Ordinary things

As I write, the neighbours are sitting on their verandah eating dinner together. Mum and dad and two kids. I guess it’s a bit unusual in this day and age to see such a stereotypical nuclear family, but nevertheless it’s lovely to hear them as they sit in the autumn air laughing and chatting together while they eat. It’s not perfect, the kids bicker and try to wrestle one another in an effort to avoid eating their vegies. Dad has to lay down the law about finishing their dinner before they are allowed to leave the table.

I find it really comforting in a way I can’t describe, yet here I am trying to describe what’s around me. Things that are ordinary but nice.

A few days ago I commented on the post of a fellow blogger who was concerned that she was writing about ordinary things. No great dramas in her life, just the day to day observations that go with raising a family. I told her that she shouldn’t worry about being ordinary. That what was ordinary to her could quite well be interesting and meaningful to others.

I meant what I said, but I have to admit that I avoid writing because I’m scared that people will find it ordinary or just plain boring. I also avoid writing from the heart because to reveal one’s inner secret’s and vulnerabilities is very scary, even though I know it’s also what makes us human. I love reading posts where people reveal a little of themselves and the way they see the world. I love the sense of connection that comes from recognising that other people have the same fears and interests as me.

So at this Easter time, here’s to you fellow bloggers. You inspire me. Please keep writing and sharing your ideas. You never know when you might strike a chord or touch a heart.

Confidence is the key

As a teenager, one of my favourite books was Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s a dystopian story set in a world where women are progressively disenfranchised and reduced to the status of servants. This is achieved by freezing all of their bank accounts and charge cards. One day they can access the automatic teller machine and the next day they can’t. It’s as simple as that.

Atwood has written a new book with a similar theme called The Heart Goes Last. This book tells the story of a struggling couple who take up an offer of working in an experimental prison where people spend half their time as guards and half their time as prisoners. It’s a fantastic piece of writing in the true sense of the word. The novel also features sex robots called ‘prostibots’.

In an interview with the author, she says that she always has lots of ideas about what to write and that she usually chooses the most outlandish idea to focus on. Not because she wants to make it hard for herself, just because she likes a challenge.

She says that people without ideas shouldn’t write.

I found this a bit confronting as I’m always worried about not having ideas, but I don’t really think the problem is not having ideas, it’s more about convincing yourself that an idea is stupid before you’ve even started exploring it. I’m pretty good at talking myself out of things. It’s less risky that actually doing something because no-one can criticise your work if you don’t produce anything.

The problem is not lack of imagination, it’s lack of confidence.

What people seem to need most coaching about in the area of creativity is not ‘optimizing’ their imaginations—it’s their confidence. And that’s because we’ve been brainwashed into thinking that we are all specialists of some kind, and that you can’t really be a writer unless you’ve got something like a master’s degree. Obviously, we want dentists to be trained, but writing is human storytelling and everybody does it.

Margaret Atwood on how technology influences creativity

This really leaves me with nowhere to go in the excuse department. There’s no reason not to write. There’s no reason not to begin. It’s all about starting isn’t it?

I am not a brand

I have recently discovered the joy of listening to podcasts. I have several favourites that I subscribe to including one called SHIFT  that covers quite a few of my areas of interest. SHIFT focusses on using social tools at work and how this impacts on organisational cultures.

The presenters of SHIFT are Megan Murray and Euan Semple and the podcast is essentially them chatting about a theme. A recent episode covered the topic of conflict (Episode 35) and how to manage difference and dissent at the workplace. A good subtitle for this episode would be ‘how to write the perfect passive aggressive email’ but it was also about how to be yourself and how much you can be yourself at work. There’s a point at which you need to restrain yourself from give voice to your honest opinions about projects or the actions of others as it can definitely be career limiting.

One of my favourite parts of the podcasts was where Megan Murray was talking about being real and she says…

I am not a brand, I’m just a person trying to participate in the world.

I really like this statement. I’m think putting it on a sign and hanging it over my desk. People already think I’m a bit weird, so it wouldn’t matter.

It reminded me of a situation years ago when I went to a professional development day with other educators at the local technical college. I was teaching on the welfare diploma and we did a round table introduction at the beginning of the day. As we went round the table person after person described themselves in relation to either their qualifications or their professional life, or both. When it came to be my turn I was so annoyed at them all trying to show off and outdo one another that I just said ‘my name is Margaret and I am a person’. Quite a few people laughed, but one person told me later that she never forgot me making that statement and it reminded her that being a person was enough.

It’s a bit like that lovely moment in the film Notting Hill where Julia Roberts says to Hugh Grant… “I’m just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her”. I love that bit and I think it’s okay to be just a person.

We seem to be constantly encouraged to develop our brand, to make it consistent and make sure there are no cracks in the image, but surely the cracks are just the vulnerable bits of ourselves that make us human and loveable?

Blogging challenge: day fourteen

It’s a myth that creative people are lonely reclusive types, or that they don’t need friends. All the creative people I know have lots of friends and some of them are quite outgoing (in a thoughtful kind of way).

The kinds of relationships that creative people need can be classified into three broad groups and today I’d like to focus on the first group – supporters.

Supporters are people who admire what you do and provide you with positive feedback, regardless of what you do or how good or terrible your work is. They tend to be uncritical about your efforts and think that whatever you do is fantastic.

I am lucky enough to have some friends in this group and it’s great if you can find at least one person who fits this description. This is the person you should turn to when you are feeling low because they will give you total unconditional support.

Do you have anyone who fits this description in your life? I think that for most people, that person already exists, but maybe they are too shy to tell you or maybe they don’t know that you need their support. It can be helpful to talk openly about what you need. If you have a conversation with someone who you think really admires and supports you, let them know how important this is to you and you might find that they really enjoy this role and become even more supportive.

Blogging challenge: day nine

The dinner has been eaten, the dishes have been washed and the guests have made their way to bed. It’s very late and I’m very tired but I couldn’t miss this opportunity to ask you a question…

What is it exactly that you want from a blog that you follow and how does a blogger find out what this is?

I know it helps to have a niche audience and it’s wonderful if you have something interesting to say. That second thing is the one that I struggle with. What do you do on the days when you lose faith in your ability to create something?

The answer? Keep going.

Just keep doing whatever it is that you are doing and sooner or later you will find that your persistence pays off.

Blogging challenge: day three

Today I’d like to talk a bit about a book I have been reading called “Standing at the water’s edge” by Anne Paris. This is a lovely book about creativity and what conditions we need in order to immerse ourselves in the creative process.

According to Paris (a psychotherapist who helps people get past their creative blocks), artists of all kinds require ‘certain types of relationships with other people in order to create’. We need relationships that support us, that affirm us, and gentle criticism from people we trust. This got me thinking about two things:

  1. Would I really describe myself as an artist or a creative person?
  2. Do I have the kind of relationships that a creative person requires?

Should I describe myself as a creative person, (or is this just wishful thinking?)

I think the answer to this is simple, but at the same time quite complicated. I have quite a few books about creativity on my desk at work and I think that this has given some of my colleagues the idea that I am a creative person. I’m not sure if this is really correct, but on the other hand, I do strongly believe that we are all creative in our own way and that sometimes its just a matter of recognising and celebrating our creativity.

Do I have the kinds of relationships that nurture creativity (and if I don’t what do I do about this?)

I have lots of different relationships with people in my day to day life. Some of them definitely support my sense of who I am, or who I would like to be, and others are less positive. I don’t think that you can chuck people out of your life because they don’t contribute to a healthy sense of self (especially if they are members of your family), but you can definitely nurture relationships with people who support whatever it is that you are trying to achieve. Fortunately, I have a lovely family and a great husband who does support me and is one of my biggest champions, but even if he wasn’t, I don’t think you can just ditch people who aren’t giving you what you need. You do, however, need to cultivate relationships with people who support you and affirm you as a person and hopefully you will do the same for them.

What do you think? Do you hesitate to describe yourself as creative and if so, why?