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Judy Collins and the Muppets of ‘Sesame Street’

marching penguins

During a difficult time in her life, Judy Collins had fallen prey to alcoholism and was on the edge of a chasm from which there would be no return. She was saved by her friend and fan Jon Stone and the Muppets of Sesame Street. Collins was able to find a reason to keep going; she was able to find an intermittent beacon that brought her back to a safe place full of love and respect.

Collins found the Muppets absolutely convincing. The characters established a safe place for every performer but perhaps more so for Collins because Jim Henson recognized that she was an alcoholic. Kermit and the gang allowed Collins to be more playful and to be a child again. Collins was able to establish a connection with the Muppets, which she says was part of the magic of her Sesame Street experience.

This story of Judy Collins is in “Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street.” It strikes two chords in me. The first chord is related to creativity. Collins talked about feeling comfortable and safe with the Muppets, being able to play with them and become a child again. These are attributes that allow people to become more creative. There’s a place where they can take a risk and make a mistake without having to worry about the social or economic consequences; it’s safe. Play is the way that people learn; it allows for experimentation and growth. Becoming childlike allows people to discover the world around them and seek out answers to questions that are both simple and profound. Like the question found in the “Rainbow Connection.”

The second chord relates to our penguins. My wife makes the great penguins you see on our website. We have adopted several for ourselves. Piotr the first penguin and Perpetua the second one. We have the penguin that someone else made and my wife gave me on our second date, and a penguin that she commissioned but wasn’t exactly what she wanted. We have Patch, our black and white travelling companion, who is always telling stories, mostly about fish and Penny in her rain slicker, who started traveling with us first and always wants to fly. Recently, Checkers found himself with is forever family in New Zealand; we’ve been interacting with him on Instagram and Facebook. Of course, we have the other penguins who get hatched here and wait for a family to adopt.

Tea Party with the Penguins
Tea Party with the Penguins

Having all these penguins around allows us to play, feel childlike and connect with who we are through them. Each has its own personality, and each provides its own kind of support. Our penguins may not be Muppets, but they are a great way for us to be able to find our freedom and happiness.

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The Secrets of Creativity: Play (and the Haunted Mansion)

Disneyland's Haunted Mansion

When Walt Disney assigned Yale Gracey and Rolly Crump to the Haunted Mansion, he gave them time and space to play. Gracey and Crump were assigned to come up with ideas and effects for the Disneyland attraction. They would come into the studio and work on whatever they felt like. As Marty Sklar put it in the forward to Jason Surrell’s “The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic,” “Yale and Rolly Crump, especially, were free to experiment, to try out their wildest haunting ideas… to ‘play ghost’ if you will.”

They came up with so many different, convincing effects that they received a call from Personnel asking them to leave the lights on for the janitor when they left for the night. Gracey and Crump complied, but rigged an infrared sensor in the middle of the room. When triggered, the lights turned off, the black light came on, and the effects activated. They arrived the next morning into find a broom in the middle of the room. Later that day, they were told they would have to clean the room themselves; the janitor would not go back in the room.

Gracey and Crump kept a playful attitude, worked with humor and were open to new ideas while they designed, researched and tested the effects for the Haunted Mansion. Their play made the Haunted Mansion the classic attraction it is today.

Playing can help you become more creative. When you play, mistakes become a part of the story and you can’t fail. You free your mind to explore possibilities and new ideas while limiting your inhibitions. R2-D2 builder Tony Dyson believed that play was an important part of the creative mode.

For more on creativity, preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.” Get “Disneyland Is Creativity.” Order “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories.” For more on the Disney Company, order “Penguinate! The Disney Company.”

Join us at Lilac City Comicon 2019 and Ogden UnCon 2019 to experience our panel “The Haunted Mansion: 50 Years of Creativity.” Make sure you tell them penguinate.com sent you!

To read more about play and other secrets to creativity, join our Patreon.

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The Internet Killed My Creativity

Untitled Mosaic by Cathy Cooke

by Cathy Cooke, BCHN, BBEC

When I was kid growing up in the ‘70s, I remember creating elaborate stories in my head about far away lands I’d only heard of in books.  I remember playing in the woods in our backyard and pretending to be a soldier in the army – more specifically, being the first woman ever drafted into the army because my skills were so imperative the Corps’ success.  I had the most amazing journeys to places like China, Africa, the deserts of Saudi Arabia, all without leaving my backyard.

Fast forward to May of 2000, and I was still enjoying adventures to exotic places.  Four years after graduating college, I was dreaming of joining the Peace Corps and imagined myself living among the villages in places like Kenya or Angola.  I could picture it in my head: the dirt floors, the thatched roofs, the smells of Injera cooking on a wood stove.  I don’t know if that’s how it really was, but it was fun to pretend.  Maybe it was demeaning or naïve, I don’t know, but my imagination was strong and the creative urge inside me was fulfilled.

Over the next few years, I found myself becoming more involved with emails and looking up information online.  If I really wanted to know what life was like in Kenya, I just put it into a search engine, and wham, there it was.  And no surprise, it wasn’t exactly how I’d imagined.  Instead of debating for hours with friends about a particular topic, exercising my mind to see different points of view, employing creativity to construct a new argument for persuasion, or trying to use my brains flexibility to understand all sides, we’d simply look it up online, and the conversation was over.  No heated debates into the wee hours of the morning that often left us with a better understanding of the other side and agreed upon points of view.

It makes me sad really.  I want my brain to engage, to work, to be flexible and creative in these conversations and daydreams.  But it doesn’t happen anymore.  I don’t have to imagine, or think, or create, because I can just Google it, and that ends the experience.

I have found the same to be true for my artistic abilities.  I have always enjoyed doing crafty and artsy things.  In the early 2000s, I took up mosaics.  I remember walking outside for inspiration, looking into street-corner shops, in backyards where children played, on the nearby trails or at the plethora of activity happening in the trees and sky.  Certain colors and combinations of shapes would send my mind off to a place of wild creativity… “what if I combined that purple color with a deep red for an intense October sunset…”  I made some really unusual but pretty cool mosaics back then.  But with the advent of Google, I found myself looking online for ideas; it was easier than going outside.  And do you know what happened?  My mosaics looked flat, lifeless, or like I was imitating someone else, mostly because I was.  I was no longer exercising my creativity, because it was just too easy to look online.

This also makes me very sad.  It makes me sad for myself that I turn to the easy way too often, and thus, miss out on all the amazing things the natural world has to offer.  And it makes me sad for all the youth that never got the chance to imagine, create, or dream about what life is like in the Amazon or the South Pole.  They’ve never had a chance because the answers have been in front of them the whole time.  What kind of art will these kids create?  What kind of stories will they make up?  Where will they get their inspiration?

I have been known to say “If I could snap my fingers and the Internet would have never existed I would do it without flinching.”  I mean that with complete conviction.  Not only do I have an issue with the health impacts (EMF exposure, blue light, bad posture, poor social development), but also because it killed my creativity.  I know I have the power to remedy this.  You’re right, I could just get off the computer and go outside and find my inspiration again.  The problem is that in today’s high-tech world, we have come to rely on the Internet for the large majority of our communication, personal and business transactions.  I run a small business, and if I want that business to be successful, I have to be online a good portion of the day.  I don’t want it to be that way, but it’s the unfortunate reality of living in 2019.

Of course, I do admit to the benefits of the web, increased access to education and information, entertainment, social connections, etc.  But, is that worth what we have lost?  Not a chance.  I am a human being with needs that go beyond food and shelter.  I don’t need to see pictures of what Angola looks like.  I don’t need to connect with all ten of my friends from the 1st grade again.  I don’t need to be able to watch a marathon of “Mad Men” on Netflix this weekend.  But what I do need is my sanity, feeling fulfilled, and nourished.  The Internet does not provide this for me.  My daydreams, imagination, friendly debates, walks in nature and exercising my brain’s creativity, that’s what fulfills me and nourishes me.

So yes, if I could, I would snap my fingers and the Internet would disappear. And then I would have my exotic trips to far away lands, conversations until the wee hours of the morning, and some fantastic mosaics that are full of unique imagination.  It would give me back my creativity!  And that would be worth it.

Cathy Cooke, BCHN, BBEC
Cathy Cooke, BCHN, BBEC

Cathy Cooke BCHN, BBEC, is the owner of Whole Home and Body Health where she helps people to realize their potential through health interventions related to diet, lifestyle, and environmental concerns including air quality and EMF mitigation.  You can find out more about her services at wholehomeandbodyhealth.com, or by contacting her at cathy@wholehomeandobdyhealth.com

Editor’s Note: Cathy Cooke has released a Sleep Easy Class for people who have difficulties falling asleep. She is an amazing instructor who has spent years studying sleep and how to achieve a better night’s rest. Check out this introductory video to get rid of your insomnia for good on YouTube.

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‘Star Wars’ R2D2 builder Tony Dyson on Creativity

I was lucky enough to be invited as a journalist to Malta Comic Con 2015, where I met the man who built R2D2 for the Star Wars films of the 1970s and 1980s. Tony Dyson was a personable, friendly man who invited me outside to interview him about creativity. For a Star Wars fan writing a dissertation on creativity, this is about as good as it gets. Dyson summed up his advice for people who want to be more creative in two words – “Play more.”

Check out my interview with Tony Dyson:

Now go forth and play.

Want to know more about creativity? Get a copy of “Disneyland Is Creativity: 25 Tips for Becoming More Creative.” Purchase “Penguinate: Essays and Short Stories: Improve your creativity for a better life and world.” Preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.

Read more about Malta Comic Con 2015 at our archive site.

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The Seven Secrets of Creativity

Penguinate creativity book

You are innately creative. It’s in your genetic coding. Schools, systems, jobs and fear may have burned a lot of your creative ability out of you, but you can get it back. Here are the seven secrets of creativity:

  1. Exercise Imagination: Gene Wilder sang it best – “There is no life I know to compare with pure imagination. Living there you’ll be free if you truly wish to be.” Stop the video games, shut off the TV, get rid of Netflix. To exercise your imagination, you need to create the story yourself. Read a book. Have a tea party with dolls. Avoid the hot lava monster. If you have children, play with them and let them be right. Study how they use their imagination. Add to the play with “Yes and…” Join an improv comedy troop. Free paint, free write, keep an imagination journal. Ignore your internal editor; Elly Brown says to “Fire that guy.”
  2. Play: Go outside and be a kid again. Play on the playground. Find an old game you loved and a couple of friends to join you. Make a tough job into a game. Have a playful attitude. Make all the dad jokes. See how you can manipulate word through puns and imagery.
  3. Think Deeply: Learn about a new subject. Don’t just spend 20 minutes researching it on the Internet. Go deeper. Examine a TV episode or movie. Think all the thoughts about it. Start with whether or not you enjoyed it. Why? What was the director trying to say? Was there a star who stood out? Was there a quote that touched you as truth? Was there a fact that you thought wasn’t right? What surprised you? Research those things.
  4. Make Connections: Creativity happens at the intersection. Steve Jobs said that creative people weren’t smarter, they just had more dots to connect. Each of those dots was an experience that the person had and thought deeply about. Combine things that may seem absurd and see what you can make from them.
  5. Embrace Failure: When you’re doing something new, you will fail. If you’re not failing, you’re not doing something that is creative. It’s okay to fail. Embrace it and learn from it.
  6. Learn from Mistakes: A mistake can be a valuable lesson if you learn from it. Don’t make the same mistake twice, make new ones every day. If you make a mistake, laugh at it and move on, or figure out how to profit from the mistake.
  7. Take Action: You might be the most creative person in the world, but until you make something it won’t matter. Take action on your ideas and move forward with it. The world needs you and your positive creativity. Paint, write, sing, do science, whatever it is that helps you be more creative.

Creativity is the essence of humanity. It is tempered by fear and the need for safety. Through of the shackles that fear provides and create. The more you do, the easier it’ll get. If you need a creative mascot, get one of our handmade penguins!

Want to learn more about creativity and improve your creative process? Get a copy of “Disneyland Is Creativity: 25 Tips for Becoming More Creative.” Try “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories: Improve Your Creativity for a Better Life and World.” Preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.” Or just check out these links to articles on my blog.

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Curiosity, being childlike and Questlove’s experience getting older

Being childlike is important to creativity. Children are curious; they ask questions about everyone and everything. They don’t care who is better. They don’t care about their egos. They don’t care if someone is stepping on their own creativity. They play with abandon and talk to famous people with the same irreverence as the talk to their parents and friends.

“When I was ten, I was curious with reckless abandon. There wasn’t any fear about consuming things: if they interested me, I took them in. I ranged far and wide because I wanted to see what was out there,” says Questlove. “Now that I’m older, I’m more cautious. I’ve whittled my influences down to my pantheon of drummers and singers and guitarists, and it’s hard for new people to crack the shell.”

In “Creative Quest,” Questlove calls this a “hardening.” He says that there are some artists about whom he “feels a certain way,” which he explains is “nuanced form of snark.” It allows him to slow roll “whatever envy you admit by not admitting.”

This not-quite jealousy keeps Questlove from listen to a few artists “at all.” It may be that he doesn’t want to be influenced by or learn more about the artist or he feels a certain way, and “it gets worse with age.” Questlove recognizes this as a problem, this “brittleness,” and he says that as a person ages, he or she is going to have to deal with it.

There are a million reasons why its hard to be curious as you get older. Even with the Internet, it’s harder to satisfy that curiosity. Who has time to find out and understand why solar panels work? Who wants to learn new information that could challenge old, long held beliefs? Who wants to find someone younger doing something better in the same field wherein they both work?

It’s easier to keep on living with the information that one has accrued and not to challenge that status quo in one’s own life, even when one specifically self-describes as a creative. It’s much harder for people who think they’re only a little creative or they’re not creative. However, adopting a childlike acceptance of your own limitations and taking wonder in what other people are doing in your field (like children at play) will help you become more creative and have better ideas. It’s in the challenge and the questioning of the status quo that creativity thrives. Find the space that allows you to play, to be curious and to create.

For more on creativity and Questlove, check out: “‘The Pirate Union’ and collaboration” and the links at our Creativity page.

If you liked this essay, you can get more in ‘Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories.’ To improve your creativity, get ‘Disneyland Is Creativity.’