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About Rene Urbanovich

  • Member Since: March 20, 2018

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Rene Urbanovich is a Humanities instructor and a Voice and Creativity teacher, holding a BA in Creativity Studies, MA in Humanities and is state certified in adult learning. Rene loves to write and can sometimes be seen writing alongside her life partner of 37 years at Mimi's Cafe on Sunday nights. Their four children, raised in the SCV, are now scattered across the globe, contributing their gifts to others via music, documentaries, activism, and comedy.

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Creativity Advocacy – Creativity and Destruction

| Community | October 12, 2018

Creativity and destruction are two words that don’t seem to belong next to one another. After all, Creativity warrants something new being made and destruction usually destroys something—either tangible or intangible. Why, then, do I pair them today? Well, for one, I am writing a book on Creativity. It’s taken me years to get to the point of having enough word count to share my work with beta-readers in the hopes of getting it ready to format. I’ve collected the thousands of thoughts that have relentlessly been swimming around in my head and have painstakingly put them onto the paper. I’ve Created something that may look like a stack of paper, but really, it’s my heart. It beats silently from the page and the writing of it keeps me alive, figuratively speaking. Well, after collecting vital feedback from my beta readers, I spent the last six weeks writing the final chapter. I actually had so much fun writing this last section that I felt sort of giddy.

Sadly, just last week, after finishing the chapter, which completed the entire book, I destroyed it. I didn’t mean to. It was one of those Microsoft Word disasters where you press “save” after accidentally deleting a chunk of content. In this case, five-thousand words of content. Too bad it was not my Creativity research with notes and a linear argument. That can be reconstructed. This particular chapter was all from my heart—from author to reader. Fluid and emotional and impossible to reproduce. Technology could be blamed, but mostly I blame myself for not paying closer attention to that almighty space bar.

As I noodled around the Internet looking for a Mac-hack (after calling my brother, the PC genius, and my son, the computer nerd) I asked myself why? How? I tried not to cry my eyes out—after all, it’s not a cancer diagnosis. Nonetheless, this knocked the wind out of my sails. This setback made me feel like I could be knocked over with a feather, never to return to the manuscript again. This is only how it feels, not how it actually is.

Naturally, I tried to make sense of this mishap.

One of my writer friends pointed out the irony that was obvious to her, but that I could not see. The book itself is all about the process of Creativity and how important it is to honor process before product. If I enjoyed the process of writing these five-thousand words, then voila. I am enriched. The process functioned as a positive exercise in my life. In a sense, I was forced to take my own prescription—to honor process without worrying about the end result. I can never retrieve these words. They came and went without permanence.

I mused over this for a while and then realized that painters experience this sort of thing all the time. My friend Lorelle Miller regularly participates in sidewalk chalk festivals, where giant masterpieces are Created outside on the asphalt or concrete and then washed away. Ice sculptures, too, are a version of Creating and destroying. Bakers who ornately decorate wedding cakes know their work will be consumed; they know it will be gone within hours, its purpose served. What about designers who create ornate structures for a short run at the theater, only to be the first to strike the set on closing night?

Artists who are prepared to let go of their work experience a freedom in the act of Creating that, surprisingly, is enriching and expansive. When I place myself in the company of these dedicated Creative souls, I feel a little bit better. I am trying to accept the fact that destroying my work can teach me and mold me as a writer, which means I am still in process myself and thus my development as a writer mirrors my Creative output. It’s pretty cool, I guess, that Creativity and destruction, while polar opposites, can function to knit me together and help me become a better artist.

Jungian psychology purports that Creativity involves the reconciling of tensions between opposing forces. When we embrace this tension as a way of rising to a higher plane for a new perspective, we expand and grow. By accepting this in my own mind, I am encroaching upon an innovative freedom. I like this angle because it keeps me from frustration and invites my curiosity.

Could this idea extend to others who may not be writers or artists? Perhaps something may just have to die before something new can be born. Maybe there is destruction before every new creation—an ending to a stage before the next stage begins. Raising kids was like that! There is no substitution for learning to trust in process, whether it is in artistic endeavors, home improvement, cooking or athletic accomplishments. Creativity and destruction are opposing sides of the same coin that can help us to grow in our approach to life itself.

Creativity Advocacy – Creativity and Community

| Community | September 21, 2018

Last month I attended the “Yellow Conference” in downtown L.A. where millennial female entrepreneurs got together for inspiration and motivation. I was reticent to attend, considering I was double the age of most attendees, but participated at the request of my niece Joanna, the founder of the conference. It seems that everywhere I turn, folks are bagging on the millennial culture because of their entitlement or need for instant results or lack of a work ethic. I’m not sure I want to explore the truth to these accusations, as I have four grown kids—all of them millennials. I am also, incidentally, immersed in this culture through teaching both at the college and in my home studio. I try not to perceive my own kids and students as a “demographic” per se, but as individuals with unique paths. For all the media’s finger-pointing at the younger generation, I must say I found none of it to be true at the “Yellow Conference.” The main difference between them and me was their propensity for striped pantsuits, but as far as being wired for collective, these girls had a heart for the masses much like their baby boomer predecessors.

Since my brick-and-mortar business is already thriving, and since I myself am not a millennial, I assumed the conference would have little to offer me by way of business models and branding. Was I ever wrong! Sitting in a room full of five-hundred women, next to a wall that read: “If there ever comes a time when the women of the world come together purely and simply for the benefit of mankind, it will be a force such that the world has never known,” we clapped and cried and connected not for the sake of businesses burgeoning but for the sake of the whole world. The experience was a surprise and truly transformative.

Stereotypically, women are known for their compassion, not their business savvy—a trope they’ve been trying to drop for decades. Proving ourselves to be capable and equal to men in business, without being referred to as the “B” word, has been tough. The speakers at “Yellow” did have unapologetic business know-how, and yet their drive was not based on money. The speakers were absolutely driven, offering tips on “bad-assery” and how to be the best you can be. But it didn’t just end there. After being your best, you would then help others and build community, like bees do—thus the name “Yellow.” Each business model presented how they would give a large percentage of their profits to a non-profit or charity of some kind. The general theme of each speaker was how to give back. The message was this: the purpose behind a profitable business is to profit others. These women figured out a way to employ compassion as their CEO. It was all about community.

The business models of today don’t demand expensive rents or the kind of overhead that had been necessary in my day, so everywhere I turn, there’s another start up, or online master class, or cyber-store. It makes it easier to make money, which makes it easier to give it away, especially considering many millennials don’t even want to accumulate goods, own houses or support mass consumerism. This recipe is not a repeat of our grandmothers’; indeed it is new. We are a global community now and can share what we have with others in need.

The crux of Creativity is connection—connecting us with our deepest selves and with one another. Anything that builds community, then, engages a good amount of Creative activity.

Obviously, Creativity in business is nothing new, as brainstorming clever slogans pays many a salary, but the kind of Creativity that unites us under the guise of business is novel, indeed. Not only that, but pulling all of these women together in one place to demonstrate how to do this ultimately marries opposites—business and charity/revenue and donation—where there is no need for competition because compassion is expansive. I participated in the weekend imagining I’d be just a fly on the wall, but instead I was equipped with inspiration and resources for my do-good business, ultimately, upholding the mission of Creativity. True community knows no age or demographic, only the power of our collective energies aimed at healing our world.

Creativity Advocacy- Creativity and Emptiness

| Community | August 24, 2018

Going up to McGee Creek last weekend to feel the sunshine, see the stars, smell the campfire and sleep alongside the whisper of the winddid something to me. I hadn’t been camping in over eighteen years, so it’s no wonder that I was struck with childhood memories, moments wrought with emotion at remembering my grandparents who’ve passed, a renewed appreciation for Mother Nature, and even just the sound of my own breath amidst something I know very little of—silence. The whole experience knocked me over even as it uplifted me—reminding me of my need for vacation and basically, my need to just “be.”

The High Sierras seemed to wag their proverbial fingers at me, shaming me for being so busy and encouraging me to do more of this thing called “nothing” and learn to just “be.”
Doing nothing is not something I’m good at—and I never have been. Even now, in my mid-fifties, I’ve taken to playing solitaire on my iPhone to keep my mind occupied. This jaunt through the canyons has caused me to re-think my little addiction to tiny technologies that fit into my back pocket. And in fact, my own children (who are now the same age I was when I last camped) have been encouraging me to meditate for years. Meditating is the practice of doing nothing, of calming the mind and finding one’s center.

While I don’t traditionally meditate like a yogi, in criss-cross-applesauce position—fingers poised and eyes closed, I do dabble in pseudo-meditative activities. Aside from singing, I have been known to slap paint on a blank canvas just to watch it drip, then dry. As a poet, I am experienced in the use of empty space called whitespace. Though I am not a sculptor, I am keenly aware of the negative space in sculpture that can define the form—as important as the solid shape itself. So, it does stand to reason that for Creative works, emptiness and nothingness are what actually express meaning. I concede that there is something to this nothingness.

Creativity seems to warrant empty space. In her book, “The Artist’s Way” Julia Cameron urges artists to keep margins in their calendars, as well as to carve out play dates for the practice of not-doing. Albert Einstein is known for having spent long afternoons doing just that–nothing, engaging only his imagination. Salvador Dali claimed that falling into a half-sleep state would cause him to slip into this liminal space—this slot of nothing. Meditation changes our brain’s Beta waves to Alpha and Theta waves, which relieve stress and promote well-being. Even a plant whose roots are crowded into a tiny pot can thrive when transplanted into a bigger pot and the roots can spread out. Space is good. Emptiness is powerful. Especially when that space is internal, dark, and undefined.

Not everyone’s schedule is as jam-packed as mine, but many of us do operate on a level-of-busy that flies in the face of the desert fathers’ or Buddhist monks’ idea of a good life. Learning to embrace the idea of letting go is a good beginning for both self-development and Creative works. We don’t even have to drive five hours north of Santa Clarita to experience it, either.
Nothing is everywhere.

I have to hand it to Oprah and Chopra for introducing our pop culture to meditation and marketing ideas like Super-Soul Sunday (in direct opposition to Kim Kardashian’s famed obsession with wedgies and vintage thongs) where concerned millions congregate via cyberspace to meditate and improve their practice of doing nothing. Gathering the collective around an invisible campfire to release stress is quite an accomplishment even if it’s in a file-format or a pod cast. Meditating helps to Create healthier individuals and these individuals are what make up society. When we contemplate together, we are connected—which is the ultimate mission of Creativity. Sometimes it just might take empty space to fulfill this mission, but there’s plenty of it to go around.

Creativity Advocacy – Creativity and Story

| Community | August 10, 2018

Once again, I spent my entire weekend working—if you can call attending performances working, that is. I wasn’t really doing anything beyond sitting, but such is the job of a voice teacher.  Last weekend I enjoyed four different shows. This is nothing new. Most singing and acting coaches dart all over town to support their students. What struck me about my weekend was that every show was original. New. Innovative.

The first show, a short comedic film screened down in Hollywood, cracked me up with the hilarious characters and crazy antics. The second showcased heart-wrenching scenes from the holocaust set in Italy through musical theater; the third—a new review of Broadway songs, stunned me with harmonies and emotional connection. The last one blew me away with its flawless acting, feminist themes, rhyme and musical score. I needed a weekend to recover from my weekend!

After every standing ovation (and they were 4 for 4), I found myself choked up on the way to my car. I was moved to tears by each original piece but more than that, each work carried an extra layer of emotion because it was new. And I knew the writers—I was part of something grand. I couldn’t contain my excitement for each writer nor could I restrain my joy at having shared in their Creative accomplishments.

To write a piece requires one type of Creative energy. To then rehearse, mount and execute a production warrants another. The collaborative nature of film and live theater employs even another form of Creativity. Add the audience, whose participation impacts the show, and Creativity abounds!

Original works seem to carry a poignancy that other performances may not. I find myself wondering, what drove these young composers to write new shows when there are plenty of famous works ready-made and packaged for the stage? Why did they feel the need to tell their stories?

Authors, playwrights, composers and poets use their craft to self-express. They’re in touch with the power of narrative, honoring the hero’s journey. When they share their version of life, it makes them feel connected and known. We, as the audience, might recognize ourselves in these stories as well, which allows us to feel known, understood and verified. Sharing in one another’s stories connects us.

Storytelling is an ancient art form. So ancient, in fact, that some historians believe it to be the first art form, originating around the fire when our ancestors shared myth and used chanting as a way to connect and preserve culture. Before the proliferation of books and the written word, stories were told and kept by poets, minstrels, troubadours, jesters, mimes and royal courtiers. Acting troops traveled all over, producing and delivering story for hundreds of years. In a sense, this practice still continues today, only the stories themselves are updated, made novel and more relevant. Some of the most genius, epic tales can be accessed with the click of a button. Expensive blockbuster series like “Game of Thrones” or “The Tudors” are accessed on demand from the couch, while donning our pajamas. Never has “story” been so readily available and pervasive as now.

Bearing witness to stories helps us realize our rich histories, to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going as a species. Sometimes the story is comedic, which brings laughter to our bodies and sprinkles a little perspective upon our journeys. Sometimes the story is tragic, but we may glean some redemption and learn something. Storytelling is in our genes, hard-wired into our DNA from past generations. We all engage in storytelling, and we all have our own tale to tell!

Next time you kick off your shoes in front of the big screen or attend live theater to partake in story, muse over the profound connection this activity can bring—a link back to humans of a distant era who, just like us, sans electronic technology, were moved and transformed by orange glowing faces, with dancing and drumming, laughter and tears, sanctified by togetherness and the conjoining of the human spirit.

Creativity Advocacy – Creativity and Transcendence

| Community | July 20, 2018

by Rene Urbanovich

I love creative visualization as much as the next guy. I think it saved my life, in fact. Well, not my life, but my livelihood, at least. I had always heard about visualization; being raised in the seventies, the E.S.P. movement was pretty prominent, at least in my memory. Later, in the Evangelical church, I heard about the desert fathers and read Christian books by teachers like Richard Foster who proposed visualizations. So it was something I dabbled in during prayer, without knowing much.

When I was fifteen, I developed nodules on my vocal cords from screaming as Ermengarde in Hello Dolly. Those nodes caused me to struggle with hoarseness for years. Though there are many parts that contributed to my healing, I’m here to tell you that the visualizations given to me by my voice therapist, Joanna Cazden, are what changed me the most. She gave me a little cassette tape that coached me through walking into a room made of my vocal folds, where I was told to lay hands on the walls, apologize to them for so many years of abuse/misuse and express how grateful I was to have them. I was really sick of being hoarse (especially since I was a voice teacher) and this woman was an established professional in the medical field, not some kookie hippie, so I went with it.

I haven’t been hoarse since.

This healing happened while I was in school working on my BA in Creativity studies. Concurrently, I was writing papers on creative process, creative people and creative purpose.

I learned that Creative visualization is not some New Age or Eastern Religious practice. In the western world during the 1800s, philosophers and artists known as the Romantics dedicated their lives to this activity.

Back when poets and philosophers were exploring meditations on art and beauty, “transcendence” meant rising above sadness; escaping sin; releasing pain; discovering beauty amidst suffering. And by God, there was a lot of suffering. People were dying right and left of tuberculosis, disease, war, childbirth, you name it.

These artists were called the Romantics because they argued that beyond earthly existence was a higher truth—one that had been created by the Absolute. Here is a great quote for anyone who follows the history of Creativity: “Romantics believed that … all creation participates in eternal truth and all things are part of the whole and of each other … and since all creation has a common origin, a thorough and careful observation of any part may give insights into the whole.” The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer taught that intentionally connecting—communing—with art and beauty offered redemptive qualities, not only for the inherent beauty and truth that it possessed, but because of the inspiring experience it provided for the audience. It gave a momentary release from the divisive forces of every day existence and an opportunity to connect with Creation, or the whole. To connect with art meant to contemplate a thing of beauty and truth—to interact with one’s own imagination.

From where I sit, we regularly connect with art—mostly music and film. Sometimes the art is full of truth and beauty (the CG movie CoCo comes to mind) and sometimes not (The Ring—ugh!). Of course, a lot of people believe in visualization and meditation now. People use that “happy place” to help with bad moods, traffic, lost keys and a whole lot of other stuff. Even without the help of the masters, so to speak; it has finally become a part of our culture.

I sometimes wonder if we might inadvertently use art as an escape instead of a way to connect. We want to sort of numb ourselves to the stresses in our lives. Instead, we could tap into our imagination. The mission of Creativity is to connect us with the whole. Using our mind to connect with a work of art or with nature serves us individually by lowering our blood pressure and relieving stress. It connects us with the transcendent nature of art too, whether it’s a meaningful song or a poignant movie. We share in these experiences, sometimes with friends and family, which connects us to one another. Next time you find yourself being soothed by a beautiful ballad on Spotify, or lose all track of time during a captivating film, take note that you are touching the transcendent properties of Creativity.

Creativity Advocacy: Creativity and Ritual

| Opinion | June 30, 2018

To embrace Creativity means to embrace change.

Creativity has transformative properties—and who experiences these transitions more than a female? My hips changed from narrowed ballerina to widened woman as I entered my twenties so that I could use them to carry things—good for more than just guitars and yoga mats, by the way! My body has morphed into a butterball baby factory four times! This torso of mine also became a milk farm for those four infants. That’s just the physical alterations. What about the mental adjustments women go through in order to accommodate the family’s needs? Of course, men do too, and even infants and children change every few weeks. Our developing bodies and psyches are in a constant state of flux. This power to change derives from the force of Creativity.

Many Creative acts require risk, intention, hard work, dedication, talent, insight and space. If we don’t engage with the force of Creativity, our problem can’t be solved; our screenplay can’t get finished; our painting can’t get hung. But Creativity that starts inside our brains and cells doesn’t need our conscious participation. For example, even when you make up your mind that you’re ready to deliver your baby, you can’t will yourself into labor. No amount of castor oil or jumping on the bed will outdo nature. Even my young students who are working actors don’t want to grow up because it might mean outgrowing their casting director’s needs, but nothing they do or say will prevent the onset of adolescence—and there’s the major mood swings to boot! We change whether we will it or not.

Just recently, I went through the infamous change that women do when they’re about my age. This transformation is complex and confusing and is viewed by society as some sort of disease. Lucky for me, one of my best friends Andrea Slominski, is writing her dissertation on the subject of Menopause because she can hold the candle for me when these complex, confusing and transformative moments darken my path. She truly understands and honestly, what feels better than being known?

Perhaps to offset my own fears of society’s negative attitude toward aging, I decided to embrace my life’s imminent change and throw myself a party. I called it a “Punctuation Party” to symbolize the shift from what mythologists call the Mother/Householder stage to Regent stage. We recited poetry and did ritual stuff, like beading a crown and crafting “blossoming” necklaces. It was so significant, Andrea and I decided our culture should adopt these Punctuation Parties to usher more of us into this exciting question-mark stage of life, right alongside the Mexican Quinceanera and the Jewish Bat/Bar Mitzvah.

The human race has been practicing ritual since the beginning of time. We still have birthday parties, baby showers, weddings and funerals—even graduations—to help us commemorate the big moments in our journeys. Rituals are our way of participating in those rites of passage that happen to us regardless of our deliberation. Ritual allows us the opportunity to put a frame around the fascinating photos that are life itself, to reflect and honor and engage with our own transformation. Ritual also connects us to those who have gone before us. Without it, our lives would be somewhat superficial. Ritual and ceremony tie us to our inner selves and to humanity—and as always, Creative acts connect us to something larger than ourselves. We participate—consciously and unconsciously—with the force that propels the species and the universe at large to thrive.

That’s something to celebrate.

**The Views and Opinions expressed in these columns are those of the writer, not necessarily those of Valley Publications/Santa Clarita Gazette**

Creativity Advocacy Enemies of Creativity, Part 2

| Opinion | June 1, 2018

If Creativity possessed a form or a body, she’d most likely have some enemies. Last article, we took a magnifying glass to Routine as one potential enemy of Creativity. When kept in his place, Routine wasn’t so bad, but today we look at enemy #2 – the Naysayers, and there is absolutely no place for Naysayers when it comes to Creativity. They just don’t mesh.

There are three types: the domain expert who seems to shame us for trying something new, the family critic who ridicules us at every turn, and the self-sabotager whose negative voice, while silent, is but the loudest one of all. We need Creativity to help stave off these enemies, and luckily, she’s always on our side.

Enemy #1: The Domain Expert:
Let’s say we attend a play at the town theater, which inspires us to audition next time around. We promise ourselves that we’re going to practice our “la-la-la-las” and get out there with the locals. But we haven’t studied musical theater formally, so we feel embarrassed to admit our deep desire. Or we’ve always wanted to take up the guitar, but never had time or money for lessons, and now with YouTube tutorials we could actually make it happen. But we don’t, because there’s that guy at church with his MA in music and, well, he may laugh. Whether it’s poetry, painting, furniture building, singing, cooking or even modeling – anything novel that carries a history of professionalism – the omniscient presence of a shaming expert causes us to shy away, one back-pedal at a time.

Sometimes in real life, and sometimes in our minds, we imagine the experts mock us for our efforts in a certain field. Mihaley Csiksentmihalyi, the leading scholar on Creativity, is well-known for endorsing that an act is NOT considered Creative unless it contributes something novel to the domain. This attitude is what paralyzes us and then we forego the Creative thing that we secretly want to do. Perhaps these scholars and experts aren’t considering anything but the macro – society at large. Contrary to this theory, the phenomenon of Creativity is NOT limited to the experts in any domain, no matter what the academics say. I look at it this way: any Creative act in which you engage contributes greatly to YOU on the micro level. Research proves that music, writing and painting enhance brain function, not to mention it is used as therapy and for elevating moods. If enough of us invest in our own personal Creativity, we grow as individuals, which actually does contribute to culture at large. “The field” in this case is the universe itself – an undivided whole – and our Creative efforts are attempts to fit into that greater whole.

Enemy #2: The Family Critic
The Family Critic has no filters when poking at our ideas or belittling our inspirations. However, we must accept that being Creative requires a certain amount of risk – the risk of being made fun of or gambling with our precious time and energy, or both. So it goes. The family critic may tell us to our faces that we’re wasting our time, money, and energy chasing some dream. We then must take it as a compliment. We’re getting intimate with the force of Creativity – maybe they’re just jealous. We must make it look so good that they want a piece of her, too. That way, they might get off our backs.

Enemy #3 The Self-Sabatoger
This Naysayer constantly tries to talk us out of interacting with Creativity. We all hear the voice; we all give in to it. Life is just way too practical to accommodate all of the Creative ideas that cross our minds. The feasibility of Creativity is never going to trump our logic. Creativity doesn’t abide by those logical and feasible rules. Getting used to that Self-Sabatoger will render it powerless. Better yet, we can treat it like a non-threatening, but irritating, hitchhiker. Like the family critic and the shaming expert, we must tell that self-sabatoger to “get on in, but don’t tell me where to go or how to drive.”

Becoming close to our own Creativity will never be easy – but each of us has been close kin to her during our childhoods, so the love between us runs deep. She’s known us at our most vulnerable, developing moments and can be trusted. We can stay true to that relationship while still dealing with her enemies, as long as we’re prepared. Creativity is of utmost importance to us on both the individual level and on a societal level. If we can’t fight off the naysayers for the sake of our own development, maybe then, we can do it for the sake of the collective.

Creativity Advocacy – Creativity’s Enemies, part 1

| Opinion | May 11, 2018

Creativity is not an actual person with friends and enemies, per se. But if Creativity had a form or a body, she would most likely possess some dear friends and a few foes. She would cuddle up to life’s Dark Space and have lots of lunches with Open Schedule. She’d possibly be besties with the much-overlooked Curiosity. She’d chill into the night playing with Game and Puzzle; she’d slumber party with Laughter and coddle Tears of Sadness. She’d be pretty cool that way. But if her foes approached her, she’d probably fling up her fist like humans do to vampires about to strike. Certain elements aim to suck the life out of Creativity, drain her, and she’d do all she could to keep them at bay.

In movies like “Twilight,” the protagonists know exactly how to stave off the dreaded enemy. It has something to do with the power of the cross held up in the face of the fanged monster. In real life, however, most of us don’t know what to do when these bloodsuckers come at us and deplete us of our Creative juices. We don’t even see them coming most of the time.

These forces of evil come in the form of routine and naysayers.

When it comes to routine, most of us would think Routine is a good friend. He’s stable and consistent and lovingly pats you on the back when it comes to exercise and hard work. But something we may not know about Routine is that he can be possessive and power-hungry. Creativity and Routine have rendezvoused for millennia, and when she sees this tendency in him, she packs up and dismisses herself. She knows better than to tango with his mistaken sense of entitlement.

When we team up with Routine, we can be on top of our game, doing life the way we’ve set our intentions. We feel so good that our brain patterns carve out a groove and all is right with the world. We follow a known and expected path of activity, measure our Creative productivity with a smile and then enjoy the rush of dopamine. But every groove starts out as a perfect pathway, much like the wheel had shaped an easier ride for covered wagoneers across the prairie long ago. After too many trips, though, a healthy groove potentially becomes a rut and passengers end up stuck somewhere, wondering where Creativity ran off to. Routine seems to have taken over and left no room for her. He seems to do that with Unpredictability and Imagination, too.

Instead of getting stuck in our relationship with Routine, perhaps we could treat him like a prearranged Airbnb guest – welcomed, but not permanent. If we make enough changes to our Routine to keep our pathways fresh and less automated, then Creativity still has a chance to join us in our journeys. Routine is not a bad guy; he just needs to be kept in his place.

Metaphors aside, it’s crucial for us to keep the literal, physical pathways open that encourage brain plasticity. Our attentional circuits need variance or they begin to rust. Columbia University’s new study in neurogenesis suggests that we can create new neurons up to age 79. Without challenges, though, our brains get lazy. We can contribute to the making of new cells by breaking routines and employing our five senses whenever possible. Creativity is responsible for these shifts in behavior, as well as the resulting new brain cells. By endeavoring novel experiences (hiking instead of going to the gym, taking a new trajectory on your commute, picking fresh fruit off the tree instead of buying packaged), we can live healthier, longer. Creativity is on our side and she tends to help us do more than paint pictures or sculpt masterpieces or craft a screenplay. She’s pretty cool that way. And as for the next enemy – the naysayers – there are two kinds: Experts and Family Critics. We›ll visit them in the next column. We must pace ourselves as we put these antagonists in their place.

Creativity Advocacy – How I Tackle Creative Blocks

| Opinion | April 19, 2018

Wallowing. It seems to work for me. I know, it sounds silly, but I’m an expert on this stuff. Not only Creativity, but wallowing. I’m a Voice and Creativity teacher by day and a wannabe-writer at 5 in the morning. And I’d love to tell you the one thing that helps me write: wallowing.

It is usually done on the floor, supplemented with sound effects … or not. The benefits are plenty. I use wallowing as an accompanying behavior to help my brain get into that “space” that experts call flow. I lie on the floor, sort of roll back and forth, you know – wallow. It’s peaceful when done in the living room, but going outside and staring at the undersides of leaves can work too. There’s more to wallowing, but I want to explain how a physical behavior can help the brain click into a particular mode for abstract thought.

Take my day job: If my singing student wants to use a specific tone quality for a particular song, I train his/her voice along with a hand motion. This way, instead of a single pattern set for the vocal cords, the brain gets another connection to this specific tone quality. For example, in the high head voice, I ask the student to pull the note out of the air with the left hand. It’s like magic and actually helps students sing high without tension. How? Firstly, it’s a distraction. And secondly, using the left hand quiets the critical side of the brain. It invites the Creativity part of the brain into the activity. Repetition will help train the body and – voila – a person who couldn’t reach a high C is suddenly trilling like Snow White.

When we train our brains by using “accompanying” behaviors, usually we can kick that neuro-pathway into gear, even when facing self-doubt and the paralyzing fear that looms in the corner of the mind. Singers tend to experience “writer’s block” as a pinching sensation in the throat; they literally choke, preventing themselves from “letting go” and from filling the room with their unlocked Creativity and talent.

Now apply that to writing (or sculpting, painting, back-handsprings, etc). I am afraid that the blank page that stares at me from the computer screen won’t become what it should be, so instead of letting go, the page is literally blocked from filling.

The best way to ease my fear is to just lie down and let go.

I wallow on the floor, rocking, rolling and humming, and because it’s a childhood behavior, memories flow in and out, I lose track of time, and I begin to feel connected to that vast realm known as the “internal.” My imagination is activated by this behavior and, as such, I use it as a jump-start.

I probably should add that sometimes I cry a little and it’s usually because I’m frustrated as hell and want so desperately to finish my piece. The crying also helps, as it connects me with my primal, emotional self. Frustration can be debilitating, and fear is the worst. If I can get that my inner child is on my side, I’ve got it made. Children aren’t afraid of Creating.

Wallowing also induces curiosity, another childhood quality – which everyone knows is a sister to the imagination.

If wallowing becomes your base before you Create, it can lead the brain to that flow-state without all of the self-loathing and criticism. The wallow sets the brain in motion before you get up off the floor. This becomes your practice. It’s much better to concentrate on process (like flow and connecting to your deeper self) than product (“no one’s going to read this”). Wallowing can help you overcome fear by establishing a brain pattern and opening you up to the inner realm of Creativity that’s always waiting to be engaged.

Everyone’s different. If you played with Lincoln Logs as a child, you could buy a set of those – the trick is to tap into the brain associations and trust those associations to defeat your block. What will your kids say when they walk in on their mother or father building a log cabin in the corner of the living room?

Creativity Advocacy: The Power of the Unseen

| Opinion | April 5, 2018

Most people don’t know who Lindon Leader is. The name Leader somehow even suggests that he’s someone we could follow, right? His influence on society is less “in-your-face” than someone like Mark Zuckerberg or even Albert Einstein. Lindon Leader contributes his gifts behind the scenes – but thanks to Google, we can at least see what he looks like. (He’s kind of cute, if you like older men.) He’s an award-winning graphic designer.

Around 20 years ago, my dear friend Fran was working on a logo for my voice-training business. She brought me some great examples to show how powerful a logo can be – fully aware that the branding is as important as the singing lessons themselves. I’ll never forget my reaction to the FedEx logo when she presented it to me. Of course, I didn’t catch the little arrow between the E and the X until she outlined it for me – it’s that cleverly placed. When it hit me that the arrow had always been there but I had never noticed it, I was overwhelmed with surprise. How had I missed it? Who had thought of this?

Fran went on to design an artsy, musical logo for my burgeoning business, but in actuality, she did more for me that day than just submit a comp for marketing purposes. She was a catalyst for my pursuit of the mysteries of Creativity, which has since become life-long.

Now, when I pass the FedEx truck on the street, my lips turn up in a smile. I get a warm, colorful feeling. It’s not because Lindon Leader is cute, either. It’s because of what he and his brilliant logo represent. Sure, the arrow itself symbolizes the trip that delivers packages from point A to point B. Indeed, the arrow stands for accuracy and speed, which marketing experts intentionally included in order to pack in hidden depth. They knew that a subliminal arrow could reach us on a secret level. Ultimately, this hidden message is partly what undergirds the success of the company. The man behind the logo is a mini-representation of the same ideal. He may never be at the forefront, but still impacts culture.

I get super excited at the thought of this. It may seem like much ado about nothing – I mean, who gets excited about some painted image on freight? Most people wouldn’t mentally register if the truck had passed by, unless of course they were waiting for a delivery from Amazon. Why do I care so much?

The hidden arrow reminds me of the phenomenon of Creativity. It exemplifies how Creativity is moving us as a species from point A to point B, through medicine and scientific discoveries and humane relief efforts. The concealed emblem signifies the unseen force of Creativity that is always there, whether we focus on it or not.

Creativity is the force behind our ideas, our intuition, our curiosity – all unseen. Creativity connects us with our emotions, family histories, our dreams – and helps to transport those interior components to the exterior, from point A to point B. Most of the time, we aren’t conscious or aware that Creativity is at work. We are too busy at the grocery store, or tending to our “to-do” lists on our iPhones. But our individual journeys are still secretly propelled by Creativity and manifested in music and art and sometimes in relationships or a delicious stew. Our individual Creativity can take on many different forms and packages. Each time we problem solve or crack a joke, we are interacting with the unseen powers of Creativity.

Like the FedEx truck, Creativity delivers. We may be preoccupied with the tasks at hand, checking off boxes, focusing on what’s right in front of us, but beneath the surface, Creativity connects us with our hidden realm and packs meaning into our lives. What could be more exciting than that?

Creativity Advocacy – Divine Drivel

| Opinion | March 22, 2018

When I worked with Bette Midler for a short stint in 2016, she affectionately called my Creativity exercises “drivel.” After all, she’s an industry veteran and a can-do professional. She is well aware that no one ever gets anywhere in entertainment without applying discipline. But sometimes the need for “drivel” surpasses work ethic, and even talent. I often implement brief exercises (like written reflection or drawing or lying down and groaning) as a way of getting in touch with the source of Creativity to bolster our craft. An intricate balance of “doing the work” and nurturing our inner world is necessary in any developing artist. I was joking with her when I told her that if I ever wrote a book on Creativity, I’d call it “drivel” in her honor.

Ms. Midler went on to win the Tony Award for “Hello Dolly” in 2017. In spite of her teasing me about my seemingly nonsensical and silly Creativity exercises, I honestly think that Bette Midler has her finger on the pulse of true Creativity. Perhaps she knew on some level that her success was already connected to the phenomenon of Creativity and didn’t need little tricks made up by me. Bette’s track record suggests that, once in a while, however inexplicable, the music industry collides with true Creativity, and vigorously impacts culture.

In the late ‘70s, it was Bette’s intuition that led her to lobby for “The Rose” as the title tune for the major motion picture, which eventually rose to No. 1 on “Billboard,” and she won a Grammy – over famous, trained vocalists and divas like Barbra Streisand. How could she know that society would be ripe for a poetic analysis of love? And one without a commercial hook? During the ‘80s, “Wind Beneath My Wings” peaked to the top slot of pop. How did a song that honored mentors, friends, parents, and leaders emerge smack dab in the middle of less substantial hits like the fluffy “Baby, Don’t Forget My Number” by Milli Vanilli and the frivolous “Wild Thing” by Tone Loc? How, then, in the ‘90s, did “From a Distance” reach No. 2? To society’s surprise, this song expanded the audience’s perspective to a bird’s-eye view of the collective, urging us to unite. None of these songs was a typical commercial love song, but each possessed deep meaning, ushering listeners into a profound human connection. We can assume Atlantic Label giants cared more about sales than connectivity, but what made folks flock to her concerts and deem her divine? Ms. M’s gold records not only climbed charts but, more importantly, carried relational correlations in our human experience. Knowingly or not, she brought these songs to the forefront of culture and passed them like batons to the rest of us. Not only have I repeatedly performed each song at weddings, funerals, retirement parties, church services and bars, I’ve also listened to countless others sing them. These experiences are the components that shape culture.

When the force of Creativity manifests in music, we are united, much like a ritual would do during ancient times. Living in Los Angeles, it’s easy to forget that before music became a business, it was a sacred calling. In the Bible era, the king would call David in to play his lyre and sing to him – there was no electronic music back then! Poets were history keepers and minstrels were revered. Music, in fact, is believed by anthropologists to be Homo sapiens’ original language. Before linguistics and the alphabet, grunting and vocalizing were all we had to commune with one another.

A trip down Musical Evolution Lane is just a reminder to stay connected with the function of music and the purpose of all human Creativity – connection. Intentionally reflecting on timeless songs that transform culture and that join us in a shared experience is, to me, a vital exercise. Some may think of these reflections as a waste of precious voice training minutes, but truly, these activities are the undergirding of our artistic endeavors. Music serves to hold us together as a species. Creativity exercises remind my soloists that they are not alone, that they are part of something greater. As a voice teacher, I straddle the great divide of commerce and Creativity daily, so I’m not scared off easily. Go ahead, call this exercise in reflection silly. Term it what you will. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, because the force of Creativity is at work, even when we deem it drivel.