naturally

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I generally enjoy being out in nature. 

I wouldn’t call myself a hard-core survivalist, living inside animal carcasses and backpacking through the open country for months on end. But I like being outside, going on moderately demanding hikes, and exploring wild places. 

Our family’s recent Idaho trip definitely fed my love of the outdoors. It’s one of those places where a good number of people are self-sufficient, living off the land sort of folk. I find a romantic appeal to that lifestyle, but, if I’m being honest, I’m still something of a city boy, having lived in San Diego and Los Angeles almost all my life.

I’ve found our new house in Arizona to be a blend of the two. It’s got plenty to offer in the great outdoors. I get to see the sun rise and set over mountains from my own house every day—something I hope never to take for granted. Yet it’s still got just about all the commercial offerings I’ve come to know and love.

My recent time out in the wilds reminded me of something I particularly enjoy about being outdoors: I think a lot less about myself when I’m out there.

I don’t worry so much about how I look and what I’m wearing (provided it’s weather/activity adequate). And, as you’ve probably experienced, most outdoorsy types don’t fret about fashion. That’s a city-person’s game.

But it goes beyond just outer wear. My awareness is turned away from many of my own inner struggles, doubts, anxieties, etc. and instead it’s focused on my immediate surroundings.

On a hike, a good part of my attention is given to just staying aware of the path ahead, taking it one step at a time without falling. After that, I try to enjoy the scenery. Be it trees, rocks, rivers, mountains, or plains—just about any place you go has something nice to look at. Even without a breathtaking view, the observant hiker is usually rewarded by something worth noticing like an animal sighting or particularly nice cloud formations.

Since the dawn of creativity, the outdoors have been a source of inspiration. As I’ve found, they share many similarities. 

The act of creating is also an opportunity for me to lose myself, focus on my next steps, and enjoy the journey.

Whether you’re an axe wielding lumberjack or you prefer to enjoy nature from the safety of an RV or cabin, I hope you take time to experience the outdoors and let them fuel your creative drive.

Besides, sharing s’mores with friends around a campfire still remains one of the best ways to spend an evening, even if it means your clothes will smell like burning the next day.

new year, same you

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Here we are again, another year in the records, another just kicked off. 

I’m telling you, I’ve tried to stop it, but it keeps happening, c'est la vie.

So, 2018 huh? How do you like that.

Me, I’m hopeful. I think that’s the general idea when it comes to new years. 

To hope, to hold on with a belief that the future will be better.

It’s not a bad way to go though, even when most of our resolutions don’t pan out.

My 2017 had a lot of big life-changes and I certainly didn’t accomplish all I’d hoped to (Ok, so I never do). It ended with some very nice holiday celebrations but also with some pretty heavy news.

So I’m going into this new year with definite plans for much-needed change but also with some fears of what is to come. Yet I’m also expecting the unexpected, waiting to be surprised in new and interesting ways, just wanting to enjoy life to its full potential.

The new year always seems like a trick of the mind to me. You’re still the same you on January 1st and you’ll probably continue most your same habits that you had last year.

Then again, perhaps it’s just the Jedi mind trick we need. Some people are only waiting for a good excuse to make a big change, to try something new, and the new year is as good an excuse as any.

I hope your new year is one filled with great expectations, even more I hope you are surprised and delighted by the things you never expected but secretly wished for. 

I hope, as always, that you take creativity by the horns and don’t let go no matter how hard it bucks. Even when it shouts at you to stop and complains that you’re ruining a perfectly good historical viking reenactment with your horn-grabbing ways, because, hey, all’s fair in love and creativity! Or something like that.

old and new

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The end-of-year holidays bring with them a delightfully mixed platter of old and new.

There are all the old family traditions, which have been celebrated for years innumerable. There are newly minted traditions as young families discover ways to infuse meaning into their celebrations.

Like many folks, we hang stockings up and fill them with small gifts. But this year, being in a different state, is our first for going out into the woods and finding a tree of our own (twice, with two different families actually). It’s something of an odd tradition really, bringing a tree into the house and decorating it, but there is something beautiful about it too.

One of our aunts likes to buy enough gifts for everyone, ship them over, and have us play a sort of gift swapping game—it’s always a blast. I know of a family that hides a pickle in their Christmas tree every year. I’m curious how that got started! 

Food is a big part of the season as well, there are some dishes you might expect to have around Thanksgiving or Christmas, but there’s always a chance your neighbor, nephew, or daughter-in-law could cook up something fresh and out of the ordinary.

In our house, we roll almond truffles and make fudge and you can usually find a hot pie or two ready for the family. My wife has a special tradition passed down of waking early on Christmas morning to make calcum, a family German bread. Oh, and there’s often chili along with oyster stew for Christmas eve. My step-mom has made berry crepes for Christmas morning, which I always found to be a special treat. 

You might travel to spend time with family and old friends or maybe this year you’re inviting some new acquaintances over to share a meal and presents with. 

This will be our first year hosting the family for Christmas, including three dogs (plus our own pup).

At the year’s close, it’s a time to reflect on the past year and a time to look forward to what lay on the horizon. It’s a time to cast off old habits and begin new resolutions (hopefully ones that make it past January).

Creativity also is a lovely blend of old and new. I’m reminded of the many notable sculptures and constructions I’ve seen made from found items. It’s a repurposing of what once was into something new and interesting.

Whether you spend more time bringing out the old or welcoming the new, I hope you discover many opportunities to get creative this season.

I hope you share your creativity liberally with those around you—especially if it involves pie. Not avocado pie though (trust me, it’s disgusting any time of year).

Whatever you’re doing and wherever you find yourself, I wish a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year to each of you.

 

A.P. Lambert

a sense of place

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We took a trip out to Idaho this Thanksgiving to visit family. 

We were rewarded not only with great company and lovely memories, but some stunning scenery. It is a beautiful and surprising place.

Yes, I did take the picture above.

I enjoyed tasting huckleberries for the first time, getting to know three friendly Swiss carpenters who also enjoy boardgames, catching my first fish (and also quickly losing it again to the river), viewing epic sunsets, walking along abandoned railroad tracks, assisting with puppy training, eating too much great food, and sharing my children with a warm house-full of friends and family.

No matter where I am, I find each local offers a unique sense of place. 

I love to experience different cities and towns, to follow trails and roads that lead to wild places.

I’ve been taking time to appreciate the beauty of my own new home and how peaceful it is. Of course, I’m comparing it to my former life in LA, so it’s a big contrast.

The landscape, weather, mindsets, fashion, recreation, food, sounds, wildlife, etc. all contribute in interesting ways to make anywhere you go a place like no other. 

Combine all this with your own internal state of mind—your personal hopes, fears, and dreams—and you end up with something which leaves behind a permanent impression on your life.

If you are intentional, you can allow every place you visit (or reside) to help you grow creatively, because every place has something different to offer. 

But, it turns out, not every place has wild huckleberries.

Radiolab: color & marrow

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For this week, a couple recommendations, both from the Radiolab podcast:

Colors

All sorts of fascinating stories and discoveries about colors, including the one animal that can see more colors than any other, some people who have additional color sense, and why Homer (The Odyssey one, not Simpson) never mentions the color blue. All fascinating stuff from a creativity standpoint.

Match Made in Marrow

A story of a bone marrow donor, the man she saved and where their unique connection has led them. I found both the presentation and the story itself unique and intriguing. I hope you will as well.

There you have it. You're welcome and enjoy!

a gracious acceptance

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There’s a phrase that has been running through my mind lately:

a gracious acceptance of the way things are

I’m not sure what sleep-deprived conditions summoned it forth from the cloudy brew of my mind, but I’ve been turning it over and over like a well-done burger.

Lately, I’ve been learning the peace of what it means to accept things as they are. In this I find contentment. 

I’ve also been realizing how often I fail to achieve that state of mind. Contentment is a fish not easily grasped.

On the flip-flop-side, there is a desire inside, a burnin’ churnin’ engine which drives me to work for change. It won’t let me be. 

I can’t let things stay as they are when there remains the possibility of improvement, whether in myself or the surrounding world.

All this reminds me of the ol’ Serenity Prayer I’ve seen hung up on display in many a house.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can; 
and wisdom to know the difference.

I wonder if it really is as simple as all that or if there’s more to it. 

How do we know when our work is acceptable, whether we’ve done good enough or if we should have given more?

Experience, sure enough. But sometimes there’s just no way to know until you try and find out how it all turns out.

For now, I aim for steps firmly planted in front of me, with an honest and humble recognition of the way things are, but with open eyes, looking far enough ahead to seeing how they could be different.

recommend: funtherapy

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A recommendation this week: 

Funtherapy

What is it?

It’s the newest podcast I’ve been listening to and, in my totally unbiased opinion, it’s most excellent.

Funtherapy, hosted by Mike Foster, is a very creative way to do a therapy session. It’s also many other things. Beautiful, simple, heartbreaking, and moving—just to say a few. 

Besides that, many of the interviewees are creatives I already enjoy and respect, like Sleeping at Last frontman Ryan O’Neal and Caitlin Crosby, founder of The Giving Keys.

While listening, I've heard some great discussion about the challenges of creativity and the world we now live in.

Here is their own writeup/intro/spiel:

Each episode will feature a candid “therapy” session with a key leader, influencer or artist (with a smile). No talking points. No shameless self-promotion. Only beautiful imperfectness on display as we discover tactics to turn our setbacks into superpowers.

Give your ears a treat and give it a try.

You can listen to the trailer right here

comparison

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There’s a lyric from one of my favorite bands which goes, “I am haunted by my love for comparison, my fascination with a single common theme.”

Why is it we love to compare so much? Is it because it gives us a standard of judgement? Does it comfort us to look down on people we believe we are better than? Does it help us determine differences and similarities?

Yes, all those and more. But comparison can be a tricky thing, especially when we compare ourselves to others.

Comparison is like a cactus: juicy on the inside, but painful when handled without caution.

It can challenge us to try harder, but it can also weigh us down with impossible burdens. 

Just think about the woman who suffers from an eating disorder based on an obsession with her physical appearance. She believes her body must look like the ones on magazine covers (most of which are Photoshopped and fake) in order to be beautiful.

How about the guy who gets pumped up on steroids in so he can out-perform his peers or look more “manly” at the beach. Comparison can become a deadly trap, a spiral staircase winding down and down.

Parents are prone to compare their child to a sibling or neighbor kid, “Why can’t you be more like Susie or Jonny?” Such talk is more damaging than it is encouraging; it sends their child the message of inferiority, that there is something inherently wrong within them. Hardly motivational.

Comparison can also be a creativity killer.

If you feel you must produce work on par with the greats, you’re going to be sorely disappointed when your first attempts look a two year old’s Jackson Pollock food splatter and less like a Rembrandt. In fact, you may just give up before getting very far.

When it comes to feeding our hunger for comparison, the internet doesn't help either. 

The availability of so much high-level content can be great for inspiration, but a downer for competition. It's not hard to find a near endless supply of incredible photos, websites, outfits, designs, music, etc. that seem eons better than the content you're currently producing.

One of the problems with comparison is how unrealistic of an approach it can be. When I view someone else’s final outcome after years practice and learning, but believe I should be able to do the same kind of work instantly, I am deceived.

When I take a person with an exceptional quality, one which may only show up once in a generation, and believe anything less on my part is worthless, I give myself unhealthy expectations. 

Everyone simply can’t be as good as the best person out there. The best by definition is the only one on that level. 

The same can happen when I hold others to my own standards without understanding their particular challenges and abilities, I become proud and devalue them.

However, we can also use healthy comparison to drive ourselves to try harder and discover better practices. I can compare my own performances in order to beat my personal best. I can study from the methods of the best runners or most successful writers and learn how to improve my own techniques. 

Comparison either lifts up or pushes down.

The question to ask is, what result does the comparison produce? Does it bring encouragement, leading to improvement? Or does it cause me to desire something I am not and think less of myself or others?

success

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What is the measure of success?

I’ve thought about this often. I expect most people, if you really pressed them, could give you specific details for what they would consider a successful life. It may be obtaining a job, reaching a level of popularity, achieving world-changing accomplishment, getting married to someone, reaching an amount of wealth, living to a certain age, becoming a member of a group, etc. 

We all want something out of life and quite often, we don’t yet have the thing we want.

But the problem with success is that we believe once we obtain it, we’ll be completely happy and utterly fulfilled. Often, whether we reach our far away measure of success or not, we end up disappointed.  

This disappointment can be soul-crushing at times. The many tragic celebrity stories of the past bear witness to this.

Toward that end, I found hope and inspiration from the experience and advice offered by K.M. Weiland in this lovely article:

6 Lifestyle Changes You Can Make to Protect Creativity

The way we measure success is important, but before we even get there, we ought to consider how we define it.

In Derek Doepker’s book, Why Authors Fail, he points out that success and failure can work for or against us based on how we define them. 

His argument is that we should view success as a process, not an event. The same goes with failure. 

If you only see success as achieving some milestone, then you’ll have some problems: first, if you don’t reach your goal, you will feel the weight of discouragement and failure. But if you do reach your goal, despite failures and setbacks along the way, the glorious feeling of achievement only lasts a little while. When it passes, you’re on to the next thing or stuck trying to repeat or hold to what you just did in order to keep the blissful feeling of success. You’re constantly searching for success, but never truly reaching it because there will always be something more, something bigger you can do.

If success is a process, then you can be continually successful, not just when you reach a goal. 

As long as you are doing the right thing today, you are living in success. 

Doesn’t that sound more rewarding than basing your success on some far-offgoal? 

Sure, you’re not gonna bat a thousand every day—you’ll have good and bad days—but you will have the same opportunity every day. 

Not only will success always be an option, it’ll be within reach. With this mindset, success is right in front of your nose, or rather, between your ears.

I believe every day is an opportunity to decide, and reach, your measure of success. So here’s to a successful today.

in a name

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I’m sure many of you are familiar with the line from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

“What's in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.” 

In a sense this is true, a person is no better or worse because of the name they bear. And yet, a name is not insignificant. If a rose were instead called a kwert, I doubt there would be nearly as many girls given the name. 

There is a sonic significance, a special feeling in the way letters are arranged to form a word. Besides that, many names have meaning in themselves. If you name your child, “Brave” it would no doubt have a very different outcome on the way they perceive themselves or others perceive them than if you named them, “Coward.”

A name matters. 

Think of those extra letters you get to add for completing a doctorate or becoming a medical doctor. They show something important about you. Same goes for a last name taken from a spouse during marriage or when an adopted child takes on the name of their new parents. It is a mark of inclusion, of becoming part of a family. It’s something Romeo and Juliet were not able to do because of the history behind their names.

Names can give you access or restrict you. They can inspire or incite anger. The name Robert E. Lee today is likely to draw out a strong emotional response in a conversation.  

Names have power.

I recall C.S. Lewis’s love for titles with a sense of wonder. He was fascinated by the title of the novel, The Well at the World’s End.

After reading the wikipedia article on it, I was interested to discover how both Lewis and Tolkien drew inspiration from the story, borrowing a few names such as "King Gandolf," "King Peter," and even a fast horse named "Silverfax.” 

Some of my own favorite book titles are The Name of the Wind, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and A Winkle in Time. Perhaps it is because of the way they hint at something unusual happening with a very large aspect of nature.

I think also of how important names were in the Bible. The meaning behind your name in some way dictated who you would become. God even gave some people new names after a major event or transformation had taken place: Abram became Abraham, Jacob became Israel, and Saul became Paul. 

All this to say, if you have the opportunity to choose a name, especially for a person, maybe you should take it seriously. Or you could always go with a joke name. I’m sure your kids will appreciate your humor for the rest of their lives (I knew a guy in Elementary school named Rocky Mountain, and I’ve always thought Lisa Kar would be a good one).