Join a collective!

Because work, school and life aren’t busy enough, as evident by a complete lack of activity on your blog, you should join a collective. No seriously, trust me – I joined one and it has been great!

Continental Shelf is a writers’ collective formed by some feisty University of Victoria undergraduate writing students.  Why that name? Because we’re on the edge; the edge of our writing careers, the edge of academia, the edge of western Canada, and also because of books!

Last night at Solstice Cafe, Continental Shelf orchestrated its first public event, and it was a fabulous time.

Sean Michaels from Said The Gramophone read two excerpts from his debut novel Us Conductors. Jo, from the collective, led a fantastic interview, touching on what drives one to write and the phase shift form writer to novelist. Munro’s was there selling copies of the beautiful book, and Sean got busy writing inscriptions. Lastly theremin art-pop band Cleopatra & the Nile finished off the night with a performance encompassing a backdrop of black and white films, projected off a reel, while the duo channelled haunting theremin and synth sounds.

Also don’t be fooled by Solstice Cafe’s website – they’re licensed for more than just beer!

For me the highlight of the night, other than camaraderie of course, was Sean’s commentary, and yes I’m paraphrasing, on the cacophony of thematic interrelationships that drove the creation of Us Conductors. For me it was a glimpse into the magic actions, and interactions, that engenders something greater than the whole, pulsing electricity, that overcomes the many barriers and ultimately creates art.

 

Review: Finding Your Element

Sir Ken Robinson is back with a sequel and companion to The Element, read on for a full review.

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Disclaimer: I’m a Sir Ken Robinson fan. Since I shelved my scepticism in 2011, I’ve been enthusiastic in every respect. From the video marathon to the retrospective epiphany, and my final review of The Element, my take has been persistently positive – this post will be no different in that regard!

Finding Your Element – How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life is, as the title suggests, a how to guide on launching your “personal quest” to discover your Element. In that respect, perhaps, I’m not the primary target audience for Sir Ken Robinson’s newest creation. My personal quest is already well underway, hence this blog, my enrolment in UVic’s Fine Arts Diploma program, and my pending application to once more join the ranks of undergraduate students, this time in UVic’s Creative Writing program. My quest was launched by an outward scoff and an internal dialogue sparked by the cover of The Element – How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. I thought to myself:

“Thanks Ken – helpful. As if I didn’t already know that… Do something you love and never have to work a day in your life… check… I can’t believe people pay for and read books, just to be told that…”

“Well, what are you doing about finding your passion?”

“Uhmm, nothing… apparently I’m looking for it in the self-help section of my local book store, and scoffing at what I see…”

“Well, what are you going to do about it?”

“Uhhmm…”

“Well what are you passionate about?”

“Uhhmmm… I like architecture and design…”

“And how are you pursuing those passions?”

“Erhh I’m not… really”

“Because…?”

“Uhh… Look I’m really busy! I say I’m passionate about these things but I can’t ever find the time. It’s hopeless, for me, without a schedule… an enforced schedule with structure and deadlines, otherwise all my best intentions get blown away in the exhale from daily life.”

“So…?”

“I… I guess I need that structure… “

“Mhhmm?”

“I guess I could get it by enrolling in a course… Okay – I’ll start by looking for courses available in town!”

And so my quest had begun. The first and most essential step taken without actually picking up Sir Ken Robinson’s The Element – my conversion to fan of the book and the man came later.

Fast forward – what does Finding Your Element offer to would be readers?

It offers the same motivational, relatable, balanced and hopeful package as The Element. It’s offered in the same humorous, easy to read prose – but this time it’s more personal. It’s about the reader and their personal quest and is full of exercises, suggestions and tools to help readers plan and commit to that essential first step.

The stories of people inside seem more focused on every-day people and less focused on people who became rock star savants, though of course there is some of that. The book also contains a more robust conversation on how a person can have more than one Element, and how it can change over time. Besides the laughter and the motivation to continue my quest, the most useful thing for me inside Finding Your Element was the recognition that for most of us who are just starting to cultivate our Element, it takes sustained effort, which can feel like work. But it’s work you enjoy doing, it’s work you’d do even if you weren’t getting paid,  and as you hone your raw “aptitude” into a bonafide “ability,” you enjoy the journey, you see your progress, you “get it,” and you continue to push forward hoping to achieve more regularly the nirvana of being in your Element.

As I aspire to write a great Canadian novel, these messages are timely. It’s work, it takes time, but I do enjoy it; When I’m in the flow I do lose track of time, and I do believe my writing ability is getting better week by week. I’m doing it without getting paid, in-fact I’m actively investing in honing the “ability,” an investment that’s likely never to make a financial return. Yet, taking pleasure in getting better at something creative, productive, and moving towards spending a larger portion of my life immersed in that – I think it’s worth any price.

Final Happiness Project Rumination

Now that I’ve identified an additional shortcoming in my set of 2012 resolutions and established a new framework to fix it, it is time to further detail my resolve. Also I am inverting my modified Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs because a foundation must come first.

I’ve also generated a mission statement for my mini happiness project:

Pursue my happiness by being attentive to my vitality, my wife and home and by creating an atmosphere of growth in the pursuit of writing.

Vitality

Resolutions

  • Drink a litre of water every day
  • Wake up before the alarm
  • Exercise daily
  • Restrict myself to two cups of coffee a day
  • Weigh myself daily

Goals

  • Lose 10lbs

Strategic Outcome

  • Increase my energy

Home

Resolutions

  • Do kitchen clean up every night – Don’t procrastinate
  • Set the coffee pot auto start every week night
  • Complete one thing from the backlog task list every day
  • Make the bed everyday
  • Buy my wife a romantic gift every month

Goals

  • Keep a structured, tidy living space and a jubilant wife

Strategic Outcome

  • Increase my happiness

The Element

Resolutions

  • Write everyday (Journal, Blog, or a Project)
  • Read everyday
  • Read one page of the dictionary every night

Goals

  • Promote and maintain Exploring-Art.com
  • Distribute 100 Exploring-Art.com business cards before the end of the year
  • Starting immediately personalize every Exploring-Art.com “publicize” tweet
  • Get published in another format
  • Take Creative Writing 100 @ Uvic next year
  • Find my tribe

Strategic Outcome

  • Increase the quality of my writing

Conclusion

From time to time I’ll post an update to how I’m doing living up to my new mission: Pursue my happiness by being attentive to my vitality, my wife and home and by creating an atmosphere of growth in the pursuit of writing. I believe this concludes my rumination from reading The Happiness Project. Exploring-Art.com will now return to it’s regularly scheduled posts.

Enthusiasm, Maslow and The Element

I am an enthusiastic convert – I subscribe to Sir Ken Robinson’s updated Jungian view that by people pursuing their passion(s), or being in their Element, there is a transformative effect on the individual and thereby society as a whole. Exploring-Art.com was my manifestation of To-Fu’s creativity rule number 24, Create a Framework, this blog is my framework. My Element? Perhaps I have discovered my Element via continuing education in the fine arts, and it is my word for 2012, to: Write. So to be my most creative, my most contributory I need to write more… I think I have that much right, but there is something I got wrong and reading The Happiness Project brought it to my attention.

I have professed that enthusiasm is a renewable resource. Trees are also a renewable resource; however, we need to plant more trees or we will run out. Renewable does not mean inexhaustible. So what’s my point? By focusing my goals on exploring art, and cultivating my Element, I skipped an imperative foundational step. To illustrate this point and also that I learned something during my Undergraduate Degree, let us talk about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a Business School 101 concept and essentially it states that people cannot be their most productive unless their basic needs are looked after. The ranking of needs from the most basic to most complex is; Physiology, Safety, Belonging, Esteem, and Self Actualization. Here is a sketch:

Okay so that might seem a little abstract, so here is how I would map that hierarchy to categories more meaningful to me and my situation, from foundational to inspirational, Vitality, Family, and the Element.

My resolutions for 2012, both the SMART goals and the poetry were backwards! I can’t just focus on my Element and have the foundation piece as minor side notes. I need to ensure my foundations are well placed so that I can pursue my Element, my atmosphere of growth, as Gretchen Rubin would call it, without the looming spectre of exhaustion.

My enthusiasm is a renewable resource, but it is not inexhaustible. I must first commit to myself and my family in order to succeed with my loftier goals. More to come on what that means soon.

Enthusiasm is a renewable resource

“Enthusiasm is a form of social courage.” – The Happiness Project, Chapter 11 – Gretchen Rubin

YES!

I love this quote from the Happiness Project. Those of you who know me or have read a fair share of Exploring-Art.com know that I am very enthusiastic, I always try to look at the positive, and sometimes that can make Exploring-Art.com seem a little gushy. Don’t fear I don’t feel that way about everything, I just choose to write about the things that I really have strong, positive feelings for.

For instance I loved RED; it received the full gushy review and recommendation. But the Belfry’s offering of On The Edge that I saw just last Thursday received no mention at all. Don’t get me wrong, going out for an evening to support the arts is always a worthwhile endeavour, so if you want more exposure to the arts, and you live in Victoria go see the current play at the Belfry. Just don’t expect the world, and honestly the highlight of the evening was a wonderful dinner and bottle of wine (Road 13 Chenin Blanc) at Stage the local Fernwood wine bar. I don’t want to write about things that don’t elicit my enthusiasm. I want to write about what excites me, what makes me happy what aligns to Exploring-Art.com’s motto – “Design, Philosophy, Art – Liberating Creative Endeavours”. I don’t want to pan, be terse or put down, as there’s enough of that in the world without my help.

So this epiphany shatters a number of planned changes to Exploring-Art.com. I was planning to launch two new columns here on the site, essentially recommending artsy stuff happening in order to promote participation, which I believe is important. One called “In Victoria” recommending anything artsy that was on the horizon, and two “On the Screen”, which would recommend things on AppleTV or Netflix (I’m cable free) that would appeal to like-minded people. These planned columns have been scratched. Not because they’re bad ideas but because it’s more important to me to channel and share my enthusiasm than it is for me to deliver an encyclopedic reference of the good, bad and ugly of Victoria’s or Netflix’s art scene.

Embrace enthusiasm! Focus on the positive! Free your mind from your subconsciousness, break your innate cycle of want, go forth and conquer… with a smile!

Fortuitously, enthusiasm is a renewable resource here at Exploring-Art.com. There’s more coming.

The Happiness Project

Irony is everywhere. When I started my continuing education Fine Arts Diploma Program (FADP), and this blog, it was in a mini rebellion against the self help industry. The Element with its tagline “How finding your passion changes everything” was the major culprit that made me look down my nose at this entire section of books and enrol in FADP instead. Of course as you know from my review of The Element, which I wrote immediately after reading the book an entire year after my initial shun; I loved it.

I stumbled upon another self help book that I devoured this weekend entitled The Happiness Project and I loved it too. This book is probably old news for anyone who is into these types of books but it resonated with me and I feel inclined to reflect on it and its implications for Exploring-Art.com, which in some light could be looked at as the brand for my own Happiness Project. The output of this rumination will be the subject of the next few rapid fire blog posts. I am splitting it up to keep the outpouring of ideas digestible. It is interesting that I had alluded to some change ideas brewing from Wordcamp Victoria and which now, post weekend read, have been significantly altered.

First we will start with why I loved the The Happiness Project, then in later posts we will talk about what it means for me and our adventures exploring art.

It’s personal

The author Gretchen Rubin bares her soul. She shares graphic details of her temper, her husband’s illness and also profound glimpses into her inner conflicts. It is really inspirational to see someone open themselves up to complete strangers in this very rare way.

It’s relatable

Her personal stories resonated with me so much because I found the material so relatable. I had struggled with these challenges and came to many of the same conclusions. Her advice was often it depends – your situation may be different, you may have different needs. All of our journeys are unique.

It’s practical

The books is brimming with practical advice of little things you can incorporate into your own Happiness Project without having to travel to an Ashram.

The Happiness Project was wonderful. If you’re at all interested in promoting happiness in yourself and thereby in others as well, go get this book! More coming soon on its implications for me and Exploring-Art.com.

Book Review: Out of Our Minds (2nd Edition)

For me Out of Our Minds (2nd Edition) was not as enrapturing as The Element; however, its pages still contained many gems. Perhaps my growing embrace of Sir Ken Robinson’s material was the reason this book seemed more complementary and less ground breaking than The Element. Regardless, I found the last two chapters, Being A Creative Leader and Learning to be Creative, particularly fresh and insightful. Overall I would recommend this book to anyone who is curious or skeptical of the importance of creativity and the need to transform our 19th Century outmoded education systems.

As with The Element  Sir Robinson masterfully weaves together the thoughts, philosophies and quotes of others to illustrate the pedigree of his own unique assertions. One such quote near the end of the book, which I’m sure many have heard but I had not, was from Socrates:

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”

This quote raises a question of how we went from idolizing the demigods of ancient academia to neglecting how they taught for the sake of focusing solely on what they taught. This neglect is demonstrated in the shift from an individualistic approach to that of a production line. Alas! Marshall McLuhan was born too late! He could have warned our ancestors, the creators of our industrialized public education system, that the medium is the message.

Book Review: How to Write

My mother gave me Richard Rhodes’ How to Write more than a decade ago when I graduated High School. It came with me as I moved across Canada and back again regardless of the fact that in my first attempt I didn’t finish it.

All these years later I have picked it up and devoured it. If you are interested in writing as a practice I whole heartedly recommend it.

In skillfully selected prose Rhodes covers many topics relevant to an aspiring writer. From the different forms, the importance of foundations, the process of editing and the realities of the business Rhodes entertains and enlightens.

How to Write is full of amusing truisms such as “A page a day is a book a year”.  For this brief but glowing review I will end the same way Rhodes ends the book:

“Endings can also be beginnings. If you want to write, you can.”

The Element: A Dance, and A Book Review

The Dance

The Element and I have a dogged past. A year or so ago I was surveying the books in my local book store. I wandered through the store deep in thought. I had been struggling to keep the stress of my day job from encroaching on other parts of my life. I looked down and saw The Element by Ken Robinson, and I expressed an internal scoff… The cover read: “How finding your passion changes everything”… I thought to myself “Thanks Ken, that’s helpful… Basically the old adage: “Do something you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life”… Not sure I need to read a book to get that.” Instead of leaving with a book I somehow left with the idea of enrolling in some form of continuing education. This led me to enrol in the Fine Arts Diploma program at Uvic. I had many reasons for enrolling, one of which was just to give my brain something compelling to think about other than work.

The Element showed up again not long after that initial encounter. I had helped facilitate a 100 person conference, and as recognition facilitators and organizers were  asked to pick a book from a selection that had been prepared at the front of the room. The Element was among them, I didn’t pick it.

In Fine Arts 101 I was introduced to Sir Ken Robinson via his inaugural video recorded TED Talk. At the time I didn’t make the connection with the book I had seen prior to enrolling at UVic. Close to a year later in a moment of frustration related to my return to academia I created the Sir Ken Robinson Video Marathon post, and it was only then that I started to grasp the connection… I returned to my local bookstore and bought The Element as well the only other in stock book authored by Ken Robinson.

The Review

After this dance, which transpired over nearly a year, I read The Element in a day and a half and I loved it. It made me laugh and it also brought me to tears. Only time will tell if it will have meaningful consequences in my life, but I am hopeful that it will. Obviously your mileage may vary, but for me it was brilliant. My wife asked me why it was so wonderful, and it was hard to describe at first, but here’s my thoughts on the subject. Using four related themes this is why The Element sings.

Motivational

The Element is motivational. Motivational has become something of a dirty word, with cheesy motivational posters and their parodies becoming a cultural phenomena. But alas I cannot think of a better descriptor. It makes you want to sit up and do more, be more, achieve more, contribute more; it is motivational in a profound way that is hard to find the words to describe; it doesn’t just lift your spirits as might be the case with something inspirational… It really makes you want to take action, to do something, to act.

Relatable

It is relatable. You get it right away, including all the many facets of what is detailed such as; the stories of  the super successful, what the element is, and how do you know when you have found it. It is all very accessible, the obviousness hinted at on the cover, which I originally scoffed at, is actually a huge asset to this book.

Balanced

Sir Ken Robinson’s advice is balanced. It’s not all black or white. It’s not quit your job and join an Ashram. It’s not think positive and love your slavery. It’s not here’s the one answer. It’s balanced and therefore more realistic, more practical and more motivational than I could have imagined. It opens many doors not just one.

Hopeful

It is one of the most hopeful books I have ever read. It promises hope for the individual and convincingly thereby for humanity as well. It makes a cogent case that we can all contribute at our optimal level: It is not something that is restricted to celebrities, superstars, or a lucky few. It also compellingly makes the case that each individual contributing at their peak is the best chance we as a species have to surmount the critical challenges we are facing today as well as the ones we will face in the not so distant future.

I very much look forward to reading the other Sir Ken Robinson book I purchased, Out of Our Minds. However,  before starting down that path, I’m now re-motivated to finish Richard Rhodes’ How to Write