The Landscapes of My Life

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Kelli Park

School of Education and Human Development, University of Southern Maine

EDU 559: Aspects of Reading for Multlingual Learners

Professor Heather Alden

September 19, 2020

The Landscapes of My Life: An Autoethnography of Creativity through Sense of Place

There are undercurrents in my life that have led me near and far over the course of the past three decades, even if those undercurrents were a mystery to me at the time. When I think of my life, I think mostly of connections: to individuals, to places, to fleeting moments in time that are too beautiful for words, and to the synergy that exists among these evolving elements. 

The elements that define me have long been converging and diverging in a natural rhythm, much like the ebb and flow of the tides: always changing, but forever consistent in their change. The course of my life has been shaped by flowing parallels: as an artist, a writer, a photographer, a traveler, an entrepreneur, an educator, a mother, and an individual with an insatiable desire to explore the nature of connection, near and far. I know now that the threads that weave together these parallels are, and always have been, defined by a sense of place – the “sights, stories, feelings, and concepts” of my surroundings (Ryfield et al., 2019).

From the deserts of Texas to the last frontier of Alaska to the nostalgia of Appalachia to the birch and balsam groves of Maine, and everywhere in between, my childhood was carved by my ever-changing surroundings. As a child, I navigated this immersive lifestyle with an introverted openness that allowed me to become naturally observant, as my fifth-grade teacher once told me. This has since become the element that defines me as an artist, a writer, and a photographer, having “gained a tangible creative benefit from multicultural experience. . .with an open mindset to welcome new experiences,” (Leung et al,. 2008). 

My lifelong immersion in exploration has always felt like the most natural way to live, especially after I (unknowingly, at the time) began to dig deeper into the dynamic “relationship between multicultural experience and creativity. . .as a result of adapting and being open to new experiences,” (Leung et al,. 2008). This fluidity for being receptive to new experiences and surroundings has become a driving force in my life, fueling my endeavors back and forth across the country and beyond, while “seeking out ideas from diverse sources to use in the creative process,” (Leung et al,. 2008).  

The steady flow of change and movement in my life became ingrained in my creativity over time so that the two elements have become inextricably intertwined. My personal explorations and immersions in a changing sense of place have defined my experiences, decisions, and connections, and have shaped the essence of my creativity to “bring [sense of place] into being. . .with a complex intersection of cartography and literature, a charting of interior and exterior landscapes,”(Ryfield et al., 2019). The lens through which I view the world is how I navigate the changing landscapes of my life. My creativity is diversified by the living study of the interconnectedness that exists among individuals, communities, cultures, and their natural surroundings and is something that lives within my mind, my heart, my soul – always. 

From the Rocky Mountains to Big Sky Country to the stark vistas of the Southwest to the granite coves of Maine, and everywhere in between, my adulthood has been defined by something that, up until recently, was not satisfied with stillness. Movement was the only rhythm that felt natural to me for a long time and now that need for constant change has evolved into something more steady with the duality of the changing tides. My deepest connection, in my day to day life, lives within the natural flow of the water that surrounds me. This is another layer of sense of place to be explored, pursued, and depicted over the course of time, and my relationship with the sea, as “a way to identify and respond to the emotional and spiritual bonds people form with certain spaces” (Ryfield et al., 2019). The sea has cast its spell with the mystery of its depths and the eternity of its horizon, so that my connection with it has evolved from “aesthetic experience to part of place” (Ryfield et al., 2019).

The fluidity of movement has become interwoven with every element and parallel in the synergy of my life. It is a force to be reckoned with in my mind, my heart, my soul – always. I navigate the natural flow of my life to depict the sense of place for places that I’ve been and places that I’ll go, and to tell the stories of the individuals who are connected to these places. The spirit of my experiences with these wild places is something that I never forget. I carry it with me always and I think of it often, the feeling of standing on the edge of something faraway. 

References

Leung, A., Maddux, W., Galinsky, A., & Chiu, C. (2008). Multicultural experience enhances creativity: The when and how. American Psychologist, Volume 63(3), 169-181. https://web-b-ebscohost-com.wv-o-ursus-proxy01.ursus.maine.edu/ehost/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=ff14e80b-584c-402b-bd98-cf40d40df7a1%40pdc-v-sessmgr04&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=pdh&AN=2008-03389-003

Ryfield, F., Cabana, D., Brannigan, J., & Crowe, T. (2019). Conceptualizing ‘sense of place’ in cultural ecosystem services: A framework for interdisciplinary research. Ecosystem Services, Volume 36, 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoser.2019.100907

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