Nincompooperance

I love made up words. The title of this post actually came from a Berkeley Breathed comic strip. Isn’t it fascinating when a word is invented and you know instantly what it means? Creative wordplay makes our language richer.

Another favorite “word” of mine is Douchebaggery. I’m also a huge fan of Youniverse, Textpectation, Unkeyboardinated, and Sproinging.

If you Google “made up words” you’ll come up with dozens of hilarious lists, but all the words therein seem to require definitions. I prefer ones that don’t. Like unforgetaway. And snowpocalypse. And darksome. Ginormous. Sickable, and its near opposites, foodgasm and scrumpdillyicious. Nonversation.

Below are some cute made up words by kids. A good start. These creative writers have big shoes to fill. After all, Shakespeare invented more than 2,000 in his time.

Have a fantabulous day, dear reader!

Made-Up-Words-Chart

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Another Extinct Job

One of my sisters is 9 years older than me. When I was little, I watched her grow up and enter the working world. I think in her first full time job she earned a hundred dollars a week, and I thought she was rich beyond my wildest dreams. That should give you some indication of how old I am.

I always admired her so much. She was beautiful, and cool. I tried to dress like her. And she had a cool job.

The first job I remember her having that I had any understanding of whatsoever was for our local newspaper. She was a Paste-Up Artist. She went on to do that job for a variety of newspapers in three different states.

The job no longer exists. That makes it even more exotic in my memories. It’s so exotic, in fact, that it actually merits its own Wikipedia page.

Basically, she would design the layout of the paper from day to day. Sometimes she just created the ads, choosing the borders, and making the art the proper size to fit the column. Other times she designed the whole page, choosing the font, getting the set type and pasting the type in, breaking the columns in appropriate places.

I got to go see where she worked at the Orlando Sentinel a couple of times. She had her own workspace. She knew her way around. People knew her name. It was exciting. I wanted to be her.

I thought it was cool that she got to earn money from being creative. She would often bring the paper home and show me what she had done. I was very proud of her. I remember that she took pride in making all her borders meet at perfect 90 degree angles. She even let me choose the border once. It made me think of a newspaper as a thing of beauty, and my very own sister was the one to create that beauty. People looked at her work every day. She did that.

Now, of course, all that work is done on a computer, almost as an afterthought. In fact, here I sit, laying out my blog post every day.  Everything is automatically at 90 degree angles. I hope she’s proud.

Most people today probably don’t even realize that once upon a time, someone sat at a drafting table and used an exacto knife, sometimes drawing blood, and glued things together to create what they read. It’s weird to think that the job you do, the job that allows you to live and eat, the job that causes you stress and/or makes you feel glamorous for having a talent that others don’t have, might someday disappear like the dinosaurs.

paste up artist

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A Capella Science

I love that delicious point where art and science intersect. I don’t encounter it nearly enough for my liking, so when I do, I savor it. It seems as though most minds go in one direction or the other. It’s a rare one that appreciates both. That why such minds, and their creations, are priceless. Leonardo da Vinci, with his art and inventions, springs to mind.

So imagine my delight when a friend (waving at Mor) turned me on to the A Capella Science guy on Youtube. Tim Blais just got his master’s degree in physics, and he also happens to have the voice of an angel, and from what I can tell, is a consummate videographer as well. Such creativity, such profound intelligence. All in one delightful package.

Among his many creations is a song about string theory to the tune of Bohemian Rhapsody, a song about the saurian origin of birds to the tune of More Than Words, and a song about CRISPR to the tune of Mr. Sandman.

What I love most about Tim Blais is that I’m sure he’s getting people interested in science topics that they wouldn’t have previously explored. He’s making science cool. No. I take that back. Science was already cool. He’s just making a lot more of us realize it.

I think I can speak for all the creative nerds out there when I say, “Thanks, Tim!”

Tim Blais

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Humor Expires

I used to know someone who would tell the same jokes and bad puns over and over and over again. They were funny the first time or two. But as the years went by they kind of got irritating. Then I started feeling sorry for him, because I’d see the looks on people’s faces when he’d trot out the same hackneyed quips.

I guess he figured that if they worked once, it was best to stick to the tried and true. But trust me: humor has an expiration date. Especially topical humor. I’m sure there were jokes about Abraham Lincoln, for example, but who would laugh at them now? And some humor stops being socially acceptable with time. (“I beat my wife up every morning. Ha!”)

The most annoying thing is that I can still hear him telling these stupid jokes in my head when the circumstances are right. That makes me grit my teeth. It’s like I’m stuck in a bad joke feedback loop and I can’t get free no matter how hard I try.

So here’s my advice for people who like to make others laugh: change your material frequently. The funniest people have creative minds. They are in the moment. They adapt to circumstances. If you stick to one never-changing routine, people will get sick of hearing it, whether they admit it to you or not. Predictable isn’t funny. Just saying.

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Trying on Houses

I’m a writer (obviously) so I have a fertile imagination. I spend a great deal of time picturing what my life would be like if this or that person were in it, or if I lived in Paris or Milan, or if I had any number of different jobs. Like my blog description says, I have entirely too much time on my hands.

So you can guess what my brain has been doing lately. As I mentioned recently in my Plea to Seattle Home Sellers, I am house hunting. It’s kind of frustrating in this cutthroat market, but even more so when you are as prone to flights of fancy as I am.

The first step, naturally, is looking at houses on line. I read the descriptions. I look at the photographs. I check out the neighborhood on Google maps. And off I go.

I imagine how my furniture, such as it is, would look in each room. I picture the view I would have. I think about my commute. Most of all, I wonder if my dog will enjoy playing in that particular yard. Will I have to do a lot of yard work? Will I feel safe? Could my new neighbors possibly be as cool as the ones I have now? (Waving at Paula and Kevin and Jackson.) Will I enjoy peace and quiet or will I be shouting over the phone to drown out jet engines? Can I walk to the library? Before I know it, I have my entire life plotted out in my head.

And then I go to see the place. Often, it doesn’t look like the pictures. They’ve used a wide angle lens to make rooms look bigger. They’ve photoshopped the lawn to make it actually look green. They’ve neglected to mention the big blue tarp on the roof.

Bummer.

That, or it’s everything I’ve imagined, and apparently everything everyone else has imagined, too, because the bidding war has jacked the price up 60k beyond my means. And there you have it, another dream crushed. Ashes of a future in my mouth.

Sometimes being creative is a curse.

imagination

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Giving Your Artistic Baby Away

There comes a time in the creative process when you have to place your art in the hands of someone else. This happens with writers, painters, musicians, sculptors, and anyone else who forms something in his or her imagination and goes on to give it life. If you can conceive of something and make it real for others, and yet not become emotionally invested in it, you have no heart. I have yet to meet a heartless artist.

One of the best ways to feel immortal is to create something that will exist long after you’re gone. In that way, art is like procreation. In essence, your art is your baby.

Unfortunately, as a general rule, artists don’t get to spend years with their work before having to experience empty nest syndrome. I’m not simply talking about that moment when you sell your work and assume you’ll never see it again. I mean that point in the process where you have to rely on others. Editors, producers, managers, publicists, gallery owners. They all have a profound impact on the “life” of your “child.”

You are forced to loosen your grip. You have to accept the fact that you are no longer in complete control. Personally, I find this to be scary.

Once I had finished deciding what I wanted to have included in my first anthology, it then was handed over to the photographer, the editor, the cover designer… a whole host of people with their own unique visions of the final product. Yes, I still had influence. My opinions were sought out. And of course I had veto power. But relinquishing total control is extremely unsettling.

It took me quite some time to realize that that part of the process had plunged me into a low-grade depression. I wasn’t my best self at that point. And the irony is that I had total faith in my collaborators. I chose them because I respected their work. But it was still my baby that I was handing over. That is bound to have an emotional impact.

But like most parents, I’ve come to look upon my baby, now all grown up, and feel pride. I may not have any real control over the impact, or lack thereof, that my book has in the world anymore, but I really do feel that I built it on solid foundations. I gave it the best possible start. I watch it from a distance and I marvel.

And now I can’t wait to make another one.

baby

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Structure

An interesting conversation with my friend Amy recently made me realize that there seem to be two types of people in this world: Those who thrive on structure and those who chafe when forced to be structured. I fall firmly in the former camp. I like planning things. I flourish with boundaries. If I don’t know what to expect it makes me extremely uncomfortable.

Want to go and do something with me? Give me a couple days’ notice so I can get used to the idea. I’m not a spur of the moment type of person. And for the love of all things holy, do not show up at my door unannounced. Not if you want me to be genuinely happy to see you.

I like having a steady job with a steady paycheck and benefits. I admire anyone who can make a living as an entrepreneur or a freelancer, but it would give me ulcers. Never knowing how much money was coming in from one week to the next would freak me out.

Most of the people I knew in Florida were structured types, too. After decades of that, it sort of became my default expectation. But now I’m in Seattle, which seems to be a more freewheeling, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type of place. I’m making more and more friends who are free spirits, and it’s been absolutely delightful and inspiring. It’s also been a learning experience.

I struggle to remember that my way isn’t the only way. These are just two different angles by which to approach the world. Naturally, I have a comfort zone, but this does not mean that it’s the “right” zone. It’s just my zone.

I’m loving the enthusiasm of the folks in the other camp. But I’m not wild about the lack of follow through. I love how they feed my creative side, and they also teach me not to take myself so freakin’ seriously. But it would be nice if they could show up on time. They bring me joy. They also frustrate the hell out of me.

When I collaborate with non-structured individuals, I have to learn to be more flexible, and that is growth for me. I’m discovering that there’s more than one way to reach a goal. My well-worn path isn’t the only one. In fact, the view might just be spectacular if I took another route every now and then.

And when I see my friends trying to adapt to my need for structure by giving me time frames and being open to my planning, for example, it means a great deal to me. True friends accommodate each other, and by doing so, everyone grows. So a HUGE hug to all my twisty-bendy friends out there! Thanks for bearing with me, too. It goes both ways.

Agility

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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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Creative Juices

Recently I started attending a pottery class at my local community college. I’m sure I’ll be blogging more about this once I have some finished products to show you, but today my mind is focused on creativity in general.

Some people are more creative than others, of course, but if you have even the tiniest creative bone in your body, it’s very important that you let it out to play now and then. I know this because I’ve been seriously neglecting mine of late, and this pottery class is sort of setting that part of me free. I feel as though I can breathe again. I feel whole and healthy.

Unfortunately, with our ever-shrinking educational budgets, the arts are taking a heavy hit in our schools today. At least here in America, this is teaching us that art is a luxury, not a necessity. It’s something that you go to look at in a museum if you have nothing better to do. I would argue that this could not be further from the truth. Art is what connects us all. Art is the symbolic representation of our like minds. Even Paleolithic Man knew this. At a time when mere survival was surely paramount, these people were drawing on the walls of Chauvet Cave in modern day France. That says a lot.

There is something inside human beings, something basic, that impels us to create, to produce something unique, to put our stamp upon the world. Whether it be through writing or building or painting or cooking or any other thing that makes you who you are, that’s your creativity. That’s what sets you apart. We all need this affirmation that we count, we stand out, we matter.

Even if you just doodle on a notepad while talking on the phone, create something new today. Add to the beauty and distinction of the world. Let those creative juices flow!

cave-stags

This is one of my favorites of the many masterpieces in Chauvet Cave.

“You Have a Book in You.”

Since about the age of 8 I’ve been told I should be a writer. Indeed, I’ve had a few articles published, but nothing for pay. And of course there’s this blog, which is a creative outlet that I have found I can no longer do without.

In every job I’ve had I seem to eventually wash up on the shores of writer-land. Either I get volunteered to write the company newsletter or I’m asked to put together a contract proposal on the side. Currently I’ve been approached to join a committee and get involved in writing training procedures. Don’t get me wrong. I love doing these things. It’s just a constant source of amusement that I seem to always land in this place in spite of the fact that I honestly don’t see myself consciously paddling my boat in this direction. It’s as if I’m in some sort of writers’ Gulf Stream that carries me along without my having to navigate.

I’ve been told I should write for a living. To that I say, “Pish!” I like to eat and pay my bills. Many people have said I should write a book, and maybe I will someday, but there are quite a few hurdles I’d have to jump over before I could reach that goal. First of all, it’s easier to be struck by lightning than it is to be published these days. People are just not buying books like they used to. And even if you get published, the big publishing houses don’t seem to be promoting their authors that much anymore, unless you’re one of their all-stars.

Self-publish? Maybe. But then you have to be a phenomenal PR person, and persuasion has never been my strong suit. It’s hard to get the public’s attention, and that is a skill set that I don’t seem to have.

Also, anyone can put out an e-book or self-publish. Yes, there are a lot of good writers who do this, but you have to wade through an ocean of crap to find them, and most readers aren’t willing to do so. Believe me, I know several people who hare published and the product they have put out is an embarrassment to the written word. So there’s a stigma.

But the main roadblock to my writing a full length book is my utter lack of follow through. If you could only see my cluttered house you’d know that to be true. How could I write a novel when I can’t even be bothered to balance my checkbook?

And then there’s the confidence thing. I can’t imagine that I have enough to say on any one topic that I could hold someone’s interest for 300 pages. I mean, seriously, who am I? Yes, interesting things have happened in my life, and I’d like to think that I have a unique perspective. But when I contemplate trying to hold forth on that perspective for any length of time, I get no pictures.

Maybe that’s why this blog appeals to me so much. Each day I can write about something new, and I don’t have to plan that far ahead. I don’t have to develop a plot or come up with a story arc. I just get to do what I like to do, which is write. Just because you love to do something and have a knack for it doesn’t mean you have to twist it into a money making machine.

If I had all the money and time in the world, I’d pursue a Masters of Fine Arts degree. I think that would be fun and exciting and I’m sure I’d learn a great deal from it. But I already have 3 degrees that have gotten me nowhere in life. I’m still paying off the last one, and I’m loathe to add a fourth to my wall of shame.

Maybe I do have a book in me. Maybe not. Maybe writer-land is actually a chain of islands, and I’ve been washing up on one of the small ones, like Molokai, instead of the big island of Hawaii. Who knows where the current will take me next. But I have to say, if it turns out to be my final destination,  Molokai isn’t such a bad place to be.

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