Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Just the start

Here in the North American mid-continent, we feel the onset of summer. We've explored the meaning of "summer" in all of its variety as a metaphor for freedom. 

Now we stand at the brink of it. May you have a good one!

IMAGE: Many thanks to "A Lonely Girl" for this image.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Never Forget

Here's some music to go with today's quote. Thank you.

IMAGE: Many thanks to Happy Memorial/Veterans Day for the Memorial Day image. I'm not so sure "happy" is how I feel about a day for remembering our nation's fallen heroes. Grateful, yes. Much more that. and humbled, as well. The YouTube music from "Two Steps from Hell" via "okol7" conveys my mood better.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Before you throw in the towel to Boredom . . .

Don't declare yourself "officially bored" until you ask yourself:

There are times that are just inherently boring. I get that. Times when you're trapped somewhere, waiting to do something, or obligated to perform some drudgery. 

But even then, in my opinion boredom is an option we choose--a decision we make. I decided early in life that if I was bored it was my own fault. 

Of course, we creative types have lots of options at our disposal for Been Creative?, but creative is a state of mind. There are creative possibilities in almost any situation (it helps if there's a streak of anarchy in your system sometimes, too). 

For instance: Stuck at the DMV (as I was recently)? If your local DMV doesn't have the nifty "Q-Less" feature that cuts wait times dramatically, consider what might happen if aliens landed in the parking lot outside, or a couple of madmen with paintball guns came running through?

You'll notice the suggestions in the acrostic will work for children of all ages--including Outside Play (helps to have kids or dogs on hand, but lots of things count as "play." Got golf clubs? A tennis racquet? Hiking gear?). For a list of 27 other crazy outdoor game ideas check BuzzFeed's list.

Read a Book? Well, duh. I never leave home without one, if I can help it. Books open the world of the possible for people of all ages. I bet you'll enjoy this TED Talk.

Exercised? This is almost the same thing as "Outdoor Play," for many of us--but it sounds suspiciously diligent. How about changing the "E" to Explored Something? Explorations take many forms.

And you might be surprised how much fun you can have with Done Something Helpful? Did you know that other people's work is always more fun than our own? (Another surprising lesson from childhood). Again, the creative possibilities are endless. Engage your empathy to see who needs help, then come up with pleasant ways to give them a hand--like this young man, spotlighted by the Huffington Post.

Whatever you dream up, don't forget to follow through! And if you can offer your own creative cure for boredom, leave suggestions in the form of comments!

IMAGE: Many thanks for the acrostic image from Planet Smarty, and for the "van unicorn" from Kristin Lamb's Blog. Thank you, BuzzFeed and Mallory McInnis for the "Frozen T-Shirt Race" image. Many thanks to TED Talks and The Huffington Post for the two videos.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Dream

Do you ever feel this way?

I don't think we have to be living on the cusp of summer to feel this way. This is a crie de cour, a cry from the heart. 

For many people, summer is a state of mind that is freer, more open and relaxed than the rest of the year. "Summer" can be a stand-in word for "freedom," "rest," "recovery," or whatever one's heart most craves and needs. 

Likewise, "Monday" doesn't have to be literally one particular day of the week. It's a metaphor for submitting once again to (resented) labor, responsibility, accountability, and being overseen or supervised. Have you ever lived through a week of "Mondays"? I know I sure have. 

We creative types especially chafe at this restraint. We long for the freedom of "summer," no matter what time of year it is. 

Today we stand at the brink of literal summer, and our challenge is still the same: how do we elevate the mundane, until it is--if not sublime, at least (please) more palatable? How do we make a patch of sunlight and expanding possibilities for ourselves, in the midst of relentless outside demands and obligations?

That is the ultimate creative challenge. Each of us must find our own way, but have faith. A way is there. Grasp, insist, fight, demand for yourself the time and space you need to renew yourself. The price of failure is a life of despair.

IMAGE: Many thanks to the "Summer Quotes" Pinterest board.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Does this look like an oasis to you?

Or maybe it's your idea of a "treasure island"?

If you're like most of my friends, reading is one of life's best joys--or, at least, I hope that for you! I can't imagine a creative summer for anyone of any age without chances to voyage to the far shores of the imagination, via books.

Summer reading is one of the best ways a child can stay fluent and avoid the dreaded summer slump. My friend Veda Jairrels has made a strong case for reading as a massive help against the achievement gap in this country. She's founded a group on Facebook, the 2000 Book Movement, and groups such as 1000 Books Before Kindergarten are helping turn the idea into a movement.

But reading is wonderful for people of all ages. It opens us to new ideas and in some cases whole new worlds--or gives us better tools for dealing with the world where we live. Whether you prefer traditional "dead trees" books, e-books on a reader or pad, or audio versions--or whether you like to mix all three types--reading is foundational to a well-rounded intellectual life. 

Oh, and while you're reveling in the riches of the written word . . . don't forget to support your community's library and shop at independent, locally-owned bookstores! Those are community resources we really don't want to lose. 

IMAGE: Many thanks to DMCI Homes for the "quilt and books" image, and to the Middletown Public Library for the "1000 Books Before Kindergarten" image.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Working dogs: Canine enslavement, or a fulfilling life?

Iggies all round: two of mine, plus
two foster puppies.
I've almost never been without a dog in my adult life (and those few months were pretty grim). 

Dogs are easily my favorite kind of non-humans. 

This is perhaps not all that surprising: humans have lived in something of a symbiotic relationship with dogs since prehistory, and our two species have been cohabiting and co-evolving, literally for millennia (since the Neolithic). 

There's actually a pretty good case to be made that, without our dogs co-evolving with us to guard us and help us hunt, haul our stuff, and keep our livestock in line, we humans might not be as successful a species as we are. Indeed, from that perspective people who don't like dogs really seem kind of ungrateful, don't they? 
Couldn't resist this cartoon by Tony Hall, from a National Geographic article about the evolution of dogs and humans.
The ingratitude of humans notwithstanding, one could also debate whether hooking up with humans has ultimately benefitted the dogs. Certainly it has changed them, both outwardly and inwardly--from the way they look and act to what they can digest.

There's also a contemporary debate, among humans who DO value dogs, over whether they should be made to work or not. 

It doesn't exactly look comfortable, but is it animal enslavement?
Some people say that dogs with jobs--even dangerous jobs, such as sniffing out IEDs in Afghanistan--are happier and more fulfilled than dogs whose existence is mostly occupied with eating or sleeping. 

Too little stimulation and interaction can lead to serious problems.
In developed countries today there's a rising tide of difficulties for pets, especially if they're left at home alone for too many hours, and perhaps crated the whole time. They tend to develop issues, such as separation anxiety or neurotic behavior from too much idleness, and obesity that often stems from too little exercise or free-feeding that leads to overeating from boredom. 
Is a domestic pet (unfortunately prone to obesity and separation anxiety) really better off?
Please review that list I made above: guarding, hunting, hauling (sleds, travois, carts), and livestock-keeping. Those are all jobs that dogs have done for ages . . . and it's probably because some of their earliest ancestors more or less "volunteered" for those jobs. I don't buy into the idea that humans were so brilliant they could look at wolves out in the wild, and intuit that they could be domesticated to do all those jobs.

Some partnerships are a natural outcome.
No, the natural capabilities of dogs, and their basic nature--combined, I am convinced, with the bonds that develop between individual humans and the individual canines who live with them--led the members of both species to stumble, together, onto the idea of the dogs doing these jobs.

Resource Guarding: it's a Dog Thing.
Dogs are naturally territorial, "resource guarding" creatures--and we humans definitely fall into the category of "resources" for most dogs. From there it's a short step to a role as "Head of Ranch Security." Hunting and herding also stem from things dogs do naturally, even without humans around. 

On duty or off, a dog needs a purpose in life. Just like people do.
I guess you can tell I place myself into the category that thinks dogs benefit from having a mission in life. And now, if you'll excuse me, my personal trainer Jake (the tan-and-white IG in the front of the top photo) tells me it's time for a walk (of course, he's just doing his job . . . ). 

Do you have any "working dog" stories to share? please put them in the "Comments" section below!

IMAGES: Many thanks to my daughter Signy for the photo of me in my favorite recliner with four Italian Greyhounds. Many thanks to National Geographic and cartoonist Tony Hall, for the "campfire moochers" image. Many thanks to the HumorHub Subreddit, for the "Wolves Once" image, to Pete Somers' Pinterest Board for the "holstered attack dogs," to Stamp Right Up's Pinterest Board for the "bored so took up scrapbooking" meme, and to Dog Medicine Info, for the photo of the bored dog. Thank you to Darwin Dogs for the "Shepherd/Sheepdog Conspiracy" image, to Boredom Kicker's Pinterest Board for the unworried kid with three German Shepherds, and to Payton Phillips' Pinterest Board for photo of the Gizmo-snuggling terrorist-hunter. It's been a pleasure finding these images, and I greatly appreciate their creators!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Why Creative Parents Don't Fear Summer

They don't fear it, because they Know. Not that it isn't a creative challenge--bored kids can get into a lot of very un-fun, uncreative trouble. Our job is to provide a nudge, keep an eye on the boundaries, and offer a little space.

This is the reason why I've always been of two minds about the "Summer Slump." It's an all-too-real phenomenon, easily observed and documented by teachers everywhere--the loss of skills that atrophy over a roughly two- to three-month vacation.

Worse, for children living with food insecurity, the long summer vacation can be a time of deprivation, if not outright famine. 

Taken together, the "summer slump" and the serious problems of food insecurity and sketchy childcare for children living in poverty have led to calls for year-round school

Yet I remember some of my best childhood moments from those months of long, unstructured days and unbounded imaginations, when my sister and I would invent our own worlds and delve into new, exotic realms through books. 

Looking back on it, I was a lucky child--a child of privilege, though I didn't realize it and my cash-strapped parents would have been startled to hear that evaluation. But we had enough to eat, a safe place to play, and all the books we could read, thanks to our local public library. Untold riches!

I worry that the value of "down time" is being overlooked these days, in our concern about other pressing concerns. 

The mentality that prescribes "drill and kill" approaches and "minimum-security prison" protocols for inner-city schools is the very approach that de-funds and eliminates the music, art, and sports programs that give at-risk kids the will to fight on and stay in school. 

Even in more well-funded neighborhoods, the pressure of competition tempts parents to lock down a child's every moment under the relentless tyranny of "enrichment" activities, such as tutoring, organized teams, and summer school, that allow no time to sit and watch clouds go by or think big thoughts. 

Rich or poor, kids need time to just be. To think about stuff, to experiment, fail, succeed, and make up their own stories and games. To learn who they are, and what they value the most. Indeed, as explored on Studio 360, a little boredom can be a good thing

Wise parents know it's a delicate balance that absolutely must be struck, if kids are to grow fully into themselves.

Do you have any good stories about fun things you did as a kid that were "freeform" and creative? What imaginative adventures did you enjoy? Please share them in the Comments. 

IMAGE: Many thanks to "The Artful Parent" Pinterest board, for the image, and to Studio 360 for the audio clip.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Backyard camping, anyone?

Talk about your classic summer experience . . . 

My sister and I never exactly "camped out" in the back yard, but we slept on the screened-in back porch, and also in the playhouse. 

I was a bit older when I actually got a chance to camp out "for real." But my kids definitely knew the joys of camping out in the back yard (as well as in the living room or playroom in tents or large boxes, as part of memorable winter and early-spring birthday party-sleepovers).

One of my themes this month is a sort of pre-summer warm-up of the creative juices. 

For you it might not be backyard camping, but here's my challenge to you: 

Do something different and fun (emphasis on the fun) this week. Something off-the-wall that you would normally not do--and that makes you feel like laughing out loud from pleasure. 

Then share a comment below, about what you did. Let's compare notes and see what interesting things people came up with!

IMAGE: Many thanks to "Tinkerlab" for the image!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Space Station DIY: Spheres of Influence

I needed to create a space station. 
Looks like fun, and it's clearly DIY, but not quite what I mean.
The space station I needed to make would be the place where the characters in my novels could live out their comedies and dramas, grow, change, and face their challenges (or try not to, depending). 

But what sort of environment would it be? It would need earthlike aspects, for earth-evolved persons to be able to live there (and for their earth-evolved writer to be able to wrap her head around it). But it would have to believably function in space.

Again . . . not exactly what I needed!
When I first set out to explore ideas about space stations/habitats, I decided to consider only ideas that had been suggested and extensively considered previously, by people who could do the math (better yet--who liked doing the math, and understood it). This math-challenged artist has enough problems without courting gratuitous disasters.

I also rejected the idea of some kind of mysterious "artificial gravity" that was generated kind of like a magnet one could switch on or off. I wanted to find a design that could exist in our universe, and that was in keeping with physics as we more or less understand things today.

Dyson ring: the tiny dot in the center is the star.
I eventually rejected the idea of using Dyson rings, swarms, bubbles, or spheres, especially for a living surface. In case you haven't encountered the concept yet, a Dyson structure is a megastructure (bigger than you can possibly imagine, even if you can imagine a lot) that would encircle a star (in some scenarios, our star), to collect energy and possibly create new living surface. There are a lot of practical difficulties with this idea. 
How big is a Dyson sphere? In this concept, big enough to encircle not only the Sun, but also Mercury and Venus, with lots of room to spare. In other words, ludicrously big.

Of course, other sf writers are free to disagree with me, and several have used the idea to good dramatic purpose. Here's an image of the U.S.S. Enterprise with a Dyson Sphere from Star Trek-TNG's episode Relics.  

Megastructures in space? Star Trek gave us interesting visuals.
In rejecting a Dyson sphere I'm also at odds with Robert Silverberg (Across a Billion Years) and Stephen Baxter (The Time Ships). So be it, guys. 

We cannot rule out the possibility that at some point in the future we could solve the problems, but as Frasier Cain points out in this video from Universe Today, there might not be enough matter in our solar system to build a full sphere. 

This is not to say there aren't fascinating possibilities. The idea that you could even partially enclose a star with a structure made by sapient creatures is pretty interesting, and it's an idea that's endured for almost 80 years, as I write this. 

The cover of the first edition.
As far as I can tell, Freeman Dyson actually got the first germs of his idea from Olaf Stapledon's 1937 novel Star Maker. Dyson wrote about the idea a bit later, in 1960. 

Only last winter, scientists using the Kepler Telescope actually did think that maybe they'd discovered evidence of a megasturcture similar to a Dyson sphere. However, now they've had second thoughts

Would've been pretty interesting, from a scientific point of view--although until we know how friendly they are, I'd just as soon keep extraterrestrials out there in the reaches of space for a while longer. 

I couldn't resist Danielle Futselaar's gorgeous rendering of the Dyson-like structure-that-wasn't, as it might have looked disintegrating from around the star KIC 8462852
Unfortunately, the more I learned about Dyson structures, the less they fit my novels' needs. But I had a lot of fun with the research. And just because it probably isn't currently possible to make one, that doesn't mean it isn't possible to hypothesize, create images, and dream far-off dreams. 

Last time: I kicked off the "Space Station DIY" series with an overview of my introduction to space colonies, space stations, and this whole idea of living permanently on structures in space.
Next time: we stay well-rounded with Bernal Spheres.

IMAGES: The image of the "DIY Mission Control Play Station" is courtesy of MAKE: on Pinterest. The fanciful "Home in Space" image is from Universe Today (Yep. See below). 

The Dyson Ring and Dyson Sphere diagrams are both courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. God bless you! The article is excellent, too.
Lots of thanks to Paramount Pictures and Popular Mechanics for the image of the U.S.S. Enterprise and a Dyson Sphere. 
The photo of the Star Maker first edition cover is from a different article in the ever-valuable Wikimedia Commons
The gorgeous image of the disintegrating Dyson Sphere (that didn't turn out to be one after all) by Danielle Futselaar for SETI International is from the Washington Post. Many thanks to all!

VIDEO: Many thanks to Universe Today and Frasier Cain, for the informative YouTube video "What is a Dyson Sphere?" The link takes you to extensive notes, if you're interested.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Can you think Big enough to get Small?

Sometimes the answer to a massive challenge is right under our nose. As we close in on our most creative summer yet, remember that attitude is everything!

What's the key to creativity and a joyful life? It's how we approach the little things. The beauty we see in unexpected places and people. The first creative challenge is having eyes to see. The second is in our acceptance and creative follow-through.

IMAGE: Many thanks to Favim for this image.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

101 Bits of Summer Fun

Here's a follow-up to my Wednesday post: a list originally designed for kids and their parents. But read it over and think: wouldn't you find a lot of these ideas fun? No matter how old or young you are?

Creative people never quite completely "grow up." It's how so many of us live to vigorous old age, still creating, still learning, still growing. 

This summer, take the time to spread your wings. Explore! Enjoy! Dare to reach beyond the normal, whatever that is for you!

IMAGE: Many thanks to Carried Away Ministries for the list of "101 bits of summer fun"! How many will YOU try? 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Creative Challenge Accepted?

I've always thought of May as "trembling on the brink of summer." Summer is a magical season for many people. A time for re-thinking, re-inventing, and taking on new challenges.
This image was created with runners in mind, but think metaphorically and it speaks to us all.
In my part of the country many schools end their spring terms in May. But even if you don't have kids in school (or aren't one yourself), you still may be looking forward to a change of pace this summer. As we go through this month, the theme of my quotes and images will be preparing for a creative summer.

Don't you owe it to yourself to approach the challenge creatively? Imagine the possibilities! Then go chase the best ones. 

IMAGE: Many thanks to Quotes Love for this image.