The Practice of Creativity

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Mariah Wheeler has had the grand privilege of living, working, and playing, with artists for the last twenty-four years. She represents a life of “art at last,” having invented her own muse-inspired career later in life.

At age 58, Mariah opened the Joyful Jewel, a 300-square foot art gallery in the small, but vibrant town of Pittsboro, North Carolina where I reside. By the age of 61, Mariah had moved the Joyful Jewel to a 2,000-square-foot space, which currently sells the work of 170 local artists. The Joyful Jewel has become a destination to explore, marvel over and buy works of art.

Her deep passion for art and supporting artists has enriched the community. She believes that everyone has at least one creative gene, and that it is never too late to start developing it!

Over the past several years, Mariah has nurtured her own creative spark to write. Her new book Art at Last: It’s Never Too Late to Create has recently been published by Lystra Books. Reading Art at Last will convince you that “It’s never too late to create!” These inspiring memoirs are of thirteen artists who began their careers late in life and became successful.

I’m delighted to welcome Mariah Wheeler to The Practice of Creativity.


-Why did you write Art at Last? What’s in store for readers?

I started in my own art so late in life.  I found so much joy and pleasure in something that I never expected or thought about doing before it happened to me. I wondered who else had found this amazing quest at retirement age, too. As I began to ask people, I heard inspiring stories from people with diverse backgrounds and in a variety of media. To a person, when asked, what they are doing now that they never thought they would do, they said “Be an artist.”  I wanted to share the stories in hopes that members of the general population would be willing to take this challenge themselves.  I don’t expect many to strive for the level of perfection or dedication as those in the book Art at Last but know, without a doubt, that focusing on creative pursuits can greatly enrich anyone’s life.

-How did this project stretch you? What did you learn about yourself as an editor while working on this collection?

I learned that writing and publishing a book is not a short-term project. I found that I was perfectly capable of working on this anyway, until it was done!  It was a labor of love, yet one that surprised me in many ways. The biggest surprise was how many mistakes I could make, as even through ten or fifteen revisions, I still found things that needed to be changed! I really thought I was more careful than that – a bit of a letdown. Just getting the book in a format for publication had many challenges, from obvious things like making sure that the flow of the pages made sense, to unexpected troubles in getting the page numbers on the right edge of the page. I found that the time needed after writing the book was no longer than the time afterward in getting it ready for publication.

-Where does someone who wants to pursue an artistic path, but keeps hearing their inner critic tell them that they are “too old”, begin?

The only thing I really can say to the common problem of getting beyond the inner critic is just to do it anyway. Don’t let yourself think about what the product looks like at first, just keep doing something. Like they often say to writers, do your morning pages – these are not for publication, and the art is not for showing others or for sale – but they get you in the habit of creating. You WILL meet your Muse. When you set that critic aside, you may want to try several different media until one just grabs you and makes you pay attention to it.  That’s the one to keep doing.

-In Art at Last you declare that art can change the world. What can you share with us about the transformative power of art?

One of the biggest things that art can do is bring new ways of looking at problems.  This may change the world for the person creating the art, and when shared can affect the larger community. This happens even when we aren’t doing art, such as later in time, to answer problems or change the world. I have a hard time knowing how to explain it, but I think you get in touch with the Muse, the Divine, the Collective Unconscious, whatever word you use.  It’s a place that is outside of everyday consciousness, and once you have gone there, it’s easier the next time to get there. Maybe it’s like a dream that tells you about something you hadn’t yet seen in your life. I think of it as insight that comes at us sideways, as Rumi says, it enters from the window rather than the door.

-What’s your next creative project? What are you working on right now?

I have been doing research on another book.  I’m not sure the format, maybe historical fiction.  I want to write about the poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox (who I have always thought I was related to) who lived 1850 – 1919, and had a very interesting life.  She wrote “Poems of Passion” which created a bit of a stir in her time, was a New Thought pioneer, and was very very prolific.  Her best known poem begins “Laugh and the world laughs with you, weep and you weep alone . . . “

– What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Similar to my suggestion for other types of creative expression, just do it! There is no time like the present. You have nothing to lose and much to gain. This is true whether you do it just for yourself or in hopes of a larger audience. You may not know what you want to do with your writing, but you can still begin.

Mariah Wheeler has had the grand privilege of living, working, and playing, with artists for the last twenty-four years.  She represents a life of “art at last,” having invented her own muse-inspired career later in life.

She is the owner of the Joyful Jewel Gallery in Pittsboro, North Carolina. The Joyful Jewel is dedicated to bringing the spirit of creativity to all, artists and patrons alike.  They offer “local art, fresh from the heart” in a wide variety of media, styles, and prices, each creation made with care, skill and inspiration.

Mariah, along with poet Sheridan Bushnell, conceived of the idea of inviting writers to come to the gallery and write about art. Their idea developed into the much anticipated annual ‘Vision and Voice’ event where writers are asked to read what they wrote after their visit and the corresponding artists are asked to display their objects and say a few words about the art-making process.

Find out more about Mariah by visiting her at The Joyful Jewel. Pick up her book at the Joyful Jewel.

*She would prefer folks not get her book from Amazon because it isn’t the same quality, and it is also more expensive. She is more than happy to mail a book to anyone who asks for one and can call with credit card info. or would mail a check. The book is $28.50, with tax for NC $30.42 and mailing is $2.  She can be contacted via email or phone through The Joyful Jewel.


Affirmations-366Days#113: Art, talent and beauty is everywhere. I refresh myself by studying lessons from other creative fields, besides writing.

For new readers, here’s why I’m committing to writing affirmations, about the creative process, during the next 366 days.

Although I am interested in all facets of creativity and all types of artists, many of my interviews for this blog are with writers. I’m breaking out of that trend by interviewing a friend who is an up and coming musician and childhood friend. I met Kimani through his big sister, Adhana. Adhana and I became friends in the seventh grade. Kimani was like my little brother–annoying, funny, attention seeking and lovable. I particularly liked to tease him by rhyming his name with ‘Del Monte’, and ‘Asti Spumante’. Adhana and I were close friends through high school and have remained in contact off and on for many decades. The magic of Facebook put me back in touch with her and later when I got a friend request from someone named ‘Kimani Star’, I shot back an email and asked–‘How do we know each other?’ I discovered that Kimani had changed his last name to ‘Star’. Well, needless to say, Kimani’s all grown up now! I was delighted to find out that he pursued his passion and is a musician. Kimani’s got a unique sound and perspective and I’m happy that I get to introduce him here on ‘The Practice of Creativity’.




Tell us a story of how you came to music and became a professional musician.

In high school I just started listening to lots of rock bands and decided that I liked music so much that I wanted to play. That led to me trying to teach myself guitar and write lyrics. Years later I decided to start singing and years after that I busked on the train which helped me develop as s singer, writer and performer. Those experiences led to me getting local gigs and promoting my own shows.

What’s your most recent song and how did you get the idea for it?

I can’t say I ever have one song I’m working on. I usually have a bunch I’m working on at any given time. Currently, I’m recording a song called ‘Touch the Sky’ about being guided by God. I wrote it with the idea of sharing with people how close God really is to all of us.

What’s your process like when you’re working on a series of songs?

My process of songwriting starts with harmonic structure that I build out of a melody. And, out of the melody I build some kind of hook and lyrics. Can’t say I ever worked on a series of songs per say, I just play my guitar and if I hear something I like I work on it.

How do you stay inspired?kimani

I find staying inspired pretty easy: watching the news, daydreaming, thinking about the past, talking with people, etc. I’m always inspired. I often get inspired by listening to music.Not a big surprise I guess.

What’s on your bookshelf, next to your bed? What are you reading and listening to right now?

I’ve been listening to this audio book called The 48 Laws of Power about how control and manipulation is a part of everyday human life. Music wise, I’m listening to a lot of Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Curtis Mayfield, Santana, and Seal as of late. But I love all music. If it’s good I’ll give it a chance.

What’s your best tip about creativity that you’d like to share?

My best tip about creativity is to learn as much as you can about your craft, whatever it is. Become fans of the greats in your field and practice. Also realize you are an artist not an athlete. All artistic scenes can become very competitive. The arts are filled with narcissistic people who want to tear others down. Stay focused on your craft and love what you do. I say avoid artistic scenes all together and just work on your stuff. Develop strong techniques, but also balance it out with feeling. Being an artist, I believe, means inhabiting that middle ground between the heart and the head. If you have too much of one and not enough of the other it’s not gonna be good. Some people say art is just feeling or technique, but I say it’s the marriage of the two. Finding the middle ground is the key.

Kimani Star is a singer and songwriter from the Bronx, New York. He also plays guitar, bass, keys and harmonica. His music is a combination of funk, rock, reggae, blues, soul and folk. He lives in Germany.

Check out his music:

Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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