Creativity Series: Derek Smith “19 Beginnings for a Blog About Beginnings”

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• If you missed Elizabeth Myhr’s meditation titled, “Hello” go here to catch up. My wife pulled the name out of the hat and the winner of Elizabeth Myhr’s book the vanishings & other poems is: Evan Kingston. Congratulations! Send me your mailing address at rossgale4 at gmail dot com.

From Ross: Teachers were once described to me as performers, putting on a show to help students learn. If this is true then Derek Smith is an Oscar winning performer. He creates in the classroom with as much skill and wit and humor as he does with words. His tempo, flow, and rhythm always surprise and delight my expectations. He pushes the boundary of story with his images and characters. No matter how far out he takes us, he always brings us back to humanity and to the little things; objects that shape the human experience, give it a pulse, and also cause that pulse to die. His own stops and starts of words act as a defibrillator for the readers’ heart. Taking our breath away. Then returning it in grace.

Listen here:


1. Peanut butter cup wrappers, empty bottle of wine, greasy fingers, greasy mouth.

2. My friend Ross asked me questions about creative people getting started. Stuck on the freeway on my way home from work one afternoon, I heard Ross’ questions in my head. Against all sense I typed some ideas into my cell phone while sitting in traffic. Stop and go.

3. When I was in college my friends and I learned hip-hop choreography from a girl in high school who taught dance out of her parents’ garage. After a certain number of practices there was a show, and I performed a Lil’ Kim routine. The show was in a Greyhound bus station waiting area, so my routine was in front of the arriving and departing travelers, other community dance types like my instructor, clusters of tween students, and a crowd of parents with cameras.

4. I passed through the checkout line with a bag of yogurt-covered almonds stuffed in the front pouch of my younger brother’s Calvary Chapel Bible College hooded sweatshirt. Bulk items were for sampling, I reasoned, and this was a big-box store. I could take large samples and it would be okay. No one would notice or get hurt.

5. An artist follows a line where it leads. The words were scrawled over a black and white picture of a chubby man by a campfire following his nose into the air. His body hovered several inches above the log on which he had been sitting.

6. G.K. Chesterton: “Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere.”

7. When I put pen/cil to paper, I hear the voice of a teacher telling me to read my writing out loud.

8. I’m a teacher. I do the calling. No one needs to read anything out loud.

9. Ego marbles rattle my skeleton.

10. I work day after day for a glimpse of revelation. Sometimes the work is akin to looking past the boundaries of my body and through a window on an adjacent wall to a world I know little about.

11. I dance in a nightclub. Mirrors and decadence and depravity all around!

12. I am a quasi-historical comic book hero-legend. My pecs are so large they have a line down the middle where my silver chain gathers.

13. For emergencies: Anne Lamott spoons me on my bed and pets my hair while I nibble the upper left-hand corner of a Toni Morrison book.

14. Usually: a dead body washes up.

15. Today: I’m angry about middle school.

16. Always: my partner says she won’t read a thing till it’s finished.

17. Sometimes I move a folding chair from the patio outside my apartment to the bathtub, draw an inch of water, turn on the fan and lock the door, and sit on the chair with my laptop balanced on my knees. I love to swish my feet in the shallow pool.

18. Sometimes I am so afraid of the First Word I gather a thousand little words and call the thousand little ones a “collection.”

19. There’s nothing special about words. Writing is hand-work, like tying a knot in a Safeway bag used for garbage.


Derek Smith teaches language arts at Renton High School in Renton, Washington, and earned an M.F.A. in creative writing from SPU in 2011. He edits and contributes to Magical Teaching and is working on a memoir called Mr. Smith Is Magic — And Other Fantasies of a First-Year Teacher.

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Without great solitude, no serious work is possible

If our ideas seem smaller nowadays, it’s not because we are dumber than our forebears but because we just don’t care as much about ideas as they did. In effect, we are living in an increasingly post-idea world — a world in which big, thought-provoking ideas that can’t instantly be monetized are of so little intrinsic value that fewer people are generating them and fewer outlets are disseminating them, the Internet notwithstanding. Bold ideas are almost passé. (Neal Gabler at NYT)

Susan Cain, in the following piece, argues that the reason great ideas aren’t exploding into our world is because creative individuals aren’t being allowed to come up with ideas on their own (at least in the corporate world, a little bit in academia). Instead of creating ideas in solitude like many great idea makers, there’s a fad called “groupthink.”

SOLITUDE is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in. 

But there’s a problem with this view. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted…

…Solitude has long been associated with creativity and transcendence. “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible,” Picasso said. A central narrative of many religions is the seeker — Moses, Jesus, Buddha — who goes off by himself and brings profound insights back to the community.

Culturally, we’re often so dazzled by charisma that we overlook the quiet part of the creative process. Consider Apple. In the wake of Steve Jobs’s death, we’ve seen a profusion of myths about the company’s success. Most focus on Mr. Jobs’s supernatural magnetism and tend to ignore the other crucial figure in Apple’s creation: a kindly, introverted engineering wizard, Steve Wozniak, who toiled alone on a beloved invention, the personal computer. (Susan Cain at NYT)

I like these articles because I’m an introvert and come up with genius ideas in solitude all the time that can change the world.

NPR also has a piece on “What to think about think tanks” which looks at how often even NPR reporters don’t know what think tanks are about. 

Where do you come up with big ideas?