Tis the Season

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Does anyone else sense that something is different about this holiday season? We all know that Christmas and the winter holiday has become very over commercialized. For some time now, it has seemed that stores have pushed the season up. This year seems different to me.
It seems as though the season is early, but it’s the people and not the commercial establishments that are off to an early start. I notice on social media that lots of folks put up a Christmas tree before Thanksgiving. Now, there are no rules about when to put up your tree, but it does seem a bit early. Driving home from my daughter’s house on Thanksgiving evening, I noticed several houses that had their tree shining and decorated, on display in the window for the world to see. Quite a few houses had holiday lights trimming the house.
What’s this all about? I have a theory that we are craving the joy that comes associated with the holidays. We are all out there looking to “make spirits bright.” I’m hopeful when I see this if I’m even close in my analysis. It seems like we’ve all been at each other’s throats this year, and anything that serves as a distraction from that can’t be all bad.
As an optimist, I look for the good in things. I am usually excited about the holidays and the end of the year. I am a firm believer in our ability to change course and reinvent ourselves if we’re unhappy with our current situation. I love the end of the year. The new beginning. Starting over and pledging yourself to new resolutions.
Some people are more cynical about the holiday season. I know that there are lots of people that are lonely and unhappy at Christmas time. Emotions run high, and patience seems to be in short supply. We’ve all had someone cut us off and give us the finger during the holiday season. It seems to be more unsettling when you’re in a holiday mood.
Is anyone else experiencing this sensation of people pushing the holiday? Are you striving for that warm feeling yourself? What’s different about this year?
2017 is my first year in a long time without having to be in a retail environment at Christmas time. I enjoyed sleeping late the day after Thanksgiving. Not having to be somewhere at 5:00 am is something to be thankful for, to be sure.
I know I’ll be making more posts about the end of 2017 as the month continues. But, you know, I thought I’d just get started early. I wish you and your friends and family a beautiful holiday season and end of the year.

– Cat

Creativity – Nature or Nurture?

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Are we born to be creative, or is creativity learned?  In 1996, an article ran in Psychology Today.  It was written by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and it’s titled “The Creative Personality”.  The lead reads:

Creative individuals are remarkable for their ability to adapt to almost any situation and to make do with whatever is at hand to reach their goals.”

That sounds about right.  So, is the creative mind the result of genetics, or is creativity something that needs to be nurtured?  Or, like most things… is it a combination?

Take music and art for example.  Anybody that’s interested in music can take music lessons.  People can learn precise drawing techniques.   They can gain the technical skill required, and they can practice.  It’s been my experience that sometimes as person can be quite skilled, but something’s missing.  The music doesn’t flow through them.  The emotion is missing from the art.  Are they short on natural talent?

What about the idea that mental health is tied into creativity?   You can turn to Scientific American for information on this topic.  Scott Barry Kaufman, in his 2013 article “The Real Link Between Creativity and Mental Illness”, sets the record straight, saying:

Mental illness is neither necessary nor sufficient for creativity.”

As someone who make their living as a writer, I’m going to stick with Mr. Kaufman.

Now… I would argue that creativity is at least partially the result of a genetic predisposition.  Under the guise of submitting evidence, I’m going to brag about my family.  My oldest son plays the drums, and makes beautiful custom furniture for a living.  His wife is a wedding and life event photographer.  My second son plays guitar, and does tint and vinyl graphics for vehicles.  He’s married to a talented pastry chef.  My third son is a bass player, and works as a videographer and photographer.  His wife is often his second shooter.  My daughter is an artist, a photographer, and a high school art teacher.  She’s married to an artist who is also a photographer.

My sister owns an art center that also teaches dance and theater.  Her husband plays bass.  Her oldest daughter has a party paper business, and her younger daughter is an actress in New York.

From this anecdotal evidence, you could conclude that heredity has something to do with creativity.  You could also guess that creatives attract other creatives.   My children have the benefit of having a maternal grandmother and grandfather that are talented musicians.  They also have a paternal great-grandfather that was a gifted musician.  Their maternal great-grandfather and great-grandmother were also musicians.  I guess it was hard for them to avoid a love of music.  Too bad it skipped me… although I sound great singing in the shower, it’s mostly technical skill, I think.

Whenever they talk about budget reduction in schools, they seem to pick on art and music first.  So many kids get the perfect opportunity for their talent and enjoyment of the arts at school.  What will happen if we lose that at some point?  Will we, as parents or grandparents, be equipped to nurture and encourage kids in the arts at home?

Is a creative personality enough, or is training, development, an encouragement necessary?  I think that we need both to find ourselves and lead the creative life.  Going back to the article in Psychology Today, Mihaly calls it “full-blast living“.

I love that!

-Cat

 

 

 

 

 

 

Running Wild

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I was talking to a friend today, and he was telling me that he met a man that hiked the Appalachian Trail. Pretty cool, huh? What if I told you that he did this when he was twelve years old? With no adult supervision… just a bunch of Boy Scouts on their own, hiking the Appalachian Trail.

It got me talking about my childhood. We all tend to romanticize about the “good old days”. And, maybe that’s just what I’m doing. We lived in a house in upstate New York. I lived there from age six to age eleven. We had a big tree with a tire swing and a big side yard that my parents made into an ice rink in the Winter. On the other side of the house was a hill that was perfect for sledding.

In the more temperate seasons, my friends and I would leave our houses in the morning, and go off on adventures. Sometimes we would come home for lunch, and sometimes not until dinner. If our parents ever worried about us, they never let on.

We would play in the apple orchard, climbing trees and throwing apples at each other. We might decide to go to the pond, and see what creatures we could find. When we got tired of that, we would go to the farmers field, up to the place where there was a bunch of old tires. Sometimes we saw snakes there. It was scary, alright. But worth the risk to climb on those tires.

Some days, we would stick closer to home and stomp down the field of high grass into a “fort”. This was a maze of rooms and we would sometimes accessorize them with treasures from home. We were always building forts and off on general explorations all summer long.

My husband grew up in Scotland. He was taking the tube (subway) around London when he was twelve. When he was seven, he would take the bus into Glasgow and go to the cinema… by himself. Can you imagine allowing something like that with your kids or grandchildren?

The point is, these days we have to watch kids like a hawk, it seems. I was strict about where my kids played when they were little, and wanted them to stick close to home. Now, people might say that they did not have proper supervision. I wouldn’t let them go off to a pond, or across a field out of view. It’s a different time.

 
Or is it? Do we have more danger and treachery in the world these days? Is it possible that the people that prey on children have expanded in number exponentially? Or do we just hear about it more? Does the internet that makes it easier for evil people to commit crimes against children? Or, does the internet just keep reporting these crimes so much that we become desensitized at some point?

When we recall these childhood days, are we longing for a place… or a time when catching a frog was the highlight of the day? If I had to pick the happiest time in my childhood, it was when we were running wild.

– Cat

My New Curriculum

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So, we are going to stop teaching cursive handwriting in public school. In New York, we are not going to require a literacy test for teachers, because it’s racist. We don’t teach Civics anymore, so students become adults that don’t really understand how government works. No Home Economics, No Shop Class… Sexist, and besides, who needs to cook or make stuff?

 
I’m not saying that everything was perfect with the education we got in high school in the seventies, but what are we replacing these courses with? Are we improving the courses that are offered? Or are we just removing stuff that might offend people?

 
Well, I’ve got some ideas about courses that should be offered front and center for kids. I haven’t decided whether we should wait until high school for some of these topics, but it’s a start.

 
1. Time Management
How useful would it be to teach kids this life skill? You need this training, whether you’re college bound, or entering the work force. Some people don’t get the whole “come to work on time” thing. I’m much better at time management than I used to be. But imagine what a star I would be if I had time management training in high school. I would have used that every day, unlike those advanced math classes.

 
2. Personal Finance
This class should run for at least two semesters, because… bullet points

 
• Saving and Investing
• How to Buy a Car
• Managing Your Credit Score
• Renting vs Buying a Home
• How to Start a Business
• Building a Budget
• Taxes

 
I wish I learned all this in high school, as opposed to the school of hard knocks.

 
3. Civility
If we can’t have Civics, can we have Civility? If you don’t understand the government, can you be polite about it? If you do have an understanding of how government works, can you be gracious? If you don’t understand the constitution, can you quit going on about “your” free speech, while denying other people a voice? Yes, we should either bring back Civics, or substitute Civility. Maybe half and half.

 
4. Coping Skills
Ok, this one’s a little vague. You know, what to do when you like someone but they don’t like you back. How to cope with disappointment when you don’t get selected for the team, or the job. It’s okay to be less than 100% all the time. How to replace negativity with positive self-talk. What to do if someone is picking on you, or bullying you. How do you break up with someone without breaking their heart?

 
5. Writing
This is a double-edged sword for me. As a writer, I don’t want the market to go away. On the other hand, people need to know how to write. I guess it’s possible that we can get AI to write for us once the skill has disappeared completely.

 
So, there are my top five recommendations for improved curriculum. I’d love to know if you have any suggestions. What would you like to see added to the curriculum?

 
– Cat

Leaps of Faith

Why should people feel forced to choose between science and religion? I’m going to say that I like a little religion in my science, and a little science in my religion. Lots of people feel that they are mutually exclusive.

 
I believe in God. As I age, my relationship with God has changed. I find that I can easily accept other points of view. It makes me wonder though, even the people who believe in God believe in different interpretations of God. It gets back to putting people in boxes. So, you’re a Christian… are you Methodist, Lutheran, Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Orthodox, Mormon, seventh day Adventist, Jehovah’s witness? (Sorry if I left your church out) Why do we need God in so many versions? Is it so we can fight over whose God is better?

 
I take this point of view. If you believe in something…good for you! If you don’t believe in something…good for you! The nice thing is, you get to choose. I don’t understand why we have to judge and shame people who have different points of view. We have, throughout history, as humans, managed to kill millions of people because they don’t believe the same things that we do.

 
I want to share a passage that I read tonight in an old self-help book that I bought in the nineties. The book is called Life 101, and the authors are John-Roger (died 2014) and Peter McWilliams. I’m finding myself appreciating the wisdom in this book more and more these days.

 

The doctor who gives a vaccination and says, “Thank God, this child is safe from smallpox,” and the doctor who gives a vaccination and says “Thank Pasteur, this child is safe from smallpox,” give the same vaccination. Some may say that the doctor who gives a blessing is a better doctor, and some may say that the doctor who sticks to medicine is a better doctor, but in either case– thank God and/or Pasteur — the child can be safe.

 
Over time, ideas about religion change. But, at the same time, ideas about science are ever-changing and evolving. The thing that doesn’t change is people. Do we have a compulsion to view everybody with an “us” or “them” mentality?

 
So, these days, my faith is in the belief that everything will work out exactly the way that it’s supposed to. Like my grandson, I’ll stick with believing in God and Evolution.

 
– Cat

My Muse

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So, if you look up the definition of the word “muse” as a noun, it will tell you that a muse refers to “a person- especially a woman- who is a source of artistic inspiration”. If you look at the word “muse” as a verb, it means to “consider something thoughtfully”.

 
Thank goodness, we’ve thrown gender roles out the window, since my muse is a man. At the risk of sounding sappy, he is my verb and my noun.

 
Anybody that knows him would tell you that he’s not always the easiest person to get along with. Heck, he’ll tell you that himself. But, he’s usually right, and he is definitely the yin to my yang.

 
He is supportive of my choice to be a writer. In fact, he rarely reads anything I write. It’s not because he’s not interested. He doesn’t want his opinions to taint my writing style. He has confidence in my ability to get my point across, and will not proofread my work. My muse challenges me to get better every day, and that encourages me to work towards doing so.

 
He will help me with the organization of my business and my production schedules, which is so helpful to me. He is supportive as I navigate through the learning curves that are inevitable with any business. Although he has been dreaming of retirement, he has delayed that dream while I establish my career.

 
So, while other writers, artists, painters, and musicians may be inspired by whimsy and beauty, I am inspired by a strong and steady muse. And, I am ever so grateful.

-Cat

 

 

Balancing Creativity with Practicality or… How I Got My Groove Back!

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As a writer, there is one thing I have to do without fail… write! As I gain experience, I am meeting a lot of aspiring writers that don’t sit down and write. They talk about writing, take courses about writing, ask for advice on getting clients to buy their writing.
I haven’t been in the game long enough to consider myself an expert. That’s why I was flattered recently, when I had one would-be writer ask me to coach them. I said I would look at their work. They replied that they were just getting started and hadn’t written anything. I have to admit, that one stumped me.
So, now I make my living as a writer. Writing is no longer my hobby, it’s my job. It’s my only job. I will make it or break it on my own efforts. I’m learning a lot about the creative process, because I have to pay attention to those things now. I am also learning a great deal about a lot of topics, because I never know what I will be researching and writing about. It’s a lot of intellectual stimulation, but I like to think I’m up to the job.
I write every day. Sometimes I write all day. But, I rarely write for myself these days. I love writing for my clients, but I am hereby, right now… renewing my commitment to my blog. It doesn’t matter if you read it or not. I’m writing it. I’m surprised at the people who ask me about it, or tell me how much they’ve enjoyed it. It’s difficult to know sometimes if you have any readers.
I’m going to assume that you’re reading, and I’m going to write. My father, who is 83 years old and lives nine hours away, checks his computer to catch up with me through my blog. My Mom and Stepdad take my temperature through my blog, and they have a chuckle as I recount some family stories. I’m not sure why I slowed down. But, just to warn you… I’m back!
-Cat

In Mysterious Ways

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My friend lost a child yesterday. Suddenly, unexpectedly, and sadly, gone. He would have turned two years old in a couple weeks. He was loved by his Mom and Dad, and his two sisters. He brought immeasurable joy into this world when he was born. He will leave a desperate sorrow with his passing.
As a writer, I pride myself on being good with words. When I saw the post on Facebook, I was stunned… at a total loss. I had nothing to say in response to the family, and the many others who had commented on this sad tragedy. Every response I can think of seems inadequate.
How can I say something comforting? I just cannot imagine or construct the proper response. Really… is there one? Is there the “right thing” to say to someone when their 2-year-old, the light of their life, has suddenly left this world?
We place so much importance on such ridiculous stuff in our daily lives. Road rage, sports, jobs, video games, new cars, sneakers, politics, organized religion, the latest technology, and fashion. We live like we will never die. We focus on achieving goals. Long term goals, short term goals, financial goals, college goals, retirement goals, career goals. We yearn for materialistic things.
This won’t change. It’s how we get through it all. We keep putting one foot in front of the other… walking through this world until our number is up.
Sometimes it doesn’t happen suddenly, or so we think. We know someone is older, and they are ill. It crosses our mind that they might not make it. It may be obvious that they are at the end of their journey. Why does it still shock us when they actually die? Is it our eternal hope that we can somehow escape this fate?
In the end, what’s important?  We each have a chance to make a difference while we’re here. Never underestimate that. What you do with the time you’re given can make all the difference to the lives of others. We can be a positive influence and encourage people to do their best.
I have to admit, I’m one of those people that has great faith in the resilience of the human body and spirit. It always shocks me when someone actually dies. I guess I’m the one that thinks on some level that we’ll all live forever in one form or another.
Some of you believe in God, mother nature, or some form of higher power. I do. I believe that we are under God’s care. We may not understand how events like these fit into the grand plan. The fact is, we are not privileged to know the big picture. We cannot possibly be granted foresight and volition. Because we get to choose our actions, we can only guess the outcomes. Some things are obvious, and some are hidden.
So, while we may not know tomorrow, we can live today. Hold your loved ones close. Call someone that you haven’t talked to in a while. Smile at a stranger. Take your chance while you have it.   If you’re the praying kind, please pray for my friend and his family tonight.

-Cat

What Are We Gawking At?

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A lot of people in my generation don’t know who Chris Cornell was. So, the news of his death was not of interest to them.  They didn’t realize that although he had a four-octave vocal range, he was an acquired taste.  Not everyone liked his singing voice.  I did.

I’m not going to sit here now that he’s dead and tell you how much I loved him and how grieved I am.  I liked him, and it’s sad for his family.  He died on the day my youngest grandson was born, so I won’t remember the day in a mournful way.

So, I wanted to write a piece about Chris, but realized that I didn’t know much about him.  I knew that he was the singer for Soundgarden and Audioslave, and I like his solo work as well.  When I went on the internet to research a little, I immediately regretted it.  I can now tell you five things you need to know about him, his wife, his first wife, and his kids.  In fact, five things you “must” know about Chris Cornell.

Now, I’ve got this list of ten interesting things I know about him.  But I want to talk about just one.  The articles all state that he had problems with depression, drugs, and alcohol, but that he went through rehab.  They say that he’s been clean since 2003, and that he’s helped other addicts to stay clean.

Fast forward to now.  His wife says that there’s no way he could have committed suicide, since he was making plans to do stuff on Memorial Day.  When she spoke to him that evening, he was slurring his words.  He told her that he might have taken an extra Ativan or two.  

When a musician dies, it’s usually drugs or suicide.  This looks like a combination of both to me.  I know it’s hard for his wife to accept, but if someone takes an extra Ativan or two, they’re not clean, and they are self-medicating.  

If you think I’m judging, I’m not.  We go about our lives with a very distant relationship with our mortality.  I only know one person that was obsessed with the fact that they were going to die.  They’re dead now.  

The truth is, most people don’t want to know if you’re hurting or depressed.  For all the publicity that mental health awareness gets these days, it’s still considered something that happens to “other people”.  I’ve seen people take a hard stand against suicide, depression, and mental illness. Like they think it’s made up, or self-inflicted, or the person is seeking attention.   I believe we all have our vulnerabilities.  

People say that if you’re feeling depressed, you should talk about it.  To whom?  If someone is suffering with depression, they are carrying a heavy burden.  That’s what depression is.  Exactly who is it that wants to talk about that?  If you suffer from anxiety, you’re scared all the time.  Do people want to talk about that, or should you take Ativan?  Change your Facebook profile pic for a day, yeah.  But have a real discussion?

So, once again, I’m impressed by how fragile we are.  I do feel sad that Chris Cornell, for whatever reason, couldn’t talk it out.

That’s enough cheer for a Monday night!  Thanks for listening…

-Cat

Are You in Love With Your “STUFF”?

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I was listening to a podcast today about “minimalist living” and all the joy it will bring you.  That got me thinking about us crazy Americans and all our “Stuff”.  People are into designer handbags, brand name shoes, and fancy cars. I’m not really interested in a lot of that.   Maybe we’re too materialistic, but I don’t know if I could swing a stuff free life.

I love to watch the Tiny House shows on HGTV.  People want to live in a 200 square foot place with a baby and two dogs.  People want a tiny house, but room for 6 kayaks, or 13 surfboards.  People want a tiny house with entertaining space.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve yelled at the television “It’s a TINY HOUSE!”  Can we really let go of our stuff?  Could you lead a minimalist lifestyle?

Years ago, I read a book by John D. Freyer.  It’s called All My Life For Sale.  It’s an interesting read about a project that John did.  In Phase One of the project, he sold everything… everything he owned on eBay. In Phase Two, he spends time traveling all over the world to visit his stuff. 

The woman in the podcast today, Genevieve Parker Hill, is the author of Minimalist Living: Decluttering for Joy, Health, and Creativity.  She talks about how her family experienced a house fire, and lost all their possessions.  Through this journey, she learned that relationships are important, not stuff.  So was the house fire a blessing or a curse?

Friends of ours, who always had a big home, with lots of wonderful stuff, decided to live in an RV and travel around.  I wonder if they went through stuff withdrawal at first, or did they just make a decision and flip the switch?

I would say that I’m in the middle on the scale of stuff crazy people. My husband is definitely into stuff.  He’s not a hoarder, but he is a serious collector.  He keeps it tidy, and doesn’t break the bank.  That’s all I care about.  Honestly, I think I’m more about the acquisition of stuff, and lose interest in a lot of it after the fact.  That’s sounds horrible, but I believe it’s true. 

So, pause and think for a minute.  Where do you place in the rankings?  Are you the keeper of the stuff, or a sensible purger from time to time?  Do you think you can do it?

– Cat