Tag Archives: Creativity

Take it slow

I’ll say this about COVID-19: I’m re-learning how to take it slow.

The beginnings of work-from-home in March were all at lightening speed. Suddenly I had to figure out where to get toilet paper, how to set up a functional home office, how to use both Zoom and Google Meet. It felt like I was navigating unfamiliar ground every ten minutes.

About a week into the new normal, I realized I was accessing coping mechanisms deep in my character that I’d developed when living in Bolivia, in the late 1990s.

I was a stranger in a strange land there, albeit with many friends as guides. Still, the onslaught of new experiences felt like riding a tidal wave. And one of the things I learned early on was, how to wait in a world where the unexpected slowed things down.

A new landscape

I learned in my South American sojourn to bring a book anywhere, because I may have to sit in line forever (this was in the pre-smart phone world). It’s not the same as multi-tasking; it’s completely exchanging one activity for another, and being content with the exchange. It’s contentment with where you are for the moment.

I became adept at people watching. That is, taking joy in observing people, immersing myself in the stories unfolding before my eyes.

It made me happy to walk farther than normal to buy green beans from the same green bean lady at the market. I absorbed the sights and sounds of my neighborhood along the way, delighting in small changes.

There were many times where an unexpected wait brought conversations with beloved friends that changed my view of life. I have a whole catalog of road closure stories, where we had to wait or detour, that enriched my being immeasurably.


Of course, I wasn’t always content with waiting. Sometimes it enraged me that others devalued my time. (That’s from my point of view. From their view, usually they had no control over my wait time.) And I can’t honestly say I carried my learned contentment with waiting, to my home culture again. In actuality I got even angrier with waiting in the US, because I had an expectation that all would be hunky-dory when I got back home.

That sense of injustice, “this isn’t right, I shouldn’t have to wait” has arisen again. The past few weeks have made it crystal clear that I’m still, at base, an impatient person.

But this week, it hit me I could change that.

I’d connected with the reality early in lockdown that I might have some coping skills from Bolivia I could transfer to this current life. Dealing with shortages, having to hunt for what I needed from store to store (when I just had to have that expat comfort food or item), constantly evaluating whether a situation was safe….all part of that former life.

And, I realized I could reclaim the situational contentment I’d learned. I think it started last weekend, when I spent a very long time simply sitting on my back patio and watching my parakeets play together. It made my heart very content. And I marked that moment of realization with a mental Ebenezer. If I’m capable of this now, in the midst of upheaval, certainly I can make a habit of contentment with whatever is in front of me.

The joy of waiting

I’m working on what I’m now calling my “COVID cardigan,” a crocheted cotton sweater I started in February. I just couldn’t find the style or color I wanted on the clothing store racks, as I tried to construct my yearly Easter outfit.

It’s nearly finished, after I ripped it out completely and started over three times. That’s a ripping-out record for me, usually I just barrel through. But when I tried it on for the first time a few days ago, there was a joy in realizing I’d made the right decision. It’s going to fit, because I ripped it apart and resized it.

I stayed up way too late on a work night last Wednesday, finishing a sleeve. Seeing I’d worked until nearly midnight while binge-watching the PBS documentary Asian Americans, I thought, this is ridiculous. When I work like that, too many hours, my thread tension becomes deadly tight. It got so tight the needle was squeaking. Crocheters worldwide know that sound, when you’re fighting with your needle and it protests. My stitches become ragged and uneven. That means the sleeve wouldn’t marry up with the shoulder when I tried to join them.

Slow down, Allen, I told myself. You’ve missed Easter already.

I did put the sweater away that night, with the sleeve unfinished, then ripped out the anxiety-laden stitching Thursday night. And started stitching again. The sleeve now matches up well with the armhole.

My next step is putting a border on the sweater and after working a few feet of border, I decided I didn’t like stitching the pattern suggested. So I’m going to get a cup of coffee or two, and look through some vintage border patterns books as a replacement. Some of my border books were gifts from by college roommate’s grandmother, so that’s a nice trip down memory lane.

I’m looking forward to the saunter and to some more profitable waiting.

Why Creativity’s Better Now

I just hit the iTunes back button on Kashmir.

With that as your soundtrack, come with me down a creativity rabbit hole that’s only possible after five-plus decades of journeying.

Tonight I watched a Netflix documentary about legendary bluesman Robert Johnson. That led to dialing into Johnson’s work while I made dinner.

Which led me to some classic rock, which owes its life to guys like Robert Johnson. Which led me to Led Zeppelin and Kashmir, so I could look for Robert Johnson in their guitar and vocals. Which now that I’m a grown up, Kashmir is a really complex effort and much more interesting than most of what passes for today’s pop music (Christian or secular).

Hail the Treasure Trove

I can leapfrog creatively between decades and genres because of what I’ve seen, heard, known, and experienced throughout my whole life. There’s a pool of memories in my mental Rolodex to connect into a new, unforeseen whole.

We live in a world that celebrates the new and the entrepreneurial. That’s not bad. The entrepreneur is going to find a way cut Phoenix’s smog, with a cleaner way to transport us from point A to point B. The entrepreneur is going to cure cancer and the common cold.

I think the world needs both the entrepreneur with the blue-ocean brain, with synapses unsullied by lock-step problem solving, and the treasure trove brain.

I’m only half-baked

It can feel like those of us at mid-life are as done as a bubbled-over strawberry-rhubarb pie. We’ve lived a life full of sweet and sour and somewhere the innards ran over and charred the side of the pan, not to mention the bottom of the oven. What a mess.

But I’m really only half-baked. (OK, maybe three–fifths if I do the math right on average human lifespans.) I recently finished Anthony McCarten’s The Pope, a fascinating comparison/contrast of the path to the papacy of both Benedict and Francis. When Pope Francis was my exact age, he was exiled from Buenos Aires to a corner of rural Argentina in a leadership shakeup. I believe there was a line in the narrative about him sweeping floors at the end of the day at his new gig. In his late 50s. Somehow he persevered and ended up Pope.

If I go back to the beginning, I can remind myself that nothing is permanent. Even the biggest setbacks, the ones that left me discouraged and doing something menial, didn’t destroy me. Instead, the swerves from the life I imagined became building blocks I use to construct the life in front of me.

Sometimes that means I mentor someone younger, sometimes it’s walking with a friend my own age going through something I encountered years ago. And sometimes that’s just a piece of fun, like envisioning how I could pull up some classic rock and hear bits of the Mississippi Delta in the chord patterns.

Next up? I think I’ll see if speaking Spanish helps me understand Italian opera.