Monthly Archives: November 2013

Beethoven, the Flash Mob

Being in a flash mob is a major bucket list item for me. If you are organizing a flash mob anywhere near Chicago, please sign me up.

Until I make my flash mob debut, I will get my kicks watching them. They make people stop and think. They make people rethink what’s normal. They bring people together to admire how abnormal occurrences can charm, disturb, question, and delight.

I also get my kicks from Beethoven…or at least, my classical music kicks. I will blog more about this in the future, but there is just something about him. When I was younger, I remember listening to my piano teacher talk about him with such rapture, and I would sit there wondering what I was missing. I didn’t get it. Then one day it just clicked. Something about being older, perhaps, or knowing more about love, maybe. Still chewing on that one.

Now put two and two together: Beethoven+Flash mob = tear-jerking, symphonic public spectacle. Enjoy!

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George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

I posted this proclamation a few years ago but thought, in honor of tomorrow, it might be good to see it again. What are you thankful for?

General Thanksgiving

By the PRESIDENT of the United States Of America

A PROCLAMATION


WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANKSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and assign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed;– for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish Constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;– for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge;– and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions;– to enable us all, whether in publick or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us); and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.

(signed) G. Washington

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L’chaim!

A friend linked to this video yesterday, and I was so inspired by the quality ham in this video I had to share it with you.

Let’s break down why this idea is so wonderful, shall we?

1. Quality Ham. And yes, I am aware this description is probably not kosher, even in metaphor. But the fact remains: when people get really hammy and don’t sell out or show fear of being embarrassed, everyone loves it. More than this, it makes anything possible, even two different families coming together for a choreographed musical number, which, as you will see in #2 is the second miracle.

2. Two becoming one.  In today’s weddings, we usually only focus on the couple getting married; that is, assuming the groom gets any attention at all.  Our individualistic culture has forgotten how marriages bind together two families, and even when we do remember, “In-laws” have a bad rap.  How many families would think to celebrate in such an epic, united, musical demonstration? Forget that…how many families would sit on the same side of a reception, let alone sing and dance together about how much they have to be thankful for? The sincerity of their joy comes through in this video in an inspiring eruption of Jewish toasts.

3. Reminds me of one of my proudest moments. Albeit, a personal reason, but a good one. I don’t like to brag, so I will be vague: my friends and I might have maybe staged a similar musical flash mob, perhaps at my wedding dinner, likely for maybe my husband. Nothing like this scale (we were at a public restaurant), but it did involve a ukulele and a kazoo.  This video and other displays of creativity run amok fill me with joy and remind me I’m not alone in my insatiable appetite for zaniness.

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Stimuli for Stimuli: The Accidental Creative

For my birthday last year my brilliant husband, knowing I get my kicks from being creative and thinking about creativity, gave me Todd Henry’s The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant At A Moment’s Notice. The book in many ways has revolutionized how I think about creativity, and has also served as a large impetus for restarting this blog.

The audience for the book is creative professionals, or anyone who creates value from their ideas. This covers a wide number of professions and interests, including many people who might not realize how creative their work really is (hence the “accidental”). For me, the first three chapters describing the challenges Creatives face in the workplace read like my professional memoir. Naturally, Henry’s acknowledgement of these challenges affirmed my concerns and consoled my frustrations. But the book’s real impact is in its heavily practical advice for how we can enhance creative output through becoming more intentional with our creative habits.

My copy of the book is now full of underlined passages and notes in the margin, but today I want to share with you specifically on the chapter on of stimuli, or the raw materials that stimulate thought. This includes the books, TV, articles, films, experiences, or anything else that provides us with new information we will need to filter. Henry says, “This is essentially how the creative process works—it’s the connection of multiple preexisting patterns into solutions. One pathway to creating more effectively and consistently is to be strategic about our inputs.” Henry challenges the reader to pay attention to the information flowing through our heads as we may not realize how much influence that information has.  “The more random the information you absorb, the more effort is required to process it and utilize it in your creative work.” If we want to make brilliant connections that bridge different spheres of ideas, we need to monitor our ‘diet’ of stimuli. Just like keeping a healthy diet with what we eat, each of us needs to determine a healthy sources of stimuli.  High quality stimuli includes that which is challenging, relevant, and diverse. Henry goes on to detail why you should create a study plan to keep your stimuli diet healthy, why you should create a space in your schedule for regular study, and why you should take ample notes.

The goal of all of this is to convert information to wisdom, and from wisdom, to creative insight. “There is a significant difference between information and wisdom,” he says, “In a culture that is obsessed with sound bites and snack-sized media, wisdom is increasingly taking a backseat to perpetual stimulation. The danger in this is that we stop thinking, ‘what’s best?’ and instead worry only about ‘what’s next?’.” With all of this stimuli, Henry warns of the consequences of failing to process that information: “If you don’t cultivate insights from what you take in, then the value of stimuli in your life decreases dramatically. Taking good notes on your observations, insights, and experiences with a reliable thought-capture system prevents them from disappearing into the ether.”

A thought capture system, I wondered. Naturally, a notebook is the first stage. But I would need to be held accountable to intentionally observing things around me, regularly writing about what I see, read, or experience, and writing clearly.  Each of these, my moleskin notebook, as much as it has been a trusty companion, cannot demand of me. My moleskin likewise cannot give feedback or begin a dialogue. An audience, however, can give me all of these things. Why not then blog about creative insights? Best case scenario, readers respond and begin a conversation about the things that inspire them; worst case, I can thank my readers for reminding me to be intentional and regular about processing my stimuli.  Hopefully the blog will at least entertain readers and encourage them to be more curious about the fascinating world in which we live. Henry says, “You need to regularly seek experiences that will enlighten you, help you see the world in new ways, and open you to new ways of thinking.”

My hope for this blog is that as I share about my own mind stretching, it stretches readers as well, and encourages them to go out and get some stretching in on their own. But we need not think of this as a painful exercise. It often looks much more like play. Henry quotes Stuart Brown, author of Play: “Play is the basis of all art, games, books, sports, movies, fashion, fun, and wonder—in short, the basis of what we think of as civilization. Play is the vital essence of life. It is what makes life lively.”

So readers, let’s lead lively lives. Let’s also pay attention to what makes them so.

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Feel Inside, and Inspiration Like That

A riddle for you: What’s dry, slightly awkward, and sounds like a Kiwi?  You guessed it!  Flight of the Conchords, New Zealand’s fourth most popular folk parody duo. For many years now have I followed the wiles of Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, through their YouTube viral videos, their television show, and Bret’s Oscar Winning Fame.  And Figwit. But a few months ago, they outdid themselves.

The video below might be old news to you.  Personally I’ve watched it maybe fifty times.  But it came to mind while I was thinking about creativity recently. It is one of the most delightful, inspirational, brilliant ways to raise money I’ve ever seen. As of August, according to one source, the video had raised $1.3 million for the children.

Why does this video warm the cockles of my heart so?  Three reasons.

1. It speaks to the inner-child.  Our respective inner-children are simply brilliant and brilliantly simple. We should all listen to them more, even if children don’t always make sense.

2. Bret and Jemaine address the kids like they have something worth saying.  This does a number of things. First, it treats them with dignity and instills them with a sense of self-worth; second, it lets them share with us their distinctive insights; last, it might have hilarious consequences.

3. It blows every traditional method of fundraising out of the water, and I absolutely love it. A catchy tune, kids’ reasoning, and a good cause. Get my checkbook.

See for yourself. Warning: you might have a hard time getting the song out of your head.

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Why I photograph

DSC_1865A while back someone asked me why I pursue photography. The short answer, I said, is easy: photography is worship.

The longer answer, while essentially the same as the short, has to do not only with worshiping God for what he’s done, but to track what He’s doing and see where He’s been.  Photography is God-hunting.

Or perhaps I should say, photography is like going on a scavenger hunt God set up.  God leaves clues for us, we pick them up. The secret is that, at least for me, the clues is easier to see through a camera. The camera helps me focus, literally and spiritually. It helps me magnify and get close while simultaneously stepping back for the big picture. While some might see the frames of a photograph limiting, as with many creative pursuits, boundaries can sometimes be helpful. There is something about looking through a camera, or framing a painting, or anchoring a sculpture, that can help us focus without getting lost in the vastness of possibility. I could take a picture of anything, but why would I? I need something to draw me in. Conversely, I could photograph ordinary things and make them look phenomenal via Instagram or Photoshop (depending how committed I feel), but why would I?  I want the photograph to document God’s clue, just as I found it–same light, same color, same moment chronicled.

I photograph to treasure and share with others what God decided to show me, whether I saw it on the other side of the world or in my own living room. I want to look at the clues from different angles to see how they change in light, shadow, and significance. I can come close and back up, see what it means to appreciate the leaf and the tree at the same time. I want to have a conversation with God that wordlessly draws us together in a focused calm, living in the moment.  I want to sit in the tension between the nature that I can understand and the supernature that I can’t (yet). My camera is an inductive tool; with my camera, I can observe my surroundings, refocus to interpret, and shoot to apply.

Here are some recent European Scavenger Hunts. Enjoy!

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Longing for Neighborhood

Halloween in Rogers ParkThursday was Halloween. I got a big kick out of walking home from the gym and seeing all the kiddies in their costumes and rain gear (it was raining all day, poor dears), going from house to house bidding the candy-bearing adults an anticipatory “Trick or treat!” The adults would then respond with a hearty “Oh my goodness! Look at your costumes!” The exchange having been made, the little ones in their little voices would thank the candy-bearers, hike up their princess skirts, and move on to the next house.

I laughed to myself as I watched this ritual.  Recently I tried and failed to explain Halloween to my Swedish friends.  How exactly Halloween got to look the way it did, well, I really have to look that up one day.  But as odd as it might seem to an foreigner, Halloween is wonderful.  I was never much into all the ghosts and goblins and other such spooky specter stuff, but Halloween is a fantastic opportunity for both creativity and community. I love how Halloween brings people out into the neighborhood for the simple pleasure of doing something more than a little silly, and to do it together.

A few weeks ago I went to a conference where one of the speakers put a picture of a big, pretty house up on the screen. He asked us to look at the house and figure out what was wrong with it. Something was missing. Josh, my husband, knew what it was right away.  It was a feature he hopes to have in our future home(s). The answer was a front porch. Increasingly in America, the speaker told us, houses are being built without front porches, a trend that would be unheard of even as recently as fifty years ago.  Front porches have for generations been such a critical space in the life of the neighborhood. It’s where conversations happen. It’s where lemonade is served. It’s where the welcome mat goes.  Today, only people who live in older houses and older neighborhoods enjoy this now vestigial feature of community interaction.

Depending where you live, neighbors don’t always act like neighbors; more often, we all retreat into our own little Kingdoms within our own homes.  Interactions with neighbors happen only by accident if at all.  It’s a sad trend, but at least on Halloween, we see a glimpse of what it could look like to walk down the street, greet neighbors, and invite each other in for treats.   Though I live in an apartment, I am fortunate enough to live in an older neighborhood in Chicago (Rogers Park, the greatest neighborhood in the whole city–more on why this is true later) that has lots of front porches. Thursday night I saw house after house with people camped out on their front porches waiting to welcome the kiddos. It was a beautiful thing. Now, you might argue that this is too rosy a view of city neighborhood living. Sure, there are crazy people out there who put razor blades in apples. Sure, there is gang activity occasionally in my neighborhood. But this does not diminish all the good that is present in an engaged community. What I saw on Halloween inspired me and gave me hope that the neighborhood, with all of its potential to bring diverse people together, lives on.

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Irony in the Hollow

In honor of this spooky day, here is a story from a previous Halloween that still makes me giggle. Enjoy!

Learning to Whistle

So you know how it’s hard to describe irony without using an example? Well…I have a doozey! It’s so wonderful I could burst.

First, a little background. Hold your horses. Ha ha, horses. You will see why that’s funny in a minute.

I live in Sleepy Hollow. That’s right, the real Sleepy Hollow. As in Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, as in Ichabod Crane, Brom Bones, and a headless Hessian soldier roaming the woods by the cemetery at night looking for a head to replace his lost one. I like to freak people out by telling them I live two blocks from the graveyard, which is true. When people come to visit, I show them the Old Dutch Church, the bridge and other significant places from the legend. I tell them that my high school’s mascot was The Horseman—and we were the mighty, mighty Horsemen, might I…

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