Tag Archives: creativity

Powering Down and Unplugging

I ran across this article the other day, and I agree with the idea that “people have a pathological relationship with their devices.” I know I do. I’m constantly checking the smart phone, the tablet, the iPad, the MacBook, the laptop…and the list goes on.  And I’m a big social media addict, regularly using Facebook, Twitter (multiple accounts), Instagram, LinkedIn…you get the idea. I’m connected–as connected as a person can be probably.

I also agree with this: “Our addiction to screens is affecting our well-being, productivity and creativity…”. And I’m ready for a break.  Today is my last day of work until January 3rd. And I mean that. I am not checking that e-mail account one more time effective immediately. For real. I’m also going to unplug my other devices. Ok–maybe not so much unplug as at least put on Airplane Mode (i.e. disconnect from the Internets). I still want to get phone calls or text from friends, my husband, and in case of emergencies. But I’m saying no to e-mail (all 4 accounts) and no to social media (all…however many accounts) and no to the internet in general.

This isn’t altogether new for me.  For the past two years at this time, I’ve done the same thing. And each time I really enjoyed it. I read books, watched movies, wrote,  relaxed, played with the dogs, went on walks, cooked real meals, and just generally enjoyed the time off.  The difference between those years and this year is simple: for the last two years, we went up into the mountains, where there was no service.  So even if I wanted to, I couldn’t check in. And again, I loved it.  It was so freeing.  This year we’re at home and Verizon works just fine here.  But I’m making a commitment. Effective tomorrow I’m putting these mobile devices on Airplane Mode and disconnecting for a week.  We’re having a real vacation.

“See” you in a week–when I’ll probably tell you all about how awesome my time off has been. Happy holidays!

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Filed under My Life, Ripped from the Headlines

The Other Mother

This is one of my poems from the Poem-a-Day Chapbook Challenge. I haven’t managed a poem a day, nor do I think I’ve created enough for a chapbook, but some is better than none, and this one is better than none. So. This poem was written in response to the Day 9 prompt.

“The Other Mother”

The Other Mother

Lurks in the shadow of her twin,



Biding her time,

Waiting to pounce,

And devour her unsuspecting young.

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Wigilia, the Christmas Eve Supper, Our Way

My most memorable Christmas gift isn’t really a gift–at least not in the traditional sense.  It wasn’t something wrapped in paper and placed under a tree.  Rather, it was an experience.

My mother’s side of the family is Polish-Catholic–I can trace that ancestry all the way back to the Motherland. And what tradition we experienced growing up stemmed from that heritage.  In Polish-Catholic culture, Christmas Eve (Wigilia) reigns supreme amongst holidays, featuring a cherished celebration steeped in traditions both religious and familial. A part of that celebration usually involves the sharing of oplatek, which is a Christmas wafer much like styrofoam in texture and appearance–if that styrofoam were beaten and rolled out as thin as possible. Except, of course, it’s edible (though probably about as tasteless as styrofoam). It’s embossed with Christmas images, like the nativity scene. But what it is isn’t really important–it’s about what you do with it.

I can remember our dining room, decked out in Christmas decor. The table featured an admirable spread: Grandmother’s silver, which we’d diligently polished the day before, displayed a mouth-watering feast over which we’d slaved all day. Christmas tunes drifted in from the living room, Aretha Franklin belting out, “Go Tell It On The Mountain!” One seat at the table was set for the “unexpected visitor,” another Polish-Catholic tradition–although my mother’s translation of this custom reserved the seat for the spirit of my dead grandmother. Some hay peeped out from beneath that placemat–which I am pretty sure should symbolize the manger in which Christ was born–but which, again, somehow got translated into representing my dead grandmother. That’s sort of how tradition went for us when it showed up–always a little blurred by memories made murky with Vodka–symbolism twisted by intoxication…

Read the rest plus my poem “Aftermath” in Wrapped Up in Ribbon: Stories and Poems of the Christmas Season.

Come to the online release party on Facebook tomorrow for the code to get it FREE.

Check out The Write Stuff tag on this blog for more of my writing and adventures in writing.

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Completing But Failing

Remember last week when I wrote about students’ lack of critical thinking skills and then again about their struggles to think creatively? Remember how I argued we need to make sure that at the college level we are encouraging both critical and creative thinking?

Well, as it turns out, I’m not alone: This article by Jeff Selingo of The Chronicle of Higher Education argues that “…colleges—and in turn their graduates—have shortchanged the valuable skills that employers seek: communication (writing and oral), creativity, adaptability, and critical thinking.”

Shame on us.


And it’s not just us educators saying this; it’s the employers hiring our graduates. According to a recent survey of the Society for Human Resource Management, “forty-nine percent of human resource officials polled by the professional organization said this year’s college graduates lack basic English skills in grammar and spelling” [emphasis mine]. They also identify poor basic math/computational skills and poor reading comprehension as areas in which recent graduates leave a lot to be desired.

So students are coming into college underprepared and they’re leaving underprepared. They are failing to acquire the foundational skills needed to succeed. Meanwhile, across the country, people (I’m looking at you Bill & Melinda Gates!) continue advocating for the reduction or elimination (rather than just the reform) of developmental education programs that seek to help underprepared students prepare, prepared students advance, and advanced students excel in those foundational skill areas.

This makes perfect sense to me. How about you?

Further, I have to wonder what effect the Community College Completion Agenda is having on our ability to provide students with these important life skills. After all, we all know what happens when the focus becomes quantity, right? And many states have already started tying college funds to graduation rates–and the rest are either already in the process of doing so or seriously considering it. Yet, we need only look to the K-12 system to see how well tying funding directly to graduation rates works. Heck, we need only look at the waves of underprepared students entering our colleges post-high school graduation to see how well that has worked.

So…following in that system’s footsteps also makes perfect sense. Right? Wrong.

At the college-level, we must take care not to rely too heavily on on-time completion as a measure of our effectiveness. After all, if our students graduate on time but cannot write, speak, or think clearly, we are failures. Sure, we may be able to boast about our high graduation rates. And we may secure appropriations tied to completion.

But make no mistake: we will have failed at achieving our mission. We cannot focus on quantity at the expense of quality. Period.

As always, I point you to my disclaimer lest you think these words reflect anyone’s opinions other than my own.

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Filed under Community College, Developmental Education, Higher Ed, My Opinion

Encouraging Creativity

The other day, I came across this article, which claims that “study results show there is a serious lack of creative stimuli in the American education system.”

I’d have to say I agree.  Our focus on assessment–on standardized testing in particular–kills rather than fosters creativity.

Every semester in my Freshman Seminar class I give my students some containers of Play-Doh and some “creativity kits,” containers with everyday objects like thumbtacks, paper clips, buttons, toothpicks, pennies, and random tidbits I’ve picked up at the craft store.  Their assignment is to create something that represents how they best learn.

We do this assignment after talking about the differences between high school and college learning and how students need to relearn how to think creatively–think outside the box.  Children do this SO well. It’s why a toddler will play inside a cardboard box for hours or why kids have imaginary friends who visit for tea.

And then, somewhere along the line, we kill that creativity. And by the time students arrive as freshmen in college, they just want to know how to pass the test.  They don’t really want to think outside the box–they just want the right answer.

Inevitably, the majority of my students, when given that Play-Doh, will struggle for the first 20 minutes.  They’ll say, “I don’t know what to do!” And they’ll try to quit or take the easy way out: “I made a hand because I’m a hands-on learner,” and I have to push them to try harder.

Once they get past the initial hurdle, they come up with some really clever ideas.  And they enjoy the activity (click here for more details and pictures!).  They enjoy learning that’s fun.  They enjoy flexing their creative brain muscles. And that’s important.

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Filed under Higher Ed, Ripped from the Headlines, Teaching & Learning

Writing–It’s a Process

I’m always trying to get my students to embrace the idea that writing is a process–not a product. I encourage (and sometimes force) them to produce draft after draft after draft.

And I’m not just talking the talk.  I never just sit down at the computer and come up with something brilliant and ready to go! Anything worthy of being read goes through many drafts.  I often have other people read over my work, make suggestions, and then I revise and edit some more (the exception to this is poetry because I find that too intensely personal for peer review. I mostly write poetry for myself and having recently submitted it to scrutiny via publication in Whispers, Shouts, and Songs was very scary for me).

Everything I write starts out on paper.  I have tons of writing notebooks that are often scattered throughout the house and one in the car or a bag I’m carrying, so I always have one available if an idea pops into my head or I feel the urge to write something down.

I can never start on the first page of a notebook–it feel too formal and makes me feel pressured to write something brilliant right away. So I usually flip to a random page to begin something new.  Thus, my notebooks are filled in no particular order with blank pages in between entries.  Many pages also have doodles or pictures from magazines pasted in–images that sparked ideas, even if not yet fully formed.  And sometimes one little poem will appear again page after page with changes–small and large.  Things are crossed out, arrows point to where things should be but aren’t yet. Alternate vocabulary choices are jotted in the margins.  It’s basically a big mess until it isn’t. And then it might make it to a computer. Maybe.

Here’s an example of the growth of “Death by Laundry,” (<–link) which I still consider unfinished despite its inclusion in the anthology Whispers, Shouts, and Songs. I hate the way it ends.

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Filed under Teaching & Learning, The Write Stuff

Sneak Peek 2: Short Fiction

Below is a link (PDF file) to a very rough excerpt from a piece I’m working on. You may notice that the names of the characters are inspired by my drive through the country the other day. You may also notice, as I have, that there are still errors that need editing. But I’m putting perfectionism aside for the sake of this sneak peek. This one is tentatively titled “Onset.”

Onset, Working Draft (PDF File)

If you didn’t already check out my earlier sneak peek, here it is!


Filed under The Write Stuff