My Road to Creativity, Twentieth and Final Excerpt: Writing:

I took some drawing and painting classes at the Durango Art Center, but lost interest in that as well after a year or so.

I was reading voraciously though. I relishing historical fiction and rediscovered Hemingway and the writers on 1920s Paris. I again started to write free form poetry, writing one sometimes two a day sitting on the patio of my favorite coffee shop in downtown Durango. I filled several Moleskine journals with poetry. 

I was letting my mind go, not worrying about the words, just putting them down. Some poems, I edited or rewrote, others were so bad I didn’t bother with them. What I was finally discovering, it made no difference.

In the spring and summer of 2014, I wrote three short stories, the first prose I had ever attempted. I liked what I had writen as did some others who I shared them with. 

August of that year, my wife and I did a four week European tour, beginning with a two week cruise from Copenhagen to Barcelona with many stops along the way such as Le Havre, France and Lisbon, Portugal. I started getting sick with a cough on the ship and saw the ships doctor before we disembarked in Barcelona. 

We spent four days and nights in that city which I managed well with my increasingly heavy cough. Barcelona is a beautiful city that we spent time exploring Gaudi’s park, the Picasso Museum and strolling the Ramblas and the shops in The Gothic Quarter. My lungs were feeling like crap. 

We took a high speed train to Paris to spend five days and nights. Paris was more amazing than I could ever have imagined. It was everything and more than I ever expected, there were the outdoor markets, sidewalk cafes, the Musee d’ Orsay, the Pompidou Center, the Eiffel Tower, the city itself and best of all, Shakespeare and Company Booksellers.

Shakespeare and Company, an English language bookstore, is the second permutation, the first being founded by on the Left Bank by Sylvia Beach back in 1919 and subsequently closed in 1941 during the Nazi occupation. The second was founded by ex-pat American George Whitman in 1951, who called it, “a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore”. It is now run by his daughter, Sylvia Whitman. 

I could have spent days wandering and exploring this bookstore, the mecca of so many past great writers, so many new great writers who hung out there. I could  almost feel the vibes of their genius. As it was I managed to get there twice and struggled to keep my purchases to only five books. I am on their email list and have ordered several times from their eclectic selection of hard to find books.

My cough was getting worse and I realize now I should have gone to the hospital there, but didn’t want to take the time. The upshot of all this was the second night after I got home I ended up in the emergency room. I had full blown pneumonia by then. It did subside in a few weeks, but I relapsed in Mid-December, this time I was pretty debilitated . . . for almost three months.

It being winter, I kept myself in the house and rested. Physically, I was wiped out anyway. Having to slow down from my usually active schedule, I started writing a poem that turned into a short story that turned into a novelette and finally after 96,000 words, I had myself a book, ‘San Juan Sunrise’. It was an amazing experience doing it. It was like my characters took on a life of their own and I simply had to listen to their story. Okay, this was weird. But I was able to let go and write the story without paying attention to my inner critic, not worrying about the outcome, just listening and writing. 

I think that after all these years, I had finally discovered my creative voice, what creativity truly is. I can’t really describe it any other way other than it is just letting go . . . letting go of any preconceptions, letting go of criticisms (inner and outer), letting go of any worries about success or failure, just letting go and being in that creative moment . . . moment after moment after moment. 

I have now finished my second book, ‘The Awakening of Russell Henderson’. Third one, I have several ideas, but am not in any hurry. I’m working now on marketing my last one.

This is my last post in this series of musings. It was interesting going back and trying to remember this history of wanting to create, to be and artist and a designer and ending up being a writer. I wish I could have discovered writing earlier in my life, but maybe Karma dictated that I was had to do this work over time. But all in all, it’s been an interesting ride. My only advice is to follow your bliss, don’t be discouraged, listen to your inner voice . . . and let go.

Both of my books are available on Amazon. Take a look at my other blog at

Thanks for reading this. Be well, safe, and happy . . . and just do it.

My Road to Creativity, Nineteenth Excerpt: Durango:

Being only sixty years old when I retired, I wasn’t about to spend the rest of my life on the golf course. I had tried golf and found it boring. My wife and I  both felt that we needed to do something productive with our lives and explore new places. We put the productive aspect of out lives on hold and spent the first year in Durango simply being professional tourists.

There were four possible things I wanted to do: build guitars, work at the really cool music store, work at the local bookstore, or in the natural grocery store. In the meantime, I used my lutherie skills to built three mandolins and around eight five string banjos. I also was hired at the music store which sold only acoustic instruments, as a repair and sales person. 

One of the owners was a luthier. He was great, very knowledgable, and he showed me a lot, building on what I gotten from school, all kinds of tricks and techniques as well as showing me how to work on the violin family. I found that sales was great fun and did my share of selling some fine instruments. 

Aside from loving working there, I also got to meet some of the locals as well as tourists. I was becoming more involved with community. There was a great music scene in Durango and I got to see some great shows. 

In the meantime, along with high country hiking, four wheeling, biking, and downhill skiing I had begun to read voraciously. My meditation practice had fallen by the wayside. I was way too busy . . . until I broke my leg in a skiing accident. Slowed down, I resumed my morning meditation.

With my leg healed and back to work, I became more inspired to work on my music and was able to join a newly formed Celtic band as a rhythm guitar player. Celtic music was much more demanding than the three chord bluegrass, folk, and old timey music I was used to. But it was fun. I worked on minor chord progressions so common in that genre of music. It was lively. The band was getting better. We were playing numerous gigs throughout the area and were well received. There was talk of cutting a CD. 

I was began buying old basket case violins off ebay or what I found in antique stores and restoring them and selling them on consignment through the music store. I was making a good profit on what I sold. So, envious of the fiddle players in our band, I started playing one that I had restored. It was challenging, no frets, learning scales, getting the right intonation to name a few. I started lessons and was quickly learning. I learned how to read music and self taught myself music theory. 

Life was good, until I blew out my right rotator cuff which slowed down my music as I couldn’t hold a fiddle or guitar. I finally had surgery which took the better part of a year to recover from. 

I went back back to my old band, but they had moved on and it wasn’t the same. So I retired again.

In recovery from the surgery, I picked up a mandolin which is the same as a fiddle, only with frets and requiring a pick to play it instead of a bow. The small mandolin was easy on my shoulder and much more forgiving than the violin and I was able to play all the tunes I had learned from the violin.

There was a Celtic jam at a local pub every Sunday which I went to a few times with the mandolin. The music was played fast and lively and I was light years away from keeping up. In talking to a whistle and flute player about trying to get up to speed, we decided to start a jam session, only slow it down for beginning players to be able to join in and learn. We were able to hold the jams in the music store where I was still working. We had a nice turnout and it was a fun time for everyone.

Life was good until the music store closed its doors where we held the jam. I channeled my creative energy into the slow jam, but, after the store closed, it was difficult to find a steady venue and it slowly fizzled and died. 

My music interest died with the death of the jam. I still was restoring violins, but my interest in playing was not the same. I had nobody to play with anymore and slowly lost interest.

My Road to Creativity, Eighteenth Excerpt: The final University years:

Spring semester, I again submitted a request to teach an elective studio in creativity and it was again refused, which made me angry as I had been promised that studio before I left for my sabbatical. The chairperson reneged on her promise so I did the next best thing and integrated creative development into my regular studios as best I could along with doing the projects dictated by the syllabus and this seemed to work.

I didn’t teach meditation or anything like that, but just the basic premise of not paying attention to those critics, especially the inner one which is the worst of all. It was interesting to see what began to happen. These kids caught on quickly, let go, and started having fun with design. They became more confident and. Consequently, their projects became more daring and much better. 

I was finding the way the Department of Art and Design as well as the University as a whole becoming a place I didn’t want to be anymore. I loved teaching and the students but university and faculty politics were becoming more weird. My wife’s work was changing as well and we were finding there was increased stress in our lives neither of us wanted. It was getting to the point that, more and more over the last few years, we were both dreading going back to work after our breaks. We decided we needed to retire as soon as we could afford it for both our well being and our health.

In the meantime, I was still journaling and writing poetry. Also, I bega0 doing experimental typographic creations using my own writings. I too was having fun and playing with design. With the help of the computer, I was creating some design I never would have tried before.

In the summer of 1988, I decided to go to lutherie school. I had played guitar since my twenties and with my woodworking skills from when I worked as a carpenter, I decided to learn guitar building and repair. I found a place up in Big Rapids, Michigan that offered a two month course in early summer that would work into my schedule. After two months of eight hour days, five days plus a half day on Saturday, I had built both an electric and an acoustic guitar. The school was awesome and I loved it. I had another  new skill set. 

In 2000, our financial advisor advised us that we could retire and emaintaining basically the same revenue source that we had working full time. As scary as it was, in May, 2001, we decided to take early retirement. In retrospect, I missed the University sometimes and wish I had stayed on for a few more years, but my life has done nothing but gotten better ever since. 

We moved to Durango, Colorado that same August.

My Road to Creativity, Seventeenth Excerpt: Naropa:

I had found a place to stay, a single bedroom in a small house with an older woman. It was similar to being back at grad school. I met the chair of the art department and found out I could sit in on any classes I wished. I selected a meditation practicum, a beginning drawing class that he taught and another more advanced art class with another instructor. My goal was not so much to advance my art skills as it was to observe the teaching methods of people who studied and practiced Buddhist meditation. 

There was a definite more gentle approach than what my art education and design education had offered. I noticed that art was taught as more a meditative process than simply putting down marks on paper, trying to recreate what you saw, it was not so much the outcome as the slow, focused process. It was almost like becoming the subject matter, whether an apple, a pear, a landscape or a person, than the one doing the drawing. It is still difficult to explain now, some twenty years later.

I also sat in on a meditation practicum that took me deeper into the understanding of the practice of quieting the mind and letting go. I remember the traffic noise from the busy street one story below as well as the drumming group that was on the other side. Being warm September, the windows were all open. The noise was distracting, but it became a good practice. I have been able to meditate anywhere through most all distraction after those three months.

But, by far, the biggest opening to creativity was a week long seminar that was offered called, “Dharma Art” based on the teachings of Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche who resided in and taught Buddhist philosophy in Boulder and was the founder of Naropa. This seminar had a profound impact, opening me up to that creative force I had been searching for all those years.

There different exercises, all beginning with fifteen minutes of meditation and then involving everything from movement, writing exercises, exploring the tactile feel of nature while blindfolded, group exercises that developed trust, massive group painting on a scroll of butcher paper and so on. All the students, much younger than me, of course, were from all different disciplines such as dance, music, art, and writing. The week was a complete and total blast. I was finding out how to simply create without consideration, worry, and both outer and self criticism. Just simply do it without worry. I had my mind opened to something very powerful.

Two things I carried away from Naropa that would remain with me were, “Notice what you notice” and, “First thought, best thought”. I thought about these for a long time and they eventually became my mantra. Generally, pay attention to what is going on around you and don’t question, just do with an open and empty mind..

The semester over, sad to leave Boulder and the friends I had made, but was time to be home with my wife and get back to my life.

My Road to Creativity, Sixteenth Excerpt: Assistant Professor, Tenure:

Over the course of the last four years, my meditation practice was lost. I hadn’t picked up a book other than design books and periodicals since I started grad school. Thus, my anxiety level was at an all time high. And now I was facing tenure and promotion. I liked being at ISU. I was close to my two kids. My wife’s work and friends were there. What if I was refused. I didn’t want to thing about it. I was a nervous wreck.

With the help from the Department Chairperson and my mentor, I put together my documents for promotion and tenure which turned out to be  a very large document . . . I was quite impressed at my own resume. 

There were two ways to be recognized enough to receive promotion and tenure, one was research, in the design teaching profession, that would consist of a large body of creative work that would be locally and nationally recognized at a national; all that and service such as committee work. My design work was not that extensive. While I had done some free lance work as well as my silk screening, some of which I had entered into juried shows of which I had several pieces that received local awards and one that received a national award, but that was not enough to show that I was a hot shot innovative designer.

Teaching was by far my strongest suit. My student reviews were very good. I had restructured syllabi for several courses and had developed three new ones: Advanced Typography, Environmental Graphics, and Publication Design, the later which was done in conjuction with the Meredith Corporation in Des Moines. I had served on both the Department on Art and Design Curriculum Committee as well as the College Curriculum Committee.  

Along with all this, I had begun to teach Honors Seminars through the University Honors Program that met once a week for an hour, and which offered nice stipends. The topic of the seminar could be on any topic the professor wanted to offer and with approval from the Honors Committee.

The stipend helped subsidize my screen printing and later on, my first computer, a Macintosh with a graphics interface, a small built in screen, and a mouse. It had a small black and white monitor and very little memory and all file storage was on floppy disks. The operating system was even on a floppy that had to be inserted and loaded each and every time I booted it up. But, it was the first computer that one was able to create images with a mouse. It was primitive and crude by today’s standards, but was innovative at the time. The output was by means of a dot matrix printer that rendered the output with ragged choppy edges. The text was the same, very ragged. One designer even created a new typeface called “Dot Matrix”, as I recall.

Screen printing inks were toxic, both to handle and to breath, so I did some research into using water based inks. They didn’t work quite in the same manner and I wrote a paper on the differences and how I was able to adjust. The problem was at that time, there were no publications or outlets to share what I was finding.

One of my major coups was I was able to leverage my having met Wolfgang Weingart into getting him as a guest lecturer for three days in 1984. 

I had served on two graduate committees. I had mentored several students that had received national awards. 

As it turned out, my portfolio of teaching and service got me promotion to associate professor with tenure in 1991. 

Honky-Tonk Dreams

1950s honky-tonk blues drinking cold
beers & smokin’ Camel straights from
my white t-shirt rolled-up sleeve with
Johnny, Patsy, Hank, Kitty, Eddy, from 
a flashing nickel corner jukebox beside 
the neon flashing Hamms dancing bears 
looking out into summer softness hoping
for adventure lost somewhere in south Texas.

Renegade days of pressed Levi jeans, slicked 
back hair, souped up loud sinister cars cruising
small town streets searching for a big bouffant 
hair, petticoat skirt, tight sweater, sweet girl for 
a kiss, a night of imagined hopeful love, a feel, 
shared warm beers on an old flannel blanket in
green pastures along lovers lane where cattle came
to silently watch the giggles and the unfulfilled
passion of clumsy youth not knowing where to go.

All those days of wonder gone to a factory job in
a smoky sad asphalt lost hope empty city filled 
with honky-tonk blues Friday payday beer drinking
smokin’ Camel straights from my blue shirt pocket.

Old love letters sealed with a kiss wrapped in pretty
pink ribbons somewhere in basement trash of lost
dreams fading into smokestack haze filled dirty
city streets far gone from green pasture nights.

Do Not Wait

Pancho Villa raided my dreams as
I feigned sleep that night naked
in the dry Sonoran Desert south
of the sacred Sedona vortex.

How many days I wandered lost
forgetting the rotting wooden ship from
that distant dead star we
sailed from a light year ago.

Now I spend blue sky days gone
from writing songs of youth when
time stood still & quiet for
a life not yet ended or begun.

Do not wait to write your music or
write your poetry or sing your songs or
run your races or to love deeply for 
immortality is a seductive mistress.

My Road to Creativity, Fifteenth Excerpt: Assistant Professor, Tenure Track:

After the four weeks of being in Europe at the design workshop and in Basel, I was energized to get back to teaching. I had three studios: beginning sophomore level and junior level symbology, possibly sophomore typography . . . it’s hard to remember. At that time we had three or four sections of required studio offerings each semester. All studio classes were in sequence so if a student missed one, he or she would have to wait a year to take it. It wasn’t a perfect system but it was the best we could do with so many sections and limited faculty. 

That fall, the person I was filling in for resigned and the position was needed to be filled permanently. I was urged to apply for it and I did as well as other positions at other schools. I was invited to interview at two other schools as well as Iowa State. I had an offer from Texas Christian and was offered the position at ISU. I elected for Iowa State and was hired as a tenure track Assistant Professor. Somehow, that validated some of what I had given up when I started this adventure three years ago.

Those first years, I had some very good students and some that were not so good. Being so new to teaching, I found it difficult to grade the projects. I tried giving detailed analyses for the grade I arrived at but that wasn’t good enough. It all seemed sort of ambiguous. I constantly had to defend my decisions and received many less that stellar teacher reviews. 

There were no guidebooks or any textbooks on graphic design at that time so I found that I had to make it up as we went along. I worked at creating a syllabus for each studio to give more detail on what was expected and how each project would be graded, designing a matrix that should be self explanatory. And it worked to the degree that the students seemed to be more accepting of  the poor grades that some received, plus it helped considerably that I didn’t have to write out such detailed reports. My student reviews improved.

I also found that so many of the students struggled with what I experienced in suffering from a lack of creativity. I was asked time and time again, “What did I want?” for a given project. My answer was, “Good design.” One thing occurred to me was that the K through twelve years of education did nothing to enhance if not just squelch any creative juices these kids might have once had. I had no idea how to enhance that lost creativity.

The way I learned design was with projects that were simply projects without any major focus other than that they were projects to be completed.  I began to research the elements and principles of design more in depth and started creating projects that would focus on maybe one or two aspects of these elements and principles. The students seemed to understand more clearly what was expected and what they were actually learning. My reviews improved.

During the summers, I continued attending design workshops offered through Kent State at their campus in Kent, Ohio. These workshops were three weeks long and were taught by well known professionals from both the United States and Europe. The workshops were accredited and I was woking towards earning a Master of Fine Arts which was the terminal degree for the studio arts which I would most likely need to continue teaching at a college or university. 

I gained a great deal from these workshops, but the one that really blew me away was the last one I went to in 1987 with Bruno Monguzzi, a designer and teacher in Lugano, Switzerland, the Italian speaking region. He talked about the psychology of visual perception, something that opened an entirely new dimension to my understanding of design. I hung on everything he said or the work he showed. Somehow, everything I had worked on and learned these last years jelled together and I was finally beginning to understand design: proportion, contrast, information hierarchy, tension, to name a few.

Monguzzi was educated as a designer in the Swiss tradition as I was. One thing I learned as gospel was to only ever use one typeface in a design, preferably a san-serif face such as Helvetica. Moguzzi had no problem mixing serif and san-serif faces and his work he shared with us opened another new world of  possibilities for me.

I thought Monguzzi was brilliant. Then it occurred to me that he was a teacher. While all the others designer who taught at the workshop were outstanding designers, they weren’t teachers. I saw there was a definite difference. I even went so far as to ask him if I could come to Lugano for a semester to work with him. He was flattered, but said that he taught in the Italian language and did I understand or know Italian? I admitted I didn’t and the learning curve for Italian was more that I wanted right then. So I settled for what I gleaned from him in the three weeks.

As the final project for this session, after I returned home, I designed and printed a poster for this workshop. It received several awards. It is still one of my best works.

All this transpired over several years as I grew as a teacher. In the meantime, I had remarried and had settled into my life. But my three years as associate professor were coming to an end and I  was due to go up for tenure. 

My Road to Creativity, Fourteenth Excerpt: Basel, Switzerland:

Basel is a historical industrial town that spanned both sides of the Rhine River on the northwest corner of the country with Germany to the northeast and France to the east. 

My friend met me at the train and we took a street trolley back to her place. I marveled at the city, similar to but different from the small town of Rapperswil and the frantic banking, fashion conscious Zurich. The city carried the wonderful old European architectural styles, but its industrial roots were obvious as it appeared, as a whole, more down to earth. 

She lived in small apartment in an older working neighborhood. I found out the next day that hardly anyone one there spoke english after she went to her classes and I was in my own and went into a small shop to get some meat and cheese for lunch. 

“Sprechen Sie Englisch?” I asked and received a shake of the head from the young woman behind the counter, who held up a finger and left for a moment returning with what was likely her mother and a younger brother.

“American?” the older woman asked with a big eyed smile. I nodded and smiled back. Apparently Americans did not frequent this part of Basel. With everyone watching and using advanced charades, I made my order and paid not having a clue if I got the right change back. I smiled and said “Danke Shoen, backed towards the door with an “Auf Wiedersehen.” and left.

My friend, being occupied in studio all day, I roamed the streets of old Basel, had coffee on a patio watching people passing by, ending up at an art museum whose collection spanned medieval art up to cubism and modern art. I spent most of the afternoon there looking at and being impressed by all the art. Outside the museum was a dynamic sculpture garden with whimsical little devices that whirled and twirled and shot water into the air and at each other. Later, I met my friend for dinner and called it a day.

The next day I got  tour of the Basel Kunstgewerbeschule, a stark concrete edifice lacking very much warmth, but was vibrant with the student work I saw. She showed me of some of the projects she was working on, one of which was to create one hundred different images or symbols of a singular object. When she showed me her sketchbook, I couldn’t believe what I saw. I thought about giving that project to a group of sophomores at ISU and figured I’d be laughed at for being so audacious. But they did it here.  

That night we were invited to dinner at Wolfgang Weingart’s apartment. It was like I was going to meet the most amazing impressive designer of the time. He was innovative and was pushing the limits of Swiss graphic design.  He was both emulated and criticized in the many articles written about him and his work. But, non the less, I was getting to meet a legend.

His small apartment was nondescript unlike the several designer houses I had been in when in Rapperswil. He was gracious and low key, happy to meet a design professor from America. His girl friend was American, also studying design at the school. We shared wine and food and some talk of design. He shared his philosophy of design and his appreciation of the historic Swiss Style, but thought it needed to be challenged and given a newer more modern approach. His education was in the traditional Swiss Style that dominated the present universal standards of visual communication, but he felt that it was time to push those strict parameters and he was doing that through his personal design and in his teaching.

 The evening was over early, we thanked them for their graciousness, bid our good-byes and left. I felt like I had met a rock star.

The next day I left for Luxembourg for a night and left the following day for home. I had a lot to think about.