Tag Archives: creativity

9 keys to achieving your artistic goals? No! Way more!

Eric Maisel’s new book Making Your Creative Mark promises nine keys to achieving your artistic goals.

That’s a lie.

The book literally chimes and jingles with keys. The last eleven pages alone has 99 of them, for example these 10:

  1. One of the best ways to help yourself create every day is to craft a starting ritual that you begin to use regularly and routinely. When your ritual becomes habitual you will find yourself moving effortlessly from not creating to creating.
  2. Reframe discipline as devotion.
  3. Creativity is your teacher. Pick a creative project whose express purpose is to teach you something about your situation or your nature.
  4. If you regularly block, what do you think are the sources of your blockage? Do you block only on certain work? Do you block at certain points in the process? Do you block at certain times of the year? Become your own expert on blockage!
  5. Learn some anxiety management techniques. Anxiety makes us undisciplined. Learn a deep-breathing technique or a relaxation technique to help you stay put. Anxiety is part of the process – learn how to manage it!
  6. Don’t shrug away the fact that you’re not completing your creative work. Get to the last sentence of the last page of the last revision. Then launch your piece into the marketplace. If you are not completing projects, do not accept that from yourself!
  7. Do you have a plan to survive the countless rejections that will come your way? Create that plan!
  8. Create everywhere. Create in the rain. Create buy the side of the road. Create wherever you find yourself!
  9. Say, “I will astonish myself.” Then you’re bound to astonish others.
  10. There may be days when the work frustrates you horribly. Maybe you’ll downright hate it. Those are the days to love your work! Remember to love your work especially on the days you hate it.

And it goes on and on. The thing is that it goes on and on in that vein – the vast majority of his ideas are just really good, and not something you’ve already heard over and over again. Take what he says on anxiety. He devotes a whole chapter to stress and anxiety as it relates to the creative process. In it is a subchapter on The Stress of Marketing Art. Isn’t every creative person familiar with that? When I worked at the Alliance for Arts and Culture, advising artists on how to make money without going crazy, that was a topic we talked about a lot (kudos here to Judi Piggott, the patron saint of Vancouver artists, who invented and ran that program for twelve years). So what are the parts of that stress?

  • Thinking about selling your art
  • Not knowing what to say
  • Dealing with people who hold the power and the purse strings
  • Feeling pressured to “sell yourself”
  • Dealing with people who dismiss you
  • Not feeling up to asking

Does any of this feel familiar? Of course. And you may not even be an artist. And over and over he says, if this creates anxiety for you, go and find a way to deal with the anxiety. Don’t give in to it. That in itself is a pretty uplifting message. Maisel doesn’t give you tons of ways to deal with the anxiety; instead he points to one of his other books, such as Mastering Creative Anxiety. Oh yes, he knows how to sell his own stuff, so he knows what he’s talking about. And he has a lot of stuff – almost 40 books, seven of them fiction. And some meditation decks. And a home study course. And he’s a coach and a therapist with a PhD.

Honestly, I think every creative person should own at least one of his books. This man knows what he’s talking about.

“invisible driving”: a memoir of mania and depression

here, finally, is a review long promised, of alister mcharg’s extraordinary memoir, invisible driving. this book, says alistair,

reads with the urgency of a novel. my work delivers a wild and hilarious thrill ride through the misunderstood, phantasmagorical world of manic depression, providing both a visceral sense of the experience and a thoughtful context for understanding it. while other books have described the surrealistic circus, invisible driving takes readers along so they can smell the sawdust for themselves.

alistair mcharg spent his early years in edinburgh and amsterdam, moving to philadelphia with his father, ian, and mother, pauline, at age six. he attended germantown friends school, haverford college, and the university of louisville. the prestige of an M.A.. in creative writing enabled mcharg to secure employment with one of philadelphia’s least reputable cab companies, providing the background for his first novel, moonlit tours. other forays into dead-end employment have included deckhand on a norwegian tramp freighter, forest fire fighter in alaska, and guide at a canadian wilderness survival camp. alistair has been arranging words for a living since 1983. apart from invisible driving, he has written countless poems, hundreds of movie and book reviews, and an ever-growing catalog of cartoons. his second novel, washed up, was released last year.

what follows is a conversation we had last tuesday.

moritherapy: what do you like best about your book?

alistair mcharg: the writing itself, the way it puts readers inside the experience of mania. (and of course, the humor.)

moritherapy: have you found people who are/were interested in the literature aspect of your book? actually, that sounds a little strange – “literature aspect.” the way i read it, your book is literature, and it is about the topic of bipolar illness. thoughts?

alistair mcharg: i totally agree with your description. it is a memoir first. in essence it is a coming of age story about facing demons, battling them, and becoming a man – a human being – in the process. the landscape where that battle plays out is manic depression. the people that don’t get it are the ones who don’t realize that the manic narrative is there to put readers inside the experience of a manic episode – you have to surrender to it to get the true benefit. – i have indeed found many readers who appreciate it as literature – rather unorthodox literature.

moritherapy: there is a rhythm to your book that is clearly there but hard to pin down. it sure isn’t a simple little polka. in the beginning you seem to have a “crazy” chapter taking turns with a “normal” one; then the manic and the normal (if i may use that word) start to take turns within the chapters, then two or three chapters in a row are wild and woolly, etc. etc. can you say something about that? to what degree is that a stylistic device, and to what degree does it echo your experience? can the two be separated at all?

alistair mcharg: the manic chapters came first. then a literary agent said that there needed to be “depth” – a second voice that was sane, reliable, and recovered. i rewrote the entire book several times. i now see she was so right – the chapters in the recovered voice provide the background – the psychological architecture. the reader finds out why i was vulnerable – what the triggers were – and what was significant about how i acted out. yes the point/counterpoint is very deliberate. (you would think that the wild, manic chapters would have been hardest to write – but the sane ones were much harder – more soul searching of real things.)

moritherapy: actually, to me, imagining writing the book, it felt that the manic ones were the ones that were written with more ease. perhaps that is because i was frankly flabbergasted how much i could relate to a lot of what you wrote. i think that’s what first drew me in. i knew exactly what you were talking about, even though my bipolar experiences are extremely mild. i’m still astonished at that.

alistair mcharg: interesting. maybe the bipolar experience is essentially the same, and what varies is the degree. it is a very nice compliment that the writing registered with you. (when i gave the manuscript to my psychiatrist he said he had to put it down now and then because it was making him manic!) i can’t say that they were written in ease – recreating the pitch of mania, the quicksilver logic twisting and slipping, the bobbing and weaving, energy, raw creative force – when i was squarely back on earth – slightly depressed – took a tremendous amount of labor and craft – craft i didn’t know i had until i attempted it.

moritherapy: i was wondering about the mood you were in when you wrote those passages! the fact that it was indeed a re-creation speaks to your fantastic writing skills. were there moments when you wondered whether recreating this would take you back into the mania?

alistair mcharg: thank you – it was writing this book (my first) that turned me into a real writer – it was transformational. — your question is pivotal. i began writing immediately after the episode described had ended. i was terrified, really shaken. i had suffered with the illness long enough to know that a trigger could send me off again – and i was pretty sure another episode would kill me. but i knew i couldn’t write the book unless mentally i went back in. (rock & hard place.) so i went deeply back into the middle of it. that decision is what made the experience transformational. i knew it might set me off on another high, i knew that might kill me – i did it anyway. i knew that i had to face this darn illness or be destroyed by it.

moritherapy: fascinating! i am really touched by what you say, can feel it in my gut. and what hits me is, again, this commingling, meeting of art, this thing called mental illness, and the healing of/from/with it. it reminds me of a poem i wrote many years ago when i was close to dying of typhoid fever. i wrote it in spanish so it’s a bit hazy in my memory but something about the need to climb the mountain of art, alone, naked, because there is no other choice. does that resonate?

alistair mcharg: resonate indeed. that is exactly what i had to do – and it was probably the single bravest thing i’ve ever done. as you say in your poem – i had to do it alone. i had been fed so many lies – i was very fear-based – i had to strip absolutely everything away until there was nothing left that wasn’t true. and then i rebuilt – i reinvented myself. – but what you say about comingling is deep – and many people do not understand. i say often that manic depression and alcoholism have given me more than they have taken. in manic depression i saw rare things – and was forced to evolve. alcoholism ultimately took me to a better way of life and a higher power. it has all been a spiritual journey and while mental “illness” has caused earthquakes in my life it has also produced angels. (typhoid fever!! yikes! thank goodness you’re okay.)

on my blog today is a poem called “rex” — you see, i was shy, i hid, i felt “less than” – but manic depression made it impossible for me to hide – and also – it forced me to admit my power.

moritherapy: more on the commingling … so there is the art, there is the “mental illness” (funny how i often feel i have to put it in quotation marks), there is the healing, there is the acknowledgment of power – and then there is humour. there’s a lot of humour in your book. page 218:

and how do these aristocrats of oddness settle down after a busy day of counting their fingers and slashing their wrists with plastics forks?

humour in these circumstances can be taken as disrespect sometimes. do you hear that sometimes? how do you react? (by commingling i mean that the humour seems to be part of it all.)

alistair mcharg: humor and music are in the very center of me. to me the best humor is never nasty, it doesn’t single out anybody and it is never there to make me feel better than you. real humor celebrates the absurdity of all life, human vanity, fatuous selfishness. you will notice that most of the humor in the book comes at my own expense. – that said, when i was manic every mean quality came out – the anger, the hurt, the fear – and, combined with an intellect caught on fire – all this hurt often found expression in really cruel humor. other times it was quite surrealistic and charming. even in my other books – both satiric novels – and my cartoons – even my poetry – you will find that i include myself – all of us – when aiming barbs. i disrespect parts of people, racism, jealousy, entitlement, xenophobia – but it is never about disrespecting people – it is about loving truth and loving what people could be but are afraid to be.

moritherapy: one last question for now: towards the beginning of the book you say, “the love of my daughter is my favourite thing about myself.” in therapy, there is often a dictum that people should change for themselves, not for others. as a father, would you agree with that?

alistair mcharg: this is a great question. the easy answer is yes! there is a saying in AA that is told to the uncertain: fake it till you make it. at first it doesn’t matter if you are in therapy – or recovery – for the wrong reasons – so long as you are there. (bring the body and the mind will follow.) but absolutely, there must come a time when you are doing it for yourself – otherwise you will never commit fully and you will never get the full benefit.

if you asked me that question today i would answer – my favourite thing about me is that i know what i have to offer and i am doing my best to put it to the service of others.

moritherapy: thank you, this was absolutely lovely!

—–

alister mcharg’s blog, america’s favorite manic depressive, is at http://alistairmcharg.blogspot.com/

the book’s web site is at http://www.invisibledriving.com

creativity and mental health – a twitter chat

today i had the honour of moderating the weekly mental health and social media chat (“#mhsm”) on twitter. these are always such interesting conversations! our topic today was “creativity and the arts”. here is a slightly abridged transcript:

moritherapy: welcome to the weekly #mhsm chat about #mentalhealth and social media. today’s topic: creativity and the arts #mhsm

moritherapy: Q1 how does “consuming” the arts (listening to music, watching movies, looking at paintings, etc.) help with #mentalhealth? #mhsm

moritherapy: my father, who struggled with addiction and bipolar disorder all his life, always said “there’s nothing more soothing than music” #mhsm

KerisWithaK: Consuming and contributing to the arts is incredibly healing! #mhsm

stephintoronto: A1: Consumption of the arts, movies, theater, ballet, opera… are an escape for me from my #mentalillness #mhsm

ReachOutinUSA: Q1. Music is for most a highly effective means of clearing the mind, taking your emotions to a different place #mhsm

MelissaMashburn: A1 Music that is uplifting to me, helps boost my mood. #mhsm

Kidsider: @moritherapy We’re partially here great topic tonight! Arts are a healthy outlet when coping with the side affects of recovery #mhsm

MelissaMashburn: A1: Certain movies, or TV programs help me focus on other things besides negative things that might be going on. #mhsm

stephintoronto: A1:think that the consumption of arts helps to stimulate my brain outside of its regular zone,which is gr8 for helping #mentalillness #mhsm

PeacefulBaker: #mhsm I love calming music for anxiety. Feels like it regulates my heartbeat somewhat.

MelissaMashburn: A1: I have always enjoyed art, especially painters from the impressionist era. Something about it is very soothing. #mhsm

moritherapy: @stephintoronto interesting – you call it “escape”. sometimes that word has a negative connotation. what do you think? #mhsm

ReachOutinUSA: Art and creativity has the power to heal, center & empower people out of hopelessness. #mhsm

mySahana: Q1: Dancing creates a total body experience instead of being limited to just the head and cerebral processes. #mhsm

MelissaMashburn: I think escape is an accurate word for the feeling that it gives me sometimes. #mhsm

MelissaMashburn: It certainly can replace the stuff in my head for a while, that is escape #mhsm

GermanInAlabama: Does the same for L RT @MelissaMashburn: I think escape is an accurate word for the feeling that it gives me sometimes. #mhsm

moritherapy: @mySahana oh, i love what you say about dancing – incredibly healing, isn’t it? #mhsm

ReachOutinUSA: @moritherapy @stephintoronto Escape from suicidal thoughts could never be negative. For players/listeners, music can also be grounding #mhsm

MelissaMashburn: I am not sure if this counts as “art and creativity” but sometimes I like to look around for inspiring quotes to lift my mood #mhsm

GermanInAlabama: It provides an escape from an otherwise seemingly hopeless world at times #mhsm

johnalchin: A1. The arts have the ability to mood-alter. Appropriate music can take the edge off a hectic day or motivate when feeling flat #mhsm

stephintoronto: @moritherapy i agree that “escape”has a negitive feel,but so does feeling crappy w #bipolar & #mentalillness 🙂 #mhsm

mySahana: @moritherapy Oh absolutely! It just shifts your whole experience and emotions to a different, almost tangible place #mhsm

Kidsider: @MySahana I think the arts in all forms really works towards mindfullness by stimulating all the senses in such a positive way. #mhsm

MelissaMashburn: I also find writing very theraputic #mhsm

mySahana: @kidsider Definitely true! I personally have had most experience with dancing but you’re right. Music, dancing, drawing it’s profound. #mhsm

—–

moritherapy: Q2 do you consider yourself a “creative”? how does your own expression of creativity help with #mentalhealth? #mhsm

GermanInAlabama: For L writing music also gives him a chance express feelings he otherwise has trouble getting out #mhsm

ReachOutinUSA: As a student of music, playing helps me deal w/ emotional + mental pain, puts things in perspective, gives access to accomplishment #mhsm

MelissaMashburn: A2: I think I am very creative. In the past it took the form of fabric arts, now it is almost exclusively writing. #mhsm

MelissaMashburn: Even if I do not write about stuff going on in my head, just the process of writing feels healing to me. #mhsm

mySahana: A2: I’m very creative too and use it mostly to choreograph dances, to write and to create new experiences for myself #mhsm

stephintoronto: A2: i don’t consider myself a “creative” but i have come to realize that I need artistic outlets to help deal w #mentalillness #mhsm

Kidsider: @moritherapy I think through blogging and SM I would call myself a “creative” we’re all being creative now in breaking stigma #mhsm

bentsinister: @moritherapy A1: I find nothing feeds my soul & makes me feel less alone than great art – especially music & poetry. #mhsm

GermanInAlabama: Here is a video of him singing and playing one of his songs a few months ago http://www.youtube.com/user/OJTLBlog?feature=mhum #mhsm

ReachOutinUSA: Art starts in the mind #mhsm

KerisWithaK: A2– I like to write for 2 reasons – advocacy (feel empowered and possibly educate) & 2 humor to lol when I’m struggling #mhsm

mySahana: I have also recently started singing classes which has been a fabulous way to find my voice and tap into new skills. #mhsm

stephintoronto: i think that many people dealing with #mentalillness and #mentalhealth issues,is that they are blessed with creativity. #mhsm

moritherapy: i feel like i’m in some sort of creativity hub, just listening and talking to you #mhsm guys 🙂 #mhsm

stephintoronto: creativity comes out for me in writing, painting, ballet, arts and crafts, poetry, photography, write comics…. #mhsm

MelissaMashburn: @stephintoronto I have found that fact very interesting. Makes me wonder if the rest of the world needs to catch up with us #mhsm

moritherapy: @mySahana i love the idea of singing to find your voice – so important in #mentalhealth #mhsm

moritherapy: RT @unxpctdblessing Writing & graphic arts are my go to things when Im stressed/upset. #mhsm

bentsinister: @moritherapy A2: I write poetry as a means of expressing those moods & anxieties that won’t otherwise be spoken. #mhsm

Kidsider: @moritherapy i’m glad I have a few minutes this week to be creative with everyone too #mhsm

stephintoronto: feel blessed that so many of you are creative and i get to be the recipiant of it everyday. #mhsm

PeacefulBaker: #mhsm Love to act in plays. It’s a real escape and you learn empathy for people through understanding your characters.

bentsinister: @moritherapy A2: I write fiction too, but I don’t find the same kind of effect from it. #mhsm

KerisWithaK: I can’t sing but loving putting sign language to music!! It’s a great way for me to”show” emotions #mhsm

stephintoronto: @MelissaMashburn I wonder if strong creativity it is our brains compensating for the part of it that is not firing on all cillinders. #mhsm

johnalchin: For me creativity comes by singing, playing guitar, web design and building, enjoying musical theatre, photography #mhsm

GermanInAlabama: There are so many ways to be creative: music, theater, written and spoken word,… #mhsm

KerisWithaK: ASL is a great way to overcome what is known as ‘flat affect’. I had to learn how to overcome flat affect. ASL & theatre were the cure #mhsm

johnalchin: A2. I too have had a love of poetry since I was a young boy. I have written poetry in the past & iit s a great way to get out my angst #mhsm

—–

moritherapy: Q3 what do you think of the (controversial) idea that people with #mentalillness are particularly creative? #mhsm

stephintoronto: @MelissaMashburn i have wondered if it is a bit like ppl who lose there sight and their sense of smell improves to compensate. #mhsm

ReachOutinUSA: @stephintoronto @moritherapy at some level, I think all “artists” thrive on conversation (with others, self and their subjects). #mhsm

stephintoronto: A3:completely agree w the idea ppl with #mentalillness are particularly creative.I wonder if there is any concrete supportive evidence #mhsm

GermanInAlabama: L tends to be most creative (and at times almost frantic about it) when he isn’t doing well (especially when manic) #mhsm

unxpctdblessing: A3: I recently looked back through my poetry from college when I was supremely depressed/ lost in grief. Intense amazing stuff. #mhsm

ReachOutinUSA: A3 Its unfortunate that some artists are foremost identified with MH illness, inspiration/genius do not always have an obvious source #mhsm

mySahana: A3: I think sometimes it’s true and other times it acts as a way to “reach” to find something positive to say about them #mhsm

johnalchin: RT @stephintoronto: A3:completely agree w the idea ppl with #mentalillness are particularly creative.I wonder if there is any concrete supportive evidence #mhsm

moritherapy: there are some studies on the mental health-creativity connection but they seem to go back and forth #mhsm

Kidsider: @moritherapy PTSD victims often gain a state of hyper vigilance making them more aware of surroundings, possible creativity boost? #mhsm

HealthWorksBC: A3: i’ve worked w 100’s of acutely ill ppl w #mentalillness + 1000’s w other illnesses-rec therapist. Have not seen or read evidence #mhsm

ReachOutinUSA: RT @mySahana: A3: I think sometimes its true and other times it acts as a way to “reach” to find something positive to say about them #mhsm

johnalchin: The schizoaffective family member I care for is the creative one in our family. She’s a brill singer, great fashion sense when well. #mhsm

moritherapy: example of study: creativity, schizophrenia and bipolar have similar dopamine system http://bit.ly/b3F8jE #mhsm

bentsinister: @moritherapy A3: For what it’s worth, I’ve seen a correlation between creativity & mental illness in friends & acquaintances. #mhsm

moritherapy: @Kidsider wow, never thought about the connection between creativity and vigilance, very interesting idea #mhsm

KerisWithaK: A3- I worry abt generalizations. As a person of color ppl assume I can do things ascribed to my race. Many times I can’t. #mhsm

HealthWorksBC: a1: con’d I have not seen or heard sufficient evidence about the people w mental illness -creativity correlation. #mhsm

stephintoronto: “Biological basis for creativity linked to mental illness”http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/10/031001061055.htm #mhsm

johnalchin: Wondering if there is a link between somatisation and the arts. Creativity as outlet for felt pain/grief/psychosis, etc? Anyone know? #mhsm

ReachOutinUSA: A3 Art can be a more effective way of explaining complex concepts and emotions than speech, symbols alone #mhsm

mySahana: @stephintoronto Great article! I wonder how this plays into effect considering creativity changes between childhood and adulthood. #mhsm

—–

moritherapy: Q4 creatives & people with #mentalillness live with feeling “different”. when there’s both, does it all get a bit too much? #mhsm

Kidsider: @moritherapy I dont think its matter of apmlifying the negative issues but a symbiotic aide in the struggle of mental health #mhsm

mySahana: @johnalchin I think body centered therapy addresses the issue of holding mental illness/stress/pain etc in your bdy #mhsm

bentsinister: @moritherapy A4: I’ve dealt with far more of a feeling of difference from MI than from creativity. #mhsm

moritherapy: RT @KerisWithaK “different” is perceived as negative. Leads to a hard, lonely life until difference is embraced positively. #mhsm

stephintoronto: wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all embrace our creative sides and say screw you to the #mentalillness side? #mhsm

storiesofsommer: @johnalchin @moritherapy A4: I frequently feel overwhelmed. But am learning to deal with it. #mentalillness #mhsm

moritherapy: @bentsinister there’s stigma re #mentalillness but the creative #stigma is less, or not so visible? #mhsm

KerisWithaK: I love it when people see people for people. Acknowledging and celebrating all that IS that person. #mhsm

moritherapy: @storiesofsommer @johnalchin yeah, i think the word “overwhelm” is well placed here #mhsm

bentsinister: @moritherapy I guess the only times I’ve experienced stigma re: creativity is when I got too “out there” for most people’s standards. #mhsm

stephintoronto: i’d be ok with being the creative artsy lady that lives in “there”,but somehow that always comes w the “crazy” label as well #mhsm

—–

moritherapy: Q5 can you recommend any social media sites or web sites about the topic of creativity and/or how the arts help with mental health? #mhsm

bentsinister: @moritherapy When that happened, though, I was probably hypomanic, now that I think about it. #mhsm

johnalchin: @storiesofsommer @moritherapy I *HATE* feeling overwhelmed. I wan’t to have sense of control at all times. #mhsm

ReachOutinUSA: A4 We R all different. I think much pain comes feeling that we have to be so much like others to be loved+respected #mhsm

moritherapy: @stephintoronto yeah, the whole “crazy” connection is kinda interesting. #mhsm

storiesofsommer: @moritherapy No, but it is actually something I have been thinking about starting for quite a while now #mhsm

bentsinister: @moritherapy So I think that any stigma over creativity might be less, at least in my experience. #mhsm

KerisWithaK: My mom used to say I had multiple directions- couldn’t see “one way”. Now that’s called lateral thinkers! The new leaders! #mhsm

moritherapy do you guys know about the ikarus project re mental health and creativity?http://bit.ly/12nHkM #mhsm

storiesofsommer: Unfortunately, here in the states, I think we’re way behind on mental health resources. I’ve seen more progress in european countries #mhsm

moritherapy: @storiesofsommer yes, it does look like particularly the UK are making great strides in the area #mhsm

moritherapy: another great resource: @soundtherapyrad does internet radio shows about creativity and mental health #mhsm

johnalchin: @KerisWithaK Yes, I say that my abstract random learning style means my mind is a lot like the world wide web. #mhsm

moritherapy: there’s the creativity and conflict people http://bit.ly/9zqShT #mhsm

ReachOutinUSA: Oof! Im getting all shaky from the excitement/vibes in tonight (and a small amount of coffee). Can you feel it?! #mhsm

storiesofsommer: This may have been asked already but which comes b4: the creativity or the mental health issue? #mhsm

—–

moritherapy: as we’re closing, please let us know your blogs and websites so that we can support each other as a resource #mhsm

MelissaMashburn: My blog is Sugar Filled Emotions http://www.sugarfilledemotions.com #mhsm

moritherapy: RT @storiesofsommerhttp://www.storiesofsommer.com; life questions and how my depression/bipolar plays a part plus other random bits #mhsm

moritherapy: RT @MelissaMashburn: My blog is Sugar Filled Emotions http://www.sugarfilledemotions.com#mhsm

ReachOutinUSA: http://ReachOut.com – a place 4 teens, young adults to share stories on tough times in their lives & how they got through, MH expert vetted #mhsm

johnalchin: I’ve just added a Mental Health section to my website at http://johnalchin.info which I will be adding to over summer (in Oz) #mhsm

GermanInAlabama: http://www.our-journey-through-life.com Been slacking lately but really want to get back to blogging #mhsm

mySahana: Thank you for an amazing discussion! Please see our site http://www.mysahana.org addressing mental health issues in the South Asian community #mhsm

stephintoronto: i write about #mentalhealth #migraines #bipolar disorder…. when i feel up to it…http://princessrantsandraves.blogspot.com/ #mhsm

moritherapy: thanks all for participating in the #mentalhealth and social media chat. please come again, same place same time next week! #mhsm

writers festival

here are some of the events i’m considering going to at vancouver’s annual writers festival.

33 old friends

linwood barclay

ontario

gail bowen

saskatchewan

quintin jardine

united kingdom

host: the honourable larry w. campbell
thu, oct 21, 8:00pm
revue stage
$19.00 (buy tickets online)

one of the draws for aficionados of crime fiction is the recurring character who must solve a crime at the same time as his or her life is moving on. from book to book, readers get a chance to live with these characters as they develop, face challenges and age, just like the rest of us. pi joanne kilbourn, chief constable bob skinner and zack walker are three such characters, and their creators take the stage to talk about how they came to life, how they are shaped and moulded in each new novel, and maybe, just maybe, what’s to become of them.

35 dark end of the street

sandra birdsell

saskatchewan

michael helm

ontario

mauricio segura

québec

russell wangersky

newfoundland

michael winter

ontario

host: genni gunn
thu, oct 21, 8:00pm
waterfront theatre
$19.00 (buy tickets online)

five authors each shine a light on the events, relationships and communities that exist in the darker parts of our cities and society. from immigrants trying to find their place, to murder on a snowy night, to a couple on the lam in a walmart parking lot, to assault in a unlit urban corner, these are novels that show readers environments, circumstances and psyches that we might not normally encounter. and isn’t that one of the reasons, after all, that fiction holds such appeal? there’s vibrancy and intrigue outside the circle of the street lamp, and these writers take us to the dark end of our streets.

36 an intimate evening with david grossman

david grossman

israel

presenter: kathryn gretsinger
thu, oct 21, 8:00pm
ptc studio
$25.00 (buy tickets online)

renowned israeli writer david grossman began to the end of the land in 2003, when his eldest son was about to be released from military service and his youngest was on the cusp of being drafted. grossman had a wish that the book he was writing would protect his youngest son. but in 2006, during the last hours of the second lebanon war, his son was killed. astoundingly, he returned to writing the book and finished what is being called “one of the great anti-war novels of our time”. this is a special opportunity to hear from a great novelist who has experienced violence in the middle east in a most palpable way and yet continues to advocate compassion and reconciliation.

55 american splendour

anthony doerr

united states

paul harding

united states

yiyun li

united states

marisa silver

united states

wells tower

united states

host: jerry wasserman
sat, oct 23, 2:00pm
performance works
$17.00 (buy tickets online)

step aside, fitzgerald and hemingway! here they come. this afternoon we introduce you to the next generation of american writers who are taking the literary world by storm. paul harding has just won the 2010 pulitzer prize for fiction, yiyun li and wells tower were named as two of the new yorker’s 20 best american authors under 40. anthony doerr was named by granta as one of the 21 best young american authors and marisa silver has been included in the best american short stories and the o. henry prize stories. we are delighted to present these american voices from whom you will hear a lot more in the coming years.

this event is sponsored by simon & schuster canada.

59 polyphony

eleanor catton

new zealand

genni gunn

british columbia

michael helm

ontario

kathy page

british columbia

adam lewis schroeder

british columbia

mauricio segura

québec

marisa silver

united states

host: paul grant
sat, oct 23, 8:00pm
waterfront theatre
$19.00 (buy tickets online)

settle back this evening to hear seven fine writers read from their new works. there’s more than enough in store tonight to get you fired up on some riveting fiction by authors whose books may not have made it into your hands yet. let these voices transport you to italy and vietnam.  get swept up in an extraordinary adventure to a remote area of british columbia and thrown into the fray of two street gangs divided by race. be turned around by the chaos of a high-school sex scandal and flung deep into the turmoil caused by an attack on a dark street.  in other words, go places you’ve never been, feel things you’ve never felt, and come out changed.

68 an intimate afternoon with david mitchell

david mitchell

united kingdom

sat, oct 23, 5:00pm
waterfront theatre
$25 (buy tickets online)

david mitchell has been called many things, all of them enviable. according to dave eggers, mitchell is “one of the more fearless and fascinating writers alive.” charles foran declares him “the most gifted of his generation of novelists.” of his five novels, two have been shortlisted for the mann booker prize. he is perhaps best known for his mind-altering modern classic cloud atlas, which was shortlisted for the man booker prize and sold in the neighbourhood of a million copies worldwide. mitchell joins us this evening with a new masterpiece, the thousand autumns of jacob de zoet, which follows a dutch accountant’s adventures in feudal japan. in the hands of this formidably talented writer, this is no ordinary tale, and this will be no ordinary evening.

this event is sponsored by random house of canada.

mental health camp recap #2

here’s another report from mental health camp. for some reason, i just can’t bring myself to get all official about it and write it from the point of view of the organizer, so i’ll write it from my personal point of view. so here are a few fragments, which do not do justice to the whole big event but which nevertheless will give you a bit of a taste:

our logistics on the day of were a little wonky; influenced, in part, i think, by the more official feel of the location. the event was in a beautiful building, the aquatic ecology research lab at the university of british columbia; the first one had been at the very intimate location of the sadly now defunct workspace. one of the things that were wonky were that the first presenters did not get introduced. steffi, who spoke about “ripping off the scabs through writing”, was understandably not very happy about it. what i liked was that we were to hear this complaint without getting defensive, and immediately rectified it, with the help of wonderful people like sue macdonald from the CMHA and kemp edmonds. (these two and our other volunteers were highlights in and of themselves!)

perhaps the thing that most stuck with me was the role that art and creativity played at mental health camp. there was steffi talking about her writing. there was j peachy who presented a whole session of sound therapy radio, complete with a live band (ranj singh and the discriminators), each of whose member was standing in front of a painting (see here for a video clip of it). that session also featured a young woman talking openly about eating disorders for the first time, as well as creative participation by the whole audience. j peachy is part of gallery gachet, a vancouver collective of artists who have experience with mental health issues.

also part of gallery gachet was a lunchtime presentation of the beautiful film crooked beauty, which “explores positive and compassionate models for transforming the experience of madness in our culture.” it features one of the founders of the icarus project, ashley mcnamara.

the icarus project envisions a new culture and language that resonates with our actual experiences of ‘mental illness’ rather than trying to fit our lives into a conventional framework.

exciting stuff.

there was michelle clausius, who gave a presentation about the artistic endeavours of the young people who contribute to on the house, the award-winning blog of covenant house. this is what covenant house does:

covenant house exists for those young people for whom there is often no one else — young people aged 16 – 24 who have either willingly fled physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse, those who have been forced from their homes or those who have aged out of foster care. we bandage their cut-up feet from days and nights walking the streets; we give them hot food and a warm bed and we support them in their choice to change their present circumstances while helping them heal from past traumas.

another session where i experienced high creativity was katarina halm’s presentation on focusing. i loved how she used the yellow balls pressed against our bodies almost as “speakers” to help us feel our bodies better.

doing this with my good friend raul was a pleasure, once again. we feed on each other’s ideas and calm each other down when we fly too high. there were a few instances when we really needed that, most of it as a result of nasty troll comments directed at some of the presenters and also at ourselves. because of our support for each other, i hope we can say we managed to stick with our core philosophies: inclusion, compassion, and clear communication. thank you, raul!

8 from google

my brain is still only functioning at 42.718% capacity (as opposed to the usual 60 7/8th) so i don’t find myself to be able to say much. what little brain power i had went to work today and another fabulous mental health chat on twitter. but i feel guilty for not blogging enough so i thought i’d show you what blog posts i’ve liked today in my google reader. i’ll even do the shocking thing and not convert everything into lower case! here we go:

The @5days_Vancouver campaign for homeless/at risk youth

from Hummingbird604.com by Raul

York and Wellington

photo credit: Danielle Scott

I was alerted by Nathan Tippe to the 5 Days Vancouver campaign, the local branch of the national 5 Days campaign, created by students to raise awareness of the situation of homeless people and at-risk youth. I was more than happy to promote the cause (a) because it is a fundraiser and (b) because the local chapter is being organized by UBC students (and as you know, I teach at UBC).

****

Mental health report focuses on multicultural groups

A March 15th news release from the Mental Health Commission of Canada:
CALGARY, March 15 /CNW Telbec/ – Statistics Canada is predicting that 1 in 3 Canadians will belong to a visible minority by 2031. The Mental Health Commission of Canada has released a report addressing the needs of multicultural, immigrant and refugee groups. The study is part of its mandate to improve mental healthcare across all areas of Canadian society.

****

8 Studies Demonstrating the Power of Simplicity

from PsyBlog by Jeremy Dean

3 people liked this

cloud

Psychological research on cognitive fluency shows why easy to understand = more profitable, more pleasurable, more intelligent and safer.

Which of these would you say sounds like the more dangerous food additive: Hnegripitrom or Magnalroxate?

The majority of people say Hnegripitrom sounds more dangerous. It turns out that the word ‘Magnalroxate’ is easier to think about than ‘Hnegripitrom’, probably because it’s more pronounceable, and people equate simplicity with safety (actually both words are made up).

This is one example of psychological research on meta-cognition: thoughts about other thoughts. Whether or not something is easy to think about—cognitive fluency—is one important type of meta-cognition, with all sorts of benefits accruing to things that are easily processed.

Here are 8 of my favourite studies on cognitive fluency, showing just how much can be explained by the feeling that something is easy to think about (or otherwise).

1. Complex writing makes you look stupid

Many of us did it in school: tried to impress teachers with fancy language and convoluted sentences, assuming it would make us look clever. As we soon discovered, though, most people can’t carry it off.

This has been tested by a study that manipulated text complexity to see how readers would judge the author’s intelligence. It found that as the text became more complicated, readers gave lower estimates of the author’s intelligence (Oppenheimer, 2005).

So if you want to be perceived as more intelligent (and who doesn’t?) keep your writing simple. This chimes perfectly with the standard advice given to wannabe writers. Sadly simplicity can be a lot harder to achieve than complexity.

(Note: the context of this study was students judging other students’ essays. This study might not extend to other types of writing and other types of readers.)

****

Babies are born to dance, new research shows

A study of infants finds they respond to the rhythm and tempo of music and find it more engaging than speech. The research suggest that babies may be born with a predisposition to move rhythmically in response to music.
from Mind on Fire by John
Past collaborative projects here at Mind on Fire have produced some fine creative work, like the results of the 18-hour comic day, and the virtual First of May Choir–you know, the JoCo song that goes, “First of May, First of May, Outdoor fucking starts today” (original call, final song). In that same spirit of group play, I would like to propose a new project. I would like to propose a group creative experiment with chance, disorder, fate, Jupiter, Steve–whatever you choose to call it.

****

Too Big to Trust? Or Too Untrustworthy to Scale?

from Trust Matters by cgreen@trustedadvisor.com (Charles H. Green)

This will be my fourth week on the road; more on that later in the week. At least all that plane time (and waiting in lines time) makes for good reading time—thanks to the iPhone Kindle Reader app. (and no they don’t pay me for saying it).

I’m re-reading Francis Fukuyama’s 1995 classic Trust: the Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity.

It’s the perfect companion for Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System—and Themselves.

Here’s why they belong together.

Fukuyama’s View of Trust

Fukuyama makes a compelling case that economic development is strongly affected by the cultural norms of a society—in particular, the propensity to trust. In this, he is up against both neo-classical economists (who argue people are rational utility-maximizers), Marxians (who argue it’s all about the money), and a ton of management theorists (who pretty much believe both).

As Fukuyama puts it:

The Chinese, Korean and Italian preference for family, Japanese attitudes toward adoption of non-kin, the French reluctance to enter into face-to-face relationships, the German emphasis on training, the sectarian temper of American social life: all come about as the result not of rational calculation but from inherited ethical habit.

Who we trust, it turns out, radically determines the nature of business we engage in.

****

The Neuroscience of Anorexia Nervosa

from Dr Shock MD PhD by Dr Shock

anorexia nervosa

One of the most striking features of those suffering from anorexia nervosa is their perception of their bodies. You can put them in front of a mirror and they will still tell you they’re to fat when in fact they’re skinny. A recent publication in Nature Proceedings has an explanation.

This explanation is based on the fact that our spatial experience is based on the integration of two different kinds of input, two different sensory inputs within two reference frames. These two reference frames are the egocentric frame and the allocentric frame.

With the allocentric frame you can “see yourself engaged in the event as an observer would”, it’s the observer mode, you can see your self in the situation. This allocentric representation involves long term spatial memory mostly located in the hippocampus and the surrounding medial temporal lobes of the brain.

who owns the poem?

on april 18, 2009 sarah luczaj’s guest post “the lyric self” probed the question of “who is the ‘i’ in a contemporary lyric poem?” in this guest post today, janet riehl brings the question of ownership into the discussion as she now muses on and pursues it in this post.

sarah luczaj is a british therapist and writing living in poland. janet is a writer, artist, and musician living in st. louis. morecently she’s produced an audio book “sightlines: a family love story in poetry and music”   which expanded upon and amplified  “sightlines: a poet’s diary.”  you can explore her work at riehl life: village wisdom for the 21st century; there are also videos.

sarah luczaj opens her april post with a concise literary history of the development of the personal narrator (the “i”) in poetry. beginning with the 1800’s romantic era, sarah tracks its evolution in the 1900s and on into the present. as she noted, at its best this personal style of narration offered poets a new way to express individuality and authenticity.

like sarah in her own work, when i readied my volume of story poems, sightlines: a poet’s diary, for publication, i was confronted with the issue of “revealing self and others in poems.” (the issue is not specific to poetry alone; it is also one that prose memoirists struggle with.) in my case, the i-narrator was close to the same “i” that “made the toast…did the laundry.”  i wrote the literal and emotional truth as clearly as i understood it.

it was not an easy task. my older sister had recently perished in a senseless car wreck. the injuries my mother suffered required months of recuperation. in writing about the accident and its aftermath, i unavoidably probed at the raw wounds in our hearts.

the poems that spoke directly about family members and neighbors raised the question:  as the author, what is my responsibility to them? do they “own” the poems in any way? are they the ultimate holders of the truth of any poem dealing with them? do they “own” the truth?

what does ownership mean?

struggling with this made me come to believe that in the context of my own work, the concept of “ownership” is amorphous. for my purposes, the definition of ownership does not refer to legally defined real or intellectual property rights. rather, it refers to ethical ownership. deciding ownership requires taking into account spiritual, factual, experiential, and aesthetic elements, as well as respect and courtesy.

so who did my work belong to? who owned the truth of any given poem or the project as a whole?

since i was writing about family and community history, there were times when i turned to my father. in his 90s now, his memory is far clearer than mine, and he can reel off dates and details like a seasoned game show contestant. in one poem titled “walking riehl lane,” the viewpoints between poet (me) and historian (my father) amiably clashed.

the poem features the freeman family, whose connection to ours reaches back to my great-grandfather’s time. one particular stanza relates the story of how charlie freeman integrated his son, dickie, into the boy scout troop. my story of meeting charlie’s younger son, jimmy, on riehl lane follows in another stanza. to improve the flow of the poem, i melded the two brothers into one character, whom i called jimmie.

poetic license

my father agreed that the technique worked well in conveying this bit of history. but his historian’s heart protested. “facts! facts!”  my writer’s sensibility retorted, “poetic license!” we tossed the words back and forth like a baseball until we grinned, knowing that in this instance there would be no compromise on my part. i claimed ownership of the crafting of the poem and chose not to defer to my father’s deeply felt difference of opinion.

this question of ownership-in both the ethical and aesthetic sense-is the standard i used throughout both the book and audio book “sightlines” projects.

in two poems about eight-year-old amelia, my great-niece, i’d drawn on material from her life. i asked her mother to read and discuss the poems with her. amelia suggested a few changes, which made the poems richer and more poignant. at eight, amelia wasn’t concerned about subtle emotional or spiritual undertones. facts were what mattered to amelia, and her suggestions reflected that. she owned the facts of her life. i, again, controlled the craft of the poem and incorporated her perception of reality so as to create an aesthetically pleasing whole.

in contrast, there was work i did not allow anyone to read until after publication. i knew that there were those who would undoubtedly be unhappy with some of the poems, but i wanted the work to reflect what i saw, believed, and experienced as the truth. i didn’t want their negative input before the fact. if they were upset that i hadn’t prettied up or whitewashed what our family was going through, so be it. the poems expressed my personal truth. i owned them.

the subsequent audio book included both my poems and music from my father’s youth, so we teamed up on the project. i retained ownership of the overall shape of project and my personal writing. however, i ceded ownership to my father for how his music was presented in relationship to my work. he owned the music not only because he had written much of it himself, but mainly because this music was the purest expression of his heart’s blood.

elsewhere in sarah’s post she asks, “what is the difference between writing a diary and a poem, and is it really the case that a diary is necessarily more authentic?”

“writing poetry is the act of distilling the essence,” she holds. journaling, in contrast, can include as much slush as we need to process what we’re experiencing in our lives and in our souls. we “write poems to find out what can be said about something.”

in “sightlines: a poet’s diary, “as the subtitle indicates i straddled the line between poem and diary entry. i wrote at least one poem every day in my journal, sometimes as many as three. i wrote early in the morning, in bed, tea at my side. at the sounds of slight stirring by my parents, i would rush downstairs to take over the caretaking of my mother. throughout the day i made notes in order to have material to work on later.

how did this writing differ from my usual prose journal writing? during this time almost all my journal-writing energy was channeled into the poetry. my intention was to create a book to share with others, and journaling in the poetic form suited the intimate nature of what i conceived the book to be. i journaled in poetry, later crafting the work into finished pieces.

in a typical journal entry, i might have written “i feel sad this morning,” a factual report of emotion. in the completed book that sorrow became a leitmotif running through the 90 poems. rather than using direct statement, i recorded our hearts in understated language and images.

sarah says, “this seems to be what we are doing all the time, taking people’s stories inside and being changed by them.” this was certainly how it played out for me.

as our family slogged together through our grief in the wake of my sister’s death, i observed my brother, my mother, my father, and myself. we each had our stories. i absorbed these stories and released them again as poetry. the “i” in every one is all of us and each of us. and the “i” is the real life me, telling the story as truthfully and as clearly as i could. these stories were not just for our family. no, these stories reached out to join the stories of the world-and to embrace all the families who knew grief and loss all too intimately.

this post followed the previous stop on the tour at sharmana russell’s blog.  the next stop on the tour will be eden maxwell.

free-form writing frenzy #4: motivate or mayonnaise?

free-form writing prompt #4: are you motivated?

are you motivated? are you motivated? are you motivated? are you motivated yet???? sounds like some frenzied sports coach. yuk. i don’t WANNA be motivated. so there. hows DEM apples, as t would say.

it sounds like someone with a whip. i don’t really like whips. slave driver. i don’t like slave drivers.

what i DO like: soft, friendly people who look at me with their heads to the side and ask cool questions. like, “what delights you?” “what do you WANT?” as in what do you fancy right now. a pony? a peonie? a penny? a p p p p … hm what else could be wanted that starts with a p? a penis? a putterfly? penny pincher?

those are things and words that i like. what do YOU like? what do YOU fancy? what are words that make YOU go, yes! yum! hmmm? yum?

yum is a good word. can you tell i like food? but who doesn’t. yum is so much better than “motivate”. mayonnaise is better than motivate.

what mayonnaises you?

and then there is a picture of munch’s “cry” beside the quote that elizabeth chose for the quote. that doesn’t help. maybe that’s why i went “yuk” instead of “yum” when i read “motivate”.

it also makes me think of tony robbins and his big teeth. the king of motivation. the emperor of “just do it”. he means well, he really does, i believe him, somehow, even though he probably lies through his white teeth once in a while. but he does it kinda cute-like. i can’t get mad at him. and i get his desire to get people motivated. so that’s ok, tony. i’m just not ready to go and drop $1,309 in your lap so that you can MOTIVATE me.

i’ll stick with mayonnaise for now. white gooey half-fat mayonnaise. with tuna. or in the mustard sauce. yup. that motivates me.