Art vs. Science and Creative Influencers

by Laura M.

How does art relate to modern medicine? Dr. Churchwell spoke about this to a group of community members, students, staff and faculty at Vanderbilt University last night. He challenges those who believe that art and science are mutually exclusive. Instead, he believes they can act in concert. When they come together, which can happen on an individual basis by melding the left and right brain, people end up seeing things differently. Seeing things differently can lead to innovation.

In Churchwell’s case, his right brain muscle is exercised when he illustrates and designs fashion. Here are some of his illustrations (can you tell he is influenced by Jack Kirby?):


Churchwell’s father drew pictures for him when he was a little boy and that inspired him to draw. His father also inspired an interest in clothing. Every Sunday Churchwell and his siblings would line up for inspection. His father would tell them what worked and what didn’t. Check out this article about his fashion sense. Esquire Magazine has called him one of the 50 best dressed men in America (way to represent Tennessee, Dr. C!)

Flipping to the other side of his brain, Churchwell’s left brain muscle is exercised when he does his day job of leading the Cardiology Division at Vanderbilt, helming the Diversity Affairs initiative at the School of Medicine, teaching radiology and radiological sciences and biomedical engineering.

Photo Credit: Joe Howell

Churchwell’s mentors in medicine embraced ‘whole brain’ thinking. Tom McMahon oscillated between writing fiction and his science lab. Arthur Guyton believed that adversity + imagination = discovery. So, while bound to a wheelchair due to polio, he invented the first mechanized wheelchair.

Hearing Churchwell talk about the influence of these great people on his life made me question what/who fuels my creativity/curiosity. My two favorites are Brene Brown and Tim Minchin.

Because of an ecourse I took from Brene Brown, I explored many different creative outlets, many of which I passed on before because I didn’t consider myself a creative type. Here is a nice synopsis of Brene’s take on creativity.

Tim Minchin, an Australian comedian, gave a commencement address at his alma mater that I have now watched on Youtube countless times. One of my favorite pieces of advice from his speech is to examine our own opinions. Think about that. If you examine your own opinion, it naturally opens you up to curiosity. “Why do I think/feel/believe that? How did I arrive at that decision?”

I’d love to know how you, our readers, blend left and right brain thinking. Do any of you have left brain jobs and right brain hobbies? Are you able to find time to exercise the right brain muscle? Who influences your creativity?







Sharing is Caring

by Laura M.

Even if you don’t think of yourself as creative, you are undoubtedly surrounded by creative people. Maybe it’s your grandma who’s a quilting guru, your best friend who can draw a cat in 5 seconds flat, or a brother who can play piano by ear. These creative people touch our lives (no six degrees of separation here).

What I’m curious about is how people who bill themselves as non-creative relate to those in their lives who are creative. And what happens when the non-creatives get pulled into the creatives’ world?

I was lucky enough to witness such a phenomenon on Valentine’s Eve. I live in Nashville, aka Music City. We take our moniker seriously. We have writer rounds in hardware stores, live concerts with thousands of people on the riverside and everything in between. And on Saturday, February 13, some fine folks hosted the 8th annual Love is Deaf concert.

Image by Anna Webb

The concert is a vehicle to showcase couples, one of whom is a musician or songwriter and one who is not-so-musically-inclined. Each couple performs one song. This year, there were 30 couples!


I was at the show to support my dear friends Joan and Brett Bryant. Brett is a professional musician and Joan is, well, not a musician. She would tell you that she can’t carry a tune in a bucket. But they had been to this concert before, and Joan was brave enough to participate this year.

Joan got a first-hand taste of what it’s like to pick out a song, dive into its meaning to relate to the song, arrange the song to suit their performance, rehearse it, practice with a microphone and, ultimately, stand in front of an audience of strangers and friends and sing. She had never in her life done this before!

Brett, in turn, was pulled back in time, remembering his first experience of getting comfortable with a mike, feeling out the key to suit the singer’s voice, flashing back to the anxiety of performing in front of a live audience. The experience also meant that his spouse now understands his world a little better and has a deeper appreciation for it.

Back to Saturday night – it was a packed house:


Joan and Brett were the second to last couple to perform that evening. I’ve known Joan for several years, and I marveled at how excited she was during the two hours before she was due on stage. I kept thinking, “I’m pretty sure I’d be in the bathroom throwing up if I were her right now.”

Apparently she had been coaching herself, reassuring herself that it was like talking in front of an audience, something she’s had to do for work. The difference, as she found out, is that when you’re on stage in a dark club with bright lights on you, you can’t see the audience. So you don’t know if you’re losing them or if they’re right there with you.

In Joan and Brett’s case, the audience WAS right there with them. Joan noticed that the room got quiet (which was not the case for the majority of other couples who performed) and could hear the audience laughing at the appropriate parts in their performance. They had chosen to perform “Beth” by KISS. The song is written from the perspective of a musician on the road to his lonely girlfriend Beth. Joan came up with the idea that she could be Beth and Brett could be singing the song to her. She created some cute rejoinders that had the audience in stitches.


Afterwards, many strangers came up to Joan and Brett with compliments like, “You guys rocked it!” and “You were awesome!” Joan beamed from ear to ear. “I feel like a rock star!” she said. Yet another sensation that Brett has had the joy of feeling that Joan can now relate to.


I was fully inspired by these lovebirds’ willingness to be vulnerable and creative together. My boyfriend, James, and I have already agreed that we’re going to participate next year. As for you, at the very least, could you sit in your loved one’s world? Share in that experience with them, even if you don’t participate? Ask how they came up with the concept for the painting, what drove their choice of colors, why they selected that word or picked that key for a song. I bet they’d love to share that with you.

This post is lovingly dedicated to Toni Masercola Lyng, a bright angel who knows quite a lot about sharing.


The Creativity Spectrum

By Laura M.

If you’ve read any of our blog posts here at untapped, you know that Ellen and I are both firm believers in the value of creativity. Almost every post has some element of us lobbying for readers to take on a creative endeavor. And there are many folks who hear that call and resist it, maintaining that they aren’t creative.

I’m not so naïve as to say that every person has the same level of creativity. Some people are kept up at night, composing music in their head that leads to this:

I mean, James literally can’t go to sleep sometimes because “When I close my eyes, that’s all I see. I see music. I visualize it. I’m building something.”

Other artists are able to sleep but have dreams about the subject of their paintings. Meet Lancelot:

Painter Elizabeth Wingfield says “I spent uncountable hours at my easel painting this wolf portrait. .. I dreamed I heard the mournful howl of his uncertain destiny! I had to meditate to stay relaxed and to feel the spirit of the wolf guiding me … to find the energy to keep painting all that fur.”

For these people, their creativity is central to their being. To NOT create is detrimental to their health.

But if you’re not like that, that doesn’t mean you’re not creative. If you hold yourself in comparison with people with that high level of creativity, it’s no wonder you feel a part of the ‘have not’ group. Remember: comparison is the thief of joy. You can be creative in your own right, even if it doesn’t cause sleepless nights or involve wolf dreams.

My journey in creativity has been more external. Meaning I sign up for classes and put myself in situations so that I will create. It could be as simple as saying, “I’m going to dance in my living room for 30 minutes one day of the week” or “I’m going to ad lib a meal based solely on the ingredients in my pantry and fridge – no recipe.” All this to say, I don’t think of myself as being naturally inspired as the above-mentioned people are.

And then there are folks like my friend Charlotte. She will tell you that she’s not an artist. Yet look at this beautiful painting she made!

char painting.jpg

Char Char makes her argument about not being an artist by saying that her instructor told her what colors to use and how to hold the brush, etc. But just because it’s taught to you with someone giving you step-by-step instructions doesn’t mean that the process or result isn’t creative. The act of holding your hand above the canvas and going through the motions makes it all your own. Look at any group of paintings that are the result of a Sips N Strokes class – they all look different. Because everyone holds the brush just a little bit differently, and moves it a bit slower or faster or mixes the colors a tad differently.

So there is a wide-ranging spectrum for creativity. And it’s not static. It can change throughout your lifespan.

I used to be the kind of person who claimed to not be creative. I really thought that people were either born with the creativity gene or weren’t. And I decidedly was not. But I have gone from a mindset of “I’m not creative” to “I’m a creative being.” This evolution took place over a period of years. I sought out creating art as a distraction during a difficult time in my life. And what I found was there’s something about being able to point to something tangible and say “I made that” that is immensely gratifying. Even if no one else sees it. Even if it hangs on a wall in a room that no one but you goes in.

I liked that feeling so much so that I signed up for class after class, trying different art forms. Which ultimately led to this blog.

My friend Denise, a talented writer with her own blog, has had the opposite experience:

“I feel my years of legal writing have changed what I care to write, and they have slowed my ease in doing so. Legal writing is largely formulaic, and not just the contracts. Even substantial motions tend to follow the same pattern: state the facts, state the law, apply the latter to the former, lather, rinse, repeat. This routine way of working has done a number on me. Early on, I struggled to learn the craft of legal writing, as I was trained to be a journalist, and journalistic writing has its own rules, ones very different from those involving court documents. But once I learned to do legal writing, I had trouble not doing it. A few years ago, as I sat down to attempt to tackle a huge creative writing project – a memoir about a life-long friendship – I found myself almost unable not to write in that tight structure. I struggled to find adjectives and adverbs – we lawyers don’t use those too much in our briefs and motions (as much as we’d love to). Eventually, I found a new rhythm and can now jump back and forth between the two, but not without pause. I’ll admit it: it wasn’t easy to get from there to here. Forging ahead with the memoir was the first step. I refused to quit. And, sure enough, with practice, the creative side of my brain again stirred to life. So I kept going. I began working with one of my favorite memoir writers, Wade Rouse, and at my second writing workshop, I met a woman who invited me to join her blogging group. The creativity flowed that much more freely. And that connection led to yet another: an invitation to review books for Chick Lit Central, a website run by one of my co-bloggers.”

Similarly, bestie Darla Williamson always had a creative side to her and dabbled in creative projects (everything from handmade lotions to luggage tags). A few years ago she was able to go full-tilt creative when she quit her job in corporate banking to become an art instructor and potter.

spanish roses.jpg

So, creativity can wax and wane and meet different heights. If you are at the lower end of the creativity spectrum, know that it’s not permanent. It’s a dynamic state and it’s a skill, like any other. There’s room for all of us.

Curing the holiday blues

by Laura M.
I’m not a researcher. Nor do I claim to be an expert on anything. I’m like a lot of people: I know a little bit about a lot. So what I’m about to share is not scientifically proven. It’s not backed up with statistics. It’s just what works for me. Which I think is kinda the point of a blog – sharing personal stories in the hope that someone else can relate.

Here’s the deal: If you’ve lost someone dear to you, especially if it’s recent, the holidays can be rough. I don’t think that bears further explanation. So I’m just going to jump into some creative things you can do (and not do) to lighten your spirit.

Holiday cards

You get a pass on sending out holiday cards. Hands down. I enjoy receiving the Christmas missives (see here for a creative way to display them!) But when I’m feeling blue I have to pay attention to the inward groan I hear that is conjured by the thought of having to send out Christmas cards. I mean, it’s a lot of work. Picking out the cards, getting the address book and stamps out and then if you write a personal note – even more time! So I’m here to tell you: you’re off the hook. If you’re feeling heavy and writing cards doesn’t lift your spirits – don’t do it! No one’s keeping tally. And if they are – you don’t need those kinds of people in your life!

See the light(s)

My brother died 3 weeks before Christmas several years ago. On the anniversary of his death I was having a hard time. I mentioned it to a dear friend and she proposed what was probably the only thing that could have cheered me up: She offered to come pick me up and drive me around so that we could look at all the Christmas lights. With hot chocolate. And let me tell you what – it really did the trick. I highly recommend it. You could even bring along your holiday playlist that you made (see what I did there?).

imagephoto credit: J. Proffitt

Forget telepathy

December is a busy time of year. Folks got some shopping to do, decorating, school plays, family dinners to plan, etc. It’s perfectly understandable if they may not notice you moping in your cubicle. So, verbalize to others that you’re having a hard time. Those closest to you will want to know and may offer a great diversion that will end up making you feel better. Maybe driving around looking at Christmas tree lights???


Everybody handles grief differently. Which means that those around you are kind of playing roulette in figuring out what the best things are to say and do for you. So if their actions/words don’t hit the mark, forgive them. They’re just trying their best. A dear friend of mine recently lost his wife of 50+ years. A friend of his has been sending him a ‘thinking of you’ card every month for the past few months. It’s a beautiful gesture. Only, for him, it’s yet another reminder that his wife is gone. But he’s gracious about it. He understands the love and caring behind it. On the flip side, I got the nicest e-mail from a close friend, acknowledging that she remembered this was the time of Angus’ passing. It meant the world to me that she was thinking of me.


When you’re feeling blue, sometimes it’s hard to think of anything that would make you laugh. But you should really take the time to search for it. My recommendations:

Mike Birbiglia – stand-up comedian, author, actor. I appreciate Birbigs’ humor because it’s always self-deprecating and never mean-spirited. He’s got some Comedy Central specials (I think.) You could look for him on iTunes or Netflix, etc. Or check out another comedian at your local improv troupe.

Bill Bryson – author. My favorite book of his is titled “In A Sunburnt Country.” I read it 2 weeks after my brother died. In a feat that I didn’t think was possible, this book made me laugh.out.loud. I mean, think about it: If it could make me laugh at the worst time in my life, a regular person should be howling.

Elf – movie. Again, a personal favorite. Hopefully there’s a funny movie that you love to watch over and over. Beethoven is a very close second for me.

This SNL skit. I’ve watched it over a dozen times, and each time it makes me cry with laughter. It feels good.

Get a cat

I’m actually serious about this. If you don’t already have a pet, let me tell you what: there’s nothing like caring for a furry critter to make you feel better. I adopted 2 kitties after my brother’s death, and they saved me from the depths of my grief. Nothing else had worked. Not talk therapy, not art therapy, hoola hooping, or anti-depressants. But when I got those cats, man, my whole world turned around.


Lexie and Parker. My dearies who are quickly eclipsing me in the number of Facebook followers.

It’s hard to be sad at a time of year that is supposed to be filled with joy. Just know it’s ok to feel both. Once again: all of the above is what works for me. I would love to hear what works for you. Sharing is caring.

A holiday playlist

singing christmas cat

By Laura M.

Look, as far as I’m concerned, any holiday party is beautifully paired with Ella Fitzgerald doing her thing. Set it and forget it. I know it would keep me merry the whole night. Who am I kidding? I could set it on just her version of “Sleigh Ride” for the entire evening and feel the cheer.

But, just for fun, just for something different, take a look at what some newer artists are doing with old-time favorites and newly-penned tunes that you can string your garland to.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Go to
  2. Click on Advanced Search
  3. Select ‘Holiday’ from the Genres & Styles list
  4. For release date, enter the years 2000 and 2015.

Then scroll through the results and find all kinds of new treasures. Most should have an audio sample for you to listen to online and many results will have direct links to amazon, google Play and iTunes, so you can buy with one click!

You could also go to your local library’s website. They should have information about how you can stream or download songs for free.

Here are a few favorites that I adore from my iTunes library:

My Holiday by Mindy Smith. Mindy released this song (and album by the same name) in 2007. The songs have a warm, cozy feel, like she recorded all of them while drinking mulled wine next to the fireplace.

Christmas Day by JOHNNYSWIM. JOHNNYSWIM are Nashville natives who(*sniff*) abandoned us for LA but I know Nashville has a strong place in their heart. They did a Christmas tour last year, which bestie Joe and I went to, dutifully. I secretly hoped that they’d slip in some of their regular songs. I honestly wasn’t psyched about hearing their version of ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.’ But let me tell you what: these guys wrap themselves up in these songs and give them new life. You’ll never hear “O Come All Ye Faithful” the same way again. [Seriously – the outro is gorgeous.] Check out the entire “A JOHNNYSWIM Christmas” here.

The Christmas Song by Chris Isaak. If it’s crooner-y kind of music you like, forego the traditional Elvis holiday fare and check out Chris Isaak’s delightful romp through Santaland.

Blame it on Christmas by Jill Johnson. I know. Who the heck is Jill Johnson? So glad you asked. Jill is, essentially, Sweden’s version of Shania Twain. She’s full of strength, talent, and beauty. On a personal note, I can also tell you that she’s one of the nicest people on this planet. And if this song doesn’t put a kick in your step, I don’t know what will.

Carol of the Bells by the Bird and the Bee. God bless Starbucks. I have to say, I have discovered artists, or at least songs, I would not have otherwise heard of through them. This breathy delight comes courtesy of one of the free downloads that the Bucks offered many years ago.

Only You Can Bring Me Cheer by Alison Krauss. Bonus: go ahead and buy the whole “A Very Special Acoustic Christmas” album, which benefits Special Olympics. It’ll fill you with cheer for more than one reason.

She doesn’t have a Christmas album but check out this sweet video of Ruby Amanfu performing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”  . [And then do yourself a favor and buy her latest album, Standing Still. So.Good.]

For a country flavor, check out the delightful yodeling on “The Diamond O” by Joey + Rory. The entire album, A Farmhouse Christmas, is just as sweet and down to earth as the couple themselves.

You can sort your playlist by many different elements: tempo, gender, old song. Sometimes it’s nice to have a long stream of similar kinds of songs. Other times it’s nice to alternate (say, between tempos, male then female, etc.) Play (haha) around with it and see what you like best.

Here’s how mine came out:


Let us know what gems you discover in your search or share your playlist with us. We’d love to hear (haha!) what you come up with!