Tonight I sat on the beach and snapped photo after photo of the sunset. At first glance, all my photos look the same.
But if you study each one, you’ll notice small differences. The sunset is vibrant, alive, and dozens of other things are changing as the sun dips into the horizon. People move into the frame. A flock of birds swoops overhead. The tide thunders in. The light subtly changes.
Self expression can be one minute change in the big picture. You don’t always have to create from nothing. Sometimes, you just need to observe.
My phone recently stopped holding a charge. I knew there was a problem when I could watch the battery icon going down when my phone was charged into a wall socket, but still, I hoped that I wouldn’t have to deal with this problem until later.
The universe intervened, and I woke up to a phone with no power, so I got up and got and went to the Apple Store. I got there early, so I could join the line of the others who were without power–the power of the phone–and were left in line without anything to do but stand there and look around. This puts a new spin on the meaning of powerless, doesn’t it?
So, stand around and look I did, and I thought of all the photos I wasn’t taking and all the comments I wasn’t recording on social media. The length of the line. The blueness of the sky. The comments from two men who were at the Apple store to look for interesting people to talk with about life (no phone, no problem.)
When a super nice Apple employee came to talk to me about my phone problem, he asked me for my phone number so he could text me when it was my turn for phone restoration. Unfortunately, a dead phone receives no text messages (perhaps the 25 will do this in the future), so my new number became “the women with the white shirt and blue jeans.”
What an unfortunate day to wear a white shirt instead of a pink one. If you’re looking for me today, don’t text. Don’t call. Just look for a woman in a white shirt and blue jeans.
I’m sure there’s only one.
Journal if you wish: what would people call you if your cell phone number wasn’t working? Write about the power that a cell phone gives or takes away.
Today’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 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.
“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.
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.
I’ve decided that an important part of Self-Expression Saturday is sharing a variety of self-expression activities with you.
Although I’m not an artist in the traditional sense, I know several people who are, including my daughter. In this post, I share her thoughts about drawing as a form of self-expression.
A collection of sketches of empowered women.
I find it difficult to journal. It feels like a homework assignment to me.
I was looking for something productive to do. I wanted to draw women of different shapes and sizes. Empowered women who were taking charge in their lives. Women who could express themselves and be feminine yet strong at the same time. All of the women who I drew for the collection are a little bit like me.
Three tips for others who want to draw as a form of self-expression:
1. A blank page feels defeating for me. Start with an inspiration. I used to find things to sketch as a starting point.
2. Feel comfortable with your materials. I like to be able to erase and undo. My preferred pencil for many years has been the PaperMate Sharp Writer #2. Keep your materials with you so that you can draw when you feel inspired.
3. Be in the right head space for drawing. Don’t force it. My drawings are always more inspired when I am enjoying the process.
Sand can be a beautiful tool for self expression and grounding for those people who don't mind touching it. I personally love sitting in the sand because it just feels good to connect to the earth. I also enjoy the feeling of scooping up sand, drawing in it, holding it, and letting it drift through my fingers.
Here are a few self expression activities related to the sand:
Draw letters or shapes in the sand with your fingers or toes.
Feel the difference between how it feels to skate your fingertips over the sand versus how it feels to pull them through the sand.
Use the sand like clay to build a little house or dimensional allusion to something else.
Feel your feet on the sand. How does it feel to stand with your feet closer together? Further apart? On your heels? How about on your toes?
Dig down into some wet sand. Make an imprint of your hand or foot.
Journal about your experiences or make the beach your journal and leave a word or image behind. You could choose to practice letting go as the tide is the ultimate eraser, proving fresh start after fresh start.
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?