The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘Oprah

We all want to feel more grateful. The powerful benefits that stem from a gratitude practice are ones that science now validates and that spiritual traditions have always claimed. More than a decade ago, Oprah introduced us to the idea of keeping a gratitude journal and recently social work researcher, Brené Brown has highlighted the importance of gratitude in her interviews with resilient people. But what gets in the way of practicing gratitude? I’d say grudges. Grudges are often not part of polite conversation. But, in order to become more grateful we have to work on our grudges.

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To live a creative life is to encounter frustration, jealousy, envy and to hold grudges. Grudges are a feature in our emotional weather system. They can be deep seated or have happened just yesterday: the biting comment from a trusted mentor that occasionally surfaces, the friend who doesn’t invite you to submit to her ‘zine though she’s invited all your writing buddies , the shopkeeper who says that your greeting card line looks ‘amateurish’. Having grudges is not the problem; it’s how deep they go and how long we hold them. And, that we forget there can be sweet joy in releasing them.

Getting off Grudge Island

In The Bodacious Book of Succulence creativity author Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy (aka SARK) talks about a place that many of us reside– the place in our consciousness where we replay, repeat, and sift through old hurts, grudges, resentments, and slights. She imagines this place as Grudge Island. All the inhabitants on the island are stooped over from carrying the weight of their grudges. SARK says that holding grudges “allows us to be right and live in the past” and that they “are companions of struggle and blame.”

In my creativity workshops, I often ask people to describe what their Grudge Island looks like, the nature of their grudges and the length that they’ve hung on to them.  After reflecting on this exercise, a participant once exclaimed, “Goodness, I don’t just visit Grudge Island, I’ve built condos there!”

The first time I did this exercise, I started out with two pieces of paper and a pen. I thought, oh, this should only take a few minutes. As I got in touch with recent and old hurts, I found myself reaching for more paper and markers. As I wrote, I began reliving and experiencing the anger, hurt and loss of the events that shaped my grudges.

By the end of the process I had filled 25 pages (front and back) of my grudges and ego wounds! I was indeed a longtime resident on Grudge Island! I held a thirty year grudge against a six grade teacher who had forgotten to give me information so that I could compete in the city wide spelling bee and a fifteen year old grudge against a young man who told me that getting a PhD was useless and would not serve the African American community. I wondered what new energy could emerge from releasing these grudges.

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The medical community’s interest in the connection between anger, grudge holding and well- being has increased dramatically over the last decade. Dr. Luskin, director of the Forgiveness Project at Stanford University, has lead pioneering research about how grudge holding affects our capacity to live a thriving life. Dr. Luskin notes, “Dwelling on a past conflict and the damage inflicted by another person, doesn’t hurt them, but it hurts you like heck. They own your nervous system, and they ain’t good landlords.” Studies suggest that grudge-holders tend to be sicker than their peers who are able to release grudges and forgive more quickly. If a person is a chronic grudge holder they can expect more visits to the doctor, cardiovascular disease and gastrointestinal distress.

I decided to destroy my grudge papers. I ripped them into teeny tiny shreds. This felt incredibly satisfying. Then, I began to knead them (also oddly satisfying). I then promptly took my ‘grudge dough’ and dumped the pile in the garbage. After I dumped the grudges, a very calm and peaceful sensation ran through my body. Feeling cleared of these grievances was a powerful return on my time and attention. The funny thing is that now, many years later; I can’t even recall the specifics of most of those grudges.

The more we share about our very human capacity to hold grudges, the more support we can receive for releasing them and experiencing the joy and vitality available to us in every moment. This energy becomes fuel for new creative projects.

Dealing with grudges first, makes way for gratitude.

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A version of this article originally appeared on September 25 in The Chapel Hill News.

Photo credits include Thinkstock

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I know many smart and even brilliant people, but few that I would bet on winning a MacArthur Foundation ‘Genius’ award one day. I believe that Dr. Alexis Gumbs could have that in her future. A true renaissance person and visionary, she is almost single-handedly exposing the general public to black feminist concepts in multiple media and innovative ways. She is the creator of the ‘Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind’, a multi-media all ages community school based in the wisdom of black feminist literary practice. Alexis is a literary scholar with a PhD in English, Africana Studies and Women’s Studies from Duke University and a widely published poet and essayist. She is also a community activist and co-founder of the Mobile Homecoming Project, an experiential archive project documenting generations of “black LGBTQ brilliance”. Alexis was named one of UTNE Reader’s 50 Visionaries Transforming the World in 2009, was awarded a ‘Too Sexy for 501-C3’ trophy in 2011 and is one of the Advocate’s Top 40 under 40 features in 2012.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Alexis on my community based participatory research project with African American mothers and their adolescent daughters regarding their communication about health and sexuality. On this project I got to experience her creativity, knowledge of arts based approaches to community engagement and interdisciplinary training and learn from her. Those lessons have stayed with me.

I recently caught up with Alexis to talk about her new poetry book and current projects. I’m so happy to welcome her to ‘The Practice of Creativity’.

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Tell us about your new poetry collection, 101 Things That Are Not True About the Most Famous Black Women Alive. What inspired it? Are there recurring themes that you explore?

101 Things That Are Not True About the Most Famous Black Women Alive came out of an exercise that I designed for myself after listening to Diane Di Prima reading her poem “10 Things That Are Not True About the She Wolf.”  I thought to myself…what an interesting exercise.  What would it mean to write 10 things that are not true about Oprah, or Condoleeza Rice?   Those were the first two poems that I wrote for the collection and I found that there was something liberating about writing out things that were not true about women who are so famous that they seem to be universally known.

Usually I spend my time writing things that I believe to be true about women who are not famous by any stretch of the imagination, so this exercise flipped my practice inside out, but ultimately I found it to be a way to offer some love, breathing room and space in my relationship to women who I often critique (especially Rice).  At first I found myself wanting to push back against the media’s pretense of explaining and knowing these women through surveillance and stereotypes, but ultimately I had to admit that I was pushing back even more on some of my prejudgements of these highly visible black women.

As a black feminist I do feel that it is my responsibility to find a way to love and respect all black women, even those who make decisions that to do not align with my politics and those who I feel are different from me in very significant ways.  I found the exercise of writing 10 things that were not true about each of these women to be a way to access love for these women based on the very fact that I do not know them, and I do not know what might be behind some of their decisions and self-presentations.  That piece of every person that cannot be known is the possibility in them and is the reason they must be honored and cherished for what they might do, who they might become, who they might already be that no one could have ever predicted.

Much of your work stems from the legacy of African American feminists who were writing during the 1970s and 1980s. Why are their words important to your creative life?

I was born in 1982 and I feel everyday the consequences and liberations of what it means to have been born into a world which black feminists were transforming and rearticulating in urgent ways. When I first started reading their words as a teenager they gave me so much permission to believe in a world that could change in significant ways and to believe in the people around me as the energy of those changes.  I have been using Audre Lorde’s words as epigraphs to my own writing since high school and I continue to find a starting place, a jumping off point and a challenge in her words and the words of other black feminist writers that helps me to clarify and awaken myself as an artist.

-You are a scholar, essayist, teacher, blogger and activist. You manage to pack a lot into 24 hours! How do these different activities feed into each other and you?

I wake up really early, but I take a lot of naps. 🙂   For me research, writing for long-term and immediate audiences, designing educational rituals, and building community are all components of an ongoing act of love.   I see my whole life as an opportunity to honor my ancestors and love my communities in the best ways I can.   And my challenge to myself is to find deeper and clearer ways to do that daily.

You advocate a DIY approach to publishing and encourage other writers to explore self-publishing. What have been some of the benefits and challenges of this approach?

I strongly believe that multiple layers of publishing are important for creating the world of words that we deserve.  Self-publishing is a lot of work and it has the intimacy of hand to hand exchange. A self-published work can stay very close to the author and bring the author very close to audience. Sometimes we literally touch hands.  Sometimes I write your name on an envelope and lick a stamp. Sometimes I do layout myself and have to look at my own words sideways and upside down. I think self-publishing and book-making are forms of intimacy that I will never give up.  In addition sometimes the urgency of particular words towards a particular audience in a particular moment requires skipping over the long process of traditional publishing.  At the same time, I am reaching a point in my work where I need to enable my words to travel much further than my long arms can stretch.  For that purpose other publishing methods that require more time and more people become helpful too.

What’s the next project that you’re working on?

Oh there are so many projects.  One project that I am very excited about is a retreat in an eco-village in Jamaica called “Soon Come” for writers like me who are of Caribbean ancestry in diaspora and who find it a creative challenge and imperative to connect back “home” to the Caribbean. I am also in the process of getting feedback on a book of essays, a book of Toni Morrison inspired poems, a workbook inspired by the Combahee River Collective Statement and more!

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

Write first.  Wake up and write first.

Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a queer black troublemaker, a black feminist love evangelist, a prayer poet priestess and has a PhD in English, African and African-American Studies and Women and Gender Studies from Duke University.  Alexis was the first scholar to research in the Audre Lorde Papers at Spelman College, the June Jordan Papers at Harvard University and the Lucille Clifton Papers at Emory University and is currently on tour with her interactive oracle project “The Lorde Concordance,” a series of ritual mobilizing the life and work of Audre Lorde as a dynamic sacred text.

Alexis has also published widely on Caribbean Women’s Literature with a special interest in Dionne Brand. Her scholarly work is published in Obsidian, Symbiosis, Macomere, The Routledge Companion to Anglophone Literature, SIGNS, Feminist Collections, The Black Imagination, Mothering and Hip Hop Culture, The Business of Black Power and more. Alexis is the author of an acclaimed collection of poems 101 Things That Are Not True About the Most Famous Black Women Alive and poetic work published in Kweli, Vinyl, Backbone, Everyday Genius, Turning Wheel, UNFold, Makeshift and more. She has several books in progress including a book of poems Good Hair Gone Forever, a scholarly monograph on diaspora and the maternal and an educational resource called the School of Our Lorde. She is also the co-editor of a forthcoming edited collection on legacies of radical mothering called This Bridge Called My Baby.

Alexis has been living in Durham, NC for almost a decade and has been transformed and enriched by holistic organizing to end gendered violence and to replace it with sustaining transformative love. Locally she is a founding member of UBUNTU a women of color and survivor-led coalition to end sexual violence, of the Earthseed Collective a black and brown land and spirit reclamation project and the Warrior Healers Organizing Trust, a community accountable foundation practicing organic reparations and transforming blood money into blood relations.

Find out more about Alexis through her multiple blogs and online communities:

http://blackfeminismlives.tumblr.com/
http://www.alexispauline.com/brillianceremastered/

http://www.mobilehomecoming.org/
http://brokenbeautiful.wordpress.com/lexicon
http://www.thatlittleblackbook.blogspot.com
http://www.blackfeministmind.wordpress.com

Purchase her poetry book: http://www.scribd.com/doc/114139208/One-Hundred-and-One-Things-That-Are-Not-True-About-the-Most-Famous-Black-Women-Alive


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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