yogurt on a fork and sundry inspirations

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You see that?  That is what you do when you get home with yogurt for your baby and realize that the expiration date is 12 hours away.  You stick a [plastic baby] fork in it [and then put it in the freezer.]  It’s done, baby.

tea party

And you see that?  That’s what happens when you’re unshakably determined not to bring the Disney princess tea cart back in the house that’s sitting on the back porch in the yard sale pile and a very imaginative 6 year old girl feels that her tea party would be much improved if it were mobile.  You stick some casters in a cardboard box and call it a day.  (Then you call yourself stubborn for not getting the doggone tea cart off the back porch.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity lately (and apparently so have a lot of others… check out The Nester’s post.)  It’s deeply satisfying to have a creative moment, because creating is part of who we are as humans.  We’re made in likeness of The Creator.  Humans even get to be part of creating… humans.  Isn’t that crazy?!  Anyway.  Crazy.

I sense a series coming on here about creativity, so I’m not going to spill all my bloggy beans in one post. Today I only want to take you inside one amazing, frozen moment in my classroom about two months ago.

I had a class of five boys.  (Remember? I teach at an alternative high school.  Small class size rocks.)  We spent about 20 minutes on most days working on drumming skills using congas.

Congas

Photo by vxla on Flickr

Ah, yes.  Those things.

Never having taught at this school, I was a bit nervous to introduce this portion of our instrumental class.  I certainly did not want to tick off my hallmates or downstairs neighbors with incessant, loud, really bad drumming.  I checked with my peers.  Sure, they all said. That won’t be a problem.  I have planning during that block anyway.  I even heard a few Great!  I think some of those guys will really respond to the drums.  “So they’re interested in emotional rehabilitation through drumming, too!” I naively thought.  (I might want to be a music therapist when I grow up, by the way.)

About a month in to our daily drumming sessions, one of the staff met me in the hallway and said, “I noticed your guys finally changed up the rhythm.  That’s cool.”

I wish I’d taken that course in undergrad called Backhanded Compliments 101, because I think she just dished one out.

Since I’m not sure if you’re a music educator, I won’t bore you with the methods I used or the particular objectives I had in mind.  What’s important is that the guys were responsible for listening for empty space and filling it in with their own creation.  Some of them weren’t really comfortable with that.  For a long time, we ended up gravitating toward the same tempo with the same, slightly syncopated base rhythm.  No matter how we started off, someone pulled us to that comfortable place.

And then one day, someone got tired of the comfortable place.

During one exercise, I tell kids to listen (duh,) loop (repeat a simple idea over and over,) and lay out (occasionally just stop playing.)  This student, whom we’ll call James, just stopped playing.  I thought he was quitting for the day, because that was his general mode of operation. Our boredom with the rhythm morphed into a tiny tension as we wondered if there would be yet another showdown between Mrs. Lutz and James.

It turns out that he was actually following my suggestion and laying out so that he could listen, because he dropped the most pleasing, unexpected little chain of sounds in the middle of that musical space.  It felt like watching somebody cleanly jump in between the double dutch ropes after 25 kids had gotten smacked with them.  We straightened in our chairs and shifted the congas on our feet.  (Conga stands? We don’t need no stinkin’ stands.)  Our eyes went to his hands, and naturally, those students less comfortable bringing new ideas to the table were glad to try out his.  They couldn’t help but be drawn down the new path, because James gave it energy and commitment when he offered up his new idea.  Pretty soon, he had us pushing the tempo. Once we felt the new groove, other kids had new ideas that now seemed so obvious, even though they’d felt dry for ideas for almost a month.

This moment isn’t just about drumming or music or high school boys in an alternative school.

  • Sometimes boredom is the mother of creativity.
  • The listen-loop-lay out idea is wisdom in action.
  • It’s normal to feel a little anxiety right before the change happens.
  • Bad ideas will fail, but sometimes so will good ideas offered without commitment and energy.
  • One new idea often leads to another.

And you know that yogurt popsicle I showed you?  That turned into my favorite ten minutes of the following day.  All three of my kids and I sat on the kitchen floor and and laughed and ate together. I will definitely be doing that again, if ever I find myself with yogurt on the brink of being unsafe to consume.  And that mobile tea party?  She played with it for at least 8 minutes.  I don’t care, because it just felt good to try something new.

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