Straw Flowers

Straw Flowers
"Straw Flowers" by L. Folk

Monday, December 30, 2013

Wonder Woman and the Novel, Useful Power of Creativity



When I was young I wanted special powers.  I watched shows like Wonder Woman and I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, and The Bionic Woman.  Jaime Sommers was so down-to-earth, unpretentious, just a regular gal; she made special powers seem attainable.  Whenever I ran at recess, I would hear that t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t sound that implied my make-believe bionics at work.  I would smooth a strand of hair behind my ear to hear far away sounds.  Once an older girl caught me doing this.  "What, are you bionic or something?" she snapped.  Oh how I wished.  How I wished to hear what no one else could hear, or jump to the top of a building, or have remarkable strength in my right arm.  I watched the 1984 gymnastic team and Mary Lou Retton with bated breath; they were girls who could fly.  I watched Katherina Witt, the elegant figure skater known for her flawless routines.  These women were my aspirations; I wanted to transcend the banal, the normal and predictable.

I had watched my mother, a woman of tremendous potential, struggle with the vacuousness of suburbia and being a stay-at-home mom.  She instilled in my sister and me a strong sense of independence: find out what you want to do and do it, for yourself.  When I was twelve years old, a friend wrote me a poem and I was enchanted by it, this small thing of rhyme and imagery; I aspired to emulate, make up my own creations.

When I completed a first draft for a novel in my twenties, I felt the rise of my powers.  Creativity was a way to leave the surface of the earth.  The feeling I got after capturing a poetic image or complex emotion was extra-ordinary.  I learned how the minutia of life could dissolve in the presence of creativity; I discovered how a woman with a room of her own could alter her world.

The problem is we learn to believe that creativity is not enough.  You are not really wonder woman until other, qualified people tell you you are.  In dire times of rejection, you may replace your creativity with a pint of ice cream or perhaps reruns of Desperate Housewives, or both.  The mind, now corralled to the demands of domesticity, as well as the numbing passiveness of technology, is like a tethered stallion.  It snorts and kicks.  It stands on its hind legs.  It overheats.  That creative energy is channeled straight into anxiety or worse.  Alice Walker reflects upon this in her essay “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens," where she writes about her Black ancestors, female slaves who, due to their stifled creativity “were not Saints but Artists; driven to a numb and bleeding madness."

Why is the power of creativity so fulfilling?  The answer lies in purpose according to Rex Jung, a neuropsychologist, who studies intelligence and creativity with respect to the neuroscience of the brain.  His specialty is helping people with brain injuries find meaning in their lives again.  Many of these people have lost their intellectual capacity and yet their creativity remained intact.  This is because intelligence relies on brain mass and conductivity between the lobes; conductivity is efficient with respect to intelligence, that is, minimizing point A to point B, while creativity depends on the many different, novel pathways a bio-electrical signal can take.  It is a sort of meandering.  Jung talks about Alonzo Clemons, an exceptionally detailed artist who creates exquisite sculptures of animals, horses, cattle, elephants, sheep in wood and bronze.  Clemons suffered a traumatic brain injury early in his life that rendered him mentally and socially challenged.  It is his artistry, however, that gives him a strong sense of purpose, a niche in the world.

Jung defines creativity as something that is "novel and useful".  Why was Picasso a great artist?  Because his style is novel- unique, interesting, enticing; his work is useful because it excites the senses and adds emotion and complexity to a viewing space. Why is Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse a work of art?  Its novel aspect is rooted in the stream of conscious writing that mirrors the internal workings of the human mind; we revel at the power of poetic rawness, at the spark and capture of insight before the ego and the editor overly refine it with propriety.  The useful aspect is showcasing these internal workings; we don't read To the Lighthouse for its plot twists; we don't read it to be entertained; we read it to experience empathy.

I spend most of my time taking care of my 17 month old twins and the days can be very long, especially during the winter months.  I am sure I am not alone when I say I am often pummeled by the gravity of drudgery, by the pile up at the kitchen sink after every meal, by the onslaught of diaper changing and laundry, by domesticity in general.  This past spring, holed up with the babes and waiting for the weather to change, I experienced the ennui that comes with disillusionment.  I have felt this ennui before; often times it has been a portal to depression, a place where I hold a continuous debate with myself on whether life is inherently meaningless.  Once, during one of these periods, I enrolled in a philosophy course to find out what the big wigs said about the issue, but I didn't find the answer there.  I found it in the short stories I was writing.  This is what I must remember: while writing and in the zone, time seems to stop; I enter the world of fluidity and purpose.  My mood changes from a worried, depressive state to one engaged and curious, even playful.  This is why I make time to write, because creativity can eradicate existential angst.

Now that's true power.

The Melancholic World of the Subconscious

There it was again, the white house on Horace Road, the house I used to visit nearly everyday as a girl.  The house in the dream was similar to the actual house with concrete steps leading to the front door, a mirror over the piano in the living room, but this house had a multitude of hidden doors.  I went inside with a heavy heart; I was looking for those lost to me, but once again, they weren't home. 
Aside from my visiting the white house in my dreams, I had gone back there a few years ago after my childhood friend, N, had contacted me through facebook.  We went to see N's parents; her father was alive back then.  My own father had been gone some eight years; this seemed ironic because my father was nearly 2 decades younger than hers.  I thought the visit would bring closure for me and I would no longer dream about the house, execute fruitless searches, because I had found my friend and her parents, the people who were a prominent part of my childhood.  But that wasn't the case.

I go about my business in my conscious life.  I take care of my twin babies, keep the house clean, take the dog for a walk, teach my classes.  I do one task then another then another.  Each task is a rung on the ladder that extends from morning to night.  But while I'm climbing the ladder during the day, I'm also living somewhere else- in the amorphous, melancholic world of my subconscious where I am still grieving.  The part of me that dwells there- perhaps it is the girl, or maybe the soul- is conveniently compartmentalized. My meager attempts at meditation and prayer do not satisfy her.  Perhaps this is why she is so prominent in my dreams.

In this last dream regarding the white house, a former student attempted to break in.  His name is Bobby D.  I had his sister as a senior back when I taught high school; she was respectful and diligent as Bobby was when I had him as a freshman.  By junior year, Bobby started having behavioral problems; it was this Bobby who was at the door trying to get in.

Just as Bobby D was sneaking in, I slammed the door on his knee and fingers.  I succeeded in bolting it, but there were others that needed locking.  At one point, the hidden doors multiplied infinitely in both directions, like an image does when you place it between two mirrors.  Bobby was out there, looming, readying himself to break in and take things.  On a shelf in the garage, there were remotes, about ten of them, each with ducktape over the buttons; I freaked when I saw all of the overhead doors needing to be locked.  Then my father appeared.  Together we worked at closing all of the overhead doors and locking them to keep Bobby D out.

Once, in meditation, and guided by a teacher, the presence of my father was potent; it was as if he was sitting in my lap.  Tears burst through the lashes of my closed eyes.  It had been awhile since I thought of him; I had been busy.  And yet, I could feel his eagerness to come through, as if he had been waiting for a while behind some locked door.

I have learned this: the friend I thought was lost to me, still exists.  She lives her life much as I do, taking care of children, maintaining a house, keeping a job.  I have also learned that my father still exists, albeit subtly.  It is uncanny sometimes, the way he flashes across a face, be it my sister's or my son's or my brother's.  There he is, I say to myself, as I observe my son and the way he watches cartoons with his lips in a semi-smile, his eyes alighted and depicting casual amusement, or as I observe my sister and the crinkle in her brow that shows up when she is perplexed, or the way my brother regards his car, meticulously, as my father did his.  And then, of course, there are the dreams where he shows up, suddenly and I am once again, whole.

At the end of this particular dream, after the doors were locked and my father had gone, I waited inside to tell my friend that her father had died.  In truth, I was eager to tell her, not to make her sad, but to have a confidant.  Because in that amorphous, melancholic world of the subconscious where the girl resides and grief resides, it's best to not be alone.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Compassion Project: An Anthology, Call for Submissions


The Compassion Project: An Anthology

The Compassion Project’s main goal is to bring awareness to the simple, yet often marginalized concept of compassion. As it is now, antidepressant use by Americans ages 18-44 has increased nearly 400 percent in the last twenty years.  Almost weekly we hear about mass shootings, gang murders, and cyber space bullying.  It’s the diatribe of negativity in our minds, compelled by a success-obsessed society that enforces our sufferings, our singularity.  True compassion eradicates singularity.

To cultivate compassion, we must first define it for ourselves.  We must start with what the mind clings to- images.  We are bombarded with hundreds of useless or disturbing images everyday through media and advertising.  They reel in our minds, even when we turn off the screen.  What if we can replace these images?  What if we can focus on this thing compassion through positive images, images that unify us instead of alienate us, images of the spirit and not the ego; would this be a starting point in cultivating the light that lies within all of us? Will we then begin to know compassion?  Will we then recognize the seeds of the dark before they sprout and take root?



The Compassion Project: An Anthology is a call for images of original artworks depicting compassion, be they photographs, or photos of paintings, collages, mixed media, drawings, or sculptures.  Poetry, short personal essays and short stories are also welcome.  Selections from this collection of work will be published and used in presentations on compassion.


The Compassion Project: An Anthology
Guidelines for Submissions

All entries should include:
    • a word document containing an imbedded image (jpg with maximum size of 2000 x 2000 pixels and minimum of 500 x 500 pixels) of the artwork along with a statement (one to three paragraphs) on why the image included represents compassion or a poem, short essay, or short story on compassion
    • name, address and email included in the heading.
    • Poetry must be 30 lines or less, single-spaced in 12 point Times New Roman font.
    • Prose must be 1500 words or less, double-spaced in 12 point Times New Roman font.
    • If an image is accepted for the anthology, the artist must be able to send it with high resolution.
    • Images, essays and stories should be sent between December 1, 2013 and September 1, 2014 to Laurette Folk at lfolk@northshore.edu; all poetry should be sent to Jennifer Jean at thisruach@gmail.com.

Artists and writers of all ages and abilities are welcome. Please visit us on facebook: www.facebook.com/compassionanthology .