As some of you may know I’m a potter having fallen in love with clay 27 years ago. I’m director of a program called The Jeremiah Project, an after school and summer creative arts program for under-served middle school students. We provide pottery and digital arts programming through our partnership with the Central Florida Boys & Girls Clubs and the City of Winter Park. I would go so far as to label myself a clay evangelist, so persuaded am I of the transformational capabilities of this art medium. Our kids think it is positively magical. I have had the opportunity to share the magic of this medium with two extraordinary groups over the past month. The Florida Hospital Innovation Lab (FHIL) is housed on the third floor of Florida Hospital Orlando. Creativity and a collaborative spirit just ooze from every corner of this lab. The open spaces are flooded with natural light and nary a cubicle or walled up office can be found. The lab is all about design thinking (in BBLB parlance that means creative thinking). The design thinking mindset is “Yes And” rather than “Yes But). Empathy is a huge component of design thinking. Posters such as “FHIL is a place where you experiment and fail faster to learn faster”; “ 1 year equals 365 opportunities”; and “Lean into Curiosity”. FHIL exists to help create better solutions for health care. I’ve been a FHIL groupie for the past couple of years. Any place whose mission it is to find creative solutions to complex problems is totally my jam. I brought my mobile clay studio to the lab to conduct a “Blind Pinch Pot” exercise with the lab’s facilitators. Potter Paulus Berensohn, in his book Finding One’s Way With Clay, prescribes this exercise as a way of promoting mindfulness. Participants are taken through a relaxation exercise and then asked to create a pinch pot from a ball of clay the size of small orange, while keeping their eyes closed and focusing on their breath. Invariably the exercise produces beautifully created pots. Berensohn maintains that these pots are a script for our lives. I also wanted to share this blind pinch pot technique with participants in the Brain Fitness Club operated out of the First United Methodist Church in Winter Park, Florida. The program serves individuals with early dementia. Members participate in activities that stimulate the mind and body. Creativity certainly fits that bill. Their willingness to engage in something new and different made my heart jump for joy. For some, the exercise took them back to childhood- “My brother and I played with clay” one member said, seemingly delighted with the memory. “Of course we also threw it at each other” he added. Clay comes from the ground and helps ground those who touch it. Whether working with young professionals or people experiencing memory loss, this tactile medium offers an opportunity to be fully present even for 30 minutes. Hopefully this creative respite can have a residual impact rippling out to family caregivers and the doctors and nurses seeking solutions.
I’m a big fan of the National Center for Creative Aging (NCCA). Their mission statement says they are dedicated to fostering an understanding of the vital relationship between creative expression and healthy aging. Anyone who has engaged in even a cursory read of the Be Brave. Lose the Beige blog knows I’m a huge proponent of creative expression. Studies have demonstrated participation in the arts promotes physical and mental health, particularly among aging adults. I was fortunate enough to attend the launch of the Creative Caregiving Initiative at the Arts and Wellness Symposium last fall in Orlando. The NCCA has developed an online caregiver toolkit. The toolkit contains artistic exercises for caregivers and their loved ones. Part of the focus is respite for the caregiver. This was the brain-child of Margie Pabst, of the Pabst Foundation for the Arts. She says, “The life of a caregiver is often filled with isolation, loneliness, stress and depression with patches of sunlight and hope. We saw the arts as a beacon of hope.” While this initiative is targeted primarily to caregivers of family members with Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders, I see its application for caregivers of all shapes and forms. As Baby Boomer women, it feels like we have been caring for others our whole lives. We are truly the “tweener” generation, sandwiched between parenting our adult children and tending to aging parents. I know my mother cared for me and loved me but I'm not sure she took hoisted my emotional traumas on to her shoulders in the same way we do with our children. Or perhaps, we just did not share them in the same way we have encouraged our children to share theirs. We looked them in the eyes all those years ago and said things like, "you can tell me anything. ". In many instances we would have gladly assumed their cares rather than witnessing their struggles. My daughter recently underwent a very real trauma. While intellectually I know the experience was more difficult for her, I don't know if it could have been that much greater considering the extent to which I felt her pain. Living in another state made access more difficult so there were many telephone calls, plane trips, Face-time sessions, and any other means of communication. Creativity was an integral part of our care exchange. A shopping cart at Michaels Craft Store was loaded with clay, buttons, paint, and canvasses. An entire day was devoted to creating. It really did not matter what, it was the process of creating. Hallmark holiday movies accompanied our sculpting and scrapbooking. My family room assumed an art studio with bits of paper, Fimo clay, and glitter strewn about. So what! Cleaning only took minutes. The process and products will last in our hearts forever.