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Your Creative Refresher Bomb

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man pulling hair

AAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY… my head’s exploding…

All of the new streaming services that sail content into our homes – yes, Amazon Prime, Disney+, Netflix, Crave, Apple TV, Hulu, YouTube, et al… the list is growing like a nuclear mushroom cloud – are calling for more and more creative thought and projects: TV shows, music, movies, computer games, books.

I’m getting exhausted at the mere thought. I should lay down.

And it reminds me that I’ve run out of ideas. For blog posts. For writing music.

WAIT … that’s WRONG! Of course, we’re never out of ideas. NEVER

The joy and fun of creativity is a tough master to keep fed. The blazing brainchild fire needs a steady supply of dry wood. It’s like a mental climb up Everest. But did I mention?

It is fun.

And it runs in cycles, like your blood sugars after a superbly gooey cinnamon bun (OMG, you should try the ones I greedily gobble at GROUNDS FOR COFFEE in Vancouver)…. whoa… up she goes, and then… *screaming*… the rollercoaster plummets.

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The job for myself and any of you who thrive on the act of creating – something, anything – is maintaining a sense of balance on life’s beam and understanding the cycles that can leave you with a big bipolar headache.

Please don’t ever believe that creativity will wholly happen consistently because you’ve been magically blessed with some supercharged gene from your Cave-person forebears.

Remember the old Dick Van Dyke Show where Rob and Buddy and Rosemarie sat around in an office all day/every day throwing around comedy ideas for the Alan Brady show?

What? You don’t remember? Sorry, this is OK Boomer talk!

They sweat their idea machinery for hours day in and day out.

Most minds are not instantaneously creative… which is why the 1% who are truly and consistently creative (I lag in the pack well below the 1% group, but I score the participation prize), the ones who are more than “one-hit wonders”, just so happen to be the most sticktoitive kind of folks.

New idea sex, that seductive synonym for creative purpose, can at times flow easily, like the fabulous ideas that float into your head while dreaming (I love these).

… but, my friend … and this is THE important point of my post this morning.. the BOMB if you will … and the thing that took me decades to learn myself … sadly, most good stuff comes because you and I MAKE IT HAPPEN.

creative bomb

We sit and think, sometimes for minutes, but more likely hours and days… we cogitate ideas back and forth like an intense tennis match, keeping the ball aloft and moving, making a few good lobs and passing shots, and then finally… finally… a kill shot materializes.

It’s a process that evolves the 10,000 hour rule into the 10,000 ideas stratosphere.

……………..

Creativity is only good if you do it.

Thinking about being creative isn’t enough. You know all about good intentions.

Intentions and positive thinking are the start line, not the glorious arms-raised finish.

Creativity is invisible work until you decide that your child can be released, sent to school, and shared with the rest of the world.

Sure it can be a bit scary. I know for myself that sharing my songwriting lyrics on this blog site is sometimes exposing my inner being, my self worth – both the good and bad – to anyone and everyone. Risk is part of the creative process.

Certainly we can enjoy the fruits (and popcorn) of creative labour of all those in the media industry and consume consume consume.

But I believe that the greater joy of this and every season is when you produce something that you’ve poured yourself into with an element of your unique inner brilliance and passion.

It’s the gift that you give to yourself and others. Something that has released a part of your creative fire and spirit.

Now, let’s celebrate with a fabulous cinnamon bun!

creative fire

The Birthday Door

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GOOD GRIEF

There are artists of various kinds – painters, composers, writers – who find themselves at an impasse, a temporary roadblock where their muse is unable to coax the finishing touch… yet.

In writing the lyrics for a song this week, I’m struggling, not frustrated, because I know the answer is there, but also not rising to the surface. What this means is I’m presenting to you an incomplete composition… the unfinished lyric.

I’m not pleased nor disappointed … forward progress isn’t always a straight line, is it? Thank you, I can see you nodding your head!

I’ll revisit my words again soon and I know that with time and concentration, the inspiration will take me to the finish line. That muse rarely disappoints … she holds a mysterious but wondrous power.

Now, should you have a lyrical idea or brilliant snippet to share with me, I would be pleased to try it on for size… thanks!

Onto the song…

I passed another annual cake and ice cream event recently.

The thought occurred to me that a birthday was akin to opening a door and moving on to a new part of life’s journey… the passageway to reinvention and renewal. A Yellow Brick Road moment.

Each verse in this lyric reflects a stage along this discovery pathway.

The latter aspect of the “trip” is where I’ve stumbled, unable to make the flow and ideas work in a way in which I’m happy.

Just another verse or two is what I need to make this a completed work… completed aside from finding a musical avenue to bring it to real life… no easy task in its own way. What’s that? How does one eat an elephant? Right …

(And for those who are interested, my rhyme scheme is AAABB)

Thanks for reading… here goes…

THE DOOR

At first there was no door
One day he looked up from the floor
Absent words yet to explore
just mommy’s smile and a breast to suck
“blow out the candle, no don’t touch”

The next few doors so long ago
balloons and kids and baseballs to throw
hair coming in though not down below
I learned that the he was me
few lessons came easy or free

Teenage doors flung wide with fears
I stumbled on passions I cried hidden tears
loves gained then lost then reappeared
Soothing stars in a guitar late at night
more doors still to open then I do felt right

Little hands turn door handles up high
Daddy let me open the box for you can I?
I’ll play with that, little voice never shy
Twilight zone halls lived in a haze
Weeks months yes years that were days

…. ??? Verse or two about later life… ???

CHORUS
In front of this door
Wondering
How many will I pass through
along the way
give me cake give me candles
give me toothaches give me sandals
how many doors do you think I can handle
before I can’t find the key

Divine Guidance or… Where The Muse Really Resides

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gods creativity

I heard a guy interviewed on the radio yesterday.

He said, I don’t know if any of us are actually creative.

I say… BULLSHIT!

Here’s some more of what he said… Steve Engels (Associate Professor of teaching- Computer Science -University of Toronto):

I don’t know if humans are creative sometimes.

I mean it’s the idea of creativity is something, well and I’ve studied is getting inventions or innovations. A lot of things that we create that are new are really inspired by things that we’ve seen before.

Very few people come up with something completely original in a vacuum. And so we find ways of combining and recombining things we’ve seen before and we do it in new and innovative ways. So we try to draw from that in order to come up with something that models human creativity.

But I don’t know. I mean I sometimes think the more we dig into this to try to figure out whether our A.I.’s are being truly creative the more we are questioning whether any of us are actually creative.

He just defined creativity while calling it “not creativity”.

I get where he’s coming from.

For most of us, creativity suggests making something from nothing; God-like lego assembly with no kit or instructions included.

But creativity can’t break the laws of physics any more than I can reject gravity… or banana cream pie.

This is my take.

Reality laws tell me that creativity is taking a million great ideas from every sector, every personal experience, every gender, every religion, every song, every story, every invention….

…. then tossing it all into a blender and whizzing it around like Dorothy’s house cannonading from Kansas to Oz… until a “new” concoction comes frothing up that no one has ever seen before.

Sara Blakely did that.

“I look at any object and try to think of any use it has other than what people had planned for it.”

And then she acted on it. She saw a pair of pantyhose, cut off the feet and created a multi-billion dollar company, Spanx. 

That’s creative, isn’t it?

Spanx men

The most creative of modern musician/songwriters like Brian Wilson and Hank Williams and George Harrison freely admit to consciously or sub-consciously borrowing ideas from other songwriters in their music.

Harrison’s My Sweet Lord has the same chorus melody line as The Chiffons’ He’s So Fine. But it’s not the same song.

When I sit and strive to write a meaningful song with lyrics, melody and harmony that meld together as a coherent whole, I’m not starting from scratch (even though it feels like it!) Oh no…..

I draw on that old Idea Sex where I lay out a recipe card that mashes together my love of country and folk and classical: a teaspoon of Keith Urban, a cup of James Taylor, a pinch of Civil Wars’ guitar work and a dollop of Mary Chapin Carpenter-type imagery.

Paul Simon, Tommy Emmanuelle, Eric Clapton, Valdy and Lady Antebellum are all crowded around peering over my shoulder too, pointing a finger here and there as guidance.

Even Bach, Beethoven and Mozart didn’t create something from nothing. They thought they were receiving divine inspiration from above, but really it was their peers and ghosts of the past that silently infiltrated their writing quills.

They were inspired and molded by a profusion of others’ “creativity”.

In turn they inspired dozens of generations afterwards.

I recently finished a book titled “How To Fly A Horse“, by Kevin Ashton. Ashton relates that all creative ideas are built on the shoulders of hundreds and hundreds of generations of talented, motivated, creative people. Each generation adds more blocks to the structure of art and architecture and every other field of progress.

Steve Jobs didn’t wake up one day from a halcyon dream and decide out of nowhere about designing the iPhone.

It took millennia for thousands of engineers and inventors and dreamers to bring us to the magical moment where Jobs could creatively piece together something that has revolutionized and altered our world tremendously.

Funny-Iphone-02

Creativity is really about taking a whole bunch of lego sets and instead of building the structure pictured on the outside of the box, we use our childlike imagination and life’s experiences to make a new construct that no one else has envisioned in its totality.

Creativity is hard work. Exhaustingly hard.

Inspiration is only the start line and the end result lies a sweaty-hard one hundred metres down the track… sometimes 42.2 kilometres. Not everyone who lines up in the blocks makes it to the finish line.

But those who don’t put in the effort and time to try (yes YODA, there IS try…) will never triumph.

God doesn’t pick a favourite football team to win and the Muse picks no favourites to be creative.

She sits in her beach chair waiting patiently at the finish line, sipping chilly Pinot Gris, cheering and begging us forward but never lending a hand to draw us the last few metres.

It’s inside of us.

That’s what divine creative guidance is all about Charlie Brown.

Julie Moss Ironman

Julie Moss crawls across Ironman finish line in 1982…

 

 

EXERCISE!…

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comes in lots of forms

… they all hurt until they feel great.

 

exercise.png

  • Writing this blog exercises my writing mind, pushing me to be as clear in my communication as possible.

I spend a good deal of time writing, rewriting, editing and re-editing these posts to make them as understandable and relevant as I can manage (you may think I fail terribly… oh well!).

It’s frustrating and sometimes hurts my head trying to finding new ideas and new approaches that fulfill my needs while also hopefully finding a message that occasionally intrigues you.

A satisfying payoff comes every 4 or 5 blog posts when I hit on a thought, maybe a metaphor or a way of thinking that sends a chill of thrill up my spine.

It’s like finding a hidden cinnamon bun in the freezer and no one is around to catch you eating it… 0 calories!!

  • Playing and practicing my guitar exercises a part of my brain that requires coordination and memory and nuance of tone, timing, and volume.

I rehearse and practice songs over and over, trying out different keys and styles of approach (is this better in country format, jazzy, or slow and soulful?).

Jackson Browne would sit at his piano practicing a song, or even just one line of a song for hours until he hit on just the right sound he wanted. I think the best musicians follow a similar pattern to Browne’s.

Tonight I’ll sing his song THESE DAYS at an Open Mic with my own interpretation that I’ve practiced over and over.

The hurt heals to delicious pleasure.

Jackson brown piano.jpg

  • Investing exercises another part of my brain.

It’s the numbers part, the analytical and decision-making areas that weigh and decipher and calculate risk vs reward.

There’s a large set of reality-based and psychological components that need assessment and a steady mindset to produce a High-5 satisfactory return on dollars invested.

The level-headedness required to persevere when bad stuff happens to good investments is challenging, but ultimately rewarding when good analysis turns into good returns.

  • Running and other physical activities like spin class, yoga, and boot camp exercise my body.

Physical exertion forces large volumes of oxygen-rich blood to the areas where it’s needed to perform and work hard.

I try to work myself hard for at least a small amount of time each day… sometimes as little as 20 minutes with high intensity stuff. Half marathon training can consume a 2 hour period for long runs in preparation for a race.

I don’t mind if my body screams and hurts a little. Sorry to disagree with the “experts”, but sometimes… a little pain does produce gains.

The best showers are the ones that rinse away a ton of salty sweat.

sweaty guy

Exercise of all kinds comes down to habit and focus. Yes?

Self- discipline. Yes?

We all know that exercise in all forms is important in our lives.

Wrong… MOST of us know.

Here’s what Donald Trump thinks about exercise.

In a book (Trump Revealed) by the Washington Post’s Mike Kranisch and Marc Fisher:

After college, after Trump mostly gave up his personal athletic interests, he came to view time spent playing sports as time wasted. Trump believed the human body was like a battery, with a finite amount of energy, which exercise only depleted. So he didn’t work out. When he learned that John O’Donnell, one of his top casino executives, was training for an Ironman triathlon, he admonished him, “You are going to die young because of this.”

And, like all things TRUMP, I disagree. Every reputable scientific study disagrees… but there I go off on an unfocused tangent. Bad Larry. Yes, I digress.

Exercise is about habit and focus and self-discipline. But we also know that exercise is usually hard, a challenge to body, mind and soul.

Sometimes to pocketbook. OUCH!

For me in my life the hardest exercise is the creative process.

creativity ocean

 

Being creative exercises my sub-conscious mind and my powers of observation and interpretation and Idea Sex.

I can procrastinate my life away when I become lazy and try to avoid the creative process that I both love and hate.

I love the end result. I hate the process that takes me there.

We went to see the movie DEADPOOL 2 this week. WTF, Another tangent?

It’s the kind of movie you either love or hate.

It’s the 21st century equivalent of those 80’s and 90’s movies like AIRPLANE! or NAKED GUN… a bit of silly slapstick, a bit of Monty Python, buckets of blood and comic “violence”, even a kiss of romance.

But OMG, its approach to the superhero genre is so irreverently abrasive and inventive and original and CREATIVE.

I am in awe of the thought process (plus the multi-millions of dollars spent in its production) and independent manner that led screenwriters down this path.

I must have had some exercise in watching the show because my laughter muscles hurt afterwards.

Laughter can be THE best exercise, right? Shower time!

deadpool 2.jpg

 

A Thing or Two I’ve Learned in 2017

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Seek out what magnifies your spirit. Who are the people, ideas, and books that magnify your spirit? Find them, hold on to them, and visit them often. Use them not only as a remedy once spiritual malaise has already infected your vitality but as a vaccine administered while you are healthy to protect your radiance.

Patti Smith

…………….

Today, some navel-gazing… a few assorted ragtag thoughts that float through my mind as we near the final weary coughs of 2017 and prepare to draw in an invigorating infantile inhalation of 2018.

Calendar 2017.jpg

New words and expressions I’ve learned this year: FAKE NEWS, Rip a New One, Throw Shade, Unpack an Idea, Man Flu…

…………….

The notion that, in my world today, a passing decade has a similar meaning and inner sensation to the passing of just a year in my early life.

Do you know how long a year takes when it’s going away?” Dunbar repeated to Clevinger. “This long.” He snapped his fingers.

“A second ago you were stepping into college with your lungs full of fresh air. Today you’re an old man…” 

“… You’re inches away from death every time you go on a mission. How much older can you be at your age? A half minute before that you were stepping into high school, and an unhooked brassiere was as a close as you ever hoped to get to Paradise. Only a fifth of a second before that you were a small kid with a ten-week summer vacation that lasted a hundred thousand years and still ended too soon.  

Joseph Heller

…………….

Manhood is a dangerous occupation, perhaps exceeded only by womanhood, but best lived as humanhood.

Men are sitting at the twilight of their golden empire, the human equivalent of the Industrial Revolution being succeeded by the Information Age. Men are seeking final testosterone-laced solace in a Trump that is dripping blood, halfway crumpled to the boxing canvas.

…………….

• I am at my best when I am in a sense of discomfort.

I think my wife nailed it this week when she brought this to my attention. It had never occurred to me that I thrive when I walk the sharp knife-edge of my personal cliff.

I constantly seek newness and innovation, heart-raising experiences that if nothing else, fool me into believing that I’m alive.

Sure, there’s discomfort and pain, but when lightly blended with patience and perseverance, and maybe even some luck, lead to elation and celebration.

Most of my early years were lived in the shadows, timid and fearful of danger, both real and perceived ones. For certain, I still have lots of fears, but as I’ve aged, my ability to distinguish between real and perceived peril has matured and enlightened.

You and I have our own version of when we are near the edge of the cliff. The precipice varies hugely for each individual. Your cliff edge may be further or nearer than mine, but it exists in every one of us.

Endorphins are those naturally delicious chemicals that dance along the rim of our precipice.

A few examples of experiences that have triggered varying degrees of loose-bowel discomfort for me over time are:

  • training for the Ironman race, training for marathons and half marathons, Tough Mudders, boot camp classes…
  • sliding down Nicaraguan volcano mountainsides…
  • cooking and eating Peruvian guinea pigs…
  • consuming the street foods of New Delhi, India…
  • ripping down a bedroom wall with no idea how I’d rebuild, reconstruct the sucker…
  • sipping snake wine in China…
  • writing a blog that I share weekly with anyone in the entire world who cares to read my thoughts…
  • playing my guitar and singing in the public spotlight, sharing my abilities, my voice and my songwriting for audiences to love or hate, or egads, worse, ignore…
  • learning anew each week about how best to tutor and teach individuals, young and old, male and female, English speaking or otherwise.

Today, I can usually recognize those fears that are a true danger to my life and limb, and those that are mere contraptions, shadowy smoke and mirrors, constructed within my head.

skydiving joy.jpg

The mere thought of skydiving used to scare the sh*t out of me.

But here are the numbers: In 2012, 19 people died in parachuting accidents in the United States, or roughly one person per 100,000 jumps.

In contrast, motor vehicle deaths worldwide sit at 27 per 100,000 (only 6 per 100,000 in Canada)… now for a number’s guy like me, this makes my statistical odds pretty damned good for jumping out of a plane and surviving in 2018, right? It’s already booked…

The most fulfilling human projects appeared inseparable from a degree of torment, the sources of our greatest joys lying awkwardly close to those of our greatest pains…

Alain de Botton

…………….

• Some of the most uplifting and pleasing moments I experience are as easy as plying words, ideas, metaphors, attempting to forge originality in blog posts like this, or the notes and lyrics in songwriting.

Creativity in all its forms is like a wonderful wide-awake dream – an amazing source of inner joy.

No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life”

Friedrich Nietzsche

…………….

Finally, allow me this end of 2017 to share a few words with you in poster form… something called the Holstee Manifesto.

A few years back, Holstee’s founders, Dave, Mike and Fabian sat together on the steps of Union Square in New York to write down how they define success. The goal was to create something they could reflect back on if they ever felt stuck or found themselves living according to someone else’s definition of happiness.

This is Your Life… make every day a personal loving and learning adventure… welcome to 2018.

This is Your LIFE.jpg

The Sunshine in Artistic Endeavour

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Sunshine lollipops.jpg

Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows… do you thrive on sunshine and luxuriously lengthy days like me?

Know what? I’m really missing them. I do every year at this time.

I’m addicted to bright, long sunlit days as thoroughly as I’m addicted to smooth milk chocolate and cheesecake. It’s all soothingly warm yumminess inside.

But at this time of year the sweet chocolate is frozen solid and hard to bite; I realize that those chocolate warming rays must come from a different star when the days are so damned short.

Over time, I’ve figured out that the sun radiates in my world when I participate in a kaleidoscope of new and old experiences, a clutter of things.

Just this week, I’ve had lots of sensory input to excite my eyes and ears and tastebuds and make me partly forget about the hulking, smothering darkness.

Sitting here in the early morning 50 shades of grey, I hear an occasional Canada goose honking in the distance over Okanagan Lake. I’m pondering how all this input ties together in some sort of seamless fabric, even though on the surface, it appears tattered and fragmented… like thin sheets of fragile ice on the small puddles perched at the end of my driveway.

So, here’s a sampling of my week’s inputs:

  1. Musical harmony practice with guitar and voice. We’re working on pieces like this and this.
  2. Volunteering at the soup kitchen with a crazily productive chef and a large crowd of chilled and hungry lunchers.
  3. A night of salty popcorn munching at the theatre while absorbing Charles Dickens’ world in the flick, “The Man Who Invented Christmas“.
  4. A college inservice for volunteer tutors like myself, all about knowing and understanding the “Highly Sensitive Person” (HSP).
  5. A saintly church visit for Christmas Musaic choral harmony for my heathen ears.

Shake it all up and whaddya got? Hmmmm….

Are there gossamer webs and connections in the things that we do and interest us at our core?

As a person trying to be curious and understanding of the relationships between seemingly unrelated events i.e. Idea Sex… I’m sitting back, looking for commonalities in these occasions, a lovely ribbon that ties and makes some sense on a scale of creative output.

Using that concept of Idea Sex, I’m seeking glimmers of order in the chaos.

Music… volunteerism… cinema… learning and new insights… more music.

Yes, it’s a random muddle but the mere fact that I’m writing about it here I think shows some blend of creative thinking, where I jostle and mingle ideas looking for connections.

For instance, suppose I’m wanting to connect “music to learning and new insights“, or “volunteerism to cinema“. Rather than asking how they can be connected, I picture both of them in my mind and ask, “How am I feeling, seeing them together?

“Does playing and listening to music build my childlike enthusiasm for general learning and growth and vice versa?”

“Are there moments when I’m volunteering that make a dramatic or comedic impact within me like a well-crafted movie?”

OK, maybe there isn’t a correlation here at all.

I could, and usually do, arrive at a minimalistic solution to this question that contains the least baggage and explains the most (otherwise known as, and I love this term… Occam’s razor). 

Occam’s razor would likely come up with a simple trashy response like, “it’s a random jumble much like Billy’s walk across the yard in The Family Circus.”

Family Circus.gif

Really, it makes sense.

Some thoughts and ideas belong in the shitty cesspool. Do you think the correlation graph below is a keeper?

spelling bee chart

 

Maybe not, but some correlation is important.

It really comes down to the creative process. Writers, musicians, and artistic sorts of all types need to find fresh approaches to their craft, uncovering metaphors that smell like fresh bread arising in the heat of the oven, drawing the consumer of their art to the alluring scent.

Idea Sex or finding connections isn’t easy. It’s friggin‘ hard.

Art, like life, is hard.

Done with an attitude of enthusiasm and gusto, art, of any sort, like life, can be deliciously pleasurable.

In my seething brain I’m seeking beauty and sunshine in the darkest days of December because the sun adamantly refuses to give it to me directly.

I have to make my own brightness through writing and music and cinema and volunteering.

Occam’s razor had it right. That’s a simple correlation.

Sunshine… on my shoulders … makes me happy….

Sunshine 2

8 Ways to An Inspired Life

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creativity ocean.jpg

We live in a vast swollen ocean of inspiration and creativity.

A sea that, at times, is ugly, frustrating, even tempestuous, but also tranquil and stunningly beguiling at others.

The choice is ours alone… to swim in its liquid warmth, tickled and massaged by rainbow-striped fish swirling around and beneath us… or to remain in the colourless dry “safety” of the boat absent from its beneath-the-surface ethereal wonders.

I was reading an article the other day of an interview with singer/songwriter James Taylor where he said something like: “I never thought of myself as a songwriter, but then I sat down and wrote, and wrote, and over time I discovered that I really could be a songwriter.”

That’s kind of a capsule summary of my thoughts and approach to creativity.

woody allen success

We become something by believing, trusting that we can do, and then, at last, by doing.

By “showing up”.

Every time I:

  • pick up a book
  • sit in a movie theatre
  • listen to a song I love
  • ponder a beautiful painting
  • cheer an athlete cross the finish line
  • spy an airplane passing overhead…

… I’m inspired.

How can I not be?

These are all amazing diamond-dusted creations of an individual person or persons.

They weren’t formed through some supernatural magic (although in some back eddy of my mind I can almost believe they were).

They were all folded and formed and thrust like a volcano from the depths of the sea by the actions and fortitude and dogged determination of the human mind and physical effort.

When I awake in the morning, it’s like I’ve arisen in a stolid prairie field with a wide swath of openness, virgin soil, before me.

My first breaths allow me to decide… to choose… if I’ll leave the broad expanse before me fallow, untended, bereft of new life and growth…

or…

… do I absorb a deep breath of clean, fresh open-sky air and purposefully decide to plant and nurture a pasture filled with verdant growth and beauty, replete with colour and texture and expression.

Sure it involves work, but the rewards are life enhancing.

prairie 2.jpg

In order to fulfill my desire to be inspired, here are 8 rules, the work-to-reward system I follow:

  1. Proactive and decisive – there’s just no way to grow creative flowers without plowing the field and planting the seeds. Do something. Start small but do something. Decide today. Write a paragraph, sew a seam, run a block. It’s one foot in front of the other, over and over.
  2. Fail quickly and gloriously – as I grow older, my “who cares” voice has gained ground, and so failure, a word that once was anathema in my life, has become a calling card to likely success. Failure is rarely “fun”, but it’s a necessary evil to pass through to building a creative life. Failure takes courage.
  3. Laziness – procrastination (I can hear Carly Simon singing right now… PROCRASTIN-AY-AY-TION) is one of my bigly’est sins. The mental and physical effort we need to make ourselves creative takes considerable prodding and spent “calories”. Couch potatoes need not apply.
  4. Focus intently – this is another weak zone for me. I start in and before 10 minutes have melted away in writing a blog post, practicing guitar, preparing a lavish birthday cake… my mind begins a bastardly wander that needs electric fencing to keep under control… if only I had a little sheep-pig named Babe to keep my bemused head “contained”.
  5. Stay actively healthy – whatever paths we follow, the bearing we choose to pursue… we need a healthy physical presence to realize a worthwhile ending. Hemingway undoubtably spent much too much time drinking and smoking, but I’ve seen the desk at his Finca Vigia in Cuba where he wrote For Whom The Bell Tolls... no chair for sitting, it stands upright high where he would stand for countless hours typing his words. Sitting is the new smoking – Hemingway was ironically ahead of his time.
  6. Be willing to adapt – a common theme I’ve observed as I, and those around me age, is that the “mature” mind slowly evolves toward a gelling process that freezes opinion and one’s attitude and approach to life. Old Codger… Old Coot… are often accurate descriptions of a senior mind that has become set and unwilling or unable to bend and adapt. A local senior newspaper columnist remains stuck on the notion that everything is terribly wrong in today’s world, and terrifically right back in his youth.
  7. Pay attention to the world with an open mind – creativity is a sun-kissed virtue that relies on a free and open set of eyes and ears, unlocked to the shadowed nuance of our daily existence. An inquisitive, curious mind bursts opens like a morning glory flower to the subtlety of the breezes, the scents, the minute visions of what is meant and felt, and not merely said. Absorb the texture of a toddler’s gentle fingers, the shadow cast by a streetlight across a moonlit lawn.
  8. Embrace Idea Sex – well, surprise surprise… I’d say embrace sex of ANY kind, but from the viewing stand that overlooks the lyrical valley of inspiration, a swirling and blending of idea juices is what inevitably produces the sweetest fruit on the tree of our lives. Creativity thrives on combinations of thought balloons, ideas, notions, perspectives. The iPhone, as one small but world-altering example, employs a big seductive pile of idea sex where a bunch of technology snowflakes are rolled together to make a huge avalanche of a snowball.

apps

Ho hum you might say.

You may be thinking that a whole lot of what I’ve said above is pretty cliche’ish.

Right. I get it.

Gorgeous scarlet-flamed sunsets are cliche’ish too.

And yet, you and I, repeatedly over our years, gather ourselves on a quiet bench, listening to hushed waves lap at the sandy ocean front as the drowsy sun kisses the ocean goodnight.

Cliches are easy truths… that’s why they’ve become cliches.

Inspiration is the hardest easy truth.

once upon a time

Live Time or Dead Time?

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Press your fingers to your wrist and check your pulse for me. I know it’s crazy but just do it.

You felt a steady bump thump bump, right?

OK, good. You’re alive.

Now prove it.

art making

I luxuriate in reading books, listening to recorded music, watching TV and movies, visiting art galleries, feasting in exotic restaurants… these are all sweet desserts and wonderful preoccupations.

The richness of our lives is a temple built upon the passive enjoyments and imaginative passions we digest and are captivated by.

To a point.

A heart-swelling, well-lived life needs balance, a balance of Absorbing and Creating.

Mental vs. Physical, Sweet vs. Sour, Questions vs. Answers, Minor Key vs. Major Key. You get my point, right?

A life spent absorbing the output of others is either:

  • Entertainment
  • Learning or…
  • Dead time.

I love entertainment: movies, theatre, dance, television, concerts, cooking demonstrations, football games. I confess I may not eat all the vegetables I should, but I can sure play a vegetative couch potato with the very best.

I love learning: Learning is leaning into the sunshine like a spellbound sunflower growing wings to the sky, expanding our abilities and knowledge.

Preparation and study, learning to play a tough new guitar lick gives me a feeling of pride and accomplishment. Grasping, digesting, mastering skills and knowledge from others is inspiring and… well… killer awesome.

But like the second, third and fourth pieces of banana cream pie, too many absorbing muches makes us flabby of body and mind.

banana_cream_pie_shirts-

Dead time. It’s like living with a corpse in your head.

Walking through a graveyard under the dappled shade of a Honey Locust tree – looking, absorbing, breathing, contemplating –  is calming and peaceful, but ultimately, “life” six feet under really sucks.

Surely living should be more than passing through the graveyard, absorbing others’ products. Reading Shakespeare or JK Rowling is shadow boxing… enjoyable preparation for the real match.

Eventually, consuming what others create is… Dead Time.

When you personally write like Shakespeare or Rowling or even the worst pulp fiction writer, THAT is truly punching the bag. Live Time.

Creating vs. absorbing.

Like saving and investing $$, the best of intentions mean nothing if you don’t actually make yourself put 10% of your paycheque into the investment i.e. the bank or bond or stock or real estate or…

Live time is creating your own output, being active versus passive.

Writing a story, designing a sweater, inventing a new golf swing, writing a song, building a bookshelf, learning the piano, putting a fusion twist on pizza, singing in a choir, planting a guerrilla garden, designing a website. LIVE TIME.

My backyard chickens like to think they are prime examples of active creativity… one of the girls actually told me this the other day. After all, she clucked from behind the wire coop gate, we absorb the chickie chow you give us and create a brand new egg… every day!

I thought about what she said, but I had to remind her that creating the same thing over and over and over is kind of lazy creativity.

We then had a long discussion over the multiple definitions of creativity, the grammatical distinctions between creative and creativity, and whether it was just semantics at the root of our difference of opinion.

Fortunately, she and her feathery sisters didn’t take my criticism to heart, and so I still get to enjoy their boring creative output in a yummy green onion and mushroom omelette as often as I wish.

……………..

Because it’s something I like to do, I’ll use writing as an example of LIVE TIME. You can substitute anything that stirs your creative juices in its place.

Everybody has a story within. The seeds are lying quietly dormant like bacterial spores waiting to be watered and exploding to life.

story to tell

No life is too small to find some meaning in words. Why? Because your own interpretation of the beauty or horror of the world will be unique. Own it proudly.

Writing can be personal (diaries, journaling) or shared (books, letters, blogs).

Writing, like reading, is a powerful force that can develop and take us in surprising and unpredicted directions.

When you work on your creativity, you develop a great inner force and become competent.

Each day try to do one creative thing that makes you feel good. This is one way to make yourself your priority.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of EAT, PRAY, LOVE and a recent book titled BIG MAGIC- Creative Living Beyond Fear believes there is a creative force that surrounds us.

The creative force is there but it requires an awareness and a desire to allow it to materialize from ethereal nothingness like a fluffy marshmallow cloud in the sky.

Vincent van Gogh, speaking of art and poetry said,

Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum… Poetry surrounds us everywhere, but putting it on paper is, alas, not so easy as looking at it. I dream my painting, and then I paint my dream. 

Great ideas need to be nurtured and expressed, and they need work, lots of work. Thomas Edison said “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99% perspiration.

Hell, you can probably live a great life without ever dreaming a creative or original thought or idea, bobbing merrily atop the ocean surface.

But I think most of us know that slipping on a mask and snorkel and diving under the waves is where the greater riches lie, the rainbow colours are brighter, the water is immersively warm and that is where you’ll truly Find Dory (sorry, that metaphor just might be the worst I’ve ever floated!)

At some time, think about crossing the bridge from reader to writer (or… HGTV-watching DIY fanatic to project builder) and be patient enough to express your own creativity and emotion.

Creativity and personal expression run through each of us like the tempestuous blood pulsing through the radial artery at the base of our wrist.

Measuring that pulse, appreciating its warmth and cultivating the life force it contains is a heavenly approach to dividing our moments between Dead Time and Live Time.

Omelette anyone?

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The Determination of Creativity

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They sat around the long table glaring at me like I had 2 heads.

It wasn’t comfortable.

I was determined, more so than usual. It was the right thing to do.

So, instead of just going along with the majority opinion, I held my ground and continued to push. To push for a creative answer.

This is a tiny story with a big message.

big-dog-and-little-dog

………….

It’s beautiful isn’t it?

What’s that you say?

The magic of the creative spark.

That shaky confidence of knowing that creativity – in some configuration – always exists in each of us.

It’s like opening your mailbox and finding a postcard from an old friend you weren’t sure you’d hear from ever again. You’re pretty sure they’re out there. You hope … but you’re just not certain.

Creativity can lie latent until we call on it and obsess a bit. Latent like:

  • The oldest mature seed that has grown into a viable plant was a Judean date palm seed about 2,000 years old, recovered from excavations at Herod the Great’s palace on Masada in Israel.
  • A wheat seed sitting dormant in an Egyptian tomb for 1,000 years before being untombed and germinated.
  • A botulism spore patiently pacing for eons in the waiting room, longing for its chance to come to life in a jar of green beans on your pantry shelf.

Every week I sit down to write a blog post with no roadmap. Latent creativity.

I’m travelling blind, my headlight’s beam obscured by the fog.

I inch forward slowly through the mist and bit by bit the road becomes more and more visible. An idea forms, a seed germinates, a few words get typed… then more and more.

germinating seed

………….

I’m reading a book about Elon Musk.

You probably know him. He’s the creator of Tesla Motors (electric cars), SpaceX (rocket building and space exploration), PayPal (alternative payment systems), SolarCity (solar panels).

This guy – we’ve seen it many times – like Steve Jobs or Lance Armstrong, or ? … could probably best be described as an ASSHOLE. A focused, persistent, headstrong #1 Grade ASSHOLE.

But an asshole who can change the world. With determined, non-latent creativity.

With these guys, normal rational logic goes by the wayside, cast into the rubbish heap.

Musk makes a bold decision that something – a battery-powered car – will feature a sports car look, have amazing futuristic design elements, will cost a ridiculously low amount to build.

Then he doesn’t allow ANY roadblock to halt its finality.

No amount of common sense reasoning will hush his personal batteries, his determined creative drive, down. He finds a way to make the unreasonable, the impossible… possible.

tesla car

Musk’s “boring” battery-run car …

How about a personal example on a much MUCH smaller level?

For many years, I was the treasurer of a board that administered a public botanical garden here in Summerland. The flow of funds for this non-profit group, like most non-profits, were perpetually running on fragrant fuchsia and fritillaria fumes.

The new year’s spring brought our 2 long-time seasonal gardeners, Marcia and Kerry back to the fold … to weed, to plant, to stress their bodies fashioning beauty for thousands to savour.

Our volunteer group was paying the ladies barely over the minimum wage and all the other board members wanted to freeze their meagre salaries.

I wouldn’t go for it. I dug my feet into the slippery sand.

I pitched a 2.5% increase for each. 2.5%! That’s all. They deserved it. They were loyal, hardworking, dedicated.

There are sometimes really smart reasons to wait, to pause. To let the seed spend some time in the cool earth, dreaming itself into being. But there is also a time to stick up a little green tendril, to taste the air and feel the sun.

The others argued strongly, loudly, sensibly really, that we hadn’t the dollars to reward their efforts. And it really wasn’t even a reward, just a cost-of-living adjustment.

Somehow, I convinced the doubters.

The end result of the decision to give them a raise required creativity and thought. It held my and my fellow board members’ feet to the fire.

Sometimes it’s the resolve that makes the next thing possible. It involved a mixture of creativity and blind faith.

Creativity and blind faith are partners in crime.

Creativity requires a belief in the power of our subconscious.

The decision to pay more was made. The money had to come from somewhere. We obsessed and focused on ideas that would make it possible.

Our group took a calculated risk.

We boldly increased the amount of stock plants we purchased wholesale and made available at our annual spring plant sale, filling the horticultural shelves like a popular Walmart.

A lack of vegetative sales would mean that we absorbed the costs denting our financial coffers. It would hurt, but not bankrupt the organization. Good sales would grow our financial muscle.

The garden gnomes smiled and what seemed like a bold move turned into a stroke of fortune, and a lesson learned.

An additional $5,000 of plant sale profits flowed in almost effortlessly with this small, shall we deem it, creative decision? The pay raises were easily covered.

And it sent a message to our talented gardeners that they were important to us. They didn’t ask for the tiny raise, but they glowed when told the news.

There you go… a tiny story with a big message.

This is the way I like to try to pursue much of my life – albeit in a far plainer way than Elon Musk or Steve Jobs.

Set a goal and then find a creative way to make it happen.

Elon Musk set his goals to design and manufacture a battery-run vehicle that looked and performed better than the model that had been the standard for close to 100 years.

People scoffed, people laughed, people harrumphed.

This is what people do when the “crazies” out there decide to break the mold, to do something that others haven’t done or even considered.

Steve Jobs broke the mold with the iPod, the iPad, the iPhone.

Creativity doesn’t always come from the rational, the common sense approach. Logic and creative pursuits aren’t always 100% compatible.

JK Rowling knows it. She lived in relative poverty before publishing a book or two you may have heard of.

Creativity doesn’t result in an error-free life. I’ve made and continue to make mistakes.

But sometimes to do something special you have to go off the main roads and allow yourself to be lost for a while until you find a creative path, a path that no one else has followed exactly.

A path that makes your tiny message into a big story.

cute creativity

 

 

Achievement and The 7 foot Tall Dude

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Little Compton Fair_01

I arrived at the start line of a 10k running race the other day and there was this dude in hot orange fluorescent neon shoes. He was 7 feet tall if he was an inch.

We were all gathered there at the start line – about 200 eager runners hopping nervously in the early morning chill, a bit of dew still clinging to the grass blades under our feet, all revved up and ready to go, waiting for the crack of the starter pistol or siren.

Then this oddity-of-height dude begins jumping up and down, probably to keep warm, but it looks like he’s on a trampoline or something because he floats way above the heads of the crowd.

You know just looking at him that as long as he can stay upright on those fleshy stilts sticking out beneath his shorts that he’ll cross the finish line in about 10 lopes of his supernaturally long legs, miles ahead of anyone else.

And sure enough, he did.

I used to enter running races with this imaginary vision of myself crossing the finish line, arms raised in glorious triumph … crowds of well-wishers cheering the winner … yup … ME.

Of course this is a totally imagination-based scenario because I’ve broken the tape of a race at the head of the pack … not once … nope … not even remotely close … not even when I was in my prime 20’s and ’30’s.

And I never will, but that’s OK, because I live my days like a scattergun.

Scattergun smoke

I call it my “ADHD” which probably offends those with true medically-diagnosed cases of the disorder. But, for me, it loosely describes my everyday approach to life.

My ADHD is what allows me to enjoy and feel passion for all of the things I love to do. It’s unrestrictive… it’s like the passing wind, rustling freely through a wheat field with lots of wide open space to reach towards the horizon miles off in the distance.

I like to achieve.

But my life isn’t based only on success in one area that I practice … I pursue a lot of interests each day in a lot of different regions … sports and physical activity, investing, reading, building, writing, cooking, gardening. And that’s where I find my comfort zone… my zen.

Maybe it’s a neurosis or a psychosis or a vicious brain tumour that makes it happen, I don’t know.

I’m driven, maybe even haunted, by reaching for the carrot that taunts and teases me in front of my nose.

If I can’t make my nose bleed with excitement each day with a feeling of “I made this”, or “great forward momentum“, I end my day feeling blah and uninspired, maybe the way you feel when you can’t summon your daily bowel movement routine.

Achievement is my mental “Ex-Lax“. I produce, I achieve, I feel light and unburdened.

mental_exlax

Not every day produces something – a blog post, a new song, a gate on the chicken coop run, a chicken parmigiana to die for – I’m proud of … many times I do get achievement “constipation”.

But I know enough that if I plug away day in and day out, leaving worrisome thoughts behind … a day arrives where the stars align and something otherworldly materializes and this is enough to keep me motivated to get up the following day and keep trying.

Maybe this is one of the reasons aging gives us confidence and understanding. We learn about our capabilities and believe in ourselves – we finally believe in our own powers that once locked us in doubter’s prison in our earlier years.

I know what I need is there inside, I just need to be patient, get in behind and push a little, and allow it to surface.

A smile will come to me as I realize that once again I’ve produced something. I’ve achieved, therefore I am …

In 1880, Leo Tolstoy, after he wrote “War and Peace“, published a book that took him 30 years to write called “The Kingdom of God is Within You“.

This book focused not on a supernatural heaven that waits us later but on the choices we can make today that can make us happy and inspired. My “ADHD” is a choice that I’ve embraced and makes me feel happy and inspired.

In the end, I feel like I’m 7 feet tall at the start of the race and I know I’m a winner.

When I’m acting in a creative, productive way, even if I don’t cross the finish line first, or have a million blog followers, or make 25% annual investing returns like Warren Buffett, I’m enjoying the process and getting my little thrills in the little things that I can make happen.

And that’s all I ask, thank you very much …

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