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You Can Be More Creative if You Believe You Can Be

So you think you cant draw title page

As I got my Master’s in Creativity and Innovation, the most important I learned was the first criteria for being more creative. The person who wants to be more creative needs to believe that he or she can be more creative. The mind is a powerful tool that you can use for good or ill for your own well-being: physical, mental, and educational. We can harness the power that is latent within our minds if we first believe that we can.

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Keeping Your Humanity while Keeping Your Distance

Stay the F--k at Home

Infants who do not receive enough touch can die due to a condition known as “failure to thrive.” Skin-to-skin contact is important for both infants and mothers. It reduces stress and increases emotional connection according to “Scientific American.” As we grow up, we don’t stop needing that contact; we can just get by with less, even if it means going without it for years.

Banishment and Solitary Confinement

In the Middle Ages, banishment was a form of punishment akin to death. The person who was banished at that time lost all of his or her support network. The banished became a person non grata in his or her own community and had to find another place to live. Often, the new person would not be accepted in a different society. They could die from exposure to the elements if they didn’t find a place to live, hunger if they couldn’t find food, or dysentery and other disease if they found the wrong food or water source. A person who was taken out of society was at a great risk of physical death after experiencing identity death.

Someone who is in jail can be subjected to a worse punishment. Solitary confinement is used to separate prisoners who misbehave for the safety of the other inmates. Sitting all day alone gives these prisoners an opportunity to think about what they’ve done. On a much lesser scale, children face this type of punishment when they are sent to their rooms or put in the corner. The punishment keeps them from interacting and touching others.

Isolation in Fiction

Several fiction stories have explored long-term isolation and its effects. The Twilight Zone’s first episode was about a man who couldn’t find anyone in the town he walked to. “Where Is Everybody?” was the series start that explore isolation on different levels. “The Lonely,” another Twilight Zone episode, features a convict on asteroid. His only contact comes from the supply ship that arrives every six months. A more modern take on isolation is Tom Hank’s “Cast Away” (affiliate link) wherein Hank’s character befriends a volleyball. In literature, “Robinson Crusoe” (affiliate link) deals with a shipwreck and what happens to the man involved. People aren’t meant to live alone, even those who profess to not like people – maybe them the most. Think of Scrooge (affiliate link) who isolated himself for the love of money until he was visited by ghosts.

Cultural Human Touch

In many cultures, human touch is an important part of interacting. Handshakes, cheek-kissing, a pack on the mouth, and holding hands are all ways to establish a familial or platonic connection depending on where you are and what the cultural norm is. Not being able to connect with people in this very personal way can keep others off their game and lead to depression.

Other Ways to Connect

Fortunately, there are other ways you can connect while staying at least six feet or farther apart. The current self-isolation and quarantine doesn’t mean you have to avoid human contact altogether – just physical contact. With the Internet available, you can still connect to your friends and family. Facetime, Facebook chat, and Skype are all ways to connect to the people you know and love. You even get video!

You can also use your phone to call them. Or if you want less interactivity, you could try YouTube or Facebook live. You don’t have to be alone with your thoughts. You just shouldn’t be in the same place as someone else. Virtual conversations can cover that. Even better, if you’re one of the people who is just supposed to stay home, you have the time to make those important connections again.

How to Survive

Astronaut Chris Hadfield has four steps to thriving in self-isolation. The first step is to understand the risks. Don’t let fear rule you. Find the facts and learn your risk factor. The next steps are knowing your mission and obligations. Then you can take action and do something about it.

One Person Doing It Right

Paul Draper, a public speaker, magician, mentalist, and anthropologist was at Disneyland waiting to do a show when he heard the park was closing and he was out of a job. As a public speaker, he’s lost several gigs, and instead of focusing on what happened to him, he focused on what he could do to make his situation better. He started a community on Patreon where he shares his stories and secrets. The biggest secret is that he isn’t just helping himself. He’s helping others through his thoughtful posts and comments. He is still accomplishing his goals, he’s just harnessing the Internet to do it.

The Next Steps

In essence, touch helps us feel real. We need someone else to validate who we are and who we think we are. We need to know we are loved. Words are inadequate to the job, especially in cultures where saying “I love you” is taboo or restricted enough to be taboo. However, you don’t have to let self-isolation take your humanity. Sure, you may feel like touch is the exact thing you need to feel real, but being human is so much more.

Storytelling for Your Soul

One good way to connect is through storytelling. People have been telling stories long before they could write. Fairy tales, fables, and many religions are made up from oral stories passed from generation to generation until they could be written down. Storytelling is your birthright as a human being and now, you have more options to tell your story than ever before.

Write a novel.  Write a short story. Tell the story on video and then release it on YouTube, Facebook, or your favorite social media. Some people are using MadLibs to pass the time. Start your own. There are even communities of writers that have writing prompts. If you’ve always wanted to be a writer, the only qualification is you need to write.

Storytelling isn’t just about telling your story. It’s also about listening to the stories of others. It’s the give and take. The act of sharing between two people that makes storytelling so powerful. You don’t have to search far for stories. There are plenty of movies and books with fandoms that you can connect to. However, talking to the older members of your family and asking them for their history will increase your appreciation of them and create memories that will last a lifetime. Now is the time to call grandma and grandpa and ask them how they are doing, and if they’re up for it, what they remember best about their lives.

Play Some Music

You’ve seen the videos of Italians connecting to each other through music from their balconies. Police officers in Mallorca are performing concerts while enforcing the lock down in Spain. Celebrities came together while remaining apart to perform “Imagine.” The Doobie Brothers knew what they were singing about when they said “Listen to the Music.”

But you don’t have to just listen. You can perform, too. Maybe you don’t play an instrument, but if you have one at home, you can learn. All you really need is your voice. Check out Cameron Diaz (below) singing in a scene from “My Best Friend’s Wedding” or Tiffany Haddish in Netflix’s “Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker.” Neither one of them is on-key, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is giving yourself the voice and allowing your lungs, vocal cords, and mouth to work together to sing out your feelings – whatever they are.

Back to Normal

We can’t know when it will be safe to touch each other again. As long as people break the rules and continue to party, get together for church services, congregate in parks because “I do what I want” or whatever their excuses are for coming together, we will continue to face the consequences of our physical interactions. Those of us who are doing our part will face the continued consequences of those who are being irresponsible and exposing all of us to greater risk. But that’s okay because in the end, we will understand that our humanity comes from our compassion, our creativity, our storytelling, and our music. Create something new today, and the world will be better for it tomorrow.

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‘Oblivion,’ Tech and the Question of Humanity

person holding black smartphone taking a picture of brown house at daytime

Even with its predictable plot, ridiculous need to stick to tired clichés, and Tom Cruise, “Oblivion” gives viewers cause to wonder what makes us human. Its answer is “our memories.”

As clone whose memory was wiped five years ago, Cruise’s character Jack is bound to a tower where he lives safely and ventures out to patrol the land, kill Scavs if he has to, and fix drones. However, since Jack is cloned from the best of humanity, he starts to wonder about his existence and the dreams he has about a woman he doesn’t know. When he meets her and meets himself with a different number, he realizes who he is and who he isn’t. She doesn’t mind. She’s his wife and says that it’s the memories that make a person who he or she is.

If memories are what make us who we are, humanity might be in trouble. Smart phones and the Internet are eroding are ability to remember things. There’s no reason to remember facts when they can be found easily with a quick search, but when you don’t practice using your memory, you begin to lose the ability to remember. This is seen in the “photo taking impairment effect.” Because we take a photo of it, our brain doesn’t have to remember it. While this hypothesis is still being tested and debated, the question is:

If we are our memories, who are we when we don’t remember anything, and who will be as a society when we forget our past? What happens to humanity when the phones have our memories? Perhaps, the movie has told us more than we realize… “Oblivion.”

For further consideration:

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A Question of Imagination

An alien

You can’t imagine anything you haven’t already seen. If the imagination is the combining element of the human brain, then it stands to reason that if there’s nothing to combine, you cannot imagine it. I read about an experiment where scientists asked people to draw an alien. They could draw the alien however they wanted, but it should be as different from life on Earth as possible. The people that were asked to draw these aliens still created creatures with legs, arms, eyes, and/or mouths. Some made amoeba like creatures. At least one left the page blank and said we couldn’t see it. Regardless of the instructions, people couldn’t imagine life on another planet without referencing life here on Earth.

So, it’s your turn. Grab a sheet of paper and draw an alien that looks a different as possible from anything on Earth. Go ahead. I’ll wait. (I mean, seriously, as long as you bookmark this page, you can always come back and find this article and continue reading after you’ve drawn your alien.)

After thinking about this for the past couple of days, I gave it a go. I tried to draw an alien that doesn’t look like anything we have on Earth. It’s difficult because of the diversity of life on Earth. It’s also difficult because the creature is designed out of context. What type of planet does it live on? How does it survive? How does it experience the universe?

It’s difficult enough for us to imagine how other life here on Earth experiences the universe. What our dogs and cats thinking about? Is it just ball, ball, food, master, and food, sleep, sleep, food, servant? I know my cat dreams, but what is she dreaming about? Those are our domesticated pets. Put us in the alien environment of water and we just think fish are stupid, or we use excuses about how all animals are to be dominated by mankind. We don’t empathize with creatures we consider below us, and that’s true for people to.

If you weren’t born into poverty, it’s probably pretty difficult for you to imagine what it’s like to be poor. “Let them eat cake if there’s no bread.” “Why don’t they just get a car and drive to work?” “They’re all lazy and don’t want to work hard.” Poor people are often seen as something less than human by the people in the socioeconomic sphere above them, and it makes it difficult to empathize with someone who can’t afford their medication, doctor’s treatment, rent or food. “They should get a job” even if they’re already working three jobs. “They should get an education,” even if they are already working three jobs. “They shouldn’t have kids if they can’t afford them.” Seriously, who can afford kids? The hospital bill alone for a newborn without complications is enough to put me off my tea.

There are ways to fix the problem of a lack of empathy. Reading books is a start. Watching documentaries could help. After all, a lot of people can empathize with the rich because that’s what they see on television, in films and in music videos. Get experiences that are vastly different than your regular life through volunteering – at a soup kitchen, at a shelter, with an outreach group. Start seeing other human beings as being the same species as you and seek out to engage with them.

This is one way to begin improving your imagination. You can imagine a horse flying because you’ve seen horses and things that fly. You’ve seen things that float, so you can imagine a horse flying in that way. It’s not a big leap to think of a horse jumping and missing the ground. It’s gone back centuries. Once you can imagine a horse flying, you can imagine anything else flying. However, to bring something into being that you have no way of imagining is impossible. Whether for art or for life, you have to start with a base of knowledge before you can use your imagination to create something new and hopefully better. Leave your alien in the comments below or share it on Facebook and Twitter #penguinate.

For more on creativity, get “Disneyland Is Creativity.” Order “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories.” Preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.”