Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity. What is it and how do I access more of it and why do I write instead of paint pictures or solve math problems or design houses? I didn’t know mechanical engineers were creative till I married one, and it’s made me rethink my definition of creativity. I’m still trying to better understand.
Luckily I know a lot of creative people who can help me broaden my perspective. Their talents inspire me. I wondered how they learned how to do what they do and how they decided which skills, talents, and interests they wanted to hone. Since I’m pretty dull lately, I decided to let them take over the blog for a while. And I hope that by meeting a bunch of creative types over the next few months, we can all feel like we’re cool because we’re all creative, whether we are into traditional arts or not.
We’ll start with my friend Jenny.
Jenny does lots of things well: she travels to Italy and helps me not get lost. She plays the piano. She writes and edits. She photographs. She cooks and gardens and wears pretty clothes.
There are so many questions I had for Jenny. But before you find out what they were, check out her photography. Seriously, click the link. You don’t want to miss these pictures.
Okay, first photography.
When did you get into taking photos?
I’ve always liked taking photos. Back in the day of having to get film developed, I’m sure my parents hated paying for the rolls of film I took of my dolls in different poses. One of my older brothers was into photography, and some must have rubbed off on me. In college I took a photography class where we had to develop our own film, and I loved going into the darkroom and getting my hands all chemically and actually creating something. (You know, a few years ago this answer wouldn’t have made me sound old. Now I’m using phrases like, “back in the day.” Yikes!)
What appeals to you about photography? Why did you get into it?
The best clichéd answer I can give you is that I hate to see perfect life moments not recorded. Whether it’s the way the sun hits a leaf or the way raindrops cling to a flower petal, I don’t want to keep those fleeting moments only in my memory. I can’t.
What has helped you grow the most as a photographer?
I know my answer should be practice, practice, practice! But it’s a combination of things. I learn a lot from following photography blogs, and also just from doing my own research if I can’t figure out how to do something. Trial and error play a big part in my photography. And just the simple thing of someone complimenting a photo I took goes a long way in helping me grow as a photographer. To be honest, I feel that photography is something that is difficult for me. I’ll spend a long time setting up the “perfect” shot with my fancypants camera, and then I’ll see a photo I love that someone took in two seconds with their phone. I want to be more like that.
What are your favorite subjects to photograph?
I mostly photograph nature, I try to photograph food, and I especially love close-up shots (or macro). You might notice that my blog is devoid of human life in the photos department. There’s a reason for that. I don’t feel very comfortable taking photos of people. This might be one of the reasons why I decided to stay away from newspaper journalism. I don’t have it in me to get in someone’s face and record some of their most intimate, tragic, and emotional moments.
What do you have to say to purists who are against digitally altering photos?
I used to be one of them. I wanted my photos to be “untouched.” Now I look back at so many of them and think, “Wow, what an awful photo!” That being said, I don’t want to change the reality of my photos when I edit them. I’ll fix the lighting and color, and that’s about it. When I want to do something dramatic to a photo—like add a texture or make it look aged—it is obviously Photoshopped in the end. I’m OK with that. But when I see photographers charging proud parents a bundle for photos of their glowing-skinned, laser-eyed children, I know those photos have been over-edited and passed off as real life. That bothers me.
Next, writing and editing.
What do you see as your greatest creative writing feat so far? Because I think it’s your “I need to pee” song (which, by the way, needs a new title: “Song for pregnancy AND postpartum.”)
One is the first story I had accepted by Highlights. It isn’t my favorite work, but they let me revise it four or five times before acceptance. I was sure as heck proud of it when I finally held a check in my hand. And, Kim, just for you I will include my “Song for Being Pregnant” in my list of greatest creative writing feats. The inspiration just flowed on that one. Almost literally.
When did you start a blog and what do you use it for?
I started my blog on [checking blog] April 23, 2009. I wanted to share funny stories. And get random thoughts out of my head. (Because, as my husband can tell you, I have plenty of those.) Over the past two and a half years the blog has slowly evolved to include photography and cooking aspects. But from the beginning, I didn’t want it to be a “mommy blog.” I don’t use it to give the world detailed information about my family’s personal life. You won’t find personal pictures on there. Now that I’m going to have my first child next year, I’m still going to try to stick to my guns about that self-imposed rule. I know that no one besides me is interested in how many times my baby poops in one day.
What are your top three blog posts I can showcase to the world (or in other words, my five readers)?
“In Praise of Man” is close to my heart because it’s something I feel strongly about. My husband recommended my photo essay-esque 4th of July post. And I always enjoy going back and looking at my first attempt at a step-by-step kitchen adventure.
You’re an editor too. How is editing a creative career? So many writers see the copy editors as creativity killers.
There is copy editing and there is substantive editing. I cannot separate the two in my work. I think about the big picture as I go about marking commas and apostrophes. When I edit a manuscript, my goal is to make it the best it can be, not the most boring. If that means deleting a character or a few paragraphs, I don’t see that as killing the author’s creativity, but rather, focusing the creativity so it can flow unhindered. When I have to whittle an author’s 1,200-word story down to 600, I practically burst with pride at the outcome. Suddenly a rambling, overloaded story is in sharp focus. The point doesn’t get lost underneath clunky, unrealistic dialogue. It’s just as much a creative process for me as it is for the author. I’m sure there are some authors who see me as a creativity killer, but I prefer to see myself as a creativity focuser.
And now let’s talk music.
Were you forced to take piano lessons?
Taking piano lessons wasn’t a choice for my brothers and me. Even if we decided to quit at some point and learn another instrument, Mom’s rule was that we had to start piano first. I took lessons from age 8 to around 13. After that I improved my skills just by continuing to play. I wish I had some advice about sticking with something you hate and having it turn out well in the end, but I don’t. I have always loved playing. I read an article once about how professional golfers have less mental activity when they play than amateurs do. Amateurs are constantly thinking about position, technique, and, uh, whatever else golfers have to think about. But for the professionals, it just comes naturally and they don’t have to think about it. I am by no means a professional pianist, but I know how this feels. Often I will get to the end of a piece and not remember how I got there. My mind is calm, almost empty. All I know is the music, and if I start “thinking” about it, I’ll mess up.I’m a pretty good sight-reader, but I don’t compose, improvise, or play by ear. I don’t even see the point of making students memorize a recital piece. I considered majoring in piano performance in college, but I knew what it entailed, and I knew that kind of almost fanatical focus would make me stop loving the skill that I have been blessed with. Now with my own piano students, I want to be the exact opposite of the stereotypical old lady who whacks kids’ wrists with a ruler. I hope to guide my students to love playing, not dread it.
A few more random tidbits.
What’s your greatest gardening accomplishment?
Zucchini Monster. Hands down.
Though it wasn’t so much a feat on my part as it was a few good seeds that succeeded on their own. Which reminds me, does anyone need any zucchini? Because I’ve got some. I’ve got lots.
What do you see as your greatest creative feat in the kitchen?
I’ve tried many recipes that I have been proud of. But I think my greatest feat would be learning how to make yeast bread. A few years ago I made a New Year’s resolution to make bread for the year because I hated spending so much money buying it. I went through a bunch of recipes until I found a whole-wheat winner. I knead it and everything. It makes me feel so domestic. I still make it! I need to give credit to my husband. He is a great cook, and he’s made me braver in my culinary attempts.
Do you purposely dress creatively too? Because you have style!
Ha! At 5′10″ my style is basically finding pieces long enough for my arms and legs and then hoping they go together. Where I do like to express some uniqueness is in my jewelry. I love getting jewelry at arts festivals, farmers markets, etc., because I love having one-of-a-kind pieces straight from the artist. Though because I work in a conservative office environment, I don’t get to pull out some of my more flashy pieces as much as I’d like to.
What’s your favorite book?
I’m cheating by naming a series and not just one book. I adore The Dark Is Rising series by Susan Cooper. It combines Arthurian legend with modern-day fantasy (the closest I’ll come to reading fantasy genre). And Cooper’s writing is sublime. I used to read the series once a year, and then Harry Potter came along and took up all my time. I need to get back to reading some high-quality children’s writing!
What do you watch on TV between all your writing, editing, photographing, piano playing, and cooking endeavors?
An eclectic mix of Pawn Stars, What Not to Wear, The Office, Man v. Food, America’s Test Kitchen, and, this time of year, college football.
And finally, the deep stuff: your philosophy on creativity.
What feeds your ability to be creative?
Being happy. If I’m angry, frustrated, or stressed out, a wall goes up in my mind. I can’t do anything well during that “wall time.” I can’t play the piano, I can’t write anything, I can’t take a good photo to save my life. And my carrot cake slumps. Some people create amazing things out of their anger or sadness. My creativity doesn’t function that way. I need to wait until the wall comes down. Sometimes it takes only a few minutes, but other times it stays up for days.
How do you find time to balance all the creative hobbies you want to pursue?
I don’t. The end.
Oh, shall I explain? When I focus on one, the others suffer to some extent. My creativity comes in waves. I’ll go two or three weeks without blogging because I don’t have anything to write about. (A bad blog habit, I know.) But then something will get stuck in my head and I know I need to write about it. If life gets busy, I won’t work on my photography. I’m obviously not a good balancing act. But cooking is a different story. I mean, I need to eat, right?
How do you judge your own success in your creative hobbies?
If I base my success on a worldly view of success—such as winning a photo contest or having a manuscript accepted—then I’d be living a depressing life full of failure. I judge my “success” on how I feel about the final outcome of a project, not how anyone else feels. I hang my favorite photos on my walls at home and smile when I walk by them, knowing that something I created brought that smile. I’ve had a couple of photos featured on a photography blog. That’s great, but it doesn’t make me feel better about a photo I already love. Sometimes I play a piano piece just okay, and I know I can do better. When I do, the music brings tears to my eyes. I don’t do it for a hall full of people. I do it—in the best selfish sense—for my own joy. If I try to reach for a certain skill level in my hobbies I will constantly feel like I’ve failed. Of course it’s good to have goals. But if I try to reach for something seemingly unattainable from my current standing, I won’t see the point in continuing. I don’t get graded on my hobbies; I don’t do them on a professional level. I meander along at a pace that makes me feel fulfilled.
What motivates you to be creative?
I have one rather large motivator: if I didn’t have creative hobbies I would spend all my time sitting on the couch watching sitcom reruns, probably with a bag of chips nearby. (If you eat the smaller chips it doesn’t feel like you’re eating as much. Just fyi.) Some of my hobbies have always been a part of me. Music and writing, for example. I know it’s cliché to say that I couldn’t survive without them, but it’s true. After I got married and moved out of my parents’ house I didn’t have 24-7 access to a piano. I felt like there was a piece missing from me. It wasn’t until I inherited my grandma’s piano last year that that hole was snugly plugged up. Photography, on the other hand, is a comparatively new hobby. I’m not yet to the point where I carry a camera everywhere. But learning the ins and outs of an art form gives me a feeling of self-worth and accomplishment, with just a little bit of thrill thrown in to keep things interesting.
Thank you for stopping by the blog, Jenny. Readers, do you have any questions I forgot to ask her?