You Want to be Creative? Starbucks is Just Down the Road…

I’ve been getting all ‘creative’ lately, by that I mean actually writing those ideas in my head down, and it struck me, what about the environment I’m working in? I know, I know, not exactly an original thought. It’s probably writer’s procrastination at its best, but I’m sure some writers spend hours just trying to get their environment right. If I’m being totally honest (which I am, by the way) I don’t always think about it. Yes, I like to have a tidy desk and sufficient materials alongside me, but really that’s all I’ve been concerned about. Right, so that’s that then.

However, I’ve stumbled over quite a few articles recently (despite it being a very unoriginal thought) that have talked about the ideal surrounding for creativity. The Guardian noted that J. K Rowling had done a lot of her work for the Harry Potter books in a café. Not a silent study with a big window overlooking the hills, not a serene spot under the sycamore tree, not even a quiet room in a B&B. Even the quietness of a library is too clinical for me – the rhythmic typing, coughing and pen tapping.

According to the Journal of Consumer Research (I know, right?), a moderate rather than low level of ambient noise induces processing disfluency, which leads to abstract cognition and consequently enhances creativity. A study involved sixty-five students to partake in numerous creative writing tasks whilst different noise environments were happening around them. The results showed that a reasonable background noise of 70 decibels enabled a higher creative output. However, this was with people who were already classed as creative. I don’t think putting a plumber in a Café Nero for an hour will produce the next bestselling novel – but we could try!

Interestingly, 70 decibels is about the same noise as a moving car (first anthology written on the M1 anybody? – ok not quite that fast, but still, it’s a moving car is not a silent study). I often go to coffee shops and tea rooms, when I have the spare time or the effort to walk to them, and when I do I always enjoy the atmosphere. I wonder whenever a new Starbucks or Costa opens, do they install all the coffee machines, move in all the sofas and then hire some “creative-types” (I hate that stereotype as much as you don’t worry!) to sit there with their shiny mac book pro and their mega-massivo-fat-assio mocha latte whatever. Sorry, I’m not a coffee obsessive so I don’t know all the names. I know that must make me highly uneducated, uncultured and out of the writer’s group all together. I like tea, sometimes. Good, so I’m back in by the skin of my teeth then.

Oh but one other thing, however, was that the study did realise that only “periodic, limited immersion in a café worked best to stimulate creativity”. In other words, you’re not going to be immune from writers block if you spend all day, all week in your local coffee shop. And don’t be trying to ask your boss to move the office into one giant franchise of Starbucks anytime… after all the hum of that computer, combined with the old dodgy fridge and the crappy air con must be about 70 decibels I think!

Exciting News: Edinburgh Fringe

Hello world,

First of all, apologies for my lack of blogs lately, I’ve been rubbish in keeping it topped up. The good news is though that I have lots and lots of exciting things all on its way so I was just giving you a rest; the calm before the storm if you like. The first thing is that my blog is in the process of having a nice spring clean – a bit of a makeover, so look out for that! Now for the other thing…

Earlier in May I applied for Fringebiscuit’s (http://fringebiscuit.blogspot.co.uk/) first Young Writers Scheme, largely just for the challenge of applications (I’m proactive like that you see…). A week or two ago, just as I was making my way through a mountain of ironing, just as I was thinking I’d never hear back from them, I checked my e-mails to find a lovely acceptance offer to be the top 10 ‘brave, young writers’ to work their socks off at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival (the biggest international arts festival) whilst getting a great amount of inspiration, encouragement and support by professionals in the arts and writing industry. What an amazing opportunity! I’m so excited to be heading up to Scotland for the whole month of August, living with nine other keen, young writers and reviewing the biscuit out of all the fun at the Fringe. I’ll be reviewing, interviewing, workshopping, blogging, theatre-going (obvs!), writing all sorts of cheeky things and generally just having a fantastic experience. Yes please.

It’s still sinking in and thank you for all the lovely congrats and comments I’ve already received – it means a lot. I’ll be keeping all you lovely readers up to date along the way, so please jump aboard and I’d love to share the experience with you – feel free to get in touch. Also, a lot of the work and publicity that Fringebiscuit are all about is on and through the power and mystery of twitter (Hazar!) So please follow them (@fringebiscuit) or myself on twitter (@kellypunton). I’ll soon try and get you the other nine biscuiteers to follow on twitter too as I’m certain they’ll be worth following!

The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe. — Gustave Flaubert

 

I find it hard to define myself as a writer: perhaps its not even necessary to define myself in that way. What I do know though is that I have a passion for writing (and reading – it works both ways!) and I’d love to see where that might take me. I don’t just mean that in terms of a degree, a career, a salary, a pension – oh no, I’m thinking much wider than that. I want to see whether it can be an integral part of who I am, whether there’s a wage attached to it or not, whether its plain sailing or most likely not. It’s not about a job or a title, whilst that is what I’ve felt the world is telling me it could be. It’s not the flashy name and prestigious one-hit-wonder or best-selling ‘writer’ that I want to be. As I said, I’m thinking much wider than that. I am a writer simply because I write. I want it to first and foremost be about character, intregrity, relationship, experience, passion, whatever else it needs to be called. Then whatever name badge I’m given as a result, whatever car I drive and house I live in because of it, I’ll know it came from a real place. Nice thought hey.

I don’t know how good I am at writing novels or plays (I might have a go) but what grips and holds me as a writer is more about the power of our voices. It’s that its a colloboration with yourself and other people, it’s a discovery, it’s a lesson, it’s a journey and it cannot be done alone, or at least I don’t want to do it alone. I’ve often had a sort of tag line to my writing in recent years which as been about being on a journey to ‘find my voice, one day at a time’, hopefully in order for others around us to also find their voice. We are fed all sorts of voices and some are good (some are really good in fact) whilst a lot of others are blurred and confusing, meaningless or destructive. I think that sucks, but I also think it’s pretty hard to know what to believe, what to think, what to say, what to write – but that should not stop us. There’s so much to live for, so much to learn, so much to delve into. It’s all out there, we’ve just got to find our voice. I really hope that this opportunity will be another step towards learning more about what it means to be able to communicate, to be able to write, to be able to have a voice – especially when I know so many of us struggle to know what it is we are to say. There are times when it really matters that our voices are heard and we can say what we want to say. That’s a bit about where I am. I’d love for you to join me.

 

 

kpunton.com

P.S. Please share the great work that Fringebiscuit are doing for others like me, maybe even people like you! http://www.sponsume.com/project/fringebiscuit-young-writers-training-scheme

Object Theatre

This is a critique for a recent event I attended at Loughborough University. I entered it for their competition so I thought I’d also post it on here. It may be of interest to any of you, particularly those with an interest or query into objects and props within theatre and art. It’s not intended to sound pretentious at all, but I realise some of it might not make sense without being at the event itself but ponder it if you’d like to. There is some more information about Radar at the bottom of the critique.

Object Theatre – Saturday 10 March, 1.00pm – 5.00pm
Talking Objects Symposium – Friday 9 March, 2.00pm – 5.30pm

Radar certainly succeeded in presenting a vast and varied presentation of all things ‘object’ within theatre but also, far beyond it. If anything, part of the success was its ability to transcend objects of the theatre and to scratch the surface of our relationship with objects first and foremost outside of it.

Something Richard Allen’s paper highlighted was that the closer our relationship with objects is, the closer our relationship with humans is also. As outrageous and profound as it seems, it got me thinking. When I tried to strip humanity of its objects, I found myself back with the Neanderthals, without society, without civilisation, without anything really. Now that’s interesting. I wonder; had mankind not understood the warmth of each other, they may not have understood the warmth of animal skins or designer clothes; had I not understood the social boundaries of privacy, I might not ritualistically waste a minute every morning and night opening and closing my blinds. Equally, an object that virtually functions as a social being of its own kind – the iPhone might not have been popular if we were not popular either – Facebook would fail with three friends. Obviously, technology firmly agrees another of Allen’s point; it is not only ourselves that are subjects of time, but objects, too, have positions in time and space. As our trends of socialising and friendships have transformed, so has our technology, or perhaps it is the other way. Unfortunately, it seems our anthropocentricism has led us to believe we are the masters of objects.

Neneagh Watson’s demonstration of hitting a ball up was significant to reveal how humans have dictated their control over objects but how we also restricted their identity. When she missed the ball, we automatically count it to be a mistake when actually the ball never changed its functionality. We let our ego and intentions get in the way. This perhaps suggests why our society has become a commodity-obsessed culture; Marx’s commodity is an object outside of us, a thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort or another. In other words, the object exists for us, not the other way around. Watson’s work illustrated how the elements are a natural animator for objects, without us even involved. Aura Satz’s work was also embedded in this fascination of objects leading lives of their own, but she seemed conclusive that seeing an objects own movement was only a trace of human inhabitation or possession somewhere down the line. In her ‘Vocal Flame’, my gaze was fixed on the flames and their own movement; lost in flames for flames sake, I thought. Then again, one can sit staring at a roaring fire anywhere. What was special about this was the human’s monologue that dictated the winning dancing flames. Similarly, Christian Janowksi’s innocently charming ‘Puppet Conference’ was commendable; mirroring a human formula of conferences with their guest speakers and live feed reporters into an entirely puppet population. I traded in my disbelief, but as much as I was willing to forget the human manipulation behind it all, Janowski had Elmo reveal all the human control behind his TV show. It might not be so much of an ego problem, after all.

Ultimately, what the speakers and the artists brought to our attention was this ambiguous relationship between objects and humans. Perhaps our egos need deflating so we can just appreciate the narrative of the object itself. What became clear was that the theatre, the stage, the artistic space, or any space in fact, needs to become more of an ethical place; one where we acknowledge and collaborate with objects for what they enable us to not only create, but to be. Objects make more of mankind than the Neanderthals could. Objects make up our relationships, our affections, our passions, our hobbies, our creations and as Allen remarked ‘objects make our thoughts doable.’

There’s an old suitcase that belonged to my Mum as a child. I saw it in our spare bedroom and it had a distinct appeal to my imagination. I don’t know if I could explain why, but I always thought about how it would be a perfect prop. It inspired me to think of characters, stories and monologues. Now I realise its more than just a prop, our theatres are made up of more than just mere props – it’s a suitcase, an object, an identity in its own right and without it, my imagination would not have been enthused in the way it was. It not only made my thoughts doable, it was the source of some of those thoughts too. Radar helped me realise objects and puppets are more than mere props.

Radar is Loughborough University’s contemporary arts programme, enabling creative exploration and furthering critical debate through commissions, films and conversation. www.arts.lboro.ac.uk/radar/

If You Think Money Can’t Buy You Happiness, You’re Not Spending it Right

This idea was largely influenced by Michael Norton, whose video I will post below.

We must have heard this phrase time and time again, “Money can’t buy you happiness, you know!” and I can massively agree with this statement, or at least that’s what I thought. As much as we all want to win the lottery, plenty of researchers have discovered that those lucky few who do win on all that cash do not end up any more happier. In fact, many of the winners tend to spend it so unwisely or carelessly that they end up in even more debt. What is also interesting is that research also showed that winner’s social circumstances changed dramatically, if not in the home, certainly with friends. They found many friends, too many ‘friends’ in fact would ask and require of their new wealthy ‘friend’ for money and favours. The results seemed to find that those who did win the lottery ended up with more debt anyway and worse friends than before. Nonetheless, we all might at times fantasize about what we ourselves would do with the jackpot if we were to win it…

What Norton and other folks have discovered is that there is some sort of link between how happy we feel and how we spend our money. It is suggested that when we spend money on buying gifts for other people, spending it on a nice gesture or giving it to charity or a worthy cause – we feel happier than when we just buy things for ourselves.

More research and more results have shown an interesting correlation between how happy people are and how much money they give to charity. This test was worked out all over the world and amazingly, only a very small amount of countries (I’m talking about three or four) were not correlated. Obviously, there could be weaknesses in the test itself, but what a positive thought!

So maybe it is the case, maybe it does not make us happy because we’re spending it on the wrong things. What is significant here is not how much we spend (whether £5, £20 or £100) or what we actually spend it on (a bunch of flowers, a charitable donation or a special present). In actual fact, what seems to be the significant and deciding factor in these results is WHO we spend it on. We seem a society that is so focused on indulging ourselves, consuming all the time and taking much more than we give out. But if we thought about these results, we might change our attitude, we might learn our lesson. Instead of fantasizing about how many yachts and segways we would buy with our millions, we might realise that our happiness and health might better depend on us spending it on other people.

It is important to know that it was not only Western societies that were tested with this correlative idea, it was also in developing countries like Uganda. Interestingly, there were some universal results that suggested we all feel better for giving what we have or are given to other people, rather than on our own needs and wants.

The reality is that I am not trying to say that we can buy happiness at all. In fact part of the debate for this whole post will in fact reside in the meanings of the words ‘happy’ and ‘happiness’; I do think there is a complication with these words and our understanding of how we relate to them. On another note, it is perhaps selfish to note how spending money on others can actually benefit our own feelings and autonomy. Maybe it would be better if we just spent money on others or charitable causes out of no other reason than it is the better thing to do, doubtless of our positively beneficial repercussions.

But there you have it, think about it. Spending money on others, rather than yourself, does actually have a far greater return and advantage for you (as appealing as that new pair of jeans or that holiday getaway might seem on payday). Maybe its true what they say, having that new hair product will not make you happier, nor will that super duper car improve your happy-0-metre and instead we can stop wasting our time with chasing those things and stop buying into changing fashions for ourselves and instead start investing it into longer lasting feelings like charity, good gestures, friendly coffees, special presents and causes that could make a life time of difference to the lives of so many others – and even yourself!

 

My Top 5 Must-Read Books

Today I wanted to just give you a little glimpse into some of my favourite books. Being the English and Drama student that I am, I tend to read quite a lot of books and plays so it’s pretty tough for me to narrow it down. Nonetheless, this is my top five! Reads that I would recommend to you all, so if you’re looking for you’re next read or you haven’t picked up a book since you ditched English at GCSE, you might be curious to try one or more of these. I have purposely chosen these books for anyone really, I tend to read a lot of philosophical books but often many of them can be hard reading and not always a joyful read. I’m not undermining my top five here, but they have been chosen with anyone in mind, rather than someone who strangely, like me, likes to read and debate more crazy ideas. So relax, you actually might like these!

5. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle – David Wroblewski

20120426-093130.jpg

This is a hefty novel, it takes a fair while to get through it, so if you are looking for a light and short book next, this might not be the best for you. However, this book is so good. It’s the first novel by Wroblewski and is fairly recently published (2008). It’s set in rural Wisconsin and follows the boy, Edgar Sawtelle, who has been a mute since birth. He comes from a heritage of dog breeders and there is a beautiful connection with dogs and animals in this book. The tale is wrapped up in history and mystery, following the past but equally dealing powerfully with the story of the present also. It is actually a close but very clever re-telling of a huge classic. I was so convicted with the storyline itself that it took me far too long to even realise it was a re-telling, so it can be appreciated in its own right too. It’s one of the only books I’ve read that has been published recently which can cope with tragedy and difficulty in such a compelling and mastered way. I just picked it up on Waterstone’s shelf and went for it, with no recommendation or ever even hearing of it before. It was a pleasant surprise (pleasant is an understatement at its thoroughly enjoyable discourse and style). Even Oprah chose this for her book club and included it in her ‘Favourite Things’.

4. Life of Pi – Yann Martel

20120426-093135.jpg

Now I’ve heard mixed opinions on this book, but largely I think they have been positive. I certainly have positive words since it has made my top five, in fact I have nothing but love for it. This is a book I like to recommend to everyone. It’s got a strange and ambiguous plot line but if you’re prepared to go with it, it’s one of the best modern magical realism novels I’ve read. This story follows a young boy who has had numerous philosophical and spiritual influences in his upbringing and has a pretty cultured and interesting life. These themes are outworked in the more practical staging of the plot which is that he survives many days shipwrecked on the ocean with a tiger. He meets some unusual ‘friends’ in his journey, which is almost of an epic genre. I do not want to give the twists and turns away as that is part of the thrill of the book but if you fancy an unusual but wholesome read, this might be it. I say wholesome in the sense that it provides an amazing variety of themes and questions for a young boy, but like many books with a philosophical edge, it can leave you pondering. Again, it’s only a recently published novel from 2001 so I’m trying to provide some more recent work as well as some older.

3. Animal Farm – George Orwell

20120426-093120.jpg

I don’t think an English student can go far without noting Orwell as a particularly decent writer for the last century of fiction, particularly regarding both political and gripping reads. I was going to include 1984 in this list, as it firmly belongs in my favourite books but Animal Farm is a shorter read and a very impressive allegorical novella. Many, if not all, of Orwell’s work are largely political and scarily accurate. The fascination most of us have about 1984 is that despite being published in 1949, it was rather successful at predicting the future we live in, it’s greatest examples is a lifestyle where we are always watched by the government (Big Brother even derives it’s name from this novel) and people controlling our thoughts and ideology. Anyway, clearly that novel also belongs here but I will stick with Animal Farm for good reasons. This was published in 1945 and was influenced by the events leading up to Stalin era and World War II. It is set, as it suggests, on a farm where the animals revolt against the Farmer and instead take charge themselves. It offers a very political question about power and government, class and equality. The animals mimic many of the humane government systems, with meetings and votes, commandments and leaders. It is only short but very thoughtful and I would definitely recommend it to anyone (As well as 1984!).

2. Doctor Faustus – Christopher Marlowe

20120426-093125.jpg

Some of my course mates might be surprised to see that this has only made second place and not first, as it is common knowledge that I love Doctor Faustus. I studied this at A-level when discussing the form of gothic literature and have never looked back since. It was fist published in 1604 so I apologise for my extreme points of reference for these works, so many being recent and this being the only older one really. Let me just say, if the thought of it being ancient in comparison to Harry Potter is putting you off, let me sell it to you. It’s a play that was written by Marlowe, often known as a rival to Shakespeare’s work, so if that isn’t dramatic enough for you, I don’t know what is. Only joking. It’s actually based on a classic folk tale of Faust, a highly intellectual man who probably has too much intelligence and too much arrogance. He decides that since nothing is out of his intellectual capacity, he will try the ultimate feat of conjuring up a devil because all this God-Christianity malarkey is old wives tales. Clearly, there are already many contradictions in his thinking…surely the devil is just as much fantasy as God? Equally, Marlowe’s subplot of the servants and peasants also able to conjure up devils questions just how clever this doctor really is. So, he sells his soul to the devil for forty years of power and freedom. To see what he uses all that power on his farcical and humorous, it really should be seen on stage for its full effect but I love the story so much that I’d recommend even reading the play! It’s one of the most hilarious yet tragically important pieces of literature of our time I believe. As a Christian, it’s one of the most challenging reads I’ve read because it brings to light great questions and challenges to the church and it’s mixed views!

1. To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

20120426-093115.jpg

Finally, we’ve made it to my number one! This is another book I first read at school, but this is possibly the one and only book I owe my degree and potential future career to, since it was the first time I was truly inspired by literature. Before, I thought literature was created to stay on the page. I thought it was all behind close books so to speak, I did not realise how challenging and real the arts could be. After this book was published in 1960, Harper Lee lived a quiet existence, firmly keeping out of the public eye because she did not want fame and fortune. This is a very humble attitude for a very humble but incredible book. The story is about a young girl named Scout and her older brother Jem, who experience a number of things in their community. As kids, they are innocent and naive, yet very opinionated about what they see and think about it. Their father, Atticus Finch (one of my favourite role models in fiction), is a lawyer who is the most humble, most wise and most just man you will ever meet – perhaps that is why he is fictional?! It’s such a beautiful but raw story of justice and simple morals; living with and judging our community.

Royal and Derngate Work Experience

Good evening Bank Holiday People! Any of you following my journey closely may have realised that I have not posted this weekend. Fear not! I am still hard at work I can assure you. I thought I would just give you all a quick update before I start posting again.

The past two weeks and also the rest of this working week, I am working at a fantastic theatre in Northampton. Any of you interested in taking a look or giving it a visit: it’s The Royal and Derngate theatre. I have been working with their arts team, which are responsible for all sorts including producing great shows, working with all ages of the community and being very creative! I’ve been doing stuff in and out of offices, workshops, holiday clubs, rehearsals and performances. It’s been busy but so much fun! And I still have another week to go!

20120409-195148.jpg

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to work in the theatre. The only reason why I gained this work experience opportunity was because I was proactive and passionate to research around theatre in and around this region. I found an event that was asking big questions about how we can nurture theatre in the East Midlands.

Surprisingly, I was the only student of any type represented at this event. I had no contacts in the theatre but I was still not just going to this event alone because of my practical need to network. I paid a small fee for the event and got myself to the venue. I did not do it because I was paid to do it, told to do it or even advised to do it. I went because I have been fascinated by this thing called theatre for a few years now. I have been convicted by its power and potential. I was saddened that there were not more students or younger people at this event; it made me wonder whether there is even a next generation that is proactive, passionate and pursuing theatre in their worlds? I’m pretty convinced that there is, because I’ve seen some of them, heard of some of them, even met some of them. Obviously, this was only one event and it certainly is not or should not be the only event of its kind. I’m not sweet-talking my ego because I managed to show up somewhere. I’m just saying, for my student peers out there… The world is out there, you have to go and see where you can grow and shine.

For recent years, the student identity has been one of struggle and tension; fees, strikes, joblessness, competition, debt. It’s like I’m being told to equip myself for this dog eat dog world, one big fight for survival. In reality, the creative arts industry can be made of the same stuff. What I am learning though is that I do not want to compromise or undersell my heart for justice, equality, diversity and collaboration, particularly in my personal areas of interest – creativity, communication and education.

So for all those of us worrying about the big wide world, the real world and all that, let’s confirm that our identity does not have to be in the fluctuating, unpredictable and scary world of the twenty-first century, and instead we can make a true commitment to dreaming and co-operating with each other. There is more to life than salaries and promotions, like growing and learning with each other, sharing each others passions and convictions. There is so much more power and potential when we share ideas, share time, share resources and share talents. As I said, whilst I’m working at this theatre, I’m thinking a lot more about what some of this stuff means, but one thing I certainly know is that it couldn’t work by itself. It’s poetic and romantic, but it’s true. We really do need each other.

2 Sides to the Brain, 2 Reasons to Work Together

20120322-103610.jpg

We’ve often been separated from early school days: the clever or the creative, the objective or the subject, the sciences or the humanities. I did fairly well in all subjects, but by secondary school I soon learnt that humanities was my gig. I did not like dealing with only right or wrong answers, fixed methodology or what not. Instead I preferred hours of debating the grey areas, looking externally at all of society. All my A-levels were arts and humanities, and now I’m studying for a Bachelor of Arts degree.

I know I preferred these subjects to science and maths where there was often one way of doing things, but that does not mean I have no respect for those that thrive in them subjects. Recently I’ve been looking a little into creativity; where it comes from and how it is or ought to be nurtured in today’s society. I’ve become more aware of this divide between creative and scientific fields of study, but the more I look into it, the more it is obvious that they should not be dividers but collaborators. Today I have, for you, some interesting news.

So it’s commonly been thought that the right part of the brain is the source of creativity and the left part is responsible for logic and math. This is what I’m talking about in our brains but also in our society, there is a separation between people of logic and math and people of creativity. Wrongly defined, but almost a rational versus irrational divide. But recent study suggests maybe this is not the end of the story.

Researchers have found that the left part of the brain, logical and mathematical, is also critical for creative thinking. Whilst it is the right hemisphere of the brain that performs most of the creative process, it could not be done without important contributions from the left side. It is official, according to a Ph.D from the University of California, co-author of studies in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, “we need both hemispheres for creative processing.” Interestingly, their experiments showed that even though the right side handled the bulk of creative activity, the left side was more activated and stimulated than the right. The logic and math side thrives off creativity for its own energy! (in my words).

So it seems there could be much less of this prejudice about creative people versus logic people, humanities versus sciences, rationality versus irrationality; instead your creative brain and your logic brain are critical supports of each other and learn to work n co-operation and delegation. I feel newer subjects to the curriculum such as psychology and sociology could be a good mix of the two armies – both scientific and anthropical (studying human beings and their existence and societies). Let’s be honest both science and art both deal with the human existence and experience in one way or another. If you know you’re more of a right hemisphere person, or a left hemisphere person, I’m not suggesting you should change. Those of you who aren’t naturally inclined to get creative, have a little go! Those who aren’t naturally inclined to get logical, have a go also!

I’m just reminding both sides of the party that we need each other. There is, after all, becoming quite a bias in the way our education system is being funded and supported. It has recently been decided that only STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects will get the majority of funding. This is great that these subjects are being supported because they are crucial for our worlds development: sustaining and progressing. This should not mean, however, that humanities and arts subjects and graduates are unsupported or unappreciated. If there needs to be more money in the STEM research, fair enough, but other subjects still provide a critical support for society. Moving forward in technology and science has been beneficial but also very challenging, it is important that we are encouraging the next generation of critical, philosophical, moral, ethical and creative thinkers who can work in collaboration with progress. Not to mention that most political members of the cabinet are trained in humanities subjects, not physics or engineering. Day by day, as I am studying arts and humanities, I am being educated and encouraged to think about society, social policy, humanity and power. We need both sides of the coin to see the light of day and to carry each others ideas and gifts into a healthy progression of society, not one versus the other. After all, the brain can do it together, so why can’t we?

Support for the research came from the Brain and Creativity Institute at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the USC Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, the National Science Foundation and the USC Provost’s Ph.D. Fellowship program.

Vaclav Havel

20120315-093130.jpg

I am aware that many of you may not know who this man is but let me tell you. You may have heard his name just around before Christmas, as sadly he passed away. In some way, this is a late tribute to the impact he has had on myself. He was a Czech writer and politician. He was the last prime minister of Czechoslovakia and the first of Czech Republic, helping bring them out of difficult times of communism and so on.

Whilst he was brought up in a family of intellectuals, he had rather humble beginnings. He trained in the military for a few years and after, embarked on his writing career. He wrote many plays and plenty of poetry, essays and fiction as well. His popularity as a playwright in the United States is still prominent, but whilst many of his plays were being performed on stage in his own country with great impact, his plays were at one point banned from the stage and he was even unable to leave Czechoslovakia to watch any of his own plays being performed. It is unsurprising to see how he was interested in his country’s society and politics.

In his political career, he remarked that he preferred a politics that grows from the heart and not from a thesis. Also, in his words, “One simple electrician with his heart in the right place can influence the history of his nation.”

For me, it’s not just his creativity and success as a playwright that inspires me to follow him and his works. As I’ve been reading through his political memoirs lately, it has shown me his conviction that politics should never deny its heart and as a fresh prime minister, he too had to put that to the challenge in his own integrity and political personality. It wasn’t some dreamy ideal, his career as a creative writer for the theatre hadn’t blurred his metaphors on reality. He understood that politics is and should be by definition social action, realistic progress, a genuine service to its citizens. He knew it needed to be pragmatic in order to achieve anything political and sustain it well, but he argued that it’s pragmaticsm should not translate to politicians and powers surrendering ideals and hopes, nor denying their heart. Otherwise, he describes it as “mere self-propelled, technocratic processes”.

His plays, of those that I have read, have their position within The Theatre of the Absurd genre. Plays that most often deal with our struggle for meaning and identity in the midst of such changing, difficult and broken objectives such as law, government and religion. From this, he never planned to go into politics and was quite surprised as to how it happened. But he realised “you can’t spend your whole life criticising something and then, when you have the chance to do it better, refuse to go near it”. This stands as just another reason as to why I respect his life and works. He did not profess to be a politican, nor did he plan to be the prime minister and change the history of his nation, even to change some of the way European politics looks like to this day.

What Vaclav Havel taught me is that “everything is political, even a rock concert”. At first that repelled me from the idea but here I am, also professing not to be a politican with no passion to enter into a political career, yet nonetheless I’m realising more and more than everything I do, say and more powerfully, everything I write and want to write has so much to do with politics. He was someone who was convinced of being a man of truth and a man of his heart, but still knew that when the truth and heart was in the right place, he could make a difference for the better for his world. It wasn’t just the writing and the philosophy that made him such an inspiration, it was the fact he was willing to live it out.

Rest in Peace Vaclav Havel (1936 – 2011).

A Creative Perspective

Someone once said that “Artists are simply people who are passionate enough to imagine things that do not yet exist.” This has got me thinking. Artists, in the widest understanding of the term, have produced countless creations – it’s kind of hard to imagine life without them sometimes. What would it be like without Da Vinci? Shakespeare? Picasso? David Bowie? Samuel Beckett? Or even Lady GaGa?

As romantic as it sounds, these people and numerous others dared to develop a passion and skill that would one day or another produce a creation that in itself produced more than just a simple or satisfying “yhmm” in it’s spectators or participators. We could confidently say these artists and the art they are responsible for has shaped the world somehow. Profound stuff maybe, but what scope does that leave us with today? How much more room is there for art (in its broadest sense), and even if there is, can it really have any impact on the world?

As a ‘creative’, or at least I like to think of myself creative in some way, this question has often fluctuated through and through my thinking. In an economical climate such as the current one, one of the first sectors the world is ready to give up on is its ‘art and creativity’. But in truth, everything we do and have in this world is motivated and literally existent because of creativity in the first place. Creativity is communication, productivity, collaboration, conversation, development. It’s both work and play. The truth is you have to be passionate enough, convicted enough, in too deep enough to actually see or imagine things that aren’t yet there. In a sense isn’t that what we’re all doing in some way? Politicians are hopefully daring to see policies and initiatives that are not yet in place that will serve a ‘better’ nation that isn’t as it could be just yet. Fitness instructors are daring to push towards a body that is not at it’s full capacity in its current state. And just think about Steve Jobs, he dared to create what did not yet exist – now look at his creative business. I could give many other examples.

Despite the ongoing, but equally very interesting, discussions about art and it’s social power or position, I think everyone’s a creative. Everyone has the ability to create, whether in their mind or in their physical abilities. I think in everything we participate in there is an element of communication, productivity, collaboration, conversation and development – all which are part and parcel of creativity. So perhaps creative organisations or initiatives do not have to be belittled for facilitating a lesser activity or pretentious playtime – Aristotle would certainly not have described art as such. Maybe a more appropriate response to “can art or creativity really change the world?” is that art and creativity already have changed and shaped the world we live in and will continue to do so, since we are all artists and creators with the abundant blessing to think, design, build, perform and reproduce. The more positive and proactive activities in life certainly sit in these categories. Art can change things…

“It’s dangerous in the way literature is dangerous: it raises ideas, it changes minds. …You can never predict in what ways it will change minds or change culture” – Jennifer González, Assistant Professor in the History of Art and Visual Culture, University of California – Santa Cruz

Just for fun here’s a creative picture which should also challenge your perspective! Obviously it’s the great creative himself, Einstein, but let your eyes go cross-eyed, squint or whatever you want to call it and see what other artistic icon it is…

20120204-223126.jpg

I’m Not Dead Yet

20111201-143712.jpg

Every blog has a start and this is what mine is going to look like.
Disclaimer: it’s got some thoughts in it, sorry.

The reason why I’ve opened with this rather compelling image* is because for purely selfish and aesthetic justifications, I like it, but also it has a strange connection with what I’m going to say today.

If anyone has read Jostein Gaarder’s philosophical work, ‘Sophie’s World’, they’ll know it opens with her receiving a letter with only three words and no explanation for their intrusion in her life. These three words are simply, who are you?

Sophie starts to think about herself in relation to the world, which I have always found an endlessly odd thing, yet compelling nonetheless. Within the opening pages of Gaardner’s novel, he says some interesting things. “Sophie started to think about being alive, she began to realize that she would not be alive forever. I am in the world now, she thought, but one day I shall be gone… As soon as she concentrated on being alive now, the thought of dying also came into her mind… It was like two sides of a coin… The bigger and clearer one side of the coin became, the bigger and clearer the other side became too… You can’t experience being alive without realizing that you have to die, she thought. But it’s just as impossible to realize you have to die without thinking how incredibly amazing it is to be alive.”

I might agree with what you’re probably thinking – bit heavy. I agree, more so because we very rarely write a structured narrative to these kind of thoughts of life and death, but then again, if you were receiving strange letters from some unknown person, maybe you would talk a little differently (more so to the authorities than yourself or Mrs. Philosophy though – just saying.)

Nonetheless, doesn’t she make an intriguing point?

Maybe we don’t embrace death because we don’t embrace life enough. I haven’t worked out how that looks, but I’m pretty sure it’s not in reading more books or writing more plays, though they sometimes point me in the right direction. I’m realising that there’s such a bigger world out there than I give it credit for. I don’t know all the answers, if any at all, but I am alive. And I’m not going to live forever, not like this or not here anyway. I don’t really know who I am, or even what I’m not, but I am alive. The reason why I like the picture, above, is because I know it’s me for sure, I’m wholly and utterly convinced, it looks like me, I remember it and I still have the same clothes I was wearing. But it’s not quite me, it’s been part of an art project which means its been changed and manipulated in clever ways. And the thing is, I like it. It is me yet it’s not quite.

My point is, we’re all alive, but is that all that qualifies us to really live our lives. So many of us are dead in our own jobs, dead in our own ideas, dead in our own thinking, dead in our our own relationships, dead in our our own dreams. I don’t think we have to be though. We’re still alive which means we’re not dead just yet. We’re still breathing. Some days might feel like we’re only just keeping our head above water. But you’re still alive, which we shouldn’t forget is something in itself. I think I’m ready to start living, to start embracing, to start creating, to start dreaming. I’m not dead yet.

You know, we’re such complex beings and I dont think we celebrate it enough. The capabilities of our body and our brain are phenomenal. The things we can think about, talk about and even create is incredible. I don’t want to take that lightly. I don’t want to keep writing things here if I’m not living it out either. I like to write and although that means a lot of different things, the playwright Eugene Ionesco, puts it in better words for what that means to me, “I am writing, writing, writing. All my life I have been writing; I have never been able to do anything else… To whom can all this be of interest? …it cannot have significance for anyone. No one knows me. I am nobody… And yet I am like all the others. Anyone can recognise himself in me.” Since I can remember, I’ve had an urge to write, creatively or just effectively, anything and everything, that’s just the way my own brain has been designed I guess, I know you don’t all feel that way. But I don’t want to just write if I can’t live either. I don’t even mean my writing has to say anything didactic or mean anything, but it needs to have been birthed from an existence, an embrace, an experience of this absurd and but beautifully inviting world. Some guy who I don’t even know anything about wrote in his journal in 19 August 1851, “how vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” Now those same words are scribbled on my own writing journal. I’m learning what he means.

Someone told me about a survey the other day. It was conducted with a number of elderly people who are realistically closer to the end of this life than its beginning. They were asked what they regretted now in life. Interestingly, the clear top three answers were, firstly, that they did not reflect more, secondly, that they did not take enough risks and thirdly, that they did not invest into more things that would last beyond their lifetime. Nothing about fall outs, pulling sick days, missing football games, never reading the works of Shakespeare. Nope, just real honest answers, all about exploring more about their crazy relation with this world.

I know I’m guilty of being a fan of philosophical question but you don’t have to be to read this, I hope. I’m also a keen reader of all sorts of writing so these will naturally intrude on my thinking. I don’t know what you’re expecting from this blog but I know I just want to write some of these ideas down in one place. Some times it’ll be tricky and other times more light-hearted, but either way, they’re likely to be shorter than this one! There’s such a big world out there, and an even bigger universe. Whatsmore is that you and I have the honour to be a part of it. Isn’t that worth thinking about? Talking about? Doing something about? I think so. Follow me and come along for the ride…

More reflection, More risks, More world legacy investments. Whatever you’re into. Writing or not.

*The photo is courtesy of Sophie Cunningham’s photography artwork last year. As her fellow flat mate, and coincidently, myself being the only drama student or more specifically, the only some-what naively willing flat mate with time on my hands, I quickly became a subject for her art work on numerous occasions. It was fun though, thanks Soph!