Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hello patient readers

I would like to announce the launch of my new site: Do Nothing Design. It is actually quite similar to this site in that I will be addressing many of the same topics. However, I have found a way to keep my observations organized. I have found a mentor. His name is Masanobu Fukuoka and he was a farmer. My site is inspired by his revolutionary methods of do-nothing farming, in which he advocates simple observation of nature to solve problems in food production. In reading his book The One-Straw Revolution I was blown away by the parallels I could draw between his life as a farmer and the life I wanted as an artist. Hence, I have decided to dissect his book one chapter at a time, comparing creative processes and hopefully finding my own connection to the source of pure creativity.

I would love to welcome you to follow my new site and regret to say that IAmDesigner will most likely become a thing of the past. Not to worry, however, I am still as passionate as ever about the creative process. It is simply time for a new venue.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Century of Self

This is an amazing four-part series that made me at once incredibly depressed and stubbornly determined.  It is so important that we are aware of how subtle control can be, and do our utmost to act as authentically as possible so that we, too, are not fooled into being and doing what those in power need to stay strong.

Friday, May 14, 2010

IAm knowledge through experience

I've been noticing lately how important it is for us to have experience to back up our knowledge.  I think in striving to sound intelligent, say just the right thing, or offer the perfect piece of advice, we often completely skip the part of the process in which we actually incorporate information into our lives.  It is so easy to access and relay information, especially in this day and age.  But what I'm noticing is that this is becoming a huge cop-out strategy that allows us to never develop hypotheses or conclusions of our own. 

I'm always stumbling upon ideas that I feel to be right or true at some level.  I tend to find a statement that excites me, latch on to it, and start claiming that this is what I believe.  Interesting, how our first reaction to incorporating a new idea is to proclaim it from the rooftops, as if this legitimizes it.  Then, once we've obtained an okay from just the right number of people, we begin to advance accordingly.  Wow, I have been really guilty of doing this.

Interestingly enough, after some time I noticed something incredible.  I began to observe what happens when I tried to communicate something I'd never experienced.  You can actually watch the other person wither in front of you, grow bored or (especially when trying to give advice) become extremely frustrated.  Why?  Because it's no different than me trying to explain what it's like to climb Mount Everest, when I've never actually even seen the mountain.  I can relate facts and figures and maybe use a little imagination to spice things up, but it all falls flat really quickly.  The way you communicate is scattered and superficial.  You usually end up contradicting yourself or talking yourself against a wall.  It leaves everyone feeling empty.

Sadly, I seem to find this tendency in so many artist statements or when listening to anyone describe their creative work.  Again and again, it is so obvious that the artist has not yet really experienced what they are claiming to be their inspiration.  We need to be motivated by more than a passing fact or figure.  It is essential as artists that we incorporate the very essence of what inspires us into our lives before we frantically start searching for approval.  Without experiencing your inspiration, you create work that, like my previous conversations, is scattered and superficial. Sure, you may have the skill and good eye to pull off decent, even good work.  But without experience, your work will never have that thing.  It will never be incredible.

What seems to be a most important factor in this is giving yourself plenty of alone time to experience.  It can be tempting to want to talk about something before you are ready, but this can actually be self-sabotage.   The in-between stage is often unsettling and you are quite vulnerable.  You are not obligated to anyone in this regard.  No one needs to know everything about what you are working through in your head.   No one can rush this process.  And no one, I repeat no one, can know you well enough to tell you what to do.  This quiet time with yourself is so very important because it allows you to reach a point where you can eventually become quite articulate about your work and inspiration.  Once you have experience, you will see how people are drawn to your work, how they are interested in hearing your perspective, how what you say can actually give them insight and inspiration for their own work.  It is as different as night and day.

And I can tell you this, because I've experienced it.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

In other's words: Elizabeth Gilbert

I've been meaning to post this little gem for quite some time now.   What I love the most is how valiantly and sincerely Elizabeth talks about genius spirits and the incredible notion that our creativity may be coming from a source outside ourselves.  It is a very brave speech and she somehow pulls it off without sounding New Age-y or Eccentric Artist-y.   I am very thankful for this woman and her honesty.

Monday, March 15, 2010

IAm a child

Perhaps it is the sun shining through the windows to make patterns on the floor,  perhaps it is the smell of dirt, the buds and the birds and general excitement of new beginnings, but I have been experiencing this incredible influx of childhood memories.  Not so much events or landmark moments, just the experience of feeling or hearing something in a very pure way.  It was simple, back before I had accumulated this intense list of worries and responsibilities, even that ever-present awareness of other people, my actions and reactions and how I fit into the entire scheme of things.  I've been remembering odd moments like standing in my backyard on a sunny day or hearing a plane fly overhead or that afternoon feeling, that 2pm moment when everyone seems to pause, recollect themselves, and gather energy to live out the rest of the day.  I'm remembering feelings, and realizing that it has been a long time since I've felt anything that deeply.

As we get older and more integrated in society, we seem to build layer upon layer of distance between ourselves and our environment.  It is so rare to just sit and experience anything anymore.  The way I see it, being an adult has become synonymous with inventing all these pit stops between ourselves and our world experience.  Again, we make everything so complicated.  What is an essentially simple equation  becomes this winding emotional path.  We pit stop at facts, labels, opinions, associations and the emotions tied to these.  We pit stop at how we think others view us, what we are responsible for, what people are depending on us for or what is expected of us.  We think about how we've acted in the past, whether that was appropriate, analyze, and plan for future changes.  Even as you progress in life and perhaps realize the futility of these layers, the pit stops seem to become more subtle.   You might even be adding more layers,  all the while thinking you are becoming more aware or enlightened or whatever.  But now you are, in addition to the past layers, thinking about how you shouldn't have layers, something a certain spiritual teacher or self-help guru said, how you wish to change, how other people aren't as aware as you are...and this can go on forever until you can stop, sit up, rub your eyes and realize that you knew absolutely everything you needed to know when you were five years old.

I've been testing this out by trying to very quickly stop any series of thoughts that happen when you look at something or someone.  It's not as hard as it sounds, and although it can last for only seconds, I finally feel like I'm experiencing things like a five-year-old again.  I had reached a point where I was seriously considering whether I would truly have fun ever again.  My hope has been restored.  I've been going to bed at night feeling like I really and truly put in a good day.  I feel like I'm once again adding to this store of pure experience, those memories of feeling.  I'm finally able to feed this craving of life and love and happiness that hasn't been fed since (and I estimate here) the early 90s.  I feel light, I feel adventurous and most importantly, I feel more inspired than I ever have before.  Because now creativity is becoming a way for me to really express my experiences.  It becomes a way of integrating yourself into your experience.  It becomes a way to offer something in return for the experience.  It completes the cycle of experience by allowing a release of energy and feeling that builds up as you take in your environment.  It is all very exciting.

Monday, March 8, 2010

IAm real

I've been thinking a lot about what I mentioned in my previous post:  my strong desire to join forces with the ever-growing movement of returning to the earth, being natural, and interacting locally.   It seems more and more people are beginning to recognize the benefits (be they moral, environmental or merely a smart business move) of using organic and natural products, but few are taking the time to really figure out what this green trend means.  As far as I can tell, trends are superficial manifestations of much deeper changes that are taking place in the beliefs and perspectives of humanity.  Trends come forth as the most obvious interpretations of these changes.  In general, people adapt easily to trends because they require very little convincing.  We are told good designers must always be a step ahead, that we are in charge of creating the next trend.  The key to being able to do this relies on your ability to dissect trends and discover what really is happening beneath the surface.

The chorus of green supporters grows louder every day, as more and more voices join in to promote organic foods, grass fed meats, artisan cheeses, raw milk, straw bale homes, solar energy, hemp clothing...it is quite remarkable!  As each person adds their unique voice, there is one clear melody to which all others harmonize:  return to the source.  Return to the earth.  We are all simultaneously realizing that the earth and all its natural systems held solutions to our "problems" all along.  Everything we could ever need and want has been in front of us the entire time.  This is reality, and it is a reality that until now has been assumed to be sub-par to modern civilization.  But we are very quickly learning this is not the case.  The quality of what comes natural, or what is real, is vastly superior to what we've struggled to recreate.  Just ask a foodie.

Somewhere along the way, someone decided to take the simple action of a man pulling a carrot from the earth and complicate it to the point of the man needing to spend the first quarter of his life being educated in order to obtain a degree with which he can work a 9-5 job in order to accumulate monetary wealth so that he can afford the gasoline to drive to a grocery store to purchase a bag of over priced slimy baby carrots that retain few of the nutrients and none of the taste of that original carrot pulled from the ground.   What was once a very real and pure relationship between man and earth has now been complicated with layer after layer after layer of unreality.  Right?   Because what do we know for sure is real?   You are here on this earth.  That's real.  The earth grows food that sustains us.  That's real.  And all the rest?  All the rest is only real because we believe in it, and therefore maintain it.  We believe that an academic degree or title means something; therefore, we maintain educational systems.  We believe money represents wealth and abundance; therefore, we maintain our economic systems.  We believe some people are more powerful than others;  therefore, we maintain our political systems.    As soon as you give a split second of your time to feeling a victim to any of this unreality, then you allow it to exist for that much longer.  If we all turned our backs on these systems, they would literally crumble around us. 

So how does this apply to design?  Let's start by considering all the layers of unreal that we consciously or unconsciously have allowed to hinder our creativity.  Do we really believe that you have to have a certain academic title or degree in order to be creative?   Or that you need to have certain connections?  Or that someone demanding money or paperwork or whatever is enough to keep us from being creative?  Or that one person's opinion or critique can stop us in our tracks?  Are we really willing to give something so unreal that much power?  Sure, there are times when you have to work within an imposed system.   Just keep in mind that it isn't real.  Every day I believe a little more strongly that pure creativity is as real as a carrot pulled from the earth.  So it makes sense to me that just as the earth provides everything needed to grow food, so would it provide everything we need to be creative.  That excites me to no end.

So this is how I want to join in this global movement, this worldwide recognition of returning to the source.  I don't know what this means for my work per se, but the best way to discover what is real is to rule out what is unreal.  By tapping into this, you can tap into something much deeper and longer lasting than a trend.  You are tapping into the source, the place to which all things are returning, and in this way you will be ahead of the game.  Most importantly, you will cement your own role in whatever the future may bring.  You will be part of the conversation.  You can be calling the shots.  You can be leading the change. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

IAm in flux

It has been a while since I've written, due to no lack of trying or interest on my part.   I have started many an entry, only to call it a draft and let it age with the others.  It's been difficult lately to settle on any viewpoint or to quiet my mind enough to figure out what exactly I am thinking and feeling.   It hasn't been bad, just weird.  But as I find myself settling into this weird state of mind,  one impulse has risen to the top of my brain.  As usual, it started as a twinge, a feeling, a random thought here and there and seems to have coalesced into a huge itch I can't seem to scratch.

I really became aware of this impulse when I went with Josh to visit the Growing Power.  Located in Milwaukee, WI,  this 2-acre farm is the only farm/greenhouse in operation in the city.  From a total of 15 green and hoop houses, farmer Will Allen along with numerous employees, interns and community volunteers produces vegetables, fish, honey enough to supply numerous local restaurants, schools and businesses.  There is much to talk about regarding this fantastic business, but what really struck me was their Aquaponics system.  Basically, Will and his team have created this amazing system that incorporates the growing of vegetables and fish.  To keep the water clean for the fish, it is pumped into gravel beds growing watercress or other plants above the fish ponds.  As it drains down the subtle slope toward the ponds, the water is filtered through the gravel.  Bacteria from the plants breaks down toxins in the fish waste which aid in plant development.  Clean water is returned to the fish pond and the cycle continues.

This, to me, is the perfect illustration of human creativity.  It is problem solving to the extent that we are not forced to invent extravagant machines that bring with them more problems.  This is such a simple example of working with what is natural and normal and right.  It uses simple materials and the laws of nature.  Standing before these crude yet complete systems, all I could think was how much I want to work like that.  I want to be an inventor, but in such a way that allows me to return to the laws of nature, return to the earth.  I want to start with a passionate hypothesis and then use my life to, step by step, test and learn and discover solutions.  And I want all aspects of my project to be working together, feeding off each other, a perfect balance of give and take. 

I really want to be a scientist.  I envy the scientific process, the clear step by step guide that always lets you know your next move.  I'm sure that this has been largely influenced by my obsessive listening to RadioLab; I just can't seem to get enough of interviews with people who work in such a focused and intentional manner.   I hope this does not mean that I am becoming jaded with the creative design process.    Rather, I am taking this as a clear sign that I have become unbalanced and unfocused.  I have always craved having one big project.  I have craved obsession.  I want to be like the many people around the world who spend their life perfecting the making of cheese or wine or rice paper.  I want to be an expert.  Being focused does not limit creativity, right?

This does not necessarily mean I need to stop what I'm doing.  I just need to find a way to work from the ground up.  I can't seem to get excited about raising animals for leather, so how else can I approach this?  I am really excited to not write this off as "just another phase" but to use this itch to move me to inspired action.

Oh, and check out:  www.growingpower.org.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

IAm decidedly optimistic

It has become abundantly clear to me recently of the importance of where and how we choose to focus our energy.  Until now, I have been aware of this to some extent.  We have all been told at some point to "keep on the sunny side,"  "find the silver lining" "glass half full" etc., but do we really understand the full importance of this idea?  These philosophies can quickly become overwhelming and seemingly impossible when we are left to our own devices, our own self discipline and will power.  Time and time again, we are faced with reminders of how difficult this is, the bad state of the world in general, how other people make optimism so hard to uphold, even how we are so incapable as individuals to stay strong in the face of adversity.  It becomes even more difficult when you become aware of the sometimes subtle stigma that is placed on those who choose to live life this way.  We are all familiar with the person who staunchly refuses to  acknowledge the negativity of the world in such a way that they appear utterly naive, stupid even.  Those people we long to take by the shoulders and shake, "Wake up!  Things are not all sunshine and roses!  Our world sucks, people sucks, we kill, steal, hate, lie...can't you see this?"

I have avoided optimism for so long in order to avoid appearing ignorant.  The truth is I am beginning to realize that ignorance and optimism do not have to go hand in hand.  Why?  Because underlying our choice to ignore negativity is the understanding that in choosing to focus energy on anything, even in opposition, we are enabling it to exist.   When I choose to focus on all these things that are just waiting to become my problems, even if it is to fight against them, I acknowledge that they are real.  So what I do is focus all my energy on whatever issue is plaguing me at the moment, and then analyze and study the hell out of it.  I'll read, observe other people and take notes, come to all kinds of conclusions based on cause and effect, think, talk, ponder...and finally reach some conclusion that allows a moment of peace until the next issue rears its head. 

This brings to me an analogy that has been helping me immensely.  Let's say you are preparing to embark on a fantastic amazing adventurous vacation.  Being an intellectual, you decide to sit and plan for this vacation.  You decide that until you can truly enjoy this adventure you must predict and solve all upcoming obstacles.  You must make sure you have everything you could ever need.  You must not leave until you feel 100% prepared, but this never happens.  There is always some problem to address.  Then, suddenly, you decide to pull back the heavy curtain and peek out of the window.  With a jolt you realize, you are already on your vacation!!!  It is happening right now!!!  You are here, right now!  It's live, it's real.  What will you do with this new information?  Will you, as I have been, recede back, saying "No, not now, not ready, must plan more, prepare more, not now?"  Or are you able to throw it all behind you and rush out to experience the vacation of your life?

Yes, I'm afraid I may have just tossed yet another "carpe diem" in your direction, but what I really want to accentuate is that there is more to understand about this philosophy than blind servitude to optimism.  Instead, you can acknowledge that perhaps this habit of hemming and hawing over all these supposed problems can actually hold you back.  This process allows you to reach some conclusion, true, but it also forces you to put your life on hold as it were.  It slows you down.  Your internal struggles take on a life of their own, in which you come to one conclusion that brings up another issue that requires further attention...and on and on.  So what is our alternative?  Say, just say, that instead you could confidently and strongly decide "This shall not be a problem for me!"  Then, just like that, you refuse to allow the issue any more attention.  Is it possible that this can eliminate so many many steps to happiness?  If you consistently did this, can you imagine the amount of energy you could put towards those things that make you feel alive?  Creative?  Inspired?   Could this possibly be the meaning behind the "turn the other cheek" mentality that was consistently preached to me as a child but was something I could never quite wrap my mind around?

This really starts to address something else I've been noticing, which is how much energy mankind uses on solutions that never reach the core of the problem.  So many of our current issues are direct results of how we chose to expend energy on past "problems."  Ultimately, we believed that something was a huge drama that demanded our attention, often under the guise of defending ourselves or what is "right".  We submit ourselves to the problem by putting up our fists.  Then comes the long series of conflicts, huge expenditures of energy, time, resources.  We generally reach a point where things get so out of control that we simply cannot continue.  It becomes obvious how far we have strayed.  Then slowly, we start picking up little pieces, one at a time, still obsessed with what happened, how it was unfair, how guilty we feel, who was to blame...  But, BUT, can you see how at any point in this process you can simply put down your foot and proclaim, This is not a problem for me!?!  And when you turn around and focus your energy on something alive and positive, you come face to face with ideas, inspiration, true connections with people, essentially:  real true creativity that can forge past the limited perspectives of the past and into the better beyond.  How alive!  How exciting! How wonderful!

I am so very aware of how trained we all are to hold intellectualism and analysis to such high levels.  I also want to propose that perhaps analysis is a necessary step in this process,  that you must experience it in order to reach new and higher conclusions.  But I, for one, am tired of my wasted time, wasted energy.  I know what I feel like when I'm living.  I would like to think that everyone has experienced this at least once.  Tap into that, and if anything that makes you feel less, put your foot down and decide, This is not a problem.  It can be difficult, especially since we are told every day, minute, second, that we should have these problems.  That these issues are huge dramas that need all your attention.  Truthfully, our problems are not huge dramas.  Think about it.  You can detach yourself, consciously, from anything that makes you feel less than thrilled to be alive.  It's true that the situation may not instantly disappear, but you will eliminate this desperate attachment we have to our dramas and the need to defend ourselves.  You can perceive life from a place of positivity, inspiration and creativity.  Solutions will become clear and you will move ahead at a surprising velocity.  I think I'm going to give it a shot.