Friday, July 30, 2010

Friday Fun: Random Laughs

You gotta love The Onion.

And this just makes me laugh. I can't park a VW bug in a full-size garage.

Happy weekend! Go write a large block of uninterrupted text. Park your car. Laugh. I'll see you back here bright and early on Monday.

Thanks to Donna and Bizarro for the links!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Creativity Tips: Follow the BlogHer Philosophy

OK, the countdown is officially on! One week from today, I'm in NY for BlogHer '10. And I'm already getting blog ideas from the big event.

For example, today's post is a direct steal from the discussion guidelines for speakers. I think these work for any creative team. Enjoy!

BlogHer Discussion Guidelines: Our Philosophy
  1. We are all here for a common purpose.
  2. We are open to different perspectives.
  3. Treat others the way you want to be treated.
  4. Listen twice as much as you speak.
  5. Value dialogue: Everyone has something to contribute.
  6. An honest and positive environment fosters better discussions, ideas and results.
  7. Balance seriousness with humor -- life is short!*

*The Jan version: "Life is short and so am I."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Creativity Exercise: Be Nice

Earlier this week, I sent an e-mail to a colleague who had won a professional award. I mentioned seeing the news in the KC Star, and congratulated her on a well-deserved honor.

She immediately responded, telling me the award was a nice surprise and that: "I appreciate you taking the time to drop me a line."

The time it took to write that e-mail was, oh, I don't know. 45 seconds. Maybe a minute, max. But clearly, my quick note meant something to her.

So right now, before you forget, I want you to take 60 seconds and be nice. Send someone an email -- right now -- and tell them something that will make them happy. Make them feel noticed. Appreciated.

What would that be? You'll think of something. Because you, my dear, are very nice. And very, very creative.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Creativity Tips: The BlogHer T-Shirt, Part 2

So, picture this: I'm at ACME to get this customized T-shirt for BlogHer. I'm finally done with the design and now I need to select the actual shirt. I'm looking at 8 million nicely rolled tees in various sizes, and the young man who's helping me points to the "medium" row.

"I don't think that's the right size," I say.

"Yeah," he says. "You're probably right. The 'small' shirts are over here."

Now, those of you who know and love me won't be surprised to hear that "small" was not what I was thinking. I was looking for "large." Maybe "XL."

I'm 5 feet tall. I wear a size 8. And I still really and truly believe I need an XL shirt.

Perception is a wonderful thing, my friends, and our self-perception is often totally screwed up. It's a good reminder every now and then: Just because you believe something to be true, doesn't make it true.

And, here's bonus babble from a short person's perspective. Why do they put the smallest shirts on the top shelf and the biggest shirts on the bottom? Doesn't it stand to reason that the biggest people might be taller than the smallest people? I'm just sayin' ...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Creativity Tips: Get Excited!

My mother was raised as an Orthodox Jew. In keeping with that tradition, she starts every day with a prayer, Modeh Ani. This prayer of thankfulness sets the tone for her day.

Mom may not know it, but setting the tone, setting expectations, is a wonderful creative tool. I use it all the time. I walk into a client's office, copy in hand, and say, "This is great! You're gonna love it!" I say that because I believe it, but also because I know it will help shape their view as they read.

This past Friday, I was reminded of how important setting positive expectations can be. I went to ACME, a store that makes customized T-shirts, and worked with the staff to design my BlogHer shirt. While they were finalizing the design and printing the shirt, I went for a walk.

This is the text I got about 30 minutes later: Get excited! Your T-shirt is done at ACME and it looks great ... see ya soon!

You know how I felt the moment I read that? Excited.

This week, let's set a positive tone. A good way to start? Follow Mom's lead. Be thankful.* It's Monday, and we're here to enjoy it!

*Yes, I do remember that I'm the person who was recently pushing the idea of an "ungratitude journal." Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Food is Love: Green Bean Casserole

OK, I read Women, Food and God. I liked it. I know in my heart that Geneen Roth is right: Equating food and love is dangerous.

Nonetheless, with apologies to Ms. Roth, I'm sticking with the Food is Love series. Which brings us to what may be my most-requested, non-dessert dish: the infamous green bean casserole.

Now, most of the time, I think the best recipes come from the people who make the ingredients. Want a good chocolate chip cookie recipe? Follow the one from Nestle. Hungry for chocolate cake? I recommend the recipe on the Hershey cocoa box. Or, you can try Angela's riff on it.

But if you want a green bean casserole that keeps 'em coming back, ignore the Campbell soup approach. You do NOT need milk. Soy sauce? I laugh at soy sauce.

Here's what you need:
Two cans of good green beans. Not the cheap generic version.
1/2 can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup.
1 small can french fried onions (Take out the bank loan, these suckers are expensive.)
Lots of pepper
  1. Drain the two cans of green beans. Dump them into a small casserole dish.
  2. Stir in half of the soup. (No milk. Just the soup.) Save the other half of the soup in the refrigerator, because your friends and family will be asking for this casserole again in a day or two. And there's no need to waste food.
  3. Add pepper to taste. Now, add a little more.
  4. Stir in half of the french fried onions. Then, use the other half to cover the top of the casserole.
  5. Cover the casserole dish and microwave on high for 10 minutes. You can also cook this in the oven, but I haven't done that for years. I think it baked at 350 degrees for a long time. I don't have that kind of patience.
With a microwave and this recipe, you're 10 minutes away from being a hero. Don't trust me on this. Try it. Happy weekend!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Fabulous Phrases: Have a Little Faith

I've decided to turn Barb's idea of sharing great copy into a new CI feature: Fabulous Phrases. When you run across something perfect, send it my way and we'll share! We can all learn from excellence.

Today's phrase comes from Mitch Albom's Have a Little Faith, which is not a great book. If I asked my father what he thought of a book like this, he would have said, "It's fine."

So. It's fine. It's a quick read, a nice story. Not much else to say. It's no Tuesdays with Morrie. But it's fine. And it did have this perfect bit near the end, describing a visit with Albom's beloved rabbi, near the end of the rabbi's life. I need to give you the set-up copy before the great line:

"He was a joyous man, a marvelous piece of God's machinery, and it was no fun watching him fall apart. In his office now, I helped him move boxes. He would try to give me books, saying it broke his heart to leave them behind. I watched him roll from pile to pile, looking and remembering, then putting the stuff down and moving to another pile.

If you could pack for heaven, this was how you'd do it, touching everything, taking nothing."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I can be taught ...

In response to popular demand, I just added the buttons that make it easy for you to share posts with friends -- via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, etc. You'll find the buttons at the end of each post.

You know my motto: I live to serve. (Now, if I could only figure out how to notify people who post comments when other comments are made. I'm still working on that ...)

Creative Query: Sabbatical

Driving to a client's office the other day, I suddenly realized that next month will mark 8 years since I opened my own business.

The longest I've worked anywhere is 8 years, so this is a big deal. I'm about to beat my own record. And you know what I want to do?


Not for long, you understand. But I really think a sabbatical sounds like a lovely idea. I haven't had an extended time off work since Mary was born, and she'll be 17 next month. And, as any mother can tell you, maternity leave is absolutely, positively not a sabbatical.

What would I do with a month off? I'd write Duana's book. (How funny. When I did a search on the blog for the Duana link, the ad that popped up said, "Tough, strong, resilient." I swear, there are times it feels like she's talking to me.) I have other books started, and even more book projects discussed. But this is the one that really calls to me. And I can't do it at 9 p.m. on Tuesdays when I finally have all my other obligations handled.

So, here's my creative query. Or queries, as the case may be: Have you ever taken a sabbatical? Would you like to? Do you think it's a good idea?

Would you miss me while I was gone?

Given current work projects, if I do take a sabbatical it probably wouldn't be until February or March of 2011. But it's certainly something to think about ...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Creativity Tips: Put It Out There

When you have a good idea, there's an easy way to make it better. Put it out there. Let other people add to it -- you'll be amazed at how your idea sparks others.

For example, the temperature in KC is hovering around 192 degrees with 5,000 percent humidity. I'm not exaggerating. Well, not much.

So, I posted an idea on Facebook yesterday: If kids get snow days, shouldn't adults get heat days? Let's call off work. I thought it was a great idea. You know what happened? I got better back.

Jo said: I once sent the entire office home at 3 p.m. for a weather emergency. It was about 76 degrees and sunny in early February. Our HQ office had lots of snow days, and I figured we wouldn't get much work done anyway. I must say it bought me lots of good will, at least for a while!

Randy had a similar suggestion: I'd hold out for "perfect weather" days. Probably a Friday in late October for us here in Dallas.

I love that idea. So, for all the bosses on the CI team, here's the deal: The next time the weather is unexpectedly, unbelievably wonderful, give your team "perfect weather emergency" time off!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Creativity Tips: Channel Your Road Rage

So, Kate and I are driving home from K-State on Sunday ... going through road construction that lasts for approximately 30 million miles. The sign indicating that the left lane was "closed ahead" appeared, and 99 percent of the drivers politely pulled into the right lane.

Then, there was the other 1 percent. A man with a personalized plate indicating he was a reverend zoomed past the right-lane line of cars, then in front of us. Another car sped to the front of the very long line.

At that point, the person driving a van a few cars in front of us got creative. The driver pulled the van into the middle of the two lanes, effectively blocking the left lane while maintaining the van's position in the right lane. The number of "I'm more important than you and I can go to the front of the line" drivers dropped off immediately.

Taking up two lanes is probably illegal. But it certainly was creative. And, added bonus: It made me laugh.

It's summer. It's hot. Don't worry about how fast you're progressing this week -- just keep moving forward!

P.S. No, I am not encouraging you to break a law to make me laugh. That would be Bad Jan. Very Bad Jan.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday Fun: Etch A Sketch and Etc.

Let's celebrate Friday with random ramblings:
  1. This week marked the 50th anniversary of the Etch A Sketch. Please tell me you have one. Sigh. You don't have one, do you? OK. Fine. Play here. Just do me a favor and don't shake the computer to clear the screen.

  2. In keeping with this week's music theme, check out Mike's Brainzooming post on The Beatles.

  3. The "Let It Be" reference in Mike's post reminds me that I am not good at Letting It Be or Letting People Go. I'm more like Rose in Titanic. "I'll never let go, Jack. I'll never let go." I need to work on that.

  4. I won't work on that.

  5. I warned you I was rambling. I will now let go. I will let it be for the week. Go etch.*
*Bonus points for any of you who ever heard or said, "Want to come up and see my etchings?"

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Creativity Tips: Share

Some time back, Barb suggested that I share great lines, great phrases, great copy when I run across it. I really liked the idea, but never did anything with it.

Now, it's time. In keeping with our music theme for the week, here's a phrase from Menlo, a wonderful band. On the Menlo Facebook fan page, one of the band members recently described a rare, less-than-stellar performance as a train-wreck shit show.

OK, stop laughing. It's a perfect phrase. Three words (train-wreck counts as one word), alliteration and rhythm. And you know exactly what he means. It communicates concisely and with humor. I love it.

And to make it even better, Menlo hyphenated the compound modifier. They're teenagers, and they hyphenated the compound modifier for a Facebook post. So, not only do they make great music and write fun commentary, they also give me hope for the future.

Just sharing. Thanks, Barb! (Were you hoping for a phrase you might be able to use? This may not work in a news release, but I'm guessing it will come in handy somewhere ...)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Creative Inspiration: I Will Survive

Creativity inspires strong opinions --- and I can certainly understand why opinions are split on this video, showing a Holocaust survivor and his family dancing to Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive.

They're dancing at Auschwitz. At Terezin. At the train station, with the cattle cars.

Some people are horrified -- they think it's like dancing on the graves.

I think it's wonderful. We will survive, with humor and joy and love. With family. And with dancing.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Creativity Tips: Go With the Flow

I wasn't sure what I was going to write about this week -- and then Anonymous saved the day, posting a comment with Willy Wonka lyrics yesterday. And Lezlie kept the mood going.

The lesson learned? Simple. If you want to instigate creativity, don't push. Go with the flow. Instead of grasping, let go. We'll do a week connected to music.

Start by considering these lyrics from Impossible, the Cinderella song:

But the world is full of zanies and fools
Who don't believe in sensible rules
And won't believe what sensible people say
And because these daft and dewey-eyed dopes
Keep building up impossible hopes
Impossible! things are happening every day

Be a zany. Be a fool. Impossible things are happening every day.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Creativity Tips: Don't Let Me Get Me

At one point this past weekend, as I dissed something I'd done -- I can't remember what -- daughter Kate looked at me and said, "You're your own worst enemy."

Hard to argue with accurate.

This week, don't let me get me. Let's start with rock-and-roll energy from Pink* -- and the certainty that we all rock. And we shouldn't be a hazard to ourselves.

*Want to see a great creative team? Look at singers, bands, other musicians. Take James Taylor, instance ...

Friday, July 9, 2010

Creativity Exercise: Be a trail marker!

OK, this is perfect for the CI team: The Port Authority of Kansas City, Mo., and The Writers Place are sponsoring an unusual poetry contest. Win, and your wonderful words won't be printed. They'll be engraved for eternity on a barge anchor at KC's Riverfront Heritage Trail. I'm assuming the anchor will be above water.

Judges are looking for poems no longer than five lines. That, of course, makes haiku a great option. Remember: 5-7-5.

Check out the rules. If you're in KC, and it ever stops freakin' raining, walk the trail for inspiration. Hmmm. We could have a CI gathering and walk the trail. You photo folk could take pictures. Us word folk could bring notebooks.

If you're not in KC, find another trail. Or a riverfront. Or a port. Or, pour some port and sip. I hear it's good with dark chocolate.

Yes. I did notice the typos on the rules page. And, yes. It does make me nuts. Thank you for asking.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Creativity Tips: Look at Me! Look at Me!

When I visited Eva over the Fourth of July weekend, we went shopping and saw this really cool mosaic lightplate. I stole that idea, and made this for my office -- it took about 15 minutes, since I always have a sponge, Mod Podge, and a stack of collage materials ready.

I then posted the picture on Facebook, under the very modest title: Look What I Made!

It did occur to me, right after I posted, that I must sound like a five-year-old ready to jump into a swimming pool: "Look at me! Look at me!" I thought about taking it down. But, I didn't.

And you know what happened? People looked at me. They looked at what I made. And they said nice things that made me feel good.

Today, when you do something you're proud of, shout it out! Why should the five-year-olds get all the attention?

P.S. The collage art is more fun these days than writing. Hmmmm. I wonder what that means ...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Creative Inspiration: Mark Twain

"Twenty years from now,
you will be more disappointed
by the things that you didn't do
than by the ones you did do.
So throw off the bowlines.
Sail away from the harbor.
Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore. Dream. Discover."
-- Mark Twain

*Thanks to Tom for the quote! Now turn off your computer and go explore!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Creativity Tips: Follow the Kids

Kids are fabulous creative instigators. Let me give you two examples:
  1. If we're connected on Facebook*, you already saw the video I posted Friday of Jessica, a youngster doing her daily affirmation. I could look at it every day. If you haven't seen it, take a look. No better way to spend 50 seconds.

  2. The Kansas City Star just ran a story about the teen writer-in-residence for the Johnson County Library. When asked what time her alarm clock was set for on Mondays, this young woman responded, "3 a.m. I've got to work on my novel sometime." Remember her name: Ayah Abdul-Rauf. With that kind of focus, I'm sure we'll hear from her in the years ahead. And take the tip: We find time for what matters.
*If you'd like to connect in another space, I'm on Facebook daily. I really like Facebook. It's the only social media I fully grasp. Perhaps it's the terminology. On Facebook, we're friends. On Twitter, we're followers. I'd rather be friends.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Friday Fun: Listen, My Children ...

Little-known fact: I am related to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Well, OK, by marriage. Tom's father carried the name and the family connection -- he was Morris Longfellow Harness. When I was pregnant, Tom's mom was absolutely set on us naming a boy Longfellow. Fortunately, I had girls.*

In honor of the girls' heritage, the Fourth of July, and the 150th anniversary of Paul Revere's Ride, check this out. Make sure you look at this -- the missing six lines of the poem. It's fascinating to see how a classic poem evolved.

Enjoy the holiday and be careful with those fireworks!

*Oh, puh-leeze. Like you can't see potential problems with that name?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Creative Inspiration: Ron Koertge

In keeping with Monday's creativity exercise, here's a poem by Ron Koertge with guidelines, Do You Have Any Advice for Those of Us Just Starting Out?

The poem is #7 in Poetry 180. If you ever need inspiration, that's the place to go. You can always trust Billy Collins.

And you have to love a man who believes every day should begin with a poem.