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 ├ęclair 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.