Dixie Darr

Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

How Reading Improves Creativity

In Books, creativity on January 29, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Creativity frequently comes from combining concepts from unrelated fields. A classic example is Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, which was a combination of hand printing with the use of a wine press.

Variety is the Key

One way improve creativity is to solicit input from a wide variety of subjects. And an easy way to do that is throughout reading. Ideally, your reading will include a mix of both topics and media, that is, books, magazines, news articles, websites, blogs. You also need to deliberately choose subjects outside your areas of interest. This allows concepts to spill over into one another.

“Reading remains an unsurpassed vehicle for the transmission of interesting new ideas and perspectives” according to Listening to Steven Johnson, author of  Where Good Ideas Come From. You can get a taste for his ideas by watching his TED talk.

A Reading Sabbatical

Bill Gates is a person who understands the value of reading, “My confidence and sense of curiosity—you can trace it back to just that I loved reading.” He famously takes an annual reading vacation compressing a vast amount of reading into short period of time.  While most of us probably can’t or don’t want to take a reading sabbatical, reading one book at a time won’t cut it, if only because of the length of time that passes between reading different books.

Never read one book at a time.

I solve that by never reading just one book at a time.

Current reading:

CD in the car – Dancehall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman –part of a project to reread the Hillerman novels which I started reading 25 years ago. This time, I’m listening to the CDs.

Audio of Mary Ann in Autumn by Armistead Maupin.

Creative is a Verb by Patti Digh

How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly by Connie May Fowler

Unmarketing by Scott Stratten

Every day, I also read many online articles, blogs, news stories, and an occasional ebook.


Can You Say Thank You?

In Learning, writing on January 26, 2011 at 8:34 am

The assignment for my business communications students was to write a thank you note. One man turned in a standard rejection letter sent by his Human Resources department to unsuccessful job applicants. I gave it back to him with the explanation that it wasn’t a thank you note. He looked at me as if I were incredibly stupid and smugly pointed to the first line: “Thank you for applying . . . “

Lesson number one. Using the words, thank you, doesn’t make it a thank you note. The purpose of a thank you note is to show gratitude. The purpose of his letter was to tell people they didn’t get a job. See the difference?

Penmanship is no longer taught in school and according to a CBS Sunday Morning story, some people think schools should stop teaching students how to write by hand at all because the prevalence and ease of using keyboards render handwriting unnecessary. I hope they’re wrong. Even as I struggle sometimes to decipher the gorgeous but sometimes illegible writing of my one friend who still prefers letters to email, it means something that she made the effort to handwrite a letter. Finding one of her missives in my mailbox makes my day.

Make somebody else’s day today. Write a thank you note and add some positive energy in the universe. Whom would you like to thank? It could be:

Authors of books you enjoyed

Doctors or other medical personnel who treat you like a human being

Anyone who makes your day more pleasant

Gardener whose yard pleases you on your daily walk

Call center technician who actually helped you.

Anyone who gives you a gift

Write it by hand on a pretty card, handmade paper, or a picture postcard (remember those?) and send it through the mail! A thank you by email is better than no thank you at all, but part of the fun is imagining the nice surprise when your benefactor finds your note among the usual bills, catalogs, and credit card solicitations in the mail.

Future Recovering Lawyers of America

In Uncategorized on January 25, 2011 at 6:25 am

When I learned that my best friend’s daughter, Andy, wants to go to law school, I had my usual kneejerk reaction: skepticism and dread.  My eyes rolled and I thought, ”just what the world needs—another lawyer.”

Huge Debts, No Jobs

It didn’t help that that I had just read a New York Times article about law school graduates facing huge debts but no jobs. I’m guessing they didn’t expect that. Basing your career on predictions of future openings is always risky because, not surprisingly, those predictions are usually wrong. When it is someone from the law school itself foretelling a rosy future, consider that he or she has a vested interest in getting you to enroll.

Of course, I seriously doubt that these future recovering lawyers picked law as their career because someone told them we need more lawyers. Chances are better that they were influenced by the glamour of TV lawyers and the belief that a law degree would guarantee a high-paying job.

The field of law is littered with people who chose it for these reasons only to find out that it was neither glamorous nor necessarily lucrative and that they were spectacularly unsuited for the job.

I once met a woman who was cleaning my neighbor’s house. She was also a lawyer. While trying to establish her own practice, she worked as a housecleaner to pay the bills. “It’s all cleaning up dirt,” she said. Another neighbor was astonished when I told her this story. “I thought lawyers made a lot of money,” she said, clearly confused. Some do, I agreed. Some don’t.

Know What You’re Getting Into

I suggested that Andy find an internship in a law office or maybe work as a paralegal or legal assistant while she’s finishing her undergraduate degree. That way, she would at least know what she was getting into.

The Times article points out that “the glut of diplomas, the dearth of jobs and those candy-coated employment statistics have now yielded a crop of furious young lawyers who say they mortgaged their future under false pretenses. You can sample their rage, and their admonitions, on what are known as law school scam blogs, with names like Shilling Me Softly, Subprime JD and Rose Colored Glasses.”

Anyone who’s thinking about law school would be wise to give the field a clear-eyed inspection.

What I Did on My Day Off*

In Books, creativity, Learning on January 21, 2011 at 9:24 pm

First thing this morning, I made my weekly trip to the Tattered Cover bookstore. I love stores that open early in the morning (M-F 6:30 a.m.). While there I sampled three books:

Where Women Create, a quarterly Stampington publication

I love looking at creative people’s homes. This one featured Mary Emmerling whom I have been following for 20+ years.

Art Journaling, a semiannual Stampington publication

Great ideas for art journal techniques from a variety of artists.

59 Seconds : Change your Life in Under a Minute by Richard Wiseman

I especially liked his formula for a perfect diary, focusing on gratitude and the positive things in your life. I’ll be trying some of these techniques in my journal. Friday’s assignment is to review positive events in your life.

Back home, I listened to the audio version of Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson (also available in hard cover, CD and Kindle). I’m just getting started on this one. So far he’s talking about complexity of things such as large cities and the Internet which exponentially increase the occurrence of creative ideas.

In the car, I listened to the CD book People of Darkness by Tony Hillerman. It’s been 25 years since I first read it and am enjoying my second trip through Navajo country.

Lunch at Chick-fil-A with a booth of screaming kids behind me. I read the ebook, Freedom, Money, Time and the Key to Creative Success by Mark McGuiness at Lateral Action. It’s basically a 34-page ad for his upcoming course in creative entrepreneurship that makes the point that artists and creatives have an unfair advantage at Internet marketing because they create original content. Good information. I was très relieved when the little brats behind me finally finished their chicken nuggets and moved on to the play area. I need to find a new place to have lunch.

I downloaded three podcast interviews and an ebook from Lateral Action’s ecourse in creative entrepreneurship.

Watched a short video of the living kitchen (tweeted by Leo at ZenHabits).

Reviewed four papers for the university writing center (my day job) and grew frustrated by the constant overuse and misuse of semicolons. There are only two legitimate uses for semicolons, people. If you don’t know what those are, just don’t use them at all, okay?

At 3 p.m. I joined an online master class on blogging with Leo Babauta of A-List Blogging. I appreciated the brief reviews of four websites, but found the “chat” annoying.

That’s it. *Surprise! My day off was remarkably similar to every other day.

Five Reasons to Return to College

In Degree programs, Learning on January 18, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Too often, the decision to go back to school is a knee-jerk reaction to change. Schools know that their enrollment rises when the economy tanks. Can’t find a job? Return to school. It gives you an acceptable answer to the question, “what do you do?” Saying, “I’m a student” is so much easier to say than I’m unemployed, even if you’re 40. Going to school makes you seem like someone with direction and purpose. A man with a plan. A woman on the rise.

A classroom may not be the best place for learning. Albert Einstein famously said, “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.”  Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk or Brain Rules by John Medina illustrate this idea. Common sense indicates that colleges are increasingly expensive and decreasingly relevant. For more info, see Anya Kamanetz’ TEDxAtlanta talk or read her book, DIY U.

Make sure to check for degree requirements and don’t just assume you know what’s needed. For example, starting your own business does not require any degree at all—and for the record, most degrees in business administration emphasize skills needed to work in corporations, not skills for entrepreneurs.

  1. You need certification for your field – If you want to work in corporate America or government and advance to the management level, you probably need a degree. Depending on the position, you may need a specific degree, but maybe not. Degree requirements are typically written into the job description, and you won’t even be considered without the degree.
  2. You want to change fields – The loss of jobs in the auto and other industries cost Michigan 335,000 jobs. The state launched the No Worker Left Behind program in 2007 and has retrained 80,000 workers. The largest group trained for jobs in health care. When my friend Sheila decided in her early 50s to enter the ministry, she needed to go to seminary for a master’s of divinity degree to meet her church’s requirement. Before you sign up for college classes, however, make sure you really need additional education. You may be able to adapt your current skills to the new field.
  3. Fulfill a personal goal—My friend Pat had no burning desire to finish her degree, and as a small business owner, no need to do so. However, she learned that her father’s dream was for her to finish college, so she did. Sandy is going back to college because “I just love to learn. The exchange of ideas between the teacher and the students pushes me understand and consider the material in new ways.”
  4. Be a role model for your kids—“How can I expect my kids to go to college if I don’t?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this from my adult students. Earning a degree will make your kids proud of your accomplishments and will show them that education is important throughout your life.
  5. Improve self confidence—I remember in my mid 20s going to parties where people would ask me where I went to school. Because I was smart, they were very surprised to learn that I hadn’t finished college. When I finally finished my degree at age 30, I breathed a sigh of relief that I could finally answer that question without cringing and I could stop the careful wording on my resume that, without lying, implied that I had a degree.

If you decide that college is right for you, go for it and good luck.

Confessions of a Bookaholic

In Books, Uncategorized on January 15, 2011 at 8:52 pm

One of my goals this year should be to read less. Last year, I read 139 books, including audio books, but not including ebooks. I know this because I have kept a book diary since I read years ago that Louis L’Amour kept one all his life. Also, I read so many books that I don’t always remember what I’ve read. Occasionally, I will pick up a book that sounds familiar and I can check my book diary to see if and when I read it.

Like many bookaholics, I read more than one book at a time—usually three or four. Today, I finished a novel, Just Breathe by Susan Wiggs. I am also reading Un-Marketing by Scott Stratten and Creative is a Verb by Patti Digh.

In the car, I always listen to a CD book, currently The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver.

Inside, I listen to audio books that I download from the library. Last night, I finished listening to Ape House by Sara Gruen and tonight I will start either Room by Emma Donoghue or The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson.

In addition, I have 19 books checked out from the library and 16 requested on hold, three of which will be ready for pickup tomorrow. I’ve ordered Making Handmade Books by Alisa Golden from Amazon because I not only like to read books, I also like to make them. It’s a sickness. Somebody stop me.

Illustrated Ken Robinson on Creativity in Education

In Books, creativity, Learning, Learning Tools, presentations on January 14, 2011 at 6:43 pm

I’m not always impressed with videos on the internet. They are usually little more than talking heads. Too many people use video just because they can, not because the video adds anything to the presentation. When I run across these videos, I tend to treat them as audios and just listen. Sometimes, though, people understand that video is a visual medium and give us something more than a chance to see them on camera. Case in point: here’s a great new illustrated version of my favorite TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson about changing education paradigms. Ask me if I’m surprised that Ken Robinson “gets it.”


Why I’m Finally Reading Un-Marketing and Why it Took Me So Long

In Books, Uncategorized, work on January 12, 2011 at 7:33 pm

I just started reading Scott Stratten’s Un-Marketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging and I’m enjoying it very much. I think it may turn out to be one of my favorite books of the year, and it’s only the second week in January. So why, when I ordered it last September, am I just now reading it?

First, I need to explain that I am a bookaholic. Several years ago, after running out of shelf space, I resolved to stop buying books and instead check them out of the library. That decision has worked pretty well—not that I completely stopped buying books (let’s be honest: that will never happen). But I did start using the library and quickly became what most people would consider a heavy user.

Now, when I hear about an interesting book, my first instinct is to go to the library website and request that it be delivered to my local library branch. I don’t think I quite understood at the time how well this would work. It turns out that the library almost always has whatever book I might want. The only drawback is that sometimes I have to wait a few weeks to get it.

With some books, however, I don’t want to wait, and so I buy those books. That was what happened last fall with Un-Marketing. I’d heard good things about it and didn’t want to wait until it was available from the library, so I bought it. Unfortunately, when it arrived, I had all these books from the library and they had a DUE date when I would have to return them. Obviously, I had to read them first.

Every week, more requested books would appear on the hold shelf at the library, and I had to read them first, too. As the weeks passed, Un-Marketing got buried. I almost forgot I had it. Consider the irony here. I bought it so I wouldn’t have to wait for the library and then didn’t read it because I had to read library books first. I may have to reconsider my book buying strategy.

Then a funny thing happened. I read a tweet from Barbara Winter @joblessmuse pointing me to Scott Stratten’s blog. I learned that many people consider his book not only wildly useful, but also funny. As it happened, I had just finished a book and was looking for the next one to read. Funny as well as useful sounded good to me.

So far, I’ve only sampled a few chapters and have found much to love about this book. The ideas are outstanding, it is funny, and the chapters are short (that may be another post). It gave me several ideas for future posts, so expect to read more about it over the next several days.

Meanwhile, you might want to find a copy. No matter what your business, this book can probably help. Now, I’m going to stop writing and get back to reading.

Computer + Wild West + library = a very good day

In Denver, work, writing on January 11, 2011 at 8:45 pm

I didn’t have much time to spare today. Thirty papers came through for me to review. This is my “day” job, although I can do the work day or night, whenever I feel like it. Anyway, it was a full load and I knew I didn’t have all day to do it.

That’s because today was the day for my birthday lunch with my brother and sister-in-law. We went to the Buckhorn Exchange, Denver’s oldest restaurant and bar featuring over 500 mounted animal heads plus historic artifacts of the wild west. It isn’t exactly politically correct. This time of year, when the National Western Stock Show is in town, the animals sport Santa hats, which strikes me as wildly funny. It’s the kind of place to take out of town visitors. My brother, who’s lived in Denver all his life, had never been there, so I thought it was time for him to go. I think he was pleasantly surprised because the food is quite good (you don’t have to eat Rocky Mountain oysters) and the ambience can’t be beat.

My old writing group met there every other Tuesday for a couple of years and I miss that–the people, the writing, the place. Since I learned that I have diabetes, there are many restaurants that just don’t serve food I can eat any more. Luckily, I can eat the food at the Buckhorn Exchange. I may have to become a regular there again.

After lunch, I had to get to the library to return some books that were due today. Amazingly, I still managed to get all my papers reviewed. It was a good day–the kind that makes me look forward to whatever tomorrow brings.

A College Degree is NOT Job Training

In Uncategorized on January 10, 2011 at 6:41 pm

My teaching career has consisted of teaching general studies classes to business, nursing, and criminal justice students. As adults, my students were always in a hurry to finish their degrees and tended to view my classes as “that other crap we have to take.” They were not interested in things like writing, art, or humanities and concluded that the university only required those classes to make more money from tuition. “I don’t need film studies to be a good  (fill in the blank).”

I would patiently (sometimes) explain to them that a bachelor’s degree is supposed to create well-rounded citizens. A college degree is not job training. Since most of them were there very specifically for job-related reasons, this made no sense to them.

Once on the job, many college graduates complain that they didn’t learn anything in college that would help them with their jobs. The degree did, however, help them get the job in the first place. After that, they were on their own.

Many graduation speakers acknowledge this and tell the graduates what they really need to know. From Steven Jobs exclaiming they need to do what they love to JK Rowling extolling the value of failure, graduation speeches are some of the most inspiring videos around. It might be helpful to bookmark this site and watch one of these videos when you need a boost.