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  • Two Random Thoughts

    • Love this quote: "The great thing about writing and creating is, time disappears. You are in the moment, and the moment can go for eight hours or for two minutes, or whatever, until the phone rings, or you know, you have to go get something to eat." — Stephen Sondheim

    • Happy birthday, Dad. Wish you were with us in body, not just in spirit, so we could celebrate with cake and a VHS movie of your choice.

  • Thoughts on the Creative Process, Health Care

    An excerpt from Patti Smith's new book on the creative process:

    “Why is one compelled to write? To set oneself apart, cocooned, rapt in solitude, despite the wants of others. Virginia Woolf had her room. Proust his shuttered windows. Marguerite Duras had her muted house. Dylan Thomas his modest shed."

    I have Starbucks.

    ••••••

    More on the creative process, courtesy of John Doe, another of my favorite musicians:

    “One of the reasons I'm here is to make stuff. To make songs and to be an actor and do art and things like that, so that's what's important. You shouldn't worry about what your rewards are. Your reward should be having created that thing.

    “I hardly ever wake up and think, ‘Oh, today I'm gonna write a song.’ It just happens. And I think it's the same as — again, to get philosophical — a lot of things, the more time you put into it, the more reward comes out of it. So if I'm writing and playing most every day, then more stuff will come out of it. If I put it away, then there's other stuff that's going on in your head. If you have a down period, try not to get frightened of it or don't get spooked by it. Just let it go. Let it go until you feel like playing again.” 

    ••••••

    Three thoughts on the current debate over the health care bill:

    • The great irony of the current political debacle is those who protest “Obamacare” so fervently are the ones whose constituents benefit most from the Affordable Care Act. Think about that one for a minute.

    • I can’t begin to tell you how much I dislike Mitch McConnell, who is locked up in his own power grid.

    • Finally, Bloom County gets it right yet again…

  • Turning Tables: A Photo Q&A, Part 1

    Recently, the father of a 13-year-old girl wrote asking if I could help her with a class project by answering some questions about photography. The dad explained that his daughter — a dancer and a big “Newsies” fan — had started following my work because of my ongoing “Art & Dance” series and had gotten a camera for Christmas.

    As a dad, it’s hard to turn down this type of request, especially when a parent takes the time to ask for help for his daughter. As a photographer, I’m more collegial than competitive, and always happy to help others.

    Answering her questions was an interesting exercise. Since Jill and I reached 50 last year, we both find ourselves reflecting on why we do what we do, what drives us to continue, and what we like/dislike about our roles in this life. As the child of two teachers, this was my teachable moment, an opportunity to explain  the craft I've come to love.

    Over the next four days, I’d like to share edited — and in some cases enhanced — versions of the responses. (Call it a “director’s cut” if you will.) If you follow my writing and this blog, chances are you’ve seen some of this before. But I hope you find it an entertaining read nonetheless.

    What was your inspiration to become a professional photographer?

    My dad was a visual artist who could paint, sculpt, or draw anything that came to mind. I can't draw a stick figure, but I've always had his eye for composition, just not the creativity (or sadly, the fine motor skills) to create something out of nothing.

    When I first went to New York with our son, Ben, in 2009, I thought of my dad often as I was drawn to the visual explosion that is the city. Dad died in 2007 and never visited New York, but in so many ways, the stuff I see walking around serves as a constant reminder of his interests, insights, and influence on my life. Also, when in New York, I spend most of my time on foot as opposed to in a car, so I see things differently when I’m there.

    On a beautiful spring day, I took out my camera, started taking random pictures of the things I saw, and found I have a knack for it. I shared the photos to Facebook, found my friends liked them too, and just continued with it. 

    What do you like most about photography?

    Capturing moments in time, whether it is through the dance pictures, an unusual or visually interesting place, or through portraits I take of people. People seem to appreciate that I can do it and like my work, which is very gratifying.

    Photography also has allowed me to make connections I never would have imagined — such as the one I’m making with you right now — and several folks from far-flung places have said they became interested in picking up a camera after seeing my random noodlings. I've been lucky to go out on photo shoots with a variety of other weekend warriors, all of whom I've learned from and whose talents are greater than mine.

    Here’s what I say to anyone who has an interest in taking pictures: Try it and see what happens. You might find you like it and have a previously untapped talent. It’s something you can do alone or with others. It gives you a chance to be creative in ways you might never have imagined.

    Next Up: Learning the basics.

  • The Consistency Quest

    My mom used to say my epitaph should be, “If I could only do this tomorrow.”

    Yes, I procrastinate, often to my physical and emotional detriment. It’s one reason I’ve enjoyed my journalism/communications career. Deadlines rule, and I function very well when I have deadlines.

    Unfortunately, I seem to have passed this trait to Emma, which for her is a genetic contradiction. In so many ways, she is just like her mom — logical to a fault, careful yet generous with her time and resources, a listmaker, and far harder on herself than she should be at any given point in life.

    Emma is all of those things and more, except when it comes to getting her homework done. On that, she moves at the pace of freshly captured escargot, just like her dad. The work is done, but she pushes the deadline to the last second, losing sleep and rest in the process.

    Ben, on the other hand, is more like his mom on the homework thing. He makes lists in a logical pattern and knocks things off in a sequential, pre-determined order until everything is done. He starts his work when he gets home and sticks with it until he’s finished, at times to our chagrin and exasperation.

    Nicholas, who is in college, is just as organized, if not more so. And then there is Kate, the person who lives day to day. If she has no homework today, then she has no homework, regardless of whether yesterday’s wasn’t done or tomorrow’s hasn’t been formally assigned yet.

    “If only I could do this tomorrow.”

    ••••••

    Genetics are the only reason I can give for why this happened. I have two boys — from different mothers, no less — who are anal retentive about homework and their assignments. On the other hand, my girls are either indifferent about time frames or, frankly, could care less.

    Confused? So am I…

    In all truth, I blame my mom’s side of the family for the retentive gene, which seems to have skipped at least one generation and landed squarely in the pools belonging to my sons.

    My mom, as she describes it, was taught by the rule of the A. All my grandfather wanted to see was her report card. If it was anything less than straight A’s, he asked her about the B. (And, as she was quick to remind me, there was never more than one B).

    Somehow I skipped the rule of B, unless it meant “boredom.” I was bored from the day I started kindergarten until the day I finished high school. The classes I found interesting weren’t hard; the tough classes were not at all interesting. In fact, the only reason I’m a writer today was because my 10th grade journalism class was supposed to be an easy A, and it gave me an excuse to talk to people.

    Strange how this works, isn’t it?

    ••••••

    What motivates you? I ask myself that question almost every day, and quite frankly, am still not sure of the answer.

    My best guess is that I have an insatiable desire to chronicle and be creative. Writing and photography are ways to do both, when something catches my eye or worms its way through my ears into my brain.

    Perhaps that comes from my grandmother, who kept a daily diary for more than 60 years. Or maybe it’s from my dad, an artist who dabbled in a variety of visual genres. Of course I see it in my kids and their friends, who chronicle their lives to varying degrees on social media.

    Writing is how I process the big stuff — what you read here is where I am at a given moment, unable to shake what is occurring until I write it down. I’ve never found value in writing just to fill space, just like I can’t stand people who speak in meetings just to hear themselves talk. It’s not useful for anyone concerned.

    Photography is my way of processing the loads of visual information I see in a creative manner. It makes me stop and look at the world, whether close up or at a distance, in a different way.

    I’m still searching for ways to merge the two, which is what you see in this space. 

    Last month marked four years since I started blogging, and it was around that time that I began to take photos and post them to Facebook. When my job situation changed earlier this year, I wanted to merge the two while improving my online/social networking skills at the same time, hence the website and the “Daily Photo” you see here and on my Facebook photo page.

    I’m not under the impression that the masses will ever flock to this place to read my words or look at my images; if anything, this attempt at consistency is one way of staving off my natural sense of procrastination. Someday, I would like to have an art show (I think my dad would be proud) or publish one of my pieces somewhere besides the web.

    But as I approach 50 — I turn 49 in January — I’m finding that’s not as important as the quest for consistency. After all, why wait until tomorrow what you can do today?

  • The Perils of Creativity

    Creativity is elusive, tantalizing, edifying, agonizing, or — with apologies to my English teachers for ending a sentence with a preposition — some combination thereof. Throughout my life, I’ve gone through phases in which I’m extremely productive, and others in which I feel like a barking seal.

    The past two to three weeks have felt more like the latter than the former.

    January typically is a low-key time. The days are cold and short, the streets are deserted, and my muse usually is in hibernation mode until after my birthday in the middle of the month. Considering the four birthdays and two major holidays that occur in the 30- to 35-day period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I guess that comes as no surprise.

    But that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.

    I have four primary hobbies — writing, photography, reading, and listening to music. The first two qualify as active, while the third and fourth vascillate between active and passive. When they work together in groups or in tandem, I am at my best, but recently they haven’t been working at all, even in isolation.

    After reading six books in six weeks, I’ve had trouble finishing a long-form magazine article. As for taking pictures, I’ve spent most of my time going through the more than 5,000 I took in 2010 — most of them in an 11-month period. (Last January wasn’t too hot either…)

    After writing a variety of blog entries in November and December — so much to process in so little time — this is the first of 2011. I have started and stopped several other essays during this period — another source of frustration — that ended up as part of the Fragments series.

    For the past couple of weeks, I’ve compensated by engaging in two other enjoyable, though extremely passive pastimes — watching football and going to movies. Fortunately, between the NFL playoffs and the Oscar contenders moving into wide release, January is the month for both.

    Slowly, I can feel the muse is getting restless again. On a single train ride from New York to Virginia, I managed to complete two long-overdue entries that I hope you will enjoy in the coming days.

    My brain is filling up with things to process, and rather than feeling saturated or spent, I’m starting to feel like I can deliver on them again. My desire to get outside and be creative is back.

    In other words, look out, folks…

  • The Writer’s Pea

    Do you remember the story of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Princess and the Pea, immortalized in the musical “Once Upon a Mattress”? The evil queen — a staple of fairy tales — gives Winnifred a test to see if she’s sensitive enough to marry the prince. The test: Will placing a pea under a stack of mattresses prevent Winnifred from falling asleep?

    Of course, we all know how it works in fairy tales. Winnifred — the feisty, unrefined heroine (fairy tale staple #2) — becomes a raging insomniac, all because of a stupid vegetable. And in the end, the evil queen is proven wrong (fairy tale staple #3 in this scenario). 

    I thought of this story — sadly I can identify with the raging insomniac part — when I tried to come up with a reason for explaining why I have not been writing much in this space for the past month or so.

    It’s not like I haven’t had ideas. Most of this blog is writing about our family, and there’s no shortage of material there. And even though our schedules have been jammed, it’s not like I haven’t had a few sleepless nights to work on things.

    But every time I’ve started, I’ve stopped for some reason, so my desktop is cluttered with a series of half-formed ideas for essays that are still marinating in my brain. This explanation is my way of trying to get back in the groove — “The Father’s New Groove,” now that’s an idea for a fairy tale.

    The best way I can describe it is that I’ve had the “writer’s pea.” I hope that I’ve managed to now remove it successfully, and that, having relaxed and done something productive, that we can now return to our semi-regularly scheduled programming.

    Back soon, I promise. Thanks for indulging me.

  • Stage Dad: A Certain 'Mindset'

    A number of child actors who start their professional careers in the Washington, D.C., area take the same path that my son did, performing in Ford’s Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol.”

    “A Christmas Carol,” like most shows, has a window of time for child performers. Ford’s, for example, casts children ages 5 to 13 and you must be able to fit in the costumes — with minor alterations — that are used from year to year. For kids interested in performing, it is a wonderful opportunity to get a taste for professional theatre, a recognized and solid credit on your resume, and a chance to become acquainted with many of the fine actors who work in the Washington area theatre community.

    Ben’s first professional role was playing Tiny Tim on alternating performances — most of the children’s roles are double cast — and he returned to the show the following year in the roles of Urchin and Ignorance. He became great friends with others in the show that he remains in touch with today. This year and next, several of those kids will graduate from high school, a thought that makes me look at my own children and shake my head.

    Several of the child alums from the 2006 production are reuniting this spring for “Mindset,” a surrealist rock opera written by Jace Casey. An Arlington resident, Casey workshopped the show with his friends in March and will remount it at the Capital Fringe Festival from July 14-28.

    Jace, who turns 17 in August, says the show was largely inspired by “the dead zone” that many child performers face between hitting puberty and turning 18. “Mindset” alternates between reality and an artist’s subconscious as he deals with “themes of fear, self-consciousness, limits, and finally liberation.”

    “When I first entered the dead zone, I was completely broken-down and I thought I would never perform again,” Casey says. “But after some convincing from my parents, I decided to treat the dead zone as a time period for training and experimenting with the performing arts … For this run, I cast several professional teen performers who are dealing with the same issue.”

    Casey, who has performed in commercials, regional theatre, television and several independent films, developed his first show with friends during his sophomore year in high school. But like many kids who find their passion early, he says he’s “always been writing and making up stories.”

    “When I was younger I would put on mock late-night TV shows before bedtime with guests and musical numbers and the whole shebang, so it’s always been there,” he says. “I originally saw creating shows as only a temporary replacement for acting. But now I can’t imagine doing anything but creating shows. I know I’m going to somehow fuse creating with performing for my profession.”

    Casey is quick to point to the support his parents have given him throughout the process, saying they’ve “been amazing at following my lead.”

    “They're the ones who put me back together and encourage me to keep at it,” he says. “When I was younger, they did everything. They drove me to New York for auditions, signed me up for voice lessons, dealt with agents, etc. But now, I need them more for advice and inspiration.

    “I know I’m extremely lucky to have parents that support me to this extent. I seriously can’t imagine pushing myself this far if it weren’t for my mom and dad.”

    For more information about “Mindset,” visit www.mindset-onstage.com. The show also has a Kickstarter page at www.kickstarter.com/projects/623101705/mindset-capital-fringe-festival-2012?ref=live