Monthly Archives: December 2014

Have yourself a merry little Scav Hunt!

Christmas has so much potential for creativity! This year, my brother and sister whipped out a gloriously creative Capo family tradition that goes way, way back: Christmas morning Scavenger Hunts!

Scavenger hunts for gifts serve a practical purpose: sometimes the size or shape of gifts, however well wrapped, will ruin the mystery. Imagine seeing the tree on Christmas morning: Oh, what could that bicycle-shaped thing be? A Bowling Ball? (This is a joke my Dad would make. In fact, each year he pretend-guesses something is a bowling ball. This year my siblings even put bets on what it would be). Our family has always been big on the anticipation and surprise in our gift giving, so the scavenger hunts have proven very useful over the years.

Our mother was the original master of this creative art. The gist of it was that she would hide an inconveniently-shaped present elsewhere in the house along with a series of goofy, often rhyming clues that led us this way and that until we finally arrived at our surprise. Over the years, my siblings and I have taken this art form to new heights. I once sent my sister on a scav hunt that involved kayaking across a small bay in the Hudson River. My brother once sent a friend of his on a Shawshank Redemption-themed scavenger hunt that ended with a box buried at the foot of a lone tree in the middle of a field. My masterpiece was a birthday scav hunt for Josh in downtown Chicago that involved his coworker, a florist, a barista, a friend dressed like a spy, Civil War history, Eddie Izzard jokes, a train ride, and fried chicken on a roof.

This year, my brother surprised us with a new TV. Because he knew I would know what it was as soon as it came through the door he didn’t bring it in. Instead, he and my sister concocted a much better reveal. As our gift-giving drew to a close, they handed me an envelope. Inside, I found this:

DSC_0634MERRY KRAMPUS 

Looks like someone’s KRAMPING your style…

If you wish to have the Krampus curse reversed? 

I’ll need a certain potion first:

The cow as white as Christmas, 

The coat as red as poinsettias, 

The hair as brown as chestnuts. 

The sandal as pure as gold. 

Bring me these before the chime of midnight, 

and you shall have, I guarantee, 

a present as perfect as present can be! 

Ok, let me break this down for you:

A) This Christmas day, the movie version of Into the Woods hit theaters. My sister and I know every word of that musical, so she knew I would recognize the theme right away. These scav hunt instructions mirror lines from the play where the main characters are forced to find ingredients of a potion that will reverse a witch’s curse.

B) Krampus, apparently, is the evil counterpart to Santa Clause in German tradition. This devil-like creature punishes children who have misbehaved. (Apparently German children really do have to watch out!) My siblings and I only learned of Krampus this year, hence the reference.

C) The instructions indicate that there are four clues to find:

1) The Cow as White as Christmas. I didn’t get this one right away. Not until someone said, “Grab the Cow,” did I know to look under the milk jug. This referenced a ridiculous line Bing Crosby speaks in the movie White Christmas where instead of saying, “Bring the milk,” like a normal person, he says “Grab the Cow,” because he’s Bing frickin’ Crosby. (See video at 1:00)

2) The coat as Red as poinsettias. Easy. My sister’s coat pocket.

3) The Hair as Brown as Chestnuts. Strange. My sister had stuffed the clue in her own hair. DSC_0623

4) The sandal as pure as gold. Apparently, the nice conversation I had with my brother in the kitchen was just a ruse to distract me while my sister excavated my closet.

Each of these clues yielded different parts of the final clue:

1) Into the Woods…
2) We have to see…
3) What’s waiting in…
4) Your CR-V!

Sure enough, there was the enormous box in the back of my car. My dad was especially proud because apparently this whole thing took my siblings 20 minutes. My family rocks!

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Photo Friday: Christmas Craft-straganza!

When I was growing up we had a magnet that read, “Martha Stewart doesn’t live here.” We placed it proudly on the front of our fridge for all to see. It really was telling. I think it was even cracked. Our family excelled in a messy, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of artistic, i.e. not the hospitable, step-by-step craftiness in which women like Martha excel. We made gak and pirate ship birthday cakes and caricatured politician-carved pumpkins. Our house always had multiple projects going; few of them were ever finished, let alone with Martha’s trademark flourishes. And we liked it that way.

This Christmas, however, I fear I don’t deserve that magnet any more. I actually managed to get so crafty this year that I surprised myself. I made my own Christmas stockings. I made three varieties of homemade marshmallows and three varieties of chocolate bark. I cut out my christmas cookies into stars and trees, a novelty in my house where previous years have yielded Mr. T snowmen, T-Rexes, and giant squid cookies.

So oh well. I suppose a bit of craftiness won’t hurt. For Photo Friday, I’m gonna show off my creations. Merry Christmas from Tennessee, y’all!

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Garfield Produce: Round 2!

It’s been an honor and a lot of fun to work on these videos for Garfield Produce, Chicago’s own indoor hydroponic farm. In this latest video, we see the story of how Garfield’s founders sought to turn the neighborhood’s “liabilities” (vacant spaces, abandoned buildings, and unemployed people) into assets for a sustainable business.

Enjoy!

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Photo Friday: The Christmas Menu

They say that women have a biological trigger that releases chemicals to help them forget the pain of childbirth. Sometimes I wonder if that trigger gets pulled at other times as well. For instance, every December I become incredibly, if not dangerously, ambitious about creating homemade Christmas treats. Two years ago I stretched myself so far that I was sick for 3 weeks after the holidays. But it is now mid-December, and the mini-amnesia has set in. I am determined: CHRISTMAS WILL AND ALWAYS SHALL BE DELICIOUS SO HELP ME!

This year, as if we weren’t already going to outdo ourselves, my family will be coming to spend Christmas in Nashville with us. Time to roll up the sleeves and get serious. Our goal? THE FEAST OF THE SEVEN FISHES. And linzer cookies with jam. And homemade marshmallows. And 3 kinds of Christmas chocolate bark. I will let you know how it goes.

But for now, I wanted to share with you pictures from previous years’ Christmas feasts and treats to whet your appetite. I hope these inspire you to likewise get cracking and get creative in the kitchen!

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The Surf

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The Turf

 

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multicolored roasted potatoes

 

 

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All about da sprouts

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The Spread

 

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For the Neighbors

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That’s Right. We made a friggin GOOSE.

 

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Borrowing from the Swiss…Cheese Fondue!

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Extra points for anyone who LIGHTS STUFF ON FIRE! (This was English pudding, fyi)

 

 

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The best creative lesson I ever learned (and keep learning!)

or not…

Let’s face it: Artists can be divas. They can be really annoying. You know, the “I just can’t work like this” types. The ones who believe the answer to everything is to sigh and say, “I just need to express myself.”

Really?

The funny thing is that self-expression art rarely gains the impact it seeks with its audience. It often happens that expressing oneself  proves entirely counterproductive. Over and over again I see the same lesson emerging in creative enterprises, and it often sounds like a wake-up call: Artists, it’s not about you.  

It’s a hard lesson to get. After all, our creativity emerges out of our own experiences. Our work reflects our characters, and this is good. But our fingerprints on the work aren’t enough to satisfy the ever-present, artist-plaguing question audiences everywhere ask: WHY SHOULD I CARE? If we want our creative work–whether it is writing, painting, music, acting, web design, advertising, or film–to communicate effectively, we need to make it audience-focused.

I was first confronted with this truth at school. The best course I took in college was called Little Red Schoolhouse: Academic and Professional Writing. On the first day of the class we learned its unofficial name: The Fascist School of Writing. We all giggled when the professor said it. But he looked back sternly and said that if we thought writing was about expressing our feelings then we could leave. This class, he continued, would teach us how to manipulate our readers into agreeing with us. It sounded harsh at first, but over time we came to understand what he meant: that to serve our readers, we had to persuade them on their terms.

Technically, the course was supposed to focus on how to write specifically for professional and academic audiences. I have found however that the broader concepts taught in this class apply in many more contexts. For example, we communicate all day, but do our messages get across as effectively as we like? Subconsciously, we all know that we can’t talk to our spouse the same way we talk to our boss or the same way we talk to our neighbor’s kid. But why then do we still have so much trouble making our minds known? The LRS class shows that when we want to communicate a specific idea we need to keep our intended audience, and how they think, ever in our minds lest our message be muddled. Good communication, and by extension, good creative work, depends on OUR ability (i.e. NOT our audience’s) to connect our ideas to the audience’s context.

This lesson has reemerged for me countless times since college. For instance, when I worked in marketing, I remembered this lesson almost every day. After all, I was trying to capture the attention of people who didn’t want to be bothered. I was trying to convince them of an idea they had many reasons to ignore. The solution? I had to get inside their heads, empathize with their context, and speak directly to it. I couldn’t depend on people stepping out of their own busyness and expend effort to understand my message. I had to figure out their most pressing needs and prove that my organization (a) understood those needs and (b) could solve them.

Most recently this lesson appeared in a book I’ve been reading to learn more about storytelling. Throughout Directing the Story by Francis Glebas, the author addresses a curious question:  What do film directors direct? We might think that they direct the actors, or the effects, or the crew. But Glebas demonstrates that directors direct the audience’s attention. The director must innately understand what it takes for their audience to get ‘lost’ in the story. Poor writing, inconsistencies, distracting backgrounds, and inappropriate music all can distract the audience and destroy the illusion. Directors are responsible for overcoming obstacles that create confusion and boredom for the audience and, if possible, create something that attracts and entertains. Glebas quotes Pratkanis and Aronson, authors of Age of Propaganda, to drive this point home:

In many ways, [people] are cognitive misers, forever trying to conserve cognitive energy… According to the information-processing models, a persuasive message must successfully pass through a series of stages. First, the message must attract the recipient’s attention; ignored messages will have  little persuasive impact. Second, the arguments in the message must be understood and comprehended. Third, the recipient must learn the arguments contained in the message and come to accept them as true; the task of the advertiser and other persuaders is to teach arguments supportive to the cause, so that these arguments will come easily to mind at the appropriate time and place. Finally, the recipient of the messages acts on this learned knowledge when there is an incentive to do so; a persuasive message is learned, accepted, and acted upon if it is rewarding to do so. 

Notice in this description where the burden of attraction and convincing falls: on the persuaders. Human cognitive tendencies demand that writers, storytellers, advertisers, and artists need to think, not about their own states of mind, but about those of the audience. Creative work needs to make clear the benefit for the audience. If this is done successfully, audiences are not told what to believe or how to experience art, but are instead guided along an effortless path toward entertainment and enlightenment.

Now, how to perfect this craft…that is another lesson, one I expect will take a lifetime to grasp. But as we strive for mastery, the first step is recognizing that our creative work starts with our audience, not with ourselves.

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Photo Friday: the Nashville edition

DSC_0411We’ve been living in Nashville for almost two months now. People who know about our great migration inevitably ask, “How are you liking Nashville?” And inevitably, they get this reaction from me:

“Ahh….well….err….IIIIIieeeeaahhh…. ummm”….shrug. “It’s different.” Not a very creative answer, I know.

DSC_0413The fact is the jury is still out on the Nashville question. It’s not the kind of question that I can answer succinctly. Nashville has many pros and cons. Consider the coffee shops. I am currently drinking a yummy caramel coffee concoction. PRO. But, I paid $5 for it. CON. But, this coffee shop gives their profits towards building wells in third world countries. PRO. But, I had to drive here, because Nashvillians have to drive everywhere. CON. But, there is usually parking everywhere. PRO. Except if you are downtown. CON. But, we don’t have to cross through downtown like you do in Chicago. PRO. But this is true of most people who live here, so everywhere else is even more congested. CON. But at least many of the smaller roads are pretty and tree-lined. PRO. But we’ve been driving a lot because nothing is near anything else because this city was planned–we are convinced–by people who took all the things a city needs, shook them up like Yatzee dice, and threw them out onto a map. MAJOR CON.

The list goes on. In short, “How are you liking Nashville?” equals a question fraught with conflict.

However, one thing I can say without reservation is that this area has a magnificently beautiful Autumn. Here are a few shots I took a couple years ago while visiting Nashville in late October. This year was just as beautiful.

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