Monthly Archives: September 2010

Community the Simple Way

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
Creative Solutions to Big Problems

Many societies worldwide have become fragmented and extremely individualistic. We don’t know what community is anymore. I read an article a while back in which a young professional reflected on his experiences living in a long-term rental unit in a hotel building. He commented that he now parcels the concept of community into brief conversations in the elevator with people he will never see again. Somehow I don’t think that’s what the word was supposed to mean…

Philadelphia, 1998. Seven students from Eastern University move together into a house they name The Simple Way in ‘the bad part of town’. Their goal? To build community inside the house and in the neighbourhood. The students share their lives and belongings with each other, then get to know their neighbours and do the same with them. It’s about day-to-day, face-to-face, equal-to-equal relationship building and acting to help each other out with whatever comes along the way. The house is still there to this day and has even expanded to another one in the same area. Doesn’t that sound more like community than a soon forgotten elevator chat?

I’d  like to visit The Simple Way one day and experience this kind of real community- or better yet, start one right where I am. Now there’s a radical thought…

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Today’s 4 Minute Writer

Exuberant

“Hi! How are you?!” She comes at me in those shaky high heels and frizzed out blonde hair.

“Good thanks.” Not exactly an open-ended response.

“Wasn’t this weekend just so awful? We had the kids over for a barbecue and had to stay indoors the whole time. When will the summer ever get here? I mean, really, it’s the middle of August already!”

The pace of her speech tires me. A slight nod is all I can muster.

“How about you? What did you do this weekend?”

I open my mouth  to respond-

“Oh, excuse me a second,” she cuts me off, “that’s Bob Jenkins from the President’s office over there. I need to go talk to him.” And without further ceremony, off she flitters toward him.

I breathe a deep sigh and shake my head. My day can only get better from here.

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Brains + Guts = Watch Out Big Corporations

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
Creative Solutions to Big Problems

What do you get when you take two smart guys with a ton of guts and a major axe to grind against big corporations they feel put profits ahead of everything else? You get millions of BBC viewers watching a phony Dow Chemicals representative admit responsibility for the largest industrial accident in history after 20 years of virtually no action to clean up this mess in Bhopal, India that killed thousands and left over 120,000 people needing lifelong care. 

Meet Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, The Yes Men. This activist duo create and maintain fake websites impersonating major corporations. They then wait to be contacted through the sites to participate in interviews, conferences, and TV talk shows. At these forums, they highlight how they feel the companies they are impersonating commit acts against the public. In the case of the BBC Dow Chemicals interview, once Jude Finisterra (whose first name refers to the patron saint of lost causes and last name is Latin for ‘end of the world’) was exposed as a fraud, Dow was left having to answer questions about what action was and was not taken to help those affected by the incident in Bhopal.

Though they are small and corporations gigantic, Andy and Mike manipulate and leverage media to get their message out there. Now that’s creativity! 

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Today’s 4 Minute Writer

Still Alive

“I, oh, I’m still alive,” sings Eddie Vedder in a half-dead monotone.

Alive. Still alive. Truly alive? Half alive? Live truly, live so it counts, really counts, not just to get through another day. Live like it really matters, for what’s important, what lasts. When all is said and done, how much of what was will remain and how much will be rolled up and chucked into the cosmic incinerator?

Living in the right plane- that’s what’ll get you there. See through the right eyes, see for real. Close your eyes, and see.

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Copenhagen’s Bicycle Culture

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
Creative Solutions to Big Problems

We all know about climate change and how the environment is in rough shape and that we need to go green. So, most of us do our little part to help out- we recycle, compost, buy ‘green’ products. And these things are all good. Of course, the more we do on a collective, societal level, the better. One shining example of a collective, creative way to go green is Copenhagen’s bicycle culture. Although residents see their cycling as utilitarian and not environmentally motivated, the fact that 37% of commuters in that city are cyclists reduces commuter automobile emissions by, you guessed it, 37%. In a city of over a million inhabitants, that’s huge!

A major factor in the number of cyclists in Copenhagen is the city’s cycle-friendly urban design and designated paths, tracks, and lanes. They even have bicycle repair points where you can rent or repair a bike.

To encourage cycling to work, some workplaces in Copenhagen have implemented “Trappers”, recording sensors that track when a bicycle is within the vicinity of the work building. Employees earn points based on how often they cycle to work, and redeem these for products on the Trapper website.

Taking Copenhagen as an example of a municipality’s creativity to encourage environmentally friendly transportation, what unique solutions to environmental issues can our own cities come up with?

(Link to information on bicycle culture in Denmark)

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Today’s 4 Minute Writer

Data Entry

Jim parks his bike at the racks in front of the building and makes his way inside and to his desk, passing rows of co-workers already hunkered down in their cubicles.

Within minutes  he is seated, staring at a computer just like everyone else. But when Jim sits and stares, it’s different. No amount of mindless data entry can bring his energy into submission. His unruly hair flies around him, even without the slightest breeze. His shoulders move disjointedly as he types, each new angle leaving traces of continued motion extending on. His legs are always shaking up and down, up and down- they probably don’t even stop when he sleeps. He’s a ball of energy inside a body too small to contain it. I fully expect that one day I’ll hear a soft “pop” when I walk by and realize that he simply spontaneously combusted.

Use the comment field to suggest a topic, submit your writing on today’s 4 Minute Writer topic (Data Entry), or to comment.

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Of Resilience and Creativity

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
The Artistic Personality

In the post below I mentioned that there was a time in my life when I was so hypersensitive that every action around me seemed to land directly on my soul, and that this period did not last long. The ability to bounce back from such a state is essential to life and living it, as well as essential to our creativity. What’s interesting is that the relationship between resilience (the ability to overcome adversity) and creativity is circular: resilience allows you to continue to be creative and being creative allows you to be more resilient.

While research shows that mild negative emotional states can increase creativity, excessive negative emotions can hamper creative problem-solving as well as artistic creativity. The ability to acknowledge and navigate to the other side of these emotions and their causes brings you back to a place where you are open again to creative inspiration and action.

Conversely, thinking creatively to come up with solutions to what is dragging you down will help you get back on track. What’s more, doing something creative (e.g., painting, writing, landscaping, etc.) gives you confidence in your abilities to create. This confidence can translate into belief in your abilities to take action that will take you to where you want to go, building your resilience.

For me, turning how I felt into abstract short stories with unexpected positive twists helped me take the energy I was turning against myself into work I took pride in. It also gave me a new perspective of my situation. This was a big factor in getting met back on my feet and back to what’s important in life.

(Link to ways to build resilience)

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Today’s 4 Minute Writer

The White Rose

I stumble upon them on the side of the snow filled trail. Somehow, through the months of cold and wind, they have remained, sticking their stalks and heads out, daring to hope for a bit of sun. They are so vulnerable, but don’t bother to notice- theirs is to continue the task of showing Beauty to the world. I am drawn to them. They remind me of the group of youth in Germany so many years ago who named themselves after these delicate flowers. The White Rose. In the face of the cold, death-producing regime of their time, they also stood strong, believing that Beauty would always prevail. Even as they were led to death by hanging, they maintained this impossible view. Though they were not permitted to see it, when the cold was driven out and the winds stopped, the world discovered that they were right.

Monday’s 4 Minute Writer topic: Data Entry

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The Hypersensitive Experience

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
The Artistic Personality

I have a snapshot in my memory of me in the kitchen of a friend’s house, her father slamming down a meat tenderizer over and over again into a raw, blood-filled steak. Each blow landed directly on my soul and hammered it further and further into a dark abyss. At that time in my life it was as if there was no protective cover for my soul, it was completely exposed, and the world acted directly and deeply on it.

I am glad that this hypersensitivity did not last very long and that I was able to regain the protective shell around my soul. It gave me a glimpse, though, into just how great an effect the tiniest of our actions can have on others. And who knows, maybe the highly sensitive experience of life is truer than we know. 

(Link to Pearl S. Buck quote on high sensitivity and creativity)

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Today’s 4 Minute Writer  

Fear

It started when she was seven, some horror movie about a ring. Since then, she had an intense fear of circles- rather inconvenient really as there tend to be a lot around. She bought square tea cups, never rode a bicycle, had special doorknobs, never ate sliced tomatoes, and refused to pay cash so she wouldn’t have to deal with change. Her parents put her in therapy after she had a hysteric fit in the middle of gym class during a unit on hoola-hoops. The shrink told them she was simply defiant and would have to be consistent in their discipline.

In grad nine, she burst out in tears when the teacher handed out standardized scholastic aptitude tests in which students had to shade in bubble sheets to answer multiple choice questions.

Somehow she made it into adulthood and was now considering a career in the military… (Write your own thoughts on what happens next.)

Tomorrow’s 4 Minute Writer topic:   

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Are You an Independent Thinker?

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
The Artistic Personality

Independence of thought is essential to the artistic personality. The ability to break with the accepted way of looking at something in order to explore and experience it from a different, perhaps unaccepted, angle is imperative. How can an artist be content to blindly follow and conform when a burning fire within drives him to seek a renewal- even transformation- of the world around him?

Independence of thought can be a risky path to pursue. The artist may become unpopular or ostracized for his stance. He must be willing to take responsibility for his choices and accept the consequences, so needs to consider wisely how far to go his own way.

In daily life, become conscious of how often you choose to express views that are different from those around you, or from widely accepted opinions. How does the way you handle these situations differ from or mirror the way you approach your creative pursuits?

(Further discussion on personality traits and creativity )

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Today’s 4 Minute Writer

Rental Cars

Unbelievable! Just when she thought things couldn’t possibly get worse, she finds out that her rental is a minivan! Of all the terrible things life could have thrown at her. She takes the keys from the agent and walks across the parking lot to the green monstrosity. Her whole body cringes as she sits herself down at the wheel. This is exactly the scenario she had spent her whole 30s trying to avoid. And now, it’s either get in the minivan and go to work or stick to her guns and get fired. She pauses to consider this choice, then takes a deep breath. She tells herself that it’s just for a few days until her Beetle is fixed. Just a few days… 

She starts the engine, puts her foot on the gas and feels nausea building. “Next come the white picket fence, the 2.1 kids, the RRSPs. This is ridiculous,” she thinks. She presses the gas pedal harder and is surprised that the thing actually accelerates to a decent speed. She rolls down the windows, lets her hair fly out, then turns up the radio and joins Jimmy Hendrix in a duet. If she’s gotta drive the suburbia-mobile, she may as well try to add a little style, she figures. 

Tomorrow’s 4 Minute Writer topic: Fear

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Creativity and Empathy

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
The Artistic Personality

It’s easy for artists to get lost in their own experiences of ecstasy, desire, despair, or rage. They mine these depths and share their treasures with the rest of us. Artists also need to be able to enter into the inner experiences and feelings of others, to have empathy. This allows for the creation of vivid characters and dynamic performances. It is not, however, without its dangers. Entering too deeply into the inner workings of another person can create a loss of identity and perspective. Developing the ability to control the entering in and leaving behind of the experiences of others is essential- as is the ability to delve into and come out of one’s own depths so as to not become lost.  

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Today’s 4 Minute Writer

Fish

Sea kittens. Yes, that’s right, I said sea kittens- the PETA marketing campaign. If fish had the face of kittens, we would care about their welfare. Just like the baby seal thing- so cute we would want to protect them.

Is that what human beings are like, favouring the lives of the cute over the lives of the ugly? Do parents love their pretty children best? What if what was once beautiful becomes old and shriveled, does society turn its back? Yes. Look at how we discard our seniors- yes, our seniors. We are all responsible. We are collectively shallow.

But, why not love the pretty more? Why not lavish affection on what is pleasing to look at and brings warm feelings? All good to say until you’re the ugly one who is cast aside.  

Tomorrow’s 4 Minute Writer topic: Rental cars

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The Writer’s Personality Type

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
The Artistic Personality

Do writers have a particular personality type that draws them to their craft? According to research done by Jane Piirto of Ashland Universit in Ohio, writers tested with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test scored overwhelmingly as INFPs  (Understanding Creativity).

INFPs are introverted, intuitive, feeling, and perceptive. They have a rich inner world with intense feelings and committed values. They are creative and are often gifted in language. As they are introverts, writing lends itself easily as the outlet for their creativity. Their curiosity to understand others and their continual search for new ideas allow them to see the potential for writing material all around them.

How much of yourself do you see in this description?

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Today’s 4 Minute Writer

Longing

He waits for her. Hours pass, and still he waits. Dozens of people walk by. They take no notice of this old man sitting on the park bench, alone.

A soft wind rustles the grass beyond the path they used to walk together to get here. They would sit arm in arm, looking out into the fields, sharing the sandwich she had made and laughing at the inside jokes they shared between them.

He sits alone, waiting for her. Daylight fades into dusk, then night. Still, he waits. This was their sanctuary, the place they came to week after week, their world in the midst of the world, yet set far apart from it. There is no other place he would rather be than here, with her, so he waits until she comes to him again. He has been too long without her, the months of hospital visits as he watched her slip further and further away until it wasn’t her anymore. He knows he will find her here. Eternity lay in the time-bound moments they shared here. This is the place he will connect with that realm and be with her again.

Tomorrow’s 4 Minute Writer topic: Fish

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The Artist’s Dynamic Tension

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
The Artistic Personality

“The artist lives in a state of greater dynamic tension than the nonartist and so is likely to demand more, desire more, withdraw further into herself, witness better, laugh harder, and bellyache louder. This may not be easy for anyone to take- the artist included…” -Eric Maisel in Creativity for Life

Can you relate to that quote? A state of greater dynamic tension… The line in the Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony resonates with me: “I’m a million different people from one day to the next”, as do the lyrics to “I’m a bitch, I’m a lover” by Meredith Brooks. In that song, she talks about the extremes in her personality coming out from one moment to the next and then says “You know you wouldn’t want it any other way” and “You know I wouldn’t want it any other way.” And I wonder if I agree with that…

Of course, we all only know what it’s like to be ourselves, really, and even that we’re not completely sure of. From my limited corner of the universe, looking through the window I’ve been given, I marvel at how most people around me seem so even-keeled, without a significant degree of variance or contradiction. How do they do that? Life seems like a kiddie train ride for them instead of the roller coaster it can sometimes be for me. They appear so content and… so numb. Maybe Meredith does have a point after all…

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Today’s 4 Minute Writer

Wine Glasses After the Party

The four of them stand motionless, ignoring each other, forgetting that just a few short hours ago they were swinging in each others’ arms, then interlacing them as they drank from each others’ glasses as toast after toast rang in the new year.

Now, they are silent and empty, perfect strangers. Half eaten chips and shelled peanuts lie strewn on the counter at random, meaninglessly. Where did all the buzz and to-do go? Nothing is left but a mess to clean up and a status quo to re-establish.

It’s that awkward in-between time now, the moment suspended between festivity and the mundane, the quiet chaos that excessive merriment leaves behind.

Tomorrow, Jenny will be back at the office, Tom will be on a plane to Vegas, while Herold and Tiffany play mom and dad to their five year old twins. To the people around them, they’ll talk about the weather and traffic, and how the price of everything is going up and how fast time is going by. They’ll be back to their molds, shaking hands on cue and smiling at the person serving their morning coffee. And when they see each other out shopping for groceries or standing in line at the bank, they’ll make polite conversation. It won’t be like it was that night, when they were suddenly the best of friends who let themselves loose, embracing the spontaneity of the moment.

Tomorrow’s 4 Minute Writer topic:

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Why So Serious?

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
Blockers to Creativity

A few months ago I learned a very valuable lesson about being in the right frame of mind to allow creativity to flow through me, unhindered. And, like with so many of the really important lessons in life, it came through pain and being humbled.

I was involved in a project that became extremely important to me. I spent hours, weeks, months on it, thought about it in-depth throughout this time period, discussed it incessantly with others, studied it from every angle. The culmination of the project was several presentations infront of a few hundred people. The first few presentations I gave it my very best, my all, but somehow it didn’t come off well and I could not understand why. Of course, my inner critic was much harsher than others, but I knew that I wasn’t portraying what I had to give with the real creativity I felt. I was frustrated and confused.

Just before one of the last presentations, I kicked back with some friends and we got into a great round of banter, laughter, and down-right silliness. I was in a great mood! That evening’s presentation was magic. I was in flow, and each moment took on a life of its own, portraying exactly what I had meant it to.

I learned a powerful lesson about not taking myself so seriously that I become over-invested in my projects and lose sight of what they are meant to be- fun, in the truest sense of the word. Let go, relax, and enjoy the ride.

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Today’s 4 Minute Writer

Angela

Tonight, 11:57pm, she’s sitting on a bar stool at Eddie’s Taphouse. Tomorrow night, 11:57pm, she’ll be laying on the floor in this same spot.

She spends nearly every minute she’s not at work here. It’s where she and her friends celebrate all the significant and not so significant occasions in their lives. It’s where she comes because she has nowhere else to go.

Just like on the tv show Cheers, everyone here does know her name, and they really are glad that she comes. She always feels welcome and appreciated here. Tonight, she has no idea that just under 24 hours from now, she’ll walk in for the last time.

Monday’s 4 Minute Writer topic: Wine Glasses After the Party

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