Tag Archives: creativity

Reflection, Renewal, and Red Underwear

December 20, 2012

2012 Calendar

At the close of this year—at least in the Gregorian calendar— which is celebrated in Europe and in the Americas, I find myself reflecting on what entering a New Year means to people around the world. As I am at the end of my first year living abroad, the differences and similarities are foremost on my mind. Of course moving from sunny Southern California to a rainy North Germany has its noticeable differences. And, as we all know, climate affects our general outlook on life as well as our daily routines, and life rituals. I can now personally attest to the fact that sunnier climes create sunnier dispositions, and a general sense of optimism, which is less understood, in colder more northern parts of the world.

But what really makes it all so interesting is the fact that both places have fairly large immigrant populations, which bring their own cultural ideals, ways of life, and ritual celebrations into daily life. Everyone finds the time, once a year to celebrate the coming new year, and ritualize the “out with the old in with the new” which is historically so important, vital in fact, to cultures all over the world.

New Year celebrations were originally based upon harvest celebrations, which were informed by cycles of the sun, the moon and the movement of stars. There is a difference though, between the “civil” calendars adopted by countries and the religious calendars, which are followed by people all over the world, though they often exist and are celebrated side by side.

The Julian Calendar (a reformation of the Roman Calendar by Julius Cesar in 46 BCE) was intended to approximate the Sun’s cycle as it returns to the same position each year, in other words from vernal equinox to vernal equinox. The Berber people of North Africa still use this calendar, as do most Eastern Orthodox Churches.

As the Julian calendar is slightly inaccurate (it gained about 3 days every four centuries,) it was later replaced by the Gregorian calendar, (The Christian Calendar) in 1582, in order to have a fixed date for the Spring Equinox, to which the celebration of Easter is attached. It is now the more internationally, widely accepted civil calendar. However, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Iran, Nepal, and Saudi Arabia do not adopt the Gregorian calendar as their civil calendar. Many other countries use their own calendars alongside the Gregorian calendar, such as: Bangladesh, Burma, India, and Israel. Then there are those that use a modified version of the Gregorian calendar: Cambodia, Japan, North Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Taiwan.

The date of the Islamic New Year is determined by the visibility of the hilal, or the waxing crescent moon following a new moon and may vary according to location. The day that marks the beginning of the New Year in the Islamic Calendar is called Hijra. While Muslims do not “celebrate” the beginning of the year, they do acknowledge the passing of time, by reflecting on how they have led their lives and on their own mortality. It is very similar to the Jewish ritual of their New Year, Rosh Hashanah.

Nowruz (New Day), the Iranian and Zoroastrian New Year’s Day is celebrated on March 21stthe Spring Equinox. It is celebrated as a theme of renewal, personal renewal and that of the home and friendships. It is also celebrated as a secular cultural festival in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Kashmir, Azerbaijan, as well as the Kurdistan regions of Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Armenia, Syria, and Georgia.

What do all of these human constructs of time; religious or civil have in common then? Plenty. People all over the world celebrate and ritualize the passage of time. Whether their New Year falls in February, March, April, September or November, or December, most cultures see this as a time of introspection and reflection, a time of rebirth— an illumination of the soul. It is a chance to be cleansed of the old sins of the previous year and celebrate the potential of hope for a healthier, happier, and prosperous coming year.

Saint Sylvester

It was not until I moved to Germany that I first heard New Years referred to as Sylvester. I felt silly asking but I did, and found out that it is celebrated as Saint Sylvester’s Eve after Pope Sylvester I, who died in 335 and was reported to have miraculously cured the Emperor Constantine of leprosy. Since that time of “miraculous healing” New Years was traditionally called St. Sylvester’s Eve in predominantly Catholic countries such as France, Germany, Italy and Poland. Even in Israel where so many European immigrants landed, Israelis celebrate the civic holiday of New Years as Sylvester Nacht—who knew?


Fire, fireworks, and light are ritually used for dispelling evil spirits and marking the time of transition from darkness to light as we move away from the Winter Solstice. Even countries whose religious beliefs are not connected to the Gregorian calendar, often celebrate the civil New Year with fireworks, such as: Morocco, China, India, Malaysia, and Thailand.

Those that celebrate their new years at other times also use the element of fire as a cleansing, to mark this passage and burn away the previous years’ evils and sins and scare off any spirits that may wish to take up residence in the coming year.

In Iran and those following the Persian ritual passed down since ancient Zoroastrian times, the Persian New Year celebrations begins with the festival called Chahar-Shanbeh Souri, which literally means “Eve of Wednesday” because it is always held on the last Tuesday of winter, just before the Vernal Equinox or first moment of spring. The fire ceremony symbolizes the changing of seasons and rebirth. The tradition includes people going into the streets and alleys to make bonfires, and jump over them while singing the traditional song Zardi-ye man az to, sorkhi-ye to az man. This literally translates to “My yellowness is yours, your redness is mine,” with the figurative message “My paleness (pain, sickness) for you (the fire), your strength (health) for me.” The fire is believed to burn out all the fear (yellowness) in their subconscious or their spirit, in preparation for New Year.

Diwali, Festival of Lights, is a five day Hindu festival which falls between Mid-October and mid-November. Small clay lamps are filled with oil and lit to signify the triumph of good over evil, and firecrackers are ignited to drive away evil spirits.

In Mongolia, the Lunar New Year is known as Tsagaan Sar. It is celebrated in February, and candles are used on altars to symbolize enlightenment.

In Mexico the tradition of making lists of all the bad or unfortunate events of the past years are written down and thrown into a fire before midnight to remove any negative energy from carrying over into the New Year.

In Ecuador men dress up as women to represent the “widow” of the year that has passed and then create life-size dummies which are burnt at midnight to “burn away” the years past misfortunes.

Tibetans also celebrate Losar in February, and traditionally go out into nature to perform rituals of gratitude by making offerings to the water spirits and smoke offerings to local spirits of the natural world.


The Chinese New Year is known s Spring Festival and marks the end of winter, as families gather for a reunion dinner or Chúxi, which translates into “Remove Evening” or “Eve of the Passing Year.” Every family thoroughly cleans the house, sweeping away ill-fortune, cleansing it of evil omens from the previous year and making room for a new year filled with good luck.

Laotian people celebrate their Pbeemai April 13-15 by cleansing their homes and villages with perfumed water and flowers. The Burmese celebrate Thingyan April 13-16 with water as a means of washing away the sins of the pervious year. Water throwing and public dousing is rampant on the streets for days. In Nepal Fagu is celebrated on the full moon day in February by spraying colored water, and throwing water balloons at each other.

In Thailand the Songkran festival is celebrated from 13-15 April, by the throwing of water. However they can— jars, pots, water guns, are used as a means of washing all of the bad away, even spraying total strangers on the street. Of course we have to remember that in April temperatures can get up to 40C. In traditional celebrations, it is believed that good luck and prosperity for the coming year may be obtained by pouring water filled with fragrant herbs over the Buddhas on household shrines as well as at monasteries. This water is considered blessed and is then used to give good fortune to elders and family members by pouring it on their shoulders.

Red Underwear, Grapes, and Lentils

Believe it or not, another common link in New Year’s celebrations is the wearing of red underwear. Italians, Spanish, and Venezuelans all wear red underwear on New Years for good luck and love, though only the women in Mexico wear red underwear for finding love.

The Spanish, Mexicans, Chileans, Costa Ricans, Brazilians and Guatemalans all eat 12 grapes for each chime of the clock at midnight, making a wish for the New Year with each one.

Lentils seem to represent money and prosperity because of their round “coin” shape and are traditionally eaten by Brazilians, Hungarians, Chileans, and Italians. The Italians who seem to go lentil crazy— have lentils at dinner before midnight then take one spoonful of lentil stew per bell as the bells toll midnight.

So as 2012 comes to a close here in Germany, I will be celebrating Sylvestre and honoring the spirit of the transition from darkness into light, and wishing for a global time of renewal, hope and joy.

Jeannie Winston Nogai
Owner / Winston Nogai Design
www.jeanniewinston.com / E: jwndesign@me.com


Filed under Arts, Education, Human Interest, Language, Politics

Useless Literary Terms Come Alive

May 17 2012

Synedoche: figure of speech wherein part represents whole, e.g. “crown” stands for “king” or “queen”.

Objective Correlative: T.S. Eliot’s literary device, akin to metaphor, where an object or thing represents an emotion or feeling.

How do I know such obscure things? Rather than following my dad’s advice to pursue a more practical career as a doctor or lawyer, I studied literature, finally taking an M.A. at UCLA. Later I was in the Ph.d program, but when confronted by an obscure question about a lesser-known English poet named Charles Lamb in the part one written exams, I walked out of that UCLA classroom room and away from the Ph.d program. I left three months later for Paris with $400 in my pocket, a big smile, and no real plans. I had gone to school in Paris a few years before so the City of Light was no stranger.

When I returned to the States 2 years later, it was tough getting a decent teaching job, even though I had three teaching credentials and plenty of teaching experience. So I took an even more risky career detour into music. I would have been a terrible lawyer and could have never gone to med school to cut up a cadaver anyway.

But going back to seldom-used literary terms, occasionally they crop up in real-life situations. For synedoche (sin-ek-dough-kee), I pulled into the SMC parking lot last Sunday to do my show. I beheld the 1964 Chrysler New Yorker sedan, blue-green and in glorious original condition. It belongs to Jason Groman, who runs logistics for KCRW, and also handles the KCRW mail and fulfillment departments, both crucial links between KCRW and its members. The Chrysler harkens back to the era of great Amercian cars and embodies the taste and sensibility of its proud owner, who loves classic things, whether they be Paper Mate pens, Lawry’s Prime Rib, classic Magnavox hi fi consoles, and Sinatra ballads on the original vinyl. It made me happy to see Jason’s car and to know I would also soon be seeing him. Everybody at KCRW loves Jason Groman. He’s a great guy and a unique human being. The Chrysler New Yorker truly reflects him.

As for Eliot’s objective correlative: I used to think that Sinatra’s Only the Lonely was his best album of torch songs. Then I heard In The Wee Small Hours, and that trumped Only the Lonely. Then I discovered No One Cares, and realized that this was numero uno. On the cover of No One Cares, we see a photo of Sinatra in a club at the bar, alone, down and depressed, nursing a glass of whisky, smoking cigarettes while others gaily dance and romance in the background.

Then you look at some of the song titles: ”A Cottage for Sale” is about a failed marriage. ”Stormy Weather”, captures his tempestuous marriage and divorce from Ava Gardner. These two song titles capture the essence of the album. T.S. Eliot’s term, originally meant for aspiring poets, actually comes up a lot in music. These are just two examples.

So even though obscure literary terms do not have much use in daily life, occasionally they spring back to enliven the little things that make life more interesting. And you don’t need a Ph.D to appreciate them.

Tom Schnabel, M.A.
Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Host of music program on radio for KCRW Sundays noon-2 p.m.
Blogs for KCRW
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons

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Repetition Plus Expression Equals Satisfaction

May 10 2012

On a week bookended by a beginning guitar class at McCabe’s Guitar Shop and a painting retreat in Encino, I was buffeted by a key challenge of the reinventing Boomer. The guitar classes were held in a room that does triple duty as concert hall, classroom, and showroom. All manner of stringed instruments ranging from ukulele to classic Fender electric guitars to handmade mandolins fill the walls. The classes are also packed with instruction on technique and practice drills. In contrast, at Master Rassouli’s painting retreat in Encino, the opposite approach is taken, no technique–nada, his approach is to inspire free expression. The empty, cavernous, multi-purpose, room fits this method perfectly.

Each class was a stretch for me. The guitar class pushed me beyond my capacities to absorb the chord changes, fingering, and timing of the guitar. I ended up getting more and more frustrated by the minute.  It came to a head when I just shut down and stared at the sheet music, unable to move my hands. At the painting retreat, prepared to paint another masterpiece with new canvas, new brushes, and ample acrylics, I spent the day bobbing around like a castaway’s bottle in the sea with no direction. Between these polar opposites is the sweet spot of growth/ learning in the creative arts. 

Skill development in the arts can be highly satisfying. Whether playing a musical instrument, learning to draw or paint, writing a novel, learning to dance, later in life people are often called to the arts as a way of expressing themselves. They can be a vehicle for growth and achievement as well as simply enjoy of life.  The big elephant in the room is that learning an artistic craft is often tedious, slow, and often difficult. When you have no natural talent for the field but always thought it would be cool to play piano (or draw or tango), it takes motivation and/ or passion to continue on past the unavoidable beginners’ stage.

Artistic pursuits are often seen to be outlets for self expression. Indeed, I have experienced great liberation from simple free painting.  I have done abstract paintings for years and enjoyed it immensely. I had an exhibit of my work a couple years ago called, Expression as Liberation. It was great. The rush from expressing oneself is liberating and fun, but it is also fleeting. Like an intoxication that wears off the next day (if you don’t have a hangover). To sustain the high or the liberation, one must keep taking more of the intoxicant, but in artistic pursuits the high fades overtime without craft, without skill. What is missing is the satisfaction of achievement.

In art, the ‘high’ of flow or engagement in the moment is exciting. To keep that high one must slog through the rough terrain of building skills through drills. Spoken word artist, Adwin David Brown says it this way, “repetition, repetition, repetition, and then flow.”. The bliss of spontaneous creativity comes after many hours on the free throw line at the gym, drilling forehands with a practice partner, and swinging in the batting cage. Miles Davis, the master improviser, said he practiced the scales every day. 

When we entered our first adulthood we were fresh canvases, open to learn new stuff and the long hours of repetition are not so daunting. Brain scientists have determined that the human brain is not fully formed until around 28. After we have filled in the spaces of our brain patterns (science reports that we do use most of our brain, contrary to pop psychology) learning is a bit more daunting.  At a mature age we have to retrain part of our minds to learn new skills. That takes effort. Deep satisfaction from achievement is possible with patience and a carefully designed plan for sustaining the growth. Art done for the quick high, is as ephemeral as last night’s drunk.  My personal mantra on climbing this mountain in the second adulthood is: Show up, be mindful and do it, (over and over and over again).

Ran Klarin
A lifelong L.A. resident, he is known for his relentless creative nature. Ran advocates seeking, finding, revealing, and sharing one’s uniqueness. After a long and notorious (often accused of being ‘innovative’) career in public education where he rose to become a high school principal, he leapt into a new life dedicated to creativity. So far, his career in the creative arts has produced, an exhibition of his paintings, Expression As Liberation, a book of poetry, Expression Is Liberation, and a book of essays, Creative, Collaborative, Cagebreakers. His regular blogs can be found at www.livingthedreamdeferred.blogspot.com. His handbook for Boomer ‘refirement’ Firebird: A Guide for Conscious and Free Retirement will be published in the Fall ‘2012. He asserts that the time has come for Boomers to live their youthful ideals for community, the environment, for freedom, for justice, and for fun. Ran has Masters degrees in School Administration & Mass Communications and an BA in Political Science from UC Berkeley.


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5 Considerations to Get Your Creativity Flowing + Take it to the Next Level

April 26, 2012

In writing this I realized I could write a whole post, if not a book, on each of these topics. So CLEARLY I will be writing about this more. If any of these topics spark your interest and you want to know more about them let me know in the comments and I’ll explore it more soon. Also, I host a 3x/mo Sunday evening Creative Mojo Conference Call that’s free to try out and super affordable if you decide to stay on where we discuss all these sorts of things and much more. Join this Sunday if you like! And, now, without further ado…

1. Put your muse in control of your creative flow

Let’s get to the heart of the matter straight off. You’re not creating as much as you’d like because you listen to the critic more than you listen to the creative inspirations of your muse. This is, of course, totally normal given the cultural conditioning and educational system most of us went through but if you want to THRIVE as the creative being YOU ARE, then you need to shift this around and put the muse on heavy rotation and the critic on the way far back back burner (or tune it out completely).

What keeps the critic in control is that on some level, you BELIEVE it’s judgmental criticism and instead of saying that’s an abusive pack of lies GET OUT!, you say you’re right and cower down, which is what it wants you to do. It wants to repress and silence your creativity and aliveness. It wants you to feel insecure and stuck. So, if you feel these things, then it’s a safe bet that it’s been playing you… because who you really are has nothing to do with insecurity or playing small. If there was a score card of you versus the critic, every time you dismiss a creative impulse because of insecurity, it scores. And every time you start feeling more vibrant and flowing, that’s a good indication that you’ve scored… which is unquestionably the direction to go in.

2. Free the creative child inside

I’ve taught a lot of creative classes (painting, voice, and dance) and to neutralize the playing field, I start with asking folks if they’ve ever had an artistic trauma. Almost everyone says yes. They then tell their story and almost ALWAYS, it was some self-hating adult squashing a child or young adults efforts at expression through thoughtless criticism, jabbing a rod of doubt into their vulnerable creative spirit. And, what happened? In most cases the person stopped creating shortly after, if not right there and then.

One of the first times I remember this happening to me was in elementary school. I skipped 4th grade and was put in the TAG (Talented And Gifted) Program but after awhile, I was dismissed from the program without explanation. Did I not perform well at playing chess or creating palindromes (go-hang-a-salami-I’m-a-lasagna-hog)? I didn’t understand but soon after my mom and I ran into the TAG teacher in the grocery story. My mom asked her what happened and she said “Robin didn’t sparkle”. Oh my lord, are you serious!? Yes, she was. I can gasp now as an adult but at the time I was crushed and that, combined with other challenges of the time, definitely led to me pulling myself in quite a bit.

I share this story because, crazily, it’s normal. So we have to have A LOT OF COMPASSION for our artistic selves because it’s likely that the person in you who wants to create isn’t your chronological age, but the age you were when you were shut down… or somewhere in between as it’s learning to grow up. Would you dump vile loads of silencing criticism on a child? Of course not. So you have to consider who the critic is really dumping on when it dumps on “you” and, like any good parent, you need to put your foot DOWN, create a fun, allowing, and permissive space for yourself to create, and go about it like you’re letting a kid create because most likely, that’s exactly who’s doing the creating.

3. No more excuses

Now that you get what’s going on here and you can see how the critic’s been controlling you through re-hashing your childhood traumas on a daily basis, you’re ready to get REAL and drop any lingering excuses you’ve got going on. Right? Right.

For instance, you may say that you’re too busy to create. This seems like a possibly viable reason but if you check Facebook more than 5 minutes a day, check your email more than twice a day, watch tv, cruise around on the internet, or tolerate or create any kind of drama in your life then it’s not true that you’re too busy – it’s just that you’re choosing to do something other than follow your creative impulses and dreams.

So, too busy, too tired, not good enough, don’t know how, want to do too many things how can I choose so nothing gets done, etc. are all STORIES designed to keep you STUCK. If you really LOOK at these excuses, what you see is the work of the critic. Not good enough – well, that’s obvious. But, in general, we come up with excuses to avoid actually creating because if we create, we have to FACE the critic and where we’re still hooked into it. I feel you – this is not a comfortable moment and every single time I choose to create, my critic, which can be vicious, launches a full attack ranging from you suck to you don’t know what you’re doing to you should be doing something more responsible. So, if I want to create, which I DO so deeply I crave it down to the core of my being, I have to CHOOSE to tune that tyrannical force out, connect with the creative inspiration of my muse and carry forth.

To create, to be a creator, is the opposite of victim. You are not a victim to your critic, skill level, time, financial responsibilities, or anything else. If you want to create, you can. You just have to decide to. Dr. Seuss painted from 12-4 every night while working full time in the NYC advertising industry. One of my art mentors, Shiloh Sophia, paints every morning from 6:30-8 before working a full day every day and many of her paintings are created in 15-minute intervals throughout the day in what she calls “in between moments”. Where there is a will, a passion, a twinkling desire – there is a way.

4. Show up and start

“Amateurs look for inspiration; the rest of us just get up and go to work.” -Chuck Close.
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” -Pablo Picasso.
“Don’t wait for inspiration. It comes while one is working.” -Henri Matisse

Almost everyone wants to start with an inspired idea. But guess what – it doesn’t always happen like that. It often happens by you showing up to create and once you start, then the inspiration begins to trickle in.

Imagine if you had a friend who always asked you for advice but never followed what you suggested. After awhile you’d stop offering your advice. But, if they starting making advances in their life, whether from your counsel or of their own accord, you might become more receptive to sharing your ideas when they asked.

It’s like that with the muse. If you’ve been neglecting this relationship, then your inspiration in-box may not be brimming with tangible ideas. But if you start, as in pick up your arm, dunk a brush in paint, and start moving your arm over paper, or open your mouth and begin making sound, or move your body any which way – INSPIRATION WILL COME and the creative flow you initiated will grow.

To be clear, this does not mean the critic is going to lay off. Many artists I read about who are quite accomplished in their fields, so you’d think they would be critic-free, say the entire time they’re creating they’re hearing you suck, this sucks on repeat but they carry on anyhow knowing that if they don’t make whatever it is, they’ll never find out what its purpose or value may be.

In my case, the vast majority of paintings I’ve made start with me only having a starting point. Like, the contrast of two colors, a shape, or a mood. If I ask for more of a beginning point than that, all I get is silence. So, I begin with what I have. And, like unraveling a spool of yarn, as I keep painting, the rest of it comes.

5. Play

In general, we take ourselves really seriously. We’ve been trained to believe serious will keep us safe. It’s a tight and heavy way of living that we’ve unfortunately become so used to we don’t fully question it. But being serious cuts OFF the creative channel and fills the space with the energy of the critic.

Play is the opposite. It’s light, fluid, flexible, experimental, and fun. It’s discovery, laughter, wonder, openness. It’s kids playing on the play ground, screeching like delighting wild animals. It’s a magic fairy dust elixir of joy and permission that’s the ultimate Roto-Rooter for your creativity.

For example, when I’ve taught painting classes, I have folks do warm ups like make 10-20 minute paintings together on paper. Canvas can make people feel serious. Paper reminds them of kindergarten and it’s wild to see how much more experimental many people are on paper than canvas.

Forcing it and being serious are weapons of the critic. Play and intention (which I’ll get to in another post) is the work of the muse. Children GET this. They haven’t had the critic beaten into them yet so we have a lot to learn from them in terms of how to stay open, expressive, and in the flow.

One of my most favorite vocalists is Bobby McFerrin. In this video he talks about when he had a music epiphany and how he trained himself as a vocalist… which was 1 part focus, 1 part experimental play (aka. improvisation). VERY INSPIRING.

Viva la creative revolution!!

Robin Clark is a holistically oriented coach, teacher, and artist in the
Bay Area who’s been wearing one hat or another in the healing arts for 14 years.
Her passion, both personally and professionally, is the expansion of self,
self-expression, and empowerment that comes through waking up.
She believes we are each wildly creative, each in our own way, and
we’re here to experience the fullest expression of who we can be.
You can find her: at www.robinclark.org

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