Thursday, February 23, 2017

Creative Community: Blessing for the Dark Times

True fact, as opposed to any other kind: My Facebook feed isn't nearly as enjoyable as it was before the election. But, I do see some fun news from friends amidst the political updates. And, because many of my friends are writers, I sometimes have the pleasure of a poetic post. I hope you enjoy this one from the very talented Linda Rodriguez, who notes that she was recently reminded that the artist's job in such times is to offer healing and hope.

Creator reminds us daily 
through the fragrant winds,
the re-leafing trees,
the dark-of-morning bird chorus,
the taste of rain on upheld faces,
that this world was built in beauty,
made for harmony and wholeness.
We must remember
it is we humans
who break what is shining and whole.
It is our species that creates dark times.
We must learn to live
in tune with creation once more. We must sing
balance back into this bountiful earth.
As we work together
to mend the broken world—
against the forces among our own kind
choosing destruction over grace—
may we keep in our imaginations
the ancestral memory
of this world as it was created to be.
May we will it into existence
again. May we move always toward healing
and wholeness. May we never forget
the force of willed action
and words of power.
May we create a blessed light
in these dark times in which we find ourselves.
May we know
deep inside our bones
that, no matter how broken,
our world is always
worth the labor of mending.
© Linda Rodriguez 2017

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Creativity Tips: Read Like a Reporter

I received my Bachelor of Journalism degree back when dinosaurs roamed and social media consisted of notes we passed in class or chain letters.* However, the passage of time and the evolution of my career hasn't changed my love for journalism and my respect for the First Amendment.

Knowing my history as a reporter and news director, several people have recently asked me about social media stories that creatively pass as fact when they are fiction. How can you tell the difference? Read like a reporter.

  1. Approach all stories with a healthy dose of curiosity. Keep in mind, curiosity is not the same as cynicism. But ask yourself the five basic "W" questions: Who wrote this? What publication ran it? Where did it first appear -- in the "News" section or the "Opinion" section? When did it run? (I have seen stories presented as current that were published years ago.) Why is this in my social media feed? (Is it from a trusted news source? Is it from Uncle Jerry? Is it a post someone has paid to distribute?)
  2. Consider the source. Andy Borowitz is satire, dear hearts. This particular Borowitz column brings up another red flag that we see in non-satirical fiction online these days: Inaccurate information. Unfortunately, the cutbacks in news rooms across the country have led to fewer editors and fact checkers. But facts that are this blatantly wrong would be captured before publication at a valid news outlet. Think as you read. (Example: If you're thinking, you realize I just stated as fact the info re: the news room layoffs, and I didn't give you any supporting data to back it up.)
  3. Consider the source again. Along these same lines, remember that anyone can put "News," "Report" or "Daily" in the name of their post and make it sound legitimate. This could be the Kansan Daily News, rather than the Creative Instigation blog. How long has the news source been around? Have you ever heard of it before?
  4. Get information from multiple legitimate sources. If you think The New York Times leans left and The Wall Street Journal leans right, then go for the center. I've started following the Associated Press and Reuters. I relied on the Associated Press as a reporter, and still find their information factual and non-biased.
  5. Look for attribution when you see an adjective. If the story says: Jan and Tom Harness have two daughters, the "two" is an easily provable fact and does not need attribution. If the story says: Jan and Tom Harness have two brilliant daughters, the "brilliant" needs attribution. (Even though it is a fact and we all know it.) The correct approach for that would be: According to Jan Harness, both daughters are brilliant. An attribution would typically be from one person or source -- people don't say exactly the same things, even when they are married. And, when tackling this topic, the question I ask myself is: "Can you prove it?"
  6. Read critically. Reporters know that the concept of "two sides to every story" is wrong -- there are typically far more than that. But, in a news report, look for both sides, look for multiple and differing opinions. Reading critically also means separating fact from opinion -- per tip #5.
  7. Remember that photos and videos can be edited. Case in point: A video "showing" Anderson Cooper laughing uncontrollably at Kellyanne Conway got a gazillion hits. It was an edited clip. If you have questions about the nature of a photo or video -- or story -- Snopes is a great resource. 
  8. Question hyperbole. If you see a story with a number like "a gazillion" in it, ask yourself if that's a fact or if the writer (in this case, me), is stretching the facts to make a point. And because she (the writer, in this case, me) is too lazy to look up the accurate number of hits. If I did look it up, I would need to qualify it: A video "showing" Anderson Cooper laughing uncontrollably at Kellyanne Conway had received 1,333, 291 hits at the time this story was written. Or: A video "showing" Anderson Cooper laughing uncontrollably at Kellyanne Conway received more than 1.3 million hits. 
  9. Check the spelling and the grammar. If the story includes misspelled words and poor grammar -- especially in the first paragraph -- chances are it is not from a reliable news source. Do reliable sources make mistakes? Absolutely. But most mistakes will be caught by an editor.
  10. Back away from vulgarity. Respected news media do not use obscenities in the headline unless they are quoting someone. Consider the publication's style preference, but all caps can be another giveaway that you're seeing a creative take on a story, rather than a news report. With the headline below, using all caps with the vulgarity only provides two immediate clues that you don't need to read this story. 

One of the biggest journalistic dangers today is the same danger I dealt with years ago -- in our rush to be first on the air with a story, there was always the risk that we would move too fast, not check every fact, and make a mistake. There are times now when I see breaking news, and go to check it at the Associated Press or The Washington Post -- and they don't have it. Later, they will. They may not be the first to report the news, but I'm comforted by the idea that they are checking to make sure it's accurate before publication.

If you want to separate the wheat from the chaff, read like a reporter, my friends. Reporters, by nature, question. Now, more than ever, you need to do the same.

*If you're too young to know what a chain letter is, think of a Facebook message that warns you will lose a valued appendage if you don't forward it immediately to seven other people.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Valentine Week: God Says Yes To Me

Friday is typically the day for the Friday Fun feature on the CI blog -- and nothing is more fun, or more fitting, than wrapping up our Valentine Week celebration with a special poem for Lynn, my bestfriendinthewholeworldsincefourthgrade. I'll tell you what, that first day of Mrs. Mansker's class at Boone Elementary School, when Lynn and I met -- well, God said yes to both of us.

God Says Yes To Me
by Kaylin Haught

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish 
or not wear nail polish 
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly 
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don't paragraph
my letters
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I'm telling you is 
Yes Yes Yes

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Valentine Week: For Sale by Shel Silverstein

Our Valentine celebration certainly wouldn't be complete without Frank Sinatra singing My Funny Valentine

And, speaking of funny Valentines, here's to all the brothers and sisters in the universe! I heart you, Harry and Eva. I really do. Sure, there were moments when I would have sold you, but ... 

For Sale
by Shel Silverstein

One sister for sale!
One sister for sale!
One crying and spying young sister for sale!
I'm really not kidding,
So who'll start the bidding?
Do I hear a dollar?
A nickel?
A penny?
Oh, isn't there, isn't there, isn't there any
One kid who will buy this old sister for sale, 
This crying and spying young sister for sale?

Eva and the tickle monster.
Harry, the hero!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Valentine Week: Love Lost

We don't always have a Valentine on Valentine's Day. Today's poem is geared toward those moments. It's also the only one of my poems I'm sharing this week.

First, let me explain: People tend to think all poetry is biographical. It is not. My love life didn't inspire this poem. My love of words did. I heard someone say, No love lost, and I thought, Well. That's not quite right

After signing the papers

I heard someone say
"No love
lost between them.

No love lost."

And passing by, you
then walked away.

You and I 
know love lost. 

Love lost. 

-- Jan Sokoloff Harness

Yes! Let's all go buy some candy. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Valentine Week: Windchime by Tony Hoagland

Happy Valentine's Day! Let me just start by saying publicly to Tom: You're the One. You're still the one. (This is the 38th Valentine's Day we have celebrated together. How ONEderful is that?)

The secret to a long marriage? Laughter. 
Today's poem may surprise you -- I was looking for different poems, something you might not have read and something that captured married love. And I found this beauty. It's written by a husband for a wife, so a bit backwards for me to share it. But ... the feeling is universal:

by Tony Hoagland

She goes out to hang the windchime
in her nightie and her work boots.
It's six-thirty in the morning
and she's standing on the plastic ice chest
tiptoe to reach the crossbeam of the porch,

windchime in her left hand, 
hammer in her right, the nail
gripped tight between her teeth
but nothing happens next because
she's trying to figure out
how to switch #1 with #3.

She must have been standing in the kitchen,
coffee in her hand, asleep,
when she heard it -- the wind blowing
through the sound the windchime
wasn't making
because it wasn't there. 

No one, including me, especially anymore believes
till death do us part,
but I can see what I would miss in leaving -- 
the way her ankles go into the work boots
as she stands upon the ice chest;
the problem scrunched into her forehead;
the little kissable mouth
with the nail in it. 

P.S. Some of us do still have faith in the whole "till death do us part" part ... Happy Valentine's Day! 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Valentine Week: To a Daughter Leaving Home

This week, we're going to celebrate lots of love in lots of ways! 
Breakfast in Bed by Mary Cassatt
I remember holding my sweet Kate when she was a baby, and my heart was beyond full, beyond happy. The immensity of the love I felt gave the word wholehearted new meaning. And, as I sat there rocking her, I suddenly realized that the way I felt about Kate was exactly how Mom felt about me.

With that in mind, here's our first love poem of the week, with special hugs to Kate and Mary:

To a Daughter Leaving Home
by Linda Pastan

When I taught you
at eight to ride
a bicycle, loping along
beside you
as you wobbled away
on two wheels,
my own mouth rounding
in surprise when you pulled
ahead down the curved
path of the park,
I kept waiting
for the thud
of your crash as I
sprinted to catch up,
while you grew
smaller, more breakable
with distance, 
pumping, pumping
for your life, screaming
with laughter, 
the hair flapping
behind you like a
handkerchief waving

And here's a link to one of my favorite parenting songs: Child of Mine by Carole King. Enjoy!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Friday Fun: Make a Valentine!

Yep! It's part of my visual journal. So MUCH fun. 
Remember when you were a kid, and you'd fold a piece of paper in half and cut a heart? I bet you can still do it. And this weekend is the perfect time! In just a few minutes, you can make a Valentine for someone you love.*

It's easy peasy** -- I promise. Just go to your craft closet, choose your paper and play!

Sigh. I heard you. You don't have a craft closet. Fine. Here's the beautiful part about making Valentines. It doesn't matter. Grab a magazine, wrapping paper, the newspaper, a grocery sack. You can be creative with anything. And, once you have your heart all ready, write from the heart.

Happy weekend, peeps! I hope it's filled with love.

*I made this one for myself. Because I'm cute like that.
** Is peasy a word? And, if so, how do you spell it?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Rule of Three: Nevertheless, She Persisted

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been in politics a long time, so it's no surprise that he delivered a powerful statement when shutting Sen. Elizabeth Warren down Tuesday night. 

He followed the magical rule of three:

McConnell made other comments leading up to this literary triumvirate. However, the power was here, and -- most specifically -- in the final sentence. "Nevertheless, she persisted."

He didn't intend to give the opposition a rallying cry. He didn't intend to shine a spotlight on Coretta Scott King's letter. And he certainly didn't intend to give me a post. 

Nevertheless, he delivered. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Creativity Tips: Creative Rewards Create Results

When I was a chubby little girl, mom would now and then suggest that we go on a diet together -- the idea being, it's easier to diet with a partner. So, we'd buddy up, eat right, and lose a few pounds.

Then, as a reward, we'd go out and get an ice cream sundae.

Mom was absolutely right about the partner part. Her reward approach? Maybe not the best.

Let me share my new take on using rewards to support healthy habits -- what's working for me and Tom might work for you! Or, it might give you an idea ... 

Tom and I started the year determined to exercise every day. There's really no reason why we can't. He's retired. I work at home. Our schedules are flexible enough to accommodate daily exercise. And yet ...

To get over our inertia, we agreed on a creative reward system: We'd use a daily journal to track every mile on the treadmill, bike or walks. We'd give ourselves mileage points for exercise classes -- 2 miles for every circuit class I take, 1.5 miles for every yoga class. Then, at the end of the month, we'd add up our collective miles; look at a map; choose a site within the circumference of our mileage that we had never seen before; and go see it!

This past weekend, we put the reward plan into action. After adding up our January miles, we decided to visit the Walter Cronkite Memorial in St. Joseph, Mo., at Missouri Western State University.

It was fabulous -- and I'll post more about the visit, probably later this week, because getting out of town is a real creative boost for me. For now, full disclosure: I have not exercised every day this year. Almost, but not quite. On the other hand, Tom has exercised every single day this year. Every single day.

At home or at work, with spouses, colleagues or kids -- the right reward works wonders. And that's the way it is ... 

Monday, February 6, 2017

#MondayMotivation -- Be The Boss

My Facebook friend Garland posted this link on Sunday, and I love it -- it's a clip of Bruce Springsteen demonstrating why he is The Boss.

At his concerts, Springsteen likes to take a request from the audience, even if the request is for a song the band hasn't rehearsed recently, or even played for years. That's a fun change of pace, in these days of lip syncing. At this 2013 concert in Germany, the selected song was a Chuck Berry classic: You Never Can Tell.

As you watch the video, keep an eye open for creativity lessons that can help you be The Boss this week! For example:

  • Springsteen isn't afraid to veer off into new territory, knowing he has a team that will keep him on track. (No, Bruce, not that key. Not that guitar.)
  • He lets others shine, and their solos are amazing.
  • The entire E Street Band works hard. They're having fun, but they're working. Sweat the details, my friends. Details make the difference. 

You'll find other lessons too. For now, as we start a new week, let's put that first idea to work -- and try something new! What could happen? You Never Can Tell ... 

No, Bruce. Seriously. You're gonna hurt yourself. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

Creativity Tips: Practice the Art's of Salesmanship

Life is good. I walked into a local grocery store yesterday to pick up some salsa and a few other things for a new recipe. Now, you've never gone grocery shopping with me. It's not pretty. I am one of those shoppers who slows down the minute I walk into the store, and then wanders the aisles, looking at every single option. (Yes. I know how annoying this is to those of you in a hurry. I consider the grocery store a sanctuary. And I do try to move out of your way.)

But I digress. As I was standing there, staring at the 2,000 options, a man came up with a box of salsa and chips and other goodies and quickly restocked his area.

"You know what you want?" he said. (And it was a statement, not a question.) "You want Art's Mild Salsa. It is the best! The very best in town."

It was, of course, what he was restocking. But he was happy and friendly and sincerely enthusiastic about his company and their products.

"It's the best, huh?"

"Absolutely! The very best! And our chips and tortillas are the best too -- you won't find any better."

"What's the difference between the hot salsa and the mild salsa?" I asked, immediately willing to buy Art's and give it a try. I mean, how do you say no to super salsa enthusiasm? "Is the hot extra hot?"

"No, no! Not too hot. It's great!" He finished stocking the tortilla chips, stood up and grinned. "Tell you what, I'll pull the truck around in the parking lot and give you some samples. If you like 'em, you tell your friends!"

I like 'em. I'm telling my friends. Buy Art's.

Yes. He gave me all this stuff. 
I haven't tried it all, but what I have tried is delicious. 

Want the creativity/business tip portion of the post? The man is stocking grocery shelves. You may not consider that the most glamorous job on the planet. But he saw an opportunity to talk with a potential client and he seized it. And, in less than a minute, he turned that opportunity into future sales. Engaging, enthusiastic communication -- in print or in person -- works creative wonders. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Creativity Tips: What Would Du Do?

I know what Du would do if she read that headline. She'd laugh.

Duana Linville-Dralus had the best laugh. She was a completely irresistible, throw-your-head-back-and-roar kind of woman -- one of the best people who ever walked this planet. And she was my mentor, which makes me one of the luckiest people who ever walked this planet.

Feb. 1 was Du's birthday, so today is the perfect time for me to cherish the memory of that laugh, and share three of my favorite answers to the question I still ask myself: "What would Du do?"

  • If you can help someone, help them. Whether or not they can help you in return is completely immaterial. (Du helped me before she knew who I was or what I did. I was just a young woman in serious need of assistance.)
  • Be true to yourself. (Du was the first woman leader I knew who was wholeheartedly who she was all the time. She wasn't a different person in the boardroom than she was in her kitchen.)
  • Do something nice every day. (One of the nice things Du did was simple, but powerful: She kept money in her pocket. That way, she was always ready to give to people in need.) 

When Duana's cancer came back full force, people would periodically ask her, "Are you going to die?" (That is not an alternative fact. I was there when it happened. Several times.) Her response was always the same, "Yep! But not today. Not today. So, let's do something!"

Today, here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to open the bottle of champagne I keep in the fridge, because she believed in always being ready for a celebration. I'm going to toast Deb and Doug, for sharing their mom with me. I'm going to toast Maureen and the rest of our group, for being part of an amazing sisterhood. And I'm going to toast Duana, a remarkable woman whose memory is now, and shall always be, a blessing.