Please welcome TJ Hirst who writes at TJ Hirst.com and was also kind enough to be the guest judge for this month's Write-Away Contest.
I had the pleasure of speaking with TJ several months ago and it was the kind of pleasant conversation that left me wanting more. I have the feeling that if I lived a bit closer to Minnesota (which at one point I did) I'd be hanging out with her all the time. Probably in her fort with her three cute kids and her designing husband (she was full of sympathy when we were going through our remodel as she and her husband have built their own home and knew exactly what I was dealing with).
What else can I say? She's a lot like me: pale, no rhythm and likes to garden and write--apparently I have a long lost sister living in the midwest. Her answers here are wonderful . . . I agree with her on so many things but she said it better than I could
Recently in a post you mentioned feeling stressed and fearful—would you elaborate on what’s made you feel that way lately?
I’m a pretty sensitive person and feel any change in my core. I like to plan my life, but just like everybody else, I can’t control it. Lately, changes in the economy touched my husband’s business and our livelihood at the same time as we faced changes in our normally good health. Juggling the unexpected initially causes me to stress and fear the unknowns that may lie ahead. I write to illuminate the experience for myself so I can learn from it. Sometimes that process gets me through and on to the next life lesson. Other times, writing provides respite and calm to be able to face it.
You’ve lived in Minnesota for a while now, does it feel like home or do you still think of another place as “home”?
I’m a Midwest girl at heart, growing up in St. Louis, Missouri. When I settled in Minnesota with my immediate family nine years ago, it felt like an extension of those Midwest roots. I played the memory game with my children recently to see how far back they remember. Only our oldest daughter recalled a time when we didn’t live here. For the present, what they consider home is home for me. That doesn’t mean I won’t give in to my wanderlust once they leave home, though.
You talk quite a bit about creativity in your blog—what benefits do you get from different kinds of creativity? i.e. from writing or gardening or nurturing your family?
Creativity stirs my perspective. It’s not a product, it’s a process. I start with a few raw ingredients like a new thought, a conversation, some materials or a need and allow the key parts to mix with what I know or already have. Then I ponder, brainstorm, and analyze my discoveries and shape them into a purposeful endeavor.
Creativity manifests itself in all aspects of my life—writing, cooking and entertaining, gardening, home décor and personal style, family and personal relationships—and sparks new connections and purpose for me.
Are there areas of creativity you’d still like to try or learn?
My children are all musically talented. I’d like to be, but I don’t have rhythm. I’ve tried to play piano, dance, sing or lead music, but I just can’t keep the beat. I’ve taken steps to learn, but I’m not there yet.
Your husband is a designer and you’ve survived building a house together—is there anything you’d offer as a suggestion for those facing a creative project together? Particularly a remodel or building a home?
When my husband and I receive a catalog in the mail, we independently find the same products on our wish list. I will say, “Did you see the lamp on page 30?” He might add, “The one with the aluminum base?” And of course, I’ll say, “Yes. Isn’t that perfect for your office?”
We did this over and over for so many years that I didn’t hesitate to plunge into building a house with him since our tastes are so similar. However, I never imagined we’d find the big difference was in our working styles, and I didn’t know how to adjust mine or work with his. That was tough to find out, especially in the middle of the project.
Maybe I had been reading too much Fountainhead, but I didn’t think creativity could handle compromise. I figured we’d gone through the design process and we just had to steer our project to it’s conclusion, but when challenges with our contractors, budget and timing changed our course, I learned that flexibility and compromise in a marriage and a shared creation are essential to moving forward.
After moving to Minnesota and making it through some Midwest winters now, what are your favorite and least favorite things about the place you live?
I don’t particularly like the long, dark, bitter cold winters. Everyone seems to retreat inside themselves, not just their houses, and it’s a bit lonely and depressing. On the up side, these drastic conditions reveal some of the most beautiful landscapes of snow and ice over the forests and give me time to be productive indoors. Now that summer’s here, the mild weather and prolific lakes draw everyone back out to enjoy it and each other. We won’t go back inside for months.
Do you have a favorite post that you’ve done? What subjects are your favorite to write about?
I love to interview and write about other people’s lives. Last year I did a lot of interviews, but I’m putting that on hold to focus on writing fiction this year, which is still about people, just a different approach.
I also like to write about spirituality because I believe those moments of insight we receive when we’re still and pondering life tend to motivate our more active pursuits.
Is there anything you’re looking forward to this summer? Any plans or events you’re anticipating?
My 15-year-old daughter is getting her driver’s learning permit next month. I’m not sure I’m looking forward to it, but I think it’s a milestone in her life that signals some big changes in mine.
How do you most enjoy spending a quiet afternoon if you happen to have one? Any luxuries you like to indulge in?
Reading and gardening. I don’t consider either of those luxuries but both are ways I can escape with few resources drawn from anyone else and come away with a contribution to my mind or the landscape.
Your children are getting older now—what changes have you seen in your parenting style as they’ve grown?
I’m much less controlling than I was when my children were little. I think that comes in a comfort level with my own personality but also in a desire to give them more freedom to choose for themselves and allow them to feel the consequences of their choices. While I don’t think parenting young children should be controlling, they do need a lot of structure and discipline in the early years. Then, as they gain experience, at ages 7-10, we can ease back gradually and give them room to practice. That becomes an even bigger step back as they move into the teen years. It’s a gradual process of teaching, modeling, practicing, evaluating what you’d like them to know before they head off on their own. And it goes so quickly.
What do you do to get your focus back in life? When you feel your life a little out of balance how do you remedy this?
Two keys things I do to get focus—pray and do something for someone else—which are really just part of the two great commandments to love God and love others.
What things do you try to emulate from your own childhood? What things do you try to avoid as a parent?
My parent’s gave us a foundation in the principles of work. We had jobs and responsibilities, and I appreciate the passion that instilled in me to do my best. I expect my own children to help in the kitchen before and after dinner, clean their own rooms and bathrooms, and help maintain the inside and outside of our house.
I came from a large family—seven children. We had big family dinners and memorable family vacations, but I often felt grouped together as a whole and not an individual. I consciously try to connect in an emotional and nurturing way individually with each of my three children every day.
How do you promote creativity in your children?
At first, when they were young, I just exposed them to all kinds of things—music, walks, coloring, reading, constructive materials. I communicated my belief in their potential. I didn’t talk to them at a lower level of vocabulary or tone of voice or subject material. We encouraged them to stretch themselves by giving them gifts that were always an age level just above their own.
Now that they are teens and pre-teens, I provide some structure and resources for creative pursuits like piano lessons, instruments and art and building supplies, but the most important thing I give them is unstructured time. That encourages them to use what they have to create something out of nothing, which leads to something to do or something to pursue.
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