"I am trying to check my habits of seeing, to counter them for the sake of greater freshness. I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I'm doing." - John Cage

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Creativity in Tahoe Part 3: Building Community to Strengthen your Creativity

What can creativity offer a community? What can we do as individuals and members of our society to support and strengthen creativity? There’s an idea writers call “literary citizenship” that describes a responsible way to live within a community.  “Literary citizenship is the importance of remembering that no one is alone in the writing world,” wrote Roxane Gay in the Writer’s Chronicle last November.
I gave a talk at Sierra Nevada College’s MFA Creative Writing residency in January that outlined actions writers can take in Tahoe (and wherever else their community exists) to promote and support other writers and artists, to engage in their community in a way that gives back, and to also seek and develop the support they need for their own work.  
But this idea is not limited to writers and artists – the value of building community can enhance each person’s ability to live their life creatively. And with the lack of snow this winter, everyone being creative in their efforts to discover replacement recreation.
What are our creative resources in Tahoe? We are surrounded by 5 colleges and universities, 3 here in Tahoe: Sierra College, Lake Tahoe Community College and Sierra Nevada College.  Wow! So much opportunity available to us here – and open to the public are readings, talks, publications, and the seething raw materials of new ideas, new connections. One thing creativity offers community is this potential of making new relationships between what has always existed.  The excitement of originality is creating a new relationship between these concrete and abstract things that make up the world.
Riverside Studios has a call for submission right now for art to be included in the Lion Heart show benefitting High Fives, a local nonprofit.  Northstar just sponsored a ski competition between nonprofit board members and volunteers that creatively served two purposes: inform key community players of Northstar’s marketing plan and other efforts, and offer nonprofits the opportunity to win $15,000 in prizes. Squaw Valley just wrapped up a call for submissions for creative entries answering the question what is the soul of skiing.  Many opportunities exist to creatively participate in community - seek them out.
With the New Year come resolutions to start something new. This practice keeps us young; here are other local resources that will support your creativity: Riverside Studio’s First Friday Art Opening. Uncorked Truckee Third Thursday literary reading. For Goodness Sake, downtown Truckee. The Bookshelf, Truckee’s independent bookstore. Kindred Art and Folk Institute of Truckee. Community Arts Center.  T Pots Pottery. Thursday night trivia at Pizza on the Hill. I could go on. Seek out new venues and events and breathe their freshness into your own creative endeavors.
Conversations at my talk led to the questions What are our creative resources in Tahoe? How can you generate the support you need for your art and your life? Who and what can you help with the gifts you have to offer this community? Ask yourself these questions.  Here are some actions you can take that make a difference to yourself and the people you share your community with:
1.      Attend an art opening, theater performance, or literary reading in your neighborhood.  Contribute your presence at an event, even if you are tired and want to stay in to watch Madmen on Netflix. Consider the idea that you are participating to support creativity in your community as much as you are going for entertainment.
2.      Promote and support other artists.  We are all contributing to the same big work.  Our community is small – everyone is on the same team.
3.      Buy a book from an independent bookstore. Wean yourself from Amazon.
4.      Drop a note to an author you admire.
5.      Closely observe and absorb the beauty in Nature as you hike/ski/bike.
6.      Often creativity lies in the little nuggets of honest exchanges that present themselves throughout our community on a daily basis. Greet that person sitting at the cafĂ© table next to you.
7.      Drop a note to someone who has given you support.
8.      Ask yourself, what are your gifts to offer your community? Who or what can you support?
Becoming a person who cultivates their own creativity will grow a community more creatively vibrant. While being inspired, you will inspire. What creative thing are you doing today? (Published in Northwoods Magazine 2014)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Poetry Chapbook Accepted for Publication

I'm so excited to announce that my poetry chapbook titled Bite & Blood has been accepted for publication by Finishing Line Press!  I was able to meet the publisher Leah Maines at the AWP conference in Seattle a couple weeks ago to thank her personally for seeing something that spoke to her in my poems.  Writing poetry is such a private solitary practice so it is so encouraging when someone (especially an editor!) finds a personally relevant expression in the poems. We will be developing the cover design and book galleys over the next several months.  I'm hoping the chapbook will be available this fall.

Working the table at AWP for Finishing Line were two vibrant poets: Laura Long with her chapbook The Eye of Caroline Herschel, and Zara Raab with her chapbook Rumpelstiltskin, or What's in a Name? I listened to other Finishing Line poets read from their work and I felt lucky to be part of such an impressive and diverse group of writers.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Creativity in Tahoe Part 2: An Interview with Soren Wolff

What is it that makes one artist innovate and another artist, living in the same place and time, stick with a style that works? “Courage, straight up!” Soren Wolff, studio artist, doesn’t drink coffee, so this sunny November morning he watches me drink my latte as we sit outside Coffeebar.  He lets me pick his brain about his creative process behind his large canvas oil paintings currently showing here, part of a collaborative show with ceramics artist Kara Strehle.
Soren describes a person walking a proverbial plank off a ship.  People behind them are yelling ‘No, no, come back and be with us!’ and in the water swim either beautiful creatures or sharks. The original innovator takes the jump. This analogy applies to people living every day, not only artists, he says.
Soren lives in Tahoe Donner.  He built his house specifically with a painting studio and wall space for his large abstract canvases.  In winter, he is a supervisor at Squaw Valley Snow Sports School, and in summer, he kiteboards, windsurfs, and paints.
“My number one influence is water, in all its forms, frozen, liquid, gaseous - whatever.  How can you do anything creative without being inspired by Nature?  We are a natural thing, we are nature.”
The evening of November 8th Coffeebar was filled with an eclectic mix of admirers of art in Tahoe taking in the collaborative effect of Kara’s ceramic sculptures of curvaceous movement frozen in a moment and Soren’s large paintings of dramatic ellipses and spheres.
“It’s a totally different experience looking at a smaller piece versus standing in front of a large canvas. Two artists that have influenced me the most are the painter Al Held and the sculpture Naum Gabo. They work on a huge scale. 50 x 80 feet.  Very graphic.  I learned from how Gabo uses tools of perspective in incorporating an ellipse.”
But when I questioned Soren further on influences, he insists, “I don’t want to be influenced.  I would fear being insincere.”
Because the moment of beginning a new canvas is so daunting, part of his creative process is building stretchers and canvases, a meditative process to get into the right space. “When you are standing in front of a blank canvas that big, you’re like, oh God. There’s almost never a point when I’m not coming up with visual language to describe what I’m thinking about.”
I ask him about the meaning of a particular bright orange canvas that stands out, titled Nonlocality.
“Nonlocality is the idea that one particle can exist in two locations at the same time. This is also called action at a distance, where there is no apparent interaction between two objects separated by a distance and yet they impact each other. There is no chain of events, no causality.  This happens in our day-to-day lives.  Have you ever had the experience of reaching to call someone and they have already picked up the phone to speak to you? That’s nonlocality.
“As you move up through the scale of human experience, the same thing happens - we just don’t recognize it.”
There are three factors that play in any artist’s life, he continues, “Sincerity, humility, and fear.”
How have you taken risks, I ask.
“Showing my work is a big risk. It’s personal. I’m always trying to remove myself from my work.  You know that dream where you are on the school bus in your underwear?  You’re living it.
 “What’s also scary is thinking you can make a living as a painter. What keeps my work sincere is that I’m virtually guaranteed no financial revenue from my work.  We want to fit in and if you’re being original, you’re not going to fit in. I’m cursed and blessed by not having the viewer in mind.”
We talk about the creative soup of other artists and influences that exist in places like New York City. When I ask him how Tahoe’s geographic isolation from other artists and influences affects his work, he says, “We’re not isolated.  In Tahoe, we have that [creative soup] on a limited scale. Nearly everyone here is trying to live creatively.
“But if I had my druthers, I would live at CERN, in Switzerland, where the Large Hadron Collider is located. That is a multi-billion collaborative effort to prove that something you can’t see exists in every point in space. That’s pretty cool.
“If you want to talk about cutting edge thought and innovation, that’s where it is, in the sciences.  It is always walking that plank. I steal from them. Theoretical particle physics proposes questions incredibly hard to comprehend in this realm of three dimensions – it’s like magic. So many of these questions have to do with scale.  I’m trying to express these ideas by limiting them to two dimensions. A lot of my intent is somehow bound in the frailty of the human existence.” (Published in Northwoods Magazine 2013)

Karen Terrey, MFA, is a writing coach and editor for business and creative writing including college application essays, offering workshops in Truckee through her business Tangled Roots Writing. She teaches at Sierra College and Lake Tahoe Community College. For information on workshops see her website www.karenaterrey.blogspot.com.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Creativity in Tahoe Part 1: Tahoe lacks a “Creativity Crisis”

“Make it new,” said Ezra Pound, at the forefront of the Modernist writers. But are we still making it new? New York Times asked in a recent “Room for Debate” opinion piece (http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/09/15/is-creativity-endangered), Is there a “Creativity Crisis” in America and if so, what is causing it and what can we do about it? Five essays written by experts from various viewpoints responded to these questions. What about in Tahoe – are we suffering a crisis here with stifled creativity possibly caused by nature-deficit disorder or homogenizing marketing or schools focused on standardized tests or management that values repetition over innovation or rural isolation or too much screen time (all theories proposed in the article)?
Technology is both proof of creativity and the crisis’ scapegoat.  Are hours of screen time dulling children’s ability to play and develop creatively?  My writing students at LTCC defended their video games, saying the games allowed them to imagine and respond to and problem solve (all aspects of creativity) situations they wouldn’t otherwise experience. 
Here’s another example (full disclosure – this writer may be biased): Northwoods Magazine will be incorporating an innovative new phone application Augmented Reality (LINK) into its advertisements.  A reader will be able to scan a photograph within the ad and that photo will lead them to a link of a video that augments the ad.  The photo becomes the first frame of the video. This technology represents a coordination of an individual’s idea-making and a group’s skills to manage and manifest creative processes.  
However, this example brings up a challenge specific to Tahoe regarding creativity: our isolated geography and population.  “Cities are the true fonts of creativity,” according to Richard Florida, global research professor at New York University and senior editor of The Atlantic. Cities provide an estuary of different people and ideas that mix and marble each other, inspiring creativity and new ideas.  Do you think our small size and relative geographic isolation hinder the ability to create in Tahoe? 
One thing going for us is our closeness with Nature, according to the Nature-Deficit Theory of the creativity crisis.  Tahoe-ites are pre-selected for a strong connection with nature.  I believe we find inspiration and a quiet peace in the place we live, both qualities necessary for being creative. And although small, Tahoe enjoys a flow of people from other places who live here as well or visit, and bring their influences.
And here’s two more qualities Tahoe excels at that seem integral to creativity: risk taking and independence. According to Cecilia Conrad, Vice President of the MacArthur Fellow program, “…creativity thrives in an environment where individuals have the freedom to devote time and effort to ideas and projects that may not have an immediate payoff…” Sound like anyone you know in Tahoe?
If it’s got anything to do with opportunity, we have plenty of creativity in Tahoe. I believe Tahoe-ites come up with brilliant ideas all the time.  An important part of creativity is making the idea happen.  This manifestation often requires a collaboration with others. “In fact, creativity is a social process,” writes Florida. From innovative sales techniques to community-building festivals and events to new ambitious businesses and creative approaches to protect the environment, Tahoe has the stimulating atmosphere, motivated intelligent people, and the natural inspiration to create new ideas and vision.

What makes you creative? Do you have an example of creativity in Tahoe? Send in your comments to participate in this series on creativity in Tahoe. Next up, meeting the Creatives. (Originally published in Northwoods Magazine, 10/14)