Archive for August, 2009

Breaking Through Creative Blocks

August 24, 2009

Breaking Through Creative Blocks

 

By Cay Randall-May, Ph.D.

 

    Are you starting a new school year?  Does getting ready to read that mountain of textbooks seem like preparing to climb Mt. Everest?  If you’re feeling a bit blocked by the size of the task ahead don’t be surprised and don’t feel alone.  Overwhelm is common when we start lots of projects all at once.

    One secret to breaking through creative blocks is to start somewhere; anywhere.  A good place to begin is to read the summaries at the end of the first chapters of each of your texts.  Set a timer to limit these start-up study sessions to ten minutes.  Take time between reading sessions to walk, do some free-form dancing, strum a guitar, or paint a picture. 

    Alternating between reading/ writing and painting/singing is excellent creative calisthenics.  Different areas of the brain are called upon during different types of activities.  That brings us to the second secret to breaking through creative blocks: go around them.

    If picking up a  paint brush seems as strenuous as lifting a 150 lb barbell, then take a swim in soothing jazz instead.  A dancer friend of mine reminded me to ‘dance as if no one is watching’ and that applies just as much to writing a short story.

    In a writing workshop I was handed a photo of an unknown man.  My assignment was to write anything I wished about this person.  With no one to edit or criticize my thoughts I ice-skated on the surface of my mind.  In two minutes I had named the man Bill, placed him in a bus terminal phone booth where he was calling his estranged sister.  She reluctantly agreed to give him a ‘loan’ of fifty dollars if he could get to her trailer before her husband returned.  Who knows where this fictional free flow would have carried me had our workshop leader not interrupted to ask us all to compare what we had written.  No one had failed to write something.

   In this case, looking at the photo of the unknown man had been the visual catalyst to writing.  Creative blocks usually melt away when approached from a different sensory path.  Blocks can serve us well when we realize that they indicate we are over relying on one limited part of the brain.  So, to summarize:

 

To break through creative blocks:

 

START SOMEWHERE

 

ALTERNATE BETWEEN VERBAL AND NON-VERBAL APPROACHES

 

DITCH THE SELF-CRITIC

August 8, 2009

 

DANCING Your Stress Away

 

By Cay Randall-May, Ph.D.

 

            Stress reduction plays a central role in healing and creativity.  That’s why activities, such as dancing, which can lower stress are so valued in times like these.  Last Friday evening, while on my way  to the supermarket, I noticed a line of people out the door and down the sidewalk in front of a neighborhood ballroom dance studio.

            Through the open door I could see eager jitterbuggers their silhouettes weaving colorful patterns against the polished wooden dance floor.  Watching them reminded me of how I became convinced of the healing power of dance. 

            My childhood experiences with dance were not promising.  My mother took me to one ballet class when I was about five years old.   When I was too shy to join in the group she didn’t take me back.   In high school physical education class I reluctantly danced the part of a raindrop, but felt awkward and embarrassed. 

            Prom dances at that time were more about flirting in a fancy dress than about expressing my innermost feelings through movement. 

            So, when a friend invited me to attend a creative dance workshop many years later I was openly skeptical.  When we arrived the meeting room was jammed with people.  Their body language and sideways glances told me that I wasn’t the only one feeling out of place.

            Our instructor carefully introduced us to Gabrielle Roth’s five essential rhythms or types of movement.  As soon as we got into them I felt overshadowed by the process.  This wasn’t dance as I had known it.  Energy moved through my body from some previously unsuspected source and I, the stiff-as-a-board, non-dancer, surrendered to the movement.

            Each dancer independently wove her unique path, enrapt in her solitary soul dance.  At the same time there was an over-arching order because our leader was directing us to use one or another of the five basic movements.  Together we were like a school of tuna fish glinting sunlight as we swirled in unison.

            Soon I forgot my reservations about dancing in a group of strangers.  No one was watching me.  I could be as wild as I wanted, and it felt so good to windmill my arms and lunge into an ever-intensifying cascade of movement.  I was like a swimmer being swept towards the apex of a waterfall.  Would I go over the edge of my sedate world into the abyss of freeform dance?

            Then the post-dance meditation began  and I melted into the comforting cool of the smooth, wooden floor, tingling to my soul.  For the first time in my life I had danced.

 

Excerpted in part from my new book “Healing and the Creative Response” (Randall-May, Cay 2010, Brooks-Goldmann Publ.)  available for purchase this Fall.