Writing a New Story

Do authors intentionally add all the metaphors, symbolism, and big-idea meaning that we attach to their work as readers?  Do poets actually strive to layer meaning upon meaning?  I would say no.  I would follow with a qualifying, ‘most of the time’.  I would argue that writers write what comes up through their consciousness, percolating through their awareness.  Their ideas become shaped by their experiences, and polished by language to emerge as an articulated thought, complete with a meaning unique to the author.  The reader, then, does the opposite.  He/she ingests the language, chews it around a bit, forming a new meaning based on his/her experiences and consciousness and eventually produces a NEW story.  The overall meaning remains the same, but its effect is unique to the individual reader, thus a ‘new’ story.

Take the western novel Shane, for example.  I used to have my 7th graders read it as a novel study.  Let me clarify:  a teacher who grew up in rural, 1970s Montana required his 21st century midwestern suburban 12- and 13-year olds to read a novel written in 1949, but which takes place in 1889.  Clearly, my version of the story is different than my students’.  And my version is, I have no doubt, different than that of Jack Schaefer, the author.  I understand that the novel is really about change, generational differences, problem-solving, etc., but did Mr. Schaefer really intend for that fool stump to be the huge symbol and metaphor it’s made out to be?

Carmen Medina

Dr. Carmen Medina

The last two days have been spent in a Workshop at the University of Missouri St. Louis (UMSL) designed to introduce the concept of the ‘InnoLab‘.  Carmen Medina, a visiting professor from Indiana University, led us through an exercise exploring big ideas (in this case, immigration) through children’s literature.  Her statement resonated with me so much that it became my main takeaway from the event:  “Story interpretation is always the creation of a new story.”  Her lesson’s text, Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh, outlined the story of the Mendez family and the landmark Supreme Court decision.  The experience (story), of Dr. Medina, a native Spanish-speaker, has to be completely different than my takeaway, even though we both experienced the story at the same time in the same conditions.

So, if every time we read text, each reader creates a slightly NEW version, how can we teach author’s purpose?  We can discuss the author, guess at the effect of a unique set of life experiences, and surmise their language’s contribution to come up with a pretty good idea of their purpose, but I believe we have to understand the caveat:  no one really knows for sure.  I suppose one could argue that the closer we read, the closer we come to understanding author intent.  But if the author writes in a flurry of creativity, putting to paper what sounds good in the moment, perhaps reading too closely broadens the intent, reshaping it into something more than originally intended.

I’ll save you (for now) from a rant on close reading.  But let me say just this:  Language allows us to make visible the invisible, but beware of assuming my vision as your vision.

Thoughts?

You Bet I’m Creative!

QueticoPainting

“Sunrise in Quetico” Pastel on Board, 2008

As part of the EdCamp St. Louis Planning Team, we have taken on a blogging challenge. A new topic will come up every week, and we’ll do some cross-posting, commenting, and discussing in preparation for the big day. The idea is that we will have fodder for meaningful discussions, conversation starters when we meet face-to-face (sometimes for the first time), and for many of us (me included!) it will push us back into blogging. I know. I’m guilty. But I have been creating other things.

This week’s topic: HOW DO YOU PERSONALLY EXPRESS CREATIVITY?

How much time do you have? I don’t think there’s a limit to blog lengths.

When I entered college, I wanted to register for an art class. I’d always been making things, and my Mom had always been supportive. Until now. “Art is dessert. You are on salad,” is what she said to me when I showed her my proposed schedule. Her voice had that finality in it that defied retort. I turned around, walked away, and ended up majoring in biology.

My Entryway floor December, 2014

My Entryway floor December, 2014

When I look back, I regret that. Actually, no, I don’t regret having studied biology, after all, plants are my other obsession. I regret not sticking to my guns and pursuing art. I should be in design or a studio artist. Nothing makes my adrenaline flow like the satisfaction of making something from scratch. However, biology it was, even into graduate school. I work in a mostly non-creative field by day, and fuel my creative side on weekends. Because I have never really had any formal training, and because it’s strictly an avocation, I probably have a fairly unique outlook on creativity as an idea.

I always have to have some sort of project. I’ve taught myself calligraphy, oil painting, watercolors, pastels, pen/ink, photography, knitting, crocheting, sewing, woodworking, silversmithing, glass beadmaking, and stained glass. I love to design landscapes and interiors, and to cook. I am a huge DIY-er around the house. If it’s something that can be made from a design or pattern in my head, I’m all about it.  In fact, my first blog was an Artist’s Blog.

I don’t think creativity can be taught.  It can be nurtured, but I believe that some people are full of ideas, and others are not. What we can teach, however, is to not be scared.  The only thing that’s between the idea that’s in your head and it’s realization?  The courage to try and do.  Allow creative people to be expressive, and don’t judge those who are not.

Do you think creativity can be taught?  Comment below!

See Robert Dillon’s Creative self.

See Danielle Zuroweste’s post on personal creativity.

The Shifting Target of Creativity by Amy Peach

Something’s Missing from STEM

Let’s start from the very beginning.  I find myself to be one of the few people I know who has deep interests involving both brain hemispheres.  My major in undergrad was biology, I spent time tinkering with tissue culture as a graduate student at the University of Florida, and I have that knack for remembering scientific names for plants.  Every since I was about 8 years old, and reading through the Arboretum Journals, botany has always held a fascination for me (does anyone else collect Viburnum species?).  When the right side of my brain takes over, I have a jewelry business on the side, and have juried into a couple national art shows with my pastel paintings.

Perhaps it’s my liberal arts background, but I find STEM in and of itself to be limiting.  It completely forgets that in order to use what’s learned in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, one must think creatively.  How do you interpret data?  By thinking out of the box in a creative way.  How do you test your hypothesis?  By thinking of a creative way to test that one variable.  I read today  that  bioengineering is going to be one of the fastest growing careers between 2010 and 2020 because of the “Perfect Storm of STEM education and the demand for better medical devices.” (in the print version, p. 40) Somehow, I don’t think there will be a whole lot of new devices designed without some creative ideas on what needs to be made (what problems need to be solved), and then how to tackle and hopefully solve those problems in a new way.

A couple of weeks ago, someone on Twitter posted that we should change STEM to STEAM with the addition of Art.  As an artist, I’m all about including artistic expression whenever and wherever possible.  However, I don’t think Art is enough to make STEM even more robust.  To me, art is expression of feeling; creativity is certainly involved, but the impetus behind art is beauty (or its antithesis, for some).  Beauty is all about feelings.  Art communicates to viewer/users through their feelings.

Creativity, on the other hand, implies divergent thinking.  Something/someone can be creative without being artistic.  Last summer, I was creative when I changed my raised patio to a sunken one in front of a retaining wall.  I applied artistic sense by taking the time to put in curves built with complementary-colored stones and enhanced by natural plantings.  The change in design was creative.  The visual appeal was artistic.

artistic embellishment of a creative solution

Adding a Creativity component to STEM would emphasize the necessity for students to not only learn and understand science, technology, engineering, math and their interconnectedness, but kids would learn to apply that knowledge in new ways.  Americans are known for their innovations and creative spirit. Standardized testing has eroded our kids’ creativity by labeling  anything that’s not reading- or STEM-related as secondary.  No one says it out loud, of course, but the message is loud and clear:  artistic pursuits are for hobbies once you’re grown up and out of school.  Emphasizing the use of STEM knowledge to create new ideas through identifying new relationships, or to create new products through divergent innovation – THAT is what STEM should be about.  Schools should be allowing and encouraging creativity in their students.  Time as well as financial and personnel resources should be made available to all students in an effort to maximize creative potential in kids.

Rather than focusing energy and resources on STEM per se, I believe schools should emphasize divergent thinking and problem solving.  If teachers use STEM, then I hope they use it in conjunction with Problem-Based Learning or something similar that requires a product or a solution derived from the students’ innate creativity.  THAT is using both sides of your brain.

Thoughts?