Archive for April, 2007

Morning pages, originally uploaded by bobsee.

What makes a space a creative space? Every Saturday in the Guardian there is a photo of a writer’s room. It got me thinking about the spaces which somehow make creativity flow.
A number of years ago I read The Artist’s Way and I two lessons really stuck with me (but for some reason I never got round to carrying them out until recently).
The first lesson was what Julia Cameron calls “morning pages”. Her idea is that you should write, pretty much stream of conscious writing, every morning until you’ve filled three pages of a notebook. Well, I never did it, until 27th December last year. Since then I haven’t missed a single day and it’s almost a kind of addiction now. If I don’t actually do it first thing there’s a kind of irritation in me, a discomfort, until I sit myself down and write the three pages.
I haven’t stuck to writing first thing but most mornings I do get up at 6am, shave, shower, dress, then sit myself down and write the three pages. If I’ve got time left, I have breakfast! I find it takes anything from 15 minutes to just over half an hour to write the three pages. I’m not precious about the stream of consciousness thing but I do try not to stop once I’ve started (I don’t pause for thought, worry about grammar or punctuation).
Sometimes I have written on the train, on a plane, in a cafe or in an airport. The variety gives me a bit of a kick. I let myself just ENJOY it and don’t give myself a hard time for not having written within an hour of getting out of bed. With this leeway, I’ve written 3 pages EVERY single day since December 27th and I really don’t see me stopping now.
I didn’t read what I’d written at all for the first six weeks and I haven’t kept up a time for writing what I’ve written (in fact, most of what I’ve written I haven’t read!). However, my creativity has been unleashed! I can’t tell you just how much but I take more photos than ever before, post up to Flickr for the first time ever, started this bog, wrote a few pages for a website……I could go on. I just feel that ideas don’t rattle around my head like hard peas in a tin any more, rather they come together, they develop and, more than anything, they turn into real world phenomena – words and images mainly.
I cannot recommend this habit highly enough. It is transformative.

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The story so far……
I woke up on the morning of January 1st this year and this word popped into my head “storymapping”. I thought “what’s that?” The word came from a lot of thinking I’ve done about how we experience the world.
My basic premise is this……
We live in a real physical world – an objective shared three dimensional space – but we can only experience it subjectively. There’s no way for me to know how any other person experiences, say, the colour red, or the smell of coffee. But before I even get into thinking about relationships and how we communicate with others and understand each other, let me stay with the single person experiencing the world.
Let me start by saying that the phenomena of the real physical world impact on my sensory equipment. I can’t directly experience the phenomena of light or sound, but light waves or sound waves can impact on my eyes or ears and they translate these signals into electrical phenomena sent to my brain where they are somehow turned into what I “perceive” as red, or yellow, or hissing, or screaming, or whatever. I use my brain to make sense of this information, to interpret it so that I can react or not react to it. This is how I interact with the world. It’s how I find food, drink, shelter, how I connect to other people, cope with the weather…..everything.

Tools of perception and understanding
To make sense of the signals and stimuli I use a couple of really clever tools – maps and stories.
I make maps in my mind of the objective physical world. Maps contain information organised spatially and temporarily. Maps represent the shared space of physical reality. Maps, as the NLP practitioners say, are not the territory. They say that because we tend to get confused and think that the way we perceive things IS the way things are but it is isn’t, it’s only how we perceive things to be and that perception is not static. It is malleable. We can work with it, alter it, become actively involved in creating it. We can change the way we see things, change our focus, change what we give prominence to, change the feelings we have in association with certain perceptions. So maps are a useful way for making sense of the world and for acting in the world.
If I want to eat I need a map of locations for food and I need to orientate myself on that map to see where I am and figure out how to go get food. We use all kinds of maps all the time. In fact, we perceive everything through these maps. It’s almost as if they are filters between the external reality and internal subjective experience. This is all pretty much an unconscious process. We don’t need to think about our maps or make any big deal about it, but we CAN make them more conscious.
Maps help us to organise the mass of information that bombards us continuously – sights, sounds, smells and so on – and they do this by helping us to selectively notice some elements more than others.
The maps we use are created by ourselves but often on the templates, or bases of given maps. If we live life fairly unconsciously, by that I mean without a high level of awareness (a zombie way), then we are probably negotiating the world on through a largely given set of maps. We do still make every map our own however by factoring in our past experiences, preferences, qualities and so on.
This is an interesting question. It means that there is a creative component to every map we use, but we live on some kind of spectrum of passive/active or receptive/creative (zombie/hero) kinds. If we increase our awareness then we have an opportunity to increase the extent to which we can actively create the maps we use to perceive the world. In other words, we can change the way we perceive the world instead of just accepting how its been either given to us by others or how we’ve created a view of the world for ourselves from past experiences.

The second amazing tool we use is storytelling.
Stories are our way of making sense of our experience. We tell ourselves and others stories that help us to know what something means, to help us explain to ourselves and to others what we are experiencing. In fact, we even use stories to create a sense of self – this is who I am, this is how I came to be here, this is where I am going. Stories are the way I convey my subjective inner reality to another, or try to understand the subjective inner reality of another. They are also the way I work to achieve a better understanding of shared space, of external physical reality. I do this by seeing how my understanding fits with another’s understanding.

So what if we consciously combine map-making/map-reading with storytelling and create “storymapping”? Starting with our physical reality, the space and time in which we live, collecting information from our experiences as we move through that space, and marking this information on maps in a way that we note what that information means to us, how we make sense of it, in other words, by telling the stories of our experience and tagging them onto the map of the physical space we have travelled through over that period of time.

Well, I thought, I’ll try this out with my daily morning walk to the train station on my way to work. I actually did it by printing out a map of Stirling from google but since then I’ve discovered that google maps now lets you easily tag a map and add text – just the tools I needed! Here’s my example.

I think we could make all sorts of storymaps. Here are some I’m thinking of exploring so far –

The idea is that different maps can help us to understand different aspects of ourselves. We use multiple maps in our minds all the time. We can make these physical maps as an exercise in self-awareness, self-understanding so we can give ourselves an opportunity to more actively shape our lives the way we want to.
Here are some of the possible maps I’ve come up with so far.

Map of relationships
You need to choose the scales of maps for this exercise and to focus on a particular period. The period could be the present time, or you could chart it in real time by recording relationships over a defined period – day, week, month.
I suggest using different colours of pencil for each type of relationship – relatives, work colleagues, friends/social contacts, (for me also – patients and students)
What I mean by type of relationship is what’s the main nature of the current interactions you have with this person? Sometimes a person may be on your map largely as a work colleague, other times they might be largely there as a friend.
Who to put on the map? It’s always up to you but I suggest just the people you feel you are actively interacting with – in other words, not all your cousins and aunts and uncles but only the relatives who are “active” in your experience over the period under consideration.
Geotag them – by this I mean place a tag or flag or spot or something representing them on the map where they are when you interact with them. Each geotag needs a number which we’ll use later.
There are a number of other complexities you can add to this map – size of tag relating to importance to you of this person, or size of tag relating to the amount of time you are spending in interaction with this person…..whatever you think might be useful
The reference numbers of each geotag will be expanded with text around the map which is where you’ll write the stories which describe these interactions or what they mean to you or how they affected you.

Food map
Three colours – blue for where you buy the food, yellow for where it is prepared, red for where it is consumed.
Start with the red – where you eat – add the yellow if you eat where the food was prepared and add the blue if this is also where the food was purchased – so all three colours together represent eating out somewhere. If you’re not eating out draw lines from the red spot to where the food was prepared and also where it was bought (where the yellow and blue spots will be) – over a period of time this will show you your pattern of food gathering and consumption. Each red spot should be geotagged and referenced to a short story describing the situation of the meal and what it meant to you

Sensory map
Record for a period of time (say a day) the sensations you notice. This will obviously not be ALL the possible sensations, just record the ones that strike you, the ones you feel are “notable”. Sensations are visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory or kinesthetic. Note these as they occur to you using one of the following capture methods –
the video function of your cameraphone – making audio notes as you describe the sensation
the video function of a digital camera
write them on 3×5 index cards
write them into a pocket diary
Once you get to the end of the period of the exercise place the sensations on the relevant map geotagging them with index numbers to the storied descriptions/explanations.

Feelings map
As with the Sensory map but focussing instead on the feelings you notice

Attention map
As with the Sensory map but focussing instead on whatever catches your attention.

Activity map
As with the Sensory map but noting what you are doing over the period

What do you think? Any of these ideas appeal to you? If you do make any geostorymaps, please put the links into the comments to this post.

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There are two major ways in which we experience and understand our experience of the world. One of these is narrative and the other is mapping. We use narrative to make sense of our experience and to create a sense of self. We use maps to organise all the information that is constantly flooding our brains. All kinds of maps to situate ourselves in the world and to create some kind of order which allows us to navigate the spaces we live in. Maps are interesting though because they are not passive. When we lay a map on the world it focusses our attention and it predetermines our perception (you can’t see what you don’t know).

Here’s a map of the countries I’ve visited. This is from an interesting site which lets you tick, on a form, the countries you’ve visited, and it then automatically creates a map of the world with the countries you’ve visited coloured in, in red. I guess you could tell from this map that I live in Europe! Interestingly, the creator of this site has recently added another map “by popular demand” – the states in the USA which you have visited. Guess which country’s inhabits asked for that one?

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Release me

Oh I love this

This clip is actually for Saab, and it’s the song I love. The band is Laura. They’re Swedish and their debut album should be out in May. The lead singer is Frida Om. She sings with such heart and passion. Here’s some of the lyrics –

I am the wilderness locked in a cage
I am a growing force you kept in place
I am a tree reaching for the sun
Please don’t hold me down
Please don’t hold me down

I am a rolling wave without the motion
A glass of water longing for the ocean
I am an asphalt flower breaking free but you keep stopping me
Release me
Release me

I am the rain that’s coming down on you
That you shielded yourself from with a roof
I have the fire burning desperately but you’re controlling me
Release me
Release me

So, for me, this is not a song about a relationship (although for all I know that’s exactly what the songwriter had in mind). For me its about the relationship between individuals and those who seek to control them. This blog is about championing the narratives of growth, the discovery of the hero in each of us, and its about challenging those who seek to make us all zombies, controlling us, restricting us and trying to make us all the same.

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Doctors are trained to diagnose. In effect this means understanding a patient’s illness, interpreting their suffering, making sense of it. However, in practice, undergraduate medical training makes disease, not illness, the focus. Eric Cassell nicely distnguishes between “disease” and “illness” in his “The Healer’s Art” (ISBN-10: 0262530627). Illness, he says, is the patient’s whole experience of suffering, whilst disease is the pathology.

In fact, the developments in Medicine over the last few hundred years have mainly been driven by technologies which allow us to look deeper and deeper, considering smaller and smaller elements of a human being. At first, we started to look at the organs inside a body to see where disease lay, then with the invention of the microscope, we looked into the organs to see the cells, and so on, right up to the present day where we look at the DNA. This has helped us to greatly improve our understanding of how the human body functions and what is happening when a part of the body becomes disordered. However, a person is more than a material body made up of DNA, cells and organs. Every person is different but what makes them unique is not just their DNA but their connections. We all exist as organisms embedded in multiple environments. This concept of embeddedness is an important one in biology. If I want to understand a patient who presents with a particular illness I need to explore who they are in the contexts of their families, their relationships, their physical and cultural environments.

I’ve thought about this a lot and I’ve made this little device to help me to more consciously practice holistically. This is a simple strip of photos I’ve taken. You can think of it as a kind of slide rule. When a patient presents to the doctor they tell their story. They say, this is what I am experiencing, this is where it started and this is what I’m concerned about. (OK, they might say a lot more than that, but most people will tell a story that includes those elements). As the doctor tries to understand what is happening, tries to make sense of the patient’s story, in order to make a diagnosis, he or she will shift the focus of consideration.

Start with the person in the middle of the strip (that’s me, reading) – the person. As you move your focus to the left you can look deeper and deeper in. Where does the problem lie? What is not functioning? Where is the disease? Is it at the level of a system? Say, the nervous system? Or at the level of an organ? Do I need to do an XRay or a scan? What is happening at cellular level? Do I need to biopsy something? And what about at a molecular level? What lab tests would elucidate what’s going on here?
Human spectrometer

Pretty much that’s how most consultations with doctors go – listening to the story, examining the body, running some tests. This can all be extremely helpful but let’s now go back to the person who might have the disease. How do we understand their illness? How do we understand the contexts of their illness? Move the focus to the right. What about this person’s relationships, and family? Have their been any major changes or issues there recently which may have had an impact? How do we understand this person’s illness in the particular society to which they belong? And finally, what about thinking more globally? Understanding this person and their illness in the larger world.

Why is this important?

Well, everything to the left of the person in this “spectrometer” is a consideration of the disease they have, but in order to become healthy, to recover, to cope or to heal, we have to support that individual’s unique systems and strategies of defence and repair. We can only do that by understanding who this person is who has this disease. So, only to consider what lies within the person is not enough, we also need to consider who this person is and how they experience life.

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The Classical Method
This method was most effectively developed by the Romans – they called it “Bread and Circuses”
It involves two elements – bread, and, yes, you guessed it, circuses! It was a satirical comment on the political strategy of the ruling class in Rome which was to provide the masses with enough food so that they wouldn’t be hungry. This element of the strategy is about meeting the basic needs of people so they will not be motivated to the point of desperation to do something to get what they want. If the basic needs of the populace are not met, then they will not be so compliant.
But meeting their basic needs was not enough to make them compliant, you had to subdue them with mindless entertainment. The key here is distraction, which holds the attention without stimulating growth, energy or creativity.
Here’s the magic formula
Meet the basic needs + provide mindless entertainment = zombie culture (a compliant pliable populace)

The Traditional Method
This is the Haitian method employed by voodoo witch doctors.
It involves two elements – drugs and rituals.
The drugs involved are of two types. First the victim is sent into a state of paralytic coma with toxins allegedly from Bufo toads and Pufferfish. In this state they appear dead. They are then buried for a few hours, exhumed and fed drugs from the Datura family of plants – “zombie cucumber”. This induces both memory loss and a psychotic dulled state where they have a condition of altered consciousness with the features of loss of free will and disconnectedness from reality.
Here’s the magic formula
Numbing, paralysing drugs + ritual + psychosis inducing drugs = zombie slave (a compliant pliable automaton)

The Modern Method
This is the method widely employed in contemporary society.
It involves two elements – meeting basic needs and entertainment (with the optional inclusion of drugs)
Poverty becomes a relative concept as the basic food, drink and shelter needs of the population are met. Then through mass communication media mindless entertainment which holds the attention without stimulating growth, energy or creativity is delivered. The drug option is available through both legal (alcohol, nicotine, prescription mind-altering medication) and illegal (“recreational” drugs) channels.
Here’s the magic formula
Meet the basic needs + provide mindless entertainment + liberal supply of numbing, paralysing and psychosis inducing drugs = zombie masses (compliant populace of automatons)

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I’ve just read a couple of books about creativity and it’s interesting to compare what they say. The first one I read was “The Creative Brain” by Nancy CAndreasen. (ISBN 0-452-28781-2). Nancy Andreasen sounds a really interesting person. Not only is she an MD who has specialised in brain research, but she is a PhD in Renaissance literature. Sometimes I think all doctors would be better doctors if they also studied a Humanities subject. Her final chapter is “Building Better Brains” and here she gives creativity exercises for adults and for children. Here are the paragraph heads –

  • Choose a New and Unfamiliar Area of Knowledge and Explore It in Depth
  • Spend Some Time Each Day Practicing Meditation or “Just Thinking”
  • Practice Observing and Describing
  • Practice Imagining

and for children –

  • Switch Off the TV
  • Read Together, Interactively
  • Emphasize Diversity
  • Ask Interesting Questions
  • Go Outdoors and Look at the Natural World
  • Get Them Interested in Music

The second book I read was “Window Seat. The Art of Digital Photography & Creative Thinking” by Julieanne Kost. (ISBN 0-596-10083-3). This author is a photographer and “evangelist and trainer for Adobe Photoshop software”. She took 3000 photos from the window seats of commercial aircraft as she travelled on business over a five year period. The 150 photos in this book are stunning and inspirational but what makes this an incredibly different photography book is that it is in three sections. The first section is “The Art of Creative Thinking”, the second section is the photographs, and the third is an appendix of the techniques she used to make the photos. Here are the paragraph heads of her first section on creativity –

  • Master your tools
  • Listen to what your life is trying to tell you
  • Be open to whatever comes your way
  • Share what you know and learn from others
  • Collaborate with other creative people, especially the quiet ones
  • Be flexible. Learn to negotiate
  • Fix whatever you complain about the most
  • View every challenge as a possible discovery
  • Take 15 minutes for yourself every day
  • Figure out what you need to do to reach your “zero point”
  • Integrate work and art; both will benefit
  • Take up an interest in something you know nothing about
  • Look at new stuff – and at what you already know – with a fresh perspective
  • Keep a journal
  • Visualise first, Photoshop second
  • Replace your thoughts with intuition
  • Play! Play! Play!
  • Know when you’re done

Even although I’m not writing about the detail of any of these paragraphs here you can see a large potential consensus. Both of these authors write clearly, simply and are very down to earth. There’s nothing “airy-fairy” about them.
Having read not only these two books but many others on the subject of creativity here are the practical steps I think lead to becoming more creative in your life –

  1. Take some time each day to think and reflect – you might call this meditation, you might go over something in your head, or write down your thoughts – but however you do it, actually take some time each day to think.
  2. Notice more. Actively try to observe more consciously.
  3. Explore. Be curious. Find out more about something every day
  4. Be passionate. If you have a passion for something, pursue it!
  5. Share. Spend some time talking or playing with other people – adults or children – every day.
  6. Accept challenges as opportunities to grow
  7. Focus on difference. Seek diversity and variety
  8. Create your own rhythms. Certain habits or disciplines are not constraining but instead they release – this is one of the bases of poetry which is not just words which rhyme but is words chosen within certain disciplines of pattern.
  9. Capture something every day – either write in a journal, take a photo, record a video or audio clip. What you capture will be your treasure chest!
  10. Schedule. I don’t just mean schedule what needs to be done, I mean schedule in some periods of time just to pursue creativity

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