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Posts tagged: creativity

Catching a Midnight Train of Thought

 I woke up to feel my heart pounding, beating like a fist against the cage of my ribs, and for a moment I was confused. I realized I’d had a bad dream and just enough traces of the frightening things I’d imagined remained to poison the first moments of the morning. I tossed and turned for a while, trying to get back to sleep, but the damage was done. I was, for better or worse, awake and up for the day.

As I waited for the water to boil so I could press that first cup of coffee, I stared out at the sky watching it change as the sun rose slowly. I heated the milk, poured the coffee into a mug and sat down in my favorite chair by the big window in the living room to gather my thoughts.

 Just thinking of the list I’d made the night before of things that needed to be done made my heart pound again so I put it out of my mind and went back to gazing out at the quiet street as I sipped.

 Stress is a complex element in even the most ordinary life. It is a natural part of our existence and has been since the beginning when we worried that there would not be enough roots and berries to hunt and gather or that the wooly mammoth would win the fight.  Stress has evolved with us and has found a modern wardrobe in agitation about long delays in traffic or screaming headlines with bad news about the economy and the state of the world. It chases us a we take on complicated jobs, or think about keeping a job in an uncertain market. It settles on us as we fret about our children or a roof that will not last another winter; about cholesterol levels or the number on the scale. It nags us as we push a cart through the grocery story or fold the laundry or sit down to watch a movie.

 A certain amount of stress is, the experts say, good for us. It keeps us sharp and competitive. It feeds us the chemical cocktail our bodies need to navigate safely in and out of danger. But too much of anything is toxic. Even chocolate.

As I sat there, the dream began to fade as the sky lightened. Morning had broken its hold on me. The list, the more I looked at it and made plans for the day, began to seem more manageable. The coffee was good and hot and ideas began to percolate as I thought about the week’s deadlines.  

 Energized, comforted, I poured a second cup - my limit - and shrugged off the vague, nameless, fear that had shaken me out of a sound sleep. I was ready to take on the world again.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is the editor of Spokane Metro Magazine. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at

The One Who Was

(photo of George Ohr courtesy Ohr-O'Keefe Museum)



    Once, over a cup of coffee, late into the evening when confidences are easily shared, a friend leaned close to me and said, “I am meant for something special. I know I am. Since I was a little girl I’ve believed I was meant to do something significant.” She stirred the coffee in her cup, silent for a moment, before adding in a frustrated whisper. “ I just wish to hell I knew what it was.”
    My friend, who spends each day trapped in middle-management purgatory, was worried that she was running out of time. That she might have missed her chance to be whatever it was she was meant to be. It is a uniquely human condition.
    Just the other day, standing in a museum on the sugar white coast of Mississippi, I remembered her words.
    I was in Biloxi for the opening of the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum. A place that will hold, among other treasures, pieces made by Biloxi’s driven and eccentric potter, George Ohr.
    Ohr, in the jargon of the South, was a character. A man who was consumed by his passion for throwing pots and creating one-of-a-kind pieces. Reading about him, I was struck by his description of what happened the first time he put his hands on clay.
    “When I found the potter’s wheel I felt it all over like a wild duck in water,” he wrote.
    It was then that I remembered what my friend had said. Like so many, she’s still looking for that kind of experience.
    Ohr’s story is compelling. Recognizing his fate the moment he touched clay, he was consumed by it. He threw himself into making difficult and unusual pieces. “I had to do lots of work and hard and heavy,” he wrote. “But all is light and easy when the will and love of it is there and when one gets really enthusiastic they will forget to get hungry.”
    Ohr recognized his gift when he held it in his hands. And, he believed in the power of what he’d made. In spite of the constant struggle for financial success, he archived much of his work it, refusing to sell his best pieces, preferring instead to keep his collection intact.  He stored 8,000 pieces, telling his family that the work was to be kept until the time when the collection “may be purchased by the nation.”
    Each of us searches, some throughout an entire lifetime, for the thing that will make us sing. For the passion that will ignite and inspire us. My friend, in her midnight confession, admitted she still longs to find the spark that will light the same kind of flame inside her.
    Reading about George Ohr, I admired his conviction that he was doing what he was meant to do. On a wall just inside the museum, next to the gift shop, there is a large photograph of Ohr. He is upside down, his feet pointed up to the ceiling. Beside the photo, is this quote.
    “This pot is here and I am the potter who was.”
    Change a word or two and it could be the message any of us hopes to leave behind. This painting is here and I am the painter who was. This book is here and I am the writer who was. This symphony. This scientific discovery. This marriage. These children. This love.
    Even Frank Gehry, the great architect who designed the museum could confess to the same desire: This building is here and I am the architect who was.
    I left the museum an admirer of a potter who is long gone, but whose work remains. 
    He was.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at


A circle of friends and writers

(photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)


    Most Monday nights we gather together
    We open the door of the small building that houses the studio of an artist friend and walk into the warmth of a room filled with the all the tools and spirit of creativity.
    There is a kind of homecoming each time we meet. Someone might bring a loaf of fresh bread. Someone else puts cheese and crackers on a plate. On a good night a bottle of wine is opened and shared.
    For the first half-hour we talk. We talk about what has happened since we last met. Catching up with marriages, work and all the other portions of our lives, we strengthen the ties that bind us together. And then, when it’s time, we get to work.
    One by one, safe in the company of kindred spirits, we read the words put down on paper since we last met.
    We are a circle of writers.  Some of us do it professionally, others are more casual. But the one thing in common is that each one of us writes because something inside us won’t rest until we do. Each of us has a story to tell and we want tell it in our own way.
    There is, deep in the center of most people, a strong desire to leave something behind. We want to leave our story. A map to who we were. A chronicle of the things we dreamed and worked for; of the loves we shared and the heartaches we survived.
    In the Monday writing studio we are in turn, survivors, lovers, mothers, wives and sisters. And what we share - besides the bread and wine - is the determination to overcome the barriers of shyness, insecurity, fractured schedules and even, occasionally, the interference of others. We want to write and we’re willing to go to great lengths to find a way to do it.
    Most Monday nights there is a reason not to go to the studio. There is  work to finish before deadline. There is housework. There are family responsibilities that pull at us. But usually, unless we’re out of town, we make it. We open the door to the writer within us. One word, one Monday, at a time.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at

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Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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