Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Nostalgia: Vintage Christmas Card Countdown, No. 10 Blue Santa Christmas Greetings

Vintage Christmas Card No. 10 Blue Santa Christmas Greetings

Christmas Greetings!

With his blue coat sparking with gold, this Victorian peddler Santa brings children toys with the help of his elf, peeking out of his sack, in this stunning turn-of-the-century Christmas postcard.

Happy Holidays & Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Nostalgia: Vintage Christmas Card No. 9, That Will Hold Most Everything I Want

Vintage Christmas Card No. 9 That Will Hold Most Everything I Want

I love the little boy in his sailor suit and confident stance delighted over his Christmas stocking solution.  Maybe I identified, having felt the same way in some of my younger Christmases!

As your stockings are hopefully also "hung by the chimney with care" today, I hope that this Holiday Season holds "most everything" that you want, too.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Nostalgia: Vintage Christmas Card No. 8 Santa's Watching

Vintage Christmas Card No. 8 Santa's Watching

This postcard made me do a double take when I first saw it.  In the image Santa has what at first glance appear to be a very high tech set of binoculars, but after checking my dates, I can promise that it is some WWI technology being put to use for worldwide gift delivery--both greeting and the postmark validate it is 1923.

I feel like this image gives new meaning to "checking his list"!

The greeting below the image reads:

Merry Christmas

Here's for a Merry Christmas
The best in many a day.
May Santa scatter his blessings
Of joy along your way.

The message reads:

So. Seubee (?) Maine
December 18, 1923

Dear Evie with best wishes for a Merry Christmas
hoping you are well Your Aunt - J.G.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Nostalgia: Vintage Christmas Card Countdown, No. 7 Broadcasting Greetings True

Vintage Christmas Card No. 7 Broadcasting Greetings True

Continuing with the theme of technology, communications and Christmas greetings from yesterday, I wanted to share this cozy scene of a young mother and child listening to the radio while their cat bathes and the child's stocking is hung for Christmas.

Once again, no postmark but the style of the radio (very early) and her heels have me dating this to the early 1920.

The greeting reads:

Sincere Christmas Wishes

I broadcast greetings true
On this Christmas Day to you

Friday, December 21, 2012

Nostalgia: Vintage Christmas Card Countdown No. 6, Santa's on the Line

Vintage Christmas Card Countdown No. 6, Santa's on the Line

This unusual postcard shows Santa on a candlestick phone and captures a glimpse of our technology and communication future.  Based on the telephone style and Santa's rosy cheeks and jolly glance, I am dating it to the early 1920s as this is the rare "unsent" postcard with no postmarks or messages to mark its exact place in time.

The greeting is a wonderful little verse, that I feel is still true no matter how fast and often technology lets us travel or connect:

From here to there's an awful ways,
Measured by miles and nights and days,
Yet Christmas always brings you near--
The season's best to you my dear.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Nostalgia: Vintage Christmas Card Countdown, No. 5 1950s Charming Christmas Card with Glitter

Vintage Christmas Card No. 5, 1950s Charming Christmas Card with Glitter

While not in my usual collecting style or era, I found this card and its images too charming to pass up after I discovered it in a box of postcards at Burning Bridge Antiques in Pennsylvania.

Based on the images and the font on the inside, I have placed it to be printed somewhere between 1948 and 1955, but I am not 100% certain of that.  It is one of my only cards that has a thermography-type glitter on it.

The inside reads:

On the same friendly day - In the same friendly way -
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

The card is signed Harry and Barry Falkenstine and I have a hunch that it may have been a business holiday card.

On the back is the logo of the Amalgamated Lithographers of America Local No. 1 New York.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Nostalgia: Vintage Christmas Card Countdown, No.4 Arctic Stag

Vintage Christmas Card No. 4, Arctic Stag

It is very difficult not to begin each of these posts with "this card is one of my favorites" because they each have their own story and beauty.  The "Arctic Stag" holiday card, so-nicknamed for its highly detailed image of a stag with a background of snowy mountains and starry skies, was a surprise find on a rainy spring day at the Brimfield Antique Show. I discovered it in a box of old photos and knew it was a must-have.

The card is striking in its simplicity, elegant white flowers provide an embossed frame for the monochromatic winter landscape glued to the thick card stock.  On the inside, swallows fly over the greeting printed in a curling, decorative font:

With Kind Regards and all
Good Wishes for Christmas and
the New Year   

While there is again, no printed date, I believe that it is from roughly early 1900s, about the same time as yesterday's card.

Most interesting is that this is one of my few cards that is branded by the manufacturer. The logo of a clover is on the back with the text "Hills & Co., Made in London, Unique Cards" in each of the petals.  Despite my best research efforts, I have not been able to find any information about the company.  If you have any clues that may help me learn more, please let me know.

Best of all is the inscription to "dear Maria" whom, with that simple greeting, I feel must have been as special as the card itself to the sender Mr. Riseon.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Nostalgia: Vintage Christmas Card Countdown, No. 3 Best Wishes for Christmas

Vintage Christmas Card No. 3, Best Wishes for Christmas

This little red card has a lot of charm and just as much mystery.  I found it in my favorite antique shop in Concord, Massachusetts, and loved the red paper, the petite size (it is 2.5" x 5"), green ribbon and the pastoral image.  While the colors and verse are holiday related, the images of the blind embossed boat scene and summer landscape are quite a misfit for the season.


One of the challenges of vintage Christmas Cards is that unlike postcards which usually have a date in the postmark, cards over time (or immediately) are separated from their envelopes.  Based on the style of the ribbon tie and assembly, I can roughly date it to 1900.  This is why I get excited when I see a card, like yesterday's, where the author notes the date in their greeting.

The verse in gold font reads:

My Greeting

Through the hours whose
gladness never wavers,
May Father Christmas 
never tire,
Conferring you his 
fairest favors,
And granting you
your heart's desire.

While we don't know who the card is intended for, or if it was even given, we do know that it was from Winnie who marked her Christmas Card with her name using a fine point nib and running a little low on ink.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Nostalgia: Vintage Christmas Card Countdown No. 2, When Bells are Ringing

Vintage Christmas Card No. 2, When Bells are Ringing

This vintage Christmas card from 1905 blends a late Victorian/early Edwardian Santa image (he's more serious than jolly and looks like a monk with no trim on his cap) with the elegant leaves and shapes of Art Nouveau.  The card is embossed and the Santa figure is a separate die cut image that is tucked into an opening in the front of the card, giving it a sense of depth and dimension.

The text is interesting because it is one of the first times that Christmas is abbreviated to the casual "Xmas."

The text inside is flat printed in a pale blue and reads:

Wishing You a Merry
and Happy Xmas

To-day the golden sunlight
Is fluff and broad and strong;
The glory of the One Light
Must overflow in song,
Song that floweth ever,
Sweeter every day,
Song whose echoes never, 
Never die away

And to my delight, on the back in pencil is this message:

With love and a Merry Christmas to May Fraiser
AP Bulger 
Dec 1905

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Nostalgia: Vintage Christmas Card Countdown No. 1, Merry Christmas from the Milkman

Mailing Christmas Cards and handwritten Season's Greetings is a long standing holiday tradition--and one of my favorite things about the holidays!  I love the cards arriving in the mail in the afternoon just as much as those from my collection of vintage stationery from Christmases past.

As a countdown to December 25th, I hope you enjoy these vintage holiday greetings from my collection in the last week before The Big Day.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or just enjoy having the holiday spirit in your heart, I wish you a joyous and wonderful holiday!

Vintage Christmas Card No. 1
1946 Merry Christmas from Your Milk Salesman  

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Creativity Tool Kit #3: Keeping a Gratitude Journal (and Taking Small Steps to Recover Your Creativity)

This post is the third in a series on what I call the Creativity Tool Kit and focuses on a non-traditional creativity tool, the habit of keeping a gratitude journal.  The tools in the Creativity Tool Kit themselves are a series of essentially low-key activities that have a big impact on creativity.  Their purpose is to both cultivate a habit of nurturing creativity and to bring our attention to the present with a sense of curiosity. Individually, they can spark strong ideas, but used in sync they become a natural spring for creative thinking.  I have listed ideas for applying or practicing with the tool at the end of the post.

Creativity keeps you honest.  With the ability to have a handy supply of ideas and solutions at the ready, creativity makes it possible to solve challenges and keep moving forward; your goals glowing and glittering on the horizon growing closer and closer.  So it was difficult to ignore the fact that when my over-booked fall schedule reached a sudden lull and I came back into myself, I realized I couldn’t blame my several-week-long avoidance of the Creativity Tool Kit exercises on my busyness.  My symptoms were classic: huge inertia regarding doing Morning Pages; avoidance of yoga; jittery energy; irritability; an overwhelming desire to sit like a blob; a mind that felt like mush; and an uncontrollable stream of tears running down my face when I watched contestants on shows like The Voice reach for their dreams.  Having been there before, I knew that I was on the fast track to Burn Out.  Worst of all, when I looked towards my career dreams and goals it was like the lights had gone out.  I felt like I had gotten turned around in the desert and was looking at acres of dunes in the moonlight with no clear sense of direction. 

I needed a toe hold to get back on track, but I felt resistant to everything that I usually loved doing that made my brain feel fresh and clear.  When I would go for a walk my mind would tell me I was taking too much time; going to the gym was like wading through molasses; forget even contemplating an artist date, there was no energy for them; and Morning Pages/free writing was either lack luster or sporadic and angry.  I mentally berated myself, a creature of habit and consistency, for being weak willed and having lost my discipline.  It felt like an endless circle and it was not long before the usually very healthy me got miserably sick.  Realizing that I needed to be gentle with myself, I did some negotiating with my battered, grumpy and unhappy self and we decided that the one thing we could use more of is thinking about are all the moments in the day that bring us joy, and the people and circumstances associated with them. 

The human brain (and our ego) loves to fight injustice, be right and be righteous—which is why we tend to dwell on negatives.  They are not always easy to understand, or we feel we can find a way to correct them.  It is well known in customer service-oriented brands that a happy customer will tell three other people about a positive sales experience.  On the other hand, an unhappy customer with a poor customer service story to share will tell nine or more people.  Forget for a moment about what that means for retailers; contemplate how much time it takes to tell and retell that story to nine-plus people!  And consider the emotions it brings up, that you hope to have validated, every time you recount it.  We do the same thing with our day and the negative experiences we are feeling.      

So I agreed with myself that I would go back to basics and be consistent about keeping a gratitude journal.  I would write in it before bed and I would focus on the positive moments in my day.  There would be no “buts” only happy memories, meaning that I could write “I really enjoyed the extra cheese and pepperoni pizza and glass of red wine for dinner tonight” and was not allowed to write “but I really should not have eaten that.”  Only the things that made me happy could be written down and as I documented those moments, they blossomed into the reason those things made me happy.  So while I may have enjoyed the pizza, it was really the fact that my boyfriend and I had uninterrupted time in our schedules together to share a pizza, lounge on the couch and watch one of our favorite TV shows. 

Writing about happy things made the gratitude journal slightly addictive.  I kept it on the nightstand with one of my favorite pens.  Even when I would crawl into bed in the wee hours of the next day, I would reach for it and write.  I also found myself during the day mentally noting the moments that I wanted to remember to write down. 

The gratitude journal, although significant in its own right, was really a vehicle to building my confidence back up that I could be devout and consistent again with my creativity routine.  I just needed small steps that would allow me to emotionally prepare to return to Creativity Tool Kit activities, such as Morning Pages, and address some of the larger issues I was experiencing such as feeling like I was no longer making progress towards my goals, no longer learning and being challenged on a daily basis, and that I was in need of some big (and scary) change. 

While not a classic Creativity Tool Kit item, a gratitude journal is cited as a key element to living an authentic life in books such as Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach and was enthusiastically adopted by Oprah a few years ago.  For a long time, my personal attitude towards gratitude journals was similar to that of author Gretchen Rubin in her book The Happiness Project.  Rubin tried keeping a gratitude journal as part of her year-long experiment in happier living.  At a point of reassessment mid-year, she deemed she was fine without the gratitude journal.  While I was familiar with the practice of keeping a gratitude journal, my challenge was that I couldn’t get it to stick.  This make sense when I consider that when all of the other items in the Creativity Tool Kit are in full-swing it is very easy to feel happy, clear minded and able to keep a balanced perspective on both the good and challenging things that happen in a day (or life).  When that is the case a gratitude journal can feel redundant.  Creativity also gives us momentum towards our goals, which gives us the feeling of, while maybe not being “in control” the feeling that we know how to sail our boat on the many surfaces of the sea.

Yet, I was really happy to have this particular “tool” in my Creativity Tool Kit, because when the going got rough, it was exactly the item I needed to ground my thoughts and start re-orienting myself.  It has been 67 days since I returned to keeping a gratitude journal and there have been some major positive changes in my life—and my mood.  I can attest that not many of the decisions for change have been easy ones, but the gratitude journal provided a way back to knowing myself and the creativity tools that have given me the courage to take the steps towards the horizon where I can see my goals glittering once again.            

If keeping a gratitude journal sounds like something you’d like to explore, here are a few tips to get started:
·         For a gratitude journal, I recommend selecting a small notebook or blank journal that delights you.  It should not feel intimidating and should invite casual, happy thoughts.  For my gratitude journal, I indulge in books with textured covers, colorful stitching, even some sparkle—everything my traditional “for posterity” journal is not.
·         Keep your gratitude journal, along with a pen that you like, next to your bed. 
·         Set a time, such as before bed, that you can review your day and list your thoughts.
·         Don’t worry about structure.  Some days you may want to write paragraphs and other days you may scratch out a bullet list.  Write in the way that comes at that moment. 
·         Don’t make it too precious.  Just like all the tools in the Creativity Tool Kit, a gratitude journal is a vehicle to open up your thinking and enhance your awareness.  The goal is to be consistent, not perfect.
·         While it is a “gratitude” journal, don’t hesitate to explore that space between happiness and thankfulness.  Knowing moments where you felt joyful or wise or able to overcome obstacles are all open to inclusion.
·         As my gratitude journal is next to my bed, I also keep space in it for meditations, interesting thoughts, goals, dream images, and general musings.  Overall, though I try and keep the items I jot down in it short, sweet and upbeat.

Having just expressed our appreciation during the Thanksgiving holiday, it is a great time to experiment with keeping a gratitude journal.  I would enjoy hearing your thoughts and experiences especially if you have kept a gratitude journal, keep one, or are just starting.  Share your thoughts here on The Paper Compass.

For other posts on The Creativity Tool Kit see:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Nostalgia: Vintage Thanksgiving Postcards

At the beginning of November, I decorate the sideboard in the dining room with my collection of vintage postcards that celebrate Thanksgiving.  The images of turkey dinners, with all the fixings, Pilgrims and autumn landscapes are graced with greetings both traditional and fun ("Toast: May the turkey look thinner/At the end of this dinner”)

More than the wonderful illustrations, I like the messages written on the back in the fading lines of a fountain pen or hard press of pencil that have crossed miles and time.  In celebration of Thanksgiving, I thought I would share these messages that delight me every year.

The most playful of the postcards, with some strange illustrations that interpret the full Thanksgiving meal (note the chicks next to the empty soup bowl labeled "chicken soup") was written in 1912 from (I suspect based on handwriting) a young Chas Brown to his "Grandma."

"Grand Dinner in honor of Thanksgiving"

"Dear Grandma, I wish thanksgiving day was here and I would eat chicken for diner [sic] it is good to eat. Chas Brown" To Mrs. L. J. Brown, postmarked Pittsburgh, PA November 25, 1912
Embossed in a green metallic ink, a scene of Pilgrims and a bountiful harvest frame lines of poetry from Whittier.
The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof / Best Wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving

The postmark is faded but I can roughly date it to 1910.  The message in ink reads:
Dear Elsie, We are well, hoping that this will find you all the very same.  It is soon time that you all come to see us again. From, Anna Lauchat"  To Mrs. Elsie Rife postmarked York, PA, November 22, 1910 (approx.)
This peaceful scene of autumn and greeting verse was also sent from York, PA in the early 1900s.
 In one of my favorite little notes on the reverse, a mother writes to her daughter on Thanksgiving:
"Dear Hazel, This leaves me feeling better able to eat dinner and enjoy it very much. I will close with love from Mamma." To Miss Hazel Day, postmarked York, PA November 28, 190?
Sent in 1908, this richly colored postcard with its generous helpings of pie and a mystery side-dish (is that butter or potatoes in the middle left?) is from that miraculous time when the mail came twice a day.

 "Hope you are all having a nice time this fall.  Have you had any parties yet? Would like to run in an see you all tonight.  Lovingly, Hattie" To Miss Laura Lohnis, postmarked Springfield, MA November 25, 1908
Maybe these vintage postcards will inspire you to send your own greetings to friends and family both near and far this holiday.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Making an Idea a Reality: Announcing The Paper Compass is Open for Business

For the past decade (perhaps even longer) I have had an idea that has haunted me, inspired me, lurked in corners, shown up in odd moments and basically has not left me alone.  (For which I am deeply grateful.)  From a little spark of a thought it kept increasing in size, attracting other, smaller ideas to it like a magnet, until it took on the proportions of something that I could envision, and desired for it to become a reality.  Or as it is commonly known, it became: A Dream.  (And it is still growing.)

As with any idea that is strong, it didn't let up despite long stretches of time or other odds, and through passion (or sometimes frustration) it began to manifest itself in ways both strategic and serendipitous.

Hence, The Paper Compass blog came into being.  It was a way to voice part of a larger vision that I had about exploring creativity; and to combine it with my experience of teaching the subject in an academic setting with the everyday habits and challenges that come from living the process.  I wanted to integrate my love of paper and the tangible tools that craft and document ideas.  And I wanted to help people develop Big Ideas that drive strategy and tell the stories that make ideas memorable.  (And because helping people makes me really, really happy.)

Since the end of the Summer Creativity Challenges, it has been a quiet few weeks on The Paper Compass.  In addition to beginning a new fall semester of teaching Creative Thinking & Problem Solving, I wanted to take some time to grow The Paper Compass and move closer to the vision that I have for this incredible idea where all my passions get to intermingle and play. 

It took some work, and some trips to official looking government buildings, but more than anything else, bringing this idea into reality took courage.  Not the leap-through-a-flaming-hoop kind of courage that is often built on adrenaline and over in the blink of an eye; rather the kind of courage that means taking a deep breath and telling other people about the idea.  Trusting that they would be as excited about it as I am, or, even if they were not, being prepared to put on my Thick Skin and keep my ears open to their thoughts.  It is the kind of courage that makes you set deadlines for yourself—and keep them.  It involves the kind of courage to share really exciting things that happen around the idea, even when it is in the process of becoming real—like the moment you unpack your business cards.  And the kind of courage to tell the world about the idea when it finally feels ready.

So with courage and great pleasure, I would like to announce that I am launching The Paper Compass as a small business offering creativity and marketing consulting to individuals and local businesses.  I have already had the privilege to work with a few wonderful clients who helped inspire me to take this next step, such as Raleigh Green, creator of the Kids Switcheroo - a switch and match driving app for kids (of all ages), and my very talented mom with her custom order baking business mmm…good!

Things will continue as usual here on The Paper Compass blog with posts that continue to explore tools to help inspire your creativity and spark ideas.  I hope that you will stop by often to learn of my newest adventures in putting the creative life to good use and to share your own experiences. 

So in celebration of explorers and believers everywhere this Columbus Day, I hope that you will join me in making your ideas a reality no matter how big or small they are or how much courage you possess.  You may find that you surprise yourself.

The official website of The Paper Compass is under going some design work, will be available soon. 

Also, follow The Paper Compass on Twitter and Facebook for mini-updates on my adventures and links to great content to inspire your creative thinking.  

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Summer Creativity Challenge #8: The Ant & the Grasshopper

In the final week of the Summer Creativity Challenges, we use Aesop’s fable The Ant and the Grasshopper to contemplate the dual nature of our own creative habits.  Inside every creative is a Grasshopper, who just wants to play, and an Ant, who plans, worries, and works.  In this interpretive challenge, I invite you to explore the fable of The Ant and the Grasshopper and contemplate what ideas and experiences you will take with you from the summer to the fall to fuel your creative endeavors. 

It is August, but I am already thinking about September.  It comes from small cues: the shortening of the daylight; the dry rustle of leaves in the driveway. 

As I walk home from work, my head filled with future third quarter work deadlines and thoughts of the encroaching fall semester, I find myself thinking about The Ant and the Grasshopper.  In this fable, a live-for-today grasshopper tempts a young ant to put down his work during the summer and play.  The ant is kept in-line by the other members of his colony.  As the seasons change, the grasshopper finds himself exposed to the elements and starving from his lack of preparation, while the ants feast on their harvest beneath the snow. 

There is some inconsistency in my memory.  I can’t remember what became of the grasshopper who liked to play.  Being a fable with its moral lessons, I think, it can’t be good

I have a mind for books, with the ability to retain plot lines and details about characters.  Television and movies are another matter entirely though, especially anything I watched when I was little.  In my head is a jumble of impressions from Donald Duck tormenting Chip and Dale to a man in a full bodysuit illustrated with all his internal organs that I saw one morning after Sesame Street.  These images are random, raw and out-of-context; fragments of things that I think my child-mind was not sure how to process.  My mental images of The Ant and the Grasshopper fall into this category. 

There is something about my incomplete memories of the fable that does not sit well with me.  So I take my images of a starving grasshopper in a tattered coat tightening his belt as he walks through the snow; of leaves blowing away on a cold wind; and ants in little lines rolling fruit into their home in a tree stump to YouTube to do some research.  It is not long before I find a match in A Walt Disney Silly Symphony entitled “The Grasshopper and the Ants” from 1934.  With ants whose facial features foreshadow Mickey Mouse (sans ears), and a grasshopper who sounds like Goofy, I know that this is the odd little version of this fable that has lodged itself in my brain.

Watching the cartoon again brings some resolution.  The ants take the grasshopper in from the cold, and the wise queen ant shows him that his “work” is to play his violin at their feast.  Through the lens of history, I can see the “Disneyfied” (less grim) interpretation of the fable and the influence of The Great Depression in this Silly Symphony.  For me though, it now makes sense as to why this fable comes to mind at this time of year.  My inner grasshopper still wants to play, but my inner ant is getting anxious about deadlines and planning for the busyness of the months to come. 

These two parts feel like they are in conflict these final weeks of summer.  In understanding of the process of creative thinking though, I know they are not.  In creating habits to nurture creativity, such as the exercises in these blog posts, I (and you as a reader) have actually been working very hard this summer. 

In creativity, through play we take risks, incubate ideas, and expose ourselves to new ideas that refill the well.  Like the ant in the fable, we’ve stocked up our thinking supplies, but we did so by letting our inner grasshopper out.  In the coming months, I know that my inner ant will reign supreme (which I am looking forward too) but I hope that just like the Queen Ant in the cartoon, that she will be kind, generous and frequently hand the grasshopper his fiddle and ask him to play.                        

All of this is inspiration for the eighth and final Summer Creativity Challenge: The Ant and the Grasshopper.  This challenge is a great opportunity to check in and take an hour with your sketchbook and note what ideas and experiences you’ve generated this summer.  Make a list of how you can use them in upcoming projects, or identify new projects to take on this fall and winter.  It is also a good challenge in which to meditate about your inner grasshopper and ant.  Do you give them equal “floor time”?  If you become a very serious Ant in the fall and winter now is a good time to set some goals or plan some time to let your Grasshopper out.     

With this as your touchpoint, plan some time to think about The Ant and the Grasshopper and consider what the fable means to you as a creative.  Record impressions, inspirations, ideas, and memories in your sketchbook and share here on The Paper Compass. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Summer Creativity Challenge #7: Naming the Summer

This week we experiment with naming the summer, a lighthearted creative activity that is both mindful and playful.  And addictive—once you name one summer it can be hard to stop.  This is an exercise that invites observation, awareness, evaluation, and playfulness.  I personally have always enjoyed naming the summer as it creates a doorway in my memory to re-enter that point in time.  It can also be useful in looking for, or developing, themes for which to create a departure point for other creative endeavors such as writing, painting or photography.

Last Thursday, I am in the middle of the second hour of a work meeting, when I receive an email from my good friend AJ, who is a very talented illustrator and artist. We’ve known each other since we were seven* and he has a mystery for me: “How good is your record keeping? I'm trying to figure out what occurred in our universe on July 20, 1997.” 

Intrigued—and an assiduous journaler since third grade—I knew I could take the case.  I spend the rest of the meeting mentally flipping through dates and memories.  I place myself in Florida.  It is the summer after my first year at Boston University.  I have a summer job as a hostess at Chuck & Harold’s on Palm Beach.  It is also the summer that one of my poems appeared in Bostonia.  I write poetry all the time.  I am still listening to Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness.    

At home after the meeting, I climb on a chair to reach the top shelf of my office lined with my collection of journals, and pull down a slim volume bound in lipstick-red velvet (purchased at Urban Outfitters) with lined pages and handwriting that is a younger and more rounded version of my current scrawl. 

There is no entry for July 20, 1997, but there is one for July 13.  This is when I remember that the summer of 1997 was: The Summer of Sin.

Please know that the summer of 1997 is not literally named.  My family has a delightfully twisted sense of humor and the word sin is my brother’s, created to goad my mom.  Or my mother’s, said in irony.  I don’t remember.  The summer was named for its late nights inspired by my post-high school curfew, hanging out at all night diners like IHOP and Clock’s, and the early stages of a summer romance.  There was a lot of freedom and not a lot of sin, but I spent a great deal of time writing in my diary (there are in fact two entries for July 13th, one at 1:35am and another at 3:30pm) so my family had to tease me about something.  Through this, the summer came to be named.

While I was not able to solve AJ’s mystery completely, I was reminded of the origin of the act of naming the summer, which began back in my early days of high school.  At that time, my brother and I had stumbled across author Brian Jacques’ Redwall books filled with a fantasy world of warrior mice, veteran hares, squirrels that have archery talents equal to Robin Hood, and badgers in chain mail.   

While there is always some sort of war going on in this British-based animal kingdom, at the heart of the story is Redwall Abbey, where they feast in front of the fire, eat nuts, cheese, dandelion greens and drink strawberry wine, among other mouse delicacies.  And they name the seasons.  I was fascinated by this idea when I first read the books and experimented with applying it to my own life.  With Florida not having distinct seasons, I found that it really stuck most in the summer, when school was out, the weather pattern distinct, and my schedule different. 

For me, naming the summer is truly never very formal.  It is something that I mark briefly in my thoughts during the week as the summer goes on and I look for themes.  I sometimes note it in my journal where, upon reading later, as in this post, it opens up a door to the memories of the summer landscape, the backdrop to other events or a theme that weaves through the whole season. 

Compared to the summer of 1997, this summer has a tame name.  It is The Summer of Butterflies.  The season has been unusually vibrant with them.  First Swallow Tails, and then Monarchs, and now Red Admirals, appearing all over gardens around town in notable numbers.  It has inspired some photography and as noted in my current journal, provides a visual cue for me to remember that when I think of this summer, it should be with the details of butterflies passing the window, landing on the Butterfly bush in the back yard; their orange or yellow wings lifting them over fences and up towards the bright summer sky. 

All of this is inspiration for the seventh Summer Creativity Challenge: Naming the Summer.  This challenge can be a short and sweet activity where you consider the unique themes of your summer and brainstorm names, or it can be a meditation on naming a summer that was important to you.  You can even create a series of names for the past few summers or seasons to show growth or patterns.  As I wrote this post, the book Summer of My German Solider, by Bette Greene, and author Waverly Fitzgerald’s time-recovery excise “Naming the Moons”, from her book Slow Time, came to mind as alternative ways to interpret it.       

With this as your touchpoint, plan some time to meditate on names or a name for your summer, or make an artist date to write, paint, etc., with the inspiration of looking at unique themes.  Record impressions, inspirations, ideas, and memories in your sketchbook and share here on The Paper Compass. 

Two of AJ's illustrations I found in my
1997 red velvet journal
*In our collective history, we both say this, but AJ is actually older than me, so it can’t be factually true.  It works well enough though, so we’ve stuck with it.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Summer Creativity Challenge #6: The Night Sky

Detail from Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night Over the Rhone

In this week’s creativity challenge we look up to the night sky, a source of inspiration and mystery.  In light of a week filled with the news around the landing on Mars of the appropriately named rover, Curiosity, and the Perseid meteor showers peaking in the morning’s early hours, I thought that this was the perfect week for this challenge.  The night sky gives us the chance to bring our attention to the immense scale of the universe, which then allows us to see the magic in the details of the everyday. The night sky offers us the gift of perspective, an important trait for creativity, as we need to be able to see both the big picture and the fine details when creating our idea, concept or craft.    

My first true taste of the augustness of the night sky took place on a hillside in Vermont during the summer vacations of my childhood.  Usually at some point in the late summer, my parents would pack us all into my dad’s grey Volkswagen Vanagon.  We would head north from Connecticut to The Highland Lodge in Vermont in what felt like an interminable car ride that no amount of car trip BINGO or travel Connect Four could shorten.  Gradually, the landscape changed from highway to narrow roads banked by fields of cows that undulated over rows of steep hills, letting us know that we were finally close to our destination.   

Rising behind the white farm house that was the main building of The Highland Lodge was a ridge dotted with a row of white cabins.  It was on this steep hill, on a plaid wool blankets taken from the ends of the beds that all of the kids at the inn (my newest friends made that week) lay lined up like sticks, the sky our only concern, while the adults peppered the activities with flashlights, snacks and bug spray.  This is how I watched my first meteor shower, the sky rich with dashes of light. 

Years later in Florida, I would read sci-fi books, watch the white-bright-burn of the shuttle launches, and look up to the dark heavens from the driveway.  On some nights, the sky was so populated with stars that I could see beyond the usual constellations all the way to other galaxies such as Andromeda and the Large and Small Magellanic CloudsOther galaxies, I would say to myself, somehow hoping to memorize that fleeting feeling of, for one moment, grasping the scale of the universe. 
Now, as it was then, the night sky is still a source of wonder—and also a source of wishing.  Despite the lights of the city illuminating the immediate horizon, I can often look up and see the Big Dipper and Little Dipper, and find my favorite constellation, Orion, by his bright belt.  When I turn my gaze to the sky, I find myself still wishing on stars.  This is because when I look at the night sky it reminds me that there are still many mysteries out there to be explored and charted, and some things to that will always remain unknown, a sentiment—poetic perhaps—which speaks to me as the navigator of my own tiny life in this immense universe.   

All of this is inspiration for the sixth Summer Creativity Challenge: The Night Sky.  This challenge is open to your imagining and interpretation.  You could take the time this week to stand in your driveway each night and look up, or download an app such as The Night Sky and learn the constellations.  Or this could be the effulgent spark of a creative endeavor such as writing a piece of flash fiction where someone wishes on a star.  If you paint, this could be a chance to work inspired by the night sky or moonlight.  You can also remember your own memories of stargazing, or nights under the stars.

With this as your touchpoint, plan an artist date, step outside, write or paint with the inspiration of exploring and remembering your backyard.  Record impressions, inspirations, ideas, and memories in your sketchbook and share here on The Paper Compass. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Summer Creativity Challenge #5: The Backyard

The backyard, both figuratively and literally, is an area that we consider part of our “turf,” or neighborhood, which makes it optimal territory for creative exploration.  While a backyard can be a little slice of nature on your own property, it can also be the area on the other side of the block where your favorite pizza shop is.  In this week’s Summer Creativity Challenge, we will explore our figurative and literal backyards for a wealth of creative riches.

A few months ago, in an exercise to introduce a little more play into my world, I made a mind map of all of the things that I loved to do as a child.  As the mind map unfolded, more and more of the activities recalled beckoned me outside to the backyard of my childhood in Connecticut.

Even then, as I know now in retrospect, I sensed that it was a wonderful backyard.  It was long and deep, its depth allowing for a sense of independence and adventure.  From out the backdoor, I would escape the house heading past the picnic table and the lilacs; past the detached garage with its flat roof from which we would stand and pick cherries from the branches of the old cherry tree; past the potting shed on which my mom had stenciled three white sheep with black faces on the grey wood above the square windows.  Here the yard narrowed, sloping down to a rusty wire fence thick with the tangled vines of concord grapes.  There was a tire swing in the cherry tree and when you swung out over the slope, the ground would drop away and you’d feel like you were flying.  A gate in the fence led to a narrow back road lined with bungalows, their backyards a common area that paralleled our property, which was not out of bounds for exploring (the large rock rising out of the ground in the far corner, making it especially attractive.)

The yard widened out again after the potting shed to an area bordered by a stone wall on one side and the trees and fence on the other.  Here my parents had planted a large vegetable garden, and raspberry and blueberry bushes.  There was also a big curved flower garden that in the summer was vivid with the orange blooms of Tiger Lilies.  After this garden was the apple tree, with its low and crooked branches, perfect for climbing, and an old chicken coop that my dad had renovated into a playhouse for me, complete with a large tree stump and two smaller cuts from the same tree to make a table and chairs. 

The far back of the yard ran up to the train tracks and was shadowed with a thick growth of tall trees.  One Memorial Day, after the town parade when our extended family and friends came back to the house for brunch, the kids gathered outside.  The game we were playing took us deep into the area near the tracks.  A train approached and we paused to watch, but rather than the usual commuter trains heading into New York, this train was different.  The cars of the train were painted with bold and curling letters, images of tigers and lions, horses and acrobats, and the smiling faces of clowns.  It was a circus train and, as one, all of us began screaming and waving, running up to the breaks in the trees to see the train better.  By the last few cars, the members of the circus had seen us and they stood at the windows and on the spaces between the cars waving back at us, a group of kids just playing in the backyard.

All of this is inspiration for the fifth Summer Creativity Challenge: The Backyard.  My backyards have changed over the years, from the big backyard in Connecticut, to a patio and pool in Florida, and also to being able to say “Fenway Park is in my backyard” during my time in the Fenway area of Boston.  It is interesting to remember the backyards that you’ve experienced during your life and to also ask, “what’s in my backyard?” now.  This challenge can be interpreted in many ways, from taking a simple hour to explore the microcosms that is the little piece of land behind your house, or walking out the door and around your neighborhood to see what buildings, shops and restaurants make up your figurative backyard.    

With this as your touchpoint, plan an artist date, take a walk, write or paint with the inspiration of exploring and remembering your backyard.  Record impressions, inspirations, ideas, and memories in your sketchbook and share here on The Paper Compass. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Summer Creativity Challenge #4: Summer Songs

Song lyrics mix with illustrations
in my high school sketchbook
Music can be a powerful conjurer of memory.  Listening to a favorite song can evoke a place in time, the person who you were with, and reconnect you with past emotions.  Similar to scent, music is a key to unlocking memories and transporting ourselves through time and across emotions, which makes it a powerful creative tool.   
I grew up surrounded by music.  In the kitchen, my mom cooked to country music.  Keeping the boot-stomping-beat with her bare feet tapping against the tile, she listened (and often sang along to) Randy Travis and The Judds, names that I learned from the CD covers next to the stereo.  I would sometimes quietly say the vocalists’ names to myself, Wy-no-na, enjoying the exotic twang of the syllables.

At his picture framing store, my dad would listen to The Gator, the local Florida classic rock station.  He’d cut the mats to Van Morrison’s “Moondance” and clean the glass to Canned Heat’s “On the Road Again.”  The Beatles were also present, the double disc White Album frequently in the car.  My sister told me that the first song that she learned all the words to was The Beatles “When I’m 64” and would often suffer through my dad changing John Lennon’s lyrics to “Everyone has something to hide except me and my Mento®”—a roll of which would always be in the compartment between the seats.   

My musical taste solidified my sophomore year in high school when a long distant love interest sent me a tape of his playing guitar and singing The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Disarm.”  My crush only lasted the semester but my relationship with Billy Corrigan and alternative rock had only just begun.  Through the flannel-and-corduroy-filled halls of my high school and through my brother—who took our shared love of these new bands to the next level by teaching himself to play the guitar—I was familiar with the music of major bands such as Nirvana, Hole and Red Hot Chili Peppers.  I found my own niche though within the genre and played obsessively the albums of groups such as Veruca Salt and Belly.  The metaphorical lyrics seemed mysterious and poetic, and matched my yearning to leave Florida to go to college in Boston. 

Looking back, my senior year (1995/96) was filled with musical highlights in the release of albums such as the much anticipated Smashing Pumpkins’ double album, Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness and, (perhaps eagerly anticipated only to me) Belly’s King.  In tribute, I spent the rainy afternoons in Mrs. Fazenbaker’s Statistics class inscribing Smashing Pumpkins song lyrics on the rubber soles of my Converse in blue ballpoint pen. 

With my early acceptance letter arriving from Boston University in November, it was these albums that formed my personal soundtrack for my final time in Florida.  The poignant lyrics of “Tonight, Tonight” and “Shakedown 1979” captured that same yearning that came with looking forward to leaving.  Belly’s “The Bees” expressed the sadness and complexity I felt around my personal relationships in the light of the anticipated change.

In August, my family and I loaded up my Dad’s Chevy Tahoe, transferring the pile of plastic bins, bedding, towels, bathroom baskets, must-have-books, keep sakes, and a $29 file cabinet that I had insisted on buying to put my writing in, from the living room to the car.  As my dad and I set out on our drive up to Boston, I put Belly’s King in the car stereo where it took us on the first leg of our journey up 95. 

Around the Florida-Georgia border my dad put in Crosby,Stills and Nash CSN and their harmonies accompanied us most of the way to New England. A staple in my music collection, it wouldn’t be until years later that I would appreciate the way that CSN, an album that I view as “my dad’s music” and filled with songs such as “Carried Away” and “Just a Song Before I Go” that are more poignant now than on that summer drive, can take me back to that long trek up the east coast to begin a new phase of my life in Boston.

All of this is inspiration for the fourth Summer Creativity Challenge: Summer Songs.  What songs formed the soundtracks to your summers past?  When you listen to the songs, what memories come to you?  How did you discover the music or band?  What emotions does it evoke?  

With this as your touchpoint, write a short one page piece inspired by the music of a memorable summer.  It can be memoir or a fictional interpretation.  Or, if you are musically inclined, you could be inspired to write a song.  From creating a new playlist to digging out an old mix tape, record your impressions, inspirations, ideas, and memories in your sketchbook and share here on The Paper Compass. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Summer Creativity Challenge #3: Boredom

It happens in the first weeks of July, after the summer semester has ended—the final projects graded, the last email conversations to students concluded, my normal work day wrapping up neatly within the confines of banker’s hours—I find myself at odd moments during a quiet evening or slow paced weekend experiencing an unfamiliar and almost forgotten sensation: boredom.

Boredom is a rare species.  It is unfocused restlessness that rides on the hands of a creeping clock.  It hovers, unseen and unnoticed, over your shoulder when you are deeply engaged.  Boredom—or the doldrums—carries with it the stigma of negativity and images of unhappy, sour-faced children waiting impatiently on the world of adults.  As a child, boredom is rainy afternoons.  It is the hour before a friend comes over.  It is tasks that you don’t want to do, like cleaning your room.  It is a lack of excitement, stimuli and adventure.

As we grow up, grow older, and take control of our own time, we often forget what it is like to be bored.  We entertain ourselves, distract ourselves, and make plans.  We consciously and subconsciously rail against boredom, eliminating it from our lives.          

We forget that boredom can have a certain magic to it.  It means a slowness of time.  It is carbonated with possibility. 

Which is why, in those moments in the summertime when my world has slowed down and I am undecided what to do next with the time that lies before me, I revel in the foreign feeling of being bored. 

Boredom is transformational.  It is that rainy afternoon from your childhood—when you picked up a soon-to-be-favorite book.  It is the task of cleaning your room—and finding a treasure trove of forgotten toys.  In C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe boredom (and a rainy day) is the precursor to the exploring of the house and discovery of the wardrobe in which Lucy finds Narnia.

Boredom inevitably gives way to discovery, which makes it very important to creativity.  At the beginning of every semester of my Creative Thinking class, I have the students read the July 2010 Newsweek Article, The Creativity Crisis.  In discussion, they always comment on the paragraph which talks about the work of renowned psychologist and creativity expert Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gary G. Gute, of Northern Iowa University, who in studying creative adults found that creativity flourishes in the space between anxiety and boredom. 

Author Mark McGuinness, in the article, Why Boredom is Good for Your Creativity, that appeared on The 99 Percent the other week (and right when I had started my thinking on this post—synchronicity!), writes about battling resistance disguised as boredom, at the beginning of a project.  He uses special tools to shut off the Internet and even writes at the library to help him stay focused.  “The British Library is a beautiful building, and purpose-designed to be one of the most boring environments on Earth - there are no enticing distractions, and the 'wall of silence' peer pressure from your fellow readers makes it hard to do anything other than sit still and keep quiet.”    

All of this is not to say that boredom doesn’t have its dark side.  As McGuiness explores in his article, and The 99 Percent’s founder, Scott Belsky, also discusses in his book Making Ideas Happen, becoming bored with ideas, right at the time that they need the most work to become tangible, is something that most creatives struggle with.  This is why many ideas never happen—they are abandoned because the work and dedication part is not as exciting as the inception.

Also, boredom by nature should be a temporary feeling.  As a creative, you should know boredom for what it is: an awkward, quiet moment before you embark on another idea or project.  It is a doorway, not a room.  If you identify it as resistance and procrastination--push through! And if you sense that it is beginning to feel like the Sargasso Sea, then I encourage you to add some Artist Dates or new challenges to your work or routine in order to set a spark to the transformation from dullness to exciting endeavor.

All of this is inspiration for the third Summer Creativity Challenge: Boredom.  This challenge is open to interpretation.  You can use it to meditate on boredom—when you last experienced it; what role it plays in your creative process; how you feel when you are bored—or you can use it as a spark of inspiration for a short story or recapture a memory of being bored as a child.  If it has been a while, you can even set up a nontraditional Artist Date to reacquaint yourself with the experience of boredom.  And ultimately new discoveries.   

With this as your touchpoint, record your impressions, writings, memories, or meditations in your sketchbook or notebook.  Record in your sketchbook any inspiration, ideas, illustrations, or thoughts—then share here on The Paper Compass.