Dixie Darr

Archive for the ‘creativity’ Category

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 guarantee 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.

I’ll Take the Low Road

In creativity, Denver, Home on May 2, 2017 at 12:09 pm

I’ve lived in 21 places that I remember in my lifetime, maybe more, and every one of them was originally made as a residence. A couple were apartments carved out of a single-family house, and one truly weird one was made by fusing two studios into a single, dark one-bedroom apartment with two bathrooms and remnants of a second kitchen. Anyway, this is significant only because my dream has always been to live in a space converted from another use—a former library or schoolhouse or church. I guess that goes on my list of things to do in my next lifetime along with my dream of building my own house.

When I sold my house in Highland neighborhood, I wanted an open loft space in an industrial building with no interior walls except around the bathroom. What I got instead was a typical newish condo that was called a loft but has walls in all the usual places albeit with a great layout and in a terrific location.

You can’t always get what you want, to quote the Rolling Stones.

Stewart Brand points out that these converted structures allow for unusual flexibility and attract the most creative people. In his book and YouTube series, How Buildings Learn: What happens after they’re built, he describes the commercial use of what he calls Low Road buildings—low rent, low visibility, no style, high turnover abandoned buildings in iffy parts of town. Shabby, spacious, and frequently meant to be temporary, they survive by offering endlessly adaptable spaces to artists, entrepreneurs, and inventors and states that “most of the world’s work is done in Low Road buildings.”

Urban design icon (and one of my personal heroes) Jane Jacobs agrees that vibrant and viable neighborhoods need old buildings because “new ideas must come from old buildings.” (The Death and Life of Great American Cities).

Of course, Silicon Valley grew from businesses hatched in someone’s garage. Brand also discusses creative uses of self-storage units. “In these spaces you find the damnedest things—a boxer working out, quiet adultery, an old gent in a huge chair enjoying a cigar away from his wife, an entire British barn in pieces, a hydroponic garden, stolen goods, a motorcycle repair shop, an artist’s studio, someone shaping surfboards, lots of very ordinary storage, and, about once a month somewhere in America, a dead body.”

The news in Denver recently featured the story of a veteran who was living (illegally) in a 70 square foot storage unit because even though he was working he couldn’t afford the soaring rent in Denver. That may constitute creative use of an alternative space and marginally better than sleeping on the streets, but the only positive part of the story is that he has since found real housing.

Sometimes you get what you need.

Feats of Architecture

In creativity, Denver on May 1, 2017 at 12:26 pm

This past weekend was Doors Open Denver, an annual two-day event sponsored by the Denver Architectural Foundation when the public gets to tour some of the city’s unique spaces, including high-profile, historic, and/or “artistic feats of architecture and design.” I couldn’t make up that last phrase if my life depended on it. Still, each year I look forward to choosing which of the 60 or so featured buildings I want to visit.

Usually, it’s a residence. Two years in a row, I went to Dana Crawford’s sprawling home in the Flour Mill Lofts, a project she developed in a former (you guessed it) flour mill that had stood broken and abandoned by the Platte River for as long as I can remember. She had the biggest bathtub I’ve ever seen and a huge wall of books across from a wall of windows facing both the city and the mountains. I suffered a severe case of loft envy.

Last year, I checked out the Turntable Studios, a former high rise Holiday Inn next to Mile High Stadium converted to micro apartments. In Denver’s obscene real estate market, $1200 a month will get you a pie-shaped wedge of about 310 square feet.

In some ways those choices represent the sublime and the ridiculous of Denver’s housing market. What they have in common is that both are located in buildings originally designed and constructed for other purposes. And that’s why I liked them.

This year, I toured The Temple, a former Jewish Temple built in 1882 in the inner city Curtis Park neighborhood. Reconfigured into a “contemporary artist haven” that provides affordable studio space to 23 artists while preserving an historic structure that had fallen into disrepair.

This is the kind of creative reuse of space that sparks my interest and what all my choices for this event have in common. What will I discover on next year’s list?


In Books, creativity, Learning, Lent - Season of Change on April 14, 2017 at 3:43 pm

thinker1Lent—Season of Change, Day 39

Some people just can’t leave well enough alone. They take a perfectly fine book and turn it into something else – a sculpture, a journal, a scrapbook. Part bookbinding, part bibliovandalism, part mixed-media collage, and part scrapbooking, the craft of altered books is becoming increasingly popular,” according to Makezine.

The International Society of Altered Book Artists, defines it as “any book, old or new, that has been recycled by creative means into a work of art. They can be … rebound, painted, cut, burned, folded, added to, collaged in, gold-leafed, rubber stamped, drilled, or otherwise adorned…”

The sculpture pictured, which is in the Arvada Public Library, uses folded and rolled newspapers to create a poor man’s version of The Thinker.

Altered books serve as a metaphor for the transformation of libraries themselves. A library containing only books may exist somewhere, but most modern libraries have grown far beyond a simple repository for books. People who try to defund libraries and insist they are obsolete are clearly people who have never set foot in one. 

A recent report from the Center for an Urban Future highlighted the benefits to immigrants, seniors, individuals searching for work, public school students and aspiring entrepreneurs. Not surprisingly, libraries across the country are experiencing a surge in popularity. Maria Popova, the brilliant and tireless creator of BrainPickings calls libraries “those most democratic cultural temples of wisdom where we come to commune with humanity’s most luminous minds; where the rewards are innumerable and destiny-changing, and the only price of admission is willingness.”

The cofounders of The Library as Incubator project promote using the library as “a sandbox for creativity, a productivity booster for your work, and as source of immense nourishment for the life of the mind.”

Is it any wonder that the theme for National Library Week is “Libraries Transform”?

The Circle Game

In creativity, Lent - Season of Change on March 27, 2017 at 4:20 pm

Lent – Season of Change, Day 23

When I moved to Highland neighborhood in North Denver in 1978, my friends were afraid to visit me. “Is it safe to park on the street?” they’d ask. When I left 33 years later, they said they wished they could afford to live there. Things change.

Back in 2002, Richard Florida introduced us to the creative class, declaring that “Human creativity is the ultimate economic resource.” His book, The Rise of the Creative Class, described a group made up of artists, teachers, entrepreneurs, scientists, designers and knowledge-based workers that made up nearly a third of the workforce and drives regional economic growth. People and companies want to go where the creative class grows.

That creates problems in cities across the country when people such as artists are priced out of areas that they pioneered. It happened my neighborhood and in downtown Denver when a group of artists in the mid-1980s founded the Lawrence Street Artists in a vacant warehouse at 2006 Lawrence Street. In 2013, the space was taken over by a fast-growing start-up and the artists scattered to the suburbs to find cheapter rent.

The state countered by establishing a fund for the Colorado Creative Districts for the purpose of

Attracting artists and creative entrepreneurs to a community, infusing new energy and innovation, which in turn will enhance the economic and civic capital of the community.” Several cities, including Denver, Crested Butte, Trinidad, Salida, and Pueblo have taken advantage of these funds.

But it doesn’t always, or even usually, take government intervention to attract artists to a community.When a flat bike tire led Ed Marquand to a little eastern Washington hamlet called Tieton back in 2005, he noticed a number of empty and abandoned buildings and recognized potential. He hatched a plan to relocate his publishing company from expensive Seattle real estate. He would buy deserted buildings and convince other artists and creative creative entrepreneurs in Seattle to move while also, hopefully, injecting new life into the town. Listen to the story on the Placemakers podcast.

And the cycle continues. The creative class takes over depressed areas in cities or small towns, attracting economic growth and pricing out the artists. Eventually the area falls out of favor and into disrepair again. To quote Kurt Vonnegut, “so it goes.”