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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How NOT to Respond to the Abercrombie & Fitch Remarks

“Give people a common enemy, and you will give them a common identity. Deprive them of an enemy and you will deprive them of the crutch by which they know who they are.” – James Alison

The internet is going wild. Everyone’s mad because a rich guy said, point blank, how he got rich.

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Ouch. Outrage is definitely fair here.  It’s a pretty messed up way to make money. It’s a pretty messed up principle for a company. It’s messed up that it works, and it’s certainly not okay to express in these words.

What is more messed up, however, is seeing people respond in such a hypocritical way.

The conversation we should be having looks like this:

“Wow, a successful business owner used exclusivity as his business model.  Not even covertly. It was obvious. And it worked. We bought it. People in our culture and society seriously bought clothes sold on this principle. That’s sad. Let’s direct our business elsewhere, and reconsider our consumerism.

Also, bullying sucks. Let’s not do that.”

Instead, the conversation we are having looks like this:

“This one single bad human being is perpetuating bullying, stereotypes, and shame. The only logical thing to do is to bully, stereotype and shame him.  Obviously, he is the sole reason for the superficiality of young consumers, and bullying in our schools. Our society will be nicer to overweight people we if yell at him and call him ugly, right?”

Abercrombie & Fitch business model, 1; Society, 0.

I’ve seen this hypocrisy before.  It scares me.  Tweets wishing sexual assault upon rape sympathizers and their families. Harassment against minorities in the wake of a terrorist attack. Hell, in World War II, Canada fought for the freedom of Europe’s people…while we locked up our own Japanese population in internment camps.

Awesome track record, humanity. Awesome.

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.

Congratulations, your target is no longer human.

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.

Here’s what wins:
Rape culture wins when we wish rape upon anyone.
Terror wins when we terrorize our own neighbors for their ethnicity.
And bullying wins when we pick on someone for being a bully.

Apparently, the internet is playing a game of "how long can you go?"

Isn’t that just kinda mean? Especially to be posting on the internet?  By responding in this way, we are making this issue so much more superficial than it really is.

Mike Jeffries has become a mascot of the “cool kid-uncool kid” segregation that we hated so much in high school.   The problem is, he isn’t a mascot. He’s a person. A person who has made a lot of money because the “cool kid-uncool kid” thing exists, and it works.

By picking on him alone, we are only confirming that we are a superficial society which loves to pick “who’s in” and “who’s out.”

And let’s be honest: If you didn’t already know that Abercrombie & Fitch used this business model, you clearly haven’t seen one recently. Or maybe you just went to a different high school than me. Either way, Mike Jeffries saying this (while insensitive) is not what makes his business model real, nor what makes it wrong.

The fact that people buy into it, the fact that this kind of segregation exists, that is what makes it wrong.

Let’s raise the bar, everyone. Grace, love and boycott.

10 Steps to a Better Day

I had a rough week.

Not the kind of rough week that results in a long list of things-gone-wrong and a sigh of “Girrrrl, I need to VENT!”.  Nothing tangible like that. My sighs sound more like ‘Well, you know, it’s one of THOSE weeks’: First word problems, chocolate cravings, untimely nostalgia, “I’m probably just under the weather.”

‘Merica is an acquired taste.  The best things always are.  This past week, I was knowingly halfway there; Washington and I were on a half-hearted, confusing fourth date.  The novelty of “going to a new place” had worn off, but I still didn’t quite fit in.  It’s not unlike that third day of kindergarten, almost-but-not-quite able to colour inside the lines. Or, being at a concert, trying to sing along to that song everyone knows (you think you know it too, but you’re barely mumbling along to the lyrics all the same).

Basically, a big load of self-imposed awkwardness followed me around last week.

At times like these, my Facebook-self usually stays perpetually optimistic: “Have you seen my blog? Have you seen my life? It’s cool. My hair is brown. I read the newspaper. I have attractive friends. Please like me.”

(Between you and me: my roots are coming in, the only physical paper I read is Street Sense, and no, I’m not dating the guy next to me in that picture. But please don’t tell Facebook. Those people knew me in middle school.)

This Friday, it felt like it was finally (finally, finally) time to crowd source some cheer:

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WOW.

I knew warm fuzzies were all over the internet. What I didn’t know was that my friends and readers could bust them out on demand like that. And I certainly didn’t know that they worked so wellTurns out, there is a way to line up some of the internet’s better offerings and (hopefully) make for a better day. Or a better week. Really, just a better outlook, period.

And so, based on these suggestions, I present to you: 10 Steps to a Better Day, Courtesy of the Internet

1)   Press the “Make Everything Okay” button: http://make-everything-ok.com/

make everything okay

2) Spend a few minutes reading “Gives Me Hope”: http://www.givesmehope.com

givesmehope

3)   Watch this video.

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4)   Now, go on: Get onto Facebook, pick up your phone, and do what that video told you to do at the end.  Reach out to family. Write a thank you note.

5)  You did it? Good. Time to go to your quiet place: http://thequietplaceproject.com/

quiet place

6)  Come back from your quiet place. Watch this to feel grateful that you can:

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7)  Amazing, right? While you’re at it, you should probably watch this one, too.

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8) Are you crying? ‘Cuz I’m totally crying. Time for a hug: http://www.thenicestplaceontheinter.net/

nicest place

9) Read a few of the “1000 Awesome Things”: http://1000awesomethings.com/

awesome

10) Turn off your computer, go outside if you’re able–if you can’t, at least try to open a window. Shake it out. Put on your favourite song. And remember:

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Love.

Jealousy has a stage name. It’s called Inspiration.

I’m going to describe to you a hypothetical scenario.  (Just hypothetical, mind you. I am not admitting to anything.).

You check Facebook. You see a post from an old friend.  This post suggests that they’re doing cool stuff, and they’re doing it well. Yes, someone else’s life is awesome.

You’re a good person, of course, so your first thought is: Hey, that’s cool! Good for my friend!

(…except that it’s not.)

You start clicking through pictures.   They have really cool looking new friends (who, you assume, are way cooler than you). And they’re hot.  When did everyone get hot? When did everyone start doing cool stuff?  By this point, your friend has completely trumped anything hanging around your profile–three months worth of George Takei “shares” and one music video from the 90s, to be exact.  You look up.  You are surrounded by all the laundry you have to do, clutter on your desk, a bleak-seeming text messaging inbox, the way your hair is growing in funny.

In a few hours you might be happy for them–but right now, you’re busy being mediocre.

Dude. Stop.

Here’s the thing about jealousy.  Jealousy has a stage name.   It’s called inspiration.

I’ve learned this the hard way (okay, here comes the admitting part).  I have spent way too much energy wanting/waiting/wishing/generally being useless.  I think a lot of people have.  It’s easy to become defeated when you see other people doing cool things.  To pick a totally random example (Judi), you could see a picture of an old friend tobogganing down volcanoes in Nicaragua (Judi).  At that point, it’s very easy to say “Well, I’m not in Nicaragua.”  It’s easy to feel a little bit smaller than you did a second ago, to just move on with your day.

But what if you were to take that pang of ‘This is something I find awesome.  Noted.’  and turn it into motivation?  You could add to your bucket listYou could surround yourself with people who live amazing lives.  You could learn from them.

Every year, I have the same overarching goal:  to make next year’s Me someone that this year’s Me would crumble in jealousy of…or at least dread going up against in a job interview.  I couldn’t even go about that without my jealousies-turned-inspirations.  The fact is, I would not be in Washington DC right now if someone (Judi) didn’t offer so many envy-inciting stories about interesting jobs in new places. And I wouldn’t even be writing this had I not been struck with admiration(-cum-jealousy) after seeing other women’s mega-blogs this summer.

“Maybe I could do that. Right? Maybe?  I don’t know.”

There was literally one way to find out. Just one.

Jealousy may be ugly, but inspiration is beautiful.  Is someone else is trying new things? Noted. We should also go try new things.  Did someone else accomplish something big? Noted.  Let’s go start something big.  Do you wish your butt looked even half that good in a pair of skinny jeans?

…yeah, me too.

Skinny jeans aside, we have a choice every day (cliche alert) to get bitter, or get better.  I’m gonna try to be on team “get better.”

Who’s in?

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.

Incredible New Media Numbers for #Election2012

My Twitter feed was on FIRE last night. So was my Facebook. The New York Times was talking Instagram. The internet was going crazy.  Want to know just how crazy?

Ladies and gentlemen, I present the numbers:

1, 02 1, 235: The number of Twitter interactions (likes & retweets) for Obama’s “4 more years” tweet/picture

4, 309, 088: The number of Facebook interactions (likes & shares) for Obama’s “4 more years” picture

22: The % of people who told Pew Survey that they shared their voting decision online

52,000: Approximate number of instagram pictures with the hashtag #iVoted according to the news this morning

103, 798: Actual number of instagram pictures with the hashtag #iVoted by 7:30 EST November 7th

40: The number of states whose residents tweeted about Obama or Biden significantly more often than Romney/Ryan during the campaign.

7: The number of states whose residents tweeted about Romney or Ryan more often than Obama/Biden during the campaign.

71.7 million: Election-related mentions in Facebook posts and comments in the U.S. on November 6th

88.7 million: Election-related mentions in Facebook posts and comments globally on November 6th

327,000: Peak number of “tweets per minute” following Obama’s win

4, 340: The number of Twitter interactions on Obama’s “4 more years” picture since I started writing this (about half an hour ago)

4, 934: The number of Facebook interactions on Obama’s “4 more years” picture since I started writing this (about half an hour ago)

 

Record-breaking (and counting…)

 

Read More:

Election 2012 on Facebook: Chatter reaches new heights
‘The Twitter Election’: Move over Obama, social media had a big night too
Five Record-Breaking Election Moments on Twitter

(Sources: Pew Survey, CBC News, Sydney Morning Herald, Statigram, Facebook, CNET, National Post)