Tag Archives: creativity

Embracing Mystery

To see a world in a grain of sand,

And a heaven in a wild flower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,

And eternity in an hour.

– William Blake

I enjoy spending time around children because they remind me of how to live each moment fully, how to examine the world with eyes of love and wonder, and how to embrace mystery as a natural part of what it means to be alive. Somehow, between childhood and adulthood, we manage to squelch this wonderful approach to living and replace it with something far less satisfying, what we term “realistic” and “appropriate” and “logical.”

Somehow along the way we build fences, construct walls, and organize life into neat categories of black and white, right and wrong, in and out, cool and uncool. Because of our human desire to “know” and control our life and destiny, we strive for certainty and mastery. We seek to acquire and cling to rather than experience and ponder. In the process, largely unintentionally, we lose our ability to embrace the mystery of the universe.

Have you ever watched a child experience the natural world? Have you seen how each flower is its own universe to be explored, how every bird and animal is marvelous and wonderful to behold? Remember how mud puddles are for jumping in–not avoided–and garden hoses are destined to be fountains rather than simply conduits for H2O? Little children don’t watch clocks. They don’t hurry past when something catches their fancy. They are honest and inquisitive and, well, real.

Children not only accept mystery, they embrace and are enthralled by it. Mystery and wonder are partners in living. Once upon a time signals a story worth listening to, and music is made to inspire a silly whirl of a dance. A child sees no reason to argue about whether the world was created in seventy days or seventy million days. The world was created, and it’s really cool; that’s what matters.

What would it take for you to recapture and embrace the mystery of life in this new year? Is it possible for you to take off your watch, shut off your cell phone, put on some music and dance like a kindergartner until you fall down exhausted? Can you spare an hour to walk in the woods, to taste snowflakes, and yes, to stomp in a puddle? Will you treasure and ponder the mystery that you are, the gift of life that the Creator has given you, and the wonders and delights of this beautiful world? I hope you will. I pray you will.

We wake, if ever at all, to mystery. — Annie Dillard

Photos by AlicePopkorn and vastateparksstaff. Thanks!

Lovin’…Laughin’…Livin’ Doris Style

Occasionally a book comes along that just flat out tickles my fancy and keeps me turning pages in anticipation and delight. This is the kind of book I don’t want to put down. I want to savor certain snippets so much that I find myself turning again to particular quotes¬† and scenes. I find myself torn between galloping through to the end or savoring each page. A book like this is an experience, one that leaves the reader wanting more. Such is the case for me with I’ve Got Some Lovin’ to Do: The Diaries of a Roaring Twenties Teen.

Doris Louise Bailey began keeping a diary in 1925, at the tender age of 15. Chronicling her adventures became a practice she would continue throughout her long life. After her death in 2011 at the age of 101, her great-niece, author and editor Julia Park Tracey, found herself in possession of a real treasure–a box of her journals, beginning with the very first teenage diary. Thankfully, Julia began the process of lovingly and carefully editing this gift in order to share Doris with a wider audience.

Typical of any teen, the pages are filled with tales of young love, exquisite crushes and fickle passions, vivid detail and bored pronouncements, all interwoven with the occasional poignant insight into the mysteries adolescence. Doris offers keen insight into the life of one very real roaring twenties teenage girl, making the book both good reading and solid history. The fads, culture, and events of the day are chronicled and filtered through the adolescent window of a girl who would become a most remarkable and strong woman.

I grew up in the South, so reading about a teen whose parents hailed from Alabama and Georgia but settled in Portland, Oregon to rear a family, was a real treat. It was delightful to watch her become bold enough to swear yet still mollified enough to cross out and soften her salty slips of tongue and pen. The book also contains a treasure trove of period photography, the majority of which were snapped by Doris’ older brother Rae with a circa 1918 Kodak box camera.

I’ve Got Some Lovin’ to Do gets a five star rating from me, as does editor Julia Park Tracey. It can be quite a challenge to edit someone’s private writings, especially a young voice from another era. I think you’ll be impressed by Park Tracey’s work and by her useful explanations, appendices, and forthright presentation.

Who should read this book? Anyone who enjoys a good character study will find Doris compelling. Teachers of history and women’s studies will appreciate how The Doris Diaries augment other selections and texts. Reading groups will have a hotsy-totsy (see page 198) time and some keen opportunities for themed gatherings while thumbing through the pages. Finally, anyone interested in journaling will appreciate Doris’ wit, honesty, and insight. Books make good gifts, so consider purchasing a copy for the young (and young-at-heart) readers on your holiday and birthday lists.

Win Your Own Copy of I’ve Got Some Lovin’ to Do.

I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to meet Doris Bailey Murphy in word and image. To give you an opportunity to do so, too, Julia Park Tracey has generously donated a copy of the book for me to give to a reader. Check out some of the excepts from The Doris Diaries Facebook page and/or Twitter feed and then leave a comment by midnight PST Thursday night, November 15. I’ll randomly select a winner from the comments left. (Note: I was not paid to read, review, or endorse this book. The opinions expressed are mine alone.)

Coming Up Later this Week!

Look for a guest blog post by none other than Julia Park Tracy. I’ve known Julia through The Compact for several years now and appreciate her own blend of wit, wisdom, and wonderment. She’s an excellent writer, and I think you’ll enjoy what she has to say.

Time to get back to living this good day. Or, as Doris would say: “Love is life; life is love!”

Photos courtesy Julia Park Tracey. Thanks!

 

 

Thankful I’ll be Home on Black Friday

Disclaimer: I begrudge no one the experience of shopping on Black Friday. If that’s your thing or your holiday tradition, go for it. To each his or her own.

I, however, won’t be engaging in any retail recreation or therapy on the day after Thanksgiving for several reasons that range from ethics and justice to simplicity and supporting local businesses. I’m thankful to be able to opt out of the consumer hamster wheel and choose a different way to spend the day. Here are my reasons.

1. Because we keep Christmas giving simple, there is no need to rush out and save a few cents (which is generally what it amounts to once the value of my time and fossil fuel is figured in). I don’t take pleasure in shopping, so there is particular incentive to hold this day sacrosanct for consumer activities. I would much rather stay home and read, write, play games, or watch a movie.

2. I find myself resenting the retail world’s ever-increasing competition to be the first, the earliest, and the most sensational. You can now shop Black Friday deals before the day even officially arrives. I find it equally annoying that the Halloween candy was competing for space with Christmas decorations before the little witches and goblins had a chance to don their costumes.

3. It’s pretty tough to balance giving thanks for abundant blessings one day and then obsessing over wants before the sun rises on a new morning. Whatever happened to being content? Or even simply letting your food settle before thinking about what to consume next? We in North America are incredibly blessed. Why not savor those blessings a little longer?

4. When I do shop, I prefer to do so locally, supporting independent businesses whenever possible. I also like to give gifts that are consumable, practical, or revolve around time and experiences. We make our own jellies and other canned goods to give. Other good options are handmade soaps, candles, plants, and wearable art. Best of all are gifts of time: concert passes, a certificate for dinner and a movie, or a coffee shop gift certificate. My favorite gift last year was a $5 stainless steel serving spoon. Hey, it gets used almost every day, and I get to tell the gifter repeatedly how much I like it!

5. Finally, I’m just stubborn enough and of an un-consumer mindset to resent being told what’s a great deal and what I simply can’t live without. Now that we don’t have television we get to opt out of a lot of the warm, snuggly holiday advertisements. Bah! Humbug! (Note: I direct that last Dickens-esque comment only to the commercial consumption machine and its minions–not to any holiday celebration.)

So, what alternatives exist to falling into the Black Friday black hole?

1. Just don’t do it. Plan a day of leftovers, lounging, sports, hunting, or hiking (if the weather allows). Spend time with family and friends. Give your children or grandchildren an entire day of your time. Take a little time to write letters, Skype, or phone the ones you love who live far from home.

2. Gather a group of friends and family members for a crafting day, bake-a-thon, or craft gift exchange. Make gifts together or barter and exchange for handmade gifts to give. You’ll have a blast, save money, and support one another’s artistic endeavors.

3. Declare a do-nothing pampering day. Take a long bubble bath. Eat fair-trade organic chocolate. Drink good fair trade coffee or tea. Stay in your pajamas all day long. Read that book you’ve been putting off. Give your spouse or significant other a massage. Do whatever brings you bliss. Remember that self-care is important, too. Hey, at least you won’t risk being mowed down in the quest for a limited edition Furby or the latest i-whatever!

4. Give of yourself. Volunteer at your local soup kitchen. Host a coat, glove, and hat drive. Collect non-perishables for the local food bank. Be creative and some way to give to others rather than to consume.

If you must shop on this most unholy of retail days, consider these alternatives:

4. Hit up the local Goodwill, Salvation Army, or consignment shops. See what perfectly wonderful treasures you might find for friends and family who support your un-consumer predilections and who find joy in preventing new additions to the consumer stream.

5. Shop locally. Go to your local farmer’s market, boutiques, or art galleries and support your local economy. Pay particular attention to selecting fairly traded, sustainable, and locally made items. Buy consumables if possible. Refuse to set foot in any big box or chain store for at least this one day.

6. If you simply must shop the major consumer retailers, consider carefully planning only what you need to purchase and make those purchases online. My super-bargainista friend Melissa tells me you can get almost anything at Black Friday prices that way. She would know because she is amazing at finding excellent deals. A major part of the reason she shops like this is to give to those in need and support local charities.

Finally, remember that there are very few real bargains. Somebody pays somewhere along the consumer chain. It may be that underpaid factory worker in China, or it may be the planet from the fossil fuel emissions expended to tote said “bargain” halfway around the world. It may be the big box store employee who gets just enough hours to prevent him or her from qualifying for benefits, or it may be you who supports government subsidies for these workers through your taxes. It might even be the person who receives the gift and finds out that corners were cut in the quality of the item to accommodate the supposed bargain price.

When you must consume, do your best to consumer justly, minimally, wisely, and thoughtfully. Make your precious resources count as best you can. Waste not, want not, and love your neighbor as yourself.

What ideas do you have for countering the Black Friday consumption monster?

Photos by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com, KayOne73. glindsay65, bradley j, and Breibeest. Thanks!

None of the Above

I made the mistake of answering the phone for a number I did not recognize today. It was a pleasant-sounding voice by the name of “Karen” conducting “market research.” Boy did she dial the wrong number!

The first question concerned where I get my news. My options were 1) newspapers, 2) television, 3) Internet, and 4) radio. My answer was 3) Internet. It’s here that I watch video, read newspapers, and enjoy the perspectives of several reputable news outlets including (but certainly not limited to) the BBC, NPR, Daily Good, Sojourners, UTNE Reader, Christian Science Monitor, and the New York Times.

The second question concerned advertising. The bile began to rise in my throat at this query. “Do you watch television advertisements,” “Karen” the voice purred? “No,” I responded flatly. “We don’t watch TV. We have a television, but we use it only for movies and Netflix.”

Uh, oh. I was not thrilled with the way this conversation was headed. She asked a few more banal advertising/marketing preference questions to which I was a lackluster respondent due to my disinterest in consumption in general and my lack of current advertising content knowledge. I don’t even get excited about Super Bowl ads,but I do adore Adbusters.

The real clinker came when she said, “We like to thank our survey participants by giving them a choice of one of three gifts–a $25 WalMart gift card, a $25 Target gift card, or a set of steak knives. Since I’m a functional vegetarian (only eating meat when it is a social necessity) and a person who avoids big box stores, I responded, “None of the above, thank you.” And that was that.

It feels good to be able to say “none of the above” and mean it, to joyfully opt out of consumption and walk another path. Had she asked me about supporting local businesses and family farmers, I could have waxed eloquent. Had she inquired about whether I prefer to purchase fair trade and/or recycled goods or whether I do my personal shopping at Goodwill and the Rescue Mission, we could have had a lovely conversation. Alas, I was simply one of “Karen” the voice’s more disappointing responses for the day.

That said, I’m quite comfortable in my un-consumer, non-conformist skin. Being a “None of the Above” kind of person allows me to live a rich life that focuses on relationships, creativity, faith, and justice. I am grateful for every breath and moment. Less stuff means more freedom, and that dear friends, is a very good thing.

How about you? Do you fall into the “None of the Above” category? If so, what do you think marketers most need to know about us? What do you enjoy most about the lifestyle you are living or aspire to live?

Photos by Marc Lagneau, cogdogblog, and Berto Garcia. Thanks!

Burn, Baby, Burn

Enough of these phrases, conceit and metaphors,
I want burning, burning, burning.
–Rumi

Am I writing from my head or from my heart?

From reason or from intuition?

From my rational, need-to-make-a-living mind or from my place of greatest, deepest passion?

Do you ask yourself these questions? If not, you should. Call it checking your creative temperature. If you find your head and reason responding more loudly than your heart and soul, chances are the difference is showing in your writing, too.

Beginning writing students often tell me they can’t find any approach to a particular topic, saying “Nothing about it interests me,” or “I don’t know anything about that.” They allow a temporary lack of inquisitiveness and curiosity threaten to stifle creativity. They let fear of failure and inadequacy build fences between them and their words.

I believe that if you look hard enough and long enough at almost any topic and you’ll find something about it to pique your interest. If you observe, listen, taste, and feel your way around a subject, you WILL find entry into the world of that particular story or song or character.

Life is fascinating. Humans are amazing and frustrating and complex. The world is beautiful, ugly, dark and light. You, dear writer, are gifted with an ability to see, to tell truth, to craft story from air and dust. So get to it. Don’t tell me (or yourself!) that you can’t kindle your words and images from the tiniest spark.

Sure, you may be able to write cogent, precise, and even elegant prose. But I want fire. I want to hear your heart sing and read the music of your words. I want to immerse myself in your story–be it real or fiction. Give me truth either way. Make me burn with you. Ignite my curiosity and stoke my energy. Help me see between, around, and through your words.

Go now. Dig deeply into your place of passion and fire. Take any kernel of reality or fantasy and set yourself on creative fire. Don’t tell me you can’t. Do not rely on your head and your reason; they may only disappoint and stifle you. They will tell you 1,000 reasons you can’t or shouldn’t or won’t. Go now. Create a conflagration. Tell me. Show me. Make fireworks of those words. Burn, baby, burn.

(Photo by matthewvenn used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!)

 

 

A Rose is a Rose . . .

Once in a while I stumble upon an idea that tickles my fancy; usually it has to do with a fresh idea to reuse or re-purpose and everyday item. Here’s a great idea for recycling newspapers (or books or magazines) that will appeal to those who treasure words: paper roses.

For me these wordy wonders have a double attraction because our cat loves nothing better than destroying real flowers and plants. With these “roses” I can have my words and whimsy without risking real, expensive blooms being strewn half-eaten across the floor.

I’m looking forward to making a batch for my next dinner party–complete with a literary theme. We own a couple of vintage typewriters, so I’m thinking a centerpiece might include paper flowers arranged artfully in and around this focal point.

I suppose decorating with words is better than eating them, right? What creative ideas do you have for living with words?

(Photo by msmstewart used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!)

Thankful for Chaos

Chaos in the world breeds uneasiness, but it also allows the opportunity for creativity and growth. — Tom Barrett

I am thankful for chaos. Yes, that’s right, I really am. My life is in a sort of chaos right now, not bad or traumatic in any way, just busy and full and disorganized, and well, chaotic. So I’m trying to embrace this chaos in which I find myself swimming rather than fight it and risk drowning in my own disorganization and discombobulation. I am working at being thankful for this present state of being; it’s where I am so I might as well find the good in it and be thankful for it. At least I’m alive and kicking and drawing breath.

We humans much prefer order. We like to know what’s coming at us, where we’re going, and how we’re going to get there. We like plots and plans and protocol. Chaos makes us a little crazy and stirs up that fight or flight mechanism. Unfortunately, that adrenaline-filled response is not what’s needed to take advantage of chaos and it’s power to produce amazing results and unforeseen gifts in our lives.

Our real discoveries come from chaos, from going to the place that looks wrong and stupid and foolish. — Chuck Pahlahniuk

Sometimes you just have to let go and ride the chaos wave, at least that’s what I’m telling myself as I strap on my rose-colored goggles and dive into the waters of daily life. I have no clue how the chaos will play out, but I can truthfully report from past experience that the periods of greatest chaos have usually preceded good things and bursts of creativity. The path is not clear; what seems logical and sensible may not be the right fork in the road to take. Who knows? Only the Creator who holds all this universe and its seeming chaos in creative tension. I figure those are pretty good hands in which to be held. So yes, I am thankful for chaos and the gifts of discovery, creativity, and renewal it may bring.

What about you? Do you embrace your chaos and trust the process or fight it for all you’re worth? Or do you find yourself somewhere in between, sight reading life’s notes or doing your own improvisation?

Chaos is the score upon which reality is written. — Henry Miller

Photos by Kate Ter Haar, Stefan Andrej Shambora, and Horia Varlan used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Sunrise — Thank You — Sunset

Sunrises are not normally part of my daily ritual. My body’s natural rhythms do not favor rising early. I am much more likely to treasure the bold oranges, brilliant reds, and bright pinks of a sunset instead. I like the Jewish tradition of beginning the day with sunset and ending with sunrise. Remember, from the book of Genesis, where the refrain “and there was evening and there was morning” frames the Creator’s activity? Works for me!

Whether you rise with the roosters or begin your day with brunch, both sunrises and sunsets are gifts to be treasured. The rising and setting of the sun form a glorious set of bookends to each day, between which we live and love and give thanks for the gift of life and everything we share.

Today I want to share something with you. It’s the story of Debbie Wagner, and it is sure to inspire you and give you reason to be thankful. The short version is this: Wagner was enjoying a wonderful life that was interrupted by two brain tumors. Saved from an early death through surgical intervention, Wagner nonetheless found her life changed. She was no longer able to do some of the things she had taken for granted such as following the complicated plot of a novel or creating meals from complex recipes. Rather than focus on what had been lost, Wagner searched for and found new gifts. She suddenly had an eye for the visual and an artist’s ability. She began rising early and painting each sunrise. From that experience many blessings have followed.

I encourage you to read Debbie’s full story posted on the DailyGood by clicking here. You can also visit her website by clicking here.¬† This courageous woman shows that it is possible to give thanks in all circumstances, creating beauty and hope from the ashes of pain and loss.

Photo by khsolomon used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!