Is your creativity guided more when given structure or chaos? An overly simple query, perhaps, but a topic that has generated some compelling discussions here at The Artist’s Road. Today I’m offering a beautiful new contribution to the discussion from guest blogger Callie Feyen. Callie is a blogger, an MFA student, a freelance writer, a wife, and a mother. It is the lessons she learns from her children that power her blog and much of her creative nonfiction. And I’ve been fortunate enough to read a great deal of her marvelous prose, because we are in a writer’s group together here in the D.C. metro area. Meet Callie, and her two muses, Hadley and Harper:
My daughters, Hadley and Harper, play with Legos differently. Hadley, my five year old, will only attempt to build something if she has the directions in front of her. She will work silently and studiously, meticulously following each step until a fire truck, sports car, or flower shop are in front of her. She never questions the directions, and puts her faith in the fact that if she follows each step, she will arrive at a satisfactory ending.
Harper, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with directions. My three year old will take a blue slab for a foundation, stack several Legos on top of it, and say she’s created a city. A few changes to the small blocks and she calls it a toy store. Once, she made an ice-cream shop, though the pieces didn’t do what she wanted them to, so she ripped up a Kleenex and placed it on the black Legos (the cones). “This shop only sells vanilla ice-cream,” she told me.
This kind of process drives Hadley crazy. How can you say you’ve created something if you haven’t followed the directions? Further, don’t you need to at least have an idea of what you’re creating? My girls look at their play very differently. For Harper, the fun is in the process and discovery. For Hadley, the fun is in the assurance that at the end of the process, she will have a product.
While I tend to think more like Harper, I know the way Hadley arrives at creativity is important, too. For example, I often submit what I believe are braided essays to my writers group or MFA advisor. Their feedback, always critically kind, often suggests I take a look at the structure of a braided essay to help with my revisions. Follow the steps.
Another example: I am not consistent with verb tenses (ask Patrick, he will vouch for me). This bad habit can only be fixed if I look at the structure of my work (and perhaps start my writing time with some DOL exercises). In my fervor to tell a story, I tend to get wrapped up in the swirl of creation and forget to slow down, and take it one step at a time. As a writer, as any kind of artist, I think it’s important to pay attention to both the rules and the process of our product. Through my girls, I see that one enhances the other.
A few weeks ago, Hadley decided to make a semi-truck out of Legos. This is about 25 steps, the longest Lego creation she’s ever made. She spent all day working on it, stopping only once for lunch. Around early evening, as Hadley was putting on the last few Legos on the truck, Harper came over and stood above the remaining pieces scattered about. She put her foot in the middle of the mess, then stepped back. She kneeled down, fiddled with several pieces, and stood up, studying the Legos.
“Look, guys! I made a heart!”
Sure enough, a perfect heart had been shaped out of the leftovers.
Hadley walked over to see Harper’s creation, “How’d you do that?”
Harper shrugged. “I don’t know. Can I play with your truck?”
“Sure,” Hadley mumbled, never taking her eyes off Harper’s heart.
Harper pushed the truck around the living room making zooming noises while Hadley separated a bunch of Legos to see whether she could create what Harper made.
I know that, had Harper attempted to make that truck, she would have grown frustrated trying to follow the directions. And while Hadley was out of her comfort zone trying to create a heart from a big mess, what I saw as my two girls played, was a new world that had been opened by the other sibling. That seems like quite a high compliment of one’s work.
Callie is an MFA student at Seattle Pacific University studying Creative Nonfiction. She is a news correspondent for The Banner, and writes book reviews for Christian Home and School. Her latest personal essay, “Girl on A Bike” will be published in Christian Home and School this fall. Visit her at http://www.calliefeyen.com.
16 thoughts on “Guest Post: Shaping a Heart”
Callie, it’s an honor to have you here on The Artist’s Road! It’s odd reading your prose on a blog with no pics of your kids, however; it’s such an important element of your blog. But I like it here, because it allows your prose to stand on its own, and it does that so well.
Pingback: Chaos and Structure | Callie's Blog
Thanks, Patrick! I’m honored to be here. It was weird not having any pictures of them up here for me, too. I use them to help me tell the story a lot, and it seemed here that I should show with my words what they’ve taught me (are teaching me). Thanks again for having me!
This is such a sweet post! Personal stories are a great way to talk about writing. I really enjoyed it, Callie!
This is beautiful, Callie. I love the way you used your daughters’ different styles of creativity to learn something. I learned a lot, too. I love being able to absorb important lessons from a story that makes me forget I’m learning.
P. S. Patrick, I enjoyed this from your introduction: “Meet Callie, and her two muses, Hadley and Harper.” They really are little muses. 🙂
Thank you, Annie! I really appreciate your kind words and I’m glad you liked the personal stories.
Thank you, Milli! I like this from your comment: “I love being able to absorb important lessons from a story that makes me forget I’m learning.” That’s the best kind of learning, isn’t it?
I agree, very important to know where to generate your own creativity. I guess for myself I generate my creativity from the flow around me and also from chaos. It’s the chaos which brings to light for me the many interesting aspects of our world. In chaos, we can find pure evil or goodness. We can find it all.
Thanks for sharing.
I agree, we can find it all in chaos. I think Hadley doesn’t like the emotions that flow out of chaos and feels safe in following steps, whereas Harper wants to get in there and make a mess. 🙂 But I really like the idea that chaos brings light. Thank you for your comment.
Having been an educator most all of my life, I was a Hadley. It was a requirement to dot every “i” and cross every “t” to earn good marks on annual performance reviews. Following directions had advantages as I was secure in my performance having gone over the checklist numerous times, planned, prepared, and delivered. I was OK, I did it right.
No longer in a high school classroom and free to take off my watch, I returned to Art making full time. You guessed it, I’m a Harper! The images I begin tell me what they want to be and can change from day to day or brushstroke to brushstroke. This image dialog with my artwork is so freeing and not only that, it fosters a continual state of surprise. My gosh, what will show up when I step back from this piece?! Finally, I can let my imagination run wild and make a mess!
Cheers to Harper and Hadley – lovely muses both.
I love the way kids from the same parents can be so different in their approach to things. My boys are just the same, characterists from both parents in various measure making them unique.
Your post shows how we should learn from others and how rich our world is in the sharing of ideas.
Great post, thanks for sharing an insight into your family. xx
Sweet and insightful post! I’m more of a Harper … and, sometimes, could use a little more Hadley. Like most (or all) other things in life, doesn’t much comes down to balance?
This was a good way to illustrate the concepts of chaos vs. control in writing. I don’t know on what side I fall! I despise having a structure (i.e. write X words a day, X hours a day, etc.), but yet I need some kind of goal in order to rein it in. It depends on what stage I’m at in the writing process. Generating material lends itself to a more chaotic work flow, whereas editing or refining needs more structured time.
This is fantastic! Thank you for the great descriptions and sharing 🙂
What an interesting (and well-written post). It reminds me of how differently my sister and me approach things as well. For me with writing, I’d say I’m a hybrid between Hadley and Harper. I have to have some overarching sense of structure or rules (I’m a total rule follower), but then I like to allow my characters to speak for themselves and offer creative solutions not in the rule book.
Pingback: Weekend Reads « Visible and Real