August 23, 2009

Less Is More... District 9 and Why I Dislike the Rococo Period

Okay, where to start: Last night I found myself (yes, that's me, denying responsibility) in the movie theater watching District 9, a movie I can only hope to forget.

If you like movies with disgusting creatures, disgusting humans, lots of violence and weaponry, shakey filming, all wrapped around a not-so-subtle attempt to deliver a social message that could have been done in a way that doesn't remove one's appetite, then this is the movie for you!

I hated it. Hated the blood, the noise, the way the social message wrapped in visual effects felt like a comic book come to life with $30 million and too much time on its hands? Like a 10-year-old spoiled rich kid who was trying to gross out his mother while simultaneously claiming a social conscience.

I hated the quesy feeling in my stomach after having eaten a $25 meal and then gone to see this movie. Hated wondering what the filmmaker might next decide I needed to see.

Yes, I could have walked out. I didn't because 1) I hadn't driven. 2) There weren't better choices since Julie & Julia didn't start for an hour and The XGames movie sounded promising, but I didn't want to go in it on my own in the dress I was wearing, and I had already been beaten into mind-numbing anxiety by the awful District 9. And, I feel that anything my companion sees and seems to find interesting should be worth a look-see.

Perhaps the aliens can send out thought-beams through the theater screen...

What is it with movies and TV shows these days? Everything has to be spelled out, visually, for us as if we are captive idiots. The autoposies, vomiting, urinating, defecating... The torture, rape -- everything is shown in high-definition Technicolor. I'm sick of it. Actually, I've been sick of it for a few years now, (ever since I walked out of Seven) but no one seems to care. I must not be "the market" and I wonder why. I have more money to spend and more time on my hands than a teenager or a twenty-something. I buy DVDs, books, and magazines. I can't always remember what I don't like (I have to keep notes in my BlackBerry on what not to eat at a restaurant), but I do remember what I do like, and I'm what you'd call a "loyal fan" and support my favorite writers, musicians, filmmakers with that most wonderful form of gratitude: dollars.

Sometimes I wonder, is my disgust at current trends in movie and TV because of my age, my gender? One can't blame it on my politics (liberal) or religion (ill-defined). Or my naivite. Anyone who knows me realizes I've had enough life experiences to knock that out of me long ago. I do tend to be an optimist -- not a bad thing, I hope. I've surrounded myself with enough pessimists, excuse me, realists, to balance things out.

I'm a woman, but a quick search of District 9 reviews, shows at least two women liked the movie. Ugh. Somehow I feel better if I can blame this movie on testosterone. No offense, guys, but there are chick flicks and dick flicks and we all know it.

Less is more. I'm not using this in the
minimalist sense. Or the simplicity movement sense. The original quote and the background behind it, is well-described here.

"Less is more" is my way of saying "too much information" -- not in the way of "I don't want to know that" as in "I've heard enough about your husband's surgerical procedure" --- but in the way of "Yes, I'm a thinking person with somewhat of an imagination, you don't have to spell it out for me."

There are a lot of reviews online on District 9, but having been involved in marketing books for many years, some of the "reviews" sound like the writer copied sentences from the filmmaker's PR materials.

Roger Ebert, though, who started his review with this wonderful first line:
"I suppose there’s no reason the first alien race to reach the Earth shouldn’t look like what the cat threw up." Then went on to say:"Despite its creativity, the movie remains space opera and avoids the higher realms of science-fiction."I’ll be interested to see if general audiences go for these aliens. I said they’re loathsome and disgusting, and I don’t think that’s just me. The movie mentions Nigerian prostitutes servicing the aliens, but wisely refrains from entertaining us with this spectacle." [Thank God for small favors, but I fear'd it was a'comin'.]

Which reminds me of this saying: "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should." I'd like to be able to email that to the script-writers of one of my favorite shows, Bones, as I have to give my attention to something else during the first 10 minutes of each episode to avoid seeing human road kill on our 42" HD-TV. When a commercial comes on, I can look at the screen as it zips by on DVD's fast forward.

Here are a few more reviews:
"There is a lot of shield-your-eyes ickiness [did Steven Rea see me applying lotion to my hands intently during the movie] in District 9, a lot of violence and gore. What there is not a lot of, however, is humanity - even in the film's depiction of the inhumanity humans are capable of."Steven Rea at

"It's a bad joke that District 9 will be hailed for its 'originality.' "
Michael Sragow Baltimore Sun

"becomes almost instantly tiresome"
KYLE SMITH New York Post

Well, enough about District 9 and how much I hated it.

Let's move on to televisions and bad-taste commercials: the one with the girl with long hair streaming from her armpits as she rides on a tandem bike; the one with the pretty girl in a bathtub of brown liquid (something to do with a backed-up toilet)... Jeepers, some of these are on while I'm eating!

Which brings me to the nightly news: I used to wish, when my children were small, that I could have a 1/2 hour of peace and quiet during which I could watch the evening news (with dear Peter Jennings) and become informed on the day's events...

Now, my children are no longer at home and I am free to watch news as much as I want whenever I want. But, I gravitate to the 6:30 news and Brian Williams. Yet there are certain things I do not want to see. Video is not always needed. Words are enough. I know that when there are bad car crashes there are bodies; don't need to see the white sheets on the road. Don't need to see blood, snot, surgery, disfigurement, animal cruelty, or starving children while I eat dinner. Picky, aren't I?

I'm not saying I don't need to hear the news, but can we agree that video is more powerful than words and perhaps should be used more judiciously? As in "just because you can doesn't mean you should." Just because you can show video like youtube doesn't mean you should. If Brian Williams says they're starving, bleeding, oozing, or dead -- I'll believe him. No image necessary. I'm tired of losing my appetite.

So, you probably think I want the world to be wonderful, with Louie Armstrong singing his song in the background and little yellow butterflies zipping around my head while I think happy thoughts. Well, yes, thank you. Life can be pretty stinky and as much as I'd like to think otherwise, some people really do suck, and if I want to go to my happy place, then I damn well will. But, no, I don't need the world to be easy for me. I am well aware of all the awful stuff going on. I just like some warning when someone else's agenda is going to smack me in the face with their preferred image.

On the less-is-more campaign: I'd like to mention the Rococo Period of art (as long as the sci-fi people, and perhaps the South Africans and New Zealanders are mad at me, let's irritate the French).

When I was an art student, low those many years ago, we briefly skipped over Fragonard and Watteau so we could concentrate on important things like exercises where we sat on the floor and tried to "feel" like a piece of clay. Or contemplated our professors nail-clippings, saved over many years. I am not kidding.

When I started art school at 18, the first class I had showed a film that consisted of a naked man and a naked woman, jumping around in front of a black vinyl drap throwing buckets of water at each other; then it transitioned into the woman's eye being slit with a razor blade. Welcome to the world, baby girl. And for this my parents paid good money.

But around about that same time, a well-meaning relative I suppose, gave me a book of Watteau paintings and if I had that book today I could use it to make background paper for Artist Trading Cards because it was pretty, fanciful, decorative and sweet. Which is to say, I'd have no hesitancy in cutting up a Watteau print and using it to wrap a gift.

"Less is more" doesn't mean I prefer sweet. I mean, I do like sweet in a Mary Englebreit sort of way. And if you've seen my drawings of Jackie knitting, you will get a glimpse into "the way I want the world to be." But, like circus peanuts, sweetness doesn't satisfy the thinking person as a steady diet. There is a difference between a Hummel figurine and a Rodin. Also, I can appreciate the difference between decorative art and other types of art. I like Mark Rothko, Alexander Calder, Marc Chagall.

Maybe District 9, Seven, The Mangle, Hieronymus Bosch, and Salvador Dali are at one end of the "creative spectrum" (oh, that is hard for me to type). Fragonard, Watteau, Mary Englebeit and Harlequin Romances at the other. I, perhaps, am not a Minimalist, but a Middle-ist. Or maybe I just don't want to visualize hell.

In fact, maybe those of us who don't want to visualize hell, feel that way because we've seen too much of it in real life, not because we are naive. Sort of a take on "if they're talking about sex, they're probably not doing it." I've seen some dark stuff, man, and there's a reason people liked swing dancing during World War II.

I like the middle -- a place between giant prawns whose tentacles quiver in HD while I sit passively accepting whatever the filmmaker wants to show me next; and, let's say, You've Got Mail (which wraps the issue of chain bookstores pushing out independents around a nice, tidy romance).

In the middle, I enjoy Elizabeth Berg, Lisa See, Amy Tan, Dave Eggers, Jonathon Franzen, Sue Miller (all authors). Movies like "Jean de Florette, The Pillow Book, Out of Africa, Momentum, What About Bob?, Schindler's List, and many others entertained or taught me something. They were worth my time and my money.

I like a movie, or a book, or a friend, or a piece of artwork that beckons me to come closer and then, either
1) reveals to me something I didn't know and might want to know, or something I do know but didn't see in quite this way, or something familar that I never noticed, or something ordinary becoming beautiful, or the inner motivations of a character that portend to a larger universal truth or
2) entertains me.

But, the world is big, there are lots of people here, and many of them, many, many millions of them it seems, have completely different wants, tastes, and desires than do I. And some of them have enough money to make movies. I'm just going to have to do more research before walking into a theater again. Or, maybe I'll just stick to ordering DVDs on NetFlix where, if it's a dud, I just send it right back and move on.

Can we start a Middle-ist campaign?
Here's what I'd like to nail to the script-writer's door:
1) People menstrate, vomit, urinate and deficate: we know this. We don't need to see it.
2) We know about computers and special effects and it's a technique, not an art in and of itself. Learn the difference and use your gift wisely. Surprise me with your subtlety.
3) Respect your audience.
4) Don't write anything you'll be ashamed of in 20 years when your adult children see it.

Well, enough already. I'm gonna go watch CBS Sunday Morning. One of my favorite shows that informs and entertains. And I can watch it while I eat pancakes.

August 14, 2009

10 Tips for Launching Your Creative Business

Many, many years ago, after the end of my 13-year first marriage, I went to a counselor for career and life advice. She recommended to me three books, books I'd like to recommend to those of you who may be facing life-changing, life-challenging issues with job or family.

The three books were:
1) How to Be Your Own Best Friend by Mildred Newman and Bernard Berkowitz (1971, 1986)
2) Feal the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers (1988, 2006)
3) Do What You Love -- and the Money Will Follow by Marsha Sinetar (1989)

All of them are available new or used on Amazon, for as little as 1 cent.
All are just as pertinent to life issues today as they were two decades ago.

It's Sinetar's book, Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow that came to mind this morning. I took her advice, and she was right. I followed my heart, my "passion" some might say, and while the money wasn't always there as I wished it had been, and while I made a lot of mistakes along the way, the money did follow and, more importantly, joy and a sense of being in the right place at the right time followed. I was able to create the life I wanted to live, a life that allowed me to work from home, work with writers, utilize my creative abilities, face a variety of challenges that have kept me interested and compelled me to learn new things, be young at heart, take risk, and embrace life.

There were times I thought of giving up...looking for employment instead of self-employment; but, ten years later, I am still making a go of it and, for the most part, love my work every day. For that I am very thankful.

At this time in our country's history, when so many folks have been laid off their jobs (as I was twice before starting my own business), and when things feel "beyond our control" in many ways; I encourage those who are thinking about starting their own businesses to do the research, ask advice of your loved ones, and then, if it seems like a good idea, jump off into that wonderful unknown and follow your dream.

I was fortunate in that my dream didn't have any more start-up costs than the cost of a computer, which I bought on a credit card in 1998. I'll never forget, or cease being thankful for, my first client, Arshad Kahn, a Kashmir-born California investment expert. Arshad enlisted me to edit and layout two books for him, the first being Stock Investing for Everyone. Later, he sold the rights to his books to a larger publisher, Wiley. I'll never forget hearing him say, "I'll be your first client," and his check arriving soon thereafter. Thank you!

I'll never forget my previous employer, either, who had laid me off, telling me he wasn't going to "f--k me over" (gulp, this was not a phrase I ever used in a business setting, or any other for that matter). And you know what? He didn't. He sent me referrals and many clients and though some former co-workers had a long list of complaints against this man, he was fair and generous with me. And those referrals helped me build my client list.

I'll never forget a women who hired me to design her books: she was elderly and had written two books about how she was abducted by aliens and, basically, everything bad in her life had happened because of alien intervention. I didn't judge her and I did my best for her. Today, I am able to pick and choose the projects I am interested in working on; at that time, I worked on anything that came my way. I am thankful for every client I had in the beginning, when they made the difference between one trip to the grocery store a month or two. I am thankful for every client I have today.

There were a few projects I wish I had not done. A few clients who I found very difficult to work for. Even a few I choose not to work for. But in ten years and over 200 books I've designed and/or edited, those amounted to, literally, to those I could count on one hand.

Here are a few things I've learned in "doing what I love." Perhaps it will help those launching out with their own creative business:

1) People respond positively to sincere interest in their projects. If you are not interested in what their dreams are, they are going to know it, and they are not going to "bring you into" their project; i.e. pay you to help them reach their dream.

2) All business is sales. All sales involve solving someone's problem. Being a good problem solver really helps one be successful at business. And at life. Problem solving should be taught in school.

3) Stay up on the latest technology or trends in your field. Stay engaged. Don't be an "old fogey." If you have an Internet-based business, no one need know your age. That can be an advantage.

4) Happy clients tell others about you. Therefore, keep your clients happy. If you cannot for some reason keep them happy, figure out how to courteously decline working for them any longer. Be diplomatic, but be honest. If this happens repeatedly, re-evaluate your skills, your promises, and your marketing.

5) Ask those happy clients for referrals. Post those referrals online. Don't be shy about it, that's how you will get more clients. You can see what I mean at

6) Be willing to give some things away. People respond to a generous spirit. To optimism. To positivity. Figure out what you can give as an added benefit, and do so generously. (See the new book out by called "FREE: The Future of a Radical Price" by Chris Anderson. I am just starting to read it (downloaded it for 0 cents on Kindle), so cannot say much about it, but it is worth considering.

7) Don't work all the time. It's difficult, when you are starting a business and you love what you are doing, not to work 60 hours a week. I did when I first started out in publishing--actually from 1997 until 2001. Sept. 11, 2001. My sister, eldest son, and I were in Manhattan. We had an appointment at Publishers Weekly that afternoon. That morning, first thing that morning, we planned on being on the observation deck of the World Trade Center so that Bryce could see "the most beautiful lady in America" the Statue of Liberty. But, we'd seen the Michael Jackson concert the previous night (see my earlier postings on Bryce and Michael Jackson). We uncharacteristically (really, truly for all three of us) slept in, and when this little midwesterner returned to her Ohio home, she re-evaluated all the hours she'd spent in front of a computer screen trying to earn money while her youngest son grew up and left home. I will never get those hours back, and when I think on those first three years of establishing my business I remember a lot of work, a lot of fatigue, and all the things I wish I'd spent doing with my son; the places I wished we'd visited, the activities I wish I'd had the time and energy to do.

I'm glad I was able to work hard and earn enough to support my little family, but it cost more than it paid, if you know what I mean.

8) Engage your family in the business. Share with them the joys and challenges of running a business. (Though, perhaps, not the financial challenges. Be sensitive to the ages and temperments of your children). Pay them to help you, if possible. By investing them in this endeavor, you will build family relationships and teach them skills they will use later in life. Your resourcefulness and optimism in the face of obstacles will help them too.

9) Be an optimist, but be a realist as well. I am an optimist; and this has definitely enabled me to accomplish more than I had dreamed when I started out. But, oftentimes I have not been realistic. If you have a tendancy toward Pollyannaism, harnass the optimism and be willing to listen to the concerns of others. Develop techniques and safeguards to protect your interests and compensate for any areas where you have weaknesses.

10) Review and Plan. Time will go by pretty fast when you are running a business. Take time to document the projects you work on; to keep an up-to-date database of customers and projects. Review what worked and what didn't and establish goals for the coming year.

If you are starting a business, I wish you all the best. Working for oneself can be wonderful -- you can't get fired and you may thrive knowing your success depends on no one but yourself. You can meet wonderful people and learn to do and handle things you previously could not imagine. You can, and you will.

August 7, 2009

The Incredible Mod Plush Handbag

Ever stand in front of a bin of on-sale yarn and think "Wow, that is cool! And such a good price. I could make something out of that." A few months ago, I ended up with six skeins of Beguile (yes, it lived up to its name) by Yarn Bee. Each skein was 3.5 oz/75 yards. It's made of 100% polyester, sold through Hobby Lobby ( and was regularly priced at $5.27/skein. I got it for $1.99.

I started out crocheting a scarf; but I've grown tired of working up scarves lately. I like making them more than wearing them, and no one I know wants me to make them another scarf anytime soon.

I've decided when a woman can't wear some of the outfits she would like to because even though they are beautiful theylookhorribleonherbecausesheisnolongerasizeseven -- then accessories are the way to go. Here's my new philosophy: stick with well-made classic clothes that Ac-cen-tuAte the positive, E-lim-inAte the negative, latch on to the affirmative, and don't mess with Mister InBetween ... okay, now I'm channeling Doris Day, right?

So, with these quality, flattering basics doing their best for our imperfect bodies, the fun comes in with the accessories: jewelry, hats, scarves, purses, shoes, etc., etc.

Those fortunate enough to have the feet and backs to handle beautiful shoes -- I envy you, sort of. Well, I envy the way your feet and legs look in those beautiful shoes. I cannot speak to the shoe obsession, and it's a bit embarrassing actually.

But purses, I love purses. Purses are perfect for creative Taureans who want to take all their wonderful stuff with them wherever they go. In fact, if I start traveling more, I might stretch the purse love to luggage love.

Anyway, I decided to use the Beguile yarn to create a modern purse. About halfway through it looked more like a plush pillow, but then I found a cool, sheer, black with colored polka dots shell top (given to me by my slimmer sister) in the back of my closet. I loved the material and design of it, but honestly, I'm not gonna be wearing that skinny top anytime soon. So, I cannabalized it to be the lining of my mod purse.

I can follow crochet directions, really I can. But I love making things up that I don't have to follow a pattern to do. It's very freeing and if I have to rip out and redo, so what? It's not a race. The more I crochet intuitively, the better I get at estimating what needs to be done.

For this purse, here are the basic statistics, if you want to try one on your own. The only stitches you need to know are chain stitch, single crochet, and slip stitch. It's that simple!

I used a US H 5.0mm wooden-handled hook by Susan Bates. (This is my favorite type of crochet hook because it is so comfortable, and keep the carpal tunnel syndrome that dared to visit me, years ago, at bay.)

I also used worsted weight yarn for the handle and top trim of the purse only. This yarn was pale yellow and was used to give strength to the handle. It was worked along with the Beguile yarn.

The finished purse is 13 inches wide at the bottom and 18 inches wide at the top. The handle is 30 inches long. The body of the purse is 12 inches from top to bottom.

1. Make a chain 13 inches long.

2. Double crochet into each stitch of this chain, to the end. chain 3 at each end, turn, and keep crocheting. (Note: I increased my stitches slightly as I went "up" the purse, so that it ended up being wider at the top. But if you prefer one that is the same width at top as at bottom, then count the double crochets and ensure your sides are even all the way up.)

3. When you have one side done, do the other side as well.

4. Single crochet the two pieces of the purse together.

5. For the handle: Starting with the yarn attached at one purse top, seam side, I made a chain, 30 inches long using Beguile along with the worsted yarn, crocheting with them both at the same time and connecting it to the seam side on the other side of the purse.

Then, I turned and chained three, skipped 3 stitches in the chain below, and singled crocheted. I did that all the way down the handle. Chain 3, skip three stiches below, then connect using a SC to the row below.

Make a total of three rows this way (the first row is your chain).

Then, to strengthen it, I started at one end of the handle, chained 3, then attached to the handle in a zig zag pattern (SC-ing it to the right, then the left, then the right) all the way up the handle to the other side. This was to provide some more strength to the handle. So, when you look at the handle, there are three 60 inch rows and over that is a zig zag row of a chain stitch, connected at the points of the zig zag with a SC.

6. When the handle was finished, I then (still using the two yarns) did a single crochet all around the top of the purse, just to give it a little finish.

7. I turned the purse inside out and the black shell almost fit it perfectly. I trimmed it off to fit and sewed it inside the purse. I even had a little leftover material, and with that I made a pocket inside the purse to hold a cell phone or keys.

8. I crocheted a clasp to hold the top of the purse closed, and sewed a button on each side of the clasp. (see photo).

I am not sure where I will take this Incredible Mod Plush Handbag, but I can fit my cell phone, iPod, Kindle, sketchbook, or even enough use it as a carry-on bag on an airplane, or as a marketbag. "Oh, the places we will go!"

August 1, 2009

Top Creative . . . various lists and links

When we look at growing and learning in our creative approach to life, let's keep in mind looking both inward and outward. Today, more than ever, we can find out about people throughout the US, throughout the world, who are breaking ground creatively. By looking at their work, reading their interviews, seeing what blogs are out there on creativity, and then making the important connection to our own life (i.e. "This might work, what if I try this?" "I hadn't thought of that." "That's not for me.") our boundaries expand.

Here are a few interesting links and lists on the subject of creativity.
Note: Appalachian Morning is now available on Amazon's KINDLE, so I've included the full URL for the links below.

100 Most Creative People in Business (2009): Fast Company magazine
"There are no rules about creativity. Which made constructing our list of the 100 Most Creative People in Business a tricky task. We looked for dazzling new thinkers, rising stars, and boldface names who couldn't be ignored. We avoided people we've profiled in the recent past. We emphasized those whose creativity addresses a larger issue -- from the future of our energy infrastructure to the evolution of philanthropy to next-generation media." and Sperling's Best Places: Best U.S. Cities to be creative.
1. Los Angeles, CA

2. Santa Fe, NM

3. Carson City, NV

4. New York City, NY

5. Kingston, NY

6. Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA

7. Nashville, TN

8. Boulder, CO

9. San Francisco, CA

10. Nassau-Suffolk County, NY
The Top 10 Social Networks for Creative People
By Mark McGuinness 11/6/2008
This is a lengthy, substantive article, full of helpful links and quotes by creative professionals. If you are a professional musician, crafter, artist, graphic designer, writer, or web designer, or want to be, subscribe to McGuinness' blog and benefit from his expertise.

2009 "Creativity 50"
Each year, Creativity magazine publishes the "Creativity 50" -- a list of people who "made a significant mark on the creative consciousness of our industry and our culture as a whole." .
The full article is available by purchase from, or you can read the list of 50 folks on this site:

Top 10 Most Creative People in Movies and Television
June 18, 2009, Jeff Davis

10 Best Cities to Look For Creative Jobs

US News & World Report, July 15, 2009 Liz Wolgemuth
"For people in creative careers, you may actually be able to find work in this recession if you spend some time focusing your search on spots where the supply/demand ratios are more favorable. Here are some of the top cities for jobs from acting to architecture, according to data from
Wanted Technologies."

Do You Have These 11 Traits of Highly Creative People?
Dean Rieck

Creativity for Life:

Creativity Quotes:
Here's one: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." Albert Einstein

Mental Illness and Creativity:

Mashable: The Social Media Guide:

Aspen Idea Festival:

Creativity Myth: (an excellent article for those in business environments/corporations)

How to Be Authentic with People Who Love You but Don’t Understand You – Part 1
by Ken Robert on July 20, 2009

Innovation Calls For I-Shaped People
Bill Buxton