[ To Express, To Reflect, To Give Back ]

Dare to go on a war with your Imagination

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

For anyone who is looking for reasons to write, Poems can be a great inspiration.

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies,
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? What the chain?
In what furnace was they brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp.
Dare its deadly terror clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forest of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

With the sight of a gorgeous tiger in mind’s eye, William Blake derived the inspiration to extract those beautiful words out of his imagination. Here is a good study guide for the Tyger Poem.

Tyger by William Blake

It’s a fantastic poem that reminds me time and time again that writing, in any form, is act of bravery. You wage a war inside your mind against your own imagined inspiration, be it a tiger or a sunset or a baby. When the words finally but slowly draw out and settle down in front of you on the screen, you are winning. You actively engage in the battle for a while until you get a satisfactory feeling that you have rescued your fair share of words out of your imagination.

Then, you engage in a joyous craft of literary peace making. You re-read the whole passage while your inspiration takes a back seat. You clean up words that seem burned-out in the process of extraction and polish sentences that came out awfully raw. You rehash certain ideas lost in collateral damage. At last, you stop. You just birthed with at most care and love a wonderful piece of writing, .

You walk away as a proud creator, knowing all too well that you love to wage this war forever and ever.

Benjamin Zander’s art of possibility

Monday, March 14th, 2011

Last week, I was reading a book by Alan Fine, “You already know How to be great” and in it Alan writes about Benjamin Zander‘s method of “Giving an A” to all his music students right at the beginning of the semester in exchange for just one home work: Write a letter that begins with “Dear Mr. Zander, I got my A because…”.

I have not heard of Benjamin Zander before but I was hooked. The clock had just crossed midnight and it was awfully quiet, yet I couldn’t help but try to learn a bit more about him. Soon, I grabbed my headset to watch on my phone his great TED Presentation.

What got me hooked was not so much the idea of “Giving an A” or Mr. Zander’s flamboyant stage presence at TED, but it was the contents of an actual letter from one of his students, a young Korean flutist,…

Dear Mr. Zander, my teacher,

I got an A because I worked hard and thought deeply about myself as a student in your class-and the result was truly magnificent. I have become a whole different person. I used to be negative about nearly everything, before even trying. Now I’m much happier than I used to be. Around one year ago I couldn’t accept my mistakes. I got mad at myself after every mistake I made. But now I actually enjoy my mistakes and I really learned a lot from those mistakes. There is more depth in my playing than there used to be. At first, I only played the notes, but now I’ve discovered something about the real meaning of all those compositions. Now I play with more fantasy. I’ve also discovered my own worth. I’ve discovered that I’m a special person because I saw that I can do anything if I believe in myself. Thank you for your lectures and classes because they made me understand how important I am and the true reason why I make music.

This kid really made it sound too simple but this exercise in imagination is hard. I need to imagine myself in the future, and then look back at my own life and further imagine what I learned, how I changed, what I achieved etc. While I need to do this exercise lot more thoroughly, I am already imagining the moments when I speak at TED.  When that possibility materializes, Benjamin Zander will be my role model!

If everything is invented, why not do it right? Source: royblumenthal

I recently wrote about Running our own race in life. I said, Every life is a story unfolding – a story you create, whether that story is told, written or read by others doesn’t matter. What matters is we live our life the best we can.

What Zander’s suggests is for all of us to open up to imagining the perfect story of our own life. Not just imagine it, but Write it. See it.

Believe in what you imagined, after that, it’s a matter of living the endless possibilities.

The perspective of long range thinking

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

Today, I created a separate twitter account (thinklongrange) to start communicating on the specific topic of long range thinking. Some refer to this as strategic thinking.

Coincidentally, after I created that twitter account, I stumbled upon the Change This manifesto by Rajesh Setty titled 25 Ways to Distinguish Yourself. The item #14 in the manifesto is “THINK LONG-TERM”. I agree with Rajesh that many are becoming “short-term thinkers”. Everything from the collapse of the American financial industry to the perils of global warming to the rampant corruption across governments is because of focus on short-term gains. What we lack is a vision for the future – a vision for world at large as well as for our own personal future. The convergence of these two positive visions should be the impetus to give our best every single day.

Perspective from Mountain Top

Imagine you are standing on top of the mountain with the breathtaking view of the city in front of you. You can see the lake swirling around the city while on the other end airplanes wait in line to land. You see that what you thought as the tallest building is not really that tall and that there is much taller builder now on the west of the city. You notice the east of the city is dotted with more greener than rest of the city. You cannot make these observations from elsewhere inside the city. You needed to be at a range long enough to appreciate this perspective.

With this perspective imprinted in your mind, would you now go about your life in the city a bit differently? I believe you will. The next time you want to jog, you will more likely chose the east of the city with more trees. Won’t you?

Thinking long range provides the crucial perspective that’s not isolated from short-term thinking. In fact, your shot-term thinking will be entirely different after you take a stroll from a long range perspective.

So whether it’s called for or not, next time you approach a problem, take an imaginative (or real if appropriate!) step back to get a perspective similar to the one from the mountain top. Spend minutes, if not hours, observing and digesting what you see from that perspective. Bring those observations back with a closer-look at the short-term details of the problem. Though the solution might still take longer to arrive at, you will be amazed at the quality of the solution.

Performance art – Undefined

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Wikipedia defines Performance art as

Performance art refers largely to a performance which is presented to an audience but which does not seek to present a conventional theatrical play or a formal linear narrative, or which alternately does not seek to depict a set of fictitious characters in formal scripted interactions. It therefore will often include some form of action or spoken word which is a form of direct communication between the artist and audience, rather than a script written beforehand.

For many years, my vision of this type performance art was what I saw in a circus. Though they were well rehearsed, the jugglers, acrobats, fire breathers, ring masters and puppeteers were still performing a kind of live artistic maneuvers on stage that is a delight to experience.

I still don’t understand where the line is between performance art and other staged performances – the likes of drama, dance, orchestra etc. Is it the elements of spontaneity and uncertainty above and beyond the usual scripted performances? I doubt it. Modern directors of all forms staged performance deliberately design and introduce some sense of spontaneity in their performances.

Is this performance an art?

If your tastes permit, check out this video of spooky performances art by a Japanese artist. And then, the guy who paints his body like a silver statue and stands sill for hours in Times Square, only to wink occasionally at an odd bystander. Are these people performance artists? May be? We can debate for hours both ways.

Leaving that debate aside, Museums and art galleries, at least the leading ones, are reinventing performance art. Priya Kulasagaran writes about how Malaysia’s National Art Gallery is breaking out of its mold to embrace new age performance artists and hosting their arguably bizarre acts.

She says, “One of the stand out performances of the night was Jumaadi’s avant-grade wayan kulit performance. Armed with modernist shadow puppets and a backdrop of didgeridoo, electronic sounds and haunting vocals, the Indonesian artist weaved a tale of origins of rice and rats – complete with wrath of god, death and an incestuous love affair.”

I remember the traditional puppet shows (called bommalattam in Tamil) I watched at the temple across the street where I grew up in Gandhipuram, Coimbatore in India. Changes in audience taste plugged with sophisticated technology now enables folks like Jumaadi to produce “avant-grade” performances. And then there are the innovators, who think laterally redefining art. Priya writes about Tan Zi Hao’s performance dealing with “communal memory”. The audience were staged along with a chair, phone and a scrapbook full of notes on directions to a specific destination. Elsewhere in Malaysia, a volunteer student was let loose to figure the route to that destination – except he can call as many times this phone, which will ring only to connect the audience in this at Art Gallery performance who can advise directions to the student. Though I would consider this neither as an art nor performance, it did remind me of something lot more fascinating.

Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present

Early last year, The Museum of Modern Art in New York demonstrated a intriguing work by god-mother of all performance artists, Marina Abramovic. This is one such performance that just catches you off-guard to remind why this art form is referred as “an ephemeral medium”. Marina sat in a chair, quiet, inactive and indifferent, for 7-hours a day, and six days a week, across another chair where audience took turns to sit and “participate” in the performance. Unquestionably, it was titled “Artist is Present”. Not to confuse her work with theater, she says “To be a performance artist, you have to hate the theater. Theater is fake…the knife is not real, the blood is not real and the emotions are not real. Performance is just the opposite”. Want to know her latest quest? Making you eat Eat Flaming Volcano Dessert. Suppose you want to read more about her, here is her interview in UK’s guardian news paper.

While on the topic, check out http://weburbanist.com. They showcase some unbelievable art projects, from murals to 3D street paintings. These are not necessarily performance arts; They still are spectacular works of art requiring extraordinary performance by the artist.

Artist Meg Saligman working with Philadelphia Mural Arts Program

How I used the Secrets of a Mind Gamer

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

This article in NY Times is fascinating. Written by Joshua Foer, titled “Secrets of a Mind-Gamer”, It is about how an average person can build supposedly “extraordinary” memory. Calling it extraordinary is validated by the brain-crunching exercises he does such as how many binary numbers he can memorize in a span of few minutes and later recall every one of them, precisely.

The article (and the book titled ‘Moonwalking with Einstein’ by the same author) is more about the biographical journey of how Joshua Foer gets to build mnemonic skills to remember virtually anything and in that process earned the obscure title – United States Memory Champion. The secret is surprisingly simple and practical – use our in-built capacity for spatial memory, use a tad bit of wild imagination, which is also something we are all born with. You may question if everyone is born with ability to imagine wild stuff and be creative but I believe every single one of us is. Whether we exercise it or not is questionable. (Side bar: Creativity vs. Imagination – same or different?)

I tried to experiment myself with this idea and come to believe it actually works and can be useful too! Though the scale and scope of what I tried is fairly small, it is very beneficial for my day to day life. Here is how it goes. My wife and I are having our morning coffee, talking about some mundane things. In the middle of the conversation, she asks “When you come back down after your shower, can you bring the laundry basket down?”. I say yes and we continue talking about many other things. Fifteen minutes later I depart to perform my usual weekday morning rituals. Three hours later, I am in the middle of a serious discussion at work, I get a text message, “You never got the laundry basket down!!!”. I grind my teeth silently cringing, “Damn! I forgot again!”.

Could the mnemonic principles that brought Joshua Foer to limelight come to my rescue? principles he used to win the national memory championship? and a million dollar book contract to go with it?

I had to try.

The first and perhaps the most important thing to do is to pause as soon as my wife asked that question. If I just nod and we just keep talking then I don’t get to “register” this fact into my “spatial memory”. No mnemonic magic would ever save me. So what I do is take a few seconds pause, right at that moment when I say yes to my wife’s request. I construct a vivid imaginary visual clue. Here is what I say to myself in my mind -“As soon as I open the bathroom door, my father jumps over my head, wearing a spiderman suite. He was yelling that he doesn’t have any clothes to wear and could only find Rishi’s Halloween costume! I bend over my back to thank him for not jumping naked and ask him where all his clothes went. He zooms his arm out like a spiderman, and shoots a spider web pointing at the laundry basket…It’s overflowing and smells vomit…”

Angry dad in spiderman costume scene - Courtesy www.knowyourmeme.com via Google Images

I know! How silly and yucky right? While I am glad I didn’t tell my wife what I was thinking, it really is the point. The imagination & association must be bizarre and far outrageous from anything ordinary and usual.

It really only takes about 20 seconds to build and hear that story in my own mind. As soon as I register this story, my wife and I move on with our chit chat. Twenty minutes later, I walk into the bedroom and as soon as I get the first sight of the bathroom door, I recall the crazy story for just a second, but I don’t really replay the story at all. I just immediately realize that I need to take the laundry basket down. I move it out to obvious place in the room when it will be in my line of sight to take it down after I return from show. That’s it. Bingo! I remembered something I would normally forget. Neat.

An important factor is to associate the angry-dad-in-spiderman-costume scene to a trigger event or object that I will encounter in the future moment when I need to recall the thing I memorize. In this case, the trigger is opening the bathroom door. Of course, there is a chance that right at the moment of walking into the bedroom, I could have been seriously pre-occupied with some other thoughts – such as when I should get my next hair cut or how I sucked with my backhand in last night’s match or how long since I have had a beer or some such important thing. Nevertheless, the mnemonic exercise simply increased the chances of me recalling that funky story and thus helped remember what I needed to do. So it’s worth that 20 second investment to exercise my imagination and creativity!

What I tried is rudimentary in comparison to memory games they play in World Memory Championships. I honestly don’t understand how this basic technique can help remember the exact sequence of a decks of cards within a minute.

If you read the article, you will notice they refer to “memory palace” as the familiar spatial object (your house or street or favorite museum or any familiar physical structure) around which they build the crazy imaginary stories embedded with whatever they want to remember – playing cards or stranger’s names or random binary numbers etc. Do they use the same structure every time? If so, doesn’t it confuse the imaginary stories, mixing up the things you want to remember? How to “clean” the loaded memory of stupid stories? (They say they can!). How do they associate a “Queen of Clubs” to a particular incident and location in the made-up story? I would have created an association with a donkey queen and a soccer club within the story. They seem to simply recall the card as they pass through certain object or event. I just don’t get it. I really have to read more on this fascinating subject.

Meanwhile, why don’t you give it a try? It doesn’t hurt to try and fail since we will be just where we are – as forgetful as we always been.

PS: True to his curious spirit that drove him to the memory championship, Joshua Foer is a co-founder of the Atlas Obscura, an online compendium of “The World’s Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica.”

No Creativity Crisis in YOU!

Monday, September 20th, 2010

A couple of months ago, Newsweek declared that America is a deep creativity crisis. The hell broke loose. Or may be not. If anything, the article gained more readership than it possibly deserves.

The article points out that creativity is “production of something original and useful”, and I agree with original part but not so much the useful part. I accept the simple definition that creativity is just a unique expression – of oneself or of something – that’s out of ordinary. Useful or not is irrelevant. Every human being is creative in some way or other at one point of time or another, yet, most of the creation is useful only as a gratification for the creator, none beyond. That doesn’t preclude any individual from not being creative. In fact, it is in our inherent nature to be creative. We can creatively argue to death if it’s true or not.

Source:http://www.ad-i.co.uk

The newsweek article highlights an experiment in which children who came up with “more good ideas grew up to be entrepreneurs, inventors, college presidents, authors, doctors, diplomats, and software developers.”. I hope that’s an incomplete list and dare not call it as a list of what creative people become.

Creativity does not start, and certainly does not end, with art. I also see an unwritten assumption that creatives grow up to be entrepreneurs. Most artists and entrepreneurs are certainly creative, but the world will not be as we have it today, if not for the creativity of average citizen.

Last month, Fast Company’s 2010 list of most creative people in business. I dug deep into it because I see the key word in that article’s title is most and not creative. I wanted to know about and possibly meet every one of the most creatives – because these guys are likely doing what the newsweek article posited – “original and useful” creativity – useful insofar as they make money for their business.

Source: thedesigninspiration.com

To make a list of most creative people in the whole world across all disciplines would be a daunting task and it will invariably be filled with artists and entrepreneurs. You know, let’s leave that job to the magazines and newspapers – that will sure get more readership and provoke debates. For anyone who cares to look closer but a bit deeper, the most originally expressive and inspiring person might be your two year old or your ninety two year old grandma or perhaps, YOU, just the way you are.

Do what you love, express yourself exactly as you feel – in any form, shape, medium or language. Don’t just go with the flow, make your own path, follow your dreams and if required, break all the rules.

Celebrate being yourself.