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Have you ever found yourself in a rut? Do you feel like your creative spark has flickered out? Maybe you’re not even sure you even have that spark. In this episode, we engage with two extraordinary minds, Jane Hilberry, Professor of Creativity and Innovation, and Felicia Rose Chavez, Creativity and Innovation Scholar, both at Colorado College. They’re here to shed light on the untapped creativity within each of us, even those moments when we might not feel particularly creative.
Rob Brodnick: Welcome to the Positive Turbulence podcast. In this episode, we’ll dive deep into the intriguing world of teaching creativity and learning how to be creative. I’m Rob Brodnick, and today we’re about to embark on a journey that challenges the very foundations of traditional education.
Karyn Zuidinga: And I’m Karyn Zuidinga. Have you ever found yourself in a rut? Feeling like your creative spark has flickered out? Maybe you’re not even sure you even have that spark. In this episode, we bring you an engaging conversation with two extraordinary minds, Jane Hilberry, Professor of Creativity and Innovation, and Felicia Rose Chavez, Creativity and Innovation Scholar, both at Colorado College. They’re here to shed light on the untapped creativity within each of us, even those moments when we might not feel particularly creative.
Rob Brodnick: Join us as we explore how Jane and Felicia have tilted the traditional learning landscape to foster creativity and innovation and create a more just and safe space to learn. The principles they explore can be applied to any situation where people work together. Get ready to immerse yourself in stories revealing the true essence of learning and creativity and reignite your creative fire.
Karyn Zuidinga: Stay tuned as we set sail on this intriguing voyage into the heart of education on the Positive Turbulence Podcast.
Rob Brodnick: The Positive Turbulence Podcast is brought to you by AMI, an innovation learning community that is celebrating 40 years of supporting innovation and creativity for organizations and individuals. Learn more at aminnovation. org.
Also, we’d like to thank Mac Avenue Music Group as a contributing sponsor. To hear our theme song, Late Night Sunrise, and other great music, visit mackavenue. com.
Karyn Zuidinga: Welcome welcome, welcome, welcome, Felicia Rose Chavez Jane Hilberry, lovely to see you both.
Jane Hilberry: Thank you.
Karyn Zuidinga: I’m excited to talk about teaching creativity. Because in my encounters with people, I will hear either I am creative or I am not creative. And people seem to pop themselves in one bucket or the other.
Sometimes they’ll say I’m not very creative. They’ll qualify it a little bit. And I am dead curious about being, a creativity and innovation scholar or a Professor of Creativity and innovation. What does that look like, and how does that roll?
Jane Hilberry: We have lots to say about that. I’ll just jump in Felicia, and, then you can elaborate on this. I believe that everybody’s creative, just bottom line. I have no and so teaching creativity for me is not teaching people to be creative, but teaching people to access their own creativity and giving people permission to access their creativity. And I think that one thing that’s… important about that, and one reason that people say, Oh, I’m not creative, is that there can be an overly narrow conception of what creativity is. So when people say that, sometimes I say, Do you solve problems in your job? And almost everybody says yes. So I’m like, you’re creative. If you’re solving problems in your job, that’s creative thinking. People think creative means I’m, painting a masterpiece or performing at the piano or writing a opera or something. But no, I see creativity as something that really permeates our everyday lives.
That’s why, for me, it’s so important to teach classes that do focus on creativity because you do use it all the time and if you have some awareness of your own creative nature and of some kind of skills and strategies for working with creativity, then you can bring that to bear on your job, your parenting, your grocery shopping, whatever it is that you’re doing, right?
Felicia, what do you think?
Felicia Rose Chavez: I think those words that you used in terms of permission, and Those are two really powerful words when we think about accessing our creative selves. I think that impulse to create was soured so many years ago for all of us when it was hit with a qualifier of good or bad creative output, and that puts so much pressure on ourselves, so we’re quick to deny that we’re creative because we’re not good at it according to whatever standard our fourth grade teacher put forth or whatever it may be that kind of, ruined that relationship with creativity, and we carry that with us, and that’s that psychological and emotional baggage that’s attached to this, Impulse that we all have .
I consider the classes that I teach an exercise in failure and adopting failure, embracing it, as just part of the creative process so that we can get over that, good versus bad, false dichotomy and aim to just be our true creative selves, lend ourselves that permission. Risk take and access something that’s that’s very true to, to each and every one of us.
Rob Brodnick: I love that word permission. You both said that and, agency, of course, along with it, in thinking about, the early educational system. And we’ll leave special kinds of education out of it, like Waldorf and other things. I think creativity is trained out of us, actually, by the educational system. And, it’s maybe the virtuous and vicious cycles. And everyone ends up in this vicious cycle of creative suppression. And how do you flip that around? Because everyone’s creative, right?
Jane Hilberry: What I find with my students at Colorado College, we’re a small private liberal arts college. wonderful students but it’s very selective. It’s hard to get in to the college. I talk to my students on the first day about the fact that in order to be in this classroom at Colorado College, they have had to learn to perform for their whole lives pretty much. They’ve had to learn how to figure out what someone else’s expectations are and how to, meet those expectations. If they haven’t figured out how to, do that they’re probably not sitting in the classroom at Colorado College.
My first piece of work is to dismantle that expectation of performance, and I just tell them. We talk about it. I’m just like, you are not here to impress me to do something that I’m going to like something that I’m going to approve of something that I’m going to think is good, whatever that means. You’re here to do something for yourself. So it’s like really how do you restore intrinsic motivation to students?
And the thing is that once students do connect with their own curiosity Oh, I want to do this weird thing that nobody else understands because I’ve always wanted to do it. or I’m just really curious about it. Once that kicks in, then people do amazing things that, are so just astonishing that they never would have gotten to if it had been about I expect you to do X, Y, and Z and you need to meet my standards. So it’s counterintuitive, but really they will exceed all expectations if they can connect with that intrinsic motivation.
Daniel Pink’s book called Drive was really influential for me in thinking about this, like, how do you connect students to their own drive? He talks about how when people are intrinsically motivated, they work much harder than they do. When they’re working for, towards some kind of external reward and just have a lot more pleasure. To me, it’s not really about working hard. It’s about having that pleasure of, learning that you can make things And you can, enjoy doing something in a class.
Felicia’s really great about that Felicia, can you talk about how you have your students set their own agendas for your class, because I feel like that’s another way that you work with really emphasizing student agency.
Felicia Rose Chavez: Sure. I think that we’re trained out of our own creative impulse, and we’re trained to be passive in our educational journeys, right? And that passivity comes in different, Shades, right? So we’ve got the student who just wants to pass in conversation or doesn’t want to share their work or just wants to disappear from the classroom altogether. They want to disappear their body from the room. And you’ve got those other students who are aiming for such a high level of perfectionism that they really just want to parrot back as Jane is indicating, right? What the teacher or professor is telling them to achieve in that particular class. I’m aiming to address that issue of passivity, correct the course so that students become really active in their own educational journeys and really own that.
Like the best sign of a successful course is when students at the end say, I am so proud of myself, right? And that’s something that you don’t often hear. It’s something that They want you to tell them. And when we get to the point where they’re able to just articulate it themselves irregardless of what I think about whatever they produced in the classes, we’ve hit on something really exciting.
When they’re doing work that, as Jane indicated that they’re attracted to but it’s weird, it’s odd, it’s different, they don’t know how to do it yet. They haven’t been told. And yet, here we go. Let’s try it.
Three questions that I ask when I sit down to create a course is what’s pleasurable? What’s energizing and how can I challenge the norm of what’s rewarded in this usual educational exchange? To that end, I want to position students so that they’re motivated to meet me in the middle. I’ll provide a certain level of scaffolding. They’ll meet me in the middle at every, each and every turn.
They’re responsible for showing up. They’re responsible for checking in, which is a ritual we do every time we meet. How are you? And we say each other’s names. And we have conversation. We share food and music.
And then we transition into collectively defining the terms of the class. The language of the discipline isn’t something that I just assume they know or tell them what the terms mean. Instead, they’re responsible for meeting me in the middle and we we dialogue about what we want. The terms, the craft elements within a particular creative classroom how we want to collectively define that language. They go on to articulate the type of feedback they want on each and every one of the projects that they put forth.
They list a series of questions in a kind of cover letter that they provide to me and their peers. And so they’re guiding a later conversation about their work during workshop. And then they reflect on their learning journey relating their creative work back to a certain set of guiding principles that I put forth. So something like curiosity, stamina, and risk. As opposed to, do you know how to write a five paragraph essay with a thesis statement. They’re managing the technical skills of the class, but they’re also demonstrating like, a human learning, and, growth over time. It’s, refocusing on, on process versus the product that they’re putting forth.
Jane Hilberry: You really put the student in charge of their own writing and of what they want from other members of the class. The student really gets to determine that. and this, again, let me just put in context here about creative writing, because Felicia and I both have a background in creative writing. That’s our our avenue into the creative. Creative writing, the way it has been taught is the least creative thing that you can imagine. In the 1950s, at the iowa writers Workshop. There was this approach to teaching creative writing that was developed. There’s a group of students who are all aspiring to write and to learn about writing and a teacher. And someone brings in a piece of writing and they might read it out loud or someone else in the class reads it out loud. And then everyone else in the class talks about it, but the writer doesn’t speak. And Felicia has written very beautifully in her book about the silencing effect of that policy. The writer doesn’t speak while everyone else talks about and critiques this piece of writing. And there’s a great tendency for it to devolve into pickiness.
Rob Brodnick: Yeah.
Jane Hilberry: Like, why did you use this word? You don’t need a comma there. It’s very hard to keep a big picture or to really think about the aspirations of a poem in that setting. It can be done, but it’s not the easiest thing. And for some, I think, rather inexplicable reason, this model has prevailed like 70 some years.
Karyn Zuidinga: It is everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. Design
Jane Hilberry: Yeah,
Felicia Rose Chavez: My kindergartner used this model, and I had to write an email like, Yo! Not okay!
Jane Hilberry: stop now.
Felicia Rose Chavez: yeah.
Jane Hilberry: So what Felicia, there are a number of us who have been rethinking this, certainly there are other ways to do this. My most basic premise about creativity is that there are always unlimited ways to do a thing, to accomplish a thing, but what Felicia has done just so beautifully and brilliantly in her book. She has completely dismantled that approach and provided another approach that puts the student voice, the student is not sitting silently while people sit there and talk about their poem, but it puts the student in charge. Of the discussion of their work, of their own aspirations for their work, setting the agenda for their work. And Felicia’s book, it’s, can I just say a little bit about the book? I just want to give a little, uh,
Felicia Rose Chavez: do. I feel like, Jane, I want you every, like,
Jane Hilberry: Ha ha ha ha
Felicia Rose Chavez: that I do. You’re like The ultimate hype woman. I love it so much. Thank you.
Jane Hilberry: so
the book is The Anti Racist Creative Classroom.
Felicia Rose Chavez: The Anti Racist Writing Workshop, How to Decolonize the Creative Classroom.
Jane Hilberry: And what Felicia does is she really blends a few different things in the book. There are several strands. One strand is her own experience essentially with academia and with writing As a person of color, what it’s been like to be in these writing workshops where people who don’t understand your poems sit there and talk about them, Right. So there’s this autobiographical element that’s really moving and beautiful and engaging. And then there’s what I would call sort of pedagogical theory, talking about why you do what you do and how to create. An anti-racist classroom, creative classroom. And then there’s a whole set of practices about how you actually do it. Like very specifically, this is what you can do in your class, bring food. It’s a small thing. I also do this. In creative classes, I always just feed them. I’ve never thought really about why I was just like feed them. She has very specific plans for how conferences are run. What happens in the class, what’s the ritual for starting a class? Very specific practices. It’s a blend of her experience, theory, and practices that anyone can use. And you could read the book and you could decide I’m going to try three of these practices. You can like instantly start incorporating it into your own classroom. It’s a beautiful book and I think it applies to any kind of creative endeavor. It certainly is not restricted to teaching creative writing. I think it applies to every kind of teaching. And I think there’s lots of thought in there that’s transferable beyond the classroom as well. It’s just a beautiful book. Yeah, I would highly recommend it.
Felicia Rose Chavez: I think that model of the traditional writing workshop that Jane’s talking about is applicable to each and every classroom. When we think about that banking model of education where you’re silencing the students, you’re lecturing up front, you’re putting knowledge into what we assume to be empty receptacles. There’s no legacy, history, knowledge that the student contributes to the subject. It’s just stop talking, listen, take notes, did you take notes? Are you repeating back to me what I said? Because I’m going to test you on it later. It is like a very common model, and we’ve just adapted it for the most unlikely space, which is a creative realm.
Not only are we lacking the creativity to make that model more relevant and exciting for our young people, but we’re also lacking the creativity when it comes the quote unquote problem of majority white creative writing cohorts all white teaching faculty. It’s like, well, we just didn’t get any applicants. So that same passivity that our students. are trained into, we’re exhibiting as professors when it comes to running our own workshop models and recruiting students of color and recruiting faculty of color. So it’s a very dangerous tool of silence that these institutions and the players within the institutions are using to maintain this institutional racism, to maintain the norm of whiteness and to ensure that the writing that’s students are putting forth conforms to a white publishing industry. the works that are rewarded, tend to be works that fit very nicely into this white publishing industry the works that are baffling to readers in the class, right? My own work was just, baffling. My, my peers couldn’t understand it. They would spend the majority of the workshop talking about whether the read was worth it because they left feeling guilty about their own positionality. Right? And, and I’m this, we’re talking like an hour’s worth of workshop time. So I am silent and fuming, red faced, no notes written down, nothing helpful. to evolve this draft. Instead, I would take that draft home, stick it in a drawer and consider it a failure because they didn’t understand it. And it took me years to say, who cares about them? I understand it, and I’m not writing for them. But you get fooled in these prestigious cohorts to think if they’re not celebrating my work, I must not be any good,
Rob Brodnick: It’s, it’s that vicious cycle, right? And people accept it. rather than try to disrupt it. And I love that you’re disrupting it.
Felicia Rose Chavez: Thank you. And I should point to Jane. You. did visit a class that I taught at CC. And what I loved about that experience of you visiting is you left saying, this is what my classroom looks like. We’re doing the same work. And we ended years later on the same team. And there’s no coincidence to that. And I think there are so many educators out there who are innovating what learning can look like, but we’re so few and we’re so unsupported within the departments that we’re housed in. We’re just the oddballs or we’re the, I don’t know what we’re considered, but Jane and I when we found each other, it’s like a it’s like a kindred spirit. It’s like someone who finally sees that we can do better.
Karyn Zuidinga: I’m thinking about the applicability in the corporate world. We’re all trying to, be very mindful about diversity, equity, inclusion. Yes. Good. Bravo. But the structures are all still there. We’re still doing the same damn shit of shutting people up. And these critiques okay, it. may be not the same thing in a design critique, where you’re, bringing your words.
Jane Hilberry: it is
Karyn Zuidinga: you put a design out there, you’re putting a part of your heart on the table. And when you have a crowd of people standing around that table going.
Oh. Not adequate.
Jane Hilberry: I, I bet it’s very similar. It sounds quite similar.
Karyn Zuidinga: I’m feeling like the work that you’re doing, both of you, could be applicable in all sorts of places, all sorts of arenas as we struggle to break, disrupt the old structures, as we struggle to, to be diverse. To embrace equity.
Jane Hilberry: I was saying to Felicia, we were looking at Rob and Stan’s chapter about Positive Turbulence and how one of the tenets of Positive Turbulence is that you bring a variety of voices into the room. It’s really about disturbing received ways of doing things. And that’s what positive turbulence is about, right?
It’s not doing things the way you’ve done them but inviting in disturbance, inviting in some different way that might be uncomfortable or you might not know how to do it. But that’s what’s going to make your, your work and your organization vibrant and vital. And I think the same thing is true, going back to just what creativity is about what are the things that really hamper creativity? Received thinking. Thinking about things the way they’ve always been thought about and that can be culturally received ways of thinking, which racism is a culturally received way of thinking about things. Or within a discipline, we have disciplinary ways of thinking about things that we get very stuck in. What I think creativity is about is finding ways to upset or resist or overturn habitual ways of thinking and culturally received ways of thinking. That’s what creativity is.
It’s like not approaching something the way it’s always been approached, not perceiving the problem the way it’s always been approached. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about surprise and how important surprise is in creative processes. I was just thinking this morning that, Robert Frost said, no surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader. You have to be surprised yourself by your own work. And I feel like that’s one of the most pleasurable parts of writing a poem. And Felicia, I don’t know if you have this equivalent experience in your writing, but it’s when I’m surprised by something. Sometimes I’ll even write something and I’ll think it’s funny that I didn’t expect, there is this element of surprise and you, and there are ways to invite that in and build it in, I think, but I feel like a lot of what Felicia is doing is opening up the door for something different to happen in a creative writing class room. And I was thinking this morning in the shower about where ideas come, right? About how teaching for me is like writing a poem. If you write a poem and you know ahead of time what it’s going to say and where it’s going to end, that is not a good poem. If you go into a classroom, this is going back to the banking model of education. If you go into a classroom and you have your notes and the class goes exactly the way you think it’s going to go. In my mind, you have not taught a class. I don’t know what you’re doing, but you did not teach a class. If you’re not surprised by something that happened in your own class, or, amazed by something, or flummoxed by something then, I don’t think you’re really teaching because teaching is like setting, it is like writing a poem I have a lot of experience in writing poems. I know a lot of things about craft, right? But when I sit down to write a poem, I don’t know what’s gonna happen. I don’t know. And I think teaching is the same way. You can know a lot of things about it. You can set up the conditions. But you don’t actually know what’s going to happen, and that’s why it never gets old.
Felicia Rose Chavez: I think the charge of my own work is decentering white supremacy that we talked about. The whiteness is the norm, but then decentering authority is that twin goal. As we said earlier, we’ve got this charge for diversifying everything. But then we run our meetings the same way our conversation in our language replicates the same traditions of colonization of quote unquote, mastery, ego, domination, controlling ourselves and others. And the question that I ask myself is like, how much can you let go in terms of that control in the classroom?
And then, what can happen from exactly the way that you are, I ask my students. And those are two really exciting questions when they come together, because I step back and they step forward. And I lead these professional development workshops with nonprofit institutions and with educators at different colleges and universities. I did one yesterday, presented a whole toolkit. And at the end of the Q& A session, one of the professors sat back and he’s like, I just feel like I’m in crisis. I’m in crisis. I’m in a generative crisis. And then when Jane presented me with this term, Positive Turbulence, I’m like, that’s exactly it! Generative crisis. You’re in a position where it’s feels disruptive. It feels chaotic because what am I going to do now? How am I going to invite surprise into the classroom? And how do I pivot on the spot like that takes a certain skill set that I’m fearful I don’t have. And that’s what I hear again and again from educational leaders and from nonprofit leaders is, and these are, people across an identity-politics spectrum.. They’re fearful of releasing that control just as our students are fearful from not getting the passive educational experience because where are we going to end up? What’s going to happen? And, am I going to know how to do it? And what I encourage in these leaders is that the less you know how to do it, the more you’re open to hearing other perspectives on how to do it. Then it becomes a collaborative contribution of learning together. And we’re afraid to demonstrate that learning for one another. We want to be the teacher, not the learner. But the truth is, they’re the same exact thing. We’re lifelong students. And so there’s just such opportunity to pivot from this inheritance of how it’s supposed to be or how we’re supposed to look as professionals or sound like the authority in the room and pivot toward discovery. And what could it look like? What could it be? It’s a really exciting crossroads, but there’s so much fear involved in terms of taking that risk.
Karyn Zuidinga: Oh. Yes. Yes. And so much guilt, A, fear, B, or A, fear, guilt, B, whichever way it goes for you, but also that sense of Oh, I messed it up. That, that kind of you get, cause you’re going to fail at this a lot. And it’s going to be super uncomfortable. You’re going to keep making mistakes. And it’s just going to keep happening, and you have to be okay with that too. So there’s a, it’s a, it’s layered fear, I suppose is what it
Jane Hilberry: Mm-hmm.
Rob Brodnick: it’s continued suppression. You’re blocking some kind of energy source inside of you.
You’ve been in that creative space where all of a sudden, stuff is happening and you’re almost not in control of it anymore. Go back to the classroom. You’ve gotten your students to remove some of these barriers, the fear and to look for surprise. When it starts to flow, what happens in the classroom that’s in the learning flow state? Can you talk a little bit about that? Especially in context of creativity.
Jane Hilberry: Yeah. One thing that happens as a sort of what would I say? It’s a side effect, but it’s actually one of the most important things that happens is that people become very close to each other. People really bond with each other, and when a group of students is actually taking risks and trying something that they don’t know how to do Or revealing something about themselves because they’re doing work that really matters to them. If they really are doing work that matters to them, they’re going to reveal something that’s important to themselves, and that’s very vulnerable. To have that experience of taking that chance and having it be positively received and held by other people, have other people be moved by what you have expressed. Yeah, classes get very close. During the pandemic, a lot of the work that I did in my job was just community building was just doing creative exercises that brought people closer together because we’ve It felt like we needed to feel closer together. So that’s, that is one of the things that I would say happens when you can set up a climate that’s non judgmental.
Felicia Rose Chavez: That’s beautiful and absolutely true. It would probably be the first thing that I would jump to talking about as well. The second being a reorientation from an expectation of providing answers to journeying within a question. A lot of the impulse of the work that my students do within our classroom comes from a place of sincere questions. Not only do we ask sincere questions of ourselves, but we learn the skills of dialogue so we can ask true, sincere questions of one another. That’s not a mode of communication that’s often encouraged within the classroom. Any classroom or professional environment where we’re expected to have answers and opinions. It’s what I call a pedagogy of deep listening. We’re listening to ourselves and seeing where our curiosity can lead us within our own. I teach creative nonfiction. So within our own lived experiences, questions that we have about ourselves in our past that we embody, we carry them with us. They haunt us sometimes. And we’re like suppressing them like, No, go away. I don’t want to think about that. But what’s memory prompting us to do but revisit and make sense of some experience not make sense of it like, Oh that taught me how to be a man, right? But Instead interrogating what our past shows us about a pattern of behavior that we’ve lived through and that we maybe continue to exhibit and how we can learn from that pattern. We learn about ourselves as we wander and journey within these questions. And that sort of thinking is such a radical shift for students, that I still get emails from students. Like they did this project. Yeah. They asked questions about themselves. They were very proud of themselves during the time, but like four years later, they’re like , now I see what I revealed to myself. And this is really powerful. Like I have learned something about me, that’s so much more important than learning the skill of how to write a creative nonfiction essay, and that’s the bigger goal. That’s the human goal that we want for all of us. So yeah, I, I think that beyond this incredible sense of community and camaraderie there is the opportunity to rewire our thinking and expectation of ourselves when it comes to learning itself.
Jane Hilberry: And, hearing you talk about this, Felicia, I think what if students came out of their education with a capacity for deep listening? Would we be where we are politically if we knew how to deeply listen to each other?
Felicia Rose Chavez: That’s
Jane Hilberry: I think it would look very different. It’s profoundly important in every setting to have that capacity for deep listening.
Felicia Rose Chavez: The container is bigger than the classroom. I say that all the time. I mean, we are training citizens. We are engaging with future citizens. So how do we teach them reflexivity? How do we teach them skills of dialogue? How do we teach humility? These are essential to where we’re headed as a nation, as a global community. It’s urgent work. But we put a name like diversity on it. We bring in a guest speaker for Black History Month and yay, we’ve done it. Congratulate ourselves and move on. And that’s not the work. Yeah, exactly. That’s not the work.
Jane Hilberry: One of the things that became so clear to me in reading Felicia’s book is that anti-racist pedagogy is you know, it’s good pedagogy. That’s what it is. It’s pedagogy that respects students and respects their experience of learning. It’s not a box to check. This is the way that you respect each other and respect students and respect student learning.
Felicia Rose Chavez: It’s recognizing the humanity in one another and regarding one another with love, call it any other thing, I went on to Amazon recently and started flipping through some responses, which is never, ever a good thing to do, but high up on the list. There’s critical race theory is an affront to God. Or this is woke nonsense. You just subtract the title. Present the same material. Subtract the title and take out references to institutional racism. And you’ve got a textbook on, really solid student-centered teaching, right?
I, it’s… It’s crazy to me, but we’re sensitive to this language that we just shut down with defensiveness and denial and rage, and we can’t access the greater humanity of it and that love component of it, and it’s such a disappointment when that happens.
Jane Hilberry: yeah.
Rob Brodnick: People have said to me in certain kinds of situations, facilitations, group dynamics, learning environments, you’re making me uncomfortable and therefore what you’re doing is wrong. And I say, maybe you need to be a little uncomfortable to get through to whatever is next for you. That’s a tough thing in the world these days because making people uncomfortable is, whoa, we shouldn’t do that. That’s the worst thing we could possibly do. You’ll get a lawsuit.
Karyn Zuidinga: But that’s hard though, right? So you’re pretty darn fearless about that, Rob. Yeah, it’s okay to make people uncomfortable. But, I have a friend who talks about himself as a recovering people pleaser. And I’m like, that is. a great phrase. I’m going to borrow that. I’m going to use that But it can be hard when someone comes at you and says, you are making me uncomfortable.
And the tools to respond to that are, what? Oh, you’re going to have to be uncomfortable. That’s okay. But it’s hard. It’s hard to say that. it’s hard to live in that moment. So first of all, bravo, Felicia, for saying, you know what, I’m gonna make you uncomfortable and that’s all right and you’re gonna have to just hang on to that and live with that for a while. But are there some tools that maybe you reach into to, to make that okay?
Felicia Rose Chavez: We talk about creating safe spaces for this kind of information for this kind of exchange, and, I use that term within my book, and I had used it for years, and I’ve recently come upon the term brave space. Because it’s difficult to have these sorts of conversations, and I think what’s more interesting than the admission, which is quite vulnerable to say, I’m uncomfortable is, to say, why are you uncomfortable? And let’s sit with that. Whenever we address conversations about race or class or gender or sexuality, I think it’s important to have opportunities to dialogue with ourselves beforehand. So that we can write through and when I talk about writing, I’m thinking about free writing, that kind of uncensored kind of just response to you about where your relationship to the topic about what fears you have in terms of discussing this. Because we have in classrooms, we have white students who are afraid of talking about these issues because they’ll misstep, they’ll mess up, they’ll fumble, they’ll say the wrong thing. Someone won’t like them or will attack them or they don’t feel ready. And we’ve got students of color that are like, I can’t stand to talk about this because I’m going to endure harm. And I have to carry that with me throughout the rest of my day or throughout the rest of my life.
How often do we reflect back on that thing that happened in the classroom that one time. Obviously I have a whole book about it. It lasts a while. It like splinters under your skin is the way that I describe it. To release that fear and recognizing that’s fear. talking about the result of this conversation. And then to name it. So we’ll have participants go around and excerpt one thing. This is the same sort of writing exercise that I have my own students do in terms of their relationship to reading and writing. It’s just plugging in different language. When it comes to having these tough conversations about ourselves And these legacies of oppression we name something that we’re afraid of. So I’ll say, I’m afraid of getting really pissed off in the classroom and having to deal with that and sit with that. Or someone else will say, I’m afraid of, misstepping because I don’t know a lot about this topic. And we’ll all name that, right? And there’s something that’s vulnerable about naming that. And we say, but we’re going to have this conversation anyway. So that when we then transition into the conversation, and that discomfort arises, and someone does say the wrong thing, and I do get pissed off, right? We can say, But I do remember that they said that was something they feared. We brought it back to the person. They’re not this anonymous group member anymore, or they’re not that person that sits in the cubicle and we can’t stand their lunch smells or whatever it may be, right? Suddenly they’re a person with fears and hopes, and we’re a person with fears and hopes, and we’re quicker to forgive one another and work with one another when we know where we’re coming from when it comes to this type of conversation. I do sit with that discomfort, but we unpack it. We’re not just like moving on, deal with it. You’re not the only one. So let’s talk about it. And recognize that it’s okay if that exists. Simultaneous to the learning that we’re going to continue taking on. Even in that scenario, it’s worth recognizing the humanity in one another. It’s really powerful.
Jane Hilberry: That’s really beautiful, Felicia, yeah,
Rob Brodnick: I want to ask a question that I think I know the answer to, but I’d love to hear the two of you talk about it. Would you say that as the heart opens up and you begin to move through, release some of these fears and get to that more human space, that it adds to creativity or creates access to creativity? What’s the relationship between the open heart and creativity?
Jane Hilberry: It’s a wonderful question. I feel like they’re almost inseparable. Creativity requires huge receptivity. I don’t think that creativity comes from a place of the… ego so much. Although I don’t think you can ever completely step outside of the ego, but in my experience there’s something that feels like it’s almost outside of myself that comes in to the experience. I’m receiving something that’s not just a product of my own mind or even necessarily strictly my own experience in some way. And I would say that kind of receptivity is very heart-based. You know that it’s, you have to be open-hearted, I think, and it’s hard to be open-hearted all the time.
I do feel this is maybe switching the question a little bit, but when I teach, I feel incredibly open hearted. Not all the time. There are times when I can get, flipped out of that, but I would say that is my mode when I’m in the classroom is that I feel very open hearted towards my students and open hearted toward whatever’s going to happen there.
Maybe going back to my thing that I was thinking about in the shower this morning about how writing a poem and teaching a class are the same. I think that both of them require a lot of open heartedness. But I’m curious Felicia to hear what you would say about that.
Felicia Rose Chavez: I’m so glad that you brought the shower thing up again because I wanted to note that as part of like when we have students read, we often have them read and then we have them immediately write we have them go contribute to the discussion board or write a reflection or whatever it may be. And I assign a walk or a shower. Sometimes a cup of tea, right? I, but just a moment with yourself to reflect on the reading. Before you transition to do any other thing. And students think that’s hilarious that it’s written into the assignment itself, but it’s essential. It’s essential that we just have that space between tasks to really just think through something and as you say that is the space where ideas happen.
An open heart. I agree Jane that I as I said, I do I’ve been doing a lot of these professional development opportunities and so when I have an Invitation to do a reading of the book. It’s disassociative. I’m, alienated from the text itself. It’s, so bizarre to read the words out loud because I’m like, who wrote that? it’s so strange to me. It is the most personal thing that I’ve ever written and I don’t know who the person was that wrote it. It’s astounding. And so I do agree with you, but I think In terms of a student’s perspective of that, openness that results I witness a lot of excitement. And I witness, a very rare ownership of this creative identity that students are quick to deny upon entering the room. As we started with, I’m not creative. I don’t know how to do this. I’m an econ major. I’m a math major. Hands off. Stay away. And the more we engage and the more that they practice ownership over their work, by the end, they had this lovely ownership over the identity of being a creative person. So I’ve had students switch majors. I’ve had students enter into another workshop opportunity where, they’re The professor will write me and say, they’re just so enthusiastic and excited. Oh, I know how to workshop. Let me tell you all how it goes. Oh, this isn’t the way we did it before, right? And they just, they’re much more vocal and comfortable with that. ownership and excitement over the work itself. And that’s just so much fun to be witness to.
Karyn Zuidinga: Yeah. I the thought that, that was percolating for me was that, like I love that sense of sitting with something and letting it sit with you and then. Assigning a walk, or Rob and I would take a bike ride, Right. And just a place to, to let the subconscious take over and and process it. In the worlds I travel in, there’s a strong tendency to jump to the first idea. Or to jump to the first conclusion. And I’m certain you must see this in your students, particularly in the beginning times. Do you have any sort of… Tips for helping to get past that and to let it go a little bit deeper, to find the deeper insight or the deeper feeling or the deeper words.
Felicia Rose Chavez: Have so many that are coming to mind. So I wanted to allow Jane space to name
Jane Hilberry: ahead. You go ahead, .
Felicia Rose Chavez: I do this with students a lot. They want to jump to the most simple conclusion about a lived experience. Or they want to jump to a replication of what someone else has done, because they admire that work. We conference and a lot of my pedagogy relies around these kind of one on one conversations. But let’s take, a creative nonfiction exercise in which a student is presenting a work that could benefit from I think this is Sue Williams, Silverman’s language, a greater depth of view. We talk about points of view, but how can we have greater depth of view in terms of our thinking? And so we create these memory wheels. So we step outside of a particular scenario or situation. The thing we’re carrying with us that snapshot in time and we interrogate it. I picture it like it is a snapshot in time, We’re looking at a photo album. We see ourselves in that photo and just like any other photo that we see ourselves in, we immediately ask ourselves a question. Like for me, it’s like, really? Like you’re wearing that outfit. Really? You thought like the scrunchie was really cool at that particular, whatever it may be.
What if we engage with ourselves in the past in a different way? What were you thinking in that relationship that, you were so blind to boundaries. As a result of that relationship. Like why? I don’t know. I don’t have an answer for that. But so we ask ourselves a series of questions. The student asks themselves a series of questions regarding that particular memory. So suddenly it’s not the linear A to B. This happened to me from this point to this point. They step out and they’re asking these questions. There’s really pulling out themes, right? So suddenly they’ve got the word boundary and we put it in the middle of a page and we do a memory wheel. We circle boundary and then we start thinking about all the things that, are associated in our memories about boundaries. Suddenly there’s this matrix of memory that’s revealed to us, and that’s the greater depth of thinking from which we can draw to create something. We’re not so limited in this like hero’s journey of start to finish, A to B, the way that we’re comfortable or safe telling a story. And this translates, right? So if we’re thinking about a poetry exercise, I’ll have students, step outside the text and say, what does this poem sound like in the, air? And so their next step is to create the heart of the poem. Through some sort of sound exercise, or what does it look like on the wall? So suddenly it needs to be visual. Or what does it look like digitized. And they’re thinking in different terms outside of just the tradition of text on the page. And in doing so, they’re exercising their ability to grasp what the poem is really getting at, really means beyond just, I like the language of it. There’s so many ways to move beyond that easy access and to go deeper. And I think that’s the real work of coaching students, allying with students through their projects.
Jane Hilberry: I would echo Felicia too. I feel like that’s a lot of the work that I do in the classroom and I’m a great connoisseur of exercises. I feel like if you have a really well designed exercise, it can help students access things pretty quickly that they might not otherwise arrive at. Let me give just one example. To go back to your question, Karyn, I think one thing that you can do when people are going too quickly from A to B, or reaching a conclusion, to open up some space is you can introduce some randomness into the process, you can introduce some constraints on the thinking into the process. Something that will not allow you to go into your habitual. If A then B. It’s opening up a gap where other ideas can emerge. Let me just give a really simple example. I work a lot with metaphor in this way, but a super simple example. I’ll do this in class. I’ll say to students, okay, I’m going to give you six minutes to write your biography. Everybody just takes six minutes, they write their biography. Then maybe we hear a few of them. And often they’ll start out, I was born on X, y date and such a place, my father did something my mother is whatever.
There’s obviously a formula to the way they’re thinking about what it means to write their biography. So then I’ll say okay, we’ll come back to this later because I don’t want them to be thinking about it. Then I say, okay, let’s make a list of like 20 words that you just love as words You just love the sound of them. You don’t even have to love what they mean, but just like maybe It’s I love the word extrapolate, or I love the word magnolia, or I love the word pumpkin or whatever it is. So they make their list of 20 words and then I say, okay. We’re going to take six minutes, you’re going to write your biography, and you’re going to include those 20 words in your biography. And So then they can’t do it in the received way anymore. They can’t go from A to B. So you’ve opened up a space where something different necessarily has to happen. And so students write their six minute autobiography with those 20 words, read them out loud, and it is astonishing.
And the thing that always surprises me, and maybe it’s because you choose words that are revealing of yourself in some way, but the 20 minute really peculiar autobiography is so much more revealing. They can be beautiful and lyrical. Funny and expressive. You just get a sense of who the person is. It’s like their whole life is in that little six minute piece of writing in a way that was not true when they sat down to write their biography, thinking there’s a way to write a biography.
Breaking the formula is one way to do it. I’m a big believer in setting up constraints in ways that are helpful. One thing that I’ll sometimes do as an extension of that after they’ve written their autobiography in with the 20 words is we’ll do six word biographies. There’s a wonderful book called Not Quite What I Was Planning that is all six word memoirs is what they call them, six word memoirs. You have to find six words that express your autobiography. And those can be really funny and moving and surprising, too. It was based on Hemmingway allegedly, we don’t know if this actually happened, was challenged to write the shortest short story that you could write. And he wrote, for sale, baby shoes, never worn. So, yeah just cons, the constraints can be so useful ’cause you think of creativity as being like, oh, I wanna just have freedom to create, I wanna be able to let my ideas flow. No, that’s often not helpful. Actually often your ideas will flow more easily and there’s better odds of surprise if you have some constraints around what you’re doing. My job as a teacher in a creativity class, a lot of it is to really find just beautiful. exercises.
Felicia Rose Chavez: Jane, you’re making me think of an exercise that I believe I’ve shared with you in the past, perhaps, but called Family Tree. As a student who’s drawn to that formula, right? I love Kanye West. This is what I write, this is who I am. And so I invite them to share that kind of artistic lineage. So they share a family tree and they put Kanye at the the trunk of the tree. And then, I challenge them with a research exercise. Okay, now research who inspired Kanye West? And so they can look online and find that information. This person and this person, that’s two branches on the tree, right? Okay, now research those two individuals. Who inspired them? And what kind of work were they doing? And so the tree grows and grows. And then, in, in my kind of funky classes, they bring in a visual, like a tactile tree, something that they made open ended, right? and they present to one another. and I asked them at the end, okay, so where are you as a result of this exercise? Where would you put yourself on the tree? And. At the beginning, I’d ask them that question. I’m right here on the trunk, right? I’m with Kanye. But, oh wow, this person 40 years ago was doing something closer to what I’m doing now. I never even knew this person existed. so, I would put myself up here. on the tree, right? And regardless, even if they end up at the trunk again, the next conversation would be, okay how can you continue the legacy of that artistic lineage? How can you collaborate with your mentor? What’s your contribution and what’s their contribution moving forward? They’re breaking free of, I’m doing. what they’re doing. Instead thinking how am I partnering with this person? What am I contributing and what are they contributing? And it’s really cool to see how the work differs from initial impulse to yeah, this sense of responsibility of picking up a tradition and moving forward with it.
Rob Brodnick: I like the parallel worlds exercise where you take a problem and you put it in the context of an unbounded situation that’s completely different and see what happens. I’m going to challenge you, Felicia and Jane, with a… parallel world. Thinking about some of our listeners, and I know they’re all going to want to now do their education again at Colorado College and definitely sit in your classroom. Most of them are not going to be able to though, they are where they’re at. A lot of them are leading organizations, they’re leading processes, facilitating. They’re in the work world. For the most part. The challenge for the two of you is, what tips can you give with regard to creativity and breaking boundaries and other things that some of our listeners may be able to use right away? I know you both could do this. You’ve talked about it a bit. Out of the classroom environment, the rushed manager that needs to be more creative, how can we give them a few tips or insights that they can drive their own creativity?
Jane Hilberry: I’m going to say something very impractical first, but it just came to me as you were talking. I would suggest that people find a way to reconnect with their own sources of joy. I could give lots of pragmatic things and I’m happy to do that too. Often what that means is thinking about something that you really loved doing as a kid that you stopped doing, maybe you used to love to build model cars or you would make up songs in the car, or I don’t know what it is, but doesn’t creativity come from some kind of place of just doing something that you really enjoy doing that just gives you pleasure, that just makes you happy. So much of work life can squeeze that out and even family life can squeeze that out. I think that’s something worth considering is. Ooh, if you could do something even just for half an hour, that was something that you used to do just for the sheer joy of it, or swim in a lake, or whatever it is. I feel like that’s a good starting point. That’s a very kind of unpragmatic answer. I just want to put that out there, and then I’m sure that Felicia and I can both think of some more pragmatic things, or more particular things that people can do too. What do you think, Felicia?
Felicia Rose Chavez: I don’t think there’s a separation between the body and pleasure and joy from the professional. I think the more that we bring that into the same realm and acknowledge that we’re not just walking brains. We have this history and we have a heart and we have a body that the more beauty we can encounter.
If I were to create a checklist for a professional, working professional, busy, way down, individual, I would think of the words risk, vulnerability, experimentation, growth, and change. And I say these words because I think they exemplify what real learning is.
So if we took that as a rubric for ourselves, we took those words. I talked about guiding principles earlier. We took those words. And we challenged ourselves to sit and think, what’s something that would make me vulnerable in the workplace? What’s a risk that I could take in the workplace? What’s an experiment that I could do in the workplace.
This is all toward the goal of Creating agency in our peers and our professional peers. That question of how much can I let go. We’re really going through this rubric, and we’re self-defining what these terms mean within our own sphere, ultimately, to get to that last word change. How can I inspire change among my peers or within my workforce? And that list to me would be the charge moving forward. I’m going to work through this list one by one in my own time. According to my own energy and awareness. But I’m gonna articulate it to those that I am in community with so that they can hold me accountable. So you’re you’re defining it for yourself, and then you’re articulating it to others to get to that end goal of change.
Jane Hilberry: That’s lovely.
Karyn Zuidinga: Wow.
Rob Brodnick: Karyn just fell out of her chair. You can’t see it but she just fell out of her chair.
Jane Hilberry: I want to bring Ross Gay into the conversation. He’s a poet whose work I have taught a lot. He teaches at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. He works in a community garden there, is very involved in community gardening. He’s a basketball player. And a lot of his work revolves around joy, and he proposed this idea of the University of Tenderness. He was like, what if we had the University of Tenderness? What if our institutions were the university of Tenderness? If you’re in charge of landscaping at the University of tenderness, what would that landscaping look like? Or, if you’re the head of the curriculum committee at the university of Tenderness, what is that gonna look like?
And I just loved that idea. What if we had organizations of tenderness, right? Just thinking about something that could be built on a different premise.
I had the great pleasure of being a student in one of his workshops a few summers ago and that was a totally inspiring experience where he really built everything in the workshop around collaboration. One of the exercises that he did on the first day is an exercise that I’ve done ever since, at every opportunity that I can. It’s called lyrical questions. And I feel like this exercise embodies so much of what we’ve been talking about. But in the exercise, what you do is you write down say five questions that you really have about your own life. What am I going to do about my… Child who refuses to go to school, or, whatever it is. And sometimes when students do this, sometimes the questions get interestingly poetic.
I had a first year student who wrote, What are the winds that blow away from home? I was like, wow, that’s a beautiful question. It can be any kind of a thing, but real questions that have some importance in your life. You write down these questions. And then you partner up with someone and you interview that person, but you interview them you using the questions about your own life. So I might ask rob, what are the winds that blow away from home? Or I might ask Karyn. What am I going to do about my child who won’t go to school? And it doesn’t matter whether Karyn has a child or not, or whether she has a child who goes to school. But this is like that, it opens up that space for imagination. It opens up This and people so quickly, they have these really deep conversations about these questions that are somehow random, but then find some way to land and people find some way to answer them. And they answer them in a way that is so revealing of who they are and how they think and how they. It’s just a incredibly beautiful experience. and then there’s another piece of it where you can, you make a gift for your partner based on what you heard them say in the interviews. And that can be a very moving experience too. I’m such a believer in the power of an exercise. That’s an exercise that anybody can do. You can do it in half an hour. And it’s a, it’s just really powerful, what can come out of it and how much people can bond in a short period of time.
Rob Brodnick: It’s like, talk about opening the I mean, I’ve experienced it, accelerated. I mean, in, in, so quickly. How could that even have happened? It gets you by surprise a little bit.
Karyn Zuidinga: The last question is where do you go for inspiration, for turbulence, to feed the creative soul?
Felicia Rose Chavez: I’ll bring this up because it’s been pretty recent that my husband drew attention to it and I hadn’t even realized that I was doing it, but I, as I mentioned, I’ve been home and a home body and a mother to two boys, a wife, and then a daughter, my mom lives with us. And so it’s a lot of caretaking that happens in this household and a lot of juggling to work. The domestic responsibilities just feel impossible. And boring, if I’m honest. So I, I’m with my son in the evenings trying to get him to go to sleep. And I’m reading the newspaper simultaneously off my phone. I’m scrolling through the New York Times and I’ll get to the recipe section.
And all I can manage is to take a screenshot with two fingers if something sounds good. I, at the end of the week go through my photos and pull those recipes up and print them out, make a shopping list and attempt them. And we’re talking everything from as long as it sounds good, all week long, I am like, Making food, like from a creative, open hearted place and in turn gifting myself with creative sustenance that I think I am so desperate for and fulfilling my responsibilities within the household at the same time. So i, my husband pulled me aside the other day and he was like, you gotta blog about this or something. Is pretty incredible, like nobody does this. you realize that? And I was like, Oh wow, I hadn’t even realized that it was what I was doing or what I was seeking out for myself. So I would say at present that’s, my source of self care and inspiration.
Karyn Zuidinga: relatable.
Rob Brodnick: that. That’s great.
Karyn Zuidinga: Anything on you, Jane?
Jane Hilberry: I’m doing something right now that one of my former students, Rosemary Watola Tromer, started doing about, I don’t know, maybe 18 or 19 years ago, which is writing a poem every day. And she has truly written a poem, and she publishes and makes them public. She now has an email list, so she writes a poem every day and sends it. out.
And some of my students decided they wanted to do it, so I’ve joined them in doing it. So right now I’m writing a poem every day. And it’s maybe the opposite of inspiration, it’s like working without inspiration. But what I’m finding is that it’s changing my idea of what a poem is and what it can be. And that’s very exciting to me right now. Because I just have to, instead of thinking, okay, I’m going to write something, from my past or, something that has some, I don’t know, I don’t know what, some kind of weight or heft to it, I’m just like, Okay, what happened today? Somebody said something funny, that’s going to go in the poem. Or there was this odd image, that’s going to go in the poem. So that’s been a practice that’s been really challenging and fun.
Karyn Zuidinga: Yeah.
Rob Brodnick: I love the answers the two of you gave because we’ve asked this question like of a lot of people and we’ll get like references and book titles or songs and you both described a immersive process. I just love
Karyn Zuidinga: I had exactly the same thought in my head, Rob.
Rob Brodnick: I just love it.
Karyn Zuidinga: oh, I love it. Yeah. This is it. We’re at the end.
Rob Brodnick: We’re at the end.
Karyn Zuidinga: I so appreciate your sharing today. And just your willingness to get in there with us. And to open up our creative hearts
Rob Brodnick: yeah.
Karyn Zuidinga: is beautiful.
Jane Hilberry: much for having us. It was a pleasure.
Felicia Rose Chavez: Thank you.
Rob Brodnick: it was a lot of fun.
Karyn Zuidinga: A huge thank you to AMI, who have nurtured us in developing this podcast, is the source of so many of our guests, and of course the founder, Stan Gryskiewicz, is also the author of the original book and, dare I say, the Leonardo da Vinci of positive turbulence.
Rob Brodnick: AMI is a pioneering nonprofit organization comprised of committed individuals who foster and leverage creativity and innovation in organizations and society. AMI identifies leading edge innovation, shares experiences, sponsors research, and recognizes innovation and creative processes. Find out more at aminnovation. org.
And thank you to Mack Avenue Music Group, our contributing sponsor, for providing our podcast soundtrack, Late Night Sunrise.
Karyn Zuidinga: If you want to share a positive turbulence moment or otherwise comment on what you’re hearing, please drop us a line at podcast at positiveturbulence. com. We welcome your thoughts.
Rob Brodnick: Be sure to tune in to the next episode for a conversation with Michael Linfield, president of Meditation Mount, an organization focused on building an enlightened and compassionate world through the power of creative meditation, inspirational educational programs, and community based events. The conversation is both surprising and full of wisdom. Join us as Michael shares his 50 plus years of experience thinking about supporting transformational change in individuals and organizations.
Karyn Zuidinga: You can also head over to PositiveTurbulence. com to find out more about us, get a transcript of this episode, get links to find out more about our guests, or Positive Turbulence. Until next time, keep the turbulence positive!