Most everyone I’ve met on Whidbey Island has an interesting story to tell. I wonder what unseen force draws people here to live and cultivate their authentic selves. I write weekly about people whose lives light my own journey of perpetual curiosity.
Last week I met a woman who is a cartographer for others’ creativity. Sara Saltee and the Saltee Academy explores our creative wilderness and provides tools to excavate the personal riches that are discovered.
Sara Saltee is a welcoming, smart, articulate woman with deep-seeing blue eyes.
“The big picture is I’ve been a creativity coach for over 20 years,” Sara said. “I’m interested in challenges creative people face. Challenges of what to do with our life. Particularly, how to organize life when you have more than one creative passion.”
She spoke of how creativity can be quashed as we navigate from being children to becoming adults.
“We are not born with a singular purpose, but with preferences,” Sara said. “They get numbed out in a work culture that emphasizes skills, not passion. I think that people narrow themselves to cut off these parts of themselves in order to fit into whatever cubicle they’re trying to be in. Or they’re raised to associate creativity with mental instability, financial insecurity, danger, or red flags. This made sense for earlier generations, where creativity was not an economic driver. Now it is. The only work left for humans is caring and creative work.”
As we navigate from a life of industrial productivity to expressing our real selves, we may feel lost.
“What is waning, is the ethos of productivity that we inherited from the Industrial Age,” Sara explained. “People are starting to name it—Grind culture. Toxic productivity model. What we haven’t noticed, except for those of us that have studied it, is there is an ethos of creativity. It is a way of living. I believe there is an ethos, a mindset, on Whidbey, where the creativity ethos is dominant.”
How Sara came to founding The Creative Constellation Program, which is described on her website as a “…self-discovery and wayfinding course for complex creators,” was born from her experience of deep inner conflict during her pursuit of a Ph.D. in communications at UC San Diego, and came to fruition in 2020 during Covid, when she started the Saltee Academy to begin sharing the framework she’d been developing for over a decade.
“I was in my Ph.D. program for a long time and I was deeply miserable,” Sara recalled. “Part of what I learned about myself was that I was a creator. The idea of taking [creativity] apart wasn’t working. I had hobbies of making collages and assemblages and needing a place to play. There didn’t seem to be room for them in academics. [Yet] I stayed in academia. I did student advising in Colorado for Regis University.“
Meanwhile, while Sara was trying to make herself fit in her academic career, life had other plans. Whidbey Island came a calling in 2005.
Her parents and one of her sisters lived on Whidbey, and Sara arrived, at first to lend support, and then decided to stay.
“My sister has a daughter seven months older than mine,” Sara said. “When she was three, she was diagnosed with cancer. That marked the time where I had to be close and part of my family. My parents were suffering. My sister was suffering. In 2005 I knew in my hearts of hearts I would stay on the island.”
Eventually her niece recovered from the disease.
“My niece graduated from college,” Sara said. “She works at Seattle Children’s Hospital in the lab that studies the kind of cancer she once had. They saved her life. Now she’s devoting her life to that. That’s the kind of force that brought us [Sara’s husband and daughter] to Whidbey.”
For the past decade, Sara has worked as director of education with a small nonprofit, the Center for Partnership Systems, based on the work of best-selling author, Riane Eisler, who wrote The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future. It is an international bestseller, with more than half a million copies sold, and it makes the case for a future of partnerships.
When not working for the center, Sara was doing what she loves, collaging and assembling art, building ‘star charts’ to map one’s evolving spiral of modes of expression, and identified 25 ‘creativities’ that define who we are or are becoming. She fashioned a deck of cards bearing collaged images of Scrabble tiles, mapping images, her own art, and symbols, to illustrate the more than two dozen creative types.
Similar to the thinking of Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, which revolutionized teaching in 1983 with his theory that there are various ways of learning, the Creative Constellations Framework Sara Saltee created brings a “similar revolution to personal growth and career and life planning…by asking, ‘How are you Creative?”—as her website notes.
With Riane Eisler now in her nineties, Sara said she is ready to transition into her own creative coaching business full time.
“This is divine timing,” Sara said. “It’s clear this is my work and there’s plenty to do. It’s having a business that is focused on teaching and developing these tools. A whole different animal than being involved with an institution. One of the things I did for RIane, was I was designing and teaching online courses. I thought there’s no reason I couldn’t do this on my own. For me, this project has been the integrative project of my life. I’ve done the illustration, theory, writing, and teaching. All the pieces came together in this work.”
Through her life experience, Sara found that creativity is the place where we find meaning and satisfaction. Perhaps someone loves putting their hands in soil, spending time with plants and caring for them. Another cannot stand dirt and insects, but thrives on firing glass, cutting it into tiny pieces and assembling it in a mosaic of color.
“Part of the way you know you’re creative in a certain way is what people find hard, you find easy, “ Sara explained.
At the heart of the creative ‘star chart’ are the qualities of love, trust, presence, practice, inquiry, audacity and play, which fuel our creative selves. And our interests and talents evolve over time.
“What I’m teaching goes beyond productivity living and addresses how to live and work from your creative center,” Sara noted. “This is a mindset change. Productivity culture does to us what it has done to the Earth—we are resources to be used until there is no more. Creativity culture is about life affirming, life sustaining, and life generating activities. There are mainstream ways of thinking now, which are getting closer to saying, ‘This is killing our planet and making us sick. There has to be another way.’”
A friend, Leslie Boies, has enrolled in a number of Sara’s courses. She suggested I might enjoy interviewing Sara and writing about what she does. I did enjoy and find inspiration from my visit with Sara, and this story is the result.
Leslie wrote in an email:
“I have taken several workshops and webinars with Sara over the past few years and always find her to be delightfully inspiring and enriching. I recently finished her Creative Constellations Program, and with the help of her brilliant coaching, thought-provoking assessment tools, and our engaging group discussions, was able to expand my ideas of what creativity is and discern my own unique “creative constellation.”
“Seeing disparate and sidelined parts of myself coalesce into a powerful, meaningful whole felt like a joyful homecoming! As a result, I have a newfound commitment and excitement for partnering with my creative modes more fully and intentionally. For a 60-something semi-retired woman in her “Third Act” of life, this feels wonderful. But my wish would be for Sara’s CCP and process to be in every school, college, workplace and congregation in the country. It’s that good! I deeply believe inhabiting our complex creative selves keeps us and the world healthy and connected, so I hope more people find their way to Sara.”
The Saltee Academy is offering its next Creative Constellations program in late September, and its two modes are each eight weeks long. For more information visit this webpage.
Saltee Bite Workshops are offered monthly. Get a sense of what the larger programs offer, and learn about creative identity, consciousness and personal direction courses offered by the Saltee Academy.