• Frolicking Whales, A 76+ Year-Old Surfer (Body not Web) and Digital Storytelling: Soup to Nuts

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    I encountered a terrific – and comprehensive – Digital Storytelling resource when I was searching for help on how to best capture an extraordinary a day at the beach. This is not just any compilation of video snippets. What began as a peaceful interlude on a beautiful Maine surfers’ beach turned into a virtual bombardment of amazing images.

    Scanning the horizon for ships, sailboats or a rogue wave or two as we are wont to do when we know our wave pounding kins’ heads are all above water, the beach chair bunch (including me) spotted a whale a few hundred yards off shore. Cruising north, he or she and kept vaulting out of the water in beautiful arcs, daring us to try and capture the image. This behemoth had an uncanny way of taunting us.

    Second stunning sighting was of a different kind of leviathan – an ancient body surfer. I say ancient because she was an 76+ year-old woman, not too sylphlike, in a day-glo green, Pucci print swim suit. She had some difficulty walking through the surf, but when she spotted a big enough wave, she turned and threw herself into the curl with a grace that made the whale look like an out-of-control beach ball.

    Unlike the aforesaid whale, who cruised out of sight as soon as it had struck its tantalizing chord, the surfer rode the waves for hours. Her cap of white hair caught in the roiling foam rendered her invisible until her day-glo self glided up on the shore.

    All of this is my long-winded way of saying how valuable I found this Digital Storytelling resource. The lengthy tutorial consists of four parts:

    1. Finding your story
    2. Telling your story
    3. Creating the piece
    4. Sharing the work

    I am fortunate because my story found me but the “telling,” visual “creating,” and “sharing” were in drastic need of help.

    This is a resource you’ll want to turn to time and time again as you strive to capture your stories, your work and, indeed, your life.

  • Aging Gracefully: 10 Ways to Age Like a Frenchwoman

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    First, we had Mireille Guiliano‘s humbling, but delectable, exposé French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure, which has the indomitable French femmes moving from bread and chocolate to states of desire with barely a repressive nod.

    Then, Guiliano, ultra chic and, of course, skinny femme fatale that she is, tackled the boardroom in Women, Work and the Art of Savoir Faire: Business Sense and Sensibility, which captures the devoir of velvet gloves, words and handshakes amongst myriad other savvy and sophisticated workplace techniques.

    Now, as if these humbling how-to’s were not enough, Ann Morrison weighs in on the Mystique Francaise with her recent NY Times article: Aging Gracefully: the French [Woman's] Way.

    Morrison’s ode to the femme fantastique, of a certain age, begins, “I OFTEN see an elderly woman in my Paris neighborhood waltzing down the street to her own imagined music, flashing a slightly demented smile at everyone she passes. Anywhere else, I would cross the street to avoid her. But she always wears a matching, if slightly kooky, outfit — like the red print skirt, loose cardigan and scarlet cloche hat she wore one day this spring — has great posture and is beautifully made up. She clearly loves being herself. And she makes me think that in France, women might forget everything else as they age — but never their sense of style.”

    “Looking attractive, at any age,” she continues, “is just what Frenchwomen do, especially the urban ones. For Parisiennes, maintaining their image is as natural as tying a perfect scarf or wearing stilettos on cobblestone streets. Beauty is a tradition handed down from generation to generation. …For Frenchwomen, aging seems to be a matter of mind over makeup. If women feel good about themselves, right down to their La Perla 100-euro panties, they look good, too. Françoise Sagan once wrote, ‘There is a certain age when a woman must be beautiful to be loved, and then there comes a time when she must be loved to be beautiful.’ And many Frenchwomen seem to be well loved as they get older — by their tight-knit families, their friends and, perhaps most importantly, themselves. Case in point: my loony neighbor — completely coordinated, perfectly made up, thoroughly French.”

    Before you throw up your hands and say peut-être in Paris but never in Pougkeepsie, read Morrison’s practical how-to: 10 Ways to Age Like a Frenchwoman.

    C’est la vie!

  • The Heart of Innovation: Blogging from the Road

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    Courtesy of de svitalsky at ToonPool.com

    On the road the next few days and taking advantage of hospitable cafés, coffee houses and – perhaps my favorite – local diners. Lest anyone question the transient nature of my or their office, I defend the possibilities with Mitch Ditkoff’s great post, “Why Creative People Work in Cafés,” which is a must read for blogging road warriors. Then, too, remember Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast!”

    Life in motion (avec croissants or eggs over easy with hash browns, and, of course café) can be a good thing!

  • The Declaration of Independence: Thomas Jefferson’s Brilliant Cover Letter

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    In my last post I mentioned how it took Henri Matisse eight years of almost continual, major reworking to complete his painting, Bathers by a River, and today I want to point out how the same excruciating reworking is inherent in the creative writing process, as well.

    Good writing is a craft as well as an art. Job seekers need to learn how to best capture and articulate their unique attributes because employers, who are looking for the cream of the crop, need to be able to see who we are and what we are capable of doing for them.

    As visual artists learn from Matisse, writers can also learn from those who have mastered the challenge. Writing is hard work. Meaningful prose does not come trippingly off the tongue, and job seekers need to balance their skills, experience and passion to create a brilliant, attention-grabbing cover letter.

    Peggy Noonan’s illuminating Wall Street Journal article, A Cold Man’s Warm Words, about the vicissitudes Thomas Jefferson suffered whilst lead writer on the Declaration of Independence provide valuable lessons about the humility and statesmanship required in what was no doubt the most challenging writing assignment of his life.

    Ben Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson at work on the Declaration of Independence

    Noonan writes:

    “It was July 1, 2 ,3 and 4, 1776, in the State House in Philadelphia. America was being born. The Continental Congress was reviewing and editing the language of the proposed Declaration of Independence and Thomas Jefferson, its primary author, was suffering the death of a thousand cuts.

    “The beginning of the Declaration had a calm stateliness that signaled, subtly, that something huge is happening: ‘When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to separate.’ This gave a tone of moral modesty to an act, revolution, that is not a modest one. And it was an interesting modesty, expressing respect for the opinion of the world while assuming the whole world was watching.

    “The second paragraph will, literally, live forever in the history of man. It still catches the throat: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.’

    “What followed was a list of grievances that made the case for separation from the mother country, and this part was fiery. Jefferson was a cold man who wrote with great feeling. He trained his eyes on the depredations of King George III: ‘He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns. . . . He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compete the work of death, desolation and tyranny . . .’

    “Members of the Congress read and reread, and the cutting commenced. Sometimes they cooled Jefferson down. He wrote that the king ‘suffered the administration of justice totally to cease in some of these states.’ They made it simpler: ‘He has obstructed the Administration of Justice.’

    “For Thomas Jefferson it became a painful ordeal, as change after change was called for and approximately a quarter of what he had written was cut entirely. I quote from the historian David McCullough‘s “John Adams,” as I did last year at this time, because everything’s there. ‘Jefferson looked on in silence. Mr. McCullough notes that there is no record that he uttered a word in protest or in defense of what he’d written. Benjamin Franklin, sitting nearby, comforted him: Edits often reduce things to their essence, don’t fret.’” [Be sure to read all of Noonan's article to see some of Jefferson's most poignant words which were cut.]

    Noonan notes, “It hurt Thomas Jefferson to see these words removed from his great document. And we know something about how he viewed his life, his own essence and meaning, from the words he directed that would, a half-century after 1776, be cut onto his tombstone. The first word after his name is ‘Author.’”

    We writers, like Jefferson, writing for our lives if not our country’s, need to reach a point where we realize we have done the best we possibly can and let go. Our words, after all, are validated by our readers. King George III got the point and future employers will get ours, as well. That does not mean we will automatically get the job; remember how many years it took for the Colonial Army to get the job done – but in the end they did!

  • Creativity: Inspiration May Come Like a Bolt Out of the Blue But Execution May Take A Lifetime

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    Today’s artistic forensics – new digital imaging techniques, laser scanning, ultraviolet illumination and state-of-the-art computer software – are delivering fantastic insights about the creative process and how the artist works.

    Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society, New York

    High-Tech Matisse, the recent NY Times article by Carol Vogel, for example, describes how technology has revealed that Henri Matisse’s “Bathers by a River” went through a eight-year (1909-1917) evolutionary process as the artist revised the painting time and time again.

    Vogel notes, “Although art historians could always track the changes of that period by studying his [Matisse's] paintings in progression, one by one, until recently they had no clear idea of exactly how those changes were developed: how much hands-on experimenting went into the new work and what formal processes of study, revision and rejection were involved. Now those mysteries have been largely solved, thanks to an extraordinary array of technologies deployed in putting together “Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917,” an exhibition that opens next week [July 18, 2010] at the Museum of Modern Art. The show offers a rare opportunity to look beneath the surface of Matisse’s work to see a creative evolution that until now only his eyes had witnessed.”

    Matisse was already an international star when he returned to Paris from Morocco in the spring of 1913. At this time, “he began creating paintings that were simpler and more layered than the boldly colorful, sun-filled canvases that had been his signature. At the same time he started dipping his toe into Cubism, which was in full flower with younger artists like Juan Gris, Georges Braque and, of course, Pablo Picasso, whom Matisse began to see a lot during those years.”

    “While he admired Cubism for its inventiveness, the more instinctive Matisse was also suspicious of its intellectual emphasis. At the same time he also admired the work of Paul Cézanne — in particular his carefully constructed compositions — as Matisse began to reconsider his own working methods and fundamental ideas about making art.”

    By 1917, Matisse abandoned the Cubist approach and adopted a style closer to Impressionism. “He felt he’d done what he set out to do and thought it was crucial to keep changing,” said John Elderfield, chief curator emeritus at the Museum of Modern Art. “He didn’t want to become a prisoner of that style.”

    Matisse said, “Bathers by a River” was one of the most pivotal works in his career, and now we can see why. This visual eight-year timeline delineates the evolution of Matisse’s creative inspiration and execution in extraordinary ways.

  • “When Generations Collide:” Understanding Why and How Generations Clash in the Work Arena

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    One of the best parts of living in a small town in Maine is that people actually walk from place to place. Even more remarkable, perhaps, we walkers stop and greet one another when we meet. Sometimes, it’s just to say “Good Morning;” other times nuggets of wisdom are shared.

    Today, was a nugget of wisdom morning. Walking on our neighborhood beach, I bumped into a friend whom I had not seen for some time. Aged 60, she has been looking for work for more than a few months. She has a stellar resumé and has had many interviews but the ideal offer has not materialized. She said, “I kept asking myself what I might be doing wrong. I knew something was missing in the interviews but I could not put my finger on the problem until I read a book called When Generations Collide. Suddenly, I realized that my interviewers, most of whom were quite young, do not understand why I am pursuing another job. More than a language barrier it is a giant generational barrier, and I knew I had to overcome it to find the work that I wanted.”

    The full title of the book she recommended – and I do too – is, When Generations Collide: Who They Are. Why They Clash. How to Solve the Generational Puzzle at Work, by Lynne C. Lancaster and David Stillman.

    The authors, founding partners of BridgeWorks consulting firm, describe four generations as: “Traditionalists” (1900-45), “Baby Boomers” (1946-64), “Generation Xers” (1965-80) and “Millennials” (1981-99). They explore the problems each might encounter in work settings, but, of course, as with my neighbor the problems can arise long before one is actually in the work setting.

    This is a book you’ll want to keep, to refer to over and over again. It is not full of jargon, or dry data and analysis. It is an easy read, but don’t be deceived by the facility with which you can breeze through their anecdotes. The stories are real and poignant and may even enlighten as they did my neighbor and me on this fine Maine morning.

    Local Sculpture, Willard Beach, photo by Elizabeth

  • Squirrels: What Senior Job Seekers Can Learn from the Furry Critter’s “Phenomenal Elasticity of Body, Brain and Behavior.”

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    Courtesy of Multiverse.org

    The more I discovered about the much maligned squirrel in this fascinating article, Nut, What Nut? by Natalie Angier, the more I realized the creature’s feisty spirit and resilient demeanor are the very attributes intrepid job seekers need.

    Did you realize:

    “Squirrels can leap a span 10 times the length of their body, roughly double what the best human long jumper can manage?”

    “They can rotate their ankles 180 degrees, and so keep a grip while climbing no matter which way they’re facing?”

    “Squirrels can learn by watching others — cross-phyletically, if need be. In their book Squirrels: The Animal Answer Guide, Richard W. Thorington Jr. and Katie Ferrell of the Smithsonian Institution described the safe-pedestrian approach of a gray squirrel eager to traverse a busy avenue near the White House. ‘The squirrel waited on the grass near a crosswalk until people began to cross the street,’ said the authors, ‘and then it crossed the street behind them.’”

    “’Its primary visual cortex is huge,’ said Jon H. Kaas, a comparative neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University, ‘A squirrel’s peripheral vision is as sharp as its focal eyesight, which means it can see what’s above and beside it without moving its head.’”

    “A squirrel has the benefit of natural sunglasses, pale yellow lenses that cut down on glare….’Gray squirrels use their sharp, shaded vision to keep an eye on each other,’ reports Michael A. Steele of Wilkes University in Pennsylvania. Steele’s research team observed that, ‘when squirrels are certain that they are being watched, they will actively seek to deceive the would-be thieves. They’ll dig a hole, pretend to push an acorn in, and then cover it over, all the while keeping the prized seed hidden in their mouth.’”

    Amazing as these traits are, they amount to peanuts compared to this extraordinary eye-witness account of Squirrel daring do captured by Angier:

    “I was walking through the neighborhood one afternoon when, on turning a corner, I nearly tripped over a gray squirrel that was sitting in the middle of the sidewalk, eating a nut. Startled by my sudden appearance, the squirrel dashed out to the road — right in front of an oncoming car. Before I had time to scream, the squirrel had gotten caught in the car’s front hubcap, had spun around once like a cartoon character in a clothes dryer, and was spat back off. When the car drove away, the squirrel picked itself up, wobbled for a moment or two, and then resolutely hopped across the street.”

    That’s resilience! Just the kind needed to launch oneself into the job-seeking orbit and survive!

  • Aging: Pithy Perspectives from “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Beyond

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    The Wizard of Oz's Glynda

    “Age Doesn’t Matter Unless You’re a Cheese!” is the pungent observation from actress, Billie Burke, perhaps most famous for her role as Glynda the Good Witch in the Wizard of Oz.

    In their book by the same title, authors Kathryn and Ross Petras, have collected such provocative insights and more in what they call their “manual for living well to celebrate the wisdom and perspective that so often go hand in hand with experience.”

    Their nuggets come from 350 individuals who are: “1.Over sixty; and 2.Have something to say.” The list of luminaries included is impressive and diverse; it is well worth a read.

    A second great read is Roger Rosenblatt’s, Rules on Aging: A Wry and Witty Guide to Life.

    Roger Rosenblatt, acclaimed essayist and NewsHour with Jim Lehrer regular contributor, boldly offers – not your standard How-to’s seven or even ten easy steps – but a “whopping 56 rules for wisely navigating life into your golden years.”

    Rosenblatt describes his brief treatise (a mere 140 pages) as a “little guide intended for people who wish to age successfully, or at all.” He adds that “growing older is as much an art as it is a science, and it requires fewer things to do than not to do.”

    His advice on everything from party etiquette to office politics (“Never work for anyone more insecure than yourself”) is valuable reading for any one at any age. In fact one reviewer commented: ” A person of any age can profit from it. Perhaps a better title would have been; ‘Rules That Give You a Fighting Chance to Reach Old Age Without Succumbing to Stress or Having Someone Kill You.’”

    Rule #31 is particularly pertinent in this regard: “Do not attempt to improve people, especially when you know it will help.” Rosenblatt, reflecting back to Rule #2  adds: “Nobody is thinking of you – unless you tell them about their faults. Then you may be sure that they are thinking about you. They are thinking of killing you.”

    This is a must read for anyone who has a tendency to take themselves too seriously!

  • Happy Independence Day!

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    Holiday greetings from Maine…

    Georgetown, Maine, photo by Elizabeth

    It is sometimes forgotten that Maine was part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony during the American War for Independence. Our illustrious history – including a “sugar party,” pre-dating the more famous Boston Tea Party, which also fueled the fires of rebellion – can be found in this timeline from the Maine Historical Society.

    Five Islands, Maine, Lobster Pound, photo by Elizabeth

    We are renown for much more than our fabulous lobsters. Still, nothing can compare with grilling a fresh lobster and some corn on the cob for a holiday dinner to be topped off with a scoop of homemade ice cream crowned with strawberries picked that morning, and fireworks in the evening.

    We watch the fireworks sitting atop an old stonewall – remains of a fort which guarded the entrance to Casco Bay Harbor during the Revolutionary War. We also overlook the yard where hundreds of Liberty Ships were built and launched during World War II. Ironically those ships were modeled on a British vessel. Clearly, once we had achieved our independence from England and from Massachusetts, we began to share in a truly sportsmanlike manner, and – speaking of sports – that includes our love for the Massachusetts’ based, New England Patriots, Super Bowl Champions!


  • To Be or Not To Be? Hamlet’s Blackberry

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    William Powers’ new book, Hamlet’s BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age is part fun, philosophical musings and part how to “disconnect ourselves from digital overload.”

    Unfortunately, Powers spends way too much time on the how to disconnect and not nearly enough on the philosophical musings. We all know how addicted too many of us our to our digital gadgets. If anything, it’s more difficult to get away from the dire warnings about how technology is ruining our lives, our relationships, our brains and turning everything but our thumbs tubby from lack of physical exercise. We do not need another treatise on that, but clearly we can use more of Powers’ witty, historical musings. Every review I’ve read notes how the reader picked up the book because he or she was intrigued by the title. Let’s be clear, the part of the title that appeals is to the left of the colon – “Hamlet’s Blackberry.” I have not read one review or spoken to one person who snatched up the book because it had such a gripping subtitle!

    Yes, it is good to assess whether we might have reached a point where the technology that was supposed to give us greater control is actually controlling us. And to his credit, Powers is not pooh poohing all technology or saying that we should disconnect from everything. The best parts of this book are those where Powers demonstrates – through seven ancient and modern philosophers – how new technologies have provoked similar fears throughout history. Plato, Seneca, Shakespeare and Gutenberg, for example, struggled with new-found gadgets. Even Ben Franklin, that wizard of invention, we learn had his moments of doubt!

    The “Hamlet’s Blackberry” (of the title) is what was called a writing table or table book and consisted of some plaster-covered pages bound in a pocket-sized book. A metal stylus came with it and was used to write down notes or lists. Shakespeare could sponge off the pages like a slate and use them over and over again.

    Ahhh, but where for art thou, quill pen? Would the end have been as tragic if Romeo and Juliet had had cell phones? Worst of all, how many of Shakespeare’s masterpieces might we have lost, if the Bard could have erased them from his Elizabethan Blackberry?

    This, I believe, is Powers’ message (overworked though it might be): there is a time to connect and a time to disconnect , and a reasonable person should know the difference.

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