NaPoWriMo: 30 Days, 30 Poems

In case you haven’t heard, this is National Poetry Month. I’m arriving to the party a little late but am going to participate in National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) this year by writing at least one poem a day in April. My first, below, was inspired by my morning Facebook feed (I’ll play catch up a bit later in the month).

If you want to join me or learn more, check out the links at the end of the post.

April 3, 2014 poemSee Also

Making learning fun: Photo editing with Word 2013

Floyd Renoir Header

Our family’s homeschooling experience taught me that the best way to learn something is to make it fun and meaningful, so when I wanted to get better at using Word 2013 to edit photos—see this Goodwill Community Foundation superb tutorial—I gave myself a project, something I think of as the Floyd Fotobomb Series.

Falling in Love with Floyd

Let me explain. Floyd is our betta fish. He is actually Floyd II (aka Floyd 2.0 aka Floyd Too), the successor to the original Pink Floyd, the betta that was my daughter-in-law’s while she was a college dorm R.A. When she and our son moved to Boston last year, the aging Floyd could not make the trip, so I cared for him until he died last fall.

By then I had grown quite fond of the little fish. Within a week I got Floyd II to keep the legacy alive and also learned how to keep a cycled five-gallon tankBetta splendens, also known as Siamese Fighting Fish, are as engaging and personable as they are beautiful. Floyd II loves to look at human faces, swishes his fins excitedly whenever one of us walks by his tank or even waves from across the room, and eats with the appreciative gusto of an adolescent boy. The video below from the International Betta Competition offers a glimpse into the world of this fascinating species.

Making Learning Fun and Meaningful (at any age)

How does this all relate to photo editing? Using the GCF tutorial and old-fashioned trial and error, I’ve been editing photos of Floyd II to include in various photos and images, mostly public domain art works or government photos, since those are easy to find online (FUN). Then I text the final creations to our son each morning as a daily form of connection (MEANING). Below are some of the results so far, from earliest to most recent, so that you can decide for yourselves if I am getting any better. Regardless of my eventual proficiency, I’m having a fish-load of fun.

Floyd Crossing the Delaware

Floyd Crossing the Delaware (photo via Wikimedia)

Fab Floyd

Fab Floyd (photo via Wikimedia)

Apollo 11

One Small Step for Floyd (photo via Wikimedia)

Floyd Pop

Floyd Pop (photo via Wikimedia)

Mad Fish

Mad Fish

Renoir Floyd

Sur la Terrasse avec Floyd (photo via Wikimedia)

Rainy Day Floyd

Rainy Day Floyd (photo via Wikimedia)

Mr. Fahrenheit: Freddie Mercury’s Creative Complexity

Mercury Header

“I’m so powerful on stage that I seem to have created a monster. When I’m performing I’m an extrovert, yet inside I’m a completely different man.” ~ Freddie Mercury

The soundtrack of my teenage years reverberates with the amazing vocal range of Freddie Mercury.


Freddie Mercury’s vocal range. Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons

Not until recently, however, have I begun to appreciate the complexity of the man born Farrokh Bulsara, who grew up in Zanzibar and India before moving with his family to England when he was seventeen.

Creativity Is Complex

According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who studied dozens of eminent creative people to figure out what, if anything, makes them different from others, one “dimension of complexity” they tend to possess is that of extroversion and introversion:

“Creative people tend to be both extroverted and introverted. We’re usually one or the other, either preferring to be in the thick of crowds or sitting on the sidelines and observing the passing show. In fact, in psychological research, extroversion and introversion are considered the most stable personality traits that differentiate people from each other and that can be reliably measured. Creative individuals, on the other hand, seem to exhibit both traits simultaneously.” ~ Read more

It’s hard to imagine a more extroverted performer than Freddie Mercury, but he had another side, as well:

“Can you imagine how terrible it is when you’ve got everything and you’re still desperately lonely? That is awful beyond words. I don’t want people to think, poor old Freddie. because I can deal with it. But I’m so powerful on stage that I seem to have created a monster. When I’m performing. I’m an extrovert, yet inside I’m a completely different man. Of course, the stagey streak in me, where I love to jump around and be volatile, is real, but people don’t realise there’s more. They expect me to be the same in my personal life as well. They say. ‘Come on, Freddie, perform, give us some excitement’.” ~ Freddie Mercury, Interview with Ken Everett

“That Was His Nature”

Biographer Lesley-Ann Jones quotes one of Mercury’s cousins as remembering that he was a “delightfully courteous, serious, and precise little boy” with “a twinkle in his eye and a mischievous streak.” She continues, “But I remember him most vividly as secretive and shy. Painfully shy. He would not talk much, even when he came with his parents to see us. That was his nature” (Mercury, p. 32).

After Mercury’s death in 1991, Guardian reporter Paul Myers wrote that a “more sedate lifestyle” was closer to “the real Freddie Mercury” than was Mr. Fahrenheit.

My teenage Queen obsession was reignited recently by a chance hearing in a grocery store of “Don’t Stop Me Now,” and I’ve since learned other fascinating tidbits about the band, such that lead guitarist Brian May has a PhD in astrophysics and drummer Roger Taylor has a degree in biology, after having switched from dentistry.

The Voice, The Music

As I await the upcoming Queen biopic (with Ben Whishaw—listen to this Freddie Mercury radio interview to hear how similar are their spoken voices), I will keep entertained with some of the music that kept me going in the late 1970s and 1980s. Enjoy.

On Passion, Detachment and Creativity

To be successful, should we find and follow our passion, or is doing so terrible advice?

I was reminded of this debate when reading Cal Newport’s recent blog post on how comedian “Louis C. K. Was Bad Before He Was Good.” While I always enjoy Cal’s blog, what I was most struck by were the comments, such as these:

  • “The role of passion in my mind, is NOT that it makes you pre-disposed to be good, but rather that it helps you make yourself choose to spend “another hour” practicing because you are excited about the potential outcome” ~ Chris
  • I “have no doubt that Louis CK enjoyed the process of working hard. What he had a passion for wasn’t comedy — it was learning new skills, getting better at stuff.” ~ Michael

Is passion the problem? Is grit the answer? Discipline? Persistence? Researcher and psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would say that doing creative work is not a matter of choosing one way of thinking and acting to the exclusion of others. Instead, creativity requires the ability to choose from among seemingly discordant paths and strategies—such as passion or detachment—for whatever is needed at the moment or for a particular stage of the creative process:

“Most creative persons are very passionate about their work, yet they can be extremely objective about it as well. The energy generated by this conflict between attachment and detachment has been mentioned by many as being an important part of their work. Without the passion, we soon lose interest in a difficult task. Yet, without being objective about it, our work is not very good and lacks credibility. So the creative process tends to be a yin-yang alternation between these two extremes.” ~ Creativity, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, HarperPerennial, 1997, p. 72

Public domain image

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (public domain image)

Ursula K. Le Guin on Submission and Rejection: It Never Stops

Ursula K Le Guin

“The artist deals in what cannot be said in words. The artist whose medium is fiction does this in words. The novelist says in words what cannot be said in words.” ~ Ursula K. Le Guin, Introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness (1976)

Continuing the theme of AWP 2014 highlights, the final session I attended was “A Reading and Conversation with Molly Gloss and Ursula K Le Guin.” The two women have been friends for over thirty years, since Gloss was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of student in Le Guin’s writing workshops.

Both authors were charming, forthright, and informative, and the audience was treated to several candid, memorable lines and moments. For example, when asked if they went on writers’ retreats in their early careers, Le Guin replied that “retreat” sounds too much as though a battle had been lost.

The session ended with their reading from unpublished works, in Le Guin’s case, a short story she is shopping around that had recently been rejected, reminding the audience that even for someone with five Hugo Awards and as many Nebula Awards, the process never stops.

See Also

Read Ursula K. Le Guin’s Paris Review interview.

ReadProof that Molly Gloss Deserves To Be One of Your Favorite Authors.”

Missed AWP this year? No worries. Watch an even more extended conversation Le Guin had last year at UC Berkeley (go to the 4:45 mark if you want to skip the introduction):