Come Stay and Come Fail

What is school for? Wisdom or information?

As much as it ought to be wisdom, we get the ironically less useful information. It’s right or it’s wrong. You know it or you don’t. You remember it or you don’t. It’s acceptable or it’s not.

But at the end of the day, or the course, what did you learn other than memorized facts?

Now, facts are good. and essential in some careers. However, there are others where facts are important, but not essential. In either case, wisdom and life’s lessons, are far more useful and applicable.

With information, success is getting the right answer, with wisdom, success is learning from failure.

Learning from failure means we are free to fail. Free to struggle. Encouraged to try, and keep trying, to keep learning the same lessons in different ways over and over again. What an education that would be if every course could be like that. We’d be free of pressure, we’d be free to innovate, we’d be free to express, we’d be free to discover.

It’s a paradox that I wish more teachers, mentors, etc. understood and applied. Tell students to succeed and they will find themselves failing. Tell students to fail, and they will find themselves succeeding.

It’s not about setting a low standard so that more students “succeed.” It’s about extracting wisdom from whatever situation. If you “failed” and got the wrong answer, what lesson did you learn? If you “succeeded” and got the right answer, what lesson did you learn? In that way, the grade or metric or evaluation almost comes before the lesson.

After class today, my music shuffled to Scars by Colton Dixon and the chorus was quite fitting:

Today’s another day, to learn from our mistakes, knowing that we’re not forsaken. They give life to where we’ve been, when we fall and start again, scars remind us who we are.

After discussing wisdom vs information in class, and then hearing the song, and then remembering what the song is really talking about — that is, the the gospel — a connection was made.

In my experience, the best teachers don’t care about what you got on a test or an exam, they only care that you learned the lesson they were trying to teach you. Imagine you were guaranteed a 100% at the beginning of a course – you didn’t earn it, it was given. Striving for perfection isn’t the point. Learning and a willingness to learn is the point. If you got it right away, fantastic. If it took you a few tries at first before you got it, great.

In this class, the first three important things we were given was a good grade guaranteed, an invitation to stay and a mission to learn something more valuable than facts: how to think and how to change the world.

Those who left, turned down the opportunity to wisdom and steps toward self-actualization. Those who stayed, don’t necessarily make the best looking collages or videos, but what is that compared to knowing and embracing our identity a little better?

Not only that, but the small handful of us in the course get closer to each other with every pressure-free attempt we make. We naturally want to encourage each other because we all know none of us are good at this since a lot of it is brand new to us. We don’t celebrate the product of our projects, but the thinking behind it.

Now from the outside looking in, you would think a guaranteed good grade should be incentive to not bother going to class, and yet we all keep coming back week after week, night after night, not because we have to but because we want to. We’re hungry for this “wisdom” that is so different from the unsatisfying and draining amounts of “information” we’re forced to digest everywhere else.

So where do the parallels align?

God demands perfection, but we can’t overcome our imperfection. What Christ’s death on the cross in our place is, is the free 100%, given not earned — His perfection for our imperfection. He invites us in and says if you take it and stay, you’ll get so much more than the 100%.

Those who choose to leave get nothing, those who choose to stay and learn, practice how to think about people differently, how to see through Heaven’s eyes, how to change the world because of the change within us. Of course, practice means failing and learning from our mistakes, and it’s this learning and growth toward godliness that is the real treasure.

So when we fail and sin, we’re caught in a grace that says don’t worry about your grade or your standing, that’s been covered. Just get back up and try again. Also, if you see a brother or sister in Christ, someone else in your community, fail, it becomes natural to encourage them with the same words.

And finally, why not get up and walk away? Because walking away means going back to the emptiness of what the rest of the world has to offer. Once you taste wisdom and truth like this, there’s a hunger that keeps bringing you back.

So the invitation to the cross (and THST 2450) is here: come stay and come fail. It’s worth it.


Innovative Learning

Education: learning the facts, or the fact of learning? Which is it? Which is it ought to be?

This media class is frustrating in only one way. I have thoughts and ideas every time we talk about something or a discussion is opened up, but they pass through me so quickly that by the time I open my mouth, they’ve scattered. And by the time I spew the bits and pieces of those lightning thoughts, someone else has taken the discussion elsewhere. Rinse, wash, repeat.

It is indeed a thinking intensive course. And to my joy and pleasure, it is now also becoming a creativity intensive course.

I’ve recently been criticized for my perfectionistic tendencies, for striving for a number, for regurgitating what a grader wants to hear regardless of whether I’m thinking about it. Yes I’m more than a number, yes I’m good at figuring out what teachers and professors want so that I can get the grade and dodge the subjectivity bullet… but by no means do I think that the grade is all that it’s about. My identity isn’t in that. At least, not anymore. I’ll admit, it was until I failed something in high school and realized that this was a terrible place to put my identity.

No, I strive for 85+ to challenge myself, to get my money’s worth and to practice putting out work and receiving feedback. How I react to that, is one of many things I’m training for. It also continues to be my litmus test to see if I’m completely out of the grade-identity woods. That being said, it also doesn’t hurt that high grades come with certain privileges. I wish it wasn’t this way… the education system among others, is in need of a paradigm shift, as Sir Ken Robinson would say.

I don’t mean to brag, but I’ll admit that being criticized, almost accused, for being a “good student” is something I’ve never experienced, and it does put some things into perspective. On the one hand, I agree that high grades don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, and so neither should low grades. But on the other hand, after being told to strive, why should I settle for a 70?

Only a few months ago, I was pining for my graduation, wishing school was over. I realized I was getting facts, knowledge, and the “university” experience, but was I really learning? It seemed more like trivia. All my lecture attendances were just so that I didn’t fail the exam at the end, and I knew that I’d forget a lot about what I “learned” in three weeks of winter break. Instead of being at school, I could be writing and honing my craft, getting a more fruitful start on my career. I could apply to one year screenwriting programs that equip you to be ready for the industry. Writing intensive, getting to know people (networking…), learning how to navigate the innards of this beast… what am I doing here?

But going back to privilege, a degree does help. Again I wish it didn’t… the assumption that university is better than college is taken a little too far sometimes. It’s certainly different, but some careers are better suited for different formats of training (i.e. hands-on vs lecture halls).

Of course, the lessons I have retained and truly learned have been valuable. They have been like sifting for gold in the sand, the grit being the myriad of facts that escape me. Bottom line, despite everything, I’m here to stay.

We were asked what we liked about this media course… for one, I think I’ve kind of been doing this self-reflective thing for at least 5 years already. Blogging, writing, analyzing – what does this mean, what does this look like, what am I currently struggling with, what am I thankful for, what have I learned today – this is what fills my journals, physical or digital, and so far that is the class.

What makes it that much more enriching, is that from now on, it is still all of that, but through what I call “anything projects.” Very few instructions, only objectives. Using creativity to show what we learn, rather than adhering to a set of rules to repeat what we memorized. I love these kinds of projects. No restrictions. They are free, they are open, and we are free and open to fail, because failing is a form of learning. The freedom in that is, I dare say, exhilarating. I go all out and I go nuts because I can. To be frank, I want to. I want to see how far can I go creatively, how crazy and how awesome can I get, even if I’m the only one who thinks so. To be able to have fun while learning and growing is a privilege, and I am so grateful for this course.

10 Paradoxes of the Creative Mind

On my morning Internet surf, I was led to this page.

I almost felt like raising a victorious fist after reading it… finally, evidence that my “fruit-looped-ness” as my best friend calls it, is in fact normal (in the sense that I’m not losing my mind) and something I am learning to be more and more proud of.

The book referenced is by professor of psychology and management Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced me-HIGH chick-sent-me-HIGH-ee), whose TED talk I watched in another class. He talked about creativity and this idea of flow. When people find flow, we lose track of time, and hunger, thirst and sleep seem to fade from existence. I love it when I work on a script or a story or a project or an assignment or a blogpost and I get into that zone, that headspace. I’ve never tried drugs, but I’m convinced that flow is a rush and a high unlike any other. And you can potentially turn it into your living!

After writing a narrative essay on hybridity, this is all too timely! I’ll let you read the article, but here are what I think of each of the paradoxes:

1. Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they’re also often quiet and at rest.

Just last night, I was up ’til 3 am typing up a 3000 word blogpost. I started at 11 pm. Every time I took a glance at the clock, An hour had passed, but to me it might as well have been 5 minutes. Even after I made myself go to bed, I continued ruminating and made edits and added thoughts through the handy dandy WordPress app.

I spewed 3000 words in 4 hours and felt refreshed by it rather than exhausted. Contrast this to the 3000 word research paper I had to do last semester. Yes, it’s two completely different styles of writing, but to a writer, writing is writing. They were both fun to do, but with the paper, every time I checked the time, only 30 seconds had passed.

Creativity takes hard work, but it’s work that enriches rather than exhausts. Creatives “work long hours, with great concentration, while projecting an aura of freshness and enthusiasm.”

Even now, I told myself I’d go get lunch an hour ago, but I must finish this blogpost before the words escape me. How can this flow be powerful enough to command something as primal as hunger? Before reading the article I was famished, and all of a sudden, I’m not. I can even smell my roommate’s lunch wafting from across the hall, and it has no effect when I know otherwise it should.

2. Creative people tend to be smart yet naive at the same time.

I’m not the best at generating “a great quantity of ideas.” When asked to come up with 50 uses for a laptop charger, it was difficult to get there. But I do try to think of new stories, new narratives, drawing from whatever environment I’m in, physically, psychologically, and emotionally.

I am wary of a stagnant or bored mind. Maybe that’s from my first 10 years of being a unique child, where boredom was a problem only I could fix. What do I read when I look at a person, what do I see when I listen to a score, what if this object or this situation wasn’t really what it seemed? What world has no one seen before, what would be an unlikely partnership that I want to explore?

3. Creative people combine playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility.

“But this playfulness doesn’t go very far without its antithesis, a quality of doggedness, endurance, and perspective.”

Despite the carefree air that many creative people affect, most of them work late into the night and persist when less driven individuals would not.

Well, I’ve explained that about me already.

4. Creative people alternate between imagination and fantasy, and a rooted sense of reality.

“Great art and great science involve a leap of imagination into a world that is different from the present.”

That about says it all, as well as speaks to my ASCI duality. Another way to put it is that I experience an imagined world through the real one. I don’t have to close my eyes to go to my imaginary place, it’s all out here, it’s all real in an almost hyperreal way.

5. Creative people tend to be both extroverted and introverted.

According to the Myers-Briggs test, I am the most extroverted of the introverts. I think our extroversion comes from the fact that our creativity can’t be bottled up. It must be shared, it is an overflow, an outpouring. We are energized by feedback on what we create, how could we not be? And yet it takes a love for inwardness to create that content, and if we were not energized by being alone and focused, we could never sustain ourselves.

6. Creative people are humble and proud at the same time.

I still have trouble with compliments. How do I respond? What do I say? My gratitude and appreciation is beyond words, yet social protocol dictates I must produce them. I can self-deprecate when receiving a compliment because how can I deserve that? And shyness, well of course I’m shy… I’m proud of what I’ve done and grateful for the recognition, but I don’t want to emanate a false humility. As cheesy as it is true, the reward is the creation not the recognition… although recognition is always welcome.

7. Creative people, to an extent, escape rigid role stereotyping.

True of me. I wouldn’t say I’m more dominant or tough than other girls, but I’m most definitely not like some other girls in terms of image, style, fashion, etc.

8. Creative people are both rebellious and conservative.

With me, I would say that I am rebellious in my conservativeness. Especially with my faith that is so counter-cultural nowadays. I’m not saying let’s regress, but I think there are ways to set up safe boundaries if we’re creative and innovative enough. On the other hand, let’s compromise in moderation, eh?

9. Most creative people are very passionate about their work, yet they can be extremely objective about it as well.

This is perhaps the most frustrating one. One day I’ll have a brilliant idea and the next I’ll re-read it and reaffirm that I’ve lost my mind. Everything I can come up with is futile rubbish at first. I’ve got to put it work, rediscover what it is that drew me to it in the first place and hold on to that for the dear life of the project. I am my worst and greatest critic.

10. Creative people’s openness and sensitivity often exposes them to suffering and pain, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment.

Having only 48 hours between now and when I saw The Giver, this reminded me very clearly of the scene when Jonas, the protagonist, discovers and understands the notion of pain and war, but also love and joy, all for the first time.

I remember when I first had my pilot script read by a professional writer who didn’t know me personally. Being more or less my first completed script, I knew that it could end in disaster and I knew my hopes and dreams of a screenwriting future could be shattered in a single meeting. Of course, my future does not rest on the opinion of one person just yet, but I knew what it would do to me psychologically if I “failed.” It would be grade 11 physics all over again, when I failed my first test and thought my future had evaporated.

Going in, I thought, at worst, I’ll go back to the drawing board and take several months to recuperate. At best, this will be my green light to keep going, to keep persevering toward this goal. (Why people like me willingly desire to enter a cut-throat industry is still kind of a mystery to me, but here I am.)

As I walked into the office, I sat down, bracing myself for the worst. I should have been nervous, but I figured… this is something I better get used to regardless of the outcome.

Anyway, if my best case scenario was a green light, the response I got was a bright green flashing left-turn arrow my mom always gets too excited about. Of course, rather this arrow was more “full speed ahead to the screenwriter’s world.” So here I am pursuing it, preparing myself for the painful rejection that is sure to come, but also for the anticipation of experiencing the joy and the high that I felt that day. Madeleine Thien, thank you for giving me the keys that would ignite my Ferrari’s engine. Going to make that left turn now.

The last sentence of the article wraps it all together in a wonderfully sparkly bow: “…more than anything else, what it takes to be creative is resourcefulness and the courage not to give up.”