Choose Freedom Over Comfort

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Mother, wife, sister, friend, writer / blogger / creative organizer, budding photographer... These are just a few of the many hats I juggle each day. I believe creativity is oxygen for the soul. I created Live In Color blog to celebrate the beauty in every moment, from faith to inspiration and motherhood.And it is soon becoming Pray with Our Feet blog which will focus on the intersection of faith and activism. Follow the inspiration on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/praywithourfeetblog/
Emelda De Coteau
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Photo credit: Emelda  De Coteau
Photo credit: Emelda
De Coteau
In each of our lives, there is a distinct moment when we choose between the certainty of fear or invigorating freedom. Earlier this year, sitting in an office, alone, cloaked in deafening silence, I learned about the power of choice.

God has a way of extricating noise from our lives, past priorities become irrelevant; clarity, I believe, is the root of freedom. Without it distractions imprison us and liberation becomes an illusion, a mirage in the dizzying mundaness of life.

Years ago, I discovered Pamela Sneed, a talented poet and actor whose arresting book title, Imagine Being More Afraid of Freedom Than Slavery?, peaks out from my mahogany stained bookcase, an ever present challenge.

Far too many of us convince ourselves these chains are necessary, the standard rite of passage into adulthood. Everyone treks to jobs they hate, right? We live for the weekends, and grudgingly endure the weeks. I did it for years.

Others were far more deserving than me of happiness, I told myself; they were smarter, prettier, bolder… I dreamed big, but took small actions. Afraid of freedom, yet desperate to soar.

Then my choice presented itself one afternoon. I could stand in the smallness of convention, holding fast to others opinions, their direction for me, or I could embrace new possibilities, in spite of fear and those insistent voices of defeat and doubt. I started a new journey in that moment.

Each day God teaches me this is a journey of surrender. It’s an arduous concept to wrestle with because on the surface it sounds like giving up, but in actuality its the opposite. Peace emerges in this quiet place, there is no room for superficial markers of self, only authenticity.

Several weeks ago I came across a C.S. Lewis quote, an ever-present reminder that we must remain wiling to abandon ourselves, or who we think we are in order to live fully, submitting to  communion with God.

Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.

Reexaminig our lives is messy, and at times confusing, but without this courageous action, we are sleep walking, living a life unworthy of our potential.

We Say We Like Creativity, But We Really Don’t (Guest Blog Series)

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Mother, wife, sister, friend, writer / blogger / creative organizer, budding photographer... These are just a few of the many hats I juggle each day. I believe creativity is oxygen for the soul. I created Live In Color blog to celebrate the beauty in every moment, from faith to inspiration and motherhood.And it is soon becoming Pray with Our Feet blog which will focus on the intersection of faith and activism. Follow the inspiration on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/praywithourfeetblog/
Emelda De Coteau
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A few weeks ago, my good friend and fellow blogger Michelle Whitney wrote eloquently about creativity and how, sadly, our culture shuns it at every turn.  Her post was a response to Jessica Olien’s piece on Slate, Inside the Box.

Michelle is all about resistance and rebellion, and not blending into society’s narrow definition of who she should become.  She says without apology: “I choose to live creatively.  It is at the essence of who I am as a person in this world.”

When not writing at Surviving a Creative Life , Michelle creates everything from dazzling tiny ornate hats to yummy applesauce. We are pleased she is our first guest blogger for 2014!

creativity melting
Photo Credit: Michelle Whitney

Is your creativity melting away in this 9 to 5 world?

Jessica Olein has written an interesting article on Slate about how people say they value creativity, but they really want everyone to jump in line and dutifully follow the status quo, even if it is to the detriment to those who talked the talk about valuing creativity in the first place.  I hate to say it, but as someone who lives in the 9 to 5 world, she’s right.  I see it almost every day.

Though her company initially hired her for her problem-solving skills, she is regularly unable to fix actual problems because nobody will listen to her ideas. “I even say, ‘I’ll do the work. Just give me the go ahead and I’ll do it myself,’ ” she says. “But they won’t, and so the system stays less efficient.”

Ideas for how to manage projects, streamline workflow, and integrate technological advancements are nearly always met with metaphorical brick walls in the workplace.  If the ideas are presented from the bottom to the management then they are almost certain to fail or to be dismissed outright without even a friendly ear.  After awhile, people become apathetic and stop suggesting creative solutions to problems.  The resistance to creative change, even in the positive, is astounding!

Most people agree that what distinguishes those who become famously creative is their resilience. While creativity at times is very rewarding, it is not about happiness. Staw says a successful creative person is someone “who can survive conformity pressures and be impervious to social pressure.”

To survive a creative life we can’t let that apathy consume us.  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard, “We’ve been doing it like this for XYZ, which is why we should keep doing it like this going forward.”  This is not a reason for doing something if there is a way to improve upon it–especially in our technological world of lightning-fast changes.

“Everybody hates it when something’s really great,” says essayist and art critic Dave Hickey.

I ran into this myself in a creative writing class back in 1990.  I had written a first-person short story from the point of view of a character who dies (not that my story was really great or anything, but who am I kidding, it was pretty awesome for a high-school kid).  The character continued to narrate the story from beyond the veil of death.  My creative writing teacher insisted that I couldn’t do this.

“You can’t have a narrator that’s dead.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“You just can’t.”

In 1999 the movie American Beauty was released, and guess what–that’s right, the narrator of the story was dead.  That movie won 5 Oscars and according to IMDB had 74 total award nominations and 94 wins.

Why again couldn’t I write a short story in which the narrator is dead?  It’s exactly what Olein is talking about in this article.  The story was something new at the time–it was definitely out-of-the-box. My creative writing teacher had quite a bit of jealousy rattling around inside her when it came to my burgeoning writing talent (there were many other issues that made this abundantly clear, but that’s a post for another day…).  And just because she had never seen someone write a story with a narrator who dies, she rejected it as an impossibility.

Unfortunately, the place where our first creative ideas go to die is the place that should be most open to them—school. Studies show that teachers overwhelmingly discriminate against creative students, favoring their satisfier classmates who more readily follow directions and do what they’re told.

And even if our teachers do support us in our creative pursuits and encourage new ideas and innovation in our thinking, what is our current obsession with testing doing to the creative among us?

Even if children are lucky enough to have a teacher receptive to their ideas, standardized testing and other programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top (a program whose very designation is opposed to nonlinear creative thinking) make sure children’s minds are not on the “wrong” path, even though adults’ accomplishments are linked far more strongly to their creativity than their IQ.

I’ve had long conversations with a teacher-of-the-year friend of mine about No Child Left Behind and how it leaves no room for creativity in its curriculum demands. We also talked about direct instruction (mostly experimented with on low-income children, of course) being the same way.  We’re teaching our kids only to follow directions and stay within the lines.  Teaching a test is not teaching problem-solving, which is something that life requires of all of us.  Problem-solving often involves finding creative solutions to complex issues.  You can’t learn this by picking A, B, or C on a multiple-choice test.

To live creatively is a choice. You must make a commitment to your own mind and the possibility that you will not be accepted. You have to let go of satisfying people, often even yourself.

I choose to live creatively.  It is at the essence of who I am as a person in this world.  I’ve never really fit–I’m the proverbial square peg and I refuse to carve corners to try to wrongly wriggle into a round hole.  I choose to be myself and, accepted or not, here I am.  Now if I could just let go of satisfying myself…

As writer Anais Nin once said, “Perfection is static, and I am in full progress…”

Michelle Whitney creating art. Photo courtesy of the author.
Michelle Whitney creating art. Photo courtesy of the author.

Michelle was born a creative genius (really, I swear!). Okay, maybe not a genius, but definitely creative. She works a stressful 9-5 that is creative-adjacent, but lacks in actual creativity. In order to survive this situation while still being able to pay her bills, she seeks to find the creative in situations all around her.  It’s a survival tactic, because surviving a creative life is not always easy and often it makes you question yourself down to the very fibers of your being.

Michelle is a trained writer and photographer and an autodidact in just about anything else she can get her hands on.

 

 

What Judging my Hair Says about You

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Mother, wife, sister, friend, writer / blogger / creative organizer, budding photographer... These are just a few of the many hats I juggle each day. I believe creativity is oxygen for the soul. I created Live In Color blog to celebrate the beauty in every moment, from faith to inspiration and motherhood.And it is soon becoming Pray with Our Feet blog which will focus on the intersection of faith and activism. Follow the inspiration on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/praywithourfeetblog/
Emelda De Coteau
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Photo credit: Carrie Mae Weems

“I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance.”

 bell hooks

If you are a woman of color, no matter how you style your hair, someone will be offended. Rock a perm? You have no idea who you are. Love your weaves? Well, you just don’t love your hair. Embrace your natural hair texture? Some women and men of color label it as unattractive. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion on women of color and our hair.

This topic remains a staple in conversations with my girlfriends, Mom, co-workers, and of course at beauty salons across America, and no doubt, around the world. Countless books by renowned authors such as bell hooks, and profound visual artists like Carrie Mae Weems address how beauty for women of color is defined in a Eurocenteric and patriarchal culture.

The Afrocentric among us view loving our natural hair as a panacea to the lack of self love. If we begin by understanding history, and reject the chains of self hatred, we can change so much in our community, they proclaim.

Folks on the other side of the argument articulate, at times, a kind of historical amnesia. It’s just hair, they scream. How I choose to wear my hair has little to do with white supremacy, racism, capitalism, or any other ism. This of course ignores the real impact of colonization on the collective psyches of people of color.

Still, for me, both of these perceptions are somewhat limited; human nature and our view of ourselves is richly complex with multiple layers. Any kind of fundamentalism, which by its nature must define one or several kinds of behaviors as wrong, limits our humanity and freedom to empathize with others.

When you place me in a box, because I do not adhere to your myopic definition of beauty or self acceptance, you speak volumes about yourself, and a need to define an “other” as inferior to your “enlightened state.”

We are all on a journey of self love, whether you are walking along that road with an Afro or weave, it remains a journey none the less. My way is not your way, but why is that wrong? Rants never produce more understanding, only greater division.

Live In Color – Emelda

Photo Credit: Emelda  De Coteau
Photo Credit: Emelda
De Coteau