Creativity by the Lake

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A few days ago, five women were lucky enough to spend 24 hours together at Lake Sunapee in New Hampshire at one of our group's family summer cottage right on the shore.  Lizi Boyd, our host, is an acclaimed illustrator and children's book author.  Her cottage is made up of two small buildings joined by a narrow outdoor porch. Lizi's studio is in one of the buildings with floor to ceiling windows facing the ferns and woods on one side and the lake and islands on the other.  Her organized, beautiful materials, her spacious tables and work in progress were such an inspiration to all of us.  Each of the other four of us has a creative practice at the center of our lives...one of us is a gallery owner, one a home store owner, costume designer and quilter, one an early childhood educator, and one an educator/author.  

We met at the lake to revel in water, sun, leisure, good food, laughter and delight in one another's company, not necessarily to think about creativity.  But creative we were.  In this recent post, I ended by wishing us all a creative summer in whatever we engage in every day like cooking, arranging flowers, creating occasions.  What I want to talk about now is making a salad...yes, a salad, at our Lake Sunapee gathering. 

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I brought a cooler bag with fresh local greens, plump, small heirloom tomatoes in shades of deep red and purple, and small carrots from the Middlebury Farmer's Market.  Lizi had picked up a bunch of  small red onions.  I washed and dried the lettuce and Anni began to put together a salad for lunch in a generous hand made wooden bowl.  First the lettuces, then the tomatoes cut in chunks, then the carrots julienned and placed on top.  And finally, the red onion scallions cut into skinny strips placed on a diagonal on top of the carrots.  

Lizi made the dressing. Olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, salt and pepper and a crushed garlic clove.  She asked Anni to taste it.  Dipping her little finger in the jar and tasting, Anni said, "Perfect, that is perfect."  

Anni swirled the dressing onto the beautiful composition of salad and I asked if I should toss it. Anni replied, "I have never been much of a tosser."  So, the salad remained in its original form for all of us to admire and also to taste as the dressing dripped itself around the different vegetables. 

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We enjoyed a simple lunch of this salad, good bread and cheese and, yes, juice glasses of rose' outside tucked between the studio and the lake, in the shade, wet and cool from a pre lunch swim in the absolutely clear lake waters.  

This simple salad making has stayed in my mind ever since...during our talks about sense of place and visual arts and community on our drive home in the rain...during my morning meditation, and while I put together a salad for last night's dinner at home in Middlebury.  Why? It made me think of the little book, Beautiful and Yummy, written, illustrated and edited by first and second grade students at the College School in St. Louis during my last year there ten years ago! The little book is all about basil planting and harvesting, cooking and learning.  I feel our salad sharing was all about beautiful and yummy too.  Beautiful ingredients, shared knowledge and ways of making things of value, pleasure in sharing delicious food and conversations that matter.  

I thought of the Italians I knew at Plum Village in France when we were there as a family with Thich Naht Hanh.  When Francesca, one of the cooks, was boiling pasta for the whole group of families there, the only people who she would trust to confirm that the pasta was done and al dente were Italians. Something about shared knowledge and experience to recognize and discern quality.  I saw this in Lizi asking Anni to taste the dressing.  Dressing! Simple ingredients paired in a casual way, to be just right.  Turns out, we need each other to learn, to help, to give feedback, to validate our work.

The experience made me think of Ken Robinson when he defines creativity as making things of value.  We made a beautiful salad and we made a beautiful occasion and it was so simple.  Simplicity seemed to be at the center of it all.  

What did I learn? I will build salads now, rather than throw them together.  I will make dressing differently.  I will strive not to toss the salad, but offer it and enjoy it in a whole new way.  I learned again what I have known for a long time...good, fresh, local ingredients make nutritious, delicious, beautiful simple meals.  Likewise, good quality materials and beautiful ones, offered to children and adults with time and a measure of context and structure, yield wonderful results. 

On the walls of Lizi's studio are many fanciful creatures in wood, painted with acrylic paint.  She told me that her son, Tim, had made them when he was very young.  "He had an eye for how to work with wood and make very simple creatures.  I would just find the wood scrapes for him, good hard wood from a local business.  And then, he was off.  You have to give children good materials.  I go crazy when we keep giving children low grade colored pencils." 

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Now, I have a new idea for our two weeks with our grand children in August and early September. Good wood scrapes, wood glue, and paint.  Now Asher's dragon might become a sculpture in wood.  From a mother to a grandmother, from one medium to another.  Learning as we go, new ideas, new approaches, sparks, add on to our way of living and being in the world...bit by bit, piece by piece..making a new whole. 

As we left, I wanted to sing a song with these women that I learned in May.  Very simple, written by a teen girl who was having a challenging time of life.  I hesitated but I share it with you now.  It is for all of us, everywhere.  

Round and round we go, 

And hold each other's hands

And weave ourselves in a circle.

The day is done. 

The dance goes on. 

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Creativity is Alive

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I began thinking about Ashley's last post on new metaphors for school and also of my last post on creativity and how they are intertwined.  The premise of the post on new metaphors referencing Sam Chaltain's blog and work, is that the common and out dated metaphors of school as factory and a child's mind as a blank slate no longer serve us and are holding us back. 

What lively mind, naturally curious and wondering, could ever be considered blank? And what kind of lab or studio or place to think and solve problems and contribute to the world could ever be considered a factory?

The kinds of schools that are nurturing the better angels of our nature are also developing our intelligence, creativity, spirit and wholeness.  And our desire and ability to contribute to our communities and a healthy, hopeful future for our planet.  

 From The College School, St. Louis, Missouri

From The College School, St. Louis, Missouri

I visited my son, Chris at work in Brooklyn a few weeks ago.  He works for a start up LED company called Wavelength.  He works on the 19th floor of the MetroTech Center in the Urban Future Lab...New York City’s hub for smart cities, clean energy, and smart grid technology.  This floor is filled with young people in their 20s and 30s who are all working on energy for the future.  Chris works with two other Middlebury College graduates, one a few years older and one a few years younger than he.  I was so inspired.  Young, talented, visionary, successful people inventing and designing a healthy, hopeful future.  This is what creativity looks like.  

 Urban Future Lab, Brooklyn, New York

Urban Future Lab, Brooklyn, New York

Both of our sons attended The College School in St. Louis for middle school.  Their schooling there was creative and innovative. They learned to be independent and collaborative learners.  In seventh grade, they each composed a resume', interviewed for jobs, and took public transportation to reach their job two afternoons a week.  Since then, neither of them has been without a job for very long and they have continued to learn and grow throughout.   

 Chef Alden Cadwell speaks with visitor to Allendale Farm Annual Tomato Festival

Chef Alden Cadwell speaks with visitor to Allendale Farm Annual Tomato Festival

Chris attended Middlebury College where there is a Center for Creativity, innovation, and Social Entrepreneurship, labs and studios where students are encouraged to pursue innovative ideas and work, and a popular course called MiddCORE.  Look what MiddCORE is offering this summer: 

MiddCORE, a four-week, mentor-powered innovation experience for undergraduates who desire to launch their education and passions into the world at large. 

This credit-bearing college program offers:

  • Learning in a highly collaborative environment
  • Guidance from mentors who are top-tier professionals
  • Problem-solving focused on the real world
  • Exposure to worldwide businesses and organizations

And take a look at this. It is a promotional video for Middlebury College and look at what it emphasizes...creativity and innovation, leadership and risk-taking, deepening and sharpening one's skills and knowledge while offering them with others to the world in a way that creates a vibrant future. 

Creativity involves doing things, and making things of value in all disciplines and domains of life.  It can't take root if students feel that they are receiving and repeating back information instead of wrestling with real world problems and using their research, reading and brains and hearts to make sense of things and actively participate in life. 

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My sister in law, Kathy Cadwell has worked tirelessly to bring Socratic Dialogue to her classes and to many other teachers in her high school and beyond.  In her classes, students participate in creating their own knowledge and informed, skilled perspectives on history, current world problems, and life. 

Ken Robinson says that often people think that being creative means being artsy.  But that is not the idea.  Creating things of value as an engineer, designer, architect, cook, entrepreneur, farmer, seamstress, mason... all involves skill, perseverance, motivation, contribution, imagination, and also beauty.  Everything done well, produced and composed over time, has balance and beauty to it.  Imagination is the source of all human achievement writes Sir Ken Robinson. 

May you all have a creative, vibrant, energetic time this summer making things, as we do all the time in our every day life...meals, occasions, flower arrangements, photographs, gardens...And when you are not being actively creative, we hope that you are floating in a lake, river or ocean, resting and relaxing, rejuvenating and dreaming.  That downtime will feed your creative spirit and we all will benefit!

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We Need New Metaphors for School

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My good friend and collaborator on school design, Trung Le, posted a link to a fascinating blog by Sam Chaltain, To (Re)Design School, We Need New Metaphors. Let’s Start with These Five.

Chaltain’s stated drivers for the “need” for redesign of school are familiar to most of us by now:

contours of global citizenship are shifting

barrier between man and machine is shrinking

time to undo human damage to the natural world is running out

SO, how can school meet these drivers?

Chaltain writes: I believe we won’t succeed [in meeting the challenge] until we retire the two dominant educational metaphors of the past one hundred years: the assembly line and tabula rasa

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Chaltain then suggests and explains five new metaphors: (and here I quote Chaltain extensively)

School as murmuration: how can we reimagine the spaces in which learning occurs so the movement and flow of human bodies is closer to the improvisatory choreography of a murmuration of starlings than the tightly orchestrated machinery of a factory assembly line?

School as a cabinet of curiosities: how can we craft new experiences and learning spaces that will invite young people and adults to be more curious than certain — about themselves, one another, and the wider world?

School as partially-painted canvas: how can schools create the conditions that will allow for deeper learning expeditions that are less bound by space, time, and tidiness, and more by open-ended inquiry and discovery?

School as aspen grove: how might we more intentionally design schools for both sides of the brain, the left logical, narrow, focused attention and the right creative, broad, vigilant attention…both trees and the forest?

School as swarm: since, as Andreas Weber writes, we have to think of beings as interbeings, how can we craft spaces and experiences that invite young people and adults into the synchrony of a swarm?

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As emerging examples of these metaphors in school design Chaltain cites: Crosstown High in Memphis, Brightworks School in San FranciscoBig Picture Learning Network https://www.bigpicture.org , and your neighborhood Montessori school.

I would add your neighborhood Reggio inspired school and your neighborhood Expeditionary Learning school.

I find Chaltain's metaphors fascinating and inspiring.  Moreover, I know his medium for rethinking education is compelling: change the metaphor.  For instance, when working with groups of teachers who want to develop more collaborative systems, I frequently invoke the metaphor of music, of moving from a classical symphony with ONE conductor and set music to a jazz band with a central melody that each player can innovate/riff on.  Changing the metaphor is dynamic.  It at once changes one's perspective and invites new ways of thinking.

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Images above from Buckingham Browne and Nichols School, Cambridge, MA, The College School, St Louis, MO, Hutchison School, Memphis, TN and La Scuola, Miami, FL.

 

 

 

 

     

Reflections on Creativity

  The Wolf and the Owl  by Asher Cadwell

The Wolf and the Owl by Asher Cadwell

I was lucky enough to spend last week with my grandchildren.  They are still in school so I drove them to and fro and generally helped out.  On Friday evening, we sat out on a neighbors' deck on a perfect June night with children spanning ages from 3 to 13 playing so happily.  The older girls choreographed an impromptu play with sound effects, sticks, and dance moves.  My grandchildren, Delilah and Asher, were the audience as were 3 sets of parents.  So spontaneous and refreshing! 

In Boston, we have a small condo in a duplex just a stone's throw from where my son, his wife and our grandchildren live.  It is so easy to walk back and forth and enjoy both back yards, kitchens and living spaces.  On Saturday, Delilah and Asher could come over to play and they did.  We made waffles bright and early.  After breakfast, Asher, age 6, and Delilah, age 3, wanted to put on little plays and puppet shows with props and wooden and felt toys that I keep in Boston.  So inventive and fun, and inspired, with sound effects, snippets quoted from nursery rhymes, like.."the dish ran away with the spoon!" and using unlikely props as a stage. They took turns performing and I filmed them on my phone.  We had some little digital "shorts" to share with the family and that was fun. Then, Delilah and Asher broke out a rousing rendition of "We all live in a yellow submarine."All of this, I am certain, was inspired by the plays of their neighbors from the night before. 

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After the preforming and musical arts spontaneously improvised and composed by the young team, I brought out all the art materials that I had assembled...water color and gouache paints in tubes, a variety of good quality brushes in different sizes, colored pencils, oil crayons, sharpeners and erasers, pens and paper and small square canvases.  I love to do this with them!  As an art teacher by trade, it is a supreme joy to bring out all these luscious materials for my grandchildren, to encourage them and to observe them fall in love with them.  (I became reacquainted with gouache and fascinated by offering it to young children when I visited the Campus Children's School at the University of Vermont last winter.) 

 Campus Children's School Toddler Room

Campus Children's School Toddler Room

Asher chose a small canvas as he had used one before with success at our Vermont house. He announced that he wanted to paint a dragon.  (His little league baseball team is named Dragons.) He asked me how to do that and we looked for images of dragons on my phone. (Such a handy resource these days!)  Asher found, on his own, a simple step by step dragon that he liked and proceeded to draw his own version with a pen on the canvas in short order.  Then, he mixed blue and white paint to make the sky.  "This looks just like sky color!" he said with enthusiasm.  Then, he used a different blue color oil crayon to complete the sky with the pen rendered flying dragon in the middle.  He was so very pleased.  It all unfolded so naturally and with ease. 

  Dragon  by Asher Cadwell

Dragon by Asher Cadwell

His sister was captivated by the colors of the gouache that she chose herself.  I showed her how to rinse the brush throughly in the little pot of clean water, and to dab it on the paper towel when changing colors.  She caught on right away and did this successfully from the beginning.  I don't think she had painted with gouache or in this way before. Many layers of paint on a deep purple square of pleasing card stock.  And then, with a pen she wrote, with strokes of the pen as she spoke outloud, "D for Delilah...This is for Mommy." Spoken slowly in rhythm and synchronized with the marks that she was making.  

  For Mommy  by Delilah Cadwell

For Mommy by Delilah Cadwell

What was creative about the morning that we spent together? What made the context hospitable and welcoming to the creative spirit in Asher and Delilah? We could speculate that the uninterrupted time helped; the availability of the open-ended and beautiful toys and materials that they have played with for some years now; being able to be outside on a blue sky, cloudless June day under the shade of the big maple tree; the presence of an adult in their lives who loves and knows the arts and who also loves them...their mood, luck, and I would say, freedom.  

No one was telling them what to do.  Yet materials and time and attention were given to them. They had an audience when necessary, they had a camera person when they wanted that.  They had an organized facilitator with an array of enticing materials. They had a coach to support their processes. They each had ideas that could manifest because of all this.  

Ken Robinson defines creativity as the process of having original ideas that have value. Creativity involves putting your imagination to work: you do things.  Creativity is a process, a way of thinking and acting rather than an inborn trait, creativity is something we can all learn to apply in our lives. He goes on to say that teachers can provide opportunities, encourage, mentor, and inspire creativity to thrive in their students. 

This particular morning is among the most gratifying that I can remember.  We were each doing the things we love, we were all free, we were all creating, we were all outside, we were all engaged and absorbed, we were all having so much fun both together and independently.  I was able to continue to give to grandchildren the legacy of beauty and creativity and joy that has been given to me.   We were all boosted by a morning of confidence, creativity and making things of value.  May we all have mornings like these during these most glorious summer days.   

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Radical Empathy: Graduation 2018

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I am always moved by graduation ceremonies.  They give us all a formal time to celebrate the enormous accomplishments of those we love.  Yesterday, our nephew, Parker Cadwell, graduated from Middlebury College.  Middlebury holds a special place in our hearts because Ashley and I are both alumni, our son, Chris graduated in 2006, and countless other family members have walked these grounds and studied here since the late 1800s.  Parker is the last Cadwell we may see graduate from our dear college at least for the foreseeable future.  We were all there to celebrate him.  Along with Parker, we cheered for the 531 other graduates from 55 countries.  

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The graduation speaker was Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns, the story of the great migration of African Americans from the south to points north over three decades.  She is also a recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for Journalism.  

Reading The Warmth of Other Suns, I feel that I am living alongside the real people who experienced such horrific injustice for so long.  The way that Isabel Wilkerson writes engenders empathy as it informs us of three African Americans' experiences and stories of seeking a better life.  Ashley and I also listened to her interview with Krista Tippet on On Being, which we recommend.  

Yesterday, Isabel Wilkerson had this to say to the graduating class of 2018: 

Here we are…gathered together, your shining faces, the robes, exams over, requirements met…at what will now be your alma mater. 

You are singularly connected to this historic moment of polarity and promise.

You were studying and incubating into adulthood as the world changed or rather revealed itself to us. 

So today, in our fractious era, I am here to make the case for radical empathy.

Radical empathy means putting in the work to learn and to listen with the heart wide open.  To understand another’s experience well enough to know how they are feeling not as we imagine we would feel.  

Radical empathy is not about you and what you would do in a situation you have never been in and perhaps never will.  It is the generosity of spirit that opens your heart to the true experience and pain and perspective of another.

We need more of that in this world.  If you love yourself and if you love humanity, if you have empathy, you cannot hurt another human being any more than you would want to feel that pain yourself.

The work that goes into learning another person's reality opens up new ways of seeing the world, allows you to more accurately assess any situation that you happen to be in.

Radical empathy is a super power that can heal and build bridges stronger than steel and concrete. 

The most important bridge that any of us will ever cross is the bridge to the human heart. 

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This year, the student commencement speaker, Sebastian Tomas Sanchez of Brooklyn, N.Y. echoed the words of Isabel Wilkerson:

At Middlebury, we have gained a multi-faceted view of the world, seeing beyond one perspective or viewpoint.  We might not like it and we might not agree, but we have the tools to challenge opinions and engage in deliberative dialogue.

We are transitioning into a world where harsh views and fake news seem the norm, where people are unashamed to spew hate.  But now we have the tools to engage with this world, leaving it a little more truthful, a little more kind. 

Though the world is wildly unforgiving, we learned to be intellectually fearless in the face of adversity.  We must press on with persistence and resilience… So, let’s keep learning, let’s keep progressing, let’s keep loving.  Let’s keep pressing on.

Onward, to all of the brand new graduates all over our country and all over the world, and to all of us.  Radical Empathy, Perseverence, Resilience, Truth, Kindness.  At this moment in time, we are called to bring all of these qualities into the world every day of our lives.  

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