Category Archives: Creative

1 Part King Missile / 3 Parts Jewel

King Missile, “Sensitive Artist“ lyrics: “I don’t go to recitals anymore, Because my hearing is too sensitive, And I don’t go to art galleries anymore, Because there are people there, And I can’t deal with people, Because they don’t understand me. I am sensitive…I am a sensitive artist…“

Today, as I was sitting out on the balcony eating my breakfast burrito (which tasted amazing by the way) I started to think about the novel that I have recently begun writing. I so desperately want to share the basic plot line with people to get their reaction but I know that will only serve to give me a temporary high and then will ultimately result in curtailing my progress. To many this may seem counterintuitive—positive feedback should mean an increase in productivity and a resurgence of creative energy. Not so with me. At least, not at this stage of the creative process.

If I share my ideas and concepts and I get a great reaction, then I’m elated. “They think I’m talented! I don’t suck. I knew this was a great idea!” And then 30 minutes to an hour later, a great sense of malaise sets in. Somehow I’m no longer excited about the project because my thirst for validation has been quenched. I also realize that sharing the completed novel with my previously exuberant friends, will no longer elicit the same over-the-top reaction, since I’ve removed the element of surprise. And then I will be left thinking, “I was right, I suck. This was a terrible idea! Maybe I can become a Starbucks barista. I hear they have good healthcare insurance.”

Much to my displeasure, I thrive on positive feedback and instant gratification, and wince at long, grueling tasks done in a vacuum with no cheering section. Worse yet, I positively shrivel up and cannot proceed creatively if surrounded by negative, critical judges and cynics. This doesn’t mean I can’t take constructive criticism or that I can’t work long hours alone. It just means I am a sensitive artist, and if you want to get the best work out of me you better play nicely.

Now, as with most human characteristics, our biggest flaws can also be our biggest attributes. Since I am so sensitive and often insecure about my own talent, I make it a point to build up the confidence and dole out praise (where deserved) for other people. Wherever I am— Starbucks, the grocery, the vet clinic—I am actively searching out opportunities to commend others on a job well done. If I have a particularly talented wait staff at a restaurant, then I compliment them and ask to speak to their manager so that I can tell their boss what a great job they are doing. If I see a child pick up some trash off the ground and deposit it in the garbage can without being asked, I thank him or her for their thoughtfulness. It never seems to amaze me how much a little recognition can brighten up a person’s spirit. This is especially true of adults who so often seem desperate for someone to simply acknowledge them in a positive light. They aren’t looking for a trophy or a blue 1st place ribbon, just a simple “thank you”, “good job” and, “I really appreciate all you do.“

In Jewel’s song, “I’m Sensitive”, she says:

“ So please be careful with me, I’m sensitive
And I’d like to stay that way.

I have this theory that if we’re told we’re bad
Then that’s the only idea we’ll ever have
But maybe if we are surrounded in beauty
Someday we will become what we see
‘Cause anyone can start a conflict
It’s harder yet to disregard it
I’d rather see the world from another angle
We are everyday angels
Be careful with me ’cause I’d like to stay that way“

So as it stands right now, I figure I am 1 part King Missile’s, “Sensitive Artist” and 3 parts Jewel’s, “I’m Sensitive.“

I’m working on developing a thicker skin and a more open heart. I’m sensitive and I’d like to stay that way.

Inaction: A Brilliant Course of Action

Picture 23

This eCard made me smile, but probably not for the reason the author intended.

I believe that when faced with a problem sometimes sitting back and just giving it a little time is exactly the right course of action. I know from experience that when I have a creative problem to solve I sometimes have to step away and go do something else while my subconscious works on a solution. I’ve had numerous solutions present themselves while enjoying a bubble bath, taking a walk, flipping through a magazine or waking up from a good nap.

Apparently, a lot of important men in history share my philosophy, especially when it comes to napping for productivity. According to “A Man’s Life, Lessons in Manliness” several powerful, smart, famous men embraced the art of napping.

Winston Churchill and President John F. Kennedy both felt that a 1-2 hour afternoon nap was a non-negotiable part of their day. For Kennedy, nap time was sacred. JB West, Head of the White House Staff at the time, recalled that “During those hours the Kennedy doors were closed. No telephone calls were allowed, no folders sent up, no interruptions from the staff. Nobody went upstairs, for any reason.”

At the urging of Jackie Kennedy, LBJ also began taking naps as part of his “two-shift day” schedule. “He woke up at 6:30 or 7, read the newspapers, and then headed to the White House where he worked until 2 pm. He would then exercise, taking a swim or brisk walk, before donning his pajamas and settling in for a 30 minute nap. He awoke up at 4, changed into clean clothes and began his “second shift” of the day, sometimes working until 1 or 2 in the morning.“

Other leaders with documented ability of falling asleep at the drop of a hat are Napoleon Bonaparte and Stonewall Jackson. Napoleon would go days without changing his clothes much less getting a full night’s sleep. But even with canons blasting nearby and mere hours remaining before going into battle he was able to sleep like a baby for a few hours. Jackson shared this uncanny ability and could nap in any place—by fences, under tress, on porches, even on horseback with his confidante holding his coat tail to keep him upright.

Edison-Sleeps

Thomas Edison Sleeps (Photo Credit: http://artofmanliness.com)

The great inventor Thomas Edison, was a “self-hating napper“. “He liked to boast about how hard he worked, how he slept only three or four hours a night, and how he would sometimes work for 72 hours straight. But in truth the key to his spectacular productivity was something he was loathe to mention and hid from others: daily napping.“ He would get in several 3-hour naps a day, sometimes in a bed, but often on a workbench or in a closet. Edison said he could sleep “as sound as a bug in a barrel of morphine.”

Salvador Dali and Albert Einstein had a napping schedule based on brevity called “slumber with a key”, which they felt inspired their ideas and creativity. “Slumber with a key was an afternoon siesta designed to last no longer than a second.“ To accomplish this micro nap, they would sit in a chair with a heavy metal key pressed between their thumb and forefinger. They then placed a plate upside down on the floor underneath the hand with the key. The moment they fell asleep, the key would slip from their fingers, clang the plate, and awaken them. (With a startle, I’m sure.)

So the next time you see someone slink away in the middle of the day to take a much-needed nap, don’t be too quick to judge. Chances are, they’re not lazy or trying to momentarily escape reality. They may simply be solving the world’s biggest problems or finding creative solutions to their own in their subconscious.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz……………

(Special Note: My dad, who was the VP of a civil engineering firm, used to take lunch-time naps on his drafting table, curling up with the pillow he stashed in his office drawer. His secretary knew that he was not to be disturbed for any reason. When I lived close to work, I would run home to nap for 30 minutes before eating a quick-lunch and returning to the office. Napping it seems, is in my genes—and I am a pro! )

Confession of a Non-Hoarder

I’m fascinated by the show, “Hoarders”.

My husband finds the show depressing, but I find it thrilling. Part of the intrigue is in getting an inside peek into someone else’s life and home. Call me a voyeur if you’d like, but I’m certain I’m not the only one. Haven’t you ever peeked in someone’s medicine cabinet before? Took a quick glance at a sibling’s diary? Eavesdropped on someone else’s conversation? It’s okay, you can admit it, we’ve all done it at one time or another. It’s human nature to be curious about others and to wonder if their lives are better, happier, more interesting or more fulfilling than ours.

I myself am not a hoarder in the traditional sense. Matter-of-fact, if anything, I am a “serial purger” of all things except, “creative ideas”. I have oodles and oodles of ideas jotted down in sketchbooks, notebooks, on loose sheets of paper and restaurant napkins, dating as far back as 1995.

Book ideas, jewelry designs, clever items to be sold on Cafe Press—I’m constantly coming up with creative ideas for anything and everything. I used to think it was a curse, possessing the ability to generate a plethora of great ideas but not having all the skills or know-how necessary to bring them to fruition. And then I had a moment of complete clarity.

I had a dream that I was attending a series of amazing, extravagant parties where famous authors, movie stars, fashion designers and the like were in attendance. They all seemed to either know me or were clamoring to meet me. Mostly, they kept thanking me profusely, but I had no clue as to why.

They all wanted my business card, so I was handing them out left and right. I was certainly enjoying the attention, but didn’t know what I had done to deserve it. It wasn’t until I handed out my very last business card that I was able to flip it over and finally read it. “Creative Muse for Hire” was written in bold letters above my name and contact information. It turns out that I had shared my ideas with these amazingly talented people and they had become wildly successful implementing them. 

It was the best life-affirming, ego-boosting dream ever!

So, I’m not really a “hoarder” of any kind. I’m simply a “Creative Muse”, who fortunately married a “Creative God”, and together we are working on bringing to life a few of my ideas that we can share with the world. (And hopefully become “wildly successful” in the process!)

Banner Creation:  BannerQueen.com

Banner Creation: BannerQueen.com

The Real Soup Nazi

Tble Tent

[Disclaimer: This post is as confusing as the ad pictured. Read on to find out why.]

Husband: “So if you don’t offer me soup, you have to give me soup.”

Long pause.

Waiter: “Yes, but I offered you soup.”

Us: “No, you offered us muffins and coffee to go. Which makes sense since we just finished breakfast. If you had offered us soup that would have been really weird.”

So let me explain, what you have just read is word-for-word the ridiculous Seinfeldian exchange that we had with our waiter as we were leaving Mimi’s Cafe today. This took place after my husband and I had an even more absurd 15-minute debate over how to interpret the soup advertisement on our table.

After eating a delicious traditional comfort-food breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon and buttermilk pancakes with a coffee and orange juice chaser, I noticed the attached table tent advertisement:

“$5 Mimi’s Soup To-Go! *With any $5 purchase. If we don’t suggest a large container of soup, it’s FREE!”

So, here are a few of the interpretations that we came up with based on the layout and copy before us:

1. I can have soup for $5 if I spend $5 on something else, but if the wait staff doesn’t try to upsell me on getting “the large size” version of the soup, then it’s FREE.

2. I automatically get a FREE soup to-go (normally $5) with any $5 purchase. If they don’t suggest I get “the large” then they upgrade me to the large for FREE.

3. Two separate messages altogether: a) You can buy Mimi’s Soup To-Go! at a special price of $5 if you spend $5 on something else. b) If they don’t suggest we buy a large Soup To-Go for $5, then it’s FREE.

Since my husband and I both have advertising backgrounds, we were baffled by how confusing this tiny bit of copy could be. We know from experience how many rounds of copy versions and revisions one little ad can go through before being approved for production. This cryptic ad reeks of too many people adding in their two cents on what the ad should say and once everyone’s edits are made the ad no longer makes any damn sense. Or in other words, “too many cooks in the kitchen.”

Oh and by the way, the correct meaning of the ad, as far as I can tell, is that Mimi’s is now selling $5 containers of Soup To-Go. If your wait staff doesn’t suggest you purchase some soup to-go before you start to leave, and you call them out on it, then they begrudgingly have to give you a large soup to-go for free. It’s important to note that based solely on the reaction from our waiter, if they give out too many free to-go soups they get in big trouble, or so we assume.

(I still don’t understand if $5 buys you a large or regular-sized soup to begin with, so please don’t ask.)

My advice, skip the soup and stick with the all-day breakfast menu. It’s yummy and far less confusing.

“I’m Ready for My Close-Up, Mr. DeMille”

JeffandBecky_1

To say that I was a ham when I was little is an understatement. I was playful, loud and very creative. I would dig through mom’s “rag bag” where worn out clothes found a second life as car cleaning rags, or if I discovered them first, they would be elevated to costume status in my latest stage performance. Mom’s half slips became floor-length sleeveless dresses for the princess, and old knee-high socks with the toe tips cut off became a pair of elegant long white gloves. A way-too-big pair of pants paired with dad’s funky shirt from the 60s and a random beret became an artist’s attire. You get the idea.

The costumes always dictated the story line, and although there was a loose script, most everything was improvised. The best seats in the house (the sofa) were always reserved for my parents who were our only audience. The wooden louvered doors served as our stage curtain with the foyer being backstage, and the green shag carpet as the stage itself. The play always contained several acts to allow for costume and set changes. Each sold-out performance ended with a full cast bow, a standing ovation and glowing reviews for the lead actress, writer, set designer, costume designer and director—all of which were me.

Then one day the curtain fell for the last time.

I don’t actually recall when or why this happened. Maybe I just outgrew pretend play, or maybe I started to become too insecure to be in the limelight. At some point, I became very aware that my parents were predisposed to applaud and love me no matter what I did, but the rest of the world didn’t have the same obligation. In fact, I would learn that they are very often harsh critics.

In 6th grade, the nun taught us this Bible verse (1 Corinthians 13:11), “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

At the time, I interpreted this verse as a call to grow up and become more serious, more responsible, more like my parents. It was exciting as a pubescent teen to think that I was being considered in a more mature light, and I feverishly highlighted the Bible quote. But now, as a middle-aged adult, the same quote that once inspired me, makes me a little sad. I would love to recapture the unbridled sense of play and creative freedom that I had as a child on that green shag stage. Creating from the heart and free from worry of judgement or rejection. Confident that after every performance, there will be a standing ovation—and maybe even ice cream.

Definitely, there will be ice cream. Of that, I am certain.

Mocked by Nike

My mother used to say that I spent all the time in the world getting organized to study for my exams and left little time for actual studying. And, she’s right. I would spend hours making flash cards, recopying my notes and cleaning up my work space before I would actually “get down to business”. Whereas in school my mom called this “procrastination”, as a business professional I dubbed it, “my process”.

It has taken me my whole life to establish my creative process, and it is absolutely necessary for me to accomplish anything. It is a four-phased process with the first being, “Outer Reflects Inner”. This is where I have to get everything clean and organized before I begin, so I can think clearly. I enter this initial phase with the same sense of enthusiasm and possibility that I had buying new school supplies as a child. New notebook and sketch pad? Check. Desk cleaned? Check. Full stock of favorite pens, highlighters, and Sharpies? Check. Check. And check.

The second phase, I’ve come to know as “Productive Procrastination”. This is the point where I am just starting to think about ideas surrounding the creative challenge at hand. It usually begins with a giant list of all the words associated with whatever topic I’m focussing on. In this stage there is no editing, just a complete brain dump. The goal is to be productive and fill up the blank pages before me, which gives my little OCD brain something to chug on while waiting for inspiration to hit.

These first two phases don’t take a lot of brainpower. It’s fun and a form of creative meditation. Phase 3 however requires coffee. Lots and lots of caffeinated coffee. It’s here that the “real work” begins. It’s also my favorite part of any creative project. This is where ideas start rapid fire popping up, one after another usually preceded by exclamations of, “Ooh! Quick, write this down!” and “Why didn’t I think of this before?” It’s at this point that I think I am a screaming genius.

This is immediately followed by Phase 4 where I think I am a complete poser.

This is the “Getting Down to Business” phase of actually producing something. And this is where my insecurities get the best of me. There are over 7 billion people in the world. I’m sure at least a fourth of them are creatives—writers, designers, illustrators, inventors and the like. How can I possibly create something that is uniquely mine, put it out in the world and have it be a success with that kind of competition? And even if I overcame my fears of failure and rejection, what are the chances that I could actually make a living doing it?

It is at this point that the voice in my head always utters the famous Nike slogan, “Just Do It.”

I ignore the voice and go get a burger.

I straighten up my workspace more and pour another cup of liquid caffeine. I watch trash tv followed by a bubble bath and a glass of wine and all the while I keep hearing a recorded loop in my head saying over and over again, “Just Do It.” “Just Do It.” It’s like Poe’s tell-tale heart and it won’t leave me alone until I actually do it. It’s the only way I’ve found to put an end to the incessant worry, the creative insecurities, and the mental nagging.

I guess my creative process actually has 5 phases: Prepare, Procrastinate, Create, Worry and Just Do it.

Oops, I did it again.

The Curse of Competence

When I was working in the corporate world, I posted the following quote on my office door for all to see:

“Lack of preparation on your part does NOT constitute an emergency on my part.”

It was (because I hate conflict) a passive aggressive attempt to dissuade my less than buttoned up colleagues from badgering me about helping them meet a looming deadline that they had days if not weeks to finish.

Because of my natural OCD tendencies, I always had my work finished, polished and ready to go prior to the deadline. If you asked for 3 great branding concepts, I gave you 6. If you wanted rough doodles, I’d bring in tight sketches and a mood board ready to send to the illustrator for production. Unlike grammar school P.E. class where I was always the last one to get chosen for the team, I was now in my element and I was excelling. Life was good. Until it wasn’t.

One day (after working at the same firm for 12 years) I got called into my manager’s office for a closed-door meeting. (Never a good sign.) I was told that I needed to not excel so much because my abilities were upsetting my colleagues because I was outshining them. I was dumbfounded. I repeated what was being told to me out loud because I simply couldn’t comprehend it. “You mean to tell me that you want me to do less than what I am capable of so that the under achievers can feel better about themselves?”  Silence. “So, instead of encouraging my coworkers to up their game you want me to throw mine?” Crickets.

Then just a simple, “Yes.”

That’s when I learned that I was cursed. My colleagues wanted my help to bail them out of their last-minute jams (because they were socializing when they should have been working) and my managers wanted me to downplay my skills to make the rest of the team “feel better”.

Today, I read an article about an economics professor teaching his students about the downfall of Socialism. He stated, “When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they worked for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation.”

I think the same applies to the work place, or at least advertising.