#122 Shades of Creativity

By Ellen Toronto, Ph.D.

shutterstock_202528174We’ve been talking about the uncanny ways in which important people—mainly parents—transmit the essence of who they are in ways that defy description. We find ourselves doing and saying and feeling things that are reminiscent of our parents, sometimes without realizing that we are doing it. Today I want to talk about the ways in which creativity is passed from one generation to another.
Creativity in itself is also hard to define. It comes in all different shapes and sizes. That’s one reason that I called this blog the “shades of creativity”. There are all sorts of variations and gradations of it. I am also referring to the “shades of creativity” because I think it has a supernatural, even spooky, quality to it. It doesn’t lend itself to objective measurement. There are tests to measure it. I am by no means an expert on what sorts of test are available, but I recall from my graduate school days a word association test. You were to come up with the word that connected three different items: tub, Saturday, salts. The answer is bath!
So yes! It’s hard to assess and yet we all know if someone has it. It’s an important trait for someone to have and it’s important to impart to our children. So how do we do it? Again I believe that we pass along this significant quality in uncanny ways. We may not know that we are doing it. But like so many of the important character traits that we want our children to have are they are transmitted, not so much in words, but in the ever-present example of who we are.
My friend Alane Starko, <@creativiteach.me.com> having just lost her father, has written a lovely article about her parents and the ways in which they imparted their creativity to her. I have quoted some of the article below.
I buried my father this week. He had as good a death as a person could wish—fully himself nearly to the end, surrounded by those who loved him. Spending those last weeks with him, I couldn’t help but reflect on how his creativity enriched his life to the end—and mine as well.
My father was the son of an Irish coal miner, trained as an engineer courtesy of the GI Bill. He started as a chemical engineer who solved problems using early plastics. He designed the plastic domes that housed the radar for some of the first AWAC planes. Somehow, over the course of a 40-year career, he evolved from plastics to designing robotic assembly lines and everything in between. But his creativity didn’t stay in the lab.
One day he brought home a piece of acrylic and said, “I’ll bet we could make an ice scraper for the car out of this.” I carried that chunk of acrylic in my car for years! Another time he said, “I’ll bet fiberglass would make a good boat,” and proceeded to involve his children in building a fiberglass canoe in the basement. Never mind that fiberglass in the house wasn’t the greatest idea. And never mind that the boat was so unstable we eventually gave it to the Boy Scouts for boat tipping drills and lifeguard training. We learned that ideas can be explored, and we learn from the exploration regardless of how successful it was.
We molded plastics in the kitchen and explored with chemistry sets. We experimented with cooking beans under the ground. I thought he could fix anything. Perhaps he could. He definitely spent his final days thinking about ways to redesign the hospital equipment.
My mother’s creativity was of a different variety. With limited resources and five children, she still wanted a beautiful home. She could create a centerpiece from roadside weeds, make Halloween costumes from whatever was available (including a memorable octopus with crepe paper legs), and invent recipes from whatever was in the refrigerator. She created a safe place for any young people who wandered in the door and cheered us in all our endeavors. With her, our ideas mattered.
Between the two of them, I grew up believing problems were to be solved, the world was to be made more beautiful, and they had confidence I could do both things. Were they perfect parents? Far from it. But still, theirs, above all, are the shoulders on which I stand.
So here’s to the people who make creativity possible. While some creative people have highly troubled childhoods, all human beings need someone who holds them up, recognizes their worth, and helps them believe in themselves. I was blessed to have such people in my home.
Well said, Alane. And thank you.

Paint brush image available from Shutterstock.



#121 Communicating Outside the Box

By Ellen Toronto, Ph.D.

shutterstock_130843658Remember those ghosts in the nursery I was talking about? Well, those who have gone before us have an uncanny way of remaining with us.

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#120 Ghosts in the Nursery

By Ellen Toronto, Ph.D.

shutterstock_172731194It’s a good time to talk about ghosts, right? But I’m not really talking about the Halloween kind.

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#119 Who is Mother?

By Ellen Toronto, Ph.D.

shutterstock_204091648Who is Mother?

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#118 When is a Mom Not a Mom??

By Ellen Toronto, Ph.D.

shutterstock_119235895The dilemma for women who are mothers is about how much time and energy they will give to their children and how much they will keep for themselves.

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#117 Mom’s Night Out

By Ellen Toronto, Ph.D.

shutterstock_96778486I wanted to comment on the discussions that have followed the recent movie Mom’s Night Out. I haven’t seen it but apparently the movie portrayed women who are stay at home moms as flaky, flighty, or not intelligent. I disagree with any movie, book or whatever that portrays people in stereotyped ways. That portrayal is certainly not an accurate description of the women I know who stay home with their children.

The question that comes to me is that of why we are still debating “women’s roles.” Why is there criticism of one side or another? It is not a debate that men encounter. That is, they don’t have to choose between having a job and being a dad. We assume that they will do both and one role does not preclude the other. They may have issues about how much time they spend with family versus time spent on a job but it isn’t viewed as a choice between one and the other.

I think it should be that simple for women as well. They are mothers and they work—either for money or as a volunteer. (Mothering is the most intensive volunteer work ever!!!) But why is it more complicated for women? First of all, women have only had a choice not to bear children for less than 100 years. Before that time the babies came—wanted or not. Once women had access to safe, convenient and legal birth control they could ostensibly make the decision not to have children. But that really hasn’t been choice either. There is enormous social pressure on women to have babies. If women choose not to have babies they are still regarded as aberrant.

Somehow it seems that women still don’t get to decide who they are. Men do because we still live in a male-dominated society. Oh yes, we do!! So we as women need to take charge of who we are and who we want to be. That means, as many of you out there have said, that we need to give one another the freedom and the support to make decisions about if and when and how we choose to be a mother.
Next week I’ll share some of my own struggles to make those difficult decisions way back in the 70s!!

Woman with birth control pills image available from Shutterstock.



#116 Abundant Living Nominees

By Ellen Toronto, Ph.D.

I asked friends and family to nominate people they know or have known who live abundantly.shutterstock_188836877 I invited them to use my definition which I posted in blog #115 or they could use their own definition.

As the nominations are coming in I am discovering that most people are choosing someone they love–a spouse, a dear friend, a beloved care giver or family member. So what does that mean? Is it that abundant living is difficult to see unless we know someone very well? Or is it like beauty in the eye of the beholder? Is it about someone who has loved us well; who has given us their all as Maggie did for my family?

As I compare the nominees it is also clear that living abundantly is really not about wealth or “having it all.”  It isn’t about external things. We can imagine that celebrities are living abundantly because they have everything that money can buy. But we can’t really know that for sure unless we know their hearts.  It is therein that riches reside–in the the giving and receiving of love. It is about knowing well and being known in turn in a way that touches the deepest part of us.

So check out the nominees below and add your own. I would love to hear what others say about abundance and the abundant life. I will post more nominees next week.

Abundant Living Nominees:
My wife Jordan is one of the most abundant people I know. Her sense of adventure is unmatched. She has the uncanny ability to jump, believing that the net will appear… and it always does. She has huge dreams, and just chases them as if that’s what’s normal. But it’s not normal. It’s a mark of abundant living. She finds reasons to celebrate anything and everything, making every day of her life a significant event. When you’re around her, she makes you feel like the most important person in the room… in the world. She loves people to their core and I find that pretty rare. People who live abundantly make other people feel abundant. That’s Jordan.
I nominate my wife Emily. She is a hardworking Music Professor and Opera Singer and a mother of two active boys and a loving wife. She also volunteers in her church and in her community. She is passionate about the things she believes in and willing to help others anytime. She is a spiritual person and seeks for joy in her life.
Twinkly eyed Sally 80, trains volunteers, gathers children and grandchildren, fights for education, hikes, lifts weights and loves husband.

Maggie was far from rich, but she seemed satisfied with what she had. She could rejoice over a “new” yellow Easter dress and hat that she had bought at a second-hand store and enjoy the compliments from friends at church who told her how pretty she looked. Maggie was a woman of faith and active in her church. She was connected to a large and loving family. When one of her daughters died, young and unexpectedly, she took care of her granddaughter and then her great grand-daughter as a mother would. She would ride the Greyhound bus to faraway cities to visit cousins and relatives until she was well into her eighties. Maggie never lost her ability to be in the moment. She retained her zest for living until the end of her life. She loved Aaron, and she loved us. In return, we loved her unreservedly. We moved from Detroit after my year’s internship was completed, but we stayed in touch with Maggie. She had become a part of our family, and we visited her frequently with all of the children until her death.

Happy people image available from Shutterstock.



#115 Living Abundantly

By Ellen Toronto, Ph.D.

shutterstock_173722598The See-saw parenting model honors the essence of every participant and has the potential to allow children to grow to maturity with that essence intact.

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#114 When Home Becomes a Holy Place

By Ellen Toronto, Ph.D.

shutterstock_117090898Our model of commitment, connection, and balance would never survive without the recognition of the intangible aspect of human souls and the indefinable structure that is created when they are joined as a family.

Somewhere along the way, I came to understand that elusive nature and I caught a glimpse of the significance of the work I was doing. I recall one morning when Bob had taken our four boys out to give me a break. It felt heavenly to enjoy the peace and quiet in the house. I was sitting on the couch in the family room when a powerful impression came to me. It was a voice in my head, but it seemed to have much greater clarity than my own thoughts. “This is a holy place,” it said. “And you are doing holy work.” Parenting had in that moment become a calling for me. It brought home to me an essential truth—if we are to survive as parents with our sanity intact, we must glimpse the beauty, often unseen, that we are creating through our children. We must recognize something beyond the physical, the intellectual, even the emotional nature of rearing children.

It takes a leap of faith, no question, to see our children as equals or to imagine them as men and women of courage, valor and wisdom. It is exceedingly difficult to do so when they are squabbling, trashing the house, spilling their fourth glass of milk at a single meal or coming home late, failing to call or wrecking the family car. But that is exactly what it is—a leap of faith. In the example  I gave of the family that was moving without consulting their children at all,  the parents did not see their little girl beyond her physical stature or level of experience. Thus they were not able to consider the very significant perspective that she might have had about a family move. The second family was able to recognize the glorious but unseen spirit of the little girl who had much to contribute to this important decision.

In the worst of times it helps so much if we can see our children as spirit beings with magnificent potential.

Spotlight image available from Shutterstock.



#113 Achieving Balance in the Family

By Ellen Toronto, Ph.D.

shutterstock_165104018The third element of our model, balance, is essential but difficult to achieve because it is also an action concept.

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