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Still crazy after all these years

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If you roll a bowling ball down Sheridan Street in Ely, chances are pretty good you’ll hit an artist, and I love that. That is, I’m not really a proponent of using artists as bowling pins, but I love that our artist community has grown so large, which should include everyone, for I believe we all gain from exploring and developing creative pursuits. There has been an abundance of that creative talent out there to enjoy recently. On Saturday, I visited the Holiday Fantasy Arts and Crafts Sale at Miners Dry House, which offered a wide array of possible gifts from handmade chocolates, paintings, photographs, candles, ornaments, locally authored and published books, pottery, jewelry, and crocheted everything. A quirky but practical choice was a crocheted washable bootie for your Swiffer Sweeper. My personal award for breath-taking goes to Sharee Johnson who captured the Caribbean Sea in one of her exquisite rings. Anne Swenson’s beautiful collection of old-fashioned Christmas villages, complete with animated figures and trains, had to pluck a few heartstrings.

Then I ventured over to the Art & Soul Gallery, enjoyed a Plum Bun cake donut and coffee and a chat with Roy Misonznik, the artist on site, before I perused the pleasing variety of artwork on display, a visual explosion of color, design and talent expressed through media of clay, paint, fabric, yarn, metal, glass, beads, wood and paper. Well, it was pleasing and I did peruse, but that sounds excessively lah-ti-dah for what I feel when I’m surrounded by people’s creative output. It feels more like a romp, at least a visual and kinesthetic romp through the succulent abundance of colors and materials that have poured out of people’s minds and hearts in fascinating configurations now flowing throughout the gallery space. I hear my own thoughts, and others’, sometimes spoken aloud, “Wow...how in the world did she do that...I LOVE those colors, I want to eat them up...hmmm, I don’t get that one at all...Man, I wish I’d created that...What in the world is that one?...Look at that perspective he caught...How brilliant to use that material?” The stream of consciousness continues, if you allow yourself to flow with the offerings, soaking up the energy that it took to translate thought to visible form, to work through obstacles, to convert “mistakes” into discoveries that lead in another direction.

That evening, I attended the Root Beer Lady musical-in-progress to enjoy a very different form of creativity requiring people to work together to create something new. Barb Hall wrote the musical to honor both Dorothy Molter and her father, Bob Cary, who wrote and illustrated the book, The Root Beer Lady. The performance was called a reading, but it was much more than that, with many original songs, parodies and dances performed by a cast of ten members who were clearly enjoying themselves. Music was provided by the Prairie Portage Trio, slides of Dorothy and friends on the Isle of Pines were projected behind the actors, and a full company of twelve provided direction, choreography, tech support, program/logo design and stage design, plus Steve Hall in charge of logistics and levity. He apparently did his job well, because there was a lot of levity onstage.

The spirit and songwriting talent of a longtime Ely resident and friend, Margaret Vos, who now lives in Mexico, was commemorated through one of her songs, Dorothy Molter, the Root Beer Lady, sung by the trail guide named Margaret who sported the signature braids the real Margaret wore.

What’s fascinating to me, both as an artist and as an appreciator of other artists and their work is not simply the end result, but the process of creating. The output––the delicate pot reincarnated from mud, the transparent watercolor, the huge metal sculpture bent to the sculptor’s imagination, the cartographer’s map combining information and art, the carefully-rendered poem that contains not one superfluous word––whatever the output, we get a glimpse into the creator’s mind, spirit and body working together to bring creation to fruition. I have mentally created many wonderful pots and sculptures that fascinate and entertain me and may even advance my creative process, but have never see the light of day because they never moved beyond the dreaming/ scheming stage; the physical components of clay, hands and wheel never got involved.

Many others have long been fascinated with what makes creative people tick, what triggers creativity, how it can be nurtured and the many benefits of creative endeavors for our emotional and physical well-being. Enlightened cultures have recognized that creativity is essential and have nurtured it as integral to the holistic health of their citizens and their communities, on many levels: to create functional ware, to nurture aesthetic awareness and enjoyment, and to promote physical, emotional and mental health.

Brain research has shown that creative people’s brains do function differently. Their thoughts, their synapses, their processes do not march in orderly lines, but are more like complicated explosions throughout different regions of the brain, and intelligence plays only a modest role, subordinate to other qualities and values. A key characteristic is the ability to juggle contradictory modes of thought: cognitive and emotional, deliberate and spontaneous, to hold contradictory concepts in mind together, which can make these people difficult to follow or understand. Very different functions in the brain work together: the associative function, which operates when we daydream, is tempered by the administrative control function that can evaluate whether an idea is reasonable. Together they create original and applicable ideas, and the better they work together, the higher the originality.

Research by Frank Barron and Donald MacKinnon in the 1950’s and more recent research at the University of Haifa showed traits that people across all creative fields appeared to have in common: an openness to one’s inner life, a preference for complexity and ambiguity, an unusually high tolerance for disorder and disarray, the ability to extract order from chaos, independence, unconventionality, perceptiveness, humor, open-mindedness, and a willingness to take risks. Barron wrote that the creative genius was “both more primitive and more cultured, more destructive and more constructive, occasionally crazier and yet adamantly saner, than the average person.” That might make them interesting, but not necessarily easy to get along with, as many creative geniuses like Picasso have shown through history.

I found a subsequent study of creative writers by Barron and MacKinnon particularly interesting. Fellow writers, listen up! They found that “the average writer was in the top 15% of the general population on all measures of psychopathology. But strangely enough, they also found that creative writers scored extremely high on all measures of psychological health.” Conjecture about this unusual synthesis is that creative people are more introspective, which leads to increased self-awareness, including familiarity with their darker side. Thus engaged in “the full spectrum of life”, they score high on some of the characteristics that our society associates with mental illness. At the same time, it can lead them to become more self-aware and grounded.

Yep, I can relate. For decades I’ve had a lucite cube that has the words inside: “A requirement for sanity is the knowledge that a part of you is insane.” If some of you feel like your theme song could be, “Still crazy after all these years,” you probably relate, too. But, the good kind of crazy, right? At least most of the time. So, if you have creative friends (or self) that aggravate you at times, cut them a little slack and buy their beautiful creations! While you’re at it this holiday season, try a bit of drawing, finger-picking or yodeling, encourage the kids to explore new media and make presents, have a finger-painting party for adults...and get those brain synapses poppin’.

In fact, the Ely Folk School is having a holiday crafting party on Saturday, Dec. 10 from 10-12 noon. Everyone is welcome. $5 per person. Come join the fun!

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