It’s time for recess

I have so many different sorts of things I could tell you about today, but I decided it’s time for us to sit upon the ground and tell joyful stories in the manner of children.

Why? Because adults often forget that they are allowed to have fun, even though it’s one of the chief joys of the universe. Fun is one of the things that sees you through, and allows you to be creative.

Today I’m going to share some fun and inspiring things from the land of children for you all. You don’t have to have children or even be fond of them. This is for you. I promise.

  • Sherlock does Sesame Street: Have you ever seen intense actor Benedict Cumberbatch in his role as the famous sleuth? He is the model of focus, but even he can let loose with the Muppets.
  • Harold and the Purple Crayon: There’s no need to get all your wisdom from Oprah. All you need is this kid’s classic and you’ll realize that you control your own destiny and you can design it as you go. It’s short but wise beyond its pages. You’ll even get to see a moose eat pie.
  • Neil Gaiman reading Green Eggs and HamBoth Neil Gaiman and Dr. Seuss were absent the day the memo went out that adults are supposed to be serious all the time. Listen to this for a smile.

You may feel you are too responsible to possibly take a moment out for this story time. I would argue that it would be irresponsible for you to skip it. The nap and the glass of juice afterwards are optional, but I’d recommend those, too. You’ll feel better after a little recess. I promise.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
275. When was the last time you took some time for a little play? Take some as soon as possible. Follow the links, blow some bubbles, or create your own magic. How was it? When are you going to do it again?

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To boldly go

Today is the 47th anniversary of the Star Trek universe. Like many, I grew up with the show and it’s an important cultural reference point for me. It’s also been on my mind lately because I just discovered Star Trek: Enterprise via Netflix. I don’t know how I missed this, but I am enjoying being able to watch new Trek.

We learn a lot from our parents, our faiths, and our friends but we can also learn a lot from the programming we watch and the books we read. I think it’s important to keep this in mind and it’s one of the reasons I don’t watch shows that focus on violent amoral people. I’ve learned a lot from Star Trek that I use in my day-to-day life. For example:

  • Never give up. Aliens may be attacking, a virus is about to kill everyone on board, and the plasma warp core is beyond repair. You’ve got to keep going because there is a solution and you will find it if you stay calm and work cooperatively with those around you. Sometimes you don’t make it–especially if you’re wearing a red shirt–but that is the exception and not the rule.
  • Respect other cultures. They may seem odd; they may seem rude; I may not understand them but I try to remember that they live by a different set of rules. Although I don’t often have the funds to travel, I have lived in several different regions in the United States. I grew up in New York and then moved to Minnesota where I experienced massive culture shock. The same thing happened when I moved to Seattle. I interact with many different cultures here that frustrate me: skateboard kids, druggies, and aggressive homeless to name a few. I try to remember that their needs and culture are different than mine. It helps.
  • Risks are a part of life. If you don’t boldly go, you’ll miss out on a lot of new experiences and contacts. I’m not about to try extreme sports or jump out of a plane but I do throw myself at the universe with joyful abandon. I moved to Seattle without knowing anyone here and I committed before even visiting because I couldn’t afford a trip first. It’s sometimes rocky, but I have met many people I now consider my family. I’ve learned a lot from my adventures.

I hope the Star Trek franchise keeps going strong so that others can benefit from the many positive messages that it has to offer. Besides, I love it, and joy is as good a justification as any. Thank you, Gene Roddenberry and the many people who have made the series happen. May it live long and prosper.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
258. What are you watching and reading? Is it contributing positively to your life? Consider doing a little decluttering if it’s not. If you are a fan of Trek, what has it contributed to your life? Feel free to share in the comments. I’d love to hear what you have to say.

New perspectives

It’s been hot and sunny all week in Seattle, and those of us with allergies have been a bit of a cranky lot. Sinus headaches do not pair well with stifling heat (or with anything, really). While there are some here who enjoy high temperatures and bright sun, many of us move here to enjoy the damp grey beauty of the place.

I have this new allergy app on my phone and I like it because I can look to see what the levels are for various allergens in my city. Since I’ve been feeling awful this week and the levels were very high for “dust and dander”, I now know that’s something my body doesn’t really care for. It’s a helpful diagnostic tool.

I can’t do much about the city of Seattle, but I’ve spent the weekend vacuuming up extra dust from my apartment. I know my lungs will thank me. I’ve also been rearranging my furniture and moving other things around. It’s nice to get a new perspective on things. I always feel cheered when I move things about a bit.  It’s cheaper than retail therapy and often even more beneficial.

I also decided to indulge myself by doing a fun little project. I have a lot of books. I love them, but I’m sometimes distressed by the visual clutter they can represent, even on a bookcase. I’ve been toying with the idea of arranging them by color to cut down on the clutter, and today I rearranged the cookbooks and all the books in one room. I don’t have so many that it will make it really hard to find what I need, and just looking at them now feels very calming. It may seem odd to other people, but I figure I have to live here, so I should pick a system that works for me. Besides, I look at them often as a whole and only need to find particular volumes a few times a day. I couldn’t be more excited by the change.

Home is a work in progress and I’m going to keep adapting it to be the best sanctuary it can be. Small changes at home can make big changes in my mood. Here’s hoping for a cool and restful week. I’ve done my part.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
252. How might you change the energy of your home? How long has it been since you’ve rearranged the furniture or put up new artwork? Perhaps it’s time to see things from a new perspective.

Recharge

I work from home, and it’s tempting to work all the time. We’ve all been told that more effort leads to more results—your nose should be to the grindstone at all times if you want to succeed. Recent studies have challenged this notion, and I’ve found that if I take time to recharge my batteries I can get more done in less time. My creativity is better, my mood is better, and I get more done with less effort.

Friday I recharged by going to museums. I went to the Henry art museum. The main gallery was closed for installation, but I was able to see some smaller exhibits. It was the usual mixture—some of it I really liked, but other things seemed a bit too ethereal to grasp. I look forward to going back and seeing the main gallery—the upcoming show looks incredible. I also really enjoyed the architecture—the building has some lovely vaulting.

My friend and I had time, so next we toured the Burke Museum which focuses on Natural History. I really liked it. I’m not that excited by dinosaurs, and we passed those quickly, but they’ve got a lot of incredible exhibits of cultural artifacts from the local Native American tribes and Polynesia. I want to go back with a sketchbook one of these days.

Our final stop was at the Suzzallo Library on the University of Washington campus. This was my favorite part of the day—the library reminded me of the New York Public Library. We went to the reading room which is a cathedral of books. It looks like a church and has long lighted tables and a discernible silence. You don’t have to be a student to go, and I plan to make more pilgrimages there to sit and work in the gorgeous quiet.

I have a membership that got me into the museums, so the whole outing was accomplished with nothing more than bus fare. This was the first time I had visited any of these places, and I left full of energy and ideas. I know it was worth the time it took me to take a break from my labors, and I look forward to my next outings. Now I just have to decide where to go.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
230. Do you need to recharge your batteries? Where can you go in your town that you haven’t been? It’s time to make a date with yourself or a friend—find new places to explore or visit old favorites. You’ll be glad you did.

Coming out of exile

I recently saw the excellent movie “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” which is based on an amazing book by Stephen Chobsky. Like many creative types, I identified with the main characters, and like these characters I have long identified with the concept of the Island of Misfit Toys.

The American myth says that we are a nation of free spirits and independent thinkers, but join any workplace or school and you’ll see it’s often not how things really work. Most institutions run on the notion of conformity. Hives of workers in gray fabric boxes follow standard operating procedure documents in all aspects of their lives, and some of the workplace chitchat is no less formulaic. Some of these same workers do not like the situation, but they understand that they have to blend in to survive. Others fall through the cracks because they cannot blend no matter how hard they try.

In social situations, too, creative people are often seen as oddballs. Many people love to go to the theater, the art museum, the movies, and to read novels, but tell them you’re a writer or an artist and you may as well have declared that you want to be the Princess of Mars. Unless you’re someone like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling—once you have been declared successful, you are allowed a little latitude, as if you’re the strange relative who made good despite the odds.

Creative people long for each other’s company, and often self-segregate into isolated groupings where they can be themselves, however weird everyone else may deem them to be. Often this means they take less pay and short themselves on creature comforts so that they can be with others whom they feel will understand their impulses to create, to express themselves, to be silly. I’ve had many such jobs over the years, and although I struggled with the low pay I was grateful for the company of others with whom I felt simpatico.

I don’t regret the decisions I made, but I’ve also decided to get off the Island of Misfit Toys. As “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” also suggests, “we accept the love we think we deserve.” We’ve been given the message for years that we don’t fit in, and that if we want to be happy we need to find community amongst others of our own kind, often in marginalized low-paid positions. Sometimes we even suppress our personalities and try to fit in. I think we need to come out of the creativity closet and be ourselves wherever we are. We deserve to be paid well, and we shouldn’t have to pretend to be people that we’re not. Let’s be the independent people we’re rumored to be. Let’s brighten up the universe around us and allow everyone to express their creativity without fear of mockery. Let’s come out of exile.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
227. Examine your interactions with others. Do you marginalize yourself? Do you accept less love from the universe than you think you deserve? What can you do to change things?

 

Cracking spines in pursuit of pleasure

Invariably, a word geek like me always turns the discussion back to books. I’ve read quite a number of lovely ones lately, and these gems have reminded me of other great reads I’d like to share.

I just read a book called Dreaming of Gwen Stefani by Evan Mandery. This was one of those novels I hadn’t heard of on  my own. I picked it up at the library just because it looked interesting. I was not disappointed. If you’re not familiar with Gwen Stefani, she’s the very attractive lead singer of a band called No Doubt. This book is about one man’s obsession with meeting her. Although he works at a hot dog stand, the instant he first sees one of her videos, he knows that he and Gwen are soul mates. I loved this book. It was well-written, and truly unusual. I also love the odd diversions the book takes into science. This is a somewhat odd thing for me to like, because I’m not much interested in science, but this work contained the kind of science that fascinates even a liberal arts major like me.

This book reminded me of another work I loved that you may not yet have discovered. Comedian Steve Martin is also a playwright and novelist, and I love his writing. He wrote the book Shopgirl, on which the movie was based. That’s a great book, but even better is The Pleasure of My Company which features another strange and wonderful narrator like the narrator in the Gwen Stefani book.

Friends turn me onto other books, and I’ve recently finished reading Wicked and Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire. I didn’t think I’d like these books. I love the movie The Wizard of Oz, but had never been a fan of the original books, so stories set in Oz could not attract me simply by their subject matter. That said, I loved these books. They explore the hidden back story of many of the major characters in The Wizard of Oz. I’m hooked, and I’m on the waiting list for the new one. I hope this author keeps writing. If he does, I’ll keep reading. I’m always looking for new books to cuddle up with. Perhaps you’ll discover some of these fun reads for yourself.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

215. If these books intrigue you, seek them out and read them. What books do you love? Tell people about them (or post a comment to this blog) so that others can read your finds, too.

Rest in peace

While I was busy with my novel writing project, two authors I really like died. Tony Hillerman wrote mysteries about the Navajos, and Studs Terkel wrote oral histories of everyday people. I’ll miss them both.

I love mysteries, and I particularly enjoy the kind where I gain intimacy with cultures I haven’t personally experienced. As I read all of Tony Hillerman’s works, I learned about Navajo culture and belief. I also learned about the struggles of combining tradition with the cultures outside of the reservation, and some of the issues it raises. If I hadn’t read these mysteries, I would have never learned about some of the traditional myths of this culture. I also feel that I have a greater appreciation for the landscape of the Southwest as seen by this writer who lived and died there. I am grateful for his body of work.

Studs Terkel introduced me to other people I’ve never myself met. Through their own words, in his book Working, he told me about how a construction worker feels when he passes a building he’s worked on. I heard from prostitutes, pharmacists, and priests. This book is a godsend to a curious person who is interested in all people, and it’s also useful as a writing reference. I talk to everyone everywhere I go, but I met a lot of characters through this book that I’d probably never run across in other ways. I’ve read the book many times and highly recommend it.

These authors may seem very different from one another, but I believe that they share an appreciation for detail, the patience to look past the obvious and to reach into the heart of things where you can see the essence of people and cultures. More than that, they share a gift for conveying this essence so that the readers can see it. They showed me little pieces of how things are in places I might never get to experience. For that I am thankful, and I am glad that I had the experience of finding their works. I aspire to do the same with my writing, and if I succeed at all, it is in some part because I learned at their feet. I am glad that they will live on through their writing, and I highly recommend these books to you if you have not yet read them.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

203. What subject, culture, or person do you know intimately? How can you share those details with others so that there can be greater understanding and appreciation? As you work on this challenge, remember to be respectful in the details you reveal.