As part of my ongoing quest to explore what it means to live a creative life, I periodically invite kickass creatives to come play with us on Zebra Sounds. First, I ask them five questions about creativity, and then they get to ask you something…
… and that’s when the real fun (and wild generosity) begins.
This week’s episode:
The power of pragmatism and fit, Zen grandmas… plus, another GREAT giveaway!
Nichole Bernier has written for magazines including Elle, Self, Health, Men’s Journal, Child and Yankee. She was a contributing editor to Conde Nast Traveler magazine for fourteen years, and she is founder of the literary blog, Beyond the Margins. She’s also the author of The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D, a novel I’ve been really excited to read, inspired by a family friend’s healing following the September 11th attacks. Here’s the little summary that excited me first: Before there were blogs, there were journals. And in them we’d write as we really were, not as we wanted to appear. But there comes a day when journals outlive us. And with them, our secrets.
I got to hear Nichole read in San Francisco last month, and I can tell I’m going to Love. This. Book. But as wonderful as her reading was, what struck me most was Nichole’s very genuine, easygoing presence and her straightforward willingness to talk about her day-to-day practice of writing, which, incidentally, she accomplishes while being the mother of five children.
Since I know I struggle to make time for my art, with fewer children (and I’m guessing less general chaos), I was really excited when Nichole agreed to do the Creativity Questions with me. I knew she’d have great insights for us. And… I LOVE the juicy question she has for you at the end…
j: Life is demanding. What are your tricks for getting into a creative space?
Nichole: The first thing for me — and please don’t take this the wrong way — is that I need to put a little auditory distance between me and my children. I love them dearly, and I can think with them on my lap and I can think watching them play soccer. But I can’t think creatively with all five asking me questions at the same time.
The next thing I suppose is, though this might seem counterintuitive, to have an idea of what I want to do, creatively. Even if I’m taking a walk or exercising or going on a long car ride, I have to put my mind into a creative-alert-seeking mode. Ideas won’t come while I’m thinking about the grocery list. But if I’ve stirred up some ideas in advance and jotted down notes, I’m in a much better place to start writing a scene or an essay the next time I get to sit down alone. It’s not terribly spontaneous, but it’s what works for me.
j: What’s the weirdest thing that inspires you?
Nichole: The shower.
j: How do you deal with critics?
Nichole: I suppose the same way I deal with critics about anything: consider the source, consider their point of view and preferences and baggage, and decide whether or not it rings true to me. Pragmatic thinking can take out some of the sting. Which is not to say it doesn’t still hurt sometimes.
j: What energizes you, solitude or engagement?
Nichole: I remember the first time I came across a version of this question. It was during one of those personality tests given in high school, one of the simplistic kinds designed to place you on an introversion-extroversion scale, and I was frustrating my guidance counselor because I couldn’t answer it. Such a temptation to say neither or both, so many conditions I wanted to impose!
I’m happy to be at a place in my life where I don’t have to be able to answer definitively, that I can say sometimes one and sometimes the other or change my ratio from day to day, without infuriating a guidance counselor.
That said, it’s probably more often solitude.
j: An old drawer full of older magazines and an irresistible urge to create. What will you make?
Nichole: Funny you’d ask that. I remember so clearly being a magazine intern the summer after my sophomore year of college, commuting into New York, seeing a picture in Newsweek Magazine and saying, That’s what I want my life to look like in 10 years. I think it was an ad for a laptop, because it showed a woman sitting in a window seat writing on a laptop balanced on her legs, and beside her she had a bike and a big dog. I don’t know whether I saved the clipping, but I’ve always remembered it.
So: I’d probably make a collage of things I find most visually appealing or representative of the new things I’d like in my life in 10 or 20 years. The perfectly comfortable writing shed behind the house. The fit, Zen grandmother doing yoga. The alpaca farm I really think I’ll own someday if I play my cards right. And of course a great laptop, bike and dog. And maybe some grandchildren, if they don’t mess up my writing shed.
Now it’s your turn: Nichole’s question for you…
What is the unfinished work of *your* life?
Answer in the comments section (or just say hello) before August 23rd, and we’ll pick one of your answers at random to win a copy of Nichole’s novel, The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. (I already have my copy. Maybe whoever wins can read it with me – a little September book club!)
I’m looking forward to seeing your answers. I’m going to answer too; this is just the sort of provocative, soulful question I love.
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Congratulations to Terri Kent Enborg who, via a magic trick involving sticky notes and blind folds, won Nichole’s novel The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D!
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