Saturday, February 19, 2011

Near Limitless

Creativity is one of those buzz words that get tossed around so much in elementary schools that it loses its meaning for most people. When every macaroni drawing by little Timmy Anklebiter is considered The Most Creative Thing Since Davinci (tm) and everyone is expected to agree and swoon lest you hurt Mommy and Timmy's feelings, it can be damned hard to sit down and have an earnest talk about what the word actually means. Like political rhetoric, people's feelings about being the best tend to make a whole lot of noise with not a damned ounce of substance and it all comes from one nagging thought at the back of our heads:

"If I wasn't born gifted, then I am not worth anything."

Which is of course utter horse shit. This is an underlying part of our culture where con artists and advertising agents play host to the devils and demons that haunt us and we obsess over what it means to really be gifted, or creative, or anything like that.

The worst thing you can say to a pro-athlete, or artist, or writer, or any number of other highly skilled professionals is "Wow, you got lucky." First off, how insulting. How the fuck do you come to the conclusion that years of work, study, practice, and dedication have somehow not had any impact on the outcome?

Oh right, I already answered that part. You were told from birth that people are born with these gifts, so obviously that professional X that you were talking too was just going to do whatever it was anyway so no worries.

This would be a good time to learn what its like to be dead wrong.

Many people are born with natural talents, it is true. But how many of them have any chance at real success? Not much it turns out. Athletes train every damned day. Writers pour out thousands of words that never even see a printed piece of paper, let alone the inside of a bookstore shelf.

This brings me back to my original point: Creativity, and what it is. First big surprise: it is a learned skill. Inherently creativity is nothing more than chewing up little bits of this fitful sleep we call reality and then digesting them into little proteins that our brains can then use to fuel a furnace that churns out our dreams. Thats it. Just a drawing of connections between point A and point B in a way that makes it so we can deal with and relate to each other and the reality we inhabit.

Are some people born better at it? Of course they are. Not everyone is born with the necessary physique and hand-eye coordination for sports. Not everyone is born with the ability to even SEE color, let alone paint a photo-realistic, true color painting of the Urals in winter.

But that is what is so great about it. We don't have to be able to do it that way in order to be great. Everything has an artistry to it. This is something that I try and teach my students constantly. You don't have to write music or sculpt a masterpiece in order to be an artist. There are ways to tease out the beauty and details of damned near anything, whether you are an accountant looking at the narrative woven by the numbers in front of you or you are a pilot tearing off the runway as the forces of physics and the ingenuity of the human mind takes you literally higher and higher. These are true and honest things. Things that are as much about dealing with reality as any famous painting or gentle poem. They are things that are deserving of the term "art" because they are things that we create and use to expand our lives.

Try it sometime. Next time you go into the office, or wherever you get work done, and look at the details of your day. Track how you used to do things, and draw those connections to other things. Digest your reality and find the beauty in it because once you do then the creativity will flow out. Solutions will come to problems. Answers will leap to your lips before the questions are even asked.

The possibilities are near limitless.

But it takes work. No one is born that lucky.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The King's Speech

The other night I went out with the lady friend and a few other less specific friends to see the film The King's Speech. I would like to get the trivial part of this discussion out of the way first by saying it was a damned fine film that kept a good pace as nothing really happened. No aliens invaded, there were no menacing criminals blackmailing the throne, no super villains had designs on world domination, and there were no robots (which normally would be a strike against it but I will let it slide as I am in a good mood).

What did interest me was how much of an interplay between psychology and linguistics I saw. It is really common knowledge that our speech patterns and choices are ingrained into our brains by the environment that we occupy, but it had never really dawned on me that a "skipped track" if you will could cause one to have a speech impediment. In my studies I came across cases of people who were mute or otherwise incapable of speech due to some sort of trauma, but I had (in hindsight foolishly) never made the connection between the same and stammering. Working with students from China has introduced me to a plethora of confidence issues that I had never really known to exist outside of the cinematic scope and the film really nailed the idea soundly into that worthless lump of meat twixt my ears that the same techniques could be used to help my students when they are on the radios. Despite my tendencies towards... unorthodox methods of teaching, I would have never really considered speech therapy since it sits nicely outside of my scope of education.

Many people who I work with mistake comprehension issues in the students as a lack of vocabulary, but usually what happens when they are brought back to me they blossom and begin to discuss very complex and technical topics. This eventually leads to the revelation that they are, in fact, scared to death of their instructors and the tower.

Confidence is such an integral part of our daily speech patterns and it never fails to amaze me that the company I work for does nothing to encourage an environment where these uprooted people are given someplace to grow into. Instead they are thrown headlong into the daily grind and told from day one "DO EVERYTHING EXACTLY RIGHT OR YOU WILL GO HOME IN SHAME." This is not the right way to do things, but to change hearts and minds you must start at the bottom. As such I will take what I have learned in this film and redouble my efforts with my students and will strive to be that one friend they might need while on this wild adventure.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Phoenix and the Hearth

It has been a long damned time since I sat down here in order to get my thoughts together. I said I would restart this blog when I had the mental resources to deal with it, but in hindsight that is probably the opposite of what I should have done. Our brains are far more resilient than we give them credit for, and it is exactly when we cannot think that we should the most.

So, to old business. When last we parted I was unemployed with few prospects on the horizon, cast out into a college town with a degree in literature and mounting medical costs. But a month or so later I was employed at the strangest job I have ever had. It is one of those peculiar aspects of life that makes it so much fun, all the while being the most frustrating, insane, and terminal condition one can have. In the course of a year, I have gone from a minimum wage nobody to overseeing the career (and English proficiency) of Chinese airline pilots.

If you have never spent a great deal of time with a large group of people from another country and were left to sink or swim among them, DO SO. It is a very character building endeavor. Also work around pilots, they are subtly insane lot that really protracts the general insanity of the human race.

I also recommend that you spend a period of time stewing in your own you-ness, which sounds very gross when I write it but its out there now so I am sticking with it. Not enough people do this and it is troubling. I am not recommending joining your local yogi's breathing sessions or gallivanting through the countryside in some misguided attempt to "rediscover your roots". Those are stupid and, worse yet, tired old tropes foisted upon us from on high.

What I mean is, turn off the light and look in the mirror. I mean really look. Let your eyes adjust, and let whatever shows up, show up. Author's Disclaimer: Do not do this if you are afraid of any one of the following: the dark, mirrors, or (like myself) your own visage. We here at Jarrad Corp are not responsible for any damages to lights, mirrors, or persons. But in all seriousness, it has done me a lot of good. Teaching language has forced me to stop and draw connections to myself and the tiny little world I occupy. It seems like a Herculean task at first, but you will find that these connections to the world are all that really keep you from being cast adrift when things go wrong. Otherwise, the few anchors you do have just get tangled beneath and pier and drown you (much like this metaphor).

So, in short, sorry I am back but there is damned little that can be done about it. Buckle in and lets talk.