Monday, December 1, 2014

Creativity Tips: Five Ideas for Happier Holidays

As part of our Thanksgiving decorations, Kate cut out those turkey handprint forms kids use in elementary school -- you know, you trace your hand, cut it out, color it like a turkey. Then, on the big feast day, we decorated our hands and wrote what we are grateful for on the palm.

Being the brilliant writer that I am, I wrote something terrifically original ... family and friends. And the first thing I thought when I woke up Friday morning was: I should have written Joy. Fun. Laughter. Because, for me, that's what makes life worthwhile. And that's what made this Thanksgiving so special -- the house was filled with laughter.

For example, there was this moment. Tom went to pick up his brother, and I was afraid there wouldn't be time for him to carve the turkey. So I tried. Mary looked up instructions online. I became a vegetarian the moment I tried to amputate the leg. Mary and Kate then stepped up. And there was this moment:
Poor bird. 
And then this:

They did a fabulous job and Tom finished up when he got home. My guess is, we'll laugh at turkey carving for years to come. And that brings us to the five ideas for happier holidays:
  1. Carve out time for fun. Remember what really brings you joy during this crazy busy season, whether that's time with friends and family or quiet time with a good book. Enjoy yourself. 
  2. Consider the gift of time. I've stopped the gift exchange with many friends. Instead of buying presents, we spend the money at dinner out or doing something together. (Most of us have enough "stuff" and it's time with people we love that is most precious.)
  3. Remember that it's not a competition. I can turn anything into a competition. (When I tried to knit, I had to remind myself that "knit one, purl two" was not a score.) However, baking, decorating and wrapping should be fun. Just fun. If it's not fun, stop the insanity. The world will still revolve. Santa will still arrive. 
  4. Go back. Think about what you enjoyed most about the holidays before the responsibility of the holidays was on your shoulders. Playing with the dreidel? Decorating sugar cookies? Setting up a model train under the tree? Whatever it was, do it again. 
  5. Sit down. Relax. Have a hot chocolate or a hot toddy. Watch a movie -- there are so many classics to choose from -- It's a Wonderful Life. White Christmas. The Polar Express. Choose your flick and sit your tuchas down. That's right. You can sit during the holidays. I promise, it will be OK. 
Now's the time to wrap yourself in the joy of the season. Here's to the happiest of holidays for all of us!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Fabulous Phrases: Gilead

I've just started reading Marilynne Robinson's beautiful works and I am completely hooked. I'm about halfway through Gilead now and want to share this gorgeous phrase:

“You can know a thing to death and be for all purposes completely ignorant of it. A man can know his father, or his son, and there might still be nothing between them but loyalty and love and mutual incomprehension.”

It's perfect. And it perfectly described my weekend. That's one of the things I love about great writing -- it makes you feel less alone in the world. 

By the by, before I picked up Gilead, I was halfway through a beach read by a writer I've enjoyed in the past. I switched books because the beach read kept making my brain go, "Really? You think a character would say/do that?" Used to be, I'd finish a book regardless of how I felt about it -- as though I had made a sacred commitment to the author. No more. 

Interesting how our approach to creative works changes as we change ... 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Creativity Tips: Embrace Structure

One of the greatest creativity boosts I know is structure. Give me a structure, and you've given me a start. Give me a structure and a deadline, and I'm unstoppable. 

The power of structure hits home with me at this time of year, when we Jews beat our collective chest for a litany of alphabetized sins. The prayerbook list has never fully resonated with me, but the structure gave me the incentive to write my own. And, in hopes that it will inspire you to write an alphabetized something or other, here it is ...  

My Alphabet of Failings – Yom Kippur, 2014
by Jan Sokoloff Harness

This year, I confess alone, my alphabet of failings:

For the sin of anger against those who challenge me
And for the sin of belittling those I don’t understand

For the sin of criticizing without caring
And for the sin of doubting the strength of love

For the sin of enjoying what I shouldn’t have
And for the sin of purposefully finding fault

For the sin of greed when I have so much
And for the sin of hating beautiful strangers

For the sin of needlessly imagining problems  
And for the sin of joking to avoid a truth

For all these sins, oh God of forgiveness,
Forgive me, pardon me, grant me atonement.

For the sin of kindness too often withheld
And for the sin of loving in measured touches

For the sin of malice toward those who are richer
And for the sin of nourishing my worst intentions

For the sin of observing when I could be helping
And for the sin of pretending I am less than I am

For the sin of quitting when I still have fight
And for the sin of not resting when I am exhausted

For the sin of saying it doesn’t matter
And for the sin of thinking he can read my mind.

For all these sins, oh God of forgiveness,
Forgive me, pardon me, grant me atonement.

For the sin of not cutting the umbilical cord
And for the sin of not visiting my parents enough

For the sin of not weeping, to prove my strength
And for the sin of never forgiving my ex

For the sin of yearning to alter time 
And for the sin of repenting at the zero hour.

For all these sins, oh God of forgiveness,
Forgive me, pardon me, grant me atonement.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday Fun: Chicken Soup

I was getting grumpy, so Hedy made chicken soup. 
Because, as you know, chicken soup cures all. 

Here's to a weekend that cures whatever ails you! 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday Fun: Snake in the Grass

Happy Friday! 
Am I charming?
Or do I just work well with snakes?
Here's your creativity exercise for the moment: Give me a caption for this vacation shot! 
Then go outside and play. Remember your sunscreen. 
We don't want your beautiful skin to get all scaly ... 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Creativity Tips: Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

Yesterday, I needed a break from the writing so I took a walk around the neighborhood park. On my third lap around the park path, I noticed this:

And there was this:

It took me three times around the park before I saw the trees. Three times. Once I saw them, I realized there was something beautiful and different about every single tree. And it struck me: How many times do I walk by people -- even people I love, especially people I love -- and not see what's beautiful and different about them?

In our rush to meet deadlines, keep up-to-date, stay relevant, there's a real danger in missing the wonder right in front of us. My advice for you today? Slow down. Look around. My wish for you today? I hope someone sees the ever-changing beauty in you.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Creativity Tips: In email, no one can hear you scream

Hi gang! Long time no post. I wrote this on LinkedIn (don't ask why), so thought I'd share here too. Enjoy!
I love email. I love texting. I love all forms of written communication. However, our newest forms -- the emails, the texts, the Tweets, the updates -- do a horrific job at conveying emotion and intent. So, when a client emails, "Your schedule isn't a problem. We understand your need for work/life balance." I can read that as:
1. My schedule isn't a problem. They understand -- and respect -- my need for work/life balance.
2. Oh my god. I just lost this account. They're never going to send me work again.
It's just hard to say. Because in email, no one can hear you smile. Or laugh. Or wink. And the only way anyone will hear you scream is IF YOU USE ALL CAPS! And that's so not professional.
Given the challenge, ask yourself these five questions:
1. If you got that message from someone else, how would you feel? After you write the message, reread it from the audience's perspective.
2. Are you being snarky? Because email isn't the place. Seriously. Don't do it.
3. Have you started the message with "Hi, whoever" and ended it with "Thanks!" or something equally friendly and professional? It takes five seconds, max. Changes the entire tone of the message.
4. Did you hide the real message in the middle of the email? Get to the point. Politely, but quickly.
5. Should you be writing this at all? Some messages are best communicated over the phone or face-to-face. Consider the medium.
And I'll give you a sixth piece of advice as a bonus: If you really want to make a written impression, forget the email. The text. The Tweet. Put pen to paper and mail it. While you still can ...