Tag Archives: creativity

Being Excessively Creative

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It is an unusual position to be in as a kid in the school room to be the creative kid.  First and foremost because you will forever be known as the weirdo, the spaceman, the egghead.

How do I know that?  Because I was that kid.  And I grew up to teach that kid.  And now that I am retired as a teacher, I am still that kid.

If there was a problem to be solved, a picture to be drawn, a group assignment that required somebody to actually think, I was the kid that everybody wanted to be in their group or be their partner.  (That time that Reggie and I blew up the test tube of copper sulfate in Mr. Wilson’s chemistry lab doesn’t count because, although I am the one who dropped it, he’s the one who heated up my fingers with the blowtorch.  Honest, Mr. Wilson, it is true.) But if it was picking teams on the playground, I was the last loser to be called, even though I was pretty good at softball, pretty good at dodgeball, great at volleyball, and usually the leading scorer in soccer (of course we are talking an Iowa schoolyard in the 60’s where soccer was a sport from Mars.)  And as an adult, I enjoyed teaching the creative kids more than the rest because I actually understood them when they explained what they were doing and why, and I was even able to laugh at their knit-witty jokes (yes, I am including those jokes made of yarn with that pun).   Creative kids speak a language from another world.  If you are creative too, you already know that.  And if you aren’t creative… well, how foo-foo-metric for you.

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And another unfortunate side effect of the creative life is that you make stuff.  You don’t have to be seriously infected by bites from the cartoon bug or the art bug to be like that.  My daughter is making a suit of armor for herself from a flat sheet of aluminum that she is pounding out by hand, painting with spray paint and painter’s tape, and edging with felt.  After she’s done with it this Halloween, it will go on one of the piles of collections and models and dolls and stuffed toys and… Of course, sooner or later one of those piles is going to come to life and eat the house.  There is no place left to display stuff and store stuff and keep stuff that is far enough away from potential radioactive spider bites.  I have scars on my fingers from exactor knife accidents, oil paint, and acrylic paint and enamel permanently under my fingernails.  Shelves full of dolls rescued and restored from Goodwill toy bins, dolls collected from sale bins at Walmart, Toys-R-Us, and Kaybee, and action figures saved even from childhood in the 60’s are taking over the house and in an uproar, demanding to be played with rather than ignored.  (Didn’t know dolls can actually talk?  Haven’t you learned anything from John Lasseter?)

Anyway, it is tough to go through life being excessively creative.  I have art projects growing out of my ears.  And book publishers are calling me because my award-winning book is not generating sales in spite of two awards, 5-star reviews, and generally good quality, but the only solutions they have cost ME money I don’t have.  Oh, well, at least it isn’t boring to be me.

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Filed under angry rant, artwork, doll collecting, education, feeling sorry for myself, goofy thoughts, inspiration, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Something Creative Goes Here

Not Alone

Sometimes the creative brain gets a little too hot and needs time to cool.  That means I need a meaningless filler post to maintain my every-day posting.  So, I give you a picture of Mike Murphy carrying his girlfriend, Blueberry Bates’ books home from the bus stop on a country road in Iowa.  And, of course, they happen to meet an alien named George Jetson, whose father named him after a character on his favorite Earther TV show from the 60’s.  It is a strange thing to have your brain over-heat from too many creative neurons firing at the same time.  But it can lead to notions of intergalactic peace and cultural exchange… or racist comments like, “Tellerons have heads that look like giant boogers!”  But I should be able think more rationally tomorrow.  I hope that turns out to be a good thing.

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Where Does Creativity Come From?

Ima mickey

Okay, I hooked you in with a title that sounds like I actually know something and somehow have some expertise to share beyond the usual brain-drippings of a noodling writer-type idiot.  Unfortunately I don’t.  I am a practicing creative person.  But do I know how it works? I do not.

Self Portrait vxv

I suspect that it has something to do with my actual life experiences.  I am not God.  When I get a creative idea, it is made from known things.   I don’t snap my fingers and make a snerflkuppie, the first one that ever existed, and give it actual substance and reality.  Okay, metaphorically I did just make the first snerflkuppie… It is about three feet tall, has glossy purple fur and three legs.  Four puppy-like eyes, a wide mouth, and no nose… I dare you not to try and picture it in your mind’s eye.  But there isn’t one skipping about in this universe.  I can only take known things and recombine them in unique and surprising ways.  My novels are about kids doing kid stuff… you know, like time travel, being kidnapped by aliens, uncovering werewolf plots, and making magical cookie people.  Stuff that really happened.  And I am a former teacher, so I have experience knowing real kids.

Urkel

If you think kids you see depicted on television and in the movies are realistic, you have never played a video game with a real kid.  You have never had them tell you what they are really afraid of.  You have never come to the conclusion that they actually know a whole lot more about sex than you do.  And kids are not afraid to try something new for the first time (unless, of course, the thing they are going to try is what their parents want them to try for the first time).  You take liquid one and mix it with powder two, watch it fizz, and then drink it.  You don’t know if it will taste good, turn you into a muscle-bound Mr. Hyde-type monster, or blow you up like a firecracker.  But you made it yourself and you are going to try.  We generally think of kids as being creative and undisciplined.  We expect time and experience to take the unruliness, as well as the creativity, out of them.  It is the thing we refer to as, “growing up”.  But I think being creative is, to some degree, remaining a child.  I am a child because I continue to hold play-time in high regard, and do it as often as I can.  Writing words on paper, or on my laptop, is playing to me.  Drawing pictures with pen and ink and colored pencils is also playing to me.  Fortunately mixing chemicals from the cupboard like a mad scientist and testing them on my sister is no longer playing to me.  (And that, Nancy, is just a joke… I never actually did that… I think… I hope…)

The Car Chase of Life

The metaphorical car chase of life… with an old dog behind the wheel.

So, there you have it.  The ultimate answer.  Where does creativity come from?  I do not know.

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Wally

Wally

I spent some considerable time working on the Naked Hearts trilogy in my blog, writing about nothing but girl students who fell in love with me.  That was a sort of Narcissistic writing experience that convinced me that I was somehow worthy of the love those young ladies felt in their little pink hearts.  I was not.  At least, not more deeply than the teacher-student level… the appreciation level.  Because there is love and then there is LOVE.  I have never really felt any sort of desire for a student.  Dread, yes, desire, no.  It is not only something illegal, but it is really downright icky.  The students that fill your classroom are all incomplete works of art.  The paint is not dry and can easily be smeared.  I am never the artist involved, so it is not my place to ever touch the oil paint of their lives, not even with skilled touches of the paintbrush.  But the one time I really regretted not having the ability to do touch-ups and help others to see what I can clearly see in a brilliant work of monkey-house art, it was with an incomplete little oil painting known as Wally.

Wally Nardling was a bright, talented, and gloriously goofy young boy with a zest for life that nothing, it seemed, could kill.  My Paffooney portrait above not only looks like him, it looks exactly like him.  And that is not because I am a gifted portrait artist.  I am not.  I am a cartoonist.  But Wally was a living, breathing cartoon character with a cartoon personality to go with it.  It was a golly-gee personality like he was the boy Sherman from Jay Ward’s Mr. Peabody and Sherman time-travelling cartoons.  He was always ready to try any new thing and experience any creative idea, without ever for a moment stopping to consider consequences, or thinking about how others might see him or think about him.  He was good at drawing Japanese manga-style cartoon people.  He drew in colored pencil just like me, cartooning all over his notebook and folder and, sometimes, even the margins of his homework.  He was very creative, and had numerous off-the-wall ideas that made other students cringe as he explained them to the class.  He was very proud of his accomplishments as a reader, and bragged about the books he had read, including every book of the Harry Potter series (which actually was three books shy of being finished at the time).  Other students, especially some of the non-reading Hispanic students, hated everything about him.  After all, his father, Dr. Nardling was the absent-minded professor type of teacher who taught them in fifth grade, and he could be downright mean to kids who tried to get away with monkey-nonsense in his classroom.  And his mother was a medical doctor from Mexico, but Wally had not learned any Spanish at all in his brief time on Earth.  He was the butt of every poo-poo joke the vatos could pool their limited monkey brains to think up.  Other boys, especially the vatos, were cruel to him at every opportunity.  (Vatos, if you are not aware, are the semi-criminal cool guys of Latino culture who lurk in the boys’ bathrooms with gold chains around their necks and the faint smell of mota, which they may have recently been smoking on their clothes.)

Well, his seventh grade year, in my Gifted and Talented Class, we got involved in the Odyssey of the Mind creativity contests. I intended to put a link here, but WordPress is giving me trouble, so here is the web address;  http://www.odysseyofthemind.com/

Wally was a natural.  We put together teams to handle different problems that the contest offered.  Wally always got chosen last for teams in real life, but nerd class was different.  The other two boys, H. G. Ruff and Jack Penny immediately recruited Wally for their team.  They chose the project where you had to design and build a balsa-wood structure to hold up as much weight as possible while you present a creative narration of the unfolding event.  H.G. and Jack cooked up the two-headed narrator idea, sewed the costume where they could both get into the same shirt and pair of pants to provide the two wise-cracking heads.  They left it entirely up to Wally to design the structure.  This he did brilliantly, a cone of balsa bits with numerous cross beams to hold up weight, and super-glue to hold it all together.

We went all the way to Del Rio for the regional contest.  The performance was supposed to build suspense  as the team (basically meaning Wally) piled up increasingly heavy weights on the structure, trying not to crush it.  The other competing teams went ahead of us, the first one crushing their rig almost immediately, and having to hope their song-and-dance routine would fill out the rest of the time limit.  The team that had the best reputation managed to pile on only two pounds ten ounces before their structure collapsed.  That was a full eight pounds less than they supposedly had piled on in practice.  We started our performance with H.G. and Jack already gloating over the win.

The two headed narrator cracked some of the best jokes H.G. had ever written.  (I had nixed all of the jokes Jack contributed.  He was a master of scatological humor, and we knew ahead of time that event judges were all female.)  Wally had two pounds already balanced on the structure.  And then, his enthusiasm failed him.  Instead of adding the five-ounce weights the way the other team had, he tried to put on a whole pound more with one weight.  Over-confidence killed it.  The balsa wood cracked and gave out.  H.G. forgot two thirds of his remaining lines, and we ended up short of the minimum time limit, too.  We lost by ten ounces, which when translated into the complex scoring system, meant we narrowly lost over all.  Second place and no trip to the State tournament.

The other boys blamed Wally for the loss, though they hadn’t really pulled off their part either.  The worst part was that Wally blamed himself.

“It’s my darn fault, Mr. B,” he told me with tears in his eyes.

“You got us this far, Wally.  You did a good job.  You built the actual structure.”

“Jack and H.G. are gonna keep on calling me Wally Weasley and making fun of me in front of the girls.”

“In many ways, you are more like Harry Potter,” I said.  “You have more magical ability in you than they will ever have.  You just have to keep believing in yourself.”

He grinned at me with that goofy grin of his.  “I know.  One day I will be able to turn H.G. into a frog.”

If I ever did anything to teach that boy something he didn’t already know, I don’t know what it could be.  One day he will create a cure for cancer, or explore the surface of Mars, and I will have not had any sort of hand in it in any way.  He was a diamond in the rough, and I simply wasn’t capable of polishing a diamond like that.

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Cloudscapes

Cloudscapes

Once upon a time, the English poet and, I would argue, cartoonist, William Blake once said, “You look at the sky and see clouds, while I see the assembled heavenly host!”  This is why my literature class in college about the Romantic Poets of his day made him out to be a certifiable nutcase who probably belonged in in a mental institution.  (And back then, in the 1800’s, the sanitarium was a place where inconveniently crazy people went to die.)

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Look at a couple of my cloudscapes.  Do you see angels?

Cloudscapes (a poem)

Blue and white and filled with light…

The cloudscape burns with angels…

And wholly bought with grace unsought…

I long to fly with angels…

Are they really there in the cloud-filled air?

I see them there, they’re angels!

So, there you have it.  I’m a loon.  I don’t even have the excuse of being a Romantic Poet and well-known for my poetry as a defense against the loony bin.  But as the matter stands, I am fully willing to accept the consequences.  Creativity has its price.  And, while you may not agree that I am somewhat creative, I am swimming in a vast ocean of perceived revelations that enriches me and fulfills me at the very same moment that it drains all the energy from my soul.  If that is not what it means to see angels… then I do not know anything of use to anyone but me.

The word “angel” (according to Wikipedia, the source of all true knowledge) comes to English via Late Latin and the word “angelus” which the Romans stole from the Greek  ἄγγελος ángelos,  The ángelos is the default Septuagint’s translation of the Biblical Hebrew term mal’ākh denoting simply “messenger” without specifying its nature.  (Notice, I am giving full credit to Wikipedia because it is far more all-knowing than I.)

I have many atheistic and agnostic notions in my ultimate belief systems, but still, I claim to be a Christian and believe in God Jehovah… within limits.  I still communicate with God on a daily basis, and while I don’t publicly pray anymore (a notion promoted by the Biblical Jesus) I find answers to my questions and solutions to my problems from the observable universe around me.. the messengers of God.  So, now that I have fully rationalized being crazy as a loon, I am going to tell you where that craziness is taking me.  I started a new Paffooney for one of the books I am working on.  Here is the pencil sketch;

pencil sketch

This will be a picture of Valerie Clarke and her Daddy, the farmer Kyle Clarke.  In my fiction, Kyle loses his farm to the bank (in the Family Farm Crisis of the 1980’s) and believing himself incapable of any longer supporting his family, kills himself.  But the thing is, the love of his daughter transcends death for Kyle.  She is able to reconnect with him time and again because the angels work for her as well as for Kyle.  I may be loony and ill in real life, facing the Angel of Death myself, but I am not done doing God’s work… not yet… not for a long time to come.

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Playing With Picture Paffooneys

Valerie n Butterfly

As an artist, you find many ways to cheat and make more with less.  I have discovered that with a cheap photo-shopping program, I can snip elements out of existing artworks and combine them together into something new.  My fingers no longer have the dexterity needed for intricately detailed backgrounds, but I find that photo-backgrounds fit my plan better anyway.  Here I took Valerie Clarke and pasted her on a photo of hollyhocks created by Belinda Buchanan.  I then pasted in the Swallowtail butterfly from a recent Paffooney.  Now, I know that if your mind doesn’t accept the butterfly as in the air and closer to the viewer than Valerie, then I have created a picture of pre-historic monster-bug.  Mothra does Iowa.  Oh well, I think it is pretty anyway… and it leads to further noodling with old art.

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Baring the Soul of Creativity

CreativitySo, I finished the Paffooney pencil drawing that I was working on to illustrate my struggles with the creative act.  I can noodle on the piano to some effect, but I cannot play Chopin’s Prelude in E Minor the way the boy (or is it a girl?) in the picture is doing it.  What I can do is create a symphony of words and pictures that reveal my inner self as thoroughly as if I were performing naked in front of the audience.  So what you see here is not the real naked me.  It is, rather, my naked thoughts, my soul, the beauty that is hidden inside my hideously aged and peeling flesh.  Inside my mind is beauty and rhythm and rhyme…  On the inside you can see what is there without the usual patina of pain and depression and pessimistic pondering.  I have explained the naked piano player, but you may be wondering still about the butterfly.  You see, long ago when I was a butterfly hunter, I longed to catch the tiger swallowtail that flitted about our back yard and played about the neighbors’ hollyhocks.  It was a very elusive butterfly, you see.  Monarchs and red admirals, mourning cloaks, fritillaries, painted ladies, and even spicebush swallowtails I had captured and mounted in my butterfly box.  But never the tiger.  He always seem to flit too high above my net at the last moment.  I would see him towards the tops of towering maples, but rarely within reach, and never long enough to grab him in my net.  So, one day, I was sitting under the little maple in the back yard, reading a book, when the tiger swallowtail came to light on the back of the hand I used to hold my book.  Now, I could have grabbed him right there.  I would have been victorious.  But in clapping my left hand over him to capture him, his wing dust might have smeared, or his lovely wings might’ve cracked and broken.  I had to make an instant decision.  I chose to let him flutter away.  I did not crush the butterfly, and so… my life, my art, my inner self have all benefited.  To this day I can say… “I did not crush the butterfly” and that has made me who I am.

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A New-Old Project

What is the meaning of the naked piano player?  Remember the naked guy playing at the beginning of episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus?  I had a friend who painted a naked boy playing piano in high school art class.  He was a band geek.  He later proved to be gay.  I asked him why he painted that.  He said, “That’s me being creative.”

My oldest son is now in the Marine Corp boot camp at San Diego.  He says in his first letter home that things are going great.  He was a self-taught piano player.  He played beautiful music, including classical pieces by Mozart, by ear.  He even composed his own music.   That was him being creative.  So, why did he want to become a Marine and be regimented and told what to do?

Before I started this crazy naked-piano-player drawing, I had a dream.  I was performing in front of an audience, naked.  I should’ve been embarrassed out of my old mind.  But I wasn’t.  I think it was because that was me being creative.  Sometimes total randomness and surprise is creativity.  Definitely being completely open and honest with the audience, being naked, if you will, is being creative.

So here is the start of another colored pencil Paffooney project.  I think I will call it, “Baring the Creative Soul.”

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I will keep you posted on my colored-pencil progress.  This is just the initial sketch in graphite.  It does not mean I am contemplating learning piano, or deciding I have suddenly become gay after 57 years.  It means, “This is me being creative.”

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Young Buster Crabbe

Young Buster Crabbe

I have always been fascinated by science fiction B-movies. Flash Gordon battling Emperor Ming on a black-and-white paper mache planet Mongo… The Soviet-paranoia of Invaders from Mars… Cowboys and dinosaurs… Frankenstein in space… Godzilla… You have to love what they used to accomplish with imagination, enthusiasm, and creative use of Styrofoam.

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April 18, 2014 · 3:25 am

The Creative Process

Step one… perform some random act.  (choose a random illustration from Spiegelman & Mouly’s Classic Children’s Comics)

Step two… redraw in the Mickian style  (stupidly recast images in garishly wrong colors and cutsie goofishness)

Step three… realize you don’t have any idea what you are doing this for (What am I doing this for?)

Step four… yield to despair and get depressed (let me think about this too much and end up moping)

Step five… do other things and try not to think about it (What was that movie I wanted to see?)

Step six… give it time to percolate or get forgotten  (Say what?)

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Step seven… come back to it eventually (maybe later this week… or in 22 years)

 

How’s that for a Pointless Paffooney Prose Poem?

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