The Cloud Appreciation Society

“In the middle of my Ph.D., I was hopelessly stuck. Every research direction that I tried led to a dead end. It seemed like my basic assumptions just stopped working.” (Uri Alon)

Yay, baby, me too. When working on my MA, and again yesterday!

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I was all set: overhead projector rigged up, design sketched out – fabulous! Then I stepped back to admire my work, and …. hated it! Everything that had been clear and lovely, was now out of proportion and displeasing. What had happened? Why hadn’t I thought about the distortion that would occur when I enlarged the design?

Frustrated I thought “Eee gads! What am I going to do now?”

I'm in the cloud,- and I say, -Great, you must be feeling miserable.- (Laughter) But I'm kind of happy, because we might be close to the boundary between the known and the unknown, and w

Thankfully I recalled I’m a card carrying member of the “Cloud Appreciation Society!” I said “Come on girl! Acknowledge you’re in the cloud. Be happy. Breathe. Trust the process.”

24 hours and several attempts later, I’m back on track.

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But, now I’m thinking about the cloud and my students. Have I told them about about the cloud? Are they card carrying members of the Cloud Appreciation Society? I don’t think so.

I’m going to make some cards and remedy that ASAP!

Engaging in the Hard, Fabulous Work of Creativity

My bathroom has two sliding doors. I designed the bathroom with these doors as canvases for some sort of artwork. Finally, one side of one of the doors is finished!!! Well, to be specific, the artwork is finished,but the door remains perched on two saw horses in my bedroom/studio, waiting for a few coats of polyurethane before it is hung again on its slider.

.door on saw horses

It is remarkable how much thought, research, doodling, re-thinking, kibitizing, talking, looking, and physical work, are involved in being creative! I love the process, but for some reason, this project really encouraged me to notice the time, effort, thought and work of creativity.

My process:

  1. I spent days thinking about the project. I imagined what I wanted. I thought about how I might achieve what I wanted. I changed my mind numerous times. I decided I wanted to — somehow — stay true to the architectural design of my arts and craft bungalow home.
  2. This sent me on a long path of research – looking up arts and craft fonts, flipping through a plethora of arts and craft design and art books, and googling various people and pieces I was particularly drawn towards.
  3. I found two fonts, and many designs I liked. Now I had to see if I could actually use them. Could I learn how to draw them and make them my own?
  4. Next came the doodling and sketching. Funny as it may sound, I experience joy when I find and use a pencil that feels good in my hand, moves smoothly across the paper, makes great marks and erases easily. And speaking of erasing, the number of iterations I went through in order to come up with the final design, was amazing! I wish I hadn’t thrown away all my sketches. It would be good for my students to see and know that the work that looks so easy, and causes them to say, “Wow, you are so good at that, Miss James!”  is actually informed and supported by many other tries! I’ll be sure to keep the next batch.
  5. My final design is the result of being open to possibilities wherever I found them, and mashing together ideas from many different arenas – arts and craft designs, zen-tangling sensibilities, yoga, mandalas, nature, botany, math, color theory, and I’m sure many more that I’m currently forgetting!

door collage

But that wasn’t the end! The work, thinking, experimenting, ideating and iterating continued.

  1. Now I had to take my idea  – drawn on an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper – and transpose it into something beautiful on the actual door. Rulers, yardsticks, lovely pencils and erasers, compasses, and scratch pieces of paper were purposefully strewn across the door. I measured, sketched, thought, looked, breathed …. and did it all again for some time. It was fabulous! Finally the design was sketched onto the door.
  2. Next was the wood-burning stage which would create the dark lines of the design on my door. I should mention that this stage was also preceded by many hours of practice. The burner comes with many different tips. I experimented with each one to see what type of line it created, which heat worked best for it, and how easily I could manipulate it to create the lines I wanted. I experimented on various types of wood – they all seem to burn differently – and then explored the different areas of the clear pine I was using. The grain caused different burning rates and necessitated changes in speed and heat.
  3. Finally, time for color! I loved the look of the design burned into the wood. I’m sure it would have been fine to polyurethane it in its natural form, but I had created it with color in my mind and knew it would seem unfinished if I left it uncolored. So, once again, I risked “wrecking it” in order to make it what I knew it could be.
    1. I laid the colors out on the design – playing with different combinations.
    2. I painted the colors onto a similar piece of wood. I was amazed by the difference in the colors out of the paint tube versus on the tube.
    3. I thought, looked and waited. Mostly the waiting was because I was working during the day and coaching in the evenings, leaving me little time to create. But, that waiting was important, because I had time to look, and look some more, and allow my brain to play with the colors.
    4. I couldn’t decide on all the color combinations so I started with one color combination – the leaves – and as I painted, the other colors combinations coalesced for me.

The color and painting process was fascinating! I tried to figure out the entire color scheme, but failed time and time again. When I stopped trying and began painting, I – for lack of a better phrase – began to see better. It was as though the process of immersing myself in the medium – the paint and the painting – increased my clarity.

I can’t explain it — many ways it was magical! As I painted the leaves, with the tubes of paint lying about me, and I would notice myself thinking “Oh! That might work.” I’d continue painting, and notice another thought “Hmm, perhaps that is too much. I think this might be better.”

Often I’d run my ideas past my brother (another creative, learned soul) for clarification and validation. I wouldn’t always use his ideas, but somehow his ideas fed mine and helped them become more “perfect.”

door closeup

Each step in the process involved risk, flow, joy, time and triumph. It was all fabulous, but the time was really important. Time to think, to do, to wonder, to mess up, to re-think, and to experience the process, the product, the materials. I would often just stand at my work – leaning on the door, examining it with my eyes. Other times, I would run my palm over the work. The tactile experience of touching my work in its various stages of completeness was incredibly important, necessary and satisfying.

It makes me think about school and my students. How can I help them have this experience of creativity — in all its angst, sweat and splendor? How can I give them the time and opportunity to experience — in their own creative work and thought — what I experienced in mine?

I’m not completely sure, but rest assured I’ll be thinking about it, and letting the question, and any possible answers, inform my teaching practice!

 

 

The Cloud … in the Classroom

“The cloud stands guard at the boundary between the known and the unknown, because in order to discover something truly new, at least one of your basic assumptions has to change, and that means that in science, we do something quite heroic. Each day, we try to bring ourselves to the boundary between the known and the unknown and face the cloud.” Uri Alon

When I first listened to Uri’s TED talk, I immediately related as a researcher. I had experienced the misery of the cloud, the benefit of support in my cloud-induced-angst, and finally the joy, relief and wonder of new ideas and conclusions. But, then I wondered, where is the cloud in my life as an educator? Where is the cloud in the classroom?

I listened to his talk again, jotted notes from the transcript, and let the question ferment in my brain as I drove, walked, showered and slept … and, I had a revelation. The cloud is in the classroom every day because the cloud IS education! Let me modify his statement.

“The cloud stands guard at the boundary between the known and the unknown, because in order to discover something truly new, at least one of your basic assumptions has to change, and that means that in education, students and teachers do something quite heroic. Each day, we try to bring ourselves to the boundary between the known and the unknown and face the cloud.” Uri Alon rephrased by Molly James

Think about it! Isn’t that what education is all about? Discovering new things? Learning new skills? Challenging assumptions? Understanding things in new and deeper ways?  Bringing ourselves and our students to the boundary between the known and the unknown and facing the cloud … together.

I don’t know about you, but I think that is SPECTACULAR!!! All of a sudden students are elevated to a new level. They are protagonists in their own learning. They are brave, heroic explorers confronting their own clouds and emerging victorious with new insights, understanding and skills.

Wow.