Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Last night I started to fulfill a commitment I had made to serve on a panel judging submissions of art work for "The Peace Project," the brainchild of Lisa Schultz at
The Whole 9. It's "an international collaborative art competition and exhibition intended to connect creative peacemakers worldwide, to bring to light our collective vision of Peace and share that vision with peace lovers throughout the world."

I heard from Lisa that there were over 500 submissions by the deadline, and that more were still coming in. Fortunately for us judges, there was an initial sorting process which meant that we had a mere 150 to rate, on a scale from 1 - 10.

No easy task. Each image was accompanied by a text by the artist--some short, some quite long--explaining something about the origin and intention of the piece. We were given these criteria on which to base our ratings:

o Relevance to peace

o Originality of concept

o Composition/Level of technical skill

o Ability to evoke emotion

As you might expect, the sincerity and relevance of many of the submissions was immediately evident. But as I work through the many images, sincerity and relevance are proving often at odds with originality of concept and level of skill. And the ability to evoke emotion sometimes comes in the form of sentimentality. As a judge, I'm looking for something more solid and complex by way of emotion than just the obvious ones. Complex--and therefore fully human--emotion, I find, is only expressed through originality. It involves going deep and examining what's happening in the heart and mind. "Love" is more than a beautiful face with longing eyes. In my experience, it's confusing, conflicted, joy- and painful all at once. What I'm looking for in an art work "about" peace is something that acknowledges the human contradictions and the difficulties involved, not simply the ideal.

Then, too, there's the matter of technical skill. I'm trying to resist the impulse to condition my rating purely on this single criterion, but the complexity I have tried to describe above is simply impossible to achieve without a fairly sophisticated familiarity with the possibilities of the medium you're working with. Of course, as with everything, there's always the exception: there's always the artist so naive as to be able to convey it all without the benefit of those skills you learn at art school. But such people are rare. I keep a weather eye out for them, but more often, it's a simply a lack of skill that stands between the artist and a successful work.

I have worn, in the course of my life, the art critic's hat. I'm trying, as I rate these works, to avoid the elitism that has unfortunately come to be associated with that trade. But I'm also looking for something beyond the sincerity of the attempt. I'm looking for something that goes to the heart of the matter, combining intellectual, emotional and, yes, spiritual aspiration in the physical body of the work.

I have dozens more to go before the job is done. Wish me luck!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Stealing Plums-An Interview With Molly Anderson-Childers

Molly Anderson-Childers is a writer, artist, photographer, and creativity consultant. Her work has appeared in local and national print publications, including Southwest Colorado Arts Perspective, Edible San Juan Mountains Magazine, Images, The Durango Telegraph, The Four Corners Business Journal, newWitch, On the Wings of Poetry, Eternal Portraits, and more. She has also been published extensively online, and contributes work regularly to: www.creativity-portal.com , www.ediblesanjuanmountains.com , and www.thepaganarts.com. She publishes two blogs, www.stealingplums.blogspot.com and www.addictivefiction.blogspot.com. She founded the Durango writer's group, Wild Women Writing, in 2008, and leads their monthly meetings. She is currently hard at work editing her first novel, Stealing Plums.

Persist: In your piece, “101 ways to Delight and Inspire Yourself,” published on Creativity Portal, you mentioned that you had recently quit your job to pursue a freelance career. Was it difficult at the time to make this decision? Was there a “straw that broke the camel’s back” that catalyzed this decision? Any regrets? No matter how slight...?

Molly: Quitting my job was the easiest decision I’ve ever made in my life. I hated the job, because I wasn’t treated with respect by my bosses, and I didn’t feel safe there- I carried Mace to work every day! The straw was an awful performance review- I’d worked hard for months, but instead of receiving a much-deserved raise, I was told I’d have to improve my sales figures or be terminated. It was all about the money- my efforts meant nothing to them. The only regret I have is that I didn’t torch the place…

Persist: In your first 50 tips from the same article, which strategies for breaking down creative blocks work the best for you and how did you discover them? Is there a strategy for finding strategies?

Molly: I’ve honed these strategies after many desperate battles with my own creative demons. As the founder of a writer’s group, I have also had the benefit of working with some amazing women who have shared their strategies with me. When I’m feeling creatively blocked, a change of scene always helps. Taking a long drive, visiting a favorite bookshop or gallery, or just going for a walk with my dog can give me the fresh perspective I need to attack the page with renewed vigor and inspiration.

My strategy for finding strategies? I ask every writer and artist I know what helps them out of the creative doldrums, and then I take their advice. Another strategy for finding strategies? Follow your heart. What are you called to do? What do you love? Do it, and find your inspiration there.

Persist: When you gave yourself the time and freedom to create after leaving your job, how immediate was your ability to “practice daily?” Do you find it challenging to sit down every day and create? Was having an irrelevant job the only barrier?

Molly: After quitting my job, my schedule- and my creativity- was wide open. Sometimes it’s tough to focus, as my studio is at home and I do most of my work there. Time management and organizational issues can be a hurdle if you’re working out of a home-based studio, but my joy is in sitting down to write, and it is usually effortless once I get started.

The challenge is finding time (and motivation) to do dishes! Money issues also enter into it at times- freelance work doesn’t offer a steady paycheck, so learning to budget is very important if you’re thinking of making the leap from day job to dream job. The great thing about it is with the added pressure of paying my bills through my creative efforts, there’s not a lot of time to worry about writer’s block. I’ve got deadlines to deal with, new assignments coming in- a steady stream of inspiration is flowing. I find that the more I write, the more I want to write. It’s self-perpetuating.

Persist: How do you actively differentiate forcing an idea to happen and simply opening yourself to inspiration? Which is more essential, in your definition of success, discipline for the sake of producing or finding inspiration?

Molly: The difference between forcing an idea and finding inspiration is tricky. I maintain that 90% of writer’s block is just laziness, and lack of discipline. I’m inspired every day. I’d hazard to guess it’s the same with most people. When I sit down to work on an article that’s due, even if I’m not feeling inspired, I’m not so much forcing an idea as forcing myself to stop procrastinating and slacking off.

Making the time for that inspiration and acting upon it is the hard part. Those who actually do something about it are the ones who succeed where others fail. I think that discipline and inspiration are equally important aspects of my work. Without discipline, all of those fabulous ideas would never get written down!

I firmly believe that you can discipline yourself to become inspired on demand. The two are inextricable, in my mind. At times, stories appear whole and breathing, like a bolt from above. It’s wonderful to be in The Zone, taking dictation from the Muses…but that state is fleeting, and not always easily accessible. However, with a discipline of writing daily, you’re more likely to become inspired than someone who only takes pen in hand when the mood strikes him. Getting started is the hardest part. Once you’re into the second or third page, you’ll find your inspiration and time will fall away.

Persist: In fact, what is your perception of success? Why? Has this changed often throughout your life and career?

Molly: I was a kid in the eighties; my perception of success at that time was loads of money, a closet full of stonewashed jeans, fancy cars and a mansion on a hill. As I’ve grown up, this perception has changed. My perception of success now is working for myself, on my own terms, and being able to live comfortably on the fruits of my creative labors, with no day-job distractions. My dreams are simpler, but no less dear to me. Now, success means doing the creative work I love all day, every day, and getting paid well for it.

Persist: Anything else on your mind these days?

Molly: I’m gearing up for a writing/art workshop in September called “Text off the Page.” I won a scholarship from the local Women’s Resource Center, and can’t wait to attend. In other creative news, I’m expanding my scope as I take on the role of creativity consultant. I help clients take their work to the next level, with dynamite strategies to beat creative blocks, solve problems, and banish the demons of procrastination. I’m also editing my first novel,Stealing Plums, and will soon be seeking an agent. I’ve always dreamed of being a novelist…now, I’m making that dream come true!

In the photo below, Molly offers us a Gerber daisy; a symbol of creativity, passion, and inspiration.


Thursday, August 26, 2010


... today, to my post on The Buddha Diaries? I think you'll find it just as relevant for "Persist: The Blog," and it's an easy click. Thanks...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Hello all! Here is a little information on our next guest interviewee, Molly Anderson-Childers. Come back later this week for the full interview.

Molly Anderson- Childers is a writer, artist, photographer, and creativity consultant. Her work has appeared in local and national print publications, including Southwest Colorado Arts Perspective, Edible San Juan Mountains Magazine, Images, The Durango Telegraph, The Four Corners Business Journal, newWitch, On the Wings of Poetry, Eternal Portraits, and more. She has also been published extensively online, and contributes work regularly to: www.creativity-portal.com ,www.ediblesanjuanmountains.com , and www.thepaganarts.com. She publishes two blogs,www.stealingplums.blogspot.com and www.addictivefiction.blogspot.com. She founded the Durango writer's group, Wild Women Writing, in 2008, and leads their monthly meetings. She is currently hard at work editing her first novel, Stealing Plums.


Can I draw your attention to this fascinating story in today's New York Times? It's of interest to those of us who work to "persist," because the artist in question, Charles Daes, was consigned to oblivion for a century and a half before being "rediscovered." His reputation restored, he is now the centerpiece of a one-person show at the Denver Art Museum and a good example of his work, it's estimated, would sell at auction in the millions.

The artist, it seems, after honing his skills and producing some truly marvelous paintings, lost his mind at the age of 29 and spent the rest of his life in mental institutions. Read about him, and see at least one large-scale reproduction of his work, via the link above. And celebrate, belatedly, his creative talent.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tilting at Windmills

I had a conversation yesterday with Gilbert "Magu" Sanchez Lujan, an artist who has been working since the 1960s to define for himself an aesthetic that embraces the wealth of his heritage in what came to be called "Chicanismo"--an aesthetic that includes the long reach of history from Mesoamerican culture to lowriders. A founding member of the muralist group, Los Four--and their chief theoretician--he has achieved wide recognition and his work has been widely exhibited.

And yet... Magu still feels like a man crying in the wilderness, when it comes to his message being widely heard and heeded. He had a hearty laugh when I suggested, tentatively, that there is something quixotic in his determination to validate his own heritage against the powerful cultural mainstream. The notion of "tilting at windmills" clearly had a resonance for him.

It's important that we have a few Quixotes in our midst. Indeed, I think there has to be a bit of the Don in each of us, as we "persist." I'll be writing more about Magu in these pages sometime soon. I hope, too, to be able to persuade him to participate in one of our interviews, because he offers the genuine example of one who follows his own vision despite all obstacles in his way, and who has the courage to speak out, again and again, at every opportunity, in its defense. I stand to learn much more from where he stands, and am looking forward to a studio visit early in the fall.

In the meantime, do please take a look at some of these many images online.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Thanks to Emily for today's interview on Persist: The Blog... And to Roberta Allen, for graciously participating in our series:

It is with great pleasure that I introduce to you Roberta Allen, a New York based artist, writer, teacher, and coach. She has been teaching at The New School University since 1992, but is entirely active in her one-on-one coaching and writing workshops. In fact, for all you New Yorkers, one of her workshops is giving a reading at The Cornelia Street Cafe, 29 Cornelia St. in the West Village on Monday Sept. 27th, 6-8PM. She warmly welcomes new faces! But for the time being, please enjoy this unique and honest conversation with a figure of great influence to many.

Persist: Can you tell us a little about your creative process as a visual artist? What about your process makes you feel pride in being an artist regardless of any kind of success or lack there of? How about writing? Is it a similar process?

Roberta Allen: When I’m involved in making art or writing, the outside world goes away. Time doesn’t exist. There’s only my world. That involvement, that flow is life-giving, life-supporting. What is difficult is being between projects. I’m looking for publishers for two recently completed manuscripts, my memoir, DIRTY GIRL, and a short short story collection, EVERY MAN’S NIGHTMARE. While waiting, I try things out, there’s a lot of starting and stopping until I discover where my energy wants to go--art or writing. It’s important to let myself be wrong. That’s an uncomfortable feeling but I live with it. It’s part of the process.

Persist: Which came first, a desire to be an artist or a teacher? From your experience, could you more easily do one without the other, or do you find that being an artist/writer enhances your ability to teach and vice versa?

Roberta Allen: I’ve had eight books published and have been mostly writing in the last two decades or so but I’ve never stopped feeling that I’m an artist. I do think my creative activities and teaching feed each other. Teaching my private classes is very satisfying. I love the energy that’s generated. I love to see writing improve.

Persist: Were you always a writer? What prompted the transition in your career to writing?

Roberta Allen: I have always been a visual artist--since I could hold a pencil. But writing was very important in my conceptual art. I explored the meaning of signs and used verbal labels to try and expand our perception. I don’t think I would have become a writer at all if I hadn’t been fixated on my father (which I discuss below) though I didn’t have that awareness when I began writing. In fact, it was only after discovering in therapy that my father wasn’t illiterate--he stopped school after 3rd grade--that I let myself write: I didn’t want to be better than him.

Persist: Do you find yourself shifting between the two genres regularly or does your success in one or the other effect where you focus?

Roberta Allen: Writing and teaching don’t leave me much time for making art. I have private students as well and I want to start a tele class for writers outside New York City. I make art anyway but so far I haven’t figured out how to make time to promote it.

Persist: You began to share a rather unique story about your relationship to the art world and your reasons for leaving. Would you like to share a little of that with us now or shall we just look forward to your memoir DIRTY GIRL?

Roberta Allen: In the course of writing DIRTY GIRL, I realized that I left the art world because I couldn’t leave my seductive father who had abandoned me when I was 17. It wasn’t the first time he had abandoned me but the last time was the major trauma in my life and I believed it was my fault. I had tremendous guilt. Every art dealer I worked with became my father and in my fantasy I was going to make it “right.” That, of course, didn’t work. I ended my art career because I couldn’t give up my father. It’s a decision I regret but I couldn’t do anything else then. After a serious outburst, my NY gallery found me a therapist. I saw her for ten years. When I left my dealers in New York and Germany, I began writing. I had to write about my father in order to understand. But I (mostly) disguised him in my stories and other books.

Persist: What is one of the more important skills you hope your students might take away from a workshop?

Roberta Allen: Most important I think is that they continue writing--PERSIST--as Peter Clothier would say. But they won’t unless they keep tapping the ENERGY--the excitement, the interest--that made them initially want or need to write. I show students how to keep digging with my exercises until they find that well of energy--and it gushes forth. That is when they know they’ve found their material, the material that really moves them. But it’s important to keep writing from that energy. I teach other tricks to keep them doing that. Whenever work feels dead and that sometimes happens, it’s because the writer has gone in the wrong direction. I think the same can be said for visual art. That’s when you need to return to the source of that energy. It may not be something you can articulate, it may only be a feeling you can’t even name but you know when you’re “on it.”

Persist: Tell us a little about how you got into the world of private coaching…

Roberta Allen: After a reading I did, a talented young writer in the audience said she wanted to study with me. I told her that if she found two other people I would start a private class. She did--after posting flyers everywhere. That was 1991.

Persist: Many of your students are very successful. How do you address the issue of “success” with your writers versus simply being creative and continuing to pursue their passions? How do you define success to them if at all?

Roberta Allen: Some of my students have published books later. I hope that what they learned in my workshops helped them achieve their goals. We can’t control what happens “out there.” We can only control what we do, how we think, and what we feel about our work. I know how good it feels to create something I’m happy with and want to share. I don’t deny how happy I am when others appreciate it. But it’s not always possible to share what we create with “the world,” or to put it another way, the world we share our work with may be small indeed. But even a small world has its satisfactions. In my workshops, for example, we bond and create a community among ourselves that feels very alive and nurturing.

Roberta Allen is an eight-book author, an artist who has exhibited worldwide, and a writing instructor with private workshops since 1991.

For weekly writing prompts you can also visit her Weekly Writing Prompts blog.


It has been a bit of time since our last interview for Persist: The Blog, but I eagerly announce the latest addition to our interview series: Roberta Allen. Roberta is a self-taught, well travelled artist and writer based in NY and has published eight books including short fiction, a travel memoir, and writing guides. She has been on the faculty at New School University since 1992, and has been teaching private creative writing workshops since 1991.

In anticipation you can visit her website below and check out both her writing, her art, and information on her workshops as well as her blog.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Here's a quotation from my friend C.H.Boyd III on the subject of "Winning."
"The key to visualization is to have 100% belief and faith that you WILL ACHIEVE YOUR GOAL and this is YOUR PURPOSE AND DESTINY. Push away any doubt you have when it comes into your mind or the negative thoughts will cancel out the positive message. After a little while it will become easier to believe what you are telling yourself. The mind can not tell what is real or imagined when you keep telling it something. You will subconsciously begin believing those messages. attracting people in your life that will help you reach your goal and you will begin ACTING, TRAINING and FIGHTING like a champion." -- Norm Bettencourt
I have always believed this and it served me well, writes C.H.

Janice sent me this one:
"Nothing is more useful to man than those arts which have no utility." -- Ovid

And this:
"Art is the proper task of life." --Nietszche

And my friend Rodney Punt added this gem:

"To be is to do." -- Plato
"To do is to be." -- Hume
"Do be do be do." -- Sinatra.

What do you think?

Friday, August 6, 2010


I was particularly moved, this Hiroshima morning, by an op-ed piece in the New York Times by the 1994 Nobel Prize winner, Kenzaburo Oe, Hiroshima and the Art of Outrage. He is actually writing about the continuing presence of that US air base on Okinawa, but grabbed my attention with his regret at never having managed to write the "big novel" about the survivors of that worst-ever attack on an inhabited city from the air. His admission is profoundly touching for the sense of impotence it conveys, of a powerful writer still not powerful enough to meet so great a challenge. In a few words, Oe says a great deal about his calling as a writer, the inspiration that started him along the path, and his eventual tragic sense of failure. It seems that failure can have its own nobility.

Here's what Oe writes, in the last paragraphs of his piece:

"Sixty-five years ago, after learning that a friend who was reported missing after the bombing of Hiroshima had turned up in a hospital there, my mother put together a meager care package and set out from our home in Shikoku to pay a visit. When she returned, she shared her friend’s description of that morning in August 1945.

"Moments before the atomic bomb was dropped, my mother’s friend happened to seek shelter from the bright summer sunlight in the shadow of a sturdy brick wall, and she watched from there as two children who had been playing out in the open were vaporized in the blink of an eye. “I just felt outraged,” she told my mother, weeping.

"Even though I didn’t fully grasp its import at the time, I feel that hearing that horrifying story (along with the word outrage, which put down deep, abiding roots in my heart) is what impelled me to become a writer. But I’m haunted by the thought that, ultimately, I was never able to write a 'big novel' about the people who experienced the bombings and the subsequent 50-plus years of the nuclear age that I’ve lived through — and I think now that writing that novel is the only thing I ever really wanted to do.

"In Edward W. Said’s last book, “On Late Style,” he gives many examples of artists (composers, musicians, poets, writers) whose work as they grew older contained a peculiar sort of concentrated tension, hovering on the brink of catastrophe, and who, in their later years, used that tension to express their epochs, their worlds, their societies, themselves.

"As for me, on the day last week when I learned about the revival of the nuclear-umbrella ideology, I looked at myself sitting alone in my study in the dead of night . . . . . . and what I saw was an aged, powerless human being, motionless under the weight of this great outrage, just feeling the peculiarly concentrated tension, as if doing so (while doing nothing) were an art form in itself. And for that old Japanese man, perhaps sitting there alone in silent protest will be his own 'late work.'"

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Here's an op-ed piece by Tom Friedman in yesterday's New York Times that's well worth a read. It starts out to be about the controversy about that mosque that's planned for the vicinity of the World Trade Center site, but there's a big part of it that is about creativity--how it happens, why it's so much needed in the U.S. today. "We live in an age," Friedman writers, "when the most valuable asset any economy can have is the ability to be creative — to spark and imagine new ideas, be they Broadway tunes, great books, iPads or new cancer drugs." I'll drink to that.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


It’s an instructive exercise—at once revealing and cathartic—to write down my fears. If I scribble them out in an unconscious stream and allow them, in this way, to come to consciousness, my fears have less control than they might otherwise have. I sat down and wrote out a page of them this morning:

One of my fears is that everything I write is nonsense

One of my fears is that people will see me for the fraud I am

One of my fears is that I won’t live to finish the job

One of my fears is that people will think I’m stupid

One of my fears is that I won’t know what to say

One of my fears is that I’m not smart enough’

One of my fears is that I’m not good enough

One of my fears is that everyone is better than I am

One of my fears is that no one will like me

One of my fears is dying a painful death

One of my fears is of being buried alive

One of my fears is that my computer will crash

One of my fears is that everyone sees through me

One of my fears is having pain

One of my fears is being ignored

One of my fears is that I won’t be heard

One of my fears is being hurt

One of my fears is not being able to see the truth

One of my fears is that I can’t control my appetite

One of my fears is leaving things unfinished

One of my fears is boredom

One of my fears is having too much to do

One of my fears is losing my mind

One of my fear is losing control of my physical functions

One of my fears is attack by a stranger

One of my fears is forgetting myself

One of my fears is not knowing what to do

One of my fears is being worthless

One of my fears is exposing myself to danger

One of my fears is not taking the risk

One of my fears is being too nice

One of my fears is giving in to others

One of my fears is losing my own boundaries

One of my fears is seeming ignorant

One of my fears is an accident on the freeway

One of my fears is doing harm to others

One of my fears is being lazy

One of my fears is being incompetent

One of my fears is losing respect

One of my fears is losing everything

One of my fears is about money

One of my fears is that I haven’t done anything with my life

One of my fears is dying without leaving a trace

One of my fears is that I’m wasting my time with writing

One of my fears is that my writing is worth nothing

One of my fears is that I won’t have time to write

One of my fears is that I can’t have fun

One of my fears is that being playful is a waste of time…

And so on, and so on…. When I look them over, after writing them without a thought, I can see the patterns that emerge, and I can see the foolishness of many—though not all!—of them. I can begin to see what might be holding me back and improve my chances of letting them go. It’s when they stand behind me, in my shadow, that my fears can very easily manipulate me into actions and behavior that are not in my best interests. They can very easily restrict my possibilities and condemn me to a life under their control.

Best to remember, too, that my fears often have my best interests at heart. They really do, for example, want to prevent me from making a fool of myself. If I repress or deny them, they will find a way to work their will. So the trick is to acknowledge them—but not necessarily to follow their advice. Sometimes a simple, “Thanks. But not now,” is all that’s needed. Followed, as always, by a conscious breath…