Seeking Creative Outlets

Teaching is exquisitely creative. I face challenges every day that require me to think on my feet, ponder, experiment, and try again. Even just coming up with multiple choice grammar questions is creative. I am trying to create something novel to solve a problem.

Just think about generating sample similes and metaphors and then guiding students through the same activity.

Consider this: I have to think of a way to respond to a question about why the suffragettes didn’t support black and native women in their fight for freedoms. What questions can I ask to students? What images or text could I show them to spark a discussion?

I write sample essays with my students, and I always write on a slightly different topic so as not to crowd their territory.

Or when a student is struggling with a piece of writing, I have to think of prompts or exercises that might shake their block and get them flowing.

Students who are disconnected or checked out? I’ve got to think of ways to connect, to draw them in.

All of that is so creative. Not to mention that I am “on stage” two or three times a day.

And now here we are. Weekends are spent planning the week out, but the creativity drops off after that. Zoom is not inspiring, the feedback from students is slow and disjointed. I don’t get the same zing of creation when I’m talking to 22 silent squares. I miss reading the room, taking a student suggestion and running with it into new territory I hadn’t planned.

I’m feeling the loss of creative challenge every day. I feel that creativity and creation is a basic tenet of who I am, and it makes teaching a good fit for me. So what am I doing now?

I started playing the mandolin more. I bought it on a trip to Brazil on a fellowship from my college in 2005. I played more when I was single and before I had kids. And while I’m not writing songs, the act of using my hands to make music is very fulfilling. I was hopping on Facebook live almost every evening.

Then my kids did a drawing tutorial on YouTube, and a watercolor tutorial autoplayed afterwards. I pulled out the kids’ watercolors and went to work.

(Jay Lee Painting YouTube channel is what I used to paint those.)

It felt awesome. I haven’t done watercolors since high school, and I wasn’t able to let go then (what high schooler is?). I didn’t realize this then, but watercolor is about letting go. You can’t micromanage it into perfection. You let the paint do what it’s going to do. You work fast and don’t stress over the last stroke as you go to the next. This was the mindset I needed.

I did probably 15 of Jay Lee’s videos. They are silent except for instrumental music playing in the background. I just watch him and follow what he does. I don’t feel competitive or judged. He’s not coaching me to death. I’m just mimicking and noticing. I don’t know why he did a certain thing until I’ve done it and realize it was genius. One drop here creates shadow. Mix a new color in with every stroke and it gives it depth and variety and looks more real.

I found a British lady (Painting with Nicola) I really liked, but she talked more. It was okay, though, since my confidence was growing.

(That watercolor is my favorite so far.)

Then I got one of those Domestika ads on Instagram. I could get 4 watercolor courses for $23. I’ve done enough of these that I felt like it was worth it. I need instruction. I want to move beyond mimicking, but I need to understand the concepts.

I started the first course last night. It felt so good. The woman teaching it is Mexican, and I grew up there and I’m fluent in Spanish, so I don’t need to read the subtitles. I realized that I miss the Mexican accent so much. So lush and musical.

I did such an academic thing in the introduction unit and made transparencies before I got called way to help with bedtime.

I’m waiting for my nicer watercolor paints to arrive. I can’t wait! I bought a nicer kid set at an art store here, but I did some research and found a high grade student set.

And I’m also writing more. I’ve been signing up for 10 page consultations with agents on Manuscript Academy. I’ve spent the last year and a half revising my Elizabeth historical novel. I’ve already had 2 consultations and made revisions. I know more are coming.

I’m also working on a new project. I’m filled with self-doubt at times, and swept away with the idea at others. It’s historical as well, so I’m researching now but itching to start drafting.

When am I doing this, you wonder? In stolen moments of quiet. Right now I’m writing this post as the kids draw with sidewalk chalk. I work while they watch TV. I work with them sometimes, in the case of the watercolor videos. I work at night until I can’t keep my eyes open anymore. It’s never enough, but no one has enough. You have to steal time. No one is given time. There is a great book called The Right to Write and she has little vignettes about being a writer. One is called “The Time Myth” (I think that’s the title, it’s been a while) and she says that everyone has to steal time. Don’t wait for time because you’ll die waiting. The myth is that you’ll do ____ when you have the time. You’ll never have the time–you steal it.

Okay, this was written in haste, so forgive dead end thoughts and typos. I’d love to hear about what you are doing to bring some creativity into your life.

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