A Rose By Any Other Name*

roseIn Life, we are given a name when we are born (sometimes before and sometimes a little bit after), and this name is usually the one that becomes our official name.

This name is often recorded on a birth certificate, which is our first official document.  It’s the first piece of paper that declares that we are real, where we became real and to whom.

Although our birth certificate records our official name, we have other names, too, some of which represent ourselves expressing ourselves.

Think of all of the names you have and what they mean to you:

Nicknames

Over the years, I had nicknames like “Kitten,” “Butterfly,” and “Light Foot,” from my parents. My brothers call me “Rach” or “Sis.”  And my friends used to call me “Rags” which was the shortened version of Ragnohailt, which we saw was the Scottish version of Rachel in some bizarre baby name dictionary. Boyfriends tried to call me “Hun” which I can’t stand, or “Baby Doll,” which I also didn’t like very much.

Play Names

My friends in elementary school and high school were imaginative, smart, and creative. We were always pretending to be one person or another (this was before computers and cell phones, so we had to have some way of amusing ourselves.)

My pretend names included the professional receptionist Linda Starr (you always choose that name!), Lechar (Rachel spelled backwards), Ray (elementary school boy name–sure my fourth grade teacher loved it when most of the girls in our class changed their names one day.) When we’d play “Little House on the Prairie,” I was usually Mary.  There was also “Guiniviere” who was around during our King Arthur phase, and “Ace” who helped me pass 9th grade algebra.

Changing Names

People sometimes change their last name when they get married, and don’t always change it back after they get divorced.

I have friends who have changed their names because they didn’t feel like the name suited them, including one friend who legally changed her last name to her mother’s maiden name.

In the recent Netflix Original movie, “To the Bone,” the main character changes her name at the suggestion of her counselor, from Ellen to “Eli.”

Sometimes writers will use a pen name, or people will adopt a name for other reasons.

And I know several people who change their names at coffee shops because they feel like their original name may cause confusion and/or jokes.

Journal, if you wish

What names have you used to express yourself over the years?  Do you have a coffee shop name?  Do you have nicknames that you like or dislike, and is there a reason why?

A Rose By Any Other Name*

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” is a popular reference to William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, in which Juliet seems to argue that it does not matter that Romeo is from her family’s rival house of Montague, that is, that he is named “Montague”.

Optimizing Your Writing Space

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As a creative writer, there are many layers to your work. There’s the actual writing process, and there’s your writing place.  Today, I’m going to talk about how I optimize my writing space and give you ideas on how you can optimize your own.

Where do you like to write, and how do you optimize your space?

My Creative Space

I like to go to a coffee shop on Sunday afternoons to work on my classes.  It feels good to get out.  On my walk there, I can think about whatever comes to mind.  I like the coffee there, they have free wifi, they have outlets so I can plug in my computer, and they have treats if I get hungry.  Oh yeah, this place is Starbucks.  Because while I enjoy supporting my local independent shops, this is just the best place in the area to work.

The one thing I can’t stand at this Starbucks is the music that they blast LOUDLY in the store. It’s mostly awful with an ok song thrown in once in a while.

So, I have a Spotify account, and comfortable headphones, and I write/work to loud 80’s music and sometimes hip-hop or rap.  This puts me in a good place where I can mentally focus and enjoy the process.  There may be some secret dancing thrown in for good measure.

Now that I’ve learned that I like to have headphones on while writing, I’m transferring this trick to my work at home.  When it’s Tuesday night and I’m grading papers, I can pour a glass of wine or pop up a cold club soda, put on my headphones, and get engaged in a really good grading zone, where I’m enjoying learning from my students and giving them quality feedback.

Creative Writing Teachers

Creative writing teachers, what can you take from this for your students?  I know that I have some students who are barely comfortable doing an in-class brainstorming exercise, but that they’ll do it if they know that they don’t have to share.  How can you encourage your students to find a comfortable writing place in class or out of class?

Your Optimal Writing Space

What’s your preferred writing environment?  If you don’t have one yet, I think you should try a few different ones.  Try different seats (couch, bed, desk chair?), different places (living room, office, coffee shop), different types of music or none at all.  Think about how you feel in each space, how much you enjoy or dislike the writing process in the different spaces, and look for the common denominators.

Journal about what you currently do that works or journal about your discovery process.

A Caveat

Don’t let the “lack” of the “perfect” writing space stop you from writing. Your writing has value, and you can write from almost anywhere.  You don’t need the perfect song or the ultimate desk–those are just tools to help you.

Self Expression: The Color Green

img_7207Today’s journaling is inspired by the color green.  First there was the spider plant brightening up my space at work.  Then the palm tree fronds reflected in the window behind me, the leaves on my disposable coffee cup, and even the exit sign letters.

I think in the color green sometimes, and I’m not sure why.  Is it because of my enchantment with the Emerald City (all those Frank Baum books) and the Land of Oz?  Is it because I see through blue-green/green-blue eyes?  I imagine the air-conditioned cold air of a Pacific Northwest forest, and I see a wide patch of lawn with marigolds planted in a circle.

Green is:

Green is the color of a room or two.  Green is the color of Clifton Court.  Green is the color of a long-ass car.  Green is Snackwells and avocados, tight shorts, and a matching striped top. Green is the color of the stuffed animal who did it, and green is the junior uniform worn with a gold trefoil pin and a sash of empowerment badges.

Does the monster have green eyes?  Why is mint chip ice cream white?

Green is touch and green is go.  Green is a color in the sea sometimes.  Green is individual blades of grass, and green is a four leaf clover, a grasshopper, and the blue-cheese stuffed olive in a potent martini. Green is the money you put inside your wallet.

Journal, if you wish:

What do you gleen from green?  What’s your green scene?  (Or write about any color!)  Have some fun with it.  Make up rhymes, be specific or be vague.

Self-Expression: Art Therapy Activities

Art therapy with crayons
Art and a sketchpad

“The simple act of creative expression connects us with an inner-self of vitality.”–Doreen Meister, MA, MFT

Meister is an expressive arts therapist who practices out of Oakland, Calif.  I recently read an article where she discussed the benefits of art therapy and gave three techniques that you can try yourself.

The article “3 Art Therapy Techniques for Anxiety” talks about the importance of art for calming the nervous system and allowing people to work through things that may be troubling them.  Says Meister: “when we’re focused on creating, our minds shift from worrisome ruminations.”

Art Therapy: Another Tool for Self-Expression

I happened to have a sketchbook and box of crayons on hand, so I decided to modify one of the activities from the article: select a crayon, draw a squiggle across the page, flip the page over, decide what the squiggle reminded me of, and turn it into some sort of drawing.

For someone who doesn’t draw, this activity was fun for me.  Starting with a squiggle is easy…and there’s no pressure to draw “real art.”  I turned my squiggle into a ghost family holding hands by a river. I think they must be fishing in a forest because I think the brown lines filled in with green represent a wooded area of trees.  There’s grass on the other side of the river, and they’ve all signed their name: ghost, ghost, ghost, ghost, and ghost.  img_7200

I also had fun just coloring on a blank sheet of paper.  If you haven’t colored for a few years, give it a try.  Even writing your name in crayons or drawing simple shapes can turn into a hour of self-expression!

Journal, if you wish

If you want to take it one step further, you can journal about what your picture means to you or how it connects to your daily life.

Read 3 Art Therapy Techniques to Deal with Anxiety at Psych Central for specific ways to use drawing with crayons as ways to deal with anxiety.

Psychological Safety and Creativity

Mom and son at La Jolla Shores
Mom and son playing on the beach at La Jolla Shores: trust and fun.

This morning, I was reading a study published in Harvard Business Review about how high performing teams need psychological safety to perform at their best.

This made me think about creative people: I think a majority of creators need psychological safety to perform AT ALL and certainly to perform at their best.

What is Psychological Safety?

The article defines psychological safety as the belief that you won’t be punished if you make a mistake.  I liked these quotes from the article:

Studies show that psychological safety allows for moderate risk-taking, speaking your mind, creativity, and sticking your neck out without fear of having it cut off .”

“Barbara Fredrickson at the University of North Carolina has found that positive emotions like trust, curiosity, confidence, and inspiration broaden the mind and help us build psychological, social, and physical resources. We become more open-minded, resilient, motivated, and persistent when we feel safe. Humor increases, as does solution-finding and divergent thinking — the cognitive process underlying creativity.

Psychological Safety in the Classroom

As a creative person and a creative writing instructor, these quotes make me think about the importance of safety for creative writers.  I think it’s important to create an atmosphere where students can take risks with their writing without fear of embarrassment or humiliation, but still benefit from valuable feedback to help them continue to grow as writers.

So, what is the sweet spot and the most effective way to give feedback while preserving creativity?

I think the answer is in the second quote above: building a classroom setting that prioritizes trust, curiosity, confidence, and inspiration so that students feel safe first…and then work towards resiliency, motivation, and persistence, all important attributes for published writers.

I’ll keep working on a way to put this thought into practice and will share in a future post.

Journal, if you wish:

How do you create your own inner atmosphere that allows you to feel good about creating? What elements are part of your own safety zone?

Write about a time when a teacher helped you feel safe about creating.  Why did you feel that way and how could you replicate it?

 

 

You Don’t Have to Smile

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Oh no! I’m not smiling!

When I started this blog, I was thinking about self expression as a person expressing him or herself in a creative way.  However, we express ourselves in a number of ways, including our facial expressions.  I know my face looks different when I am happy or sad, when I am excited or nervous, when I am tired or wide awake.

And here’s the thing.  My facial expression can be whatever it is.  I can choose if I want to smile or if I want to frown or if I just want to have a neutral look.

During the last two weekends, I had two people tell me “SMILE!”  And I really hated it.

The first time was when I was walking to the coffee shop to work, and I was thinking about my projects.  A man told me to smile because life isn’t that bad and because God loves me.  This man who knows nothing about my choice to smile or not smile or what I was thinking at the time.

The second time was when I posted an updated photo of my hair on a “going gray and loving it” forum on Facebook.  My eyes looked really blue, and I really that I could see my emerging gray with my hair pulled back.  I didn’t have a cheesy grin.  I just had my unfiltered face.  When I posted the picture, I was commanded to SMILE! by a group member.  Uh, no thanks.

I’m writing this to remind myself that I never have to smile.  I am not a little girl sitting in a photo studio trying to look cute for a picture.  I do not have to smile when I’m walking down the street, and I do not have to smile for photos.  My body and my face belong to me, and I can decide what I want to do with them.

I do like to smile, laugh, and giggle, a lot.  On my own terms.

To smile or not to smile, that is the question!  (You decide!)

Rachel

Journal, if you’d like: How do you feel when people tell you to smile?  Do you think they are just being concerned about a serious or grumpy or intense look on your face?  When people tell you to smile, how does it make you feel?  Or: what in your life makes you smile?  When’s the last time you smiled?  How would you describe your facial expression at this point in time?

Exercise as Self Expression

img_7022-1This morning, I had an insight that I decided to share here.

I’ve been experimenting with Qi Gong, thanks to a friend at work.  Qi Gong is an exercise I enjoy.  The moves are simple. It feels good.   And it’s helping me feel more grounded.

Perhaps because Qi Gong is new to me, it feels more mentally engaging that yoga, where I tend to worry more whether or not I’m doing it right…and if I’m going to get corrected.

Qi Gong helps me feel like I am in my body.  My feet on the ground. My hands scooping up energy.  My arms punching out and pulling in.

Qi Gong for me is a form of self expression.  Me, expressing myself, through the movements of my body.

Feeling the movements and not trying to escape from them.

I think that exercise became something physically painful to me in junior high school.  From then on, even when I really wanted to enjoy it, exercise was not about self expression.  Exercise was other things: punishment, pain, inadequacy, something to escape from, a competition, something to get over, something to avoid, a way to take up less space in the world.

It’s hard to express yourself through exercise when your mind is focused on just one thing: WHEN IS IT GOING TO BE OVER?!

For me, I can’t be in my body when I’m trying to escape from it.  So, running never worked for me because I could never be in my body when the exercise was so physically and emotionally painful for me. I would mentally disconnect or just not do it.   On the other hand, I have a student who loves to run.  It clears her mind, and it makes her feel invigorated and ready to take on the day.

Thinking back, there are some forms of movement that I enjoyed as a child or that I enjoy now. When I was young, I loved gymnastics and playing on the bars at recess and at home. I also loved the freedom of riding my bike and enjoyed the roller skating rink. When I was eighteen, I loved going to local dance clubs.

As an adult now, I enjoy walking.  I can walk with friends or by myself.  Walking has choices.  Walking feels good.  I can observe life as I walk.   I can walk slow or fast.  Walking is not a competition, and there’s not a trainer or teacher who wants to correct my walking moves. Walking is just another way to BE.

Interested in Qi Gong?  I like this video, and there are many more choices on YouTube.

Journal, if you choose: does thinking about exercise as a way of expressing yourself change your relationship with it?  Is there a form of movement that you really enjoy, and if so, what is it?  Why do you think you enjoy it?

Why Self Expression Matters

Self expression is important, and I recently realized why.

trauma sensitive journaling
Expressing myself in a bright pink shirt and my cat’s eye sunglasses.

Yes, creative activities can be enjoyable, but they are also an important way to remind us that we exist, that we all have a unique vision, that we are always enough, and that we are brilliant.

The fact that we can create something from nothing, that we can write poems, essays, song lyrics, blog entries, and stories is actually incredible when you think about it. The fact that we express ourselves through the multitude of choices we make each day in what to wear, what to feed ourselves, and how to make our way through the world is also incredible–another part of self expression.

You matter.  You have value. Your self deserves a place for expression.  A safe place where you can create without judgment or competition.  A place where you can create to create and express to express, without fearing that you are doing it right or wrong. For years I’ve held back from going to dance classes for fear of doing it wrong–when all I want to do is rock some awkward moves in a group full of accepting, happy people.  My hope is that my blog is to you what that (still imaginary) dance class is for me.

Here, I’ll post insights into my own self expression as I search for balance in my own life.  Feel free to follow along and participate as much or as little as you’d like.

 

Through a Glass of Chardonnay

chardonnay window

If creativity is seeing things in a new way, what do you see when you look through a glass of chardonnay, sparkling water, or lemon-lime soda?

If you choose, journal about what you see when you look at a scene through two layers of glass.  If there are bubbles involved, how does it change your view?

Here, I was fascinated by the fact that I could see the scene through my glass of wine and that I could see the people on the beach watching the sunset.

And because I like choices, you could also consider these journaling prompts:

  • Take a series of photographs through different windows.  Describe the view from both sides of the window.
  • Journal how you feel before and after that first glass of chardonnay.  How do your perceptions change?  I’m going to link to an experiment that a photographer did with this friends on this topic.

 

 

 

That Stubborn Feeling

b62f35f5-86c2-4f2b-b275-cf912d06aac4-41173-00002a8887a8695fFor this Saturday’s self expression, I encourage you to take your journal and work out strategies you can use when you get stuck in your writing process.

I feel like we probably all have different strategies that helps us.  You can read mine from my journal and then work on your own. (Feel free to enlarge the photo so that you can see the entire image. I will work on creating clickable images of my journal pages so that they self-enlarge in the future!)

These are great to have on hand when we need them!

If you choose, you can also explore these journaling ideas:

  • Why do you sometimes feel stubborn about working on your writing projects?
  • Write about a time you got unstuck.  What did you do?
  • Write about a time when you helped a friend or child work through writer’s block.