2013 is over.

2013 Insights

School:

My 3rd calendar year of courses at Uvic is now complete. This year I successfully transitioned from a Fine Arts Diploma student to a Creative Writing Undergraduate student (2nd Degree program). In total I’ve engaged in seven semester equivalent classes, 4 of which were in Writing, and I’ve learned that:

  • I’m energized by creative writing
  • despite my enthusiasm, creative writing is harder than it looks
  • 2 classes every semester, on-top of everything else, is ambitious
  • I quickly grasp concepts – but always require more practice
  • (Critique) Workshops are essential to improve as a writer

Blog:

In an ode to irony, while my interest in writing has skyrocketed, my posts on exploring-art.com have plummeted. Only six posts in 2013, but I’ve learned that people like:

  • Pictures (select, not too many)
  • Cocktails (or maybe that’s just me)
  • Concise observations on writing (and life)

Looking Ahead:

2014 is going to be great! I’m registered in two classes next semester, I’m committing to at least one exploring-art.com post a month (including either a picture, cocktail, or concise observation), and I’m going to play more squash this year (this shouldn’t be hard I’m pretty sure I didn’t play any squash last year).

Happy new year’s – here’s to the year ahead, and turning over new leaves. Cheers!

 

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.

Habit List – Personal Commitments and Visual Management

I struggle to keep up with my chores. I procrastinate. I spend my time practicing escapism rather than being productive. My nature of sensible hedonism could typically be expressed in pseudo Spanish as “mañana”. It’s terrible… I know.

I also know that I am, like most people, exceptionally malleable… just look at my visual management, willpower and weight loss post… it’s 5.5 months later and I’m still down 18.1 pounds, simply by weighing myself daily on a fancy, graph generating scale… scary!

But what to do about all those commitments I most recently refactored in my post on personal commitments, “The Speed of Trust”, and poster art? Is there something I can do to help with them? Fortuitously after a few search attempts I happened upon Habit List an inviting, balanced, skeuomorphism rich app.

Habit List elegantly adds visual management to your recurring to-do list. Red dots along the left margin indicate you are not delivering on your commitments. Green dot’s mean you are doing well. The number centred in the dots indicate how many times you’ve either made or missed your commitment in the current streak.

Each habit has its own exploded calendar view where details of your best streak, your current streak and your current completion rate are displayed. After just a week of using Habit List I’m addicted. Scratching items off the list feels rewarding. Daily reminders are much needed motivation and I’ve already grown my list of personal commitments. I am pleased to bestow 4.5 out of 5 stars on Habit List. There’s just one or two things missing.

Though the app has flexible scheduling options it’s still not enough. Working 9 out of 10 weekdays, and having some commitments that are only applicable when I am at home mean I either artificially pad or compress my streaks. I think there needs to be a “Not Applicable” option, perhaps only accessible from the calendar view, that allows the user to opt ad-hoc days out of the calculation of streaks for a specific habit. Also the ability to “snooze” reminders would help me procrastinate… I mean meet my commitments!

Habit List is well worth the $1.99. Do yourself a favour, get this app and start a routine of completion, you’ll be more productive and have fun while crossing things off your list.

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.

RED – A review

If you are in Victoria, Seattle or Vancouver and you are at all interested in theatre or Mark Rothko get yourself to the Vancouver Playhouse to see its production of RED before it ends February 4th.

My wife and I saw the play Friday January 20th, and the performance was outstanding. The two man show received an enthusiastic standing ovation from a not quite full crowd.

RED is writhing with dark humour, philosophy and poignant commentary on being human, art, and the perils of classification. I am not an art historian or well read about Rothko yet the general arc of the story was known to me. Even so, the playwright has managed to keep the play unpredictable and full of drama and suspense. The intermission free RED brushes past you at a perfect tempo, giving you enough time to reflect but not enough time to get restless.

For a play of this sort the set has incredible production values. Large canvases are used as props and curtains between acts.The use of light and the shadows cast by the actors are used to parallel the darkness in Rothko’s famous works both literally and symbolically. Rothko constantly smokes and drinks Johnny Walker, sometimes even offering a drink to his assistant. A record player is an important inanimate member of the cast that builds the atmosphere and sets the serious tone. The play creates an immense tension and tables some great philosophy with out being pretentious, obvious or boring.

Even if you have to travel to Vancouver go see RED. My wife and I just missed seeing it in NYC during our honeymoon two Septembers ago and I must say it was worth the wait. Don’t miss it, buy your tickets and make your plans today.

(The featured photo below is a no flash photo I took of a Rothko at the Abstract Expressionism exhibit at the MOMA in September 2010)

Virtual Novel Writing Studio – Scrivener

As you know one of my implicit and poetic New Year’s resolutions was to get serious about writing… practice the art, improve my abilities and create. It’s a multi-front undertaking about blogging, school, journalling and because I am a ridiculously enthusiastic individual, it is also about writing a great Canadian novel.

The subject of the novel is super secret but it’s starting out as a piece of creative non-fiction, which means research, organization, time-lining, outlining and other structural undertakings. I like this as it plays to my professional background – a project manager. However it quickly starts to get messy in a regular word processor. You quickly arrive in a situation where you have multiple word documents such as an outline and a draft that need to be kept up to date separately, not to mention the meshed network of file folders for research, notes, drafts and other related files. So this got me thinking, there must be an app for this… and sure enough courtesy of Apple’s OS X App store I found Scrivener, and it is perfectly tailored for the job. The price tag was a little disconcerting at first at $44.99 so I headed over to the developers website to see if they had a demo and they did…

After installing the demo and reviewing some instructional material including a very helpful video, I started importing over all of my miscellaneous files into the Scrivener app. That done I felt at home in my very well organized virtual writing studio, so I purchased a version through the app store, and I’m happy to report that the upgrade from the demo to the app through Apple was seamless. My work was not disrupted, my files were not corrupted. Since then I’ve even penned the first page of my opus.

Watch out world! Mr Campbell and his partner Dr. Scrivener are on the case.

WordCamp Victoria and An Architectural Muse

I spent today at WordCamp Victoria. It was a good conference and I was pleasantly surprised by the broad diversity of attendees at the conference. The sessions were by and large very good. Of the sessions I attended, and I skipped both keynotes, my favourites were by the folks behind these blogs:

I also found something else that caught my interest. Check out these photos depicting another gorgeous day in Victoria BC, and an edifice of a beautiful world as well as human ingenuity. Yes I realize this is a drain for dealing with rain run off but it’s also architectural poetry. Happy Saturday.

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.

A Sparkling Review for New Year’s

The last couple of posts here at Exploring-Art.com having been awfully philosophical and perhaps not very uplifting. Fear not! We have not thrown the baby out with the bath water. This is still the place for feel good posts, heart felt recommendations and creative encouragement.

With New Year’s eve nearly upon us I feel the need to make a sparkling wine recommendation. Champagne is one of my favourite things, but it is expensive and a lovely Cremant can be equally as good for a fraction of the price. Here’s this year’s Cremant recommendation for a New Year’s not to be forgotten!

Louis Bouillot, Rose, Cremant de Bourgogne is a delicious concoction based on the pinot noir grape. It’s well balanced, with not too much sweetness or acidity, and a gorgeous lingering creme. More importantly it will leave you wanting more, a lot more. It’s a bargain for $25 at your local Canadian liquor store. Have a happy New Year!