Strategies to Persist

This page offers an ever expanding collection of essays, prompts and the journey of both my own and other creative souls.

I. Heeding The Call-Peter Clothier

Remember, as a child, hearing your mother’s or your father’s voice, calling your name? If I close my eyes, I can still hear that call. I’m out in the backyard, perhaps, in the orchard behind the Rectory; or out in front, on the swing that hangs from the great old pine tree; or upstairs, in my room. I’d like to bet, if you close your eyes, that you can hear a similar call, in a place that has a particular resonance for you. Close your eyes. Hear your name. Re-imagine the precise detail of the place, the time of day, the circumstance. Someone, somewhere, is calling you…
But I want to talk about “calling” in that other sense, the calling that is the name for what I am given to do with my life, what I was put here on this earth to do. Call it a mission.Each of us, I firmly believe, has that mission, that sense of purpose. When we discover it, when we’re able to pursue it consciously, we are most likely to be at ease with ourselves and those around us. We are authentic. We are “in integrity,” in the sense that we are on target, whole.Everything we do and everything we say feels right. We are comfortable with it. As some say, we are in flow.
While we are still looking for it—this sense of purpose—or ignoring it, or unaware of it, we flounder. We are scattered. We feel ill at ease with ourselves and others. Remember that feeling when your name was called? You felt, perhaps, recognized, your very being was somehow affirmed. If you follow your calling, this is how you feel. At one with yourself.
There are signs everywhere. You only have to watch out for them with quiet, careful attention and they’ll show you the way. Some are as small and unobtrusive as a burned-out light bulb, say, or a chance encounter. There are no accidents. Some come in the form of miraculous messages from the universe. When my wife and I were debating the affordability of our little cottage in Laguna Beach, for example, we found ourselves embroiled in one of those huge quarrels that threaten the very survival of a marriage. We took a walk down to the shore, still arguing hotly, when my wife, Ellie, pointed to a black blob riding in on the surf. A sea lion.It came to rest literally at our feet, rolled over and waved a flipper at us. We wondered whether it was sick and needed help, but as soon as others spotted it from further down the beach and started running in our direction, it simply turned around and swam back out of sight.
Needless to say, we hurried back home and signed the real estate agreement. It would be nice, of course, if all our signs were as unambiguous as this one. They are not. But they are there, if we take the trouble to watch out for them, and pay heed to their invitation—or warning.
I was fifty years old when I finally paid attention to what the signs from the universe we trying to tell me, and learned that it was time to be a writer. I was Dean of the Arts at Loyola Marymount University at the time. I had been attracted to the job by the then President’s lure of funds to put up a new arts complex, to bring the fine arts up to the same standing as the excellent existing film and television departments. During my three-year tenure, though, the entire administration changed: the President who had appointed me was shunted out, a new Academic Vice President was installed—and I found him in one of my new painting studios, pacing it out to see how many desks he could fit in there, intending to co-opt it as a classroom for his academic programs…
A familiar pattern of events had begun to repeat itself, and this time I was unable to ignore it. I decided it was time to try my hand at being serious about what had called me from the age of twelve. It was time to be the writer I was always supposed to be. I managed to disentangle myself from those particular chains, and I have been grateful for the freedom ever since.
What I have learned from this and other experiences is that one key to creative success is the ability to listen to the call and watch for the signs. When I do both these things I know that I’m on the right track.

II. One of My Fears Is-Peter Clothier

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…
                                                                                                                                                        III. Three Facilitators of Creativity: Nature, Music, Sport-Patrick Frank

"I Feel so near, to the howling of the wind, I feel so near to the crashing of the waves, I feel so near to the flowers in the field...I feel so near..."

The above quote is from a Celtic song lyric. It speaks to the first facilitator of creativity--for me, and perhaps for many others: intimate connection with nature. Cut off from nature completely, and my creativity starts to dry up.

Today, riding back from Hardee's in Lake City, SC on Route 52, I passed beautiful brown and dappled horses, standing quietly underneath a stand of trees. Yes, I admit, I took my eyes off the road. When I see these horses, I sense their peaceful spirit, and the peacefulness enters me. I would like to go out to the field and pet them, feed them apples, but we're talking private property. That's okay. It's enough for me to to observe them in the green pasture.

Lately, I have been taking our cat, Fiona, out in the back yard on a long rope, so that she can have the intimate experience I am referring to. I do this because a neighbor lady has threatened to call animal control on our cats, because they wander into their yard and sometimes do their business, and because she fears that they have some disease. I thought she mentioned shooting them twice, but can't be sure i heard it right.

Anyway, I take Fiona out back, and this gets both her and me out of the house. I feel a gentle, cool breeze blowing through our pine and oak trees--the whisper of the wind, and the sound leads me into a kind of revery It does not matterthat they scold her and me sometimes; that's their nature, after all.

When I come back into the house, and sit down at the screen, I know that these experiences open me up inside and make me want to share--through my own music and writing.

One time when I worked at a mental health center I did therapy with a woman confined to a nursing home. She had the desire to write haiku. I would wheel her out to the sidewalk, next to the green and flowers and dragon flies and butterflies and birds. She loved it and wrote some great haiku. Sorry to say after I became homeless for a period of time, I lost a copy of her work. But HER spirit lives inside me.

Yes, nature is one of the facilitators. And I want to say that nature exists in the city, not only in rural South Carolina. I think of Tupac's book of poetry, "The Rose That Grew from Concrete." I expressed the same concept while living in Springfield, MA, and playing basketball on the "bad' side of town," across from Burger King, on State St.. I was aware of the flowers and grass, seemingly growing up through the concrete. But look up and you will also see the gang signs scrawled on a wooden fence nearby. It is a mixed bag in the city, desolation and beauty. If you open your eyes you can find the latter.

By the way, I only wish Tupac had lived. He would have grown into one of our great artists with broader influence in our culture. He would have grown, as Malcolm X grew, gaining a broader perspetive on the issue of racism in America and around the world.

I always play basketball outside, because of the proximity to nature. That's another facilitator of creativity for me, sport, in particular, basketball. Focusing on the basket, in the rhythm, letting my worry dissipate while I strive to make the shot. Yes, the worry fades in and out, as it does in formal meditation, but that's okay. When it fades in, I process it, in a different kind of way, gaining a kind of perspective. Then it's on to the next shot, and all around me, I am aware of grass and trees and birds and butterflies and dragnflies, and sometimes the cool breeze. And let me not forget sunlight. I admit that I much prefer to play when the sun is shining, or in twilight, when light is interspersed with shadow, and the purple and sometimes vivid red and yellow appear, and one senses the sliow transition to the realm of night, which has its own beauty, and if you're lucky, the stars and moon.

I have walked beside the ocean. I grew up in a beach town, and later in my life fell in love with Naragansett, RI and East Matunuck Beach, with its long jetty. I used to dive for crabs along the rocks, with my net, and sometimes bring them up. I'd like to go back and try that again someday.

There are more experiences I could tell you about, but I'll stop here. I know that other writers and artists have had their own unique encounters with nature, and I hope you will write about them, or paint them or draw them, or make a song out of them, or dance and share how nature has enhanced your creativity and underlying spirit.
So I have identified two facilitators of creativity, at least for me: nature and sport. Above is a third facilitator, music and lyrics, implied because because I was also inspired after listening to Scottish performer and songwriter Dougie Maclean's great song, "Feel So Near"...listening over and over while driving up and down route 52, and singing to the lyrics, especially the chorus...

feel so near to the howling of the wind
feel so near to the crashing of the waves
feel so near to the flowers in the field
feel so near...

For my personal enjoyment, and to help me move more deeply into the experience of singing, and creating a song, I listen over and over to the songs that happen to touch me at a particular period of my life. The ones I carry around in my car right now are Dougie's, along with...
*Born to be Wild: by Steppenwolf
*Hallelujah (in Shrek 1), perormed by Rufus Wainwright/John Cale and written/composed by Leonard Cohen*Tuesday's gone, performed by Lynyrd Skynyrd and written/composed by RonnieVan Zant and Allen Collins
*Lost, written/composed and performed by Michael Buble
*I'm Yours written/composed and performed by Jason Mraz...
along with several others that I won't mention here.

There is a saying that I can't get out of my head: "Without music, life is a journey through a desert." (Pat Conroy)

Great music inspires me through its metaphoric aspect, in that it leaves room for the working of the listener's imagination, and allows for individual interpretation and application to one's life. (The metaphoric aspect of music is mentioned in Daniel J. Levitin's interesting book, "The World in Six Songs") As a poet, I am inspired because great lyrics also constitute poetry, and reading/listening to great poetry opens the door to my own poetic way of giving expression to the flow of life; I also am inspired because the music itself draws out deep feelings, and somehow permits the imagination to take flight.

So music is a third facilitator of creativity for me, and I suspect for many others with a creative bent (and suddenly I realize that I have forgotten to include creative scientists in this discussion).

So three of the facilitators of creativity for me are:
*and music

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