Posts Tagged ‘Insight’

I learned clustering years ago from Gabriele Rico’s wonderful “Writing the Natural Way” but I’ve neglected clustering until I came across past clustering and vignettes that revived my interest. Actually I started a new notebook three months ago devoted entirely to clustering. Alas, I only put six clusters / vignettes into that book until today when I clustered on the word / idea “CLUSTER.” But before I share this latest cluster here are a few ideas from the book.

Our design minds (Rico’s term for the right side of the brain) are filled with imaginative ideas and clustering is a sort of brainstorming process that frees these images and makes them visible. Clustering is a journey we begin without knowing or concerning ourselves with outcomes. Clustering only takes a few minutes. At some point during the clustering your mind will suddenly know what to write and then you shift into writing a vignette which only takes a few minutes. Now here’s my attempt at clustering “cluster” — the raw vignette / first draft.


Cluster shifts the view, a dance of messages passing the eye, attracting the eye like clouds in the sky. Pulling together or poles apart repulsed and sent away. Clustering pops ideas, floats ideas ever changing like clouds floating by transforming and dissipating, whisping away — fierce dragon to unformed tendrils waiting for the next breeze to gather together again — always different, bringing the kaleidoscope into another picture of what? The thoughts trapped in your mind. Clustering invites these wordless thoughts to come out to play, to give them voice.

I didn’t time myself as I should have but this entire process only took 5 to 10 minutes. The next thing would be to give the vignette a rest and come back later for additional work (or not).

Here’s a [It’s my turn again] vignette after clustering on TURN from Writing the Natural Way on Oct. 9, 2011.

It’s my turn again where / when I flip over and repeat but am I repeating the same things over and over? My turn is another invitation to return for another look, to see / hear / taste / feel now, to spin on the axis of the moment. Do I remember my last turn? Should I? Each turn is a new chance, an opportunity for now, the again that’s always different than last time. The again that puts last time in proper perspective into the past of has beens that can be no more. My turn is an invitation to new creativity —  now.

I wrote this one [Wonder and the Fragility of Ideas] from Writing the Natural Way, on October 11, 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. PAY ATTENTION! ATTENTION means ATTENTION!

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The Knowledge Vampire

The following is a piece I wrote to myself nine years ago on May 19, 2006

The knowledge vampire. Yep, that’s me. I’m a knowledge vampire. I don’t suck the juice out of anything, I absorb. I have this hunger for knowing. I just gotta know. I remember when I was a kid. Sitting on the front porch in summer or on the living room sofa waiting for breakfast. Reading. I love to read. I love to discover stuff. Find out why things are. I got up early every Saturday morning to watch Mr. Wizard. Made my own breakfast too. Why would a kid, or at least any normal kid want to get out of bed early on Saturday. Saturday was the day you’re supposed to be lazy. No school, nothing to do or at least nobody telling you what to do all day. Except when dad would give me the hose and expect me to wash all the dirt down the alley. Why didn’t we sweep the alley with a broom?

Waste of water. But what did we know then. Water was free and there was always more where that came from. The water squirted out of the hose as long as you wanted it to. Besides, sweeping was work and crouching with the hose was easy – the hose was doing all the work. Me? I’m just holding the hose and moving it back and forth.

What chore did I hate the most? Weeding the garden. I had to get down on my knees and get dirt under my fingernails. Nasty bugs and stuff on my hands. Ech! I wanted to be sitting in the back yard with my soldiers. Now that was real playing in the dirt. Same dirt, but it was my dirt instead of the garden dirt. I was playing instead of working.

So, why did I get up on Saturday morning? Because Mr. Wizard was cool. He did all kinds of neat stuff and I learned things. Same reason I got so many books out of the library. I found out about all kinds of stuff. Stuff I never knew. Was it useful? Did it matter? No. I was having fun.

I was left to my own devices? Crazy way to talk. Who ever talked that way? As I was saying, they would usually leave me alone so I could read or whatever. I liked reading better than baseball. I was never much of an athlete. Nobody made me and nobody took the time to show me. So, I learned things on my own.

I had a magnifying glass. I had a few of those over the years. I liked to shine the sun on leaves and burn holes in them with my magnifying glass. Burned up a few ants too. Looked a bit closer that I could with my regular eyes.

So, I’m a knowledge vampire? Maybe better to call myself a knowledge sponge. Absorb all I can then wring me out and start over.

I was a good little boy too. Never deviating from the rules they gave me. Memorize the catechism. Every day with the rules. Break one and go to confession and all would be right again (after I said the hail Marys and our fathers.)

Remember walking over to DeSales on Saturday afternoons in the summer to confess my sins. Wearing a nylon shirt outside my pants. Long pants and combed hair. Wouldn’t do to show up in church looking like a regular kid, even though I was a sinner.

Knowledge. Asking questions? Yeah, but I didn’t ask too many questions when I was a kid. I just did what I was told to do (most of the time.) Never a rebel, but I always had my secret world. If I didn’t share by telling people, then they never knew what I was thinking.

Confessing sins sucks. Having to kneel there and share intimate things with this priest guy. Share my secrets with a guy in a black dress. Never went to Fr. Gallagher because I was afraid he’d recognize my voice. Poof, there go the secrets. Bad enough you had to kneel there, but imagine how bad, even scared I’d be if the guy in black knew who I was.

Am I different now? Hope so. I’m 61 now. Bit older than the scared kid who sat and read books all the time, but I still want to suck all of the knowledge I can. I want to know more stuff!

Afterword (written today) I’m 69, soon to be 70 and I’m still a knowledge vampire.


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Indeed, I’m back, I really am OK and focused on the positive aspects of life. The image of my friend Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith was taken almost ten years ago on Thanksgiving after dinner. The lady in the background is my mother-in-law.

Portrait of Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith — Thanksgiving, 2002

Chinna played the guitar, we listened and I shot a few pictures. Had I worried about the negative aspects this lovely portrait wouldn’t exist. I was using an old Pentax Spotmatic film camera I had just won on eBay. In fact it was the first roll of film I ever put through this camera so I was flying by the seat of my pants. Really — no light meter in this old guy. The composition was a bit cluttered and I was shooting handheld, lens wide open under the available light of a dining room chandelier. And to make things even more fun, the camera focus was off and I didn’t know it until I had the camera CLA’d a few weeks later.

Ah, but the portrait turned out well because I focused on the positive aspects. I was taking pictures of a new friend using a new friend camera that evening and not concerned about negative aspects.

Chinna is a world class musician who was on tour, away from his home in Jamaica. Jim, my brother-in-law, is a good friend of Chinna’s and asked if he could bring a friend to Thanksgiving dinner — We are so glad Jim asked and that we said yes.

It’s been almost six years since Chinna’s last visit. Jim and I were talking the other night and I asked how Chinna was doing. Jim told me that Chinna was doing well and that Chinna asks about me each time he and Jim talk.

Thanks Chinna. I’m back, I really am OK and focused on life’s positive aspects.

Thanks to you too IMUS. I love the way you told cancer to kiss your ass. Cancer can kiss mine too. I refuse to be defined by ‘my disease.’ Chemo seems to be working. My markers are good and I do feel better and ready for the next round of chemo on Monday.

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MaxThink satisfies a need for thinking with a computer that I wrote about 30 years ago and reproduced in a post on September 12, 2009, Time Travel: Musing About MaxThink & More… I invite you to hop back and read the earlier post before continuing.

MaxThink (for DOS) opening screen

I’ve been using computers for about 30 years and in all that time, I’ve only found one program that comes close to the genius of Neil Larson and his old DOS version of MaxThink, the unique and wonderful idea processor, and that’s Brainstorm, a thinking and planning aid program that I used and liked for a few years on my Windows desktop machine. Brainstorm was close but not quite, lacking some of the key features that made MaxThink special.

I began migrating from Windows to Linux almost four years ago and made a complete break over a year ago. I do everything on my Linux Mint 9 Desktop now. Brainstorm runs under Wine but loses some of it’s best features and MaxThink for Windows won’t run at all under Wine (I tried the demo twice last week with no luck), so I’ve installed my old DOS copy of MaxThink94 using DosBox, a DOS emulator created to run old DOS games. MaxThink runs perfectly with DosBox and I couldn’t be happier.

My fingers never leave the keyboard when I’m cranking out ideas and reorganizing them with MaxThink. The keystrokes are intuitive and I was up to speed in a matter of a few days. Not having to use the silly mouse is a huge advantage when you are thinking and typing away.

At first glance, MaxThink is a powerful outliner, but the real power is under the hood. MaxThink came with a fat, printed manual that by some miracle, I still have. Neil’s book is more than a user manual for MaxThink. It’s a well written tutorial on ways of thinking: Evaluative thinking with the Prioritize command, synthesis thinking using Binsort and Randomize to combine information in new ways, curiosity or experimental thinking with the Lock command, systematic thinking using Get, Put and Gather, creative uses of the Sort command, and one of my favorites, segmented lists.

And yes, I end up with a well thought out, complete outline. I can’t print directly, but Neil provides a Write command that saves outlines to an ASCII file that opens in my favorite text editor where I can print the way I prefer anyway.

The journey is everything in creativity and MaxThink makes that journey more productive and pleasant. I created a two and a half page outline mirroring and assisting my writing as I go through lesson three in WritePro. MaxThink helps me to generate new ideas, to discover relationships among ideas, to organize my ideas and to preserve them so I’ll remember and build on the ideas.

The synergy is amazing. Begin a new writing project with an open mind and a blank screen in your editor. Write whatever comes to mind without judging or editing. When you go back for a look, pick out the good stuff, the best ideas and start a MaxThink outline to help organize those insights and discover new ones. Then back to the editor for revisions or a complete re-write. Back and forth between insight and editing until the project is complete. Love the creative journey which is never complete because when one project is finished another beckons.

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“Don’t expect, either in life or in art. Open yourself to discovery. Enjoy the mystery. All the good stuff is hidden in the dark corners. It’s what gives life its sense of vitality.” John Daido Loori from “The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life.”

Click to enlarge

I took this photograph one lovely late spring day while walking in the forest, camera in my hand and no idea what I might photograph that morning. I was exploring, open to discovery when I chanced on this micro scene on the forest floor. Had I been focused on a particular goal I probably would have missed this delightful image. Later, when I published it in June, I composed this poem — no other explanation needed. Surprise and delight are enough.

Morning light
Puddles the forest floor –
Walk softly.

Kerry Leibowitz is an outstanding Landscape Photographer and a fine writer. I discovered his Lightscapes Nature Photography Blog a few weeks ago. When I received an email notification of The Moment, Kerry’s latest post, I went over to have a look. Wow! Kerry describes his trip to White Sands, New Mexico with a marriage of images and words you must see to appreciate. I’ll not spoil the experience. Click over to The Moment and see for yourself. You will not be disappointed.

After reading Kerry’s post (twice) I got to thinking about one of my own experiences, one that I will never forget. One morning in April, 2010 I was in Ceres Nature Preserve setting up to take a few photographs. I was surprised, delighted — so much so that I didn’t make any images of the experience. Instead I recreated my experience in words and posted Morning on Emerald Lake a few days later. I invite you to share that experience with me now.

Life is a creative journey that can be delicious, especially when you follow John Daido Loori’s advice and open yourself to discovery.

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I was searching for a photo of my grandmother that would do her justice, a photo where the real person shone through. I wanted a good image of her for the title page of the second edition of “The Collected Recipes of Frances K. Sullivan” that I (editor) finally finished this week — a full 23 years after the first edition.

Click to enlarge

Do you believe in serendipity? Synchronicity? I do. I found this photo, the perfect image in an old suitcase in my mother’s garage. This is grandmom as I remember her. The photo was taken in May, 1949. The cute kid is me when I was a wee lad of four and a half years. Grandmom was a vital 60 year old.

As I went through the collection of old family snapshots, I found images of grandmom as a young mother, as a ‘mature’ woman with a growing family and as a grandmother. I found photos of other people I knew that were taken when they were younger. I got to thinking about how our mental images of the people around us characterize them as they are now (or how we knew and remember them), forgetting that they were young once.

I accumulated quite a collection of wonderful pictures from the past while editing the cookbook. I included 21 in the book and will publish these on The Aware Writer as a series. I’ll share my thoughts and I’ll probably write a few tutorials illustrating my adventures with my new flatbed scanner and how I was able to rejuvenate old images with PWP. Stay tuned…

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How moving my desk helped boost my creativity and changed the way I write.

The empty nest has given me the use of a couple of rooms. My “office” is in the back of the house. I keep my main computer with my window on the world via my Internet  connection in this space. I have another larger room in the front of the house where I keep my old computer. It sat out of the way in the corner on an old battleship gray desk. I only used it to scan my negatives.


I decided to move the desk and the computer to the middle of the room. What a difference this has made. I get tons of north light from my two windows and I’m not connected to the Internet. Not only that, I’m using an old 14 inch CRT monitor I’ve had for 15 years and I love it. Talk about no distractions. I can’t check my email and don’t have the screen real estate for multitasking windows.

MaxscreenSo where does MaxThink fit into this picture? Take a look at the screenshot. I’m still using my old DOS version of MaxThink from 1994. It’s a perfect match for my monitor. No mouse, no distractions as my fingers fly over the keyboard. I love it.

Use free-form thinking when you’re shaping your ideas in the beginning. Don’t stop to organize when you’re on a thinking/idea roll — just keepon keeping on. Organize your ideas later.

All outlines are lists. No matter which outliner you choose, they are all big lists in the end. And the best outliners assist your thought process and let you organize on the fly.

Outline hierarchy or flat list — your choice. It’s taken me awhile, but I’ve finally realized that the best way is to think first and organize my thoughts later. The flat list is perfect. Whatever your topic, simply enter each idea as it comes to you and move on to the next. Only when you’ve exhausted your ideas do you come back to put them into categories.

MaxThink makes categorizing ideas a delight. I use the binsort command to cycle through the list and toss each idea into an appropriate category. When I’m finished, I have a hierarchy that I can continue to massage until I have a logical flow of my ideas.

And I can flip back to a segmented list (more on segmented lists in another post) any time I like. MaxThink makes it easy to switch between flat or categorized

Mouse? What mouse? My hands never leave the keyboard. What good are windows when you’re writing?

I’m having fun and being much more productive now that I’ve moved my desk and decided which program, MaxThink or BrainStorm, I’ll use to organize my ideas in the beginning. MaxThink wins this round. MaxThink beats BrainStorm on a couple of counts — the ability to quickly manipulate flat lists and to flip back and forth between flat and categorized.

BrainStorm stomps MaxThink in some other features, but they come later. I’ll keep you posted on the outcomes as I explore and experiment.

Meanwhile, I think I can use MaxThink to do clustering on the fly from the keyboard.
I haven’t tried it yet, but when I do, I’ll chronicle my adventures.

As I said, I’m using a very old DOS version of MaxThink. I see no reason to use the new windows version. If you want to know more about MaxThink, head on over to the website. The price is reasonable (I have no connection with MaxThink except as a satisfied user) and comes with a one year money back guarantee.

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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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owl galaxiesA finished article is linear (unless you’re James Joyce writing “Ulysses”). In the beginning, when you write your first draft, non-linear thinking is best.

The first stage of writing is YES, a mind dump, a free flow of thoughts, nothing held back. Don’t worry about where the thought(s) come from — suspend judgment and see where your thoughts lead you. Everything is YES in the beginning. Edit and justify what you will keep or toss out later.

The second stage of writing is PO. The word PO was coined by Edward de Bono. When he created “Lateral Thinking,” he invented the word PO as a “practical language tool.” “PO is an insight tool. PO is the laxative of language. It acts to relax the rigidity of the tight patterns so easily formed by mind and to provoke new patterns.” [de Bono].

NO is a stop sign that excludes. PO counters the absolute block of NO and says “let’s wait and see where this thought or idea leads — no judgment now.” PO doesn’t suspend judgment, PO is like the esc key on your computer. PO escapes judgment altogether.

PO is a notation that describes the “forward use of an idea.” PO is a notation that tells us we are operating in the “movement” system, not the “judgment” system — at least for the moment [de Bono].

As you read through your first draft, instead of deleting ideas that don’t seem to fit, prefix them with PO and move on. When you’ve finished your first reading, go back and look at each PO. What do these ideas suggest? A new approach? A break in the pattern? PO gives you permission to include provocative ideas and to follow where they might lead you.

You might discover better approaches, other new ideas and directions for your piece. Say what you want. Challenge old assumptions and cliches. Use PO as a lateral thinking tool to take you in different directions for the sake of exploration. You may arrive at a dead end or not. You won’t know what you’ve missed unless you go there.

NO is the final re-write where you decide what to leave out, where you think vertically and put your article into a logical hierarchy. YES, PO and NO are all necessary and compliment each other. Save NO for the end and your writing will be that much richer.

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I’ve been looking through the wrong end of the telescope. I like to use a powerful text editor for my writing instead of a bloated word processor. I have a good one that does everything I need (almost). I wanted an editor that takes up the entire screen but keeps the text in the middle just like WriteRoom for the Mac. I wanted a distraction free writing environment.


Smack my forehead! I finally figured it out this morning.
The editor isn’t the bad guy, it’s the desktop that’s the problem. I had a nice peaceful background image. Peaceful or not, it was a distraction, so I got rid of the distraction.

I’ve never liked eye candy on my desktop. When I got my new ubuntu Linux system last year, I vowed to keep an uncluttered desktop. I’ll put the occasional file on my desktop, but only temporarily. I only wish I had the discipline to keep my real desktop clean.

A totally black desktop with no image at all is much too drastic so I found a nice moonscape instead. I tweaked my upper and lower menu panels so they disappear. Now, when I open my editor in a window centered on the screen, I have my distraction free environment and I didn’t need to give up my editor.

I’ve taught it how to look up words in the thesaurus or dictionary. It checks my spelling, counts my words and does everything I need it to do. I didn’t need a new text editor at all. I turned the telescope around instead.

When you’re writing and get stuck for ideas, try looking through the other end of the telescope. The perspective change can be enough to break through the logjam.

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