Friday, September 30, 2005

My Own Path Home

And gently comes the rain
that washes off the dust
I've gathered
to clear the air again
to show me where to stand.

And gently comes the rain
to make room for the dreams
I fathom
and i shall keep my name
to trickle off the fear to find
the hand that guides me here.

And gently comes the rain
to fill the place where kindness matters
and work is not for gain but for the glory of the day.

And gently comes the rain
while outside sunlight calls to me.

Though winds may push the river, I will carve my own path home.

—me strauss Letting me be

Philosophy and Joe Walsh

Sometimes when I want to write the best thing I can do is still my self and listen. They say don’t go looking for love let it come to you. It could be that ideas work for me that way too. As much as I want to walk around looking for this idea or that great thought, if I put away the need to seek them out and wait patiently, I find the right ones often make their way to me.

In some ways I suppose this is a form of self-hypnosis. At the same time it feels the way they say your whole life passes in front of you. I sit in a chair slowly moving inward as if trying to fall asleep, but sleeping is not my goal—letting my subconscious know I’m not going to get in the way is what I’m trying to do.

Music is playing in my headphones, but only as white noise—the background pleasant. I sit inside the feeling of an idea being born. Soon enough a voice from the far off reaches of my mind whispers, and the words begin to tell me what they want to say. Often it comes from something I’ve been thinking about. Lately, I’ve been reading and thinking about philosophy. . . .

“ . . . Inside the silence is a symphony. Every note there is in every key. The music tells me how it wants to be. I help it write itself down. I hear the way that would sound. It’s like your favorite station, playing your favorite song just like they do on the radio . . . but the radio isn’t on.”Joe Walsh, Got Any Gum?

I sit alone beside this golden lake and still myself with silence. I realize that I am here alone, but I cannot be lonely. Each cell, each bit, each piece of me is full with tiny memories of every person, place, or thing that has touched me since the moment I was born—or maybe even before that.

I’m thinking like a frog hears, deeply from his tiny ears into his lungs.

Suddenly I know that I have magical powers. Any time inside my mind I can refold time and space to take myself back to this inner place. I can meet and be with the colors that comfort me. I can sit among the flowers. I can talk to God and feel the angels present. I can be my innocence. I can know my mother’s laugh again, and feel my father’s strong and gentle hand.

I can hear the music that hasn’t yet been written. I can see the art of masters lost in some abyss. I can know the meaning of my very own existence, while symphonies play for me and mathematics reenacts my dreams. I just need to still myself to listen.

Yet to share this place, I had to let the words tell me what to say.

Who would think that reading philosophy and listening to Joe Walsh could have brought me here tonight?

—me strauss Letting me be

Thursday, September 29, 2005

TWC: Magical Powers


If you were given magical powers,
would you tell anyone about it?

—me strauss Letting me be

That Important Question

In the way that almost 18-year-olds can, we sat in the Grand Tetons, talking earnestly until the night was gone. The night was filled with earnest dreams and honest conversation. A bond forges itself easily in two who link up as stranger openly, when fingers know their hearts were born on the same uncharted planet. Hours earlier, we’d been introduced while still dressed in glory at my brother’s wedding. We’d left tradition for blue jeans, mountain air, and a chance at unraveling our perceptions.

Until that night, no person had ever asked my philosophy of life, nor had I ever thought upon it. Yet the words came out as easily as if they had been written for that moment. They became one of the few truths that never changes.

“I want to be the kind of person that someone is better because he knew me.”

I wish I had the chance to thank the boy who asked me that important question.
—me strauss Letting me be

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Kid Mute about Milk

BREAKING NEWS from the 65th Crayon:

On a journalistic hunch, our colorful reporter sent field correspondent, Dawn S. Cumming, to dig up a quote from the precocious child featured this week in Letting me be's . . . front page exposé, NFTV: The Milk Story.

Field correspondent, Dawn, a sunrise worker with friends in high places, was able to contact the now 20-year-old college junior and obtained this quote shot off between classes he is attending at an undisclosed university in Washington, D.C.

"I can neither confirm nor deny the milk story," he said.

"Obviously, he’s taken to the culture of the Capital City," commented the crayon who has seen many things.

“He seemed sincere as sunlight,” was Dawn’s take on things. “This wasn’t the universal spin of the beltway. His words had the calm and brilliance of a nebula.”

“I like milk,” a small child said as this report went to press.

“We’re staying on top of this gene pool thing,” said The 65th Crayon pointedly. “We think this guy could know more than he's telling. There could be something to this genetics thing.”

—me strauss Letting me be

Scribbles Reports by The 65th Crayon appear Sundays in Letting me be ...
The 65th Crayon is a copyright of ME Strauss. All Rights Reserved.

The Dreaming Universe

In that moment of the night when the innocent are sleeping, and the blue-black sky is tricking people into thinking time has stretched the hours until the morning light, if you still yourself to meet the stars alone with heart wide open, you can see the technicolor dreams of an awe-inspiring universe.
—me strauss Letting me be

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Dear Jada-ESV-cool

Dear Jadacool,

I see from the date here that you haven't posted for two weeks, and from the pictures of a lovely, new house the probable reason why. I write this comment anyway because I know you will get to it eventually. What I have to say is able to wait for your full attention.

Do you remember me? You found my blog sometime around August 12 or 13. You left a comment about whether you could quote "Positive things don't hurt" from my article Preparing for a Negative.

I write today to say I will never forget that request for many reasons. Though it is not usual in the real world for someone to ask whether he or she might quote me, the circumstances in this case were extraordinary indeed.

You see, the day you left your comment, my blog was a mere 21 days old. Comments were rare and even then only from friends or an accidental visitor. My blog was like a newborn baby, doing nothing but fascinating to watch.

Then one morning I discovered you had left this comment for me. I don't even know whether you ever read my reply.

Now it's 46 days since that comment you wrote. Just over 60 days since this blog came to be. Now everyday I wake as part of a community that I care about. I waited two months before starting a blogroll. I wanted to know what my blogroll would mean—what would define it? I didn't want to blogroll indiscriminately. One point became clear and without question—your link would be under the heading "The Letting me be . . . Community," because you are its first member. Others may come and fade away, but you will be remembered.

Jadacool, you were the first person to leave behind a kind word, the first international visitor, and you asked to quote me. That is a whole lot of firsts for one person. I hope you don't mind that in my thoughts I have changed your name and knighted you. To me you are now and will always be:

My friend, Sir Jada EVER SO VERY Cool, the First.


ME-Liz Strauss, at Letting me be . . .

—me strauss Letting me be

NFTV: The Milk Story

I have a secret name for our family. I think we are a sitcom. I calls us “Nerd Family on TV.” We’re the kind of people that other people call “characters.” So it fits. Sometimes I swear I hear canned laughter coming from the closets. I need to document some of this soon. If I don’t let people know what we do, in a couple of years they’ll be calling it Alzheimer’s and trying to take us away. Quite frankly I’d go for that but we have a kid in college. We can’t afford it.

The pilot episode of Nerd Family on TV has to be what I call “The Milk Story.”

The precocious one was six months past turning three, well into reading and driving us crazy by spelling instead of talking. He’d been doing this since he was two, so our spelling skills had quite improved. We figured we didn’t need to practice much longer, but he saw things differently.

“S-T-O-P What’s that spell?” he would say, while I was driving.

“You already know.”

“What’s that spell?”

“You already know.”

“What’s that spell?”


“How do you spell already?”

I’d come home to find LIQUOR and PRESCRIPTIONS written in magnetic letters again and know that they’d been to the store.

Lately my child had learned to outsmart me. That day I drove straight from home through a forest preserve, purposefully taking a route without signs for him to see. He was blissfully quite for almost ten minutes. Then he threw a new one at me.

“E-E-F-F-O-C. What’s that spell, Mom?” If only you heard how sweetly he asked.

Slightly surprised, I said, “Honey, I’m afraid, it doesn’t spell anything.”

“It’s coffee backwards,” he said unemotionally.

Where did that come from? Remember he was only six months past three.

Later that night or some night about then, his father the one who was about . . . forty-three sat us down to a dinner he had invested a great deal of himself in preparing. It was a spectacular chicken Napaleon feast. It took hours of preparation, and there was much fanfare to it. His anticipation made me a little uneasy. After all, it is Nerd Family on TV.

One thing about three-year-olds is that today they’ll eat any thing. Tomorrow you can offer the very same thing, and they won’t go anywhere near it. Our son had a signal for when he was in the latter mood. He would fill up on milk and ignore his food. That’s exactly what he did to his dad’s highly-prepared meal. The young man of three, drank his milk. Looked at his plate. Looked at his father and with angelic politeness said,

“May I have more milk, please?”

“I think you need to eat first,” his father replied.

Our son politely shifted his position, turning his back to his father his face to me, ignoring his food and his father too. He said, “Mom how do you spell refrigerator? . . . chandelier? . . . calculator? . . . spoon?

I had no problem with the child not eating. Having grown up around kids and babysitting, I knew that there would be no starvation or malnutrition.

My husband is an only child. He was the chef. He is a man. This was not about finishing dinner. This was two boys in a power struggle. With each word that my son asked me to spell, his father’s face got redder, and redder, and redder, until my husband leaned forward and looked our child in the eye.

“Son,” he said slow and controlled, “How do you spell EAT?”

Keeping eye contact, our son’s sweet voice said, “M--I--L--K.”

I had to go into the hall, to laugh where they couldn’t see me.

Then I had an overwhelming thought.

If this is three, what is sixteen?

—me strauss Letting me be

Monday, September 26, 2005

It’s Not at All about ME

I got an email today from my brother. His son, my nephew, is in Youth Ministry. My nephew, his sister, and his mother have been in Louisiana since the day after Hurricane Katrina. They arrived home yesterday.

The text of the aforementioned email was my sister-in-law’s reflections as posted at my nephew’s blog. Her writing is so . . ., so . . . (you find the word) that I asked permission to share it with you. With permission I edited the text and added an earlier excerpt. I handled the words carefully.

Reflections from Louisiana

It is all about me.

That is a joke in our family. . . . It's all about me. . . .

Any new experience has to be filtered through a person’s past—that person's world view. I know intellectually that through history groups of people have lost everything, but I’ve never seen it up close. So many things were learned, not earth-shattering discoveries, hard won realities—new to me, earth-shattering to my understanding of the world. Anything I share might sound common in the big picture, but I just experienced it. It is extraordinary to me.

Remember. . . it is all about me.

Like a trip over many time zones, this trip has crossed many boundaries. I have emotional jet lag. It’s pulling at my heart. I am a bit teary. I offer disorganized thoughts. . . .

We arrived at a shelter outside of New Orleans. This is only one small piece of this disaster.

Her son wrote:

I am in Houma, LA. Houma is southwest of New Orleans. When you tell people from LA you are going down to Houma they say, "They are really Cajuns down there." It is the only place I have visited in the US, where after 3 days I could still not understand the locals, because they still speak Cajun French. This area is the home of the kindest, gentlest people I have ever met. If you are lucky you will get them to cook and sing for you.

She continues:

A few days after the shelter in Houma opened, the folks with Adore Ministry saw a need to get evacuees out of the shelter to family or friends in other areas. They formed Starfish Operation, based on the story of the child throwing one starfish at a time back into the ocean, despite the fact there are thousands of starfish on the beach. Through private donations, Adore Ministry sent well over 800 people on to family and friends, by arranging bus tickets, airline tickets, Angel Wings flights, entire buses, gas money and rides. The help continues. In the enormity of this disaster, it still comes down to helping one person, one starfish back into the sea.

We observed and shared the despair of losing the everyday stuff of life—clean underwear, your toothbrush— and the despair of less obvious loss: your neighborhood and your best friend across the street, your favorite grocer, your church, your coffee ladies/men, your photos of your children as babies and your deceased parents, the necklace your grandmother gave you, your doctor, that house you spent a lifetime making a home, control over what food you eat, the rooms where you celebrated your family's milestones, the security you feel when you tuck in the kids . . .

The despair of sitting with a woman who has called family members, asking for shelter and being turned down.

The despair of a woman with 5 children with nowhere to go to.

The despair of being hugged so tightly by a woman who says over and over how scared she is, as she leaves the state with an adult son and 5 grandkids, leaving behind all she has ever known and part of her family.

We also witnessed tremendous generosity, resilience and hope.

This is my first experience in cajun' country. I am ready to move here. The people are generous, polite and loving, despite words that were a bit difficult to understand. The shelter volunteers were local people. Some had 17 displaced family and friends staying with them. Many other volunteers were displaced from New Orleans, staying in the area, just waiting to hear if homes or jobs still existed. They were there everyday.

They were thankful to be alive.

We saw the generosity of people from all over the country. Donations pored in: boxes of athletic gear and shoes from the U of N, phone cards, toys, formula, diapers, new underwear and a box of clothes sent by a 9 year old boy from Bronx, NY.

The hope of an elderly gentleman who was one of a handful to survive being left in a nursing home.

The resilience a of baby who started to eat after two days on a roof with his dad and a week in the shelter.

The joy of volunteers as we found new shoes for 2 men who had walked 62 miles from New Orleans.

It came down to community again and again. Still, I struggle with the fact that it is just a hug given, or a pair of shoes . . . such a small gesture given the obstacles the people face. I will continue to pray that people keep helping them on their journey.

And since it’s all about me . . . remember?

I will filter every new experience through what I’ve have been blessed to witness. I hope it will make me a changed and—or as the Jesuits say ruined—person.

via BrotherBlue


They’re pretty special, my family.
—me strauss Letting me be

Real-Life Genetics

My son is a product of his gene pool. I know that this is true. I look at my husband and at myself, and I see our son. I know exactly where each of his traits came from. Sweet and sour, generous and dour, every one shows up in his genes. Sure his nurture has something to do with it. I’ll be the first to give him credit for all he’s done with what he has. He’s a fabulous kid.

Still, I want to go to every high school. I want to give a lecture called “Real-Life Genetics . . . what they forgot to teach me in school.”

I had all of the stuff about Punnet squares. I know plenty about dominant and recessive genes. I can recite the basics of Mendel's experiments with peas. But nobody told me how the gene pool might apply to the life I was actually going to lead. It was nice to know that if I wanted my child to have blue eyes, I just needed a man with blue eyes like my own. Beyond that the rest was sort of filed under graduate level mysteries and packed up in a sentence that my mother often repeated, “I hope you have one just like you.” If only I had known.

You see that’s what genetics is about, getting one just like you—like combining the two of you together. But no one ever says that out loud.

When I had the occasional thought about marriage, genetics was far from my mind’s conversation. I knew about kids and child development. What else could possibly be in question? If I found a guy I could believe in, we’d build a history together. It would be a life that leaned toward laughter.

A thinker and a rebel, I took my time about it. A boring institution was the last thing that I wanted.

I met a guy who could keep up with me. It was a near-perfect match—a crazy, maverick engineer and a rebel, kids’ book publisher. Not a chance for boredom there. We discussed the thixotropicity of ketchup as I plopped some on my steak. He made it clear that a ruler sits on a throne, that a scale is used to measure things. I set him straight that in Kindergarten, science is only 99% true.

Then came the day our son was born, and the words gene pool finally had meaning. The Punnet squares worked out like this. Anal retentive engineer plus abstract-random creative writer equals an anal-retentive creative artist child who draws fabulous pictures in alphabetical order.

I cherish my husband of 23 years, but I must say for the record . . . had someone explained genetics properly, I might have picked a boring guy.

Don’t you think my son deserved half a chance?

—me strauss Letting me be
World Builders: Punnet Squares E Viau CSULA

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Melly Doesn’t Do Poetry

Our friend, Melly, says
she doesn’t do poetry.

She finds the words
combine into a mystery
that takes deep thinking.
But she counts many
poets as her friends.

Our friend, Melly,
writes inspired prose.
Prose is something Melly knows.
See it there?
You can’t help but hear
life beating in the words she chose.

Her words are like
old friends to me.
Her voice is warm with honesty.
Sincerity, and clarity, and
Belief ring through, with optimism
beginning to the end.

Her prose reads
like soft poetry
inside prosaic prisms
to her poet friends.

Our friend, Melly, says
she doesn’t do poetry.
That’s okay with me
because she has the power

to inspire a poem from a friend.

To read Melly’s Poetry Post click here.
—me strauss Letting me be

Scribbles: Pink Alien Bunny a HOAX

This Just In from The 65th Crayon:

“Aliens did NOT make the Gigantic Pink Bunny in the Italian mountains. Nor is it a gift from the gods,” proclaimed our valiant reporter, The 65th Crayon, from the scene of great controversy taking place earlier this week.

“I knew the minute I saw it. This is the work of human hands,” said The 65th Crayon, late Saturday afternoon during a satellite call. “But I had to get the facts before I could report it. This is more serious than crop circles,” he went on. “To construct this bunny required the work of dozens of grannies and hundreds of skeins of pink wooly yarn.”

The humans taking credit for the enormous stuffed creature are an artist-design group called Gelatin. The cotton-candy-colored bunny of their design now rests in the hills above the Village of Artesina, Piemonte, Italy. Gelatin is four artists who met at summercamp then later formed a company so that they could continue working and playing together. Gelatin has been exhibiting internationally since 1993.

“That bunny’s like Gulliver,” said one precocious little girl, who called herself Lillie Putian.

“I can see! I can see!” shouted a college man, who had been born with sight and never lost it.

The gigantic rabbit is 200 feet long on a hill that is 5,000 feet high. It is expected to stay there for 20 years—until 2025 at least.

“People are hugging this monstrosity,” sighed our sleuth, losing some of his bright color. “They haven’t seen the bunny’s face—the 30,000 foot view. He looks like he fell from the sky and died,” the reporter moaned. “Has anyone thought how that thing will smell in a week or two?”

“Does it take a crayon to draw them the big picture?” asked The 65th Crayon shaking his head.

—me strauss Letting me be
Gelatin and The Hesse/The Rabbit Press Release

The Cellar Site Pictures and Comments

Scribbles: Dietician Invents Chocolate Chip Cookies

Scribbles: An Interview with Mr. Potato Head

Scribbles: Now THAT’S a Yo-Yo!

Scribbles: Snow White Never Kissed

Scribbles: PBJ Sandwiches

Scribbles Reports by The 65th Crayon appear Sundays in Letting me be ...
The 65th Crayon is a copyright of ME Strauss. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Drafting for Penguin Writers

Saturday Writer: Drafting
Drafting is the time when writers use the notes they’ve gathered and plans they’ve made to write out preliminary versions of a cohesive whole.

Knowing humans never suffer from misconceptions, I thought it best to discuss the writing class I teach for penguins, who have trouble understanding that drafting is only the beginning.

Penguins are quite good writers really, once they tackle how to set the paper and to hold the pencil steady. They do really well at prewriting and organizing, but they think that drafting is the end all of writing. To put it bluntly, penguins believe is that drafting IS writing. Once they get the words on paper, they think the writing is done.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Drafting is the test shot, the first attempt, the chance to see if the writing plan will work. Experienced writers start the drafting stage prepared to change, knowing they face some work. Penguin writers need help in changing perspective on drafting to understand its purpose.

I encourage penguins to see a draft as something they can work with. I suggest they walk away when it is done and wait to read it later. I encourage them to take a penguin walk around the web to look for writers who think that drafting is writing. Soon enough penguins notice sentences that don’t read as well as they might. They start seeing -ings that are spelled -in. They realize that sometimes whole merds are wixed up.

Drafting is about expressing new ideas, but in the bliss, or sometimes pain, of getting those ideas to paper a penguin’s first choice might not best express the meaning.

At the other extreme some penguins try to do too much when they are drafting. They edit as they write their draft, investing hours on the first paragraph. We talk about how it’s best to build an igloo by getting the big blocks together first, and saving the rougher seams for later.

The purpose for drafting that every penguin needs to know is that it is to get ideas into a whole. Drafting determines what introduces and expresses the message, what information to keep and not keep. In the next step, revising, the penguins can challenge the draft to make sure that the message is clear and that it reads well and logically.

We already knew that. That’s why I chose penguins to teach.
—me strauss Letting me be

I Stayed Awake Until 3:47

I’d been writing all day, untangling Kindergarten “word-laces.” It had been like being inside the word boxes within which I’d been writing. Unwriting is a better description. I’d been leveling down text, turning somewhat musical prose into a four-note learning-to-read practice story.

Writing for new readers is labor intensive, filled with worrying over digraphs and dipthongs. Much time is spent checking whether kids have encountered r-controlled vowels or the alternate meaning of loaf. No glamour is waiting between these words. No subtext is between the lines. The pictures carry the story’s main load, but the words are what takes the most time. In fact for all of the thought that goes into the words, it’s sad in the end that they seem more like floor tile than the art that they are.

Like building a house, it’s purposeful work. Kids need books they can read from beginning to end—to feel the success of finding meaning. Even if grown-ups think it’s stilted and stiff, there’s nothing like the “I did it myself” feeling. So I go over, and over, and over each word, making sure it works for a child who’s beginning. The challenge must be Goldilocks “just right,’ not too easy or the book would be boring, not too hard or one more kid turned off to reading. I don’t want any kids not reading.

It was only 8 pages I finished today. At max it was 200 words. But every word was weighed one thousand ways—looked at, and spoken, and heard. I probably walked two miles while I wrote it and listened to four 80-minute CDs. But when I was done, I was sure a new reader could read it. I also knew a parent could hear it repeated endlessly.

I was exhausted and at least 10 years older when I finished that story.
Hungry for a grown-up writing, I went hunting for a sentence challenge. I accomplished that task at 3:21. Though I wanted to stretch my mind outward, my brain made it clear it was done. So I posted my intentions of writing, but I decided to take a nap first.

I stayed awake until 3:47.
I caught the 3:48 to dreamland.
—me strauss Letting me be

Friday, September 23, 2005

Eerie Sentence Challenge 1 Begins

I was thinking I needed a creative challenge. I like it when an idea is thrown at me, and I have to write about it. That’s the way my writing life has been for so long that I’ve grown accustomed to it. I feel kind of lonely without it. So I figured out a way to construct a reasonable facsimile.

I would set up a sentence challenge. I would choose a novel— not a writing book or a book about thinking—and find a sentence. I’d take that sentence out of context and see what I could make of it.

In seconds, I was out of my chair and at the bookshelf looking for a likely suspect. I grabbed “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” by Mark Haddon. I figured that would offer a sentence of the right degree. I opened the book randomly, and the following amazing sentence was staring up at me.

I can’t write the sentence.

I can’t write the sentence, because . . . when I turned over the book to make sure I got the title right, I lost my place and lost the sentence. It doesn’t say much for my memory. I need to start getting more sleep.

So I had to go fishing in the book to find a new sentence. But the book was so good I started reading. . . . I have an addiction to reading, especially reading books that are fresh and filled with curious and interesting things.

Finally, I took hold of myself. With a deep breath and with all of my faculties screaming the word STOP. I closed the book. Then I randomly opened book again. I chose the first sentence at the top of a left hand-page. If you have the book, you can check it. It’s the first sentence of Chapter 179.

I hated this “do over,” but I had no option. I took a moment and gave myself a dispensation. The following sentence was what I found.

I stayed awake until 3:47.

Now that’s eerie. You see I had also just been planning a nap around 4:00. It began to feel a lot like an omen. The time was 3:21, by the time I posted this it would be 3:37.

I’d better go for now. . . then the challenge will begin.

—me strauss Letting me be

Glittering Flower Commerati

Okay so it’s not the Paparazzi—they’re not so hot anyway.

Go read GoneAway’s fabulous post 171, in which he replays comments of past discussions. The reading is compelling and entertaining. Even more what a tribute it is to the insights that sit under each post. Now, granted Gone’s posts and discussions are legendary, but we’ve had a few glittering conversations of our own.

Letting me be . . . is happy to add our version to Garnet's 90 great comments.

I hoped when I made a blog where people could let themselves be that they might actually do that. Proof of the pudding came today in a comment from Blogzilla on my post called The Flower. She quotes me and then turns the thought right back to me. . . . I have to listen when smart people talk.

'Zilla said...
"The flower spends no time thinking about being a flower."

Who presumes what a flower thinks about, or does not think about?

Perhaps one of the many beauties of a flower is that, if it dares to speak of what humans may be thinking, we cannot hear it.

The other comments I want to feature are the conversation on Social Conformity, a post about the Asch test of how groups react to the conflict of having choose between an obvious right answer or the answer that the group has said is correct. So many people had so many great things to say, take a look.

Mark Cross said...
As I mentioned in a comment on my site today. We learn this behavior in grade school and carry it into our adult lives. I call it pack mentality but social conformity works too.

ME Strauss said...
I think we grown-ups have it worse than the kids.

Mark Cross said...
Very much so. You see it all around you. At work, in social gathers, inter-personal relationships and natural disasters.

garnet said...
People must think there's some trick, a double meaning to the test, or the question.Yes, pack mentality snags us daily. I am pretty contrarian in my choices: almost no TV, few magazines, less consumerist, less agressive about goals, into the present. But I often feel palpable social exclusion by the majority. As I mature, and through blogging, I've started to find others who orbit as far out as me.

ME Strauss said...
Garnet,It's good to realize as we get older that the universe has many who aren't like the rest--sort of a minority majority. :) I've found that people who write tend to be that way by nature.

Jennifer said...
When I was younger, I would have rather died than stand out from the group. Now that I am older, I find myself wanting to be unique and different from everyone else.Yet if a group chose an obviously wrong answer, I would start to doubt myself. I would think the group saw something I was missing. I think it boils down to self-confidence more than conformity. But being only one person, I am not a representative sample of the population.

Lee Carlon said...
It is interesting, and I think it would be people with a little more confidence in themselves that give the answer they believe is correct. I'm fairly used to going a different way to most people, not so much because I want to stand out, but because I know what I want/think and rarely change that just to conform with other people.Good post Liz.

Ned said...
I am used to never having the same answer or opinion as anyone, let alone the group. I fear it may just be the fact that I am contrary rather than any individualism that I am exhibiting... sigh.It does seem to hold true that people are more comfortable with their opinions if others will agree and support them. It is part of human nature to want to be an individual, but not part of our nature to want to feel isolated.I suppose it is all a delicate dance between a need to be different and a need to be accepted.

rhein said...
"the way the mind works..."didn't someone say there is 3 frontiers left to humanity- the depths of the sea, the depths of space, and the depths of the human mind?

ME Strauss said...
Rhein,You are right about those three frontiers. Though with some of us, I suspect we might qualify for individual numbers on own. You know, frontier numbers 4, 5, 6, etc.

melly said...
When I was a teenager and a youth group guide I used to start my session on Nazi Germany with this same test. I'd ask one of the kids to leave, explain the test to the group, and then call the kid back inside the room. I did that because one of the most prevalent questions when talking to kids about what happened back then is - but how come no one said anything or stood up?Every once in a while a kid surprised me and stood his/her ground. You could never tell who these non-conforming kids would be in advance. Sometimes the popular ones, sometimes the nerdy/smart ones, and sometimes the annoying ones.It remained a mystery.

And finally The 65th Crayon ends with this comment:
You are all gliterriing, nonconformist commerati. I'm proud to be a crayon in this community. You're all out of the box, and I'm proud to know ya. If the world can keep letting us be, then I'm sure we'll all keep on commenting about it.

It seems wrong to keep great insights like these undercover.
. . . I'm thinking of featuring great comments once a week on this blog.

—me strauss Letting me be

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Flower

I plant seeds. I watch a flower grow.
I do not hear self-actualizing questions.

What kind of flower am I?
What kind of flower should I be?
How do I compare to other flowers?
How might I meet my flowery

The flower spends no time
thinking about being a flower.
It just lives a life of flowerness,
and we automatically agree.

There is so much I can learn from a flower.
—me strauss Letting me be

The Turkey in the Trunk

If ever you come with me to visit my cousins, Kate and Larry, within the first half hour of Larry’s appearance, you’ll hear the story of the turkey in the trunk. I know this because it has happened every time since the infamous turkey event took place over 30 years ago.

Larry’s first remark is something like, “What’s for dinner dear? Oh I know. She has a turkey in the car. No she’s driving a little car now. It’d have to be a Cornish hen.”

At about this point from behind her grin, Kate, his wife would graciously intervene, not wanting you to be the only one not part of what has become a legend in the family. She relates the tale of the turkey in the trunk, much like the tribal priestess/comedienne teaches about those who’ve gone before. The remarkable part is that she retells the story accurately and she wasn’t even there.

The only one who lived the story was me.

The saga begins on the day I was born. Well only for a second that is. You need to know that I was born smell-blind. That’s what they call it when you can’t smell anything. This factoid plays a role in the course of events.

Flash forward to my third year of teaching. It was the last Wednesday of November, a cold, gray day, the kind all November days in Chicago seem to be. It looked like it might snow on this day before Thanksgiving, and I was looking forward to being home before the weather decided to dump snow on the prairie. I’d just sent my 36 first graders to their parents and was looking forward to a long weekend blissfully first-grader-free, when the principal called the teachers into the lounge. She gave a small holiday speech and passed out gifts from the school board—14 pound frozen turkeys—one apiece.

This was the first time I had a turkey of my own. I wondered what I should do with it. On one hand I was confused, on the other I was pleased. The kid in me wanted to name it. But I didn’t have time to contemplate turkeys on the busiest travel day in the U.S. I was set to drive straight to my parent’s house after school. So I packed the turkey just past my suitcase in the spare tire in the trunk of my car. I felt pleased with myself at finding a place where the shape of the bird was a perfect fit.

The drive home took about two hours. It was me, music, and the empty Illinois cornfields. My thoughts were busy with the day to come, seeing my brother would convince everyone to cause diversions while he ate my lunch for me, and how my cousin Joe and I would sneak down to the basement when we were “peopled out” to get space and catch up on things.

I arrived. I parked in the driveway. I grabbed my bag, went into the house eager to reclaim my past. Once inside I went looking to see what had changed since I’d been there on my last visit. I had not a thought for that frozen bird, not on Wednesday, or Thursday, or even on my way back to the big city. The poor bird was totally forgotten—totally as in wiped clean from my memory. Sad, but understandable I guess. Who thinks of turkey after four days of eating turkey leftovers from a Thanksgiving feast?

My lapse of memory wasn’t a problem until there came the spring thaw. Then one-by-one, friends who rode in my car started sniffing the air and making strange faces. Conversations like this one began occurring.

“Would you like the heat on?” I might ask.

“Ah, no. There’s a smell in your car,” Susie Browne said. “I can’t quite place it. It’s a little unpleasant. Let’s open the windows instead.”

We would look all over the front seat and back, but there was nothing that seemed to be causing that smell.

It became the “Great Smell Mystery,” especially to this smell-blind person who had no idea of what, or how bad, it could be. These conversations and on the spot checks went on for a couple of weeks. Then one night around 3a.m. I awoke and said, “Oh my god! I don’t think I ever moved the damn turkey.”

Sure enough the turkey was still in the trunk of the car at the end of March. Do the math. It was now some four months since I’d placed it there. It was no longer a frozen bird, more like a dripping plastic back of mush. The bag dripped from the trunk to the dumpster. Then I did some unexpected special task force spring cleaning.
This discovery and the resulting cleanup occurred the week before Easter—another long weekend spent in my hometown with my family. That’s when I told the story to my cousins, Kate and Larry. The same story that Kate would tell you.

Larry would wait until Kate ended the story. Then he would look at me and say, “Forgetting about the bird in the trunk wasn’t stupid. What was stupid was telling us about it.” It’s gotten to the point where sometimes I say it with him. Then we can get on with normal conversation. That story is a long way of saying, “Hello, how’ve you been?” It’s been raised to the level of folk lore and oral history.

My family has a deep sense of tradition.
—me strauss Letting me be

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


I’ve been thinking about this for years,
and I find these two statements to be true.

I can like someone I do not respect.

I cannot respect someone I do not like.

Many people find the opposite to be true.

—me strauss Letting me be

Transition Relief

I have trouble making transitions. I have to work up to every one. I have to talk myself into the shower, and I have to talk myself out again.

I don’t want to go to bed at night. I’m a kid who’s sure I’ll miss something neat. I tell my husband I need fair warning before he goes to bed—time so that I can transition. He tells me, “Honey, stay up instead.” If I don’t go when he does, I’ll stay up until sunrise, stuck in a loop like a computer glitching. How do I explain that he is my transition insurance? He thinks I'm just being a pain.

I have to make friends with my food before I eat. I just can’t dig in abruptly. I have to stare at a book before I read it, even if I’m on page 413. I have trouble making transitions.

I don’t like getting on an airplane. I don’t like getting off. But I really like 14-hour flights to Australia, where I can be anyone I want. When time comes to get off and I am met by a friend, I start acting like I quite don’t know who I am. After being so comfortable up in the air, I need time to get myself grounded again. I sort of act silly and nervous, even with family and longtime friends. Lucky for me, most people say they don’t notice that I’m acting weirdly. From the inside it feels like it’s screaming off me.

I’m thinking about changing the pencils I use to write in my new leather journal. It’s going to take me some time I can see. Writers take pencils very seriously. I won’t have a problem choosing the pencils. I make decisions quite efficiently. In fact, I purchased the pencils last week. They’re sharpened and sitting right here.

The time it will take is what I invest in observing each pencil individually. I have trouble making transitions.

Maybe this time it will happen when I’m not looking.

What a relief that would be.
—me strauss Letting me be

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

My Personal Mentor

I was going on a business trip to Las Vegas the next day. I told my son about it the night before, while I was putting him to bed. He listened thoughtfully, asking questions about where I would stay and what I would do while I was there. I vowed to bring him a colorful postcard for the collection he had.

We did our usual “tuck-me-in” rituals. There were the extra kisses and the getting the blankets arranged just so. Finally it was time for me to settle my son to bed. I reached for the lights.

I said, “Sweet dreams.”

“Mom,” he said.

“Yes, honey.”

“There are mountains in Nevada. Aren’t there?” said my precocious son.

“That’s right. There are.”

“Don’t look this way and walk that way.”

I stopped for a second. Then I said, “I’ll be sure not to.”

I still don’t know whether he thought I was going to walk into the mountain or over the cliff.

He was only four years old, but he was already my mentor.
—me strauss Letting me be

Poetry in the Night

When good night was over
and his eyes let go the light
she sat breathing in his being
and the wonder of the sight.

She wrote poetry in the night,
and he did not
for he was sleeping.

And in his head, one thousand lights
played a music barely heard.

As she wrote poetry in the dark,
he slept the sleep of angel flight,
soft and gentle, kind and right,
the heartfelt hues of morning light.

Every sigh was deeply felt
within her very being
for she was seeing him complete
as she wrote poetry in the night.

And in his head, one thousand lights
played a music barely heard,
but heard
tucked and sleeping there between the very words
of the poetry that she wrote sitting by his side.

She wrote poetry in the night.

—me strauss Letting me be

Monday, September 19, 2005

90 Glittering Comments

The Glittering Muse, known around here as Garnet, has gotten on board with Darren's Blog Crush Idea and Duncan's 100 Blogs in 100 Days to start the 90 Great Comments Contest. He will be featuring a great comment from a great blog on his own blog for each of the next 9o days.

The thoughtful man was kind enough to start with me. I put one of his comments here to show he’s no comment piker either. I pulled this comment from our discussion on Social Conformity.

Garnet said...
Some thoughts after reading all these rich comments. Conformity can also be good, a positive influence. It can break people out of weak habits by pressuring them to straighten up.

And non-conformists, outsiders, may grow stronger by that exclusion, may develop greater compassion through the pain and loneliness. They are more willing to tell the truth as they see it.

In some ancient societies, the outsiders were seen as shamans, like the idiot savant, or the berdashe. Some societies reap the benefits and some do not. This difference could be seen as a barometer of a society's health.

I value the opinion that sees all sides of the question.

—me strauss Letting me be

My Moon to Neverland

The moon is wearing a halo tonight. The moon’s so large, so round, so bright. It has to be my backyard moon, the one that lit the way to Neverland. I swear this moon came from the sky when I was a kid—a big moon, because the sky’s so big. Have you thought how big the sky is? It’s even bigger to a kid. It’s the place where dreams begin.

My arms firmly on my windowsill. My eyes still and staring up at the moon. My heart would lift and then my mind, and I’d be off like the Darling kids to places yet uncharted. Up into the blue black night with stars around like Christmas lights, and nothing cold, no fear of flying with moonlight there to guide me. My moon took me to Neverland, a place of magic, a place where stories always ended right. Adventures happened endlessly, but stopped the second that you wanted.

My Neverland was filled with magic girls and boys like Peter Pan. But there was no Wendy or jealous Tinkerbell to be seen. Everyone was busy taming lions, tightrope walking, and living out daring dreams. We had no time for pouting fairies or too much mothering.

I found my Neverland bigger than the one the story tells of. It wasn’t just for children. It had lots of favored grown-ups. King Arthur had a castle there. He and Merlin cheered brave Queen Guinevere when she rode off with the Knights. Snow White came by with the Dwarfs to retell her life story, and on other nights Einstein came to talk about his theories. On nights I needed action, I took down dragons with Merlin’s magic sword. On quieter nights, Cinderella and the Prince would dance in all their glory.

Everyone I love was there in my Neverland inside all the magic that I ever knew. I could go there any time I looked up at the moon. I had good reason to know the moon could do this magic thing.

My father hung my backyard moon especially for me.
—me strauss Letting me be

Sunday, September 18, 2005

25 wds: Living in the Moment

25 Words or Less

Living in the moment
is a good thing . . .

until I
forget what I just read,
or don’t hear what I said

Then I am asleep.

—me strauss Letting me be

Scribbles: Dietician Invents Chocolate Chip Cookies

This Just In from The 65th Crayon:

“How do you tell Americans that chocolate chip cookies, one of their favorite comfort foods was invented by a dietician?” The 65th Crayon asked in the news room when he was pulling together this report. “Good nutrition and comfort food have always been diametric opposites in American cuisine,” our paper-cloaked reporter waxed eloquently. “But that’s the story. I have to go with it.”

In the 1930s Ruth Wakefield retired from her work as a dietician. She and her husband bought the Toll House Inn not far from Bedford in Massachusetts. As a dietician, it was natural she would get involved in preparing food for her guests. The irony is that she gained a following for her dessert recipes. People from all over New England came to the Inn to taste her incredible fare. One favored treat was Butter Drop Do Cookies, a recipe from colonial days that Ruth had updated. The recipe called for a bar of bittersweet baker’s chocolate to melt completely into the chocolate cookies. One day as Ruth was preparing the popular dessert, she found herself without the essential ingredient.

“A true inventor,” our reporter said, “she solved the problem with creativity. She grabbed a bar of semi-sweet chocolate she had purchased for eating. Breaking it into bits, she dropped it into the mix, expecting it to melt as the baker’s chocolate did,” The 65th Crayon continued. “But the chocolate kept its shape and became creamy.”

Word spread of the new concoction over at the Toll House Inn, and Ruth Wakefield became a cookie celebrity. Newspapers throughout New England came out to report on her and her new chocolate creation. Soon after, Ruth was meeting with the makers of that chocolate bar and that’s the how the Nestle’s Toll House cookie recipe came to be. It was a few years later that Nestle introduced chips. Until then bakers had to break up a chocolate bar just as Ruth did. A shrewd negotiator as well as an inventor, Ruth agreed to share her recipe and as part of the deal Nestle agreed to provide Ruth with free chocolate for the rest of her life.

“I go through toll booths everyday on the way to work,” said one cranky, old man. “I never get cookies. Besides weren't the toll booths supposed to go away when the road were paid for? Keep the darn cookies, and make the roads free!”

“I was there that day,” said a seven-year-old from Michigan City, Indiana, who was obviously dreaming. “I have Accept Cookies set on my browser and a glass of milk by my screen, but I’ve never gotten any cookies sent to me.”

“Ruth’s a person who could have been a crayon,” said our colorful reporter. “She turned a problem into a lifetime of chocolate. You have to respect a mind like that.”

Scribbles Reports by The 65th Crayon appear Sundays in Letting me be ... The 65th Crayon is a copyright of ME Strauss. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Organizing by Genre

Saturday Writer: Prewriting Part II

We speak in a variety of genres throughout the day. We relate a personal narrative. We show someone how-to do something. We try to persuade a friend to join us for a meal and a concert. There is little that we communicate in writing that we don’t already do verbally. The difference is that in writing, our audience usually can’t stop us to ask questions if they don’t understand what we’re saying. So being organized about how we present information becomes a critical responsibility.

The second part of prewriting is making a writing plan. How the work is organized and the organizational tools a writer uses is a factor of two things: the genre—kind of writing, the purpose for writing—and the preference of the writer. During this part of the process most writers are already thinking about how the piece will start and where it will go. A powerful lead and a strong conclusion often guide the planning stage.

Personally, I need to have some idea of those two points to determine how to order the material in between. I never actually try to write the lead or the conclusion then—I want to keep them fresh and relevant—but I do note what ideas I have. When I’m writing, ideas are slippery. I want them close by when I need them.

Whether your process already includes a technique below, sticks with the traditional outline, or uses a technique of your own invention. You might might try one of these ideas when working in a genre that’s new or uncomfortable to you.

Personal Narratives and narratives are always in chrononlogical order, though flashbacks in longer narratives are popular. If the narrative is complicated or someone else’s story, drawing a timeline might help you keep the facts in order.

How-to articles need to be done in sequential order—the order the project will take. If you can writer your article as a numbered list. If you need to write in paragraph form, use the numbered list as the sub-heads for your article. Making the list before you start writing can help ensure that you’ve not left out critical information. Check the list, like Santa Claus, to determine whether you need other support such as sidebars or diagrams to help out the reader. At the end tell readers the benefits of following your directions—how much nicer a life they will now lead.

Descriptions can be organized by sensory details, that is by literally describing by one sense at a time. I find that works better for gathering imformation than sharing it. Most descriptions follow spatial organization such as far-to-near, top-to-bottom, or left- to right to help readers get a vivid picture of the scene in their minds.

Persuasive writing introduces the position statement, presents reasons to support it, then concludes by restating the position and calling the audience to act to show their agreement.

Exposititory writing, which includes journalism, informational essays, and self-help, is organized in so many ways. Use the journalistic questions who, what when where, why, and how whenever they are appropriate. Most expository writing is organized around three big implicit questions: Why would the reader want to read this? What information are you sharing? How will this information benefit the reader now that he or she has read it?

Creative Writing and Research Reports actually are made of pieces of the above.

Most writers use these techniques, often planning short pieces mentally while gathering their tools. It’s like preparing to go somewhere. You don’t need elaborate directions if you already know where you're going.
—me strauss Letting me be

I Have a Bloggy Crush

This is not like me. Maybe I've spent too much left-brain time talking about creativity. It would never have happened if sensitive writer me didn’t read Darren Rowse avidly, usually long after I should be sleeping. Darren planted the seed. He had this idea for spreading love around the blogosphere. You can read all about it right here.

The other night, morning really, I thought nothing of this bloggy crush idea. I have crushes on too many people. GoneAway, Ned, and Mark brought the verbal volleyball as soon as my house landed in this cyber-OZ. Lori, Cheryl, and Zilla showed me where the turtle trainers are. Tanda sparkled with Southern charm. Yuna’s village welcomed me. Liz, Jennifer, and Garnet brought insights and sincerity. Rhein, Melly, and Sarah add their thoughts and energy. So many people have done nice things.

But tonight I sat down to write post, to blog a blogger, to thank him for his feedback and his critiques. I stopped cold. I realized I do have a bloggy crush. Not love, respect for the writer and the blog well-written—Scot L. Cunningham and Unburned Pieces of the Mind.

I’m not sure how I found his blog, but I had time and so I read it. Each word I read kept me reading. I was seeing movies in my mind. I was living moments as Scot described them. When he laced up his shoes and walked out the door. I walked out right behind him. I’m sure that’s what my comment said. His writing was a vacation in a place called Belfast, Maine.

Even Scot’s comments read like water, clear and natural. His first comment—even unedited—communicates the core of why his writing is so extraordinary. Please know I tried to edit this down. I wanted it to be about Scot, not about me. There was no way to do it without losing the breadth of Scot’s generosity.

Hello, me-Liz:

I'm beginning to find that having a blog is akin to having a village store. You have the regulars that stop in on a regular basis to get their usual wares and to catch up on anything new. And then there's the new person in town who stops in for a look see. The new person might get a couple of the regulars curious to the point where one asks, "Who's that." To which the reply is, "Don't know, someone passing through I guess." As for my blog, I'm glad you stopped by to have a read and for your kind response. Since you're a newcomer, I decided to check out your blog, and I find I'm very pleasantly surprised with both your content and your craftsmanship. I like personal narratives, especially when they're well written. "Trusting and Believing" reminded me of the many conversations I used to have with my grandmother. Without "Hope" and "Joy," as your essay so eloquently demonstrates, we lose our "connection to humanity." Your last paragraph is especially poignant and makes that connection self-evident without being contrived. Beautifully done. I think I might find myself becoming a regular. As such I have linked your site to mine.

Thanks again for visiting,

Poignant! Scot used the word poignant in the same sentence with self-evident and contrived. He’s a web writer with a vocabulary. Check out his blog, you’ll keep going back. Scot L. Cunningham is the model of a blogging writer. He understands people and he writes beautifully.

If I ever grow up, I want to be just like he is.
—me strauss Letting me be

Friday, September 16, 2005

Brainteaser: Creativity at Play

Hint: It's a wordsmith's question.
I'll post the answer in the comments after 7pm (US CST).

—me strauss Letting me be

What's Your Creativity Recipe?

"If you want people to be creative," he says, "you have to put them in an environment that lets their imagination soar. . . . The size of their ideas is directly proportional to the space they have in which to think."Gerald Haman, Creative Solutions Network

Right now, I think Gerald Haman is the smartest person I don’t know. Of course I do. I always think that people who think like I do are really, really, 32 reallys smart. Gerald Haman and I would make good friends. He understands creativity. I wish he was my boss somewhere along the line. He wouldn’t have thought I was speaking in tongues.

It took me four years to figure out that publishing was about being creative on demand. More than eight hours a day, five days a week I was asked to solve problems creatively—to write, rewrite and copyfit, It is a fact of the industry. It took another four years before I figured out my personal recipe for building an environment that fostered creativity.

Creativity needs space to play. I do my most creative work where I have plenty of space. I need space to think. I need space to dream. I need space to lose sight of me. To paraphrase an old axiom, creativity expands to fill the space it has to work in. Find a space that you feel at home in. Give yourself space to think and dream.

Creativity needs comfort and fuel. An empty stomach can’t fuel an eager mind. I keep treats and lots of water around. If I’m listening to my stomach growling, I can’t have fun with what I’m writing about. When I’m hungry I tend to get cranky, and when I’m cranky quality ideas are not my forté. Stock some healthful foods to nourish you. A good chair, comfortable clothes, and a foot stool are important too. They add more to your creativity than hours at the keyboard will ever do.

Creativity needs a high-trust environment—one where laughter comes easy and critiques are quick. I put an off switch on my internal editor. It only goes on when I’m editing. I’ve asked my friends who read for me to give their critiques quick and specifically. Choose the people who review your work as you might choose the people who care for your child.

Creativity needs to play. Speaking of children, try acting like one. I like to try on the world through the senses of a child. It helps me reconnect with sensations I’ve missed. See things, hear things, taste, touch, and smell things as if you were a child again.

Creativity needs the right tools. Save on other things, but buy yourself the best office supplies. There’s nothing like that new paper feeling to set my mind toward new ideas. Give yourself permission to scribble with abandon with a new pen before you use it. Write in the margins and do things you’re not supposed to. It will help you break the habit of always following rules.

Creativity needs music and movement. I sing show tunes in the middle of the day. I drive my husband crazy. If you just can’t do that. At least put on some music and listen to it. Music gets your brain churning and opens the back door to your subconscious allowing ideas to slip out and come forward. The more senses you involve the more engaged you’ll be. So get out of your chair and walk around. Get up and dance. Do jumping jacks. Just do something.

That’s what my newest “I’ve never met him” best friend, Gerald Haman and I do to make creativity.

What do you put in your recipe?
—me strauss Letting me be
photo mensatic
Fast Company’s Interview with Gerald Haman What’s the Big Idea?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Test Your Creativity

If you’ve been following out the last two articles, A Creation Story and We’re All Creative Types, you might have seen that it’s a wide spectrum that falls under the word creativity. You probably suspected I’d provide a test so that you could see just where you fall with your won creativity.

The test I found is being normed against people of the same gender, age group and profession. Of course, they don’t have painting, writing, or turtle training as an option, I picked media as my profession. The test takes about ten minutes and you’ll want a reasonably fresh mind, They ask that you take the only once to keep their statistic clean. Two or three times near the end you will be asked you to list how might use an everyday item to do different things, but the rest of the test is fairly straightforward.

After you take the test, please do leave a comment about whether your score matches your perception of your beliefs about your creativity. Let's have a discussion to get closer to what this idea of creativity means.

Tomorrow: Find out why Gerald Haman and I should be friends. Who is Gerald Haman? What does he know about setting up your space to help you think more creatively. . . and what about Naomi?

—me strauss Letting me be

We're All Creative Types

We were sitting on an airplane on the way to a meeting. Two editors, Beth and Chris, were by the window. I was leaning across the aisle in a discussion with them. The conversation was about Kindergarten Mathematics. Kindergarten is particularly tricky business because the kids can't read.

“So, 3 bunnies plus 2 bunnies equals 5 bunnies,” Beth said. She and Chris were new. They were working and learning together. This was their first encounter with this golden oldie of a Kindergarten issue. How would they solve it once they knew about it?

“That won’t work.” I explained. “You see, it ends up with 10 bunnies on the page, which is pedagogically misleading for the kids. The numbers say 3+2=5, but the picture says 3 bunnies plus 2 bunnies make 5 more bunnies. We have to find a way to communicate 3 bunnies joining 2 bunnies by only showing 5 bunnies. Set the page aside. Approach the problem from a new direction.”

Beth and Chris looked at me. They had thought they had already found the answer. Welcome to publishing where the truth changes regularly. They went back to work.

I’d fixed this problem for what felt like thousands of pages before. I wanted to give them space to find their own solution. So I turned my attention to the guy in the suit who’d been totally taken by our conversation—he couldn’t see what we were discussing.

I smiled and said, “Isn’t it amazing how some grown-ups make a living?” He blushed at being caught eavesdropping. I smiled and shrugged saying, “No worries. We get this reaction wherever we go.” Then I read a unit of fourth grade history.

In a while the two editors had found their way to a solution. It involved 3 bunnies playing and 2 bunnies walking up to join them. Basically they were rewriting pictures. Now the page worked mathematically, pedagogically, and visually. Beth and Chris had solved the problem creatively. Creativity was the only available tool.

Legend says that creativity comes only from “creative types,” that a second group of noncreative sorts don’t have the “stuff” to keep up with. Rumor has it that rooms are littered with towels that these poor noncreatives have thrown in to show they’ve given up trying. I say that’s Balderdash, hokum, and piffle. Don’t believe it for a minute.

Beth and Chris aren’t the stereotypical “types” that come to mind when the word creative gets whispered as some genius walks into a room. One is an ex-teacher. The other is a history major. They don’t smoke cigars or wear outlandish clothes. They have no visible tics or strange compulsions surrounding hygiene. Neither leads a bohemian lifestyle, train turtles, or romances with exotic old men who don’t speak English. Yet they have creativity just as you and I do.

Creativity comes from the sum of one’s life experience. It pulls from knowledge and technical skills, and calls upon an ability to get beyond the first answer—to think outside that darned proverbial box. People who don’t see themselves as creative make the wrong assumption right there. Beth and Chris stopped with their first answer—an answer that seemed to work. It took someone to point out a problem to push them into creativity. It’s not that they aren’t creative. It’s that they don’t go there automatically.

Problem-solving or writing a page is not the same as finding lost keys. One answer, the first answer isn’t the time to stop looking. It’s an invitation to start thinking creatively. Rather than stopping with answer one. Write it down and start looking for answers two to infinity.

Those we think of as naturally creative love their work. “Testing constantly testing,” you'll hear them say. Failure is just another risk that’s gone astray on the way to the beautiful, elegant simple answer they seek. These “creative types” don’t fear the bad idea, because they know it takes a lot of them to latch on to the one real diamond that you can polish to sparkle endlessly. It’s true that it’s hard to get these creative thinkers thinking inside of the proverbial box, but that’s only because their curiosity takes them to enjoy looking at it outside from every direction. Our creative friends have talent for chasing down multiple answers, and push even harder to find them when they’re not feeling terribly creative. Creativity motivates them. Curiosity nurtures and energizes them. “What ifs” drive their vocabulary. Put those qualities together and you have Jon Luc Picards going forth where no one has gone before and enjoying ever minute immensely.

It had to be an ordinary caveperson's creativity that got us fire. The wheel is surely an example of plain old human creative thinking. Yet, the best example of creativity I can think of is any three-year old. Three-year-olds are most effective at managing parents creatively. If they weren’t they wouldn’t survive. Being creative has to be an instinct that somehow some of us get convinced we don’t have or don’t need. Balderdash, hokum, and piffle. Don’t believe it for a minute. There isn’t a problem, a relationship, a meal, or a passtime that isn’t better served with a little creativity in it.

Now tell me again why you’re not creative? Say it enough, and you might convince me. It goes without saying that you’ll surely convince yourself, but why would you want to?
—me strauss Letting me be
photo-Geek Philosopher

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A Creation Story

On the eve of the next millennium, a self-important scientist strutted up the side of Mt. Sinai, the sacred place where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments. The scientist arrived early and took his time surveying this holy site. He’d often heard stories of the place. His ego swelled thinking he was chosen to be here on this momentous night. International industry had secretly seen that he was equipped with cutting-edge supplies.

“Just what this place needs,” thought the scientist. “The world needs updating.”

The air-cooled, featherweight camping gear had practically put itself together. The scientist opened a rare bottle of fine wine, and he poured himself a glass. On the stainless steel serving table he thinly sliced some baby gouda and placed it on an ironstone plate with his favorite table wafers. He pulled some apple slices from the portable, generator-operated refrigerator his crew had provided for him. He dusted the apples with salt. He looked out and saw that his world was good.

The scientist sat back in an air-cooled, comfort chair and awaited God’s arrival. Being a self-important scientist, he had no doubt that God would come.

It was one minute before midnight the single bush on the Mount caught flame.

“Ah, the miracle of the burning bush,” said the scientist. “I was hoping you’d do that one. That’s my favorite since I heard the story in 6th grade.”

The tiny, dry bush continued burning, but as in the story it was not consumed. The scientist continued eating and drinking. The wine, on the other hand, continued to be consumed.

After a time, the scientist heard, no felt, a voice. Though there was no noise to be heard from any direction, he knew in his heart what the voice was asking.

“Why do you seek me?” The voice was like music without sound. It was like the breath of a baby. It was love.

“You are the creator, God, and we want you to know we are very grateful for all you have given us.”

“What do you wish to tell me?” The voice was all colors. It was all living things.

“Well, God, if you take a look around. We have gotten pretty good at things. We learned from you, our creator afterall, and we’ve gotten quite creative ourselves. We’ve made buildings that almost touch heaven. We have sent humans to the moon. We’ve cured serious illnesses and are close to curing more. We’ve cloned pigs, a mule, and a cat. What I am saying, God, is that you’re getting older. We think you need more time off than just one day a week. We’d like to offer you early retirement. We can take care of things now.”

“You think you are creators?” The voice was the silent roar of an ocean. “Pass a test.”

“Hey that’s fair. You need to know that the whole world is in good hands.” said the scientist. He was getting uncomfortable with the fiery bush and the and the silently-reverberating voice. “Whatever you want, you got it.”

“Make a man and a woman—make an Adam and Eve.”

The scientist breathed out relief. He was prepared for this. He had human DNA and the equipment to make this happen with just water and dirt.

“Do it right now,” the scientist said, reaching down for a handful of dirt.

“Uh-uh,” God said. The bush flaming higher. “Make your own dirt.”

None of us can create, yet all of us are creative.
—me strauss Letting me be