Dressember and Starting Where You Are

“The place where God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” -Fredrick Buechner

For much of my life I believed that I must forego my own talents and interests in the interest of altruism. I felt like it was selfish of me to pursue what I liked while there are so many in the world who cannot. I spent most of my undergrad trying to forget the “trivial” interests I had like fine arts, dance, fashion, etc. which were not seen inherently bad, but distractions from what I perceived as the “real work”: advocating for the rights of those who are marginalized.

So when I came across the quote above, it immediately made me uncomfortable. What did gladness have to do with anything? In my mind dance couldn’t change the world; art couldn’t end oppression; fashion doesn’t matter when people are starving to death.

IMG_3235

While the intention is good, and these thoughts are not completely wrong, I’ve realized just how limiting this kind of thinking is. It is the voice of the cynic, creativity’s antithesis.

A better way of looking at it is through the lens of “how?” How can dance change the world? How can art end oppression? How can fashion feed people? How can a beautiful meal end violence? How can running challenge inequality? How can good design make a meaningful impact on people’s lives?

IMG_3210

For many (the cynics), the initial response is: it can’t. For them, life is a zero-sum game, so they hoard, and steal, and blame, and complain -but never do they transcend the binary world they’ve created. They see the world as “us vs. them.” It doesn’t matter which “side” they claim to be on, the projected superiority in their choice is what speaks and contributes to the disconnectedness of the world.

But then there is another group, the creatives, who realize that everything is connected and if one person wins it does not mean everyone else loses. These people and groups are truly open. Love, compassion, and kindness flow out of them. They seek to contribute to the beauty of the world. They do not resent anything or anyone, but recognize the brokenness of the world and, through their own wholeness and joy, seek to change it.

IMG_3239

Currently I am participating in a unique awareness/fundraising event by started by a group of these “creatives.” International Justice Mission (IJM) -a non-profit that rescues victims of human trafficking- has organized a campaign called: Dressember. The premise is that participants wear a dress everyday during the month of December to raise awareness about human trafficking and money for IJM to use for rescuing more victims. (85% of the money IJM receives during the Dressember campaign goes directly helping victims.) The event is the brain-child of Blythe Hill, who started Dressember just for fun/the challenge of wearing a dress everyday for a month because she loved dresses and fashion. It was only recently that she attached it to a greater cause when she and IJM got connected. The event has since taken off, fundraising more than $200K to fight human trafficking.

I believe the order in which this story developed is important. She started where she was, with something she loved, and THEN used it to change the world through her creativity. So often those who want to change the world get too fixated on the problems facing the issue and ignore what brings them joy. They forget that what the world really needs is more joy. That’s what it looks like to “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

IMG_3304

If you’d like to contribute to my Dressember campaign, I would love it! Follow the link! support.dressemberfoundation.org/rlcreations

Right-Brain Business Plan

On January 25, 2013 I wrote a post entitled “Lost In the Details” in which I discussed my proclivity to avoid the micro-details that come with starting a business and more specifically creating a business plan. At the time I bought a book (mentioned in the post) that I believed would help me with the pesky details that I was so inclined to avoid.

It didn’t.

I fell asleep every time I tried to read it.

This is a problem that a lot creative types have with creating a business. They are bored or overwhelmed by the business side and thus end up abandoning the whole project or going on without a business plan, both of which are problematic.

When I started working on my business plan (which I did abandon after a while) I tried many different tactics to convince myself that despite how much I hated the process, creating a stale, static, business plan was good for me and a necessary endeavor. I soon realized that while it is good to push oneself and creating a business plan is crucial to creating a successful business, it also shouldn’t bore one to tears.

In my first business plan attempt I went in with the mentality that this was for other people. My business plan was to show others that I had a viable/functional, intelligently composed, highly detailed business and not just a hobby. I used language that was foreign to me and completely uninspiring. The format was a dull, black-and-white Word document that, much like my résumé, made me want to throw up.

Needless to say, I abandoned the endeavor all together.

Then I found this book:

Find it at your local bookstore or library!

Find it at your local bookstore or library!

It shocked me. I had no idea that constructing a business plan could be a fun and creative process. It also made me realize that a business plan is for the person creating it, not necessarily for the rest of the world. Sure, it is not encouraged that one take a hand-constructed collage, or poster to a meeting with investors or potential clients, but it is necessary to articulate to oneself what needs to be done and what one wants from one’s own business.

When I was taking that grant writing class (as mentioned in previous posts, including the aforementioned “Lost In the Details”) I must confess that I really struggled with the class because the jargon used did not construct a clear vision to me of what was essential to the organization and grant proposal. Sometimes the professional world uses overly-complicated language to mean the simplest of concepts and it can be a hindrance to those who don’t “speak that language.”

That’s what I appreciate about “The Right-Brain Business Plan;” it encourages artists and creative types to use their own language to describe the concepts that are necessary to understand for a successful business. After the right-brainer constructs their own version of a business plan, with all the elements that a traditional business plan has, it will make it much easier to create a more formal plan to use in meetings with investors or clients.

So if the idea of writing a business plan sounds like a grueling, tear and sleep-inducing process, check out “The Right-Brain Business Plan” and/or http://www.rightbrainbusinessplan.com/.

Discovering Picasso’s Genius

Picasso is the icon of a successful artist. When a child draws a picture, or dedicates themselves to art others often say: “you could be the next Picasso!” (Although this may also be said out of irony on account of Picasso’s child-like style.)

Pablo Picasso

By Revista Vea y Lea (cuadrado por Juan Pablo Arancibia Medina) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As a kid, I remember being in awe of Picasso because of this. I thought: “If only I could be as good of an artist as Picasso -everyone knows him and it must be impossible to actually see his work in person.” Like many, when I eventually became acquainted with his work, I was perplex by a style that I could not understand. His paintings were child-like, he used colors that were off-putting to me, and I simply couldn’t make sense of what he’d created.

As I grew and got more involved in artistic study, I became repulsed by Picasso. First of all, I saw what the man actually looked like, and he frightened me. His eyes were those of a madman, and he had this general wildness about him that made me uneasy. I also discovered the incredibly awful things he said about women and the way he depicted them in his paintings and wanted no part in condoning that behavior. Finally, I (like many others I’d suspect,) really didn’t find his style that compelling and his pieces often left me wondering what the big fuss was about.

Then I travelled to Spain –Picasso’s homeland. While I was in Barcelona I found out that the “Museu Picasso” had free admission on Sundays. I went, perhaps compelled by that same child-like reverence I felt years earlier, and discovered the many sides of the legendary painter.

Viewing such an extensive collection of his work allowed me to see him as a man and not just a figure or legend. The museum was filled with not only some of his more famous stylized paintings, such as those from his blue period, his cubism, and african style, but also some of his earlier more realistic and far less distinguishably “Picasso” pieces like this one. This experience communicated to me that Picasso’s fame was not a fluke; he was highly trained.

Surprisingly, the next place where I found appreciation for Picasso’s work was in a documentary about 17th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer (most famous for his work “Girl With the Pearl Earring.”) Vermeer and Picasso’s style couldn’t be more different. Vermeer’s paintings are extremely realistic, especially, as it is often noted, for a time that was long before the invention of the camera. The documentary I saw was about a man who had a profound fascination with the fact that Vermeer’s paintings were so realistic. After a large amount of studying Vermeer’s life and work, the star of the documentary, Tim Jenison, sought to replicate one of Vermeer’s paintings despite never picking up a paintbrush before. Tim came to the conclusion that Vermeer used a system of mirrors to create an almost paint-by-number style painting. By the end he did, indeed, replicate “The Music Lesson” by recreating the room in which Vermeer painted. What struck me in this film and gave me more of an appreciation for Picasso is how possible it was for Tim to achieve all this, and yet if someone used the same method to try to recreate a Picasso, it wouldn’t work. Anyone who looked at what Picasso looked at would not be able to depict that image the same way he did. This is what makes a genius.

Image

Johannes Vermeer [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the end, what is truly astonishing about Picasso’s work is not that he painted like he did because he lacked the technical skills necessary to paint realistically, but that he could paint realistically but chose not to. Picasso’s genius lies in his ability to not care. He made whatever he wanted and if people like it, cool, if not, that’s still fine. His genius is in his ability to portray what only he sees, which is the epitome of creativity.

Picasso once said of his own style: “It took me 4 years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

If that doesn’t sum up his style and brilliance, I don’t know what does.

"Turkish Delight"

While writing this post, a story about this painting I did in high school came to mind. I had entered it into a contest to have it travel around to area schools with other works of art by students in those schools. This piece was chosen as a finalist, and as I admired my work (as well as the others) in the display case, some classmates of mine came up and started getting excited about another piece: a very large, life like rendering of a scene from the movie 300. One remarked that he didn’t understand how an image like that was at all the same caliber as mine (not knowing it was mine.) I’m proud to say that I took ownership of my creation immediately, although I did feel dejected and started to agree with him (whether he was right or not was irrelevant.) Just then my art teacher came up and defended mine saying: “It is a lot easier to draw something exact from a photo than it is to create something more abstract.” I was so grateful to her for standing up for me, but I don’t think I really believed her until I watched Tim’s Vermeer.

Creative ATTACK!

I happened to log on today (after taking a rather long hiatus) and realized it is my blogging anniversary. What a year it has been! I also feel the need to explain my absence for the last few months. In addition to working overtime since August, I also decided to take an informal sabbatical in order to focus more on reading and just absorbing the world around me (a necessity for any writer or artist.) But now I’m back, enriched by the books and articles I read and the observations I made during this time. With that being said, I am revisiting some familiar topics in this post-sabbatical post highlighting some articles, cartoons, and websites about creativity that have inspired me.

————————————————–

Taking the creative path is certainly not easy, which is why many either give up on it, or else don’t even consider it because it’s not “practical.” Those that do end up following it find themselves facing a lot of obstacles, mainly: time, inevitable failures, and even their paradoxical selves. So what do these obstacles look like?

Time: According to Malcolm Gladwell, true mastery of an art takes 10,000 hours. (What does that look like? Here is a great diagram that plainly illustrates that!) Time is the first thing that people must understand when they are working on a new medium. With that being said, sometimes it seems like society is plagued by the idea of the prodigy. People see other people “come out of the woodwork” to achieve enormous success for their talent and believe that it can happen to them. What they often fail to realize is that those people had probably been cultivating their talent for years, but the reveal is all others see. Everyone thinks that talent is placed in a vacuum and if you’ve got it, all you need is to be discovered and the rest is history. In fact, it’s all about taking what little talent you do have and running with it: immersing yourself in the successes of others in that field, learning, growing, absorbing, trying, and yes, of course, failing.

Failure: Although I know I have mentioned it here before, it bears repeating that failure is a huge component to any creative process. (This cartoon does a great job illustrating (haha) this point.) I failed epically recently. My brother and sister-in-law just had a baby and they wanted me to paint/draw/create in some way, some artwork for his room. After finally deciding what I wanted to make (scenes from Narnia!), I set out to draw some preliminary sketches. In all honesty, they were pretty awful. They looked like a fourth grader drew them:

This isn't embarrassing at all...

This isn’t embarrassing at all…

I knew that I couldn’t give up, though, because my siblings were counting on me. Of course there was a voice that crept into my head saying plenty of negative things, but after I abandoned the original sketches and honed my vision a bit more, I, in a nearly effortless attempt, created these:

If I didn't know any better, I'd think these were drawn by a different person than the first picture.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think these were drawn by a different person than the first picture.

If I had given up after the first few attempts, renouncing my ability to draw, these images would never have happened and I would have had a false view of myself. My initial issue was not that I couldn’t draw, but that I had to release myself from all the preconceived ideas I had attached to myself and drawing. I also had to realize that that day/headspace I was in, for whatever reason, might not have been right for the task I was attempting to undertake. This leads me to the final obstacle:

Paradoxical Self: Creating great art is all about finding balance. As this article highlights, creative types are usually paradoxical: they are often equal parts introvert and extrovert, proud and humble, and even have a sense of androgyny. Thus, art is created often by straddling the line between seemingly conflicting parts of the self. It is harmony. It is yin and yang. People who are seen as creative have been able to find this balance by exploring the extremes in their own lives and then marrying them in their work.

Now at this point it would be nice and fashionable to say that true success in a creative field means overcoming these obstacles in one great and final battle, but that approach is both simplistic and unrealistic. Creativity is not about overcoming obstacles so that one can create; rather it is about creating in the midst of and often because of obstacles. As I alluded to in the part about the paradoxical self, it is the tension that makes art so spectacular. It’s figuring out how to flirt with failure but not take yourself too seriously when you are successful. If you want to be creative, you must realize that you are both better than you think you are and worse than you think you are. All you have to do is keep pushing yourself through the hours of failure and self and gently coax the genius out of you but not giving up when that genius seems to suddenly disappear.

My Creative Station

My Creative Station

Sneak peak at the new merch I’m making for the summer; coming to you hot off the porch! I’m looking to sell these bad boys, among others, at some artisan markets. That is if I can find some other suitable means of employment for the summer in the next few days in the Grand Rapids area. Wish me luck!

“We All Wanna Change the World”

RevolutionWhispered rumors of revolution are blowing through the country. The economy is floundering, people are losing all that they have worked for, and the debts are mounting: a perfect formula for change. Those at the bottom have become the first to receive the blows and as more and more people’s wealth and security are destroyed they begin to see the flaws in the system and join the movement to advocate change. Workers are no longer being taken care of, and everyone is at risk.

This is a time of revolution, and it is one that may not look like any other. This revolution is far more covert. It is the creative revolution. No longer will the US working world be filled with drones and robot-like humans, rather with people who have ideas of their own. It will be a full embrace of the individualism that the US has always preached, but never actually achieved. People will be seen as valuable and in Seth Godin‘s words they will be “indispensable.”

We hear more rumors of this in other places too. TED notoriously has speakers preaching this idea. From David Kelley, to Julie Burstein, and Elizabeth Gilbert to Sir Ken Robinson’s two talks on this subject, all these speakers believe that the time is now to release the creative genius in all of us in order to not only have personal fulfillment but to make society more productive.

We hear the success stories of countless risk-takers who made invaluable contributions to society because they were willing to let themselves be creative and different. Apple. Google. Inception. Gotye. All vastly different contributions to the world, but all were hugely successful because of their uniqueness, creativity, and because they were fueled by a vision.

The world before today was full of mediocrity. Not because the people of that time were mediocre intrinsically, but because they CHOSE mediocrity. Because the world rewarded mediocrity with stability. Cue Seth Godin and his book Linchpin:

“Where does Average Come From?

It comes from two places:

1. You have been brainwashed by school and by the system into believing that your job is to do your job and follow instructions. It’s not, not anymore.

2. Everyone has a little voice inside of their head that’s angry and afraid. That voice is the resistance–your lizard brain–and it wants you to be average (and safe).

If you’re not doing as well as you hoped, perhaps it’s because the rules of the game were changed, and no one told you.

The rules were written just over two hundred years ago; they worked for a long time, but no longer. It might take you more than a few minutes to learn the new rules, but it’s worth it.“

Today, those old constructions are crumbling. What the world needs now are people who think for themselves -those who are willing to offer fresh ideas and new perspectives.

The good news is that every person on the planet is able to do this job if they allow themselves. We are all creative by nature and are all unique, but we must take a risk to unleash that creative potential. With the past promises of security crumbling, there is very little to lose. The time is now. Jump into the revolution.

Generation E: Part 1

I found this book in my basement and thought it would be a perfect starting point for my business venture. It is engaging and entertaining and seems to offer some good advice so far.

Image

In fact, it is already starting to challenge me. One of my biggest issues to overcome is that I have a fear of being seen as a burden or people supporting me because they are “doing me a favor” or taking some pity on me. I felt that way when I was in elementary/middle school and fund raiser time rolled around. They always gave prizes to the kids that sold the most: the highest prize being something like a gaming console, an electric scooter, or the chance get wrapped in tape and to roll around on the floor which was covered in money (I’m not joking). I was that kid that got a chintzy whistle, or even worse, nothing at all because of my fear of asking people to purchase things they probably don’t want or need. I didn’t want people to feel guilty for not buying anything so I didn’t ask them.

I got that same feeling a lot during the job I had between my senior year of high school and freshman year of college where I had to call people I knew, schedule a meeting with them, try to sell them some stuff they probably did not want, and then ask them to inconvenience their friends in the same manor. It was hell. I hated the voices in my head telling me that I was burdening these people by asking for their time and money. Every time I got a “no” I felt frustrated, but also strangely relieved that they wouldn’t resent me quite as much.

So when I came to the part of the book that says: “Next, we’ll talk about resources… Your resources include friends you can impose upon, your ’82 Chevy Impala that barely runs, all the people you know from your AA meetings…” Friends you can impose on? Ugh. That is the last resource I want to use. To me the ultimate measure of success is having complete strangers find me/my work valuable. Friends and family are supposed to be supportive which is maybe why I don’t like starting there first. I value honesty, and although I’m sure these people feel as though they are being honest, to me they are biased.

As with any new venture, there will be challenges and difficulties, but getting through them is what creates personal growth and will eventually lead to prosperity. It is just a matter of convincing myself to get out of my comfort zone and “be a burden” on people and that will take some time as well as quite a bit of effort. I also must constantly remind myself that I am only perceiving these sentiments in them, and they may not feel that way at all. I would like to say that am up for the challenge, but only time will tell for sure. The key to that is remaining passionate about what I am doing and allowing that to propel me through any obstacles I may come to.

Cure to Poverty?

Cure to Poverty?

I read this book last semester for my international economics class (and partially on my own accord.) I took the class in an independent study format and since I was already reading the book, and the textbook for the class was pretty worthless, I asked to use it for the class. Thankfully, I found Yunus’ approach to poverty and economics was radically different than that of the dry textbook. He brought economics to life and made it interesting. (I suspect I shall be using his book as a reference for many more posts.)

Yunus’ approach is what is now called microfinance/lending/credit and he started his own bank (Grameen Bank) in order to finance small loans to the poor. His poverty-fighting journey began when he was a professor and realized that in the town nearby there was a large number of people living in poverty. He then began asking himself what the role of university was, and should be, to the community. His conclusion, that the university should be an asset to the community -not a separate entity, empowered him to find ways to help the community as well as teach his students simultaneously. He went out and talked to the poorest of the poor and found that their issue was not that they didn’t have any ideas on how to earn capital, rather they had no initial capital to invest in their ideas. Thus, Yunus impulsively invested in one person’s idea, while symbolically investing in the ideas and futures of poverty-stricken people everywhere.

Since 1983, when Professor Yunus started Grameen, over 3.8 billion dollars have been lent to more than 2.4 million families. He has also won the Nobel Prize and inspired others to start their own micro-credit programs. He started a revolution that is still gaining momentum today, one that is the epitome of creativity. He saw others’ capacity for creativity and was inspired to create a new system to help those people meet their creative potential.

Some of the best side effects from microfinance, however, have not had much to do with economics at all. Because his microfinance institution, along with many others around the world, made it a requirement for borrowers to attend meetings with other borrowers in order to learn from one another, a strong sense of community began to take hold among the borrowers. They learned how to solve each other’s problems and began supporting each other in their respective endeavors.

Remarkably the sense of community has not been confined to those local communities. Given the newer technologies of the day, i.e. the Internet, people from these communities have been able to connect with people around the world who are either struggling with the same issues, are willing to invest in their business, or have never heard of microfinance. In fact, the microfinance movement has reached people who have never given much thought to worldwide poverty, but who, through the use of the Internet, may have their horizons opened by a story of a person whom they’ve never met living in a place like Bangladesh, Honduras, or Ghana.

The microfinance revolution has also had a profound effect on gender equality. In many less-developed countries women are unable to borrow money, work outside the home, or even leave the home without their male guardian’s consent. However, Yunus found that allowing women to be the breadwinners made for a more prosperous family unit. They were more likely to invest in the education of their children, the upkeep of the home, and food. He thus set out to make at least half the loans granted by the Grameen Bank go to women. Today, about 95% of the borrowers are women. These women are better fed, have children that are better cared for, and are not subjugated to domestic violence nearly as often (men tend not to beat women when they are providing them with more income.)

While microfinance does have its drawbacks (more on this in later posts), the way it creatively and constructively looks for lasting solutions to the issues of global poverty, international/community development, and inequality is inspiring people across the globe by giving power to those who have previously had none.

Introductions

This blog is about my latest business venture: starting my own micro-enterprise “Right Brain Left Hand Creations” in order to learn what it is like to start my own small business so that I may help other women do the same. I am inspired by micro-finance –a process of lending money to the poor either as start-up cash for their business idea or  to help their business grow– and I see it as a viable solution to poverty world wide.

As far as my business is concerned, I’ve started making handmade “thank you” and “I’m sorry” cards and decided to sell them on Etsy.com. This began with my desire to have thank you cards that are very personal. I love beautiful paper and interesting lettering, so this seemed like a really natural choice for me.

I’ve never seen myself as a business person, EVER. I went through school feeling destined to go in to the non-profit world and use my talents elsewhere. When I graduated I could not find/get a job in this field primarily due to a lack of experience. That’s the funny thing with experience, though, you need it to gain employment, but employment is what gives you that experience. A question began to well up within me: how do you gain experience, if no one is willing to give you a chance? My answer: do it yourself.

Thus I decided to start my own business and see where it goes. If it fails, meh, so be it. I guess my talents lie elsewhere. If it flourishes, nice! Then I can buy groceries! (Haha.) If it gets in this weird middle state (which will probably be accurate) I’m sure I’m not the only business to do so, so it will give me empathy for those who are in the same situation and will also teach me a lot about small businesses and how to problem solve within that context. Basically, even if I fail, I feel as though I won’t lose. Life’s lessons are the best rewards and they are given liberally.

I am also going to make a loan on Kiva.org to another woman in another country and will be tracking her progress as well as providing facts about micro-finance, the global south/poverty, and gender equality.

I’m excited about this new project of mine, and look forward to creating, growing, and learning in this process.