Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The daily card, weeks 47-48

November 24 was inspired by watching a lot of Trump rallies (don't ask), by applying Trump's winning attitude to challenges at work, and most specifically by Vox's illustration of Trump in their Thanksgiving primer. November 29 inspired by Elise - I love how this one turned out.

November 30 is a favorite quote from the inimitable Lindy West and December 3 refers to this great quote from Ira Glass about closing the gap between art you recognize as great and art you can create yourself.

As I write this, there are just five days left in 2015. Pretty wild to be so close to the end of the year and of this creative challenge. Since I got a bit beyond in posting throughout the year, I'm going to double up for the last few weeks' worth of cards. 

If there's one thing I will take away from this challenge, it is that creativity breeds creativity and action begets action. I've gotten some of my best card ideas when life is hectic. And this holds true well beyond the cards. The days that I have to do a bunch of writing at work are the days that I am raring to start writing new blog posts. 

The best part is, high-volume writing days in a professional context help take the fear and emotion out of my personal writing here and elsewhere. They remind me that writing is just words and ideas - not a reflection of my deepest worth as a human being. They teach me to be comfortable with criticism and to not take it personally when someone has thoughts on how to strengthen something. They remind me to just start getting stuff down on the page and to go from there.

As a creative challenge, I am decorating a playing card every day in 2015. More context on this project is here and you can see all past card posts here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The daily card, week 46

On tap this week: stamping with wine, finding pattern in Arabic script, obsessed with Hamilton, finished reading Essentialism, wondering when you can appropriately wear bras that show through your clothing, trying not to freak out, and the phrase that captures this year better than any other.

That phrase is from Life of Pi, in which Pi is stranded on a lifeboat with a lot of tiger and very few supplies. He finds a water can but, sans can opener, has to use a tarpaulin hook to open it: "Holding the can with both my hands, I sharply brought it up against the hook. A good dint. I did it again. Another dint next to the first. By dint of dinting, I managed the trick."

I read the book over a decade ago, but I still think of that phrase. For a long time it was just for the clever wordplay - and now also because it so perfectly captures a year of daily creativity and small, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other steps forward.

In high school, I was a bit of a procrastinator, prone to putting things off to the last minute and then writing papers in a burst of inspiration over the course of a late night. (I once faked a semester's worth of prayer journal entries in an afternoon.) It was stressful, but I did well, so I never had incentive to change my ways to embrace the slow-and-steady.

But most everything worthwhile I have done in my adult life has been by dint of dinting. I am not a great athlete, but I have become a runner by dint of dinting. I have been dinting at strengthening my writing basically since I was literate. Until the day when I get tapped to jump ten salary bands and run my organization, I will keep dinting at building competence and expertise in my job. And this whole year-long endeavor - making daily small-scale art - has been a way of dinting at becoming a creative person.

That phrase is immensely encouraging to me - we often don't immediately see the impact of our efforts, we just need to dint, dint, dint.

As a creative challenge, I am decorating a playing card every day in 2015. More context on this project is here and you can see all past card posts here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Week 45 and thoughts on art & identity

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the daily cards are not so much a part of my public identity as they are a personal practice. (Even if I am sharing them with the Internet.) There is a lot of emphasis in blog world on having a well-integrated personal brand. But the thing is, I don't know that I do -- or even that I want to. I love working in international development and democratic politics by day and I love dabbling in this stuff by night. But it is not really something you could consider a "side hustle." It is not going to make me money or give me skills I can use in my job or inspire an entirely new online career. It doesn't feel "essential" in the Essentialism sense -- it is probably not furthering my ability to make my highest possible contribution to the planet.

All of these thoughts had been rolling around in the back of my mind when I listened to Elizabeth Gilbert's Magic Lessons podcast. In one, talking to a burned-out art teacher who wants to recommit to making her own art, Liz tells her to have an affair with her creativity. To pursue something that is just for her, that is even a bit furtive and secret, that doesn't depend on having an audience and in fact does better without one. And I loved that idea. It made things click for me. It was immensely reassuring to be reminded that my creative life, if you can call it that, needs to serve no further end than my own enjoyment.

As a creative challenge, I am decorating a playing card every day in 2015. More context on this project is here and you can see all past card posts here.

Monday, December 14, 2015

then & now

There is something so special about coming back to an old place that, plus or minus a few restaurants, has stayed basically the same - it gives you a window on what has changed in yourself. I first came to Mauritania when I was 23, less than a year after I wrapped up my post-collegiate world travels and just six months into my first real job. Now I am 26, feeling more like an adult in some moments and as confused and naive as ever in others. I have changed and stayed the same in ways that, while endlessly interesting to me, would be very boring to read about. But the sun is still hot, the beach is still lovely, and the seafood is still fresh and plentiful. Plus รงa change

Saturday, December 12, 2015

My traveling-for-work intentions

This draft started when I last traveled to Mauritania earlier this year, not expecting that I'd be back so soon. I rediscovered it when I was getting ready to travel to Nouakchott last week and, though Austin gives me a hard time for saying this, I was reinspired by my own words. The funny thing is that it applies just as much, if not more, now than it did before.

I am currently in the middle of a trip to Nouakchott, Mauritania. This is my sixth seventh work trip, depending on how you count it. And no two of them have been the same. (With the exception of the three Tunisian election days, which were like living the same day three times). I like to try to set intentions, but I've found that the key is not to hang on to expectations too tightly based on what things were like in the past. Every time I've come, the office has been helmed by a different country director with a different style and different favorite haunts around Nouakchott. This time there's no acting country director and so it's even more different.

So my goals are to be useful and to learn something about the culture -- and most of all to be open to whatever happens. And to never think I know everything there is to know. The nice thing about Mauritania is it's clear, right off the bat, that you are just scratching the surface. When I first came to Nouakchott, I expected it to feel like a sleepy town at the end of the world. And in some ways it does. But there are also surprisingly gorgeous beaches and well-stocked supermarkets and a society far more complex than you can grasp in a quick ten days.

And speaking of being inspired by my own words, this note fell out of my legal pad when I was unpacking. It's my handwriting, but I have no recollection of writing it and no idea what originally prompted it -- it was a couple years ago, based on the stationery, and when I was presumably in a more woo-woo phase than I am now. But it was almost spookily apt and surprisingly reassuring as I geared up for my time here. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The daily card, week 44

This was a fun week full of lots of writing. (And editing, which can feel like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.) "Neighborhood news" is a reference to the fabulous Girl Next Door podcast - the big news in Columbia Heights these days is the Chick-fil-a that just opened, and since Austin was away I treated myself without someone there to remind me of the human rights abuses I was committing by proxy. Then Sunday, I ran a 10k across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and celebrated that with some Maryland flag pride.

The "she's a rebel" card is all about serendipity and the power of the crop. I cut out a magazine picture of a rebellious-looking guy to accompany that caption, but then I noticed the perfectly-framed image on the reverse side, and decided to use that one instead. I love the about-to-take-a-leap moment it captures, and how the crop focuses on one person in a crowd. I was composing a blog post in my head about the power of creative accident when Austin asked if my card was "about a girl's butt." So that brought me back down to a place where I could take myself a little less seriously. :)

Otherwise, my favorite new technique is using watercolor to paint on stamps. I stumbled into this one by not having paint or ink the shade of blue that I wanted, so I looked for alternatives. I totally dig the ephemeral way it turned out.

Moving right along! So crazy that we are now on month 12 of 12 of the year of creative habits. I am hoping to finish this project strong.

As a creative challenge, I am decorating a playing card every day in 2015. More context on this project is here and you can see all past card posts here.