Tag Archives: thinking

Clearing the Clutter

I’ve been thinking a lot about clutter.  In my mind, I am a minimalist. I love those wide open clean spaces, creating a blank canvas that facilitates thinking and creativity.  I’m drawn to those books that offer clutter solutions, guaranteeing success in easy steps to get rid of the junk and keep life carefree and unjumbled.  I regularly browse them in the bookstore, taking note of the tips and advice, but seldom put any of it into practice once I get back home. I guess I have to admit that I am a bit of a packrat. 

There are different categories of stuff I have a hard time parting with.  Books compel me. I seek them out like old friends. I crave having them around.  They teeter in tall stacks beside my bed, crowd into the corners of my bulging bookcases, peek out of baskets beckoning to me.  The ones I’ve read remind me of my own thinking and learning, taking me back to different times in my personal and professional lives.  They are those mentors and coaches that helped through tough times, kept me on track or pushed me to the next level in thinking or doing or feeling. The ones I haven’t read yet are the gateways (I hope) to new ideas and new ways of thinking about being in the world. Novels, professional books, nonfiction, fantasy…they all intermingle on my shelves and in my mind, which do I get rid of?

Cards and notes and bits of paper filled with love also linger in my life.  They are tucked into books, crouch near important papers, and hide in drawers and files.  Like rays of sunshine, they warm my heart and lift my spirits. Then there are those keepsake items.  The musical stuffed dragon we bought for our youngest son when he was born, the tattered blanket that was never far from his chubby fist.  Then there’s the letterman jacket showing off the achievements of our water polo playing son, the baby blanket my grandmother crocheted, and the book about education wars my son wrote as an example of satire in seventh grade.

There are also the items that still have use left in them.  The extension cord that has been curled up in the drawer for the last five years because the lamp being used now has a long enough cord.  The drawer of pens that all still work, even though no one uses them. And then there are clothes. Those jeans that are worn thin but you still love, even though they stopped being comfortable five pounds ago, the sweater in your favorite shade of blue that must have cost a fortune but makes you itch every time you wear it.  The baby clothes that remind you of the time when your now grown boys were a babies, won’t one of them want that tiny Padres jacket for his own child one day?

How do I get from my real life clutter to the wide open spaces I see in my mind?  I think about all the books and blogs and videos out there that espouse the perfect solution.  Unclutter in 30 minutes a day, change your life as you tidy your house…you know the claims. And perhaps the bigger question is, do I really want those sleek, shiny spaces that I dream of or does the physical clutter contribute to the complexity of my own thinking?  

As I walk through the Price Center on my way to our meeting room, one of the quotes on the floor catches my eye: “Perfect Order is the forerunner of perfect horror.” Carlos Fuentes.  I stop and snap a photo. Wait…has this quote always been here? Have I walked over it time and time again? Was it placed here purposely for me to find today…just when I most needed to stop and think about it?  As I work to frame the photo with my phone, I’m frustrated by the reflection on the shiny waxed floor, my inability to get the perfect shot. I continue to ponder the meaning, wondering about the appeal of perfect order–that perceived beauty of the sleek and shiny.  The myth that rules and a lack of ambiguity somehow leads to clearer thinking and robust, equitable solutions to the world’s thorniest and most persistent problems.

Perfect Order

Maybe I should take a note from nature, noticing the ways that beauty and complexity are intertwined.  Simplicity is not a straight path with clean uncomplicated solutions and easy answers. Remembering that even my clutter is part of a complex system–memories wrapped up with functionality, sentimentality intermingling with purpose and usefulness–can help me as I continue to chip away at the piles here and the stacks there.  I do want to make space in my life for new–new pathways, new memories, new books, and new ideas–and also leave space for the new to intersect with all that came before.

I have to face it, minimalism is not a likely lifestyle for me.  It’s not likely that I will achieve that perfect order that will result in perfect horror.  I love ambiguity and have spent much of my life pushing against rules that serve as gatekeepers rather than safety nets.  A new lens might help me re-view and re-vision my clutter, seeing new opportunities in what was once simply a mess. Perhaps now is the time in my life to start looking carefully at why some of those things remain, long after they’ve ceased to have use for me.  I’m sure I can find a good home for that extension cord and the drawer full of pens. I will prune, donate, reimagine, and gift the excesses. And I will be patient with myself, knowing that if I can’t part with something today, the time must not be right, and instead I will work to appreciate those teetering stacks and overflowing baskets knowing they are providing me support and comfort for the time being.

But I also won’t be complacent.  Change means looking for a new order and that means I will need to ditch some of things and thinking that no longer serve me.  Maybe this is what all my heron and egret sightings have been telling me: lighten the load, stretch out, and let your imagination take flight.  How can I not be inspired by those amazing yellow feet!

yellow feet in flight

 

Bubbles

There’s a bubble man that regularly shows up at the beach where I walk.  He concocts a bubble mixture, pours it into a bowl that is fitted onto a one-legged stand that he plunges into the sand, and then starts working his magic.  

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Two bamboo poles are his wands, and they are attached by long stretches of rope that serve as the point of bubble creation.  He dips, lifts, opens and swirls using the natural sea breezes to create enormous bubbles that drift along the shore.

Tiny bubbles

Like the Pied Piper, the bubble man attracts children.  They flock to him, chasing the bubbles, hands reaching, eager to pop these ephemeral jewels.  He teases them with a cluster of low, small bubbles, sending them out in a flurry, then lifts his wand high above their heads, coaxing another bubble to grow.  A snake evolves into a dragon, expanding and twisting as it nuzzles the sunset. The kids look up, arms stretched, running beneath the giant as it floats out of reach.  

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When the conditions are right, bubbles become corridors to another world.  Immersed in briny ocean water, the brave enter the bubble, seeing the world from inside its colorful coating.  For those who are patient and move with elegance and ease, the bubble stays, moving with them in a watery dance of soap and salt and air.  

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There’s something freeing about the temporary nature of bubbles.  You can almost catch them, but never quite possess them. In some ways it’s like learning.  For a moment, you can stop time and hold it in your hand and then, pop! It has become part of the air again, you breathe it in and it is a part of you.  

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Don’t stop, blow a new bubble today. Try some small ones to get started, share them with others. Now reach. Higher. Open your arms wide, catch the breeze.  Pop! It’s gone before the bubble formed. Try again and again until the light catches and the colors unfold into a rainbow of possibility.

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Walking

I’ve been out walking this week.  Not in exotic locales or even for exercise (although I know I should), but just to walk.  And as I walk on the well worn paths, places where my bare feet already know the way and the waves toss rocks until they are smooth and round, my thoughts wander and the muscles in my shoulders relax.

There is something indefinable that happens when my feet move, my arms swing, the wind brushes my hair away from my face, and the sun warms my shoulders. This movement–not aimed at getting me from one place to another or to raise my heart rate–engages my body and lets my brain disconnect from the worries and demands of everyday life. I start to notice details of the world around me, details that I miss when I’m focused on getting there for a meeting or staying here to complete this paperwork.

Today I noticed all the children on the beach who are attending camps: volleyball camps, surf camps, and the local staple–junior lifeguards. I found myself thinking about the job opportunities for young people that are available because of those camps as I watched young adults (or almost adults) mentoring younger children.  I also wondered about the kids who don’t have access to these camps and who may not see this public beach as their place. What does summer look like for kids whose parents can’t afford camps like these or who don’t have the luxury of dropping their kids off at 9 and picking them up at noon?

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And I thought about privilege as I looked up at the sea cliffs above this magnificent beach where I walk.  Perched at the top are multimillion dollar homes with expanses of windows facing the sea. If you look closely, you’ll notice the stairs criss-crossing the cliff face.  Exclusive access to the public beach below.  I am grateful that the beach is public, regardless of who lives on the cliff above.

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There were lots of seabirds today.  The seagulls are regulars, they hang out at the beach all the time. (I’ve written about them a lot, see this post.) Feeling a shadow overhead, I looked up to see graceful pelicans flying in formation.  My husband calls them bombardiers, they remind him of our military aircraft in precision flight.  These birds are huge, but in flight they are agile and delicate. At one point I looked up and caught sight of a white and gray bird overhead.  It took me a moment to realize that this bird was not a seagull.  It was an osprey–also known as a sea eagle, with a whole fish in its talons, racing through the sky.  I was riveted watching this elegant bird of prey, feeling fortunate that I had the opportunity to see it in action.  I didn’t snap a photo, but I did enjoy the moment.  And there are my friends–the sandpipers.  I love their curved bills and high pitched whistles. They’re a bit shy and wary, making me appreciate them even more.

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I walked for miles.  And like this post, my thoughts meandered, pausing on a bird, on a child squealing with delight, on a surfer shredding through the break of the wave. The cool water contrasted with the warmth of the sun on my cheeks just like my observations of the seabirds contrasted with my awareness of issues of privilege and access present on this beach that I love. And even though I don’t have any ready answers, I left the beach with a clear head and sandy feet, refreshed and renewed ready to tackle whatever life throws my way.

I wonder what tomorrow’s walk will bring?

 

 

Making Writers

Sometimes writing feels like standing all alone in the fog–shivering in the damp–uncomfortable and vulnerable, waiting for the worst.

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But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Writers write best in a supportive community, in a place where attempts are celebrated and seeds are planted–some intentionally and carefully like those meticulously cultivated gardens and some flung far and wide like dandelion seeds floating in the wind.

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And writers also need to play and break the rules, find their own voice in the cacophony of others.  Occasionally they need a nudge to take those carefully stacked plates and push them over, flinging the words here and there, then gathering them again to make meaning of the shards of ideas uncovered in the process.

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Sometimes writers need to lean in close, breathe in the sweet scent of what it means to create new life as ideas emerge from words rubbed together.

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At other times, writers need to step back and take in the long view.  What new understandings reveal themselves when you look from the heights, from places you hadn’t dare stand before? Writing can be a process of discovery, exploring new territory or old territory from new perspectives.

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Writers need inspiration, sparks that send them on wild chases and deep digs.  And to be inspired, writers must open themselves–listen carefully, look widely, pay attention to the mundane, and seek out the ordinary. Nothing is too lowly to inspire words and ideas. Consider even the cat, asleep, with its head in a box.

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But mostly, writers need to trust that they have something to say–to themselves, to their neighbors, to readers and other writers.  They have to trust that words matter, thoughts matter, and the world matters.  They must want to write, and need to writer, but most of all, they actually have to do that thing that so many resist, and WRITE!

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If you want to make a writer.

***Note:  This piece was inspired by the article Hey Matt by Molly Toussant where she writes about her beliefs about teaching writing.  This piece was created as a “found photo essay” inspired by a peek at my media library as a way to think about writing and writing instruction.

 

 

The Path Not Taken

Sometimes I find myself in a rut–stuck in the mud, sinking lower and lower so that it seems that all I see are shoe tops.  Instead of appreciating the beauty around me, I get mired in the minutia of everyday–dishes and laundry, report cards and meetings, and traffic!

When I’m in that rut I don’t always see the possibilities.  I find myself traveling the same paths, butting up against the same barriers…and even thinking the same not-so-inspiring thoughts!

And I know that I am lucky.  I enjoy my work–most of the time–and all it entails.  My students are a source of energy, my colleagues keep me learning and growing, and the end of the school year means my work will change–adding variety and new stimulation to the mix.  But…there’s that rut…and at this time of the year lots of others are in it too.

Yesterday, after a long work day I was heading to a planning meeting with some colleagues.  And instead of the provocative thinking I knew I would experience when I got there, my mind was on the traffic and the frustration of the snail’s pace I would experience as I got on the freeway.

So I ventured out in another direction.  There was some traffic as I set off, but as I crossed the intersection that could have taken me to the freeway, I headed into the hills. The road was narrow and steep as it curved through neighborhoods with breathtaking views.  As I reached the top I pulled off into a park–well known in these parts.  A place I had been before, but never think to visit.  It’s off the usual path, less direct, with a lower speed limit.

And this path not taken led me to wonder and inspiration…and jubilation!

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I was treated to amazing views of my city.  I could look north to La Jolla shores and the Scripps pier, east toward the mountains and the communities between.  As I looked south I saw the iconic structures of our downtown and the bays and ocean that frame it.

I felt like I could touch the clouds from this place on the hill.  And in spite of the clouds I could see forever in all directions.  The sky was clear and the sun peeked through, brightening my outlook and my attitude.

I don’t have to stay in the rut, mired by routine and overwhelmed by the demands of the end of the school year.  But I do have to find the spaces of inspiration, make time for moments of vacation and renewal even when time is in short supply.

This is one of those lessons that I need to remind myself of over and over again.  It’s easy to stay in the rut, to do the same thing, travel the same roads, talk to the same people, see the same sights.  I’m already thinking about other ways I can shake up my ordinary and pull myself out of the rut…the view is so much better here!

Changing My Lens

Most of the time when I take photos, I use the same lens.  On my iPhone, it’s the lens that comes with the phone and on my Sony a6000 I usually use the 16-50 lens that came standard with the camera.  They are functional and work in most situations…and they’ve become familiar, I know the distances they can handle almost instinctively.

On Saturday I decided to use my zoom lens as we headed out to the beach for a walk.  I’ve used it before and know that it is great to zoom in on things in the distance, but it works differently than the lens I use regularly.  I knew when I made the decision to use another lens that it would mean looking at the beach differently.  I would have to look further out because of the change in range.  And I would have to pay attention to focus since the zoom doesn’t lock in as quickly as the other lens does.

The zoom definitely brings birds in close…if you can lock in a focus quickly enough.  I didn’t quite get the bird crisply here, but I like the way the background is crisp with the out of focus bird flying directly into my line of sight.

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With the bigger than usual surf this week I found that the zoom brought it up closer, helping the camera see the impressiveness that is hard to capture with my usual lens.

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And this one brought the rusty color and fluffy texture of the red algae alive against the foamy whiteness of the waves crashing in the background.

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Seagulls let me come pretty close, but these little sea birds are pretty skittish, making it hard to ever get them in a photo.  Here you can see just how much smaller they are compared to your average seagull.

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You can see how much of the reef has been exposed as the sand has been washed out by the winter tides and how often it is covered with water by the lush algae growth exposed only at low tide. (Notice how the zoom not only captured the surfer, but also the seagull taking off just to the side of him.)

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I noticed this rusty pail wedged in the rocks.  At first I wasn’t sure I could take a photo using my zoom lens, but standing back a bit I was able to shoot this.  I’m liking the colors and textures most about this photo.

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As I headed out on Sunday, again with my zoom lens, I was optimistic that I would see and capture interesting photos using it.  After stopping at our favorite donut shop for some donuts and the local coffee shop for some coffee, we pulled along the side of 101 to watch the surfers on the big waves.  The guy with a massive lens nearby was probably getting more interesting shots than I was, but I enjoyed the movement I captured in this shot of a surfer on a ride with another right below him.

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And I’m not quite sure what to do with this one.  I like the view of the pelicans right above the surf, but the composition is not ideal.  Could I edit it some way to make the image more interesting?  More appealing in some way?

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What I do know is that when I look through a different lens, I see the world differently. The colors change, what seems prominent through one lens recedes with another.  And what I didn’t notice or couldn’t see with my “regular” lens suddenly becomes visible when viewed through the zoom.

While the camera lenses are interchangeable and it certainly isn’t difficult to change them, it’s often inconvenient to change them “in the field.”  And at times I find myself wishing for the one I am not currently using, finding it frustrating (and annoying) to be looking through the one that doesn’t allow me to see as clearly as I would like.

Changing lenses reminds me just how important it is to get beyond my usual way of seeing things.  Sometimes I need to pull in close and get a macro view…exploring the small details while other times I need to step back and take the long view with sweeping vistas and full context.  And then there’s the zoom, bringing the far closer, limiting the context as I find that distant focus.

I can change my lens without physically changing my camera lens.  I’m optimistic that I can make the effort to look in different ways and try to see through the eyes and experiences of those around me.  Just knowing that there are other ways of seeing makes a difference in the ways I look and see.  And what I see can make a difference in the way I act.

And then this short video appeared on my email today.  Stop, Look, Go! Might just change your lens…and maybe your day too!

http://www.karmatube.org/videos.php?id=6991

 

 

 

 

 

Re-Imagining Oneself Through the Lens of the World

This post was originally posted at Digital Writing Month:  http://www.digitalwritingmonth.com/2015/11/09/re-imagining-oneself-through-the-lens-of-the-world/

A few years ago I noticed a colleague of mine taking photos with her iPhone. They weren’t the usual photos of a group of friends or of your cute child or even the requisite selfie to document a moment in time, instead, she took photos to a prompt…and posted them on Instagram. I was intrigued.

Photography was always something that interested me, but I simply couldn’t be bothered lugging around all that equipment, setting up for perfect shots…or even knowing what made a perfect shot. But with my phone (and camera) in my pocket, it was handy…and I was ready for a challenge.

So I found a photo-a-day challenge with daily prompts and set out to give it a try. Prompts like one, logo, spoon, and inside sparked my imagination and I started looking at my environment through different eyes.  I not only took at least a photo a day, I also posted at least one photo a day to my Instagram account (you can find me @kd0602). I took photos for a month, then a year…and now I continue to take and post photos regularly to Instagram. Somehow the more I took photos, the more I started thinking about the idea of blogging—an opportunity to write and share my writing in a public way.

When I started blogging in July of 2013, my goal was to write a blog post every day for 30 days.  I knew that was ambitious and I also knew that I needed to challenge myself and keep to it to create a sustainable habit.  Even as I picked a theme for my blog, I already knew that making a connection to my photography would motivate me.  I called my blog Thinking Through My Lens–a play on the double meaning of the camera lens and my own perspective on the world. What I didn’t realize until I started to blog every day was the power that the images I was snapping would have to stimulate my writing and help me frame my thinking.  A yellow sign I photographed at a gelato shop featuring locally sourced ingredients became inspiration for a post about the importance of growing and valuing local leadership in writing projects and educational settings. Each image I took filled my head with language as I sorted through my thinking.

When I’m out viewing the world through my camera lens, I find myself thinking…about teaching, about life, about the world.  My photos stimulate my thinking and my thinking sets me out in search of images.  

Recently I was out in the mountains of Alabama, looking for the foliage that represents autumn in so many places–and that is mostly missing in my place (San Diego).  Although the unseasonably warm (high 70s) and cloudy weather made the colors less vibrant, I noticed trees of gold and some touches of red.  As I walked along some forest paths, I spied this brilliant red leaf among the brown, crunchy leaves and stooped to photograph it.

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And as I look at it, I find myself composing the writing…about standing out in a crowd…about being different…about risk taking.  t’s not written yet, but it’s brewing.  I also found myself composing the photo, leaning in close to capture the details.  And then later, maybe I’ll crop it, moving the red leaf away from the center of the frame, add a filter to brighten the red and increase the contrast…  As with the writing, composing is a process and the framing, the editing, the balance of color and light all impact the ways the image will be read and understood.  The images speak to me…and I hope they also speak to others, telling them stories that are likely different from mine.

Some images capture moods…the quiet introspection of a traveler with pant legs rolled up and his feet in the surf,

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or the somber quality of birds silhouetted in a tree on a cloudy day.

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And sometimes when it seems that there is nothing interesting to see and photograph, I head outside and explore. I push myself to play and re-imagine possible images. On one of those days not so long ago I picked a dandelion from my front yard (those glorious weeds seem to bring out my playfulness—and oh, does my husband rue their existence in our lawn!) and wondered how to photograph it in a different way. I noticed my car in the driveway and considered how I might capture the image if I blew on the dandelion near the rear-view mirror, but I didn’t seem to have enough hands for that. But as I was contemplating that idea, I noticed the reflection of the dandelion in the paint of the car…and I started snapping. I continued my play with some apps…and created this image.

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And by embracing the ordinary, I experienced the exhilaration of exploration and play, which also led me to composing a teacher-artist manifesto using my photographs and my words to express the importance of play in the learning process.  You can see it here.

So what comes first?  The image or the words?  It’s that age-old chicken and egg dilemma…it all depends on how you look at it, and the particulars of any given situation.  And it seems to work that way for my students too.  Sometimes they have a full blown idea that appears in words on a page and other times they see something, maybe even something they have seen many times before, and the image inspires their thinking and words.  Even more fun happens when they start to really look closely at an image and they start to talk with each other and build on ideas presented by their classmates.  

An Activity: Make Writing … Digital

Head out with your camera in hand (the one on your phone or iPad or a “real” camera) and take a look around.  Let your camera lens give you “new eyes” and seek out the extraordinary in the ordinary around you.  Get low, find the light.  Tilt your lens up, try a new perspective.  Watch and wait, take more shots than you think you’ll need.  Then spend some time with your images, let your images release your imagination.  Let yourself soak in them, let them wash over you, splashing you with inspiration and wonder.  Then pick one.  You can let it speak for itself and post it naked.  Or you can let it whisper in your ear, guiding your words and your thoughts–framing an idea that you didn’t know you were ready for.

For inspiration, we encourage you to add a photograph of your “sky” to a collaborative project we are calling “Our Eyes on the Skies” — which uses an open Google Slide format. To add yours, just take a photograph of your sky. Head to “Our Eyes on the Skies.” Grab a slide. Upload your picture and label it. We hope to create a rich visual documentation of the world above our heads. You are invited.  We look forward to a collection of skies from all over the world!

(Go to slideshow for collaboration)

We hope you will share out your work across the various Digital Writing Month spaces that you inhabit. That could be right here at the Digital Writing Month blog; at your own blog or writing space; on Twitter with the #digiwrimo hashtag; in the DiGiWriMo Google Plus Community; at the DiGiWriMo Facebook page; or wherever you find yourself writing digitally.

Mini Bio:

Kim Douillard is a teacher-writer-blogger-photographer who also directs the San Diego Area Writing Project.  You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @kd0602 and on her blog at http://www.thinkingthroughmylens.wordpress.com