Friday, April 26, 2013

Creativity Tips: A Lesson from Ted Kooser

Every morning when I check email, I have delightful offerings for the ULTIMATE CAMI! and aids that will CURE SNORING! and at least one or two URGENT tracking notices from a fake FedEx.

On the bright side, I also find a legitimate email from The Writers Almanac, a delightful service that sends me a poem every morning along with fascinating literary tidbits.

Yesterday's email included a story on Ted Kooser, the U.S. poet laureate who flunked out of graduate school and spent 35 years working in insurance. I'll pick up the almanac story from there -- Kooser is speaking:

"I worked every day with people who didn't read poetry, who hadn't read it since they were in high school, and I wanted to write for them."

Every morning, he got up at 4:30, made a pot of coffee, and wrote until 7. Then he put on his suit and tie and went to work. By the time he retired in 1999, Kooser had published seven books of poetry, including Not Coming to Be Barked At (1976), One World at a Time (1985), and Weather Central (1994). He resigned himself to being a relatively unknown poet, but he continued to write every morning. Then, in 2004, he got a phone call informing him that he had been chosen as poet laureate of the United States. He said: "I was so staggered I could barely respond. The next day, I backed the car out of the garage and tore the rearview mirror off the driver's side." As the poet laureate, he started a free weekly column for newspapers called "American Life in Poetry."

When you really, really, really want to do something creative, you do it. The question is: How much do you want it?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Creativity Tips: Happy Birthday, Crayola!

A rose is a rose is a rose, but a crayon is not a crayon is not a crayon. I know. I've bought the cheap versions. They ain't Crayolas. So I always keep a big box* of Crayola crayons on hand. After all, you never know when you might want to draw a work of art.

Given my lifelong love for Crayola, this post is a natural for me -- even though I must tell you right upfront that the good folks at Crayola sent me info, asked for a post, and will reward me with a box of crayons. That's right. That's my price. Give me a box of one of my all-time favorite creativity tools and I will write about you.

In my own defense, this isn't just any box. I've been promised the 110th birthday pack! Because Crayola is celebrating its 110th anniversary. So, if you're counting, they're even older than I am.

To get the party started, follow my lead, go to their Facebook page, and enter for the chance to win a trip to the all-new Crayola Experience!** Hang out with Green this spring. Party with Orange, the color of creativity. You might even get close to Red.

Speaking of Red, I love the crayon's favorite quote: "It's kind of fun to do the impossible." That's from Walt Disney, who knew a thing or two about creativity. And, as I discovered looking around the site, Red doesn't like Visine. I'll let you figure out why.

*BIG BOX. Always buy the BIG BOX. Life is colorful.

** You win. You take me. It's pretty simple.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Creativity Tips: Celebrate You

It's my birthday! I love birthdays. OK, that's not exactly right. Let me try again.

Yeah. That's better. And here's my birthday wish: Celebrate yourself. Celebrate this very moment and the unarguable fact that you are here and that every day of life is a day overflowing with possibilities for joy and happiness and love and all the wonder that so easily gets lost in the day-to-day noise of life.

Sure, there's shit. Shit happens. What of it? Fun happens. Good happens. You happen. Celebrate!

This is a pic of me and Eva, about 38 years ago. I thought I was fat. Seriously. Look at me. I thought I was fat. So here's the birthday gift I want from you: Do NOT waste a moment of this precious day being harsh to yourself. Promise me. Promise? Good! Now, if you want, go have a piece of birthday cake in my honor and enjoy every bite.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Poetic Response to Boston

One of the biggest advantages of being a writer is having an immediate way to vent emotions. I had planned to take this poem draft to my writers workshop last night, but the workshop was cancelled. So, you can be my workshop! Let me know what you think, if there's something you'd change, whatever. Thanks!

For Jaleeza, at 33rd and Troost

She watches TV, sprawled on her tummy,
on the floor. Mommy says it’s safer
than the couch. That’s all she says
but Jaleeza knows
stray bullets fly high.
She hugs the floor and worries.
Her mom, on the couch,
her brother in the kitchen.
Where’s the baby?
She tracks their movements.
You never know. You never know.
Jaleeza watches the news
prostrate on the floor.
She prays Martin wasn’t scared
before the bombing.
He was 8. Same as her.
She stares at Boston’s finish-line panic,
over and over, wondering why
those people didn’t know
crowds are dangerous, strangers will kill you,
and the world is a marathon of terror.
© Jan Sokoloff Harness, April 2013

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Creativity Tips: Perception is NOT Reality

You are more beautiful than you think.

And the world is full of good, kind, caring people. In Boston. And in Baghdad.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Creativity Tips: Father Knows Best

When I graduated from the University of Missouri, my father gave me a note with this quotation from Calvin Coolidge:

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "press on" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

I woke up this morning and thought, "Daddy was right."

It's so easy in today's instant-gratification world to expect immediate results, and be disappointed when we don't get them. But the wonderful thing is, with persistence, we can realize amazing results.

I'll give you a personal example tied to the lessons learned from my two years of exercising. Time matters. I am seeing dramatic shifts in my appearance, strength and flexibility -- and it feels like they just instantly happened! Last week, I didn't look like "this." Today, I do.

Of course, it didn't happen instantly. It took years. It took persistence. Who'd have thought?

Same thing with creative endeavors. I haven't written my Great American Novel yet because I haven't had the persistence to stick with it. Heck, I haven't even been persistent with my poetry -- publishing takes time. You have to look up names and contact info, send it out in the right form, send it out again. And again. And again. I want a quick email and YES!

Yet, I know, the world is full of writers who sent their manuscripts out hundreds of times before hearing YES!

So, here's the thing. Unless -- until -- you stick with it, whatever it is for you, you have no idea what you might achieve. No idea how incredible your accomplishments can be. Start today by embracing the concept that you're in it for the long haul. Be persistent. Be determined.

Press on, my friends. Press on.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Friday Fun: Make Your Own Trading Cards

Baseball season is on! Perfect time to make your own trading cards. For sports. Reading. Famous people. Infamous people. Your people. Abstract concepts. Abstract art. Whatever!

Go play! Happy weekend!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Creativity Tips: Step Away from the Scale

How do you measure success?

My whole life, I've measured physical success by numbers on the scale. Gain a pound or two? I'm a huge and hideous failure. Lose a pound? Yes! Time to celebrate.

But then something happened. I started exercising. Regularly. With Shanna and the most fabulous group of women imaginable -- supportive, encouraging, diverse, smart, friendly. Great people. And over the past two years:
  • I lost numerous inches off various body parts.*
  • I lost two dress sizes.
  • I didn't lose an ounce.
Wow. I look better, stronger. I feel better, healthier. And the damn scale hasn't moved AT ALL. So I did the most creative thing I could do: I changed my mind. I stepped away from the scale.

What's that mean to you? Simple. How we measure success matters. And your measurement tool has to work for you.

Maybe your father wanted you to have a C-level title. Maybe your mother wanted you to marry a wealthy man. Maybe you're a CEO married to Mr. Moneybags. So, the folks are thrilled. That's not the point.

Are you happy? Do you feel successful? Do you remember the last time you were proud of yourself?

Consider your definition of happiness and success. If it's working for you, great! If not, get creative. Measure better.

* No. Not those parts. For some reason, I never lose inches off those parts.