Dixie Darr

Archive for the ‘creativity’ Category

Honky Tonk Angels

In creativity, music on August 2, 2017 at 7:03 am

You’ve seen plenty of lists of the greatest albums of all time published by the likes of Rolling Stone and Billboard. Maybe you noticed that those lists are dominated by men.
The people at NPR noticed and decided to stage “an intervention, a remedy, a correction of the historical record.” They polled 50 women across NPR and compiled a list of the 150 greatest albums made by women between 1964 and the present. Check it out here.
The top ten includes two albums from the 60s, two from the 90s, two from this century, and four from the 70s including the number one, Joni Mitchell’s Blue. Not surprisingly, three of my four favorites hail from this decade – Blue, Tapestry by Carole King, and Pearl by Janis Joplin. Rounding out my top four is Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black just to prove my musical taste didn’t get stuck 45 years ago.
I’ve played all four obsessively and have songs from each on my playlist.
My greatest album list would include Laura Nyro’s Eli and the 13th Confession. You’ve probably never heard of the album or her. Your loss. She makes this list at #82, but not for that album.
Now, I’ll stop dating myself and encourage you to check out the list. It’s fun just to browse through it and there’s bound to be something there for everybody’s taste.
If you start feeling really nostalgic, take a look at this 15-minute video of girl groups from the 60s or this longer documentary The Story of Black Girl Groups in the 60s.
Prefer a movie? Try Selena or Dream Girls or one of the many versions of A Star is Born.
What are your favorites?


In Books, creativity, Home on July 7, 2017 at 6:37 pm

I’ve been a little on edge all week. I blame the heat and the return of my gout and my air conditioning problems and my friend’s frightening encounter with the police and a holiday I couldn’t celebrate.
At times like these, I lose myself in books and music.
I’m reading Song of the Lion, that third entry into the Chee and Leaphorn Navajo mysteries conceived by Tony Hillerman and continued after his death by his daughter, Anne Hillerman. The second one disappointed me, but so far this one is fine. It’s also set in winter, which helps me to mentally cool off a little during this heat wave.
The playlist I listen to the most includes my current obsession, Africa by Toto (Toto?), The Blue Danube, Rhapsody in Blue, Leonard Cohen’s Anthem, some Paul Simon, and anything by the Beatles.
That reminds me. Happy birthday to Ringo, who turns 77 on 7/7.
So. The holiday is over, my air conditioning is fixed, I’m coping with gout by taking more ibuprofen than I should, and I’m having breakfast tomorrow with my friend. Things are looking up.
Now if the temperature would just beat a retreat, I might reset to happy next week.

Not Always Pretty

In creativity, writing on June 23, 2017 at 6:58 am

Something remarkable happened this morning. I looked in the mirror and liked what I saw. I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I could say that. It didn’t last. The next time I glanced up, that person was gone. Mostly, I don’t know the woman in the mirror, and I don’t recognize myself in photographs, except old ones from a time when I did regularly look in the mirror.

I don’t give much thought to what I look like anymore, which should be obvious to anyone looking at me. (Stop that!) I haven’t worn makeup for twenty years. I forget to check and make sure that my hair isn’t sticking out at odd angles. When that inevitably happens, I hope you’ll think I’m being deliberately edgy and not just negligent.

Many years ago a colleague asked me what I thought was my best feature. I guess he wanted me to say something like my eyes or my smile because he seemed annoyed when I answered, “My mind.”

I was actually rephrasing an old song from Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention that hardly anybody would remember called What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body – “I think it’s your mind.”

People tell me I think too much, and I definitely live inside my head. It’s different in here and kind of a mess. I don’t always know what I think about things until I work it out here on the page.

Think of these daily posts as a peek inside my mind, unquestionably my best feature.

It isn’t always pretty and it doesn’t show up in mirrors, but it did let me use that silly picture to give you a giggle on Friday morning.

How the Rainbow Came to Signify Gay Pride

In creativity, Learning, spirituality on June 8, 2017 at 10:19 am

Remember when a rainbow was just an arc of pretty colors in the sky? In Genesis after the flood, God sent a rainbow as a sign that He would never send another flood to destroy all life on the earth.

The cynic in me notes that He didn’t promise not to destroy the earth by other means, but I digress.

In 1978 San Francisco’s gay community searched for a symbol that represented their fight for equal rights. Gilbert Baker, a 27-year-old artist and drag queen, began brainstorming for an icon that would communicate beauty, diversity, and power and be easy to replicate. A rainbow fit the bill and soon became the most prominent symbol of the international gay rights movement.

Today we see it everywhere, especially now in the middle of LGBTQ Pride month. It has even entered the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection as an example of effective social design.

I love the irony of seeing the religious right distancing themselves from God’s most beautiful symbol because it has been so thoroughly embraced as representing the cause of human rights for LGBTQ people.

I’ve always loved rainbows. They’re fun, lighthearted, and carefree, which coincidentally also happens to be what the word gay originally meant.

The Dinner Party

In creativity, Finding Your Calling, spirituality on May 22, 2017 at 12:46 pm

Name three people, alive or dead, that you’d like to have dinner with and why. This classic ice breaker is as revealing as it is delicious to contemplate. Here are my selections.

Studs Terkel wrote my all-time favorite book, Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. This book influenced me more than all the sociology of work classes I took in college. One quotation, Most of us are looking for a calling, not a job. Most of us have jobs that are too small for our spirit. Jobs are not big enough for people” set me on a lifelong quest to find my calling (still searching) and probably made me reject the idea of having only one job. Originally published in 1974, the bestselling book examined people from all walks of life who were, according to the author, working “for daily meaning as well as daily bread.”

A Chicago broadcaster, Terkel listened to America and allowed us to listen, too. Five decades of interviews with ordinary and remarkable people will soon be available here. Meanwhile, you can listen to a few hundred of them here. You might want to choose his interview with my next dinner companion, Maya Angelou.

That Voice and the intellect and compassion behind it would be plenty to include her in my fantasy dinner party, but there’s so much more.

Bill Gallo of Westword had 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.”

Her dizzying list of achievements guarantees that she would be a fascinating conversationalist. I’d be happy just to sit back and let that voice wash over me. She’s all over the internet, but I recommend that you watch her read her poem, “Still I Rise.” 

My final companion would be my dear friend Reverend Sheila Johnson. Some people you just resonate with. You know the moment you meet that you’re going to be friends. It was that way with Sheila when we briefly worked together for a training company more than twenty years ago. Like the other two, she is versatile, gregarious, and real. In addition to her work as a hospital chaplain, she writes, paints, teaches and sews.

She makes me feel grounded and would keep me from going all fan girl with the other two, either babbling or struck dumb.

Plus, if I had dinner with Maya Angelou and didn’t invite her, Sheila would kill me.

One Thing Leads to Another

In Books, creativity, Learning, Learning Tools, writing on May 18, 2017 at 11:59 am








I’ve taken a circuitous route through life, with eccentric interests, oddball jobs, and curious relationships. The organizing principle is lifelong learning, so I suppose it wasn’t surprising that I chose to earn a master’s degree in Adult Education.

Two books by Ron Gross, The Lifelong Learner and The Independent Scholar’s Handbook, had captivated my imagination because I wanted to learn everything, and I preferred to do it on my own. While working on my thesis, I found another book that encapsulated everything I wanted in life. The Adult’s Learning Projects by Allen Tough describes the deliberate efforts to learn undertaken by adults of all ages.

He found that an astounding 98% of adults participate in an average of eight learning projects per year. Those he called High Learners spent 2,000 hours per year in 15-20 learning projects.

I have found that one interest inevitably leads me to a number of related mini projects. In fact, the independent scholars’ motto is “One thing leads to another.”

Here’s a personal example.

A couple of years ago, I decided to write a cozy mystery. Although I had never before been interested in writing fiction, I certainly read enough of it.

I started making notes and decided I needed to learn about writing fiction, which led to reading dozens of books (my preferred learning method) on the topic.

I learned to use Scrivener software for writers.

My story was set in the imaginary town of Mayhem Gulch, located in Clear Creek County, near Empire and Idaho Springs. Yes, I know Mayhem Gulch is a trail head in Jefferson County. Work with me, people; this is fiction. Anyway, that meant I had to learn about that part of the world. More books and a few trips to the mountains. Now I have a Facebook friend who lives there and has agreed to answer some of my questions.

My plan is for a series of Tiny House Mysteries leading to an online study of tiny houses and the people who live in them.

Since I want to draw the book cover, I need to learn how to draw and how to design book covers. I also want to draw a map of my fictional town.

Finally, I will have to acquire knowledge of indie publishing.

Unfortunately, all these side paths have distracted me from the original goal of writing the book. And I haven’t even mentioned the things I want to learn that don’t have anything to do with the book. You probably won’t be surprised that I’m now reading about how to juggle many projects.

It’s always something.


In creativity, Learning, work on May 16, 2017 at 10:20 am

I’m old, fat, and a lousy housekeeper. I’m also smart, funny, and compassionate. I know these things because they play on a never-ending loop inside my head. Sometimes they’re more annoying than an ear worm of “Play That Funky Music White Boy” (you’re welcome) although most of the time I don’t even notice them.

The Buddha called this constant mental chatter monkey mind because it’s like a monkey swinging through the trees who grabs one branch and lets it go only to seize another.

For at least 60 years, advertisers have tried to manipulate our behavior by infiltrating our monkey mind and inserting subliminal messages into various media. Since then, almost everybody in the self-help field recommends using positive affirmations to reprogram our minds and help us make positive changes.

Seems a little cheesy to me, and although I’ve tried it off and on, I never could stick with telling myself “I believe in myself and my ability to succeed” over and over throughout the day.

And yet, there may be something to it.

Meet Jon Morrow, paralyzed from the neck down after being born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy and then suffering a horrendous car crash, Jon nevertheless graduated from college, built several wildly successful businesses, made millions of dollars and became something of an internet star.

I can only move my facial muscles,” he said, and he lived with a virtual gun to his head, the idea of living “in a nursing home bed somewhere watching TV for 15 hours a day surrounded by other people waiting to die. To me that is the scariest thing imaginable. Instead, he used his mind, which worked perfectly well.

He credits his success to listening to inspirational audio books and podcasts 4-8 hours a day and creating a new reality for himself.

Think about that.

What’s on your playlist?

Listen to Jon’s remarkable interview with James Altucher, another one of my role models.

Mothers of Invention (not you, Frank Zappa)

In creativity on May 12, 2017 at 7:16 am

Please don’t wish me happy Mother’s Day on Sunday. I’m not a mother and never wanted to be one except to my various cats over the years, and we celebrate privately.

This can be a painful day for some of us without children, even if we chose that status. Remember there are also thousands (millions?) of women who have lost children or who were never able to have them despite their intense desire, fervent prayers, and modern technology.

Instead, I’ll choose to honor these women. Call them my spiritual mothers if you must.

Harriet Tubman – an American slave who escaped and became an abolitionist, humanitarian, and an armed scout and spy for the United States Army during the Civil War. She may become the first woman to appear on our $20 bill, doubtful under the current administration, but still refuses to smile in any of her photographs.


Rachel Carson – an American marine biologist, author, and conservationist whose book Silent Spring spawned the global environmental movement. Her writings led to a nationwide ban on DDT and to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Probably spinning in her grave.


Rosa Parks – her act of defiance in refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus to a white man led to her becoming the First Lady of Civil Rights. Throughout her life she insisted that the struggle for justice was not over and there was more work to be done. Boy was she right.


Jane Jacobs – an author, journalist, and activist whose book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities sparked a revolution in urban studies. Her focus on how cities served their inhabitants instead of architects and designers brought a fresh, community-based approach to city building. She’s the reason I want to study urban design in my next life.

Gloria Steinem – a writer, activist, and trailblazer for the feminist movement in the 1960s and 70s. She co-founded Ms. Magazine and the Women’s Media Center, an organization that works “to make women visible and powerful in the media.” When I grow up I want to be Gloria Steinem.

Bishop Karen Oliveto – the first openly gay bishop in The United Methodist Church. Her territory, the Mountain Sky Area, covers Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah and a small portion of Idaho. My bishop and a woman whose warmth and wisdom continues to win over her misguided detractors. It’s 2017, people. Grow up.

We All Live in a Yellow Submarine

In creativity on May 11, 2017 at 7:48 am

I’m claustrophobic, so I would never actually live in a yellow submarine or even a purple one. The image, however, is iconic and represents everything light and happy in life.

Written by Paul as a children’s song for Ringo, the most popular Beatle, to sing, it first appeared on Revolver. A happy ditty, it was inexplicably paired on the single with Eleanor Rigby, probably the gloomiest song they ever wrote.

It became an effervescent animated film wherein the Beatles travel in said submersible vehicle to save Pepperland from the music-hating Blue Meanies.

The irresistible image appears on all sorts of objects, including a large and difficult jigsaw puzzle. While I can’t have puzzles because my cat would knock the pieces off the table and try to eat them, I do own several other items.

A journal

A tote bag

Two Christmas tree ornaments – one for home and another for our church family tree

A lunch box (used as decoration only)

A testament to the lasting popularity of the image, Lego recently introduced a Yellow Submarine building kit. I’m pretty sure my cat would try to eat this, too, so I won’t be getting one. Nor do I need a mug, an aquarium ornament, a sheet set, a tablecloth, a tee shirt, a hot wheels toy or most of the other yellow submarine products available on Amazon.

I did, however, just order a decal for my computer and a tea infuser, which I discovered as I was researching information for this post. In this life, you can’t have too much happiness and joy.

How the Light Gets In

In creativity, Denver, spirituality on May 9, 2017 at 8:21 am


A nasty hailstorm hit the Denver area yesterday afternoon, hurling golfball and baseball-sized ice bombs that dented cars, battered roofs, and wiped out gardens all over town. Some of the stained glass windows at my church took a beating.

Pastor Brad called in some help and cleaned up the glass shards and rainwater in the sanctuary, using press and seal plastic wrap for a temporary fix on the shattered panes. I’m a member of the Board of Trustees, a committee charged with caring for our building, so we will have to make some decisions about the repair soon.

That isn’t as easy a fix as it might seem. The stained glass windows were first installed around 90 years ago and fell into disrepair as church membership dropped and finances became precarious. We have rebounded over the past five years, and a successful capital campaign allowed us to begin planning for restoration and protection of our treasured windows. Just last week we submitted a grant proposal to help with this prohibitively expensive project.

That money won’t come through for months, but clearly we will need a more permanent solution than cling wrap before then. At any rate, we will repair the windows, and within the next year restore them so they’re ready to withstand another hundred years or so.

As I stood in the sanctuary and gazed at the late sunshine streaming through the broken panes, I thought of the late Leonard Cohen’s brilliant song, Anthem, that proclaims “there is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

And I couldn’t help thinking about the cracked and broken United Methodist Church (see To Love Somebody) and hoping the universe is letting in some light.