Sunday, May 27, 2007

memorial day

I was sailing around the Puget Sound this morning, breathing the smell of salt spray, embracing the wind in my hair and the cool damp morning air that rosied my cheeks and moistened my skin. I thought how lucky I was; that this is what it's all about. I thought about someone I miss and wished he were here to enjoy. I thought about my family, and wished they could share.

And then, I thought about the men and women and children in Iraq ... and wondered what their day was like ...

According to CNN, as of May 24, 2007, 3,711 coalition troops have died in the war in Iraq: 3,435 Americans, two Australians, 149 Britons, 13 Bulgarians, seven Danes, two Dutch, two Estonians, one Fijian, one Hungarian, 32 Italians, one Kazakh, three Latvian, 19 Poles, two Romanians, five Salvadoran, four Slovaks, 11 Spaniards, two Thai and 18 Ukrainians. Total wounded amounts to more than 25,500.

In honor of those from
all nations who died on the bloody front lines, I share a moment of silence for one of my favorite poems.

    Do Not Weep

    Do not stand at my grave and weep
    I am not there; I do not sleep.
    I am a thousand winds that blow,
    I am the diamond glints on snow,
    I am the sun on ripened grain,
    I am the gentle autumn rain.

    When you awaken in the morning's hush
    I am the swift uplifting rush
    Of quiet birds in circled flight.
    I am the soft stars that shine at night.
    Do not stand at my grave and cry,
    I am not there; I did not die.

    Mary E. Frye, 1932.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

laptop freedom (?)

Do you remember life sans Smart Phones and Bluetooth? Before broadband and wireless connection and Sidekicks, Blackberries, and laptops? I hardly do. Carry-along technology is so common place today that we take it for granted. But I was clearing up a bunch of old files and came across the blurb below—the first thing I wrote when I was setting up my first-ever laptop.

Reading what I wrote 'back then', in the pre-common place days, I remember how excited I was by my perceived new found freedom—the ‘freedom’ I sometimes curse now as a ball and chain.

    "So ... this is the first time I have used my new laptop and already it has changed my life. You may think that’s a rather extreme statement—that I’m prone to hyperbole.
    Well, okay, I admit that on occasions I have used the term millions when several would have been closer to the truth. Or that I’ve claimed to have gained a ton when I really meant 7lbs. And that I’ve even said the party was a blast when I actually found it a superficial bore and couldn’t wait to get home.
    But I am not spinning a top when I tell you that this machine, notebook, laptop—whatever you want to call it—has changed my life in an instant!
    You don’t believe me? Well let me tell you that I finished a 50-page report last night, sat in bed puffed up by pillows, with my sleek black notebook perched on top of a silk peach cushion. First thing this morning I walked to the coffee shop—laptop in hand—for a pot of hot ginger peach tea and a cranberry nut muffin where I finished editing a proposal. Then me and Conan (yes I’ve named him/it/her) drove here, to the park, to feed the ducks.
    And as I write this, I’m sitting at the picnic table closest to the edge of the lake, where I’ve just finished proofing the article I have to deliver tomorrow. I am no longer chained to the one table where my desktop sits … I am free … in the park, breathing fresh air, feeding the ducks, and writing away ... "

Sunday, May 13, 2007

mother's day

Oprah says motherhood is the hardest job in the world. And I agree. So in honor of the millions of hardworking, underappreciated mom’s out there, I want to take a moment to recognize moms in general, and mine in particular.

Mother's Day hits my mom twice a year. My brother and sister celebrate the UK Mother’s Day with her in March. And I celebrate (usually from afar) the US Mother’s Day in May. She likes it that way; makes her feel doubly special.

Despite her now chronic disabled physical state, she is a rock. She never complains. Tries always to keep a positive attitude (“ ... who wants to hear about my problems when they have their own ... ” she says). And takes each week one day at a time.

There are many things I could write about her, the list would be long. But many of them are very private, personal memories. So today I want to share just 5 things that I really do appreciate about J, my mom.

  • I appreciate that she taught me to write, read, sew, knit, swim, and cook all by the age of 6; and that she engrossed me and my siblings in music, books, films, dance, art, athletics, foreign food and culture … and that she continues to surprise and teach me even today.

  • I appreciate that J was always the cool mom; that when my siblings and I threw parties, we could rely on her to mix the best cocktail punch in town … and then discreetly disappear. (Except the time she dressed as a Playboy Bunny, then none of the boys would let her disappear!)

  • I appreciate that she cheered me on to run free and see the world after school; that while my friends' mothers all nagged them to “ … find a husband and settle down” close to home, my mother told me over and over “There’s a huge universe out there for you to experience”. Even now, when I know she would love to have me closer to home, she remains adamant that I must lead my own life, wherever that may take me.

  • I appreciate that she encouraged me to still be my daddy’s girl, even after they divorced, even though she was really mad with him ( … and even though I was 25 years old at the time!)

  • I appreciate that she’s always believed in me, often much more than I believed in myself. And that no matter what time of day or night I’ve called ( … and still call), she’s patiently listened to my most difficult struggles and blackest heartbreaks, and smiled at my over-the-top joyful hysteria or garbled excitement about nothing-much-at-all. And most importantly, she’s listened to all that garbage without judging me ... or mine.
I know that was 5, but this last one is so much a part of who J is that I can't leave it out.

I appreciate her self-effacing humor and no BS British Bulldog character, which has picked us up during tough times, taught us to celebrate the good times, and allows no place for moping, pity, or grandiosity—from self or others. (She’s probably asking for a gag bucket right now as she reads my list.)

With that said, and to quote a wise-wise woman, “Let's get moving! All this lallygagging won’t buy the baby a new dress!!” ... and I have to get back to work.

Love you ma! x

Photos of J and grandkids at her 70th birthday, May 2006.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

creative habits: subtraction

There are many myths surrounding creative people and the way they think and live, and one of the biggest, as any creative will tell you, is the myth that everything they touch turns to gold.

Sure, there are times when everyone has sudden bursts of effortless creativity. But there are just as many times when a seemingly insignificant creation was preceded by hours, even months or years, of grinding hard work and hair-tearing angst.

Ever curious, I’m always interested in the work habits of other creatives and one of my favorite books on the subject is The Creative Habit by international choreographer Twyla Tharp. “Creativity is not a gift from the gods,” she says, “ … it is the product of preparation and effort.”

When we first toy with a new idea or project, sensory intake increases dramatically as we consider feasibility and play with various viewpoints, forms, media, visuals, and other possibilities.

Tharp says that during this phase, she wants to place herself in a bubble of "monomaniacal absorption" where she’s fully invested in nothing but the task at hand.

She’s turned this process into a ritual she calls subtraction. “I list the biggest distractions in my life and make a pact, to myself, to do without them for a week.”

Her subtraction list includes:

Movies, multitasking (no reading on the StairMaster or eating while working), anything related to numbers such as contracts, bank statements, bathroom scales etc., and background music.

The first time I read this I thought, brilliant! Obvious, but brilliant. So at the start of my next project, I cut out several of my biggest distractions and, of course, thought more clearly and accomplished much more in a shorter period of time.

And then, being human, I forgot all about the ritual of subtraction until I recently re-read her book.

Timing was perfect. About to begin pre-production on an important project I decided that a little subtraction would work well this week. For me, this isn’t a hardship or applied discipline or forced structure. I genuinely find that subtracting for a week, or sometimes even just a day or two, really helps to put me in a different zone.

My subtraction list includes:

Television & radio.
Daily newspaper.
Personal email, snailmail, phone calls.
Shopping of any kind ( … so I need to get milk and cookies in!)

As well as subtracting, I also add a few simple things that feed my soul such as nightly bubble baths, evening candlelight versus electric light, extended walks on the beach, and music.

What creative rituals or processes work well for you? Do you add or subtract things from your life? What are your distractions?