Smaller but Magnified

Our world has become smaller in the pandemic, but also magnified.

A year ago, we were traveling across the country by plane to visit our relatives. Today, those trips are unthinkable on so many levels. Too much work or cannot leave the state due to unemployment rules. Too risky. Too much money as incomes fall. So, the trip in person becomes virtual and smaller, a video chat or a phone call, a text, a message, a comment, and a post.

Every day I watch my neighbor kids confined to their own yards, apart from playmates and school friends, who they visit now virtually like a memory or shadow. It is so hard for kids to lose school, birthday parties, and all of those in-person connections. They paste pictures in the windows and shout hellos across the street to their neighbors. Some parents find one or two safe playmates for their children. Compare that quiet experience to seeing dozens of kids every day.

Then I see what is magnified, like the little five-year-old girl next door learning to ride a bike with her parents both trotting by her side. As an only child, her parents are her primary playmates now. Two teens set loose on skateboards to give them that sense of freedom. In this smaller magnified world, the siblings who previously hung out with other kids their age instead walk together. Siblings are now friends; they laugh, talk, and support each other.

One day I saw two teen girls riding six feet apart on bikes, chattering like old times. They came back up the street with two more teens. Four girls on bikes meant they could stay six feet apart, see each other, exercise, feel better, and still chatter up a storm.

Their world is smaller but magnified. There is sorrow in giving up their childhood and teen rituals plus a magnified joy of finding new ones that work in a pandemic.  

Our world is magnified when we sit in our backyards day after day. All of a sudden, we can see the ants at work, those birds who live in the bushes, and that bug that we never noticed before. It’s all smaller but magnified. 

Before the pandemic, we went often to see our friends play and sing at live music shows. We’d walk in, hug all of them, kiss a few, sweat, dance, and chatter in tight booths for hours over drinks and food. Those were the times we’d catch up with 10 to 20 people in a night, and that experience is what we miss the most.

Now we choose carefully who to meet or who to talk to by phone or video. When we do meet, we don’t hug. We wear masks, stay six feet apart, and reduce the number of people we meet with to a handful. We turn down events that are too risky, like a memorial gathering for a dear friend who passed recently. Too many emotional people; too hard to avoid contact. There is burnout in the video meetings and talking with large groups virtually. Too much competition and noise. If you have done meetings virtually all day, it’s exhausting to do it at night or on weekends.

So, we are all reducing our contact with each other, looking at it, turning it over, blocking it, filtering it, and cutting it down to the core. We now know who is most important in our lives, a small group of dear ones. Our conversations are deeper and more emotional. Us adults, like the kids, have found our lives in this pandemic smaller but magnified. 

Featured photo courtesy of Pixabay, Vinzent Weinbeer.

Creative Thinking at 2 PM – Avoiding Writer’s Block

Okay, I’m done with meetings. It’s 2:00. Time to BE CREATIVE!  

To be in a creative job requires finding a process that allows creativity to flow naturally, so you can problem-solve efficiently.

Have you ever started generating ideas and tossing them aside at the same time?  It’s very common. In the old days, we called it the writer’s block. Old movies or cartoons show a writer typing a few lines, then rejecting it, crumpling the paper up and tossing it on the floor.

To prevent this problem, it helps to break up the creative process into different phases. I like to think of putting on different hats or roles.

creative-process-2_12_2017First, put on your collector’s hat. Gather sources and information, ideas, and possible solutions to solve the problem at hand. Do not eliminate, filter, or crumble up your paper during this phase.  Just gather everything you find about your project, and write every idea about it that comes to mind. This is a good phase to engage and collect ideas from other people.

Second, review your collection. Now put on your filter hat. Sort the information for relevancy.  At this point, make decisions. Discard some pieces. Keep and expand others.

Third, move into your visual phase. Organize and visualize the solution to the problem. Look for patterns. I go to the whiteboard and start drawing pictures. I use Visio to draw loose flow charts and shapes. I cut up words I’ve written into chunks, and move them around. Now you should identify patterns in your data, the common groupings and solutions.

Fourth, feel it. Relax your mind, review the patterns and decisions you made, and then let your mind bring you to the overall statement or solution over the next day or so. Play some music, feel and connect with the emotion and the answer. In this final quadrant, the creative solution should emerge from your previous work, and you should experience that “ah ha” satisfying connection with the right solution.

Allow times and places in your schedule for each activity. On week days and nights when I’m a bit tired or only have five minutes, collecting ideas  and brainstorming on my mobile device is a good activity.

Many of us have a peak time of the day. Mine is 4 to 6 pm. Your peak time is good for the analytical phases, the second and third steps. When you are in your peak mind, you can easily filter and sort, make decisions, or visualize the data and locate the patterns.  I save this work for that time of day.

The fourth quadrant where I say “ah ha!”is the only one I cannot schedule. I can review the material, but this phase comes to me naturally in my most relaxed state. Creativity is why we all should rest and relax as thought workers. The most creative solutions come to me unexpectedly, like when I’m taking my morning shower or drying my hair. Creativity comes to me when I’m in a quiet part of the house working or sitting alone. Music helps, for example, listening to instrumental music (no vocals) will often trigger ideas.

At first, having bright ideas arrive at odd hours seemed intrusive, but now I’m used to it. I have learned to keep it in check. I pick up my mobile device and record the solution in an note or email to my work self.  Then I go back to whatever I was doing. Inspiration is fleeting, and that note helps me remember those fantastic ideas.

So next time you are trying to be creative at 2 PM, try to go through the process and put on your hats in this order. Hopefully, inspiration will visit you.