Nourishing Creativity – an Ode to Polton Elementary School and My Mother

BGtv6rUCUAEdv_PWith the Phantom book finished, I spent time in the garden this weekend. Most restorative to work with my hands and body, to clear away the old detritus, coax the perennials into shape and plant new flowers. And clean up the gargoyle. She’s watching over the pansies for me.

And, as of yesterday, I started in on developmental edits for Rogue’s Possession. For those who aren’t familiar with the lingo, those are the first round of edits. My editor just sends me an email describing some global changes she’s looking for. Add tension to the beginning, tighten the ending. Here are some suggestions. That sort of thing. Some of you may recall she’d originally asked for April 3 on those (dies laughing), but now we’re trying for April 15. I think I can do that.

My mom complains that I make my childhood sound awful when I reflect on my growing up. I suspect this is because our painful experiences are the ones that really spur us to change – or, at least, that’s how we remember it.

Yesterday one of my crit partners sent me the TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert on the creative spark. You might remember it from early 2009, when it was really making the rounds on the internet. My friend, however, must have been under a rock at the time and missed it. The talk really resonated with her – as it did for many of us – and I watched it again, to be able to discuss some of the finer points. Surprising to me: I heard very different things in it this time, after dedicating so much of the last four years to my own writing.

My friend had come across the talk because I’d sent her this one, by Ken Robinson on how schools kill creativity. One story he tells is about Gillian Lynne, who was failing out of school at age 8 – until her principal recognized that she was a natural dancer. Her mother sent her to dance school instead, and Gillian became a success instead of an academic failure. My friend asked me if I thought my schooling had killed or nurtured my creativity.

Something I’d never once thought about.

I mean, I’ve mentioned my early schooling from time to time. How I went to an experimental school in the early 70s, with team teaching, no desks and open space classrooms. Mostly I have made fun of it (Magic Circle where we shared our feelings) or criticized it (the famous ordeal of my stepfather having to teach me the multiplication tables because I’d been pulled out into a special program and then plunged back into long division without knowing how to multiply). My stepfather was a vice-principal in a neighboring school district that was not experimental and he often complained about the gaps in my traditional education. 

But thinking back now… wow.

That special program that caused me to miss multiplication? (Which, by the way, took less than a week for me to make up.) I spent that third grade year with fourth, fifth and sixth graders, traveling around Colorado and learning about western history. Now I realize how much that year opened my mind to the range of human experience. Women like Baby Doe Tabor and Molly Brown became larger than life to me. That time instilled in me an appreciation for the concept of the frontier, of struggle, of the desire for wealth and success and the crushing effects of defeat.

My teachers were good to me at that school. They let me read in class when I was bored with the assignment. They gave me special projects to work on. Instead of smacking me down for being a smart ass (because, oh yes, I was one even then), they encouraged me to channel that energy. I found it funny, often, that they were always concerned that I not get bored, but now I see – I was never bored. My teachers found ways to challenge, stimulate and open my mind.

And my creativity.

I sometimes joke that I have such an eclectic approach to life. In college I double-majored in biology and religious studies, with enough credits to minor in theater. I ended up in grad school for neurophysiology, work as an environmental consultant and now write fantasy and romance novels.

I’m realizing now that this is their gift to me. That my early schooling did nourish my creativity. My mom bought a house near this school so I could go there and it made an amazing difference for me.

What a wonderful gift this was.

9 Replies to “Nourishing Creativity – an Ode to Polton Elementary School and My Mother”

  1. Hi Jeffe,

    I found your post because I was looking for more information on Polton Elementary. I’m starting to write some stories about my early years and Polton figures prominently in them. You’re making me think that the “structure” of our school with the mining towns and all had more to do with my development than I even realize. I remember Magic Circle and Ms. Sherrill and Ms. Linnen. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. Hi Angela!

      How nice that you found my post and commented. I totally agree that Polton and that sometimes crazy structure was pivotal for me. I commented on a post just the other day that I realize looking back how much the teachers did to keep me engaged and nurture me. Very cool that you’re writing up memoirs on it all!

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