Creativity: When Barriers Become Doors

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

How has 2017 treated you so far? As we round the corner to the year’s completion–and as we anticipate Thanksgiving later this week–this would be a good time to take stock of the good, the bad, and the ugly of the year from a writer’s perspective.

Without knowing the specifics of your year, I am confident that the year contained a mix of achievements, shortcomings, and setbacks. Maybe you didn’t see your career progress in any significant way. You’re still grinding away on a novel that you hope will eventually be molded into a structure that compels publishing’s gatekeepers to take note and to express interest. Or maybe that nonfiction manuscript came into focus, and you found just the right way to construct it, resulting in a contract. But now thoughts of how you’ll market it have sent you skidding off into despair about how to do that.

Whatever your situation–one full of thanksgiving for your major steps forward in your publishing journey or one rife with wondering how to hold on to hope–this week is a good time to ponder how to take any detours or barriers you’ve encountered and turn them into assets.

Creativity: Turning Roadblocks into New Ideas

For inspiration, I’d like to draw your attention to Dale Chihuly, a renowned glass-blowing artist. His website, which showcases his work in all of its splendor, describes his foray into glass blowing this way: “Dale began his career with weaving. During a weaving class at University of Washington, he first incorporated glass shards into woven tapestries in 1963. This foray into glass led him to blow his first glass bubble in 1965, by melting stained glass and using a metal pipe.”

As his career just began its ascendancy, in 1976 he was in an automobile accident that threw him through the

The aftermath of being thrown through the car’s windshield.

windshield, causing him to lose sight in his left eye. Despite the challenge of seeing his work without the depth and perspective of two eyes, he continued as a glass-blower.

As matter of fact, the next year he used his new way of seeing to break with 2,000 years of glass-blowing tradition. Instead of pursuing the creation of symmetrical shapes, Chihuly took the glass in the opposite direction and began to use gravity and centrifugal force to create asymmetrical designs.

Another Blow to a Blossoming Career

But then, another setback. He injured his shoulder scuba diving, forcing him to step down from his coveted master glass-blower position. It appeared Chihuly’s career in the physically-challenging art of glass would be over. But then  a life-changing moment occurred.

In his own words, “Once I stepped back I enjoyed the view.”

What he saw was his art from a new angle. The unwanted changes gave him a different perspective. Dale could not have imagined that his limitations would position him to see limitless possibilities. And yet, that’s just what happened.

Creativity: Finding Another Way

He now sketches what he envisions and finds glass-blowing artists who are eager to blow the glass with Chihuly breathing down their necks–quite literally. The artists have the eye-sight and physical ability to shape the glass, but they bow to Chihuly’s creativity and oversight of the work.

In 2008 I had the privilege of viewing a major exhibit of his work at the deYoung Museum in San Francisco. While photos give one a sense of the scale of each work, to see glass-blown pieces that fill room after room and open one’s senses with color, light and shape as never before imagined, is breathtakingly inspiring. To say Chihuly broke the mold is akin to saying Edison’s inventions affected our lives.

For his exhibition in Jerusalem in 2000, in addition to the glass pieces, Chihuly oversaw enormous blocks of transparent ice brought in from an Alaskan artesian well to form a wall. Lights with color gels were set up behind them for illumination. Chihuly said the melting wall represented the “dissolution of barriers” between people. Which strikes me as symbolic of how Chihuly chose not to see barriers when faced with the physical impossibility of continuing his work. Instead, he created a new way to see glass art and a new way to create it.

Creativity: What About You?

What do you view as your shortcomings or setbacks? Lack of education? Lack of time? Poor book sales? Inability to see what would make your work publishable?

How could you see those shortcomings or setbacks not as barriers but as doors to a new way of seeing?

What would happen if you stepped back and took another look?


Did you experience setbacks or disappointments in your writing career in 2017? Here’s what to do about it. Click to tweet.

How can a writer turn roadblocks into new avenues to success? Click to tweet.

19 Responses

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  1. I saw an exhibition of Chihuly’s work in San Antonio, years ago. It’s magical, and I’d really recommend him.
    * If I stepped back and took another look I’d probably quit. The year, for me, was marked with a sharp decline in energy and ability which makes it very, very hard to believe that anything will come of what I’m doing now. The only way I can keep working is to just keep working; to paraphrase Housman, squaring my shoulders, lifting my pack, and going (this from ‘A Shropshire Lad;).
    * Hard to believe anything will come of it, yes, but not impossible, for belief is the stepchild of consistency.

    • Carol Ashby says:

      Andrew, when I formatted Emerald Isle for Kindle for you a year and a half ago, I was never sure you’d even be around to respond to an email. But you’re still here, and some of your most recent writing has a spiritual depth that goes beyond amazing. God is using you powerfully, and you’re not off duty yet. And for that, many of us here are profoundly thankful.

    • Hang in there Andrew, I know so many are praying for you and encouraged by your words and struggle!

    • Oh my Andrew, you are a living plus to the breath of a living God in and through what the world calls a dying man. But that is your physical body. In that inner you that is clothed with temporary flesh is a man who has grown more glorious. The Word says, though outwardly we perish, inwardly our spirit goes from glory to glory. It’s hard for you to see because of the pain, and condition of your physical body. But Andrew, as I’ve said before you have more Life than many will ever have.

  2. Daphne Woodall says:

    An inspiring story of an artisan who has a passion for his craft. It also reminds me how we are to use our talents whatever they are. Visual arts come easier for me but I’m still in the discovery phase of the literary. I’m always encouraged with words on this blog. Loved Carol Ashly’s response.

  3. Janet, you have a gift for telling a story bigger than its words. This is a parable of God’s work–breaking us to release his glory in us, calling others to help us so that we can help them. This parable will replay for me whenever I see sun playing on stained glass.
    * O Lord, let me work with words like Chihuly works with glass. Transform what’s broken to radiate your glory. Amen.

  4. If any of you are ever in Seattle, Chihuly has a permanent exhibit in the Seattle Center, directly below the Space Needle. It is beyond astonishing – a virtual garden of glass, both indoor and out.

  5. Thank you so much, Janet. This story was just what a lot of us needed to hear, I think. It is hard to rise above the grind and toil of everyday difficulties, much less a crushing trial. Thanks you for the reminder that God has made us more resilient than that!

  6. Wow, what an amazing story! I’ve seen Chihuly’s works in museums and hotels, and it is stunning.
    *I appreciate your perspective here, Janet. The idea of taking a step back from what appear to be shortcomings and looking at them through a different perspective is powerful. I need to pray through this and see those areas where I need to take a step back and look through a different lens.
    *Thanks for sharing this story and post!

  7. Let’s just say that 2017 has been full of surprises. Some days were harder than others. I took some time in the early Fall to breathe and soak in what the year had delivered. Through it all (now I have the André Crouch song in my head) God has been silent. Other times He’s reminded me that He knows exactly what will happen. Other times, I can hear Him sharing my laughter.
    It hasn’t been easy, but the sun keeps rising in the east, and it keeps setting in the west, which tells me the simple yet profound fact that He is the same every day. And I need to lean into that.

  8. Thank you Janet for your post. I always love to hear true stories like this amazing story you wrote about.

    For me this has been a wonderful year of growth in writing, mentoring, and learning how to move and flow amongst all of it in a state of calm trust, and humor as needed😊.

    I am so grateful that I am a part of this writing blog…actually that I’m finally able to pursue my passion of speaking and writing. It only came as a result of injuring myself in homecare in 2009. My back, and a partially torn hamstring first, then vocal chord surgery (I had been given too many hard of hearing patients, and already had some issues with my vocal cords) , thumb surgery for bad osteoarthritis from prior overuse of my hands, left wrist surgery, and a left rotator cuff repair. I was over fifty and the resultsleft me on long term disability. The process itself of paperwork, denials of workman’s comp and physicians erroneus comment in his notes led to a loss of my hearing at the federal level, a denial of the appeal and loss of all my retirement savings that we had to use for bills once my private long-term disability insurer that had already wrote me I would be covered by them until retirement age decided to stop sending me monthly payments because of the judges denial at my hearing based on one physician’s error. It’s too long to explain everything but suffice it to say after over thirty years as a hardworking nurse this steam rolled me. Our house, belongings, was on the chopping block. I tried to work again, but after four years of being away from nursing and being close to fifty-five who would hire me? A homecare agency did, but due to a variety of issues I ended up having to quit. It didn’t take them long once I went with a disability insurance specialist to get disability coverage. Now, I don’t like being on disability, and I certainly don’t look the part unless you look at my hands or understand about vocal rest needs and some other vocal restrictions, as well as lifting restrictions. BUT the beauty of it all is although I have vocal cord needs I can write and sing which my specialist was thrilled with and although I have bilateral hand osteoarthritis that is so bad I can’t close my fists, and have swelling and limited strength and mobility I can still write although I have to take time to take care of my hands which are painful 24/7. I have to use helps to open bottles and even bags with the strip to pull. In spite of this, it has all been and is a disguised blessing because if I didnt have these injuries or conditions I would be working full-time as a nurse and not have the time or energy for what God has called me too in this current season. Last year my husband and I were invited to attend a Christmas karaoke at a Minneapolis upscale bar and restaurant that had an area in front of a beautiful fireplace for singing. I remember I was so excited and kept telling my husband to pray I would get an opportunity to sing even one song about the true meaning of Christmas to remind the people of God’s gift of Jesus. My voice was a little scratchy and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to sing. The karaoke was set up kind of spontaneously, and only my husband, I and a couple guys showed up. The karaoke guy was a large black man who had sung in gospel groups around the city, and so was his partner. Kid you not, I sang to the restaurant and bar patrons for an hour and a half and was able to include the traditional Chritmas hymns and also did a church worship song. When I was singing that, the chef went by and gave me a thumbs up. My husband who doesn’t really sing in public even sang, Walking in a Winter Wonderland and The Twelve Days of Christmas with me. At the end I thanked the chef, manager and bartender for allowing me to sing. And they thanked my husband and I and said we had made the evening special for them and their customers. What a blessing from God.

    I am grateful that when things happen that seem to derail us, or be a hardship, as we trust God and move forward in faith and obedience we see the beauty of God transform darkness to light, sorrow to joy, and despair to hope.

    Sorry, this is so long, but it was asking to be told because it honors Him. Someday, I am planning to be able to be off disability payments, but right now they help make ends meet. I’m working hard at what I can do which is plenty.

    • I rambled, and my writing was definitely not up to par–run on sentences, etc but please see the story. What can I say about my typos? I guarantee my proposal and manuscripts are not like this.

    • I have told people, “Even though I don’t work for any earthly physician, I am on call 24/7 with my Heavenly Father, the Great Physician. So many need His healing balm applied. That’s who I am. It’s what I do …because of roadblocks.

  9. It seems unbalanced to have ONLY setbacks or ONLY achievements in a year where writing is concerned. I’m looking back and seeing a tremendous balance: Two Awards plus two Finalists for unpublished manuscripts. Those were great – encouraging and affirming. But the setbacks threaten to wipe away the joy of the positive. My feet are mired firmly in the “waiting” period, where I feel helpless. I can do noting but step back and look at the year’s footprints. In this time, I’ve listened to God’s whisper. In the most delightful way, He has opened doors to allow me to once again court my first love, teaching. Only this time I’m teaching writers. Writers who are where I was not so long ago. And this waiting, this potentially very discouraging time, has taken on a new color with a vibrant energy that fits like well-worn, practical, teacher shoes. I’m thankful God knows my angst, my needs…my heart.

  10. Kelly says:

    I love this article! Artists who overcome obstacles have a way of waking up the deeper things inside us all. They help us express emotion while we search for words to do the same. I have a loose connection to Chihuly’s work, arranging flowers for his space in Seattle once. Knowing his backstory brings clarity and a rich sense of place. Thank you for sharing, Janet.