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Elan Vitae


  • Shena Driscoll Salvato


After creating in many forms for decades, I thought I had my creative process figured out. I don’t know why I was so surprised to discover that it isn’t predicable or necessarily replicable from one form of creative expression to another. Fortunately, my instinct to create is strong enough to just dive into something new without thinking too much about the process of bringing that idea to fruition. Much like never regretting diving into the cold pond on a hot spring day, remembering that it recently was, and soon again will be, frozen, taking that leap into a new experience is always satisfying and leaves me feeling reenergized and renewed.

When we’ve created something to share with others, sometimes we’re so focused on the goal of sharing that we don’t think about how we’re employing the process ourselves. It’s always there, but sometimes we don’t see it right away, much in the same way we don’t see our own shadow until the sun appears from behind the clouds and projects our own silhouette, long and defined, right there in front of us. Such as it was as I prepared to deliver my TEDx talk, “Embracing the Freedom to FLIT, Follow Leads Intuitively Trusting”. The title itself, and its description, “Discovering ideas waiting to come through us and thriving in the exhilaration of creation”, seemed to have lured a newfound creative process from me. This discovery was one of the many unexpected gifts of taking the leap to apply, then accept the invitation, to speak. I realized that what empowered and enabled me to create as I did, was to FLIT myself.

As one who has loved the exhilaration of paddling, looking over my shoulder, seeing the water rise behind me, hopping up on the board, and catching the wave, when I decided, at the last minute, to apply to speak at the TEDx event, I wasn’t attached to the outcome; I was moved by possibility. Nor had I thought too much about the process of ultimately translating my idea into a 15-minute talk. When I received word that I was one of ten speakers chosen from a field of 122 to take the TEDx stage, I was appreciative of the opportunity and clear about the essence of what I wanted to share, but I hadn’t yet considered the path I would take to get from idea to delivery. In retrospect, I had assumed I would employ the same creative process I use when I write. I was wrong; the creation of the talk wasn’t flowing in the same way. I felt as if I was navigating uncharted waters. There were new parameters to consider: no access to notes, a screen behind me, a strict time limit, and no visible clock. As one who has prepared teachers how to teach writing in additional languages, I am very familiar with the writing process and its cyclical, recursive nature. Ironically, I choose not to engage in the traditional process when I write: an idea comes to me, I ruminate on it as it swirls in my consciousness for days, weeks, or months, one day it forms a life of its own, then I choose a stimulating space to write, open a blank document on my laptop, and begin to type. As I compose, I re-read, revise, and edit, over and over again, until I hop off the merry-go-round and feel that the process, and product, are complete. My pre-writing stage happens in my head, with no written notes, no outlines, and no graphic organizers. I don’t complete a draft then go back through to edit, then revise. It’s all a very organic, holistic process for me, and one I feel at ease with through a screen and on a keyboard.

What I found when preparing to deliver my talk, instead, was that the process took on a life of its own, and one I couldn’t have foreseen or planned. I felt a strong push away from using my laptop (I: intuitively) and toward using my sense of touch (F: follow), the bodily-kinesthetic act of writing by hand, moving sticky notes about, shuffling papers around, rolling them up and securing them with a rubber band for later use (L: leads), much like the scroll of a town crier. Residual ideas that resulted, much like the babies produced by my spider plants that will go on to set their own roots and thrive in their own homes, have yet to establish themselves. I’m giddy with anticipation to see what form those ideas will take in the future (T: trusting). Concurrently, I was inspired by Working on a Song, Anaïs Mitchell’s creation story of her musical, Hadestown. After seeing the show on Broadway and finding out about the book that told its backstory, I was in awe of the circuitous route that one song had taken to give birth to the Tony-award-winning musical it now is.

I’ve never been much of a memorizer. While I’m not sure what my lack of predisposition to memorizing is, it dawned on me that it could be the absence of the need to engage in the creative process. Instinct takes over, and I’m compelled to do something that my rational mind would likely talk me out of if it could: "When do you think you’ll have time to do that? Doing that might require you to do something you tend to avoid; what are you thinking?" Such are the questions that could have stopped me from applying to deliver the TEDx talk. Fortunately, they didn’t. If you’re considering applying to deliver a TEDx or similar talk but are unsure about how to get from here to there (and you’re not a memorizer either), don’t let that stop you; I invite you to read more about my process here and try it for yourself.

Engaging in my newfound process allowed me to craft my talk and become familiar with and acquire the words, much as I do after listening to a favorite song many times, without the need to focus on regurgitating a memorized version of it. Instead, I focused on the main talking points and the story surrounding them. When it came time to present, I took a few deep breaths, believed in the power of the message I was about to share with the world, and stepped on stage. The residual “for later” ideas that came through me as I FLITted will get their own spotlight in the future—they deserve it.

photo credit: Mike Forster Rothbart / SUNY Cortland

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