Monday, August 11, 2014

Michigander Monday: Michele Root-Bernstein

I'm very happy to welcome Michele Root-Bernstein to Michigander Monday!  I've known Michele for over a decade, and she's a talented scholar, a marvelous writer, and a wonderful person.  It's great to have her here today to tell us about her new book and her other writing.

Debbie:  Michele, please tell us a little about yourself.

Michele:  The short answer: I started out as an historian, and I have become over the years an independent scholar in creativity studies affiliated with Michigan State University, as well as a haiku poet. The long answer includes the fact that I've tried my hand at all sorts of writing, including novels, short stories, poetry, creative non-fiction and even children’s picture books. Everything but the creative non-fiction and the haiku has remained in the drawer. But it’s all helped shaped the interests and skills I bring to creativity studies. I think it’s important to try to understand creative processes from the inside out as well as from the outside in.

Debbie:  And, of course, we want to know all about your books.

Michele:  My first book grew out of my dissertation work in history, and I would expect only specialists in 18th century theater to have any interest in it. So I’ll spare you.

After that, I began to collaborate with my husband, Bob, on books meant for a much wider reading public. Our first together was Honey, Mud, Maggots and Other Medical Marvels, a fun look at some traditional medical therapies that have made come-backs in modern medicine. In some cases, when antibiotics or surgical debridement fail, nothing works better than honey or maggots to clean out and heal a wound.

Having established that we liked to work together, Bob and I wrote our second book, Sparks of Genius, The 13 Thinking Tools of the World’s Most Creative People. This book pulled together our long-standing fascination with imaginative skills commonly found among individuals across the arts, sciences and other problem-solving professions. We talk about observing, imaging, pattern recognizing, empathizing, dimensional thinking and modeling, to name about half of what we call the “thinking tools.” In creative moments, zoologists may rely as much on empathizing as actors, musicians may exercise dimensional thinking as rigorously as physicists.

Inventing Imaginary Worlds: From Childhood Play to Adult Creativity Across the Arts and Sciences is my newest book, out this June, and one I wrote myself. It’s been a labor of love, literally, since the original inspiration for the work came from watching my children play. There seemed to be so many connections between what children do in their make-believe and what grownups do in their creative endeavors, I just had to investigate further.

I focused on the invention of imaginary worlds, what I call worldplay, a complex form of pretend play that often shows up in middle childhood (ages 6 to 12). Worldplay can go overlooked by adults, because it’s a private activity, either solitary or shared with one or two intimate friends, and much of it goes on in the head, out of sight. I hunted down examples by trolling through biographies and memoirs for records of childhood worldplay in the past, I sent questionnaires to college students and mature professionals, and I interviewed children, too.

What I found is that worldplay is more common than we might think. And it has strong links to creative endeavor in adulthood. Make-believe play throughout childhood and adolescence forges important skills for a lifetime!

Debbie:  Do you have an author website?

Michele:  I do. Anyone interested in learning more about Inventing Imaginary Worlds and the creative value of imaginative play can go to
Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Michele:  Bob and I are planning a book on creative process, or rather, the capacities that enable creative behaviors and outcomes. We’re still in the research and early writing phase, so I imagine the work will take a while.

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore?

Michele:  Schuler Books gets my vote. I greatly appreciate the wide selection of books; the used book section; the café; and maybe most of all, the incredible support of book clubs.

Debbie:  And a favorite Michigan library?

Michele:  Michigan State University Library. I can’t leave the confines of my study without it.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Michele:  One of my friends has a cottage on the shores of Lake Michigan. Every summer she invites our book reading group for a weekend book binge. I love it! I also happen to think that the Frederik Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids is very special and I try to visit at least once a year.

Debbie:  Do you have a Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?

Michele:  Spring. You know, writing haiku is very much a practice of attention, especially attention to nature. Summer, fall and winter get their due, but there’s something about spring that is very optimistic—particularly after way too many months of cloud cover. Many personal favorites among my own haiku focus on the seasonal possibilities. For example:
this morning
it takes the iris to open
Debbie:  Beautiful!  Last question.  Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders, others as Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a Michigander or a Michiganian?

Michele:  Yes. J

Debbie:  Great answer!  We'll put you in both columns.  Michele, thank you very much for being here today for Michigander Monday!


Ann Finkelstein said...

Great interview.I can't wait to read your newest book, Michele.

Shanda Trent said...

Thanks to both of you. Looking forward to reading this book, and your previous titles.