Chris Dove at the Counting House in Durham, NC
My name is Chris Dove, some know me as the Irregular Girl
When I’m Creating
I am fully alive. I see the extraordinary in the ordinary. I run hundreds of scenarios, until I come across the perfect one. I toy with my ideas, like a game, a puzzle to assemble.
I was born creative, but then again, we all are.
"All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up."
So, I suppose the question is, how did I remain creative?
For Starters, I Consumed Books
As a child, I loved to read
As a child, I loved to read. I was sucked into stories. They were vivid, felt real, at times I preferred them to engaging with what was happening in the moment.
I love that instant when a book pulls you in, when you can no longer put it down. Up until that point you can pick it up at your convenience, read a chapter, and set it down to do other things. Then, as you turn the next page, you go from being yourself to being the main character. You perceive their world through their eyes. You feel their joy, pain, fear, and sense of pride.
Suddenly, you absolutely must know:
* How she will handle the knowledge that she was adopted? Will she search for her sister? Would putting together the pieces of her past fill the void that is driving her toward risky behavior and self-sabotage?
* Why didn't he come home at 10 o'clock? Did he run away? Has something terrible happened?
* Why don't they get together? Don’t they see that the people they're currently with are totally wrong for them?
* How the heck did they get in without breaking the lock? Was it someone she knew? Will someone find out what happened to her in time to stop the killer before there's another victim?
It was obvious when I'd become hooked on a book, because if I went somewhere, the book went as well. When the person I was with went to the restroom, I had it out, capturing whatever precious few minutes I could squeeze in, here and there. I’d bring it to school, the dinner table, read it with a flashlight hiding under my blankets, long after bedtime on a school night. I might be up all night finishing it. When I finally set the book down, a page or two had been stained by a fallen tear, while others held echoes of my laughter. If you listened closely enough, while fanning the pages, you just might catch the ever so faint traces of my gasps.
You create sequels, prequels, and alternate endings
When you love a book, the ending of the story doesn’t necessarily finalize your journey with the characters. You create sequels, prequels, and alternate endings in your imagination. You feel justified filling the gaps in their story. After all, you've glimpsed their thoughts, shared their hopes and dreams, witnessed their first kiss, and held them in their darkest hours. No one knows them as you do, because you shared their inner thoughts through success and struggle. When you come across people who have the same quirks as your favorite characters, it gives you a sense of nostalgia, a fuzzy feeling, or causes you to chuckle a little.
Although I could become completely immersed in a story, I never considered writing. I didn’t want to create stories, even though I was telling anyone willing to listen every detail of the last book I'd read (along with a few alternate endings I'd come up with). No, I was ready to have adventures of my own! I was brimming with excitement about being the main character of my own story.
I wanted to taste life, love, and even heartbreak, firsthand. I wanted to challenge myself, to be worn down, ready to throw in the towel, until something happened... Something which would give me a spark of hope, propel me forward, and push me well beyond my known potential. I wanted to have close calls, narrowly avoid inevitable destruction, yet somehow emerge victorious. I wanted to collect evidence which would dazzle the jury while devastating the smug killer by suddenly and unexpectedly revealing the truth of the events leading up to the victim’s death.
My adventures at the time included swimming, diving, indoor and outdoor soccer, figure skating, and horseback riding. I feel for my parents, who probably hoped I would stick with one thing... anything. Unfortunately for them, as soon as I'd tried one activity, I was on to the next. Until I found dance.
Chris Dove Ballroom Dancing
There was some dabbling with various styles. First ballet, then tap, jazz, even Scottish Highland dancing. But, things really shifted when I was eighteen. I walked into a ballroom studio, planning to try a free lesson, and walked out with a job. The next six to eight weeks were spent learning and testing out of the basic level of waltz, foxtrot, tango, bolero, cha-cha, rumba, and east coast swing. Being paid to move and be creative was better than I could have ever imagined.
Eventually (two children later), I went back to finish college, hoping to get a “better job” for a mother.
You’re Not Technically Qualified, But…
They challenged what I thought
Some people find electronics intriguing or numbers appealing, my focus has always been on people. I fell in love with sociology, communication, anthropology, and psychology (in that order). My favorite professors told stories, to bring the concepts to life. I remember my Introduction to Sociology professor pretending to be a child having a tantrum in a crib. They challenged what I thought I knew and gave me difficult questions to ponder. My Interpersonal Communication professor once asked if being tolerant requires tolerating intolerance. I’m still going back and forth on that one…
Although I loved my classes, and most of my professors, I never considered teaching. That is, until a week before classes started for my second semester of graduate school. I received a call from my graduate advisor, who informed me that one of the instructors at the community college, down the road, was accepted into a PhD program. He was supposed to teach three classes, starting the following week, but was now leaving the area. "They're desperate and looking for someone to replace him. You’re not technically qualified, but they're willing to overlook that…”
I said "Yes!" without hesitation. Not because I thought I would love teaching, but because I was tired of struggling to make ends meet, as a mother and a student.
Teaching is an Art and a Science
A few weeks into the position, I was sure I'd found my dream job. I spent more than a decade teaching full time, and continue to instruct as an adjunct. Like my favorite professors, I try to bring concepts to life through stories. I tell them in class, write them into modules, and on occasion act them out. I did... do... whatever I feel is necessary to keep students engaged. Although writing was a huge component of my work, I didn’t consider myself a writer.
One day, I was putting together a PowerPoint presentation, with C-SPAN running in the background. I wasn’t paying too much attention to what was happening, but I realized that Congress was considering changing the law to allow further media consolidation.
Chris' living room (office)
There was a microphone, and people were being called up to present their opinions (mostly disagreement). The speakers went on for... sometimes hours. They brought charts, graphs, data, and numerous compelling and persuasive arguments. I didn’t catch the name of the woman, I didn’t even notice her until I heard, “I won’t be taking nearly as long as the others who have come up here, I only have one thing to say.” She had my full attention! Her one thing was “1984 was a warning, not a roadmap.”
It was a lovely statement. Concise, to the point. For whatever reason, it sent my mind spinning. Minutes later, the plot of a novel was half written, in my mind. That's how my creative process used to work, like a bolt of lightning. I’ve had to change that as I chase my dream of becoming an author.
My Creative Process
In Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2009 TED clip, Your Elusive Creative Genius, she talks about how ideas came to the poet, Ruth Stone.
“…she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. And she said it was like a thunderous train of air. And it would come barreling down at her over the landscape. And she felt it coming, because it would shake the earth under her feet… She would run like hell to the house… [because] she had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it.”
I'm smacked by ideas from out of nowhere, typically in my sleep. I can’t tell you how many have been lost because they were not recorded at my bedside. Ideas, like dreams, have a habit of slipping through the cracks of my waking mind.
Chris at the labyrinth
It turns out, luckily, it wasn't sleep that created the space for brilliance; it was the lack of mental chatter. At first, this may seem like a minor distinction, but it isn't. Genius, for me, arises in empty spaces, a mind free of clutter.
If I don’t want to wait for the sandman to deliver, which is not a possibility now that I'm writing full time, I have to be able to create a cognitive environment conducive to creativity. This may happen in a garden, on a meditation pillow, or while cooking. It won't happen when I'm too busy, too stressed, too rushed, or neglecting to engage in self-care.
Most of what I write today is related to wellness and wellbeing. If you'd like to see some of what I'm creating, visit my website.
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