What’s Your Tagline? Some Thoughts on the New Year

First Things First: Your A(a)chievements in 2017

Whether Big Deal Accomplishments or quieter triumphs (which, honestly, ARE Big Deal Accomplishments), we have probably all attained some successes this past year. We may not have explicitly written them down as goals to work toward or we may have put them on a New Year’s resolutions list. Regardless, in some ways we have moved forward.

Examples from my own 2017: I set a cycling goal of completing a half-century (50-mile) bike ride by 8/31/17. I actually completed it on that very day and two weeks later, I did my second half-century. The deadline was helpful, but as I’d also injured my foot earlier in the summer, I was perfectly fine with changing the deadline (frankly, any deadlines you set should have some flexibility built in). To me, that 50-mile ride was a Big Deal Accomplishment. I also set a goal of making my own marshmallows, which I completed back in March. Probably less of a Big Deal Accomplishment. Or maybe not.

A less showy accomplishment is the friendships I developed and deepened. Harder to quantify and more difficult to measure in an objective fashion, the growth in these relationships is probably my most important success of 2017. Achievements needn’t end with certificates or shiny medals. Your own internal honesty will you know if something is an achievement.

The Tagline

Okay, now on topic. A tagline is a simple, easy-to-remember catchphrase. Think of Nike’s “Just Do It” or McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ It”. Although in advertising, these slogans serve to encapsulate whatever feeling the marketing departments want would-be customers to experience, this same concept could be repurposed in lieu of (or in addition to) New Year’s Resolutions. Think of the simplicity of a simple slogan (e.g. “Be Bold, Speak Up”, or “Running toward Victory” or “Trust and Surrender”1)—no need for bulleted “I will lose weight, declutter, eat healthy, go to the gym thrice weekly” lines. Or, for those whom solid and explicit goals work well, the tagline can serve as a way to bring an order to disparate objectives, a way to tie everything together. It might be easier to remember a tagline than a list of resolutions. Plus a tagline can be called upon to deliver a short burst of motivation and focus, easily uttered in the car on the way to work.

Picking your Tagline

It’s January 1st, the beginning of the month of changes, transformations, reinventions, even. What phrases resonate with you? Which simple sentences synopsize your goals and visions for the year? Pick one, pick several! If you have more than one, why not try each out for a week to find the one that sings to you the most? Use it and then, come December 31, review your year in the context of your tagline. Look at your accomplishments and achievements and spring forward with a new tagline for 2019!

And Happy New Year to all!

1That one is courtesy of Anne Lamott.

Notes on Creativity

What, Exactly IS Creativity?

I’ll start with that most circular of definitions—creativity is the process of creating something new, whether wholly or partly. It is the external generation of an internal idea. Typically, creativity is applied to a subset of areas, nearly always in the arts. The painter, the filmmaker, the novelist, the singer, the actor—these are the creatives, at least in the common parlance of the average American. Frankly, that’s a very UN-creative way of defining the inventive among us. The engineer is said to be “clever”, the teacher uses “novel” pedagogical methods, the businesswoman introduces an “innovative” management system—all are outside the ordinary, but rarely described as “creative” by the masses. Sure, creativity (and creatives) are a sought-after “thing” in the tech field (along with meditation breaks and organic cafes), but the typical Hoosier or Iowan or Ohioan probably just calls them “smart”.

The Other Arts

Okay, painting a canvas, writing a poem, performing a monologue—these are clearly artistic pursuits (and creative acts). But so is developing a new ice cream flavor (culinary ARTS, anyone?). So is designing an apron for the cook with many gadgets (design is an art). And creating a life, one that not only diverges from but CELEBRATES nonconformity may be the ultimate art.

Life Can (and Should) Be a Creative Act

Many of us do creative acts every day, even if we don’t recognize them. Every time we invent a new game to play with our three-year old, we are creative. Every time we take a new route to work, we are creative. Every time we craft an intriguing stew from the dregs of the produce crisper, we are creative. Life can be a creative act. Indeed, life SHOULD be a creative act. For those of us who bypass the suburban ethos (even if we live there), eschewing the almost mandated displays of conformity is radical and creative—sometime Radical with a capital “R” and sometimes radical with a lower case “r”. Every time we forge ahead with life design that is outside of the nuclear family, every time we throw a dinner party for the fabulous misfits, every time we give a big “fuck you” to the notion that older women can’t have pink hair we are being creative.

So, What Is a Creative Life?

I posit that the creative life simply involves seeing the world through fresh eyes, different perspectives, with a liberal dose of convention-flouting. Maybe it includes sculpting and maybe it includes making marshmallows. Or both. It certainly includes a healthy disrespect for tired old norms that serve no society. And frankly, it includes a little dark chocolate.

Insomnia as Therapist

 

2:17 AM and I am not just awake, but alert. Completely, totally, alert. Crossword puzzles for 45 minutes, reading a book for another hour, maybe a 15-20 minute foray into the living room for meditation if the house is warm enough. If this were just one night in a run of otherwise solid nocturnal sleeping, I could tolerate this better. But this is one of many–early waking and not falling back to sleep. I’ve been prone to these episodes for decades, at least since graduate school. And until this morning, I’d dismissed them as negatives, thieves depriving me of that vaunted sleep that, even in the best of circumstances, isn’t quite as long as I’d like it to be.

Morning Pages As Lexapro

Julia Cameron, creativity guru and author of the classic getting-unstuck text The Artist’s Way, has developed a method to clear the detritus from one’s head call “Morning Pages”. This is three pages of writing—stream of (un)consciousness, extemporaneous, thought-purging, unedited—done in longhand (never typed!) and completed first thing in the morning. Cameron claims this sweeps the junk out of one’s brain so that the real writing (or creating) can begin. I’d heard of this as a creativity tool and about 10 days ago, decided to give it a try. To complete the three pages takes me approximately half-an-hour. I’m writing, not thinking, just writing what comes into my head. Sometimes it’s “good morning, morning pages”, sometimes it more consequential. Sometimes it’s “I have to pee” in the middle of page two. The key is that it is for one’s own eyes (not shared) and it’s not “artistry”.  It really is a preparation for the day, so that creativity has room to come in unimpeded.

In the time that I started these, I’ve gone from being in a relationship (long-distance) to being single again. So admittedly, I have a Lot. On. My. Mind. This would be trying enough with a solid night’s sleep, but I’m working through this on sleep deficit (a LOT of sleep deficit!) So, while I’m tired when I get out of bed, my core is anxious and nervous, precluding any additional sleep. The morning pages, though, have been a godsend for this agnostic.

I’m nervous, restless, apprehensive when I start the them. Yet sometime into page two, I clearly feel my chest relaxing and I start feeling hopeful (reflected in the writing). I write the nerves, the thoughts, the concerns, the shame, the guilt, the anger, the embarrassment, literally (and yes, I know what literally means) experiencing the anxiety leaving my body.

Revelations 1:1

So, Insomnia. You always made me angry, keeping me from sleep. I thought of you as, at best, a cruel trickster. A nasty motherfucker. A hated visitor.

Until this morning. As I was writing today’s morning pages, I was suddenly struck by the thought that you, Insomnia, are more of an angel. You wake me up in the middle of the night to wear down my defenses when I arise for the day. Even if I do eventually fall back asleep for an hour or two, I’m still exhausted upon waking. And Insomnia, I see what you’re doing. You’re weakening me so that I must, MUST deal with my troubles. I must face them. I’m too tired to fight my heightened emotions. I can’t hide from the anger or relief or shame or tears. And thus I deal with them. Insomnia, you make me confront my fears and my tears so that I can get THROUGH sooner and EMERGE stronger sooner. In short, Insomnia, you prod me out the door to face the elements, much like a good therapist.

Thanks.

Forget Ham. Forget Lamb. This is THE perfect Easter dinner.

Yes, it’s the world1 famous Peeps-Nini. After all, what would Easter be without marshmallow Peeps! Allow me to share with you step-by-step instructions so that you, too, can create this gastronomic masterpiece!

First, assemble the ingredients:

  • bread
  • peanut butter (I like the natural style with salt)
  • butter
  • Peeps! (preferably chicks or bunnies) BTW, do not make eye contact with them. Do not give them names. Do not start forming attachments to them or you will never be able to make this sandwich, let alone eat it. You do know that you have to kill those Peeps to cook this, don’t you?
  • ingredients

    1. Assemble your ingredients. Mies en place, people!
    2. Butter the bottom of one piece of bread. Turn it over.
    3. Spread peanut butter on the other side of the piece of bread you just buttered. Place Peeps on top of the peanut butter. Then put the bread/Peeps concoction on top of the panini press.
    4. setupPeepsnini
      Peeps_2BGrilled

      Don’t look at their eyes! You’ll feel so guilty knowing that you are about to send them to a gooey, heated, Smores-like death!

    5. Place second piece of bread on top of the Peeps. AND DON’T LOOK AT THEIR EYES BEFORE YOU DO THIS!
    6. PeepNini Before

    7. Butter the top of the second piece of bread.
    8. Place in your preheated Panini press and close the lid. Cook until Peeps have melted. If you do not have a Panini press, you can use a sturdy pan and place a heavy weight on top of your sandwich.
    9. GooeyGoodness

    10. Eat and enjoy! Well, if you named your Peeps Peter Rabbit and Thumper and Fluffy and Bugs, you may not enjoy the sandwich that much. But I warned you about this. I WARNED YOU NOT TO FORM EMOTIONAL BONDS WITH THEM!

    Now that you know how to make this epicurean delight, you’ll be wanting to make a variation of this for ALL of the holidays!

    1My world, anyway!

    The Iceman Cometh

    Or at least the polar vortex, which is slated to make a return to the Midwest.1 So, when the cold boomerangs back, my thoughts (after muttering a few choice “French” words) turn to stews and braises. Tonight’s dinner? A rather bastardized version of Choucroute Garnie, that wonder from Alsace, made with on-hand and local meats–Pennsylvania Dutch ham shank, local jowl bacon, and local Andouille sausage. Not exactly the stuff of tradition, but the called-for bratwursts would have had to have been purchased at the supermarket and I’m trying to avoid factory-farmed meats.

    Yesterday I purchased a local pastured chicken (dead, plucked, and frozen!), which is thawing in my refrigerator right now, perhaps to be turned into West African Chicken Peanut Stew–one of my favorites (and a recipe I haven’t made in some time). Winter and cold are made for stews and braises, which seem out of place in warmer weather and climes–a silver lining for those of us suffering from an unrelenting winter (okay, ONE relent–the 40s and 50s of last week!)

    West African Groundnut (Peanut) Stew

    Nketia Fla (en-KEH-tee-ah flaw)

    1-1/2 to 2 lbs. skinned chicken parts (I use thighs or leg quarters split into thighs and drumsticks; you can use skinless thighs as well, but not breasts)
    -can also use 1-1/2 lbs. chuck or round steak

    1 large or 2 medium onions, chopped
    1-2 cloves garlic, minced
    Dried red peppers (crushed) or cayenne pepper (to taste)
    1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
    1 can stewed tomatoes (plain) or diced tomatoes
    1 teaspoon salt
    2 cups water
    1 plantain, chopped
    1 sweet potato, chopped
    ¾ to 1 cup natural peanut butter
    2 tablespoons vegetable oil

    In 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat, brown chicken or beef (need not be completely cooked through). Remove when done. In same pot, add 1 tablespoon oil and onions over medium heat. Cook until soft. Add garlic and cook for another minute or two, being careful not to let garlic burn.

    Add tomatoes, ginger, pepper, and salt. Sauté for a couple of minutes. Add water and reserved chicken or beef. Turn heat up to high and add plantain and sweet potato. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down and simmer (covered) for 30-40 minutes, until meat is tender. Remove about ¼ to ½ cup of stew liquid and mix it with peanut butter in a bowl. Stir peanut butter mixture back into stew. Cover and simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring frequently. If needed, add more water to thin stew. Season to taste with more salt and red pepper. Serve over rice.

    I sometimes add chopped cabbage as well, which works well.

    1This is perhaps my favorite Eugene O’Neill play–I’ve only ever read it, but I wish I had been able to see it staged with Kevin Spacey in the lead!

    Are TED Talks just Cheetos for “Thinkers” and the “Educated”?

    In a recent TEDx talk, Benjamin Bratton delivered a spirited rebuke to the TED-talk culture, calling it “middlebrow megachurch infotainment”. These are sentiments that echo my own—indeed, I’ve often thought of TED talks as an idea equivalent of gummy bears. TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design and sports the motto “ideas worth spreading”, is a non-profit and puts together conferences with (allegedly) “the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers”1, who give talks capped at 18 minutes.

    I’ve watched the occasional TED talk, finding it entertaining (with the occasional “great idea” moment), but I can’t say the anything I’ve seen has resonated with me so much that I wanted to spread the word (or at least forward the link). So, I wonder, why is that?
    Well, one reason could certainly be the format, i.e. the videos themselves. Personally, I would much rather read a transcript than view the video—I’m the sort of person who probably won’t even watch a funny cat video if it’s longer than 1:32. So that is the “fault”2 of me, not TED.

    But the second reason could be the simplicity of the videos, which can render those ideas within to be a form of pablum for grownups—fed to a stratified sample of the masses, who nod or applaud approvingly. Where is the complexity? Good ideas (and their implementations) require a discourse about them. TED talks lack intellectual depth, like much else in today’s culture, where many seem to be unable to comprehend anything longer than a tweet or a Facebook status update.

    So, is it possible to have a more thoughtful (and longer!) versions of TED talks (and transcripts for those of us who still prefer the written word)—perhaps a series of TED debates? Will that roll in this sound bite culture or would it be doomed to fail?

    1 http://www.ted.com/pages/about
    2 “fault” is in quotes, because I do not consider a preference for reading compared to viewing to be a failing

    The Decor of Your Home: Thoughtfulness from William Morris

    William Morris, the English artistic force (he wrote poetry, designed textiles, made art), stated an idea that I find very meaningful and thoughtful in these times of hyper-cluttered, tschotske-infested homes:

     ” If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

    Think about it–hoarding is becoming so commonplace that it no longer shocks, but is still fodder for reality television, and the self-storage industry generates billions of dollars annually.  Do we really need all this garbage?  Must we save every little piece of popular-culture junk until we consolidate them into myriad “collections”?  Wouldn’t it be better (or at least more satifying) to have fewer–but better–things?

    I adopt this myself.  Always fairly consistent at removing much of the unneeded crap* from my home (and it is a home, not merely a house), I’ve adopted Morris’s philosophy more fervently this past year or two, even donating 25-35 cookbooks (don’t worry, folks–I still have a hundred or so left, but cooking’s my passion!)  Indeed, my guest room is home to some bags and boxes for donation (once we get a little bit of thaw, I’ll haul them to the Animal Rescue Fund thrift store or Goodwill).  In the coming weeks, I’ll work on more of this, especially as I continue work on renovating my home office.

    Perhaps it’s because instead of investing the time and energy to devote to figuring out our own life-and design style, we take the easy way out and let the fashion, home-decor, and retail industries decide our style for us?  And that, by extension, means buying more stuff because they are in the business of selling said stuff.

    *that’s the technical term