Network Effect

“Now we’re here, ready for the next major disaster. (Spoiler warning.)” – Murderbot, page 37, Network Effect

Murderbot is back!  If you are not familiar with Murderbot and the four previous books that comprise the Murderbot Diaries, you can become acquainted with these delightful books clicking on the following links and checking out my reviews :  All Systems RedArtificial ConditionRogue Protocol; and Exit Strategy.

The Murderbot Diaries were created by author Martha Wells.  Martha is an excellent writer.  I have enjoyed her creative writing skills in developing characters and the plot.  I also enjoy Martha’s descriptions of the places and people that Murderbot interacts with.  In some cases her descriptions are so well done, I feel like I could sketch the person or draw a diagram or schematic of the place.

The overarching theme of these novels, to me, is what really makes us human.  This theme doesn’t just pertain to Murderbot and other AI that it meets but to the people as well.

I enjoy how all of these books tie in together but can also be read on their own.  I am not the only human who enjoys these books immensely.  Titles in the Murderbot Diaries series have won the Hugo, Nebula, Locus and Alex Awards.

Murderbot is paranoid, anxious, doesn’t like to be touched and enjoys the human media program “Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon.” He has moments were he has feelings.  What Murderbot calls having an emotion.  He cares very much for the clients who have become his friends and recognizes why he considers them friends.

“Thiago had said he felt like he should apologize and talk to me more about it.  Ratthi had said, ‘I think you should let it go for a while, at least until we get ourselves out of this situation.  SecUnit is a very private person, it doesn’t like to discuss its feelings.’ This is why Ratthi is my friend.” -page 230-231, Network Effect

Things have a way of going sideways very quickly on strange planets and that’s why the humans need protection.  Providing security for humans is a monumental task.  Murderbot is quick to point the irony of its job with its quick wit and hint of sarcasm.

“I’ve had clients who thought they needed an absurd level of security.  (And I’m talking absurd by my standards, and my code was developed by a bond company known for intense xenophobic paranoia, tempered only by desperate greed.)  I’ve also had clients who thought they didn’t need any security at all, right up until something ate them.  (That’s mostly a metaphor.  My uneaten client stat is high.)”         Murderbot – page 9, Network Effect

Network Effect will keep you guessing until the very end.  And for those who have read the previous four novels, an old friend returns and desperately needs Murderbots help.  The description on the book cover reads as follows:

“I’m usually alone in my head, and that’s where 90-plus percent of my problems are.

The bestselling Murderbot series exploded onto the scene with ‘one of the most humane portraits of a non-human I’ve ever read’ (Annalee Newitz).  Now one of the most relatable AIs in science fiction returns in its first stand alone novel.

It calls itself Murderbot, but only when no one can hear.

It worries about the fragile human crew who’ve grown to trust it, but only where no one can see.

It tells itself that they’re only a professional obligation, but when they’re captured and an old friend from the past requires urgent assistance, Murderbot must choose between inertia and drastic action.

Drastic Action it is, then.”  – Book cover, Network Effect

Network Effect by Martha Wells is a stellar read.  But don’t take my word for it, go find a copy of your own to read.

Cake Box Books

I got the idea to try making Cake Box Books from Esther K. Smith in her delightful and informative book, How to Make Books.  If you are interested in the art of book making, I highly recommend this book.  The instructions are laid out logically and come with illustrated diagrams.  There are a wide range of books to try for every book making skill and interest level.

Another delightful aspect to this book is the commentary and stories included with the  description and instructions for each book.  The following is from the section on the Cake Box Book:

“I began seeing box covers sewn into books in 2000.  At a time when high craft and the preciousness of artist books seemed like the macramé of the nineties, these frank, simple, funny books were fresh and unpretentious.  I have not thrown a box away since, and they are piling up.  I like cake-mix boxes especially, with their tempting serving suggestions and glistening frosted cake slices, but you can use any box that is about the size of a hardcover book.”  -Esther K. Smith

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The first Cake Box Book I made was not neat and elegant.  I was so worried that if I didn’t have lots of holes for sewing the spine into the cover that the book would fall apart.  I didn’t trust the instructions or my abilities.  I ended up making a lot more work for myself.  It turns out that four holes recommended by Esther K. Smith are the perfect amount and will align and hold the codexes (groups of pages) firmly in place.  Each Cake Box Book I made, the process became easier.  It was through trial and error that I got to a point where I began to trust my abilities.

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In fact the process has become fun for me.  I have learned to relax and enjoy the creative process that it takes to make a Cake Box Book.

There are many creative processes.  It doesn’t matter what you are trying to learn: creating a Cake Box Book, painting with acrylic paint, sewing an apron, baking a cake, riding a bike, knitting a sweater, making paper, playing the piano….  We all start as beginners.  We learn through trying things.  Some of it works.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  It is only through practice and experimentation that we become comfortable with the process.  Once we become comfortable, we can have fun with the process.

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I challenge you to learn something that you have wanted to do.  It may require taking a class, doing research, reading a book, finding someone to teach you.  Whatever it is, take the time to learn and become comfortable with the creative process.

Ability – Creativity Series

“Everyone is a genius.  But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” -Albert Einstein

The other day I was going through some art papers, notes about classes, ideas on sticky notes and quotes.  I came across a folded up little piece of paper that had this quote from Albert Einstein.  It really spoke to me and I found it to be the perfect inspiration for my second post in the “Creativity Series.”

Some of the lessons that we need to learn about being creative are not learned through doing an activity or by reading a book.  They are learned by changing our perspective.  In this case the perspective we are changing is allowing others to hurt us or judge us with their opinions and harsh words.

Just like the fish in Albert Einstein’s quote, we are not going to be good at everything we attempt to do.   A great pastry chef may not be able to grill the perfect steak.  And then again maybe they can grill a perfect steak but are unable to speak in front of a crowd of people.  What is being said in this quote is not to allow yourself to be judged by the things that you have trouble doing.  The chef is still an amazing chef even if they can’t do public presentations.  If the chef is content with their life, does it matter what others think?

Enough time and practice can help anyone to gain a basic understanding and minimal skill set in any area.  For example, I took an accounting class in college.  For me, it was a tough class.  I did fine, I got a C.  I am perfectly capable to do basic book keeping for my art as a business.  But I will not be remembered for my interest accruing skills on a spread sheet and I am more than okay with that.

Take a moment and think of how you have been compared by others or yourself in doing something that you are not proficient at.  How did it feel?  Did it hinder your ability to try to do the task in the future?  Did it alter how you felt about yourself?

I have shared this story in the past, but it fits so well with the Albert Einstein quote that I have to share it again.  I had a student who was in her seventies when she took my creativity class.  She shared a story about one of her creative blocks.  She had always been very tall for her age.  In her school choir classes she would stand in the back row and sing with her whole heart. When she was 12 or 13 a teacher told her that she shouldn’t sing.  That she should just mouth the words instead.  My student was devastated.  She never sang out loud again.  The words of one person had the power to quite literally silence a voice.

My student shared that she still wished to sing.  We talked about the fact that the teacher who said that had become her internal critic when it came to making a joyful noise.  We talked about ways to silence this critic.  We talked about ways that she could sing and feel comfortable.  Her church choir was recruiting “new songbirds.”  She auditioned and was accepted.  She was finally singing again.  After sixty years of thinking that she couldn’t sing, she had auditioned and was accepted in a choir.

I leave you with these final thoughts.  You are a genius!  You are a creative, imaginative, amazing human being.  Believe these words.  Believe in yourself.

Risk = Growth = Rewards

All of the artwork featured in this blog post was created by students of the Art Sampler class that I taught in the fall of 2019 at Flathead Valley Community College.  The paintings are pallet knife paintings.  Two of the students had previous painting experience but not painting with acrylic paint.  None of the students had painted using a palette knife before.

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Painted by Amy Kanewischer

In college, I took a class on American women’s history.  The class started with the  colonization of the original 13 colonies.  It focused on women who settled in the north (the area of what is now Massachusetts) and women in the southern colonies. 

The women who settled in the north were primarily wives and daughters.  They arrived with their husbands and fathers.  As long as they stayed within the confines of society and family these women had comfortable lives and very little risk.  

The women who settled in the south were wives and daughters also.  But most of the women who settled in the south went as indentured servants (their voyage is paid for by a third party [usually farmer or landowner in the southern colonies] and then they had to work for a certain amount of time to pay off the debt).  Once the debt was released, they were free.  They could buy land, start businesses, etc.  These women faced huge risks but if they survived the rewards were big and they had the opportunity to make choices for themselves.

One could argue that settling in the original thirteen colonies was a huge risk in and of itself.  And they would be right.  Some parts of those colonies were wilder and riskier than others.

The bonus question on the exam for this portion of the class asked where we would live if given a choice?  Would we live in relative safety of the civilized north?  Or would we live in the wild south?  We had to explain our reasons for why we made our choice.  I chose the south because if I could survive, I would earn my freedom and the ability to make decisions for myself.  There were only two of us in a class of 20 who chose settling in the south or greater risk for greater rewards.

“If you risk nothing, then you risk everything.” -Geena Davis

Where is all this talk of risk going?  Creativity is about risk.  I was talking to a friend recently about how the images in the sketchbooks doesn’t always turn out like the finished piece of artwork.  That the artwork is often better than expected.  Creating a piece of artwork, writing a poem or a novel, acting in a play, taking a photo, any and all creative pursuits are about risk.

Think about it like this, if everyone only listened to the music of Mozart it would get pretty boring after awhile.  But there is a lot more than the music of Mozart to listen to.  There is rap, jazz, blues, polkas, chants, rock, pop, etc.  You get the idea.  Here is the important part to remember the next time a song that you like comes on, the artist who wrote that song and the artist who is singing it (it may be the same person) had to take risks to get that music on the radio.  They had to have faith in their creative choices.  They had to be willing to grow creatively to reach the rewards.

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Painted by Judy Territo

Speaking of creative choices.  My friend Samantha was at a point where she needed more business cards.  When she went to reorder ones like she already had, they didn’t have that design any more.  Samantha felt that she was at a crossroads.  She had branded herself with the old design.  Did she want to keep the old images?  Could she still keep her brand and create new and exciting business cards?

Samantha chose to take a risk.  She created new business cards, using new images and her original business name.  And the new business cards turned out beautiful.  So beautiful that Samantha ordered a banner with the same design.

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Painted by Diane Whited

Teaching art classes can be a challenge.  Teaching often forces me to grow as an artist and an individual.  As an art teacher, I take risks in teaching my students.  There is standard techniques that one can teach over and over to each class.  And teachers often do this to make sure that their students learn the basics.  But teachers can take the time to really get to know their students and tailor the class around the skills and abilities of the students.  It is these subtle additions that really makes the difference from an okay class to an amazing one.  I decided to teach the acrylic technique of palette knife painting with this group of students because I knew it would be a positive challenge for them.  My taking a risk, helped my students grow and the reward was to see the amazing artwork they produced. 

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Painted by Arnold Kanewischer

Just because you take a creative risk does not mean that you will not have anxiety and fear.  Part of taking a risk is learning how to manage the fear and anxiety that comes with it.  Not every risk you take will produce a reward.  Some risks will turn into creative disasters.  That is okay.  There is opportunity to learn from failure and that is one of the ways in which we grow.  That growth helps us reach future rewards.

What do you need to do today to take that next creative step?  What risk will help you grow regardless of success or failure?  How can going further with your art and creativity provide you with an opportunity to learn and challenge yourself?  What reward are you seeking? 

Remember risk causes growth.  Growth helps one reach rewards.  Risk = Growth = Rewards

Nine Lessons from the Castle Garden Cats

While in Northern Ireland, I was able to see Belfast Castle and it’s lovely garden.  I also had the good fortune to have a chat with a lovely woman who worked at the castle.  She was very knowledgeable and told some delightful stories about the castle and the people who had lived in it.

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One story that I found to be very delightful was about the tradition of the castle cat.  Apparently the Donegall family, who were the owners of the castle before its donation to the city of Belfast in 1934, always kept a white cat.  It was said that as long as a white cat remained on the premises good fortune would come to all who visit the castle.  When the city of Belfast took over the care and maintenance of the castle, they were not able to maintain the tradition of keeping a white cat at the castle.  To keep the spirit of the white cat alive and the good fortune going, nine cats in various incarnations (sculptures, quotes, mosaics, topiary, etc.) were incorporated into the garden.

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It was fun to wander through the garden looking for the nine cats.  Nine cats are in reference to the myth that a cat has nine lives.  I found and took pictures of these nine castle garden cats.  I thought it would be fun to share them with you by pairing the photos with fun facts, quotes and lessons I have learned from or about cats.

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Did you know that the average cat can jump eight feet in a single bound?  That is nearly six times its body length.  This fun fact holds a powerful lesson from our feline friends: one should not let things that appear challenging to hold one back from what one can accomplish.

My brother had a cat named Sanka.  She was a elegant, sleek, slender, highly intelligent, orange and white cat.  She seemed smaller than most cats I have known.  My brother is very tall, six foot four inches.  Sanka could jump from the floor to his shoulder in a single leap.  Everyone who witnessed Sanka’s leap from floor to shoulder were amazed.  To witness this little cat jump was to see elegance in motion.

Cats leap.  One could argue that this is instinct.  That it is in a cats behavior to know that it can leap and land on its feet.  How often have you thought about something and decided that it cannot be done?  For example.  I am to old to take piano lessons.  It would be unwise to switch careers after investing so much time.  It is dangerous to travel to foreign countries.  Instead of leaping, the person over-thought about this particular thing and it didn’t happen.

Making an excuse doesn’t change anything.  If you want to learn to play the piano, take lessons.  Start today.  Start tomorrow.  It doesn’t matter when you start.  You aren’t going to get any younger.  So do it.  If you are miserable in that job, make a plan and switch careers.  Yes you have invested time.  You can’t get it back.  But do you want to stay in a career you aren’t happy in?  Everything in life is dangerous.  Take that trip to Fiji, Mongolia, Sweden or where ever it is that you want to go.  Statistically you have a higher chance of being involved in a serious accident within one mile of your home than traveling abroad.  Leap.  Be like the cat.  Have faith in your ability to land.

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A cat’s nose is as unique as a human fingerprint.  And speaking of fingers or should I say paws, cats are usually lefties.  Studies indicate that a cats left paw is typically dominate.

There have been too many studies to reference on why left-handed people tend to be more creative.  Let me share a couple of them with you.  One Study states that lefties have to find creative solutions to problems because they are living in a world where most things are set up for right-handed people.  Another study indicated that their creativity is based on the fact that they have to use both sides of their brain at the same time.  And yet another study suggested that they aren’t actually left-handed at all, but ambidextrous.  I don’t need a study to tell me that cats are very creative.  Maybe this is because they are left paw dominate or maybe it is because they are cats.

They are also incredibly smart.  My cat, Angus, will not play with a laser pointer.  When she was a kitten I got one and was moving the light around on the floor.  She played with it for awhile, but when she couldn’t catch it, she stopped.  She looked up to where I was sitting.  She looked at the red light on the floor.  Angus got up, came over to the couch, jumped up next to me, and swatted my hand that was holding the laser pointer.  She then turned away and jumped off of the couch and left the room.  From that moment on, she would not chase the red dot on the floor.  Angus had figured out that the object in my hand was making the little red light, she would never be able to catch it and therefore she could not be bothered to chase it.

The lesson learned here from cats?  Trust yourself and have the courage to let go of something and walk away.  When you figure out that something isn’t working for you, don’t continue to try to make it work.  Your actions are futile.  Let it go.  Instead do something where you can make a difference and see results.  (For a cat that may mean taking a nap in a sunbeam.)

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In the previous photo there are two cat images together.  One is a picture of a cat and the other is a sculpture.  As the are hard to see, I have included the detail of the cats below.

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In ancient times cats were worshiped as gods; they have not forgotten this.” -Terry Pratchett

Or stated another way.  Dogs have owners, cats have staff.

Speaking of the regal pasts of cats, I once read a great description about a cat that wrapped its tail about it like it was wearing the robes of state.  I think the above cat statue visually illustrates this concept.

In Ancient Egypt, when one’s house cat passed away, shaving off one’s eyebrows was done to show respect for the cat and grief at the loss.  Ancient Egyptians also mummified their feline friends to accompany them into the afterlife.

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Cats seem to almost have supernatural powers.  A cats physique may have something to do with this.  Did you know that a cat has 3 eyelids which protect their eyes?  A cat has the ability to rotate their ears 180 -degrees with the help of 32 muscles that they use to control them.  All the better to hear you trying to sneak up on them.  The cats strongest sense is it’s sense of smell.  It is fourteen times better than that of a humans.  They rely on this sense to identify people and objects.  Cats also have the ability to twist their bodies when falling, enabling them to land on their feet.  This ability helps them reduce injury and maintain their balance.  These “supernatural” skills may have contributed to people’s fear of them in Europe during the Dark Ages.

The lesson here is to not make a judgment about someone or something until we have done the research.  Cats are not supernatural.  They are different.  And different is what makes living on this planet so much fun.  Learn about things, people and places that are different and celebrate how these differences enhance being alive.

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The photo of the above mosaic shows that it has suffered some damage.  It was sad to see the damaged tiles; but it reminded me of another of cats unique abilities.  A cat has the power to sometimes heal itself by purring.  A domestic cat’s purr has a frequency between 25 and 105 Hertz, which happens to be the frequency at which muscles and bones best grow and repair themselves.

I have always thought that the cats ability to purr is magical.  And to find out that it has the ability to have healing qualities makes it even cooler.

I also believe that our feline companions know when we are hurting.  After my divorce, I was feeling as if my whole world was shattered.  Every night before bed my cat, Angus, cuddled up next to me and would purr.  She followed me around at home keeping an eye on me.  It was as if Angus knew that I needed her and her healing purr to get through that time.  I believe that she did help my heart heal faster.

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The smallest feline is a masterpiece.”  -Leonardo da Vinci

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Cats have it all: admiration, an endless sleep and company only when they want it.”  –Rod McKuen

Have you ever noticed that when a cat is ready to nap they decide where it is that they are going to sleep, they do their rituals for getting comfortable and instantly fall asleep?  I am very jealous of the cat’s ability to literally sleep anywhere.

Another ability of cats, that I have noticed over the years, is their ability to set boundaries.  When they want to be alone, you will not find them.  When they want attention, be prepared to pet them.  If they want your company they will follow you around the house.  It would be foolhardy to follow a cat around when they did not want your company.  Some may consider them to be aloof, but I think that cats are very discerning about who they will allow to pet them and for how long.

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“Cats choose us, we don’t own them.” –Kristen Cast

If you ever go to Belfast, Northern Ireland, be sure to see Belfast Castle and take time to visit the nine Castle Garden Cats.  You may just learn something new and interesting.  And possibly create a tale of your own.

Polaris

Recently, I had the great good fortune to pick up a book at a thrift store in Whitefish, Montana for a dollar.  A hardcover science fiction book by an author that I had not heard of before in mint condition, Polaris written by Jack McDevitt.  I was intrigued by the cover art.  (I know that you are not supposed to judge a book by the cover, see previous blog post on that subject here: Judging a Book by it’s Cover)  Once I read the description, I was hooked.

The description of the book from the inside of the jacket cover is as follows:

“The luxury space yacht Polaris carried an elite group of the wealthy and curious thousands of light-years from Earth to witness a spectacular stellar phenomenon.  It never returned.  The search party sent to investigate found the Polaris empty and adrift in space, the fate of its pilot and passengers a mystery.

Sixty years later, the question of what happened aboard the Polaris continues to capture the popular imagination, especially as the anniversary of the event approaches.  A major new book is planned, as is an auction of the things found on the ship – including personal effects of the missing.

Prominent antiquities dealer Alex Benedict manages to secure some of the artifacts before the auction.  But then an explosion destroys most of the collection, and an attempt is made on his life.  Convinced that someone is taking drastic measures to hide the truth about the Polaris, Alex is determined to uncover the truth – no matter how far he must travel across the stars, no matter the risk….”  – Polaris book cover

Jack McDevitt wields an interesting tale.  In this future time of space exploration and colonization, why does the captain and crew come up missing from the space ship Polaris?  This tale could have been told a variety of ways.  McDevitt’s writing is clever in balancing clues to they mystery, building relate-able characters, describing fictional places and keeping the reader intrigued.

All of the characters are interesting.  To me, the ship itself feels like a character as much as the passengers who disappeared.  And in the end part of the ship provides a very important clue that helps solve the case.  There is the story of Alex Benedict who secures and sells artifacts along with Chase Kolpath, Benedict’s employee, pilot and I would also say friend.  Chase’s voice narrates the story and I think that it is a creative choice that makes sense.  It becomes very important in sequences involving flight and space travel.  Because Chase is a pilot, she can describe the events in a way that is plausible and believable.

McDevitt has a talent for weaving humor into his descriptions of fictional creatures.  The following is a description of an evening on a planet that Alex and Chase were visiting and their experience with a yoho.

“It became an interesting evening.  The snowstorm renewed itself and turned into a howling blizzard, there was an earthquake warning at about the time we were going to bed, and a few hours later they evacuated the hotel because a yoho got into the building.

The yohos, it turned out, were arthropodic creatures with a taste for people.  Fortunately, they only showed up five days out of the year, which coincided with there breeding season, and on those occasions they rarely left the beach.  After an hour of standing in the snow, we were informed by management that the yoho had gone, everything was okay, and we could go back in.  When we got to our suite, we inspected it carefully and locked the doors.”  –Polaris, page 265.

The following is the description of a planet that Chase and Alex fly by during their investigation of the disappearances of the captain and crew of the Polaris.

“Markop III was hardly worth a visit.  But we went anyhow, because Alex insisted on being thorough.

It was an attractive world, lots of blue water, fleecy white clouds, herds of big shaggy creatures that made great targets if you were into hunting.  The weather through the temperate zones was almost balmy.

If it was inviting, however, it was also potentially lethal.  Unlike the vast majority of living worlds, its viruses and disease germs loved homo sapiens.” –Polaris, page 317.

My overall take on the book is that it is an interesting story that has a satisfying ending.  It was fun to read from beginning to end, with the mystery keeping me guessing throughout the novel.  If you enjoy a good mystery with your science fiction, I would highly recommend this novel.  If you have read the novel and would like to talk about it, please leave a comment or write to me through my contact me page.

Tools for Boosting Creativity

Part of my goals or resolutions for the new year included adding a once a month post about creativity tips, tools and techniques.  I felt the need to write this kind of post after reading an article in the magazine “Artful Blogger.”

The author of one particular article was talking about managing creativity.  At first, I thought the idea of managing creativity to be odd.  But upon reading the entire article, I understood where she was coming from.  Her point was that part of the reason that people feel like they cannot or are not creative is because they have unrealistic expectations of what creativity is and the skills necessary to be creative.  For example, the first time you pick up a paint brush you are not going to paint a million dollar masterpiece.  One has to learn how to use the brushes and the paint.  The article pointed out that managing creativity is really more about managing expectations.  For that first canvas, if you don’t expect a masterpiece but want to have fun, you are more likely to meet that expectation.

This got me thinking about what made teaching creativity classes and one on one creativity coaching sessions successful.  What lessons, tools, and techniques do I use with my students to help them become more creative in their lives?  How can I break down complex lessons in a way that will make sense and be helpful?  I reviewed class notes and requests for specific lessons from students.  I looked at my extensive library of books focusing on creativity.  I reviewed favorite blogs that I follow on WordPress.  I decided to take parts of larger lessons and break them down.  Each month I will try to focus on specific tools, tips, techniques and the ideas surrounding creativity.  Please do not hesitate to comment or contact me on my Contact page if there are specific questions that you have or areas that you would like me to address.

This is the first post of my new creativity series and it focuses on three tools.  What does a creative tool do? Creative tools help bring out your creativity and prepare you to do your particular creative work.  These particular tools are meant to help with our creative subconscious.

Morning Pages 

Anyone who has read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is familiar with her creative tool, MORNING PAGES.  I can hear groans from some of my creativity class students.  I started writing morning pages when I took the Artist’s Way class in 2005.  You are correct in your analysis of the last statement that I still write morning pages.  Like Julia Cameron, I believe they are a very important tool for a successful creative life.  The following is a description from Julia Cameron of what morning pages are and why they work.

“Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, morning writing about anything and everything.  You may complain, whine, grumble, grieve.  You may hope, celebrate, plan, plot.  Nothing is too small or too large to be included.  Everything is grist for the creative mill.  Why should we do Morning Pages?  Morning Pages prioritize our day.  They render us present to the moment.  They introduce us to an unsuspected inner strength and agility.  They draw to our attention those areas of our life that need our focus.  Both or weaknesses and our strengths will be gently revealed.  Problems will be exposed, and solutions suggested.”   – Julia Cameron, Page 2, The Sound of Paper.

Morning pages are hand written.  No, you may not type them on your laptop.  Three pages.  The number of pages is negotiable.  If you need to end a sentence or two early or go over a little, it is okay.  No one and I mean no one gets to read these but you.  You write them for yourself.  It is a tool for your creativity.  You are never required to share them.  Yes they need to be written every day.  I am not perfect, I do not write them every single day.  But I do write them almost every single day.

They are called morning pages for a reason.  Do them right away in the morning or generally when you wake up for the day.  If you are like me and are not quite human until that first cup of coffee, by all means, get your coffee first and write second.  The reason these are written in the morning is to get all of the clutter out of our brains and onto paper.  This way we can focus on what really interests us.  Morning pages are a way to capture anything and everything, allowing us to be focused and productive.

Confession.  I did not love the morning pages when I first started writing them.  I didn’t even like them.  I did allow myself to trust the process and started writing them every day when I first took the class.  About six weeks into the process of writing them, I had a break through.  I actually felt like the pages unlocked a creative block that had been holding me back.  From that moment on, I became a believer in the power of the morning pages.  They have helped me creatively in a multitude of ways.  I cannot recommend doing morning pages enough.

Dream Diaries

This tool is exactly what it sounds like.  It is meant to record dreams.  Messages from your subconscious.  It is recommended that one keep a notebook and writing utensil next to their bed.  Either during the night when you wake up after having the dream or first thing in the morning upon waking, you write down the dream or dreams, in as much detail as you can remember, into your Dream Diary.

You can share your dreams with whomever you choose.  You can look up meanings in dream interpretation books.  Call a friend and share the dream with them.  Maybe you know someone who is good at interpreting dreams.  Write notes about insights you have learned.  Dreams can be used for creative prompts in artwork, writing, composition of music, etc.

If you are writing or planning on writing Morning Pages, you can combine these two.  I personally use my Morning Pages as my Dream Diary.

Gratitude Journals

Unlike the previous two tools, this one you do before you go to bed at night.  I came across the Gratitude Journal in the book Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach.  Find a beautiful blank journal.  (There is something about a blank journal that speaks to ones heart and soul that adds to the effectiveness of this tool.)  Each night before going to bed write down five things that you are grateful for.

Some days will be easy to make a list.  Here a few examples of positive blessings: I saw double rainbows when walking through the park after the storm.  My herb bed has started growing on its own with volunteer plants.  A friend arrived home safely after completing a tour in Iraq.  While on a drive, I was able to stop and take photos of the fall foliage.  Today, I helped my niece make her very first snowman.  

Some days are harder to think of what we are grateful for.  On those days I write down the basics: My family.  My home.  My cat.  My health and the health of my family.  My friends.  Having food to eat.  Being safe.  Life happens.  There will be days that just living and breathing are hard, let alone being grateful.

Why is the Gratitude Journal an important part of creativity?  I think it is an important part of living.  When you become consciously aware of your blessings and give thanks for them every day (even on the rough days) you will change.  You become aware of the world around you in a new way and open yourself to the blessing of possibility.

I hope that you will experiment and try one or all of these amazing creative tools.

Giving Up the Ghost

Have you ever heard someone say that they have given up the ghost?  To “give up the ghost” is an idiom that has been traced back to the 1600’s.  Just in case you are curious, an idiom is a word or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal meaning.

To “give up the ghost” means to expire or die.  In the case of a mechanical object it means to stop working.  It also means to give up on or stop trying to do something because you know that it will not succeed.

I confess that I really hadn’t thought a lot about this saying until I heard it used in a song entitled “Giving Up the Ghost” by the band a-ha from their album “Cast in Steel”.  I have attached a link to the song as follows: Giving Up the Ghost by a-ha

The song got me thinking about how we hold onto things that do not bring us joy or happiness.  That we keep trying to do something even though we know it will not succeed, may never succeed and often causes us pain.

I am not talking about when one is learning a new skill, trade or activity.  You can’t expect to paint a perfect painting if you have never used acrylic paint and a paint brush before.  There is beginner’s luck but I will save that discussion for another post.

What I am talking about is staying in the same job, relationship, situation, etc. because we are to stubborn to let it go.  Or we are afraid to move on because we don’t want to be seen as failing or a failure.  There is also a fear that what is out there is worse than the situation we are in.

For example, I worked in a job that I did not enjoy for seven years.  I was afraid that the next job would be worse than the one I was in.  I have a friend who almost immediately after getting married realized that she had made a horrible mistake.  But instead of ending the marriage she continued trying to make it work for nine years before giving up the ghost.  She felt that to end the marriage was a failure on her part.  Another friend shared how he went into a career field because he thought it would please his father.  It was only after his father’s death that he realized how miserable he was.  Trying to please someone else he didn’t realize how unhappy he was.

Making major and even minor life changes are one of those things that is much easier said than done.  If this was easy to do, I think people would give up the ghost on a lot of things and a lot earlier.

What are some of the areas of your life that you are holding onto even though it does not bless you or bring you happiness?  What could you do to give up the ghost?  Please share your experiences of giving up the ghost in the comment section of this blog.

Featured image for this blog post is from:

Ghost.arrow

Celebrating Poetry

April is National Poetry Month in the United States.  Poetry, to me, is a celebration of language and the nuances of words.  In recognition of national poetry month, I thought I would share some poetry and some of my favorite poets with links to their blogs.

To start I wanted to share a poem from my childhood.  The following poem is one that I read while in grade school but could never remember the poet’s name.  If you click on his name it will take you to a poetry site that shares more information about him.

Trees

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

 

D. Eric Hanson is an inspired poet and personal friend.  He has written two books of poetry.  The first one is entitled Acedia and the second one is Psychology 101.  Both are filled with heartfelt words of love, sorrow, loss, hope, humor, etc.  Really all of the emotions that can be experienced.  I have also used Eric’s beautiful words in the following blog posts: Making Decisions Based on Love or FearPoetry to My Eyes and Ears and Masks .

Below are two of Eric’s poems.  For those of you who have taken the creativity classes that I teach, I think you may catch the clever use of words in the poem “Mourning Pages.”  For the second poem, the humorous realization that one is indeed a poet.  I hope that you enjoy them as much as I do.

Mourning Pages by D. Eric Hanson

See how the pages
Change colour after
They have been written upon.
The crisp clean white
Becomes a dull
Tarnished light grey,
As if through writing
The paper has blotted
Some small portion of
The darkness of my soul.

Scripto Ergo Sum by D. Eric Hanson

Notebooks full of spidery hand
And little scraps of paper;
Some stanzas hint a kind of plan
Ethereal as vapor;
The need to write that overwhelms;
The words that within burn;
The soul now master of the helm,
Which for expression yearns;
To live a life a vagabond
And flow through it carefree;
The things of which I am so fond
Do in reality;
All reveal that I’m a poet
Wouldn’t you just know it.

 

I  also wanted to share some of the creative, interesting and exciting blogs from the WordPress community that focus on poetry.  They are listed as follows with brief descriptions.

My friend, Shantanu, writes a wonderful and creative blog Ckonfab made up of poetry, prose, flash poems and short stories.  This past fall he wrote a story that was the feature of a series of posts.  Each time a section was posted, I could hardly wait to find out what the next part of the story would be.  If you are not already familiar with Shantanu’s writing, it is definitely worth checking out.

Ben Dwyer posts a haiku poem a day.  I started following his blog and the beautiful haiku poems a little over a year ago.  He uses his own photos to accompany his poems and they are as beautiful as his written words.  I look forward to reading his haiku’s every day.  Please check out his work by clicking on this link Haiku.blog.

I just recently started following the work of Jason A. Muckley and his blog. entitled Poems for Warriors.  He writes about a wide variety of subject matter.  Another thing I like about Jason’s poetry is that he writes poems using different formats and techniques.  He is also very good about explaining different types of poetry and their formats.  Jason’s poetry is definitely worth looking at.

My friend Debby writes a delightful blog post called Thoughtsmith by The Typewriter.  Her poetry touches on universal themes of love, motherhood, nature and meaning of life.  I can honestly say that every time I am reading her poetry my heart is touched.  You definitely need to check out Debby’s poetry.

I have been the blog site of  Elan Mudrow called Smidgens for not quite a year.  What I like about this blog is the link between the photos and poetry.  A lot of Elan’s poems and prose is about nature and the relationship between people and nature.  Elegant and fascinating, this blog is one I am glad to have discovered.

I started following a poetry blog entitled Brian Just Brian written by Brian Nettles, last summer.  His poetry is emotionally intense and exquisitely written.  He also writes short stories and is working on a novel.  Please check out his creative work when you have a chance.

I have been following the poetry blog The Moonlight Reverie for the past two years.  The poetry on this blog focus primarily on love and relationships.  Every poem is exquisitely written and a pleasure to read, even the saddest of her poems.

I have greatly enjoyed the blog Dread Poets Sobriety  by Alexander Blaikie.   What makes this poetry blog so much fun is the commentary Alexander writes before and after his poems.  The other nice thing about this particular blog site is the wide range of subject matter covered in the poetry.  You never know what subject will be turned into poetry next.  If you like a side of humor to your poetry, this blog is for you.

The poetry of fauxcroft is often about humanity, love or relationships, environmental concerns and the call for one to be the unique individual they are meant to be.  I have only been following this site for about six months.  Many of the poems are thought provoking.

More than just poetry, Arenas Del Tiempo which translates to Sands of time blog site has music, stories, photos, art, quotes and much more.  All of the work posted on this site has been inspiring.  I hope that you are able to check it out and enjoy it as much as I do.

What I love about poetry is that it can be very simple or made up of complex rhythm and rhyme schemes.  It touches every subject from love to food, environment and nature to the inner conversations of ones mind.  Not every poem speaks to every person.  But the poems that speak to your heart and soul, will inspire you forever.

I hope that you will take the time to explore the wide wonderful world of poetry this month and always.

Happy National Poetry Month!

Zentangle

“Learning to draw is really a matter of learning to see – to see correctly – and that means a good deal more than merely looking with the eye.” Kimon Nicolaides

As an artist and creative person, I tend to draw on things.  In college I doodled on notebooks while taking notes in class.  I doodle on phone messages, junk mail envelopes, sticky notes, pretty much anything that isn’t a legal document or my passport.  Because of this habit of drawing or doodling on things, a student in one of my creative classes saw a doodle in my notes and asked me if I had ever heard of zentangles.  I said “zen whats?” She told me she would bring me some information about them to the next class.  She was true to her word and brought me a book.

At the end of class, when I tried to give the book back to my student, she wouldn’t take it.  She stated that the book was mine and she had purchased it for me.  I thanked her profusely.  When I got home from class that night, I jumped into the world of the zentangle.

So where does Zentangle come from?  The creative ingenuity of Rick and Maria and the company, Zentangle, Inc., that they have created in Whitinsville, Massachusetts.

On their website, they say that it all started with Maria’s botanical prints.  When she sells them, she would create beautiful lettering on the prints.  People would comment on how amazing her lettering is but how they did not have the time to invest in becoming an accomplished calligraphy artist.

At another time, Rick interrupted Maria while doing her creative work.  When asked what she was experiencing before the interruption Maria described being immersed in the work and feelings of selflessness, timelessness, effortlessness.  Rick who is a practitioner of meditation became very excited and told Maria that she was describing meditation.  At the moment Maria was interrupted she wasn’t working on lettering.  Instead she was creating patterns behind a gold-leafed letter.

From that eureka moment the idea grew to become the Zentangle method of drawing.  For more information on all things Zentangle please click on the following link to Rick and Maria’s website: Zentangle

What makes the Zentangle Method so unique is that it doesn’t focus on looking at a still-life, becoming a master calligrapher or learning proportions.  It “is an easy-to-learn, relaxing, and fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns. We call these patterns, tangles. You create tangles with combinations of dots, lines, simple curves, S-curves and orbs. These simple shapes are the ‘Elemental Strokes’ in all Zentangle art. These patterns are drawn on small pieces of paper called “tiles.” We call them tiles because you can assemble them into mosaics.” Quoted from the Zentangle website, please see provided link for more information.

What is unique about this process is that one focuses on the strokes and the act of creating over the end result.  What you create is often a pleasant surprise.

On the Zentangle website they list 8 steps for the creation of a Zentangle.  I have listed the steps from the site with some of  my own illustrations.

Step 01 – Gratitude and Appreciation

Get comfortable, take a few deep breaths and feel gratitude and appreciation – for this beautiful paper, for these wonderful tools, for this opportunity to create something beautiful.

zentangle materials

Step 02 – Corner Dots

We teach beginning Zentangle Method with beautiful museum grade cotton paper, 3.5 inches (89 mm) square. To answer a familiar question of what to put on this beautiful paper, place a light pencil dot in each corner, about a pen’s width from the edges. Now it’s no longer a blank piece of paper.

I have used the special paper called tiles.  I have also made large and small Zentangles.  If it helps you in your creative process to strictly follow the 3.5 inch square, I would recommend doing that.  If it would work better for you to work larger, smaller, on coloured paper, etc., do what ignites your imagination and boosts your creativity.

Step 03 – Border

Connect those dots with a light pencil line, straight or curvy, to create a square. This is your border.

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Step 04 – String

Inside the border, draw a light pencil line or lines to make what we call a “string.” The string separates your tile into sections, in which you draw your tangles. A string can be any shape. It may be a curvy line that touches the edge of the border now and then, or series of straight lines that go from one side of the border to the next.

 

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zentangle 1

Step 05 – Tangle

A tangle is a predefined sequence of simple strokes that make up a pattern. Draw your tangles in pen inside (usually) the pencil strings and borders. Tangle is both noun and verb. Just as you dance a dance, you tangle your tangles. Draw your tangles with deliberate strokes. Don’t worry about what it’s going to look like. Just focus on each stroke of the pen as you make it. Trust that you’ll know what to do next when the time to do it comes. There is no up or down to Zentangle art so feel free to rotate your tile in any direction that is most comfortable for your hand as you draw.

zentangle 2

Step 06 – Shade

Add shades of gray with a graphite pencil to bring contrast and dimension to your tile. The black and white two-dimensional tangles transform through shading and appear three-dimensional. You can also use a tortillion (a paper blending stump) to soften and blend the graphite.

finished zentangle

Step 07 – Initial and Sign

This is art you created. You should sign it. Put your initials on the front (many people create a unique monogram or chop for this step). On the back, place your name, date, comments and observations.

I personally do not initial or sign a piece until it is done.  A lot of the zentangle work that I do is to go into other a larger artwork and therefore, I don’t sign them.

Step 08 – Appreciate

Hold your tile at arm’s length. Turn it this way and that. Appreciate what you just created.

Below is a zentangle of leaves that I am going to use in a larger piece of artwork.

zentangle leaves

Here is an example of seeing something in life and being inspired to create a zentangle around it.

zentangle.tattoo

The piece below is titled “Fish” and was created using a technical pen with white ink on black paper.  The actual fish was inspired by a tattoo.  See photo above.

I was waiting in line at Dairy Queen with a friend one night after class.  I noticed the fish tattoo on the should of a young man.  I asked him if I could take a picture of his tattoo.  He said yes.  Less than a week later I finished the above artwork.  He had given me his email because he wanted to see what I would do from the picture.  When I emailed him a photo of the artwork, he responded that it was really cool and he was impressed with how it turned out.

Zentangle

Drawing.  Doodles.  Zentangles.  Whatever you want to call it, this technique is truly calming and opens the door to greater creativity.

Sometimes we are given a gentle nudge to try something new creatively.  When the nudge happens, I recommend following it.  You may be pleasantly surprised where it leads.

Happy creating!