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Saying Goodbye…

On Tuesday I bid a tearful farewell to the best fuzzy friend a girl could ever have.

I brought Jake home from the local shelter in the fall of ’96, and he’s been my constant and unfailing companion ever since.  He saw me through the death of my mother, the end of my marriage, and countless other heartbreaks big and small.  Quietly settling in next to me as I sobbed my way through boxes of tissues.

He accompanied me on five separate moves. Each time we arrived in a new space, Jake would ceremoniously sniff each and every box (I assume to make sure that all of our belongings arrived safely), and then flop himself  in the middle of the living room floor as if to proclaim “we’re home.”

Jake snuggled up with me on the couch in the winter, and proudly brought me the bugs he hunted in summer.  In the spring he ate my houseplants, and in the fall he chased the leaves that I tracked into the house. He acted as my second alarm clock, screaming loudly for his breakfast at precisely 6:45 each morning.  He greeted me at the door every night when I came home.  Jake was always there, purring like a motorboat.  The one constant in life I could always count on.

But age catches up with the best of us, and so it did my Jakey.  After a few years of manageable thyroid disease, his condition rapidly deteriorated. He refused to eat. He barely moved. He was never going to get better. It was time to let him go.

It was with a heavy heart that I made that final decision, but one that I know had to be made. As much as I hated the idea of letting Jake go, I couldn’t watch my little guy suffer. So at 6:15 on Tuesday night I said my final goodbyes as the vet helped him painlessly cross over to the other side.

For 14 years Jake was by my side, my closest friend, my truest confidante.  I will miss him sorely.  I miss him now.

Rest well, my friend.  Rest well.

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Obey the rules, or obey the muse?

In all my years as a professional creative, probably the most influential teacher has been my son. (If you’ve been following along here, you already know that. If not, check out the  “little lessons” category at the top of the page.) 

 

He’s been helping me rediscover all the cool stuff we instinctively know as kids but lose along the way to adulthood. He’s kind of like my creative Yoda, only without the big ears and disturbing muppet voice.

This Christmas he taught me yet another lesson about exploring things creatively, instead of just doing things the way they’re “supposed” to be done.

Like every other little boy, this year my son is head-over-heels in love with Buzz Lightyear. “Santa Mom” decided to score big with the Buzz Lightyear Star Command Lego set. Little did I know, “Santa Dad” was planning to score big with said set as well. Over the holiday vacation dad beat me to the punch and they put the set together at his house first. When it was my turn, my little one wasn’t so interested in building the space ship anymore; he just wanted to play with the pieces.

Not a big deal, really, except that I had spent $30 for a 250-piece space ship model. For that same $30 I could have bought a plain old box of Legos with twice as many pieces. Shouldn’t we really build the space ship, since that’s what the present was intended to be?

After a bit of silent internal wrestling I decided to let him mix up all three bags of pieces, forever dashing any hope of sorting them out again to follow the assembly instructions. It’s his gift, so I figured I should let him make the call on this one.

You know what? It was the best decision I ever made. He’s played with those legos nearly every day now, building that little Lego Buzz more space vehicles than Starfleet Command could have ever dreamed of. He’s using his imagination to come up with all these things. He’s giving his young problem-solving skills a workout by solving the “design flaws” when pieces fall off. And most importantly, he’s having a BLAST. If we had put the kit together like we were supposed to, dollars to donuts it would be discarded in a corner collecting dust already.

This month’s lesson at the feet of the young muse: “supposed to” doesn’t mean “have to” in the realm of the creative mind. Put things together the way you see them; it opens up greater possibilities, and it’s much more fun.

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The no-iron rule

Ironing Board as a Bookshelf - Powder Coat it!

I don’t iron.

There — I’ve said it. I flatly refuse to. (Pardon the pun.)

Back in the day when women were full-time household engineers I’m sure ironing made perfect sense. Clothes dried on the line were a bit rumpled, there was time in the day to dedicate to the task, and there weren’t many other options to the “slept in” look.

But today?  I don’t see the need.

I do own one, actually. It’s that dusty thing in the back of the linen closet that I keep for only the most dire of wrinkle emergencies.

But using it on a regular basis? No way.

IDONWANNA.  IDONHAFTA.

Why should I?  Today there are plenty of wonderfully engineered fabric options that come out of the dryer looking pristine. (Or at least reasonably acceptable if you catch it at the end of the cycle and hang it up right away.) For a couple of bucks the local dry cleaners will press up anything way better than I ever could. (I have a knack for getting more wrinkles in than out.) As a last-ditch effort I spritz a little bit of water, smooth it out and hope no one looks too closely.

I have other thing I’d rather spend my time doing; things that hold more meaning for me than flat clothes. If I invest the time and effort in doing something, I prefer that the outcome will endure at least beyond the first time I sit down.

My philosophy is this: I could endure an hour ironing my pants, or enjoy an hour creating something. And if I do the latter well enough, no one will notice that the crease in my trousers is less than perfect.

Yep. I’m going with that.

Stop looking at my pants.

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Before the moment has flown

fly awayOne of the things that I have learned in my creative life: the muse will visit you at the most unexpected times.

One of the things I need to un-learn in my life: the little voice in the back of my head that says “do the chores first.”

It never fails. I’m cleaning the bathroom, washing dishes, vacuuming, or doing some other completely mundane yet necessary task. And — BLAM! — inspiration comes zooming in out of the blue. A creative epiphany.  A gift from the gods!

BUT…

There’s that “necessary” task I was in the middle of… Let me just finish this, and then get to that, and maybe tidy up something else, and then later I’ll get to that creative thing…

BUT…

By the time I get this and that and the other thing out of the way, the muse has flown. The inspiration is gone. The words are lost.

The lesson here, despite being terribly trite, is to strike while the iron is hot. You may never get a second chance. You may never have that same opportunity again. Whether it’s writing, or painting, or calling up a long-lost friend, or giving your kid an impromptu bear hug, do it when you’re inspired to do it. Whatever it is, it is a gift from the gods, so treat it as such. Take the few moments to act on that inspiration, and then go back to what you were doing.

The mundane stuff will always be there. Those rare precious moments may not.

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Paper Heart

for the love of books

For a digital girl, I have a dirty little secret. I love paper.

I’m contemplating buying a Kindle to support my book habit in a digital and conveniently transportable way, but the paper lust is really holding me back. There’s just something about paper that makes the reading and writing experience somehow more real.

I have forever been in love with books. The crisp texture of new pages, the musty smell of old volumes. Pages and pages of dark type inked on white. Marking progress by the number of pages tucked around my bookmark, fore and aft. The quiet “whump” of a closing book is comforting punctuation in my evening transition between waking and sleep.

The Kindle is functional and smart, and will no doubt find a place in my life. But the good old-fashioned book? That will always have a special place in my heart.

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A good night’s sleep

My own bed.  365 Days, day 176.

I just bought a new bed.

I’ve been sleeping on an old worn-out mattress for a couple of years too long. Tossing, turning, and not really getting a good night’s sleep. Waking up with aches and pains.  But I lived with it.  I’m looking for a new house, and figured I would just wait it out and buy a new bed when I move. Whenever that finally happens. Someday, hopefully soon.  I could live with it until then.

But then I realized I couldn’t.  I just couldn’t take another night of that godawful mattress.  So I broke down and bought a new one last week.  And you know what?  I love it.  I sleep like a baby.  I wake up refreshed and more ready to take on whatever the day throws at me.

Change is like that.  We avoid it like the plague, waiting out our current situation, always believing that change is better suited for sometime in the future.  When the timing is right, and the stars align properly. Whenever that finally happens. Someday, hopefully soon.

Maybe we should try to make more change right now.  Maybe it would be better for us. Maybe we would be happier sooner.

Sleep on that thought.

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Again and again. Again?

"Mom, I want a Carousel... with a Luna Park..."

I follow the same pattern every morning when I wake up — make coffee, feed the cat, drink coffee, check email, drink more coffee, then off to the shower. I pack my kid’s lunch, fill the dishwasher, and get all the things ready we need on the way out the door in the exact same order. Every night at precisely 8:30 pm I herd the young’un off to the bathroom to brush teeth, put jammies on, and then off to bed for two stories. Every day, the same exact thing.
 
Boring, right? But it keeps me sane. That’s what routines do. They’re tried and true methods of helping us navigate the more mundane pieces of our lives without having to think too much about it. We switch on to autopilot, which saves our brainpower for the more pressing issues. Familiar routines comfort us, and give us an anchor in an ever-shifting world. In this respect routines are a very useful thing.
 
The danger is when we mindlessly let routines rule our lives, instead of consciously choosing them as a way to make our lives more manageable. “That’s the way I’ve always done it” is not always the best reason for doing something.
 
 Periodically we need to re-evaluate our daily rituals –are they still useful? Is this really the best way to get things done? Have any of them inadvertently become a negative pattern in my life?
 
 I sat down recently and took a look at some of my own routines. My morning ritual helps me get necessary things done before my brain is fully engaged, so that’s a keeper. So is my habitual baked potato and salad lunch — quick, easy, relatively healthy, and one less decision to make in my day.
 
I did, however, realize that a couple of them could seriously use some help. My weekly dinner routine could use a facelift; I’m bored with eating the same things week after week and as a parent I really should expand my kid’s culinary horizons. (I know, I just said that I eat the same thing for lunch every day and I’m okay with that. But dinner is a whole different ballgame in my book.) My nightly routine of playing on the computer for an hour or two after my son goes to sleep is encroaching on my decent night’s sleep, so that needs to be adjusted.
 
I realized that some routines were missing from my life altogether. Exercise is a big one – I really need to start doing that again regularly. Myprevious yoga habit got replaced by other stuff, and I need to get it back into the daily mix. Scheduling in more time to spend with friends and family is also on the list.
Take a look at your daily routines. What still works? What’s broken?

?

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The future awaits…

~~~The Perfect Metamorphosis~~~

Change is the essence of life. Be willing to surrender what you are for what you could become.

Aren’t we all afraid of change, to some degree or another? It’s part of the human condition to seek a stable and predictable world. We all worry about the unknown, and what will happen next. If we decide to do something differently, what might we accidentally and irreversibly put into play?

The funny thing is, our whole existence – our whole universe – is predicated on change. From the day we were conceived until the day we die, “change” is truly the only constant. Our bodies change. Our beliefs and opinions change. Our situations change. Hell, even the weather around us changes on a daily basis. You’d think we’d be OK with it by now.

When things do change (as they inevitably will), we manage to find ways to adapt and adjust. The world doesn’t end, it just becomes a little bit different. We know this. We’ve experienced it a thousand times over. So why do we fight so vehemently against it? Why do we fearfully wait for change to overtake us, instead of running alongside it?

The future awaits, and like it or not it won’t be exactly like today.

What if we didn’t hold on to our familiar ways so tightly, let go a little of our “tried and true” that ultimately has a limited shelf life? Instead of steeling ourselves against it, what if we dove straight into change with both feet?

I’m betting we’d come out on the other side just fine. We’d adapt and adjust. The world wouldn’t end, but it would probably be different. Perhaps different in a way that was far better than we could have imagined.

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Creative vs Artistic

Pencil Vs Camera - 30

I was thinking today about the differences between being “artistic” and “creative.”

By definition being creative is to have the ability to cause something to exist or to bring it into being.  Being artistic is the ability to satisfy aesthetic requirements, or showing skill or excellence in execution. There are obviously differences between the two, but can they be mutually exclusive?

I would argue that it’s possible to be creative but not artistic.  You can invent a new object or devise a new way of doing something, but put the idea together in a shoddy way. We can probably all find potentially nifty things that were blown in the execution.

Imagining the reverse, however – artistic but not creative – I’m not quite as sure of. Perhaps one can argue that someone can have the artistic skill to pull off an exact replica of a master work, but not have the vision to use those very same skills to create an original work of their own. But isn’t the act of creating even an exact replica…well, creative?

I’m not sure if these two sets would be better represented like this:

or like this:

I’ll have to ponder this one some more.

What do you think?

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The Evan Principle

Sittin' Sideways

I read today that Evan Williams is stepping down from CEO of Twitter. (You can read more about it here and here.) He says that he wasn’t completely comfortable in the CEO role, and chose to move back to product development and direction where he would be much happier and more effective.  I say good for you, Evan.

Now I don’t claim to know all the backstory on this (and lord knows there’s usually a back story), but it got me thinking about one’s position and effectiveness in any given company.

The way it generally works is this:  You work hard, do a good job, and then get promoted to higher positions of authority and responsibility.  This pattern continues until finally you reach the level at which you can barely hold your head above water, you’re not performing well for the company, and you’ll languish in a position you don’t really enjoy for the rest of your days.  This process is so ubiquitous it even has its own name:  The Peter Principle.

Maybe this is a sign. Maybe it’s time we stopped the madness. Let’s be okay with letting people do what they do best, instead of shoving them up the corporate ladder. Let’s pay them well to do their thing, and get less hung up on the power and prestige that we’ve attached to one’s place in the corporate hierarchy.  Let’s not consider it an act of treason or an admission of failure if your designated promotee says “No thanks, I like where I am just fine.”

Is it time to usher in the age of the Evan Principle?  Perhaps the world would be a happier and more productive place if we did.

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