being only sixty years old when I retired, I wasn’t about to spend the rest of my life on the golf course. I had tried golf and found it boring. My wife and I  both felt that we needed to do something productive with our lives and explore new places. We put the productive aspect of out lives on hold and spent the first year in Durango simply being professional tourists.

There were four possible things I wanted to do: build guitars, work at the really cool music store, work at the local bookstore, or in the natural grocery store. In the meantime, I used my lutherie skills to built three mandolins and around eight five string banjos. I also was hired at the music store which sold only acoustic instruments, as a repair and sales person. 

One of the owners was a luthier. He was great, very knowledgable, and he showed me a lot, building on what I gotten from school, all kinds of tricks and techniques as well as showing me how to work on the violin family. I found that sales was great fun and did my share of selling some fine instruments. 

Aside from loving working there, I also got to meet some of the locals as well as tourists. I was becoming more involved with community. There was a great music scene in Durango and I got to see some great shows. 

In the meantime, along with high country hiking, four wheeling, biking, and downhill skiing I had begun to read voraciously. My meditation practice had fallen by the wayside. I was way too busy . . . until I broke my leg in a skiing accident. Slowed down, I resumed my morning meditation.

With my leg healed and back to work, I became more inspired to work on my music and was able to join a newly formed Celtic band as a rhythm guitar player. Celtic music was much more demanding than the three chord bluegrass, folk, and old timey music I was used to. But it was fun. I worked on minor chord progressions so common in that genre of music. It was lively. The band was getting better. We were playing numerous gigs throughout the area and were well received. There was talk of cutting a CD. 

I was began buying old basket case violins off ebay or what I found in antique stores and restoring them and selling them on consignment through the music store. I was making a good profit on what I sold. So, envious of the fiddle players in our band, I started playing one that I had restored. It was challenging, no frets, learning scales, getting the right intonation to name a few. I started lessons and was quickly learning. I learned how to read music and self taught myself music theory. 

Life was good, until I blew out my right rotator cuff which slowed down my music as I couldn’t hold a fiddle or guitar. I finally had surgery which took the better part of a year to recover from. 

I went back back to my old band, but they had moved on and it wasn’t the same. So I retired again.

In recovery from the surgery, I picked up a mandolin which is the same as a fiddle, only with frets and requiring a pick to play it instead of a bow. The small mandolin was easy on my shoulder and much more forgiving than the violin and I was able to play all the tunes I had learned from the violin.

There was a Celtic jam at a local pub every Sunday which I went to a few times with the mandolin. The music was played fast and lively and I was light years away from keeping up. In talking to a whistle and flute player about trying to get up to speed, we decided to start a jam session, only slow it down for beginning players to be able to join in and learn. We were able to hold the jams in the music store where I was still working. We had a nice turnout and it was a fun time for everyone.

Life was good until the music store closed its doors where we held the jam. I had channeled my creative energy into the slow jam, but, after the store closed, it was difficult to find a steady venue and it slowly fizzled and died. 

My music interest died with the death of the jam. I still was restoring violins, but, with no one to play with anymore, my interest in playing was not the same.

My Road to Creativity, 18: The final University years

Spring semester, I submitted a request to teach an elective studio in creativity and it was refused, which made me angry as I had been promised that studio before I left for my sabbatical. The chairperson reneged on her promise so I did the next best thing and integrated creative development into my regular studios as best I could along with doing the projects dictated by the syllabus. This seemed to work.

I didn’t teach meditation or anything like that, but just the basic premise of not paying attention to those critics, especially the inner one which is the worst of all. I encouraged them to essentially design without thinking. gert an idea out, then come back and polish it. It proved interesting to see what began to happen. These kids caught on quickly, let go, and started having fun with design. They became more confident and, consequently, their projects became more daring and much better. 

I was finding the way the Department of Art and Design as well as the University as a whole becoming a place I didn’t want to be anymore. I loved teaching and the students but university and faculty politics were becoming more weird. My wife’s work was changing as well and we were finding there was increased stress in our lives neither of us wanted. It was getting to the point that, more and more over the last few years, we were both dreading going back to work after our breaks.

In the meantime, I was still journaling and writing poetry. I continued to do experimental typographic creations using my own writings. I was also having fun and playing with design. With the help of the computer, I was creating some design I never would have tried before.

In the summer of 1989, I decided to go to lutherie school. I had played guitar since my twenties and with my woodworking skills from when I worked as a carpenter, I decided to learn guitar building and repair. I found a place up in Big Rapids, Michigan that offered a two month course in early summer that would work into my schedule. After two months of eight hour days, five days plus a half day on Saturday, I had built both an electric and an acoustic guitar. The school was awesome and I loved it. I had another new skill set. 

Our financial advisor was advising us that we could retire and maintain basically the same revenue that we had working full time. Then the final straw came for me when tenured faculty were directed by the Board of Regents to submit post tenure document to maintain tenure.

As scary as it was, we decided to take early retirement and did so in May of 2001. We moved to Durango, Colorado that same August.

In retrospect, I sometimes missed the University and wish I had stayed on for a few more years, but my life has done nothing but gotten better ever since. 

My Road to Creativity, 17: Naropa:

I was now settled into teaching with less stress of the future of my professorship. I was tenured. After a few years, I was no longer considered a junior professor and given more responsibility. I was teaching mainly upper level studios as well as graduate courses. I continued to serve on the Department and College Curriculum Committees as well as teach Honors Seminars. Along with that I sat on departmental faculty search committees and a number of graduate student committees.

I had restarted my meditation practice and began study Buddhism in greater depth, doing several retreats with Tibetan teachers. I was finding now that my meditation gave me more fearlessness in creating newer more dynamic projects for my students and writing papers on teaching and curriculum. Sadly, I never had any accepted at any design conferences. I had started writing again, mainly poetry, and began creating text based images based in my writings for silkscreening and computer generated designs. But, never-the-less, my confidence level was growing.

It still bothered me seeing my upper level students struggling with the same creativity issues I fought with for all my life. I was due for a faculty improvement leave, aka, a sabbatical. I was seeing the possibility of how meditation might help with creativity. I was due for a faculty improvement, aka sabbatical, and with my interest in Buddhism and creativity, I looked at being a visiting professor art the Naropa Institute, a Buddhist based college in Boulder Colorado. They didn’t have any design based programs, but the chair of the art department told me that much of their art curriculum was based with meditation as a means to creativity. I applied for and was granted a sabbatical for fall semester.

I found a place to stay, a single bedroom in a small house with an older woman. It was similar to being back at grad school. I met the chair of the art department and found out I could sit in on any classes I wished. I selected a meditation practicum, a beginning drawing class that he taught and another more advanced art class with another instructor. My goal was not so much to advance my art skills as it was to observe the teaching methods of people who studied and practiced Buddhist meditation. 

There was a definite more gentle approach than what my art education and design education had offered. I noticed that art was taught as more a meditative process than simply putting down marks on paper, trying to recreate what you saw, it was not so much the outcome as the slow, focused process. It was almost like becoming the subject matter, whether an apple, a pear, a landscape or a person, than the one doing the drawing. It is still difficult to explain now, some twenty years later.

I also sat in on a meditation practicum that took me deeper into the understanding of the practice of quieting the mind and letting go. I remember the traffic noise from the busy street one story below as well as the drumming group that was on the other side. Being warm September, the windows were all open. The noise was distracting, but it became a good practice. I have been able to meditate anywhere through most all distraction after those three months.

But, by far, the biggest opening to creativity was a week long seminar that was offered called, “Dharma Art” based on the teachings of Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche who resided in and taught Buddhist philosophy in Boulder and was the founder of Naropa. This seminar and the creative exercises had a profound impact, opening me up to that creative force I had been searching for all those years.

There different exercises, all beginning with fifteen minutes of meditation and then involving everything from movement, writing exercises, exploring the tactile feel of nature while blindfolded, group exercises that developed trust, massive group painting on scrolls of butcher paper and so on. All the students, much younger than me, of course, were from all different disciplines such as dance, music, art, and writing. The week was a complete and total blast. I was finding out how to simply create without consideration, worry, and ignroing both the outer and self critics. Just simply do it without worry. I had my mind opened to something very powerful.

Two things I carried away from Naropa that would remain with me were, “Notice what you notice” and, “First thought, best thought”. I considered these for a long time and they eventually became my mantra. Generally, pay attention to what is going on around you and don’t question, just do with an open and empty mind..

The semester over, sad to leave Boulder and the friends I had made, but was time to be home with my wife and get back to my life.

My Road to Creativity, 16: Assistant Professor, Tenure:

Over the course of the last four years, my meditation practice was lost. I hadn’t picked up a book other than design books and periodicals since I started grad school. Thus, my anxiety level was at an all time high. And now I was facing tenure and promotion. I liked being at ISU. I was close to my two kids. My wife’s work and friends were there. What if I was refused. I didn’t want to thing about it. I was a nervous wreck.

With the help from the Department Chairperson and my mentor, I put together my documents for promotion and tenure which turned out to be  a very large document . . . about two ionches thick. It surprised and amazed me how much I had already done my short career as a professor. I was quite impressed. I hoped the tenure committees would be. 

There were two ways to be recognized enough to receive promotion and tenure, one was research, in the design teaching profession, that would consist of a large body of creative work that would be locally and nationally recognized, all that and service such as committee work. My design work was not that extensive. While I had done some free lance work as well as my silk screening, some of which I had entered into juried shows of which I had several pieces that received local awards and one that received a national award, but that was not enough to show that I was a hot shot innovative designer.

Teaching was by far my strongest suit. My student reviews were by now were very good. I had restructured syllabi for several courses and had developed three new ones: Advanced Typography, Environmental Graphics, and Publication Design, the later which was done in conjuction with the Meredith Corporation in Des Moines. I had served on both the Department on Art and Design Curriculum Committee as well as the College Curriculum Committee.  

Along with all this, I had begun to teach Honors Seminars through the University Honors Program that met once a week for an hour, and which offered nice stipends. The topic of the seminar could be on any topic the professor wanted to offer and with approval from the Honors Committee.

The stipend helped subsidize my screen printing and later on, my first computer, a Macintosh with a graphics interface, a small built in screen, and a mouse. It had a small black and white monitor and very little memory and all file storage was on floppy disks. The operating system was even on a floppy that had to be inserted and loaded each and every time I booted it up. But, it was the first computer that one was able to create images with a mouse. It was primitive and crude by today’s standards, but was innovative at the time. The output was by means of a dot matrix printer that rendered the output with ragged choppy edges. The text was the same, very ragged. One designer even created a new typeface called “Dot Matrix”, as I recall.

Screen printing inks were toxic, both to handle and to breath, so I did some research into using water based inks. They didn’t work quite in the same manner and I wrote a paper on the differences and how I was able to adjust. The problem was at that time, there were no publications or outlets to share what I was finding.

One of my major coups was I was able to leverage my having met Wolfgang Weingart into getting him as a guest lecturer at the University for three days in 1984. 

I had served on two graduate committees. I had mentored several students that had received national awards. 

As it turned out, my portfolio of teaching and service got me promotion to associate professor with tenure in 1991.