December 14, 2010

Holiday Vacation

Hello Moment Artists!

I will be taking a break from blogging until after the holidays. Until then, I urge you to please continue your Daily Moment Art practice. It will do you nothing but good.

When in doubt, remember that it's impossible to do this incorrectly.

I will be monitoring the forums and posting my own Moments whenever possible, so if you need me, you'll know where to find me!

Until next time, Happy Holidays!

-SRT

December 5, 2010

Some Amazing Moments


You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
You may find yourself in another part of the world
You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife
You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here? – Talking Heads

For most of us, setting realistic long-term goals can be a frightening concept. Nevertheless, most of us have had our eyes set on a specific dream or two for many years, perhaps one that we never even considered possible or likely. Maybe there’s a dream that we’ve forgotten entirely, and are currently stranded on the road toward. Or maybe we’ve just found ourselves in the middle of a tortuous maze, with no idea how we got in, or how to get out, with no clue when or where the Minotaur will appear. When we begin to think about these goals, all the steps left to be ascended, and all the blocks remaining to be stumbled over, we can easily find ourselves in a state of anxiety or worse: overwhelming panic.

Sometimes, the closer we come to realizing our dreams, the farther it seems we are heading from them. Time never stops escaping; more and more requirements appear that we never considered; the kids need to eat and the dog needs to be walked and the baby needs to be fed and the groceries aren’t going to purchase themselves and before we know it, deadlines are arriving and we’re still standing on the same stepping-stone as we were the week before. We know where our goals are, but how do we get there?

The experts will tell us to buy a day-planner. They will tell us to make a list. They will tell us to buy their new hardcover entitled: Proper Time Management and You. They will drive us to Crazytown by telling us how to live our lives according to how it works for them.

Well, we are not them. We know what day it is. We don’t need to comfort ourselves by checking little boxes. We may be momentarily off track, but we are strong-willed, highly capable people who have laid a course of success and if we weren’t, then we would have laid our dreams to rest long ago instead.

So again, how do we get there?

We get there by continuing to do the best that we can do, because that is all that we can do.

When we always do the best that we can do in each moment, some amazing things happen. First, each stumbling block that we come upon will, to us, become only a grain of sand in the future. Second, when we reach the top, our goal and shining moment, we will look down upon the steps that we have climbed and the roads that we have taken and feel the awe, the sublimity of accomplishing something that we, at one point, never thought possible. Third, if we do our best and are still unable to accomplish that certain feat, we will then be able to gracefully and humbly bow out, knowing that we went the distance and that there’s nothing that we didn’t do at our fullest potential.

So in honour of ourselves, and our inherently amazing abilities, we will draw some mazes to play as our Moments this week.

The easiest way to accomplish this is to get some graph paper. If you don’t have any available, you can print some out from here. Or, if rigid Cartesian coordinates aren’t your thing, you may print out polar coordinate paper here (Note: these websites allow you to change the number of lines per inch, so be sure to play with the possibilities).

The next step is to create an entrance and an exit. At the exit, draw whatever it is that you are seeking. Be it gold, a better job, a college degree, or just enough money to cover the mortgage this month, your exit is your goal.

Now, draw the walls, and here’s the key: you can make this maze as complex or as simple as you wish. You have the power here. You can decide how difficult you wish to make this journey. If you like a challenge, then make this maze as twisted and as obstructed as you can. Throw in some monsters, some walls, some dead ends and traps at every corner. However, if you’re tired, thoroughly exhausted from your trek, then this is the time to make your journey simpler. Give yourself a straighter path, and equip yourself with Ariadne’s thread. This is your odyssey; this is your Moment.

When you are done with your Moment, then by all means, play the game! Start from the beginning, and diligently search every corner for your way. Or, place yourself in the middle, lost with no compass or clue. When you’ve finally reached the end, take a long and deep breath. You’ve worked hard, and you’ve earned it. Now, slowly rise and be on your way; you have many amazing things yet to do.

Now to be fair, here's my Moment:
Ink, Acrylic applied with carpet pad, graph paper, gaffer's tape on brown paper bag.

-SRT


November 27, 2010

A Moment to Make Your Mark


This week’s exercise will feature no moral, no agenda, and no deep insight. This week will simply be: for fun, for wasting time, and for goofing off at work. If you believe that you’re too busy, too important, or too concerned with being caught to be fooling around, then you are the one that needs this Moment the most.

This will also be the first Moment upon which we will place our signatures. Neither our initial in a corner nor our name scribed in cursive will do. Instead, we will leave an unmistakable mark, that which cannot be counterfeited. These Moments will be created with our fingerprints.

No brushes, no markers, no pencils no stencils no pens, only our fingertips will apply the paint to our canvas this week. Of course, this canvas can be whatever is within reach: paper, lumber, fabric, tabletop, dinner plate, anything that we can grasp. We will not, however, paint on anything that we shouldn’t (our boss’s desk, for example). As much as we need to let go in one respect, we certainly do not want to be in the other.

The procedure couldn’t be simpler: cover your fingertips with paint, and then with them, apply the paint to your canvas.

Like the canvas, the paint can be whatever you choose. Colour your fingertips with an ink pen, a marker, finger paint, acrylic, oil, gravy; it doesn’t matter. Apply the medium, and mash. You certainly can, and should, use many different colours. Make your Moment dramatic. Give it panache. Repeat this until your entire canvas is littered with fingerprints.

Most importantly, do not allow your Moment to look like anything in particular. Make this Moment abstract and incoherent. As soon as you decide that it needs to resemble something, it will lose its flavour, and you will begin to worry about whether or not you’re succeeding in accurately portraying this image. If you really need it to look like something, make it look like a mess.

Messy is desirable here. The longer it takes to clean up after your Moment, the better. Dive right in, touch your canvas, and really feel it. Experience the texture of the paper, or the grain of the wood. The purpose is not to have a respectable piece of artwork that you can frame and show. The purpose is solely to enjoy your Moment.

In short, the point here is that there is no point here. Not every moment needs an intention, and not every Moment needs an agenda. Just let it be. When you are finished, leave your Moment where it is, and on your way to the restroom to wash up, be sure to touch as many things and shake as many hands as possible.

Now to be fair, here's my Moment:
Acrylic on Yellow Pages applied with fingertips.
-SRT

November 22, 2010

Time for your first solo.

Good afternoon, Artists!

I will be on a blogging hiatus this week. Until then, what I would like to see from all of us is a dedication to continue creating our Moments on a daily basis. Come up with some ideas of your own, and remember that there are no rules here. Don't hold back. If you are finding it difficult to be inspired at that moment, then revisit previous weeks' Moments, or attempt those that you may have missed. Likewise, you can visit our forums to see what others may be doing.

If all else fails and you are finding it impossible to find time or a theme or inspiration or anything, please feel free to contact me in the forums. I will answer any questions you may have there.

More to the point: Happy Thanksgiving my friends! Until next week...

-SRT

November 14, 2010

Defragmentation of Thought


Computers are fast. Incalculable numbers are crunched and transmitted at light speed to deliver text, music, and photos to our hungry senses. Our brains are quick enough to keep up, and we want more. More information. Right now. Over time, our computers begin running slower, unable to deliver our wants to us instantly. Are we patient enough to wait for them? No. Click. Click-click-click and suddenly light speed just isn’t fast enough. At this point, hard drive defragmentation is in order.

Defragmentation, as many of us are intimately aware, is the process by which the computer’s hard disk is combed through sector by sector, byte by bit, in an attempt to collect scattered pieces of information and place them together in an efficient and contiguous fashion. When the process is complete, every random bit of code is aligned and covered like a disciplined platoon of obedient files. Everything is in order and close at the computer’s hand, so that it can resume processing expediently without having to search its entire memory every time we’d like to type another memo.

But what happens when our mind and memory, normally operated at speeds and efficiencies above and beyond that of our personal computers, become as scattered and disarrayed as the non-volatile disks of magnets and motors in our computers? As simple a solution as it sounds: We defrag our brain.

Like in a hard drive, those roguish bits of information that have no permanent home within our minds impede our ability to think quickly and creatively. They are the reason a word stays on the tip our tongues. They are the reason we make little progress in finishing what we’ve started. They are the reason why we “have so many amazing ideas for a poem or story,” but we “just haven’t been able to get it started.” With what we can safely call defrag poetry, we will find a home for this clutter and give our thoughts a clean living space for healthy growth.

The procedure is this: write down the first phrase that comes to your mind. Regardless of how ridiculous or offensive it sounds, this will be the title of your poem. Now, like the free association game, the remainder of your poem will be whatever comes into your brain next.

Your defrag poems will probably not make sense. They will likely sound childish and, at times, like utter gibberish (like L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, to some). This is perfectly acceptable and greatly encouraged. The point here is not to compose a concrete and publishable poem about your childhood by the pond. The point here is to clear out all of the nonsense that’s floating around upstairs and store it, neatly arranged, in a location outside of your mind. Chances are, the more absurd and risible your poem sounds, then from it, the better benefit you’ll obtain.

While not required, I’ve found that defrag poetry is enhanced through the help of a partner. As you both freely associate untidy ideas, even more junk can be extracted from you, from both of you. My wife and I do this frequently; it helps to clear away much unrecognized anxiety, and is a crisp, mental refreshment.

This poem will have no set length, so write until you’ve decided that you’re finished. If you have more brain debris, create another title and write another. Have some water, and repeat. When you’ve decided that your Moment is done, make a simple card from your poem and give it to the most miserable uptight in your office. They need it more than you do.

But I haven’t created a poem; this is unrecognizable and indecipherable garbage.

Says who, your college Creative Writing professor, who has chosen to remain in an academic setting to teach rigid methods of style within gradationally quantifiable standards to aspiring poets in order to justify “poetry as a paycheck”? Don’t listen to him; he’s unhappy.

Know that what you’ve created is poetry. It is a snapshot representing your thoughts and expressions at that exact point in time. It is something that nobody else could write if they tried, and it is beautiful (or grotesque, or insane, or incoherent, but in any way: perfect).

When our computers are running at optimal speed, we can get all of our memos, reports, designs, and proposals finished without the added stress of impatience. When our minds are running unhindered, there is no limit to what we can accomplish. Plans can be drawn, brick can be laid and cement poured, all so that the neighbourhood muralist may have a canvas of free expression. If the nonsense that floats around your head is getting in your creative way, give it a home. Let the world enjoy it.

We appreciate it.

As always, here’s my Moment:

Acrylic on Plywood; Poetry in partnership with Jeff Aicken.


-SRT

November 7, 2010

Art as Child's Play

Picture by Solomon Higgs, age 10

There’s competition for jobs, competition for promotion, competition for college, for classes, for road space, for birthday and Christmas presents, for boyfriends and girlfriends, and nowadays, competition to enter grade school. So what will my son, who is currently competing for middle school acceptance and is very much like me, learn from this? Like me, he will probably learn that if he tries his best, holds many talents, and struggles to compete with his peers his whole life and isn’t number one in a world with no room for second best, then all of his blood, sweat and tears will be for nothing.

Hopefully not.

I stopped drawing at age twelve because my friend Todd was better skilled than I could ever hope to be. I quit playing guitar at age seventeen because another friend, Randy, had savant-like fretting abilities. Competition can generate unimaginable feats and push us beyond where we thought possible. The downside, however, is that if we are not competitive by nature, we end up passing the torch to the very best and moving on through another course. For most of us, this is what happened, long ago, to our creative endeavors.

Picture by Sharlotte Higgs, age 8
Disregarding the almost complete disappearance of artistic education coupled with the onslaught of standardized testing in our schools, the most likely cause of why we don’t create like we love to is our competitive nature. We don’t write because we’ll “never write poetry like that guy.” We don’t draw because we’ll “never paint such vivid portraits as that gal.” We don’t sing because “she has such a beautiful voice, I sound awful compared to her.”

So?

Why do we care how we compare to others? From where does this forfeiture of competition arise? In a natural survival setting, the surrender of competition would mean death. We may not be able to cook a gourmet spread like our favourite nationally syndicated chef, but we cook nonetheless. Why? Because we want to eat. Why shouldn’t we also, because we want to write, paint, or compose, be able to do so without the supposed shame of mediocrity?

This week I want us to think back to when we were five years old, when we would paint landscapes that had no form and write words with no perceptive meaning, when we were in competition with nothing but our limitless imagination. In the style of this child, this uninhibited free spirit uninhabited by chagrin, this left-behind us, we will open ourselves up and discover a moment not experienced for twenty, thirty, forty or more years. We will readdress all of our hopes and dreams that were squashed along the way to adulthood, and kindle and ignite new fires. We will discover the fountain pen of youth.

Picture by Simion Higgs, age 6
The first thing you need to do is to decide, for each Moment, what you wanted to be at a certain moment in your past. Astronaut, fireman, cowgirl or rock star, we all had aspirations that fell by the wayside. After you choose your theme, you will draw/paint a picture, exactly how your five-year-old self would illustrate their future self.

This may prove a little more difficult than you might initially think. Finely tuned motor skills and learned techniques may impede the production of a truly juvenile portrait. Ignore ideas of shading, proportion, depth and perspective. If you need to, try drawing with your non-dominant hand. Use tools with which you are not acquainted, like a large unwieldy marker, or finger paint. Anything you would be using for the first time would give a realistically awkward approach; this is a good thing. This means that if you’re out to lunch at any contemporary chain restaurant, then grab the pack of crayons and the place mat. Pens, pencils, highlighters–mix them up as a child, who’ll grab anything within reach, would.

When you are finished with the drawing, you will write a quick little poem. Like the drawing, the poem will read as a five-year-old’s would read, with short and simple words and phrases. Don’t be concerned with spelling, grammar, or punctuation, but at the same time, don’t pressure yourself to write poorly. If you don’t already know the difference between “there,” “their,” and “they’re,” then don’t look it up. If you can’t quite figure out how to use “myriad” properly, then use it as it sounds right to you, but ask yourself: “Would a five-year-old use ‘myriad’ in a sentence anyway?” If not, just use “many” or “lots.” In academic and professional writing, you need to know these rules. Your Moments are neither.

Your poem should, somewhere, include the words: “I want to be.” Also, state the reason that you did not become that person. If you honestly don’t know, then admit it and say so. Recognize the point at which you deviated from your childhood dreams. These fantasies, at one point, were the most sacred things in the universe. Honour them.

When you are finished with your Moment, fold it up tightly and shove it into your pocket. Carry it around and play with it for the day. When you get home, if it has appropriate content, give it to your children. If you don’t have kids, then give it to a young relative, or your friend’s children, and tell them to always follow their dreams (to them, this has yet to become a cliché).

Competition for survival is fierce; competition for dreams is brutal. The last thing that I want is for us to read through these essays and then decide that we can’t follow through because “my coworker is very artistic, she’ll probably laugh.” There’s no competition here. No matter how bad we think we are, our art is unique and non-imitable; I promise. No one can do it quite like you. Open up; be naïve; feel like a kid again. We know that we’re probably not going to be the artist, the great American novelist, or the platinum-selling rock star that we’ve always imagined, but that doesn’t mean we can’t pretend.

Don’t be afraid to pretend. When you become fearless and shame-free, true innovation and artistry really do become child’s play.

Now to be fair, here's my Moment:

Acrylic and ink on construction paper.

-SRT

October 31, 2010

Trick or treat, fear or sweet,


Trick or treat,
fear or sweet,
now you choose:
do you wish to be
ruled by your fears or
your desires? your designs?

Your starting
steppingstone: feel it,
recognize it. Name it.
Atychiphobia (fear of failure),
Atelophobia (fear of imperfection),
Doxophobia (fear of expressing opinions, or of receiving praise),
by whom are you ruled? and to what length
do you measure your worth? and when
did I get to Paris?
but that’s beside the point, and more
on point is maybe you are more aware
of your Arachnephobia (fear of spiders),
your Nyctohylophobia (fear of dark, wooded areas or forests at nighttime),
your Agoraphobia (fear of public places)?

Your deprivatization of these
fears has made them
laughable, hyperbolical, remediable.
Ground on which you are
firmly aware becomes the old
ground, steps descending disappearing,
your first treat: taste the sweetness
of victory over your fears, your so-called
survival instincts, primitive and still
of use. This week
(by standard fashion), we will recognize
and solidify our fears into concrete.

We will write a poem
addressing our
least approachable, least appreciated, most ridiculous
phobias. We will use any form
of verse we wish, but, and since
it’s Halloween, each poem will begin:
“Trick or treat.”

Make your poems hair-raising, harebrained;
are you scared of rabbits or just the children
of your past? Discover
newly uncovered nightmares, terrors
of your mundane behaviour: why didn’t you
start this essay earlier? Procrastination
is a fancier noun than the dread
behind it: of what
are you afraid?

Okay, O fine, I have a fear
of imperfection coupled
with a fear of academic writing, so what
do I do?

I can stand
on this baseline and take
the path up, tearing apart
this essay while tearing
open the candy, the sugary sweet
reward for challenging my instincts.

Monologue your anxiety
on paper. How did it feel
to overcome that hairy jumping spider of death?
Or parasailed over your Acrophobia (fear of heights) to grab the sweetness
from the air? Or taken that first step toward
your next greatest dream,
and cemented the cornerstone
into your freedom? How
did it feel when I recognized my fear,
rose one step higher, and scribed this
essay as a nontraditionally-accepted
(or traditionally non-accepted)
form of standard expository writing?

Sweetbut wait,
you didn't face your fear at all,
you just kind of went around it, to
which I reply: It is an essay
dressed in verses, disguises, now
Happy Halloween, and also: you
don't always have to
kill the spider.

When you recognize
which of the above are yet
to be collected, that is the Moment
you will compose this week. By doing
this, discover your hidden
Papyrophobia (fear of paper) and Scriptophobia (fear of writing in public),
and welcome yourself to your new world,
where the brave are the free, and the daring,

divine. Macabre or comedy,
rhyming verse or free,
your Moment is yours to create,
just begin it: “Trick or treat.”

Now to be fair, here's my Moment:

Construction paper
-SRT

October 24, 2010

Rethink or Derail: A Rest for the One-Track Mind


Having just finished reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, and having just recovered from the existential meltdown it ultimately inflicted to my belief core, I feel that it is my duty to share some of my insights from her work. For those that have yet to read the book, Atlas Shrugged features protagonist Dagny Taggart, millionaire industrialist and Operations Officer of Taggart Transcontinental Railroad. Without addressing the novel’s deep philosophical implications of reason, rationality, and lack thereof (her philosophy is known as objectivism, if you’re interested), the major story arc follows Ms. Taggart through her struggle to keep her railroad operational as the country’s, as well as the world’s, economy crumbles beneath her tracks. What I found interesting, and which is relevant to this week’s essay, is that the harder she tried to save her railroad, and the more one-tracked and singularly focused her plan of action became, the faster her dreams fell and her objective failed.

At times it seems as if the ethic of today’s workforce is open only to the whims of sloth and greed. I assure you, however, that there are many of us still proactive toward success and motivated enough to set our goal so unreasonably high that we continually fall short of our own expectations. We will succeed; we will be great; we will always fail. Why? Because we set our goal, plot our course and plan of action, and then are so driven to attain our dreams, that we pack our days full of meetings and labour and travel and mealtimes and if something unexpected gets in our way, we derail. If we find ourselves stuck in traffic and needing to cancel a meeting, we run the risk of losing ground and even panicking, simply because we overbooked ourselves. Like a freight train, we travel with great momentum. We are efficient machines when everything operates smoothly, but as soon as an obstacle appears on the only path we can follow, we crash, unable (or unwilling) to swerve. So this week, we will see just how much we are limiting ourselves with our steadfast, one-track thinking: we will create one-line drawings for our Moments.

Technically, the term is blind continuous-line contour drawing. An essential first step for any art trainee, this method is indispensable for developing hand-eye coordination. The procedure is simple: without looking at your paper, draw what you see before you without lifting your pen off the paper. It will be ugly. It will be abstract. It will be fun.

Do this when you are at a meeting, drifting off, but expected to pay attention. Do this while you are at lunch to give your hands something to do while your mouth is busy consuming. Do this at the bus stop, on the train, or when you just plain don’t feel like working. Do this in the moment. Do this at least once daily.

You don’t have to devote too much time to this in order to realize that after you’re finished, when you pan out for your first viewing, your Moment is a veritable train wreck. It may have the basic form and position of what you were focused on, but it is nowhere near the drawing you first visualized. That is okay; you’ve not only been incredibly creative, you’ve hopefully learned something about the value of periodically slowing down, stepping back from your plan, reevaluating and re-plotting your course.

Most importantly, remember that your Moments do not have to be good, they just have to be.

At some point during your day, if you wish, you may give your one-line drawing some colour, or add details, in an attempt to bring it closer to the scene first envisioned. Be meticulous, and include some of the nuances that you missed. After reassessing the situation, you may find that what your Moment captured is, while not your intention, even more beautiful than your imagined design. Afterward, leave your Moment wherever you created it, because it does not belong to you, but to all the conscious conductors aboard speeding thought trains of their own.

I will not divulge the fate of Dagny Taggart, or her railroad; it wouldn’t be fair to those who haven’t yet read the novel. What is important to remember is that if she did, in fact, lose her railroad and everything she’d ever worked for, she is still not a failure as a human being. Neither are we. We must accept our failures and learn from them. Instead of being unidirectional travelers, we must discover that our tracks may diverge into incalculable directions. If we take time, now and then, to give ourselves a moment and reevaluate the pathways to our goals, our achievements will be more fulfilling, more effortless, more often. Schedule some purposefully empty time throughout the day, either for reflection or for a margin of schedular safety. If several paths are open to us, we can take them simultaneously, if nothing more than to see where they might lead. We must give ourselves options. We must give ourselves a break.

Give yourself this moment.

To be fair, here’s my Moment:

Markers on sticky pad.
(Dog on blanket)

-SRT

October 17, 2010

Don't break it; reshape the circle of your routine.

Photo by Matthew Fang under Creative Commons License

Go to work. Go home. Pick up the kids. Cook dinner. Shower. Rinse, and repeat. Does this seem like a typical day to you? Well, it’s my day, too, an endless loop, reenacting scenes from Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day. At times, I appreciate this predictability; it allows me to schedule meetings with certainty and maintain my almost impeccable punctuality. For the most part, however, it drives me loopy.

It can be difficult to become creatively inspired when driving below the same pushy billboards every morning. It can be challenging to feel original after mouthing the same banal conversations with the same coworkers that are living their own same routines every day. Each one of us is living through our own cycle of behaviour, and until we can recognize this, any hope to change this pattern will only be met with resistance.

Now this raises the question: Should we change it? After all, change is stressful. Change is scary. Change is disruptive.

On the other hand, on any given day, we’d be willing to admit that nothing fun happened to us, nothing particularly stimulating out of our unbroken routine. So, should we just keep on living this comfortably bland existence? Should we keep driving ourselves down the same circles that, through all our sweat and perseverance, invariably lead to exactly where we started?

You bet. We are creatures of habit, and a routine helps to keep our bodies in motion without overwhelming our minds with anxiety. Driving ourselves off the rotary will only lead us into a ditch, and that’s just not healthy at all. Instead, what we want to do is to pan out and discover new routes that lead us to where we need to be. Step off the worn trail for a moment, and let the area rest, let the wildlife burgeon again. Before we can do that, however, we need to recognize the roundabouts on which we drive, and notice all the imprisoning circles that surround us. This week, these circles will be our Moments.

Draw a circle; draw many circles. Colour them in or give them some texture. Let them meet, like a Venn diagram, or keep them apart, like stars in the sky. Make them abstract, like a field of reflected doe eyes in the dark, or make them concrete, like the graphical representation of a sine wave in motion. Draw many circles, or just one.

Write a poem in a cyclical format. Fill your pages with repetitive words in circumlocution. Gird your virtues with your verses and your vices with your stanzas. Shout the boredom of your routine through arousing metaphors. Show, don’t tell (we’ve all heard it before), where you’ve been, time and time again.

Circles are everywhere, if you look.
Photo by Kelly McCarthy, All Rights Reserved
Photograph the circles you see: A dish of doughnuts. Coffee stains on napkins. The sun. The moon. The clocks and the cargo train crossings. Manhole covers and ladies’ room mirrors. Anything you see that mimics the circumference of your eyes. Help yourself to snapshots of the circles that surround us everyday, and realize that you’re not the only one.

Every day this week, drive a new route home. Stop at a restaurant to which you’ve never been. Turn the radio dial to a different channel, to an AM channel, or better yet, turn it to off. Do something different during your day that does not disrupt your routine, but leads you through an unusual sensory environment. Stop at a different coffee shop, and post your Moment on the advertisement board. This Moment does not belong to you, but to the people that surround you, and that travel in their own circles.

Photo by Ben Hirsch under
Creative Commons License
Once we recognize exactly where our circles lie, we can find ways to try something new without upsetting our routines, lives, and peace of mind. By discovering new paths to our destinations, we open up unknown doorways of inspiration that lead us to entire worlds of untapped creativity. Be mindful, however, that the anxiety that we feel by going nowhere may only be amplified by changing our direction dramatically, and that is certainly not what we are after. From circuits of electrical current to the annual revolution of the earth, the universe is saturated with circles and cycles. Know that it is okay for us to be part of it.

Of course to be fair, here's my circle Moment:

Pencil on index card
-SRT

October 10, 2010

Take life too seriously, and it ceases to be fun(ny)

As a child, I became so engaged in the funny pages that I would forget the progression of the world around me. Bill Watterson’s brainchildren Calvin & Hobbes kept me entertained for hours on end as I leafed through page after cutout page of collected newspaper comics. I didn’t understand Watterson’s deeply social and existential morals, but Calvin and Hobbes’ perpetually disastrous shenanigans were enough to keep me howling. When finished, the print stains on my hands became trophies of a day well spent in somebody else’s moment.

Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson
Recently, I flipped through my son’s spine-bent, and therefore well-loved, copy of a Calvin & Hobbes anthology, and realized how strongly that comic series shaped my outlook on life. First, the missed social messages became concrete beliefs in system failure as an adult. Second, the existential musings led to a belief that while universal truth can never be found, it should still be sought. Third, a kid and his stuffed tiger fighting to rid the world of slimy girls will always be funny.

What’s the point of all this?

The point of all this is that while we sometimes believe that we must live in a system of unjust social policies, unfair marketing practices, unknowable truths, and unlivable working conditions, if we can’t take a moment to laugh at life’s little absurdities, then we’re going to have a stroke. So this week, among all the “serious” business of deadlines and due dates, fueled by our favourite caffeinated accelerant, we are going to sketch some seriously creative comics.

The types of comics that you create are entirely up to you. Perhaps story-driven, graphic novel-style frames are your forte. Maybe single-panel Family Circus-like scenes set your story. Take a look at today’s comic page in the local newspaper; you’ll find that simple, three-panel storyboards continue to be a go-to.

The mood of your comic is your choice as well. Humorous has always played well in the comical arena (and is, you know, kind of the point of this week’s exercise), but you may also choose to create a comic that is sad, cynical, serious, or sensually inspiring. Draw your panels detailed, colourful, lightly sketched, or childlike. The approach you take will be limited only by your imagination*.

*Note: The imagination may atrophy after prolonged periods of disuse. Please exercise your imagination frequently.

Since you’re trying to liven moments of “serious” business, find a point within the day during which you are at your peak of frustration, and consciously notice your anxiety. Immediately stop, and breathe. Step away from the situation for a few minutes. These are the minutes during which you will create your comical Moments.

Think about this: why are you so worked up? What are the real, universal consequences of not attaining your wants/needs at this moment? You need to realize that whatever the problem is, it’s probably not going to kill you. An aneurysm will.

Photo by T Hart under Creative Commons License
Now, find the absurdity in the anxiety. If you continue down this path, will you physically burst like a balloon? Is a giraffe licking your boss’s shiny, bald head while he (the boss, or the giraffe) continues berating you for a job well done? What if you actually are delegating your authority to a bunch of rhesus monkeys? Answer these questions through your comic, then return, a little more composed and at peace, to your job. Let this creative creature be a relaxation tool, a vent; it’s the artistic equivalent of counting to ten before unwittingly punching someone that you shouldn’t.

When you are finished, post your comic somewhere prominent. The announcement board at the office or warehouse is a great place. Whatever you are struggling with, I assure you, others are struggling with as well. Let your Moment give them a laugh, too. They need it; they deserve it; they are entitled to it, because this Moment does not belong to you, but to the world of rational beings trying to survive in an irrational universe.

If we take life too seriously, it ceases to be fun. Otherwise, if we take life too seriously, it ceases, to be fun. Like that seemingly innocuous comma, an avoidable, work-related heart attack can disrupt the entire sentence of your life, because life is funny like that.

Now to be fair, here’s mine:

Acrylic and ink on a 3x5" index card
-SRT

October 3, 2010

Notice Your Natural Humanity

When was the last time you went camping? How about hiking? Took a walk through the park? For many of us, our only brush with nature is during the walk to and from our cars. Does this bother you? It certainly bothers me.

Just asking for herbicide, right?
Photo by Kate Mereand under
Creative Commons License
In every city, the pursuit of urban development pushes the natural world not only farther from our homes, but also further from our minds. Every animal becomes a nuisance, every plant a weed. As humans, we have locked ourselves in self-assembled cages, in rigidly square city blocks of our own human zoo.

Okay, you’re right. I’m preaching.

But this week, we’re going to do something to address this conflict between [wo]man and our inherent nature: we’re going to write haiku.

Haiku, loved by serious poets and third-grade schoolchildren (though nowhere in between), is a poetry form with seventeen syllables and a natural theme. As you may remember, haikus are composed in a 3-line, 5-7-5 syllable format. We will stick strictly to this form. The theme, however, will be deviated from a tad.

Instead of writing about nature and the seasons, as haikus are traditionally composed, we will place humanity squarely within the natural ring. Where do we fit, exactly? How do the products of [wo]men, ourselves natural beasts, mingle with the natural world? Where does nature find herself within our cityscapes? Where do the two conflict/embrace? These are some of the questions I want us to ask ourselves this week as we practice this exercise, and create our Moments.

Hawk has dominion over street sign
Every time you walk to your car, I want you to consciously slow your gait, breathe slower, and notice the things around you. Notice the grass reaching through the sidewalk gaps. Notice the ants stealing crumbs from the smoker's lounge floor. Notice the Lost Dog poster nailed to a tree. When you get inspired, jot some ideas down in your pocket notepad. It only takes seconds to do this on your trek to your vehicle, so there won’t be any loss of productivity.

During a break, take a look through your notes. Give yourself the perspective of the things you saw. Are those ants excited to be fed? How happy is the sidewalk grass now that it can reach the sun? Now, reconsider your own perspective. Where do the two perspectives meet, and on what terms? Use this harmony/disharmony to form your Moment. I know your break is only a few minutes, but remember that a haiku is only seventeen (17) syllables. You can do this.

When you are finished writing, go back to work. At this point, the hard part has passed. If you are able, type your haiku on a computer. Use a fancy font if you wish. Print it out on business card stock, and leave them around the office. If you are unable to do that, then wait until you get home, and post your haiku to the social networking profile of your choice. Remember, these Moments do not belong to you, but to the world, including the natural one, of which you are a part. Do this once a day this week.

And to be fair, here’s mine:


-SRT

September 26, 2010

Titillate the Tedium

Even in the most exciting jobs (Cosmonaut, Test Pilot, Dragon Wrangler), there are moments of unadulterated drudgery. We all do them: mow the lawn, input payroll, return emails, stock shelves, vacuum carpets; each one of us has a certain job requirement that we feel could be accomplished, with better overall company efficiency, by a trained monkey or shiny new robots. This week, we are going to capture the greyest of these moments and give them a little colour.

Nobody likes collating.
Photo by Dani Lurie under Creative Commons License
You’ll need a camera with a timer. Film is fine (and kudos for maintaining your photographic integrity), but digital cameras are now ubiquitous, and will make the playing/editing process much simpler.

Before you begin your mindless task, set up your camera on a stable platform. A table, a desk, or a truck bed will do. Face the camera toward where you will be working. Find the longest self-timer setting on your camera, set it, and press the shutter release button. Now, dutifully return to work.

As you’re working, don’t count seconds, and don’t pose. Forget about the camera for a while. Allow the camera to capture you at your most diligent, most honest, and most bland. When it occurs to you, reset the timer on the camera and repeat. Do this no more than three times a day; you do have a job to do. When you’re finished with this exercise, put the camera away without looking at the pictures.

At the end of the week, find 30 minutes, upload your photos onto your computer and open them with whatever free photo-manipulation software that your computer has or your camera came with. If you don’t have one, try finding one free online. I have found Seashore for Mac to be quite extensive, and Irfanview for PC to be very user friendly.

If you’ve done this exercise daily, and at the maximum recommended dosage, you should have no more than 15 photos to play with. Choose your favourite 3 out of the batch, and stash the rest. We will play with some of the various photo-manipulative tools your software has to offer, and edit/enhance/enliven your chosen 3.

Most programs will have similar tools, and the ability to adjust colour is probably the most prevalent. Try turning your photos black-and-white. Sepia. Adjust the saturation, the hue, and the contrast. Fine-tune the colours to bring out the essence, the hidden life, within that uninspired moment of your day. If you like what you see, save it!

From left: original photo; black & white; adjusted saturation and brightness.
Some photo programs come with the ability to add various textures, or artistic effects, to your photograph. If you are fortunate enough to own one, now is the perfect time to use it. Brush up your photo with a painted effect. Give it a feel of being hand-drawn, airbrushed, or set in stained glass. Play with these effects for a while. If you don’t like the result, you can always hit “undo.”

From left: stained-glass effect; photocopy effect; sepia filter
If the pictures you took look fantastic as they are, then feel free to keep them as such. Don’t be ashamed of being a naturally terrific photographer. If you were able to brighten them up with the photo software, however, then save them now.

Open up your new photos on the screen, one at a time. Take a deep look at each one. Do you notice anything that you never have while engaged in your work? Take this time to notice yourself, your posture. What was going through your mind at the time? Does it show? Notice the other people, if any, in the photograph. Save them. By which I mean the photos, if they already haven’t been.

This exercise required very little time throughout the week, though at the end you now have 3 fantastic photos of yourself. This is not at all narcissistic; these are photos of a Moment of which you were a part. Take your one most-liked photo, print it out, and try to hang it in the same place that it was taken. Post the other two as your “profile pic” on whichever social networking site you subscribe to. Remember, these Moments do not belong to you; they belong to the world. Give them back. Hopefully, by adding a touch of colour or flair to your photos, you’ve created a Moment through which you can see that within all the monotony, your life at these times truly holds something special that cannot be crushed by numbingly repetitive work.

And of course to be fair, here’s mine:



-SRT

September 19, 2010

Don’t Think; Just Do

This will be our last “warm-up” week, where we will finally move outside of the office, and into a more natural, less fluorescent, working environment. Moment Art need not be confined to a white-collar atmosphere, so skilled tradesmen, landscapers, construction labourers and such, I’m looking at you. In fact, you may be overlooking how creative you already are on any given day. So after you’ve installed that sheet metal slip onto the dozenth eight-foot insulated air vent you’ve fabricated and hung, take five from the home you are helping to create, and build a little something more personal.

First, go out back and take a look at your scrap pile. What do you see, cardboard? Grab it. Screws? Nab a few. Adhesive, Styrofoam, stain? Score. I found a nail and some paint.

Jackpot.

We only have five minutes, so we’re not going to put a lot of thought into this, not let our ego guide our hands in order to sculpt a perfect fiberglass replica of Niagara Falls. Instead, we’ll do something a little more abstract. We’ll allow our subconscious to guide us. Time spent thinking is time wasted during this Moment.
Every sort of rubbish can be an incredible find for your Moments.
Photo by Paul Goyette under Creative Commons License

Take whatever you’ve found, and make a mark. For example, lay some duct/electrical/gaffer’s tape over a piece of cardboard torn from a hardware box. Lay it out in any pattern. Spray paint some colour on the box, let it dry a minute, then yank up the tape. Lay out another pattern, try another colour, and repeat. Your result will assuredly be a pleasing pattern of lines, colours, and if you choose to leave some tape on there (do it!), then texture. Nothing profound, just art.

If you can’t find any paint, then don’t panic. Find a nice piece of scrap wood or sheet metal, and then begin gluing found objects to it at random. Random is the key word here. Don’t put any thought into this at all. Simply take an object, apply some adhesive, and stick it to another object*. Repeat until your break is over.

* Ensure that the objects you are using are scrap. This is crucial. Don’t glue fresh light bulbs to the sheet of drywall that you are supposed to install after lunch. You’ll get fired.

When it’s time to get back to work, leave your Moment to dry.

At work, our productivity and the results thereof are constantly being judged. We strive to do our best, all the time, because we are in direct conflict with our coworkers (for position in company hierarchy) or competitors (for profit share). At work, we need to be blue-ribbon medalists at all times. This requires strenuous effort, and certainly a lot of thought. So much so, that at times, lying in bed while falling asleep at night, our muscles remain tense and sore, our minds scattered with worry. What did I do right/wrong? Will there still be work tomorrow? Will it be enough to cover the utility bills? What could/should I have done differently?

Photo by Arne Coomans under Creative Commons License
We’ve got so much on our minds that we need a break from it all, which is why this week it is vital that our Moments do not become another stressor. Don’t think about what you are creating. In fact, if at any time during your daily practice your Moments give you any anxiety, then take a break from this practice, or repeat this week’s exercise. Let your subconscious mind create your art this week; you have enough to worry about. Don’t think about them, just do them.

At the end of your workday, go back to your Moment. Pick it up; become immersed in it. Do you see anything in the abstraction; do you discern anything your subconscious is trying to tell you or the world? If so, then great! If not, then great!

It is not important.

Take your moment, and before you leave your jobsite, place the Moment on the front door of the home at which you are working. If your jobsite is nothing more than a structural skeleton in gestation, then leave your Moment in a prominent place, where it will attract the most attention. Remember, your Moments do not belong to you; they belong to the world and to the voices that spoke through you.

Do this daily this week. And remember: if you’re not having fun, then you’re doing it wrong.

Now to be fair, here’s my Moment:
-SRT

September 12, 2010

It Doesn't Have to be Good

While practicing your Moment Art, it is essential that you do not hire an editor. This is not the type of writing/art/composition that requires it. In fact, in order to maintain an honest approach, an editor is detrimental. Now, I’m not talking about an editor that one would hire to proofread or critique; I’m talking about that little voice inside your mind that may surface to tell you what you’re doing wrong, or that you’re not doing it good enough.

You must remember that your Moments are not going to be Pulitzer-winning photographs, so don’t try to compose them as such. You need to remember that Moments are candid snapshots, like that Polaroid of you with your mouth half open, chewing on a greasy cheeseburger, dripping ketchup on your t-shirt during that Memorial Day barbeque. They will not show your best side, and you may even be unaware that these shots are being taken. The importance of the Moment is that you are true to yourself, and that your Moments are always veracious.

Many of us, however, will still find that it is necessary to be hard on ourselves for no reason at all, and that by not utilizing our inner editor, we are just creating rubbish, not art.

Well, fine.

If you want to be hard on yourself, we will do that as this week’s practice. We will not give our Moments a hard time, so you must still keep your editor hushed, but instead we will give ourselves grief, for no other reason than because we think that we should. Get it all out this week, however, because next week we will start becoming a little more positive.

Here’s what we will do:

Grab a mailing label, Post-it, or anything else that has a sticky back to it. Take a second to visualize one thing that went wrong today, whether or not you could, or should, claim fault for it. Now, write this on your sticker. Break it into stanzas; make it poetry. It doesn’t have to be good poetry, because it isn’t going to get published anyway, I assure you. Draw a little doodle of yourself on there if you wish, because it is you that this grief is directed toward, anyway.

Now, take this sticker, walk into the bathroom, and slap it onto the mirror, unsigned. Walk away and leave it there, because it is not your Moment; it belongs to the world and to the voices that spoke through you.

And to be fair, here’s mine:


Simple creativity.

You’re right, this isn’t very much. It isn’t a masterpiece work of art, and it shouldn’t be. Of course, we are starting out simple, and this Moment should have only taken about a minute, but I promise they will get a little more involved over time. For now, however, what is important to realize is that now matter how busy you are, there is always time for a little creation in your life.

Do this once every day this week and keep this in your mind: It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be.

-SRT

September 7, 2010

A Note on Notebooks

While you are practicing your Daily Moment Art, it is essential that you carry a small notebook and a pen with you. This notebook does not need to be elaborate; it can be nothing more than a piece of printer paper folded to fit into your pocket. I prefer to carry a small memo pad that fits easily into any pocket, one with a durable plastic cover to protect it from wear and tear (and if you are diligent, they will get worn and torn!).

Your brain is fallible, and if you create a Moment in your mind while you are busy doing something else that has a higher priority, then you are likely to forget it. With a memo pad, you can quickly jot these thoughts down and return to them later. The ink will never forget.

If you want to use your fancy new future phone to take notes, please don't. Not only can the batteries die when you need them most, but the future phone is a primary weapon of mass distraction, and is likely the culprit that is stealing your precious moments from you.

And if you're like me, your notepad will also become filled with grocery lists, last-minute to-dos, phone numbers and emails. There's nothing wrong with that; in fact, you may find that it will help you to be a little more efficient with your time so that you have longer to create your Moments. Your brain may forget; your notepad will not.

If nothing else, when you find yourself with a brief moment and nothing to do, this notepad and pen can be your canvas and brush.

Now have fun!

-SRT

September 6, 2010

Whatever you have, you can use.

This first week will be very simple. Whether you're in your office, sitting on your rolling leather chair, or you're stuck in traffic, 5:30 am (or pm), or you're vacuuming up the 124th Cheerio from the kitchen floor, I want you to relax your shoulders, roll your neck, and take a deep breath.

Hold it.

Then breathe out, slowly.

Think of the first thing that comes to mind. I don't care how ridiculous it is, I want you to jot down your thought onto a notepad.

NOTE: Go and buy a small notepad to fit into your pocket; this is essential to your practice.

Now, grab a couple of things that are close to you to use as an artistic medium. You may have a marker and a Post-it, pencil and some computer paper, or those Cheerios and some glue. For this exercise, I found an index card and a stapler.

Next, I want you to create a quick sketch, doodle, grain collage, something that will reflect whatever silliness your inner voice had told you.

Somewhere on this visual piece, jot down the thoughts that you had relating to it, and if possible, try to make it a little poetic. This does not need to take more than 5 minutes, and you can do this while your computer is booting.

When you are finished, breathe. Put it down. Admire it. Laugh at it. Laud it. Believe it is the silliest thing you've ever created. But remember: You created it.

You created it in no time at all, instead of twiddling your thumbs, instead of watching another internet video about rainbows or being on a boat.

Congratulations, you've just created your first piece of Moment Art! For the rest of this week, I want you do to this once, and only once, per day.

Now, because this Moment does not belong to you but to the world and to the voices that spoke through you, leave this work on your closest coworker's desk, unsigned.

And to be fair, here's mine:


-SRT

Easy, right? Who knew!?