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Of course, they are missing the subtext, which is that for some strange reason grown-ups seem to stop liking their birthdays. How to explain to a child? That you start to put pressure on yourself, or the world does, to do certain things and certain times; that you are supposed to have achieved This and That and The Other by This Age, so that if you haven't you greet your birthday with glum recognition. Oh, and the nearing specter of old age and death. But whatever -- cupcakes!
Blogger Abby Try Again has a lovely solution for again malaise: the birthday list. Of her thirtieth birthday she wrote, "It felt special but not, big and little, insignificant and significant. I'm a believer in recognizing the power of each day—not just focusing on milestones...but I couldn't help but be reflective." So she created a list of 30 Things to do Before Turning 31. I love the idea of making every birthday a kind of a milestone birthday (and by doing so, taking pressure off the Big Ones), and I love the list itself. "Make 3 new friends." "Go roller skating." "Do something completely out of my comfort zone." (Hey, those might just all be the same thing!)
Read (And Make) More:
A Mighty Life List
An "I Want" List
A Bliss List
It makes me wonder -- how many of the people I walk by every day might have some splendid achievement in their past, some great triumph jostling around in their hearts? And, once you've won a gold medal in, say, kayaking, what does that do to your life? Are you forever filled with the glow of achievement, peeking at your gold medal in moments of doubt? My guess is that when you've got that Olympic spirit you go through the rest of your life trying, working, yearning, going for the gold. Which is something we could all do, whether we're amateur divers, intermediate fencers, or hopelessly unathletic spectators.
The Music Olympic Athletes Make
Highlights from the 2010 Winter Olympics
Pop quiz: Was the above said by:
a) A teenager in Des Moines, Iowa?
b) A teenager in rural Wales?
c) Jack Mubiru, a father of the skateboarding scene in Uganda?
If you guessed all of the above, you would be right. The New York Times Magazine has some gorgeous photos of the relatively new skateboarding scene in Uganda. They are images of beautiful decay; they document people having the best time; they also remind us of how alike we all are, in the end. The Uganda Skateboarder's Saloon may not seem to have much in common with some sleek Californian skate park all voluptuous with curvy concrete hills, but the idea behind both places is the same: people need something to do, and in a void, they make their own fun.
Relearning How to Have Fun
Three Ways to Beat Boredom in Your Life
Graphic designer Milton Glaser claims that what he does is "move things around until they look right" and that he's been doing it "for centuries." The creator of the "I [Heart] NY" graphic -- which has become so iconic it's hard to imagine it ever had to be created at all -- shares his thoughts on creativity in this great video, and what he says is relevant to all of us, artists or not: "Anything I've ever discovered has come through the act of work or making things... the act itself is the path to discovery."
To master anything, says Glaser, we need to move toward what we don't know. "Most significant works come out of misunderstanding," he goes on to say. "It is the path to attempt to understand that is what you're looking for. The path by which you arrive at understanding is the whole point of the game, not the arrival." We know this, of course we do, but when faced with a big challenge at work, or any problem that demands creative solutions, it's all too easy to lose the nerve to search, the possibility of risk.
The On Creativity site has more designers, cartoonists, and artists of all kinds sharing their thoughts on creativity -- each says something worth writing down and pinning to the wall near your work station. An installation artist admits to a fear of the blank wall. A renowned designer decrees: "Use what is essentially you." No losing-of-nerve allowed. Go forth, into your future, embracing the possibility of failure. As Glaser puts it, if you're the best at drawing cocker spaniels...try to draw a goldfish. Good advice for all of us cocker-spaniel-drawers.
More on Creativity:
How to Start Any Project
How to Beat Procrastination
How to Get Out of a Life Block
The Fourth of July is all about Big Fun, right? There's the food: meaty, creamy, over-the-top feasts chosen without any regard in the least to swimsuit season. There's the wardrobe: the extravagance of red-white-and-blueness. And of course, the fireworks: huge, pointless, amazing, impossible, glittering bits of fire in the sky. Sure, they're noisy and dangerous. But somehow a sky full of glitter induces the most world-weary spectator to "Ooh" and "Ahh." Somehow the right combination of fireworks and crowd and music always manages to inspire a moment of patriotic weepiness, even if only in the most abstract of ways.
And yet, it must be said: Sometimes it rains or some child gets a marble in their ear and has to be taken to the er—and fireworks are missed all together. And sometimes it's still blazing hot at 9pm. And sometimes you want a dose of Big Fun that's just a little, well, smaller. Quieter. Specialer. So just in case, here's a back-up. Michael Brodner's "Fourth" provides a moody, contemplative fireworks display for your own private sparkly-swelling-of-sweetness. Now visible from the comfort of your own, preferably air-conditioned, viewing station.
A few more links to help you enjoy your holiday weekend—and we'll see you back here Monday, July 9:
Christina Ferrare's Fourth of July Menu
Unexpectedly Delicious Summer Food Combos
It's not exactly the news everyone's talking about, but I have no idea why not: Three astronauts have just landed safely on Earth, after living on the International Space Station for the past year and a half. That's right. While we go about our terrestrial business -- following celebrity gossip, doing the dishes, grumbling about our commutes which totally do not involve spacesuits and plummeting through the atmosphere --these people have been living in outer space.
You must see the whole article on Discovery News, which includes a photo of the Soyuz capsule landing on the steppes of Kazakhstan, buouyed by a parachute, looking exactly like a child's toy. I find it mind-blowing that this goes on and that we aren't all running around in the streets, giving each other high fives. They lived in outer space! And then they came back! In a little floaty capsule thingy that someone engineered, that someone else built! It worked! It works over and over! I mean, I'm sorry, but space is really far away. Space.com has some amazing images of the landing, and the astronauts exiting the space capsule, which can't really be a bathysphere made from trash bags, the way in looks in these photos.
NASA astronaut Don Pettit wrote of his experience living on the space capsule,
"On Earth, the frontiers opened slowly. The technology of sailing was known and advanced for over a thousand years before the Earth was circumnavigated. Such bold acts require the technology, the will, and the audacity to explore. Sometimes you have one, but not the others. I only hope that my small efforts here, perhaps adding one grain of sand to the beach of knowledge, will help enable a generation of people in the future to call space 'home.'"
He kept a must-read blog of his time on the International Space Station, which includes poetry, photographs of Earth from space, and hilarious guide to space-dinner-party-etiquette.
Isn't it thrilling to remember that in these know-it-all times, there are still Big Adventures to be had? Frontiers to explore? People doing completely crazy things like, well, this:
A Message From Outer Space
So You Want to be an Astronaut
Teenager Shoots Her MIT Acceptance Letter Into Space
NASA Astronauts Having Fun on the Moon
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."
The Rainbow Xylophone of Joy
The Most Energizing Dance Video Ever
Here are a few:
"I lack the motivation to exercise..However, there is nothing quite like a big dumb dog to give you the kick in the pants. Mine will let me sit on the couch for about 1/2 a minute in the morning drinking coffee. Then it’s so on. She’s a herding dog so magically I become an unruly sheep."
"Set a time limit (I usually give it one day) and wallow. Drink gin. Eat chocolate and junk food. Watch Lifetime movies in bed. Make it an official party and invite friends, if you want. When I give myself permission to be in a funk, as well as a deadline, I’m usually eager to face tomorrow and my ubiquitous to-do lists."
"When we were training our dog, every time she went to the bathroom outside we would have a “puppy party” – dance around, give her treats, lots of pats, and lots of praise. I think we all need to have “puppy parties” for ourselves, especially for some of the small tasks that normally no one recognizes. Clean the kitchen? Organize the closet? Do the laundry? Every once in awhile, I think those all deserve some ice cream, or chocolate, or snuggle time on the couch with an old movie."
"What I have found motivates me is cheating on to-do lists. If I don’t feel productive, then I make a list of things I need to do (broken down into SMALL parts) & I always include a couple of things that I have already (completely or partially) accomplished. That way, my list is not “to do,” but instead “partially done.” It’s a small mind trick (a la my clock being 5 minutes fast), but it seems to work for me."
What about you? How do you give yourself a "kick in the pants"? Tell us in the comments!
So, you're planning to tour the universe. First you'll want to sit down at your computer. Then you'll want to put on your headphones. For this "quick and dirty" tour, you can pack light. Don't worry, you'll be home before dinner. This is a universe tour on grand scale. But also on a tiny scale. Actually, on every scale. As in, which is bigger, a human or a giant earthworm? The United States or Pluto? DNA or a carbon atom? You're about to find out. When you're ready to depart, just click here.
Kind of puts everything into perspective, doesn't it?
It's Blue O'Clock
The Wind Map
The "Things I'm Afraid to Tell You" meme started with a post on Make Under My Life. Jess Constable writes, "Though I like to think I’m pretty much an open book online, there are things about me that I hide for fear of rejection or judgment. But my emotional, fearful mind freaks when I think about sharing some things in my life." And thus, she launches into a list of the things she's afraid to reveal. Number one: "Yesterday after a tense customer service call, I cried in front of my assistant and new intern. (Not the “ugly cry,” but pretty close.)"
Within a few days, her friend Ez posted her own "Things I'm Afraid to Tell You" to the Creature Comforts blog, about how the idea had gone viral, and shared, despite her professed nerves, her own list. She admits that, despite writing a blog devoted to perfect and pretty things, "The nitty-gritty is that some months have been so tight that I've worried about making my rent payment or even buying groceries...a handful of times it's gotten scary enough that I've had panic attacks daily just trying to think of how I'll make it through."
Since these first posts, the movement has spread to hundreds of blogs. It's really worth the time to peruse some of these posts, if for no other reason than to see how mundane some of these confessions are. We are all so afraid of revealing any imperfections at all, as if the ability to curate the image of a perfect life has created its very own brand of insecurity, a whole new cyber-neurosis. Why should we be afraid to reveal that we are uncrafty? That we care what people think of us? That we love sitcoms?
As Ez puts it, "we are all just a little bit sick of all this perfection." And many of these bloggers add in their TIATTY posts that this dose of honesty has changed the way they want to write -- real names appear for the first time, and pledges to share "real selves" in addition to images of aspirational lives. So if you're beating yourself up over a speck of imperfection, it may help to write your own "Things I'm Afraid to Tell You." Even if (especially if) your "You" is yourself.
Why You Need to Embrace Imperfection
Face Your Inner Perfectionist