Walking the Cat . . .

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Welcome To The Party. . .(the “Mad” Tea Party, that is)

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I’m thinking some — okay, most — of what I write is pretty dull stuff. I mean, when I read it aloud it sounds like a lecture. I spend so much of my time telling people what they should do, how they should think, feel, etc . . .(at least it sounds that way), it only makes sense that my writing should carry the same “voice”. It probably accounts for why so few people read what I’ve written or bother to follow my blog. Nobody looks forward to being told how to do anything unless, of course, you’re a member of the Tea Party, or the NRA, or the ARC, or the Heritage Foundation; in which case you’re only too willing to allow some “wingnut” (by the way, I find that sobriquet highly insulting to a very useful piece of hardware) tell you what to think, do, etc. . .

As I wrote those last few lines I had an epiphany of sorts; I realized why they call it the “Tea Party”. It’s because it’s held in a mythical place called, “Wonderland” and presided over by a “Mad Hatter”, (the current Mad Hatter being one, Donald Trump, aka, “The Donald”), while the attendees sip nothing from their empty teacups and smile and nod inanely at their host’s nonsensical utterances. And all the while, the Cheshire Cat (Alex Jones, Alan Keyes, Sean Hannity, etc.) smiles maniacally at the assembled insanity, and a bloated Caterpillar (Roger Ailes or Rush Limbaugh ala Peter Max) sits on his mushroom, puffing on his hookah, chortling like some psychedelic Sidney Greenstreet, “Heh, heh, heh. By Gad, sir, you are a sly one.”

And what of poor Alice, finding herself in the midst of such insanity, with each of the attendees behaving so seriously and regarding one another with such hyperbolic seriousness, and wondering why anyone would choose to attend such a silly gathering in the first place?

But is it really all that silly? One only has to gain some distance from the superficial frivolity and the shenanigans of the Party to see the method in The Mad Hatter’s madness.

Donald “The Donald” Trump, the prevailing host of the Mad Tea Party, has managed to make himself impervious to assault by his competition (but not his own missteps). If any of the other 15 or so announced Republican candidates attempt to challenge him on any of his alleged “positions”, they run the risk of alienating not only his base but their own as well. Any attempt to unseat Trump as the “frontrunner” would mean taking one or the other of two positions. One would be “to the right” of “The Donald”, a position that may be too radical even for the Tea Party. The other would make the challenger appear to be “to the left” of “The Donald”, and anything “to the left” of anything is anathema to the Tea Party. And anyway, it’s not as though any of the other “contenders” for the Crown have any position of strength from which to launch such an attack (at least not for the present); they’re all much too busy trying to decide just what their position(s) are to try to unseat “The Donald”.

But what if the unthinkable (and “unthinkable” here is an understatement) should actually happen? What if The Donald maintains his lead in the polls and captures the Republican nomination?  Can you imagine what the next presidential campaign would look like, not to mention the mid-terms? It’s entirely possible The Red Queen would take center stage, screaming, “Off with their heads!” It could very easily become a political “bloodbath”, if not an actual one.

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The Theory of Creativity & The Creative Process (revised)

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Sometimes I think I must be the absolute least creative person on the planet. I mean if you were to devise a ‘creativity scale’ from 1 to 10, where 1 was the absolute least creative (meaning at some point during the day, I get out of bed) and 10 was the absolute most creative (meaning I came up with a cure for cancer and a solution to the global warming crisis and ended up saving the planet and everyone on it) I would most likely be a solid 2. I do manage to get out of bed (most days). The truth is I spend the greater part of my day finding new and interesting ways not to be creative.

For example, today, after getting out of bed, I dressed, consumed coffee (something I do several times a day) and went to my spare room/library/office. Once seated at my workstation, I casually sipped coffee and stared at a blank sheet of paper for several minutes before deciding now would be an opportune time to put my research files in some sort of order. It was during this rearranging process I came upon a folder entitled, CREATIVITY.

This folder was, as you might expect, filled with pages (actual pages, not computer images) of material on creativity. I have no idea why I bother to print, collate and staple all these pages; probably for no other reason than it provides an excellent opportunity to not actually write anything while creating the illusion of doing something useful. In any case, since I had the folder open on the floor, I decided to peruse its contents, and I came across two interesting and well-known bits of information.

The first was Graham Wallas’ 5 stage model of the creative process. You’re probably familiar with these 5 stages: preparation, incubation, intimation, illumination and verificationThey’re pretty much universally accepted as being representative of the creative process. That being said, I very much doubt any creative person spends any time ticking off these stages as they go about creating whatever it is they create. I know I don’t.

The other piece of notable information I gleaned from the folder’s contents was the “four-C” model of creativity. This model was developed by Kaufman and Beghetto (I have no idea who these guys are — probably psychologists) as a means of categorizing the various types of creativity. They are ‘mini-c’, ‘little-c’, ‘Pro-C’ and ‘Big-C’. I’m not going to detail which type of creativity fits which category; suffice it to say most of us fit into the ‘little-c’ category, some of us fit into ‘Pro-C’ and a few (very few) fit into the ‘Big-C’ category. I find these categories useful only to researchers. I can’t imagine anyone inclined to be creative sitting down to his or her desk and saying to themselves, “Today, I think I’ll do some ‘little-c’ work. Tomorrow maybe I’ll do some ‘Pro-C’, but for today, I think I’ll stick with ‘little-c’.”

Sitting there, with all those pages spread out in front of me on the floor, I got to thinking; there had to be a simpler way to describe creativity and the creative process. I mean, all these stages and categories were confusing and intimidating.

Given that I had only two options open to fill the remainder of my day; either get off the floor and face the blank page on my desk or devote more time to my files and, coincidentally, to the problem I had unwittingly presented to myself. I chose the latter (anything but a blank page!) and set about using my admittedly limited editorial skills to winnowing stages and categories. I started with the basic premise that everyone, regardless of who they were or what they did, was creative. You can’t help it, it’s in the genes.

Starting with this basic premise, I determined there were two types of creative individuals; those who were engaged in creative pursuits, and related fields, as a means of earning a living, and those who weren’t involved in creative pursuits but were, nonetheless, creative. The first group I labelled, ‘overt creative‘, the second, ‘covert creative‘. The first group, the ‘overt creative’ group, labor in fields where their creativity and the results of their creative endeavors were on public display (artists of all stripes, lawyers, doctors, architects, etc.). The second group, the ‘covert creative’ group, labor in fields which require no special creative talents but who are, nevertheless, creative in their private lives or in the pursuit of personal interests (hobbies, social groups, etc.). So far, so good. I managed to compress four categories of creativity into two categories.

As far as the creative process was concerned, this proved a bit more difficult. How do you pare down 5 stages of creativity to a more manageable, less obtuse formula? It took a while but after some intense thought (and several more cups of coffee), I managed to whittle the five down to what I believe are the ‘bare bones’ of creativity.

These ‘bare bones’ are three in number. Intent. Expression. Outcome. In my revised model, these are the 3 basic stages of the creative process. In order to give an example of this model ‘in action’ so to speak, I’ll use myself as an example.

As a writer, my intent is to write a post for this blog. The actual writing of the post (with all the accompanying research — names, numbers, etc.) forms the expression of my intent. The outcome of my expression of intent is (or will be) the finished post.

So, there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. That’s my theory of the creativity and the creative process, ‘in a nutshell’. Well, not exactly a nutshell; more like five handwritten pages, or something just shy of 1,000 words. But you get the idea.

Until next time. . .

How I Met My Daughter

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“Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes.”

— Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Grey

If having a “checkered” past means you’ve gained a lot of experience (or as Oscar Wilde would have it, made a lot of mistakes), my life (my past life, anyway) would have to be described as “plaid”. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I haven’t always made the necessary effort to correct them. I’d have to say I’ve been adept at burning bridges; not always a wise choice, but I’ve never been accused of having an overabundance of wisdom.

When my second marriage ended (yes, I’ve been married “more than once” ) I was devastated, but determined to remain a part of my daughter’s life. My ex-wife had other ideas. The divorce was “amicable” only for its lack of bloodshed, and the fact that I was granted “joint custody” did little to lessen the tension between our warring camps (my ex-wife and her family on one side; me and my family on the other). The petty bickering and backbiting went on for weeks. Then, suddenly, it stopped. At first, I was relieved; later, I became worried. For weeks there was no word from my ex. No angry phone calls about child support (my checks were always on time), no complaints about visitation. Nothing. I contacted Social Services but they were no help. “Unless you have a location for her,” the caseworker said, “there’s nothing we can do. We simply don’t have the resources to track them down. Your best bet would be to hire a private investigator to find your ex-wife and daughter.” The interview ended with an overworked caseworker closing my file and reaching for another.

I was completely disheartened. There was no way I could afford a private detective, and even if I could, I had no idea where to start looking. The only hope I had was that maybe she and Sara, my daughter, would return, maybe to visit her parents, and I would be able to confront her. I tried keeping tabs on her parents (from a safe distance; the last thing I needed was to be arrested for “stalking”, which I had every reason to believe they would do if they knew I was looking for my ex-wife and Sara). Eventually, after months of “hoping against hope”, I had to stop. The only consolation I had, and it was very slight consolation at that, was that Sara was with her mother, and I knew my ex, as much as she despised me, would do nothing to jeopardize Sara’s wellbeing.

Years passed and the anger, resentment, self-recrimination and pain faded. But it never completely went away. I would find myself, at odd hours, wondering where Sara was, what she was doing. Eventually, even those thoughts faded and I resigned myself to never knowing my daughter.

Sometimes, no matter how much, or how badly we want to correct, or at least try to correct, our mistakes too much time has passed, a bridge is too badly burned to repair, and the mistake remains. Other times, if we’re lucky, just enough time has passed and we get that chance to, if not completely erase a mistake, at least make it easier to bear.

In early 2010, my mother’s health took a turn for the worst. The family gathered for what would be our last visit with her. She passed peacefully, surrounded by her children and some of her grandchildren. I found myself wishing Sara had had an opportunity to meet her grandmother. I thought mom would’ve been proud. The family opted for a memorial service as opposed to a graveside service. Mom wasn’t one for mournful occasions. She had often said when her time came, she would prefer the “joyful noise” of New Orleans style service. After the memorial service, at which each person in attendance received a kazoo, the assembled paraded around the room and out into the parking lot, accompanied by the “joyful noise” of 100-plus kazoos and a trombone. If she had been there, I like to think mom would’ve been in the lead.

Once in the parking lot, we broke up into groups to share stories and to “critique” each of the siblings’ eulogies. I, inveterate and unrepentant smoker that I am, lit a cigarette and chatted amiably with friends and family until my brother, Mike, grabbed me by the arm and started pulling me away from the group.  He had a somewhat stern look on his face, and I feared I was about to be on the receiving end of one of his not-infrequent rants about the evils of smoking. Mike guided me through the crowd and back into the funeral home to a side office. When he opened the door, I was confronted by several members of the family and a few close friends.

I remember thinking, “Oh, shit! An intervention!” Once in the small office, Mike left my side and disappeared into the crowd. A moment later he emerged with his arm around someone, a girl (a woman, really) I’d never seen. The crowd parted and Mike and his companion stepped forward.

“Steve, I have someone here you should meet,” Mike said with a smile. “This is Sara, your daughter.”

I was literally stunned. I stood there unable to speak, staring at this stranger with a sad-sort-of-smile on her face; a face that looked exactly like her mother’s.

“I know you’re not evil,” Sara said. In what seemed a heartbeat, we closed the gap between us — not just of space but of time, years of time — and collided in each others’ arms. Overcome with emotion, we just held each other tightly, fiercely, and wept. I don’t remember how long we held that embrace; not nearly long enough, I can tell you. Together, we found a place to sit and I tried to explain everything that happened in the intervening years, and made no sense at all.  It took Sara several minutes to calm me, to explain there was no hurry. We had all the time in the world to catch each other up. And so we just sat there for a long time, saying nothing, just being together.

Sometimes, when mistakes, big mistakes, are made you don’t get to make them right.  Then again, sometimes you do.

Hagerstown - July 11-14 2013 070Hagerstown - July 11-14 2013 082

Hagerstown - July 11-14 2013 071Hagerstown - July 11-14 2013 050Hagerstown - July 11-14 2013 048  These are my daughter, Sara and my granddaughters, Kellilyn (“Kelli”), Abagail (“Scout”), Julia (“Jules”) & Lillian (“Lily”).

Double Vision . . .

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I haven’t done any of the exercises for the Photo 101 course; didn’t do many of the Blogging 101 exercises for that matter. I’m happy with my blog page(s) and I really  don’t want to distract viewers from the words with a lot of fancy “jimcracks”.

Anyway, I’m having the devil’s own time trying to come up with an interesting subject for a new post so . . .I thought I’d do one of the assignments for the Photo 101 course . . .and it may as well be the last one, so here goes . . .DSCN0852DSCN0847

I thought these two were appropriate to the theme of this assignment. Whaddya think?

 

Written by stevewthomas

July 2, 2015 at 4:45 am

WHAT IF . . .?

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There was a moment, in the aftermath of the obscenely tragic events that occurred in Charleston, South Carolina last week, when things could have turned out very differently.

In the hours after his arrest, during which time Dylann Roof admitted killing 9 members of a prayer group at Emanuel AME Church, he is alleged to have said, “I almost didn’t do it . . .because they welcomed me.”

In the media avalanche — the news stories, the media spin, the anger and the grief — those words stuck in my mind, and I wondered, “What if. .  ?”

Dylann Storm Roof is a poster child for white supremacist, racial hatred.  Possessed of a minimal education — he’s said to be a school drop-out — and with few (I’m guessing here) friends, if any; he, in all likelihood, never experienced any personal interaction with anyone of color. He had nothing of personal experience against which to gauge the validity of the hate-mongering, racist garbage that formed — that he allowed to form — the lens through which he viewed the world.

But there was a moment — maybe only a heartbeat of time, a nanosecond — when the lens cracked; not enough to shatter, but it cracked. And maybe, just maybe, if Dylann Roof had chosen to let that ‘heartbeat of time’ continue, things would have ended differently. But he didn’t, they didn’t. Dylann Roof chose, instead, to slaughter 9 innocent people; people who had welcomed him into their midst.

As I write this, somewhere (maybe a lot of somewhere), in some dank cellar meeting room or some abandoned building, men with an even greater hatred than filled Dylann Roof are holding up his picture and hailing him as a “hero”. And that fills me with a sense of shame.

I don’t know the answer to the Dylann Roofs of the world, and I doubt anyone does. I do know that taking down a piece of cloth from the South Carolina statehouse won’t do anything but allow some people to feel as though they “did something”. They didn’t. There will always be a Neandertal, white supremacist scumbag chumming the internet with bigotry and hate, waiting for the next under-educated, lonely, disenchanted boy to nibble his garbage.

Like I said, I don’t have an answer. I wish I did, I really do, but I don’t. All I have is this deeply felt, lingering sense of shame.

It’s enough to make me almost sympathize with Rachel Dolezal.

Written by stevewthomas

June 24, 2015 at 12:15 am

Posted in changing careers

Here’s To The Crazy Ones . . .

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“There was never a great genius without a touch of madness”

–Ben Jonson

According to the results of  a study published in the journal, Nature Neuroscience on Monday, Ben Jonson actually was correct.  According to the study, scientists in Iceland (of all places) report that “genetic factors that raise the risk of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are found more often in people in creative professions.  Painters, musicians, writers and dancers were, on average, 25% more likely to carry the gene variant than professions . . .judged to be less creative, i.e. farmers, manual laborers and salespeople.” (Wonder why they didn’t include accountants?)

Kari Stefansson, founder and CEO of deCODE, a genetics company based in Reykjavik, said the findings point to a common biology of some mental disorders and creativity.  He told the GUARDIAN, “To be creative, you have to think differently. And when we are different, we have a tendency to be labelled strange, crazy and even insane.” Stefansson’s comment seems (to me at least) to contradict the validity of the study’s findings, saying creative people are viewed as mentally ill more as a result of operating outside of established societal or cultural norms than because of any biological (or genetic) abnormality. And I’m not the only one who’s skeptical of the study’s findings.

Albert Rothenberg, professor of psychiatry at HARVARD UNIVERSITY, is not convinced. “It’s the romantic notion of the 19th century, that the artist is the struggler, aberrant from society, and wrestling with inner demons,” he said. In 2014, Rothenberg published, “Flight of Wonder; an investigation of scientific creativity”. He interviewed 45 science Nobel laureates and found no evidence of mental illness in any of them. He suspects such studies pick up on a different phenomenon.

“The problem is that the criteria for being creative is never anything very creative,” Rothenberg said. “Belonging to an artistic society, or working in art or literature (two of the criteria used in the Iceland study, as well as the results of a questionnaire in which subjects self-identified as “creative”; and who doesn’t want to be considered “creative”, in this day and age?) does not prove a person is creative. But the fact is that many people with mental illness do try to work in jobs that have to do with art and literature, not because they are good at it, but because they’re attracted to it. And that can skew the data.”

It’s easy to see the results of this study are going to be debated, hashed and re-hashed for some time to come. The discussion’s been ongoing for millenia, with no sign of letting up. So, take heart all my fellow “creatives”, especially all you writers out there, staring at your computer screens, thinking, “I must be crazy to think I could do this.” You’re not, then again . . .

Blogging 101: First Assignment — Introducing Myself

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This is my first attempt at learning about blogging from an established tutor (or group of tutors) so I’m a tad nervous.  never know if I’m doing it correctly or not

Here goes. My name is Steve and I’m an essayist (of sorts). Actually, I don’t know if ‘essayist’ is the proper term; I write whatever appeals to me at the time. This covers a wide variety of subjects and topics of interest (mostly to me). I’ve been blogging, off and on, for about four years and have not been consistent in the practice. That’s one of the reasons I signed up for this course. . .consistency. I have none.

To give you some idea of how I view my efforts on this site, I encourage you to read “About Walking the Cat”. I think it’s pretty clear on what I do and why I do it.

That’s about it.  BTW, to those who read my blog on a more or less regular basis, I apologize for intruding with this assignment.

Written by stevewthomas

June 7, 2015 at 11:07 pm

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