Who can take a sunrise

I took a detour, made some unexpected decisions recently and am trying to reconcile the many feelings I have about it.

Can one be empathetic to a fault?
When choosing to do the right thing, what if there are multiple “right things”?

I’m excited about what the future holds but still dealing with a little residual anxiety.

new beginnings

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Tango

I attended an incredible Argentine tango demonstration on Friday afternoon and was surprised to learn that the dancers were not following any choreography. It was a quiet communication between two people, a nonverbal invitation and response, a silent, beautiful story.

There is a marked difference between performance tango and social tango. Social tango is for only the couple dancing – it doesn’t matter who is watching, because the watchers are not part of the story.

Baby’s First Career Move: A Reflection

In 2008, I’d finally graduated from undergrad – just a few years behind my original cohort – and was happy continuing as the Marketing & Retail Operations Director for CoffeeWorks, Inc. (RIP).

But, in early 2009, I decided to take my career to another level. I began a formal job hunt, not fully knowing what I was looking for with a creative writing degree.

A friend of mine, a career coach, forwarded an interesting opportunity my way. Verbal Branding Specialist. The job description seemed interesting – literally making up words – but I was afraid I was underqualified. My friend encouraged me to apply anyway – with my marketing experience gained from both CoffeeWorks and my internship while finishing school, I had solved enough problems that I should have felt confident in my skills.

I sent in my resume and later had a phone interview. Then the call came – they were inviting me in for a group interview! They sent me some homework to prepare – a creative brief that would compel me to generate a list of name candidates for a new brand of pita chips. What an exciting and fun challenge!

For the interview, we were to choose what we believed were our two strongest candidates and be prepared to present them along with our rationale.

I showed up and found myself among 8 or 9 other potential verbal branding specialists. My suit felt too big. Some other candidates had printed their name candidates and mounted them on foam core. Others had stacks of spiral-bound presentations. They were practicing in the lobby. I had two 4×6 index cards I’d handwritten my notes on.

Had I misread the instructions?
Should I leave?
Is my blazer too baggy?

We were ushered into the conference room where a number of current employees were already waiting, ready to observe. I was sweating. After a brief welcome, the time had arrived – who would volunteer to go first?

Me.

Without hesitation, I stood and moved to the front of the room near a whiteboard. I had to go first before the nerves took over. I held up my cards, and wrote my first name candidate on the board with a blue marker. Delivered my rationale. Then I did the same for the second. It was a matter of minutes, and then I sat down.

The CEO leaned over and whispered that I got bonus points for going first. *internal high fives*

My confidence waned with each candidate. Lengthy presentations. Visual aids. Authoritative deliveries. They were all so experienced, so professional, so knowledgeable (well, except that one guy who said that ‘zeta’ was the last letter of the Greek alphabet and that women would buy these chips because it would make them nostalgic for their sorority days. I was not worried about him.)

Once all was said and done, I was sure I was out. I was afraid I hadn’t done what they asked for. Or didn’t do it well enough. I told my friend, the career coach, about it, and she wrote a quick recommendation email to the hiring manager for me.

It was an agonizing several weeks before I heard anything else.

Eventually, though, I got a call back. They wanted to bring me in for one-on-ones! I was thrilled. I met with a number of people, asked great questions, did another naming exercise (timed), told them my favorite word – discombobulate – and went on my way.

I wrote my thank you notes and waited. And waited. And waited. Weeks passed before I heard anything, but eventually I got the call back.

THE call back. When could I start?


I am bold. I am tenacious. I am creative.
Be confident, have courage, and don’t use other people as my measuring stick.
Always thank the people who helped along the way.

Graduation-Quotes

Rainbow Bridge

We said goodbye to the queen of our castle on Sunday. She was nearly 14.

Stella greyhound memorial collage
She retired from racing when she was 4 with a decent race record. Though her racing owner took great care of her, she didn’t have a lot of experience with people. She was a shaking, timid thing when we first met her, backed herself into a corner, full of stranger danger.

But we took her home anyway.

It took a few weeks for her to trust us.
A few months for her to get comfortable.
A couple years to realize she owned us.

I will most miss her stubbornness. Her old lady stoicism. Her cold stare into my soul. Her cat-like independence. Her love of treats. Her tricking me into thinking she wanted to lay with me in bed but really she just wanted to squeeze me out so she could have it for herself. Her gentleness, patience, confidence.

Farewell, Stella. Stellahead. Stellbell. Stellernator. Doggiehead. Pooperdooper.

10 of Me

Ten interesting(?) facts about myself:

I’m a professional word maker-upper.

My hair is a non-traditional color… right now it’s a sunset – purple roots, blended into dark pink, blended into hot orange.

wordfindI taught myself to read at age 4 with a wordfind puzzle.

The first word I found/read was “egg.”

Java in Homberg Place in Knoxville was the most important location of my teenage years. I miss those Seattle mochas, the cool baristas, the blue-purple walls, the checkerboard floor, the book room, balcony, boys, free music demos, friends, laughter, tears, secrets, and all the words I scribbled in my sketchbooks. layered mochaEvan, I still have the Sharon Olds book of poetry I wanted to give you before you disappeared forever.

I’ve stuck tweezers in an electrical outlet. Twice. Sorry, dad.

I accidentally sliced my wrist open with scissors when I was cutting a mouse house door in a meat tray.

Never have I ever driven a golf cart.

I have ridden a Zamboni.zamboni

I’ve always been a writer, but when I started my college visits, I had intended to find a criminology program. I planned to do crime scene clean-up part time.

Paper/Metal: Talking Trash (Art)

Several weeks ago, I participated in a public speaking workshop, but I was unable to present my speech due to an unfortunate food poisoning incident involving a duck pizza. I hope to find another opportunity to present (after additional practice), but here is the text of it, along with some photos and links to references.

If you’ve been reading this blog long (hi, grad schoolmates!), then you might recognize the project. It’s been a couple of years, but this lesson has stuck with me, and I now consider myself a recovering perfectionist.


Author and entrepreneur Seth Godin introduced me to the concept of the lizard brain. What is the lizard brain? It’s resistance. It’s the little voice in your head you might hear that says to stop, don’t do it, back away slowly. It’s the writer’s block, the shaky knees, the fear factor. My lizard brain is screeching quite loudly right now. It craves safety, familiarity, rationality and status quo. It hates change and fights newness.

Here’s a fun fact about me: I’ve always been a perfectionist. Well into adulthood and sometimes still, failing or even just not performing well have always been among my greatest fears. I would quit things as a kid (soccer, dance, gymnastics, rock climbing) if I wasn’t good at them right away. I would spend hours and hours on research papers and projects to make sure I went above and beyond expectations. I wanted to be right, I wanted A plusses and 110 percents and gold stars and blue ribbons.

I was horrified of criticism. And I hated it when teachers grouped me with who I perceived had lower standards of work or didn’t know as much as I did on a subject because it likely meant I had to lower my bar or pull the weight (obviously I didn’t yet understand the benefits of collaboration). I was basically the Lisa Simpson of Knoxville, Tennessee.

Counter-intuitively, I would procrastinate like crazy on papers or projects I didn’t think I would do very well on. Sometimes I wouldn’t even bother studying for a test because I just “knew” I would fail it (I’m looking at you, algebra 2.) This is the lizard brain in action! Self-sabotaging perfectionism is a thing. I mean, truly, I was pretty tightly wound.

Fast forward to graduate school. I took a class called Creativity & Networks, a class designed to get us out of our comfort zones, increase our creative confidence and embrace our vulnerability to make meaningful connections with people. We did a number of off-the-wall activities during that course including a found-object creation or trash art.

Backing up a little bit, all the way back in 1939, James Webb Young wrote a book called A Technique for Producing Ideas. In it, he laid out five essential steps for a productive creative process, guided by two principles. For the steps, you’ll have to read the book or Google it, but the principles are:

  1. An idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements, and
  2. The capacity to bring old elements into new combinations depends largely on the ability to see relationships.

Now, trash is nothing more than discarded elements that are no longer needed or no longer function for their original intent. Some argue that the materials in trash are essentially untapped resources for new things. You see this a lot now in the up-cycle movement made especially popular by Pinterest.

Anyway, to practice enacting these principles, we were given the following instructions: Gather five seemingly unrelated items that have been discarded as waste. Mash them together to create something new.

I raided the recycle bin at home for four of my pieces, gathering a paper towel roll, a Tetrapak (boxed soup), a magazine and a soda can. At the time, I happened to work at an aviation parts distributor where we had a scrap cage full of unsellable materials. So, for my fifth element, I grabbed an old seal from a PW 4000 airplane engine.

Spread out on the floor, working on a trash to treasure creativity project for class.

A post shared by Jenna (@jaynesayswhat) on

I spent a few hours on a Saturday cutting, crafting, mashing. Waiting to see how these bits would fit, waiting for this new creation to reveal itself to me. I finally chopped up the soda can and this sun appeared. Once I found this sun, everything else just… came together. I cut up the paper roll and made flowers from the rings, then sliced up the Tetrapak and magazine to make to make additional flowers and then a little swag.

Pretty awesome result, right? The key here, though, was not necessarily the end result. The point was the process. This exercise was meant to teach us about curiosity, play and experimentation for idea generation.

While this wasn’t actually the first found-object creation for me, this course and this assignment were pivotal.

This was basically a smack in the face that I am just not going to be good at everything I pick up. I have to embrace the process and the practice because experience is where the learning, growth, improvement and innovation happen. I didn’t know when looking at pieces of trash what would happen, and no one else knew what those pieces would become. I had no blueprint or IKEA pictographs. I just had to cut, craft and mash my way through to something cool.

In his book The Icarus Deception, Seth Godin writes: “We’ve been trained to prefer being right to learning something, to prefer passing the test to making a difference, and most of all, to prefer fitting in, but now it’s your turn to stand up and stand out… you can risk being wrong or you can boring.”

He also reminded me that “failure is an event, not a person.” Something I need to remind myself regularly. It happens. Pick up and keep going. So using those thousand ways that didn’t work meant I was closer to finding what did, to paraphrase Edison. Soak up any criticism that comes along and use it to get better. David Kelley of IDEO calls this “enlightened trial and error.”

These days I spend a lot more time reminding myself that my comfort zone doesn’t expand if I don’t test its limits. I am not a better employee if I just keep doing what I’m doing, what’s easy. I still do my best, of course, but I have to challenge myself and try things that aren’t necessarily comfortable, like public speaking. It’s the only way to become a better version of myself.

When I was in Dublin earlier this year, I spotted a huge piece of trash art crafted into the shape of a building-sized squirrel. Does the squirrel itself have meaning? I don’t know, but I smiled when I saw it because it was another reminder of the power of creative confidence and of relationships – from previously discarded and seemingly disparate elements appears something new and something pretty special.

James Webb Young of the second principle, seeing relationships among unrelated elements, says, “Here, I suspect, is where minds differ to the greatest degree when it comes to the production of ideas. To some minds each fact is a separate bit of knowledge. To others it is a link in a chain of knowledge. It has relationships and similarities. It is … the habit of mind which leads to a search for relationships between facts becomes of the highest importance in the production of ideas.”

Creative confidence is the willingness to share your strengths and your weaknesses and make connections with other humans.

How will you connect the dots?

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Good intentions.

Okay, so much for 30 days of writing. I’ve got at least seven drafts sitting over here of the writing prompts, but after reflecting on it for a couple of weeks, I think I’m going to find more creative writing prompts instead. Writing generic blog posts just isn’t my style. Part of my problem lately is my lack of creative expression over the last couple of years. Much of my writing has been either academic or professional/technical/informative since about 2011 which has left a gaping hole in my heart.

I think it’s time to get back in the habit of writing poetry and creative nonfiction more frequently. I’ve also resolved to get back to the maker side of things – found object art, paper wreaths and other crafts, painting, and maybe even something new! I *might* even get back into baking every now and again.

Late Start – Day One

My intention was to begin the 30-day writing challenge this past Monday, but obviously that didn’t happen. So, I’ll start today.

For Day One, the prompt is to write about five problems with social media. I’ve had to think about this one since I didn’t want to just regurgitate the problems we see and hear about everywhere already. Plus, I had to sift through my mental files floating around since grad school.

1. You’ve no doubt heard of this one – FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out. Doesn’t it seem like awesome things are happening all over the place all the time? And you’re just sitting at home in your jammies watching Criminal Minds? Or is that just me?

Okay, I *like* watching Criminal Minds in my jammies. In fact, I rather enjoy the quiet of my home and the comfort of my couch. Don’t get me wrong, I get out and about every now and again. But, I get sort of sad (and mad at myself) when I’m scrolling through my Facebook feed, and I see people out and about having a great time. Maybe I got an invitation, maybe I didn’t. Regardless of invitation status, I’m sitting at home while they are together.

Maybe the selfies are just the highlights of their togetherness since they are probably on their phones, staring at their screens, the whole time anyway.

2. Fewer in-depth conversations leading to meaningful connections. Maybe some people will disagree with me here, but I don’t get too deep or profound when communicating via text, tweet, or chat. I’m not discussing politics, religion, crime, the meaning of life with anyone screen-to-screen. It’s all so superficial and lacking intimacy. I appreciate levity, but vapidity is painful. I don’t think sustainable, meaningful relationships thrive through light, nothing conversations.

3. Perhaps actually an addendum or exception to #2, one of the problems of social media is learning too much about someone. Maybe you are linked to family members, friends from high school, or your boss. They share articles or post memes that are 180 degrees from your own beliefs or they are slanted in a way that paints them as racist, misogynist, or just plain hateful. I have a couple of those – they have a right to an opinion that is different from mine but they constantly post judgmental and generally unpleasant things about people who believe differently. I really just don’t need to know this much about every single person I follow or have on my friends list.

For the record, I also don’t need to know every meal they eat, load of laundry they run, toenail they clip, or gas they pass. Some things should just remain a mystery.

4. So many voices. Double edged-sword, this one. I’m glad lots of people have the opportunity to be heard, but it gets noisy in social media land. Hard to keep up sometimes. Also hard to process so many emotions and information. I personally get a bit overwhelmed by all the emotions I’m supposed to feel all at once all the time.

The trouble, too, with the cacophony of voices is that many people get shouted down, ignored altogether, or left out of the conversation completely.

5. Reduced multi-sensory experiences leading to long-term memory commitment. Do you remember every tweet interaction, like, or share? I don’t. Twitter and Facebook have become a muddled collection of quickly shared but easily forgotten thoughts. And, again, maybe this ties into #1 – I’m afraid of missing out on the fun, disappointed when I do, but then I still choose to remain at home.

But I remember sweaty FamJams at the whitewater center and humid game nights on the deck. I remember the sparkly blue scarf I was wearing on my first date with my BF 14 years ago. I remember our windy, full moonlit Alcatraz tour, the gas and sand scented helicopter ride over the beach, the smell of hot glue guns at Christmas craft fairs with my mom, the taste of the Midori sour I drank on my 21st birthday, the rush of cold air in my face as I plummeted to earth after falling out of the back of an airplane.

I don’t think we’re all racking up those experiences and memories anymore, choosing instead to live through others’ adventures or NatGeo and Discovery photos on Pinterest.

What do you think? Agree or disagree with any of these? What are some problems with social media that you’ve identified?