“Where There is Despair, Let Me Sow Hope.” -St. Francis of Assisi

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While I have written a lot about Kiva in my posts about micro-finance, there are many other organizations that do micro-finance work that deserve recognition. One such organization is Sow Hope, a non-profit located in my surrogate hometown, Grand Rapids.

After my seasonal job ended in November, I went on a trip through several parts of the country including Pennsylvania, Maryland, and eventually ended up in Chicago for a weekend. While there, I had the opportunity to attend a showing of the documentary that Sow Hope produced and to participate in the question and answer session afterwards. I learned a lot about the good work the organization does; it has helped nearly 40,000 women globally to become empowered through programs in healthcare, micro-finance, literacy training, and clean water initiatives. I also learned that despite the volume of women it has helped, it is a rather small, and streamlined organization: having a small, volunteer board of directors and two paid staff members. I was drawn to that aspect of the organization because it reminded me of an organization that I interned for my sophomore year of college, ANSWER. What drew me to both of these organizations is the transparency that they offer as well as a stronger emphasis on community.

So I urge you to check out Sow Hope, and if you feel compelled by its story, find a way to volunteer your time, money, skills, and talents to further its cause.

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Creative ATTACK!

I happened to log on today (after taking a rather long hiatus) and realized it is my blogging anniversary. What a year it has been! I also feel the need to explain my absence for the last few months. In addition to working overtime since August, I also decided to take an informal sabbatical in order to focus more on reading and just absorbing the world around me (a necessity for any writer or artist.) But now I’m back, enriched by the books and articles I read and the observations I made during this time. With that being said, I am revisiting some familiar topics in this post-sabbatical post highlighting some articles, cartoons, and websites about creativity that have inspired me.

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Taking the creative path is certainly not easy, which is why many either give up on it, or else don’t even consider it because it’s not “practical.” Those that do end up following it find themselves facing a lot of obstacles, mainly: time, inevitable failures, and even their paradoxical selves. So what do these obstacles look like?

Time: According to Malcolm Gladwell, true mastery of an art takes 10,000 hours. (What does that look like? Here is a great diagram that plainly illustrates that!) Time is the first thing that people must understand when they are working on a new medium. With that being said, sometimes it seems like society is plagued by the idea of the prodigy. People see other people “come out of the woodwork” to achieve enormous success for their talent and believe that it can happen to them. What they often fail to realize is that those people had probably been cultivating their talent for years, but the reveal is all others see. Everyone thinks that talent is placed in a vacuum and if you’ve got it, all you need is to be discovered and the rest is history. In fact, it’s all about taking what little talent you do have and running with it: immersing yourself in the successes of others in that field, learning, growing, absorbing, trying, and yes, of course, failing.

Failure: Although I know I have mentioned it here before, it bears repeating that failure is a huge component to any creative process. (This cartoon does a great job illustrating (haha) this point.) I failed epically recently. My brother and sister-in-law just had a baby and they wanted me to paint/draw/create in some way, some artwork for his room. After finally deciding what I wanted to make (scenes from Narnia!), I set out to draw some preliminary sketches. In all honesty, they were pretty awful. They looked like a fourth grader drew them:

This isn't embarrassing at all...

This isn’t embarrassing at all…

I knew that I couldn’t give up, though, because my siblings were counting on me. Of course there was a voice that crept into my head saying plenty of negative things, but after I abandoned the original sketches and honed my vision a bit more, I, in a nearly effortless attempt, created these:

If I didn't know any better, I'd think these were drawn by a different person than the first picture.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think these were drawn by a different person than the first picture.

If I had given up after the first few attempts, renouncing my ability to draw, these images would never have happened and I would have had a false view of myself. My initial issue was not that I couldn’t draw, but that I had to release myself from all the preconceived ideas I had attached to myself and drawing. I also had to realize that that day/headspace I was in, for whatever reason, might not have been right for the task I was attempting to undertake. This leads me to the final obstacle:

Paradoxical Self: Creating great art is all about finding balance. As this article highlights, creative types are usually paradoxical: they are often equal parts introvert and extrovert, proud and humble, and even have a sense of androgyny. Thus, art is created often by straddling the line between seemingly conflicting parts of the self. It is harmony. It is yin and yang. People who are seen as creative have been able to find this balance by exploring the extremes in their own lives and then marrying them in their work.

Now at this point it would be nice and fashionable to say that true success in a creative field means overcoming these obstacles in one great and final battle, but that approach is both simplistic and unrealistic. Creativity is not about overcoming obstacles so that one can create; rather it is about creating in the midst of and often because of obstacles. As I alluded to in the part about the paradoxical self, it is the tension that makes art so spectacular. It’s figuring out how to flirt with failure but not take yourself too seriously when you are successful. If you want to be creative, you must realize that you are both better than you think you are and worse than you think you are. All you have to do is keep pushing yourself through the hours of failure and self and gently coax the genius out of you but not giving up when that genius seems to suddenly disappear.