6 March

New Project: Helping The Refugee Children In Need: Lighting The Creative Spark.

by Jon Katz
Helping The Refugee Children (Above. Rachel Barlow’s son Ethan)

Rachel Barlow, an illustrator, author and painter, has launched a desperately needed and wonderful project for the refugee children called draw.paint.create.  It is designed to help children who have recently come to America and are struggling to deal with enormous cultural and practical challenges.

She is seeking to raise $900 to get these creativity kids into the hands of refugee trauma victims.

These are the children in the greatest need.

They have lost almost everything in their lives, have few friends. In many cases – there are language, money, transportation, trauma,  and other barriers to a normal life – these children have lost their culture and means of natural expression.

Barlow, a well-known Vermont artist and writer,  has designed art kids for children who are sometimes housebound, sometimes in foster care, have yet to acclimate to their new world, or are recovering from trauma.

So many are.

Recently, I met a young girl from Syria who is eight years old. She has been in America for a few months, thanks mostly to the U.N. Refugee program. Her father was killed in a bombing raid, her mother was burned to death in a religious execution.

She and other children like her are in dire need, they are here legally, they pose no threat of any kind to Americans or their families.

This girl speaks little English, has no friends of yet, and her foster parents are afraid to let her go out of the house alone, they are frightened by the new politics of immigration, and the sense that they are not wanted here. They hear of attacks on immigrants all over the country, and fear they have stumbled into yet another nightmare. I would say to them that that what our country is about.

This girl’s foster parents are terrified they may not be able to stay here themselves, and they have no idea what her fate would be if they come to harm.

This young girl draws all the time, but has no real artistic tools, and the kits Rachel are assembling  will give her the tools she needs to draw, sketch and paint – brushes, paper, pencils and markers,  ideas. She and her foster parents are afraid to have her photographed.

Rachel wants to get 60 of these tools into the hands of children who have recently arrived in America. She has already made a dozen or so of these kits, she is seeking the $900 to make all 60.

It is hard for me to imagine a better cause, many of us have been contributing to the Refugee Gift Page set up by the U.S. Committee on Refugees And Immigration, this work is targeted very precisely on some of the new Americans with the greatest need. These children have suffered greatly, are in a strange and sometimes hostile environment, and spent much of their time alone or inside.

There is considerable evidence that creative expression is a powerful healing element in trauma care. Creative work is more than entertainnent, it is a way for these children to build their confidence, improve cognitive development, communicate with their peers, and occupy their time in a meaningful and productive way. These are not kids who have grown up glued to screens and Facebook.

I am aware that this community is not wealthy, nor am I, it is sometimes difficult to know what to give to or what to do.

My belief is that rather than arguing,  I wish to do good every day in one way or another. Sometimes it involves money, sometimes support and listening and compassion. A friend of mine keeps asking me what I will do down the road when things get to a turning point.

I told him I am not concerned with what I might do down the road, but with what I am doing right now.

These children are at the epicenter of human identity for me, if we cannot help innocent and suffering children, then our hearts have turned to stone and we have lost our sense of humanity. This for me is about the celebration of a noble spirit, our own individual ideas of social justice, our highest human potential.

It is not about what politicians say or do, or what the left or the right says or does. It is about what I say and do and feel. Moral choice is about individuality, not the group or the mob. I have to respect the face I see in the mirror every morning.

I wish to help these children right now. I want them to know they are loved and cared for.

In my own life, I have seen the power of the creative spark to liberate and transform people. In the Kabbalah, God says the only thing human beings ought fear is to fail to light the creative spark within them. Here, we can help children to light it for themselves. You can donate any amount you wish to the draw.paint.create program designed by an artist who knows whereof she speaks, creative work has lifted her out of trauma, abuse and depression. You can use Paypal or major credit cards.  $5 is as good as $100.

This week, I am going to do all I can to try to get Rachel the money she needs to complete this very great work.

She is in touch with refugee volunteer workers in New York State, they will make sure these kits get into the right hands. I thank her for doing this, I thank you for listening.

7 November

Abrah Griggs: “I’ve Rested In The Sunshine Long Enough…” The Creative Spark

by Jon Katz
Abrah Griggs: She's Rested Long Enough
Abrah Griggs: She’s Rested Long Enough

I call people like Abrah Griggs “Creative Facilitators,” they help people like me, and perhaps you, connect the creative forces within us to the world outside of us, she is one of those rare and very gifted people who are themselves intensely creative but who have also mastered the varied new technologies that help us take the great leap of faith and put our ideas out in the world.

In a sense, Steve Jobs was the inventor of this kind of creative angel, he made the tools that make it possible for me to be an author and photograph, and share, store and distribute my work. I know little of how these tools work, but I know they are the path for me, and for my future.

Abrah is an artist and illustrator who is also a book compositor, e-book designer and blogger, she connects people to the online sites – like Create Space –  that can show and share their work and find an audience. Her new blog In My Nature, is a poignant and beautiful testament to her creativity and her promise.

I believe Abrah and people like her are the future of the new creativity, combining writing, artistry, design and other traditional arts with people – like me – who need them and want them – but struggle to keep up these wonderful new ways of community.

This is the future for people who once needed big publishing houses and galleries to sell their work, but who can now make a living embracing change and new ways of thinking about creativity and technology. We don’t need middlemen to approve our stories and voices, we can put them out in the world now by ourselves and make our own destiny. That is the story of my blog.

We can rot and get moldy and lament the lost good old days, which were never that good, or move forward.

Abrah Griggs is a warrior for this kind of change. Her art is wonderful as well, and when she is not creating e-books and designing books and cards and  catalogues, she is out in nature, observing and writing about it. The future is right here, and creative people do not have to wait months and years to be rejected by editors, academics, publishers and galleries – they can put their good work right out in the world and reach countless numbers of people.

I met Abrah in the most interesting way, I went on a local website to defend a friend and myself from the kinds of cowardly and snarky attacks that are a sad but inevitable part of the Internet now, and I replied to one of the anonymous posters. A day or so later, I got a message from Abrah, she was one of those posters, that kind of thing, she said, was not really her and she didn’t want to be on that site any longer.

She joined the Creative Group At Bedlam Farm and is moving ahead with her brilliant skills. I met Abrah in October when she came to our Open House. She was impressive, shy, gifted, profoundly connected to the natural world, and the new world of personal publishing. I had the sense she was a bit uncomfortable meeting me, that happens a lot, but we will get passed it. Perhaps we already did.

I thought it was one of the classiest messages I have ever received. It reaffirmed my belief that human connections often prevail over the raging hostility that passes for dialogue in the minds of many people, and once we see one another as humans, and not as labels or stereotypes, we can permit ourselves to be human.

When I saw Abrah’s original and surprising work – she loves to draw idiosyncratic spiders and bugs –  I knew she was absolutely correct about herself, her creative spark was revealed.It is a great joy to spread the word about someone like Abrah, she is the real deal, she will go as far as she wishes to go.

She is on the right path, cranking out wonderful work almost daily and helping to connect creatives with the new tools of the wider world. And if you have creative work inside of you, as I believe everyone does, think about setting it free, with Abrah or anyone else who can help you do it.

I highly recommend checking out her ideas, her art and her new blog, In My Nature. There, you’ll find a wonderful sketch on her Musings page, it is of a dragonfly with the caption that reads “If You Rest In The Sunshine, Long Enough, You’ll Fly Again…” and above it, the heading, “I’ve Rested Long Enough…”

I love that sentiment and commend it highly.  Me, too, I thought before I changed my life.  I hope she will sell this piece to me. Abrah has rested long enough, she is flying now. You can see her blog and work here.

3 December

Annals Of Creativity: Fear Snuffs The Creative Spark

by Jon Katz
Annals of Creativity
Annals of Creativity

Last week I wrote about having filed for bankruptcy in August. I think it was the only piece I have written about in a long time that I was afraid to write. I learned years ago that when I am afraid to write about something, I must go and write about it.

I believe that my skill in taking words and experiences and using them to make sense of the world for others, to prompt thought and stir emotion, is a divine gift – the creative spark that I use to feed myself and to free my spirit.

I think that is what writing and most creativity is about – overcoming fear to free our spirits, to find our voice, our place in the world.

I have been teaching writing in one form or another for more than 20 years, I love doing it, but it it is a challenging to do. Some people take to creativity quite naturally, others seem tentative and blocked, even crippled.  Some understand the worth of their stories, most people do not. Over time, I have come to see the devastating and ubiquitous impact fear has on the process of writing in particular, art in general, and creativity of all kinds.

At the moment, I am teaching nearly a score of people at different times and in different ways – it is a calling of mine. I have learned that some people are eager to learn and grow, and some are not. I have learned that many people are open to feedback and challenge, and many are not. I accept the good and bad, the responsible teacher never pushes a student farther than he or she wants to go, that never works.

We are the only creature on the earth who can decide to improve ourselves, to grow and change, to better our lives; who possess the creative spark, who can imagine things beyond the boundaries of our daily lives, and can help people make sense of the world.

One of my students is afraid her father will read what she writes.  So she writes about everything but that which is important to her. She rarely tells the truth about herself or her life. His very critical voice and cruel estimations of her remain in her consciousness, they are invisible handcuffs in her mind. I know this feeling.

Another fears her mother, ailing in a nursing home,  will be hurt by the pain she caused, so she never writes about the most powerful episode in her life – the abuse and criticism and painfully low self-esteem she feels, how she could never be the child her mother wished her to be. Another fears his brother, who is violently opposed to his writing about his abuse and threatens to never speak to him if he does.

Still others fear ridicule and failure. What if I am no good? What if what I create is no good, and people hate it?

I understand this. My daughter has been upset by the things I wrote about our family, so was my mother, my sister, my brother. I asked each one of them the same question: was it the truth? Was it what I saw and felt? Those are the only questions I ask about the words I write. I can’t say if the words are all true or not, or right or wrong, or if they reflect every other person’s reality. I can only say they are my truth and my reality.

Do I write everything I think? Do I share every secret? No, of course not. I do not write anything I know will hurt anyone, or that violates anyone’s personal sense of privacy. But I know if I tell the truth about myself, it will make some people uncomfortable.  That will happen if I am to be my authentic self.

One of my students won’t write about the impact money has had in her life – she has some – because she is afraid she might be robbed or seen as a snob. I have a student I’ve been seeing for three years who has written a page or two in that time, she is quite nearly paralyzed by her fear that her writing is not good and people may not like it. She dreads writing something some member of her family or her friends and neighbors will read and not like.  As a teacher, I feel like a veterinarian must often feel, there is so much fear and emotion about the process, you almost need a social worker to be part of the process.

Fear is a wall, a suffocating and windowless cell. It chokes creativity to death and starves the soul. We all take the leap of faith, if we wish to free our spirits, we close our eyes and jump. The rest is in the hands of the Gods.

I know countless people who won’t write on blogs because they might spell a word wrong or make grammatical errors. If they do try and write, they spend so much time proofreading and worrying they are unable to create much of anything. Fear kills many more books and painting that any publisher or gallery could.

The poet and author Hermann Goethe wrote of writing: “If you think about writing while you’re writing, you’ll go mad. Think about it later when tidying up.”  That is my belief, it is what I teach. I write from the heart, I put my words out into the world, they may live or die, or come skulking back to me.  I tidy up if I can, most often I can’t. I’m too busy writing something else. I see every word as an angel I set out into the ether to live or die. Many live, many die.
Some of it is good, some of it is bad. A good deal for me.
Creativity is only as good as our courage and determination. We get back precisely what we put out. I have found my voice by explaining myself in words, by seeking to share the truth about myself, good or bad. I do not ever ask myself whether someone out there will like what I write – they very often do not. My family and friends will have to make their own decisions, and fend for themselves, they cannot tell me what to think or write. Neither can the raging mobs on Facebook and Twitter.
I have but to please one person, the one I see in the mirror. I have to like what I see there, and respect what I have done. It is not about what others think, it is about what I think. I think that is the literal meaning of creativity, the process by which great work comes to life.
Fear has never created much that is good.
31 July

Stone Art, Route 22. Art And Mysticism. The Creative Spark.

by Jon Katz
Mystical Encounter
Mystical Encounter

I drove down Route 22 to the Hillsdale Diner to have breakfast with my good friend and editor Rosemary Ahern, I am so lucky to have her as a friend (and an editor.) We talked about finishing up my book “Talking To Animals,” which is due in September and is five chapters from being finished.

On the way back I passed a lawn full of stone art, bounders and rockets painted with statues of dogs, birds and frogs glued onto them. Startling folk art, I pulled over to take a photo. The artist came out and walked by me, but did not speak to me or answer me, there must have been a couple of hundred stone sculptures out on the lawn, they ranged in price from $30 to $45. I think I will buy one next time as a present for Maria.

The art was unusual, large stones painted in different colors, all kinds of animal statues – dogs, cats, birds, frogs – attached them in still more colors.

I think Maria would have loved one. Like me, she always celebrates the creative spark in anyone, this kind of art is genuine, individualistic. I want to go back and take more photos as well. The human spirit is an amazing thing, the creative spark is in all of us, it comes out in all kinds of ways. It needs to live.

There was something mystical to me about this artist, living in a trailer in a tiny upstate New York town, driven to create dozens of stone sculptures, mixing different forms to make his own kind of art. In the Kabbalah, God tells human beings that he has given each of them the creative spark, and that the only thing he has to fear from them is not using it or acknowledging it.

I thought he was brave, I thought he was driven, I imagine he loves his life and his work, but that, I suppose, is  a projection.

The act of individual creation is sacred, it lives everywhere.

27 June

Celebrating The Creative Spark

by Jon Katz
Celebrating The Creative Spark
Celebrating The Creative Spark

There are not all that many places where hundreds of people will come to listen to poems being read alive. In New York, a poetry reading with a dozen people present is a big deal. We had many more than that, they were attentive and appreciate, smiles and laughter, a few tears. They loved watching Red and Fate herd the sheep too.

Bedlam Farm