Tag Archives: creativity

Kinetic Energy and Potential Energy

Think back to elementary school science class. Remember learning about kinetic energy and potential energy? I was smitten with the word “kinetic” from the moment I heard it–that word is not one you bump into by accident. It is a book-learning, SAT kind of word. I’ve been thinking a lot about kinetic energy and potential energy this morning as I try to get myself packed to go to a writing retreat. I have re-organized our silverware drawer, talked to my insurance agent, folded everything that needs folding, and even done a few chores for other people because I am a bundle of nerves. I am downright kinetic.



So, in case you are having trouble finding that fourth grade science part of your brain, a refresher: imagine an archer, pulling back the string of a bow. Potential energy is “the energy possessed by a body by virtue of its position relative to others, stresses within itself, electric charge, and other factors.” So when the archer pulls back on the bowstring, the string possesses a great amount of potential energy, all derived from the force the archer’s muscles can pull, the tautness of the string itself, the angle at which the string is stretched, etc. When the archer’s fingers let slip, we are watching kinetic energy as the arrow is pushed forward by the released energy of the bowstring. Kinetic energy is the energy of being in motion.

For potential to move to kinetic, the archer has to LET GO.

Last week, when I wrote about the challenge I’m facing with writing, Margaret reminded me of something our boot camp coach Tami used to say: if you want to run faster, you have to run faster. Simple in words, but hard in dead…right? Margaret pushed through her PhD with those words. Tami moved herself from a nursing career to an interior design career. To achieve the thing you want, you have to DO the thing you dream of. The only way to train your body to run faster is to push it to run faster. Not to talk about running, watching Chariots of Fire every night, join a running list serv, or shop for new shoes. You get better at running by running.

That got me thinking (see how I’ve been doing allllll this thinking but no writing?) about Wise Heather. Heather has been training for MONTHS for the Marine Corps Marathon. It’s her first full marathon and it’s this weekend. She’s running in memory of her father. She has hit every mark of her training plan, mile after mile after mile. She’s run in wind and rain and heat and other cities and other races. She knows the course elevation. She knows the forecasted temperatures. She knows she has to “beat the bridge” at mile 18 and she has practiced running that far, that fast.

Then her training plan told her to quit running. Not quit altogether, but quit pushing herself higher. This is the dreaded “taper” that runners have to do before a race. Cut the mileage back, let your muscles rest, all with the aim of going farther and faster because you slowed down.

Heather is pulling the bowstring and it is HARD. Building up potential energy requires those stresses in oneself. Waiting to let the string go and see how far it can push the arrow, in the right direction, if the wind is right.

I am writing these words, right now, about her, and about math and science and Margaret and Tami and elementary school, because I really want to be writing a book and it is HARD. I think about writing and talk about writing and read books written by people who know how to write. But the only way to write more is to write more. In sun and wind and rain and in other cities.

So. My car is packed. The string is pulled. Now I just have to let go. Change potential into kinetic.

This Saturday, think of Heather and remind her that she can do this. At the same time she is running her race, I will be writing mine. We can do this. Potential to kinetic.

Let’s go.


Painting Your Elephant

Scott and the parts of his elephant that he was contractually allowed to show.

Scott and the parts of his elephant that he was contractually allowed to show.

One morning at work when I was feeling particularly beige and suburban, like a…oh, I don’t know, like a beige Suburban, I stomped into Nicole’s office and whined, “My friends have the coolest jobs.  This man, Scott, that I know from GHP?  He’s an artist in LA and he’s spending this morning painting an elephant.  Not painting a picture of an elephant–putting paint all over an actual elephant and getting paid for it!  And me?  I’m sending emails warning people that they better return salad bowls to the cafeteria or there will be hell to pay.”

Nicole, ever the great friend and cheerleader, replied, “Well–wait a minute.  You just had that great weekend at Wesleyan with all the alumnae stuff and giving the speeches and parties.  That’s you painting your elephant.”

She had a point.  “Painting your elephant” has now become one of our shorthand phrases to each other.  The words we use to remind ourselves to take pride in our own kind of creativity.

My friend, Margaret, who blogs at Grit Girl Runs Fast, is the reason I have been thinking about painting the elephant this week.  She wrote about how she’s intimidated by some of her women friends because she thinks they are more accomplished or educated.  Pffffft.  But she doesn’t let that stop her from loving them.  She surrounds herself with people who make her want to grow.

Who make her want to….(wait for it)…paint elephants?

I know what she means.  Our GHP group, our tribe, met 29 years ago this week.  I love these people like I love butter but they intimidate the ever-loving shit out of me–ALL THE TIME. Look at them:

ele nyc

January 2013, NYC

There’s Michelle who saves little babies who can’t breathe.  Jimmy raises the money that changes the world.  Ridge designs fantastic NYC store windows.  Sara, the poet.  Trajal, the choreographer.  Ginny, a psychologist who also finds time for community theater.  Jill is a big time business lady and bon vivant.  Deidre?  She’s an award-winning actress in LA who you’ve seen on shows like Southland, E.R., The Riches…and some Popeye’s Chicken commercials.  Seth is a defense attorney who performs Shakespeare in his spare time.

These are people who intimidate me.  But I find the courage to hang out with them because LOOK AT THE JOY.  And this photo was taken after a funeral.

These people are so alive that they sizzle with energy.  We talk ourselves hoarse.  We laugh until other people turn to see what the fuss is about.

These people are creators.  They make things that didn’t exist before.  They remind me that it is possible to spin gold from straw.  Check out some of this awesomeness:

Here’s what happens when Mike gets bored working in his yard:

ele mike


Here’s Bryn playing M’Lynn in Steel Magnolias (NOT her real hair):

ele bryn

Here’s Shannah, reigning Romulan Miss Galaxy (NOT her real superorbital ridge):

ele shannah


Julie in Austin with her award for best comedy pilot:

ele julie

This is Brantley, who’s currently in Switzerland on the European leg of his ukelele tour:

ele brantley

Look at the smile on John’s face (second from left) that night that Ruth Bader Ginsberg came to see his play “Arguendo” then stayed around for the Q&A panel:

ele rbg


And here’s me, painting my elephant behind a podium:

ele me


Margaret–please keep hanging out with people who make you want to grow.  I’ve been doing it for 29 years and it’s working out just fine.

GHPeeps–Thank you.  I’m proud to know you.  I love you.


Don’t Pass It By


After Edith Wharton (author of novels The Age of Innocence, The House of Mirth, Ethan Frome) began publishing her work in her middle years, she struck up a correspondence with the already respected author, Henry James.  She admired him greatly.  (Insert yawn here because Henry James has that effect on me.)  The two writers communicated by letter for three years before they ever met in person.  When they finally did meet, they became good friends. (Insert image of Daniel Day-Lewis in a frock coat having a fraught with meaning but sexually repressed and whispered conversation with Michelle Pfeiffer in a fussy bonnet.)  

My joking aside–here’s my point.  Like so many people who create, Edith Wharton went through a period when she struggled to find her voice.  She wandered uncommon paths for a woman of her position.  Wharton had been born into an old New York high society family, and was thus expected to marry well and live a presentable life.  Instead, she found herself stuck in a miserable marriage and yearning for her freedom.  (Ahem…Fartbuster, with a far superior dowry.)  She questioned whether anyone would care about the inner workings of the privileged world she knew. 

Henry James encouraged Edith Wharton to stick with writing about the New York City she knew so well–even though she disliked it. He said, “Don’t pass it by — the immediate, the real, the only, the yours.”

This life, the one we spend every day slogging through, is the straw we spin into gold.  We pass by so much in the search for something “important” or “meaningful.”  We climb over mountains of straw in the search for gold, not realizing that it’s lying all around us, waiting for us to work our magic!  

I hope you’ll take a look today at the immediate, the real.  What’s around you that’s beautiful or interesting?  What’s inside you that’s beautiful or interesting?  

Sunday Sweetness–Songbird

My children have never been told that they “can’t sing.”  I got that message somewhere along the way and have been telling myself for years that I can’t sing.  That’s rubbish!  I CAN sing…it’s just that no one else might enjoy hearing me sing.  But that doesn’t change the joy of singing.  And that’s why we have showers and cars and other places that make it safe to sing.

I hope you do something today that you love deeply and aren’t very “good” at!