Tag Archives: change

More Imagination for Christmas, Please

When my oldest friend was overseas volunteering, she called me, frustrated, and said one of the most profound things she ever said to me in our long friendship: “The people we are trying to help have too little imagination. They can’t imagine life to be better than what they’ve experienced, and so they can’t understand why we want to bring change.”

I’ve thought about this often. Too little imagination seems to be at the core of many disagreements, especially these days. I thought about it again in hearing our pastor’s sermon from this past Sunday, titled ‘Prophetic Imagination,’ in which he talked about Advent as a time to employ our imaginations to better comprehend the wild and wonderful (and sometimes terrifying) possibilities of life with God. Of course, Advent is not the only time to do this; how can we muster any hope for the future unless we imagine possibilities beyond our present circumstances?

As we end this strange, tumultuous year, I thought it would be good to draw some attention to this idea. The season of perpetual hopeAs Catherine O’Hara’s character in Home Alone vociferates, “THIS IS CHRISTMAS! THE SEASON OF PERPETUAL HOPE!”

We start by imagining possibilities bigger and better than the outcomes we fear.

Sound a little naive? Like a Sesame Street dictum? Imagination gets a bad rap with grownups, as if the things we imagine have no value, or if those things can never be real because they came out of our heads. But we know this is ridiculous. Inventors imagine inventions before they become household necessities; chefs imagine tastes before serving them to guests. Imagination is the seedling of robust creative thought. If we consider imagination to be a basic life-skill, one that enables us to think beyond ourselves and the status quo, more imagination might just be the ticket to solving quite a few problems. This is true for both our personal lives and our communal lives.

Personally, as I close out this year, and reflect on what went well, what I wish went differently, and what I hope for with next year, I remember listening to a speaker at a vocational seminar ask a bold question:

If you could do anything, knowing that you couldn’t fail, what would you do?

The audacity of this question still hits me. It requires imaginative thought I rarely allow myself to experience. So much in life feels limiting. So much seems to emphasize the many reasons why I can’t do one thing or another, whether it is lack of credentials or experience, or physical limitations, or family responsibilities, or simply a lack of self-esteem. Heaping these limitations on our psyches enforces apathetic habits, and eventually we cease to even concoct hopes and plans, let alone live them out. But so many of these obstacles are imaginary, which begs the question: If our imaginations can function so well for things we won’t do, what would happen if we reapplied our imaginations toward all of the things we could do? It’s a little scary to think about, like discovering a hidden superpower.

What will you do with this superpower? What does it mean to have it? For me, it means recognizing that, with creativity, patience, and elbow grease, I can probably do a lot more than I let myself believe. Given some time and focus to generate alternatives, I can figure out how to make money working from home with a new baby, or maybe of even start a new business, or launch new innovative initiatives to help our city, or inspire others to join a team, or produce useful, viral content, or live uninhibited by doubt…who knows! Maybe none of this will happen, but what we can know for sure is that they definitely won’t happen if I don’t imagine the possibilities in the first place. 

As a community, we likewise can employ imaginations toward building a more harmonious 2017. 2016, we can agree, has been marred by nasty and widespread divisions which, it could be argued, come down to a failure to imagine life in the shoes of another. How much effort have we put into creatively asking questions of people outside our spheres? How often, or not, have we sought common ground, rather than dismiss fellow humans for viewpoints different than our own? Again, this might sound Sesame-esque, but these fundamentals have clearly been neglected.

A friend of mine recently asked me how to fix the country. I told him it would mean a return to nuance. By this, I meant that we as a population need to rediscover habits we’ve lost, namely appreciating that most situations are more complex than surface level, recognizing that social media soundbites aren’t helping anyone, and most importantly, deferring judgment given the likelihood that we might just be wrong, or at least ill-informed. All of these habits will require sufficient imagination to see a world in the future free, or at least partially so, from the fear-mongering and hate-flinging reality in which we live.

So is this too much to ask? I don’t think so. Imagination costs nothing. We all have the resource available, whether or not we exercise it regularly. So let’s take up the challenge, and make our days a little more merry and bright.

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Sojourn into Story, Part II: What is Story?

This is Part II of a series, Sojourn into Story. See Part I to find out why stories make the world go round.

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It’s a Wonderful Life, one of the greatest stories ever told on film. This past Christmas, I had friends from Sweden visiting who had never seen it. When we came out of the theater they said, “I don’t know how I’ve lived this long without seeing this movie.”

What is Story? Now there is a dangerous question.

Stories surround us, but when we stop to think about it, Story is very difficult to define. It is like asking ‘What is love?’ We all know it when we experience it (at least I hope we do), but defining it gets tricky. Story, like Love, is a word we throw around casually, and in doing so it has lost much of its weight. Just as we say we “love going to the movies” and we “love our kids,” a “story” can refer to something minor or to something incredibly profound.

So how do we pursue such an elusive question? It might help to discuss what story is not. Stories are not merely a sequence of events. For example, I heard a talk given at a networking event in which the speaker shared about something from his life. In an attempt to inspire us to believe in the value of grit and hard work, he said, “I want to tell you a story. When I was in high school we had a really prestigious drum band and I wanted to be part of it, so I practiced a lot and got in.” Good for you, guy. When he gave this account, it rubbed me the wrong way, and I was definitely not inspired. Later that day I understood why: what he shared wasn’t a story. Stories are more powerful than that. They connect the storyteller to our empathy and to our curiosity. They do this through portrayal of conflict, specifically conflicts that inhibit the characters from getting what they desire. How the characters make their choices regarding this conflict, and how those choices change the outcome of events, is what makes a story. In the case of the successful drummer, his reference would have become a story if he had been injured, or if he had to choose between rehearsal and something else he wanted, or of his parents disapproved of drumming. He lacked something to overcome, and the result is a disconnect with his audience. As Robert McKee says in Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting, ‘True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure – the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature.’

In other words, all stories are about something going wrong. Think about it: George Bailey is always stopped from leaving Bedford Falls. Snow White’s stepmother tries to kill her. Elizabeth Bennet is forced to endure the company of a man she hates. Harry Potter can’t live while Voldemort survives. Whether the conflict is within or without the character, Story is not Story without it. A Story, therefore, is a sequence of changes a character undergoes as a result of the choices he or she makes in the face of conflict. If the Evil Queen had been ambivalent about Snow White, we wouldn’t have a story, as there would be neither conflict nor choices nor change. If Voldemort hadn’t killed Harry’s parents or tried to kill him in every book, Harry would have grown up as a normal wizard boy, unscarred and, well, boring. As Patrick Moreau of Stillmotion Studios says in his Ted Talk:

Every story needs a person with a strong desire, as well as conflict. Good Conflict creates questions, and humans are naturally driven to find answers to questions we care about. We could preach facts all day, but in the end we need an emotional connection to the problem, which is much better provided by a story.

In short, conflicts, choices, and changes are the ingredients of Story that tap into our souls, that connect us with the characters in an empathetic bond, and that leave us desperately curious about how the story will end.

 

Stay tuned for the next installment of Sojourn into Story. 🙂

 

 

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How to Move to a New City: 6 Lessons after 1 Year In Nashville

This week marks one year of living in Nashville. Wow, even just typing that feels surreal.

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For both of us, this is the first time we moved somewhere where we knew no one and had to start entirely from scratch. We had to find a new church, a new group of friends, new work opportunities, new grocery stores, new restaurants, new coffee shops, etc. On the one hand, the changes have been invigorating. My inner explorer treasures each little gem whether it is a great farmers market or a fun hike or a tasty cappuccino. On the other hand, the truth–so easy to forget– about moving to a new place is that it is exhausting and emotional. Both of us feel like the move was the right decision, but we can’t say we’ve loved every minute. We have, in fact, felt frustrated a lot of the time.

Despite the ups and downs of this new city roller coaster, I can’t deny I learned a lot. With this blog I try to chronicle tidbits about creativity and learning, so in that vein, here are some lessons learned which I hope fortify you through your own migrations:

  1. Say Yes. 
    Remember that Jim Carey movie, Yes Man? The gist is this guy wants to improve his outlook on life so some happiness guru tells him to say yes to everything he is offered. He ends up living a whirlwind life of adventure and risk. Though he eventually realizes that “no” sometimes is the best word, “Yes” still opens doors. When in a new place, around new people, saying “Yes” more often, or at least slightly more than your instincts tell you, can be healthy. Not everything you try will change your life, but you never know. One of the best examples of this from my last year in Nashville was trying out the Design Thinking meet-up group. Last fall, the group met at 7:30am, and I am NO morning person. I was very ready to blow it off. After all, I wasn’t convinced it would be “my kind of thing.” But that attitude, I knew, would never help me meet new people or find more work gigs, so I wrenched myself out of bed and made my way across town. Since that first “Yes,” I’ve been an eager attendee every month, relishing the creativity exercises and group interactions. The monthly event has also enhanced my professional network more than any other conduit, and even led to my gig with Edible Nashville (Thanks, Colin!). ‘Yes’ works.
  2. Discomfort is temporary. Treat challenges like a scavenger hunt.
    Puzzles are fun. Traffic, loneliness, and paying $4 for a cup of tea are not. When presented with frustrations, we have two choices: we can wallow or we can get creative. Unfortunately, I must confess I have done a lot of the former. Trust me, it doesn’t pay. Therefore, treat each aspect of discomfort as something you can overcome. It is all temporary; it’s only a matter of time until you discover a faster route, find a friendlier group of people, or locate a reasonably-priced cafe.
  3. Space Matters: hang up some pictures.
    Because of the Nashville population boom, we really struggled to find a decent place to live when we first moved here last year. God provided with our first apartment; it was clean, well located, and relatively cheap. Even so, we knew we would only be there for a little while because of its small size and lack of sunlight. Knowing it was temporary, we could easily have gone for the whole lease without hanging pictures or buying a table. But we didn’t, and in retrospect, I’m really glad. The transition to Nashville was hard enough on its own. By hanging up some pictures and purchasing comfortable, functional furniture, we achieved a sanctuary. Cramped as it may have been, we made a home, and it did wonders for our troubled spirits.
  4. Food matters: find some comfort food to make you feel at home
    If you are a glutton like me, this goes without saying. But I know there are people in the world who can forget to eat a meal, and while I can’t fathom such a thing, these people might also require reminding that some good food really stimulates warm fuzzy feelings about a new place. See last week’s post on Top 5 Nashville Food Moments.
  5. Start it yourself. 
    If there is something you want to happen but isn’t happening, you might just have to do it yourself. One of our biggest frustrations from our first few months in Nashville was the difficulty in finding a small group Bible study. I was shocked to visit church after church and not be invited to a single group. Some people looked at us like we were weird for asking. (NASHVILLE CHURCHES: step up your game! Honestly.) When we finally landed at the church we now attend, it turned out that there were almost 50 people in their 20s-30s who likewise felt disenfranchised and lacked community. I told them flat out that the best way to make friends was through a weekly study. I felt like Angelica from Rugrats demanding that the games go a certain way. “My house, this wednesday, be there and I will make cake.” Twelve people showed up the first week and all of them have been coming ever since. Clearly, we weren’t the only ones with this need, so it really paid off to get the ball rolling myself.
  6. Ask Questions
    Curiosity makes the world go round. You can’t expect to improve your attitude until you become more curious about where you are, how things work, and how you can participate. Where are your favorite places to eat in Nashville? Have you been to the full moon blue grass jam? Where are the good hiking spots? Where do I find a decently-priced couch in this town? Is there a Harold’s Chicken Shack in Nashville? YES THERE IS! Good things come from asking questions.

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