Praise the Rain (CATALOG 5/6/2022)

My latest list of recent likes and favorite links…

  1. Poet laureate Joy Harjo poet describes poetry as “a tool to uncover the miraculous in the ordinary” and “a sense of play.” What a treat to hear her read “Praise the Rain” for National Poetry Month a couple weeks ago!

  2. I’ve relied on an old-fashioned spreadsheet to keep track of writing project progress and queries, but I’m tempted to give Kanban a whirl, specifically Trello.com, to make it more of a visual exercise.

  3. A couple years ago, I attended an encaustic painting workshop by artist Jodi Reeb. Wow, her landscape paintings really make my heart sing!

  4. From none other than Austin Kleon, learn how to make brush pens in any color!

  5. Being a knitter/crocheter, I love this video showing the Netflix bumper replicated with yarn. For more about the process, check out this extended version.

  6. My daughter and I, along with some friends, are signed up to volunteer with My Very Own Bed later this summer. We can’t wait to deliver and set up new beds and bedding for some kids in need of consistent and comfortable sleep!

  7. Have you seen the Oscar-winning movie “CODA” yet? I was so moved by the story and music—and can’t seem to get “Both Sides Now” out of my head.

  8. My hometown boasts a cool art and nature experience called Green Island. Poetry by yours truly will soon adorn the walking path!

  9. I became new to pickleball last summer and agree with Caryn Sullivan’s article deeming it “a model for a better life.”

  10. I would never describe my church as “uncool” or “boring,” but I really resonate with the “instead of” statements in this article celebrating church as I believe it should be.
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Ode to My Socks (CATALOG 4/15/2022)

My latest list of recent likes and favorite links…

  1. In preparation for their standardized testing next week, my students and I analyzed a couple poetic gems: “Ode to My Socks” by Pablo Neruda and “Rivulet” (page 16) by Aramis Quintero.

  2. I love using Canva for all of my basic graphic design needs—it offers a lot of different templates to make just about anything, and many of them are free to download without payment or watermark. My daughter, who is just eight years old, also uses it to design notes to her friends, flyers, to-do lists, and calendars!

  3. As a two-time Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor, I am proud to be associated with the publisher’s “Hallway Heroes” program, a creative and stirring social and emotional learning (SEL) curriculum. In fact, I will be trained in the program this summer in preparation for leading it next fall!

  4. Speaking of SEL, All Learning Is Social and Emotional by Nancy Frey, Douglas Fischer, and Dominique Smith is a must-have for educators who would like to become more familiar with SEL’s five key factors: 1) Identity and Agency, 2) Emotional Regulation, 3) Cognitive Regulation, 4) Public Spirit, and 5) Social Skills.

  5. As soon as my iPad is up and running again, I am totally putting the learnings of Stacie Bloomfield‘s free mini course on making greeting cards into practice.

  6. The timing stinks for me, but I still dream of somehow making it to this Writing for Your Life Conference in Colorado. I’d love to learn from Philip Yancey!

  7. My Heart Cries Out by Paul David Tripp has become part of my every day. It’s a grand collection of faith-based poems, along with related Scripture leads and journaling prompts.

  8. I first became aware of artist Jane Davies when I saw a print of her work in a major department store. Wow, does her web site feature a lot of great resources, including a very generous list of free tutorials!

  9. Austin Kleon shares how he can easily document favorite quotes from his reading with the help of a couple standard features on his iPhone.

  10. The AoPS (Art of Problem Solving) podcast is in its infancy, but it promises to offer some great content on the joy of learning.

On Striking A CHORD

The Cool Tools podcast showcases all manner of inventions and resources that are tried, tested, and loved by a variety of people in a variety of roles. What does it take for tools to be cool? According to Cool Tools, they can be “old or new as long as they are wonderful.” During one of the podcast’s most recent programs, author and artist Austin Kleon sang the praises of his four favorite tools, including his family’s piano.

In an earlier blog post, Kleon describes a piano as “the most important piece of furniture in the house.” For Kleon, it’s something his son “could walk over to and play his feelings on.” Kleon’s homage to his piano reminded me of the affection I held for the most treasured possession of my childhood and tween years: a chord organ that I literally played into the ground. Yes, literally. My last memory of the organ involves duct tape holding up its collapsing legs.

A chord organ much like the one of my youth

Some might regard a chord organ as the lazy man’s accordion. No bellows to push in and pull out. Just twelve buttons on the lefthand side, each one marked to play a certain chord. Also, forget applying any kind of formal music theory when it comes to chord organs. Numbers appear over each key on the keyboard and match those appearing on the notes in special chord-organ music books.

The key word is “music”—chord organ enthusiasts still make music despite no technical training and some shortcuts. Indeed, I made music. I prided myself on my rousing rendition of “Camptown Races,” the smooth cascading melody of my version of “Theme from Ice Castles,” and all of the Christmas carols I pulled off when the season was right. An adult acquaintance who taught piano to other kids my age was convinced I was forming “bad habits” with my chord-organ playing. I took offense—for a moment. There was nothing that could hold me back from the joy of simply playing my heart out on that thing. Incorrect posture? Improper hand positions? Other supposed errors and inaccuracies? Whatever.

I write this as our daughter plunks away on the keyboard in the next room. An accomplished piano teacher sits by her side. But what we love most about this teacher is the way she just digs into fun and interesting songs, encourages experimentation, and extends a lot of grace. I never, not ever, have to ask our daughter to practice; in fact, “practice” isn’t even a word we use when it comes to her piano playing. In other words, it’s not something to be mastered—it’s something to appreciate as both a retreat and a platform, to “play” in the best and funnest sense of the word, to make her own. I pray it’s this kind of music-making that always strikes a chord with our daughter. I pray it becomes more true for other people, too.

Where There’s a Wall, There’s a Way (CATALOG 10/08/21)

Though StrengthsFinder 2.0 pegs one of my top strengths as Input, there is only one blog I read with any regularity: that of author and artist Austin Kleon. Its appeal? Once a week, Kleon sends his followers a top-ten list of creative and curious links from across the Web, including his own blog posts.

I don’t care to read much via any kind of electronic device (even though I produce my share of online content), so Kleon’s approach speaks to me. Full disclosure: I want to know a lot but, at the same time, to do as little as possible to get the gist. So my blog post this week pays homage to Austin Kleon and features my own “10 things I thought were worth sharing”:

1. The inspiration behind this week’s blog: Newsletters by Austin Kleon.

2. Where there’s a wall, there’s a way… Such was the motto of an artist who, during 130 days of the 2020 COVID lockdown, painted an awesome visual diary.

3. Crochet-alongs marry the challenge of an intricate pattern with the opportunity to bond as “happy hookers.” Beginning next week, designer Breann Mauldin prepares us for Christmas with a tree-skirt crochet-along.

4. A fascinating documentary on the Met Gala and the people who make it possible (and so pretty): “First Monday in May.”

5. …which led to my curiosity in Andre’ Leon Talley and his story: “The Gospel According to Andre’.”

6. What exactly is dyslexia? Groves Academy set me straight.

7. Again from Austin Kleon—and in light of this past week’s Facebook/Instagram/WhatsApp outage—a reminder to “rewind your attention.”

8. Call it the HairClub for educators… With The Writing Revolution, I’m not only a better tutor—I’m a better writer.

9. Book: Freely and Lightly by Emily Lex, who pairs personal lessons on faith with everyday illustrations in watercolor.

10. Thanks to my artist pal T.B. Sojka, I learned about Sara Thurman’s Artists Rising Retreats—and dream about planning my own someday.

If you have a recommendation on something I should read, watch, wear, see, try, make, etc., please provide the link in the comments section below. Who knows, perhaps it will become part of my next “catalog.” Thanks for your input!

On Reading KEEP GOING

The book Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad by Austin Kleon couldn’t have entered my life at a better time. In short, Kindergarten is killing me, and “just keep going” has become a mantra on which I now depend.

My daughter began school earlier this month and adjusted well to everything new: new people, new wake-up time, new bedtime, new routine altogether. As for me, not so much. However, Keep Going not only reminded me of the interests and passions that continue to have possibility in me, but also convicted me of some misconceptions I’ve held and misbehaviors I’ve adopted as I pursue the creative life. Through his book, Kleon challenged me to think or act differently in a number of ways, including the following:

Ignore the audience
I’ve worked in the realm of business communications and public relations for nearly twenty-five years. The concept and reality of audience is my industry’s biggest concern. The audience’s needs. The audience’s reactions. The audience’s attentiveness and current opinions.

Kleon poses, however, that the work of a true and focused creative is unfazed by audience. We should make what we make because we feel compelled in our own souls what we want to make. We should not depend on others’ positive or negative feedback to drive what we accomplish from day to day to day. We should resist the urge to monitor clicks and likes and comments as some kind of personal validation.

Uh, guilty, and point taken.

Tidying has its place
I’ve become a sucker for books and articles and blogs on cool studio spaces. The thing is I can see myself spending about ninety-five percent of my time making sure I have the best back-drop for making art, with just a nickel left for actual art-making.

Kleon’s position: Tidying has its place, namely with the tools needed to make art. Knowing where to find a brush or pen or pad of paper is definitely necessary for getting the job done, but not so much staging an environment that gets us “in the mood,” is photo-shoot ready, etc. If things get too cluttered or out-of-control, we can use tidying as a way to explore new ideas, says Kleon. The mess may reveal a collision of media and subject matter and technique that we hadn’t thought of before.

Just do it
When I resurrected this blog thanks to the motivation of Show Your Work!, another of Kleon’s books, I was determined to claim the title of artist (this was my idea, not Kleon’s). “Title schmitle” is what Keep Going got through to me (and now I can’t help but hear the cast of Meatballs chanting in my ear, “It just doesn’t matter, it just doesn’t matter…”—yep, I’m definitely a product of the 70s).

Kleon puts it this way: “Forget the noun, do the verb… Let go of the thing that you’re trying to be (the noun), and focus on the actual work you need to be doing (the verb). Doing the verb will take you someplace further and far more interesting.”

Along with this “doing business,” Kleon suggests that it be wrapped in playfulness, no end goal in mind. It’s okay to throw our work into the scrap heap. It’s okay not to finish. It’s okay to have fun with nothing to show for it. Imagine that.

Give gifts
I have also fallen prey to the glorification of Etsy and other money-making machines for creatives—that any success in these realms is the brightest jewel in the crown of creativity. I was absolutely moved and convicted by this quote from Quincy Jones that Kleon includes: “God walks out of the room when you’re thinking about money.”

If I’m going to stay on this crazy creative course, I want it to be pure in motive. I want it to be rich in spiritual collaboration with the Almighty. I want it to be less about marketing and earning and getting ahead, and more about simply being and enjoying, and giving through and from the heart.

Keep Going by Austin Kleon—this book may be among the top five game-changing books of my creative career. Not only did it encourage my ongoing adventures in exploring and making of art, which has become more difficult in the face of transition. It also challenged my integrity, and that’s definitely something I want to maintain no matter where my artistic interests lie or take me.

Dear readers, I invite you to keep going with me! Join me in learning more from Kleon through these video links:
“How to Keep Going” (Bond 2018)
“Creative Is Not a Noun” (Scratch@MIT 2018)