On Creative Leadership, Creativity, and Nonsense

I like Nonsense

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For the last couple of years, I’ve become very interested in researching what it takes to be a creative leader. Malcolm Knowles wrote a book entitled, “The Adult Learner, A Neglected Species.” From that book I’ve conducted research on creative leadership and what it takes to be a creative leader, both in business and in our own creative lives. I’ve presented this research at a couple of conferences, and I look forward to further pursing the ideals of creative leaders. Folks such as Steve Jobs, Sandy Lerner, Richard Branson, and JK Rowling have all served as inspiration for these presentations I make.

When looking at the commonalities among creative leaders, there is one thing that they all have in common: they all do not fear failure. They understand the need to be innovative, and why one cannot be afraid to be innovative.

Writers are creative by our own right. We create settings, worlds, characters, and stories for readers to become lost in and swept away in between the pages of what we write. We rely on our creativity, and when we have written our stories, we must not be afraid to say the following:  “It is what it is–it is my work, my creativity at hand, and I stand by it,” and then let it go and do its thing.

That's me...editing some nonsense. :-)

That’s me…editing some nonsense. :-)

As I approach the final stages of editing “Baseball Girl,” and begin to prep it for Amazon, I can only echo the words of Dr. Seuss. I like creating nonsense. It’s my nonsense, and there’s really only one person I have to please in the end, and that’s myself. Making it the best piece of creative work I can, and not being afraid to fail is all the nonsense I am responsible for. What happens after that, we shall see.

When JK Rowling first wrote “Harry Potter,” she said this:

“I just write what I wanted to write. I write what amuses me. It’s totally for myself. I never in my wildest dreams expected this popularity.”

That is how I feel as well. If we try to write for other people and what they want, we will end up with a messy-mess of writing. Write what pleases you. Write the book you want to read.

That is the creative responsibility we are accountable for, and the only nonsense that makes sense.

DSC_0619

When Jenny was trying to take my photo for “Beneath the Mimosa Tree,” I gave her some nonsense.

A Little Game of “No Repeat” Fashion

bananarepublic.gap.comI’m starting to like clothes and fashion again.

I was down on it for a while because I allowed myself to gain too much weight this winter, and I wasn’t taking good care of myself. It’s something lots of working moms tend to do: they put others before themselves, and they are too tired to exercise or make themselves a healthy meal.

That changed this summer when I started a “getting healthy” program. I’m starting to see results, and even better, I’m starting to fit back into some of my clothes that have waited patiently for me to return to normal.

Now that things are fitting again, and I’m continuing on this program (Am I where I want to be yet? No, but little by little, this plan is working.), I’m watching something amazing happen. My wardrobe is growing exponentially.

There are many pieces I own that I spent money on when I was a fashion consultant, and because they are well-made, they stand the test of time and appear brand new. I’m still looking forward to buying myself a few new pieces this fall, but already, as I was organizing my closet earlier, I’m seeing lots of potential for NO REPEAT FASHION.color-style.livejournal.com

What is this? What is NO REPEAT FASHION?

This is where you challenge yourself not to repeat an outfit for work. This requires creating a wardrobe capsule. What you attempt to do is to vary your outfits every time you wear them, adding different accessories such as scarves, necklaces, jackets, as well as the shoes you wear with each outfit. What you have to do is challenge yourself to be creative with what you have and EXTEND your wardrobe. Mixing and matching blouses with skirts and then doing the same with pants and dresses can help your wardrobe go a long way.

weekdays; Design Your Month with these Wardrobe Capsules!Accessories play a big part in the look of your outfit. Don’t neglect the accessories. They help your wardrobe extend as well. See the examples I’ve posted from color-style.livejournal.com, cabionline.com, and bananarepublic.gap.com. These illustrate what I am talking about.

I’ve done this before, and it’s like a little game you play with yourself. How far can you extend your wardrobe? Can you go weeks without repeating an outfit exactly?

You have to be willing to buy pieces that have lots of possibilities, so that when you put them together, they always look fresh and new.

 

Sharing Some Good News

CoverBBGirlBalls

Still working toward and August release date.

While I continue to wrap up the editing and preparation of my fictional work, “Baseball Girl,” and still strive to release it in August, more good news came to pass. Along with my colleagues at Stevenson University—Chip Rouse & Leeanne Bell McManus—we are about to embark on a new challenge: writing an Event Planning textbook. We signed our contract yesterday and celebrated. We’ve been working on this concept for the last year, and are now ready to begin this process and start writing. We are so pleased and are all ready for this exciting, new challenge.

Congrats to my fellow authors, Chip & Leeanne. I am so honored to work with you on this book.

Chip (l), Leeanne (r) and me toasting our contract with Mimosas.

Chip (l), Leeanne (r) and me toasting our contract with Mimosas.

What One Week Away From Facebook Taught Me

Sitting on the dock of the bay, spending time with my family.

Sitting on the dock of the bay, spending time with my family.

Last week, we went on vacation. Although it was shortened due to the unfortunate path of Hurricane Arthur, prior to leaving, I deactivated my Facebook account. I wanted to see what it felt like to be disconnected from that form of social media. I stayed on Instagram just to post pictures from vacation, but other than that, I let it all go.

It’s not a bad thing to do. Disconnecting a little is healthy; it allows you to focus on the things that are truly important, such as your family and friends. I had become way too involved on Facebook, feeling the need to post constantly. I don’t feel the same way about it now that I shut down for a bit, examined my own actions, and evaluated my overall social media behavior. The result: I’m going to approach it differently from here on out.

Having read articles from Mashable (8 Reasons to Deactivate Your Facebook Account) and other social media experts regarding reasons to leave certain forms of social media, I decided to be my own test subject. As one who has now done it, I found I had so much more time in my days to do things I love, like read, write, exercise, be with my kids, and connect with other folks in person, not through a computer.

However, as a communication professor, and one who teaches public relations and who employs social media marketing as an indie author, I am somewhat obligated to “stay connected”—to “communicate”—though honestly, at times, I want to curl up with a good book or watch “24″ and not communicate. It can be exhausting, at least it was for me, because I was using it not only as a touchstone with friends, colleagues, current & former students, and family, but also as a marketing tool as an independent author. The hours I spent crafting messages and writing dopey posts could have been spent elsewhere, and most assuredly, in a more productive way.

It’s true; I didn’t stay away for long. I have a book I’m about to release and promote (in moderation), and more importantly, there are friends I have on Facebook that I love keeping in touch with on a regular basis.

So what did I learn from the temporary disconnection?

I’m going to approach it in a whole new way. I will dabble when I want and when I feel it’s right, and not because I feel compelled to do so. No one really gives a crap whether you’re on vacation, sitting by the pool, or at swim team practice. We are all doing the same types of things during the day. If we can be perfectly blunt, we want to feel special, but the truth is, we’re all doing the same types of things day in and day out, with an occasional trip to some exotic place. We’re all the same, people.

Which brings me to the pleasure I’ve found on Instagram. It’s a less bitchy forum. People “like” pictures you’ve taken and people don’t get snotty or decide not to “like”  or boycott your postings. No one cares there. You just post things that are pretty or interesting or funny. Some people like them, some people don’t, and no one takes offense either way. I don’t think I can say the same for the way people behave on Facebook.

If it sounds like I’ve soured a little with regard to Facebook, perhaps I have. In speaking with other folks who have quit Facebook all together, it’s interesting to hear the resounding benefits they declare in having done so, with all of them reporting that it was “one of the best decisions they have made” for numerous reasons from leaving behind jealous friends to spending more quality time with people they care about to just not wanting to play the social media game anymore.

For now, the jury’s out for me. I have way too many people that I care about and want to stay connected with on Facebook who are not on Instagram, and it’s the real reason I decided to come back. Mashable also wrote an article about why millenials are leaving Facebook. The dynamics of social media are fascinating, and it was one of the reasons why I wanted to eliminate it for a bit. Now, I can honestly say that it’s my choice to stay connected simply because I don’t want to lose touch with friends that I care about and would miss tremendously should I shut it down for good. I also know my behavior with regard to it will be modified by my own choosing.

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IMG_2631Author’s Notes:

Two quick things: I’m reading a good book, I watched “24″ last night, I’ve gotten off my duff and exercised, and I’m spending more time with my family.

 

Farewell, Eli Wallach

The Great Eli Wallach

The Great Eli Wallach

This hopeless romantic was very sad to learn of the death of actor Eli Wallach this morning. At 98, Mr. Wallach left this world, leaving behind a host of films for us all to enjoy.

One of my favorite romantic comedies of all-time is “The Holiday,” and this scene is one of my favorites. He played the part of Arthur Abbott, a retired screen writer, in the film. Kate Winslet, visiting Los Angeles on her holiday, befriends him, and the friendship that ensues is the best relationship of the film.

Eli was married to the same woman, actress Anne Jackson, for 66 years. In this clip, she toasts him for his lifetime achievement in 2010.

Additionally, in honor of his memory, here’s one of my favorite scenes from “The Holiday” that depicts the friendship between Arthur (Wallach) and Iris (Winslet).

For more about Mr. Wallach’s biography, click here for an article from the Hollywood Reporter.

Overhauling My Life…and My Wardrobe

YBlackDressesterday, as I sat on the back porch with my parents and spent a lovely Sunday afternoon, I faced the reality that the end is near.

“I had a hard time turning 50…I think it’s tough for women,” my mother said.

Um, you can say that again, Momma.

While turning 40 was probably the most jarring for me, I’ve sort of accepted that come August 16, as I turn a whopping 49 years old, I will be embarking on my last year in my forties.

I won’t lie about it. To borrow the words of Boris Karloff in “The Grinch,” it “Stinks. Stank. Stunk.”

BoomerinasMany changes have occurred over the past year for both my family and me—all of them incredibly positive in nature. We’ve overhauled a lot of things, including our address, the look of our house, pieces of furniture, the kids’ schools, friendships, activities, and involvement in our community, not to mention taking on new projects at work for both my husband and me. Life continues to evolve, and you can’t stop the wicked clock of time from moving ahead, so you might as well embrace it.

One of the things I’ve decided to pursue this summer is getting healthier. I’ve needed to drop some weight for a while, and I’ve embarked on a plan to do so this summer. Slowly, I’m slipping back into my clothes that I haven’t worn in a while.

But the biggest change will come this fall, when the plan takes full effect, and when I completely overhaul my wardrobe. As a now “mature woman of age,” I’ve wanted to blow up my wardrobe and start over for a while. This fall will be the time to do it. I’ve decided I want to improve my wardrobe, and this will mean buying quality pieces as opposed to quantity of pieces. I’ve preached this to women over the years when I was a fashion consultant. It’s not that we need to buy more clothes, it’s that we need to buy better clothes, and clothes that wear well and have mix and match possibilities.

When I wear something with color, people at work usually comment and say things like, “What? No black today?” And certainly, while black is my absolute favorite color, I’ve promised myself to infuse more color into my wardrobe.

Photo Credit: Chictopia.com

Photo Credit: Chictopia.com

Being stylish is both about how you wear your clothes and how you feel in your clothes.

I’m looking forward to feeling better, healthier, smarter, and more chic by the time my birthday…and the fall semester…rolls around.

Photo credit: helloframboise.com

Photo credit: helloframboise.com

Fictography #22—Vivi’s Summer

From Rome, Italy. Piazza Novona. Photo Credit: Chrissie Werzinsky.

From Rome, Italy. Piazza Novona. Photo Credit: Chrissie Werzinsky.

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/FICTOGRAPHY/ def. — The intersection of photography (submitted by readers) and fiction (written by me!).

The above photograph was taken by a dear friend of mine, Chrissie Werzinsky, in Rome at Piazza Navona. Chrissie works for the Baltimore Orioles, and has for years, which is how we met many moons ago. Chrissie and I have a lot in common; we both love the Hallmark Channel, Pinterest, baseball, our Orioles friends, and novels that make you feel good. Luckily, my husband and I traveled to Rome before we had children, so I got to spend time visiting Piazza Navona. I was excited to see the photo Chrissie took and use it to create a story.

To set up today’s short fiction, people have asked me after reading “Beneath the Mimosa Tree,” if I plan to write a sequel. At this time, I have no plans of it. My mother suggested that I write a prequel, featuring Vivi, who is the grandmother in—and an important part of—the story of Annabelle and Michael, and write the background of Vivi’s life. With that in mind, I wrote today’s Fictography post. So, think of it as taking place in the mid 1950s, as Vivi gets the opportunity to go to Italy—Rome—for the summer.

I’ve been trying to keep these snippets under 500 words. Today’s is 469. #flashfiction

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Viv’s Summer

Her English was broken, but Giovanna was able to get her point across. In Italian, she spoke to her niece. “Don’t-a take any wooden nickels,” and “don’t-a bring any strange-a men here,” were the two warnings that Viviana—Vivi—took away from the short lecture that she was receiving from her aunt.

In a matter of minutes, the place would be all hers, as soon as Giovanna and Ricardo left for Capri for the summer. Giovanna had asked her to come, to stay the summer, to get away from old memories and broken hearts, and Vivi had accepted. She longed to separate herself from the suburbs of New York and be back in a city, a vibrant one, and one in which she had often spent time during her summers as a teenager.

The opportunity to return to Rome, however, required her to quit her corporate job, which she did rather abruptly without blinking an eye, and days later, she was flying across the Atlantic and back to a place she would undoubtedly call her second home. It would be a chance to reevaluate her life, and she yearned to find her creativity again—to write, to paint, and to draw. It was not often that one receives the gift of a summer of freedom, and she was about to embrace every waking moment of it.

Her aunt kissed her on the cheek, and Ricardo grabbed Giovanna’s last bag. The taxi had arrived, ready to take them on their own summer adventure. Giovanna pinched Vivi’s cheeks, and kissed her on each one. “There is cheese, huh?, in the box, and bread. You go-a to the market and you get-a whatta you need.” She stuffed a handful of paper lire into Vivi’s hands, waved goodbye, and they were off in the taxi.

Vivi stood on the balcony that overlooked Piazza Navona and let her long, dark hair blow in the breeze. Her aunt’s blooms were full and rich in the flower boxes, but Vivi could still see the action in the piazza. She reached for her Comet, and began to snap photographs, needing to translate what she was seeing into images she would develop herself so she could revisit as time marched on, and her days spent here were over. The vista from the balcony allowed her to zoom in on certain shots and see the world from up above.

The sun peeked through the clouds, and the morning became even more glorious than it already was. Vivi put the camera away, slipped on her Chloe Ballerina flats, put a kerchief around her hair, and made her way out the front door, carefully placing the keys to the place in her small clutch. For a moment, she felt like Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday,” off to participate in her own adventure.

 

 

Are You in the Shallow End or Deep End with Your Summer Reading?

Summer Reading* * * * * *

Come on, be honest. What the heck is on your reading list this summer? Will you finally get around to reading “Fifty Shades of Grey” on your Kindle or will you be attacking a Dickens classic? Are you wading in the shallow end with the updated version of “Kardashian Konfidential” or knee deep in “Unbroken” or a novel with some philosophical insights?

What is your beach read this summer?

Let us know. We want to hear what you’re recommending…unless, of course, you’re too embarrassed to share…  ;-)

The Art of Editing

Quotation-Monika-Pardon-interesting-Meetville-Quotes-186555* * * * *

I remember finding the copy editing course I took at Towson University grueling. It was a required course during my first master’s program in professional writing. It was tedious and tiring. My eyes grew weary, and eliminating words became a game to me. When the professor told us to get a piece down from 500 to 300 words, we had to do it, and the result had to be better than what we started with that day. Editing is not easy, my friends. It requires us step away a bit and consider the reader more than we consider ourselves and the prose we have written. In fact, it requires us to be the reader and examine our work. It also requires us to become a bit detached.

Cal Book

The Cal Ripken Commemorative Book that celebrated Cal’s career and streak. Published by the Orioles, I served as the editor.

As an example, my editing skills were put to the test when I edited the book we put together during my time at the Orioles for Cal Ripken’s consecutive games streak. We created a special book when he broke the great Lou Gehrig’s record. For that commemorative book, I asked a writer to produce a story for me. I gave her a word count of 2,000 and received a story that was 6,000 words. Never before as an editor did I have to become so detached as when I edited that particular piece on deadline. Things had to go, and what I kept was vital to the story.

My favorite rule from Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style has always been this one:

Rule #13 – Omit needless words.

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

A must-have for writers: The Elements of Style by Strunk & White

A must-have for writers: The Elements of Style by Strunk & White

As I’m now on the third round of editing the novel I’ve completed, I’m working through it again to find the pockets for improvement. We want to put forth our best work, though it’s a tireless job combing through draft after draft. Overall, however, we edit to sharpen the prose, improve the story, and clear out any grammatical or punctuation errors.

I’ve heard other writers say they could edit their stories forever, and it’s true. We could keep working on that same piece, but at some point, it has to go out for public consumption.

I’ve got a few more rounds to go, but just as the creation of the story was important, equally, if not more important, are the edits we make to improve the content, flow, characters, plot, and language.

There is an art to editing, and it’s called taking time with it. Sift through the work page by page. Have others you trust with your writing evaluate it and offer comments. Get feedback on story and writing.

It’s the only way independent authors can truly take a run at the publishing game, and I, for one, am about to give it another try.

So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is make a chore for the reader who reads.

~ Dr. Seuss

 

Fictography #21 — A Scene in a Bar

FourSeasons* * * * * *

/FICTOGRAPHY/ def. — The intersection of photography (submitted by readers) and fiction (written by me!).

The above photograph is of the bar at The Four Seasons Hotel in Baltimore. Jenny and I concocted the premise of this story together the other night as we observed some interesting behavior at the bar. Our imaginations went a little wild, and I hope I do this one justice. For those of you who ask me why I don’t write sex scenes, I just don’t have it in me to do it. However, I can lead up to the moment, and allow you to take it from there.

429 words. #flashfiction

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Fictography #20 — A Scene in a Bar

Night falls upon the city.

Upstairs in her hotel room, she examines her long red nails, each one perfectly manicured; however, she finds a flaw, and unscrews the touch up bottle of “Hot Crimson” she keeps with her at all times. Life is too short for chips in one’s nails, for imperfections that can be seen by the naked eye.

Her body is toned from running, yoga, aerobics, and swimming. There is not an ounce of fat on her, and from the neck down, she has the body of a 30-year-old, though she is well past that in years. Her face, though appearing older than her body, has been improved upon with shots of Botox, bi-monthly facials, eyebrow waxing, and nightly anti-aging crème. She selects the backless black dress, the tall heels with rhinestones, and teardrop crystal earrings.

When she enters the bar, men stare, as they usually do when she walks in a room. Her height warrants a look, as if she could have possibly been a model at some point in her life. She takes a seat at the bar, placing her clutch in front of her. When the bartender asks her what her drink of choice is, she says a Martini, and within moments it arrives for her. She looks across the bar, lifts the olive out of the glass, and seductively pulls it into her mouth.

This is her life, the life of a business executive on the road, away from her husband and children. Away from the daily chores and mundane ways of suburban life. She relishes her time in the city—any city; she plays no favorites. As for the men she meets, she is peculiarly selective. Each one is chosen, and each one must be different. Guilt does not play a factor in any of her decisions, for this is a part of who she has become.

The Italian looking guy with the slicked back hair in the suit is the first to approach her. He looks like he’s stepped off the pages of GQ magazine, though perhaps not as perfect as the men one sees there, but still, he is suave. She wears no wedding ring; it always stays back in the hotel room. She has never been with one so dark and alluring. She deems him an appropriate catch for the night.

The bar is dark, with mood lighting, and she’s thankful for that. Dim lighting helps camouflage her age. He sits next to her and she turns to him. She crosses her leg, letting the slit of her dress go all the way up to her upper thigh, her non-verbal mannerisms suggesting what could be in store for him.

Fictography #20—Red Light Doctor

Red Light District, Amsterdam. Photo Credit: Katie Vogel

Red Light District, Amsterdam. Photo Credit: Katie Vogel

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/FICTOGRAPHY/ def. — The intersection of photography (submitted by readers) and fiction (written by me!).

The above photograph was submitted to me by one of my former students, Katie Wagner Vogel. This lovely shot is of the Red Light District in Amsterdam. Katie likes to travel, and has been to some very cool places. She was always a great addition to the classroom and was a member of our public relations club. Now, grown up and married, she is working as the Creative Director for Agora Financial in Baltimore. I appreciate her willingness to submit a photograph, and I can honestly say, I’ve never broached the subject of an STD before.

I was trying to stay around 500 words for this one. It came in at 512 words. #flashfiction

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RED LIGHT DOCTOR

Dr. Westhuizen began to pack up his bag. He knew what it was—had seen it many times before, and had to break the news many times as well—so he was not at all shocked to see the manifestation of the infection, red and raised, on parts of her body that typically remain hidden, unless of course, one is in that particular, legal (in Amsterdam) line of work.

“It is contagious,” he remarked. “I suggest you take great care with it or it could spread to others you come in contact with.”

He closed his kit, and looked around the room. From the outside, all looked well, yet on the inside, in the musty room with beat up floors and ragged curtains, he was giving a patient news she didn’t want to hear.

“I was going to quit, you know,” she said, looking away from him and out the window as she buttoned up her pants. “Was going to give it all up. This is my punishment, you see.”

To that end, he offered no reply. He preferred to keep the discussion to medical terminology. He did not like to become involved in the emotions of people. It made the job that much more difficult.

“There is medication that can lessen the symptoms and can make it less likely to spread, but it remains, you see. Always there, even when it looks as if it is gone.” He did not like to give one too much false hope that it would be cured or go away in time.

He wrote the script and handed it to her. She looked as if she were barely twenty. He wondered if what she said was true—that she planned to leave it all behind, perhaps start new. There was a mysterious and unusual glamour to this line of work in this city, and it was the reason why he chose to set up his practice here, where he unequivocally delivered more bad news than good and saw things he wished he didn’t have to see. He knew he served a useful purpose. His job was to make their lives better. Some had nicknamed him the “Red Light Doctor.”

Dr. Westhuizen walked over to the door, grabbed the handle, and turned to see her sitting on the edge of the bed, tears in her eyes. Something in the manner of her posture left him unable to walk away.

“You will be okay,” he said, finding himself speaking words that were a-typical to his vocabulary. “It won’t always be bothersome like it is now. The medication will help you.”

“Johann will never understand,” she said.

Then the good doctor heard himself say something he had never said to any other patient—ever.

“If he loves you, he will understand. And, he will still love you.”

She looked up from where she was sitting, and gave him part of a smile.

“Thank you, Doctor,” she said. There was hope in those words, and Dr. Westhuizen walked back onto the street, off to visit another patient in need.