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.

20 September

The Creative Spark. Freeing The Passion Of The Soul

by Jon Katz
Creative Spark
Creative Spark

In the Kabbalah, written by Hebrew mystics, centuries ago, I have found remarkable passages that speak to me of the birth of creativity and it’s meaning in our lives. The God of the Kabbalah is not the dogmatic God of the old or new testaments, he is a gentle, thoughtful God, he is a feminist, he loves the earth, he invests donkeys and horses with great wisdom and meaning, they are wiser than priests and rabbis and prophets.

In the Kabbalah, God warns his people that they must take care of  Mother Earth, or she will abandon them, and so will he. He speaks of Shekinah – the feminine spirit of God – and instructs her to find the polluters and despoilers of the earth and send a horde of angels to sting their cheeks.

In the third volume of the Kabbalah – there are many – God gathers the prophets and tells them of the creative spark, his gift to the souls and spirits of human beings. There is only one thing the people of the earth have to fear from him, he cautions, and that is their failure to heed the creative spark and follow the passion in their souls and beings. He has, he tells the prophets, given the creative spark to every person, it is the very idea of the divine.

These passages in the Kabbalah are astonishing, they have greatly affected my life. They are uplifting, beautifully written and inspiriting, they have given me the closest thing to faith that I perhaps will ever have. This is a God who is both generous and inclusive, he asks nothing more of people than they they free their inner spirits, let their passion live, use it to capture the light and color and meaning of the world and it’s many forms, shapes and objects. It is the creative spark that refreshes and uplifts the people of the earth, and gives them hope and comfort.

It is, God says, a sin, to let one’s passion languish and die, to let the spark go out. Ignoring the creative spark, he says,  is one of the few things he cannot ever forgive.

I believe that passion is the one great force that unleashes creativity. The cellist Yo-Yo-Ma has said that if one is passionate about something, they are more willing to take risks with their head, with their heart, with their ideas. With their life. Steve Jobs said creativity was the ability to connect things, to gather the experiences one has had and synthesize them into new things, new ways of seeing things.

In our culture, the creative spark is seen as frivolous, dangerous, unimportant, the mark of the marginal people, the ones who will never be on television explaining how the world works or be granted political power or riches. The creative spark – the search for passion in life – is anathema to the corporate system, to the idea that money is not the point of life, to the idea that we will never die, but live forever. It is the antithesis of anger, hatred, argument and war. The creative spark does not put money in the bank, build IRA’s, save enough for eternal and increasingly meaningless life.

But yet it is a glorious life, a sacred life, a life of passion and purpose. I do not proselytize, I speak only for me. People have to find their own way.

If you find your passion, if you know it, if you free it and follow it, then you are creative. There is no good or bad way to be creative, it is not up to others to judge, but to us to judge. Creativity is different in every human being, the creative spark is the fingerprint of the soul, no two are alike or ought to ever be alike. Creativity is a brave thing, it is frightening to open the gates of the spirit and let the passion go free, to bring it into the world and follow it’s flight. And it is dangerous. Once this passion is unleashed, then it is almost impossible to return. The Kabbalah, along with life, has taught me that creativity is a leap of faith.

“I give you this precious gift of the creative spark,” says God in the Kabbalah, “and I give it only to you. No tree or flower or plant or animal or bird or fish or rock has been given it…”

Creative souls take the leap, T. S. Eliot’s hollow men can never bring themselves to jump.




Bedlam Farm