Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Creativity Query and Exercise

As we move toward the wrap-up of 2011, it's a great time to think back. What did you learn this year? And, if you like to make New Year's resolutions, how would you apply that learning to 2012?

This has been a year of tremendous change and learning for me. For example, I discovered:
  • The empty nest event was far more traumatic than I expected and I am truly grateful for the friends who understood and supported me through that. I will always be happiest when the family is together, but I have stopped wandering the house aimlessly when I'm here by myself.
  • Thinking of exercise as part of my daily ritual changes everything. I don't have to resolve to say a prayer when I wake up or brush my teeth; I do both automatically. Now, I don't have to resolve to exercise. I don't even have to go to the gym -- I exercise when I walk by standing straight and engaging muscles I used to ignore.
  • The iPad is the greatest invention of all time.
  • I am still not a great judge of character. I assume everyone is good and my friend. Oddly enough, they're not. Fortunately, I have wonderful friends who kindly point out when I'm being blindsided -- and I have learned to listen. This is huge: I used to assume the other people just didn't understand. Now, I realize I'm the one who often doesn't get it.
  • I don't need everyone to be my friend. Whoa. I no longer need unending validation.
  • I love basmati rice. I created a recipe with it that I'll share one of these days. Never used to think I could make up recipes -- just follow them. You never know what you can do until you try.
  • Schedule and environment shape my creativity. When a long-term client asked me to empty out my cubicle and stop coming in to the office on a daily basis, it took quite a while for me to work through the related change in my writing approach. I feed off people, interaction. I listen to hallway conversations and grab words for copy. And environment matters. I can't work in ugly.
I could go on, but ... enough about me. What about you? What have you learned this year? And how could that relate to a resolution? To help get your creative juices flowing, consider this:

How do you define yourself? If you had only one word to use, what would it be? Now, how would you like to define yourself?

My word is strong. Isn't that amazing? Never would have been my word before. In 2012, I'm resolved to strengthen myself, my relationships and my creativity.

And now that I have that settled, I'm going to enjoy the rest of 2011! I hope you do too.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Stormy Jackson and Windhorse Tattoo

When you think of a tattoo artist, what image pops into your head? Let's say it's a guy. Is he smart and articulate? Kind? Friendly? Approachable?

Is his studio sparkling clean, sunny and filled with fabulous artwork?

My image of a tattoo artist and his studio changed dramatically when I went with Kate* to watch her shoot this video of Stormy Jackson at Windhorse Tattoo in Kansas City's Crossroads District. It's a quick watch, great video, wonderful audio. And a solid reminder that, realize it or not, we all have prejudices tattooed across our minds.

*Yes. I do have the most talented children in the universe. Thank you. Kate did this as part of her internship at T2+Back Alley Films.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Creativity Tips: Say NO in November


I planned to post this on Nov. 1 to kick off the month. But, as time approached, that started to feel like a self-imposed, needless deadline during a very busy week. So I followed my own advice. I began November by saying NO to myself.

Say NO in November is my annual campaign to reclaim the holiday season and whatever remains of my sanity every year. It's very simple. I say NO whenever I receive a request that would add more stress than joy to my life.

Let me make this perfectly clear: Stress doesn't mean it's a negative event I'm rejecting. This past week, I said NO to leading worship on Saturday morning at the synagogue. Leading worship certainly gives me joy -- but I have to prepare. I have to review. I get nervous beforehand.

I refuse to make time for all that right now. I simply want to enjoy November and December. So I said NO.

Stress, as I'm defining it, could be related to time, people, effort, energy. It could be spacial stress -- the event is on the other side of town. It could be psychic stress -- you're not sure about the expectations tied to the request. It could be family stress -- you really, really, really don't want to spend 30 more minutes in the same room with that particular cousin.

Whatever it is, formalizing your approach makes it simple to say NO. You don't have to come up with any excuse. You don't have to feel guilty. You are part of the Say NO in November campaign.

In my experience, it's best to make your participation in the campaign known ahead of time. That not only fends off requests, but makes it incredibly easy to reject them. People are prepared for the NO. If you're blindsided, use the official campaign response. Come on, practice it with me:

"Thank you so much! I appreciate the (offer/invite/whatever). However, I've joined the Say NO in November campaign. So, thanks again, but NO."

Like this idea? Stick around. You're gonna love DECLINE in December.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Last-Minute Halloween Treats!

When the girls were little, we watched a lot of Barney. A LOT OF BARNEY. The "I love you, you love me" song still pops unbidden into my head every once in a while. Talk about being haunted ...

But preschoolers these days are apparently tuning in to Pocoyo. I don't know Pocoyo from Popeye, but the little guy's PR person sent me a link with some fun last-minute Halloween ideas. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I (Still) Do

As the rabbi said before you broke the glass,
"If anything must be broken, let it be this glass --
not your vows and not your hearts."

Happy 26th anniversary, Tom!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Creativity Exercise: A Fabulous Photograph

For today's creativity exercise, you don't have to get out a clean sheet of paper. You don't have to email me the answer. All you have to do is answer this question -- in the comments or in your head: Why do I love this photograph? (I as in me. Jan. Not I as in you. Fred. Or whoever.)

Go ahead. Answer. I'll wait. La de da de da de da. Doodle doo ... it's a lovely day today, and whatever you've got to do, you've got a lovely day to do it in, it's true ....

OK, got the answer? See if it matches any of mine. I love this photograph because:
  • It reminds me of the fabulous time I had with Tom and our friends at the World War I museum in KC, including our trip to the top of the Liberty Memorial -- a vantage point that gives you this view.
  • It is a photo of my hometown and I really like KC.
  • It includes the old (Union Station) and the new (Kauffman Performing Arts Center).
  • It's black and white. Isn't it lovely that a few things in the world really are black and white?
But the real reason I love this photo? Drum roll, please:

Because I took it.

Does that sound insanely egotistical to you? Guess what? I don't care.

I realize my stance on creative pride places me in the oddball category, a drawer I've been in before. But I bring this up for a reason: Lately, I've run into several depressing examples of amazingly talented people massively minimizing their accomplishments. We're not talking about healthy humility here. We're talking about people who clearly feel unworthy of praise and admiration.

If you ever feel that way, consider my perspective: Diminishing my talents doesn't boost anyone else. Downplaying my accomplishments doesn't make anyone else more skilled. On the other hand, if I stand up and say: Look at me! Look at this! It's so cool -- and I took it with a phone! I implicity give others permission to do the same. To celebrate their own wonderfulness.

So here's the view I really want to share: You're amazing. I know it. And I want you to enjoy it.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Creativity Tips: 10 Instant Mentoring Tips

How's your filing system? Can you find something when you need it -- so you don't have to recreate the wheel? My filing system -- electronic and physical -- ain't great. But, I'm delighted to report that I quickly found an Instant Mentoring tip sheet that will come in handy for a meeting next week. Since I found it, I'm going to share it. Enjoy!

1. Remember what your mother said.
Say "please." Say "thank you." Keep your promises. Keep your hands to yourself. Courteous, kind colleagues are highly valued – and far too rare in today’s stress-for-success business world. Good manners won’t slow you down on the way to the top. It only takes a minute to hold an elevator, send a birthday card or pause for the answer when you ask, "How are you?" Over the course of a career, those minutes will be time well spent. Trust me on this: I’m a mother.

2. Read what you don’t need.
If you always read the trades and the business pubs, congratulations. Now, take it up a notch. Look through a magazine that’s completely outside your industry. Enjoy Robert Frost poetry online – you can even find places where he reads it to you. Give your creativity the juice with Dr. Seuss. Expand your literary horizons, and oh, the places you’ll go …

3. Appreciate the administrative staff.
Make no doubt about it. These are the people who really know how to get things done. They'll get you in to see the boss and get you out of trouble. Lord knows, they've pulled me off the ledge more than once.

4. Everyone needs a little sweets.
My grandmother said it and she was right. Oh, I know. Everyone is on the Atkins diet, or the South Beach diet, or the "I’ll just have the salad with the dressing on the side" diet. Truth is, most people really want that $7 cheesecake with the ripple of fudge and the mound of whipped cream. At least, they’d like a nibble. So, if you’re buying, buy dessert. Tell them it’s a rule: You always have dessert if it’s a business meal. And they don’t have to clean the plate.

5. Three is magic.
"I love you." "Lights, camera, action!" "On your mark, get set, go!" Series of threes work, in everything from copywriting to design. Try it the next time you write a speech or a column: Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Then tell them what you told them. Think it doesn’t matter? Just do it.

6. Trust yourself.
If your guts tell you something is wrong, listen.

7. Realize that you are replaceable.
Now, most people will tell you that you’re replaceable at work … but not at home. It’s a lovely concept, but look around. Check out the ever-climbing divorce rate. Consider how many parents see their kids every other weekend. Then, decide what you really value, and make sure your actions reflect your priorities. And, when it comes to being replaced at work, remember: It’s a lot easier for the boss to promote you if your replacement is trained and ready to go.

8. Know when to go.
As James Taylor says, "Time may be money, but your money won’t buy time." No matter how long it is, life is too short – way too short to spend the majority of your waking hours someplace you don’t enjoy. If you’re not having fun at work, find something else to do or somewhere else to do it. Yes, I know. That’s easier said than done. But you tell me: How easy is it to get up every morning and go to a job you hate?

9. It’s not brain surgery.
God love 'em, I don’t know what neurosurgeons say. But most jobs are not brain surgery. (Many don’t even appear to require much grey matter.) Remember, your mistakes aren’t life and death issues – even if they feel like it at the time. Take responsibility, fix what you can, learn what you should, and move on.

10. Forget what your mother said.
There is such a thing as a stupid question. You don’t have to wait to be invited. And if you don’t have anything nice to say, call me. We’ll do lunch.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Applause! Keepsake Portraits by Fran

Is that gorgeous? Now, take a look at this:

I just want to reach into the computer and pet them both. These beautiful pups are helping me launch a new feature on the CI blog: Applause!  It's the perfect way for me to introduce my amazing, good, creative friends to my other amazing, good, creative friends ...

Fran from Keepsake Portraits agreed to answer a few questions as my Applause! guinea pig. (Hey, she draws pets. Give me a break here!)

You built a career as a graphic designer at Hallmark and then began doing the portraits after you retired. When -- or how -- did you know that you were an artist and that your art was more than a hobby?
From the time that I was a very young child I loved to draw. My mom and dad owned a clothing store in St. Louis and I would sit in the back room and draw on the white cardboard that was taken out of the men's dress shirts. Anything I could find became my canvas. By junior high I began winning awards in fairs and through school activities. Of course, that pushed me to believe in myself and think seriously about art as a career by high school. 

When people tell you -- and I know they do -- "I can't draw anything -- not even a straight line!", what do you say to them?
When people discuss my paintings and say, "I can't draw a stick figure, you're amazing!",  I always remind them that there are many things I do very poorly. Especially math! That was truly a struggle in school. My talent just happens to be more visual. Thank goodness my husband does the bills!

Why do you like drawing pets?
When I early retired, after 23 years, from Hallmark as a Graphic Designer I decided to get a dog.  Always wanted a pet, but did not want one until I had more free time. Once our Golden Retriever, "Sadie" became a part of our lives, I started sketching her and received interest from friends and family who wanted me to draw their pets. The more I created the more I realized I could turn this into a small business. This became the beginning of "Keepsake Portraits by Fran." 

I have now completed over 300 portraits and am fulfilling my passion for art daily. What a blessing!  I also love going to people's homes, if they do not have a favorite snapshot of their pet, and photograph them and get to know their personality(s). This is part of the fee because it is important for me to get exactly what the client wants. I also have begun painting people as well.  Love doing both, and as you see in my sample below, many times pets and people together.

I love the way Fran talks about drawing on the white cardboard, turning anything she could find into a canvas. Art is where we find it.

Holiday Shopping Tip! If you'd like a portrait by Fran as a holiday gift, now is the time to commission it. Take a look at her gorgeous portfolio and click on the "email me" button at the bottom of the page if you're interested. Or, here's an idea: Send that link to someone else and suggest they commission a portrait for you!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Creative Query: What's Your Gonzo Wrap?

A hail storm that hit our area this summer damaged the siding we had installed on the house years ago. Today, a crew of three men from the siding company showed up, walked around to the back of the house, looked at the siding and immediately said,

"That's a Gonzo wrap."

Gonzo was the installer who put the siding on. He was an interesting dude -- a stoner look, ponytail, skinny, solid muscles. Smoked a lot of cigarettes, if memory serves me right. He generally worked alone and he worked when he felt like it. We never knew when he'd show up. The job should have taken, maybe, a week. It took a month or more.

The thing is ... we didn't care. Because Gonzo was great. He was fun to talk with on the days he did show up and he loved his work. He took pride in every part of the job. The effort clearly paid off -- years after he put the siding on, workers who had never seen the house before knew without question that Gonzo was the installer.

So, here's my question for you: What's your Gonzo wrap? If we took the name off the writing, the photography, the baking, the strategy, the plumbing, the siding ... would anyone know it was yours?

Think about it. Figure it out. Embrace your inner Gonzo.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Good Ads: Marriage in Norway

I have a new fondness for commercials from the Nordic region. Part of this is my growing business clientele in Denmark. (Oh yeah, baby! Sokoloff Harness Communications LLC is international now! Show some respect.)

Part of it is my love for anything that makes me laugh out loud. This ad did the trick. Enjoy -- it's a creative idea beautifully executed. And you know how I feel about the star ...

Some people are lucky in life. For the rest of us, saving can be smart.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Creativity Tips: Appreciate Every Word

Many of the wonderful readers who still subscribe to Creative Instigation are my personal friends, and have inquired re: how I'm dealing with the empty nest. For them -- and for all of you who are kind enough to visit -- this weekend, the nest felt better. Why? Because I was finally able to put my feelings into words. As I posted on Facebook:

I'm really, really homesick.

Homesick! That's it, exactly. As a writer, finding the right word was incredibly helpful.

And that wasn't the only weekend example of the importance of each and every word. While making an outline for a talk about my faith journey, I wrote, "I attend Beth Torah." Then, automatically, I crossed that out and wrote, "I belong to Beth Torah."

There's a huge difference between attending and belonging. I know. I attended the synagogue of my youth. I never belonged there.

Words matter. Today, appreciate every word. Choose yours thoughtfully and with care. Words shape our relationships, frame our beliefs. They matter, whether you're a writer or not.

P.S. I wrote this post on 9/11, and noticed when I signed on that this is post number 911 on the CI blog. Weird. And, speaking of 9/11, if you have a chance to see the documentary, Voices from Inside the Towers, I strongly recommend it. There's a mother interviewed who is so strong, so smart. And when she talks about hearing the news that her beloved son had died, her words are heartbreakingly perfect.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Creativity Tips: Carpe Something

I was looking for the perfect image for this fabulously motivational Monday post ... my intent being to urge you to start the week off strong. Do more than Carpe Diem. Carpe the Whole Dang Week.

But then I found this, on Cafe Press.

And I decided to let you carpe whatever you want.
Whenever you want.

Happy Monday!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Happy Beginnings

You know what's better than happy endings?
Happy beginnings.

For those of you who have followed the blog a long time, my niece Amber remains cancer free and she is now OFFICIALLY my niece. Amber and my nephew Cary celebrated their wedding Saturday, Sept. 3. Amber described the evening as "magical" and it's the perfect word. It was enchanting. So much love and happiness in one room.

Amber and Cary gave me the honor of reading a poem by James Kavanaugh at the wedding. It's a lovely piece, so I'll share it here. Thanks to all of you who sent good thoughts and prayers to Amber and Cary as they triumphed over cancer. Now, please join me in wishing two of my favorite people a long, healthy, happy life together!

To love is not to possess,
To own or imprison,
Nor to lose one's self in another.
Love is to join and separate,
To walk alone and together,
To find a laughing freedom
That lonely isolation does not permit.
It is finally to be able
To be who we really are
No longer clinging in childish dependency
Nor docilely living separate lives in silence,
It is to be perfectly one's self
And perfectly joined in permanent commitment
To another--and to one's inner self.
Love only endures when it moves like waves,
Receding and returning gently or passionately,
Or moving lovingly like the tide
In the moon's own predictable harmony,
Because finally, despite a child's scars
Or an adult's deepest wounds,
They are openly free to be
Who they really are--and always secretly were,
In the very core of their being
Where true and lasting love can alone abide.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Creativity Answer: What's wrong? What's not?!?!

Yesterday, I posed a "What's wrong with this sentence" exercise re: the line heard on NPR coverage of Hurricane Irene:

"There was only one death in the area, but extensive damage was reported."

Thanks to everyone who posted or emailed an answer -- you were all right on the money. Here's a (possibly incomplete) list of what's wrong with that sentence:

As Bernie said, "It would appear that there was extensive damage to the person who died." Several others noted this too. In my opinion, the biggest mistake in this sentence is one that we read/hear all too often: The death of a single person is minimized.

American journalists also have a nasty tendency to dismiss the deaths of people who aren't U.S. citizens: "No Americans died in the plane crash that killed 30 people." Well, all righty.

Obviously, the one death in this report mattered to the victim's family and loved ones. It should matter to all of us. Loss of respect for one life reflects a loss of respect for all life. And constructing this sentence with "only" and "but" places far too much importance on property rather than people.

As Jo pointed out, the sentence is incredibly passive. We're talking death, destruction and hurricanes. No active verbs came to mind?

The Big Rabbit made an interesting point: Placing the most important part of the sentence -- the death -- at the end could emphasize it. People remember endings. They're like the P.S. on a letter. That message sticks.

I could rewrite the sentence for you, but there's not ONE RIGHT WAY to do it. There is one right approach: Think, then write. This sentence is a classic example of literally thoughtless writing. We all do it at times. We all need to stop. To paraphrase my dad, "If it's worth writing, it's worth writing well."

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Creativity Exercise: What's wrong with this sentence?

During an NPR report on Hurricane Irene, the reporter said:

"There was only one death in the area, but extensive damage was reported."

Tell me what's wrong with that sentence. Post here or email me at I'll share my answer tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Creativity Tips: Writer's Block is NOT an Option

I know you can't tell from my recent blogging activity, but I write every day. Every day.

Generally, I'm writing for clients. It's how I put the proverbial food on the table. Well, it's real food. But you know what I mean. Anyway, as a professional writer, I can't afford the luxury of writer's block. No write, no money. Bad combo.

Since writer's block is not an option, I rarely get it. (You get what you aim for -- I aim to write.)

Sunday, however, was one of those rare days. I couldn't string thoughts into words into sentences into paragraphs into money. So, you know what I did?


That's right. After wasting three precious hours of my Sunday beating my head against the computer, I admitted defeat. I left the house and went to the grocery store, where I wandered aimlessly through the aisles, annoying middle-aged men in ugly shorts who clearly wanted to grab a can of baked beans, a package of weiners, a six-pack of beer and get the hell out of HyVee. I live in the suburbs. It's not pretty.

When I got home, I could write again.

There are times when the best thing we can do is realize we can't do anything. Accept it, and move on. That's a lesson I'm a long time learning ...

(If giving up doesn't work for you, check out Melanie's post on how to get out of a creative slump. Lots of great comments. Including mine. Hey! Did I ever say I was modest? No, I did not ...)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

World's Best Poetry Reading

OK, you people are falling down on the job. I mean, seriously. Why didn't anyone point me toward this clip of an adorable three-year-old boy reciting Litany by Billy Collins when it came out last year?

Ohmilord. One more reason to love poetry. And parents who read poetry to youngsters.

His inflection on some lines is absolute perfection ... especially at the end:
But don't worry, I am not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.

Your creativity assignment for the week: Memorize a poem. One more way to own it.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Creativity Tips: How to Write a Public Service Announcement (PSA)

I was recently asked to write guidelines on How to Write a Public Service Announcement and it occurred to me that the info might be helpful to others. So, here you go! The tips are useful for all sorts of writing -- not just PSAs.

Write with your audience in mind.
Before you start writing, think about what your audience knows about the topic. Ask yourself: Why should the audience care about this? The answer will help you decide what to write.

Understand the reason for your PSA.
PSAs typically promote action. What action do you want the audience to take?

Start with a rough outline.
To write a good PSA, you need to know how you’re going to grab the listener’s attention at the start, what main point you want to make, and what the call for action is at the end. Sketch it out in a brief outline.

Use a format easy to read.
The standard PSA format is not the standard paragraph format. Set your left margin for 2 inches and double space the copy. It should look like this:
The standard PSA format is not the standard paragraph format. Set your left margin for 2 inches and double space the copy.

This format will make it easier for you to read the copy out loud. Your eyes don’t have to move all the way across the page and double-spacing makes it easier to see every word.

Talk directly to one person in your audience.
When you write for the ear rather than the eye, it’s important to speak directly to the person who is listening. Make it personal. Use the word “you” in the PSA. For example, “Do you drink milk? The calcium in milk helps you grow.”

Use the active voice.
PSAs sound better and are more effective when you use the active voice rather than the passive voice. Active voice uses active verbs – verbs that really do something! For example, “Make a smart decision. Exercise today!” The active voice delivers a much stronger message than this passive voice, “It is possible that exercising would be a smart decision.”

Keep your sentences short.
Short sentences are easier for you to read – they provide natural breaks for breathing. They are also easier for your audience to follow. If a sentence includes more than 10 words, look for ways to break it into two sentences. For example: “Does your sentence include more than 10 words? Break it into two sentences!”

Read it out loud.
See how it sounds. You will find things you need to change when you read it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Creativity Tips: Own It

My buddy Chris sent me this link to a Tom Waits/Cookie Monster mashup, knowing I love both Waits and Monster. What he didn't know is that the YouTube page would have a link to my all-time favorite music video: Hurt by Johnny Cash.

Serendipity. A wonderful creative spark.

Hurt is a Nine Inch Nails song. Or, it was, until Johnny Cash sang it. There are a few quotes re: the reaction from Trent Reznor of NIN, but they basically go like this -- "It was like seeing my girlfriend with another man and realizing she's not mine anymore."

Is it OK to tap into someone else's creativity? Absolutely. Just be honest about it. And own it. That way, no one gets Hurt.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Fabulous Phrases: The Secret Life of Bees

It can't possibly be Aug. 9. I swear, school just got out two minutes ago. Or so it seems to me ...

And the remarkable ability of time to fly is my excuse for giving you this Fabulous Phrase today rather than last week. Read and enjoy.

The first week of August was a consolation, a pure relief. The world will give you that once in a while, a brief time-out; the boxing bell rings and you go to your corner, where somebody dabs mercy on your beat-up life.

-- from The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

P.S. Here's insight into a writer's brain. I have this particular Fabulous Phrase on a sheet of paper posted in my office, because I love the picture of the world, the time-out, the concept of someone dabbing mercy on my life. However, I can't find my copy of the book, and don't remember where/when I copied this phrase. So I'm neurotically hoping that I have the attribution correct. And, yes, this is what my brain does daily. Writer frets. Not pretty.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Saluting Spencer Duncan

At Olathe South High School, one of the graduation traditions is recognizing the graduates who have enlisted in the military. In 2008, when Kate graduated, Spencer Duncan was one of the brave young men we applauded.

Spencer died in the Chinook helicopter crash in Afghanistan this weekend. He was 21. Kate's age. Spencer's brother Tanner graduated this year with Mary. He's in bootcamp.

I don't generally go all religious on the blog, but I'm going to make an exception today. Let Spencer's memory be a blessing and may God watch over Tanner.  
CI team member Deb A. sent me this link re: writing an ethical will some time ago and today seems like an appropriate time to post it. The title may sound morbid, but it's not. It's a great idea and the results may surprise you: Putting what you value into words can clarify what really matters the most.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Creativity Tips: Be Kind

Part 4 in the Sophie Series:

On Feb. 12, 1966, my brother and sister and I gave this birthday card to our grandmother. Nanny liked it so much she framed it.

I was 10. (Go ahead. Do the math. Yes. I'm that old.) I'll tell you what, when I saw this card, in the frame, with my signature hidden, I was not a happy child.

I was, however, a well-bred child and I respected my elders, especially my grandmother. I didn't say a word.

Happily, I didn't have to. My grandmother was kind. As busy as she always was, she was never too busy to pay attention to those around her and pick up on their feelings. So, when she noticed my dismay, she took action.

She took the card out of the frame and asked me to sign it again. That's my signature, smooshed in-between Eva and Harry.

What does this have to do with creativity? Everything. One of the biggest barriers to creativity is fear. We don't want to look stupid, be laughed at, feel criticized. So we don't share our creative ideas, we wouldn't dream of showing someone our poetry, we diminish ourselves daily. I can't paint. I can't cook. You're so good; I could never do that.

We hide our truest selves. We become invisible.

But there are some people -- like my grandmother -- who are too kind to allow that. They see what others miss. They create environments where we feel safe to share, encouraged to be honest, inspired to do our best. Environments where we know our feelings matter. We matter -- no matter how old we are or what position we hold in a family, a company, a team.

It's easy for me to remember the importance of kindness; the framed card hangs in my office, right next to my desk. Because "Be Kind" is more than a creativity tip for me. It's the essence of who I strive to be.

P.S. Thanks to Leslie for the photos!!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Creativity Exercise: Contradictions

I'm going to take a quick break from the Sophie Series for this:

Kate and I braved the 110 degree heat index this weekend to go to the Johnson County Arboretum. We lasted about 15 minutes, but it was long enough to get this photo and this exercise:

Today, do something creative built around the concept of contradiction. What do I mean? A photo of a door that says "No access." Sweet and sour recipes. A poem about industrial parks. Or one of my favorite contradictions: People who say, "I don't care," when they really, really, really care a lot.

Whatever. You choose the contradiction and the creative venue. Go! Play! Enjoy! And tell me what you do ...

Monday, July 11, 2011

Creativity Exercise: Give Me a Word

As promised, I followed my grandmother's sketchy recipe, CJ's explanation and the Big Bunny's suggestions (see comments on the post) and cooked up Pie Crust Cookies. I also made a couple of little pies -- filled one with dried cranberries and chocolate chips, the other with peach jam.

Here's the verdict: That recipe makes one heckuva good pie crust. Seriously yum, and I don't even like pie crusts. But with the right filling ... mmmm. I'm going to try it again for a cherry pie.

However, unless you really, really, really love pie crust, I don't recommend the cookies. Even doused with cinnamon sugar, it's crust with no pie. What's the point?

And my grandmother didn't do things without a point.

That being the case, we have a creativity exercise: If the P-- C----- in my grandmother's recipe stands for Pie Crust, what -- other than Cookies -- could the C------ stand for? Give me a word!

Friday, July 8, 2011

And yet another postscript ...

When I first launched my company, I thought about using "..." at the end of the corporate name, because I always have something else to say.

But I digress.

The "Fill in the blanks" post reminded me of this creativity tip on my rarely used but beloved Copy Crank blog. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Creativity Tips: Fill in the Blanks

Part 3 in the Sophie Series:

So, tell me, what the heck would I end up with if I made this recipe?

This is one of my grandmother's many original recipes. It's probably delicious -- or the start of something delicious -- but since I don't know what it is, I'm not likely to mix it up. Here's where we can learn from one of Nanny's rare creative mistakes. When it came to cooking, she didn't always fill in the blanks:
  • She didn't like people "underfoot" in her kitchen -- it's hard to learn if you can't watch.
  • Many of her recipes include only ingredients -- no instructions.
  • Some of the ingredients are identified by brand names. The brands no longer exist, so I don't even know what ingredient is required. (Spry?)
If I ever write a rulebook for creativity, one of the Top 10 will be this: Share your knowledge openly and happily. Let others take your creativity and build on it, adapt it, apply it. Let us enjoy it! Creativity is like my grandmother's yummy food -- always better when shared.

P.S. I was allowed in the kitchen because I sat quietly in the corner on a footstool. Some of the best memories of my childhood are sitting in that kitchen, watching Nanny cook. And just saying that reminds me of this ...

P.P.S. Nanny did share information she felt was critical. Her kitchen was kosher -- there was no mixing of meat and milk dishes, utensils, food. To make sure we understood what went where, she very clearly marked the inside of her kitchen drawers: MEAT and MILK.

P.P.P.S. Thanks to Leslie for the photo!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Creativity Tips: Put a Ring On It

Part 2 in the Sophie Series:

Let's start your day with a little quiz. It's easy; choose one of these two shining options.
  1. You can tell someone, "If you like it, then you better put a ring on it."
  2. You can stop waiting for someone else, put your hands up and flash your own dang ring.
My grandmother wasn't a Single Lady. She married at 18. In keeping with Orthodox Jewish tradition, she wore a wedding band unbroken by any jewels. On the other hand, literally, she wore this gorgeous ring.

Nanny saw this ring, loved this ring, and bought it for herself. Why? Because she knew she was worth it. She appreciated her own talents. And, now and then, she stopped spoiling the rest of the world long enough to give herself a treat.

How's your self esteem these days? When was the last time you celebrated yourself? Do you wait for others to tell you what a great job you've done? Or do you recognize your own excellence, applaud your talents, and happily share them?

Nanny was a creative wonder. There's never been another like her and there never will be. Interesting fact, though. There's never been another like you, either. And there never will be.

Consider that reminder a little present, all wrapped up with the bow on Nanny's ring.

Thanks to Leslie for the photo!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Creativity Tips: Remember Your Roots

One of the strongest creative influences in my life was Sophie Eisen, my grandmother. I've spoken about her a few times on the CI blog, but there's so much more to say. Now, thanks to wonderful photographs from the amazing Leslie, I am prepared to share! Over the next week or so, I'll bring you creativity tips from Nanny (that's what we called Sophie), beautifully illustrated by Leslie's photographs.

Let's start with this shot of Nanny holding me. I was 2. She was 58. (Feel free to post comments re: how adorable I am. Thank you.)

The first lesson? Your perspective shapes how you see the world. Creative growth recognizes and embraces changing perspectives. For example, 58 doesn't sound as old to me now as it did then. I can embrace that. However, when I look at Nanny at 58, I have a hard time reconciling that with me at 56.

We all see the world through our own (distorted? You tell me.) lenses. To boost creativity, change your perspective -- consciously and deliberately. Ask yourself: How would a child view this creative challenge? What would an accountant do with this? If you had to explain it to someone who didn't speak English, could you? How?

Changing perspectives opens your eyes to new possibilities. Don't believe me? Change your physical perspective and see how different the world looks.

Back to the photo -- look at that hold she has on me. Nanny was solid. She was strong. She had the best heart ever.

But I digress. The date on the photograph reminds me of another creativity lesson Nanny embodied: If you don't like reality, change it.

Nanny, who was born on Feb. 13, 1899, was very superstitious. VERY superstitious. So having a birthday on the 13th really didn't work for her. What to do? Simple. On every form and whenever asked, Nanny claimed that her birthday was Feb. 12, 1899.

Would that have been a problem had she needed a passport? Possibly. But she didn't need a passport. She needed a birthday that wasn't on unlucky 13. When Nanny didn't like something, she didn't complain, she didn't whine, she didn't sulk. She fixed it. Now there's a concept.

We were lucky to have Nanny for 77 years; she died of cancer in 1976 and I still miss her every single day. Truly. It's not that physical pain anymore, but it's constant. I don't care what they say: There are some deaths you really never "get over."

And why would we want to?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Creativity Tips: Betty White Bender Over

Brilliant writers compose awkward sentences. With typos. Amazing photographers shoot out of focus. Unintentionally. And, after all these years in front of a camera, even Betty White flubs a line now and then.

The creativity lesson in this blooper? Well, there are a few. 1. We all mess up. 2. When we do, it's nice to be surrounded by an understanding team. 3. You might as well laugh.

Here's to a great week! (And Cleveland has nothing on us: Betty White would be hot in Kansas City, too.)

Monday, June 13, 2011

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

Mary and I kicked off summer with an 8-day Caribbean cruise with three of her friends and their moms. This was way beyond our usual vacation, very fun and interestingly enlightening. Before I return to my regularly unscheduled Creative Instigation posts, let me tell you ...

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation
  • I can turn my phone and computer off for eight days and the world continues to revolve. Apparently, I'm not turning it.
  • It's possible to love something (let's say writing), stop doing it and not miss it. At all. 
  • It is also possible to turn anything into a competition: Mary can complete three Word Search puzzles in the time it takes me to do one.
  • I don't mind losing to my daughter. If you are not my daughter, beware.
  • People rarely encourage good listeners to talk.
  • I belong on a beach. This Kansas thing is a mistake.
  • I love to read. I love to read on a balcony. I love to read on a balcony overlooking the ocean. With room service.
  • Tina Fey's memoir has laugh-out-loud moments, but it's not great. It's self-indulgent. On the other hand, True Grit is a wonderful novel.
  • Some people can be unhappy anywhere. Even with room service.
  • My hubby has my back. I knew this, but I was reminded of it: Tom took care of Mom while I was gone. Mom survived without me just fine.
  • When you say, "I want Sex on the Beach," everyone laughs. Even when they know you're ordering a drink.
  • Money can buy happiness. And Sex on the Beach.
  • 80 gazillion people have tattoos. Most of them are ugly. (We'll just leave that purposefully ambiguous.)
  • Kate is right: Everyone has a story. I don't want to hear the stories about the tattoos.
  • You can be alone on a crowded beach if you're underwater.
  • I LOVE to snorkel. Or, as Woody Allen says, I LERVE to snorkel. Because "love" really isn't strong enough. 
  • You can find a new passion at any age.
  • On a cruise, the steward will call you by name after meeting you once. This will make you happy.
  • My permanent claim to fame will be that I knew Wes Powell before he was a rock star. Click. Listen. That is the sound of my vacation. This is the look:
  • It's possible to be so relaxed you can't remember what day it is.
  • I'm ready to be home. I'm ready to write.
  • I'm not ready to be insanely consumed by work and life again. So if you need to reach me this summer, don't expect me to be sitting at the computer, waiting for an email. Just call. I'll be at the pool. With a good book. And, very possibly, a snorkel.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Creativity Exercise: Google Guitar

After weeks of not writing anything but a packing list, I am catching up on client work and composing a post re: What I Did on My Summer Vacation. However, I have to take a moment to applaud the Google guitar. It's one of the coolest creative things I've seen in a long time. Go play.

Need musical inspiration?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Creativity Tips: Play with a new toy

In honor of our youngest graduating from high school, Tom bought me an iPad2. He thought I deserved a present. Now that's solid creative thinking.

I may not use the iPad for writing much, but it's a great new "toy" with a lot of amazing options. For example, the Photo Booth app is dangerous in the hands of a writer. Knowledge leads to editing. I have no knowledge, so I can just play.

Self amuse. It's a good thing. And, in all seriousness, playing is good too. Start June with some new creative toys -- they can be as basic as new crayons and sharp pencils, a fresh journal or a new baking pan. Or, branch out. Try a different creative venue -- pottery, gardening, quilting, beading, carpentry, car repair. Play away!

P.S. Thanks for all the "empty nest" feedback on the previous post -- comments, emails and Facebook messages. I am feeling better. Of course, the iPad may have something to do with that ...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Creativity Exercise: Empty Nest

The girls. Two seconds ago. Or so it seems.
I woke up around 2 a.m. on Friday thinking, "I don't ever have to wake anyone up for school again."

And that, my friends, is what runs through a mother's mind at this time of year. Mary graduates from high school this weekend; in August, she and Kate will drive off to K-State together. I still think they should be on trikes. They both outgrew me years ago, but they're still my babies. Sigh ...

The phrase typically used to describe the next phase of life for me and Tom is "empty nest." Clearly, that's not going to work. I'm already having night terrors. I don't need negative words floating through my brain.

Your assignment? Help me out. Give me a better phrase -- something short and sweet and positive that I can substitute for "empty nest." I'd do it myself, but I'm running on empty at the moment -- all my creative energy has gone into party planning. (If you'd like to see Mary's graduation video, look here. Warning: it's 12 minutes long. I don't think that's why the video made some people cry, but it's possible.)

Anyway, you write a happy description for my new life. I'll post it -- here, on Twitter, on Facebook, on BlogHer. Zillions of parents will thank you!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cheerio! Check Out this New Author Contest

I haven't been doing many promotional mentions on the CI blog lately, but this one seems worthwhile -- for three reasons:
  1. The contest offers you a chance to be published.
  2. The winning result -- a book included in boxes of Cheerios -- encourages children to read. Always a good thing.
  3. The PR pitch was on target, a rare and wonderful happening. That's right. Someone sent a blog re: creativity and writing a post idea re: creativity and writing. Go figure.  (I should also tell you I received a free copy of How Do You Hug a Porcupine? by Laurie Isop, the 2010 Grand Prize Winner. I read it. I liked it. And it's useful information: I have a few porcupines in my life.) 
So, here's the deal.Visit the Spoonfuls of Stories site. Check out the rules*. Enter by July 15, 2011. Win. Remember me fondly.

*I have a children's story I would enter, but I think my professional writer status rules me out. Such is the way of the world ...

Monday, May 9, 2011

Creativity Tips: A Lesson from Cirque du Soleil

The Kansas City Star this morning has a fun Q&A with Cirque du Soleil juggler/acrobat Vladik Myagkostupov (a great name that makes Sokoloff sound easy). At the end of the story, Vladik responds to the question, "And you juggle how many (balls) at one time?"

"In my act, seven.
But I actually do nine in training."

Isn't that fascinating? Vladik performs with tremendous confidence on stage because he absolutely knows he's not at his limit -- his live performance amazes the audience while carrying a greatly reduced risk of failure.

The question is: How can we apply that concept to our creative endeavors? And, if we do, will we be able to juggle all our daily responsibilities with a little less stress?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Power of Words

Knowing how I feel about the power of words, it's not surprising that a number of people have sent me the link to this video. Here's what I find fascinating. Based on Facebook and email reactions, many people think the video is "amazing," "so true," and "powerful." I think it's annoying. Why?

Because creativity is in the eye of the beholder and my eye has a completely different view of blindness. While I applaud the reminder that words change actions, I abhor the depiction of this blind beggar. I worked for a blind man for years. He's brilliant and successful. My guess is, he would be appalled by this video.

Macular degeneration has robbed my mother of most of her sight. She fights daily to remain as independent as possible.

So, for me, this video is a reminder that we see the world through our own unique lens. It's a challenge for communications at times, but it's a gift for creativity. Here's how I see it: If you do something and the people around you don't applaud, don't worry. Please your own eyes.

And if others beg to differ with you, enjoy the discussion.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Creativity Tips: Create happy traditions

Every Easter, we'd go out to my in-laws' house in Independence and the girls knew just what to expect. Grandma would make more food than an army could eat. Grandpa would hide Easter eggs in the backyard.

My father-in-law was the cutest man who ever lived. Not much taller than me -- maybe 5'2". Baldish. Adorable. Every Easter, he put on bunny ears and hid those eggs. Every Easter, he hid them in the very same spots. At the bottom of the deck stairs. In the clothesline pole. By the stump of the tree.

Every Easter, my girls and their cousin Amanda had the joy of finding those eggs -- with Grandpa walking around the yard helping them until they were old enough to do it alone and he was too old to get around as well.

Grandpa would have been 105 today. He died at 96. Morris Harness was the very best kind of creative instigator. He instigated happiness. My wish for today: We should all hone that talent.

(If I find a pic of him in the Easter Bunny ears, I'll post it later. I was just missing him this morning and wanted to share.)

Friday, April 22, 2011

56 + 90 = Happy

Two posts today that launch a new category on the CI blog: Oldies but Goodies. And you can twist that to mean whatever you want. Here's one for me. And one for mom!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Creativity Tips: Writer, interrupted

So ... I just wrote a BRILLIANT post and can't get Blogger to publish it. I will figure it out and post eventually. For now, here's the lesson: You really can't always get what you want when you want it. That's OK -- that's life. Breathe in. Breathe out. Move on.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Creative Query: Can You See Me Now?

We can draw tremendous creative energy from the people around us if -- and this is a big IF -- we're really aware of the people around us.

So, here's your creative query/exercise for the day: Consider one person you spend significant time with -- it could be a colleague, a kid or a lover. For the sake of this exercise, it doesn't matter.

Now, think about your last few conversations with that person. When you were talking, how often were you solely focused on each other? You weren't talking and driving, talking and cooking, talking and playing on the computer. All you were doing was talking and listening.

Add this to the equation: How often during those conversations did you make -- and hold -- direct eye contact?

We all want to be seen. We want to be heard. Take the first step. See and hear someone. Today.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Creativity Tips: Follow Your Own Advice

As I mentioned earlier today, my HTML code wasn't working on the blog. I asked Tom how to fix it and he gave me a suggestion. However, instead of playing with it on the test blog that I set up for experimentation, I played with it on the CI blog.

This, my friends, was an error.

If you got the post re: changing your standard font to boost your creativity, I apologize. I zapped it off the blog immediately, but I know the Networked Blogs feature picked it up faster than I could zap it.

I deleted it so quickly, I don't even know what it said. I know I was still editing it. I hope it wasn't complete nonsense. I'm fairly sure there weren't any curse words included ... despite the week I'm having.

On the bright side, you can learn from my mistake: When you have a good plan, follow it!

Creativity Tips: Explore Sarah Kay's Playlist

For some reason, the HTML coding on the CI blog is zapped. I can't do paragraph breaks. I will figure it out, but for now ... join me in exploring poet Sarah Kay's playlist of spoken word poetry. It's a gift to all of us for National Poetry Month. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Creativity Tips: Have Some Guts

One of my all-time favorite quotes is: What would you do today if you were brave? Angela is brave. Thoughtful. Creative. And the step she's taking is divine.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

It's a Big Day!

OK, it must be said:
How is it possible that my little girl is 21?

So here's my favorite Kate story -- and it even has a creativity lesson in it. I was driving Kate home from a visit with the grandparents. She was about four or five, sitting in the front seat of our van. (It was legal back then.)

Suddenly, a bird fell down on the street in front of us. Splat. Dead. Kaput.

I looked at Kate's little face. She looked at me. I knew I had to say something, so I did the best I could.

"I think the bird's OK," I said.

"Mom," Kate said, gently but firmly, "the bird is dead."

And that has become a Harness family classic. You'd be amazed at how often the correct response turns out to be, "Mom, the bird is dead."

The creativity lesson? Never underestimate your audience. And remember: You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time. But don't mess around with Kate.

P.S. You know what I think of when I look at a birthday cake like this? 1. It needs candles for a birthday wish and 2. Kate is my wish come true.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Creativity Tips: Free Writes and Morning Pages

Now that I've been "assigning" you free writes for a while, it occurs to me that a visual example might be useful. Even a really dark visual example. :-)

Free writes are babbling on paper. Unedited, no punctuation required. No paragraphs. Use them if you want to -- but I find they slow me down and make me think, when the whole purpose of a free write is to write really fast and clear your head.

Basically, let your mind wander and hope your fingers keep up.

I first started using free writes years ago, when an agency I worked at incorporated The Artist's Way at Work into our corporate culture. In the book (buy it! read it! use it!), Mark Bryan, Julia Cameron and Catherine Allen promote morning pages -- three handwritten, single-sided sheets of free writing done every morning.

In their words:

In the MPs, anything goes. This means they will be scattered, often trivial, frequently negative, petty, self-doubting, angry, and seemingly pointless. They are not.

All that mental debris is the clutter that comes between us and our creative potential. We often call the pages brain drain because they are designed to siphon off poisonous attitudes, the "pond scum of the mind."

Now, here's a revelation that may astonish you: I lack discipline. (I hear the collective gasp of shock. Thank you.) I haven't been faithfully doing the morning pages since I left the agency. However, I can give you another visual example to show you how powerful the process can be. During my Artist's Way period, I painted this Winnie the Pooh. Freehand. And I could do it because the pond scum that tells me I am not an artist had been siphoned off.

The "pond scum" link is from 2008, so the presentation I reference in that post is long over. But Mike and I are still out there talking to groups, and we love to hear your stories.

Spring cleaning can start in your head. Write those cobwebs out!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Creativity Tips: Happy Spring!

Inspiration is everywhere. And Spring is the perfect time to open your eyes and see it.

Take, for example, this excerpt from the March 20 email of The Writer's Almanac:

Today is the first day of spring. The vernal equinox occurs today, the time when the earth's axis is not turned toward the sun (summer, for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere), or away from it (winter), but is aligned with the center of the sun. The word equinox comes from Latin: aequus means equal, level, or calm; nox means night, or darkness. The equinox, in spring or fall, is a time when the day and night are as close to equal as they ever are, and when the hours of night are exactly equal for people living equidistant from the equator either north or south.

As close to equal as they ever are. Do you hear the rhythm in that? Beautiful. It's a poem waiting to be written.

If you don't want to write, there's other inspiration here: Take a few moments to consider who and what you're aligned with. Who you're turning toward. Who away. You're in the driver's seat, my friend. Turn in a new direction.

Happy Spring!

P.S. Click the link and check out Ted Kooser's poem.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Creativity Exercise: Fortunes and Free Writes

Let's start the week with our creativity fully engaged! Here's how it works. I broke open a bunch of fortune cookies we hadn't eaten ... part of my periodic "clean the kitchen and throw out useless calories" routine. You choose one of the fortunes, write it at the top of a clean sheet of paper, and use it as the start of a three-minute free write.

No deep thinking required. No editing allowed. Just choose a fortune and write! (Alternate exercise: Choose one fortune as inspiration for a photograph or drawing.)
  • Land is always in the mind of the flying birds.
  • You will receive unexpected support over the next week. Accept it graciously.
  • It would be best to maintain a low profile for now.
  • Flowers would brighten the day of your close friend.
  • Every production of genius must be the production of enthusiasm.
  • Failure is the virtual way to prepare you for great responsibility.
  • Dessert CAN make you happy.
  • Man is born to live and not prepare to live.
  • Money is not everything. You can buy a doctor but not health.
  • Your best investment is in yourself.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Ogilvy Asia: TC Bank-Dream Rangers

There are times when a commercial is more than a commercial -- it's a mini-film. This is one of those times. Beautifully creative. Enjoy!

Thanks to Patty for the link!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Video Creativity Tips: Paul Mesner Puppets

My daughter Kate is a reporter and videographer for Manhattan Matters this semester. I'm sharing her feature on puppeteer Paul Mesner with you because there are so many creativity tips inherent in the story. (I suggest clicking on the "her feature" link above to watch the video. I couldn't figure out how to get it centered here so you could see the full frame. Hmmm. I need to work on that.)

Lessons from the puppets ... no strings attached:
  1. Someone else suggested doing a story on Mesner when he performs in Manhattan later this month. Kate took that idea, gave it a twist, and came up with this fun feature. Asking yourself, "What else could we do with this?" is a wonderful creativity spark.

  2. Kate realized after she did the interview that she didn't have one backstage shot that would be really important. She went back and got it. Review your work. Edit your work. Make it as good as possible before you turn it in -- to an editor, a client or a professor.

  3. Kate's original piece became better when she worked with her teacher, Andy Nelson. Take advantage of the expertise all around you.

  4. As Paul Mesner says in the clip: If you're the expert, step up. Give direction. But never forget there's much to be learned from those around you.

  5. Never get too old to enjoy a puppet show. Or a puppet video!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Creative Shout Outs: Angela and Elizabeth Rock!

Two quick hurrahs for members of the CI team:

1. Angela's wonderful Recipes from My Mom is moving up in the list of Babble's Top 100 Food Blogs. Go vote for her -- it only takes a second. As I publish this, Recipes from My Mom is on the second page. (Let's get it on the first page!)

2. Congrats to a new CI member: Elizabeth is a National Merit Finalist! Yay you! That's a fabulous, door-opening accomplishment. As she says, life is sweet.

And isn't that a nice thought to keep in mind as we start the week: Life is sweet. L'chaim!

*Random, if you follow the l'chaim link: I saw Zero Mostel perform that in St. Louis years ago and then snuck backstage with a friend to meet him. He bellowed at us ... asked if we intended to come over and say hello or just stand there and stare. Such fun. Life is sweet.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Creativity Tips: Get the Party Started!

It's the weekend! And, thanks to this link from Lezlie, we have just the thing to get your party started. Watch this video of a young conductor and ask yourself, "When was the last time I put my whole heart and soul -- and body! -- into a creative endeavor?"

If you can't remember the last time, no worries. That's what today is for!

Think your creative outlet doesn't lend itself to physical input? Think again. You can write standing up. Painting? Totally physical. Photography? Change your physical angle and you change your shot. Heck, even cooking is physical. We might as well dance around the kitchen!

P.S. to Lezlie: The new site looks great!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Creative Inspiration: No Longer A Teenager

I read poetry every day, which no doubt makes me an oddity in the world at large. Why do I read it? Because now and then, I find a poem that expresses exactly what I feel. "No Longer A Teenager" by Gerald Locklin is one of those poems. It's beautifully simple and simply beautiful.

No Longer A Teenager
Gerald Locklin

my daughter, who turns twenty tomorrow,
has become truly independent.
she doesn't need her father to help her
deal with the bureaucracies of schools,
hmo's, insurance, the dmv.
she is quite capable of handling
landlords, bosses, and auto repair shops.
also boyfriends and roommates.
and her mother.

frankly it's been a big relief.
the teenage years were often stressful.
sometimes, though, i feel a little useless.

but when she drove down from northern California
to visit us for a couple of days,
she came through the door with the
biggest, warmest hug in the world for me.
and when we all went out for lunch,
she said, affecting a little girl's voice,
"i'm going to sit next to my daddy,"
and she did, and slid over close to me
so i could put my arm around her shoulder
until the food arrived.

i've been keeping busy since she's been gone,
mainly with my teaching and writing,
a little travel connected with both,
but i realized now how long it had been
since i had felt deep emotion.

when she left i said, simply,
"i love you,"
and she replied, quietly,
"i love you too."
you know it isn't always easy for
a twenty-year-old to say that,
it isn't always easy for a father.

literature and opera are full of
characters who die for love:
i stay alive for her.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Creativity Tips: Do You See What I See?

This past Sunday, I went out for brunch with three friends. We walked into the small restaurant and:
  • Laurie noticed new artwork on the walls.
  • Karen was impressed with the daily specials on the whiteboard.
  • I saw the Christian literature nestled among the condiments on our table.
  • Sue pondered what impact the inside waterfall would have on the heating and cooling bills.
It took all of us some time to see the big white cross by that waterfall. And, yes, I was the one who saw it first.

Perspective is an amazing thing. It's so simple to forget, as we go through our days and creative endeavors, that no one sees the world the way we do. We walk in the same door, but we view the room with different eyes and different prejudices.

Laurie had been to the restaurant before and knew the ownership had changed. She was prepared to notice changes -- her favorite waiter was gone, the photos on the walls were different.

Karen was really hungry.

I'm Jewish. I pick up on yellow-highlighted evangelical materials mixed in with the salt and pepper.

And I have no idea why Sue was fascinated by the waterfall's impact on utility billls. Trust me, I could have sat in that restaurant for the rest of my life and NEVER wondered whether the humidity from the waterfall would lower the restaurant's utility bills in the winter and raise them in the summer.

Here's the great thing: By discussing what we saw, we all came away with a new perspective -- a bigger picture. As a diverse creative team, we enjoyed a far more expansive worldview of that little portion of our world.

This week, don't assume the people around you see what you see. Ask questions. Expand your creative vision. Look around familiar rooms with new eyes. Then, be brave enough to share your vision.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Creativity Tips: How to Write a Valentine

A few of my grumpy friends have been muttering about Valentine's Day ... not a real holiday, retail promotion, expensive, ridiculous ... you get the picture. This is what happens when the bulk of your friends pass 40. Sigh.

Naturally, you know how I feel. Every day is the perfect day to express your love. Valentine's Day is simply a reminder. And there's no need to spend money. Write your own Valentine! Not sure where to begin? Start here:

Put pen to paper.
If you wake up on Monday and realize it's Valentine's Day and you're not going to see your loved ones and you absolutely, positively have to send an email, well. OK. Other than that, pen to paper.

Use pretty paper. Or, decorate plain paper.
Fold it into a heart shape -- it doesn't need to be perfect. If you're writing on white paper, use red ink. Handmade Valentines don't have to be a huge creative endeavor with heart-shaped cutouts and special glue and archival stickers. Little things show you care.

Jazz up the salutation.
Instead of Dear Kate, make it Dear wonderful Kate. Dear funny Kate. Dear best-first-daughter-in-the-world Kate. If your Valentine has a nickname, use that. Instead of Dear Mary, make it Dear Mary Moo. If it's more special to use their full name, do that. Dear Mary Nell. (If that sounds like the name you only use when you're yelling at the person, don't do that.) And, yes, it's OK to replicate: Dear best-baby-daughter-in-the-world Mary.

Start with a word more unusual than Dear.
Let them know right from the start that this is special. Beloved is a gorgeous, ancient word. It would be a beautiful salutation all by itself.

Make your Valentines specific.
Instead of a generic I love you. Happy Valentine's Day! give them something to treasure. Think of what they value in themselves. I love the way you always take care of your friends and make them feel special. I see the woman you are becoming and I am so proud. Think of what they're insecure about. I know you're worried about (blank) and, on this Valentine's Day, I want you to know I believe in you, I have faith in you and I support you.

Don't start every sentence with "I."
Oddly enough, this is not about you. It's about your Valentine. You work so hard for the family and always put our needs first. Thank you for being such a supportive husband and father!

Enclose a surprise.
A photo of you and your Valentine. A coupon for a date night, with the date and place spelled out. A vintage Valentine. Or, attach the Valentine to something special. A plate of scones. Or cookies. Or brownies. Or chocolate. A good bottle of wine. Mmmmm.

Make the sign-off sing.
I remain your adoring (whatever) ... With love and gratitude ... with all my love and all my heart ... thank you for today and here's to tomorrow!

Be old-fashioned.
Gals, put on the red lipstick and smack that envelope. Guys, if you don't want to do the lipstick, you can always write SWAK. Or SWALCAKWS. (Bonus Valentine points from me if you know what that means.)

Deliver your Valentine with love.
Hand the Valentines to your Valentines. Make eye-to-eye contact. Whoa. Listen to them. And give them a good, strong, long hug -- nothing like a hug to make you feel loved!

I hope Valentine's Day makes you happy -- and that you spend it making other people happy. Even if you're typically grumpy. And over 40.

Thanks to Leslie, one of my favorite Valentines, for the photos!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Creativity Tips: 18 Ideas for Your Next Snow Day

In Kansas City last week, we had a few snow days. Snow days! The perfect excuse to stay home and ... do what?

Apparently, answering that question was a problem for some people. They got bored after the first day. To which I say, ridiculous. There are 80 gazillion things to do on a snow day. I'm going to get your creative juices going with the first 18 that come to mind:
  1. Build a fort.
    I know. I know. You don't have a kid. Did I say you needed a kid? No, I did not. All you need is a sheet and a couple of chairs. And nothing has changed since you were a kid: The world still looks better while sitting in a fort.

  2. Read a book.
    Gasp. Yes. A real book. Step away from the computer, walk to your bookshelf, pull something off and read. It can be done.

  3. Crank the radio.
    Turn up the music -- radio, stereo, the annoying little earplug things, whatever. Dance. If you want to be productive, dance while you dust. Remember that being productive is highly over-rated.

  4. Try a new recipe.
    You can step back to the computer and visit Angela's wonderful new site, Recipes from My Mom. I guarantee you'll find a recipe to love.

  5. Draw a picture.
    Grab your crayons and doodle. If you're really tired of snowy days, draw a picture with sunshine and flowers and trees. (And if you don't have crayons to grab, we need to talk. Seriously. No wonder you're bored on snow days.)

  6. Sit and breathe.
    It's a day off. You have time. You can take five minutes. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Your brain and your lungs will thank you.

  7. Call an old friend.
    Pick up your smarty-farty phone and call a friend you haven't spoken to in a while. I mean voice-to-voice. Not a text. Not an email. A real call.

  8. Listen to Robert Frost.
    I've mentioned this before. I'll mention it again. What a joy to listen to Robert Frost read his poetry. Here's a good site. But there are others. Explore. Take the road less traveled by.

  9. Watch TV.
    It's a snow day! You're watching the weather forecasts anyway. Take an extra 30 minutes and find some silly comedy. Watch five minutes of reality TV. Just think of the cocktail party conversation you'll have ready.

  10. Plan a cocktail party.
    When was the last time you threw a party? Consider the options. Who would you invite? Would there be a theme? What would you eat? Would there be cocktails? What are all the possible meanings of BYOB?

  11. Exercise.
    So. Yeah. I shoveled snow this week. As a matter of fact, I shoveled the driveway and sidewalk three times on Tuesday. And, each time, I came inside and said, "That's no big deal. I don't know why people call that exercise." I could hardly get out of bed Wednesday. Exercise. You need it. I need it. We all need it.

  12. Clean out one drawer.
    Come on, you know it's there. One drawer filled with junk. I'm not asking you to clean the entire kitchen or bathroom. Just one drawer. Think of the satisfaction.

  13. Make hot chocolate.
    My friend Chris insists that we wouldn't enjoy hot chocolate (or sweaters, or fireplaces, or hot toddies) without cold weather. So make the hot chocolate. Wrap your hands around the mug. Savor the smell with every sip. And remember that Chris is from Canada.

  14. Redecorate the living room.
    Move the couch. The chairs. A table. Take that picture that's been hanging in the same dang place for so long you don't even see it anymore and move it. Yes!

  15. Wrap yourself in warmth.
    Before you take your shower, throw your towel in the dryer and warm it up. Nothing like wrapping up in a warm towel on a cold day.

  16. Wrap yourself in other warmth.
    OK. There is something else like wrapping up in a warm towel. Figure it out.

  17. Explore Pinterest.
    Leslie got me started on this fun site, and I haven't had a chance to really explore it yet. I need more snow days! (The pic on this post is from Pinterest.)

  18. Write a haiku.
    Hey. It's me. You didn't expect me to make it through a snow day without haiku, did you? 5-7-5. If you need a prompt, use the words I love snow days in it. Somewhere. Not all together. Unless you want. It's your haiku.

    Wow. This may be my longest post ever. See what happens when you tell the Chief Creative Instigator you're bored? And I didn't even mention TED. You could spend an entire week with TED. Consider that the extra idea. You know, like the extra candle on your birthday cake. The one to grow on ...