Tuesday, August 24, 2010

You're Never Too Old to Learn

I just returned from a week of teaching writing at the John Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina. The experience was everything I anticipated it would be, and more. Set in the lush, untarnished mountains of Clay County, the folk school draws a hundred or so eager adult learners each week who are housed, fed, and trained in sundry subjects from basketry and blacksmithing to shoemaking and woodworking. Now in its 85th year, JCFS is based on the Danish folk school concept of education without competition. John and Olive Campbell, who devoted most of their lives to exploring, recording, and improving the quality of life in Appalachia, worked for years to establish this unique school, and Olive Campbell worked hand in hand with the residents of Brasstown to bring her husband's dream to life.

Simply put, you need to go. We adults get so far removed from the joy of learning once we trade classrooms for paychecks that we forget what fun it is. Or perhaps classroom learning was never that fun for you. At John Campbell Folk School, the fun begins when you start flipping pages in their catalog or poring over class descriptions online. It continues day after day during week-long or weekend sessions that will have you laughing out loud as you send wood shavings shooting in all directions, hammer red-hot iron into submission, coerce recognizable tunes from a handmade banjo, turn mud into art, or words into poetry. Someone I sat with at lunch one day (the food, by the way, is amazing) said, "This is like summer camp for grown-ups," and it is--except classes are taught year-round. I'm thinking summer camp in the fall or winter might be even more fun; colored leaves or falling snow would only add to the beauty and magic.

John Campbell Folk School is not a cheap thrill, unfortunately, though they do offer occasional and various discounts. Given that housing, three homecooked and delicious meals a day, your daily classes, and a fair amount of entertainment and activities are included in the fee, it's not as expensive as it sounds. Just think of it as a more wholesome alternative to a week at DisneyWorld!

All I know is, I can't wait to go back. From the local honey I found my first day there, to the bluegrass concert the night before I left, it was the most enjoyable week I've had in a long time. I urge you to check it out.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Meanwhile, Creativity Lives!


In case you didn't catch the story about eight-year-old Kieron Williamson, who is dazzling England (his home country) and the rest of the world with his Monet-like paintings, here's the link--proof positive that creativity is alive and well, at least in this little boy! The loveliest aspect of Kieron's story is his parents' concern about keeping his life as normal as possible. They don't want to deny his talent, but neither do they want to see him exploited. Sounds like Kieron is blessed to be in that ideal environment for nurturing creativity: a strong, stable home with supportive parents, access to plenty of tools and supplies to enable his artistic interest, and a good balance of encouragement for his painting but also for other activities.

The truth is, most of us are creative beings if given the opportunity. Our talent may not manifest itself at such an early age as Kieron's has--Grandma Moses was almost eighty when she first picked up a paintbrush--but it's probably there, just waiting for a nudge. In these last few days before school starts, why not take your mind off this ridiculous, energy-sapping heat by launching a "Creativity Camp" at your house? Ask each family member to pick something creative they'd like to do, or come up with a group activity. Gather the necessary tools, declare a temporary moratorium on chores, and let those creative juices flow!
Remember that creativity does not have to be expensive; in fact, brainstorming to come up with alternative, inexpensive supplies could be your most creative act! I remember one summer when my sons occupied themselves for days building a tee-pee in their grandmother's back yard out of fallen sticks and branches and weeds. They had a blast and were justifiably proud of a very fine-looking --and even functional!--structure.
Even if there's just one of you at your house, give yourself permission this weekend to indulge your inner painter, writer, musician, gardener, builder, seamstress, chef, actress, sculptor, filmmaker, photographer, carpenter...you get the picture. Take Kieron Williamson's advice-- "Never give up. Try and keep your buildings straight. And don't do a plain blue sky" --and you might discover a side of yourself you never knew existed!

Photo of Kieron Williamson and his painting are copyrighted by Albanpix.