Activities, Uncategorized

Action #6: Learn Something New

Once a week, I will post a suggested activity for creating wonder in your life (mostly to get myself to do it, but I hope you’ll join me). I will include three different participation levels, so lack of time or money will be no excuse. Please share your experiences here to inspire others. Go forth and create wonder!

We often chug along in the same deep tracks day to day, hauling our burdens along with us, blind to the view because it’s so familiar. Jump the rails this week by learning something new. Try your hand at a new skill, take a class, read something outside of your normal repertoire…acquire some information that will take you down a new path and improve your life, your mental state, or at the very least, create some wonder.

Ample Time and Money: Pursue the degree you’ve always wanted. This is a big commitment, but as someone who strives to be a lifelong learner, I hope to get at least a couple more.  It has been far too long since I was in school, so this spring, I will begin the graduate program at San Jose State University to get an MLIS. Yes, I am going to become a librarian (it will take a few years since I’ll be going very part-time, but I gotta start somewhere). I think being surrounded by books and helping others to access the knowledge they seek will make a good career for me. Someday, I’d like an MFA as well. Why not? Ghandi said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever,” and that’s what I hope to do while I’m here.

Limited Resources: You don’t have to get a degree, though, to break up your workaday routine. Start with one class in something you’ve always wanted to try. Yoga. Hip Hop Dancing. Calligraphy. Creative Writing. Sausage making. Excel spreadsheets. Seriously, there is a class out there calling your name. I just started a Mandarin Chinese class at City College. I’ve taken a few conversational classes over the 8+ years I’ve known my husband, in an attempt to better communicate with his family. This time I have the added motivation of wanting to raise my son to be bilingual, so I’m also learning how to read and write. I’ve always been drawn to the beauty of Chinese characters, but was completely baffled by how anyone could actually read them. Well, I’m learning how they do it. Practice, practice, and more practice. What have you always wanted to be good at, but put off beginning? It’s never too late to start learning!

Busy and Broke: Learn while you’re doing something else. Try listening to podcasts on your commute. You can learn languages, get DIY craft instructions, or improve your cooking or grammar skills all on your way to work. Sign up at dictionary.com to learn a new word every day. Try to use it in a conversation to make it stick. Or simply look up something you’ve had a question about. Take interest in and investigate your world.

Please come back and share what you discover. I would love to hear what you’re learning about.

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Activities

What Am I Waiting For?

The creative action this week was to make something new from something old. My big goal was to make something crafty with my son. I was going to use old water bottles to make discovery jars, or empty milk cartons to make containers for crayons and markers. Or I was going to make little creatures with him out of things we found, and today while I was walking the dogs, I gathered some pine cones and eucalyptus nuggets (I’m sure that’s the scientific term for those pod things they drop) and moss and all kinds of cool things nature had discarded. And then I remembered my son is 13 months old. He is not “crafty”. Destruction is his thing, not construction. I can’t even build a tower with his blocks without him toddling over and smacking it down. He is happiest when he is hitting things with sticks, smooshing squishy food in his hands, or tearing pop-ups out of books.

I keep wanting to buy him art supplies and then I don’t because he just eats whatever he’s holding. I look at the fingerpaints longingly, and then put them down, sighing and saying, “Someday soon”. It just occurred to me that I have been projecting my wishes onto him. I have been dreaming of making art with him, and he might want to someday and he might not. It is my passion, but it may not ever be his. I need to let him be who he is, and give myself permission to play and make stuff without waiting for him to join in. Maybe it’s less scary to be silly and not produce great results if you’re playing with paint with a child. If I painted for myself, I might be disappointed if it wasn’t “good”. Oh, the burden of consciousness. If I could only be as free from that results-oriented thinking as he is. He’s sleeping now, and there are so many other things to check off my to-do list, but instead I am going to pull out the fun things I gathered and make something. Just for the fun of it. Just for me.

What are you waiting for? Go work on something you’ve been putting off. Something that will feed your soul and create wonder in your life. Go.

Activities

Action #5: Create Something New from Something Old

Once a week, I will post a suggested activity for creating wonder in your life (mostly to get myself to do it, but I hope you’ll join me). I will include three different participation levels, so lack of time or money will be no excuse. Please share your experiences here to inspire others. Go forth and create wonder!

Reinvent something that has worn out. Give new life to something on its last legs. Not only is it “green” to reuse, but it gets some creative juices flowing to come up with a new purpose for an old object instead of just tossing it.

Ample Time and Money: Do a spinoff of last week’s sensory field trip and go somewhere you can buy things to repurpose. There are amazing places where you can sift through someone else’s old stuff to make it new for you. You can find treasures at garage sales and flea markets, but you can also search for places in your area that take in people’s junk and sell it for super cheap. I can think of two off the top of my head in the Bay Area: Urban Ore and SCRAP. These are two enormous spaces filled with fantastic collections of things waiting to be reused, diamonds in the rough waiting to be polished off and reborn into something glorious. Comb through with an open mind, and be inspired. My friend just went to an Urban Ore-esque place in the Sacramento area and came home with three old frames (or were they cabinet doors?) she painted over with chalkboard paint and hung on the wall for her daughter to draw on.

Limited Resources: Maybe you own something already that would take just a little sprucing up to make new. Sometimes it doesn’t take much time or money to revive an old favorite. I have had an Ikea bench seat for about seven years that they don’t even make anymore. It had this red wool upholstery with seven years worth of stains and dog hair and rather than throw it away, I reupholstered it myself. It didn’t take long at all. I ran into Discount Fabrics one day while I had an hour to spare, drooled over all the possibilities, reveled in colors and patterns and textures, and finally picked a red and white houndstooth check. I had scissors and a staple gun and within another hour, I had what looked like a brand new bench. I had fabric left over, so I replaced some old Ikea pillow covers. I don’t own a sewing machine so I made them by hand while watching TV. They aren’t as snug as the old ones, but I was pretty proud of myself considering my serious lack of domestic skills. Look around your own house. What could you make new with something simple like a fresh coat of paint or new fabric?

Busy and Broke: You really don’t have to buy anything at all to create something new. Make art out of found objects or the contents of your own trash or recycling bin. Challenge yourself to only use what you already have and see what you can come up with. This is especially fun to do with kids, but don’t think you can’t make something cool for yourself, too. There are tons of craft sites that show you how to reuse anything from newspapers to water bottles. Check this out if you need some ideas. Or Ready Made. Or Photojojo. There is no end to great DIY sites, but if you’re busy, don’t get lost searching for ideas. Just go make stuff. And come back and share it here.

Places, Uncategorized

Stimulated yet?

Supposedly this summer is one of the coldest on record in San Francisco for the last hundred years. I am not surprised. It is dreary and gray and so foggy I had to use my windshield wipers driving around the city yesterday. Summer is never our best season, but it has been particularly gloomy this year. I don’t do well when the weather is like this, and it’s even harder when other things aren’t going so well.

I was going to self-publish my book, Animal Mashups, on a small, handmade scale, but have found the process so incredibly frustrating, I decided instead to seek a publisher or agent representation. Which most likely means heading down a long path of rejection, which I’m also not so good at.  That said,  I’m trying extra hard to keep focused on doing things that bring hope and light into my days, keeping my senses stimulated until the blessed sunshine returns (I know much of the country can’t fathom this, as it’s hot as balls everywhere else, but the grass is always greener, right?).

This week I stopped by Casa Bonampak in the Mission to get a gift for a friend, and to brighten a blah day. Everything in here is made by hand in Mexico. There are papel picados in every color for any occasion, paper flowers, Day of the Dead ephemera, Virgen de Guadalupe onesies, Spanish greeting cards, Mexican wrestler action figures and on and on. It makes me happy just walking in. If you need to brighten up a party (or your day just because), you can buy fun decor directly from their website.

Have any of you done anything to wake up those senses this week? Do tell!

Activities, Uncategorized

Action #3: Eat Well

Once a week, I will post a suggested activity for creating wonder in your life (mostly to get myself to do it, but I hope you’ll join me). I will include three different participation levels, so lack of time or money will be no excuse. Please share your experiences here to inspire others. Go forth and create wonder!

It may not seem related to creativity and wonder, but eating well is essential to taking care of yourself. You will not be able to create wonderful things if you are not well-fed. And eating something amazing can lead to surprise and awe for your tastebuds. So try it out this week. Eat well and share your experience here.

Ample Time and Money: Eat at that restaurant you have always wanted to go to. Summer Pierre writes in her book The Artist in the Office about putting off going to a certain restaurant until the day she would get the big shot book contract of her dreams. Some friends surprised her by taking her there and she realized “I didn’t have to wait to go there – my life was special occasion enough!” I used to not put a whole lot of value on food, and fancy restaurants in particular, but my husband is a big foodie.  Back when he was just my boyfriend, I saved up and surprised him with a trip to Gary Danko, one of the best restaurants in San Francisco. It was amazing! The service was like nothing I had ever experienced before by staff so professional and smooth they made you feel like royalty no matter who you were. The food was so exquisite it was the first time I realized what an art it is to create an awe-inspiring meal. The whole experience was truly a wonder we will never forget, and have since saved up and went several more times. If you have a place you’ve been dreaming of trying, make it happen now! Life is short, and it will be well worth it.

Limited Resources: Plan a dinner party where everybody makes a different part of the meal. Use fresh, local ingredients. Browse the beautiful produce at your Farmer’s Market to see what’s in season and get ideas. Check out the Slow Food website to see why this is important. Or just trust your tastebuds. Everything tastes better when it’s fresh. And even better when shared with friends. We have been doing this in the city with a group of our friends every couple of months or so. We have a rotating list of course assignments – at each meal, different people are in charge of an appetizer, a main dish, a supporting side dish, a dessert, wine, and pre- and post- dinner drinks – so no one is saddled with cooking too much of the meal and you have a different role every time.  We keep it exciting by challenging each other to make something we’ve never attempted before (no tried and true family recipes, this is all about experimentation and creativity). We just did it last night and it was incredible! Oysters three ways (not usually a big fan, but anything drenched in butter and garlic and baked with cheese on top is a hit with me), handmade pasta with the yummiest homemade pesto and marinara sauces I have ever tasted (sounds simple, but when was the last time you ate noodles that were made just minutes before you consumed them? So good!), an excellent spinach side salad with a sweet homemade vinaigrette topped with hard-boiled egg and bacon bits (mine sans the bacon, but still delish), and a dessert of orange churros in homemade vanilla ice cream served ablaze with rum! Not to mention sangria, an assortment of Spanish wines, and champagne. Decadent! Plus, I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time. It is so good for the soul to get together with friends and share a special meal. It doesn’t have to be so extravagant either. Shared grilled cheese and tomato soup is just as nice. Get your friends together this week and mangia!

Busy and Broke: So often we are rushing through our days and our meals become an afterthought. Take a moment next time you are eating to slow down and savor what you are putting in your mouth. Revel in a juicy summer peach. Notice how it feels in your mouth. Imagine how it is going to nourish your body and keep you going. Give thanks for it.

(I was going to end with a video of my son eating  a peach, but found that WordPress no longer allows you to upload videos unless you pay for a video upgrade. This, along with the discovery that I have to pay for an upgrade to be ad-free, means I am just about fed up with WordPress. Any suggestions for free blog sites that allow you to be ad-free and post videos at no cost?)



Uncategorized

Want What You Already Have

Sometimes weeks just aren’t wonderful. Don’t get me wrong…I’m sure wonder is still out there for the discovering, but sometimes I’m just not able to see it. Between a funeral, an unfortunate incident at work, setbacks in getting my book out, and just the general ennui that comes from working everyday and spending way too much time behind the wheel of a car in this city, this week has been decidedly lackluster.

I certainly haven’t had much time to explore the action I suggested this week for creating a space to wonder in. I had grand plans to make a cozy reading nook tailored for comfier family storytimes, as well as filling the shelves in our “office” (a corner of our bedroom) at my son’s level with things he could create with (in contrast with the disorganized and downright dangerous mess that’s there now, from which I am constantly having to distract him). I did get a beanbag from someone on craigslist, which turned out to be ginormous and takes up half our living room instead of being the small son-sized nook cushion I imagined. Besides making our living room look like a college dorm room, it is quite cozy. And Little Man (I should now call him Mr. Busy) and I have been having a great time rearranging the couch cushions into an obstacle course of sorts. He’s not into forts yet, but just wants to climb, climb, climb. Up and down and over and under, simply re-creating our couch has created hours of wonder for him. I bet he couldn’t be more excited if we bought an actual jungle gym.

If it were only that simple for me. I think a huge part of my discontent at the moment is thinking “if only”. If only I didn’t have to work so hard right now, if only I had the amazing dream house one of my clients has, if only I was published, if only I was more put-together/beautiful/organized/talented like some of my friends who seem to have it all figured out, blah blah blah…snap out of it! I am enough. I have all that I need. And more than I’d ever imagined I could have. It is enough. I don’t need a jungle gym, I have couch cushions. Some people don’t even have a couch. None of that really matters. My son would be happy if he just had a stick from the ground to play with. If he didn’t have a stick, he’d still have me. And I would have him. And I won’t forever, as the funeral reminded me.

So, the action I’m challenging myself with the rest of this week, or at least right this minute, is to wonder at all that I already have. Mainly, love in abundance. Hallelujah.

That said, I would love to hear if you have been able to create wondrous spaces this week. Just try not to make me jealous.

This is Mr. Busy hiding in one of our couch cushion/blanket forts while I loudly look for him. I love that he still thinks if he can’t see me, I can’t see him. Even if he’s giggling.

Some wonderful things:

Wonders Out of This World

Beauty is a Rare Thing by Ian Johnson

Activities, People, Places

Getting in the Flow

The creative action I proposed this week was to visit a museum. I thought it was an easy assignment, but when you’re busy and tired, it’s hard to squeeze something in that doesn’t feel like a necessity, isn’t it?  I made myself do it, though, and what I’m realizing more and more is that doing something that feeds me creatively is more “necessary” than most things I routinely put first in my life.

After visiting the Maira Kalman show at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and looking at the catalog of the Wayne Thiebaud show at the San Jose Museum of Art (because I’d missed the actual show, darn it), I was inspired to paint again. They are two very different artists, but two of my contemporary favorites. Kalman’s paintings were smaller than I’d imagined. Little pieces of paper with wonky objects and people and words, mostly painted in gouache with more than a little whimsy and chaos. Thiebaud’s oil paintings are on large canvases with luscious, thick layers of paint that make you want to dip your finger in and lick it off like frosting. Hers were mainly intended for books and magazines, his for museum and gallery walls, but their work has two things in common that made me want to go home and try it. They both paint objects from the everyday – cakes, gumball machines, flowers, candy, shoes – and they both do it with wild colors.

I have always wanted to be wilder than I am. I am drawn to work by artists that can really go crazy with color. Kalman is clearly influenced by Fauvist painters like Matisse. Les Fauves were “Wild Beasts” with color. Kalman is cuckoo for hot pink and orange and blending colors on the page and leaving the brush strokes visible and uneven. Thiebaud is a little more restrained in his compositions. His perspective actually makes sense. But his color is just as wild. A slice of pie with white frosting on a white dish on a white countertop will have at least a dozen neon colors competing in the shadows. As an art teacher I was always encouraging my students to experiment with color, saying “the sky isn’t just blue, what other colors have you seen in the sky?”, but when it’s my turn, I can’t put hot pink in the sky, either.

I came home the other day, about an hour earlier than usual, my son was still with my in-laws, and I forced myself not to turn on the computer or take a shower or clean the house, but to get out the paints. I would try using gouache on a small piece of paper (totally different than the large acrylic on canvas or walls I usually do). I would paint a simple object, a white one, and try to use far more colors than just white. I saw my son’s Lamby. His lovey. The stuffed toy we’d lugged all the way to Taiwan and back because he can’t sleep without it. I propped him up, and got to painting, letting go of my to do list, and there it was.

I remembered how much I loved to paint.  Since hearing this TED talk, I know the name for what I was feeling: “flow“. There is nothing else like being fully immersed in the task at hand. Time stops, “existence is temporarily suspended”, and I can enjoy just being in the moment swirling colors around and putting them down. The product isn’t that great. It’s a one hour sketch in which you can see I am still tight and cautious with my colors and composition, not as wild as I want to be, but maybe if I let myself play like that more often, I could get there. Or at least enjoy the process, which seems to be the key to happiness. For years now I’ve been operating in a mode where I  spend most of my time doing things that contribute to my family’s bottom line, where the emphasis is on the product, but it has taken much of the joy out of the process. I’m going to try to allow myself more time for this getting lost in wild wonder, making things just to make them, because that positive, energized feeling I get is indeed necessary to a worthwhile life.

I also made time to take my son for a quick visit to the Bay Area Discovery Museum. This is him experiencing flow.

I hope you make some time to create wonder and find your flow this week, whether it’s through painting, dancing, or programming software. We are all wired differently, but we all have something that moves us. Remember, if you post a comment sharing your museum experience by this Sunday night, you’ll be entered into a drawing for a copy of my book.