Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Creativity Exercise: Take Me to Paris

OK, you don't have to take me. But, I will share a fun writing contest that could send you and three of your closest friends to Paris!

It's easy. Just visit talbots.com and enter the Tales of Denim contest. It's a flashback to the six-word stories.* Just tell a tale about your favorite jeans. In six words.

If you win, I expect at least a postcard. Entries are due by Wednesday, Sept. 8. And remember: You have to play to win. (Six words. That's all we need.)

* Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway considered this his best story: "For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn."

Monday, August 30, 2010

Creativity Tips: Make it Fun

This week, take a new look at what you're doing. And find a way to make it fun!

P.S. Thanks to Vanessa for the link -- she always makes life more fun!

P.P.S. Did you know research shows people are more productive when they're having fun? It's true. Just in case you need a "reason" to party on. I don't ... but some of you may be more rational than I am.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Food is Love: Chicken Noodle Soup

When I say, "Food is love," this is what I'm talking about:

Yesterday, after we got home from the hospital (and the surgery went well; thanks for all the good thoughts!), Tom took a long nap. When he woke up, the one thing he wanted was chicken noodle soup.

Now, you'd think a good Jewish mother would have that on hand. You'd be right. Clearly, I am not a good Jewish mother.

No matter. Two seconds after Tom made his request, while I was wondering if I even had a can of Campbell's on hand, the doorbell rings. And there's our buddies Maureen and Sandy, carrying a box of goodies. Salad, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, cookies. And chicken noodle soup.*

Food is love. Especially when it's delivered by friends who know there are times when it's best to walk in, drop the food off, hug really tight, and leave.

I hope you have a healthy, happy weekend. I hope you have friends who know when to show up and when to leave. I hope you have hugs. And I'll see you back here Monday!

*I haven't tried the recipe, but it's from the Pioneer Woman so you know it's yummy. More chicken and noodles than soup, but still ... it looks good!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Think Good Thoughts for Tom

My husband Tom is having surgery this morning -- arthroscopic and traditional -- to repair a large tear in his rotator cuff. The injury occurred while he was benchpressing. I keep telling him he should be thrilled to have a sports injury at 64. For some reason, he's not thrilled.

Men. They're so difficult.

Tom is not a religious man, but I'm guessing he'd appreciate any good thoughts you'd care to send out into the universe. You know. So his karma doesn't run over his dogma.

In honor of the operation -- which is supposed to take about 1.5 hours -- here's my only rotator cuff poem. You just never know when these things will come in handy ...

P.S. for those of you who don't know Tom. Yes, that's him. I am married to a Simpson's character.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Creativity Exercise: Forgive

I used to think I was absolutely no good at the whole forgive and forget concept. Oh, sure. I'd forgive. But I'd never, ever, ever forget.

Funny thing though. As it turns out, once you forgive, you start to forget. Automatically. And, at some point, you turn around and realize: It's gone. The anger, the hurt. Whatever. It's gone.

In its place? More room for laughter. For wonder. For you.

Give it a try. Forgive someone something. What have you got to lose?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Creativity Tips: Be the Lightning

The people on the CI team -- yes, you! -- are incredibly talented. I don't always have the opportunity to appreciate your talents in person, so it was a joy recently to hear Lezlie perform.

It was a perfect evening outside -- the Street Corner Choir singing, a cool breeze, Tom and I enjoying a good glass of wine and a chance to just be. Perfect.

To keep the mood going, I'm listening to the Street Corner Choir CD in my car and humming the songs at home.

Lezlie's releasing a solo CD too. Take a listen. Buy a CD. Be the lightning.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Creativity Tips: Read Fiction

The votes from Thursday's post are in -- on the blog, on Facebook and Twitter. The topic -- does reading fiction matter -- clearly hit home. While the verdict was far from unanimous, a clear majority say, "Yes. Chris should read fiction."

I also checked with my best buddy Lynn, a respected reading and literacy expert. She says Chris and Laurie are already modeling correct behavior for the boys -- by reading a lot at home and reading kids' books to the boys. So, that part of my argument is totally bogus.

However, she also said, "Chris should absolutely read fiction. Fiction is the foundation of our humanity. It's the stories. It's how our culture is passed along."

Lynn also says that even literary non-fiction engages our brain in a different way than fiction does. Given that, let's forget about setting a good example for the boys for a moment. Chris should be reading fiction for his own continual development.

So, the creativity tip to start your week? Read fiction.

The creative query:
What should Chris read?

Chris hasn't read any fiction published in the past 15 years. I'm buying: What book do you suggest?

P.S. The fiction I'm reading at the moment is Until I Find You by John Irving. It is not Owen Meany, but ... it's OK. The best non-fiction I've read lately is this post by Roger Ebert.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Friday Fun: Get Ready for Friday Freebies

Before we get to today's post, THANK YOU for all the comments, Facebook posts and emails yesterday. I'll have a follow-up re: the big reading decision for Chris on Monday. You guys rock. Now, back to our previously scheduled programming:

OK, I said I was done with BlogHer posts. I lied.

Here's the deal. Some BlogHer sponsors and exhibitors are asking me to review and give away their products. Mike suggested Sellout Saturday as the title for this new CI feature. As much as I like that, I'm going with Friday Freebies.

My plan is to periodically review and give away products that tie in to creativity -- and there are a couple of cool items on the way, including a coloring sheet that can be transformed into a sculpture. I need a kid for that one. I think. Maybe I could do the coloring sheet. Hmmmmm.

Anyway, stay tuned. And for Friday Fun, check out the Battle of the Cheetos. No, I am not giving away Cheetos. I don't even like Cheetos. I do like the graphics on the game.

Happy weekend!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Creative Query: Am I reading too much into this?

Today, you have the chance to be judge and jury in a disagreement between me and Chris, the son-I-would-have-had-if-I-would-have-had-a-son.

We were recently discussing some piece of fiction, and Chris mentioned he no longer reads fiction. At all. I immediately had a fit. I doubt that surprises you.

"Why is it important that I read fiction?" he asked.

"Because," I stammered. "Because ..."

Because it's a creative adventure. Because it's a doorway to other worlds, other lives. Because it takes us places non-fiction can never go.

All perfectly lovely reasons that I couldn't express at the time, I was so mind-boggled at learning Chris didn't read fiction. But I finally made one coherent point that hit home: I told Chris he should read fiction to set a good example for his sons.

Now, let me set out the facts in the case:
  • Chris reads a lot. There are plenty of non-fiction books in the house, along with magazines, newspapers, etc.
  • Chris and his wife Laurie read children's books to the boys. There's no shortage of reading in their young lives.
  • Chris read a lot of fiction before he stopped. He groks the fullness of the classics.
Here's where we part ways.

Chris believes no fiction is as fascinating as real life. Possibly, but it can be a helluva lot more appealing. For example, Chris hasn't read one of my all-time favorite books, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. It's fiction. But he might read Lucky, Sebold's memoir. Both books deal with rape. The reality of Lucky made me put the book down and walk away. I had the same reaction when I reached the rape scene in The Lovely Bones -- but I was able to come back to that book, knowing it was fiction. Incredible, astonishing, unforgettable fiction.

Here's where you come in.
Vote with a post.
Or send me an email.

If you say it's important for Chris to start reading fiction again, he will. If you say it doesn't matter, he'll continue down his merry non-fictional path.

He has agreed to abide by the CI team's decision. In other words, he's already paying more attention to you than he does to me. Clearly, he is one of my children ...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

P.S. Here's the Picture ...

... that goes with the previous post.

She's not carrying any books. No backpack. This is senior year, she has a solid ACT score, she knows where she's going to college and I'm not sure studying is top on her list. (No worries. She'll do fine -- or I'll nag. Because I'm a mom and that's my job.)

You know how you think you're prepared for something, and you're not? I cried when she left. Just for a moment, and she didn't know -- she was out the door with her boyfriend Nick.

They're out the door pretty dang fast, it seems. And that's why we need to fully appreciate firsts, lasts, and all the random wonderful moments in between.

Creativity Tips: Celebrate Firsts. And Lasts.

One of my favorite poems, Cascando by Samuel Beckett, includes the phrase, "there is a last even of last times." Today, I am incredibly aware of another truth: There is a last even of first times.

Mary starts her senior year in high school today. Those of you who have loved me for years know what that means ... the annual "first day of school" photo will soon pop up in your email.

Last time, folks. Last first.

For the rest of you, let me explain. Ever since Kate started kindergarten, Tom and I have been among the millions of parents taking photos on the first day of school. We could have just printed the pics, framed them and called it a day. But, where's the fun in that? Instead, I emailed multiple photos to everyone who had ever met the girls, assuming they'd be thrilled.

I mean, heck. We're talking the cutest children ever born. How could you not be thrilled?

For the first few years, it was just Kate in the photos. Then, Kate and Mary, all decked up with new backpacks and eager to go to class. Those first years, the photo frenzy continued from our house all the way to elementary school.

Flash forward to junior high. High school. It was harder to get them to pause for the camera. Almost impossible to get them in the same frame.

Then, whoosh! Kate had the audacity to grow up and go off to college -- out of reach of even my zoom lens. And, for some reason, she refused to take a photo of herself on the first day of school and email it to me so I could forward it. (Yes. I seriously made that request. I do not let go easily.)

So, for the past few years, it's just been Mary -- who may groan and grimace this morning as she runs out to her car, but she will also stop and grin for the camera. Because she's a good kid. And she knows that celebrating firsts, and lasts, is important.

To all of you who have helped send Kate and Mary off to school for the past 15 years, thank you. You have done more than share our joy. You have doubled it.

P.S. I'll post the official "last first" pic here once I have it. You're all part of the family now. No reason why anyone should escape ...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Creative Exercise: Half-Tank Writing

Here's a quickie exercise for a summer day.
  1. Take out a clean sheet of paper.
  2. Scroll through the Big Bunny's photos from his Half-Tank Cruise.
  3. Write down the first thing that pops into your mind when you see each photo.
That's it! Free writing. No editing. Ready, set, write!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Creativity Tips: Be Bored

One reason kids are so creative is because no one has told them yet: You can't do that.

But I've decided there's another secret to kid creativity. Kids get bored. You know what I'm talking about. That end-of-the-summer "there's nothing to do and it's too hot to go out and this is the most boring house in the world" malaise.

And what do bored children do? They flop around, whine a little louder, and then come up with an idea. In other words, they get creative.

I do get bored in meetings now and then (OK, more now than then), but I can't remember the last time I had absolutely, positively nothing in the world to do. And I'm guessing you're in the same multi-tasking boat.

So here's the question: How can we get bored? How can we escape the To Do list this week, free up a few creative neurons and cause a little trouble?

I'm gonna go build a fort* out of sheets and pillows, crawl in and think about it.

*I was looking for an image of a fort made out of sheets to illustrate the blog. You know what I found? Instructions on how to make the fort. Seriously? We need freakin' instructions on how to make a fort out of sheets and blankets and pillows? Shoot. Me. Now.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday Fun: Chuckle

Here's a funny from our friend Bernie:

A college class was instructed to write a short story using as few words as possible. The story had to contain religion, sexuality and mystery. Only one student earned an A+. The superlative story?

"Good God, I'm pregnant. I wonder who did it."

I'm sure that's been around a while, but it made me chuckle. And here's the deal: Not everything has to be a belly laugh. Appreciate the chuckles.

It's Friday. Go play. Chuckle. Do something with religion. Or sexuality. There's no mystery to the grade: I'm giving you an A+.

Party on, people!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Creativity Tips: Follow Your Passion

The Big Bunny commented on Tuesday that I probably have "lusty tales of high adventure" from BlogHer '10. I do, but I will save those for one-on-one discussions. (Yes, despite all evidence to the contrary, I can be discreet.) However, now that I've had a chance to let the overwhelming experience that is BlogHer percolate, I do want to share a few lessons learned:
  1. If you order a ride from a company named Carmel, do not get in a car from a company named International. Even if the driver repeatedly says, "Yes! Carmel! Yes!" The driver does not speak English.

  2. I am not the only good writer in the world. Seriously! Did you realize that? I sometimes forget.

  3. Some of those writers are trying to change the world. Big picture. Piss off dictators. Clean water. Cure diseases.

  4. I'm trying to change the world, small picture. I want to make your day better.

  5. You can always cram another tipsy blogger into a tiny Hilton Hotel elevator. Maybe two. There's three of you? Ohmilord.

  6. It's possible to walk down 36 floors and get to the lobby before the elevator arrives.

  7. There are many ways to measure success with a blog. Google Analytics is just one of them.

  8. Ree Drummond looks just like her photos on The Pioneer Woman. Mrs. Potato Head looks like Mrs. Potato Head. Bruce Jenner looks like a man living with the Kardashians. (FYI, I totally enjoyed having my photo taken with him.)

  9. People want to talk. They just don't want to initiate the conversation. And the vast majority of people want to talk about themselves. (Which is good news for those of us who don't.)

  10. Man can't live on bread alone. Women can do pretty good on New York cheesecake.

Seriously, my big BlogHer takeaway came during a two-minute conversation in the hall: It still pays to follow your passion. Catherine, the chef in the Jimmy Dean booth, stopped practicing law to start cooking.

Catherine sparkled. Even when she wasn't standing by the sun.

And that, my friends, is the recipe for creative happiness: Find your passion. And have the courage to follow it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Creativity Tips: Keep Your Promises

The first morning at BlogHer, I walked into a huge ballroom filled with 2400 people -- almost all women. I promptly found a table with three guys and sat down. Hey, they were all alone. Three cute guys and they're sitting alone in a room filled with women. Ridiculous.

(OK, full disclosure. I didn't sit with them because they were cute. I am a well-behaved married woman. I sat with them because I was on complete estrogen overload and the conference had just begun.)

Anyhoo ... one of them was Kevin, from Always Home and Uncool. Kevin has a daughter with Juvenile Myositis and he's trying to win a $250,000 research grant for CureJM in the Pepsi Good Idea contest. Your daily vote can help push CureJM to the top.

I'm keeping this promise because I made it. That may sound elementary, but it's important. I have promises to keep.

Sidenote to Mrs. Kevin: Yes. He really did keep his eyes focused on the stage while the girl in the next-to-nothing skirt teetered by our table in her very, very high heels. Good job, Kevin! (And good luck in the contest!)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

There's No Place Like Home

I have clicked my ruby slippers and am delighted to be back home in Kansas.

I'm also delighted that our last drive in New York was with Mahmood, an immigrant from Pakistan. More than 30 years ago, Mahmood was working on a ship that docked in the New York harbor. He waited until dark, jumped overboard, and swam to shore.*

I know this, because I asked him how long he had been in America -- he had mentioned being an immigrant and I thought it was a fairly innocuous question. Here's the gist of the conversation that followed:

"Before I got my green card, when people would ask me that, I would say, 'Do you know the Brooklyn Bridge?' And they would say, 'Yeah, sure.' And I would say, 'My family built that bridge.' Then they would stop asking questions.

"But if you know how to watch, you know how to live. If you know how to live, you know how to get work."

Mahmood worked for many years before receiving his green card under the Immigration Reform Act of 1986. He loves America. He loves New York City. And he's an unofficial ambassador for both:

"This is a wonderful country. This is a wonderful city. This city is like the movie, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The bad, you can count on one hand: 1, 2, 3, 4. The good, there are millions of us."

Mahmood is right. There are millions of us. And it was a pleasure to meet so many of them in New York.

Now, it's very, very good to be back. The Pakistani immigrant in New York and the second-generation American in Olathe agree: There's no place like home.

* This is not a political post re: illegal immigration. I'm just sharing a story that reminded me how lucky we are -- and how much liberty means to people who don't take freedom for granted.

P.S. I took the photo during the ferry ride Eva, Kate and I took on Sunday. It really is an amazing sight.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Creativity Tips: Make a Huge Difference

One of my favorite speakers at BlogHer 10 was an International Activist Blogger Scholarship recipient, Esra'a, from Mideast Youth. This is a young woman who risks her life to write her blog.

I am still in NY as I write this and I haven't had time to review Mideast Youth; I just liked Esra'a's approach and her attitude. I'm basically going to let her write the blog for me today ... I'll be back tomorrow!

Here's a bit of what Esra'a had to say:

"My original goal (in starting the blog) was to piss off as many dictators as possible."

"Young people in the Middle East are the majority. We have the potential to make a huge difference and the Internet is making that possible for us."

"By the end of the day, you gotta do what you gotta do. And if you are going to piss a lot of people off, you better do it well."

Friday, August 6, 2010

Creativity Tips: Stoke Your Creativity

Since I'm speaking on the "Stoke Your Creativity" panel at BlogHer this morning, there may be a few new people reading this. Welcome! I encourage you to look around.

Unfortunately, you can't see one of the coolest things about this blog: The CI team totally rocks. Great people, incredibly talented and giving. Fun, good-hearted, generous. I love this group.

But, back to business. In keeping with the panel presentation, I want to give you the only two words you really need to break a block and instigate creativity for yourself and those around you:
  1. STOP.
    Stop listening to the negative voices in your head.

  2. BEGIN.
    Trust yourself. Experiment. Play. You are a creative soul. And it's your time to shine. Want inspiration to get you started? It only takes a few minutes to read my e-book, Creative Chai. Go ahead. Begin.
P.S. for long-time members of the CI team: If you've read Creative Chai before, take another look. Leslie's gorgeous photos really shine thanks to the new design by Jade Benson. Thanks to Leslie for the photos, Jade for the design, and Mike for the instigation!

P.P.S. for new members of the CI team: My daily blog entries post at 4:22 a.m. because my birthday is April 22. Yes, you should mark this down. Never miss a reason to celebrate.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Creativity Tips: Be Amazed

To cover my bases, I have to begin this post the way my grandmother and mother would. God willing ...

This morning, I will be in Kansas City. This afternoon, I will be in New York City*. Isn't that amazing?

Now, your response might be: It's not amazing. It's a plane ride. If so, you're missing something very special -- an opportunity to be dazzled by the creative wonderfulness that surrounds us.

Sure, I've flown on planes before. I've flown a fair amount, on planes both big and small. They're all amazing. The idea that this heavy piece of metal can lift off -- with people inside! and bags! -- and sail through the air, and get from one precise location to another ... well, it never fails to astonish me.

Because once it was just an idea.

Imagine the ideas, the possibilities within us. Within you. And be amazed.

*To make it even better, Eva and Kate are with me! Fun is more fun shared.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Creativity Tips: Sparkle

As part of a social media marketing program, Gap is providing some BlogHer speakers with outfits. It's a great idea: We get cool clothes to sample. They hope to get publicity, through posts and Tweets and word of mouth.

I'm a marketer. I love the idea. I also love Gap clothes -- I've been racking up rewards on my Gap charge card for years. So, scoring new black pants and a great pair of jeans was a treat, but not a surprise. Gap fits petites.

The surprise? Well, Brianne, the beautiful and talented Gap stylist you see here, knew that the big sparkly metallic bag and the embellished T-shirt would work for me. I would never, NEVER, have gone near either of them. I don't do sparkle. I don't do embellishments.

Well, I embellish stories. I just don't embellish me.

Fortunately, Brianne knew better. She took in my "I wear black" fashion philosophy, and then gave me choices that included black, but went far beyond.

Her approach works for creative people in all sorts of endeavors: Listen to your client. Respect their preferences. But have faith in your own talents, in your gut instincts. Give them more than what they want -- give them what they need.

After all, if they refuse to sparkle, you can always fade to black.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Creativity Tips: Take a Break

So, here's the deal. I could be prepping for my BlogHer panel. Or figuring out what to pack for NY. Or deciding how to turn this adventure into a business-building proposition. (Yeah, there's a concept.)

I could be writing the ad that's due for one client tomorrow. Or the magazine article due for another. (Again, that business stuff.)

I could be cleaning house. But, then again, I've waited 55 years. Why start now?

You know what I am doing? I'm writing this post during commercial breaks while I watch the finale of The Bachelorette. How pathetic is that?

It's not pathetic at all. It's a good healthy break. What's pathetic is that even while I'm relaxing, I'm here on the computer -- multi-tasking on 60-second commercial breaks.

Learn from my mistakes. This week, fully enjoy whatever you find relaxing. Solo task. Better yet, don't task at all. It's summertime. Let the living be easy.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Creative Inspiration: Kim Addonizio

Last week, The Writer's Almanac featured three poems by Kim Addonizio. I really like two of them -- For You and Scary Movies. (Scary Movies is my favorite. It's awesome. LOVE the ending.)

Speaking of love, you might prefer Forms of Love. It's poetry, so preferences are personal.

Look at how Addonizio plays with structure, from the rhythm of For You to the carry-you-through-the-poem stanza breaks in Scary Movies to the repetitive structure of Forms of Love.

For You is really short, so I'll copy it here. Check the links for the others -- and let me know which one you like best!

For You
by Kim Addonizio

For you I undress down to the sheaths of my nerves.
I remove my jewelry and set it on the nightstand,
I unhook my ribs, spread my lungs flat on a chair.
I dissolve like a remedy in water, in wine.
I spill without staining, and leave without stirring the air.
I do it for love. For love, I disappear.

"For You" by Kim Addonizio, from Lucifer at the Starlight. © W.W. Norton and Co., 2009.

P.S. I used a small font for the poem in hopes that the line breaks won't be changed in the posting. I read a fascinating article recently quoting Billy Collins and his concerns re: poetry "translated" into electronic media (Kindles, etc.) incorrectly. Line breaks are generally incidental in prose, as long as the paragraph breaks are clear. It's a completely different story in poetry.

P.P.S. Yes. That's Addonizio's official bio photo. Another reason to like her.