Creativity Abounds

"Coffee Cup On Wood Shelf" by nuttakit, photo courtesty of

“Coffee Cup On Wood Shelf” by nuttakit. Photo courtesy of

My good friend Giliah, a talented artist (, once told me that art is everywhere. You can see it in product design from clocks on the wall to benches in the park. After she pointed that out, I started to look at the world with a new eye, and discovered that modern society really does teem with innovation. It’s not just in art, either. A few months ago, I got a good laugh reading product reviews on Amazon. (See some of the best ones here and here.) People take every opportunity to exercise their creativity, even in the most unexpected places.

Living just outside Washington, D.C. (otherwise known these past couple weeks as The Land That Time Forgot), I sometimes get discouraged about humanity, thinking of all those who seem interested only in pulling the world backward, in fighting the future. But then I think about art, and innovation, and the way human creativity seems to burst out all over the place, and it cheers me up. I know that creativity in government isn’t the same as it is in design, and that human beings have notoriously used their creativity for evil, as well as good. And yet, still, the human drive to create makes me happy. Maybe it’s because I think that ultimately, slowly, and yes, with setbacks, we do move forward. That may be a strange lesson to take from ballpoint pen reviews and the bright dinnerware sets on the shelves at Target, but what I mean is that people tend to want to make things, and often, that means make them better. Here’s hoping the desire to innovate will be at least as powerful a motivator on Capitol Hill as it is in your local variety store.

The Reading Rainbow

IMG_5485Our house is a book house, where everybody is reading something all the time. And the nice thing about that, aside from the obvious, is that we get book recommendations from each other. Many of the books I’ve read in the past few years have come from these recommendations, and sometimes even a book I’ve read before is brought back to me in a new way when one of the family reads it. This was true of Tiger Rising, by Kate DiCamillo, which a few years ago became the Beautiful Dreamer’s favorite. I had read it long before, and remembered liking it, but Because of Winn Dixie stuck in my memory so much I think I passed over Tiger Rising until, out of curiosity about why my daughter loved it so much, I read it again. I discovered that it’s a small gem, painful and beautiful at once. So I learned something both about the Beautiful Dreamer and about rereading books.

Her older sister, let’s call her the Conductor, introduced me to the lyrical contemporary/historical fiction The World to Come, by Dara Horn,  and the Rocket Scientist brought home several fantasy series I had never heard of before, in addition to pointing me toward a fascinating discussion about philosophy and fantasy that I’m still chewing over. My youngest, the Castle Builder, showed me the hilarious The Name of This Book is Secret series, which changed the entire feel of footnotes for me, probably forever. Then there’s the fun detective novels that Superman reads in alphabetical order.

And today, the Book Princess quoted from a book of poems that reminded me how well words can capture the exact feel of being alive in a specific moment. Here’s the poem she mentioned, from a book called Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall:

“And the pomegranates,/
like memories, are bittersweet/
as we huddle together,/
remembering just how good/
life used to be” (p.129).

All I can say to that is wow. I think I have some reading to do.

Snow and Metaphor

Frosty Footpath - winter snow

Frosty Footpath – winter snow (Photo credit: blmiers2)

The first snowstorm of the winter came belatedly today to the Washington, D.C. area where I live, and got me thinking about metaphor. I woke up this morning and looked to see if the storm really had come as predicted, found it pouring down outside my window, and thought the sky looked like a sheet of grey paper. In that moment, the snow itself was thin as sawdust, spilling through the tree in my front yard. So I thought – metaphors. Metaphors are a writer’s most vital tool, fueling description and the themes that give stories meaning. I’ve always thought metaphor is humanity’s most vital tool too, because without the ability to compare one thing to the next (and I’m using metaphor in the largest sense of the word, here) we wouldn’t be able to think abstractly. The first user of metaphor was the first human being as we, I think, would recognize one, because metaphor is the source of language. Putting symbols to physical things is a baby step toward metaphor, and the next step is thinking about things we can’t see, and giving names to them. To take an example, if you know about a mother and child relationship, because you’ve experienced it, and you know about families, because you live in one, a more abstract step is to see other human beings you are not related to as part of the family of humanity, and treat them accordingly, creating rules about what you can and can’t do, say, to a traveler you’re welcoming into your home. And that’s the beginning of law and civilization. Without metaphor, we’d all be stuck inside the boundaries of each moment – what we could see, touch, taste, smell and hear. Metaphor flings open the doors to the universe (another metaphor – see?) So that’s my snow day thought. And now, as I write this, the snow has thickened, and my sawdust image has to give way to feathers.