Posts Tagged 'Creativity'

Linking Creativity and Depression

It’s not a new theory that some of the brightest, most creative and influential individuals in history have been plagued by depression – including Charles Darwin, Vincent Van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, William Syron, and more recently the novelist, David Foster Wallace. A feature article in this past weekend’s New York Times Magazine section entitled, “Depression’s Upside,” by Jonah Lehrer offered a fascinating new slant on the subject. A study by a Yale Psychologist, Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, showed that those with ruminative tendencies are more likely to become depressed. I found this to be an interesting factoid depicting those prone to this illness.

Supposedly, Darwin viewed his depression as a clarifying force, which helped him focus on essential problems. Apparently, in his writings, he claimed that sadness “leads an animal to pursue that course of action which is most beneficial.” In other words, for the creative individual, the darkness can be a sort of light.

The article certainly validated some of my own depressive moments. When everything is going extremely well in my personal life, I am more prone to writer’s block. As a journaling advocate and writing instructor who frequently lectures on the healing power of writing, I was thrilled that Lehrer referenced a recent study citing that ‘expressive writing’ leads to a significantly shorter depressive episode.  Many of us in the literary world are aware of this, but it’s refreshing to see it addressed in this reputable reference, for the masses to read.

In fact, in the journaling classes I teach, I see a major transformation in my students from the first to last class, particularly if they had signed up to find their way out of a crisis. I don’t really need any long-term case studies to convince me of the healing power of the written word. Just by examining my own life and those of my colleagues and students, I can see the pattern. I frequently make students laugh when I tell them that writing is certainly less expensive than therapy and often times, much more effective.

Depression is common in the general public and the article states that seven percent of the population will be affected by depression and this number tends to be higher amongst creative types.  So fellow writers, don’t worry so much about your depressive moments  or disregard your analytical ruminations, because you just never know what the outcome will be! Oh no, a literary drought!

To read the complete article, check out the following link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/28/magazine/28depression-t.html?em

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Why We Write

As a journaling advocate who has been writing for over forty years, I have often reflected on the reasons why people have chosen writing as a career. My journaling habit has served as a foundation for my life as professional writer. I have a lot of gratitude for those little red diaries with lock and key that my mother gave me each birthday during my childhood.

There are many reasons why writers are compelled to the page, including having a story to tell and the desire to bridge the gap of loneliness. In order to sit down and put words on the page, writers must submerge themselves in a zone which ignites their creative energy and spirit. Sometimes this requires the simple act of closing an office door, making an escape to a writing retreat, or going to a local bookstore or café. In other cases, it might take a more profound removal from day-to-day life. Sometimes darkness is brought on or initiated by something real in the writer’s life.

According to Margaret Atwood, in her book, Negotiating With the Dead: A Writer on Writing, (2002), “Writing has to do with darkness, and a desire or perhaps a compulsion to enter it, and, with luck, to illuminate it, and to bring something back out into the light.”

Marguerite Duras, in her book, Writing (1993) says, “Finding yourself in a hole, at the bottom of a hole, in almost total solitude, and discovering that only writing can save you. To be without the slightest subject for a book, the slightest idea for a book, is to find yourself, once again, before a book. A vast emptiness. A possible book. Before nothing. Before something like living, naked writing, like something terrible, terrible to overcome.”

The childhoods of writers are thought to have something to do with their chosen vocation. Although many are quite different, what they’ve often contained, were books and solitude. My own childhood had all the vital ingredients to provide a lifetime or writing. When I was a child, there were no films or theatres and the batteries in the radio always seemed to be dead. Yet, something ever present was books. I had a shelf above my desk and there was also another big one in our living room.

I learned to read at an early age. My mother was an avid reader and inspired the same in me. Each week she took me to the public library and I’d leave with a stack of books reaching all the way up to my chin. Margaret Atwood also spent a lot of time reading as a child. “My mother liked quietness in children, and a child who is reading is very quiet,” she writes.

As a child, journaling was the only place where I could visit myself and be alone with my thoughts as I tried to make sense out of the world around me. William Faulkner argued that there’s a more profound reason why writers write. “An artist,” he says “is a creature driven by demons. He has a dream. It anguishes himself so much he must get rid of it.” That’s why many of us working on longer projects can get by with very little sleep. The demons just won’t let us stop until they are satisfied and there’s no telling how long it will take them to be satisfied.

In many ways, writing and psychotherapy are both healing and could be thought of as a modern, guilt-free replacement for confession. This might be one reason so many people are drawn to writing memoirs and personal essays. Writing about real life experiences is like a snake shedding its skin and leaving a former self behind. It’s easier moving forward when the baggage from the past is dropped.

Soren Kierkegaard describes what it is to be a poet: “A poet is an unhappy being whose heart is torn by secret sufferings, but whose lips are so strangely formed that when the sighs and cries escape them, they sound like beautiful music….” The way I look at it is that we are all blessed to be writers.

Joan Didion in her essay, “Why am I a Writer,” says, “Had my credentials been in order I would never have become a writer. Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

As expressed by these exceptional writers, in essence, we write to know ourselves. Even our darkest—or unknown—thoughts, memories and fears can transform to reveal value and meaning for us. And with any luck, for others as well.

The Mind-Body Connection

I suppose, once a nurse, always a nurse. Even though I have not practiced nursing in over twenty-five years, I have an innate interest in health issues try to keep up with all the recent advances. In recent years and many illnesses later, I have become more and more interested in the mind-body connection.

This past weekend I attended a lecture given by Dr. Hans Gruenn who runs the Longevity Center in Los Angeles. Now, isn’t this a perfect lecture for a baby boomer wanting to remain forever young?  Dr. Gruenn, originally from Germany, spoke on “Advances in Integrative Medicine,” and gave a powerful and poignant two-hour talk.

Integrative medicine is a type of medical practice that incorporates physical western medicine in addition to  alternative therapies while taking into consideration psychological, environmental, historical and genetic factors. It relies upon a partnership between the patient and the physician and is considered a way to treat the body, mind and spirit all at once.

The major question Dr. Gruenn posed for us, is to ask ourselves, not why we  get sick, but why don’t we heal? He believes that the patient must do their part in maintaining their health. He quoted Voltaire – “The doctor is to entertain the patient while he heals.” He admitted that some people have a tendency to see an array of doctors looking for solutions to their health problems, but that there is a real danger in seeing too many doctors and having too many tests. He agrees that we must pick and choose. He spoke about the difference between medical practice in the United States and in Europe and how the basis of good health gets down to good nutrition and eating fresh organic foods, instead of processed foods. He said that due to poor diets, the life expectancy for our children will be shorter than ours.

In general, he said, “Medicine keeps you honest. It makes you think why you  are stuck, whether it is for emotional, physical or genetic reasons.” He believes that the practice of medicine is a searching process and that if a patient comes into his office for a medical problem, he will typically treat that problem, however, if they do not heal by traditional methods, he will examine other reasons which might prevent their healing, including medical history, ancestors’ history and their general state of health.

His recommendation for good health is to examine the following:

1)   What is your weak spot? How can you address it?

2)   What is your diet? Do you have a metabolic problem? Genetic issue?

3)   Do you have food sensitivities or allergies?

4)   How acidic are you? (your pH should be over

He suggested the following basic supplements for health (which I was already happily take!)

1)   Omega 3’s (anti-inflammatory)

2)   Minerals

3)   Digestive enzymes

4)   Vitamin D

5)   Probiotics

If your blood test show deficiencies, you might be instructed to take additional supplements. In the 1970s when I studied nursing, Integrative Medicine was not even in my curriculum. Practitioners in this field were regarded as being on the fringe or practicing quackery. Even acupuncture and chiropractic treatments which are more readily accepted today, were considered questionable treatments.

Today is different, many nursing and medical schools are teaching their students to think in an integrative way with the understanding that the  body, mind and spirit all interact and are never independent of one another. Nutrition is part of the curriculum, whereas typically in those days, it was not.

There’s no doubt that some non-traditional treatments might not work or may not have been adequately tested, but with good research and referrals, it is certainly worth a try. Personally, I believe in the mind-body-spirit connection. As  someone who  meditates and writes in a journal daily, I can honestly say that it makes a huge difference in managing my own stress levels!

What Moves You?

This was a question frequently posed by my mentor, Anaïs Nin, and today I pose the question to you, my readers. During the past few weeks I have been in the midst of what could aptly be called a literary slump. Thankfully, my recent sojourn to Paris healed me. Many writers, both living and dead, have professed that you should write what you know—but I will take this thought one step further and suggest that you write what you are passionate about or what moves you. The energy of your passion will be enough to carry your creative energy across the page.

Beyond writing about what interests you, the question is: what do writers do when they simply cannot be ‘moved?’What do they do when their pen stalls on the page and words do not churn out as quickly as they would like?

The Poets & Writers website has a section called, “Writers Recommend,” which is a collection of interviews with writers whose work has previously appeared on their pages. In this section, writers discuss what inspires them and what they might do to stimulate their creative juices. I believe many of these suggestions apply to all creative persons. Many of the writers’ responses may seem obvious to my readers, but it is amusing, nevertheless, to see these ideas all lumped together. Below is a summary of the most interesting and helpful tips offered by these writers, some which have been used for centuries by artists and writers alike. My recent trip to Paris was a testament to their efficacy because I have returned to the U.S. with a heightened literary charge. In fact, during my week in Paris, I managed to fill up an entire leather journal, accompanied by jottings on my laptop of future article ideas.

Here’s a summary:

1)    Go to places that inspire you—whether it is a bookshop, local park or café

2)    Read the works of your favorite writers to stimulate or alter your own world

3)    Sit somewhere outside of your typical writing area

4)    Do something different to recharge your battery, like learning a new hobby or sport

5)    Drink coffee, sip alcohol or use other mood-altering vices… in moderation, of course

6)    Listen to music

In addition to this list, there are other things I personally do to stimulate my own creativity or to give me a literary boost. For example, I might visit my local bookstore or library, walk around and pick up a  book which interests me and skim through its pages. I might carefully study the Edward Hopper print on my writing studio wall, which depicts a woman reading her book in a moving train. Something about her demeanor and sense of calm stimulates my creativity. For some poetic inspiration, I might focus on one image or emotion for an extended period of time and this might percolate into a poem. Sometimes while traveling, (which I frequently do because all three of my children live on the east coast), I might write a poem on a hotel pad, in the same way that William Carlos Williams used to draft poetry on prescription pads between patients. Speaking of Williams, while in Paris, I visited one of the three or four English bookstores, The Red Wheelbarrow.

The Red Wheel Barrow

So much depends

upon

a red wheel

barrow

glazed with rain

water

beside the white

chicken.

Et voila! Here’s to inspiration. Let me hear from you as to what you might do to get your own creative juices churning and if you found any of my tips useful.

The Universal Rhythm of Music

My family has always believed all birthdays are a cause for celebration, but this past weekend was a special celebration in honor of my father-in-law’s 85th. There were close to seventy adoring people. After the events of the past month, I was delighted to have something positive to celebrate.

I cherish my father-in-law and there is not much I would not do to honor him, the family patriarch who for years has filled our family with his love, generosity and wisdom. This year’s celebration was particularly important in view of his recent diagnosis with Parkinson’s Disease. We have all grown accustomed to watching him sit uncharacteristically quiet during our family meals and discussions. Through his occasional questions, we know he is paying attention, but his interaction has been severely hampered since the onset of his disease.

The highlight of the evening was the presence of two Hungarian musicians, a violinist and guitar player. I watched as my father-in-law was transported by the music to his childhood growing up in Komarno. When the musicians arrived he sat watching in shock and then stood up, and began singing and dancing in the living room of his grandiose Toronto apartment to each melody and song played. It was as if he went into a blissful trance. I don’t remember him dancing like that since my wedding in 1977 where he swung me around the dance floor. We mostly watched in awe, but a few of us took the opportunity to get up and dance with him one by one. I was amazed by the way the  music took him out of his cocoon and brought so much joy to this eventful day.

At the airport I picked up the magazine, A Scientific Mind and there was an article very apt to the situation encountered at my father-in-law’s party. The article was entitled, “Why Music Moves Us.”  It discussed how music was the universal language. The neurologist Oliver Sacks in his recent book, Musicophilia, says, “Music seems to be the most direct form of emotional communication.”

As the mother of a son who is a musician I have seen the power of music and how it  can sway the human spirit. For years music has been shown to improve both mental and physical well-being. In the elderly it has been shown to decrease anxiety and agitation. So now, I am suggesting to my beloved mother-in-law to push self-medication with music, even if it means hiring musicians once a month for a live personal concert. There is nothing to lose, but so much to gain and Oliver Sacks professes, “Music is the most direct and mysterious way of conveying and evoking feelings. It is a way of connecting one consciousness to another. I think the nearest thing to telepathy is making music together.”


Quote of the Week


"A writer uses a journal to try out the new step in front of the mirror."

~Mary Gordon

About Me


I am a memoirist, essayist, poet and teacher whose passion is keeping a notebook. My notebook is my muse and my alter ego. It contains personal snippets of my life and observations from the world around me. Diarist Anaïs Nin has been a great source of inspiration for me. My hobbies include writing, writing and more writing, but when I have extra time, I enjoy reading, walking, hiking, yoga, working out, cooking and hanging out with my family and Maltese Poodle, Spunky. In order not to become ensconced by the glare of my computer screen, I also teach in the UCLA Extension Writers' Program and in various conferences and festivals around the country. My pleasure comes from sharing my joy of journaling with professional writers and anyone interested in writing.

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