Dixie Darr

Archive for the ‘creativity’ Category

Pop Culture

In Books, creativity, Learning, Learning Tools, music on January 22, 2018 at 4:18 pm

For years, I watched Entertainment Tonight religiously. If I had to miss an episode, I recorded it to watch later. At some point, however, I realized that I had no clue who the people were they were talking about. I think I aged out of their target demographic.
It may have coincided with the TV writers’ strike in 1988 when the networks started filling time slots with unscripted shows, reality shows in other words. I had absolutely zero interest in the various Survivor-like shows, although I did like the talent shows like American Idol and Nashville Star and So You Think You Can Dance.
Then came the Kardashianization of America when kids started stating their ambition was to “be famous” with no thought of what they might have to do to become famous. I blame Ryan Seacrest who created and produces the show. I mean, ick. Why anyone wants to know anything at all about any member of that family is beyond me, but I can’t look at a news website without seeing something about one or another of them.
Nevertheless, I do like learning about exceptional entertainment options, and I keep up with them by listening to the NPR podcast, Pop Culture Happy Hour. Host Linda Holmes and three thoughtful, intelligent guests choose one movie, TV show, musician, or play to discuss and recommend. This is my major venue for discovering worthwhile culture.
Recently, I learned from them about the Amazon Prime series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and also the captivating song, Havana, by Camila Cabella. Unlike ET, I don’t have to wade through a dumpster full of detritus to get to the good stuff. At my age, there’s no time for that nonsense.


Missing Out

In Colorado, creativity, Learning, Learning Tools on January 19, 2018 at 8:46 pm







Once upon a time, the good people at Colorado Free University offered me a job as their assistant director of courses or some such title. It would have been perfect except I couldn’t live on the salary they were offering. A single woman on my own with no fall-back position, I had to be practical, and the job that eventually came along was one I thought I really wanted. I wanted to work with adult students who were creating portfolios of prior learning for college credit, and that’s the job I got, but as frequently happens, these things don’t turn out the way you expect.
While I became a master of portfolio learning, developing courses and teaching and helping hundreds of students, I also learned that colleges and faculty really don’t want people to learn outside the classroom. It’s more lucrative to keep students penned in by the way the teacher wants them to learn. Ultimately, the colleges want to maintain control.
CFU and similar programs across the country are different. They grew out of the upheaval of the 1960s and many remain today as both resources for and reflections of the communities they serve. CFU has grown a lot since then and become somewhat more corporate, but they still offer an astonishingly wide variety of classes open to anybody who wants to sign up. That’s what the “free” is all about. The cost of taking a class is definitely NOT free.
A recent Facebook post from CFU read, “Lots of classes in our building tonight. I love walking by and seeing the lively interaction and hearing the learning going on! Here are a few:
Carol Core explains a thrifty way to finance building your own custom home.
Lee Claymore talks about preparing for Medicare.
Lisa Sveland shows folks how to be Money Smart.
Caitlin Berve leads students in Origami.
What wonderful variety!”

In my “road not taken” moments, I sometimes wonder how my life would have been different it I had said yes to that job. It must be wonderful to be surrounded by people learning things they really want to learn. I like the idea so much that I set the cozy mystery I may or may not be writing at an adult education arts colony in the Colorado mountains. I’m learning that one of the reasons to write fiction is to create a world you’d like to spend time in. I can only live one life at a time, but I can imagine so many alternate universes. I may end up writing this book after all.

The Day the Alphabet Died

In Books, creativity, writing on January 4, 2018 at 4:56 pm

Sue Grafton, author of the alphabet mystery series and creator of PI Kinsey Millhone, was my favorite author. Her passing last week stunned the publishing and reading world and left us bereft for the loss of both writer and character.

She started the series with A is for Alibi in 1982 while fantasizing about ways to murder her ex-husband. Y is for Yesterday came out in August last year and is, for my money, her best yet. I and her other fans had dreaded for years the coming of Z, the final book in the series. She had said there would be no more after that. She wouldn’t start on a second alphabet or switch to some other titling strategy. Friends frequently asked me what she would do after that, and I explained that she’d be almost 80, although she looked much younger in her pictures, so maybe she would retire. Nobody really believed that. Writers never retire.

My initial reaction to learning that she had died of a rare form of cancer was to mourn the loss of her stories. I suppose that’s natural since I never met her and had an endless, loving acquaintance with her books. Her family stated that she had not yet started Z, and there would be no ghostwriter. The alphabet would end at Y.

I wonder. Fans have extended the life of Jane Austen and Sherlock Holmes by offering new fiction featuring those characters. Why not Kinsey? Maybe some bright soul will bring her into the 21st century and let a sixtysomething Kinsey use computers and cell phones and the Internet to solve a whole new spate of mysteries. I’d buy that. She’d make a terrific old lady.

I need a new button, something along the lines of “Kinsey Lives.”

Hit Pause

In Christmas, creativity, Learning on December 22, 2017 at 8:46 am

My Secular Advent, Day Twenty
Are you ready for Christmas? That’s the question on everybody’s minds with only three days left until the big day. Waitresses and grocery store clerks ask it, as do people at the gym. Yes, I’m ready. Today I’m having lunch with a friend. Tomorrow I go to the library and pick up a few last-minute items at King Soopers. That’s it.
Time to hit the pause button and take a few days to just relax and wait, the advent admonition. As a society, we are not good at waiting and as an individual, I’m pretty terrible at it, which is why I always have my Kindle loaded with 600+ books with me. If I’m stuck waiting I can always read.
Speaking of reading, here are a couple of sites with excellent material.
The Smithsonian magazine offers wonderful articles on art, science, culture, and nature to feed your brain. Everyone can find something here to love. Try “Why Charles Dickens Wrote A Christmas Carol.”
Maybe you like inspirational quotations and short essays or talks. Try Wordporn.com I recommend the quotation from Bob Marley that starts, “Only once in your life, I truly believe, you find someone who can completely turn your world around.” Another gem is Carl Sagan’s “This Speech Will Change Your Life” on their YouTube channel.
Pause and breathe.

Bleak Midwinter

In Christmas, Church, creativity, Denver on December 21, 2017 at 9:43 am

My Secular Advent, Day Nineteen

Snow is falling. Snow on snow. In Denver today, the sun rose at 7:18 and will set at 4:38, and around the world, people will celebrate the longest night of the year.

Nobody really knows when Jesus was born. Some early traditions hold that the Annunciation, when Mary was told she would give birth to Jesus, was March 25 and nine months later is December 25.

The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was in 336, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor. A few years later, Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th December.

Many believe that the midwinter date was chosen because people were already celebrating the pagan winter solstice festival of Saturnalia at that time, so the transition to Christianity came easily. Holly, mistletoe, and Christmas carols also stem from the winter solstice.

Christians call Jesus the light of the world, so situating his birth when darkness begins to fade also makes theological sense.

Scandinavia, the Feast of Juul, or Yule, lasted for 12 days celebrating the rebirth of the sun and giving rise to the custom of burning a Yule log.

Thousands of Druids and Pagans gather at Stonehenge, England to chant, dance and sing while waiting to see the spectacular sunrise.

In Iran, families often kept fires burning all night to assist the battle between the light and dark forces.

Lighting candles or a fireplace are ways to honor these ancient traditions. If you don’t have a fireplace, find the Netflix video of a crackling fireplace and burn a little pinon incense.

Finally, since the winter solstice is an ultimate natural phenomenon, find a way to connect with nature. Fill your bird feeders and put out some peanuts for the local squirrels. Take a walk around a lake. Buy a flowering plant.

I’m planning to snuggle with my cat, eat some chicken tortilla soup, listen to Christmas carols, and read a book.

Here comes the sun/son.

Diversity on the Tree

In Books, Christmas, Church, creativity on December 18, 2017 at 9:28 am

My Secular Advent, Day Sixteen

Anyone driving past our church will see the big neighborhood Christmas tree in the corner of our parking lot at 32nd and Osceola, filled with thousands of white lights and big white snowflakes. Inside we have an elegant tree in the lobby decorated with teal and purple balls and gold Bethlehem stars. The sanctuary features a tree with Chrismon ornaments, white and gold symbols of Christianity.

Our family Christmas tree in the fellowship hall is my favorite. Each family brought decoration that reflected their interests. My contributions were the Beatles in a yellow submarine and a gay cowboy.

My two four-foot white trees at home follow no theme. Not for me a perfectly coordinated tree with only red (or even purple) glass balls. Boring. Instead, I display a wide variety of ornaments collected over a lifetime, including:

A star of David from the little girls next door in my old neighborhood;

Delicate clay sculptures of a bear fetish, a howling coyote, and a chile pepper, plus a couple of turquoise glass hearts from a long-ago trip to Taos;

A tiny sleeping angel from a trip to Scottsdale, plus a plump angel with black braids and rattan wings ordered from Guatemala;

Many cowboy hats and boots and a couple more of those gay cowboys;

One tiny red suede moccasin and tipi I made from a kit;

A duplicate of that yellow submarine ornament plus a blown glass drum from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band;

Doll-sized ice skates and red sneakers;

A red and white doll dress crocheted by my Grandma Wood for my Tiny Terri Lee doll.

Some of my favorites came from my sister-in-law who has given me a unique ornament each year–from a purple sequined partridge to this year’s stack of tiny books (pictured). Has there ever been a more perfect ornament for me? Nope. I guess after almost 60 years of friendship dating from before her marriage to my brother 50 years ago, she knows me pretty well.

Bertie’s Christmas

In Books, Christmas, creativity, neighborhood on December 12, 2017 at 8:59 am








My Secular Advent, Day Ten

Bertie doesn’t ask for much. The beleaguered and frequently bewildered six-year-old from Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series really only wants two things for Christmas, a Swiss Army knife and Irn Bru, a carbonated soft drink called “Scotland’s other national drink” (after whiskey).

He’s quite sure his mother, who considers him “The Bertie Project” will never allow him to have either. Instead, she insists that he attend psychotherapy and yoga classes, two things that annoy him the most.

She declared, “Christmas is a distraction.”

From what?” Bertie wondered.

From the real issues. From the matters that should be concerning us. Commercial manipulation, Bertie. That’s what that is.”

Bertie had remained silent.

No,” Irene continued. “There’s no doubt about it. We are being encouraged to spend on things we don’t need.”

But presents are nice,” said Bertie mildly.

He looked forward to the impending nativity play at school until the school asked parents for a volunteer to produce the play, and Bertie’s mother accepted the challenge.

Unfortunately, she thought “Nativity plays are very tired.”

I’m going to change the setting entirely,” Irene said. “We shall be in the contemporary West Bank.

They heard the news in Big Lou’s coffee bar on Dundas Street.

I feel sorry for that wee boy,” said Big Lou, from behind her counter.

Angus Lordie, the portrait painter from Drummond Place, decided to make the day special for Bertie despite his mother’s lack of Christmas spirit. He dressed as Santa and surprised Bertie on Christmas Eve with a can of Irn Bru and shared a whiskey or two with Bertie’s father.

When our families disappoint us, it’s always a blessing to have good friends and neighbors.

Fathers and Fantasy

In Books, Christmas, creativity, Learning on December 11, 2017 at 9:58 am








My Secular Advent, Day Nine
Although called the Father of Modern Fantasy, JRR Tolkein had influences dating from at least as long ago as the Victorian era. Predating his publication of The Hobbit in 1937, he wrote illustrated letters from Father Christmas to his young children starting in 1920. Each year more characters were added, such as the North Polar Bear (Father Christmas’s helper), the Snow Man (his gardener), Ilbereth the elf (his secretary), and various other, minor characters. The major characters would relate tales of Father Christmas’s battles against goblins who rode on bats and the various pranks committed by the North Polar Bear.

Here’s an excerpt from the 1925 letter to John and Michael, the oldest boys, in a shaky hand by the then one thousand nine hundred and twenty-five-year-old Father Christmas. He had to write to both boys at once because of troubles caused by his clumsy chief helper, the North Polar Bear.

“It all happened like this: one very windy day last November my hood blew off and went and stuck on the top of the North Pole. I told him not to, but the North Polar Bear climbed up to the thin top to get it down—and he did. The pole broke in the middle and fell on the roof of my house, and the North Polar Bear fell through the hole it made into the dining room with my hood over his nose, and all the snow fell off the roof into the house and melted and put out all the fires and ran down into the cellars, where I was collecting this year’s presents, and the North Polar Bear’s leg got broken.”

Tolkein lovers will appreciate the humorous and endearing stories and magical illustrations, which were gathered into a book, Letters from Father Christmas, in 1976, on the third anniversary of Tolkein’s death.

We All Shine On

In Christmas, creativity, Resistance on December 9, 2017 at 10:40 am

My Secular Advent, Day Seven

The first week of Advent celebrates hope. We rest in the darkness waiting and preparing for the glorious event that we know is coming. Jan Karon wrote in her latest book, To Be Where You Are, “Advent for me (is), the expectation that something wonderful will happen” Unfortunately, in most of life, we don’t know what’s coming, and we still must wait and hope.

Our much-loved former President Barak Obama said, “I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.” We need these words now more than ever.

We need to continue to forge forward, believing that this is a time of darkness but not despair. Look up at the night sky and see tiny points of light breaking through the darkness. Untold millions of them. And that’s what’s happening in this bleak midwinter here on earth. No one has the answer to what will finally bring peace on earth, good will to all people, yet millions of individuals perform daily acts of kindness and integrity, becoming beacons to those unable to speak or act for themselves.

Belief in a brighter future requires action to realize our hopes. As Maya Angelou wrote in her poem, Still I Rise

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”

In bitter times like these, maintaining hope is difficult, but it is our nature. We are, after all, made of stardust. We rise and we shine.

It’s what we do.

Friday Favorites

In Christmas, creativity, music on December 8, 2017 at 9:30 am

My Secular Advent, Day 6

In case you missed it, you must watch this Star Trek version of “Let it Snow”

If you’re tired of hearing the old Christmas standards, Sia’s new album, Everyday is Christmas https://wwwis getting rave reviews for its bouncy tunes and sly lyrics, especially Santa is Coming For Us, Candy Cane Lane, and Puppies are Forever. NPR’s Glen Weldon on Pop Culture Happy Hour declared these to contain “the queerest lyrics ever, supplanting don we now our gay apparel.”

“I’ll call Rudolph down to meet us in the street
We can dance, he can prance
There’s no can’t’s, ’cause here everything is possible.”

A couple of days ago, I mentioned the unlikely duet between David Bowie and Bing Crosby on Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy. You can watch the video here.

Finally, yesterday I wrote about my love for the classic movie, A Christmas Story.  Here’s the audio of Jean Shepherd reading the Playboy version of the chapter that became the movie, “Duel in the Snow or Red Ryder Nails a Cleveland Street Kid” from his novel, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash.