Dixie Darr

Archive for May, 2007|Monthly archive page

In creativity, Learning, spirituality on May 31, 2007 at 9:29 am
Take a break

“Your unconscious can’t work when you are breathing down its neck.” Anne Lamott Bird by Bird

Last night I tutored a 52-year old college student on her writing skills. She was frustrated because she earned a B+ on her latest paper and wanted to earn an A. She worked very hard, spending virtually all her non-work hours on her schoolwork. Unlike some students she didn’t seem to think that she deserved a higher grade because of the amount of work she put into an assignment. She sincerely wants to learn how to write better and is diligently using all the tools available to her, including me.

I applaud her for that. It sometimes seems to me that the students who need the most help are the least likely to seek it out.

Her husband, who accompanied her to our session, kept telling her she was working too hard, that she needed to take a break. Every time he said that, her mouth would clamp shut and she would glare at him. She was raised to be a hard worker, she said, and her response to any problem is to work harder.

Clearly, she is one of those people who can’t relax. WikiHow has a cure for that with their tutorial on How to Do Nothing. Here are some of their tips:

  1. Plan ahead. Set aside time to do nothing and put it on your calendar
  2. Let people know. Tell everyone that you’re unavailable.
  3. Find a quiet, private place. This might be your bedroom, the backyard, or a local park. Find that place and go there.
  4. Set your alarm. Set an alarm of some kind to go off when your “nothing” time is over, so that you don’t have to constantly look at the clock and count the minutes.
  5. Turn off the phone. Turn off your cell phone, work phone, pager, PDA, Blackberry, computer and any other means of sending or receiving calls or messages. These distractions will only keep you from enjoying the nothing.
  6. Sit by yourself. Feel the wind, the sun on your face. Listen to the rustle of the trees, birds chirping, water flowing. Avoid the temptation to turn on the TV, listen to music, write a note to yourself, get a bite to eat, or anything else.
  7. Learn how to free up your mind. Clear your mind of all thoughts of work, worries, family, etc.

Serious workaholics will have to start with five minutes and practice until they can regularly do nothing for longer periods. Taking time off will increase your productivity, creativity, health and morale. Even God rested on the seventh day.

© Copyright 2007 Dixie Darr. All rights reserved


In creativity, Learning, work on May 29, 2007 at 6:52 am

Point of View

“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” Albert Einstein

Have you ever had the experience of seeing something familiar upside down or in an extreme close-up view and having no idea what it is? We get so accustomed to seeing things one way that we can fail to recognize that there are other perspectives. One of the hardest, and potentially most valuable things for most of us to do is to change the way we look at things. Here’s an example of how useful it can be.

I used to dread doing faculty peer reviews at the University where I teach. As part of the quality assurance program, each faculty member is observed in class and evaluated by a senior faculty member. As long as I saw these visits as a management tool focusing on critiquing other teachers, I resisted doing them, putting them off as long as possible and trying my best to get out of doing them at all.

One night, while visiting a humanities course taught by an enthusiastic and inventive teacher, I realized that the peer reviews were an opportunity for me to learn the best practices of some really talented and dedicated people. Now I see this obligation as a master class in teaching methods, and I always get great ideas that I can adapt in my own classes.

As my favorite author Anne Lamott said, “The best way to change the world is to change your mind.” It isn’t as simple as it sounds.

© Copyright 2007 Dixie Darr. All rights reserved

In Learning on May 28, 2007 at 6:41 am

I’m Starting to Feel Like Stephanie Plum

“Well, I had a colonoscopy and a car accident in the same week and they were both a pain in the ass.”

Lisa’s Mom, Cool Stuff blog

After having two cars totaled by reckless drivers in a little over a year, I’m beginning to wonder if I have bad car Karma. I sure hope not because today I have to shop for a new car. If only they would perfect the transporter from Star Trek, I wouldn’t have to drive anywhere.

Failing that, my second choice would be to have a permanent driver à la Driving Miss Daisy (Driving Miss Dixie?) to take me wherever I want to go. On the other hand, Princess Diana had a driver and you know what happened to her.

I’m hoping that the car shopping (not my favorite thing to do) will be relatively painless. At any rate, it will all be over soon because one way or another, I have to have a car by the time the insurance company gets the settlement check to me and they cut off my rental car privileges. Wish me luck. Better yet, (if you’re a fan of Janet Evanovich) wish me a Ranger and a Joe Morelli. That might make losing cars worth the trouble.

© Copyright 2007 Dixie Darr. All rights reserved

In creativity on May 24, 2007 at 8:07 am

Quotations on Creativity

“To cease to think creatively is but little different from ceasing to live.” Ben Franklin

“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” Albert Einstein

“Whom the gods wish to destroy they give unlimited resources.” Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit

“If you want creative workers, give them enough time to play.” John Cleese

“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

“I make more mistakes than anyone else I know, and sooner or later, I patent most of them.” Thomas Edison

“Access to talented and creative people is to modern business what access to coal and iron ore was to steelmaking.” Richard Florida

“Whenever I go into a company and don’t hear much laughter, I know it’s not a creative place.” Mike Vane, former dean of Disney University

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

“The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out.” Dee Hock

© Copyright 2007 Dixie Darr. All rights reserved

In creativity, Learning, spirituality on May 23, 2007 at 8:32 am

It’s a Funny Thing

“Humor helps.” John Cleese

This hasn’t been a funny week for me. While I was taking my 89-year old father to the doctor last week, a garbage truck demolished my car, which was parked innocently on the street. A few days later, we had to have my dad taken to the emergency room and he is still in the hospital with gall stones. Then I interviewed for a part-time contract position with a training company. It seemed like a perfect fit between my skills and interests and their needs, and it would have cured my current money woes. Unfortunately, they decided to go with someone who could work fulltime. Alas and alack.

Like Maya Angelou, I want “to thrive with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style,” but it isn’t always easy. When my own sense of humor gets buried under my sense of impending doom, I rely on others to, well, humor me. My current saving grace has been an audio book, No, I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club, by British author Virginia Ironside. The main character is an opinionated, contrary woman facing her 60th birthday. Her comments on beginning old age make me laugh out loud.

When the book ends, I may have to finally watch Napoleon Dynamite, which everyone assures me is screamingly funny. Let me know if you have any other suggestions.

© Copyright 2007 Dixie Darr. All rights reserved

In creativity, spirituality on May 15, 2007 at 9:03 am

The Soul of Creativity

“There is no force more powerful than that of an unbridled imagination.” Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

I had lunch with my friend Sheila last week and she reported feeling out of sorts. An ordained minister who started her own non-denominational church a year ago, she has the usual workload of preparing each week’s program, writing the bulletin, writing the sermon, providing pastoral care, conducting the Sunday morning service and all the other tasks, big and small, that preachers are (literally!) called to do. And yet, she has time on her hands. She said she finally realized that she needed to do something creative.

Her talents are so obvious that several years ago, I bought her a name plaque identifying her as Sheila Johnson, Artist. Sewing, painting, writing, doll making, and quilting are a few of her interests, but like most of us, she pushes them to the edges of her life, fitting them in around the “more important” things that fill her days.

Only when the need becomes overwhelming does she start a project. This time she turned to the canvas and made a tiny mixed media piece out of the parts of flowers. First, she rubbed in the yellow pollen from the center of a flower to create a sunny background. Minuscule blossoms became stars in the sky and a dried leaf turned into a bird. She coated the whole piece with acrylic to preserve it. Although she only spent about an hour on the project, it brought her a new, positive outlook and renewed energy.

I’ve heard similar stories from others and I could relate a few from my own life. We were all born creators, and our creative impulses will not go away if we ignore them. They will remain at the periphery of our consciousness nagging us until the day we die.

© Copyright 2007 Dixie Darr. All rights reserved

In creativity, Home on May 14, 2007 at 3:02 pm

An “Urban” Suburb

“The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out.” Dee Hock

I had my Artist Date last Friday at the Museum of Outdoor Arts in Englewood, a suburb south of Denver. I’ll tell you more about the exhibit in a later post. Here I want to talk about the Englewood City Center, where the museum is located. Yet another example of the New Urbanism that attempts to create a mixed-use “vibrant downtown core” feeling in the middle of a sprawling beige suburb, it showed promise when I drove into a small park displaying sculptures and a fountain.

Maybe I should mention up front that I always feel like an illegal alien on the planet suburbia.

City Hall stood on one side of the park, across from a three-story building with offices, many of them still vacant, on the ground level and apartments above. The block leading down to the park is the same, with a few restaurants, a coffee shop and a bead shop among the law and insurance and architecture offices with apartments above. At the end of that block is a HUGE Wal-Mart store, looming like the mother ship.

I like the concept of putting housing, retail and office units together, but this seemed a little sterile to me. Of course it’s new and still half empty, so that will change, but here’s the thing: I wouldn’t want to live next door to a Wall-Mart. Those people who “camp” in RVs in Wal-Mart parking lots might disagree with me.

The whole time I was there, I saw a total of about a dozen people around, unlike the neighborhood business districts near me, which these new downtowns are trying to emulate and which always seem to be crammed with people drinking coffee, talking on their phones, pushing strollers and walking their dogs.

I’m not sure what the problem was. Maybe it will just take time for the place to develop some character and personality. Or maybe they need more variety of housing—single family houses, town homes and lofts in addition to the cookie-cutter apartments. Or maybe downtowns only work, well, downtown. I know I was happy to get back home to my little urban village of North Denver.

© Copyright 2007 Dixie Darr. All rights reserved

In creativity, Learning on May 9, 2007 at 9:07 am

Dancing with the Stars

“The talents given to you and me, we must develop faithfully, so we can be good mouseketeers.”

The Mickey Mouse Club song

Dancing with the Stars is one of my guilty pleasures. As a big fan of figure skating, I guess it isn’t too surprising that I am drawn to a television show that trains non-dancers to perform ballroom routines with professional dancers. Now that we are down to the final four couples, have you noticed that two of the remaining stars are athletes? The winner last year, Emmitt Smith played football, as did Jerry Rice, runner-up from the previous year. Current semi-finalists Laila Ali, a boxer, and Olympic champion speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno both show that athletes and dancers have a lot in common.

Both groups of people have what Howard Gardner calls bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. The like to play with movement. Gardner has proposed eight different kinds of intelligence which account for a broader range of potentials than traditional intelligence tests:

Linguistic intelligence (“word smart”):

Logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”)

Spatial intelligence (“picture smart”)

Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”)

Musical intelligence (“music smart”)

Interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”)

Intrapersonal intelligence (“self smart”)

Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”)

You can probably pinpoint which areas relate the most to you, your children and friends. You can take a test here to find out which elements of intelligence are the strongest for you.

I wish people were taught about multiple intelligences at a very early age. I think the theory teaches us two very important lessons: First, nobody is good at everything and second, everybody is good at something.

© Copyright 2007 Dixie Darr. All rights reserved

In creativity on May 8, 2007 at 9:40 am

Next Big Thing

“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”

Thomas Edison

“I got the idea watching my dog scoot across the floor on his butt,” said Gwen, inventor of the Color Bug, a radio-controlled art product and one of eight finalists for Oprah’s Next Big Idea competition. That was the best story of the contestants, who were trying to win a contract to sell their products on QVC, and a good example of adapting an idea observed in one area to a completely different field. She wasn’t the winner, however. Maybe the audience, like me, thought kids should use their hands to hold their magic markers when they draw a picture, instead of using a remote control device to direct the marker.

The winner and my personal favorite was the Lock ‘n Bake Baking Pan, with sides that fold down for easy access to your cake or lasagna. This is a simple, practical device that will probably do very well on QVC.

What I like best about this invention is that it illustrates the point that useful, creative inventions are not usually completely new; they are improvements on something we already use that make it easier, faster, safer or more attractive. The best new products are probably tweakings of familiar products.

© Copyright 2007 Dixie Darr. All rights reserved

In spirituality on May 7, 2007 at 8:01 am

Fairy Godmother

“Help me be a blessing to someone today.” Morning prayer

My stepmother keeps what I call a “Fairy Godmother” bank account. When she inherited money from her sister, she put it aside in a special account that she dips into only to give to others that she wants to bless. I have been the recipient of her philanthropy as have most of her nieces, nephews and grandchildren. She gives to nurses at my dad’s doctor’s offices who go out of their way to be friendly and anyone else who she thinks deserves a reward.

I told her that when I grow up and can put away a little money after I pay my bills, I want to have a Fairy Godmother account, too.

“It’s not just money,” she reminded me. “You can bless somebody by smiling and being friendly, by baking them something special or giving them a bouquet flowers from your garden.”

She’s right. My friend, Jane blesses me occasionally with CDs of music, books and seminars. Members of my church reward me when they tell me that my column is the first thing they look for when the get our local paper. My writers group generously pass on tips and contacts.

Looked at from this broader perspective, we can all be fairy godmothers. Start now.

©2007 Dixie Darr. All rights reserved