Creativity has been increasingly recognized over the last decade, at least, as something more than a pastime or a pursuit that would round out the character or skillset of one who risks going through life with a narrow range of interests and a narrow horizon as well.
Despite the body of literature that has come out over the last few years to underline the social, personal and economic benefits that stem from creativity, it continues to be regarded in some quarters with some trepidation. Creativity continues to be regarded as a remote monolith, steeped in a mythology that reinforces assumptions about god-given creative genius, the quick, easy genesis of complete works and the belief that creativity is merely the reserve of the fine arts.
When viewed with the fear and regard that a monolith incites, creativity can ultimately remain untapped or unexplored, especially in our classrooms. One factor that limits the extent to which teachers may explore and foster creativity in their classrooms, is the attention that must be paid to the curriculum and assessment, especially the diploma exam. Given the structure that the curriculum and a provincial or diploma exam imposes, there is a strong sense of risk in exploring creativity, potentially at the risk of leading the students down a rabbit hole that diverts them too far away from preparation for exams. Investing class time in creativity when it cannot be accurately evaluated nor is part of a diploma exam would be deemed indulgent or even reckless by those looking for measurable results from their child's education.
Apart from the pair of handcuffs that is put on teachers, especially high school teachers, by the diploma exam, there is a teacher's confidence in their own creativity. If a teacher lacks confidence in their creativity and/or does not have a creative outlet that they can visit to regularly identify significant aspects of the creative experience, he or she is less likely to risk exploring creativity if it takes them out of their comfort zone.
The opposed monoliths of assessment and a fine art perception of creativity need to be re-examined or even atomized. Assessment and education always need to be reconsidered as changes to technology and society occur. Creativity, meanwhile, is being regarded more and more through a different lens today. We are slowly moving away from the monolithic, narrow definition of creativity and as we look at the values, skills and characteristics we can associate with creativity. With a careful consideration of input or outcomes that we would associate with creativity we can generate a constellation of skills or competencies that may not the focus of a diploma exam, but are still vital traits that we, as teachers, would like to model and foster among our students.
A considered assessment of the qualities that are a part of this constellation of concepts that we associate with creativity would provide a few areas where teachers can bring a strength or interest to the classroom to model or support for their students. They will not necessarily be exercising creativity in a strict sense but such an approach will be an opportunity for a teacher who has reservations about their creativity to support students in an aspect of their creativity. There will be a need to adapt the curriculum and assessment to ensure that creativity is fostered in the classroom. There will also be a need for the powers-that-be to give creativity its due place in the curriculum and ensure that it is not pushed aside in favour more easily measured competencies. Creativity, like the concepts that I have associated it with in the constellation above, is sorely lacking in our society today and giving it short shrift because we cannot evaluate it should not be continued much longer.
In the meantime, teachers ought to see the opportunity to identify skills and competencies that are among their strengths and ensure that they embody and model them in their classrooms. Such efforts will ensure that their students are in a safe, supportive environment where they, in turn, can develop their competency in these areas and build the foundation for a creative practice that allows them to think divergently, solve problems, thinking critically and pose the "what about" questions that will generate novel ideas and innovations.
Saturday, October 6, 2018
Tuesday, September 25, 2018
As someone who has not-necessarily-quietly worn the badge of my tastes as something that defines me, Ambrose Akinmusire's "a blooming bloodfruit in a hoodie," provides an assertive reminder of jazz's roots, eclecticism and its activism. As much as I might want to be defined by what I listen to, I realize that I am also defined by what I overlook.
The song -- and this is a case where 'song' risks falling short of capturing the breadth and scope of Akinmusire's palette -- begins with the restrained long tones of a classical string quartet and is complemented by the terse insights of a hop-hop artist. Thus opens a piece of remarkable musical, thematic and lyrical complexity that refuses to remain in the background.
When the rap begins, a hip-hop that echoes the lines that Billie Holiday delineated in "Strange Fruit." The simmering rage remains as does the reminder that for African-Americans only the landscape and the tree has changed with the passing of time. The pastoral scene of the American south is gone and it has been replaced by cellphone footage on the streets of the suburbs and urban core of this America that has become nastier and bleaker as its horizons have narrowed. The current tragedies blip and repeat as the data streams public at an unsteady rate and the institutional indifference toward the rights, dignity and innocence of adolescents like Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and other young black men who have died at the hands of the police over the years.
Let's keep it simple -- what formed the African-American experience is still there and it is more visceral and present than we would collectively wish to admit. We know there is still racism, but those privileged enough not to experience it remain ignorant, and blissfully so. We might sense the need for advocacy, but not the urge to respond or become a staunch ally.
The racism that is central to the African American experience in an integral part of jazz lore and reality. Integrated bands were a novelty that met opposition. Cabaret cards were tokens of manipulation and control of African-American players, even in the liberal north. Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis and other musicians who came of age during the 1940's and 1950's were haunted by the murder of Chicago teenager Emmett Till in 1955. John Coltrane's "Alabama" was prompted by Ku Klux Klan bombing in Birmingham that killed three teenaged girls. In "blooming bloodfruit" a malleted drum riff pays homage to Elvin Jones' drumming on "Alabama" and evokes an era that, actually, hasn't ended despite the civil rights accomplishment that can be cited over the last 50-60 years.
These struggles and experiences have deeply informed much of the jazz experience and its language. As much as I have listened to Hancock, Davis, Ellington and Coltrane, my tastes of lead me elsewhere over the years. The jazz I've listened to has been more meditative and sedate, steeped in the Great American Songbook, trio playing and lulled me into seeking out the distinctions in playing among different musicians. I've drifted off in the process.
A few months ago, I patted myself on the back for catching a fragment of Vince Guaraldi's "Lucy and Linus" in the middle of an interpretation of "Monk's Mood." Yes, my grasp of jazz was such that I could cite the hook from one of the most widely known soundtracks of childhood. I'd burrowed into a cave of my own tastes but, by chance, Ambrose Akinmusire's stellar work as a sideman prompted me to broaden my horizons to jazz's ambition and its roots.
Sequestered with my fondness for older generations of musicians who are still present, vibrant and posing no threat to settle for a routine in tuxedos that would never be threatened by the sweat of full on performance, I've found myself listening to music that has been familiar rather than challenging. Akinmusire's piece has given me a reminder to take full note of not only him, but of the likes of Kamasi Washington, Ben Williams and others who are of the generation of musicians younger than me. I've listened to "blooming bloodfruit" a dozen times now and I have ponied up for the album to tell myself at least, in this age of streaming, that this is a substantial piece of music worth the time, attention and the vote in dollars. I have a single that has challenged me to re-examine my listening habits and I anticipate an album that will do the same and consequently change my perspective on
I come away from the track with a humbling note to myself as I expand my horizons: "I know so little."
Thursday, August 30, 2018
on the litany in recent years, but the familiar challenges that creativity presents have not fallen away.
The anxieties about creative processes will remain and they will menace you with the threat of a mythic hydra. Fear, risk, the dynamics of the ego still guard the transition from work, chores and the everyday into creative processes. Procrastination becomes a familiar companion as one tries to get an atrophied creative muscle into shape, but cannot find the proverbial gym or routine to exercise or even identify where or what your creativity actually is.
As the public commentary about creativity and its importance increases in volume, variety and intensity, the recognition grows that it is good, that it has benefits. You might be willing to acknowledge that creativity is like doing the stairs instead of elevators. There may be the familiar inhibition and frustration the occurs when presented with self-improvement, self-help or a dream. You know what to do, know some of the benefits and at the end of the day merely nod to yourself that you know these things. Still, there is reluctance to do it. Worse yet, you may find a certain inner dialogue taking a familiar tone that leaves you in a rut and that may perpetuate a certain dialogue about the willingness to follow through on something, or start.
No, no, no. Not your first time out. If you wish to pick up the paint brush, pen, or guitar, that expectation looms in the background.
You could probably doodle without the expectation of about. Or is that "ABOUT?"
The camera, be it a refined DSLR or the one in your smart phone, is another mode of creativity that is not going to impose the word "about" on you. There will be no expectation that you connect with a theme or make a statement about the world. Not that the ambition of a theme is ruled out for photographers. However, when you pick up the camera you are simply doing so to take a picture of something. If there is a statement to be made it may occur only out of happenstance or as a happy consequence or accident from a connection between the photographer and the subject.
While high stakes loom and weigh upon you with other creative pursuits in music, writing, acting, and other areas, that is less of a case with photography. The changes that have taken place in photographic technology have allowed more people to pursue it and its spontaneity is such that there is almost no time commitment to taking a single image these days. At the same time, the equipment is not that necessary and there is still the risk of fetishizing the gear a bit too much, especially when it is so ubiquitous that anything can be photographed at any given moment. The moment taken, however, to stop and see something and connect with it, whether merely with the eyes or with a camera, is one that can reward you immensely at a very low risk to you.
For these reasons, the camera is probably one of the most inviting paths to exercising your creative muscles and having those first tentative jostles with the fear and risk that stand between you and creativity. And if you want to wrestle with the question of what a photograph can be about, it is about you.
Sunday, August 19, 2018
Is drowsy an emotion?
Okay, it is just a state, but it is profound and extends to muscle and toes at the moment. They are sore after the marathon but they want to sleep too. Dearly.
Given the opportunity to visit the flat course that qualified me for Boston a year ago, I was curious about how I would feel as the morning started. There has probably been a bit of a let down over the last year after qualifying for Boston, but there has only been a slight drop in my training mileage compared to the amount I had put in last year. I've been more meditatively in my training runs for a very long time and there has been a lingering doubt over the last year that there has not been enough of a push in training to get me as race ready as I was a year ago. Still, I wasn't sure how race ready I was then either.
I am, however, able to say that my fitness seems to be holding despite the lack of intensity in training lately and perhaps the tactical errors today. It being my second marathon of the year and likely the occasion to shut it down for a pretty long time, it wasn't long before I decided to go for broke. After 10K of comfort at a pace that was on par with the time I needed to qualify, I pushed through at the pace I set, conscious of my questions about fitness and a lingering tweak in my left ankle or achilles that, today, kept itself to a whisper.
Today, however, was not as emotional as the race last year that qualified me for Boston or running the 122nd iteration in April's tempests. It may have been a matter of not lingering long in the starters' area this morning - a mere 10 minutes today, compared to the usual hour or so I usually put in. It may be a matter of the stakes being a little lower for each of the marathons I've run in the last 12 months. One thing that was significant in my recollection of the Edmonton marathon last year was that I was not connecting today with other runners the way I do when a race is going well. There were familiar faces throughout the race but connections did not form for one reason or another.
In the back of my mind there, is still a desire to run Boston under different conditions from what I encountered this year, but bucket list items usually don't have parenthetical updates. I still went for it and for the better part of the race my mantra for the morning nudged me along whenever I seemed to be flagging.
The legs, however, surrendered their drive a little earlier than I needed. My stretch from the half mark to the 30K mark was my fastest of the morning and, as I told myself last year at that point, I had one hour to go. Just ease in 12K at a 5-minute pace. I pretty much nailed that last year, running those last 12(.2!)K in 1:00:57. Today it took 1:12 as the legs gave their walking orders (worst pun ever?) Part of it was tactical today, part of it was also the lack of the long runs through the summer to prep me for the kick needed to get through that last 1/4 of the race.
For the soreness and the resignation that a break awaits to heal, work on other aspects of my fitness it is comforting to know that, on a day when things were less than ideal, I have managed to run faster than I did 2 years ago.
Friday, August 17, 2018
I'm not gaping at a closet full and pondering the right colour to go with my go-to ensemble of orange shirt and black shorts. I haven't done the full matchy matchy, footwear-included match up, in nearly two years and that was more trust in the chosen shoes than striking the right look on the asphalt. Most folks are too bleary-eyed at that hour of the morning to size up the fashion statements unless someone is going outrageous with a tri-coleur afro and matching crocs or beyond.
The shoes aside, there are familiar questions and doubts about the race. What's the goal? Have I trained enough? Where am I mentally? Physically? Can I rein myself in for the start and follow the necessary strategy? Could I run a negative split? Will I push myself as hard as I can or will I leave something in the tank to avoid conking?
At this point the die is cast. Preparation and training have laid the foundation for what will happen and I can probably -- despite the questions -- guesstimate my finish time. I know that I will have Asian fast food at lunch to begin the carb load and top it off in the evening with the katsu-don and sashimi repast that served me so well one year ago. It is results, not superstition that has set the menu. Sunday morning beverages are identified and the pre-race pacing and bathroom visits are noted in advance without much cause for concern. I'll line up with the 3:45 pace rabbit as I did last year. After 20-40 minutes or so of looking regularly at my watch to ensure I'm not going out too hard, I'll settle in for the race and the close surveying of mind and body to determine where I am at and addressing the unknowns that I bore with me to the start line. The answers will come to me, wordless. I'll recalibrate my will, my hopes and the demands I make of myself as I determine where I'm at and do what I can to focus on the task at hand.
From there the following 3 hours, give or take, will be the culmination of a day where the stakes are high. The focus is relatively sharp for that time. There will be distractions occasionally, and my mind will meander and occasionally settle on a thought for a while, but the intention will remain undivided. For water gulps and refuelling the stride will be unbroken as I put all my focus into finishing with as little left in the tank as possible. There won't be a number or a red line to tell me how well I consumed what I have with in me that morning. I'll look within and navigate by dead reckoning. Perhaps that is the challenge that makes the marathon such an intriguing race.
There are few other endeavours, at least in my life, where the challenge is so intense and the result as tangible as it is. The stakes, at least as I set them for myself, make each run new. The uncertainties about what I'm capable of ought to raise the stakes everyday and make me rally my best self to each occasion that presents itself. There are moments when I can lock in and bring a certain level of intensity, focus and eventually, flow when I'm writing, doing photography or working. A race, though, is an occasion to see if I can set myself to getting into that flow rather than wait for it to present itself to me.
So, when I get in the scrum with the other runners on Sunday morning, I might try to treat it like a typical morning long, but I'll be keen to push it and see what I got in me. Now... I just have to figure out whether to go with the pair I ran my last marathon in or a newer pair.
Thursday, July 19, 2018
Chapter two, in inspired hands would be a flash forward to five words. Five words that came from a rookie who averaged an ordinary 21 minutes and 8.6 points a game and may, on the heels of season one, still have been considered more of a project than a cog for the future. With the departure of all-star power forward Chris Bosh looming, the rookie, of all people on the roster tweeted: "Don't worry, I got us..."
Was it arrogant or presumptuous for the rookie to step up on a team with serviceable veterans bearing much of the load? In the end, the answer is a proud, "No." In that first chapter of his life, in that first season of his NBA career there were glimpses of who he was and the qualities he possessed. The determination, resilience, persistence and the work ethic have been cornerstones of DeMar DeRozan's delivery on that seemingly impetuous promise in June 2010, but there is something of that childhood in Compton, of the grit and humility that has formed him and a calculus of commitment that quite possibly assured him that his commitment was within him and that voicing it and holding himself accountable to those words would bring out what was required of him and of the team he integrated himself into.
Afforded the opportunity to shrink away from the boast, to simply delete it because the task he committed himself was too large or earned him a quick round of ridicule, he did not back down. As the 20-year-old grew into a man and the raw talent put in the now-renowned gym-rat hours to hone and complement the skill set he left Compton and USC with, he took on that responsibility and bore it. The numbers bore witness to what he strived to do, but there was the quiet development of other skills or the burnishing of principles that he learned from his parents. He was never late. He was always there. There was no drama. There was a commitment to self-improvement. There is an authenticity and sincerity about DeRozan that was always a sharp contrast to Chris Bosh's social media savvy and telegenic eloquence that occasionally turned glib. DeMar spoke simply, in a manner that belied a preference to put the work in rather than calculate a turn of phrase to turn things in his favour. (There was a sense of that during Bosh's interactions with the media during his last season and the team's close but yet so far meander through the 2009-10 season from the All Star break to the
The young man who identified only one way out of Compton, just put the work in and added to that sweat equity an integrity and a quiet leadership that has left an indelible mark on the franchise that will at the very least hang his number from the rafters. Apart from the commitment he made in staying and wanting to stay as long as he did, he was a key figure in the playoff runs that the team has made over the last five seasons. His embrace of running mate Kyle Lowry as the gasp of frustration was yet to be exhaled by the ACC faithful was a moment that fused the team together and in defeat ought to remain as a hallmark of teammates' commitment to one another through all. The heartbreaks have been tough, but we -- whether that is the men in the dressing room or the thousands in the seats and in Jurassic Park -- will persevere, be thankful for the men we have had the chance to go through this with and look ahead to greater successes that will be sweeter for this moment's searing memory.
He has put in the time to take the team as far as it has and he will be a significant part of the successes that will follow for the example he set the time he put in and the glass ceilings of playoff infamy that he had helped the once hapless Raps so adeptly smash through. If greater successes follow in the near future there will be a poignant wish that he and Dwane Casey be in the room to celebrate with those people who are more significant actors in the achievement of the the next level of success. Instead of being at the centre of those future celebrations, ones which they set the foundation for, they will be on the outside looking in, only able to enjoy it vicariously and their contribution to it only calculable by vague and unreliable means. No, DeRozan and Casey won't execute or set the play or adjustment required to score a decisive basket. Achieving the next level will not be a consequence of merely completing a certain number of successful defensive and offensive possessions over the course of 100-plus games strung out from one October to the following June. Championships are progressed toward, in part, as a consequence of organizational will and the mindset of the leaders in that organization. Successes without men of such quality and character as DeRozan and Casey will be bitter sweet for their absence at a time when their contributions to the organization need to be acknowledged.
DeMar DeRozan -- the quiet, confident gym rat who did the self-examination and made the effort
Saturday, April 28, 2018
When the Boston Marathon competitors complete their dawn pilgrimage to the Starters’ Village in Hopkinton each year, the conversations turn to previous versions of the race. In 2018, as we shuffled for warmth in the pouring rain and glanced at the mounds of ice surrounding the tents, comparisons were made to the heat of 2012 and the rains of 2015. In 2019 and beyond, the weather on race day 2018 will have a special place during these pre-race chats. It will not be a mere passing point of reference drawn from a Marathon veteran’s mental scrap book, but an epic retelling requested by one who missed, escaped or avoided it. Details about the will-breaking rains and headwinds will be feasted upon by those who missed it while it evokes an un-nostalgic shiver among the narrator-survivors.
On more springlike days, there is a festival atmosphere in Hopkinton. The runners scatter and sprawl on the school fields to savour arrival and cobble together this version of prerace ritual. They stretch, splay out on the grass, and relax - zone out in their own way. Selfies at the sign marking the start are taken. In 2018, they huddled for warmth in the tents, jammed to near standstill, the runners shuffling their feet in the muddy bog as the hours to the each wave’s start slowly ticked by. There was an airport expectancy. That may be the case every year, but with the weather as bleak as it was, the race start felt more like a demanding evacuation exercise instead of a premiere sporting event couched in a century-plus of tradition.
Beyond the overnight sleet and ongoing rain, there were cold temperatures and strong winds that only promised to intensify throughout race day. Many of the spectators who brought signs to the race route eschewed the pithiest old school running signs for Pixar’s lexicon: “Just keep swimming.” The descriptions of the race weather will vary from runner to runner when these Boston veterans return to Hopkinton or the tales of this exceptionally epic iteration of the Marathon are recounted over Thursday night beers or Sunday morning long-run brunches among running clubs.
Those volunteers hoping to collect discarded clothes on race day on behalf of Big Brothers Big Sisters stood in the torrents to little avail. Despite expectations of warming up, people kept their clothing on throughout and discarded little on route. If ever the temptation to drop a layer welled up, it was pounded away by a gust of wind that stunned you with a sheet of rain that metaphorically or psychologically stopped you in your tracks or sent you reeling backwards. There is the reality for some runners that it actually stopped them. As I encountered the headwinds, I dreaded the possibility of the cold rain pounding my forehead until the aching numbness of the third eye set in to double me over in a full-body wince. My thin toque managed to fend off that sensation.
Runners would admit that they really wondered why they were racing through these conditions merely for the sake of completing a marathon. For myself, a first time participant in Boston, there was only the most fleeting thought about quitting. I was propelled by the sense of privilege of being on that storied route. There was an overarching sense of pleasure in running that route and having that experience among my races. I noted but did not mind the rains and headwinds.
As I have slowly come to realize during my previous 10 marathons, the mental component is crucial. I ran my first Boston Marathon with a serenity that made the miles disappear behind me with little doubt or anguish about the remaining steps. When the rain made its mark it did on the day, I took the pressure off myself and proceeded. I decided the goal would be 3:40 and precisely ran that.
Coming away from the race, I have contemplating the relation or opposition between gratitude and expectation. When expressed from a more A-type mindset, expectations can quickly turn into an anvil to lug up Heartbreak Hill while a sense of gratitude can keep you steady, serene and clear of the flight or fight reactions that accompany a more tense frame of mind.
The opposition between gratitude and expectation echoes the tortoise and hare parable. The elite runners had more expectations during the 2018 Boston Marathon and the sense of gratitude had likely been eroded by years of rigorous training, top level competition and calculating each step, bite and stretch with an eye to peaking for the right races. They were working with not only higher expectations, but the calculus that amounts to risking the outcome of a future race by expending so much energy in a losing battle. To that point, it is significant that Yuki Takeuchi, the 2018 winner of the Boston Marathon runs a compulsive number of marathons, a number the limits the stakes of each individual race and, consequently, his expectations each time he toes the start line because another race is not too far down the line. (Takeuchi raced a half-marathon six days after completing Boston.) There is a willingness to seek fun rather than reward as is evidenced by his Guinness record for fastest half-marathon in a panda costume and less chance of being enslaved by an arbitrary goal such as a certain time, ranking or compensation.
The weekend warriors made up the gap between themselves and the elites, in many cases, with the sheer mass of gratitude they brought to the start line. Finding the gratitude when facing adversity — whether in running or elsewhere in life — keeps you engaged and striving, even if the progress is not evident or satisfying. Parenting, work, relationships and creating are just a few areas of life where you can be stopped in your tracks. It is common to assume or expect that things will just happen and that a high performance state will be entered with mere desire for it. However, there is slogging and strife at times. Finding the gratitude to realize that you have at that moment, the privilege, the energy and resources within to accomplish something and leave your mark is great way to actually position your self within sight of the possible. Shedding or examining your expectations and assessing your perspective at a given moment in terms of expectations and gratitude (or privilege) can reshape a challenge or a moment into one were success and contentment can outstrip frustration and hardship.
My other running posts:
Big Sur 2014
Nashville 2016 - missed my BQ by 9 seconds
Edmonton 2017 BQ
Prelude to Boston 2018
Boston 2018 (1)
My other running posts:
Big Sur 2014
Nashville 2016 - missed my BQ by 9 seconds
Edmonton 2017 BQ
Prelude to Boston 2018
Boston 2018 (1)