How To Be Creative (Without Also Sucking as a Person)

It’s a caffeine-fueled week, folks.

I’ve started writing for myself again—just a little bit, just mission critical stuff. I bought a new journal two weeks ago, and it’s nice to have my own private space to be…well, a writer.

(Maybe it’s better to say “a person who writes.” Sounds less pretentious. )

This isn’t my first journal. In a few months, it will likely join the dozen other half-finished notebooks boxed away in my basement. Yet another awkward testament to my young narcissism. Or to my passion for artistic expression. Or both.

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Narcissism, self-expression. They kind of go together, don’t they?

Here’s a reality I’ve uncovered recently: Being a creative person can be pretty freakin’ self-involved, especially in the share-centric twenty first century. We’re claiming our own little corners of the internet, competing for attention, measuring our value in likes and upvotes. I have a website which is a pun of my own name, guys. That can’t be good for ego control.

And so it goes: I made this. I wrote this. I produced this. Please admire me?

Journalling for myself remedies some of that, sometimes. At the very least, it lets me differentiate between what is (and isn’t) relevant to the public. It lets me organize my thoughts before I throw them at you guys (that’s a good thing, trust me). I also have a private micro-journalling app called Day One, which often takes the place of InstaTwitterBook posting. It means I can caption, organize, and record little memories, without forcing them all upon every person I have ever met. It means I don’t spam you with my daily monotony.

Well, I do sometimes. But the app at least helps with the self-control.

I think having different outlets for expression is really healthy, especially if you seem to have a lot to express. Being creative means that I write articles like this, but it also means I take pictures of everything. I write stupid poems. I record brainwaves, I pen songs, I text weird puns at my best friend.

You don’t need to see all that.

I’ll show you some of it–when it could be inspiring, or interesting, or funny. When it becomes something more powerful, when it could reflect on your life in some way. When I can release it with an assured sense of “Yeah, this doesn’t belong to me anymore. This idea, this article, this story…I can let people have their way with it.

We shouldn’t hold back our gifts. I would be a hypocrite to speak against good ol’ self-promotion. Still, I think it’s fair to commit to creating things worth promoting.  The things we create matter not because they’re a solid contribution to our own “collected works,” but because they’re an important (or entertaining, or enlightening) contribution to the collected works of humanity, period.

And that can end pretty freaking well:

art is

I think the secret to creating without also sucking as a person (or just being annoying to be around) is to be thoughtful with when and how you share. Not everything matters to everyone…but, at the same time, one unexpected piece of art can completely change the game. Be bold. Be real. Remember that a well-crafted personal letter to just one person can be 10 times more powerful than a semi-popular blog post. Remember that appreciating the creations of others, large and small, can have a profoundly positive effect on community.

And remember that as soon as you share something you have created, it becomes a gift. It can be about you, you can put yourself and your effort inside of it, but ultimately it no longer belongs to you.

When I press publish on this blog post, it will go from being mine to being ours. You get to have your way with it.

And I’ll just be here–sipping cheap coffee, privately sketching out my self-obsession, and letting you know if I come up with something worth sharing.

Love.

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Big News For the Taboo Tab: Official Announcement Tomorrow Morning!

I have big, big news for the Taboo Tab.

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For those of you that are new to the blog, the Taboo Tab section on shaunanagins.com is dedicated to showcasing individual stories on subjects deemed “taboo” in polite conversation. With the help of storytellers willing to share their experiences, we have been able to help people relate to each other better, build awareness, and create compassion. It’s place for listening, for reminding one another that we aren’t alone…and that, whatever our stories are, we aren’t broken.

And it’s been so, so successful.

And it’s growing. I can’t wait to tell you how.

So: Tomorrow morning! Stay tuned for details! 

(I’m excited.)

A Year of Shaunanagins Quotes (or, how I was awkward, contradictory, and occassionally insightful during 2013)

Just went through all my posts from 2013 (all of them. yeah. I know.) to see how this little piece of blogland unfolded over the past year.

Here’s how it went down.

– – –

First, I got really motivated.

Because in the end, my goal is to wake up each morning, look the world in the eye, and say “What, Life? Yeah, I’d tap that.” – I Have Chosen My Word for 2013 (and it’s going to make for one interesting year)

It’s easy to become defeated when you see other people doing cool things.  But what if you were to take that pang of ‘This is something I find awesome.  Noted.’  and turn it into motivation?  – Jealousy has a stage name. It’s called Inspiration.

Then, I became a big advocate for awareness and listening and storytelling…

Here’s what we need to do: Care about the stories. Let them speak. Respect the storytellers. Share your own stories, if you want to. And whatever your story is, however different it is than someone elses, whatever you choose to do with it: You aren’t broken. You’re just another person with a story and a body, and no matter what, those two things belong to you and you alone. – Sex, Lies, and Storytime: “It’s okay, you’re not broken.”

In my view, there should be two kinds of people present with any social issue you want to address: The storytellers, who have experienced an issue firsthand (aka the people who Know), and those who try to understand the stories (aka the people who Listen). –  The Truth about Awareness

We care a lot about “Freedom of Speech,” which is great, but it’s easy to forget that with Freedom of Speech comes the Freedom to Listen. – Making Friends Who Disagree With You (is the healthiest thing in the world)

There’s something dangerous about leading with anger (however justified), instead of stories.  Or with accusations instead of ideas. Don’t get me wrong, passionate people willing to call out society’s bs are AWESOME.  But they’re way more awesome when they come with a side order of compassion, a willingness to gently guide people to awareness. – Rape, Outrage, and the Language of Solutions

I would much rather read the story of someone who can’t bear to hold that story in. I want to read words which are necessary to someone–not a sprint towards an empty wordcount, not a checkmark on the bucket list. – The Most Common Writing Advice (is kinda stupid)

Though it was pretty clear that I didn’t have many answers myself.

What are “friends,” then?  I don’t know. – The People Who I Know (But Don’t Really Know).

I really, really like hostels. I don’t know why.  – 10 Reasons My First Day in Halifax Will Be (Really, Really) Hard to Top

When I was a kid, I tried to run away from home (all. the. time.).  I don’t know why. – In which I am “Vagabond Chic”

For some reason, I don’t blog about music much. I don’t know why.  – Five Reasons I’m Optimistic About the Future of Music

So, how could I not know?  I mean really, really know what they had gone through. And what they were still going through. Until they wrote it down, I’ll admit that I really didn’t. – The Truth about Awareness

That didn’t stop me from having some strong opinions…

Certain types of people are more favoured for success in this world. I’m not saying that’s always right. I’m just saying that if you’re talking about discrimination based on personality type, you need to broaden your argument. – The Not-Really-One-or-the-Other Vert

Before we all flutter to the comment sections with our personal stories and claims of “I work harder than you work,” let’s get real:  You should really hire some of us.  You should really not hire others. Everyone born in this twenty-year period is not meant for the same job, nor are they bound to infect workplaces with the same “sins.” – Kids. These. Days.

The universal definition of “woman with values” is almost entirely based on what a Lady consumes, or lets into herself, rather than what she creates. How weird is that? – What Does it Mean to be a “Woman with Values,” Exactly?

I’d think sports fans, of all people, should be able relate to how deeply symbols can manifest in our lives.  How important a team is to a community.  How important it is to let that team be inclusive and, you know, not racist. – I Hurt an Entire Culture, and All I Got Was This Stupid T-shirt

It’s a pretty straight-forward formula: As soon as we are able to pronounce our moral superiority to someone, we are able to label them as “other,” we are able to fear them, we think we can do whatever we want in retaliation…It’s messed up. It’s totally messed up.  When we let the worst of what we see and hear set the standard for our own behaviour, autonomy, and responsibility to each other, we lose. When we refuse to learn from the unsettling things we see, and point fingers instead, we lose. – How NOT to Respond to the Abercrombie & Fitch Remarks

Do feminists have a right to be mad? Yes.
Do they have a reason to be mad? Yes.
Should they shout it from the rooftops?  If they’re willing, yes, perhaps they should.
But I have to be honest: Jaded rooftop shouters scare me, especially when I can’t quite understand what they’re shouting about. I tend to tune them out.  Even if they’re right.
– Rape, Outrage, and the Language of Solutions

Including a whole bunch of thoughts about the whole “learning” thing itself.

Why is it that important places like study rooms, lecture halls, churches, government institutions and courts so often lack windows?  Are we really expecting people who can’t even see the sky or the ground to be responsible authorities on the world’s direction? – Life, Learning, and “Windowless Cave Education”

I’m not saying  that every activity needs to involve a life lesson. What I am saying is that life lessons need to involve more activity. – Life, Learning, and “Windowless Cave Education”

Terms like “studying French” or “learning a new language” always sound so simple–they don’t properly embody the embarrassment, frustration and word-wrestling I’ve been doing these last few years. It’s a rewarding process, but it always plays games with my confidence. Or, at least, I always play games with my confidence. – Quebec, You Make Me Self-Conscious (But I’m Just Being Silly)

I have already learned things [from traveling]. Very personal, real things. Things I can actually take home with me. I hate how romantic and empty that sounds, like I just skipped through a field of roses, and found God, and “Oh, friends, you wouldn’t understand.” I don’t want to be one of those people who talk about traveling like there’s no other way to live or learn (though, if you have the resources, I highly recommend it). – That Awkward Moment When You Start Finding Yourself

I did some reflecting on relationships and people-stuff…

Welcome to human relationships, friends–they’re weird. When people take their clothes off, they get even weirder. So no, they don’t need your judgement. They need your love, and they need God’s love. Please leave the close-mindedness at the door. – Sex, Lies, and Storytime: “It’s okay, you’re not broken.”

“People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.” Let’s add on to that pretty little cliche, shall we?  People also come into your life just to laugh with you when you awkwardly trip up the stairs.  Or to silently inspire your next haircut.  Or to just be attractive.  Or to be intriguing.  Or to remind you that you need, need, need to come up with better ice breaker lines. – The People Who I Know (But Don’t Really Know).

Though personally, I was a hot mess with the whole social interaction thing.

I can’t seem to get it quite right. Yesterday, I parted ways with a dear coworker by saying: “Have a good one! And by ‘one,’ I mean, like, life!” Yeah. That sounded exactly as awkward out loud as it did in your head. –  An Unauthorized Guide to (Sucking at) Saying Goodbye

Another friend, who evidently sucks less than I do, tried to strike up a meaningful closing conversation over dinner:
“So, where do you think you’ll be in five years?”
“Pregnant and sad.”
What kind of response is that? [I wondered. As I said it. Out loud. I didn’t even miss a beat, you guys.]
  An Unauthorized Guide to (Sucking at) Saying Goodbye

I probably won’t even stay in touch (empty promises 1; Shauna 0).  I want to, but I don’t really know what “stay in touch” even means. –  An Unauthorized Guide to (Sucking at) Saying Goodbye

“Well, I guess, I mean, that gives you an excuse to buy a new one?” I offered. The world’s most house wife-y response to a broken bong. – How I Learned the Ukelele on a Train (and other transient tales)

I found the musician sitting in the “Activity Car” after her set, and approached her cautiously. “‘Scuze me. Can I ask you something, maybe?” As if she could say no. As if we weren’t stuck on a train together for two days. – How I Learned the Ukelele on a Train (and other transient tales)

Sure, a year is a long time and a blog like this is hard work…but also, how do you go up to someone and say “Yeah, I have this website where I write about myself. I’ve been doing it for a year. So no big deal.” – One Year of Blogging!

I also wrote a lot about identity…

I don’t think we should restrict identity to the things that “count” as milestones. – People are Trees, Not Timelines

We have to branch out. Timelines are great at telling base, simple stories…but they’re not so great at telling the whole truth. And when it comes to our own identity, our own History, we deserve the Truth. – People are Trees, Not Timelines

We all wear so many costumes, and speak so many languages. It’s an interesting process,  playing a role (not that you’re faking it, but still, it’s playing) every time you walk into a certain place, or consider a certain person. –  Living Between the Lines

In some ways, I think identity is somewhere in the cracks. It’s not in the office, or at a friend’s house, or at family dinner. It’s in those first few seconds when you wake up and aren’t quite sure where you are yet. When you’re driving—just driving, and for a moment you stop thinking about where you’re going. When someone touches you on the shoulder, or the hand, and your body unconsciously warms to the contact…When the pressure melts away for a few seconds, all that’s left to do is practice being human.  –  Living Between the Lines

“Who am I today?”  That’s all that really matters, in the end. Screw the coulda/woulda/shoulda.  Screw worrying.  Screw the fact that I do both of those things…until that mantra walks in and gives me a role to play. Today. – Five Sentences That Changed My Life

Whatever your offering is, you should do it. Do it actively. Do it because you need to. Do it because it will make the world a better place. Do it because it’s who you are. And most importantly: Do it because you wouldn’t be able to stop, even if I told you to. – The Most Common Writing Advice (is kinda stupid)

Though I had a little bit of trouble explaining myself.

I hope that you can be a blogger without having to pretend you know everything–or worse, having to pretend you can put that “everything” into a list.  – (Why This Article Is Not Called) “20 Ways to Be a Twenty-Something”

Mostly, my life isn’t about quick tips. Neither is yours.  It’s about celebrating and mourning, sometimes at the same time. It’s about getting confused and getting the giggles. It’s the word “Oops,” and it’s the word “Love,” and it’s feeling unsure. – (Why This Article Is Not Called) “20 Ways to Be a Twenty-Something”

 “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”  Of course you don’t. Of course I don’t. Look at those loaded words, momma, look: “know,” “want,” “be,” and *shudder* “grow up.” – Because Easy Answers are Boring

Oh, growing up. That is something else I wrote a lot about.

It’s no longer my parents and teachers telling me to what time it is.  It’s more of a voice in my head, reminding me that this next step is BIG. And, naturally, that I need to be BIG to greet it effectively. Though really, I don’t know what exactly being BIG means. – Busy Being a “Big Kid”

As we grow up, we have to change to greet our new discoveries. We adapt. Mostly, we learn what we can expect from people, and what we can expect from ourselves.  That we all need a little help sometimes, but we still shouldn’t count on anyone. That we are more capable than we ever thought possible, but that we can’t do it alone–though, some days, we’re going to really have to try. – Busy Being a “Big Kid”

We all have little moments like that, I think–whether we’re 7 year old kids, 20 something college students, middle aged mommas, maybe even as we trek through the much later years.  Wondering what comes next. Working through what we do, but optimistically unsure of where we are going. – Because Easy Answers are Boring

Most lives don’t fit into any sort of beginning-middle-end box.  Even if they do, most of us are probably just hanging out in the “middle” looking for reasons and analyzing our lives like it’s the “end”.  And most people don’t quite fit where they are, at least not all the time. – Thursday Night Brainwaves: How DID I get here?

And, apparently, my brain played a lot of tricks on me:

When I have never done something, sometimes I assume it’s because I could never do it. This is one of the lies my brain tells. – Watermarked: How Rivers, Oceans, and Leaky Faucet-ing Won Me Over

Of course, nothing is actually over. That’s just my brain playing tricks again. A year well spent is an achievement, not a loss. Note to self. – One Year of Blogging!

Ten thousand hours, the song repeated to my tired brain. If you’ve practiced for ten thousand hours, you should be an expert. That’s how it works, right? – Quebec, You Make Me Self-Conscious (But I’m Just Being Silly)

My faith also seeped into a couple posts:

I am thoroughly convinced of two things: Life is a joke. And life is sacred. – Taking “Canada Class” (or, how my sense of humour runs my schedule)

I intentionally attend churches which disagree with each other. I do this for the same reason I wear one earring that says “Oui” and one which says “Non” every Sunday–because Truth usually hangs out “somewhere in the middle.” – A Tale of Two Churches: Living in DC During the Gay Marriage Showdown

I don’t know that someone should aspire to believe anything, least of all anything supernatural. I would much rather be a woman who constantly uses the brain God gave her–even if that means that her idea of “God” has to change as she learns things. – What Kind of Woman Do I Want To Be?

We are fragile, mortal, reactive, aware, sensitive—but we should not be afraid. – On Fear, Love, and Bombs in Boston.

My faith is getting more and more present-tense oriented (“Will everything be okay? Let’s go with yes. Even if it’s not okay, it’s okay. Right, Jesus?”).  – That Awkward Moment When You Start Finding Yourself

After awhile, all these wonderful friends and prayers and instincts sent the message that “You can trust God. You can trust some people. You can trust yourself.”  No one learns to believe something as crazy as that alone. – Watermarked: How Rivers, Oceans, and Leaky Faucet-ing Won Me Over

Also, I seemed to think that abstract ideas could “meet” each other?

Basically, regret is what happens when empathy meets taking responsibility. – Living With No Regrets (is bullshit)

 The Taboo Tab is working.  It’s showing the next generation what happens when creative writing meets community meets compassion. – In Which I Ask You For Help (and may I say, you are looking LOVELY today).

What I do want to be is a woman of grace–you know, that thing that happens when personal values meet interpersonal compassion.  – What Kind of Woman Do I Want To Be?

I used to play the‘How DID I get here?’ game all the time–when growing pains meet the travel bug, you rarely know completely where you are, how you got there, or what to think about it. – Thursday Night Brainwaves: How DID I get here?

But through all my awkwardness, I stayed intensely grateful. Especially to you readers, because you’re awesome.

Every time someone thrust their story into my hands and said “Here, have it. Edit it. Show it to the world.” they made an active decision to share themselves with this project and this community. And, thanks to the amazing nature of this community, it became a safe place to talk and to learn. So much trust. So much love. – (On the Taboo Tab) One Year of Blogging!

THANK YOU for an amazing year. Thank you for reading. I love all the comments you leave me, and they make my day (actually, now they make my year). You rock. Seriously. – One Year of Blogging!

I needed a ton of help, coming from all sides–from upsides, downsides, from inside, outside, from everywhere. Is this getting cheesy? I’m sorry. I promise it’s honest. I just owe a million thank yous. – Watermarked: How Rivers, Oceans, and Leaky Faucet-ing Won Me Over

This offering only works as long as it’s me writing–me, needing to write, having something to say.  Not my arbitrary need-to-put-words-together.  Not a clog of cliches on the internet, stealing time from much more important words. Just me.  To you.  It really only seems to work as long as you are there reading.  Every time you stop by, you are accepting my selfish, crazy offering.  Thank you for that. – The Most Common Writing Advice (is kinda stupid)

Because, this:

I want to be the kind of woman who is thankful day by day, step by step. Whose thank yous aren’t loaded attempts to control the future, nor quiet warnings of her standards.   She will never say ‘This is good. If I am grateful for this step, can the next step be just as good, please?’  No; I want to be the kind of woman who is grateful because it is just who she is.  And when she says thank you, she simply means to say, ‘That step was good. You helped make it good. Grazie, gracias, merci.’  What Kind of Woman Do I Want To Be?

Oh, and here are my 5 most hit/shared/commented on/liked posts of the year:

1) Sex, Lies, and Storytime: “It’s okay, you’re not broken.”

2) 7 More Reasons WestJet is Basically the Mr. Rogers of Canadian Airlines

3) Meet the Neighbors: A Guide to Canada for Americans

4) What Does it Mean to be a “Woman with Values,” Exactly?

5) Kids. These. Days.

– – –

That step was good.
You helped make it good.
Grazie, gracias, merci.

My Creative Frenzy: Why Alternative Projects Are the Best

This year, I was given the opportunity in one of my classes to pursue and “alternative project” in lieu of writing a paper.

I am such a big fan of the alternative project. It gets me in the biggest creative frenzy.

I had participated in the University of Ottawa’s Community Service Learning program a few times, so I knew what it was like to do something a little different for a class project.  I knew I liked it, too. With CSL, professors can offer students the opportunity to do course-related volunteer field work instead of writing a paper. In first year, I made teaching aids. In second year, I delivered an Aboriginal history presentation for some grade four classes.   And in both cases, I learned a whole lot more from those experiences than from “here today, gone tomorrow” essays.

This year, I took a Colonial American History course that allowed students to design an alternative media/internet project. My mind went more than a little crazy. I’m a History student, yes, but I’m also pursuing a Communications major. I pretty much lived in the Communications Technology room in high school.  I’m a new media diehard.  I used to make short films and write folk songs in lieu of writing papers in high school.  And, obviously, I blog.  Interactive/Media history? I had to get on that. THIS IS EXCITING.

It didn’t take long for me to decide what I wanted to do.  American musical history is fascinating to me. Really, the profound relationship between sound and society is fascinating to me, which I guess explains why I’m so excited to be interning for Smithsonian Folkways this winter.  It’s also why I decided to create an online resource exploring Colonial American music for my alternative project.

Check it out: http://soundsofthecolonies.wordpress.com/

A few notes from the experience:

  • This ended up feeling almost like an interactive, online version of liner notes…you know, like the booklets inside CDs?  How cool would it be if CDs came with programs like this to explore what was behind the music, kinda like a DVD menu? I assume this is already a thing that happens, but is should happen more–when it comes to music with strong historical/cultural significance, technology could be really valuable in bringing the learning to the next level.
  • The best way to make an interactive map? Skip the “interactive map” websites, and upload a jpeg to Thinglink.  You can add links, notes, and markers to images. Made for a really cool music map of New England on my end. (Teaching tool alert, educator friends!)
  • The constant battle: The more information you have, the harder it is to cut it into bite-sized pieces–especially when that information is circumstantial and you’re like “But…but..but…complexity…and…”. I have this issue with essays, too, but for some reason breaking it down for the internet required even more messing around with conflicting ideas to get to the core of what was going on. Filler was just less of an option.
  • Music matters. A lot. Probably more than I even suspected before starting this project. It’s such a big indicator of so many cultural and human elements.
  • I HAVE SO MUCH MORE TO LEARN. It’s weird to do so much research, feel so flooded with questions, and then need to step up with some kind of concise thesis.  Bringing everything behind your questions together in order to project some sort of objective answer is tough. I have information, yes. But I can’t wait to gain more insight.
  • I’m excited for the future of history, ethnomusicology, and education in the new media environment.  Interactive maps and YouTube videos and downloadable liner notes and iTunes U?  So much fun to play with.

I don’t know how many other people chose to do an alternative project. Maybe the number wasn’t that big. But just the fact that we were given the opportunity to take our research to a different place was awesome (not to mention, it kept me from falling asleep on the job). It was awesome in high school when my Native Studies teacher let me write songs instead of make powerpoints. It was awesome when my grade 12 World History teacher made our seminar assignment so vague that I was able to do mine on an interview with my grandfather. Community Service Learning was, and is, awesome. And, of course, this alternative project was the coolest opportunity.  I even got to bounce this project off of the wonderful people and resources at Smithsonian Folkways.  How cool is that?

Very cool.