2015 Word – Create

House Taken at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia
Winter Scene at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia

Creativity should be an everyday experience.
Creativity should be as common as breathing.
We breathe, therefore, we create.
– Erwin Raphael McManus in the book, “The Artisan Soul”

2015 – Create!

For 2015, my word is CREATE.  Not nurture (like nurturing my creativity theme last October), practice (everything I’ve learned) or even creativity.  No, the word is create.

I took a number of classes last year – on photography, journaling, and being creative.  I took them to learn and have fun, both of which I accomplished.

But the time has come to just create.  Not to worry whether I’ve learned the techniques good enough or if there’s another something to learn.  It’s time to use it all and show it off to the world.  To not be intimidated as to who might be better than me, whether I’m worthy enough, or whether I’m even good enough.

I need to sharpen my focus, cut back on the classes and possibly other activities.  To create – whether writing up my blog, taking pictures or post processing pictures.  To create – keeping my journals, telling my stories, and writing up my observations each day.  To create – in each and every facet of my life, every day, every way that I can.

How will I do this?

Continue reading “2015 Word – Create”

Pears With Textures

 

Pears Stylized With Topaz Effects
Pears Stylized With Topaz Effects

For the final assignment in my close-up photography class, we were to take a photograph of something with four different textures.  After a great deal of experimentation, I ended up four fairly boring pictures of a pear that we had.  So, to make it more appealing to me, I ran it through Topaz Effects and got the above.  What it looks like is a high school art assignment!

The textures (clockwise from the upper left) were a white towel, outdoor table for the Big Green Egg, a blue hand towel, and a wooden cutting board.

Here’s the original:

Pears As Originally Taken
Pears As Originally Taken

Once again, my failures ran amuck.  I was trying to do tea and chocolates, but due to the weather this morning, I had to do it inside.  The lighting was too dim and the focus is all soft.

I took my teapot and chocolate outside and did a final shoot on the deck.  It was unfortunately at dog level and as I checked the LCD screen of my camera, the miniature pinscher came over and started nibbling on the chocolates.  He was quite indignant that I wouldn’t share with him!  I, on the other hand, didn’t have quite enough to shoot again nor did I have many left to taste for myself later.  Thankfully he didn’t actually swallow any before I caught him, as chocolate can be fatal to dogs.

The chocolate should be sharply focused and it's not.
This was taken on the kitchen floor.

The picture above is one of the ones that didn’t turn out.  The chocolate should be sharply focused and it’s not.  However, it’s probably good enough I can do something with Topaz Labs Effects and salvage it.  I think I’d try taking the picture again when the lighting is better, using a better depth of field so the chocolate and teapot are in focus, and tripod mounting my camera so I can use a lower ISO and still have a crisp focus to it.

I’ve enjoyed the class and certainly got out of my comfort zone to try different things!  Some of it was frustrating, but there’s no other way to learn except by doing.

31 Days Wrap-Up

Gazebo at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, Richmond, Virginia
Gazebo at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, Richmond, Virginia

October was an eventful month, from work having the number one tax return deadline of the year (October 15) to traveling with my daughter to Maine for a long weekend.  In-between all of that, I blogged daily for 31 Days.

Back on October 1, I set out my expectations and reasons for doing it:

  • To focus me on my photography and writing
  • To nurture and strengthen my creativity
  • To continue with the routine of doing something every night to nurture my creativity
I wanted to share it:
  • To encourage my readers (friends) to nurture their own creativity, whatever it is
  • To give my readers (friends) things to consider for their own application to their creative processes
  • To practice nurturing myself with evidence of it
  • To give me a body of work for my own future reference and encouragement

Those things all happened!  Not surprisingly though, it wasn’t quite as I expected.

  • It was harder than I thought it would be.  When I re-read my posts from the month, it looks so easy, but I really struggled some nights to get out what I wanted to say.  Some of my topics were complicated and I didn’t expect to write such thoughtful pieces.  I really had a burning urge to do write it up, so I hung in there and just made it happen.  I cringed each time I pushed the publish button, then spent time the next morning to lightly edit, especially repeat phrases.  I look back now and wonder why I thought my pieces were so questionable.
  • It was easier than I thought it would be.  Before I decided to do this, I went through my material in Evernote and moved a bunch of it into a single folder for ideas and materials.  At the start, I had 25 ideas to write about.  I barely dented those ideas!  More stuff came up the more I wrote and shared.  I think it’s easier to post daily than once in a while.  My ideas flow faster and easier if I do it everyday.
  • I’m really pleased with the end result.  I wanted a body of work for the future and I have it.  When I’m tired and frustrated, I can look back on this and remind myself why it’s important in my life and that these feelings will pass.
  • I developed reference material for myself.  I also have some new checklists and “how I did it” for when I do things again in the future.  That will save time and reduce frustration.
  • Your comments encouraged me.   The time you spent leaving me a note helped me realize that I was achieving my goal for sharing.  Some of you wrote that this helped clarify your own thinking and creativity.  Others found my posts to be something to try for themselves.  Although I set it for an expectation at the beginning, as the month went on, it became more important to me that it was making sense to someone else and that I wasn’t the only feeling this way or struggling with some of these things.
  • I had much more intellectual content than I expected.  I intended this to be more fun – playing with pictures and posting results.  Some nights when I was too tired, I did that.  But I had a lot more thoughtful and complex posts than I thought I would have.  That made is harder but also more satisfying.  Those posts were good things for me to write up and remember going forward.
  • I had to exercise willpower to keep posting.  For those nights I didn’t think I could summon up the energy to stick with it, I’m glad I did.  One night in particular, I did a good first draft and just couldn’t go longer.  I saved it, shut everything down and got ready for bed.  By the time I brushed my teeth and changed into pajamas, I perked up enough to come back to my office, turn on all my equipment, and finish the post.  Another time, I saved it and did actually go to bed.  But I got up early the next morning to finish and post it before work.  I don’t think I would have done any of that without the challenge.
  • My personal life changed.  This took up most of my free time.  I made sure to give my favorite boy toy my attention and to cuddle the dogs for a while each night.  But I didn’t read, work on piles of stuff, or take care of any other projects.  I didn’t cook much either but mostly used what was in the freezer.  My boy toy took over more chores for me.  Some nights I did my yoga before I wrote; some nights I did it afterwards.  One night I did it at midnight!  But I was stiff and needed to do something before bed to unkink my body and relax.  I don’t think these changes were all bad, but they were unexpected.

Am I glad I did it?  YES!!  I really enjoyed today going back through the posts and working out what I wanted to summarize to finish this off.  I’m proud of it and am glad I participated in it.

So now it’s on to November, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  The year is quickly slipping away and there is much to be done still.

To see everything I’m doing with my 31 Days of Nurturing My Creativity, click here.

To see what others are doing with their 31 Days project, click here.

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Staying Encouraged

"Mom looks tiny compared to the trees" - text message from my daughter to her father and husband.  Little did she know I'd already taken a picture of her looking the same way!
“Mom looks tiny compared to the trees” – text message from my daughter to her father and husband. Little did she know I’d already taken a picture of her looking the same way as she went running that morning!  This picture was taken at Eagle Lake in Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island, Maine.

At some point, every writer wonders if his or her stories are important, and if anyone will ever care about them.  .  . I told him writing, like Tai Chi, was internal, not external. It is about feeling and honesty, if something wants to come out, it needs to come out.  One has to set up a boundary, you write for yourself and you hope it has meaning to others, but when you write,  you write only for yourself,  you cannot be thinking about what everyone else might feel or say.  Creativity is a coming out, a leap of faith, it is neither simple nor easy, but it can be profoundly rewarding.
– Jon Katz, Author and Blogger

Two years ago, after I’d been blogging for nearly 1.5 years, I had a fairly major case of discouragement about the whole thing.  I hadn’t yet thought out whether I was doing it for myself or for an audience, but I questioned whether it was worth doing in my limited time.

I got a number of thoughtful comments about it, which I eventually wrote up in four posts (start here with Part 1).  To summarize, here is what I was struggling with:

  • Overly high expectations
  • Being perfectionistic about what I was blogging
  • Trying to do everything and not being selective enough
  • Not keeping perspective that I was trying things out and discovering what did and didn’t work
  • Forgetting that my job and its requirements would have an impact on my creative time
  • Feeling overwhelmed and unsatisfied
  • Overdoing it (at one time, I was trying to keep two blogs)
  • Concern that my posts were worthy of the time my readers spent on them

I finished off with why I blogged:

  • To record my life for my own remembrances
  • To share my life with family and friends
  • To be an encouragement to others
  • I want to write
  • I want myself and everyone around me to enjoy the beauty and laughter that is everywhere

Continue reading “Staying Encouraged”

My One Thing – Storytelling My Life

Path to Eagle Lake in Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island, Maine
Path to Eagle Lake in Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island, Maine

Pick a direction, start marching down that path and
see how you like it.  Time brings clarity and if you find
you don’t like it, you can always change your mind.
It’s your life.
– Gary Keller & Jay Papasan, The One Thing

The Short Version

After reading “The One Thing” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan (see my notes on it here), I realized that my ONE Thing is storytelling my life.  Being a writer is too narrow for my life and being a photographer is also too limited.  I desire both and need both to achieve what I want, which is to record and curate my life.

I first read about curating my life on Gretchen Rubin’s blog (here), particularly her comment from a book that said, “self-curate or disappear”.  She expands on this with these questions, all of which I answered “yes” to:

How about you? Do you “self-curate”?
What steps do you take to preserve memories,
to catalog memorabilia, to leave a record of your life,
thoughts, experiences, and to review it?
Do you do it for yourself, or with an eye to an audience?

Wikipedia says curation is, “archiving, historical record keeping”, and that “in general, archives consist of records that have been selected for permanent or long-term preservation on grounds of their enduring cultural, historical, or evidentiary value. Archival records are normally unpublished and almost always unique, unlike books or magazines for which many identical copies exist. This means that archives are quite distinct from libraries with regard to their functions and organization”.

This is what I do with my journals and photographs.  I keep a historical record of my life that is mostly unpublished and mostly unique, for which no identical copies exist.

No Longer A Writer

I realized earlier this year that being a writer no longer fit me, way before I started contemplating my one thing.  In my journal, I wrote:

What about not being a writer?

I’m okay with that.

I don’t want to be in front of the computer for long periods of time, just staring at it.

I really really hate the thought of writing and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting all those drafts.  I’d rather watch grass grow – at least I’d be outside!

My imagination / observation is not up to that of authors.  I read all the details they put in to bring a story to life and it just blows past me.  I skip over a fair of that, which is NOT helping develop my skills as a writer either.  But if I find it interferes with the enjoyment of the story, I’d find it tedious to no end to actually write.

My life experience is actually pretty limited to be a writing what goes on in my Walter Mitty imagination.  My real life is narrow and boring with few opportunities to experience what I daydream about.  In other words, I would write without authority or knowledge.  I suppose I could obtain such knowledge through research but my time is limited, my energy is low, and my desire to do so is non-existent.

And the photography? It’s easier for me, goes faster, I have my favorite boy toy as a resource,  and people would rather look at picture than read something thoughtful anyhow.

So I guess I want to keep my journals, but for now, nothing more beyond that.

After I wrote that, I stared at it for a couple of days, then grieved.  I wasn’t ready to give up being a writer, something I thought all my life I would do.  So I decided to not give it up.

And a few days later realized that yes, this door was closed for now.  It really was good to decide that I’m not a writer.

Not Only a Photographer Either

As the summer went on, I realized that I didn’t want to be just a photographer either.  It would have been easy enough to convert my blog to mostly photographs.  I’m capable of some really good work and have enough inventory that I could post a daily picture for a fairly lengthy period before I’d run out of ideas.

But that didn’t suit me either.  Just as being a writer was too limiting, being only a photographer didn’t contribute enough.

Witch Hole Pond in Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island, Maine
Witch Hole Pond in Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island, Maine

Being a Storyteller

That’s when I realized that I wanted to tell stories from my life, with both writing and photography.  They complement each other and together give a fuller, more rounded story, the story of me.  Something to remember my life by and hopefully pass to generations after me.

Per Wikipedia, “storytelling is a means for sharing and interpreting experiences”, which is what I want to do.

Margaret Heffernan wrote an article in Inc. about a narrative template for storytelling, called ABT, that said:

So if you start with your information (And)
but only pile on information, you lose momentum
and a sense of destination. So you have to
move on to your challenges (But) and then
imagine a resolution (Therefore).

I haven’t overly focused on technique, but it matches what I try to do.  I make a point, share from my life how I executed (or failed) and why it was important to me.  As with anything, it doesn’t work everytime, but I get (and appreciate) the comments that you all are relating to many things that I post in my blog.

As I’m writing this, I did some research on Google about storytelling techniques.  Needless to say, there are all kinds of hints and tips out there.  Storyteller.net had a useful list of tips for those telling verbal stories that also applies to what I’m doing.  Two particularly good reminders were to tell stories that I like and to not hesitate to remove slow moving parts.  Amanda Lewan’s blog post is directed to the fiction writer, but she has a good reminder to show, don’t tell.

I’ve been working on this approach for a while and need to continue honing my skill at storytelling my life.  For now though, for my creative side, this is my ONE Thing.  Identifying it and writing it out nurtures my creativity by giving me focus and helping me prioritize my time and efforts.

To see everything I’m doing with my 31 Days of Nurturing My Creativity, click here.

To see what others are doing with their 31 Days project, click here.

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The One Thing – Book Review

View from Cadillac Mountain, Mount Desert Island, Maine.  This was taken from the Blue Hill Overlook.
View from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island, Maine. This was taken from the Blue Hill Overlook.

It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants.
The question is, what are we busy about?
– Henry David Thoreau

Among the things I’ve done recently to nurture my creativity is to finish the book, “The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.  I’ve been reading it off and on all year, going back over parts several times.  More information and resources can be found at their website, the1thing.com.

Below are some of the parts that I highlighted because it really spoke to me.

My purpose here is to create a short list that I can refer to going forward.  The book is much more involved than this, with lots of examples of how to apply to this and pitfalls to watch out for.  The constant theme is encouragement that I can do this – it’s within reach.  But I have to act on it.  Reading about it, thinking about it, and talking about it is not enough to reach my goals.

  • Not everything matters equally
  • Success is sequential, not simultaneous.  You do the right thing and then the next right thing, building success over time.
  • Only ONE Thing can be the most important.
  • No one succeeds alone.
  • Passion and skill are connected.  Passion leads to disproportionate time practicing or working on something.  When skills improve, results improve, which leads to more enjoyment, more passion, and more time invested.
  • Achievers work from a clear sense of priority.
  • Multitasking is a lie and exacts a cost few realize they’re paying.
  • We don’t need more discipline than we have right now.  What we need is the habit of doing it and just enough discipline to build the habit.
  • Build one habit at a time and give it enough time (66 days at least) to get solidly established.
  • Willpower always being on will-call is a lie.  Willpower has a limited supply and has to be managed like food or sleep (see the extensive list of what taxes willpower in Chapter 7).
  • A balanced life is a lie.  Time on One Thing takes away time from another.
  • We have to envision our own journeys, make our own maps, and create our own compasses.  What we want doesn’t come with a set of instructions.
  • See Chapter 11 for the focusing questions to help identify my ONE thing.
  • Productivity is driven by purpose and priority.
  • I need to know what matters to me and take daily actions in alignment with it.
  • Goal setting needs to work from the distant future back to right now.
  • Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another (Walter Elliot).
  • My biggest challenge is likely to be my need to do other things besides my ONE Thing.
  • It takes elite performers 10 years to gain mastery.
  • The four thieves of productivity are the inability to say no, fear of chaos, poor health habits and an environment that doesn’t support my goals (both people and physical surroundings).
  • Success is an inside job.
  • Chapter 8 has a great discussion about balancing our lives.  For our personal life, the authors talk about the need for tight counterbalancing and that the need to avoid long periods where we’re out of balance.  For our work lives, it will be necessary to be out of balance for long periods to achieve extraordinary results.  They include a quote by the author James Patterson, that describes our personal life as glass balls which if dropped, are irrevocably scuffed, nicked or shattered, whereas our work life is like a rubber ball that bounces back.

I see where I’ve done many of these things at work.  I unwillingly took a job doing state income taxes, only to find out I was very good at it (I wrote the story up here).  The more I practiced and studied, the better I became.  Over time, I pared away the things that kept me from being an expert in my field and concentrated on mastery.  Although I will never know it all, I know more than many people do about corporate state income taxes.

So for my next post the question will be, how do I apply that to my creativity?

Note from yesterday’s post – I went back and added another item to my checklist of what I need to remember for next time.  I also added in some more blooper pictures.  I did a lot of experimenting and it’s a shame to not display all my ideas, even though they didn’t work.

To see everything I’m doing with my 31 Days of Nurturing My Creativity, click here.

To see what others are doing with their 31 Days project, click here.

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Bloopers and Practicing Failure

This week’s assignment for my close-up photography course (I discussed in more detail here) was to use items from the kitchen or bathroom.  The three above turned out really well.  I especially like the bubbles that’s almost entirely green.  But wait until you see what didn’t turn out.

I spent all afternoon working on this and by the end, was really frustrated.  Not only did I feel like a real fumble fingers trying to do this, but a lot of what I tried didn’t turn out.  Some of it was that my subject matter was just bad.  Others were bad technique, from not paying attention to the composition to being out of focus.

I did this outside on the deck and what a mess!  Eventually I realized that the tripod was not helping.  I had to move around to catch my subject matter and I couldn’t predict ahead of time where my focal point would be.  My favorite boy toy helped me figure out how to keep that cardboard upright (there’s a box behind it, plus the two Windex bottles to push it back against the box).  Sitting on the stool gave me the right height, but only some of the time.  The sun got really hot, but not until after I’d brought out the chocolate to photograph with the tea.

Geez, what a mess.  The only thing not here is the miniature pinscher who is off to the left, guarding me from elderly women taking a walk.
Geez, what a mess. The only thing not seen here is the miniature pinscher who is off to the left, guarding me from elderly women taking a walk.

So here are some things that I learned:

Continue reading “Bloopers and Practicing Failure”

Observations On Autumn

 

Used Topaz Labs Impression filters to create a painting
Used Topaz Labs Impression filters to create a painting; this is Witch Hole Pond,  Acadia National Park in Maine

Use what you have, use what the world gives you.
Use the first day of fall: bright flame before winter’s deadness;
harvest; orange, gold, amber; cool nights and the smell of fire.
Our tree-lined streets are set ablaze, our kitchens filled
with the smells of nostalgia: apples bubbling into sauce,
roasting squash, cinnamon, nutmeg, cider, warmth itself.
The leaves as they spark into wild color just before they die
are the world’s oldest performance art, and everything we see
is celebrating one last violently hued hurrah before
the black and white silence of winter.
― Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way

I love that phrase above – that the turning of the leaves is the world’s oldest performance art.

The color change hasn’t quite come to central Virginia yet.  The trees have a yellow tinge – some do at least – others remain stubbornly green, and some are slowly going from green straight to brown.  A few, very few, have started to show red on their tips.

The shadows are lengthening as the sun stays lower in the horizon.  Even at noon there is a long shadow on the ground and the light remains golden all day long.

The seagulls have come back to the James River.  They head somewhere, presumably north, in the spring.  Their return is a sure sign of fall.

It was the opposite when I lived in the Midwest.  The redwing blackbirds would return in the spring.  I’d drive by a field and see them clinging to a cattail, swaying in the wind.  Then one day in August – I never could pinpoint the exact day it happened – but one day, they’d be gone.  Just like that!  And I knew fall was coming soon.

Of course, the food changes in the fall too.  The apples at the farmer’s market?  Wonderful.  They are so much better than store bought apples with their crisp texture and equally crisp, sweet taste.  The peaches and corn are long gone, the tomatoes nearly so.  But the apples and pumpkins are everywhere.  With the cooler nights, I can roast turkeys in the oven again, driving myself and the dogs wild with those wonderful smells.

Used Topaz Labs Clarity filter to brighten up the colors and deepen the shadows
Used Topaz Labs Clarity filter to brighten up the colors and deepen the shadows in the photograph of Witch Hole Pond in Acadia National Park, Maine

Today I nurtured my creativity during my lunch walk by making it a point to simply observe what was around me.  The study of biological phenomena has a name – phenology – which I discussed several years  in my posts here and here.  I have, with practice, improved my observations of nature and what it means.  It’s much more relaxing to walk and notice what’s around me in that moment than to dwell on the latest problem sitting on my desk or plan what needs to be said in a phone conference later on.

Happiness, not in another place but this place…
not for another hour, but this hour.
― Walt Whitman

 I also nurtured my creativity by processing this picture, then using some plug-ins to enhance it more.  The photograph one (directly above) turned out superb, but I rather like the painting one better (at the top).  Although I started with a preset in Topaz to create the painting effect, I adjusted it so that the colors were still distinguishable and it wasn’t just a big splash of bright colors.

Just so you can see what I did, here’s the original photograph before any processing.  Remember that I shoot in raw, so anything will need some further processing before it’s usable.  Were I to shoot in jpg, the camera makes those decisions for me.  It doesn’t start out in a bad place, but it needs some help.

Unadjusted original
Unadjusted original photograph of Witch Hole Pond, Acadia National Park in Maine

To see everything I’m doing with my 31 Days of Nurturing My Creativity, click here.

To see what others are doing with their 31 Days project, click here.

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More Thoughts on Balancing Life

Eagle Lake in Acadia National Park;  Mount Desert Island, Maine
Eagle Lake in Acadia National Park; Mount Desert Island, Maine

 When you assess your own life, consider it with the eye of a gardener.
Underneath the surface lies rich, fertile soil waiting to nurture the seeds you sow.
Even more than you can imagine will grow there if given a chance.
― Steve Goodier, Author

As I re-read my post from yesterday on balancing my work, personal and creative lives, I realized that the 31 Days Challenge is causing me issues with balancing the personal and creative parts of my life.

One of the goals that I set on at the beginning of this was to develop a body of work for my own future reference, something which I feel I’m accomplishing and very well too – I’m satisfied with it so far.  But some things are missing, gone by the wayside, as I post daily this month:

  • Evening yoga / stretching
  • Sitting quietly to reflect and contemplate
  • Getting other things done (the piles are getting big again)
  • Following up on E-mails and correspondence

I plan to finish out the 31 Days.  Already I’m enjoying referring back to some of what I did, whether to encourage myself or remind myself of my goals.  But it takes me 1 to 2 hours each night to write out my thoughts, pick & process photos, and edit it all to my satisfaction.  A few nights, I skipped my yoga / stretching when I realized I could do one or the other, but not both.  I need to be careful to not be doing that very often.

Sitting quietly to reflect and contemplate has – unfortunately – been a bottom priority for me, even before I started this challenge.  It frustrates me, because it’s important and I enjoy it.  I need to make this a higher priority AND actually do it.  My personal journals fulfill this purpose for me also, but that’s fallen off this month.  There are several things I need to puzzle out and I’m not getting it done.

As for the other chores and follow-ups, they’re not usually fun and it’s amazingly easy to find ways to avoid them.  But given enough time, they drive me nuts and interfere with nurturing my creativity.  It’s like the day I cleaned the house instead of working on pictures.  My energy was high that day and as a result,  I resented cleaning the house far less than usual.  It would have been a shame to sit and work on pictures, when I actually wanted to clean.

How is this nurturing my creativity?  As I’d doodled this out, I realized I needed to list it and refer to it when setting my priorities / expectations at the end of this month.  Although I’m enjoying posting daily, most likely I will blog less frequently in November.  For now, my priority is to post daily as I nurture my creativity by discovering what works and what doesn’t.  These other needs will have to fit around that.

To see everything I’m doing with my 31 Days of Nurturing My Creativity, click here.

To see what others are doing with their 31 Days project, click here.

#write31days