The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘Alice Walker

Like many other people, this week I have remembering Maya Angelou and mourning the loss of such a tremendous creative force. Dr. Angelou was a teacher, writer, healer and lover of life until the very end. I discovered her work in college and remember performing her poems ‘Still I Rise’ and ‘Phenomenal Woman’ with other powerful women at various gatherings. As a young woman, I found her work accessible, rich with positive female imagery, sensuous and often jubilant.


Maya Angelou’s death has made me think about the ways in which we honor and remember great creative folk. I have writer friends who have made pilgrimages to famous writers’ houses. I also remember being inspired by Alice Walker’s quest to honor the then forgotten Zora Neale Hurston. Walker chronicled this journey in the essay, “Looking for Zora,” that appeared in her pioneering collection In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens. Zora Neale Hurston’s last years were difficult. She suffered a series of strokes, had become indigent and forgotten by many. Walker’s dedication to honoring Hurston helped bring her back into the public eye.

The outpouring of heartfelt love and admiration for Dr. Angelou that circulated through social media was palpable. I am thinking about how best to celebrate Maya Angelou’s life as well as other writers who have inspired me that are no longer living. Should I read all of their work during a certain time period? Should I visit their birthplace? Should I devote several blogs to a particular author?

What is a good way to truly honor an artist’s work that has made a difference in one’s life? I believe that this is an important question to ponder further.

Dear Alice,

Happy Birthday!alice_walker2002-headshot-bw-med

I like many other writers, readers, scholars and folk are sending you the biggest of birthday wishes and affection. Here are ten things that I want to thank you for:

  1. For your beautiful smile. By the time I was a sophomore in college I had discovered your body of  work and read everything I could find. In my desire to develop as a writer and having so few models that looked like me, I nurtured secret fantasies of being your daughter–because I thought we had similar smiles. I know that sounds strange. Don’t misunderstand–I loved my mother and her face. But, she possessed high cheekbones, ones that I would never have. Seeing your smile with full cheeks made me appreciate my own wide smile and made it easier to imagine myself as a writer. Also, an essence of kindness radiates from your smile that draws people in that I admire. Now, more than twenty years later, I am a writer and have nurtured my creative self, so had shed that fantasy of being your daughter. But, I still love your smile!
  2. For writing The Temple of My Familiar. Epic, metaphysical, culturally rooted and romantic! I still remember a snippet of a line that Fanny says to her husband as she is trying to encourage both of them to spiritually evolve-“I love your breath most because it is the least colonized part of you” (paraphrase)
  3. For writing about African American women’s creativity and exploding conventional notions about what creativity is ‘good for’ in the landmark essay ‘In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens’. I have written elsewhere about the power of that essay in my life. I am still amazed that in many popular creativity books, authors still fail to acknowledge the genius of African American women (and other women of color) and reduce creativity solely to production.
  4. For naming womanism.
  5. For your novel Meridian. I just finished teaching this amazing novel to students in my ‘Women of Color in Contemporary U.S. Social Movements’ class. It provides a powerful connection to the struggles of black and white women during the Civil Rights movement. It also beautifully explores the psychological and health challenges of being an activist.
  6. For writing about role of meditation and Buddhism in your life and the value of contemplative practices for the future of humanity.
  7. For resurrecting the work of Zora Neale Hurston.
  8. For The Color Purple. Singular and visionary.
  9. For Her Blue Body Everything We Know: Earthling Poems.
  10. For your short story collections: In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women and You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down. These collections tackled topics that ranged from abortion, pornography, black love, internalized hatred, love, lust, fame, and valuing one’s roots.

I’ve stopped myself at 10, but I could easily keep going. Thank you for all that you have written and shared.

I made the case last week that your vision needs to wow you.  This week, I’m sharing a powerful  approach to the visioning process that gets you to your WOW. This is a process I have used in many of my creativity workshops.

Shakti Gawain, in the book, Creative Visualization (1988), coined the term ‘treasure maps’ – a way of visually representing your wishes and dreams using collage techniques. People now call them ‘vision boards’, ‘image collectors’, ‘dream maps’, ‘alchemy maps’, ‘maps for your heart’s desires’  ‘transformation collages’, etc. It really doesn’t matter what you call them. They act as a subconscious reminder (psst…, I really want to experience ‘x’ and I need your support!), energy boost, and place to focus your intention.

Vision Road Sign with dramatic blue sky and clouds.

Without realizing it, I made my first vision board in college after reading Alice Walker’s amazing essay, ‘In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens’. The essay highlighted the multiple ways that African American women sustained a creative impulse even under the condition of slavery. Walker argued that creativity is not just about producing things, but is about an approach to life. After reading this, I went into a kind of reverie. I wanted to create something right then and there! I gathered magazines, greeting cards and all the colored paper I had on hand. I spent a whole evening cutting out images of African American models, writers, and intellectuals. I put a quote from the essay in the middle of the cardboard, pasted my images all around it– and there was my first vision board. That vision board didn’t focus on things per se, but how I wanted to feel by the time I graduated and how I wanted to experience my creative energies. I still have that vision board, too and the feelings it evokes still guide me today!

What is your vision? A dream vacation? A new job? A better relationship with your loved one? Achieving your heart’s desire first starts with identifying what it is and then aligning your inner vision with the outer world.

Here’s a way to start the process: Think about the following categories of your life, both what’s true for you now and what you might like to manifest within the next 2 years. Ideally, you’ll jot down a few notes under each category:

Health and Body (this includes ideas about well-being, weight loss or gain, exercise, recovery from illness, etc.)

Finances (savings, paying off of debt, money for indulgences, general abundance and prosperity)

Relationships (love, romance, partnership, marriage, children, parents, friends, relatives, neighbors, partners, co-workers and pets)

Home (where you live currently, buying, selling, renting, remodeling, moving, acquiring, roommates, decorating and designing where you live)

Work (Where you want to work, what you want to do, how much you want to be paid, the kinds of people you’d like to work with, the environment you want to work in, the rewards you’d like to receive, the amount of independence you want, your contribution to the world)

Creative expression (hobbies and passions: singing, dancing, painting, photography, cooking, gardening, healing, etc.)

Travel/Adventure (travel, sports, recreation, world exploration, new experiences of every kind)

Possessions (any and all physical objects and property that make your daily life more joyous, more pleasurable, more comfortable, more practical or more fun)

Spiritual (personal discovery, healing old wounds/forgiveness work, recovering personal power, expanding intuitive awareness, finding your life’s purpose)

Special Intention (anything not covered above)

Soon, I’ll share the next step to make your vision board truly serve you.

At the close of the summer, I’ve been rummaging through several journals containing writing from the past year. At the end of a writing workshop last December, my instructor gave us a stimulating prompt. The prompt was: ‘The writer I was meant to be’ and we had ten minutes to free write about it. I wrote the following:

“The writer I was meant to be writes with the courage and sophistication of James Baldwin
-the irresistible beauty of Gish Jen
-the depth of Ursula Le Guin
-the creativity of Ntozake Shange
-the honesty of Alice Walker
-the fearlessness of Walter Mosley
-the precision of Sheri S.Tepper
-the humor of Jonathan Lethem

The writer I was meant to be encompasses the qualities of writers I admire above. It [a writing career] takes craft, training, persistence and subtlety. I’m still working on it! I’ve written probably under a 100 beautiful pitch perfect sentences in my fiction (even though I have written a lot!). Hmm, maybe a new goal for 2011?”

In the ensuing discussion, everyone shared remarkable insights about the distance between the ‘writer that they were meant to be’ and ‘the writer they were’ at that moment. We bemoaned and laughed about this distance and congratulated ourselves for what we had already accomplished. After I left the workshop, I thought about that ‘100 beautiful sentences’ line. I made an intention for 2011. I wanted to generate a lot of writing, but also aim to craft more beautiful sentences. I felt this was a worthy goal. I haven’t gone through all of my writing this year and evaluated how many beautiful sentences I’ve crafted. But, I know that holding this intention during the last ten months has helped me pay more attention to the quality as well as quantity of my writing. And, I’ve found myself writing more poems, a pleasant surprise, and enjoying using language in fresh ways. A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon Stanley Fish’s provocative and helpful How to Write a Sentence (and How to Read One). It is a spirited meditation on sentence craft. I highly recommend it.

So, as fall approaches and we turn naturally inward, I pose to you these free writes: ‘The writer I was meant to be…’.Try that for ten minutes and then try ‘The writer I am right now at this moment’ for ten minutes. Compare the two lists and reflect on patterns, similarities, differences, challenges and opportunities.

And, finally have you written 100 beautiful sentences this year? Is that an interesting or worthy goal for you? To answer this question might mean making some time to pour over your journal entries, blog posts and other writings. I see you curled up in comfortable warm clothing, as the leaves are turning outside, with a cup of soup near by and lavishing attention on your prose.

These exercises might seed something in you that ripens later this year or in 2012.

I’d love to hear your reflections.
Photo Credit: Ismoyo’s Vintage Playground

Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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