By Wendy Liscow, Program Officer
Last week, Steven Slater became the new poster boy for every stressed, overwhelmed, and harried person in America when he activated the literal and metaphorical emergency slide to escape his job as a JetBlue steward. Every news outlet covered the story, some appealing to our common frustrations with airlines and others focusing on worker liberation from an unhappy or stressful job situation. All identified with the feeling of living on the edge of collapse.
A recent article in the New York Times suggests that there could be other alternatives to taking Slater’s dramatic career-ending route and even increase the happiness quotient in our lives. In fact, the stark realities of the economic downturn have yielded some unexpected positives in American’s lives as they have had to save more, spend less and simplify their lives. There is a raft of research suggesting that accumulating more money and more “stuff” does not yield more happiness, and people are now shifting priorities and investing in experiences that have a greater happiness return.
At Dodge, we have the honor to support many nonprofits who spend every day working to help people access these experiences. Last week I visited one of these self-renewing opportunities in action. Every summer for the past 35 years, Arts Horizons hosts two Artist/Teacher Institutes (aTi), one held at Rutgers Camden Campus and the other at William Paterson University. I had the pleasure of experiencing the fruits of 40 teachers, artists and administrators’ two weeks of labor in intensive workshops focusing on book arts, installation art, Latin dance, poetry, memoir writing and glass painting.
WiredPRNews.com interviewed Jenifer Simon, Arts Horizons’ Director of New Jersey Programs, Partnerships and aTi, about how the summer opportunities allowed participants to explore their creativity and gain new perspective on their artistic or teaching practice. “For teachers, aTi is an opportunity to become ‘the student,’ while connecting with a community of peers…aTi helps teachers find their inner artist, and then helps them bring this creativity into the classroom. Many teachers comment that aTi gives them a new lease on life for teaching.” You can get a 30 second taste of the program by watching this terrific coverage of the Camden experience on NY1
It is inspiring to see a group of people pay money and dedicate two weeks of their summer to doing something that deliberately takes them outside of their comfort zone. Yet, at the end of the intense immersion in art making, they were ecstatic with the results.
Dr. Donald Ford is a practicing veterinarian, a professor, and a dapper dresser who was able to take his passion for protecting endangered species and create two installation pieces that explored the relationship between the demand for endangered animal products and importation of these products and the people who peddle them.
Dapper Dr. Ford (left) and his chair (right)
Sarah Kaplan is an elementary school teacher and she discovered how to make an explosion page book to help her to teach about the color wheel. The color wheel moved in unimaginable ways taking all sorts of shapes. I was enthralled by it; imagine what a six year old would think! What I loved most was when the other teachers gathered around Sarah to discuss all the opportunities the new design opened up to them, building ideas upon ideas. It was creativity in motion.
Sarah Kaplan and her color wheel
The entire glass painting class learned about this ancient craft and paid homage to the history of the great glass artists by creating a window of saints, but replaced the faces of the saints with images of their present classmates to whom they had grown to respect and love. It is stunning.
Perhaps your internal voice is resisting saying something like, “That’s fine and dandy if you have two weeks to spare and the money to take advantage of this kind of opportunity.” Well, Christine E. Salvatore, an AP English teacher in Egg Harbor Township school district and a second year aTi graduate, suggests an antidote to this pushback through the poem she wrote in her poetry workshop. Please enjoy it and I, for one, am going to make it a practice until I can schedule the flamenco class at Alborada Spanish Dance Theatre and Bikram Hot Yoga I have been wanting to take for two years.
Praise for the Ordinary
Do not blame your mundane life
on piles of laundry, unmade beds,
and the never ending heaps of mail.
You can, without fail, find pleasure
in the ordinary, contrary to what
you’ve always been told.
We build our lives task by task,
so do not ask where all the time
has gone. We should learn
to praise each day. Tonight
instead of our quiet waltz
of dirty dishes and leftovers,
I’ll suggest a jitterbug.
Wine glasses raised, and barefoot,
We’ll dance on the living room rug.
– Christine E. Salvatore
Let us know what your prescription for stress is and how you increase your happiness factor.