Posts Tagged ‘Ideas’

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Remember Christmas seasons past? I do, especially the special magic of the children and how that magic came into sharp focus, magnified at Christmas time. The anticipation, the belief, the wonder — all part of the magic of Christmas. I loved Christmas then and still do. Children’s magic is contagious and some of that magic rubs off on adults. Hey, it’s magic after all. But we live in the present moment and there comes the time when Christmas has past and the magic packed away in cardboard boxes for another year.

I never liked New Years because it was the day my parents turned off the magic and hid it away in the dark attic until the next year. And if that wasn’t depressing enough, we had to go back to school the next day after a wonderful week of magic, toys, friends and pure play.

School is the antithesis of magic. So is work and when the adults returned to work the little magic that did rub off was gone, magic lights extinguished as we settled into the long dark winter and the desert of days for months on end until the magic of spring and Easter enlivened us once again. I never understood why the new year begins in the middle of the dark winter. The new year should begin at the spring solstice when life renews.

What if we could call up the magic at will? What if we still knew how to play the way all children do? Play is what makes us human. Play is what makes life worth living. Play can transform life into the delicious creative journey that life is meant to be — but only if we remember how to play.

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I wrote this vignette [Wonder and the Fragility of Ideas] after clustering (from Writing the Natural Way, in October, 2012)

My head bobs up and down anxious, no, eager (because we don’t like worry words and anxious is a worry word). We like words like eager, a puppy aiming to please, a child wondering about his world, living in the moment, the wonder of Now.

Wonder sneaks up on me when I sit quietly. No thunder — who needs thunder? Thunder is suspect, drawing attention to itself with noise rather than substance. When I don’t know what to wonder about, wonder tells me. All I need to do is pay attention.


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Imagine a solitary person seated in a huge, windowless waiting room, staring vacantly ahead, life outside passing by unnoticed. Why are they sitting there? Are they waiting for the perfect opportunity that never arrives? Maybe they’re waiting for the ideal person to come along but who never does. Do they huddle alone because they judge themselves not good enough?

Waiting and never accepting. The curse of perfectionism paralyzes the perfectionist, condemns them to a life in limbo and puts a life infused with creative energy on permanent hold because perfectionists are never ready.

Perfectionism is an obsession. WordNet describes perfectionism as “a disposition to feel that anything less than perfect is unacceptable.” Wow, that pretty much excludes life doesn’t it.

Vibrant life is like a swift mountain stream, sparkling in the sunlight, always changing, forever new. Becoming is the joy of life. Life is change, a journey of discovery and creativity, always reaching for the better.

Perfectionism confuses the goals with the journey. Perfection is the end of all things…really. The universe, indeed all of us strive for perfection, but we’ll never get there and that’s a good thing. If all things were perfect, what would be the point of life? We can savor the deliciousness of life, the thrill of the creative journey, but only when we act.

Action is the cure for perfectionism. Take that next action. Will it be perfect? Not likely and you might even (shudder) fail. No, wait. Failure is impossible because failure is a state of mind. Take an action and no matter what you do, you’ll move closer to your goal. You’ll either find a solution or you’ll discover new information that you didn’t have and never would have gotten by waiting. Each action propels us forward and upward one step at a time.

Perfectionism is ironic because inaction and waiting for the perfect solution short circuit our creative being, remove all options for progress and guarantee failure. All life strives toward perfection, but perfection is elusive and always out of reach. Each time we create something better, we raise the bar. We reach higher and higher and that reaching is the real joy of life.

The why of perfectionism isn’t important. It may come from procrastination, or born out of fear. Fear of success, fear of failure, fear of not good enough or fear of the unknown. Without action, we’ll never know. Perfectionism is the polar opposite of positive living. Perfectionism puts us out of the game of life, sidelined on the bench waiting and that’s a shame. The denial of life and the joys of the creative journey are the real pitfalls of perfectionism.

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Where did you find those photos? All of us can tell stories of old shoe boxes full of family snapshots turning up in the back of a closet, under a pile of boxes, or who knew where. What do you do when you find precious family memories? You certainly don’t want to dump them back into the box. Here’s what I did when I found a small suitcase filled with family photos, some taken nearly a century ago.

I created a photo book — my first. Here’ a sample page from the book I made for my mother as a Mother’s Day gift this year. The book, “Photo Vignettes from the Life of Frances K. Sullivan” (my grandmother) contains 46 of the best photos selected, scanned and restored from the mess I found in that suitcase.

Instead of a jumbled pile of old pictures, many of dubious quality, we have an archival quality, hard bound book. The images in that book are organized, tell a story (or stories) and brief comments identify people and dates.

A photo book lets you bring consistency to dozens of images. Since many of the originals were sepia toned, I used sepia toning throughout for uniformity. I played with the layout and image sizes as I went along. With a decent flatbed scanner and competent photo editor, it’s a simple task to enlarge small snapshots and reduce larger photos to fit

No other format that I know of can match a well designed photo book. In the end you’ll have a book that’s a pleasure to leaf through, easy to store and preserves memories for future generations.

Expensive? Not when you consider the cost of prints and a decent quality photo album. I went through some of our old photo albums today. What a mess! Maybe they were quality years ago but today they are deteriorated, plastic holders falling out. I pulled all the photos out and tossed two albums.

Never use one of those albums with the sticky pages and a plastic overlay. These things are supposed to hold the photos lightly. Don’t believe it. I have a few of these to go through and salvage what I can. After all these years, all the pictures in the albums are permanently glued to the pages. You cannot get them off without destroying the photos. The only way to save any of the photos is to scan entire pages. I can hardly wait.

As I flip through the pages I see too many photos that should have gone into the trash years ago. We save too many poor images. The key to a successful photo book is triage. Toss the garbage, the blurry, the silly, the who cares and concentrate on the good stuff. Select the best photos, images that celebrate special events, images that capture the essence of our loved ones at different times in their lives.

What about recent digital images? My daughter has hundreds of digital photos stored on a computer that refuses to boot. I’m going to try a rescue mission. Digital imagery has changed the way we make pictures, but permanent storage is an ongoing issue. Imagine your grandchildren finding a box full of CDs or DVDs 30 years from now. What are these things they’ll say? Even if they know what’s on them how will they view the content and will those CDs or DVDs even work?

Now imagine your grandchildren leafing through an archival quality photo book. Can you picture them sitting together reliving the memories? I can. I’ll have more to say on the topic of photo books in subsequent posts. I’m sold on the concept and when my latest order of six new books arrives later this week, I’ll have 10 volumes in my photo book library. Thank you AdoramaPix. I can hardly wait to tear the package open.

PS — I have a high quality e-book for each of my photo books as a bonus.

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Can you hear them? Can you see them? Can you imagine the courage it required for these men, our founding fathers, to gather together 234 years ago in Philadelphia on July 4th to declare our independence?

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“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,…” 56 men signed the Declaration of Independence in this very room. They risked everything for their beliefs. Some paid with their lives before we finally gained our freedom.

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The Liberty Bell tolled on July 8, 1776 to call the citizens of Philadelphia together for the first reading of the Declaration of Independence (or so tradition tells us). Visit The Liberty Bell to read the history.

I took these photos back in 1970 or 1971 (I don’t remember which) when everyone had free access to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell was on display within the building. I’ve been saving them for the right time and remembered them last night as I sat thinking and reflecting.

“…that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness — That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness…”

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He feared the asking, she the telling. No rider in memory had ever dared the boulevard on this the night of the low moon. At least no rider had ever returned to tell the tale. Would they be the first? Legend be damned, they were the best. Still, they rode — hard and fast. Neither were fools and neither were eager to temp fate.

Sentinel trees lined the road, waiting for moonrise. Soon — too soon. If the wind parted the clouds? If the stark white light of the low moon etched the shadows across the road before they reached the end of the forest?

Best not to discover what happened to the foolhardy who dared barcode boulevard on the night of the low moon. Less than a klick and safety. Quickly before it’s too late and…

Barcode Boulevard

I rode barcode boulevard today on my bicycle. Can you see the end in the distance? It’s safe in the daylight — mostly. I got the idea for a story one day a few years ago while driving along Breakneck Road (honest, it’s the real name). I’ve only ridden that road twice on my bike and only for a short distance each time. It’s too dangerous and the hills are killers.

The sun was bright and low. It cast sharp shadows across the road. The idea of Barcode Boulevard just jumped into my mind and it’s been stewing ever since. I had my camera with me today so I took some photos when I stopped for a drink on Heritage Road (no Breakneck Road for this boy). All the way home I thought about this story and wrote a quick and dirty draft of one possible beginning.

I’ve some ideas percolating about how photography and writing are related. When my brew is ready I’ll pour a few cups so we can sip together.

I had some fun today. Besides getting out of the house on a nice November day, I rekindled my Barcode Boulevard idea, took a couple photos with my little Canon digicam and wrote a rough draft for the beginnings of my story.

I’m happy with the photo. I think it turned out nicely in B&W. I used the Gimp BW photo simulation to transform the color shot to B&W. My story beginning? It’s rough and the first go at one way of beginning this story. I need to explore, especially the two unnamed characters. It’s another fun project.

Another project. I have a roll of B&W film hanging up to dry in the bathroom. I’ll scan the negs tonight or tomorrow. Fingers crossed. More shots of my youngest granddaughters, the twins. Hope I get a few decent photos out of the roll. I’ll feature them in one of my posts. I have another roll of film I’ll probably develop tomorrow and I got my slides back the other day. Lots of new photos to play with and share. Stay tuned. But stay off  Barcode Boulevard on the night of the low moon.

Barcode Boulevard, the photo and story are copyright 2009 John McDevitt.

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Welcome from LivSo, you’ve decided to try freewriting (or rapidwriting) to jump start an article or to simply discover what you’re thinking. You let it all out and ended up with a free flowing file that’s likely to be one huge paragraph — now what?

Well come on in and let’s get to it. Trying to make sense of a freewheeling rapidwriting draft is like organizing a messy closet. Instead of the near impossible task of organizing in place, why not move the good stuff into another closet first? I like to use BrainStorm as the empty closet.

Tidy the draft copy before you begin. Spelling errors are a given when you freewrite, so run a quick spell check. Paragraph the file to make it easier to read and you’re ready to go.

Read through your draft copy top to bottom. Highlight each idea worth saving (word, phrase or sentence) and copy each item into a new list as you go (move the good stuff into an empty closet).

BrainStorm has a neat feature called magic paste. Magic paste monitors the windows clipboard when you have BrainStorm running in the background with magic paste turned on. Each item you copy in your text editor appears automatically in your BrainStorm model.

As you read through your rough draft, highlight each idea that might be worth keeping, copy and move on to the next. In the spirit of freewriting and first drafts, you are only collecting your ideas. The sole judgment is yes or no. No ranking or organization yet — just collect each idea and move on.

When you’ve finished the collection phase, shift to the BrainStorm model and you’ll find a flat list of all your ideas. All you had to do was pick out and copy the ideas and the rest is magic.

As you go through your list, look for connections, organize and add to your list as you go. There are no rules here. When you have a new idea, enter and follow it — you never know where it may lead you. When you see items that belong together, move them.

Don’t have BrainStorm? There are other ways to generate your list. You might install an enhanced clipboard utility that will gather a list for you. Some editors will allow you to set up two windows. One of the editors I use, NoteTab, allows you to set up a file as a pasteboard that works just like magic paste in BrainStorm.

It’s much easier to organize when you separate your ideas from the noise. When you freewrite, you’re likely to collect a lot of debris along with ideas. Kind of like dumpster diving, pick out the good stuff and toss it into a new pile for sorting later. It’s really that simple.

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How we see and what we choose to see are only the beginning. “With perception we do not see the world as it is but as we perceive it.” [Serious Creativity — Edward de Bono]


I took this photo a long time ago. I won’t call it a vase because it is more (and less at the same time). The subject is blue. The subject is tall. How big is it? I won’t say because it makes no difference — the image is less than a vase and much more.

Swirling, liquid, solid, light and tones abstracted as only black and white can do. Move in close, play with light, change your viewpoint and your perception of the world changes. Perception organizes our world. In fact, our world is our perception. Is the world “out there” or within our minds?

My readings are taking me on a fascinating journey. First Art & Physics, then The Tao of Physics, Chaos, and now the works of Edward de Bono. What goes on within our minds? Our society is obsessed with linear thinking and the logic of the left brain. What a shame. We need to admit the non-linear part of our mind into our thinking as a regular partner.

Left brain, inner critic, logic is sterile without the insights of our intuitive right brain. And our dragons are lost without the organization that can give voice to our conversations with them.

To say that she is a right brained person or that he is a total left brain misses the point. We are both, even when we fail to recognize the holistic nature of our minds.

The photographer, the writer, or any other artist cannot bring their vision into being without the co-operation of logic and organization. Einstein could never have made his profound impact on science using logic alone. He imagined what he would see if he were riding a beam of light at the speed of light.

Where is this all taking me? I’m not sure, but stay tuned. We’ll journey into creativity and the mind together.

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Police_BoxMaxThink is, in the words of it’s author, Neil Larson, a HyperText Outline / Idea Processor. It’s still alive and kicking in a windows incarnation after all these years. I bought MaxThink from Neil around 1990 and upgraded to Max94 a few years later. I still have the wonderful printed manual. I figured out how to get the old DOS program running in dosbox on my ubuntu linux system. It’s still better than anything out there today, including the mind mappers.

I think I stepped out of the TARDIS into the past because I found a piece I wrote over 25 years ago. I’ll have more to say about my adventures with outliners in general and MaxThink in particular in another post.

Meanwhile, here’s the piece I wrote in the early 1980s.

Need method of getting raw ideas into a computer in a smooth, natural flow. As ideas occur to the user, that person should be able to transfer the ideas to the computer quickly. But ideas are not isolated symbols. To have real meaning as an idea, many? symbols are ‘related’ to form more coherent thoughts.

Ideas could be thought of a patterns of smaller symbols that make up a whole that is greater than the sum of it’s parts (GESTALT?). The ‘linkage’ of these ideas is the tough part of using a computer as a ‘thought processor’. PROCESSOR? The human brain is the ‘idea generator’. How do you process ideas? To process something seems to imply that you DO (act) on something. Maybe to process something you ‘change’ that something so that something becomes something else.

Using a computer only makes sense if the particular task is easier to perform with a computer. If a task can be better performed by ‘hand’, then the task should not be put on the computer.

The following is an example/analysis of the though process of a person who is thinking freely (intuitively if you like), and a possible method of using the computer productively as an organizing tool. Computers are much better at ‘remembering’ details than a human brain. The computer’s process is strictly a ‘left brain’ type of activity, while the creative process is a ‘right brain’ type of activity.

It’s fair to say that the idea of AI or artificial intelligence is more concerned with the ‘right brain’ type of activity. Think of the implications of being able to enter right brain thoughts directly into the computer, then being able to easily establish linkages in the computer. That is what I would call an idea processor.

The earliest programs that call themselves idea processors are just now hitting the market. These programs are tools that allow the user to create an outline that can be expanded/contracted on command. What I have in mind goes beyond the outline type program.

The first step in my program would accept free form words/phrases, allow a screen display of the words/phrases, and also allow linkages between words/phrases to be created and shown graphically. This could be accomplished using keyboard, graphics tablet, [no mice yet — remember this was written in about 1983] or voice input. The idea is to allow the user to enter a screen full of words/phrases that have been freely generated from a key word or phrase and to allow the user to establish linkages between the words/phrases that show on the screen.

Once the words/phrases have been linked, they can be further organized using a hierarchy beginning with the linkages, extending through various outlines leading to the final product that can be thought of as the same as a product delivered by a ‘word processor’.


I typed this word for word from an old printout. I changed the paragraphing and corrected a few spelling errors but left the wording and punctuation alone. I wrote the above piece on a TRS80 Model 100, the first real laptop computer, and printed it out on a pen plotter on adding machine paper. I pasted the printout onto a blank 8 1/2 x 11 and made a copy in the office. I didn’t date it, but the method did.

This was written before desktop computers used DOS and Microsoft was a startup. It was written 4 or 5 years before I had my first desktop. It was written long before I bought MaxThink.

I look back and wonder. After more than 25 years, people still use their computers like expensive typewriters. Good outliners are things of the past and that’s a shame. Computers should be helping us think better and mostly they do the opposite. I’ll have more to say later. I’ve gone on long enough this time.

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Judging ideas as they form kills them. The constant interplay of ideas is the wellspring of creativity. When you are attuned to the play of your dragon, writing flows freely, never still, like bees flitting from flower to flower, tasting and sampling the nectar of many ideas.

bees knees

Bees, like the ideas in our minds, are constantly on the move, too busy to stop and pose for you. Listen to your dragon and allow the ideas to flow from your pen or your fingers on the keyboard. Worry about outcomes later.

Dragon flower

Creativity never waits. Tapping the inner flow of our ideas doesn’t always come easy, but it can when we recognize creativity as play. I love to sit thinking quietly, playing with ideas, watching them bounce and skitter about. I’ve come to realize that even though I don’t have pen in hand or my fingers on a keyboard I am writing. The trick then is to grab a pen or keyboard and capture your thoughts without judging. Simply let your mind run free and record what comes naturally.

When we freeze at the keyboard wondering what to write next, our inner critic, the eternal judge has gotten the upper hand, afraid we might make a mistake.

The difference between a professional photographer and an amateur
is the size of their wastebasket. The pro’s basket is bigger. A pro follows his or her ideas and takes lots of photos. Ideas that didn’t work out end up in the wastebasket, but the ones that make the cut will be good ones.

Our wastebasket is for later. There are no mistakes when the ideas are flowing, all are worth remembering. True creativity demands that we suspend judgment and play. Creativity is a journey where the destination, the outcome is rarely clear and isn’t important while our ideas unfold taking first one fork in the road, then another, circling back.

Ernest Hemingway said that “All first drafts are sh*t.” He was right. He had a huge wastebasket and wasn’t afraid to use it.

When you’re writing, all ideas are worthy. You can’t capture the gems unless you take the risk of writing junk. You will. Lot’s of it, but that’s how you discover the gems. Save everything — the wastebasket is for later.

PS I included the black and white image because it reminds me of a dragon.

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