The Plummy Awards

The winners of the first annual Plummy Awards for excellence in crafting have been announced. (Found via the Craftzine blog.)

This contest was established by the folks who run the Plum of the Month Club, a very cool project that puts a "juicy handmade item in your mailbox each month." Subscription information is here. I like how the project supports handmade DIY craft-makers, and involves getting a little surprise in the mail. I also really like the graphic in the top right corner of the site: "Here you go!"… "Aww, thanks, dude!"

Tree

I came around the turn like I always do, having just descended the shaded steps from the tallest point in the park, and I was feeling so good, I was covered in sweat and smiling and glad to be at my little secret spot in the park, a wooded path that’s tucked away and rarely frequented by most park goers, just other runners and bird watchers, old men walking their dogs, couples holding hands, but usually no one, just me, and the path, and all that beautiful nature in this cement city, and this one tree, this one glorious tree with a split trunk, one length of it running straight up to the sky, the other on a slant, leaning over the path, as if to provide this place with a monumental arch, a purposeful sharing of its shade, and for me, a friendly hello, a welcome to its solitude and strength and its beauty. Except on this day, August 26, 2006, this one special tree was no longer there.

No, no, no NO!

I stopped cold and started making calculations — yes, I am where I think I am, this is the path, and I just turned the corner and from where I am standing right now the tree should be there, right there, right in front of me. It should be there, and it is not.

Saw dust splotches on the path. One half of the tree’s trunk lying there, as if it had been run down and just left on the side of a desolate road. All those years in the wind, all those stars and the nights, all those leaves come and gone and falling all around, sun beating, beating, beating down, rain drops slipping on the green, the swaying of the branches, and now, just gone, cut down.

Gray day, on the verge of a rain, an unseasonably cool breeze for this August day rustling the branches all around and striking a bitter chill along my sweat drenched backside. I stood there and held on to the disbelief — better to not believe then to let it sink in. But it does sink in and I started running again, to shake it off, to wrap my head around it, to get away from the tree that was looming so large but was no longer there.

There are the fixtures in our life, and they help connect the dots of who we are, help us remember, show us how to forget, get us to bend over and pick up the pieces, help us close our eyes at night and finally, finally, at last, fall asleep.

Running is a way to keep the pounds off my mid-riff, to keep me from screaming because the TV volume is up too loud or some other stupid thing that I shouldn’t be losing my temper over, to keep my blood pressure down, to do some thinking or to do no thinking at all, to help clear my mind, to be alone, to move forward, faster and faster and faster. And throughout and within all of the running, that tree was my fixture: to reach the tree, to see the tree, to think back on it as I walked into my apartment, winded, soar and soaked in sweat, but smiling down to my core.

Fixtures can be monuments in the here and now, but they can also be fleeting memories, things from our past that are gone forever. It’s hard to see them transition from one to the other. There is sadness and there is shock, and anger. In the long run, though, I think what makes these fixtures important to us, what makes them truly meaningful, is knowing deep down that this transition will happen. Once it does happen, and the immediate emotions run their course, the fixture’s roots have been laid into the core of who you were, who you were, and who you will become.

So I will keep running, to the tree. To the tree. I’ll keep running to the tree.

Charles Bukowski: Born Into This

Saw the documentary on Charles Bukowski the other day — Born Into This. Can’t recommend it enough, especially for those writers out there. Here’s a guy who lived a pretty fucked up life, and drank way too much much too often, and boom, from all that, and most incredibly, in the midst of all of it, he wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. I was fascinated by the way his writing career began — publishing in tiny journals and weekly rags, the rejection notes piling up all around. And yet, slowly, slowly, his words start having an impact on a person here and a person there, and one person in particular, John Martin, a printer — not a publisher, makes a deal with Bukowski to pay him $100 a month for life if he quits his day job and devotes himself to writing full-time. Martin then creates a publishing house — now famously known as Black Sparrow Press, just to publish Bukowski. And the rest is history, and more importantly, an incredible body of work, both in its depth and its size.

Bukowski is the kind of writer that makes you feel sort of guilty and slightly uncomfortable for laughing, but there you are, busting a gut on the subway, having to put the book down and try to stifle your laughter on a crowded train, people wondering what the hell is wrong with you and cursing themselves for sitting next to a crazy person.

One amazing little tidbit from the documentary is the how Martin, after striking this $100 a month deal with Bukowski, asks him if maybe he might try writing a novel, because it would be easier to sell than a collection of poetry. Martin says it was just a suggestion, but less than a month later Bukowski calls him and tells him to come by to pick something up. What is it? asks Martin, and Bukowski tells him it’s the novel he requested. That novel is Post Office. It’s my favorite Bukowski book. I have a bias towards work stories, but if you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it. It is raw, cuts to the core of a dead end job and a terrible boss, and it is freaking hilarious.

This documentary was a nice little kick in the pants for me. I watched it, then flipped open the laptop and finished a story I’ve been mostly avoiding for about a month. (I’ll be posting on Wednesday here at 52projects.com — very different from what I normally post. I hope you’ll come back and give it a read.)

There’s also a new movie out right now starring Matt Dillon — Factotum — based on a Bukowski novel of the same name. I haven’t read the book, but I plan to, and I’d also like to see the movie. I already recommended reading Post Office, as well as seeing the Bukowski documentary. And for you writers out there, track down a copy of the Bukowski poem "So You Want to Be A Writer?" in the book Sifting Through the Madness for the Word, the Line, the Way. Worth a read not just once, but whenever you need it, like all the great poems.

Old Letters

Kelly L. Watson has posted some hilarious letters from her elementary school days. A total trip to see this grade-school humor — so clever, so much teasing, so many misspellings! These letters should bring some memories back, of passing notes and grade school crushes, and maybe even send you digging through the storage boxes to find some old letters of your own.

An Interview With Chris Dunmire,Publisher of Creativity-Portal.com

You better really mean it if you’re going to put the word "portal" in the name of your website. You better have lots of links and lots of stories and cover all the seasons and in general be opening up your audience to all kinds of new stuff all the time. And if your focus is creativity, well, then you’ve really got to have it together. Creative types are always looking for fresh ideas and original concepts and new ways to further their own endeavors, whether they’re old hat experts or new to the craft. Well, Creativity Portal means it. The site, run by Chris Dunmire, is a launching pad to creative quick fixes and craft ideas, as well as in-depth explorations of inspiration and living the creative life. I interviewed Dunmire about Creativity Portal and creativity in general.

Why did you start Creativity-Portal.com?

Short answer: Because I’m a creativity enthusiast!

Long answer: I started the Creativity Portal Web site in 2000 shortly after leaving a corporate job at a company I’d been with for seven years — one that I originally thought I’d be with for several decades until I retired (it was that kind of company). However, in the years leading up to my departure, an astonishing number of life-altering events took place that forced me to take stock of my life and realize that I was undergoing a creative awakening that needed to be tended to and incorporated into my working life somehow.

As I was in the process of changing career paths, I began to embrace my creativity enthusiast nature more and knew I needed a dynamic "container" to pour my creative energy into. A Web-based project based on my creative vision became that container — the Web site known as the Creativity Portal.

How has the site evolved over the years?

Watching the Creativity Portal grow and evolve over the years has been such a satisfying experience. The site began with a hand-selected directory and profile of instructional art, craft, and writing resources and grew to include my own creativity-inspiring projects, articles, and book reviews. I opened up the site as a creative community project after an author approached me with her syndicated column series and asked if it could be published on the site. Welcoming that collaboration resulted in other creative professionals working with me to add their voices to the collective Creativity Portal project.

Today the Creativity Portal features over a half-dozen regular monthly columns in addition to ongoing contributions by various authors, coaches, and artists to help educate and inspire visitors no matter where they are in their creative lives. The site has earned a generous share of accolades as well. It’s been named a Writer’s Digest Best Web site (since 2002), was lauded as a Kim Komando "Kool" Site, and has appeared in Imagine magazine, a college textbook, and on Blogger’s Buzz. Several authors have also acknowledged the Creativity Portal in their books and on their Web sites, which is a great honor.

How do you balance a site about creativity with all your personal creative projects?

Serendipitously, the Creativity Portal is a continuous source of inspiration and motivation for my own creative life. The same articles and resources that inspire its readers also inspire me. As the sites’ creative director and publisher, I read every single article and project published on the site and work closely with its regular contributors in the shape and direction of new site features. All of this has a very personal and profound effect on me that spills over into my personal creative work.

It’s no coincidence that many of my creative projects are weaved through the pages of the Creativity Portal Web site even though I have my own personal site devoted to my creative play (www.chrisdunmire.com). I am thrilled to be the site publisher and an active contributor. It’s like running an ice cream shop while inventing new ice cream flavors on the side in the back room. It all just flows together in a fulfilling, creative dream kind of way.

We’re all creative beings, doing creative things all the time. But how important is it to emphasize creativity in one’s life?

I’m naturally biased about this and pro-creativity in the fullest sense of the word. Having said that, I believe the gauge on this is for each of us to decide for ourselves — how much or to what extent we should personally emphasize creativity in our lives.

You are correct in saying that we are all creative beings, doing creative things all of the time. Not everyone recognizes when their creativity is engaged as artists, inventors, problem solvers, or ‘outside the box’ thinkers. It happens in the kitchen, at the store, while we’re driving, during meetings, while we’re playing, and when we’re working. Creativity permeates every aspect of our lives, whether we label it as such or not, and we all benefit from the freedom to be creative. Creativity keeps us progressive, improves our lives, and gives us the opportunity to express ourselves and communicate with others.

How has your personal view of creativity evolved as you’ve built up and worked on the website?

My personal view of creativity has grown so much over the years — and I suspect it will never stop evolving for as long as I live. Every person I come into contact with contributes to the dynamic definition of creativity that I carry within me.

Long ago I used to think that creativity was only about artistic expression and problem solving, but I have grown to understand it also as a tool for healing, personal growth, and spiritual practice. It is a multi-faceted component to our lives that makes everything possible.

What kinds of things do you hear from readers of the site?

I’ve received an abundance of affirming feedback from visitors who enjoy the Creativity Portal’s vision, articles, projects, and resources. I get a lot of fun comments from people who’ve used my novelty Money Plant Project. I also receive kind personal notes from newsletter readers about my musings and the community projects I invite them into.

Recently, one reader shared with me how an article from the site discussing how "getting outside of your routine promotes creativity" helped inspire her writing life during some challenging times after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area in which she lived.

Other contributors to the Creativity Portal have also been recipients of life-changing feedback to their work. One author was approached by a popular health magazine after her article on creativity was published on the site. They wanted permission to publish her article in their print magazine! Another author received so much feedback on one of her articles about day jobs that she went on to write a book about it.

How does a creativity coach work? I’m sure each has his or her own creative approach, but for those who have only heard the term, can you provide some insight?

You are correct — professional creativity coaches, depending on their background and training, may have different approaches to their coaching style, focus, and philosophy. I have trained as a creativity coach under Eric Maisel, Ph.D., and his coaching philosophy is well-reflected in the many books he’s written on creativity and coaching.

In the broadest sense, creativity coaches help support artists and creators of all kinds with their creative work in working regularly and deeply, overcoming blocks, and achieving success in the marketplace. Some coaches have specialty niches and may work primarily with writers, visual artists, or performers in-person, by phone, or through e-mail.

For anyone interested in more information on creativity coaching, I recommend visiting the Web sites of Eric Maisel, Ph.D. and Jill Badonsky M.Ed., who are two well-known coach trainers.

When was the last time you were creatively stuck, and how did you get past it?

I get creatively stuck all the time. How do I get past it? Sometimes it’s a matter of allowing the creative process to work (you know, idea gathering, incubation…). Other times I need to shift into self-coach mode and figure out what’s going on with me. Do I know enough about a subject? Am I being a perfectionist? Am I afraid? Do I need to take a nap? Do I need to eat more cookies? And on and on it goes.

Sometimes getting past it means I have to put aside my fears and do it anyway. Sometimes it means accepting that doing things creatively average is okay. And sometimes it means scrapping an idea and saying "Chris, what WERE you thinking?!"

It’s summer timeā€¦ Any good summer creativity prompts?

Yes, go outside to your favorite park, lake, or forest preserve and really notice what’s going on around you. Whether you see ducks floating on the water, little kids hanging on the monkey bars, or families enjoying quality time eating together, you’ll find all of the creative story starters you need to last you until autumn. Here’s your first one: go count all of the white butterflies you can in five minutes fluttering through the flowers and then write about what you think they’re really up to. These family-friendly prompts are brought to you by the letters C, D, B.

What’s currently inspiring you, and what are you working on?

I am currently inspired by flowers. Flowers are such amazing works of art. I am gifted with a teacher friend who is educating me on all kinds of flowery things and has some very cool ones growing in her yard that I’ve never seen before in my life. She’s recently sent me a postcard from her vacation in Minnesota featuring the state flower called "Showy Lady Slipper." The flower actually looks like an elegant slipper shoe!

I am working on many creative things. I recently finished a coaching writers training with Eric Maisel and have plunged deeper into my writing life. I have a growing list of writing projects that keep me busy, and when I’m not doing that I’m doing my best to chronicle my creative journey and reflect on the richness of being alive in the now.

Describe a perfectly creative day:

I think that it’s okay to live un-perfectly creative days. My current philosophy is this: I believe in meeting a day creatively where you are, knowing that tomorrow is another day you can continue on the journey if you are up to the challenge. If you’re not, rest and recharge. Some days I am exhausted from all of my spent creative energy, and other days I am resting and queuing up for the next exciting project. Occasionally, in between days I unplug from it all and put my creative life on pause. I’ll admit though, that’s really hard for a creativity enthusiast to do.

Favorite Movie Scenes

These are not necessarily favorite movies, just favorite scenes from random movies. These are selected moments that have just struck a chord with me, float to the forefront of my mind from time to time, ones that can make me start laughing so hard I can’t finish my sentence, scenes I like to relate to others on long car drives when we’re all just talking to make sure the driver doesn’t fall asleep at the wheel.

The aforementioned "Custard Scene" from Young Adam.

Bill Murray’s "It just doesn’t matter" speech from Meatballs.

The scene where Wil Wheaton sees that deer in Stand By Me, and explains that he kept the sighting to himself, didn’t tell his friends about it.

When Anthony Michael Hall tells his friend "Don’t mess with the fantasy" in Weird Science.

The scene in City Slickers when one of the ice cream entrepreneurs, in response to Billy Crystal’s challenge to name the perfect ice cream to eat after a hot dog, says, "Scoop of vanilla, scoop of chocolate (throws his plate down) — Don’t waste my time."

In The Untouchables, when Kevin Costner is trying to stop that baby carriage from falling down the steps, chasing it in slow motion, and then a running Andy Garcia throws up a gun to Costner, slides to the bottom of the staircase, stops the baby carriage from falling with his foot, and has a perfectly lined up shot at the bad guy.

That scene when Booger from Revenge of the Nerds shouts "He’s skiing on one ski!" in the movie Better Off Dead.

When John Candy as Uncle Buck is trying to explain to his girlfriend why he can’t show up for his first day of work at her auto shop, yet again.

The scene in Y Tu Mama Tambien where the boy wakes up and realizes he is driving through the hometown of his nanny, is clearly moved by it, and then decides to say nothing to his traveling companions.

The love-making scene in Late Marriage.

When they leave the old blind man’s house in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.

The woman sitting quietly and demurely smiling on the park bench with the true love of her life in After Life.

In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when Charlie returns the everlasting jawbreaker and Willy Wonka stares at it for a moment and then in a whisper says, “A good deed in weary world.”

The old man on the swing in the rain in Ikiru.

What are some of your favorite scenes from movies?

Summer Projects

Ahhh, summer.

It’s definitely here, and it has finally registered, but I can’t decide if summer is for setting everything aside and simply laying out that blanket in a shady area in the park and just lying there all day, or if it’s a time to go into super-project-making mode. I suppose trying to find that happy-medium is the key. Enjoy the hot summer sun, but also, make the time to make those projects.

And then of course, there are all those cool projects and excursions that summer itself inspires, so much to see and do, places to visit and people to see.

I don’t really have a specific project in mind right now, and I kind of like that. There are the ongoing projects, of course, but I’m at the start of the summer with an itch to begin something new. I know that I’m going to keep my camera on me at all times, that I’ve got a brand new journal to write in, and I have all kinds of events on the calendar and new places I’m planning to visit. I’m going to let this new project unfold as I make my way through the summer days. And in a way, that’s a perfect summer project — one that combines both the impulse to relax and the desire to get things done, thereby letting the true nature of these summer days shape what it is that I decide to make.

I was going to end this post with: "Get started on your summer projects!", but that’s not quite right, not really in the spirit of the season. So I will end with this: "Get started on your summer!"

For Some Writing Inspiration

Read “92 Days” by Larry Brown in the book Big Bad Love.

See the movie Before Night Falls. There’s a scene where the main character is typing on a balcony in the burning hot sun, sweating and smiling and you will know what I am talking about when you see it. (Of course read the book as well, by Reinaldo Arenas).

Read John Fante’s Ask the Dust.