Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Think inside a big Crayola box

Creativity has fallen on hard times in the United States. Check out a recent article in Newsweek magazine entitled The Creativity Crisis, http://www.newsweek.com/2010/07/10/the-creativity-crisis.html.

Nothing conclusive was revealed as to reason that creativity has fallen out of vogue other than our children spend copious hours zoned out in front of the television and video games. Plus, in our logical culture, the word "creativity" often evokes mind pictures of hippies, tie-dyed shirts and backfiring Volkswagen vans. For a culture caught up in achievement, creativity doesn't sound like the path to respectabilitiy. But it's exactly what we need, given some of the anecdotes recited in the Newsweek article.

In a world desperately needing creative problem solvers, it's rather ironic that everything from elementary school curriculums to executive training fail to delve into the mysteries of creativity. I think my motto from here on out will be, "Remember the Renaissance."

I've been mesmerized by creativity from early childhood. In the vacant lot next door, I'd layout floorplans in the dirt. At home I'd take my Barbie paper dolls and design my own outfits for her. Way before acrylic nails were all the rage, I was figuring out how to layer Scotch tape to create homemade nails (always with the hope that grandma would buy me the Flaming Orange nail color on display at Woolworth's).

Over the years, creativity largely has been my solitary endeavor, from writing poetry to creating jewelry and collages. When I first considered that writing might be my forte -- in junior high, if I recall correctly -- I got myself in the mood to write by pulling out a thesaurus and jotting down words in any way related to the topic at hand. I'd add common phrases that seemed to gibe and then I would do a little map of words looking for new creative clusters of meaning. In all my working days, I've never seen anyone approach writing that way, though I have seen some books that promote similar strategies as a means to accessing various areas of the brain. In fact, what boggles my mind these days is that the thesaurus, a book that provides clusters of similar word meanings, seems irrelevant. I can't find a newly copywrited edition despite thousands of new words that have been coined in recent years. Think "google" for a brand new word.

Still, I persist in my quest for creativity. After I moved to Los Angeles in the late 1970s, I pursued more along the lines of visual creativity. I took a class at UCLA entitled Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, studying with a protege of Betty Edwards, the courageous art eductor who proved that even people who thought they had no artistic talent whatsoever could draw some pretty sophisticated compositions, http://www.drawright.com/.

Beyond the drawing, I enrolled in interior design instruction, also at UCLA. My first major project involved visual art and writing....a perfect match for me that led to the most creative assignment I've ever completed. I needed to take numerous design concepts, explain them and then display them in an appealing portfolio. I knocked myself out. In fact, I nearly lost consciousness in a creative euphoria that lasted several days....and no, I wasn't smoking or dropping or drinking anything.

My passion for studying creativity has rarely waned, though it sometimes seems like a lonely road. Since my knee surgery two weeks ago, I've been rereading several books that address creativity like Finding Water, The Art of Perseverence by Julia Cameron, www.theartistsway.com. Cameron has been a prolific chronicler of the creative process and her work goes far beyond any new agey stereotypes.

The last few days I've pulled out a coloring book of mandalas and at night while watching television, I fill in the spaces with markers, color pencils and crayons. It's been very therapeutic, though I often wonder, "What would people think if they knew I was coloring?"

I also wonder what kind of business world this would be if executives and managers spent some time everyday word mapping or coloring. I think we'd see some compelling solutions usher forth that have eluded economists, scientists and politicians who have been curtailed by "just the facts" mindset.

In the meantime, I'll be busy experimenting with my new box of 120 Crayolas, www.crayola.com. I just know there's a solution to something amid Electric Lime, Wild Blue Yonder, Atomic Tangerine, Tumbleweed, Tropical Rain Forest, Pink Sherbert, Banana Mania and Purple Mountain Majesty. If nothing else, it will be a simply Mauvelous journey lost in color and possibilities.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Home sales: It's about the job market, folks

I may be away temporarily from my day job as a real estate reporter, but that doesn't mean I'm indifferent to what's going on in the marketplace. Today I read that Arizona State University's Realty Studies research department tracked foreclosures in the metro area for June and they're up, some 600 homes since May. The June number is 3,800. Though that number is below a year ago, it's only by 200 homes.
I bring these numbers up because some of the most vocal real estate consultants, many retained by local homebuilders, have been saying for more than a year that the worst is over. Last summer some were proclaiming that we were just a few months away from a healthy industry restart. I was doubtful. Some said I was doubtful because I'm a typical negative journalist. OK, so I'm naturally skeptical. I've been fooled one too many times by smooth talkers. But without going too deeply into my psychological make-up, here's the main reason for my doubt about the housing market in Phoenix: Few new jobs. I'd even venture to say that many current homeowners still are worried about whether they will have a job by the end of the year. The last thing on their minds is buying a new home. Most of us are treading water and hoping for the best and not thinking about buying a new house. It's kind of sad given how low interest rates are. But when you're not feeling secure about income, the interest rate is irrelevant.
Given these factors, I'm shaking my head that the developer of Optima Camelview luxury condos in Scottsdale has already received approvals for yet another residential project at the corner of 68th Street and Camelback Road. What am I missing here? There are several unfinished luxury condo projects within a mile of that neighborhood and even finished ones remain vacant. I don't "get" the developer's thinking other than wanting to be ready for when the economy changes.
There is nothing that leads me to believe that the economy is changing here or nationally in a positive way any time soon. Another thing I don't "get" is how politicians across the Valley and the country are expending energy on everything but job creation. The housing market is not going anywhere soon without jobs. Secure jobs.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Think positive not personal

I've spent much of the past 3 years focused on the tanking economy, the busted real estate market, lawsuits, foreclosures and unscrupulous individuals. That's what I do as a newspaper reporter. It's my livelihood.
But after all these days and weeks and months of pondering the negatives (which are the reality of the business world, folks), my mind is in a bad warp.
That's why I'm committed to focusing on positive thinking, inspirational people and funny business. Yes, funny business like funny movies and books and people.
My health has taken a hit after spending the majority of my time stressing out about deadlines and job demands, mostly related to the very unpleasant happenings in the business world.
But now I have about six weeks, while I recover from knee replacement surgery, to regain a more balanced perspective. I don't want to waste a single minute.
Last night I pulled out two books written by a Phoenix area author that I purchased months ago but never had time to read.
Steve Chandler is a coach, motivational speaker and author. Yes, he could be described as a self-help guru, but I think he has something unique to bring to a marketplace that has been tainted of late by charlatan James Ray.
In Reinventing Yourself, Chandler challenges the beloved idea that our unique personalties are the end all and be all of who we are. In fact, our "loyalty" to our personalties is often counterproductive.
When we believe that we just don't have an optimistic personality, we are buying into a lie. In fact, Chandler says, personality is an illusion that can be changed at will in a second. Consider how our whole persona changes when we meet a celebrity or are stopped by a cop.
Based on research by Dr. Martin Seligman, Chandler posits that optimism makes us more effective and can be learned.
"People who have figured out how to access and own this optimistic spirit soon become less interested in their personalities than they are in their purpose," Chandler writes.
That alone is worthwhile to contemplate.
Those who still insist on worshipping their own personality ala I've gotta be me , Chandler says, are positioned to reap tremendous misery and confusion throughout their lives. Maybe there's a Lindsay Lohan connection here.
I always thought my personality was the essence of me, but maybe not. Chandler has provided me with a great idea to contemplate. I'm positive there's a jewel of wisdom in this, and I want to master this lesson.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


On the afternoon of Nov. 12, 2002, I had one of the most important conversations of my life. The late afternoon provided a melancholic backdrop with the sun dropping behind the Rocky Mountains, the cold blue sky etched with pink clouds burnished with silver edges.
My father Ray sat in a hospital bed wincing with pain and gasping for breath. Beyond that discomfort he cast a faraway look. I couldn't see heaven, but I was certain he did.
"Daddy, it's OK to go. The girls and I will be fine. I don't want you to suffer anymore," I pleaded.
An unspoken acknowledgement hung in the air. I kissed him and told him I loved him dearly and walked out the door.
The doctors and hospice personnel opined that Ray had about 3 weeks to live. I knew they were wrong by a long shot.
At 3 a.m. the next morning, he was gone.
Dad died of interstitial lung disease, a kind of umbrella prognosis for lung disorders that are hard to diagnosis, hard to treat and hard to explain. My Dad's type of interstitial lung disease was termed pulmonary fibrosis. Five years to live was an optimistic prognosis.
But Dad proved them wrong again. He lived 12 years longer.
He lost weight. Continued to golf. Worked out at the Rec Center and enjoyed life with my stepmom. He delighted in grandchildren, cheering them on at any and every sporting event. He rooted for the Denver Broncos and the CU Buffs and he kept me steady when my life toppled over in a painful divorce.
But little by little he lost the breath of life. Trips to the mountain were verboten. He couldn't breathe in that thin air. Then golf, even with a cart, had to be left behind. The oxygen deliveries increased and in his latter days were constant. My dad was suffocating to death. It was gutwrenching to watch.
The last time we had some moments together we watched a Bronco game. Just the two of us. My eyes brimmed with tears throughout the whole contest. I couldn't bear watching my dad, my hero, gasping for breath.
We always thought it was an anomaly this interstitial lung thing. Maybe he picked up a fungus in a barn in childhood that eventually started to grow and took over his lungs. Who could know?
In rare cases interstitial lung disease is genetic. Last week two chest X-rays (I just now realized they are "rays") came back abnormal. I was preparing for knee replacement surgery and the last thing I expected was a problem with my lungs. My doctor said the scarring that was obvious after two separate shots on two separate machines could be something old or something new and serious.
I will know more in the weeks ahead. Until then, every breath I take, every move I make, I'll be thinking of you, Dad.