Sunday, June 19, 2011


Meandering Creatively in the Belly of the Snake. Art by Hallelujah Truth

Hallelujah for the execution of IMAGINATION in SPRING TIME! Picture yours truly—HALLELUJAH TRUTH—guiding fifteen mature, intelligent, internationals in CREATIVE writing! Hallelujah for the celebration of diverse SOULS, expressing themselves inventively! Hallelujah for the opportunity to PLAY with English in translation! YES!?

What occurred in the Spring Session 2, 2011, CREATIVE writing class in the O’Keefe Building of the Language Institute at Georgia Tech? Halleujah confronted a MIGHTY INTENSE CHALLENGE to her belief in the POWER of CREATIVITY. Let me express it in a three-line form I teach my CREATIVE writing students to make abstractions more concrete (The first line presents an abstract word placed in a setting. The second line clothes the abstraction. The third line summarizes the action.):

Chaos clamors at the GT Language Institute in room 218,
Wardrobed in the form of CREATIVE WRITING STUDENTS,
Refusing to logoff Facebook and unplug their headphones in rebellion against their own imaginations!

Why CHAOS and REBELLION? What had gone wrong? I had optimistically walked into this CREATIVE writing class expecting to have FUN…and teach English! Instead, I confronted a most unusual configuration of gender, nationalities, and ambitions. Immediately, this class informed me of a goal that unified them all—they needed to be enrolled in Language Institute classes in order to maintain their Visa status while waiting to be admitted to US graduate and undergraduate programs. Rumor had it that my CREATIVE writing class was easy and would allow them computer access to apply to schools, fax important papers, answer emails, and surf the Internet!

Not every student was indifferent to exercising his/her imaginative mind, but overall the class “personality” was that of defiant vocal GIANTS. As I laid treasures of creative writing exercises at their feet, they recoiled into national conclaves speaking a shared language unknown to me. Natalie Goldberg—guru of process writing (losing control, going for the jugular, stopping the internal censor)—was knocked off the pedestal I had placed her on. Striving to evoke their five senses, I burned scented candles, used artistic visual images and, played international music. These students complained loudly of my tastes. The candle smelled bad. Why Indian and Mexican line drawings? How did I find this music? These criticisms were followed by an edgy mocking laughter, making me wonder how was I going to lead these students down the avenue to their own CREATIVITIES.

Confounded by their responses, I had to acknowledge I was experiencing a kind of culture shock in part because of the class demographics. I was accustomed to “confetti” classes comprised of 50 percent or more Asians, a smattering of South Americans, peppered by any one of 30 other possible nationalities. Usually, I had a pretty good balance between the genders with a healthy mix of religions and academic majors.
Spring 2, 2011 Creative Writing Class at the Language Institute. Here I am seated amongst my vibrantly defiant students minus 3 male students from Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, and Turkey. Great Energy in this photo!

This particular class was oddly disproportionate. Of my fifteen students, ELEVEN were MALE. Most of them were ENGINEERS. Nine of them were MUSLIMS from Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. Nothing is wrong with any one of these demographics. I adore experiencing cultural differences and subsequently broadening myself. However, the combination of these class characteristics resulted in a strong—albeit good-natured— “machismo” oozing into every corner of our computer lab. My “teaching voice” suddenly diminished. It seemed neither loud nor authoritative enough.

Every day, I found myself entering their classroom, using the loudest most booming voice I could summon without shouting. My bravado wilted over defiant foreheads already leaning into computers blazoning with Facebook feeds. Many couldn’t hear me because of ears securely masked with headphones. These students didn’t need to perform or pass my class; they only needed to warm their seats and get their attendance recorded.
Language Neighborhoods. Observe two students from UAE sitting together. Behind them are seated Saudi students. Not pictured here are the Korean students in front of the Emiratees. On the opposite side of the classroom are the Turkish students. The students from Togo and Taiwan sat alone.

War must be waged in the name of CREATIVITY, I told myself in the beginning. My initial strategy was to drag them away from the wall of computers to chairs forming a conversation circle. Sitting next to each other, I had them write in journals by hand. Suddenly, they seemed vulnerable without their computers shielding their bodies and faces. I had also torn them away from their language “neighborhoods,” asking them to sit next to students with different languages.

Still this social arrangement of being visible to one another without electronic devices (iphones, ipods, or headphones plugged into computers) failed to inspire IMAGINATIVE THINKING or the SHARING of IDEAS. Everyone was miserable, including me! In addition to drooping because of a lack of inspiration, students informed me that I was preventing them from developing the word processing skills they so desperately needed to succeed in graduate school. They thought we had retreated to the DARK AGES by using handwriting!


HALLELUJAH! These sentences are my mantras. I repeat them often to myself and to my brilliant paleontologist husband Chiboogamoo. I BELIEVE CREATIVITY MATTERS. Clearly these students were going to advance my BELIEFS in the importance of CREATIVIVITY! “But how?,” I asked my scientist husband who could sympathize with my engineering students. What could I do to engage these disengaged students who thought my exercises were worthless? After several discussions with Chiboogamoo, I decided to focus my writing lessons even more on the experiential world. All good writing begins with the ability to record and interpret the five senses. I would re-emphasize the sensorial world with my ENGINEERS!

While I still have a long way to go in developing a CREATIVE writing class specifically for ENGINEERS, I used two different kinds of exercises successfully. Every writing teacher knows that it is essential for students to employ the five senses: sight, taste, touch, hearing, and smell. So for the first experiential exercise, I had my students go outside the Language Institute to observe and record what their senses took in. After the students recovered from their excitement of being “freed” from the confining classroom, they succeeded in surprising themselves.
Writing observations outside in front of the Language Institute.  I was surprised  that students stayed near "home" the first time they did this assignment. The second time, I asked them to go farther afield--and to go separately!

Some of them had never sat down in Atlanta and just experienced BEING PRESENT to the sensations surrounding them. They became challenged. What was the English word to describe the cloud formations? What was the word for the sound of the wind? What were different words for the color blue? Observation and reporting collided with language learning!

In addition to using their observation skills, I asked them to be curious, to ask questions, and to reflect on what they were experiencing. Upon returning to the classroom, the writing assignment was simple. Blog your observations, questions, and reflections. They LOVED this assignment. Before class ended, the blog entries were posted (See example entries from Wounded Mind and Purple Surfboard). For one of the final class assignments, I asked the students to repeat the observation exercise, but this time to write Haikus, a simple three-lined poem consisting of 17 syllables (See Haikus from A Hopeful Emiratee, and Alexander Ottoman).

The second experiential assignment, which was also successful, was engaging my students in the MARSHMALLOW CHALLENGE (Tom Wujec, a fellow at Autodesk—a world leader in 2D and 3D technology, designed the Marshmallow Challenge to support his passion in inventive thinking and team collaboration.) In this exercise, the class is divided into small groups. Each group is given 20 pieces of dry spaghetti, a yard of masking tape, and a yard of string. They are challenged to build the tallest standing structure with the marshmallow at the very top in 18 minutes! My ENGINEERS were DELGIHTED by this exercise! This exercise woke them up and made them think CREATIVELY as they competed against each other and a limited amount of time.

At the end of 18 minutes when a winner was declared, I asked the students to write a “report” of the event, describing the goal, process, and outcome. 
THE WINNING TEAM: All five Turkish classmates worked together on the Marshmallow Challenge shown below. Arriving to class late functioned as a self-selecting team.

Then, I asked them to expand their understanding (CREATIVITY) by thinking of what they learned from the MARSHMALLOW CHALLENGE and how they could apply it in their future careers. Here is what An Unknown Researcher concluded:

The purpose of the exercise was to see how we will react and build the structure. Personally I think that this exercise was also meant to stimulate our minds into thinking on how to achieve any objects. The thing that surprised me that most was how brittle the spaghetti stick was. I learned that I am not very patient when working with my teammates.

I think that the marshmallow test can somehow relate the way we try to reach our goals in life and how to support it. Only those with a clear vision can make a structure just like in life only those who dream can make it. This experience can help me to plan my life and I shall use it in the workplace.

(See other responses from The Claymore and Hazel-Eyed Horse).


Hallelujah for WAKING UP this class! What is CREATIVE writing? Especially when occurring in a language you are acquiring for academic purposes? At the beginning of this class, these mature successful students had clear ideas about directing their learning. And, at first, I had equally clear ideas about how to direct their CREATIVITY. During our eight weeks together, we all made compromises in our established values and surprised ourselves by leaving the familiar and STRETCHING into the UNKNOWN.

At the end of the class, I experienced a few successes—at least ones I know about. One Turkish student, who has been accepted to work on a doctorate at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, thanked me for helping him become comfortable expressing his ideas in English. He had achieved one of my goals for this course! Read the subtitle to his blog, Alexander Ottoman: "Plunging into the deep ocean, drinking waters coming from all continents and cultures, combining east and west in one civilization or city-Istanbul."

Another student, one from Saudi Arabia, was disappointed when he learned I wouldn’t be teaching the class again this summer and that he couldn’t repeat it, at least with me. He told me he wanted to exert more effort this time!

And what did I learn? CREATIVITY still MATTERS. But CREATIVITY begins in different places for different people. It takes CREATIVITY to discover the where’s, how’s, and what’s for each class. I am a BETTER TEACHER for having taught this group of students. They were my TEACHERS on my CREATIVE JOURNEY!

Visit other blogs I’ve written about teaching Creative Writing a the Georgia Tech Language Institute:

The Creative Pilgrimage: Journey Matters More Than Destination (January 20, 2011)

Couraging: Speaking Heart (January 30, 2011)

I Never Thought the Burka Would Seduce Me: Understanding and Creating Metaphor 

This I Believe: Creativity Transforms (February 20, 2011)

Hallelujah for other GROWING! Hallelujah for the PILGRIMS we meet along the way! Hallelujah for the ALCHEMY of FIRESOUL BLOG with Hallelujah and tell me about your experiences with CREATIVITY!

Thursday, June 16, 2011


FLORA'S HANDS. Flora frames the "Shin," a symbol signifying God, on her piece, "Divide the Waters." 

Hallelujah for the SPIRIT! Hallelujah for ART! Hallelujah for those who express their JOURNEY of the HEART in SPIRITUAL ART! In the middle of May, I had the good fortune to interview Flora Rosefsky (see her amazingly rich website) at her studio in Sycamore Place Gallery, Decatur, Georgia, USA. Surrounded by Flora’s old and new, small and large, original and reproductions was intensely pleasurable for me. We joyously discussed her fruitful SPIRITUAL ART PILGRIMAGE for my fifth SAP interview for my blog COFFEE WITH HALLELUJAH!

Flora Rosefsky in her studio at Sycamore Place Gallery, Decatur, Georgia, USA

HALLELUJAH: Give me your personal definition of ART.

FLORA: Being imaginative and creative in a way to express ideas and feelings in a visual way, including music, poetry and theatre. Art is a very powerful energy.

I don’t separate art as a subject. It is like who I am and is a part of me. I see things visually. If you tell me directions to get somewhere, I have to make a map. If I attend a lecture, I have to write it down.


FLORA: I like the word spirituality because it covers more than just religion. Spirituality beautifies and gives another level of appreciation to an every day moment. It is a kind of sensitivity that raises experience up a notch. Every day, I see something new and different. Spirituality is not equal to religion; it is more of a philosophy.


FLORA: In the Jewish religion, you are born into a particular “tradition.” Hindus are born into a caste. But there is a kind of randomness. Religions allow people to convert, or I could have been raised Catholic. But because I was born a Jewish person, we are people of the Book. Because there is so much emphasis on the Word, Judaism is a religion that is very fluid. Ask three questions, get 4 answers, and get three more questions.

I believe in interfaith. I meet with women from different religions at Rock Spring Presbyterian Church. We attend lectures on faith, read books, and go on field trips to mosques and Hindu temples.

Instead of saying we should tolerate each other, I say we should appreciate each other. I don’t force my religion onto others or say that Judaism is “the” way. I appreciate knowing other ways and being kind to others. Considering the turmoil and unrest in the world, we need to have more interfaith dialogues and find out the positive about each other’s religion.

HALLELUJAH: How do your spirituality and religion fit together?

FLORA: Well in my earlier work, my religion became the source of the subject matter. It was very basic about the holidays and how I celebrate them with my family. It was personal.
PASSOVER. Here in marker and pen on paper, Flora Rosefsky depicts the Passover seder. At this time, family and friends gather around the table to eat symbolic foods and retell the story of The Exodus. Flora has created 12 folk art drawings showing traditional Jewish Life-cycle events, festivals, and holidays. This image actually depicts her family and friends using their family dishes. Flora is seated on the right at the end of the table. See her other traditional drawings at this link.

JEWISH WEDDING. Dancing to the Hora, family and friends hoist the bride and groom up on two chairs while they hold onto a handkerchief. Again, Flora depicts a personal scene from her life. This shows her daughter's wedding. The handkerchief is based on a real one with its own fascinating story.

Then I started using parts of the “text.” At that time, the Torah was not illuminated to the extent it is today. I could be doing the interpretation of my religion and text forever.

LET THERE BE LIGHT. “According to many scientists, the beginning of our universe was created billions of years ago. In a more literary and metaphorical sense, according to the sacred text of Torah, we are led to believe that the beginning of our world came about with the story of creation. On the first ‘day’ God created light from a severe and totally black void.” Flora Rosefsky’s explanation of this piece on her website, which is exceptionally well written and is a wonderful destination for any Spiritual Art Pilgrim.

The spirituality part is taking something to another level.

HALLELUJAH: What is that “something”?

FLORA: Well, my son would always ask, “What is the meaning of life?” There is a lot of mystery in life. For example, why do bad things happen to people, why are we on this earth, for what?

I try to make the days count by doing good deeds and being a good person.

HALLELUJAH: Can you give me an example in your ART of how you have explored the MYSTERY

FLORA: The spirituality element is in this piece, “Divide the Waters.” These words were written 3,000 years ago, yet we still find the mystery in “dividing the waters.” Think of how the Mississippi is flooding in Tennessee and Louisiana right now. That force and power of nature is incredible! How do you deal with that? How is that expressed?
DIVIDE THE WATERS. Flora Rosefsky made this piece in contemplation of the second day of creation, a universal narrative that she says is shared by Judaism, Christianity, Islam and other faiths and traditions. 

I go back to my spirituality and my religion. We can’t be too secure in where we are living. There is this concept of impermanence. I get inspiration from Judaism or the Old Testament. We are still on a journey.

HALLELUJAH: You have also pursued the theme of “shelter and sanctuary” in your ART.

FLORA: Yes, I build a Sukkah every year on our porch. I work on
making sense out of a very chaotic world. My spirituality grounds me a little bit more than I would otherwise be.

SUKKAH. A banner Flora made in 2003 based on the Biblical Commandment to dwell in Sukkah for seven days.

SUKKAH ON PAPER. In another depiction of the Sukkah using ephemera found paper, gouache, and paper cutouts, Flora Rosefsky captures her family’s tradition of making a temporary booth. Here the roof is covered with corn stalks but her family can still see the sky and the full moon. See other work in her Ritual Series.

HALLELUJAH: What is the connection between the ART you make and your spirituality?

FLORA: There is a huge connection because I am message driven to a point that I want that message to come through in my work. I want to express the depth of a certain idea where viewers can “see” my interpretation instead of only reading the words.

I do love using paper from my family that may have been thrown away. For example, by incorporating papers from my father-in-law, mother, or uncle in my art connects me to them and their lives. My father-in-law never threw anything away. His precious journals and writing adds another level to my work.

HALLELUJAH: Your family seems to play a role in your ART and SPIRITUALITY.

FLORA: My family is top priority in my life—my husband, children, and grandchildren. This is who I am. I am a wife, mother, and grandmother. And there’s the spirituality of who I am, which goes into my art, like my work in the “shelter and sanctuary” series. It expresses how precious this life is.

I think also—as I get older—in numbers. I’m in a pretty good decade now—the 70s! It is meaningful to think about the legacy I’m going to leave behind. My visual art is something that will stay after I am gone. They are visual statements of who I am to the people that I have loved.

HALLELUJAH: In what way does your ART enhance your SPIRITUALITY?

FLORA: There is a Hebrew commandment—Hiddur Mitzvah, which means to beautify one’s place of worship or a ritual item. Fulfilling that commandment is fulfilling personally.

For instance, I worked on the stained glass windows for the synagogue in Roswell. It is extremely thrilling to have work in a place of worship where thousands of people will see it.  Once in a while I will go out to Roswelll and sit there. Having work in a public space is not like having work in a home.

STAINED GLASS WINDOWS. “A Community Embracing Torah” by Flora Rosefsky at the Temple Kehillat Chaim in Roswell, Georgia. See other images.
I do a lot of Judaic work for my family and home to make things more spiritually artistic. For example is that Tzedukah box right there.

Flora points to a small aluminum square container with a coin slot in the top indicating it is the Tzedukah box. It has one of her images on it.

Tzedukah means righteousness—to do the right thing. We put money in the Tzedukah every Friday on the Shabbat. When our Tzedukah box gets filled, we discuss as a family what we are going to do with the money. We research causes and make a decision together.

HALLELUJAH: Has SPIRITUALITY always been a source of your ARTMAKING?  Why? If not, when did the SPIRITUALITY emerge in your ART?

FLORA: I don’t think it was always. In the beginning, I was sitting on a park bench drawing with magic markers while my children were riding a carousel. That wasn’t spiritual.

It was after my first trip to Israel, which was very profound. Emotions come to you that you didn’t think were there. It is very powerful—this connection to religion and history. It transformed me.

My family started doing things differently, like building a Sukkah. I wanted my artwork to have more meaning. I became active in my Jewish community center. I’m a reader, and the more I did research in my synagogue, one thing led to another.

HALLELUJAH: Who (artists, authors, friends, etc.) do you consider influential in the way you think, act, and make ART?

FLORA: I have to give a lot of credit to a teacher, James Ridlon, who is an art professor at Syracuse University.  He taught a course to Binghamton, New York area art teachers so they could get credit for a master’s. Because I was the only one in class not an art teacher, I was called the “civilian.”

I was like a child discovering a part of me that I had never really pushed. I had done art as a child, but I never had confidence that I could really “do” art. I was like a sponge in this class. Professor Ridlon was happy I had not been through the academic route. He thought I was blank slate almost. I was very intuitive, and he wanted me to have my own voice. I took three classes with him. When he finished with me, he told me that I needed to continue. He was the one that told me I was an artist. Because of him, I took more art classes.

HALLELUJAH: What is your purpose for making ART?

FLORA: Does there have to be a purpose? It is like breathing. This is what I do. (Flora throws her hands into the air.) I can’t think of not doing art. I like documenting. If I am not doing a show, I am doodling. Art is a way to communicate in a visual way. To make people think. 

In the 1950s, women had so few choices. My daughters are different. Now, I’m doing things that probably a 20-year-old would be doing today. I’m living my life in reverse. I have my own studio, my independence, my own work. The beautiful thing about being an artist, is there is no retirement.

I have this medical condition with my hands. When I can’t use them in the way I am accustomed to, I will find another way to make art. Matisse started making cutouts when he couldn’t paint any more.

I feel fortunate that I’m artist. When I wake up in the morning, there is a sense of fulfillment.
PERSONAL SANCTUARY. Using a found 1940s tablecloth, newspaper, acrylic paint and pen, Flora Rosefsky expresses her sense of finding sanctuary within her own home leaving behind the outside world of chaos and unpredictability. Flora in her studio in Decatur, Georgia, USA.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Heaps of heartfelt gratitude to Flora Rosefsky, who is such a loving generous SOUL. After our interview, she had me join her for a meeting of the Women’s Caucus for the Arts of Georgia and supported me in becoming a member. Flora mentors many of the artists at Sycamore Place Gallery.  Always, I lovingly thank and praise my partner Chiboogamoo for his eternal support of my Hallelujah endeavors and sustaining patience when assisting me with all things technical.
COLLAGE WEDDING. Versatile in her perceptions and execution of a theme, here Flora Rosefsky depicts a Jewish Wedding using collage. Notice the glass in this image.  The groom breaks a glass at the end of a marriage ceremony to depict the destruction of the temple that occurred thousands of years ago.

That’s Coffee with Hallelujah! SOUL BLOG with me and tell me what excites your SPIRIT when you wake up in the morning! See the first four SAP blogs: Cecelia Kane, Robey Tapp, Karen Phillips, and Carol Ruckdeschel.