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).

in a moment

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This post is something of a follow-up to the previous one, on record.

I don’t think any of us truly appreciate how much weight a moment carries. Or maybe I’m the only one and the rest of y’all got it figured out but aren’t telling me. Hey, fess up already will ya?

We often repeat phrases of encouragement like, “live in the moment,” or, “be in the moment,” or the classic, “carpe diem,” which, shockingly, has little to do with fish or ten cent coins.

And I like all that stuff, I really do, but how to live it isn’t always clear to me. Moments and days aren’t easy to lay hold of. Time itself is tricky; it keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future.

But hey, we’re talking about just a moment here. A fraction of time so small it’s hard to measure. Surely that can’t be so hard to grasp. And moments are so plentiful, like a bucket stuffed with fish, they should be a cinch to snatch.

Could be it’s because there are so many of them, we forget their value. And what do you do with it once you’ve got it anyways? I mean, it’s all wet and slapping you in the face now! The fish, I mean.

Maybe moments are more like a giant stream full o’ fish just swimming on by. Sure, you can get a few in a net, you can try to capture those precious moments, but, unlike pokemon, there’s no way you can catch them all.

Yes, moments are important, but does each hold the same weight? It doesn’t seem that way. But I do think every moment, even the most mundane, holds the great potential.

One decision can be made in a moment which entirely changes the course of your life. You might choose to quit your job, move, forgive someone, take up drinking, quit drinking, run away, get married, or even join the rotary club. A reputation may be destroyed in a split-second decision.

And unexpected things can happen in just a moment, ground-breaking, earth-shaking things. There is a magic to the moment.

Moments are plentiful, powerful, and unappreciated.

I might never be able to hold every moment sacred while also releasing it to allow time for the next. Still, I do try to pause now and then, just to take things in—to take a breath and notice where I am, to enjoy people I'm with, and to just be thankful for it all.

Once I have it all figured out, I’ll let you know, momentarily.

on record

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My wife and I went to see a musical artist we enjoy, Josh Garrels, in concert recently. It’s the first concert we’d been to in a while. Such is the life of parents, but it makes me appreciate those rare events all the more. 

While we sat there, Josh’s angelic voice and the instrumental accompaniment of the other band members washed over us in waves of splendor. 

The sounds, the ideas expressed in just such a way, left us deeply moved. Many of his words and themes resonated with places and attitudes very familiar to us, especially those related to the concept of home.

Altogether, it created an experience which could not have been captured and replayed even with the best recording instruments. 

Yes, just about everyone has a phone now with a camera and mic built in. Yes, there have been some excellent live band recordings made into albums. And yes, Josh will play again at other venues, perhaps even the exact same songs in the exact same order. 

But none of it will be exactly like being there in that room at that time with those particular people. It will never be the same again, no matter how we may try to duplicate it. Same goes for any performance, musical or otherwise.

The magic of the moment is a special thing.

It reminded me of something I heard on the tech podcast, Note to Self. 

Study has shown that the more time spent taking pictures during an event, the less will be remembered later about the event itself. By taking photos instead of participating, you remove yourself from actually being there. You miss out.

I wonder how often this happens, in an attempt to capture the moment, we instead lose the ability to really enjoy the moment at all. Something to think about …

Anyhow, I did take a few pictures before and a very short video during, but for the majority of the time I just sat there, taking it all in. This is something I’ve been working on improving: worrying less about the recording and concerning myself more with just being present. 

I believe, as creatives, this can take us a long way toward inspiration and appreciation. 

Instead of trying to capture the moment, why not let it run free in its pure, wild form? I’ll have more thoughts on that later.

What do you think? Do you feel the need to capture the moment to be recalled and enjoyed later or do you set the phone down and open your ears and eyes to behold the beauty before you? Perhaps something in between?

background music

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I’ve recently come across a few articles about background music and how it relates to creativity. I thought you might enjoy the share.

This article covers evidence that happier music may promote more creativity thought.

This article, by esteemed author Ryan Holiday, discusses his habit of listening to the same song or set of songs on repeat like a madman, even songs he doesn’t particularly enjoy.

I’ve given it a bit of thought but haven’t dedicated myself to any specific method.

Typically, I’ll listen to instrumental music because I find words distracting, especially when I’m writing. Lately, that’s been piano music. I’ll often find a set on YouTube and then follow similar links.

I have recently discovered, and greatly enjoyed, Mattia Vlad Morleo, after watching an eclipse video with a stelar musical composition.

Hey Creatives, I’d love to hear what your listening habits are when you want to be in a creative mode. Do you crank up the volume or need utter silence?

imagine

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We’ve seen a lot of houses lately. That happens when you’re looking for a new place to live.

It’s fun to see how other people live, to check out different styles of construction and notice the changes over time—to recognize what is modern and what appears outdated. 

In the process, there's one habit I’ve noticed my wife and I doing: we speak about the house we’re viewing as if it were our own, even if it’s one we have no serious intention of living in. I think it’s a helpful practice, to pretend we already live there and imagine how our lives (and furniture) would be structured in such a place. It allows us to weigh out the positives and negatives of a future there. This is one of the many benefits of employing the imagination.

Our capacity to imagine is a spectacular thing. I heard this from copywriter and coach, Joshua Boswell, in a video course, 

“As humans, we have the unique ability to imagine and turn those imaginations into reality through a process called creation. If you don’t imagine something, you can never create it.”

Imagination is not only helpful, it’s essential for creatives of any field.

The wonderful thing about imagination is how accessible it is: anyone can do it anytime and anywhere. But not everyone does. It is a rare and valuable trait.

If you’re like me, you may hear the dear departed Gene Wilder singing Pure Imagination. It sounds so lovely, so magical. But let’s be honest, we don’t all have a bunch of money and a crazy chocolate factory in which to live out our wildest (or wilder) imaginations. Even the dreamiest of dreamers has their limits.

Like just about any part of creativity, there is an inherent challenge to living imaginatively. To be imaginative, you must be willing to overcome your own inner doubts and distractions and use your mind with purpose.

There is a balance to be found between giving your mind a direct focus but also allowing it to roam free.

These days, we can be so task-oriented, so goal-focused, we forget to take time to daydream, to “waste time”. 

Okay critics, I hear you, if our heads are always in the clouds, we’ll never get anything done, we’re in danger of being called a good-for-nothing layabout by some old-timey person (heaven forbid). 

So I say sure, it’s good to be a hard worker, to keep your head down and be dedicated to a task, but sometimes you need to look up and see the sky above you. Sometimes you have to step back and ask why you’re doing what you’re doing and, ultimately, where you’re going with it.

When we become so consumed with the t-crossing and i-dotting of day-to-day tasks, imagination becomes essential to help us get the broader view.

To imagine is to let your mind free, to allow it to think whatever it wishes, without hindrance.

Some folks will tell you imagination is a waste of time—a pointless, idle practice. And yet those people rely on methods and tools which were imagined by someone else.

Our imaginations may take us to far-off worlds, but it may be in those far-off worlds where we discover the keys we need in this world.

So whether you’re looking for a new place of residence or even trying to picture what life is like for someone who lives on the other side of the planet, I invite you to take a little time to imagine, to let your mind roam (with some direction). You may be delighted with what you discover. You may learn a valuable lesson you can apply today. Or you might just be weirded out by the thought of an entire workforce made entirely of oompa loompas.