Tacit and Tangible: Two Sides of the Creative Teacher

“…I think of how much beginnings have to do with freedom, how much disruption has to do with consciousness and the awareness of possibility that has so much to do with teaching other human beings.  And I think that if I and other teachers truly want to provoke our students to break through the limits of the conventional and the taken for granted, we ourselves have to experience breaks with all that has been established in our own lives; we have to keep arousing ourselves to begin again. ”

(Maxine Greene p.109 Releasing the Imagination)

in the belljar

I’ve written here before about struggling for balance between tangible creative output in the form of art: short stories and now photos and multimedia narrative, and tacit outcomes through raising daughters and mentoring young writers in the college writing classroom and now rural-community storytelling projects.  I’ve written about how I firmly believe that teachers must be practitioners of what they teach, and yet for years, the best I could do on that score in my creative writing classes was to keep a writing notebook with bits and pieces of conversations, character sketches and snatches of scenes.  Later on I did the same with image/text and digital-story fragments and shards.  Nothing complete, though.  Nothing finished, very little put out into the world except through the personal space of my blogs. Academic thinking/writing/presenting, on the other hand, was easy to do from inside the walls, and is much more challenging now.  I am sloughing off my academic self for someone who works in the unpredictable, shifting spaces of local community and personal creativity, and some days I’m just plain old nowhere.

last flight2

I envied colleagues who went on publishing creative works through those years of teaching and child-rearing–I just couldn’t sort out how they did it all.  (How do they do it?)  I tried, believe me, but failed.  I’m slow. I wrote a novel during the year I spent on sabbatical in Ireland, but at the end of the year, the demands of full-time teaching and parenting re-focused my creative energies and the novel slipped under.  I felt acutely what an old Irish farmer said to me one time during my daily run past his farm: “We’re putting our energies to different ends.”  Writing a novel felt incredibly self-indulgent, whereas helping students stay connected with their imaginations felt significant and way more than I could ever do on a page. How silly to be running just to run, to stay in shape, but not actually to go anywhere that needed to be got to.  (Sometimes it’s how I feel about hopping on my bike in the middle of the day just to ride–how privileged–versus commuting on it or using it as part of my livelihood.)

And so, I turned my classrooms into disruptive creative studio spaces.  We were going to do something, go somewhere, explore, experiment, create against the grain, to put our ideas into contact zones, to adopt a practice, to commit to that practice.  As my students went on to pursue creative lives that included writing, teaching, mentoring, activism, I told myself that whatever loss I felt at not being in full touch with my own writing was more than made up for by the magic going on in class.

But now, a year out of the classroom, I feel new and shiny in my creative skin, somewhere between tacit and tangible creativity, between searching for form and having to conform to forms already given, between mentoring and practicing.  I’ve had photos accepted in a show and now one (“Heading Home” just above)  in an online annex to another show; I’m deep into short stories again, even experimenting with sharing drafts on bgexperiments–I’d love to have your feedback) while writing a white paper on storytelling and participatory planning, and continuing my work with rural communities and storytelling. I watch Laura working on a book, Jen writing like crazy, Keira dreaming up learning parties–all women who left the higher ed scene; all mothers; all still sharing knowledge, connecting, mentoring, teaching, but just look at them finding deep pleasure in their creativity.

Sure none of us is raking in the dough. And it’s easier for me as I’m a bit older than they are, with children in college and beyond.  I don’t have the same pressures of saving up for tuition, much less paying the rent or mortgage. When I was in that position, I was teaching.  I didn’t have the courage and will that they do.  They are my heroes.

here the morning

So maybe I still don’t have the mix down,  and I’ll continue to struggle with the balance, but being in this disruptive space sure feels good.


14 Responses

  1. You are my hero. It was you who gave me the courage to leave, to jump into the unknown. I know that feeling of having abandoned the thing that you teach, but watching students embrace. My former students are emailing me now with their successes, one with a potential job at Twitter of all places, another setting up social networks to raise money for a local library, another using online tools to communicate on behalf of women’s rights. And there’s more. And there are those I don’t know about. And I miss that direct influence, but I also know that it took energy to mentor them and left me with little energy for my own similar pursuits. Blogging is a way of continuing to reach out to them.

    I am truly enjoying what I’m doing now. I wish it were balanced with something that brought in some case, but I’ll worry about that later. 🙂 I’m about to complete the first draft of the book, and that’s exciting, but I know there’s some hard work ahead of editing and shaping and making into something better. It’s good to feel that sense of accomplishment again, something I haven’t felt in quite a while. From what I can tell of your work, you should be feeling that too!

  2. Aw, thanks, Laura. I love the story of your students continuing to contact you about their social media use. Very cool. You are a model blogger, giving all the time of yourself. I don’t know how you do it! Every day!

    I am reveling in this creative life. If everyone had time to pursue their creative interests in a sustained practice (instead of the wild dabbling most people have time for), what might the world look like?

  3. Ah, this post struck to my heart, Barbara. What a caution! See, I don’t think of myself as a creative person. And now that my digital storytelling work is growing, I, er, don’t have much of my own d.s. to show.

    Maybe I should do an ARG. Or…

    I am going to ponder this for a while.

    PS: you’re definitely one of my heroes!

  4. You don’t think of yourself as a creative person, Bryan? Say it ain’t so–you’re one of the most creative thinkers I know.

    But I’m also not surprised that you haven’t been playing around with your own ds as much as you’d like–with work and family and farm, how could there be time? And yet, it’s important to be practicing the very thing you are an expert on… the tangle, the tangle!

    Oh, czars of employment, everyone in this so-called creative economy should be given time for noodling, for playing, for art. I wonder what that would do to our health, our well-being, heck, our job effectiveness..

    • Dear (The New) BGBlogging,
      I was led to your blog through Glenn Groulx at Athabasca University. I thing the creative side of teaching is the most common thread. I like changing to nudge me along and sometimes I like to leap to the next chapter.

      Thanks for this creative blog.

      Jo Ann Hammond-Meiers

  5. That’s the opposite of where our economy is, alas. Hence the rise in productivity.
    How long did it take for FDR to start funding arts, about 2 years?

    …you’re awfully sweet, Barbara. Am thinking about this.

  6. It’s an honour to be on this crazy journey into penury with all of you artists and teachers. You are touchstones- bg, and all the commenters here.

    I too am filling notebooks with stories, snatches of poems etc. About a year ago I had a realization that I’m an artist and a writer and that I’m about 13 years old in my development. I feel about 17 now, maybe, so that’s something. It’s still a long way off from feeling like a confident, adult practitioner but my life makes more sense to myself when I own that. The reasons for quitting a demanding, creative and relatively well-paid day job make more sense.

    ” I am sloughing off my academic self for someone who works in the unpredictable, shifting spaces of local community and personal creativity, and some days I’m just plain old nowhere.”

    Quitting the dayjob- ack- it’s a wild, rough ride. Not that it wasn’t on the inside. I’m grateful as hell I could quit and go slowly broke (first the pension fund, then the parental gifts, now the credit line).
    There’s a comfortable mid-size sedan worth of privilege that allows me to step outside, increasing debt-load not withstanding. But slowing down and living more like an artist, rooted in a particular patch of earth feels pretty right in many ways. Yes, even with the incessant inner voices casting doubt and mostly external indifference.

    It’s why being mentioned in a beautiful post like this is so deeply validating. On the one hand I have many days I feel very vulnerable, isolated and invisible and yet the nonsense of that- I read something from bg or these commenters blogs and get gobsmacked. I’ve had more meaningful collaborations with people in my community in 2 years than I did in the last 10.

    Such power and possibility in this unfolding conversation and in these inter-connected experiments.Thanks Barbara for connecting us.

  7. Keira,

    I so love your response–thank you for deepening and expanding the post. You capture much of how I feel about this space, about the “mid-size sedan worth of privilege” and the countering sense that to live a creative life is something we all could work towards to the benefit of the world.

    Bryan (thanks you!) just sent me a link to an article about being an artist during the economic downturn: http://bit.ly/6Jp0el http://bit.ly/7PMXa9. And after the bit about how artists are suffering comes the line to hang onto:

    “Remarkably, though, 75 percent of the 5,200 artists surveyed said that it was an inspiring time to be an artist, and 89 percent felt that artists could play a special role in strengthening their communities during turbulent economic times. ”


  8. I don’t remember if I googled this or linked from another(think it was the latter). I am excited to find this blog. While I do not know if I have any goals to be published, I enjoy writing character sketches and sharing them with friends. I also write some poetry, but have to be in the right mode to have anything that I like. I have no children. Yet, I don’t seem to meet much in the way of my creative goals. I work full-time. I have problems writing things down on paper and my email doesn’t work from my home computer so I don’t have a way to store what I write in a meaninful way. I really admire parents of minor children who write or go to school. I look forward to exploring this site. Your community story telling is something that really interests me as well.

  9. Hi Barbara,

    I love reading your blog.
    I’ve been thinking of you often. Over break, I’ve been spending time writing short (nonfiction) stories. It is in the writing that I feel that I am tying tiny strings that I didn’t know were untied.
    What are you working on lately?

  10. Barbara!

    You’ve put into words many feelings that I share–not finding the time for creative writing amidst parenting and teaching–and I love your description of the shiny, new skin…
    I’ve been thinking of you for ages–first, when I took Rosalie to see Williams and we visited Mass MOCA, for the first time! Loved it, and couldn’t believe I hadn’t gone earlier after all those years of hearing about your visits there with students. Can’t wait to take the boys this Feb. Meant to send you an email then and couldn’t find your new email address. Then I saw your photo in an exhibit at the town hall. I love your photos–so clear, so focused on something simple that makes us really look and slow down. So thanks for being out there in the art world–we all need the affirmation for paying attention to art, outside and inside.
    Would you send me your new email address?? So glad I found you here on your blog! Also love the quote by Maxine Greene–she’s so wonderful!

  11. Hi everyone,
    I’m beginning to see why I was attracted to blog on this site since I’ve been reading the other responses here, not just the blog’s originator, Barb, who makes interesting art/photos/posts.

    What is quality time for creativity like? — What is too much “time” that is not focused.
    What is too little time that is over stressed.

    I’m more like go for it whenever I can — but I have a lot of interests and sometimes just need to see art that grabs my attention and my sense of being alive and connected.

    I look forward to staying connected. Jo Ann

  12. In spite of my long silences, the blog still prompts some of you to respond–thank you! You have me thinking about how to weave this reflective blogging back into my life.

    I love hearing about you, Barb and Cloe and Jo Ann, turning to art in spite of the demands on your time, and how crucial it is to keep the creative parts of the self engaged.

    Catharine, I’m delighted to hear that you went to MassMoca–what a great place sure to stir the creative fires. Thanks for your kind words about my photos. Right now I am so focused on a paper for work that I rarely reach for my camera so as not to disturb the focus–see there I go again, unable to stay balanced. But perhaps just knowing that in a week or so I will be done with the paper is enough. Unlike the old days, there is only this paper and not another one waiting on my desk, and then another after that. Email is bgblogging@gmail.com Would love to hear from you!

  13. […] who know me as college writing professor specializing in social and creative  media or as consultant helping rural towns around issues of civic engagement and participatory democracy […]

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