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This book is designed to teach you the secrets of highly creative women. It is a guidebook meant to be read and reread over time, as you and your creative challenges change and blossom. My hope is that the wisdom of the 45 women who shared their stories in this book and the lessons you learn from the myriad of exercises called Challenges will encourage you to soar to new creative heights and joy. By the end of the book, you will have compelling goals and a plan ...
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This book is designed to teach you the secrets of highly creative women. It is a guidebook meant to be read and reread over time, as you and your creative challenges change and blossom. My hope is that the wisdom of the 45 women who shared their stories in this book and the lessons you learn from the myriad of exercises called Challenges will encourage you to soar to new creative heights and joy. By the end of the book, you will have compelling goals and a plan of action steps to guide you on your creative path. I offer you this book as a celebration of your creative self-expression and as inspiration for when you encounter those inevitable rejections and roadblocks. Have faith and persevere. The world needs our collective creative feminine energies!
Acknowledging Your Creative Self
Your creative self is alive and waiting for your invitation to evolve! Dare to embrace your creative self and manifest your dreams. Recognizing your creativity leads you into a life of self-expression, fulfillment, and contribution.
Your creativity is waiting for you
like a dancing partner.
—Barbara Sher, WRITER AND CAREER CONSULTANT
Yes, you are a creative woman. Creativity is not just for "talented geniuses." Creativity is a tool we can all access and utilize. It doesn't matter if you've never picked up a pen or can't draw a straight line or flunked out of music class, you have a creative self waiting to be awakened or amplified. Webster's definition for the word create is "to cause to come into existence; bring into being; make; originate." Creative women are innovators—they manifest the new.
They dare to believe in their insights, to intuit the next step, and to take risks, even if it means getting lost or being wrong. You too can participate in creative expression and share your personal talents. You are an original; therefore, your inspirations are original as well.
As a career and creativity coach, as well as a licensed psychotherapist, human resources consultant, and trainer for the past twenty-five years, I have helped thousands of women discover and access their creative potential; achieve their personal, professional, and creative goals; and reduce the stressin their lives. It was my own personal journey, however, that deepened my fascination with the creative process and was the catalyst for my own creative awakening. That journey, which gave birth to this book, began quite unexpectedly.
When I was thirty-five and in the midst of a successful career, I was suddenly overcome by chronic fatigue syndrome. I was exhausted and plagued by a number of terrifying physical symptoms. I had all kinds of x-rays and diagnostic tests, including an MRI to rule out multiple sclerosis when I began to have trouble walking, but they all tested negative. I saw doctor after doctor, searching for answers, but because of the negative test results they all minimized my symptoms and wrote me off as possibly depressed. As a trained psychotherapist, I knew the symptoms of depression and would have gladly taken Prozac if that made sense, but I was running a temperature, experiencing numbness in the left side of my body, overreacting to medications, having heart attack symptoms, and feeling too tired to perform the tasks of daily living. I was not depressed, just tired. I got up every day wanting to chase my goals, not escape from them. To me, life had always been a seductive, stunningly gorgeous, and appetizing buffet table—but suddenly I couldn't stand in line long enough to have fun sampling. I decided to take matters into my own hands and in the course of doing research, I found a book on chronic fatigue syndrome and diagnosed myself.
According to everything I could read on the subject, it was a syndrome, not a disease, so it was unacknowledged by the traditional medical community.
Worse yet, it was dubbed a women's illness and was too easily dismissed. I also learned that other autoimmune illnesses common to women, like lupus, had gone unrecognized for years until definitive tests were developed. No blood test for chronic fatigue syndrome was in sight, so it was up to me to try everything I could to get well. I located two doctors, one Eastern and one Western, who confirmed my diagnosis. I began intensive acupuncture treatments as well as herbal and vitamin therapies to boost my immune system. I spent a fortune on healers, herbs, and visualization workshops as well as other alternative therapies. Fortunately my intuition warned me to cancel my appointment with a nationally known physician who was later exposed for sexually abusing women with chronic illnesses after dosing them with the drug Ecstasy. As I tuned into my body, the potency of my intuition grew and guided me to the right choices along the way to recovery. The truth was that rest worked best. Similar to when I had had severe mononucleosis in my twenties, I started subtracting things from my life. I cut back on my consulting work, gave up relationships with people who drained my energy, dropped out of professional organizations and networks, and learned to say "No" more effectively. My focus was self-restoration.
Along with alternative treatments and lots of sleep, I married the man I had been involved with for years and transitioned my psychotherapy practice into more of a coaching business with an emphasis on career and stress issues. As one healer told me, I had been psychically absorbing all of the pain of my clients, and now there were holes in my aura. I knew intuitively that she spoke the truth and that I needed to create a limited and more selective client practice.
Responding to Creative Callings
In the midst of all of these changes, I suddenly became fascinated with art, beauty, and creative expression. I started buying new magazines like House and Garden (although at that time I had neither), Country Living, and Architectural Digest, and I craved visits to English country antique stores, watercolor exhibits, art galleries, and shops that featured handpainted anything. Color seduced me from everywhere.
I started wearing coral, red, and purple outfits to my office instead of dull navy and gray suits. I also found myself reading women writers exclusively.
Many years earlier in graduate school, my plan had been to have a clinical practice and then write self-help magazine articles and books. My excursions into writing had consisted of only a few published articles, but now my short-circuited fantasy of becoming a writer beckoned again. Several years earlier I had co-authored a book called Fearless Speaking: A Work-Life Guide to Conquering Communication Anxiety. My writing partner and I had secured a literary agent who raved about the book but encouraged us to pass up offers from two small publishers and wait for a bigtime publisher. Foolishly, we took his advice, but he never sold our book. Discouraged, my partner and I dropped the project, and then my partner, who kept the manuscript on his computer, mysteriously lost the files. Our already-written book vanished into oblivion. Despite the pain of the loss, I had to simply let it go. During my struggle with fatigue however, my mind, unlike my tired body, kept generating new ideas. While I felt some stirrings of recovery, a trip to the grocery store still felt like a backpacking expedition. I had transcended the New Age distortion that I was to blame for my illness and stopped trying to regain my old life. Every time I pushed myself to do work that was overly stressful just to earn money, I relapsed immediately. I finally understood. It was time to redesign my life in line with my limitations and with total allegiance to my truth.
Experimenting with New Processes
I learned about a creativity class called "Technologies for Creating" based on the work of Robert Fritz, author of The Path of Least Resistance: Learning to Become the Creative Force in Your Own Life. My teacher was Marilyn Veltrop, whom you will meet in this book, and who is now one of my best friends. From Marilyn, I learned about the concept of "structural tension" as a key part of the creative process. The dance between a vision of "what I wanted" and "my current reality" challenged me to engage with my creative energy and reinvent my life. I needed to stop seeing my chronic fatigue as simply a problem to be solved and instead needed to focus on manifesting my vision of a balanced, fulfilling life. The truth was that I was ready for a major work transition. Like so many other midlife women, I was burned out from too much caretaking. I yearned for a gentler, slower pace and wanted to express my creativity more directly. The nurturance of marriage and decorating a home beckoned as well. The tools I learned in class with Marilyn made the venture of reconfiguring my life all the more enticing. One of the goals I set in her class was to begin writing, immediately.
Dressed in my pajamas, I wrote the script for my audiocassette workshop called Positive Choices: From Stress To Serenity, based on the stress workshop I had developed and been teaching for years. My goal was to create a "portable" workshop so I could stop traveling. Creating the tape preserved my energy and reconnected me with my desire to write as a way of teaching.
Heeding my awakened intuitive attraction to art, I dared to enroll in watercolor classes with an expressive therapist and produced a collection of amateur but meaningful paintings. Pictures of lots of women locked up in stone castles revealed my dark struggle with our male-dominated society. My illness kept teaching me that subduing my feminine side was dangerous for me. I needed to stop competing in the corporate world and reconnect with my artistic, intuitive feminine self. I, like so many women of my generation, had an imbalance of masculine and feminine energies, with too much emphasis on my active, masculine aspect and not enough on my receptive, feminine energy. Playing with colors and being given permission to just paint what I felt and not worry about "how good it was" freed me to express all my creative impulses without judgment. My love of art had been slaughtered early on by a cruel art teacher, and I had been too scared to try painting again until these classes. Painting, writing, decorating, and gardening emerged as glorious expressions of my awakened creative self. My inner knowing and trust in my feminine intuitive strength continued to grow stronger and more reliable.
Some time later, I had a wonderful opportunity to study with George Prince, founder of Synectics, an innovation consulting company headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and his wife Kathleen Logan-Prince, M.S.W. Through their Mind-Free Program(tm), I learned about the positive power of mistakes and our self-imposed limitations on the creative process. Armed with a series of new techniques, my ability to make new connections and design novel options increased. The process also transformed my fear of being wrong. Taking risks and experimenting with possibilities became more comfortable and even fun when I let go of my terror of being criticized or fumbling foolishly. These added tools, combined with my new ability to both write and paint freely, set my cycle of rebirth in motion.
After several years on this creative adventure with more published articles, piles of watercolors, multicolored clothes, and a redecorated home, I had to acknowledge that I was indeed an artist at heart. I've always been intrigued by creative souls. Those years of running myself ragged with workaholism and denying my feminine expression had eclipsed my true spirit. I appreciated my mother's creativity, almost for the first time, and began practicing and enjoying her art, which was flower arranging. Suddenly I was drawn to attending house and garden tours and reveled in the annual "Art in Bloom" event at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, at which she used to exhibit. How was it that I had never gone in to see what she had done during all those years? I suddenly felt a new freedom to choose my own feminine path. Apis, a homeopathic remedy made from bees, miraculously cooled down my fevers. Astrology readings also reassured me that I would one day be stronger. I needed that faith. Claiming my artistic self as a woman became the path to healing and recreating my life. While I still needed lots of naps and had limited energy reserves, I emerged from my transition charged with creative confidence.
Even though I was disenchanted with male-dominated corporate America, I had no interest in embracing the starving artist lifestyle. Since the Medici family was long since dead, and other patrons of the arts were scarce, what were the options for creative souls in this culture? Fortunately I had my career and creativity coaching business to sustain me. For many women, though, fears, particularly concerning money, can be a major obstacle to taking creative risks. For so many of us, breaking free of our societal and psychological chains is a prerequisite to truly creating a life that expresses our genuineness and uniqueness.
Seeking Success Stories
In my early readings on creativity, I was struck by the absence of women in the literature. Except for the regulars like Martha Graham and Georgia O'Keeffe, anthologies on creative people told stories only of men. I vividly remember being a child in elementary school and assuming creative women didn't exist, except for a few rare examples like Elizabeth Blackwell and Madame Curie. This vacuum of education about women's lives had a profound unconscious impact on me; it implied impossibility and danger. If there were no examples of creative women to fantasize about, how could we be expected to dream in that direction? While we now have women's studies programs, I have talked with many women and adolescent girls who still express the same longing to know the details of the lives of creative women that I felt thirty years ago.
As I undertook to transform my life in midstream, I began to look for the mentors of advanced creativity. Who were the best role models of successful creative women? Why this gap of information and stories about women who use their creativity to create products and services and support themselves successfully with their talent? Who succeeds and how were my questions; I wanted a thoughtful road map. I had heard from so many women over the years that self-employment or careers in the arts were "impractical." I knew that the average writer in this country makes a subsistence income and faces increasing competition. Yet, every year women publish books, design clothing, create pots, and begin businesses, and I wanted to know what separated the women who do from the women who just dream about it. Now, some women are also running multimillion-dollar businesses. Although many of these women are in partnership with their husbands or fathers or inherited the businesses, an increasing number have done it on their own. That kind of monetary achievement and level of responsibility is not everyone's definition of success, though.
Other creative women earn just enough to support their needs, choosing lifestyle and balance over income. They, too, are successful—but by their own parameters.
With this in mind, several years ago I began a journey of interviewing creative women and reading about the struggles and triumphs of others, with the intent of writing a book. My quest was to identify the skills and strategies successful creative women use to transcend the confusion of being a woman in this culture and hold steady on their creative course. I began teaching workshops for creative women and collecting information about creative catalysts. My own creative process took me in many directions during the writing of this book, but my commitment held steadfast. Giving up was simply not an option. I felt as Sarah Ban Breathnach did about Simple Abundance, when she told me, "This is the book I was born to write." So I carefully filed my rejection letters from agents and publishers and kept sending out my proposal. Fortunately, I was heartened by many kind and encouraging words about the project along the way. Finally, serendipity intervened and I was led to Mary Jane Ryan at Conari Press.
Learning the Secrets
My interviews fueled my mission to help women recognize and express their creative powers. For years, I have seen talented, accomplished women as clients and watched them deny or downplay their abilities and achievements. For some, childbirth remains the only safe realm of female creativity. Yet we women express our creative selves with every business idea brainstormed, every garden planted, every family member or friend comforted, every outspoken word voiced, and every feminine value expressed. Sadly, the creative impulses of too many women are asleep—dormant or unacknowledged.
That's why this book is exclusively about creative women. Even in today's world of post-women's liberation, our challenges are still formidable.
We continue to be stifled by a host of factors that cause us to censor our inner voices and follow someone else's dream. That's why this book serves as a remedy. It will both affirm and jumpstart your creative power and guide you on your journey of risk and triumph. By reading the compelling vignettes of your imaginative sisters, noting their solid advice, and completing a series of practices called Challenges, you will be roused to spread your creative wings and ascend to new heights. As we go into the twenty-first century, the world needs the collective power of a feminine Renaissance. Perhaps that is why there are more girl babies being born this decade. Invoking the creative awareness of large numbers of women has the potential to mobilize solutions for the staggering challenges of our time, as well as helping us individually to revel in fulfilling lives.
The women who volunteered to contribute their stories here shared their secrets in the spirit of abundance—believing that we all benefit from the self-expression of others and that there is enough to go around. They offered to be mentors so you, too, can grow. Creativity is a language that crosses all cultural and economic barriers. When our female ancestors sat in sacred circles, creative tools and spiritual practices were willingly taught and passed down to young women by their elders. Just imagine how many more women would have accessed their inner talents in this culture had we grown up in one of those circles of support.
Alexandra Merrill, an educator and an artist who lives in rural Maine and works with women in groups, believes collaboration is the pathway to dissolving obstacles to the expression of female authority. Invoking creative expression in ourselves and others releases tremendous power in the extended women's community.
Alexandra's work also emphasizes the value of making the most of our differences, whether they be about race, class, religion, spirituality, or economic, physical, or sexual orientation.
The women I interviewed for this "portable mentor" represent a variety of creative endeavors and have all created work I admire. To find them, I began with my own bookshelf and identified women who had served as "symbolic" mentors to me over the years. While many of the women in this book have publicized their work by writing articles and books, this is not just a book about women writers. The women profiled in the following pages represent such diverse fields as art, design, acting, ceramics, medical research, comedy, music, singing, photography, cooking, dance, psychology, and writing. Each of these women has found and expressed her creative voice as a way of finding self-fulfillment and, in several cases, fame as well.
My initial contact to these women was usually a letter explaining my vision for this book with a request for an interview. I had one cardinal rule, and that was not to chase women unless they responded that they were interested in participating. Only if they expressed an interest did I then call them to schedule a time to talk. This rule was tested numerous times. A telling example was when I received a rejection call from the assistant of a well-known artist, with the message saying that while this artist admired my project, she was much too busy with her own work to participate. I happened to mention this particular rejection to an e-mail buddy of mine who wrote back and said that she knew this artist's aunt and that she could definitely get me an interview with her. I thought it over but declined. This artist had set her boundaries and my commitment was to respect them. Boundaries are such a key lesson in this book that challenging them seemed out of line.
With that said, all of the women in this book volunteered their time and insights in service of your creative growth and development. It has truly been a group effort.
As a second part of the process, I told every woman that even though her interview would be taped, she would have final sign-off on her story and her quotes. All the women were thus protected by my commitment to confidentiality and accuracy, and the book includes concepts connected with specific women only with their permission. As a therapist for more than twenty-five years, there was no other way I could comfortably do this. Several of the women were shocked but most appreciative that I kept my word. Not everyone I interviewed has been included. After sorting through enormous piles of transcription pages, I selected interview material that best illustrates the important lessons, sacrifices, and conflicts about being a woman with a passion to create in this culture and at this time in history. These women have enriched my life, and my wish is that their wisdom will enrich yours as well.
|Note to Readers||xi|
|First Gateway / Engaging Your Creativity||1|
|Secret 1 Acknowledging Your Creative Self||3|
|Secret 2 Honoring Your Inspirations||21|
|Secret 3 Following Your Fascinations||37|
|Secret 4 Surrendering to Creative Cycles||57|
|Second Gateway / Mastering Your Challenges as a Creative Woman||73|
|Secret 5 Committing to Self-Focus||75|
|Secret 6 Conquering Saboteurs||95|
|Secret 7 Consulting with Guides||109|
|Secret 8 Selecting Empowering Partnerships and Alliances||133|
|Secret 9 Transcending Rejections and Roadblocks||151|
|Third Gateway / Actualizing Creative Results: The Power of|
|Secret 10 Living in Abundance with Positive Priorities||167|
|Secret 11 Subtracting Serenity Stealers||183|
|Secret 12 Planning to Achieve Your Goals||203|