I once wrote a personals ad in code. I was living Austin. Every programmer within a hundred miles must have responded, offering to rewrite my code and fix the bugs. The suggested patches were hilarious. I wrote one guy for quite a while, even though it was clear that we weren’t compatible, just because he was so witty. At one point, we even wrote each other jokes in binary code.
I like programmers, engineers, researchers and mathematicians because I know how they think. It is not true that right-brain people lack creativity. I know plenty who are also quite accomplished in visual and performing arts. For example, the other researcher with whom I shared an office played bass with a band that performed at the Broken Spoke and I know a programmer who is a kick-ass dancer.
I am not from Venus. I am a Mars chick. We have a problem, I am going to cuss like a Marine, yell “plot twist”, and then we are going to fix that shit because fixing shit is what I do. The obstacle IS the path. Obstacles are where life changes and all kinds of opportunities present themselves. For me, the solution has to produce better conditions than before the problem appeared: a better boyfriend, a better painting, a better place to live.
To survive is good, but thriving is elegant. If my last job hadn’t been so vile and odious, I wouldn’t have quit, and wouldn’t be living in one of the most beautiful cities in Mexico. If the place I was renting hadn’t gone up for sale, I wouldn’t be living in the historic center of San Miguel in a house with a swing in the bathroom.
So lean into the obstacles. Be like a kid on an Easter egg hunt; look for opportunities. Don’t just survive, thrive. Find the elegant solution.
They told me not to raise my hand so much when I knew the answer because boys didn’t like smart girls; that mathematics, engineering and science was something boys did; that I “had a lot of imagination” when I said I was going to travel around the world (said by the family doctor while patting me on the head); that women didn’t make good “hard scientists” (by way of a greeting the first day on the job); that my primary purpose was to be a wife and mother; that I should quit my job, but if I worked, the housework was still my responsibility; that if I didn’t believe in God, my life would end badly, and; – within the past 12 months – that independent people were hard to love, men were intimidated by me, and finding a partner would be very difficult because I was too accomplished (three separate comments, the first one from a woman and the last two from men.)
Know what? I just laugh and let it go in one ear and out the other. I must have been eight when I figured out comments like these were about caging someone in. I remember thinking in that doctor’s office, “This man has no idea who I am. I am going to travel around the world and that is that.”
I don’t do cages. Never have. And life is great. Wouldn’t trade it for anything. So forget what you were told to be and be who you are. Kick those voices out of your head. Make your life your greatest work of art. PS: It’s OK to be afraid. Fear is my nearly constant companion. As Georgia O’Keeffe said, “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”
I was at a workshop on mathematical modelling. There was only one other woman in the class. After we were done for the day, she and I went to the pool, claimed lounge chairs, and spent the evening drinking wine. At one point, we were looking at (trying to focus on) our stomachs. She asked (slurred) “How would we model a belly button?”
“A Torus Attractor function,” I replied (slurping more wine).
“No, a Strange Attractor,” she argued.
I looked at her belly. It was true; she had two belly buttons.
We had stumbled across a sobriety test for nerds.
The creative thinking class I’m auditing recently focused on environments that support creativity. In articles and posts, the focus is primarily on creative work environments; however, rarely do we hear anything about creative home environments. What are the traits that makes a person creative, and how can we create home environments that support these characteristics?
Creative environments need to be playful to help the artists who live there maintain a sense of wonder and curiosity. Creativity demands a sense of humor and sensuality. Places that include unexpected surprises, like a swing in the shower, wake us up and help us look at things with fresh eyes. (I love my swing.)
I just moved. It was not a planned move, and it was short notice. My rented house was put on the market. I had to cancel an airline ticket to Madrid, and I had a guest coming in seven weeks but no place for her to stay. When life throws something like this at someone creative, they yell “plot twist”, and start working on the solution. Necessity is a tough mother, but it creates conditions for creative solutions. Survival is good, but thriving is elegant; the optimal solution must be better than conditions before the problem occurred.
My new place is perfect – and funky. It shocked my friends when they first saw it, but it had two characteristics that appeal to working artists: it was cheap and it was big. Creative people need space to work, and we would rather spend money on art supplies than a new sofa. Showplaces hold no interest. Our status comes from what we do, not what we own.
Creative people have vision, and bringing a work to fruition requires energy. Although my new pad was a dump and would take a load of work to fix up, it had good bones. There were a lot of obstacles, time was short, and my budget was tight. I would have to buy used, barter and trade, borrow, make it, repurpose it, get it given to me as a gift, or do without. Luckily, we as artists are good at this.
Spaces are like theater sets; the fundamental purpose of each room is to support activities of those who live there. Some spaces, like majestic cathedrals with their soaring towers, elicit a sense of awe; other spaces, like dark nightclubs with throbbing music, support carnality.
The first question to ask is always this: what is the purpose of the space – what activities will it support? People sometimes complain that they watch too much TV, but all the furniture in their living room faces a wide screen television and the light is too dim for reading. In other words, the living room supports television viewing and little else. The worst is having a TV in the bedroom, right next to the ironing board. Nobody is going to get lucky in a room like that!
Creative people usually set up their surroundings to encourage learning and imagination. I envisioned the new place as a series of creative spaces that would support film, dance, community, painting, photography, cuisine, study, meditation and sensuality. I also wanted the environment to reflect playfulness, humor and spontaneity.
I live in the beautiful colonial city of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. My apartment is in the historic center. It is entered through the garage, which is so big that a commercial truck could fit inside with room to spare. Since I don’t have a car, I decided to turn the garage into three creative zones.
The first zone contains a large viewing screen, a porch swing I got by bartering, and a 550+DVD collection of award-winning films that was given to me by a friend who is moving back to the States. The middle zone is a dance studio with a ballet barre, floor-to-ceiling mirror, and sprung wood floor that my dance teacher loaned me. The dance studio is well lit and features constellation lighting for parties. The third zone is the dining room. It supports community.
Yes, my dining room is in the garage. As creatives, “Out-of-the-box” is our middle name. (We’ve seen normal and want our money back.) A collection of games is stacked on the sideboard. Playing games is not just a social activity; amid the jokes and laughter, it forces us to think to outflank other players.
The kitchen is designed for a serious cook. There is no table, only work surfaces. (Heaven for creatives would be made up of endless work surfaces.) The only cabinets are for dishes. All ingredients are on utility shelves where I can reach them quickly. I study with a chef a couple times a month and cook almost every day. I just ordered a six-rack commercial oven that will arrive soon.
Cooking is an underrated sensual pleasure. Standing at the stove, humming under my breath, magic-wanding apricots into jam while the music laps around me like a cat, I often think of my Mennonite roots. Surely nobody has ever felt lonely while kneading bread and making jam. The best incense in the world is a fragrant kitchen.
The painting studio is the largest space devoted to one activity. It is really a living room because every room in my house is a living room, and every room in your house can be a living room, too. If there is a dead room, figure out what activity you want it to support and make it happen. Make a creative space and life will flow into it.
Your life is your greatest work of art, so build the environment that sustains you, makes you think, celebrates sensuality, creativity and laughter, and gives you courage to try new things.