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My writing samples (continued)

 

"Being Your Own Hero"

How in the end can one possibly hold anyone responsible for our own underdeveloped visions, or undeveloped strength of character?”
– Ruth St. Denis, modern dancer, (1879-1968)

When you hear the word “hero,” who do you think of first?

Do you think of people who have devoted themselves to making the world a better place, like Nobel Peace Prize winner Emily Greene Balch? People who gave their lives standing up for justice, like civil rights activist Medgar Evers? People who stood on the artistic and cultural edge, like comedian George Carlin? People who invented devices that changed the world forever, like Martin Cooper, the designer of the first cell phone? People you’ve only seen in primary inks on the pages of a comic book, like Spider-Man? Or the people who have been in your life all along, like your parents, grandparents, siblings, and teachers?

What is the common denominator in all of these cases? None of them are you.

We are far better at looking up to other people, gazing admiringly at their great feats, instead of going out and performing great feats of our own.

Why is that so? Why don’t the amazing accomplishments of our heroes spur us to imitate them? After all, trivialities like haircuts and handbags inspire imitation—why not good deeds and work?

Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Well, in the real world, it is anything but.

Why do we think heroism is an attribute not our own? We can point the finger at our 24/7 carousel of media, where we see an ever-revolving parade of heroes both genuine and sham. It wasn’t too long ago, when we viewed history through a wide lens, that we only knew the names of our families, neighbors, and merchants. Now we “know” hundreds, maybe thousands of personalities, which should give us more role models to follow. Instead, it only increases the belief that heroism rests outside of us.

We might also blame our tendency toward modesty. Even now, when it appears that the world is all too ready to reward those who expose themselves (literally and figuratively), most of us keep our mental trench coats closed tight. Modesty is hardly a vice, but it need not be at odds with heroism.

We can think of our heroes as extensions of ourselves. However, we tend to collectivize heroism in the name of patriotism, feminism, and ethnic pride. It is really not fair to piggyback on other people’s achievements. Good acts as well as bad belong to individuals, not groups.

That being said, I believe that the most powerful force keeping us from being heroes in our own lives is inertia.

Inertia is a more powerful force than we think. We may believe that inertia is the opposite of action, but it is an act—the act of staying put. Superstitiously, we think that staying put will protect us from danger. But it kills us before bodily death to not boldly go forward.

We are creatures of impulse. We shiver when it gets cold, recoil when we get too close to fire, and freeze when we feel a threat—even when we know that we should act.

Being a hero is an act of risk. It doesn’t necessarily mean risk of life or health. It’s often a matter of just saying what must be said, whether it be words of criticism, praise, or love. It often means making ourselves known to the world.

I confess that I have many essays that are half-finished or yet-to-be-written. My rate of completion in the absence of a request or deadline remains embarrassingly slow, as unhurried as a growing tree. I have a LinkedIn account, a Twitter account, a spot for my graphics and photography at behance.net, and, yes, a blog. But I delay using these assets to my professional advantage. I can say that I can’t see the forest (the future) for the trees (the present)—but that’s not the whole truth. I, too, allow inertia to hold me back. When I am online, I “drift” to news sites like HuffingtonPost.com instead of looking for new markets and opportunities. I also lose my focus when I remember to do the laundry and buy the groceries but “forget” to write or cold call potential clients.

Inertia is the villain, but it has two great superheroes ready to fight it: awareness and action. Awareness brings to light what you are doing now (automatically logging on to The Huffington Post and jumping to every story that sounds interesting); action jolts you to a different, better place (checking out the Writer’s Market board or AbsoluteWrite.com and sending out those essays). Awareness opens your eyes, and action moves your feet (or hands, whichever applies). If you think about it, heroes always carry these two attributes.

Make awareness and action two of your best friends. Perhaps you could write them on a blank postcard or design a card and put it in a place that you visit often. When you keep these two words close, you will be a hero in your own life faster than you can say, “Shazam!”

Vision Magazine, January 2010

 

"Inexpensive Ways to Bring Art Into Your Life"

When circumstances curtail the budget, our impulse is often to eliminate the treats in life, such as eating at fine restaurants, traveling out of town, or buying new books. Most of us would place art in that category too.


Not so fast. Art is not a mere treat, nor is it a luxury for the privileged. It is a human right, connecting us to beauty and wonder and speaking to our hidden souls.


There are many paths to art that cost very little, or nothing at all. Here are some of my favorites:


1. On a single day, take at least 25 photographs—not of family, friends, or tourist attractions, but of the things you see every day in your life. Your coffeemaker. The place where you catch the train to work. A tree growing outside your window. A drink balanced on the edge of your balcony. What do these photos tell you about your world?


2. Pick up leaves that you find on the sidewalk. You can do so much with fallen autumn leaves—and they’re free. Place them between two pieces of paper and do a pencil rubbing, put them into a small vase, take pictures of them, or use them in decoupage.


3. Be on the lookout for free or discounted admissions to local museums. For example, Tuesdays are free museum days in San Diego’s Balboa Park. If you are a student, senior, or member of an organization like AAA, you might be eligible for discounts.


4. “Art walks” are booming in various communities. Check your local listings for these free late night gallery openings and sidewalk displays.


5. Look for greeting cards with images that interest you. You can have a “gallery” that fits on top of a dresser or on a bulletin board.


6. Check out books from your public library (remember the library?) While it would be nice to travel to Europe to see the Mona Lisa, David and Guernica in canvas or marble, books can bring beauty to your eyes immediately.


7. Take a local architectural tour. Some communities offer formal guided tours, but you can also take a tour on your own in architecturally diverse suburbs, main streets, and even cemeteries. Plus, it’s great exercise!


8. If you have a local independent video store in your neighborhood or a Netflix account, look for biographies and documentaries about artists, as well as filmed operas, concerts, and ballets. These kinds of films are rarely available at chain rental stores.


9. Find a coloring book—not in the kids’ aisle, but in the art section of your local bookstore. Dover Publications has a great collection of coloring books with fine art reproductions.


10. After you buy your coloring book, find some nice materials to color with. I suggest colored pencils or watercolors; using markers is ink-intensive and takes too long. If you’re feeling really whimsical, buy a box of 64 Crayola crayons. (Not 96, not 120, but 64. That’s the magic number.)


11. Create your own artwork. My husband and I have some small paintings in our apartment that we created using acrylic paint and small canvases. Even the smallest apartments have room for these.


12. Do your own performance art. If you’re the shy type, do it when you’re home alone. Try dancing in a dark room to the beat of a sound effects album.


13. Think of the role color plays in your life. With the camera you used in suggestion number one, take pictures of objects of only one color—red one day, green another, and so on. After you print the pictures, put them in a collage.


14. Paint an object in your dwelling. It may be a bookcase, a small table, a lamp, or even a teacup. Use an out-of-the-ordinary color that leaps to the throat.


15. Think of unusual advice like: Plug your soul into the electric current of groovitude. Or, Build a birdhouse and live in it. Write it all in a notebook.


16. Go to an antique store and just walk around. It’s almost like visiting a museum. It is comforting to spend time among objects that have survived for decades, if not centuries; they’re material messengers that defy the bonds of time.


17. The next time you receive a fortune cookie, save it. When you have collected at least five, put them together and make a poem.


18. Photographer/illustrator Ashleigh Brilliant is known for his single-panel “Pot-Shots” which combine an old-fashioned ink illustration with his own handwritten philosophy. Why not write your own philosophies and illustrations on cards?


19. Look up a stock photo website such as Corbis.com, iStockphoto.com, Jupiterimages.com, GettyImages.com, and Shutterstock.com. Use the search engines to look at images of your favorite things.


20. Buy an art toy, such as the Spirograph (a classic favorite). You’re going to enjoy this more than you think.

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May this small list of ideas help create art in your life—especially in trying circumstances, when art reminds us that we (the individual as well as society) are greater than the mundane.

Vision Magazine, November 2009