Tuesday, November 23, 2010


It is late November. Wild hurricanes of leaves dance down the streets creating a song that is crisp and lonely. When I stand on the back porch and look towards the woods, the trees are bare branched and I can see the nests of squirrels and birds silhouetted in the light of the sunset, which comes earlier and earlier every evening.

With its earthy color palate of browns, golds, and grays, and promise of colder weather to come, November is unapologetically about turning inwards. Trees shake off their showy autumn mane of leaves and the sap returns to the core. Animals and people gather food, share, nest and sleep longer (or desire too). The weather turns chilly and we spend more time inside, with coffee or tea, with books, or working like elves with a desire to wrap up the year.

Amidst all this, or because of it, I find November a perfect month for remembering the importance of returning to our internal selves. Whether it is a walk outside in the brisk air (often scented with wood smoke here in New England), a moment to ourselves, special time with family, or indulging in a few hours to explore an interest, a personal passion or favorite hobby, it is all about taking time to turn inward towards the core of who we are. Or, in other words, taking time to immerse ourselves.

Immersion is important because it allows us to recharge. Similar to incubation, the second stage of the creative process, immersion allows us to enter a space where we can experience flow, a sense of being connected, or allow our usual mental chatter or activities a vacation. This important and mysterious phase of the creative process usually takes place away from the active attempts of solving the problem—away from the “work.” It is where the subconscious is able to mull things over without the censors of the conscious mind. (How many ideas have you had before falling asleep? Or even in the shower when you are still waking up?)

Magical things happen when we allow ourselves to become immersed in an interest, a simple activity or a moment. Ideas and memories rise to the surface like bubbles in champagne—little trails of thought, connected and disconnected—are uncorked and released. Some linger, and new ideas form and sometimes become tangible solutions or new endeavors.

During the next few weeks on The Paper Compass we will go back to our roots, immersing ourselves in our core creative medium: paper. We will explore some of the ways to cultivate immersion and ideas through journaling, common place books, and letters. These are just some of the ways to gather ideas, consciously and unconsciously, and create a playground (or a launch pad) for ways to work through them or develop them.

I hope that you will join us! In the meantime, I encourage you to take some time to immerse yourself in something special this holiday.

Best wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Back to School: Creativity and the Brown Bag Lunch

A few weeks ago, inspired by the Summer Challenges and Back to School, my mom suggested doing a post on favorite school lunches. I thought this was a great idea, but I wanted to connect it back to the main themes of The Paper Compass: creativity and paper. So while my mom, a gourmet, was thinking about what was in the lunch, I became intrigued about what the lunch was in.

Paper and lunches have long been connected by a happy history of “the brown bag.” The concept of the brown bag lunch is so prevalent that it has now become a popular corporate title for casual seminars that occupy the lunch hour. There was a time though before brown bags, and there is even a time (which we are entering now in our environmental consciousness) after brown bags and this history of the evolution of the brown bag, both personal and social, began to interest me.

During my first class of Creative Thinking we discuss the challenges that block, stunt or thwart our creative growth. One of the natural challenges happens around adolescence. Not only do we emerge from childhood to an awareness of what other people think, but we also become aware of our ideas as they exist in a social sphere. This can lead to a filtering of ideas and sometimes a suppression of creativity or creative expression.

This is interesting to me, as by the time I reached middle school, if not a grade or two earlier, there was a strict no lunchbox policy. Lunchboxes were viewed as “baby-ish” while brown paper bags were “cool.” In fact, the more unobtrusive and bland the vehicle for the lunch, the better.

The irony, and eloquent example of the stunting of creative expression, is that lunchboxes were very much an expression of our individuality. Yes, they (more often than not) were the marketing vehicles for pop culture and Saturday morning cartoons, but in choosing your lunchbox you got to showcase something that you liked, that you felt passionate about. I still have fond memories of my pre-school lunchbox. It was a Muppet lunchbox in goldenrod yellow with an image of the backroom of the Muppet Show on the front. (It was also the cause of The Great Lunchbox Switch that resulted in my first taste of Oreos, but that is a story for another time.)

This is not to say that individuality is lost with the onset of brown bag lunches. In fact, they become interesting for being so similar only to reveal individuality through not only what is in them, but sometimes what is on them. One of my students from my summer session of Creative Thinking was inspired for the final project based on the memory that his mother would draw superheroes on his lunch bags because his family could not afford lunchboxes when he was young. One of my coworkers, a talented photographer, helped a friend turn a brown bag lunch into a memorable interview tool, with each of the objects in the brown bag lunch becoming storytelling elements that represented unique facts about her.

Often, when we have transitioned to something that is “socially the norm”, like lunchboxes to brown bags, or backpacks to briefcases, it provides us with a uniform template with which to examine that which makes us unique.

I would like to thank my mom for the inspiration for this post. While I was blessed with a childhood and adolescence of wonderful school lunches, for the record: nothing stands out more than my elementary school lunch memories of peanut butter and honey or cream cheese and jelly sandwiches.

If you are feeling inspired to think about your own lunchbox or brown bag history here are a few exercises to get you started:

• If you had a lunchbox when you were young, what did it look like? What was on it? Why did you choose it (if you got to choose)? Write down your memories or create a picture of it in your sketchbook.
• If you had a favorite lunchbox, now lost to time, think about purchasing the same version online. Vintage lunchboxes make great keepsake boxes.
• When did you start bringing a brown bag lunch? Do you remember why? Did you or whoever packed your lunch do anything to make the bag unique? Use your sketchbook to capture your memories.
• What was your favorite school lunch? Think about what the contents reveal about you at that time or that time in history. Indulge your inner creative by making your favorite school lunch for you or a loved one. Eat it at work or take it on a picnic.
• If you bring your lunch to work, what do you carry it in? What does it say about you? With all the reusable, eco-friendly containers there are designs to fit every personality and desire for self expression. Think about treating yourself to a stylized adult version of a lunchbox.

Any inspiration from the above, pictures of childhood lunchboxes or memories of school lunch are welcome as comments!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Month of Transitions: Celebrating "Back to School"

“Don't you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address. On the other hand, this not knowing has its charms.” –Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) in an email to Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) in You’ve Got Mail

Here in New England, summer made a memorable exit with a relentless five day heat wave followed by a small hurricane. After which, Labor Day weekend dawned with unmarred cerulean skies, the morning air holding a crispness that promised that the transition of the season is near.

September, as it falls in natural time, is a calendar month rich in transitions. It heralds the end of summer and the official beginning of fall with the Autumn Equinox.

In many faiths it marks a new year or a new way of thinking, such as Alban Elfed (Light in Autumn), a Celtic celebration of the Autumn Equinox, when the perfect balance of day and night is a chance to reflect on what has been learned (harvested) throughout the year and how it will be used or applied. In Judaism, the first of the high holy days begins with Rosh Hashanah, the “Jewish New Year,” the beginning of the civil year for people, animals and legal contracts.

More commonly known to all of us though, this time of year is marked in both the Academic and Retail Calendars as Back to School.

With a new fall semester of Creative Thinking officially beginning tomorrow, my thoughts have been increasingly of the “back to school” variety. Time is planned, syllabi are written, texts are read and re-read, lectures reinvigorated. And yet, this is all still the beginning. As the beautiful late summer weather beckons, I sit with my laptop amid a half-built fortress of books and notes that consumes the dining room table, and remind myself (not half-jokingly) of Aesop’s fable,The Ant and the Grasshopper.

As someone who loves learning and paper, and who also has the retail calendar deeply ingrained in their psyche, I will (unsurprisingly) confess that I have many positive associations with the fall. From new school supplies, to sweaters and boots, to the arrival of candy corn and Halloween merchandise, and even the hint of Christmas merchandise to follow, the fall always feels like a new start, a time to focus my attention and achieve new things.

On the other hand it means relinquishing the carefree, daylight-filled hours of summer which hold so much inspiration. But for me, that means it is time to take those ideas (many inspired by the Summer Challenges) and return to the page with a deeper motivation and care for my craft.

Even if you are no longer on the academic calendar, the workplace environment still harbors evidence of the semesters, with people returning from vacations, desks filling up, and the preparations in place to meet the goals of the final quarter of the fiscal year.

Just like the religious and seasonal traditions above, I believe that Back to School should be a chance for mindful celebration to mark the shift in our intensity of focus. As with all things Paper Compass, “celebration” is interpretive and provides a great chance to tap your memory, inspire your creative side, or just have a moment to play.

Take time this month to indulge in one (or all) of the following:

Rekindle a love of pen (or pencil) on paper: Rediscover, fix up, or purchase a new writing instrument. It can be whatever strikes your fancy from a No. 2 pencil to a fountain pen with turquoise ink refills.
Treat yourself to an after school snack: Martha Beck in The Joy Diet writes about reclaiming part of her childhood by indulging in milk and cookies in the afternoon along with some down time. I highly recommend this, especially as a great time for jump starting your creative thinking.
Add an element of organization: Take time to look through the back to school supply aisle, pick up something that will help unclutter your work area.
Buy a new Back to School item or outfit: (Even if you are not going anywhere near an academic institution) Fashion is an outward expression of creativity, make sure to let yours out.
Meditation on learning: Think about something new that you want to learn or refocus on.

No matter what about celebrating Back to School inspires you, set goals for yourself this month and make sure to "do your homework”—you’ll be surprised at how much progress you’ve made by the time the "calendar" New Year rolls around.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Summer Challenge Week Eight: Alfresco

Challenge #8: Alfresco. This week (and the remaining weeks of summer) take the time to be outside. Picnic, read, work, eat, daydream, lay in the sun, do something productive in a new place, or unproductive in a favorite haunt. Most importantly, savor it. Summer goes by all too quickly. For this alfresco adventure, bring your sketchbook along, or document your time outside with photos, a story, or a memento and share here on The Paper Compass

When you are someone who loves language, you know that sometimes there are words that just make your whole being perk up. For me, the word alfresco is one of them. Not only does it roll off the tongue in lovely, velveteen Italian, but when added to another word, it makes the occasion infinitely more exciting, such as, “We are dining alfresco this evening.” Not just dining, but how lovely! dining alfresco. (It is also a word that is just plain fun to say out loud.)

Alfresco, quite simply, means outside or out-of-doors. In a more literal translation, dating back to the mid-1700s, it means: a cool place. It is the perfect summertime word. And while most commonly used to refer to dining outside, for me it is a summertime mindset.

Unlike any other season, the summer is about living alfresco. The world beckons lush and humid, the days are long, the evenings soft. In the summer, my back porch becomes my office, my breakfast nook, my reading area, and general all purpose place that I can be found. I appreciate being surrounded by my potted herbs and flowers, the breeze, the light, the birdsong. With that enjoyment also come the sublime knowledge that only too soon I will be inside listening to the radiators hiss. Wearing sweaters. Drinking my coffee hot. So I know that every moment on the porch, outside in the summer, is to be savored.

More than any other time of year, in the remaining weeks of summer we should take the time to step outside. To take ourselves off to that place in the shade to read, to dine, to nap. This week, for the final summer challenge, I encourage you to be inspired by the word alfresco. Take the time this week (and in the remaining weeks of summer) to take your activities outside, whether it is reading the paper and having your coffee or even as elaborate as borrowing the office data projector and using a sheet across a laundry line to have an outdoor movie night. Be creative with your alfresco adventure, or just take the time to savor your time in the sun.

This brings us to the Eighth (and final) Summer Challenge: Alfresco. This week (and the remaining weeks of summer) take the time to be outside. Picnic, read, work, eat, daydream, lay in the sun, do something productive in a new place, or unproductive in a favorite haunt. Most importantly, savor it. Summer goes by all too quickly. For this alfresco adventure, bring your sketchbook along, or document your time outside with photos, a story, or a memento and share here on The Paper Compass.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Summer Challenge Week Seven: Adventures

Challenge #7: Last week we explored how summer is often a time for journeys. This week we will take on the (often more accessible) Summer Adventure in all its interpretations. Key to this challenge is considering: What does adventuring mean to you? When was the last time you went on something that felt like an adventure? Adventures are a key ingredient to creative thinking. They should feel new, fresh, exciting, unknown, exploratory, and playful—which means that adventures can often be a frame of mind. With that as your touchpoint, think about all the new adventures you can have in a day—whether it means going to a new coffee shop or taking a different route to work, or planning a day trip to a different part of the state. This week, plan an adventure, big or small. Go adventuring and record in your sketchbook any inspiration, ideas, illustrations, or thoughts and share here on The Paper Compass.

I am seated Indian style on the familiar floor of my local yoga studio, while a petite Korean woman works her way down the uneven row of people seated around me. I am watching her methodically remove a small patch of rubbing alcohol from the crown of the heads of the people before me, and then insert a long thin acupuncture needle with a quick tap, tap into the Sahasrara, also known as Heaven’s Gate, or, more simply, the Seventh Chakra.

It is Saturday afternoon and I have paid a small entrance fee for this special open-to-the-public workshop. While I had been initially curious by the posters at the yoga center, it was the open schedule of my afternoon that was the tipping point. I didn’t have a reason to not go, plus yoga events almost always make me feel joyous afterwards.

I reminded myself of this as the line of people sitting to my right, with what looked like small antennae sticking out of their heads, progressed closer to me. I tried to focus on my breathing, but I kept worrying if it was going to hurt, or if my over-active imagination, kept under extremely tight rein in my Clark Kent-like guise, was going to come bursting out of the top of my head, unleashed with the prick of the needle and fill the room with a dark, rotating cloud-like substance that would sweep out over the suburbs like a level 5 hurricane.

“Are you alright?” the Spiritual Acupuncturist casually, and not unkindly, asks me. She then distracts me by handing me the wrapper for the four inch needle that she then tap, taps into my head.

It barely even pinches.

And then there is a slow sensation of warmth trickling down from the top of my head, down my neck, and slowly making its way to the tips of my fingers. The sensation reminds me of a game my mom used to play with my brother, sister and I where she would break an imaginary egg on the crown of our heads, her hands spreading out from the top of our skulls, her fingers trailing slowly through our hair and down the sides of our faces like imaginary ribbons of egg whites, causing a sensation both hypnotic and full of creepy-crawlies. We would inevitably squirm away, only to come back and ask her to do it again.

This is the peculiar and wonderful moment where I realize that I am very glad that I came to the yoga seminar, as I am having an Official Adventure—even if it is in the unexpected form of sitting on the floor with a large needle sticking out of my head.

And this is the inspiration for the Seventh Summer Challenge: Adventures. Last week we explored how summer is often a time for journeys. This week we will take on the (sometimes more accessible) Summer Adventure in all its interpretations. Key to this challenge is considering: What does adventuring mean to you? When was the last time you went on something that felt like an adventure?

Adventures are a key ingredient to creative thinking. They should feel new, fresh, exciting, unknown, exploratory, and playful, which means that adventures can often be a frame of mind. With that as your touchpoint, think about all the new adventures you can have in a day—whether it means going to a new coffee shop or taking a different route to work, or planning a day trip to a different part of the state. This week, plan an adventure (big or small). Go adventuring and record in your sketchbook any inspiration, ideas, illustrations, or thoughts and share here on The Paper Compass.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Summer Challenge Week Six: Wanderlust

Challenge #6: Summer is traditionally a time for “trips” or vacation travel. What travel memories does your summer hold? Indulge this week in remembering a trip or journey that you have taken. Do you have mementos of the trip to spark memories? Consider how your travels have influenced you and/or what new travel memories you are currently creating or planning? Celebrate by indulging this week in a related foreign film, book or food, for a trip (past or future). If you write or paint of it, use all of your senses to capture the experience. Record in your sketchbook any ideas, illustrations, or thoughts and share here on The Paper Compass.

I awake in my bed in suburban Boston, surrounded by memories of South Africa. They follow me throughout my morning routine like the wispy tendrils of remembered dreams. In the shower, I can see again in my mind’s eye the golden colors of the sun setting on the mountains behind the guest house in Swellendam. With this image comes the memory of the day at De Hoop (picture above), returning, the scent of Rooibos tea in a rose-patterned tea cup, and the sounds of sheep in the yard next door as twilight falls. Brushing my teeth, I recall the dusky light and oaky scent of the cave on our wine tasting in Stellenbosch. And at breakfast, I remember the feeling of planning our sight-seeing route, and the essence of grand adventure and newness that came with the start each day in Cape Town.

I look at the July calendar and understand—it is exactly three summers ago to the day that my brother and I joined my sister in South Africa after she had finished her study abroad program there. We traveled for ten days from Cape Town to Swellendam and back, days filled with bright vibrant memories and amazing things to see, taste, experience. Every year at this time, memories of the trip float to the surface of my mind and follow me throughout the day.

These pockets of memories that emerge every year on and around the exact travel date, are not just exclusive to my trip to South Africa. In June, I have memories of Segovia, cava, the squares of Madrid, and the site of my sister kneeling on the marble floors of the palace taking pictures of the painted and gilded ceilings. In mid-August, I think of the Seine, the flowers in Monet’s garden brilliant under a light rain, and cafes in Paris. There are other trips, large and small, local and foreign, forming a veritable travel guide of memories throughout the year but the most cherished and most exotic ones seem to be gathered in the traditional time of summer wanderlust.

These memories come from a place deeper than my active conscious. I am in awe of the map of memories that is held in our bodies, and its way of saying, Hello, I know this heat, this light, this time before. Remember the taste of the freshly baked chocolate éclair on that hot and dusty street in Paris? You are a Student of the World, there is much more to you than worrying about work emails and dirty dishes. Remember that.

I like to think that these embedded memories are similar to what author Sarah Ban Breathnach calls, in her book Simple Abundance, “anniversaries of the heart.” While that term embraces, respectively, much more intimate and emotional experiences than just times of travel, I like to think that, for me, the spirit of adventure that emerges on the anniversaries of these travel dates are small times of celebration—a time to enjoy a well of exotic memories and passionate experiences, beyond the pattern of my day-to-day life.

All this is inspiration for the Sixth Summer Challenge: Wanderlust. Summer is traditionally a time for “trips” or vacation travel. What travel memories or “anniversaries of the heart” does your summer hold?

Indulge this week in remembering a trip or journey that you have taken. Do you have mementos of the trip to spark memories? Consider how your travels have influenced you and /or what new travel memories are you currently creating or planning? Celebrate by indulging this week in a related foreign film, book or food, for either a trip past or future. If you write or paint of it, use all of your senses to capture the experience. Record in your sketchbook any ideas, illustrations, or thoughts and share here on The Paper Compass.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Summer Challenge Week Five: Spontaneous Summer Play

Challenge #5: Summer invites play. What was the last act of spontaneous play that you indulged in? Who are the people that inspire you to spontaneous play? While it is a little less permissible for adults to indulge in spontaneous play, it is highly rewarding. Take a risk (a safe risk, please) this week and do something spontaneous or that is reminiscent of childhood play, whether it is a forgotten sport, time playing tether ball, or running through the neighbor’s sprinkler after a jog. Indulge this week in a playful activity or game with all your senses. Consider how it makes you feel and the memories that it inspires. Record in your sketchbook any ideas, illustrations, or thoughts and share here on The Paper Compass.

A few weeks ago, from the safe vantage point of the back porch where I was working, I was privy to one of the most ruthless and brilliant water gun battles of all time that took place at the neighbor’s house. Having apparently soaked the grass of the backyard to a sponge-like consistency while playing on the Slip-n-Slide, the neighbor children and their friends moved on to stalking each other with Super Soakers and using plastic winter sleds, unearthed from the garage, as shields. The moment of decisive victory came when an empty trash barrel was filled with water and up-ended on the Dennis-the-Menace-type middle child who unwittingly came to meet it as he ran around the front corner of the house.

Even though this act resulted in the wrath of the supervising parent, emerging from the back door to reiterate that the instructions were that everyone was to stay in the backyard, the enthusiasm of the gaggle of skinny wet-bathing suit clad children didn’t seem diminished, just refocused, as they jettisoned off to their next adventure.

It was remarkable to watch that kind of 100% energy and spontaneity for play, which I feel that adults are rarely given permission to indulge in unless it is a competitive structured sport. While there is nothing wrong with that, it’s my opinion, that it is the unstructured, spontaneous kind of play that is the most memorable.

Unstructured play leads to great creativity and great moments of humor. When my siblings and I were younger, we never were satisfied with a game or toy as is. This lead to the creation of such hybrid games as Medicine Ball Soccer (which was more like rugby and amazingly I can attest to no broken feet), Moving Target Bad Mitten (self-explanatory, no net needed), and doing things like emptying out a piñata full of candy and then filling it with fireworks. The tricky part then of being how to light it. (See image above for final result. I do not recommend trying this.)

Amazingly (and thankfully) we are all still uninjured and better yet, still doing these things when we get together.

All of this is the inspiration for the fifth Summer Challenge: Spontaneous Summer Play. What was the last act of spontaneous play that you indulged in? Who are the people that inspire you to spontaneous play? While it is a little less permissible for adults to indulge in spontaneous play, it is highly rewarding. Take a risk (a safe risk, please) to do something spontaneous or that is reminiscent of childhood play, whether it is a forgotten sport, time playing tether ball, or running through the neighbor’s sprinkler after a jog.

Take the time to indulge this week in a playful activity or game. As always, indulge in the activity with all your senses. Consider how it makes you feel and the memories that it inspires. Record in your sketchbook any ideas, illustrations, or thoughts and share here on The Paper Compass.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Summer Challenge Week Four: Sunrise, Sunset and High Noon

Challenge #4: In this interpretive challenge, think about the segmented times of the summer day from sunrise to afternoon to sunset (or after). Do you have a favorite? Pick a time to observe a certain point in the day, whether it is familiar to you, such as a summer afternoon or unfamiliar, such as getting up extra early one morning to see the sunrise. This is also a great challenge to think about time as a setting in movies, books, or even your own routine. This opens the challenge up to include watching a movie this week, such as High Noon, or taking the time to listen to music such as Chopin’s Nocturnes. This week, take in your time-exploring experience with all your senses. Record in your sketchbook any ideas, illustrations, or thoughts that it inspires and share here on The Paper Compass.

“The days are fruits and our job is to eat them.” -Jean Giono, Fullness of Days

Unlike other seasons, the summer is characterized as having an abundance of hours. This comes both from the extended amount of daylight and from the often playful or relaxing activities of summer, such as going to the beach or vacation time.

Currently we are in the heart of what has been known since ancient times as the Dog Days of Summer. The Greeks and Romans believed that the sultry heat and limited rainfall was a result of the rage of Sirius, associated with the Dog Star, which is one of the brightest stars, burning in the constellation Canis Major. The Dog Days were originally believed to be an evil time of hysterics, frenzies, mad dogs, fevered men, and languid creatures.

Modern conveniences such as air conditioning, refrigerators, Slurpees, and movie theaters have helped alleviate some of the corpulent evilness of the Dog Days, but I believe that there are some oppressive and slow summer moments where you can still feel the thin veil between the productive march of modern everyday-progress and the sinister, lazy nature of the Dog Days.

While much has been written about the pleasantness of a summer afternoon, there are not many odes to Dog Day afternoons. These are the almost unbearable high hours of the day that feel like the Sargasso Sea of summer, weighted and ponderous, with time hanging as thick as the air.

It is these afternoons that are actually one of my favorite things about summertime. They are full of stillness and invite you to be aware of the things that are absent: birdsong, the breeze, shadows. For me it embodies the nature of waiting and is a time pregnant with possibilities. Walking home from the T or to the library on a Dog Day afternoon, I often do some of my best plot line and character development thinking. Often in stories (or the weather) stillness forebodes the coming of the storm, and it is a great time to think about your character when they are not engaged in action but in solitude.

Also, the Dog Days of summer sometimes evoke in me a rare feeling of restlessness and boredom. This is a great combination for tinkering or for picking up a new book. Sometimes it is also just a good time to pour a cold glass of sun tea and sit as still as the air.

All of this is the inspiration for the fourth Summer Challenge: Sunrise, Sunset and High Noon. This is an interpretive challenge, so feel free to go where you feel inspired to. Think about the segmented times of the summer day from sunrise to a summer afternoon to sunset (or after). Do you have a favorite? This week, pick a time to observe a certain point in the day, whether it is familiar to you, such as a summer afternoon or unfamiliar, such as getting up extra early one morning to see the sunrise. Explore that time as a full sensory experience. How does it feel? What do you observe about it? What memories or emotions are connected to it?

This is also a great challenge to think about time as a setting in movies, books, or even your own routine. This opens the challenge up to include watching a movie this week, such as High Noon, or taking the time to listen to music such as Chopin’s Nocturnes. Take in your time-exploring experience with all your senses. Record in your sketchbook any ideas, illustrations, or thoughts that it inspires and share here on The Paper Compass.

If this post sparked your thinking on time, I highly recommend Slow Time by Waverly Fitzgerald as a further exploration of your relationship with the hours. You can also visit her blog: Living in Season for quarterly inspiration.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Summer Challenge Week Three: Ice Cream

Challenge #3: What is your favorite ice cream flavor or frozen treat? When you were younger where did you go to get ice cream? Was it from an ice cream truck, a shop or an ice cream parlor? This week treat yourself to your favorite childhood ice cream or frozen concoction. Use all your senses as you indulge in this summertime tradition. Record the experience, memories, and thoughts on revisiting your favorite flavor or frozen treat in your sketchbook and share here on The Paper Compass.

"It’s summer. Eat ice cream.”

I don’t think I could say it better than my fellow mediaman team member Beth LaPointe’s current Skype status.

With sweltering temperatures, bright blazing sun, and extra hours of light that fill the evenings, summertime allows us the perfect weather in which to fully appreciate the delightfully frozen treat of ice cream. Whether it is from an ice cream parlor, Baskin Robin’s, or a treat that follows the tinny, beckoning music of the ice cream truck, ice cream is an inherent summer tradition.

The beautiful thing about eating something frozen in the summertime is that it requires the concentration that is so key to emersion in a single experience and excellent for creative thinking. You must strategize your method of eating as the ice cream melts. Do you lick around the edge of the cone? In concentric circles? What happens when you get down to the cone? Everyone has a different tactic.

Even more of a challenge in my opinion, are the sweet treats from the ice cream truck. With an architectural support structure composed of a single stick (unless it is a Chipwich or ice cream sandwich), you must eat it in such a way that half the concoction does not slide off in a slick melting pile when you devour one side. Many a Chocolate Éclair, Strawberry Shortcake, Sponge Bob and Mickey Mouse chocolate-eared ice cream pop have met this fateful end.

Where I grew up in Old Greenwich, Connecticut, Baskin Robin’s was a short walk from the house. If you left the backyard through the side gate—which was a flimsy wire fence that you needed to lift up-and- out of the looped closures—and proceeded down the narrow street that ran in front of a series of little bungalows, you would come out in the back alley behind the bike shop and Garden Catering, across from my Dad’s store. The bike shop would, a few years later, burn down in a raging fire at three in the morning that made the whole of main street smell like burning rubber. Garden Catering, on the other hand is still there, with its impossibly narrow white-sided shop front, an American flag out front and the neon OPEN sign glowing in the window. I can still taste the seasoned fries and apple fritters.

If you then turned left and went under the train bridge and up a small hill, you reached the shopping center in which my knowledge of ice cream was first formed. After the walk from the house, not only was Baskin Robins delightfully cold with its air conditioned interior, but the chilled air also carried a slightly creamy-sweet scent. Everything about the ice cream store seemed exciting at the time: the smell, the metal rimmed counter with its padded stools that spun, the small pink tasting spoons, and the freezer cases with the flavors displayed like a pastel watercolor paint box in their recessed tubs.

While my mom’s favorite flavor was Mint Chocolate Chip, and my Dad often got Rocky Road, I eagerly anticipated the summertime flavor of Bubble Gum. This pale pink ice cream, sprinkled with tiny colored bubble gum pieces, was strangely delicious and incredibly complex to eat. To this day I still like it and simultaneously do not completely comprehend why—perhaps sentimentality. As you lick the ice cream, you have to chew the gum—which is not chewy because it is frozen, so you end up swallowing it along with the ice cream. It defies logic and is not something not to be over thought…just enjoyed before it melts.

All of this is the inspiration for the third Summer Challenge: Ice Cream. Ice Cream and frozen treats are a summertime tradition and a great way to emerge yourself in a sensory experience or unlock memories for creative inspiration.

This week make time to indulge in an ice cream treat. I recommend revisiting a favor childhood flavor or experience, whether it is tracking down an ice cream truck or finding an ice cream parlor with a counter. Use all your senses to note the color, taste, texture, smell, and sounds of eating ice cream in the summertime. Note the experience in your sketchbook and share here on The Paper Compass

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Summer Challenge Week Two: Books

Challenge #2: What is your favorite summertime book or reading experience? By the end of the week: dig up, check out, find, or purchase and begin re-reading your favorite summertime book or series. The book can be recent or from your childhood. Exercise your imagination and use all your senses as you rediscover your book, its plot and characters. Record the experience, memories, and thoughts of revisiting a favorite book or character in your sketchbook and share here on The Paper Compass.

For me, summer is the season for reading. You can find me whiling away many weekend afternoons or mornings on the back porch, deeply engrossed in the imaginative activity of reading. It is not that I don’t read all year long—often, it is hard to find me without several books on my person at once. It is more that the long lazy days and evenings of summer seem the perfect permission to escape into a book.

To prove to you what a bibliophile I am, I will confess that one of the things I liked most about the summers of my adolescent and childhood were the school and library summer reading goals and the academic summer reading list. Meant to inspire kids to read, I needed no further urging and would set lofty numerical goals checking out half the books at a time, or plan out how I was going to read every book on the list. The summer reading list is how I discovered summer classics such as Tuck Everlasting and The Great Gatsby, along with many other books that now line the shelves of my bookcases.

From the summer reading list, I developed the ritual of reading classics in the summertime. While the “perfect beach read” is often eagerly devoured, I still continue to set goals to work my way through some of the classics. One of my favorite haunts in the summer before and after my senior year in high school was the Book Rack, introduced to me by my friend Crystal. It was a used book store in a dated strip mall, shadowed by a massive Banyan Tree, off of PGA Boulevard in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Packed floor to ceiling in a semi-organized fashion, the store smelled of dusty paperbacks, linoleum and air conditioning that was so strong it caused the front plate glass to be covered with condensation. Our destination was the wall at the front of the store that held used literary fiction, the volumes somehow less intimidating with their dog-eared covers and yellowing pages. This is where I purchased Sylvia Path’s The Bell Jar, Steinbeck’s The Winter of Our Discontent, and where Crystal introduced me to J.D. Salinger’s Nine Stories.

Another highlight of the Book Rack was that, on lucky occasion, if you asked the woman at the front desk if they had any original Nancy Drew books, she would reach into a bottom drawer and pull out a small plastic basket of the increasingly rare blue-backed girls’ serial novels from the 30s, 40s and 50s.

Back in the summers of 4th and 5th grade, I devoured my mom’s collection of Nancy Drew Mysteries, sometimes one a day, and developed a lifelong fondness for the girl sleuth. The liberation of summertime seems to echo the freedom of Nancy and her chums, racing ahead of a storm in Nancy’s roadster, a mystery just around the corner. For me and my overactive imagination, slow ordinary summer afternoons especially seem to simmer with the expectation that an adventure is right around the corner...even if it is just in the book that I am currently reading.

All of this is the inspiration for the second Summer Challenge: Books. Reading is (or should be in my humble opinion) an integral part of summertime whether it is for leisure or to pass time when traveling. Revisiting a favorite summertime book from your distant or recent past can be a great way to unlock your imagination, be inspired by a remembered character, or revisit an old favorite from a new perspective.

This week make time to visit your bookcase, library or local bookstore to obtain a previous summer favorite. Exercise your imagination and use all your senses as you rediscover your book, its plot and characters. Record the experience, memories, and thoughts of revisiting a favorite book or character in your sketchbook and share here on The Paper Compass.

I will leave you with one of, what I think, is a quintessential summertime passage from Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, when Nick first meets Daisy and Jordan:
“A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags…The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few minutes listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear window and the caught wind died out about the room and the curtain and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.”

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Summer Challenge Week One: Candy

Challenge #1: What was your favorite childhood candy? By the end of the week: find, purchase and consume (or devour) your favorite childhood candy. Use all your senses. Record your experience, memories, and thoughts in your sketchbook and, if you'd like, share here on The Paper Compass.

While I have many childhood memories of summer, one of the most prevalent is of eating frozen Charleston Chews in a damp bathing suit while laying on the blazing hot Astroturf-carpeted tennis deck of the Innis Arden Country Club in Old Greenwich, Connecticut. The time spent at the country club is disproportionately recorded in my memory, but that makes sense as it involves several semi-prominent childhood experiences: my first (and only) synchronized swim performance to Pink Cadillac; the first 6 foot long sandwich I had ever seen (and eaten); and The High Dive. There were hours filled with golf and tennis lessons, many laps completed in a sloppy-but-determined manner as a member of the junior swim team, weekend family cookouts, and the highlight of the day: a single piece of candy, as allocated by my dad, and signed for using the “chit.”

Candy was kept in an industrial-sized freezer behind the white laminated counter of the pool snack bar manned by teenagers with their collars turned up. Rather than taste, logic governed the selection of the Charleston Chew: it was the biggest (read: longest) piece of candy in the freezer. Hence it was the best ROI for the single selection my brother and I were given. After standing on my toes to sign the chit with a stunted golf score card pencil, the candy was taken up to the tennis deck to be either cracked into pieces and eaten slowly, or gnawed at, the chocolate melting first, until a bite sized piece came off.

In retrospect, I marvel that I still have teeth.

Candy seems to (sadly, yet fortunately) hold less appeal as we grow older. Yet, it is a powerful vehicle for tapping into memories and into the mindset of our younger-selves as seen in the instance above.

This inspires the first Summer Challenge: Candy Treat. What was your favorite childhood candy? Where did you buy it or whom shared it with you? Did you have it all year round or was it something seasonal, like the frozen Charleston Chews?

This week make it a To Do list priority to find your favorite candy from childhood. Once you have it, take a good 15 minutes to enjoy (or take in) the experience of eating it. Record your thoughts, memories, and experience in your sketchbook—and here on the blog in the comments section!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Summer Challenges Commence! Tapping into a Season of Creative Experiences

“She needed the sun to mellow and temper her mood to the sticking point.” – The Awakening, Kate Chopin

Summer is my favorite season for creative exploration. Fall is for thinking and working, winter for nesting and dreaming, spring for planning and awakening, and summer—summer is for relaxing and adventuring. This combination of playfulness and exploration seems to unlock something within. The veil between the current moment and memory seems thinner, more transparent, lending itself to glimpses of our childhood; our own current desire to slow down and enjoy, even if just for an afternoon; and sometimes it allows us to rediscover our inner wanderlust and desire to try new things. All of these elements come together to create a perfect season for tapping into our deep well of personal experiences for creative inspiration.

Last summer, inspired by a random childhood memory of bubble gum, I decided to revisit Big League Chew. It became a weekend mission to locate a pack of Big League Chew, which I was lucky to find down town at Walgreens. On the way back home, I opened the pouch and the scent of the powdered strings of gum, with its deep chemical purple color, transported me back to elementary school and the local 5&10 store C.W. Curry’s in Old Greenwich.

All this before I even put the gum in my mouth, which was its own time-travel experience. I was so excited by this endeavor that I enlisted my childhood partners-in-crime, my brother and sister, to do the same thing by the end of the week. This call to action, usually in the form of a text message, to hunt something down to remember it better, continued informally over the summer and was a point of much discussion of old and good memories. It also was a great source of details for stories that I was writing in my creative writing workshop that I take in the summer with Julia Thacker.

This summer, I thought that I would use the next eight weeks, the “dog days of summer” to invite all The Paper Compass readers to embark on Summer Challenges and share their experiences. I will post the challenge and then everyone can reply in the comment thread. You can speak of the memory, or the act of doing the challenge, or discuss a creative project that you may be inspired towards. Many of my memories were captured in my sketchbook or short writing assignments. I encourage you to do the same so that you can record the experience for future inspiration.

I hope that you will join us on this playful and creative exploration of the summer season.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Delay Tactics: In Search of the Perfect Sketchbook or Refreshing Your Relationship with Your Sketchbook, Part II

A few weeks ago, inspired by my desire to reclaim my sketchbook usage from the acres of business meeting notes taking over its pages, I set out on a short walk to the local art & craft store. With the treaspassing fickleness of Goldilocks, I had been through many sizes and shapes of sketchbooks in the previous months. My intention now, was to return to my visual, idea exploration roots in the soon-to-be-found, Perfect Sketchbook.

With the precision of a visual thinker and one who obsesses over paper, I had been mulling it over for weeks. I wanted a sketchbook that was at least 8.5 x 11, thin rather than thick for ease of carrying, have a hard cover, rich smooth pages possibly perforated, a pocket and an elastic closure for when I abusively stuffed things inside the cover.

Thirty minutes later, twenty of which had been spent comparing sketchbooks from the generous selection that crowded the long aisle, I was still not satisfied. The options existed but never in the right combination. I headed home, determined and stubborn and still without a sketchbook.

In the next few days, I hunted down sketchbooks during visits to book stores, paper stores, and art stores all without discovery of The One. It was beginning to turn into an exercise in over-thinking and (I began to scent) a procrastination tactic. There was a lurking left brain sense that only this Perfect Sketchbook would help me return to a sense of play and productivity. Not true, I said. It is only a vehicle, only a tool.

So I returned to my starting point in the aisle of the art & craft store that smelled satisfyingly like fresh paper and oil paints. The worn linoleum of the aisles was smooth and dusty under my soft-soled shoes. I worked my way back through the aisle, touching the textures of the sheets, the heft of the book in my hand, until I found it: a sketchbook very close to my dreamed up specifications. With its canvas cover, slim page volume and thick paper, I decided it would do just fine.

The lesson learned was not one of looking and not seeing (although that too is true) but of setting an expectation level that prevented me from quickly taking action. This idea that I needed The Perfect Sketchbook to begin my new mission, was a classic over-thinking tactic of believing in the tools more than myself.

When I came back to the aisle of the art store, I let myself experience the selection as it was, rather than projecting what I wanted onto it—which inevitably lead to nothing being the right fit. Similarly, sometimes when we are creating, it is easy to shut ourselves down based on an aspiration, rather than taking an idea from where it currently is and working through the many stages of action to make it into what you want it to be.

When I reconnected with my goal, I knew that it wasn’t about obtaining The Perfect Sketchbook, but actually reconnecting with my visual, curious, playful self on paper using the sketchbook. In stepping back to see the big picture of the goal, the elements of what would work opened up before me.

Thinking Points

This experience was a nice way to see some of my behavioral and thinking habits and inspired some questions that may be of interest to you too.

• What artist tools do you use that make you feel more creative than others? Do these empower you or limit you in anyway?
• What ideas are you not putting into action because of lofty ideals? Is there a place that you could start teasing out the idea and be comfortable experimenting?
• Are you attached to a certain style of sketchbook or type of writing or painting tool? If so, what would happen if you swapped it out with something different? How would your work or thinking process change?
• Are there any points of a project where you are stuck? If you re-address your goal on a broad level, does it help you see beyond the sticking point?

If any of the above points resonated with you, take the time to try something different or step back and gain a different perspective. Write/draw/explore the answer in your sketchbook (of course!) Also, responses and sharing to the above questions are always welcome.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

What the Water Taught Me or Refreshing Your Relationship with Your Sketchbook, Part I

Postcard No. 3
Remembering Night Swimming
Mixed Media, Collage

Several weeks ago, right on the heels of the amazing Ghost Hunter’s weekend, my boyfriend and I arrived home to find our basement flooded with nine inches of water.

Driving home in the cloud soaked twilight, the neighborhood was an eerie scene, with the rain streaming down and fountains of water bubbling up from the manhole covers and storm drains. My intuition said it didn’t bode well for our seepage-prone basement and I was, sadly, correct.

We lost a few things, some that can be replaced and some that can’t, but thankfully important items, like my sketchbook that my mom kept from when I was little, made it through perfectly dry. My large, unwieldy art portfolio was in the basement and while some of the contents were quickly subscribed to the trash bin, other items, like my sketchbooks from college, I couldn’t give up on and I dragged them upstairs and set about a campaign to dry them.

For weeks, my sketchbooks were spread out on the radiators around the house or, on nice days, propped up in the windows of the back porch, the breeze fluttering the thick damp pages.

Not being one to sentimentally return to mull through things, it was an interesting lesson for me to see how my use of a sketchbook has changed. In college, my sketchbook was filled with images, sketches, design ideas for silk scarves and pillows. I used my sketchbook as a place to try out ideas and play before putting paint to paper, or dye to silk. Sometimes, there were also just big, emotionally-driven, playful drawings or the drafts of poems that later were published.

The sketchbooks, as they steamed and curled on the radiators, lived and breathed with images and the play of ideas. They clearly showed a colorful phase in my artistic journey.

In contrast, I realized that my current sketchbooks are filled with more notes than ideas. That business meetings and To Dos dominate the pages and the occasional “this-meeting-should-have-ended-20-minutes-ago” doodle decorates the edges. There are also notes on books I am reading, or activities and ideas for things that I want to improve in my Creative Thinking class. So while it is important material, it is very distant from the colorful playfulness of the pages of the previous decade.

I like the liberty of having a sketchbook for work, but it made me realize that I need a sketchbook to play in again—and that I need to take the time to play; to return to more visual exploration and expression.

The other thing that I saw in my open and drying sketchbooks was that they held the blue prints of many projects that had made their way from idea to tangible object. Which was an interesting observation—creating a master sketch seemed to make something happen. That or I was just closer to a finished project at the time that I was testing it on paper.

The damage of the basement flooding served as a catalyst for not only looking at my artistic process but specifically my use of sketchbooks and the role they play in cultivating ideas. The resulting search for a new sketch book and its insights are topics for my next post… Until then, I invite you to think about your artistic journey and how you can refresh your relationship with your sketchbook in the activity below.

Sketchbook Meditation

This activity is designed to help you take a look at your own work and see if you there are some new directions or explorations that may stimulate new ideas or work flow habits.

Take out your current sketch book (hopefully it is always nearby!) or, even better, if you keep sketchbooks, take out a selection at random and line them up. Flip randomly through the pages and observe what you see about how you work. Some questions to ask yourself:
• Do you use a lot of words or do you use more images?
• Is there a focus, or do you cover a wide variety of ideas and topics?
• What mediums do you use (paint, ink, pencil, mixed)?
• Is the information organized or random?
• Do you go back and review pages or information?
• How many of the ideas in the sketchbook made it into bigger, tangible pieces?
• How many of the ideas are “blue prints” and how many are exploratory or from playing?

After going through the questions above, think about what you may want to introduce that is different in your current sketch book. Maybe you realized that you want to play more or use more visuals. Maybe you want to better balance blue prints vs. playfulness. Maybe you want to use paint, rather than your standard pencil.

Pick one item/element from your observations and introduce it to your sketch book in the next week. See what happens and how you feel about your relationship with your sketchbook and documenting your ideas. Hopefully it will be a little bit of a “refresh.”

Want to get an idea of how others are using their sketchbooks? Check out http://sketchbooks.org/

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

“Star-Stuck”: Stop Censoring and Begin Championing your Curiosity (inspired by my weekend talking to ghosts and ghost hunters)

It is not every weekend that I get to go ghost hunting, nor is it every weekend that I get to meet and hang out with the people that I watch on TV on a weekly basis. So you can imagine my delight (if not outright glee) when my boyfriend surprised me with a TAPS(The Atlantic Paranormal Society) ghost hunting weekend at The Spalding Inn in New Hampshire lead by Jason Hawes, Grant Wilson, and Brit Griffith whom you may know from the Syfy hit show Ghost Hunters.

It is no secret that Ghost Hunters is one of my favorite shows. Watching Jason, Grant and the team calmly explore extremely creepy places, debunk hauntings as rattling pipes, etc. and enthusiastically document unexplained incidents, is a weekly ritual. It appeals to my Nancy Drew-side with its mix of adventure, practicality, and the uplifting knowledge that there are mysteries out there to be explored.

So when I found myself standing next to Jason Hawes in the lobby on the first night of the weekend, you can understand that a.) it felt unbelievably surreal and b.) that I experienced my first case of (subtly) being “star-struck.” More importantly, for the purposes of this creative thinking blog, I would like to call it “star-stuck,” meaning that I suddenly had an incredible opportunity to have a memorable conversation and receive the answers to about 10,000 of my ghost hunting questions (or at least say something interesting to a very normal and cool person) but I found that my internal dialogue was being censored by my preconceptions. I didn’t want to say something that every other fan had most likely said. I didn’t want to pester him with a question that he had most likely answered a zillion times. I opened my mouth and the only thing I managed to say during this fantastic opportunity was “I really enjoy the show.” Lame.

With the entire weekend still stretching before me, I resolved that a moment like that would not happen again, not with the TAPS team or with any other person that I found interesting and had the opportunity to meet in my lifetime. For me, the ironic part was that since I teach, and also present to clients at work, I know what it is like to answer questions, and frankly, they are my favorite part of any presentation. Questions are great because they give you a place to start an interesting conversation. So, with that knowledge, I bolstered my courage. I also made a list of all of the things I had ever wondered during the show and identified my key questions: have they ever encountered any people living in the abandoned buildings? Were there any situations where they had felt afraid? Do they do anything special to master or control their fear when being in an unfamiliar (and sometimes sinister) place?

Not only did I get to ask my questions to Jay and Grant at the Q&A session on Saturday, but also afterwards when we were hanging out in the lobby and the pub. During the investigation time, I even volunteered to ask questions to the ghost of Mr. Spalding who haunts the inn—and (through the K2 meter)—he answered back. Now that, is a memorable conversation.

I took many great things away from this experience, but one of the inspiration points for me was tapping into my curiosity and taking advantage of those rare chances you have to ask questions. One of the ways that I am continuing to cultivate this is by keeping a question list in my sketchbook. It is a great source of new discovery points, especially as I try and let my imagine run wild. This means I ask questions such as “What would I have asked Jim Henson if I met him?” or “What was Edison’s inspiration for the lightbulb?” In making it somewhat limitless—out of the boundaries of time and space reality—I discover a lot of cool things that I want to explore.

Within the more practical boundaries of reality, this is also a very helpful activity for when you are going to lectures, discussion panels, or networking events. I recommend identifying someone that you hope to speak to at the event and then list five questions that you would like to ask them. Then make sure to ask when you have the chance!

Curiosity Building Exercise:
In his book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, Michael Gelb, recommends creating a list of 100 questions to help stimulate your curiosity. I find that creating any list of 100 things can be daunting (although I recommend the challenge of it—it leads to some good questions.) I like cultivating the habit of curiosity through questions in sets of five. I recommend focusing on people or subjects that you have an interest in learning more about. A good starting place, for instance, is to take one of those crazy college entrance-like questions such as “If you could have dinner with someone from any point in history, who would it be and why?” Then make a list of five or more people that you find fascinating—then imagine you get to actually have dinner with them: what would you ask? List five questions for each person. See where it takes you. Happy discovery time.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Creating Time Awareness OR The Ultimate Love/Hate Relationship: Time & Creativity

In college, I had a French teacher who, when teaching us to tell time in French (it was a remedial level class, languages not being my strength), would meander off into enthusiastic philosophic musings about time and his unique perspective that the round face of the clock was a pie constantly being devoured.

While the French language has not stayed with me, the vivid image of the disappearing hour-pie has. In fact, I can’t think of time—the artificial, man-made version of it, that we use to measure things such as arriving promptly, being up late, the duration of a task (or amount procrastination)—without thinking of a pie chart. Mainly because, by its very own definition and act of measurement, time is limited resource no matter how we “slice it.” We all have the same amount of, and personal struggles with, time especially when it comes to bringing ideas into action. How we spend our time is, on a very simple level, based on our own choosing and an act of creation/creativity in itself. Our relationship with time can be a powerful force for, or against, creativity and ideas.

The ultimate love/hate relationship is time and creativity. While ideas need time to incubate, they also need a certain amount of pressure to force them into being. This is why we live in a world of schedules, weekends, vacations and deadlines. One of the most important things that you can do to bring ideas into action is to create an equal balance in your schedule of time for doing/creating/producing and time for daydreaming/ playing/relaxing. While it is somewhat natural to consider things like vacations and intense work areas in the course of a year, I find it to be very helpful and refreshing in a small-scale way on a weekly basis. (Also, when you use mind-mapping as a planning tool, it is often a good chance to visually make sure that you have equal goal time and down time.)

The first step to creating that balance though, is creating awareness of how you use your time. There are a numerous ways to do this but being the paper person that I am, I find that even more than lists and digital calendars, graph paper keeps me honest. My strategy, in a very large horizontal graph paper notebook, is to map out the entire week. I block out all the things that I have scheduled, pencil in all the things that may change, add the time that it will take to travel places (this is a very important thing) and then, as the week goes, I block out the things I have actually spent my time doing. This effective technique allowed me to see that parts of my work day were spent in unproductive flurries of 15 minute chunks of multitasking, which were adding to my feeling of never getting anything finished, and that I sometimes easily lost a couple hours in the evening to the television. It helped me decide that I can close my email for an hour, and that I probably don’t need to watch the eleven o’clock news, giving me more time to accomplish the ideas and tasks that I had on my creative project list.

While beginning this task is easy, maintaining it, being honest and not passing judgment on how you spend your time is challenging. On the other hand, once you begin the exercise, just the act of mapping out the week by hand brings attention to areas that you have to work on projects, or to identify areas that you may have over-scheduled. (Note: It is important to fill in the tasks as you go, rather than wait for the end of the day.)

In the case that your schedule is (at least for the time being) no-way-around-it intense, I recommend the following to at least give you the impression that you have some creative thinking time:

• Write, sketch, or read for pleasure in the 15 minutes before bed/falling asleep
• Walk when you can, whether it is on your lunch or to run a local errand
• Take 15 minutes at the beginning and end of the day to do something of your choosing that is purely enjoyable
• Take 5 minutes during the day to stare out the window, meditate, do nothing, or listen to a favorite relaxing song. I like Chopin’s Nocturne No. 5 in F Sharp that has an ending I could listen to forever. (Five minutes! You may even find several five minutes time blocks in your day.)
• Use a timer. This is one of my favorite ways to balance the desire to clean and organize my work space and home with the promise to myself to play or work on creative projects (that don’t feel like work).

By keeping track of your hours on paper, I at least hope that this little task helps you with the big topic of time and creativity. Bringing awareness to your daily devouring of every 24 hours, will hopefully help you see opportunities and find creative ways to take back your time in order to create new ideas and bring them into being.

Recommendations & Further Reading
My intention of writing this post was further inspired after reading posts on two of my favorite blogs in the past week that, I felt, spoke to this desire for time in balance when nurturing new ideas. The first is Pam Slim’s winter musings on her blog Escape from Cubicle Nation and the other was Havi Brook’s post about a fragile new idea on her blog The Fluent Self. Barbara Sher’s book Wishcraft also contains, in my opinion, the best practical advice for time management when working towards achieving a dream. It is optimistic with a touch of kick-in-the-pants. For building a better relationship with time, I recommend Waverly Fitzgerald's book Slow Time or visiting her blog Living in Season. Last but not least, for those of you who like ready-made and despise graph paper, Paper Source has a great perpetual calendar planner that is not unlike my current time tracking system, but much more fun and colorful.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Follow Up to Four Blank Books

My brother, song writer and historian-in-training at UVA sent me this picture and the following note, that was too good not to share as a follow up to the last post:

"I'm going to become a student of Paper Compass. Although I've already failed the last post because I have a different notebooking system: one which is a quasi-personal journal in which I track my academic progress, the other is a raw song/poetry notebook, and then I have an intense archiving system for all my school notes. Nonetheless, I know when to admit I need help. See attached photo. I was looking for some song lyrics that I wrote in 2007, and still haven't found them. Feel free to use this as an example of what happens when you don't properly organize creative thought."

PS. E, there is no chance of "failing". It is all about creation and customization. And by its very nature, creativity--the act of creating--means it is always a work in progress.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Four Blank Books for All Seasons

I am a firm believer in all things cyclical. Like the seasons, my desk and work area have a tendency to mimic the progression of nature’s wild abandon through the seasons. Come spring, new projects are usually in the works. By summer, the file folders are full. And by the end of autumn, papers have piled up like so many stacks of leaves, along with notes, ideas, sketches on scraps of paper, articles and images to be housed and projects started only to become TBR (To Be Resumed) after the holidays.

So winter finds me in a desperate frame of mind for a clean slate, a neat desk and all things tucked away like the severity of a frozen landscape. My tendencies for organizing and mission towards a personal inventory (another thing ingrained in me from my eight years of retail) are slightly held in check by the amount of time I have to dig into them, but even if I have to work small (like drawers and file folders) the sense of well-being is immense. (I will confess to mind mapping the areas I am going to organize in the winter, which does prevent this from becoming a daunting and unrealistic task as I am too “creatively minded” to be a neatnik.)

Like the possibilities of the blank page, a fresh work area is like a launch pad for projects—especially ideas in progress. Part of my customized system of organizing includes four very important blank books where I store all the ideas, images and scrap-paper notes of inspired brilliance (which sometimes make no sense several months later and go in the recycling bin). It is a system I have had going for a few years, and it comes in very handy. Especially since, once the blank books are filled, I put them in the bookcase and can reference them later, when hunting for inspiration.

Here are the four all-important books: one is an image-based sketch and idea book, where I keep everything from drawings, to images that intrigue me to gift ideas and recipes (I cannot tell you how handy this is during the holidays). The next is a notebook for everyday plans, ideas, and raw thoughts. There is also my journal (in which I also put photos and mementoes) and the last is a notebook I reserve for any and all things that have to do with writing stories. The last notebook, by the end of the year, usually has become fat and lazy with plot twists and character sketches that get stuffed into it when I have to sacrifice my time for writing creatively. (If you are not a writer, I would still recommend this for any pursuit, whether it be painting, decorating, cooking, or even business ideas.)

If I was to recommend any of the above books as a must-have or a “start with this,” I would go for the imaged-based sketch book. You will never need to keep magazine around for longer than a month. Plus, over-time, it becomes a lush visual journey that tells its own interesting story and/or is usually good for some idea inspired lateral thinking and random connections.

For me though, just getting the desk clean and all the ideas sorted into their respective notebooks (with all the glue stick and tape that involves) gives me a sense of tying up loose ends. For the unfinished projects, or ideas that still make sense, it gives me an important overview of what projects I have to return to working on—usually when I have no excuses and more time (which sounds like a good topic for next time.)

Further Inspiration
I highly recommend having some sort of blank book in which to store images or things that make your mind light up. If you would like to use this as a creativity tool rather than an idea system, I suggest using it as Sarah Ban Breathnach does in her year-long meditation book, Simple Abundance. As part of the self discovery process, she calls it an Illustrated Discovery Journal and uses it to give insight into things that you may not recognize as points of inspiration, but will reveal themselves throughout themes emerging in the images.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Looking Forward: Using Mind Mapping for Goal & Intention Setting

January is named for the Roman god Janus, who looks both backward and forward. After the whirl-wind of the fall semester and the holidays, January can seem stark with its quiet, weather-driven days. I like to use the weekends in January to catch up with myself and look forward—not making predictions, or resolutions, but set goals. What is it that I want to accomplish this year? What ideas do I want to invest in? I like to take time on a Sunday afternoon at the beginning of the month to mind map not only the year ahead, but also take stock of what I have accomplished in the year that has passed.

I put on some music that lends itself to becoming forgotten and immerse myself in drawing, sketching, and connecting words. I recommend a fresh sketch book/idea book to begin the year, but all you truly need is a fresh sheet of paper (usually the bigger the better, especially if you like to spread out).

When looking ahead, I have two approaches. Sometimes, I focus on the entire year, and more often than not, I focus on the seasons, creating four separate mind maps. Personally, thinking about the year in seasonal quarters is deeply ingrained in me from years of retail, but also makes the year ahead seem less overwhelming. There is a place for everything in moderate detail within each of the seasons.

From the core image, I set out branches that cover the key areas of my life, such as: Friends & Family, Home, Career, Finance, Learning & Travel, Body & Mind, Reading & Writing, and Relaxing. This is a fairly customized list, and I encourage you to do the same for your own exercise.

Mind mapping is a great tool to explore ideas in a non-linear format. It is ¼ list, ¼ notes, ¼ connections and ¼ map. There is no right or wrong way to create a mind map. I often start one and then refine it if it gets really messy. The point of the exercise is to look holistically at the year ahead and set about creating space for you to explore the time and place to either bring to fruition creative ideas that have been percolating (like the short story that you have outlined but never officially begun) or schedule time to learn a new language or finally take that French cooking class at the culinary institute. It is also great for planning ahead for birthdays and holidays.

Once you’ve begun experimenting, you can adjust your mind maps to be as big-picture or as micro-detailed as you would like. Often, when I have multiple projects going on, I create a monthly mind map to document the key points that I would like to take action on that month.

Ultimately, mind mapping the year ahead creates intention. I’ve found that things I noted in my mind maps, even if I was unclear how it was going to happen, do come about—in some way, shape or form. Sometimes things happen in a way that I had not envisioned, and when I go back and look at my mind map, it never ceases to amaze me what ideas (and wishes) have come to fruition.

Happy New Year & Happy Mind Mapping!

Resources: I was introduced to the concept of Mind Mapping as used for setting goals in Michael Gelb’s marvelous mind-expanding book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci. I then learned more about using mind mapping as a tool for monthly planning , or even a daily performance evaluationsl, in Tony Buzan’s book Mind Mapping. If you are more of a list maker, or want a quick life-area evaluation tool, I recommend Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way, The Life Pie exercise or Barbara Sher’s yearly planning map in Wishcraft.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Paper Trail

Sometimes it can take a while for an idea to move from conception to being something tangible. The blog that you are now reading was an idea just like that. It has hovered around, like a hummingbird drinking nectar, gathering, darting, but not landing anywhere. Until now.

Sometimes ideas come and go. Other times they decide to stick around. It has been my intention to begin The Paper Compass for over a year. The only challenge was that I didn’t know what it was. It had unlimited possibility and was everything from a small business, to nothing but a name inspired by an image in an altered book that my sister had created. Now, I am letting it off the page and out into the world. It is a working blog that shares both my own experiments in creativity, and connects them to the quintessential role that paper plays in my life. Hopefully it will also inspire you to join me in the journey.

The Paper Compass is about using paper to motivate your creativity, make better connections, and build memorable relationships. It is about taking the magic that happens in your head and using your hand to put it down in ink (or graphite)—imperfections and all.

For me, the point where pen and paper meet is the point of intention. Sometimes ideas hover, and sometimes they don’t. Stock piling them is good for a number of reasons, but for where we begin today, the act of putting them on paper creates a paper trail. Just like a paper trail can lead to solving a mystery, so can documenting your ideas.

I hope that you will enjoy reading my posts and that the ideas will inspire your own creative thinking. My intention is to post in the first and second halves of the month, sharing exercises I am exploring, how I am keeping my mind flexible, and over-coming challenge areas (like putting ideas into action, which, unfortunately, happens sometimes).

Please join me in sharing your own experiences and creative thinking tools in this space, creating a community dedicated to discovering ideas and opportunity everywhere.