#vted Reads with Jason Broughton

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Lovely listeners, we have such a treat for you today. Joining us on this episode of the show is Vermont State Librarian Jason Broughton. Now, when I asked him to be on the show, I also invited him to choose the book we’d be discussing, and he chose the wonderful graphic novel ‘Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me’, by Ellen Forney. And I learned so much, both from the novel, and from Jason Broughton.

A content note for this episode: as the title of Ellen Forney’s book suggests, we’re going to talk about mental illness. If you’re not in a space for that right now, we still love you but want you to take care of yourself, and understand completely.

That said, we had a wonderful conversation, about art, about teaching, creativity, Led Zeppelin, getting to know your parents as an adult, and what, specifically, the Vermont State Librarian gets up to.

And on that note: I’m Jeanie Phillips, and this is VT ed  Reads, a podcast by, for and with Vermont educators.

Let’s chat.

Jeanie: Thanks so much for joining me, Jason, tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Jason:  Hello, my name is Jason Broughton.  I am so thrilled to be with you today to talk about a book.  And this case is a very interesting book.  But about me, per se, I am your State Librarian for Vermont, and Commissioner of the Department of Libraries.  And within that, my role is to assist our department, assist the libraries of the State and we act as a State library for State government. We like to call ourselves “the library for libraries”.

Jeanie:  Well, as a librarian I’m super excited to have you on! I feel like I’m having a celebrity on, so thanks so much for joining us. Do you want to talk a little bit before we jump into this book? Do you want to talk a little bit about what you’re reading right now? What’s on your nightstand?

Jason:  Oh my goodness. Well, right now, there’s a couple of things. And one of them I’ll probably bring back up.

One of them is a book, can’t think of the author right now [EDITORIAL NOTE: Jenny Lawson] but it’s called Let’s Pretend This Never Happened.  And it really is a conversation about a woman talking about the experiences of her father.  I haven’t finished it completely because it’s quite amusing.

She brings out her history in which her father was a taxidermist. You have to imagine him, she says, basically, in the middle of the night going out or something hit an animal like roadkill he’s dragging it home.  He’s reconstructing it.  Once she talked about an example of she was reaching in the refrigerator, and he had put a snake in there so it could die and she was trying to find a sandwich.  So, she pulls out this half alive, half frozen snake. It’s a weird thing.

But it’s really a conversation about when people think they know their parents, and they tend to want to say, “Well, you don’t understand: my parents are much worse than yours.”

Jeanie:  That sounds like a lot of fun, actually!

Jason:  It’s a really comical book, yes. It’s really light-hearted and funny. And it just makes you get  a sense of: if you think your parents — which we all do at a certain point in our lives — don’t understand you as an adolescent. As you age, you’re like, “Wait a minute, my parents had to be teens as well. What am I talking about? They too had these situations!”  So, she kind of helps people recalibrate their understanding of their parents a bit when they want to complain. I know my parents were very different, but my father never took on taxidermy to explain things to me, so…

Jeanie:  This sounds like a great gift for my son, actually.

Jason:  Correct.

Jeanie:  You said you were reading something else?

Jason:  Yes, I have a book that was recommended because of the visualing images of it; it’s much more sobering.  It talks about the transatlantic slave trade, but it’s done through imagery. The Middle Passage: White Ships / Black Cargo, by Tom Feelings. But it really is just a visual book. And the way Feelings draws it — going from the time of people being loaded onto boats from Africa, and then coming out to the New World and other parts of South America or even Great Britain — it’s just a moving, captivating book.

And that goes into, I guess, parts of our conversation today. To talk about books that are filled with imagery, but particularly graphic novels. Which is something some people want to say, “Well, isn’t that like a comic book? Sort of, kind of?”

But we now have this new plethora of formats I call “visualization-style books”: visual style materials that people are embracing.

Because sometimes things can be text-heavy, but graphic novels are in a whole host of items. I mean, they now have all the superheroes and some others.  And then you have things like William Shakespeare as a graphic novel. I mean, you can find anything now! That was so refreshing, but stunning to see like, “Oh! Graphic novels are going into places where comic books did not go!” Where it can be a social topic, like we’re going to talk about today.

Jeanie:  I love that. And this is my regular, like, annual reminder to folks that reading a graphic novel is reading.

Jason:  Yes, it is.  *laughs* Yes, it is. Very much.

Jeanie:  Graphic novels are books and they have text. For me, especially, reading a graphic novel can be more challenging than reading plain text, because I have to slow down and look at the images and make sense of them. And so, this is just my reminder to folks that when kids are reading graphic novels? They’re reading.

Jason:  And I do want to add a plug. If people want to take it one step further real quickly: what a lot of people might not know is that they do have access to a wonderful tool and resource that you probably know about called The Center for Cartoon Studies.

And if you actually want to learn how to draw, this is a wonderful way because they do a lot of things that go through how to deal with emotion.  And right now, they actually created a graphic novel talking about COVID, and how to help your child go through COVID and talk about a variety of items.

They also did one with democracy, because this year has been an interesting conversation, talking about: do we all understand what civics is? Because people have forgotten about civics.

Jason Broughton democracy

So, if you want to even just take small steps and saying, well, I’m not an artist, I would highly suggest connecting with the Center For Cartoon Studies, because they have a lot of cheap to high-end programs if you’re interested in doing it.

But it’s a way to also allow yourself expression. To kind of say, “Well, this is how I’m feeling”, and you get to draw a little angry person and figure out how to make it look like you’re angry. This is therapeutic as well.

Jeanie:  Absolutely. That sounds fabulous.

So, often when I do this podcast, I reach out to a guest with a book and say, hey, you have a lot of expertise on this, you want to talk to me about this book? This was different. I reached out to you and said choose a book. Let’s talk about it. So, do you want to talk about why you chose this graphic memoir, Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me?

Jason:  Yes! Well, I would say last year, this time I was here. As I like to say it now  — like all parts of our state library staff have talked to me it’s as if we’re kind of like, in the Hunger Games, if people know how that’s dystopic future.  And they say it this way: we’d be talking about anything prior to COVID as, “In the BeforeTimes…” *laughs* The BeforeTimes.

So, I in the BeforeTimes, which was last year during the summer, I went out on a date with a wonderful woman. And we went up to Montreal, and we were there to see Trevor Noah. She had gotten tickets and whatever else.

And yes, we had a wonderful time going to the massive hall there to see him. But the weird part was this: we tend to be very outgoing, sociable people. And we were in line with hundreds of people. And we were just talking about library stuff and work, and the couple behind us started to listen to us. We didn’t know that and the next thing you know, we kind of turn to them, in conversation with them.

Before we knew it, they are like, would you like to come over, both of you for brunch tomorrow?

At first we were like, who does this? We could be murdered, you know, in Montreal; I know this. But we’re still having a good time, so we thought about it. We thought about the next day and we said, you know, let’s just go. So, we actually brought some cheese and wine, and we met with them.

And they’re a biracial couple, and so they had biracial children. We ended up in this wonderful conversation with these Canadians. And it was just an amazing experience.

But in that however, we decided before we departed, we went out to a store.  And one of the children was talking about dating a young lady. Because he was just about to go to college. And we were just listening.  And that’s not the reason why they wanted to talk to us. He’s just sharing.

But as my date listened to him, she said, “So you’re dating a young lady that you think might have mental illness.”

I was like, “Oh.”

And the librarian part of her kicked in and the store, she looked around and immediately went to a clerk (she knew how to speak French). Before I knew it, the person came out with this book I have never seen. Now I knew graphic novels, as a librarian, but I’d never seen this.  Before I knew it she says,

“If you trust me, even though we’ve only met each other like, today, I highly suggest that you read this book. It’ll help you understand her (because you shared some things with me personally).  And if you agree, feel free to give her this book because it might help her.”

Before I knew it, they wrote back to us many, many months later: that book helped him understand that [his girlfriend] was manic-depressive, and what he would need to expect.

As far as I know — I had lost track with them through social media in a while — but the unique part of this before connecting with you, about four weeks ago, I decided to reach out to the couple who was in Canada. I said it’s been almost a year. I asked, well, how you doing with COVID?  And we talked, and the mother said, you know, they’re still together. And I was like, oh, wow!

So, that book was a recommendation. And I was so stunned. There’s a graphic novel for manic depression.

And so, when I got back, you know, just coming across the border to Vermont, I immediately ordered the book. I said let me read this and see what this is like, because I don’t believe graphic novels are now taking on medical topics. But they are, and this book was so stunning that I was shocked to realize that someone had put it into a graphic novel, their experience of living with manic depression.

Jeanie:  I love that story. Thank you so much for sharing it.  So, I just want to put a note out there for our listeners that this is a graphic novel; it’s in comic form.

It is not for young people. It’s an adult book. For many reasons.

But I just want to put that out there for folks: don’t go buying this for your middle school aged kid.  This is a book we’re talking about to inform us to think about it but it’s really for adults to read, much older teenagers.  Yeah.

Jason:  I fully agree with that because while the topic is not necessarily adult in nature; children do have forms of manic depression. But this book is really geared to adult populations, or conversations with adults in navigating some interesting things with the disorder.

And once you examine it, you will see why. This is a really wonderful book that will give you insight into what people *might* experience, based on how they’re thinking. That can be very surprising.  But it was definitely stunning to see like, oh, this is all here.

From when you’re in mania, think about it: you’re going to have an excess state of how you think about life. You might do some really risk-taking things. And that is of an adult nature.

And then the depressive side in which in some cases, the person just can’t even move. Like, they’re in the room or on a couch eight to ten hours a day. Didn’t get up and eat, just sat there. So, it’s an interesting book.

Jeanie:  Yeah. So, let’s introduce our listeners to Ellen Forney a little bit, who is both the author and illustrator of this book and its main character. It’s about her life.  Do you want to talk a little bit about who Ellen is?

Jason:  Oh my goodness! Well, she is on the back.  I can read that for people to let you know.  What was stunning to realize — she has a wonderful image on the back of the book — is that she is a lifelong cartoonist.

It is a national award-winning book with that, and she collaborated on one called The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. She was nominated for an Eisner Award in comic books for I Love Led Zeppelin — for those who know who that is, it’s a band of a certain era. I still listen to Led Zeppelin interestingly. She’s also the recipient of The Seattle Stranger Genius Award in Literature.  She teaches comics courses at Cornish College and Arts in Seattle, Washington.

She has been on the East Coast a couple of times. One of my dreams would be to try to see if she would come and talk to the library community and to Vermonters about her items, because the book is also a former bestseller.

And you, I mean, you get it, I’m quite sure you will see why.

You will probably be stunned to realize that this would be something that somebody could put to drawing with emotion and in a way that is completely understandable to where it goes into refreshingly surprising, to absolutely stunning.

Jeanie:  Yeah! So, this book captures me right away because she begins the book with getting a tattoo.

A tattoo.

Within the first couple of pages. And I was sucked in. I wanted to see that tattoo — which I did get to see eventually in the book — but that tattoo process really begins this spell of mania that she’s having.

Jason:  It does.

Jeanie:  And when she’s in mania, she feels super productive. She’s really connected, right? And she is the life of the party.

Jason: She basically says in one part, I am with the universe.  And is so elated. Like she and her mind believe she understands everything.

Now, some people would say, “Well, I feel like that sometimes.” There’s a little bit of a difference in this because as you go through the book the first part is as you just mentioned.

It doesn’t kind of show you exactly what’s going on in her life but she seems extremely happy.  But as you go further on, and things start to hit more realistic tones.  It’s: “Why did I do that?  I shouldn’t have done this.” And you get to see what it might feel like when someone feels:

“I’m on top of the world.  I can bake 40 cakes right now.  And I can definitely do golf at the same time.”

And it’s: no, you can’t.  That’s impossible.  You need to calm down type of feel.

Jeanie:  So, yeah! And so then when she hits these depressive states —

Jason: Ugh.

Jeanie: –like you talked about where she, like, shuts down. She feels like her productivity goes way, way, way, way down.  She’s not making art, she’s not connecting with people. And she gets in this really stuck place.  She starts to question some of the things that were so good about her mania, right?  Like she starts to realize like, “Ohhhh, it just *felt* good.

Jason:  Yeah, maybe I shouldn’t have gone to the tattoo artist on a whim and said draw this on my back. *laughs*

Jeanie:  I don’t know if she regrets the tattoo, but she does regret other things, right?

She has this, like definite swing, and she starts to seek out help.

I think I just want to pause for a minute and say, like, one of the things that I loved excessively about this book was her courage and her vulnerability and her willingness to come out as bipolar and be so honest about her experience. Because I think that in our world takes a lot.  It takes a lot.  It takes guts to do that.

Jason:  When you say that, I think one of the wonders that I loved about it too is early on, you realize she realized something wasn’t right. And that she needed to talk to someone.

She wasn’t trying to self-medicate.  Well, she kind of was.  For example, when she started meeting with the therapist, the person sat her down in a nice way.  And she’s still kind of up and elated.  And it was interesting to see well, how might a person take the news that they’re ill?

Jason Broughton

I know what would happen if someone told me that oh, Jason, I’m so sorry, you have cancer or you have liver failure or your brain has this tumor.  In your mind, you know how you would take that.  But when someone has to tell you: “I need to sit down and tell you this.  Given what you told me, I believe you might actually have a mental disorder. ”

And you immediately begin to see her saying I’m not crazy.  And she’s like, “I’m not saying you’re crazy.  I am saying I think you’re manic depressive and you might be put on medication”.

And then you see the conversation: I don’t want medication, I heard medication does blah, blah, blah to this, my creativity is going to go down.

So, it gives you this embodiment where the stigma of any mental illness comes in the minute someone says you are not considered what I like to question as normal.

I personally believe we are all not normal. We all have our quirks.

So, when you hear people sit there and say you’re not normal?  Well, let’s really talk about what you’re saying because *I* think it’s abnormal. You’re telling me I’m not normal?

But Forney is fearful of being labeled that way because she knows how society will see her if she has to openly let people know that she has a mental disorder. Because when you hear that people think, “Oh, you’re crazy.”

Jeanie:  Yeah. She really worries about whether people will trust her and the judgments they’ll make of her.

I love that you drew that parallel to other forms of illness? And I think about, you know, in many ways what she’s going through parallels that, right?  Like, she’s not sure. She has to go through years of drug treatment to figure out what drug, right?

Jason:  That’s an interesting journey too! I was stunned by that because you think, but as probably for a lot of things and any disorder, you go from a standpoint of not having that you watch somebody and you realize, “Wow, I thought you would find a drug within a couple weeks and you’d be better.”

It took her years to find the appropriate drug to get her to be stable, she says, and it was just interesting.

Jeanie:  And combinations of drugs, right?  And the side effects she had to deal with. It’s quite a journey.  And that can happen for physical illnesses, right?  It might take a couple tries.  I have friends who are going through multiple cancer treatments, right?  And it takes a lot to go through that.  But it’s a little bit different. But I think we have this notion that it would be a quick fix.

Jason:  That’s what I thought, too.  And when you said about the cancer, I will give you something that it’s slightly humorous but it’s also slightly sad.

When I was younger, an aunt of mine ended up having cancer and she survived until it was naturally time for her to go. But I would never forget my mother was talking to me and my brother, and my father was at the table.

I grew up in South Carolina, very rural. But think about how we talk about disorders of a certain period.  And how in some cases, this is still done.

I will never forget sitting there at the table with my mother.  She says, I want to tell you about your aunt.

And you knew it was serious because the voice is a little bit low and slow.

When she said it like this, I’m eating, my brother’s looking at me and we’re like, “Oh, this is going to be horrible.”

My mother leaned over to us and said she has cancer, in a whisper.

If you knew me, as a child, I had a scientific mind, I later got a degree in biology.  But I didn’t have any emotion. I looked at my mother and I said, “I don’t understand why you’re whispering. It’s just us four in this house, right?  Why are you whispering?”

And like, my aunt was not there. But it let me know when I was older, I told somebody that same story and they said you have to understand that is how people thought.

Like, when you had cancer, it was, Shh, you can’t talk about it, you know you can’t. 

I was like, “But can’t you just say, ‘Oh, I’m so, sorry, you have cancer’?”

It’s like no, you had to almost whisper it. You have cancer, shh, don’t talk.

Jeanie:  You’re making me realize we’ve come a long way, right?  But I think that what Ellen’s point is in this book is pushing us to come a little further, especially around mental illness.

Jason:  I agree. I agree.

Jeanie:  So, I’d love to this as a way to step into the shoes of somebody who’s dealing with a serious mental illness and like, see what the journey is like?

But part of her journey is specifically about: will I still be creative if I treat my bipolar disorder?

Because creative people are — and I’m using air quotes here ‘crazy’, right?  Like there’s this this stereotype or this notion that part of their creativity, that part of Van Gogh’s creativity came from his mental illness.

Jason:  I fully agree.  And that is one of the conversational thoughts when you think about creativity.

For example, you will even hear people say “supplemented”.

“Why don’t you have a couple of glasses of wine? Why don’t you do some drugs?  Your creativity side is going to come out.”

And you do hear that from contemporary society to say that is a way to I guess, let your guard down of inhibition so the energy flows out.

This book wonderfully discusses that.

Because she lists all the interesting people because her therapist said, well, you need to know there’s a lot more people who were on medication who are also are bipolar.  And it was stunning for her to also provide that to us by way of this graphic novel because she too didn’t know that there are a lot of people who had disorders in a way where they were like,

“No, that’s just it, we believe it might help their creativity.  Or maybe that’s the way they express it because of how their disorder is? But it’s not something to hide or keep quiet.  It’s to say, take the whole package.  This is what this person is, and they are using their gift to allow us to see that.”

And I thought it was like stunning because in the book people will find very unique.  They will list people that you may know and other people that you might not know who actually were manic-depressive.

Jeanie:  Right! And I think one of the reasons you and I both love this book is because it’s a librarian’s dream. Because she goes through this inquiry process, right, this research process to look up all the creative folks who have mental illness or bipolar disorder in particular.

Jason:  Yes!

Jeanie:  And so, she’s really weighing these two things to me.  It was like the scale tipping back and forth throughout the book of her artistry, her creativity, her ability to be productive as an artist versus suicide. Death. All the side effects of having bipolar disorder.  And so, she’s thinking about the tradeoff between these two things.

Jason:  Correct.

Jeanie:  Right?  So: “That could happen to me. But if I medicate, if I get rid of this side of myself, well, I won’t be who I am.”

Jason:  I won’t be this creative.

Jeanie:  Yeah! Will I lose who I am in the world as a creative?

Jason:  It was a tug of war that was quite interesting because, for the reader, you should know that she literally is — I  almost said in this way, my feeling was it was like being on a ledge. And you’re hanging on with your little tiny fingertips and you’re thinking:  I believe I can pull myself up.

But there’s a part of you that says, look, what just happens if I let it go?

Jason Broughton

And in her case, it was this: I want to still be productive. I know these drugs have side effects.  I was just still surprised to see that she was able to still keep that thread of herself saying, “But I need to get better. I don’t know what that looks like. I’m being told to take medication.”

Because in other books, you might find the person might say, well, I just give up, I’m just going to succumb to the depression and the anxiety and live off that.

It was really interesting to see her pursue the therapy. To continue for years and eventually begin to grow into it.  It was just this wonderful thing to see because it takes you through it first as opposed to oh, I know that this book is going to end with it. Oh, I didn’t even see this part coming.

But she relapses a bit.  It’s a struggle.

And when she is depressed, it is graphically in a way, I think that we all understand, in which she shows one way or another she is wrapped up.

She’s in her bedroom. It’s just the bed. She is in the bed and another image shows she’s still on the bed. She lives up on the bed. And she’s still wrapped up. She is in another image leaned up on the bed. She leaves the bed, goes in another room and then lays down on the couch and goes back to sleep.

Jeanie:  Yeah.  The images in this book, the graphics in this book, just like most graphic novels, extend the story and make it more visceral and powerful than it would be if it was just words.

And I thought that there are so many times in this book, from the sketches from her sketchbook to the way her art changes on the page based on what’s going on, like the very style of her art.  It’s just so powerful the way she presents both the joy and the mania and the grief in those in the depression.

I got to tell you, though, the part where my educator brain, my teacher brain, like sparked big time, was when I could see using this book to like understand mental illness in families or in students.

But the part that really grabbed me was when we got to Page 202 and 203, where she starts to say, wait a minute, what even is creativity?

Jason Broughton

Where she takes into the definition of creativity and the reason that sparked for me is because I work with a lot of teachers who are trying to implement the transferable skills, the Vermont transferable skills, one of which is either creative and practical problem solving or creativity.  There are different names for it in different schools.  But I love this page because she says creativity isn’t easy to pinpoint but most researchers agree on this particular definition of creativity.  And then she goes on to say that it’s thoughts and behaviors that are original and useful.

And she breaks it into three components.

One is a person, in order to have creativity, you got to have a human who, two, is engaging in a process of thinking, problem-solving in an interesting way.

And three is to create or produce an identifiable outcome.

So, you got to have a person, they got to go through a process of problem solving and thinking creatively and then they have to produce something.

That thing doesn’t have to be tangible, right?  It could be a poem, it could be a, you know, it could be a change in norms, classroom norms, but this idea that something comes out of it.  And that was such a like, more open-ended definition of creativity than sort of, I think what I, for example, have been stuck in, had been stuck in earlier in my life, which is this idea that creativity is for artists.

Jason:  The part that stood out to me on that page were two things, one of them quite comical. But as you said, the definition of creativity and it’s by Andreessen 2005.  His thoughts and behaviors that are original and useful.

And the part that made me laugh was if you’re able to see this book, the one that says person, there is an image of a person with a characteristic.  And the characteristic is I free associate and I wear unusual clothes.  And then it says, or it could be the chosen occupation.  I’m a poet.  And then it says, especially in the creative arts, including art, architecture, design, music, theatre, writing, poetry, and it gives a citation, and then it goes into that process.  So, people might say, well, yeah, that’s a usual suspects.

But if you really pull that apart, there’s a part of me my own personal that is saying, okay, for creativity, there sometimes overwhelmingly is this interesting little quirk that we have.  And even if you want to look at people and say, well, I don’t know anybody who wears unusual clothes or I think is kind of this hippie, pay attention, you’ll be surprised to see some time your own boss do things in a way where you’re kind of like, why is everything centered this way?  And it’s because they have some type of design they’re trying to mete out, some type of unique way of looking and then you just as I call it, just peel back the covers a bit conversation opens up to say, do you like to do interesting thing?  And you’d be surprised some people say, I paint it, I do this, I would shop, I bake.  There’s a whole host of things that will all of a sudden just come out.  And but yet, these people aren’t going to say, well, I don’t dress like a hippie.  I don’t dress with loud clothes on.  But it’s oh, there’s an artist underneath here.  What does that look like?

Jeanie: I love that. I also think sometimes creativity shows up in professions that we don’t think of as creative.  And so, educators are some of the most creative people I know because they’re always problem solving, to think about how to help kids learn, right?  And if it didn’t work out the first time and being creative about how to get kids interested in the first place, how to stretch them and grow them, like, I am always enamored and struck by the creativity I see teachers use in the classroom with their students.

Jason:  That’s like amazing.

Jeanie:  So, it’s not just because you’re a teacher and you’re a knitter, it’s a teacher.  It’s because you’re a teacher and you know, like, you know, it’s not just that like, or that you bake, although those things are creative, and I love them.  It’s that just by the act of doing your job and meeting kids where they are, there are, you have to exhibit a lot of creativity.  And so, I really appreciated the way this made me think outside the box of what…

Jason:  Would you say that?  Teaching is such a creative profession when people really look at it, it is a sometimes being upfront, a soul draining position.  But when you really peel back the layer, and I’m talking any teacher, public, private, you have asked the person to go into a room to connect with on average as little as five minds all the way up to 50 including professors up to 100.  And this person is supposed to remember your name, find something a little bit more about you that helps them remember that.  And then amongst all of the other people understand you in a way in which you are talking in a general format where they get a topic and then say, well, Jeanie, I know for you, I need to give you this analogy which helps you learn.  Jason, for you, I need to show you this little video, if people understand, that is stunning.

That is an art where, you know, people at least enough to say I believe I know you enough and what captures you and will allow you to learn.  That is beyond artistry.  Because if we think about our standard lives other than close friends and family, you can’t walk into a room and immediately begin to say, oh, I noticed something a little bit about you.  And I think this saying it this way or showing it to you this way is going to help you remember that.  Not many people can do that, let alone do it for a year.  And then all of a sudden people remember you years down the line saying you might not remember me from 30 years ago, you taught me in kindergarten, but here I am.  You made me and they might say I don’t even remember you but thank you, you know, it’s…

Jeanie:  Educators, Jason and I are your biggest fans.

Jason:  It’s a wonder.  It’s a wonder.  And when I said I remember when I say that, I remember my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Honeycutt.  She was like the nicest white woman in the world in the South.  Oh, and she had long hair.  It was the era of the 70s. Long hair that when she sat down to read us books went to the floor, but she was so nice. I will never forget her.  How many people can actually say that that people do something so profound when you’re so young that you can never forget them?  That is stunning.

Jeanie:  Thank you for sharing that.  I love that.  So, the other thing I thought about this creativity piece is that one of Ellen’s struggles, I think, mirrors the struggle we’re going through in schools as we think about creativity as a transferable skill.

And so, I think one of the things she’s struggling with is: is creativity a fixed quality or talent that I just have, right?  By right of being bipolar or being born the way I’m born? Or is it a set of skills and dispositions that can be cultivated and practiced over time?

And it was really interesting to me that even if she’s struggling with this, she’s always sketching and creating.  Even though they’re just sketches in her sketchbook, she’s using her creativity to practice and to work this out over time.

I was really intrigued by the sort of the back and forth of that that she’s struggling with this idea, using this thing, the skill and the set of skills and dispositions to struggle with this thing.

Jason:  I agree, because also, we can tell the reader and her images no matter what are very expressive as you go through the book.  But they do seem to as you go through obtain a little bit more refinement.  Like you don’t want to say she’s getting better, I actually say she is becoming more representative of how she is feeling, depending on what you say that.  Going on, I love how educators are trying to grapple with but the goal to me is we don’t want to make it so scientific, you know, to say like, oh, tick, these things are going to be artistic?  No, I do believe we all have the capacity to be creative, particularly if something has happened to us where we were one thing before and then something else comes out like in other words, if I lost use of an arm, and I was very creative in painting, I would hope that now all of a sudden, I am able to do something with the other one arm in a very interesting way where you’re like, oh, it’s not the same thing but he just used it in a different format.  So, when you say it’s an embodiment, I do agree with that.

The thing that people need to probably consider is, how does it express itself based on what is occurring in one’s life?  Because we can all look at stuff that we have designed early on, and we might have thought this is really it.  And then all of a sudden, years later, you’re like, this is crap, burn it, that dorky stuff.

And so, it’s an interesting thing to say, well, why did you change?  What happened that made you not feel like this is a part of the body of your work?  You know, I see it and sometimes we want to have perfection.

I did put something out on social media the other day because I too had this problem in the sense of the quest to chase perfection.  And I listened to something that someone just basically said just remember Confucius.  And he basically said it is better to have a flawed diamond than a flawless pebble.  So, I should tell you right there.  It’s better to take what you got and say, oh, I’m as close as I can be to this as opposed to well, here’s this perfectly good nothing.

Jeanie:  Well, I think a lot of teachers are thinking about these, these transferable skills.  And I’m really focused on creativity here, but there are others as well, I’m thinking about how do we foster this in young people, right?  Like, how do we provide opportunities for them to cultivate and grow their creativity, right?  And so, in many ways, for me, it’s less much less about assessing it and or even teaching it but rather just like finding…

Jason:  Expression.

Jeanie:  Finding the places where it fits into your existing curriculum.

Jason:  I agree.  And I also think, here’s the part that our listeners might not know.  So, before we started taping everyone Jeanne and I had some interesting conversation to just about, you know, you think about your parents.

I can look back now and say, I had wonderful parents as I age and I’m coming to the point where I was like, oh, you just hate saying, oh, my God, my parents were right on some of these things.

But now, I can look back and say my parents allowed me and my brother to express ourselves.  We grew up in a rural area.  You could allow your children to literally run out in fields five and ten miles away from the house and they know you’re coming back. Just like you need to be back in the house by the time the sun is about to set.  The parents never kind of really said like, I don’t really worry about my children, right?

I think they’re going to find their way.  When I say that it allowed us to look at nature in an artistic way, play with the nature.  But we went into camps and stories and we did a lot of handmade things.  We also did things that were bond.  I think in helping as an educator, if you can find ways to allow children to simply express the topic as they best can under their own guides for what the examples are.  It allows you to begin to not hone them to do it right but to say, okay, your thing is not necessarily drawing at this level.  But I definitely know that you can sing.  Why don’t you make a poem or rap song or tune out of this?  This person can draw and you can say, well, painting is your thing, but you also, I mean, let the person begin to do that because sometimes people are so multifaceted they themselves don’t know which one they want to hone.

But the thing to me is at a young age, it really is like when people say you are 20 times more to have literate children if you at least have books in the home.  We know this.  If the parents at least are reading, the children are going to read.  So, if you yourself have forgotten how fun it is to be creative, your children would be more creative if you allow them to see that you are creative.

Jeanie:  What I hear you talking about, Jason, and you didn’t use this language, but I’m going to use it is flexible pathways.  How do we provide personally meaningful learning opportunities for students to be creative in the ways that suit them and knowing that creativity isn’t one size fits all?

Jason:  Correct.  It’s like going to a paint, but the best example I’ll give is I have experienced recently to go to brunch and paint and sip, which I love which let you know what I was doing on this, I am an adult just like, you know, I can paint and drink.  But within that, the room had a bunch of people where — what I love is the presenter came out and said we’re going to do this Halloween theme.  And right off the bat said some of us are going to paint and try to be exact, that’s fine.  Some of us might say, oh, just go with the flow.  And I was like, oh, how nice.  So, I’m going along with them.  And then all of a sudden, I realized I could not draw it exactly the way that I might have wanted to.  I took another path.  And everyone was like, but this is very different.  And I just was — I felt comfortable because they said, you could do that as opposed to I looked around and there were some people who had mirror images of what the main presenter had presented.  And I had, like, gone off the rails.  I was like, yeah, the moon is here in this haunted house but I kind of drew a mountain behind the house.  And they’re, you know, it looks like Dante’s Inferno on the bottom of a canvas, you know.

Jeanie:  I wonder if you might share a picture that we can put in the transcript.

Jason:  If I showed what we were supposed to paint as compared to how I said, I’m just going with this over here.

Jeanie:  I really want to see your painting now.

Jason:  I will send you a picture.

Jeanie:  Jason, before we start to wrap up, I want to know, are there things that the Department of Libraries can do for teachers?  Are there things you wish educators knew about what you as State Librarian do or what the Department of Library does?

Jason:  Oh, my goodness.  As I said, we are here for librarians in particular.  We would urge a lot of people to please visit their local public library, their school librarians, and of course, the academics.  Because librarians, I will say this up front, some people are going to be horrified or want to put their hands in their ears.  Libraries are not about books.  Everybody, if you’re not careful, you pay attention.  Some people oh, he’s not a librarian!  I’m a librarian because I like what’s in the book.  The book is just the format.  And as we go forward, print will always be here.  But if you think about how you grew up, if you say you love books, which are the longest serving format, then if you want to show your age, please send me and I’ll give you my address, 8-track cassette tape that you had been growing up, if you say you really still love it because you can’t find eight cassette track player right now.

So, you can see that formats and designs have to change over time.  And an understanding that what really is impactful for you is if that wasn’t an eight track cassette tape, it’s a tune that has probably been, guess what, transferred to a CD now transferred to streaming.  And what you really are in love with is the song itself.  The format is just right now.  Print again is never going to go away.  So, we like information as librarians.  What we would try to do is try to help people with literacy and learning.  We are not educators.  There are librarians who do know how to teach.  But the main role of a library is to guess what to be literate, which is to expose and to allow a person to examine.

So, I would say if you are welcome to it, we have a lot of resources.  Feel free to contact me and I can always direct you to some of the statewide resources that we provide such as the Vermont online library, which has a ton of items that you can examine.  But we also do a variety of things that we connect with, guess what?  The Arts Council is a partner and friend to us.  We also work with the Humanities Council here in Vermont.  And so, you can see we are all over the place.  We even this year, and well last year too, work with Northeast Organic Farming Association NOFA.  And we did a wonderful thing on agriculture and cooking.  And you might say, well, why is a librarian doing that?  Because it’s information, any type of experience that allows you to sense means that you are learning whether it be through sight, sound, and a whole host.  We also have what is known as the able library, we renamed that and it’s important that we rename it because I’m a person and proponent that says please stop talking about service populations.  If you understand that the foreman name was the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.  That name is really packing them in, they’re all come into that library to be associated with it.  So, we renamed it the able library about the service.  Stop talking about the people.  Talk about how you’re going to help the people, which is the audio Braille large print and electronic resources library.

Everyone wants some of those.  But when you say the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, yeah, I too, would not be coming to that if I knew that name was over time, because you would say, well, I don’t want to feel that way.  But we’ve had it where a lot more people are participating not because of the name but because they know the services that we have.  So, we offer Vermont and Vermonters and residents quite a lot by way of the public library, school, academic and also the department itself.

Jeanie:  Oh, I’m so, grateful.  I love the way you touched on all the literacies, like, it’s about literacy of all kinds.  Also, thank you, I’ll be singing the Doobie Brothers for the rest of the day because when I hear a track tape, I’m in my uncle’s blue truck listening to the Doobie Brothers all over it.

Jason:  For me, it was my father and my uncle.  Again, not sure so many Vermonters would have been listening to this but it would be known as a Rolls Royce was the name of the band.  But you know the tune because they made a movie out of it and it was carwash, which was Carwash.  So, that was it.  The interactivity my father have that going on in the, and in fact, I never forget the car is a Lincoln within that.  So, again, we’re showing our age, a lot of the younger people are like what is an 8-track tape, right?

Jeanie:  They can Google it.  Jason, I cannot thank you enough both for bringing this really beautiful book into my life and also for the super fun conversation.

Jason:  Oh, you’re welcome.  You’re welcome.  And if anyone wants to know, I am this serious.  I tend a lot of humor.  But yes, I do have somber conversations.  But this book sort of happened through happenstance.  But then when I think back, the universe allowed us to share that and I was wonderful.  Even though I no longer I’m dating the woman who I’ve been up with.  But it was a wonderful experience to have her be such an interesting resource because she is very similar to me in which even though I clock out usually at 6 o’clock from this job, I’m still a librarian.  So, if you were to come to me and we were out talking, you will hear me say, oh, you said you’re going to make a flam bait.  But there is a book that you need to be looking for.  So, you go look because I want to fix a car.  Oh, you need to go to chillers and hear, I don’t turn it off.  It is my life where you can tell me, I’m like, oh, there’s a book for this.  Let me let me show you where this is that you define this here.

Jeanie:  We have way too much in common.  I’m so grateful for you.  I hope you’ll be a guest.  I would love to repeat this yearly.

Jason:  Oh, perfect.  I would be happy.  There’s so many the world of, you get it, books is so wide.  There’s a lot of topics that we could cover in a variety of things.  So, I’d be happy to come back and discuss any types of topics that we can help anyone who is appreciating art science, conversation, learn by way of a book.

Jeanie:  Thank you so, much.  I’m already looking forward to that future conversation.

Jason:  You’re quite welcome.  Thank you for having me.  Thank you everybody.

Jeanie Phillips

Jeanie Phillips is a former (and always!) school librarian and a Professional Development Coordinator for TIIE. A 2014 Rowland Fellow, she is passionate about student engagement, equity, collaboration, and questions. Jeanie likes to hike the woods of southern Vermont with her dog Charlie and is always in search of a well-brewed cup of tea and a good book.

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