Archive for the ‘hobbies’ Category

Inspiration Challenge 12: Revisit an old artistic medium

February 13, 2009

Inspiration Challenge 12: Pick up an artistic medium you haven’t touched in awhile.


When I was cleaning up the other day I came across this Chinese saying written in some odd corner of an old notebook, along with little notes about the type of drawing I wanted to make out of it.  The saying literally translates as, “Take a step and look around,” which roughly means to take life one step at a time, or that life is a constant recalibration process.  My friend said this to me while I was in China, uncertain about the future and what direction to head with my life.  “It’s not as big of a deal as you’re making this out to be,” she was telling me with this phrase.  “Nothing is set in stone.  Try something out [take a step], then see how you feel about it [look around] and make adjustments accordingly.”

I think about this now that I’m several steps along from that initial conversation.  I’d taken several steps into a field I thought was a perfect fit, but when I took that larger step [an expensive one at that!] I discovered it wasn’t quite what I thought it would be.  So now, true to her word, I’m looking around.  What else is possible from here?  Three steps from here?  Five?  Where should I veer?

It’s similar to what Angela said.  It’s important to test our your dreams.  Make the first move, get to know them better.  In the case of this blog, I’m finding it’s a lot harder to develop my voice and a steady posting rhythm than I thought it would be.  I never realized it would be so difficult to write about inspiration, and to be honest, I’ve questioned whether or not I want to keep this up for another ten months.  I think I’ll do it, but I need to rethink this space and what I offer to the blogosphere that is different or interesting.  In the case of my professional life, I’ve discovering that I love the philosophy and approach of public health, but not necessarily the way that translates to the day-to-day work.

If I hadn’t started this blog, if I hadn’t gone to this program, I wouldn’t have known this.  Writing daily about wellness [in academia-ese I think of this as “building human capital”] would remain a dream, something to moon over in class as we talk about regression coefficient.  It would be my default pie-in-the-sky dream job whenever I got frustrated or disillusioned with school work, causing greater and greater hopes to be pinned to it until it became so bloated with unrealistic, grandiose expectations that it would be too daunting to ever try to pursue, lest the bubble burst and I discover I’m holding a frog, not a prince.  Likewise, these past 6 months have helped me pinpoint what, exactly, it is about this field that I absolutely love, and which surprisingly large segments are perfectly fine but now what I want to be doing for the rest of my life.  More than that, it’s forced me to reflect on my past jobs to find the underlying themes that gave me greatest satisfaction and which parts of the job burned me out, the types of tasks that I am drawn to, my strengths and my weaknesses.

Back to the challenge, I went through a “doodled abstraction” phase towards the end of college.  I’d take a concept and translate it into symbols or a Chinese phrase, then abstract the symbol, characters, and images and work it up over the entire page.  An example I dug out of the archives:


This is my last name in Chinese, over and over and over again.  I haven’t doodled in over 2 years, so when I plucked the slip of paper out of the jar yesterday morning I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  Finally translate that saying to paper.  Dust off the black pen and give it a go.  I’d put this off for days now, afraid it wouldn’t be perfect or that I hadn’t thought through the concept enough to get it down on paper.  And while this isn’t exactly what I envisioned, it felt really good to dip back into an old hobby, dust off the cobwebs an back towards once-familiar terrain.  And just as the saying says, you won’t know what you need to tweak until you make that first move.

Switching mediums for a day stretches creativity in new directions.  Fresh perspective generates new ideas, just like the change in perspective achieved by focusing on one sense.  This is particularly helpful when stuck in a rut, but even as a weekly or monthly exercise it works to keep our projects fresh and keep us exploring new directions.  And maybe, just maybe, we’ll take a step in a new direction, look around, like what we see, and keep moving.

Challenge 13: Research your hero.

Find out their life story.   What motivates them?  Where do they get inspiration?   What challenges did they face?  How did they overcome them?


On dreams and princes

February 5, 2009

During a training session at my school-related conference a couple weeks ago, Angela and I started chatting about the future during one of our breaks.  Although Angela and I run in the same general circle of Chinese-speaking first year students, we’d never really spent time together until this conference.  After listening to my jumbled thoughts which, given their current incoherent state in English, sound far more incoherent in Chinese, she switched tactics and asked about some of my craziest dreams.  You know, those deep-held dreams that make you laugh when you list them on the life goals list, the ones you think you have no shot of achieving but list anyways.

Write a book by the time I’m 30.  Film a movie.  Bicycle around the world.

Angela looked at me in surprise.  “But I’ve done a lot of those things!” she told me, explaining that one summer she’d spent the entire vacation indoors writing a novel.  The editor of her school newspaper for six years, she shares my love for words and language.  During college she also filmed several movies for her classmates.

“For the first film I was so excited that I stayed up all night working on the script.  When I brought it to my friends, they took one look at it and told me it would never work as a movie.  We reworked the script and reworked the script until I dropped all of my original ideas.  Still, I had a lot of fun filming it.  Lighting, actors, sets … it was great.

“After that I thought I would continue making films in a serious way.  I even bought an expensive recorder.  We did make some more films but I was never as crazy about it as that first time, staying up all night to work on the script.”

We paused and ate some fruit.  She said, “My friend once made a great analogy:

Going after your craziest dreams is like pursuing a crush.  If you only admire them from afar it is easy to put them up on a pedestal and create all sorts of fantasies.  But if you actually get to know them better – try things out – well, maybe you’ll discover that you don’t want to marry them after all.”

So make eye contact with that crazy dream.  Sidle up to it in a bar, make some casual conversation.  Initiate contact.  See if it’s interested in a longer-term commitment, or if it really only wants a one night stand.  Frogs and princes all look the same from a distance, so get up close and personal.  Just go for it.

Inspiration Challenge 2: When Strangers Meet

February 3, 2009

I can hear it now.  “When strangers meet,” you mumble, staring at the bottom of the last post.  “What does that mean???”

“When strangers meet” is the idea of marrying disparate ideas or fields to create a new, unexpected product.  I chose this as one of 28 inspirational challenges because many of the best new ideas come from the interface of established fields.

Yesterday as I was pondering how to take up this challenge, it occurred to me that many of my ideas come from layering ideas on top of each other.  Note:

1.    Writing + wellness + developing courage to put myself out there = creation of this blog.
2.    Photography + staying in touch with friends = beyond :: boston.
3.    Calvin and Hobbes + crafting + spending time with friends + school = Make Your Own Lucky Rocketship Underpants Party.  The idea is to make “lucky talisman” underwear to give us an edge against finals.  Admittedly I haven’t tried this one yet, but a couple people have asked me when I’m throwing this party so I’m hoping to do it later this month.

It seems I’ve been doing this unconsciously already, but I wanted to see what would happen if I formally sat down and crossed my current interests.  What new combinations might pop up?

This activity took me about 30 minutes of brainstorming.  I could’ve gone on, but I wanted to see what ideas jumped out immediately.  It turns out I already do a number of these, like crafting + environment = make reusable grocery bags and cloth napkins.  But I also circled new ideas I’d like to tackle in the near future.  There’s even a couple that pertain to this month.

Create things to remind you of your goals and dreams.
Friends: engage in self-reflective/goal setting activities together.

This is a great activity for rapidly generating new ideas.  Block out the mental critic and throw everything down on paper, no matter how small or how silly the idea seems at the time.  Keep the pen moving and the thoughts flowing.  The point is to brainstorm; there is plenty of time later to edit, but for now the more ideas the better.  Besides, that small or silly idea may plant the seed for a really inspired idea.  I will probably never make toy food (crafting + food), but if I had let the mental critic start censoring at that point I never would have come up with “play Calvin Ball” (creativity + exercise; yes, I love Calvin and Hobbes).  And who knows?  Maybe in ten years my (future, unborn) children will be dying for a plateful of felt spaghetti.

img_0071Challenge 1: Create a clear workspace.

Day 3 Challenge: Touch water.

Goal-setting and planning ahead

January 16, 2009

I’m starting to wish I’d planned this out a little better.  Don’t get me wrong; for the most part I’ve been able to anticipate what I might need in January and to arrange to have them on hand.  I live alone, so staying stocked on daily necessities like toilet paper isn’t too difficult.  Of course, the minute I returned to my apartment January 2nd I took one look at my sponge and realized I should get a new one for the spring semester, but the situation isn’t dire yet.  I’ll just, you know, let the dishes pile up for a month.

On the other hand, I’m going to be on the road for several weeks this month, and there are times when my fingers itch for something to do.  I love a good book as much as the next person, but there are times when it doesn’t quite hit the spot.  I’m a crafter, and small handcrafting projects usually fit the bill perfectly.  Embroidery, knitting, crocheting, hand sewing all fall under the category of light, portable, little equipment, and projects that can be worked for a few minutes or a few hours.  As a crafter whose love affair with knitting has warmed and cooled through the years, several months ago I decided I was done with knitting and donated all my yarn to a thrift shop.  I was going to simplify all areas of my life including my hobbies.  Unfortunately, the handcraft I now long for more than anything is knitting, and there is this small problem of a self-imposed ban on buying yarn until the month of February.

I admit I’ve been tempted to break the challenge for yarn.  “But its just yarn!  I don’t have to include hobby supplies on the banned list!” or “Well, spring is coming soon anyways, so unless I get a start on my knitting now nothing I wear will be usable for long.”  But just as with my pinging experience, I know this is a slippery slope to travel down, one little infraction becomes two, then three, and wipes out the entire spirit of the challenge.

This also holds several lessons for myself.  Keep a backup on hand just in case.  Improvise – I brought some embroidery instead, and am making do without a hoop and without a pattern to follow.  I never knew doodling with thread could be so much fun.  Test your impulses with a cooling off period.  We’ll see if I’m still hot on knitting the five billion projects in my queue once this month is over.  If not, well, I’ll have saved myself a bunch of half-started projects, not to mention balls of yarn falling out of bins all around the apartment that I eventually tire of and purge in the name of simplifying my life.  Some poor thrift shop loving yarn addict out there will just have to count on another source of yarn.