Dixie Darr

Archive for April, 2007|Monthly archive page

In creativity, Learning on April 30, 2007 at 11:57 am

The Creative Age

“The really frightening thing about middle age is the knowledge that you’ll grow out of it. ” Doris Day

Did you hear about the 95-year old woman graduating from Fort Hays State University next month? She will be come the oldest college graduate, breaking the previous record of a 90-year old woman.

I love these stories that prove you’re never too old to follow your dreams. Okay, so if you’re 55 and your dream is to become the next Pussycat Doll or L.A. Laker, that probably is not going to happen, but your could become part of a singing or dancing troupe or join a senior basketball team.

The truth is that your dreams don’t go away as you get older. Sometimes they come back stronger than ever. Middle age is the time when many people finally sign up for piano lessons or a Spanish class or a painting workshop. Maybe it’s because they have more time or more discretionary funds now that their children are grown and gone. Or may it’s because they realize that their time on earth is limited. As one group of over-60 women said at a recent luncheon, “It’s now or never.”

©2007 Dixie Darr. All rights reserved

In creativity, Learning, work on April 27, 2007 at 7:06 am

Business as the Ultimate Art Form

“Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.” Howard Aiken

Why would I call business the ultimate art form? Businesses start from an idea that creates meaning –to its owners, workers, customers and even in some cases to the world at large. A sculptor chips away rock or forms clay into a figure that is meaningful and beautiful, but when it’s done, it’s done. In business, the tools and media used are dynamic—people, ideas, capital, systems—all changing all the time. A business is never “done”—at least not until it closes its doors.

It takes art to conceive of the idea for a new business, product or service. The science takes over, putting systems and procedures and principles to work. Danger happens when a company continues doing the same thing in the same way too long. When the environment changes, which it does all the time, the business has to change, too.

Look at Netflix as an example. This company has been around less than ten years, and in that time has become the standard of movie rentals. Other companies in that business, like Blockbuster, have had to adopt the Netflix model just to stay in business.

Now Netflix is facing the need to transform the way it operates because people are starting to download movies instead of waiting for them in the mail. The same thing happened in the music business which is still reeling from the need to change. They wasted too many years trying to stop people downloading music before realizing that they had to instead find a way to work with the new technology.

Somebody once said, “You have to ride the horse in the direction the horse is going.” When the horse changes directions, businesses have to change, too.

We know that change is now happening faster than ever before in history. As Dorothy might say, “Things come and go so quickly here.” That’s why business schools are starting to teach creativity.

Businesses are beginning to value creativity. In 2005, 29% of MBA programs had courses in creativity and innovation and nearly 92% of the rest said they were likely to offer one in the next five years. (Business Week Online) According to some professors, “employers in the new economy value innovative and creative thinking as much as traditional frameworks and skills.”

It’s time to hone your skills in creativity. Over the next few months, I’ll be giving you 101 ways improve your creativity, innovation and ingenuity. Stay tuned.

©2007 Dixie Darr. All rights reserved

In creativity, Learning on April 26, 2007 at 9:38 am

The Library: Denver’s Best Resource

“The greatest university of all is a collection of books.”

Thomas Carlyle

Maybe you think libraries are just for checking out books. If you’ve been inside a library in the past 5-10 years, you know that you can also check out movies and music CDs. One of our local libraries offers a toy library and many branches host children’s story times, classes in English as a Second Language and computer literacy.

You may have visited the genealogy department of the library to research the history of your family or your house. Lately, my visits to the downtown library have been to attend free classes where I learn how to make my own books. I’ve taken classes about three different books styles, plus one on making altered books, one on using scrapbook techniques and decoupage to personalize a composition book and one on book repair. These classes and more are offered through the Denver Public Library’s Fresh City Life program. You can sign up for the online newsletter to keep you updated on all events at the DPL website: www.denverlibrary.org.

Last night, I took a library class on using collage techniques to make a picture frame out of a discarded book. Instructor Judith Cassel-Mamet conducts intimate, entertaining workshops, and many of the students are Judith groupies who sign up for everything she teaches. A retired high-school ceramics teacher, she now teaches at the Art Students League of Denver and the University of Denver. I’ve learned from her how to make accordion books, scrolls and altered books in addition to the book/frame.

She started using cast off books in her projects when she saw high school students carrying boxes of old books to the dumpster and learned that school librarians purge books from the libraries annually. Many of her altered book projects become artists’ journals or photo albums.

I’ve always loved libraries, just for the books. With all the additional resources they offer these days, I just can’t stay away

©2007 Dixie Darr. All rights reserved

In creativity, Learning on April 25, 2007 at 7:34 am

Maya Angelou

“My confidence and sense of curiosity—you can trace it back to just that I loved reading.” Bill Gates

If you need an argument against classrooms as the ideal learning environment, look to Maya Angelou. Unschooled, but hardly uneducated, Angelou is universally admired and respected for her wide-ranging accomplishments. Bill Gallo of Westword has this to say about her:

“The talents of Maya Angelou – she is or has been a teacher, memoirist, prize-winning poet, actress, civil-rights activist, editor, playwright, composer, dancer, producer, theater and TV director, and advisor to three presidents – range so far and deep that no feat she accomplishes could come as a surprise.”

The theme for the life of this legendary woman may very well be “One thing leads to another” which is, fittingly, the first rule of independent scholarship. Starting her adult life as an unwed 16-year-old mother led her to a series of sustenance jobs to support herself and her son. These jobs couldn’t engage her mind, however, and she always loved reading. “Since childhood,” she wrote in Gather Together in My Name, “I had often read until the gray light entered my room.” As an adult, “I could be seen haunting the libraries.” I could, and often did to myself or my baby, recite whole passages of Shakespeare, Paul Lawrence Dunbar poems, Kipling’s “If.”

Reading wasn’t her only love. She had studied dance and drama starting at age fourteen. This eventually led to a role in the international touring company of Porgy and Bess. When she returned, she decided to try writing. The Harlem Writers Guild, “a loosely formed organization, without dues or membership cards,” which gave her important criticism.

“Making a decision to write was a lot like deciding to jump into a frozen lake.” But Angelou threw herself into it as she did with everything she undertook. As she wrote about an earlier job managing a restaurant, “I didn’t entertain the thought that I wouldn’t do the job well.”

Following other interests and using mentors, colleagues, and chutzpah, she added playwright, producer, civil rights leader, and newspaper editor to her growing list of accomplishments.

Although Angelou has no academic degrees, she has become one of our wisest leaders. She has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for poetry, a National Book Award, and Emmys for her acting and writing and has received numerous awards for her vast array of accomplishments. Her debut directing the feature film, Down in the Delta, was yet another in a long list of startling successes. Ironically, a woman who learned everything she knows outside the classroom, now teaches in a classroom as a Reynolds professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.

©2007 Dixie Darr. All rights reserved

In creativity, Learning on April 23, 2007 at 3:47 pm

Great Ideas

“Great ideas need landing gear as well as wings.”- C. D. Jackson

New ideas are rarely all that new. Usually, they are new combinations of concepts or adaptations of old ideas. One of the best ways to come up with new ideas is to collect ideas from other people. Mark Twain said, “All ideas are second hand, consciously or unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources and used by the creative person with pride and satisfaction.”

Thomas Edison kept a file of his own ideas and those of others that he thought he could adapt. Author and creativity expert Michael Michalko offers the following techniques for adapting ideas:

  • What can be SUBSTITUTED? (Who else? What else? Other ingredient? Other process? Other power? Other place? Other approach? Can you change the rules?)
  • What can be COMBINED? (How about a blend, an alloy, an assortment, an ensemble? Combine units? Combine purposes with something else? Combine appeals? Combine ideas?)
  • What can I ADAPT from something else to the idea? (What else is like this? What other idea does this suggest? Does the past offer a parallel? What could I copy? Whom could I emulate?)
  • What can I MAGNIFY? (What can be added? More time? Stronger? Higher? Longer? Extra value? Extra features? Duplicate? Multiply? Exaggerate?)
  • What can I MODIFY or change? (What can be altered? New twist? Change meaning, color, motion, sound, odor, form, shape? What other changes can be made?)
  • Can I PUT the idea TO OTHER USES? (New ways to use as? Other uses if modified? Can you make it do more things? Other extensions? Other spin-off? Other markets?)
  • What can be ELIMINATED? (What to subtract? Smaller? Condensed? Miniature? Lower? Shorter? Lighter? Omit? Streamline? Split up? Understate?)
  • What can be REARRANGED the parts? (What other arrangement might be better? Interchange components? Other pattern? Other layout? Other sequence? Transpose cause and effect? Change pace? Change schedule?)
  • Can it be REVERSED? (Transpose positive and negative? How about opposites? Turn it upside down? Reverse roles? Consider it backwards? What if you did the unexpected?)

Start your own idea file. It can be a paper file of newspaper and magazine articles, a collection of index files or a doorful of Post-it notes.

©2007 Dixie Darr. All rights reserved

In creativity, Learning on April 20, 2007 at 11:02 am

The Artist Date

“Your only assignment is to replenish the well.”

Sarah Ban Breathnach

The artist date is a basic tool for awakening your creativity, according to Julia Cameron’s classic book, The Artist’s Way. It’s a solitary excursion or play date with your inner artist. Visit an art gallery, take a hike in the mountains, explore a junk store or watch an old movie. The choice of an activity is entirely yours. The purpose is to fill the well of your creative resources.

A couple of weeks ago, I took myself to the Ben Franklin: In Search of a Better World exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. This tercentenary celebration of the birth of one of most beloved founding fathers will leave Denver on May 20 and travel to Atlanta and finish the year and the tour in Paris.

Printer, inventor, diplomat, writer and philanthropist, Ben Franklin accomplished an amazing number of feats in his lifetime. In addition to discovering that lightning contained electricity, signing the declaration of independence, and inventing bifocals, he also:

  • Created an early form of swim fins
  • Experimented with wind surfing
  • Wrote one of the earliest autobigraphies (which, in almost 300 years has never gone out of print
  • Established the first franchise
  • Served as Postmaster General
  • Co-founded the first public hospital and circulating library in the U.S.
  • Founded the University of Pennsylvania
  • Printed some of the earliest paper money and solved the problem of counterfeiting by including pictures of leaves which could not be duplicated
  • Invented a musical instrument, the glass armonica
  • Mapped the gulf stream

The scope of his accomplishments is at once astonishing and inspirational. If you can’t make it to the exhibit, check out the website or watch the PBS video of his life.

©2007 Dixie Darr. All rights reserved

In Learning on April 19, 2007 at 8:19 am

A Few of My Favorite Things

“You live and learn. At any rate, you live.”
Douglas Adams

After seeing several lists of all-time favorite books, I thought I’d give it a try. The following lists are works in progress.

Favorite Novels

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

All My Friends are Going to Be Strangers by Larry McMurtry

The Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols

Lamb by Christopher Moore

Angle of Repost by Wallace Stegner

Favorite Nonfiction

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott

No High Adobe by Dorothy Pillsbury

Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton

Working by Studs Terkel

A Different Woman by Jane Howard

The Autobiographies of Maya Angelou

Favorite Authors

Barbara Kingsolver

Anne Lamott

Sue Grafton

Tony Hillerman

©2007 Dixie Darr. All rights reserved

In creativity, Learning, self-employment, work on April 18, 2007 at 10:55 am

Calling Future Rock Stars

“Be your own rock.” Prudential slogan

Paul Green wanted to be the best. Since he couldn’t be the world’s best guitarist, he invented something new so he could be best at that. What he invented has grown into more than 40 locations across the country and was the subject of a critically acclaimed documentary in 2005. An after school program in Philadelphia established in 1999, The Paul Green School of Rock Music trains kids aged 7-18 to be rock musicians.

Students receive private lessons on the instrument of their choice and also participate in weekly rehearsals to prepare them for the main event, THE SHOW! Past shows have included tributes to Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Queen, and the Beatles. The movie details the preparations and performance of shows featuring the music of Black Sabbath and Frank Zappa. The goal is to make the students into amazing musicians.

It looks like they’re succeeding. The movie, Rock School, is a hoot, although the harsh language Paul uses with some of the kids is a bit shocking. Seeing 12-year old prodigy CJ playing Santana’s Black Magic Woman on the guitar is well worth the price of the movie rental.

Green says he’s a natural teacher, who teaches all the time. We all have a gift—something we’re better at than almost anybody else. Finding a way to build our lives around using our gifts is a worthy goal.

©2007 Dixie Darr. All rights reserved

In Learning, spirituality on April 16, 2007 at 8:17 am

Amen to That

“The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking.”
– John Kenneth Galbraith

Next week, in honor of Earth Day, my church is celebrating Evolution Sunday. When I told a friend about it, explaining that unlike right-wing fundamentalist churches, we believe in evolution, she looked shocked.

“You think we came from monkeys?” she asked incredulously.

“Well,” I replied, “not exactly.”

My friend Barbara, another member of my church family, said the appropriate response to that question is “Apparently you’ve never spent much time around a two-year old or you would have no doubt that we descended from monkeys.”

The oversimplification that evolution means we came from monkeys is one of those false arguments put forth by the religious right that fosters ignorance and blind obedience. As Pastor Kerry explained during our worship service yesterday when she announced next week’s program, “This is a church where you don’t have to check your brain at the door.” Yes, contrary to what the media would have you believe, you can be both a Christian and a critical thinker.

©2007 Dixie Darr. All rights reserved