Creative Giants: Ally Vesterfelt

January 21, 2013

I can’t believe we are just a couple of months away from Life After Art hitting bookshelves!  To lead up to April 1, I’ve assembled a couple of blog series.  This first one, “Creative Giants,” is going to be full of guests, talking about their struggles and triumphs in their creative pursuits.  Remember, creativity comes in lots of forms.  It’s not always about traditional “creativity.”  Today, I’m really glad to kick things off with my good friend, Ally Vesterfelt.  She blogs, tweets and she and her hubs, Darrell run Prodigal Magazine, and her next book drops later this year.

Ally-vesterfeltMy whole life I’ve been accused of not listening.
In high school, it was the most persistent and embarrassing. A teacher would give an assignment; she would explain it verbally, from the front of the room. She would take notes on the white board as she was talking. She would even hand out an assignment sheet, so that there was no confusion. Then, she would release us all to do our work.
I would think about it awhile, an idea would spark, and I would get started, energetically.
But inevitably when the time came to turn in our assignments, the teacher would look at my finished product and say, “were you even listening?” 
I would have given my best thought to the assignment, worked long hours to complete it and felt a swell of pride as I stood up to present it. So when a teacher would show me how, according to the assignment sheet, I had “ignored the instructions” I would feel so ashamed.
Maybe I was just stupid, I thought to myself.
Still Not Listening 
After high school I went to college where I decided to be a music major. I had gone to a whopping six

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piano lessons, so I was pretty much a musical genius.  It took me a measly two weeks to realize that my love for music did not translate to talent.
I can still see my vocal teacher’s face as she asked me to tell her what note she was singing. My brow wrinkled, and she didn’t say it, but I could see it in here eyes: Are you even listening?
I promptly changed my major to literature.  But when I wrote a paper that I was really proud of, the professor still said, “I don’t understand this paper.  This wasn’t the assignment.”  At first, my heart sank.  I tried to explain what I was trying to communicate in my writing.
A look of understanding came across his face.
“That’s really good,” he told me. “As a reader, I just need you to bridge that gap for me. I need you to tell me how you got there.”
Bridge That Gap
And that was the first time I started to realize that all the accusations I had received my whole life about “not listening” were pointing to something, pointing to how I thought differently about things than other people. That’s not to say that I’m somehow super-special or extraordinary or better than anyone else. My brain just works differently than yours, yours works differently than mine, and creativity is about bridging the gap between my brain (my heart, my soul) and yours.
I think sometimes we get this wrong in the “creative” world, and our wrong thinking is reflected even in the fact that we think there is a “creative world,” some kind of invisible separation between people who think in a linear, analytical way, and those who think more abstractly.
We are all creative, and that part of bringing our creativity to life is “bridging the gap.” Creativity happens when we listen to people, seek to understand them and to be understood by others.
Communicating By Listening
And I don’t think we can do that without being good listeners. The best kind of art (stories, poetry, visual art) is the kind that invites you to see the humanity in someone who is very different than you.
Nowhere has this lesson become more poignant to me than in marriage.
My husband and I are both “creative” people. We also both have brains that work very differently from one another. And since we’ve been married, I’ve had more “were you even listening?” experiences than a thousand years in high school could have generated.
But ultimately, this is what sets us up to help others discover their creativity together, despite their remarkable differences. Prodigal Magazine (we hope) is the kind of place where people listen before they speak, because we believe that is the best way, the only way perhaps, to “bridge the gap” between people.
I want to become a good listener, not just to discover my own creative bridge, but to help others discover theirs.
Tell us about a “were you even listening” moment.  I promise, we’ll all listen to you!

7 responses to Creative Giants: Ally Vesterfelt

  1. I just went through this in email format. A friend thanked me for my email and as our conversation progressed I realized my email was received but skim-read at best. That was frustrating because I didn’t want to repeat myself and insult my friend but I also didn’t feel like we could have an adequate conversation under the pretense that my email had been read.

    • Katie, that’s so hard. One of the worst feelings in the world is to feel like you are not heard. Maybe that’s why we all have creative instincts. Maybe it is our way of expressing who we are to the world in a way it can’t ignore for long.

  2. Communication is so very tricky because words have different associations for different people. It is so tricky that when it comes to spoken instructions, I assume that as the speaker I am equally at fault when there is a miscommunication.

    I have a very creative daughter who sometimes doesn’t read directions or listen to mine. Sometimes, I think it is as much a failure on her part to ask questions to clarify in her mind what is required as. Whenever this happens, I usually praise the work she has given me as much as I can (which is difficult for subjects like math, which is cut-and-dried and has little scope for imagination in the lower levels) and the re-explain the assignment make sure she has opportunities to ask questions and make her re-do the assignment. And I try to tell her that it is okay to make mistakes.

    • You’re right. Communication can be so tricky. And just when you think you have it mastered with one person (or group of people) you go somewhere different, and have to re-learn everything you thought you knew.

      I think that’s part of the beauty of it though. Like art, communication changes with time and with context. Bridging the gap between you and me may get easier as I gain more skill, but it will never become easy.

  3. I have tried to communicate on Face Book with pictures, blogs and youtube to my family and friends and for most of the time, it has gone straight over their heads. I have now deactivated my account. Before I left, I asked them to send me an email to indicate if they would like to stay in touch. Wow! Do I have a clean inbox!! Thank you for sharing, it has set off some lights in my head.

  4. Ally, another thought about communication: using the same words when we speak aloud and when we e-mail someone can send very different messages. Without the nuances of vocal expression, body language, etc., a sentence or phrase can seem insistent or even harsh when read online [or in any written form]. I’ve taken to rethinking, rephrasing, or hitting ‘delete’, rather than sending words which may carry an unintended subtext.