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Creativity (104 posts)
Circa 1991, my friend Dana and were busying ourselves videotaping some absolutely killer unintentionally-Martha-Graham-inspired choreography in my basement. It was recently suggested that these tapes may still exist and my blood turned cold with dread. Why didn't anyone warn me YouTube would exist in the future? I remain cautiously, hypothetically humiliated. And so my first thought when I saw this completely amazing video of Ryan Gosling and his sister tearing it up to C+C Music Factory at a Mormon Talent Show, was, "Oh, poor Ryan Gosling! How embarrassing! That hair! That silky shirt! Those...moves." Hold on -- Baby-Gosling has got some moves.
And I realized something. In an era where sex tapes make people famous, when fortunes can be made from babies biting fingers, there is no more embarrassment. (Note to Dana: Even, so, do not I repeat not upload. We were no talent show winners.) Is it a sillying-up of society? Do all the troubles in the world -- war, crumbling economies, Twitter outages -- send us searching for goofy refuge in ridiculous dances? I don't know. But what I do know is that dancing preteen Ryan Gosling is impossible to take your eyes off. And that anyone with that much charisma at age 10 probably has never heard of this esoteric, old-timey word "embarrassment."
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In Boardman, Ohio, Val Haller brought upbeat tunes by the '60s pop band the Hollies to her raucous high school cheerleading practices. When she drove off to college in 1975, Haller tossed a box of records and eight-track tapes--Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Carole King--onto the passenger seat of her Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. These days, when she goes to friends' dinner parties in the Chicago suburbs, Haller brings an iPod filled with songs by bands like the Portland indie rockers Blind Pilot. "Life feels flat unless there's music in the background,"she says.
When a pal complained about her teenager's thumping Top 40 songs, Haller, a stay-at-home mother of four, was inspired to launch the Web site Valslist, which helps fellow baby boomers--not to mention busy working moms and anyone else who hasn't followed music since before the days of MTV--find tunes of their own to play at top volume.
Valslist is now stocked with purchasable playlists, including both new and "vintage" music, to suit any mood, from "all dressed up and looking good" to "pensive tunes for a pensive day." Most songs are by bands with names like Rubblebucket and Communist Daughter that Haller delights in discovering on arcane music blogs and Web sites. But she also sprinkles in tracks by better-known artists like Adele and Jackson Browne. A "sounds like" page helps readers find new songs that channel their old favorites. (Love the Dave Matthews Band? Try singer-songwriter Pat McKillen. Former Deadhead? Queue up the band Moe.)
Haller's offbeat, adventurous taste has already won her fans of all ages: Her site has readers in 33 countries, and this summer she'll release an iPhone app. Meanwhile, her college-age twins--who once teased her for starting a Web site when she could barely navigate her cell phone--admit that she's often the first to discover artists who become popular on their campuses. "Sometimes when my kids call me with a band they're excited about," says Haller, "I pretend I haven't heard of it, just so I don't embarrass them."
In 2010 Julia Silverman and Jessica Matthews traveled halfway around the world, hoping to light up some of the more impoverished villages of South Africa and Nigeria by testing some soccer balls there. But not just any soccer balls: Their Socckets, as they call them, house gyroscopic mechanisms that harness energy from the ball's motion. After being kicked around for 30 minutes, the balls can power a small LED lamp for three hours--long enough for a child whose home lacks electricity to do homework or read a book. Since most communities in Africa are crazy about soccer, the ball was a hit. "The kids thought it was magic," Silverman says, "but I could also see the wheels turning in their heads. One boy came back with a drawing of a ball with windmills sticking out of it. They wanted to be inventors, too."
The idea for the Soccket dates to an undergraduate engineering class at Harvard. There, Silverman and Matthews, working with two other students, drew on their experiences abroad--Matthews's family is from Nigeria, and Silverman had worked in sub-Saharan Africa--to devise a technically simple idea that could make a huge difference to the 1.4 billion people in the world living without electricity. The group knew that kerosene lamps emit dangerous fumes. While brainstorming alternatives, they thought of so-called shake flashlights, which are powered by motion, not batteries. Soon they'd put one inside a hamster ball to demonstrate how the global mania for soccer might help bring light to the places that don't have it. After the term ended, Matthews and Silverman worked with a design firm to create a more realistic prototype, a dead ringer for an actual soccer ball, except for the small plug on the outside.
In 2011 the duo quit their jobs at the World Bank (Silverman) and a social media start-up (Matthews) to focus on the Soccket. With sponsorship from corporations like Western Union, they've now produced more than 6,000 balls and accompanying LED lamps for distribution throughout countries including Mexico, El Salvador, and the Gambia. "We're also thinking of how everything from basketballs to volleyballs can be useful," Matthews says. "We want people to realize that making a difference doesn't have to be serious and boring. It can be as simple and fun as playing soccer."
And good thing, too -- since I just read that the most successful people are those who use their mornings efficiently. After all, as Laura Vanderkam writes, "Mornings are a great time for getting things done." Yeah! Take that, you ridiculous people who get to sleep in until the - gasp - double digits on weekends! Feh to you!
Vanderkam, who has written much about time management, has a great run-down at Fast Company of ways in which to be more efficient in those wee hours. Weirdly, she doesn't suggest allowing any time at all for feeling sorry for oneself about being up so early. Instead, she suggests a five-step process for reassessing mornings. One of her recommendations: Picture Your Perfect Morning. This may include steps for personal growth, like reading through a sacred text or training for a marathon, or it may be more about professional growth: using that quiet time to organize and strategize, or even taking an online development course. She also shares very practical steps you can take to make your morning dreams a reality without being too self-defeatingly ambitious.
How to Have More Productive Mornings
17 Ways to Be More Efficient in the AM
There are maybe three things in the world cuter than watching three-year-old ballerinas twirl around. I mean, I can't think of them at the moment but I'm sure there are some. But like any 21st Century, Non-Toddlers-and-Tiaras mother, I've found myself wondering whether my kid's super-low-key toddler ballet classes at the Y are encouraging something secretly nefarious, baby "Black Swan"-style. The idea was just to do something physical and imaginative and dreamy and fun. (And, from the daughter's perspective, something involving tutus.)
Then this great video for the song "Man on Fire," by Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, comes along: a celebration of creative movement of all stripes. Inner city double-dutch champions? Check. Suburban cheerleaders? Check. Um, the New York City ballet? Check. This video feels less like a performance and more like peeking in on a dance class. And in this world, dance is about bodies moving, about feeling music, about having fun. In this world, dancing is for everyone. And even the ballerinas look like they're having fun. Phew.
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An unforeseen consequence of becoming an adult (it occurred to me the other day while rocking out at the library sing-along) is that you must regularly act a fool. You HAVE to. And I'm not just talking about parents who find themselves running around as if lobotomized, belting out nursery rhymes into the faces of their fussy children in public. I'm talking about anyone who's ever had to present a possibly-genius-possibly-ludicrous idea in a meeting, give a toast at a wedding, or try out the colorful-skinny-jeans trend. Don't tell those preteens nervously giggling in a self-conscious huddle, but in adulthood, as it happens, you just have to give in and not worry about looking silly sometimes.
Which leads me to this video of Jimmy Fallon, Carly Rae Jepsen, and The Roots performing the song "Call Me Maybe," while playing classroom instruments. (It adds to my enjoyment of this that I have no idea of the context. To me, this appeared in my twitter feed as just some grownups stuffed into a room and rocking out.) No offense to third graders everywhere, but who knew kazoos, bongos, recorders, tamborines, triangles, and rainbow xylophones could sound so catchy? I can't stop watching this jangly, poppy, moment of pure fun. Who needs self-consciousness? We don't have time to try to play it cool. We're grownups. So grab a piano whistle...
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Kwela Dance Video > Coffee
Mr. Rogers Remix
Passionate Gotye Lip Dub
The Most Fun Family Band
My husband once told me that he pictured my mind as a frazzled guy with a butterfly net, constantly running around and trying to swoop things up into it. It's true. Sadly these are not butterflies of Profound Big Thoughts. It's more like -- fwoosh -- there goes a Thing I've Got To Do butterfly. Flit flit -- that's a Thing I Forgot To Do butterfly. Oh, and look -- the rare Thing I Read Somewhere Once or Heard on NPR and Partially Remember butterfly. And look who's back! Email I Meant to Send butterfly!
But Mr. Rogers, eternal font of tender wisdom, has ambitions for the crowded butterfly pavilion between my ears. See also: this sweet "Garden of Your Mind" video, remixing everyone's favorite neighbor. "You can grow anything in the garden of your mind," Mr. Rogers says. I mean, auto-tune-sings. A garden is good. A garden is ordered, cared-for, a safe and productive place for growth. Here you can still have the butterflies, but they serve an actual purpose. After all, we're always telling our children to be creative, to think big thoughts, to be kind to themselves and others -- but how many of us grown-ups remember to follow that same advice? As always, Mr. Rogers recalls all that is innocent and good. And now, you can dance to him.
Jim Henson's Surreal Meditation on Time
And I extra-love any efforts to prove this unprovable thing, such as the Victorian precursor to shows like "Ghost Hunters," AKA, spirit photography. These deeply strange, obviously (to our modern, Photoshop-weary eyes) faked photographs of wispy spectres were the spiritualism-obsessed Victorians' proof that ghosts loitered around the living, trying to chat with us. What an appealing, if spooky, idea! How, like the Fox Mulder of yore, I want to believe!
Whether you believe in spirits or not, the Vintage Spirit Photography pool on Flickr is an engaging way to fill your eyeballs for a time. One thing is certain: these images -- a shadowy child posing pertly on a woman's shoulder; a translucent ex-girlfriend frowning over a proposal -- are 100% verifiable proof that we have always wanted to connect to another realm, to believe that there is, in fact, some there out there.
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Catherine Shefski was one such perfectionist-procrastinator. An accomplished pianist, she realized that amidst teaching piano and living her life, she was overlooking her own piano playing. So she decided to start recording one piece of music every week, calling her project Go Play. The results are lovely bits of music (what is it about solo piano that always sounds so haunting, so perfectly happy-sad?) -- and to this (admittedly very untrained) ear, they sound, well, perfect. Shefski chronicles the process on her blog, where she's noted how nervous it makes her to post these songs, which are sometimes, surprise, just not as perfect as she wants. As she writes in one post, "It took a lot of will power this morning not to do 'just one more' recording of this Scarlatti Sonata... My goal was to finally learn this piece, since I’ve loved it for years. It’s not difficult by any means, but I’m never totally satisfied with the opening ornaments ...But there it is. I did it. It’s the best it is right now. And I’m putting it out there. I’m letting it go." The way Shefksi writes about playing piano makes me believe I love playing piano too, even though I've never mastered much beyond Chopsticks on a toy keyboard. But she loves what she does. And now, with this project, she is actually doing it.
You hear that, procrastinator-perfectionists? Put it out there. Let it go. And play.
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Book lovers, like parents, are often circumspect about naming their favorites. After all, you wouldn't want to hurt the feelings of all those other books you've loved. And besides, there are different kinds of favorites. There's the BFF (Book Favorite Forever), the well-worn paperback you've read over and over until it looks like it's been run over by a semi. There's the A-Student Favorite, the thinky book you admire, but would never take into the bathtub with you. And then there's the Forgotten Favorite. This favorite is a bittersweet affair. You love this book. You think everyone in the world should read this book. And yet, you've never met anyone else who's loved this book like you have, or for that matter, anyone who's read it. It's un-buzzed-about; it's un-award-laden; you greet a copy of it at a used book store with an utterance of complete shock. This book is yours and yours alone.
For me, the eerie, dark After Life, by Rhian Ellis, was one of those books. It's a novel you devour, admonishing yourself the whole time to slow down so you can enjoy each lovely sentence, but unable to resist the urge to plunge forward into the story. I couldn't believe this gorgeous book was out of print, particularly now that the supernatural is experiencing a bit of a media moment.
Well, apparently neither could Nancy Pearl, who runs the brilliant Amazon.com publishing imprint Book Lust Rediscoveries. Dedicated to reprinting overlooked gems from 1960-2000, this publishing outfit is reprinting After Life, which is great news for readers (even though it means I'll have to crown some other obscure novel my Forgotten Favorite). Check out the trailer:Plus, the very existence of this publishing imprint inspires a kind of hope. After all, books aren't the only things that often go underappreciated.What if we all performed an act of rediscovery in our own lives? Think about something you accomplished or created or loved ten or twelve years ago -- something as big as a job or as small as a collage you made for an art class -- and take a moment to appreciate it, consider what kind of new life it might have now. An, ahem, After Life, if you will.
Speaking of Rediscovery: Oprah's Book Club 2.0
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