Shiny Objects

Why yes, I am easily distracted by shiny things and blank pages.

Why yes, I am easily distracted by shiny things and blank pages.

I was talking with a friend the other day about creativity and she brought up a great point. Even the most creative person needs some parameter or boundary in order to create.

Years ago when I first started my job at National Geographic School Publishing, the then-CEO of our division met individually with every editor working there. She asked me if I worked better with a blank page or did I need guidelines? My immediate response was blank page, because I knew that’s the answer she was looking for and because I considered myself a creative person so of course I would work well with a blank page.

But after about a minute, I changed my mind and said, no, I work better with some parameter. Not that I need exact instructions but I work best with some defining guide. If someone had said to me at work, “go create a new product,” then I wouldn’t be the person to start with. But if someone said “go create a new supplemental product for middle-school social studies that uses National Geographic content,” then I am your person.

So I’m not talking about step-by-step instructions or specific details, just some sort of guide or purpose or direction. As my friend said in our discussion, even an artist who starts with a blank canvas has some parameter—the size of the canvas.

As a creative person, this revelation was such a relief to me. It didn’t mean I’m not creative. It means this is how I create. How do you create?

Whichever way you create, I hope you create a wonderful weekend for yourself!

Oooh look at these shiny objects . . .

I’ve been reading . . . a lot. I finished:

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward – Didn’t love it. Too much about pit bulls and dogfighting and too graphic for me. Also didn’t need the constant similes.

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson – Wow, what an incredible book. Tough topic but necessary and eye opening.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles – Loved this book. Simply a clever, enjoyable read.

Binary Star by Sarah Gerard – This was o.k. I gave it three stars because of the interesting and lyrical approach and I don’t want to slam any new writer starting out. It’s not a happy read and it’s not pretty. It’s a fictional story about a young woman’s struggle with anorexia using astronomy as a metaphor. I am a fan of using a big, giant metaphor for something, so I appreciate the author’s use of it. I’m not sure it totally worked but I love the idea.

Beartown by Fredrik Backman – I wanted to love this book but I didn’t. Felt like I was hammered over the head repeatedly about certain key points that I only needed once or twice. For the most part, I liked his writing style, and I think he treated a taboo topic really well. This story is not an uplifting or happy one, and I guess I went into expecting it to be, which is probably part of the reason I didn’t like it. I also thought it could be about 100 pages shorter. We didn’t need the first 130 pages of “Beartown is a hockey town, everyone lives, sleeps, eats, and breaths hockey, the town depends on hockey.” Got it, they love hockey, the town is all about hockey, hockey, hockey.

Woolgathering by Patti Smith – Well, I love Patti Smith and think she’s a gifted poet, songwriter, and writer so I really liked her autobiographical essays. True to her writing style, each one is moving and beautiful.

The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan – I didn’t give this a great rating on Goodreads but in retrospect, I might give it 2.5 or even 3 stars. It was just what I needed—uplit and easy and light.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng – I know everyone loves this book but it pissed me off. Not great writing (I don’t need added descriptions to tell me about someone, I get it), clichéd, and biased. I also could do without the constant descriptions of Shaker Heights as the rich white people suburban cliché.

A Good Cry by Nikki Giovanni – I’m always going to love a poetry book.

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce – Terrible but not bad enough to stop reading it, although I couldn’t really tell you what the story is about anymore since I don’t remember it.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal – This was cute and a fun read. I enjoyed the story.

The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn – Thriller “Gone Girl” type of book. It could’ve been good but this whole “twist” idea has been done before, and I figured it out early on. I didn’t really care about the story or characters. I just read through it quickly to see if I figured it out correctly, and I did.

Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima – Super cute children’s book (and also for adults) and the message never gets old.

The Comfort Food Diaries by Emily Nunn – It’s a memoir, and I don’t usually do memoirs but it sounded interesting. It wasn’t. I didn’t actually finish this book, it was so bad but did keep one of the recipes.

Even though I don’t usually do memoirs, I’m reading another one now. Well, listening to it actually. I’m listening to the audio book version of Educated by Tara Westover, which is so good. I’m riveted. I don’t know if my opinion would change reading the print book but I think for a debut author writing a memoir, her writing style is really good.

I’ve been watching . . . Timeless and Alex, Inc. Finally found two shows I like, which I will now be down to one show. Alex, Inc. got cancelled after one season. I liked that show because it was funny, clever, positive, and quirky. But I guess people aren’t interested in those types of shows anymore. Sigh.

At least Timeless was renewed, thank god. I am really into this show, despite the obvious improbabilities and inconsistencies, and binge-watched Season 1 and Season 2. Timeless is about a team of people (and I love the team!) who travel in time to save U.S. history from some secret group with evil intentions who attempt to alter the past in order to change the world. While the show takes some historical liberties, it makes me want to learn more about U.S. history.

The show also got me wondering, if I could go back in history and could prevent something bad from happening, for example, the assassination of Lincoln, would I do it, knowing it would change history? Or is it more important to preserve history as it was because we don’t know how it would change the present? Something to think about.

I’ve been listening to . . . Glen Phillips, who I saw in concert again. He doesn’t have a new album but he has a new single out called “Nobody’s Gonna Get Hurt.” It’s quirky and clever—just what I’d expect from him—and it doesn’t disappoint.

I always love to discover new music—new-to-me music, that is. Recently a friend took me to a concert of one of her favorite singers, Callaghan, and since then, I’ve been hooked! Callaghan is a British singer-songwriter with a great voice and a clear talent for music. I love her songs—they reflect an appreciation for life. Some favorites are “Crazy Beautiful Life,” “Who Would I Be,” “Best Year,” “Free to Be,” “We Don’t Have to Change the World,” and “All Through the Night.” Her songs make you happy, they make you think and feel, and they make you grateful. I’d describe her music as kind of an upbeat Sarah McLachlan.


(Photograph by Aaron Burden.

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