Vandalism

Barely a day goes by without some young fool putting graffiti on my drawbridge. I’ve also noticed that if something is breakable and it’s accessible to the public, it will be broken. Signs are defaced. Stickers appear everywhere. Human beings seem to love to trash things.

I’ve never understood this instinct to demolish and destroy. It makes me angry. I don’t see the point of it.

When discussing it with a wise friend of mine recently, he said that he thought it was people’s way of making their mark. Everyone wants to be able to say, “I was here.” “I existed.”

Okay, I can understand having that instinct. It’s why I blog. It’s why people have children. It’s why we create art. Everyone wants to have a legacy. We want to have something to show for having lived on this planet.

When it comes to youth, I suspect they feel as though they will never have an impact, and therefore this petty destruction is their only outlet. They don’t realize that they’ll grow up. They don’t comprehend that there will be other opportunities, but that some of those opportunities will take hard work and sacrifice. Graffiti, on the other hand, happens right here, right now.

I think it’s really important that we teach young people to be positively creative. We should give them projects and outlets for their energy. They should be taught to build their communities. They need to learn to problem solve, not problem create. And dare I say it? The worst, absolute worst educational trend is that of defunding art and music programs in schools.

Producing beauty is essential for everyone who wants to make a mark on this world. Otherwise, ugliness will prevail.

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Shaping Your Life

Until very recently, I thought of my life as being linear. Birth, growth, death… aren’t we all on that inevitable path? But that makes life sound way too much like a treadmill. (All you’d have to do is look at me once and you’d know that I hate treadmills.)

Now I think of life as being three dimensional. That allows room for a lot more options. It more accurately reflects the diversity of the thousands of lives being lived on this planet. We each shape our lives. We are architects. We are sculptors.

We can be smooth and calm and uniform. We can be rigid and boxy and rough. We can zig and zag and branch off in wild directions. We can embrace. We can repel. We can circle back upon ourselves, or we can shoot forward like an arrow. We can take inspiration from others, or we can set out on our own. We can be steady and solid, or we can wobble unpredictably.

Don’t restrict yourself to a linear life, unless that’s what you truly want in your heart of hearts. Create something beautiful. Only allow others to influence that creation if you can look upon them and see the beauty within. (And don’t forget to thank those who help you shape your life in a positive way.)

When all is said and done, your life will be what you make of it. So make it special.

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Dance, Dance, Dance

Okay, I confess. One of my guilty pleasures is the show Dancing with the Stars. I just love watching people do something well that I can’t do at all. (Oh, I can boogie with the best of ‘em, but formally dance? Not me. I can’t even walk in heels.)

There’s just something so wonderful about being able to express your emotions with your body. It’s as if dancers project their joy from the very tips of their fingers and toes. It’s beautiful to see.

At the end of this most recent season, I impulse-bought myself a ticket to their live tour, something I’ve wanted to do for years, so several days ago I got to experience that joy firsthand. I was rather star struck, because I feel like I’ve gotten to know all these people, and now here I was, breathing the same air! It made me feel like I was back in junior high school or something.

I was really glad that I brought binoculars, though, because I was in the nosebleed seats, and half the time I wouldn’t have known who was dancing without their help. But once I was able to suss out who was who, I could put the binoculars down and just enjoy the big picture. I left there feeling so content.

It’s magical to bear witness to such glorious artistry. We all have so much potential. There’s just so much opportunity for magnificence. I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel like good really is capable of triumph.

Here are some of my blurry photos from the tour. What with all the light and motion, my camera wasn’t exactly up to the task, but you get the idea.

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Happy Accidents and More

Recently, I was walking through downtown Seattle. It was raining. (Big shock, right?) It was dusk, and the sky was getting more grey by the second. I was with a group of people, and none of them wanted to slow down when we came across this amazing sculpture. I was forced to take this picture on the fly.

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When I got home and looked at it, I was really disappointed by how blurry it was. But then I looked at it more closely. I decided that it looked like an impressionist painting. Now, the more I look at it, the better I like it.

I had a similar experience back in 2005. I was driving through Colorado, and came upon a gorgeous sunset. The problem was, I was on a highway with many cars behind me, so I couldn’t stop to take the picture. This is what happens when you snap a picture out the window of a moving car, all while trying not to get yourself killed.

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When I showed these to my friend Jennifer Dropkin, she shared one of her own photos. She was taking a picture of a row of books, and her finger slipped. I think this is lovely!

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Bob Ross would have called these photos “Happy Accidents,” and I tend to agree.

My friend Linda Cooke then showed me this photo, which she did intentionally, but says it was a lot harder to do than she thought it would be.

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This, in turn, made me remember another photo I took, again, purely by accident. I was on the bow of a boat, trying to take a photo of Seattle’s city skyline. I like how it turned out, even if it wasn’t what I was going for.

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I have another friend, Martin Hunt, who intentionally manipulates his photos, and they come out amazing. Here are just a few of them, which I’ve shared with his permission:

Check out more of his photography here.

I guess the lesson here is this: Whether or not the things you create turn out as you originally planned, or whether you decide to make even more of them than anyone else would originally have seen, there’s a lot of potential for creativity and beauty in this world.

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Creativity is NOT a Luxury

As more and more public schools cut back on their art, theater, and music programs, I wonder about the deleterious effect this will have on our society. Without creativity, we would all be living in soul-sucking communist era apartment blocks. It would be nearly impossible to express new ideas. We would have relatively few ways to interpret the world.

If we had no way to express our originality, we wouldn’t be able to distinguish ourselves from everyone else. There would be nothing to read, there would be no forms of entertainment. The internet would disappear, as would television and radio. We’d all be wearing the same clothes. All our food would taste the same. We would have to completely rethink our concept of beauty. Nothing would be unique or at all special.

We wouldn’t be able to come up with elaborate excuses to avoid blame. Criminals would become entirely predictable. Politics certainly wouldn’t exist. These might be the only upsides to this situation.

As we go through life, we rely on creativity, often without realizing it. In fact, creativity is what allows us to thrive. It is our ability to transcend, progress, invent, and solve. It allows us to have dreams. It is our reason for being. We cut back on it at our peril.

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My dear friend Amy. Creativity personified.

The Zen of the Pottery Wheel

I took a pottery class this semester at the local community college, and I loved it. It went by way too fast. I did pick up some pottery skills, but I’m using the word “skill” in its very broadest sense here. At best, I can be considered part of the primitive school. But the most important thing is that I had a wonderful time.

I also learned a great deal about things way beyond pottery. I wasn’t expecting that. I am now convinced that pottery should be classified not only as art, but also as therapy, philosophy, physical education, and management. All these things come into play in the studio.

Here are a few things I learned that I can apply to life in general:

  • If everyone wedged clay every day, there would be peace on earth. In order to get the air bubbles out of clay so you work won’t explode in the kiln, you have to pound it, throw it, basically beat it within an inch of its life. There’s no greater stress reducer. You can’t possibly feel frustrated once you’ve wedged some clay.
  • Everything comes out better when you remember to breathe. When nothing is going right with my pottery, if I do a quick body check, I usually discover that I’m tense and holding my breath. Breathing lets the energy flow through your body. Breathing is good.
  • Listen to your inner voice. This one I’ll probably always struggle with, but I’ve found that when my little voice goes, “time to stop messing with that pot,” it is, in fact, time to stop messing with that pot. Any more attempts at perfection will most likely lead to disaster, like accidentally caving in a wall or getting the clay so wet it turns into a glob.
  • Be patient with yourself. Try as you might, you’re not always going to have a good day. Some days are for ash trays, other days are for vases. And that’s okay.
  • Effort isn’t always obvious. One thing the movie Ghost did not make clear is that throwing pots on a pottery wheel actually takes a lot more muscle than you’d think! So next time you buy something from a potter, don’t grouse at the price. Pottery is hard work.
  • One man’s crap is another man’s masterpiece. It always amazed me that some of the most talented potters in the class were the most critical of their own work. I would kill to be able to produce some of the things they were throwing away. And conversely, some of the stuff I created could only be loved by me, and I’m fine with that.
  • It’s important to be creative. Pottery class fed my soul. It allowed me to exercise my imagination. It gave me something to be proud of. It gave me a sense of satisfaction that I can’t experience anywhere else.
  • Take a break. I would often get so deep in the zone that hours would pass by without my realizing it. And those were hours when my 50 year old body remained in basically the exact same position. I’d sometimes get so stiff I could barely make it to my car. Not good. It’s important to stand up and walk around every now and then.
  • Know when you’ve been beaten. Like I said above, you’re not going to always have a good day. Sometimes you’re going to have a really horrible day. Times like that, it’s probably better to walk away and try again tomorrow, rather than continuing to make mud pies while you gnash your teeth. That’s not quitting. That’s knowing yourself and being realistic.
  • It’s okay for things to turn out differently than expected. I’ve yet to have a pot turn out exactly the way I planned. At first that really disappointed me. But once I learned to let go of the steering wheel a little bit, I let in the ability to be delightfully surprised now and then, and that’s a great feeling.
  • It’s easier to talk to people when you can find some common ground. I actually took this class in the hopes of making friends that I could hang out with outside of class. That didn’t happen, unfortunately, although I met a lot of people I would have loved that to happen with. But I made some in class friends with whom I had some really amazing conversations. Art is a great ice breaker. It allows people to be different yet have a launch point from which to communicate. It also reminded me that I’m likable, and that kept the loneliness at bay. That has value, too.
  • Sometimes you don’t know best. Silly me. I would start out with an idea of how I wanted a pot to look, but clay often has a mind of its own. The harder I tried to force it to my will, the more it would resist, and that was an exercise in futility. I’m still working on this, but I’ve discovered that if you listen to the clay, it will often guide you toward something amazing.
  • Differences are beautiful. Every single student in that class had different ideas, different styles, different quirks. I was constantly in awe of what got produced in that studio. I could never have produced their stuff, and they could never have produced mine. Every single thing was one of a kind. Isn’t that amazing?
  • Keep track of things. At various times I’d have about 10 different projects going at once. Some were works in progress. Some were drying and waiting to be fired in the kiln. Some were waiting to be glazed. Some were cooling. It would be easy to lose track of everything. It’s important to take notes. It’s even more important to pay attention.
  • People can be really, really cool in a variety of ways. There were a lot of cool people in that class. My professor was the coolest one of all. I want to be her when I grow up. But everyone was special. Everyone had qualities that I admired. Everyone touched me in a different way. Something about the atmosphere there allowed people to be free to be themselves, and I love that.

If you ever get a chance to take a class that allows you to spread your wings in the creative realm, I highly recommend it!

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“You’re never too old to live your dreams.”

Thank you, Diana Nyad, for reminding us all of this the other day, when you swam for about 53 hours from Cuba to Florida at the age of 64.

This amazing feat reminded me of the many other people I have heard of who have done incredible things at an advanced age.

  • At my last graduation ceremony, one of my fellow students was in his 70’s.
  • Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 69.
  • Mavis Lindgren ran her first marathon at age 70.
  • An ex-boyfriend’s 80 year old mother recently went white water rafting down the Colorado River.
  • At age 61, and weighing only 99 pounds, Gandhi walked almost 200 miles to protest the British salt tax.
  • My boyfriend’s delightful uncle, in his 70’s, takes advanced math correspondence courses and taught himself how to do stained glass and pottery. He now has his own art studio in his garage.
  • As a Learn to Read volunteer, I have encountered many seniors who have chosen to learn to read for the first time in their lives.
  • Grandma Moses, the renowned American folk artist, did not begin to paint seriously until she was 76. One of her paintings eventually sold for 1.2 million dollars.
  • Reverend Scott Alexander, who lead the church I used to attend, rode his bike 3,300 miles across the country last summer to raise $50,000 and raise awareness about hunger. He is 63 years old.
  • Colonel Sanders was 66 when he started Kentucky Fried Chicken.
  • Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa when he was 76, and that’s after suffering in prison for 26 years of his life.
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder, of “Little House on the Prairie” fame, did not publish her first book until she was 64, and continued to do so until she was 76.

So when Diana Nyad walked out of the ocean on shaky legs, sunburned, exhausted, and with her mouth full of sores from the salt water, and said, “You’re never too old to live your dreams,” she wasn’t kidding. And to make it even more amazing, she had tried, and failed, 4 times before.

Never give up. If there’s something you want to do, like travel or learn or create, don’t let your age stand in your way. Use Diana Nyad’s mantra: Find a way.

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Diana Nyad. [Image credit: nytimes.com]