Creative Process

Shaping Sapiens: My New Podcast Series!

Shaping Sapiens Album Cover Art

It is with great pride and a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and hair grease, that I am pleased to officially announce the launch of my new podcast series: Shaping Sapiens! Currently available on Soundcloud, YouTube, and this RSS feed. And coming (very) soon to iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and TuneIn, and other podcasts stations near you.

I won’t promise it’ll be great. I won’t promise it’ll be the podcast to end all podcasts. But, I CAN promise it will be real. As real as I can possibly be, featuring some of the greatest humans to walk the planet. If you’ve liked anything I’ve written, or like me even just a little, then you may like “Shaping Sapiens.”

Every once in a while, you come across a person who has a story that is so extraordinary, it feels like they’ve lived a life destined to become an Academy Award-winning movie. Last September, I had the honor of hearing Barbara Abelhauser tell her story at Fresh Ground Stories in Seattle and, immediately, HAD to meet her afterwards. Lucky for me, she became my friend, and it was because of her encouragement and trusting spirit that this podcast is even a thing. Thanks for being my first story, Barbara, and thank you for showing me how a life lived outside the ordinary is a life that is always worth pursuing. Her story is featured as the very special, very first episode: “Comfort Zone.” Now available for your listening pleasure at ShapingSapiens.com.

To find out more about Barbara, follow her blog, The View from a Drawbridge.

Thank you for joining me here, friends. And I hope you’ll join me on this new storytelling adventure, too. This is me, doing my part, to make America Great Again.

love, Love, LOVE. Always.

Amelia

A Visit from Maya Angelou

Christmas lights strung across a room

Once upon a time, the Greeks believed in invisible fairy creatures called “dæmons” or “geniuses” that served as spirit guides and the ultimate connection to one’s divine creativity. They helped us to transcend, become one with our calling, and step closer to understanding what life is all about.

What if invisible fairies weren’t the only ones helping us in our creative acts?

Last week, I had a unique opportunity to intimately bear witness to my own creative process as a new poem burbled up inside me like a cork floating up to the surface in a pool of champagne. A classmate of mine shared the following lines in our poetry course:

It’s the strangest sensation to be happily lonely
to keep the thoughts of a universe, safe inside a humbled heart
It’s a whimsical place, to feel luckily bound in a body 
that won’t misuse its wisdom

With my genius at my side, we wrote this piece:

Sanctuary within a Temple
A Reflection on the Universe within the Body

My heart space
Is a child’s bedroom
A warm womb where I am tucked away
Beneath a rolling sea of linen and down
Looking up through soft sheer canopy curtains
At the twinkling lights of the universe
Strung across the ceiling
Gently swaying
To the pulse of my chamber walls
Rocking me into the safest slumber

And ultimately, the following story. I didn’t realize it right away, but as the last line came out, I gradually noticed something different about my poetic genius. The familiar sensation of a whimsical story began banging around inside my ribs, commanding to be heard. And I obliged.

Dr. Angelou, this one’s for you.

Screenshot of my youtube video, A Visit from Maya Angelou

“Lights” photo credit: Chris Jones

Naked

Amelia in profile, headshot

To be fully seen by somebody, then, and be loved anyhow – this is a human offering that can border on miraculous. — Elizabeth Gilbert

This summer, my new friend, Alberto Martinez, said to me, “I would love to shoot your picture.” My ego instantly glowed, because what cooler feeling is there than for a stranger to see you as art? (Especially since this is the first time someone has ever said this to me when I’ve only barely walked into a room…)

Then, I realized HOLD ON. There is great risk to be fully seen by someone! To trust another person with your Essence. To look into the eyes of a camera and stand there as broken, unattractive, or unworthy as you might believe. You feel naked, vulnerable. Yet, somehow strong, empowered. Someone SEES you, and you are allowing yourself to be seen. Granting permission to be captured, flaws and all… into a work of art.

What greater freedom exists than to be naked?

I am proud to share this redesign of my website, which features some of the pieces from our recent creative project! (See them on the Home page and under About.)

Go on. Be naked with someone today. ❤

Photo credit: Alberto Martinez

Canopy Curtain Call

Respledent Quetzal captured by Frank Vassen in Mirador de Quetzales, Costa Rica

[Photo captured by Frank Vassen in Mirador de los Quetzales, Costa Rica] 

Crystal-like whistles
Airy chirps and yawny sighs
Resonate from tree to tree
The orchestra awakens

The Sun opens a curtain as
The East Wind pushes through
And hushes the choir

Ringing through Monteverde
Like drops of water
With a festival twist
The opening number begins

Snow white coattails
Blood red vest
Long machete plumes of green and blue

Mesoamerica’s beloved ave
Cuts through the canopy

Like an electric strobe light

© Amelia Isabel

Me in 2008 birthing the poem in the middle of the cloud forest.

#ThrowbackThursday to a poem I birthed in 2008 on a bridge in the middle of the Costa Rican cloud forest. This is my most cherished work of poetry I have ever written. (Look at all that HAIR! And that concentration! That’s Czikszentmihalyi’s “flow” right there!) Photo credit: Sarah Boncal

The Creative Process of Legos


Solitary lego

How often do we find ourselves guilty of focusing too much on the product of our work and banging our head against the wall every step of the way through the beautiful but odious creative process?

This year alone? More times than I’m going to admit.

So, in an attempt to stimulate my creative juices, I attended the JustThis: Zen Writing meetup at the Austin Zen Center earlier this week. The group begins with a short meditation followed by a prompt, then 30 minutes of writing whatever comes up. Finally, we go around the room, sharing whatever we’ve written, and the rest of the group can offer feedback.

The prompt was a short piece entitled Finding the Lego by Maryann Corbett of St. Paul, Minnesota, about turning up one small object loaded with meaning.

Nothing really resonated with me in the piece other than the idea of the lego. This was also my first time attending the meetup, and I was late, so I identified with the missing lego piece, feeling like the outsider who tries to fit in at the last minute.

The 30-minute session began, and I had no clue what to write. I was already allowing myself to feel uncomfortable because of my tardiness (I arrived right in the middle of meditation portion. Awkward.). With a smile from the organizer, I assured myself that it was OK that I was there, and that I was welcome. So, I focused on the lego:

I am the lego
I am the lego who shows up late
asking for its chance to connect with the others.

Aren’t we all legos?

Lego represents the building blocks of matter
But even Lego has legos
Lego atoms
Specially designed to make it into a lego

How far can we go?

How far can we go
‘til we are no longer lego
and more of something else?

Then, my mind veered off into all kinds of directions. Stream of Consciousness. Danny Kaye. Lego doodles. If lego spoke Spanish: Soy el lego que llego tarde… then, finally writing the words “I don’t even know what I am writing anymore.”

I was about to give up and just sit there for the remaining 5 minutes, just staring at my skirt… when one small gem popped out:

Legos in my dress
Legos in my chest
I am a kingdom of legos

Building nations of dreams
Creation it seems
is but a thing of legos

Huh. Process does work.

I’ll be hosting my own poetry meetup tonight at Friends & Neighbors on E. Cesar Chavez at 6:00, and we’ll be honoring process. Event info here: Eastside Poetry & Coffee.

Photo credit: Paul Hudson

The Seal Pose of Creativity

Last week in my Dimensions of Creativity class,  we were asked “What is your creative process?” The following is my response.

There is an exercise in Pilates called the “Seal Pose,” where you begin by sitting on the tips of your sit bones as demonstrated in the picture below:

Pilates - Seal Pose

 [Photo credit: Marguerite Ogle as featured on About.com – Pilates]

As you engage your core muscles, you literally tilt your pelvis under ever so slightly and your whole body rolls back — like a big musclely beach ball, and the momentum of the movement and your abdominals propel you right back up to sitting. It is easily one of the most fun exercises in Pilates, reinvigorating your playful (and creative!) side. Sometimes, simply sitting in the prep position is good enough for me. Inner congratulatory dialogue going something like this:

Hooray! Look how strong I am that I can sit in this position and my tailbone isn’t screaming in agony! Hooray! Look at how my abs are engaged so they can support me, and I look so beautiful doing it, I could be on the cover of a fitness magazine! Hooray! Does everyone see how awesome I look? I can just stay like this and not have to do a damn thing more! 

However, having done this exercise many times, I am acquainted with the joy it brings just by finally LETTING GO and entrusting all that potential energy to tip me past the brink, giving myself the freedom to get caught up in the merriness of the movement.

As illustrated in Rollo May’s The Courage to Create, in chapter two under “The Creative Process” section, he refers to a gentleman coping with escapist creativity. Escapist creativity “is that which lacks encounter” (May, 1975, p. 41). The young man knows he has the talent to be a great writer, but simply attaining that point of recognition after he’s done all the brainstorming, all the prep work, and even the full book outline in his head— stopping there is good enough for him. He simply resigns without writing a word, because just seeing the finish line is pleasure enough (May, 1975, pp. 41-44). I share in both his pleasure and his agony in that truncation. I, too, allow myself to get stuck just short of following through with many a project merely because having my potential recognized (either by myself or by others) is sufficient enough for me.

Growing up, my father always referred to me as the “Golden Girl” of the family. I’m the first born, and I’m also named after his mother. He recognized my creative talents at an early age. Most times just expressing a budding creative idea was thrilling enough for him, and he would shower me in praises and encouragement. Going through with the idea, of course, would earn me more recognition and even more praise. He, after all, was grooming me into the “better life” he wished he had. So, having received accolade no matter if I’m teetering or if I propel myself past the brink — this in-between space is where I really struggle in my creative process.

Just called my dad. He, true to form, praised me on my latest submission.

My creative abs are so weak.

Let’s take this blog post, which is a result of a writing prompt posted last week in my Dimensions of Creativity class. Our professor posed the question, “What is your creative process?” and I instantly knew I could write something brilliant in response. So, I readied myself up into the psychological prep position for “Seal Pose” and sat on my mental sit bones ever since. It is only right now, this moment, that I finally found my inner creative strength, engaged my intellectual core, and rocked myself into this assignment.

And what joy there is in being caught up in the flow of writing right now! I can’t be distracted. I don’t even want to look at Facebook or check my email or my text messages or my Instagram account or get a snack, because I’m in it. I’m rolling like a happy seal, content that I’ve finally done the assignment. This, my friends, is what May calls the encounter or the creative act or the “absorption, being caught up in, wholly involved […]. By whatever name one calls it, genuine creativity is characterized by an intensity of awareness, a heightened consciousness […]. We become oblivious to things around us [including] time” (May, 1975, p. 44).

The creative act itself is so delicious and so life-affirming, I can’t understand why so many of us often choose to just settle in preparation. Maybe it’s fear of falling, of failing, of looking stupid, of getting hurt, of not being able to get back up again, of not being as strong as we think we are, of simply believing this is as far as I can go, this is all I am capable of.

To you, and to me, I say: just let go already.  

And the more we engage our creative core, the teetering will ease, the balance will come, and the joy will be infinite.

References

May, R. (1975). The Creative Process. The Courage to Create (pp. 41-44). New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Ogle, M. (2006). Seal Prep. and Core Challenge. [Photograph]. Retrieved from:  http://pilates.about.com/od/pilatesmat/ss/Seal.htm