Monthly Archives: November 2010

Thinking of Something Different

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
Characteristics of Creativity

It has been said that one aspect of being creative is “seeing the same thing as everybody else, but thinking of something different.”
James Corbett of Queensland, Australia is definitely a “thinking of something different” kind of guy.
As the owner of an auto parts recycling business, James saw spark plugs, exhaust pipes, gears, and radiators day in and day out. But one day, he began thinking of them as something different- as pieces of uncreated sculptures.
And he decided to play. He looked for exactly the right pieces and, without altering their structure in any way, began welding them together into artwork. His creations were so well received that, a little over a year later, he became a full-time assemblage artist.
James has been selling his unique sculptures all over the world for the past ten years now and is doing the work he loves.
It all started with thinking in an entirely different way about the things he’d seen for years.
What in your life can you think of in a different way?
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Today’s 4 Minute Writer  

The Ticket

He is like so many others who have come here from far away. He was a doctor/lawyer/architect/insert highly esteemed professional title in his home country- and is a cab driver/convenience store clerk/caretaker/insert minimum wage/minimum esteem job title here. They let him in to our country because of his qualifications, we keep him out of our job market because he is from somewhere else.

He has been here a few years now, his hopes for a better life for himself transferred instead to his son.

*       *       *

Another customer leaves, without bothering to acknowledge his existence. He finishes his shift and heads for home.

He doesn’t know that his son has, on a whim, bought him a lottery ticket for next week’s $42 million dollar jackpot.

He doesn’t know that it’s the winning ticket.

Over and over he had vowed that if he ever made it in this country, he would start his own company and give people in his situation the chance they had come here to find.

He doesn’t know that tonight he could have his wish.

He doesn’t know that tomorrow he will misplace the ticket and never know what might have been.

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The Methodical Side of Creativity

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
Characteristics of Creativity

Lest we characterize the ideal creative as an eccentric artist with disheveled hair and a penchant for mismatched socks, let us consider the methodical side of creativity.
Leonardo da Vinci, the quintessential artist and inventor, was incredibly logical and scientific in his thinking. He was a keen observer, detailing findings of empirical studies in his notebooks, and working out complex designs of everything from solar energy to helicopters. 
His careful study of light, human behaviour, and anatomy contributed to the genius of his greatest works like the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper.
Without the hours and hours of pouring over monotonous, detailed data, he would not have been able to produce his seemingly effortless creations.
Creative branches often grow from methodical roots.
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Today’s 4 Minute Writer  

The Look

She holds her head low, gaze fixed on the ground. Something about the way she moves makes me turn her way. For a split second I see a big, black hole in the side of her head. I blink and realize it’s only dark, hanging bangs.

As she passes me, she jerks her head, as if sensing someone watching her. A flash of iridescent green eyes pierce mine and a high-pitched frequency fills my ears. I try to scream, but make no sound.

She looks away and keeps walking, head down. The ringing stops abruptly.

I spin on my heels and run towards her. Without turning, she bolts away. I yell out, “Stop- you with the green eyes! Stop!”

She runs faster, pushing people out of the way. Her heal lodges in a sewer grate, crashing her to the ground. I pounce and grab for her shoulder but catch only her long black bangs. My arm is locked, powerless. Like a steel trap, her bangs retract into her head, pulling me in with them. Everything goes black.

Two iridescent green dots grow from the blackness and hover in front of my face. A hollow voice whispers all around me, “Welcome, inquisitive stranger. You are now one of us- the Catchers of the Curious.”

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What if…

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
Characteristics of Creativity

As a child I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books. Every few pages I was given a choice like “Go fight the beasts or run in the opposite direction.” I would then turn to the page corresponding to what I had chosen and find out what happened next. I suppose it was the very rudimentary precursor to video games. Perhaps I’m dating myself too much…
In any case, it was a wonderful way to consider ‘what ifs’. What if I chose to go after the buried treasure, or jump into the pirates’ ship, or crawl into the trolls’ den? Being able to explore possibilities and imagine different outcomes were the real rewards of the journey.
But at some point I turned away from imagining ‘what if’. Perhaps it happened gradually and that’s why I can’t pinpoint the moment. Somehow the ‘what ifs’ turned into real life ‘adventures’ like finding a bargain at the second-hand store, or jumping into the supermarket line-up at just the right time. Ho-hum.
And so, I’ve decided to bring back this kind of imagination into my life this week in the 4 Minute Writer section. I’ll be creating ‘what if’ stories triggered by moments I chance upon throughout the week.
Maybe I’ll see a man in strange attire and wonder “What if he’s headed to a convention of spies?”
Maybe I’ll catch an elderly lady smiling knowingly at a bird and think “What if she’s found the blue bird of happiness?”
What if creating these stories will allow me to imagine a different ‘what if’ for my real life?   
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A Moment of Self-Reflection

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
To what end?

Allow me a moment of reckless self-reflection as I consider the ‘to what end?’ of this blog.
I have taken a few minutes (should I say 4 minutes to make it more poetic?) to review the main point of each Notes on Creativity entry so far. I looked for patterns on this exploration of creativity and journey to cultivate more of it in my life. And it seems that I am at a crux.
The search is leading me to experience life at a level just a few inches off the ground. I now look increasingly for that hint of the Other World in the ordinary, and try to infuse the small things in my life with tiny nuggets of the best of who I am. And this, I suddenly realize, is just it- the search is leading me, and not the other way around. This is not at all what I had intended when I set out on this adventure.
And so, I cannot answer to what end the search captured in this blog will lead. I must merely make room, and follow where the Wild Goose takes me.
Do come along for the ride. 
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Today’s 4 Minute Writer  

Rapids

Tumbling, turning, twisting. Grasping, careening. I close my eyes now, hours later, and can still feel the rhythm of the waves- paddle, crest, crash, eject. There goes one person, and another. Move quickly, perform the rescue, and head off to the next rapid.

All the while, the solid living walls line our journey down the river. They are alive with coiled boas, squirrel monkeys, iguanas, and kingfishers. This is a National Geographic moment.

We are small in the raft at the bottom of the canyon, moved along by rushing waters. The splashing droplets refresh us, the warming sun gives us comfort. 

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The Human Face of the Enemy

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
To what end?

This month’s issue of National Geographic has a two-page aerial photo of Nairobi’s Kibera slum. A closer look reveals greatly magnified photographs of women’s eyes plastered in the middle of the slum. Hmmmm…. I am curious.
To find out more, I go to the fount of all knowledge: Google.
There I discover that the work is part of a larger international project by a photographer who goes only by the name ‘JR‘. The project aims to show the dignity of women who are often the target of conflicts.
Ok. Interesting. I read on.
Turns out JR has done a number of projects, all with the intent of showing the true, human ‘face’ of the opposition in conflict situations.
In one project- which, incidentally, was the biggest illegal photo exhibition ever– he took huge format portraits of Israelis and Palestinians. He then posted these portraits side by side on buildings in eight Palestinian and Israeli cities on both sides of the separation wall. The portraits weren’t ‘Sunday best’ photos either, but were rather of people making faces into the camera. How silly. How human. No one took them down.  
From what I read, none of the conflicts were resolved by any of these photos. But maybe, just maybe, one child will grow up with a little less hate in his heart because he can see that the ‘enemy’ is, after all, just like him.
What I love most about JR is that he combines art with action. In each location he works, he sponsors ongoing art and craft workshops for kids. In the Nairobi slum, his foundation re-covered 2,000 square meters of rooftops.

When art that changes perspective and action that changes lives are combined, possibility is more than just a dream.

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Today’s 4 Minute Writer  

Photos

I never did like photographs. They’re depressing.

As soon as one’s taken, it’s a record of an event that’s gone, a moment never to be repeated.

Years later you look at it and realize you’re fatter, balder. The woman standing beside you is no longer here and the smiling faces gathered around have faded into obscurity.

Moments need to move on, not be captured and held onto artificially.

Live in the now and appreciate what’s around you, because in a moment, it’ll be gone.

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The Fun Theory

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
To what end?

I cannot stand advertisements. As I write, I am listening to the radio, and every time an ad comes on my blood pressure goes up and my index fingers go in my ears. That fake cheery voice, repeated use of the product name, and claim that if I buy the product my life will be complete wear on my psyche.
But, give me a creative ad campaign that doesn’t have these annoying elements and instead gives me something back, and you’ll have my attention. VW’s The Fun Theory campaign is an example of this ingenious use of creativity.
The premiss goes like this: create a series of experiments carried out on the general public and captured on video that show how fun can change people’s behaviour for the better. Stick the line “An initiative of Volkswagen” at the end of each of the videos. Send them off into cyberspace, and watch people share them until they go viral, knowing that viewers will now associate fun and positive behaviour with your product.
It works! The video showing how turning a set of subway stairs into a playing piano convinced 66% more people to take the stairs has more than 13 million views on YouTube.
I confess that I am not convinced that VW actually wants to make the world a better place. But, the fact that getting people to appreciate positive change in behaviour can be an incidental outcome of the campaign makes me happy. 
Creativity for a utilitarian purpose with the betterment of society as a by-product still gets two thumbs up from me.

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Today’s 4 Minute Writer  

Trix

Silly Rabbit, Trix are for kids.
Follow your nose, it’s always nose.
Where’s the beef?
Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese…

The corporations have conducted a product placement campaign and used my brain as their laboratory. Now their slogans have a lifelong location in the wrinkles of my cortex. Resistance is futile, no Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind procedure can get them out.

My only recourse is to re-file these words and images under ‘Irrelevant’ in there. Ha-ha, you lose!

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Art for Art’s Sake

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
To what end?

Ars Gratia Artis (Art for Art's Sake) in MGM logo

Take a moment to compare these three quotes from artists on the purpose of art. Consider which one resonates most with you:

Works of art, in my opinion, are the only objects in the material universe to possess internal order, and that is why, though I don’t believe that only art matters, I do believe in Art for Art’s sake.
– E. M. Forster, 1879-1970

Art for art’s sake is an empty phrase. Art for the sake of truth, art for the sake of the good and the beautiful that is the faith I am searching for.
– George Sand, 1804-1876

I mean, art for art’s sake is ridiculous. Art is for the sake of one’s needs.
– Carl Andre, 1935-

I would love to have witnessed a debate of these three, no-holds barred, to see which would come out on top. In truth, each purpose has best suited different works of art at different points in time.

I am not convinced that it is possible to have art purely for art’s sake. Intended or not, art always meets an end outside itself. Even if an artist means only to paint a green circle just to have it there, it elicits a response from viewers, consciously or not. They may love it, hate it, think of a childhood memory because of it… Art always does something.

Realizing that our work will have an effect beyond our control on ourselves and on others can inspire us- what we create matters.

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Today’s 4 Minute Writer  

Avocado

“It’s totally a pregnant lady. How can you not see it?”

“You’re paranoid, Judy, it’s just an avocado cut in half.”

“No, Blaine, look. See, the top is slender like the head, and then it balloons out like a pregnant lady, and the pit in the middle is the baby. It’s so freaking obvious!”

“Judy, you’re losing it. It’s a fruit. It grows on trees. People pick it, cut it, and eat it. Now just pick it up and eat it.”

“I’m not eating a pregnant lady.”

“IT’S NOT A PREGNANT LADY!”

“You yelled at me. Blaine, how could you!”
Tears.

“I’m sorry.”

“No you’re not. You think I’m crazy.”

“Yes, I am sorry, and yes, I do think you’re crazy. The two are not mutually exclusive.”

“It’s your baby in me that’s making me that way then, if that’s how I am.”

“Ok, it’s my fault. I can go with that. Just eat the darn thing. Come on, Judy, it’s good for you.”

“Fine.”
Scoops out a piece onto a spoon. 
Mouth full she spits out, “I feel like a cannibal. Are you happy now?” 

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Einstein at the Patent Office

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
To what end?

“Albert Einstein, 1924 winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, and Time Magazine’s Person of the Century.” This sounds a lot better than “Albert Einstein, 1879-1955, Patent Clerk.” Yet, that’s almost how things went.

Einstein had always wanted to be a mathematics and physics professor. However, his teachers did not think highly of him, so did not recommend him for a university teaching post when he graduated. 

Einstein was profoundly unhappy and felt he had gone off track with his career. After two years of almost no work, a former classmate’s father helped get him a job as a patent clerk at the Federal Office for Intellectual Property in Bern, Switzerland.

The End.

Had that really been the end, we would perhaps to this day not know what we do about the nature of mass and energy, and connection between space and time. We would not have the advances we do in theoretical physics or be able to reap the benefits of its application.

Einstein did not let the fact that he could not attain (at that time) his larger goal of teaching at a university stifle his creativity. In fact, he used his circumstances for the exact opposite- to fuel his creativity.

In his time away from work, he continued to pour his creative energy into reasoning through complex problems in physics and writing papers. He also formed a small club that met weekly to discuss science and philosophy. As he became more efficient at his work, he had time left over to work on his own calculations and writing. He incorporated the knowledge he was gaining from patents for electromagnetic devises into his own work.  

In later years, Einstein spoke of his time at the patent office as “that temporal monastery where I hatched my most beautiful ideas”.  

He submitted his papers for publication, received his PhD, and after seven years as a patent clerk, accepted a position as a professor at the University of Zürich. And the rest is history.

While we will most likely never make the discoveries Einstein did, we can learn to apply his approach when our efforts at large-scale creative endeavours are frustrated:
– don’t put your creative energy on the back burner
– absorb creative ideas around you
– use your spare time to pour out your creativity
– find people to discuss your ideas with (this could be through blogging!)
– keep doing what you love even if it’s not in the way you thought you would

Besides, what better way to spend your time than to keep being creative!

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Today’s 4 Minute Writer  

The Train

She stands at the platform, shoulders slumped, bags dropped at her sides. The metallic mass fades farther and farther into the distance until nothing but track remains.

There is no one to argue with, no one from whom to demand a refund.

There won’t  be a second chance to audition, no second chance to play the lead.

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Is it All About the Small Stuff?

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
To what end?

We have all been given a tremendous gift in the impulse to create. Depending on who we are and our season of life, we may feel this urge to a greater or lesser extent, but it is always there. This need to create is fundamental to our humanity, no matter who we are.

The question then becomes what to do with this foundational characteristic of ours. Creativity runs in us and through us in a myriad of forms and directions, even without our awareness. Yet, when we stop to consider where in life to intentionally direct our creative energies, the answer may not be so clear.

One approach is to infuse it into the rhythm of daily living. This entails injecting creative energy- a small piece of who you are- into the small things of everyday living, be it the way we cook a meal or set the table, or the gardens we grow or company we keep.

Such an approach brings richness to the moment by moment business of living, allowing us to leave a trace of gold in everything we touch. It’s good. But I wonder if it’s enough. Is the best use of creative energy to soak it into the small and let the bigger picture take care of itself?

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Today’s 4 Minute Writer  

The Rush

It courses through me, an electric shock zapping my senses into high gear. My eyes go wide, fingers twitch, all muscles poised for action.

With the crack of a whip, it shoots out of me- words charging at a frantic pace, colours and shapes circling each other dizzyingly. An adverb here, a trapezoid there, both crashing into a giant cymbal, setting it off into a rage.

The rumbling of window panes gives way to shards of glass propelled by a wave of debris raining clumps of dirt and ash through the kaleidoscope of fragmented trains of thought.

The scene suspends itself, ideas hanging in mid-air.

I glide slowly through the wreckage, picking what suits me, and leaving the rest to fall to the ground, disintegrating.

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Somethin’ More than a Good Time

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
Art and Culture

In a future post, I’ll consider in detail the definition of art. In the meantime, I see it as aesthetic work that resonates with the depths of our humanity and connects us to something greater than ourselves- or at the very least causes us to think with a new perspective.

Given this definition, I look at the pop culture of our day and wonder if some of it can be considered art and not merely entertainment. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one to criticize entertainment- far from- I say bring it on! I just wonder if I also get something more out of the ‘good times’ media all around me.

I think of rock music, that genre that permeates my drive to work, computer time, and leisure. Does it speak to me in some deeper way?

One of my all-time favourite bands, Poison, takes me back to my youth like nothing else can. Listening to Talk Dirty to Me and Nothin’ But a Good Time gives me a shot of adrenalin and a fire in my belly that carries me for hours. But coming down from my youthful high, I realize it’s not art. Talk of partying and getting laid hardly calls me to something more or greater.

On the other hand, Metallica’s One, lifts rock music to a completely different level. The video features footage from Johnny Got His Gun, an anti-war film about a World War I American soldier hit by a mortar shell. He lies in a hospital bed as a quadruple amputee who has also lost his eyes, mouth, ears, and nose. He remains conscious, living a fate worse than death. Watching this video, I am challenged with the horrors of war, the frailty of life, and the power dynamics between doctor and patient. It disturbs me.

Now that’s art.

My point is this: we need to be careful to not dismiss an entire pop culture genre as mere fluff or pure entertainment. Deeper meaning and a mind-opening experience can be found in the least expected places.

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Today’s 4 Minute Writer  

The Last Hurrah

That was it. It’s all over now. The roadies are packing up the night’s cause for riotous applause, while the arena maintenance crew runs their industrial floor waxers. The local hired help takes down the last of the lighting racks as lead hand Joe yells out orders to whoever he can get in front of his face.

That was it, the last concert Memphis Sky will ever play. Sullivan’s done with life on the road, Pink is settling into family life, and Rufus is seriously off to join the circus. It had been a good run, a crazy seven years full of smashing performances, gusto, life, and outrageous levels of energy. And now, it’s all over.

Slowly, the boys migrate over to the edge of centre stage, as if pulled together by a magnet…

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