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Living in the Present

Living in the PresentWe often hear from spiritual people that it is important to be in the present. The words of my dear friend Yoda always ring through my ears, “…always looking into the future, into the horizon, never his mind on where he was, or what he was doing”. He knows me so well.

I understand the concept of being in the moment, and of cherishing every moment with those I love. I understand the importance of listening, and of taking time to smell the flowers. My problem with the present is that I spend a lot of time in the present and get nothing for it. When I have deadlines to meet, I’m in the present. When something breaks around the house and starts leaking all over the floor, it is happening right now and needs my immediate attention. That is living in the present, is it not? Every mother of a toddler spends every waking minute in the present. She knows what I’m talking about. When we are at the demands of others at work, we are living in the present. Clearly the present isn’t necessarily the present we are told so much about. I would argue that a lot people spend most of their time living in the present. It’s just not the present that is necessarily beneficial to our well being.

Let’s define for ourselves the types of “present”. The type of present that brings us peace of mind is the kind when you are in the moment with your kids. When you lovingly stroke the hair of your significant other. When you stop to smell the roses. When you stop to breathe in the scenery from a mountain top. When you can say to yourself, “I am happy, right now”. Let’s call this type of being in the present: A.

Let’s call the following type of present: B. This is the present that tends to the needs of others. The boss, the child, the spouse, the bill collector, the mother. When your full attention is needed in the here and now.

Now for the type of present we haven’t talked about yet. Let’s call this type: C. This is the zone present. When you are in the zone. When you are doing your thing and totally into it. When you are engulfed in the creative process.

Now, let’s talk about what the present is not. It is not the past, and it is not the future. It is also not you having your head in the clouds or being entertained to the point of zombification.

We relive our past successes and failures. Constantly replaying events that will never come again. There is no reason to live in the past except for the sake of gratitude. Others, such as myself, live in the future. Always re-designing, always thinking about how things could be, always hoping for better. The only reason to live in the future is to clearly define what you want. When you know, get out. Don’t stay there too long. The past and the future can both occupy a lot of your time if you are not careful.

Because of present B, present A and C are often neglected. It is therefore important to schedule time for A and C. B will always make time for itself but you will have to organize it so it doesn’t over run our lives.

To be able to live in the present, as in present A, meditation can be useful. Also, spending more time in nature. You can also, dare I say, go on a media fast. This includes the internet or most things with software. If these don’t work, then you can always do what the Samurai did. It may seem a bit off topic when I talk about Samurai, but I promise it will make sense in a moment.

One of the main things Samurai had at the forefront of every thought was death. For them, death was a constant. It was always looming around every corner and they never knew for sure when it would strike. Death, however, did not mean to them the same as it does to us. To the Samurai, death was not something to fear and avoid. It was an honor to face death. It was an honor to live and it was an honor to die. Death was like a companion for them. The thing about always considering death is that you appreciate life more. It is easier to forgive, to resent less, and appreciate those you love. It is easier to honor your parents, when you believe every meeting may be the last time you see them. Every moment with the one you love is sweeter. You are not likely to start an argument and leave in a tiff until things blow over. You cherish every moment of life you have with them. For us however, when we consider death, it comes with fear. This was not the way of the Samurai. Death and fear were not companions. You do not have to have one with the other. For them, fear was banished from the heart but death was welcomed. This way of thinking is difficult for most of us but we could learn something from it if we could lose our fear. As they say in The Last Samurai, “Life in every breath”.

Listen to our Podcast about Living In The Present on the Graphomania Podcast Network


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Where Stories Come From

Where Stories Come FromEvery artist is a story teller. That is the common thread running between all artists working in any medium. Obviously the novelist tells a clear story from beginning to ending but others may only convey a mood or feeling which are stories in their own right. The dancer uses movement to tell their story. The poet uses the rhythm of language to tell theirs. The musician tells a story with harmonic sounds that can pierce the soul. The movie industry uses a combination of all the art forms to tell story, and when done well, it is great storytelling indeed.

Where do these stories come from? Whether they are true life events or fiction, the storytelling starts in the imagination sparked by any number of things; often the simplest of things. You might witness someone choking on a piece of toast. Others come to their aid and before you know it the entire incident is over. But something you noticed doesn’t leave your mind. You can’t help but think on the persons facial expressions and the emotions they must have gone through. The thought of death briefly crossing their mind, the relief when the threat was over, and the embarrassment that followed. A series of questions begin to emerge. What did they regret the most at the thought of dying in that moment? Who would be affected by their death? Why were they embarrassed? How do they see their own social standing? Who are they, where did they come from, and where are they going? What catastrophic events may have unfolded if they missed their next appointment, if any? Would anyone have missed their passing? As you ask these questions your imagination begins to answer. Before you know it, a story begins to unfold. The story may be so in depth that you choose not to tell the part where the main character almost died on a piece of toast. The thing that sparked the story may actually have no place in the story. It was just a spark.

As obscure as they may seem, these are creative sparks, the real muses of life. Take note of them. Observing others and the world outside your normal routine can give you insight into yourself, telling the stories that lurk deep down. Stories that would never see the light of day had you not explored them. As you tell these stories you will inspire new stories from others, and their stories will inspire you in return. The spark may come from a well lit photo. It may come from a section of music that creates just the right mood that calls to the surface a character you had never known before. Ask yourself the series of questions, and set yourself to telling the story in the medium you love.

You may surprise yourself with the things that come from your imagination. There is no reason to be afraid of exploring it. It may take you to dark places but it is only in your imagination. Do not judge yourself on any dark things that rise to the surface. Explore these things as far as the story pushes them. The story has a way of reigning in the ideas and fitting all the pieces together.

You may not consider yourself a writer but if you are an artist, you are a storyteller. How will you tell your story?

Listen to our podcast as we discuss storytelling and character development with our son singer/songwriter, Gabriel Knight Hancock.

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The Myth of Failure

Myth of Failure(reprinted with permission from ArtBeat Volume 1, Issue 5, May 2009)

by Missy Hancock

It seems that creativity has been “schooled” out of us in so many different ways.  The “pass/fail” method of modern education has undermined the natural instincts of curiosity, exploration, and discovery.

Naturally, we wonder about things.  We ask questions, we seek answers, we experiment.  And naturally, we find dead ends, things that don’t work– in other words– we fail.  But what the natural process of “failure” breeds in us is more exploration, more experiments, more questions.  by adding the “extrinsic” stamp of approval or disapproval by an outside source (i.e. the school), we are robbed of the natural intrinsic motivation of failure.

Failure has been deemed unacceptable, something to be scolded.  So rather than experience chastisement, we simply begin a process of “toeing the line.”  We memorize only what they tell us to memorize.  We learn what we’re told to learn and we answer questions in the way “they” would want us to.  Never mind the fact that some of the most interesting discoveries have been made accidentally or with an entirely different goal in mind.  The sense of adventure, creativity, and exploration is gone for fear of “failing.”

The tragedy is that this mindset does not end when we graduate.  Upon university graduation, we do not suddenly take into our hands our diploma along with a renewed passion for discovery.  No, instead we carry with us a fear of what the neighbors will think, what our boss will say, and where we “rank” in society as a whole.  In other words, we continue to “toe the line.”  It is this “line” that continues to lower the standard of excellence, encourages mediocrity, and limits human potential.  And it is this line that we must cut in order to move forward as a creative society as well as individuals.  This “line” has become a noose around our necks suffocating creativity and ultimately breaking the spirit of discovery, not to mention “progress.”

Occasionally, I stumble across that great old quote by Thomas Edison, we’ve all heard it:  “I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”  It is spouted off to us by the mouths of teachers and professors operating in the same system that perpetuates this grand theft of human potential– the same system that by the way, deemed Edison “not teachable”.  They were right, I suppose.  He couldn’t be taught that their answers were the right answers and he could not be convinced to stop asking his own questions.

The truth is that the stamp of “failure” is a lie.  Failure was never intended to be a label or a grade but simply a part of the process of learning, creating, exploring and discovering.  Failure is more like “step 4” right before steps 5, 6, 7, and 8 where you find the answer accomplish the goal, walk out your idea, and enrich the world!  “Failure” is a natural part of life, not an identity.

Thankfully, world thinkers are beginning to question this pass/fail system that leaves the world at a loss for new ideas, progress and creativity.  Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson challenges the way we’re educating our children.  He champions a radical rethinking of our school systems, to cultivate creativity and acknowledge multiple types of intelligence.  A visionary cultural leader, Sir Ken led the British government’s  1998 advisory committee on creative and cultural education, a massive inquiry into the significance of creativity in the educational system and the economy, and was knighted in 2003 for his achievements.  His latest book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything provides a deep look at human creativity and education.

It is interesting that the people who think for themselves and make real progress in technology and art were often the “failures” in school.  the are often declared “difficult,” “unreasonable,” or “hopeless” by the system.  George Bernard Shaw said it best when he said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world.  The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.  All progress, therefore, depends upon the unreasonable man.”

There are many things set before us to accomplish in this life.  Each of us are driven differently, each called to a unique purpose.  Personally I am plagued by a fear that the things I start will fail.  Recently I saw things differently for just a glimpse.  It seems that is how the truth works.  We have brief moments where the clouds lift and the sun shines brightly on the truth, but mostly we walk in a fog trying desperately to catch those glimpses and savor them and memorize every detail in hopes that they will carry us to the next moment of truth.  I saw life as a beautiful page of music being played by a master musician.  Each note representing another pursuit, some of the notes were long and clear, others short and staccato, but altogether a beautiful melody.  And I realized that it is only vanity that makes me want my endeavors to be whole notes, but it takes ALL the notes to make the music right and beautiful and just as it is meant to be.

Renowned writer, Jean Rhys said, “Listen to me.  All of writing is a huge lake.  There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.  And there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys.  All that matters is feeding the lake.  I don’t matter.  The lake matters.  You must keep feeding the lake.”  Be it to the world of music, dance, theatre, art, literature, or crafting; let us all contribute to the lake our “trickles” feed and let us not fear failure.  For it seems that failure, as we fear it, is a myth.  It is the monster that lives under our beds and the moment we dare to pull the covers off our heads, hang upside down off the edge and shine our flashlights in the monster’s face, all we will find is that creativity that we misplaced so very long ago.

We are all failures- at least, all the best of us are. JM Barrie Handlettered Quote Print

Purchase this Print at our Etsy shop

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Follow Your Heart!

Follow your heart for blog

There is a way that seems natural to you…it feels right. But how does one find it? You have to start by trusting your intuition.  Obviously some people are much more intuitive than others, but everyone has the ability to recognize when they are feeling happy. Start taking note of that happiness! ‘Why am I feeling so alive today?’  Take a look at what you are doing when your are filled with joy. Take note of it. The first step to following your heart is to know what makes you happy.

The second step may be more of a challenge for some, but it is worth the effort to develop. You have got to BELIEVE in YOURSELF!  I am not asking you to be a self inflated narcissist here. I am asking you to take an honest look at yourself and your strengths and when you are good at something, acknowledge it.  God knows, if you are like most of us, you gladly acknowledge your faults. In fact, it is likely that you place an unnatural focus on your weaknesses allowing that focus to breed disbelief in you. Stop that! Be kind to you. You are a very lovely human being and you deserve to treat yourself with love and compassion.

There is a saying my sister shared with me years ago and it has become a slogan for me ever since. Probably because I often need reminding. It is “You Shouldn’t Should on Yourself!” Most of us do a LOT of “Should-ing”. We have a constant inner dialogue running, reminding us of all those things we are doing wrong and all of the things we “should” be doing or doing better. Can I just say?? You should really stop that! Bahaha…but really. You should.

We start way too late deciding how we can contribute to the world. Somewhere along the line, people started believing that they had to forge a good living for themselves and their families and once they had done that, then they could think about how they were going to ‘give back’. But, in reality, this process should start in our childhoods. Thinking honestly about how we want to make the world a better place.  It is remarkably empowering to understand that each of us have the ability to make the world a better place by our actions and that quite often the way you long to better the world can make a perfect and fulfilling career path for you.

Inside every person, there is something that they feel they have to contribute to the world. There is something that makes you excited. Don’t disregard it!  The status quo has taught us to disregard these things. Don’t. Instead, CONSIDER IT! Sometimes you can tell what it is by what makes you mad.  If you become angry and impassioned about something and feel a burning desire to fix it, that just might be a clue.

The key is to find the income in the thing that is natural for you. This is about you believing in yourself! This is about you trusting that inner longing more than you trust the fear the world is serving up to you.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” -Howard Thurman

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The Power of Play!

Power of Play“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning.” -Fred Rogers

Play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission as a “right of every child”.  It may seem absurd in a modern first world country that lack of free-playtime could be a problem.  The US established child labor laws nearly a century ago.But today, the issue is in the over-structuring of small children’s lives. The ‘play’ of which we speak is NOT structured activity organized and led by teachers or adults, we are also not talking about video games or organized sports. The play we are referring to is non-structured, child-led, imagination-driven play.

Not allowing individuals to play in their childhood can be damaging to them as adults. It affects their decision making abilities. If you examine what is going on in the brain when you play, you will will see: imagination, creating characters, creating worlds, creating scenarios, ongoing game development, problem solving, and role playing. When you hear a child say the words, “‘tend like…”, you can be sure that active learning is in progress.

Heck, most of the creative adventures (aka. artistic career ventures) we have taken on as adults have started with some version of that same utterance…”‘Tend like we run an arts publication.  ‘Tend like we’re hosting an art show…’Tend like…” Well, you get the idea. Ricky Gervais said, “The best advice I ever received is, ‘No one else knows what they are doing either.'” Instead of saying, “I’m not qualified.”, “I’ve never been trained in that so I probably can’t do it…”, “I don’t have any experience,” the adult well versed in ‘tend-like play has developed the skills to take on these challenges they have never faced before without overwhelming fear, or self defeat before they even try.  Play gives us faith in our ability to figure it out.

One might think that play goes against work or productivity, when in reality (and in particular for creative people doing creative work) play FUELS and feeds productivity. Down time can actually speed up our work.

So WHAT IS PLAY for adults??? I can tell you some of the negative ways people who are starving for play do it. They create drama for themselves and others. They engage in ‘partying’ to the extent that it becomes unhealthy and addictive. Better to embrace play and playfulness as part of a healthy lifestyle. One of the more straight forward ways for adults to play is simply to play with the children in your life. Let them lead you into other worlds. Some adults become “collectors” of all sorts of glorious geekery that nourishes their inner child. Some people get into role-playing games. Some take improv class.  For some people, pursuing their hand at creating art can actually fulfill and nourish that need for play. Decorating your home can be an act of play if you free yourself from your need to impress or fit in and simply let yourself create an environment that nourishes your creative soul!

Find a way to make PLAY a part of your every day.

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Imagination! The Importance of Daydreaming

Imagination for blogOften people think of the imagination as something for children, but the imagination is quite possibly the most important tool in the artist/creatives’ toolbox. The imagination is where characters and other worlds are born, where problems are solved, and new possibilities created.  As children, C.S. Lewis and his brother Warnie imagined a magical land called Boxen where there were kings and queens and wars and talking animals. Sound familiar? As Jack (C.S.’ nickname) grew, Boxen led his mind into another magical land, one that the world has come to know and love: Narnia.

For us to put away our imaginations in an effort to be more ‘adult’ is one of the most foolish things we could do. As Mr. Lewis put it, “Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves.  To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

When we “make-believe” we are going about the business of constructing something to believe in. We are making the unreal real, the unbelievable believable. To consider the imagination as an escape from reality is not entirely true (but even if it were, I can’t help but ask, ‘Is that really such a bad thing?’), imagination is not ‘escapism’ but a tool to help one better deal with reality. The human mind needs to escape to better understand and process the present everyday life.

Viktor Frankl used the tool of imagination when he was imprisoned in Auschwitz during World War 2. Through what he learned in his imprisonment, “Frankl developed his psychotherapeutic method, which involved identifying a purpose in life to feel positively about, and then immersively imagining that outcome. According to Frankl, the way a prisoner imagined the future affected his longevity.” (according to wikipedia page on Frankls bestseller Man’s Search for Meaning). Imagination not only aided Frankl in surviving some of the most brutal concentration camps the Nazi’s had to offer, but it became a foundation for the healing of many minds since.

Visualization has proven itself as a powerful and popular tool for success. Visualization can help us through those blocks we have and get us moving again in the right direction, it can push us past our procrastination. Visualization has proven to aid in the very healing of our bodies. Do not underestimate its power and do not neglect the imagination as you master your own creativity!

“Imagination rules the world.” -Napoleon Bonaparte

“The man who has no imagination has no wings.” -Mohammad Ali

“If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it.” -William Arthur Ward

“We imagine reality to be what we can see, when reality is what we can only imagine.” -Shawn Hancock

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29 Things To *SPARK* Your Creativity!

image#1.  Lip Synch to an Opera or a Musical!  Do a dramatic rendition of a piece of music that is not your usual cup of tea.  Give it your ALL baby!

#2.  Make Plaster Casts of Each Other- aka. Pour Plaster on Your Lover’s Head- aka. Plaster Casting for Fun and Profit…(but that is highly misleading) the only profit you will likely see is an enriched creative life and a few good laughs with your partner in crime.

#3.  30 Second Dance Off- ’nuff said.

#4.  Play Dress Up! Yes, we are talking to grown ups here too!

#5.  Pretend You’re A Spy

#6.  Scribble Art #1-  Scribble on a page with black marker, fill it in with glorious color!

#7.  Make Up Your Own Recipe and serve to family and friends!

#8.  Go to the Park or Playground & PLAY like you’re 7 years old!

#9.  Build Things in the Sand! Give yourself mermaid boobies!

#10.  Go  on a Drive- just for the fun of it!

#11.  Go Explore a Cemetery.

#12.  Play “The Floor is Lava”- Try not to die.

#13.  Play Improv Games- Two of our favorites are ‘First Line, Last Line’ & ‘Radio Station’.

#14.  Make a Movie!

#15.  Write a Comedy Show- OR at the very least memorize a Monte Python or Carol Burnette Sketch (or Saturday Night Live etc….) and perform it with friends!

#16.  Learn To JUGGLE!

#17.  Have A Drawing Night!

#18.  Give Yourself a Random and Bizarre Mission!  Do not stop until you have accomplished said mission.

#19.  Redecorate a room without any consideration for “good taste”.

#20.  Write a Poem

#21.  Play Games with Color!  examples: What sound does red make? What movement does blue make? What shape is this sound???

#22.  Play the “What Would You Do?” Game.  What would you do if a semi ran into the side of your house?  What would you do if your dad was hiding an alien in his basement? What would you do…???

#23.  Play “Would You Rather?” Old School with Questions from Your Mind Powers.

#24.  An Exercise with Texture!  Stare at a textured wall or into the bark or leaves of a tree and FIND PICTURES. What do you see?  Draw it if you can!

#25.  Scribble Game #2- Quickly draw a loose scribble and then turn it into a picture. Even more fun if you play with someone else and draw scribbles for one another to transform.

#26.  Balancing Act- Pick random objects and balance them on the palm of your hand.

#27.  Hang upside down & imagine the ceiling is the floor.  Now walk through your house on your ceiling. Watch out for the ceiling fan!!!

#28. The Cross Your Eyes Dot Game! (You’ve got to listen to our PODCAST to learn to do this one!:))

#29.  Speak Pig Latin or Backwards FOR FUN and PLEASURE!  Ouyay ancay ooday tiay! (translation: You can do it!)

You are a magnificent creative being! Try one or more of these to spark your creativity or use them as a jumping off point for your own creative adventures!

For more details and stories related to this fun list. Check out our podcast! Hancock Creative on itunes & Stitcher, or listen here: