Creativity, Wanderlust, and the Mind

 

Let me know what you think.

There are plenty of things to be gained from going abroad: new friends, new experiences, new stories.But living in another country may come with a less noticeable benefit, too: Some scientists say it can also make you more creative.

Writers and thinkers have long felt the creative benefits of international travel. Ernest Hemingway, for example, drew inspiration for much of his work from his time in Spain and France. Aldous Huxley, the author of Brave New World, moved from the U.K. to the U.S. in his 40s to branch out into screenwriting. Mark Twain, who sailed around the coast of the Mediterranean in 1869, wrote in his travelogue Innocents Abroad that travel is “fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

In recent years, psychologists and neuroscientists have begun examining more closely what many people have already learned anecdotally: that spending time abroad may have the potential to affect mental change. In general, creativity is related to neuroplasticity, or how the brain is wired. Neural pathways are influenced by environment and habit, meaning they’re also sensitive to change: New sounds, smells, language, tastes, sensations, and sights spark different synapses in the brain and may have the potential to revitalize the mind.

“Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms,” says Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School and the author of numerous studies on the connection between creativity and international travel. Cognitive flexibility is the mind’s ability to jump between different ideas, a key component of creativity. But it’s not just about being abroad, Galinsky says: “The key, critical process is multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation. Someone who lives abroad and doesn’t engage with the local culture will likely get less of a creative boost than someone who travels abroad and really engages in the local environment.” In other words, going to Cancun for a week on spring break probably won’t make a person any more creative. But going to Cancun and living with local fishermen might.

In Galinsky’s latest study, published last month in the Academy of Management Journal, he and three other researchers examined the experiences of the creative directors of 270 high-end fashion houses. Combing through 11 years’ worth of fashion lines, Galinsky and his team searched for links between the creative directors’ experience working abroad and the fashion houses’ “creative innovations,” or the degree “to which final, implemented products or services are novel and useful from the standpoint of external audiences.” The level of creativity of a given product was rated by a pool of trade journalists and independent buyers. Sure enough, the researchers found a clear correlation between time spent abroad and creative output: The brands whose creative directors had lived and worked in other countries produced more consistently creative fashion lines than those whose directors had not.

The researchers also found that the more countries the executives had lived in, the more creative the lines tended to be—but only up to a point. Those who had lived and worked in more than three countries, the study found, still tended to show higher levels of creativity that those who hadn’t worked abroad at all, but less creativity that their peers who had worked in a smaller number of foreign countries. The authors hypothesized that those who had lived in too many countries hadn’t been able to properly immerse themselves culturally; they were bouncing around too much. “It gets back to this idea of a deeper level of learning that’s necessary for these effects to occur,” Galinsky says.

Cultural distance, or how different a foreign culture is from one’s own, may also play a role: Surprisingly, Galinsky and his colleagues found that living someplace with a larger cultural distance was often associated with lower creativity than living in a more familiar culture. The reason for that, they hypothesized, was that an especially different culture might come with a bigger intimidation factor, which may discourage people from immersing themselves in it—and no immersion, they explained, could mean none of the cognitive changes associated with living in another country.

Traveling may have other brain benefits, too. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, an associate professor of education and psychology at the University of Southern California, says that cross-cultural experiences have the potential to strengthen a person’s sense of self. “What a lot of psychological research has shown now is that the ability to engage with people from different backgrounds than yourself, and the ability to get out of your own social comfort zone, is helping you to build a strong and acculturated sense of your own self,” she says. “Our ability to differentiate our own beliefs and values … is tied up in the richness of the cultural experiences that we have had.”

Cross-cultural experiences have the potential to pull people out of their cultural bubbles, and in doing so, can increase their sense of connection with people from backgrounds different than their own. “We found that when people had experiences traveling to other countries it increased what’s called generalized trust, or their general faith in humanity,” Galinsky says. “When we engage in other cultures, we start to have experience with different people and recognize that most people treat you in similar ways. That produces an increase in trust.”

This trust may play an important role in enhancing creative function. In a 2012 study out of Tel Aviv University, researchers found that people who “believe that racial groups have fixed underlying essences”—beliefs the authors termed “essentialist views”—performed significantly worse in creative tests than those who saw cultural and racial divisions as arbitrary and malleable. “This categorical mindset induces a habitual closed-mindedness that transcends the social domain and hampers creativity,” the study authors wrote. In other words, those who put people in boxes had trouble thinking outside the box.

Of course, although a new country is an easy way to leave a “social comfort zone,” the cultural engagement associated with cognitive change doesn’t have to happen abroad. If a plane ticket isn’t an option, maybe try taking the subway to a new neighborhood. Sometimes, the research suggests, all that’s needed for a creative boost is a fresh cultural scene.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

Late Night Bukowski

Roll the Dice

if you’re going to try, go all the
way.
otherwise, don’t even start.

if you’re going to try, go all the
way.
this could mean losing girlfriends,
wives, relatives, jobs and
maybe your mind.

go all the way.
it could mean not eating for 3 or 4 days.
it could mean freezing on a
park bench.
it could mean jail,
it could mean derision,
mockery,
isolation.
isolation is the gift,
all the others are a test of your
endurance, of
how much you really want to
do it.
and you’ll do it
despite rejection and the worst odds
and it will be better than
anything else
you can imagine.

if you’re going to try,
go all the way.
there is no other feeling like
that.
you will be alone with the gods
and the nights will flame with
fire.

do it, do it, do it.
do it.

all the way
all the way.

you will ride life straight to
perfect laughter, its
the only good fight
there is.

 

charles-bukowski-cinematheia.com_

Back in the saddle…featuring new writing tips!

I know, I know. Its been a month. A few days ago, I received a distressed Whatsapp message from a friend letting me know how much they missed my occasional posts.  I have some projects in the works, but wanted to share something I came across recently that both made me smile, and inspired me to write more.

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The below excerpt is from James Altucher.  (www.jamesaltucher.com) I stumbled over his stuff a few months ago. I was struggling with some melancholic bullshit, and I hit the web hard to read through it, as I often do. One  late night trek down the web based rabbit’s hole I discovered Mr.Altucher. Hes quite an eclectic character, but his stuff gave me a good old fashioned and much needed jolt of inspiration.

 

I want to be creative, I want to write, travel, and push myself as far as I can go.

 

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“Back in college, Sanket and I would hang out in bars and try to talk to women but I was horrible at it.

Nobody would talk to me for more than 30 seconds and every woman would laugh at all his jokes for what seemed like hours.

Even decades later I think they are still laughing at his jokes. One time he turned to me, “The girls are getting bored when you talk. Your stories go on too long. From now on, you need to leave out every other sentence when you tell a story.”

We were both undergrads in Computer Science. I haven’t seen him since but that’s the most important writing (and communicating) advice I ever got.

33 other tips to be a better writer:

1) Write whatever you want. Then take out the first paragraph and last paragraph

Here’s the funny thing about this rule. It’s sort of like knowing the future. You still can’t change it. In other words, even if you know this rule and write the article, the article will still be better if you take out the first paragraph and the last paragraph.

2) Take a huge bowel movement every day

You won’t see that on any other list on how to be a better writer. If your body doesn’t flow then your brain won’t flow. Eat more fruit if you have to.

3) Bleed in the first line

We’re all human. A computer can win Jeopardy but still not write a novel. If you want people to relate to you, then you have to be human.

Penelope Trunk started a post a few weeks ago: “I smashed a lamp over my head. There was blood everywhere. And glass. And I took a picture.” That’s real bleeding. My wife recently put up a post where the first line was so painful she had to take it down. Too many people were crying.

4) Don’t ask for permission

In other words, never say “in my opinion” (or worse “IMHO”). We know it’s your opinion. You’re writing it.

5) Write a lot

I spent the entire ’90s writing bad fiction. Five bad novels. Dozens of bad stories. But I learned to handle massive rejection. And how to put two words together. In my head, I won the Pulitzer prize. But in my hand, over 100 rejection letters.

6) Read a lot

You can’t write without first reading. A lot. When I was writing five bad novels in a row I would read all day long whenever I wasn’t writing (I had a job as a programmer, which I would do for about five minutes a day because my programs all worked and I just had to “maintain” them). I read everything I could get my hands on.

7) Read before you write

Before I write every day I spend 30-60 minutes reading high quality short stories poetry, or essays. Here are some authors to start:

  • Denis Johnson
  • Miranda July
  • David Foster Wallace
  • Ariel Leve
  • William Vollmann
  • Raymond Carver

All of the writers are in the top 1/1,000 of 1% of writers. What you are reading has to be at that level or else it won’t lift up your writing at all.

8) Coffee

I go through three cups at least before I even begin to write. No coffee, no creativity.

9) Break the laws of physics

There’s no time in text. Nothing has to go in order. Don’t make it nonsense. But don’t be beholden to the laws of physics. My post, Advice I Want to Tell My Daughters, is an example.

10) Be Honest

Tell people the stuff they all think but nobody ever says. Some people will be angry that you let out the secret. But most people will be grateful. If you aren’t being honest, you aren’t delivering value. Be the little boy in the Emperor Wears No Clothes. If you can’t do this, don’t write.

11) Don’t Hurt Anyone

This goes against the above rule, but I never like to hurt people. And I don’t respect people who get pageviews by breaking this rule.

Don’t be a bad guy.  Was Buddha a Bad Father? addresses this.

12) Don’t be afraid of what people think

For each single person you worry about, deduct 1% in quality from your writing.

Everyone has deductions. I have to deduct about 10% right off the top.

Maybe there are 10 people I’m worried about. Some of them are evil people. Some of them are people I just don’t want to offend.

So my writing is only about 90% of what it could be. But I think most people write at about 20% of what it could be. Believe it or not, clients, customers, friends, family, will love you more if you are honest with them. We all have our boundaries. But try this: For the next 10 things you write, tell people something that nobody knows about you.

[Related: How to Self-Publish a Bestseller: Publishing 3.0]

13) Be opinionated

Most people I know have strong opinions about at least one or two things… write about those. Nobody cares about all the things you don’t have strong opinions on.

Barry Ritholz told me that he doesn’t start writing until he’s angry about something. That’s one approach. Barry and I have had some great writing fights because sometimes we’ve been angry at each other.

14) Have a shocking title

I blew it the other day. I wanted to title this piece: “How I torture Women” but I settled for “I’m Guilty Of Torture.” I wimped out. But I have some other fun ones, like “Is It Bad I Wanted My First Kid To Be Aborted” (which the famous Howard Lindzon cautioned me against).

Don’t forget that you are competing against a trillion other pieces of content out there. So you need a title to draw people in. Else you lose.

15) Steal

I don’t quite mean it literally. But if you know a topic gets pageviews (and you aren’t hurting anyone) than steal it, no matter who’s written about it or how many times you’ve written about it before. “How I Screwed Yasser Arafat out of $2mm” was able to nicely piggyback off of how amazingly popular Yasser Arafat is.

16) Make people cry

If you’ve ever been in love, you know how to cry.

Bring readers to that moment when they were a child, and all of life was in front of them, except for that one bittersweet moment when everything began to change. If only that one moment could’ve lasted forever. Please let me go back in time right now to that moment. But now it’s gone.

17) Relate to people

The past decade or more has totally sucked. For everyone. The country has been in post-traumatic stress syndrome since 9/11 and 2008 only made it worse. I’ve gone broke a few times during the decade, had a divorce, lost friendships, and have only survived (barely) by being persistent and knowing I had two kids to take care of, and loneliness to fight.

Nobody’s perfect. We’re all trying. Show people how you are trying and struggling. Nobody expects you to be a superhero.

18) Time heals all wounds

Everyone has experiences they don’t want to write about. But with enough time, its OK. My New Year’s Resolution of 1995 is pretty embarrassing. But whatever… it was 16 years ago.

The longer back you go, the less you have to worry about what people think.

19) Risk

Notice that almost all of these rules are about where the boundaries are. Most people play it too safe.

When you are really risking something and the reader senses that (and they WILL sense it), then you know you are in good territory. If you aren’t risking something, then I’m moving on. I know I’m on the right track if after I post something someone tweets, “OMFG.”

20) Be funny

You can be all of the above and be funny at the same time.

When I went to India I was brutalized by my first few yoga classes (actually every yoga class). And I was intimidated by everyone around me. They were like yoga superheroes and I felt like a fraud around them. So I cried, and hopefully people laughed.

It was also a case where I didn’t have to dig into my past but I had an experience that was happening to me right then. How do you be funny? First rule of funny: ugly people are funny. I’m naturally ugly so its easy. Make yourself as ugly as possible. Nobody wants to read that you are beautiful and doing great in life.

21) The last line needs to go BOOM!

Your article is meaningless unless the last line KILLS.

Read the book of short stories “Jesus’ Son” by Denis Johnson. It’s the only way to learn how to do a last line. The last line should take you all the way back to the first line and then “BOOM!”

22) Use a lot of periods

Forget commas and semicolons. A period makes people pause. Your sentences should be strong enough that you want people to pause and think about it. This will also make your sentences shorter. Short sentences are good.

23) Write every day

This is a must. Writing is spiritual practice. You are diving inside of yourself and cleaning out the toxins. If you don’t do it every day, you lose the ability. If you do it every day, then slowly you find out where all the toxins are. And the cleaning can begin.

24) Write with the same voice you talk in

You’ve spent your whole life learning how to communicate with that voice. Why change it when you communicate with text?

25) Deliver value with every sentence

Even on a tweet or Facebook status update. Deliver poetry and value with every word. Else, be quiet.

26) Take what everyone thinks and explore the opposite

Don’t disagree just to disagree. But explore. Turn the world upside down. Guess what? There are people living in China. Plenty of times you’ll find value where nobody else did.

27) Have lots of ideas

I discuss this in “How to be the Luckiest Man Alive” in the Daily Practice section.

Your idea muscle atrophies within days if you don’t exercise it. Then what do you do? You need to exercise it every day until it hurts. Else no ideas.

28) Sleep eight hours a day

Go to sleep before 9pm at least four days a week. And stretch while taking deep breaths before you write. We supposedly use only 5% of our brain. You need to use 6% at least to write better than everyone else. So make sure your brain is getting as much healthy oxygen as possible. Too many people waste valuable writing or resting time by chattering until all hours of the night.

29) Don’t write if you’re upset at someone

Then the person you are upset at becomes your audience. You want to love and flirt with your audience so they can love you back.

30) Use “said” instead of any other word

Don’t use “he suggested” or “he bellowed,” just “he said.” We’ll figure it out if he suggested something.

31) Paint or draw.

Keep exercising other creative muscles.

32) Let it sleep

Whatever you are working on, sleep on it. Then wake up, stretch, coffee, read, and look again.

Rewrite. Take out every other sentence.

33) Then take out every other sentence again.

Or something like that.


Sanket didn’t want to go to grad school after we graduated. He had another plan. Lets go to Thailand, he said. And become monks in a Buddhist monastery for a year. We can date Thai women whenever we aren’t begging for food, he said. It will be great and we’ll get life experience.

It sounded good to me.

But then he got accepted to the University of Wisconsin and got a PhD. Now he lives in India and works for Oracle. And as for me…

I don’t know what the hell happened to me.”

 

find the link here :

https://jamesaltucher.com/2011/03/33-unusual-tips-become-better-writer/

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Bourdain…

The news hit hard this morning. “CNN reports Anthony Bourdain found dead this morning”…it was around noon here. The sun was bright, and we were planning to explore more of Valletta, the amazing capital of Malta.

See, I started traveling roughly 15 years ago, and over these years Bourdain, his show, his spoken word tours and especially his writing inspires me every step of the way.

He was the main motivation that pushed me to Vietnam. Then Cambodia, and to really rediscover south east Asia. I went to see him in Grand Rapids, East Lansing, and Detroit Michigan. All at different periods of my life.

I can’t understand why he would do this, what demons he was facing, but I know we all have them. The New Yorker pieces and his own essays cast him as so completely driven and talented, he was the rockstar of more than just food, but of culture. He hit 60 and showed no real sign of slowing down.

I love his work, and over the years my favorite compliment anyone would post on my travel material was a mini comparison.

The front of this website adorns a few of his quotes. For so many of us, he had the dream life. He admitted he fucked everything up until 40, then landed the most amazing gig ever.

I’m so sad you’re gone, but I’m grateful we were all able to soak up some inspiration.

It’s never easy when you lose an idol.

Rest In Peace Tony.

Colombia, Getting old, Fried chicken and Serendipity.

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice…”

Apt words to begin the plunge into Colombia. Gabriel Garcia Marquez began his famous book with these words. I’m back in the abaco cafe. My favorite in Cartagena. I’ve arrived back after ten days in the mountains, submerging myself into the glory that is Medellin. Unwrapping a few of those mysteries and getting it straightened out in my mind, and even getting some it down on paper. I wrote about the first few days in the Andes, and now that I’ve left back to the heat, it’s time to push it a bit farther.

dragging my sorry ass to the airport yesterday with my beat ass passport had me thinking. The previous days had been an enthralling digestion of the city, neighborhood by neighborhood. Over the three weeks I was averaging 8-9 miles a day walking the valley as well as the mountains. Spectacular views, savage flavors, and incredible people. I fucking love the layers here. I woke up early a few days before departure and noticed my right foot felt extra tender. After showering and leaving my place I had a bit of a limp! What was this? I tried stretching and walking it off, but the heel of my right foot just ached. It throbbed with every step. This proved a true calamity! I hobbled back to the hotel to deduce I had essentially pulled a muscle. I was walking a ton more, and had brought shoes that had been through the shit so to say. I decided that I would take it easy, and head down to the Parque lleras in the evening to edit photos and get some writing in. I find this amazing trendy chic cafe. Surely I will do my best work here. This is the preconceived image. All digital nomads and creative types only work in super cool cafes and on beaches of course. I sat down, ordered a hipster inspired beverage and waited for the greatness to flow.

surely this is where the magic happens…until the rockstar looking barista informs me that they close at 7…which gave me 10 minutes to channel said magic.

Obviously that wasn’t going to happen. I packed my things quickly finished my cafe con something or other and with some difficulty limped out of there.

Where was I going to find the creative muse now? I think we fall for the myth that to do our best work we need some set that looks like it was made for a Harry Potter film. That’s bullshit. This is what you need; good WiFi, a decent seat, and a not too awful vibe. Sit down, shut up, and get it done. Rents due.

So, where do I end up?

Motherfuckin’ KFC. They had excellent WiFi, everyone there was a local, and they had Postobon. My favorite Colombian sugary beverage.

I know, but how could I do that?!

Well, because I had to get over myself. I’m getting older, and I was limping. I was hosted by the the gracious colonel Sanders for about an hour. I did what I had to do, and it was great. Finished my notebook piece, edited photos, plotted some stuff for this site and enjoyed my time. at the end of the day, I’ve realized travel…especially by country number 70, isn’t about insisting to find the top ranked/ most reviewed location. This often leads to epic disappointment. By the time I returned to my place, my friends had also returned, and invited me to sit down to catch up over beers. Perfect timing. Traveling is about the most authentic experience possible. Embrace the unknown, keep a positive outlook and have faith in serendipity.

Even when it involves fried chicken joints.

More soon to come!

 

What do you think? Leave some love!

Mysteries of Medellin

You’ve heard of this city. Netflix has made sure of it. The most commercially successful criminal of the modern age hails from this place. El patron. Pablo Escobar. His is a legacy that is inseparable from Medellin. This city exploded into fame in the 1980s as the cocaine capital of the world. Most estimates say 80% of the white powder party fuel that ended up in the USA came from the Medellin cartel. The first of the Colombian “super cartels”.

Pablo was eventually brought down in a storm of violence that ripped through Colombia. Rival cartels, paramilitary organizations, the Colombian government, as well as the the American CIA all orchestrated his downfall. That was December 1993.

25 years later, Medellin is a rapidly changing city. Is cocaine widely available and offered? Sure. It’s the same in dozens of cities across the globe.

So now what? turns out I’ve been fascinated about Colombia for quite some time. Raw beauty, enchanting people and a beat all it’s own. This week, it was time for me to leave the sunny embrace of Cartagena, for the cool mountain intrigues of Medellin. this city, although only an hour flight from Cartagena could not be more drastically different. Cartagena is distinctly Caribbean. It’s akin to an odd mashup of places like the old town in Hanoi, with a Havana twist. Busy, rhythmic and enchanting, Cartagena is easy to wrap your mind around and manage. Medellin on the other hand is a different animal all together. This city is big. The climate is much cooler, and the vibe is one of a major city on the move. Having just spent a few days here so far, I’ve been traversing this valley as much as possible. This is a place with layers. With depth and grit. The art, the people, the food, all reflect this. to start, one has to venture to the plaza Botero. Famed Medellin artist Fernando Botero is now on his 80s. His pieces are all over the world. Including this one in Cartagena. his style is modern and one of largess. The sculpture park here in Medellin is a kick ass afternoon wander. Although numerous people informed me that the park can be quite dangerous at night.

the pieces collected here represent a cross section of his work Be sure to take an afternoon and discover this plaza in the middle of the city. Enjoy a lemonade de coco, and taste this neighborhood. Bring an umbrella as it may rain for a bit. Watch the clouds roll in and take it easy for the down pour. The art scene here is indicative that this city is so much more than the single story of drugs, cartels and violence. The layers here prove amazing, as does the scenery with the mountains always in the background.

Medellin is a place I’ve barely begun to unwrap and I’m already hungry for more.

More coming soon!

WOW for Iceland!

Sometimes one must start the telling of grand adventure from the end. Images, words, experiences, all mash together in a stream of consciousness that runs in loop form within the mind. Do you tap this loop and pour it through a writing instrument, or do you let it sort a bit, and go from there?

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Time to talk about Iceland, and the art of spontaneous adventure. Remember the back drop here A Note on Spontaneity  As a  friend and I booked $200 USD round trip tickets to Reykjavik for the weekend.  We did this a bit over a week before departure. Now, Ive been to Iceland before, but I was mainly interested in WOW Air as an option. The Icelandic airline received great fanfare for publishing 99$ one way fares to Europe from the eastern United States a few years ago. If this proved a viable option, what a great addition to the travel toolbox this would be!

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But c’mon. $200 flights? What is this, the international version of Spirit Air dressed in pink? Gross. No thanks.

But wait! I’ve had so many people ask me about WOW, that I decided to investigate for you. (I’m a nice guy like that) Throw in a stop in Reykjavik, a few hot dogs, a waterfall or two, and we have a weekend adventure! WOW now operates out of Chicago Ohare, as well as Detroit (DTW). These fares are cheap, come with limited baggage allowance and random seat assignments. Both ways we flew a moderately new Airbus A321  with a 3 +3 seat configuration. Both times I ended up in the middle. I was prepared for the flight from hell, but I have to say…this wasn’t bad whatsoever. The flight over was a bit warm. The staff proved courteous and efficient. I packed snacks and a water bottle, so I didn’t need to purchase anything on the 6 hour flight to Reykjavik.  (water was priced at $3.25) which is similar to airport prices and not overtly horrendous. My backpack the SwissGear Travel Gear 597 Packed with weekend essentials came in at 14lbs or so.  My bag fit easily, and caused no problems.  We were set to land in Reykjavik just before 5 am.IMG_1723

Landed! and exactly what kind of trial run would it be if potential disaster didn’t strike?! Expectations exceeded for the flight over, and feeling a bit sweaty from the middle row passage over, I eagerly departed the plane and made my way to line for customs. The line is long, its 4:50 am, and i’m ready for a shower. I’m getting my proverbial ducks in a row for passport control and I go cold. Starting from my spine and soon radiating throughout my whole body cold.

 

Where the fuck is my passport??

 

My poor battered, beaten, and glory giving passport….sweet Jesus, I must have left it on the plane! I notify my friend and tear out of line, hoofing it back toward where we had entered the airport. Of course we cant get back there,  So the “service counter” must be located in a panicked rush. (I’m telling this story, so that you know, even frequent travelers encounter snags of their own making…like my forgotten iPad incident from a while back) I find WOW air agents at the service desk, explain my plight, and knowing how cheap my ticket was expect sheer calamity… And I am once again pleasantly surprised! The agents were nice, chatty and understanding. I waited 15 min or so, and I soon had my passport returned, even with enough time to glance the Icelandic sun rise. IMG_1594

what a day of victory!

Shuttle into the city (the airport is 45 min away from the capital of Reykjavik)

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and we are ready to go! Now remember, Iceland is a small country population wise, and are proud of their long Viking tradition. The Icelandic language is fascinating to hear, and is largely unchanged over the previous thousand years. We knew we were going to hit the city, and then soak up the jaw dropping scenery a shortish trek from the capital.

Savage nature abounds for this tiny and amazing nation. This weekend included mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, geysers, and even a Continental rift!

IMG_2889 I have long thought of travel as therapy. I expounded more on this here 7 more days…Travel to soothe the soul Putting miles under foot, and absorbing these landscapes did grant me a sense of clarity. This trip was short, but I felt a sense of renewal by the time of the flight home. IMG_2926

How can one not marvel at such a sight? Standing here, experiencing the layers and complexities that exist in the natural world. This moment alone made the entire run “worth it”.

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Words of course simply cannot do these landscapes justice. Just give you a teaser for what is awaiting you. You can even go back a few times, and be stunned each and every one of them.

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A full day of exploring brought us back to the city for Fish n chips and few beers.

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Thinking back over this weekend, There is a sense of accomplishment. I give final exams this week, and wrap up my 7th year in the classroom. I am unsure what lies ahead.  This is  the season of conclusion, and of course then by default also a season of beginning.  You wake up in Chicago, Reykjavik, lose an hour, gain hours, etc etc. I woke up in Iceland, knowing I was leaving that day. That feeling of packing, of thinking over exit logistics. I’ve woken up in countless hotel rooms, apartments, houses, hostels etc, and known that feeling. This particular segment is over. the hope that there will be renewed adventure in the future, but feeling thankful you had at least one more go of it.

Nothing on the road is perfect, and expecting it to be so is rather greedy. Its all in the experience. I was quite impressed in the performance of WOW air, and no longer have a wary feeling about using them. Iceland as always proved thrilling and other worldly.  Thank for coming with me once again.

 

get there anyway you can.

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As featured on NPR…

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Super stoked to announce that I was able to sit down for a chat with NPR local station affiliate WMUK 102.1!  I made the short trek over to Kalamazoo, to sit with Zinta Aistars, for the Between the Lines program. This program focuses on writing and the creative. The hour I was in the studio seem to blast by.    The link is live and up now.

Gypsy professor on between the lines

 

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This was so much fun! Zinta’s interview style is easy and engaging. She picked a great picture for the cover of the piece. Me, eyeballs deep in the mighty chicken fish, the local legend of the hawker stalls of Kuala Lumpur.

We chatted motivation, culture, history, writing, the blog, and a few things in between. I’ve been waiting to announce this, and find this timing perfect, as I leave for Iceland on a twisted weekend adventure this week! If you dont remember that story is here: A Note on Spontaneity

Listen to the interview if you need a smile on your way to wherever, and leave me some Monday motivation! Hopefully not the last time I find myself on the airwaves. I would love feedback.

 

 

Cheers!

 

In Defense of the Lecture

This piece appeared in Jacobin roughly this time last year. Being a student of pedagogy and learning strategies…as well as a lecturer, I found that I spent quite a bit of time going over this.

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What do you think?

 

Few have savaged lecturers as brutally as the the Enlightenment-era printmaker William Hogarth. In Scholars at a Lecturethe presenter reads from his prepared text, his eyes down, indifferent to his audience. The budding academics are no more impressive; those in thrall to the lecturer’s nonsense have slack faces with lolling eyes and open mouths. The others don’t offer any critique but yawn, doze, or chat idly among themselves.

In The Reward of Cruelty, the lecturer, who cannot be bothered to rise from his chair, pokes lackadaisically at Tom Nero, a criminal whose body has been turned over for dissection. The audience shows little interest. Hogarth’s most damning image of a lecturer, however, depicts one who does inspire his audience, but to dubious ends. In Credulity, Superstition, and Fanaticisma minister thunders on about witches and devils as parishioners swoon with terror. The minister’s text quotes II Corinthians: “I speak as a fool.”

Scholars at a Lecture. William Hogarth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hogarth’s satirical prints repeat a common belief about lectures: Those who claim the lectern are dullards or charlatans who do so only to gratify and enrich themselves. The louder they speak, the more we should suspect them. True knowledge, he implies, does not come from speechifying blowhards and self-satisfied experts, but from practical observation of the world.

This distrust has now spread to the lecturer’s natural habitat, the university. Administrators and instructors alike have declared lecturing a stale teaching method and begun advocating new so-called content delivery techniques, from lab- and project-based learning to flipped classrooms and online instruction, that “disrupt” the sage-on-the-stage model. While these new methods work well, we should not completely abandon the lecture. It remains a powerful tool for teaching, communicating, and community building.

Detractors claim that lectures’ hierarchical, inflexible, and unidirectional structure doesn’t suit our dynamic, crowd-sourced world. To be sure, lectures are top-down affairs that occur at fixed times. But these aspects are assets, not weaknesses: they benefit both students and instructors.

Lectures are not designed to transmit knowledge directly from the lecturers’ lips to students’ brains — this idea is a false one, exacerbated by the problematic phrase “content delivery.” Although lecturers (hopefully) possess information that, at the beginning of a lecture, their students do not, they are not merely delivering content. Rather, giving a lecture forces instructors to communicate their knowledge through argument in real time.

The best lectures draw on careful preparation as well as spontaneous revelation. While speaking to students and gauging their reactions, lecturers come to new conclusions, incorporate them into the lecture, and refine their argument. Lectures impart facts, but they also model argumentation, all the while responding to their audience’s nonverbal cues. Far from being one-sided, lectures are a social occasion.

The regular timing of lectures contributes to their sociality, establishing a course’s rhythm. The weekly lecture, or pair of lectures, draws students together at the same time and place, providing a set of ideas to digest while reading supplementary material and breaking into smaller discussion sections. Classrooms are communities, and typically lectures are the only occasion for the entire group to convene physically. Remove the impetus to gather — either by insinuating that recorded lectures are just as effective or by making the lecture optional — and the benefits of community disappear.

One common lament among university students is a sense of social isolation during the school year. While lectures won’t necessarily introduce students to their best friends or future partners, they do require attendees to get dressed, leave the house, and participate in a shared experience. This simple routine can head off lonelieness and despondency, two triggers and intensifiers of depression.

Further, dismissing the value of attending lectures only encourages students to skip weeks of classes and then frantically try to catch up later, a destructive cycle that compounds loneliness with anxiety. Students not only fall behind but also miss opportunities to speak with their peers and instructors.

Like a metronome, lectures regularly punctuate the week, grounding other elements of students’ lives by, for instance, encouraging regular sleep schedules and study periods, which can also reduce anxiety and stress.

Audiences outside academia clearly understand the benefits of collective listening. If public lectures did not draw sizable crowds, then museums, universities, bookstores, and community centers would have abandoned them long ago. The public knows that, far from being outdated, lectures can be rousing, profound, and even fun.

The attack on lectures ultimately participates in neoliberalism’s desire to restructure our lives in the image of just-in-time logistics. We must be able to cancel anything at the last minute in our desperate hustle to be employable to anyone who might ask. An economic model that chops up and parcels out every moment of our lives inevitably resists the requirement to convene regularly.

Critics frequently complain that lectures’ fixity makes it difficult for students to work. We should throw this argument back at those who make it: the need for students to work makes it hard for them to attend lectures. Work, not learning, is the burden that should be eradicated. Education is not an errand to be wedged between Uber shifts; it represents a long-term commitment that requires support from society at large. This support is thinning; eroding the legitimacy of lecturing makes it thinner still.

Neoliberalism has also made it hard to recognize the work students perform in lectures. Many critics dismiss lecture attendance as “passive learning,” arguing that students in lectures are aren’t doing anything. Today, declaring something passive completely delegitimizes it. Eve Chiapello and Norman Fairclough argue that activity for its own sake has become essential to personal success: “What is relevant is to be always pursuing some sort of activity, never to be without a project.” Indeed, in our constant scramble to project adaptable employability, we must always seem harried, even if our flailing about isn’t directed toward anything concrete. Without moving around or speaking, lecture attendees certainly don’t look busy, and so their activity gets maligned as passive, unproductive, and, consequently, irrelevant.

But lecture attendees do lots of things: they take notes, they react, they scan the room for reactions, and most importantly, they listen.Listening to a sustained, hour-long argument requires initiative, will, and focus. In other words, it is an activity. But today, the act of listening counts for very little, as it does not appear to produce any outcomes or have an evident goal.

No matter how fast-paced the world becomes, listening will remain essential to public dialogue and debate. As Professor Monessa Cummins, department chair of classics at Grinnell College states:

Can [students] listen to a political candidate with a critical ear? Can they go and listen to their minister with an analytical ear? Can they listen to one another? One of the things a lecture does is build that habit.

Discussion sections after lectures always reveal the expert listeners. They ask the best questions, the ones that cut straight to the speaker’s main themes with an urgency that electrifies the whole audience, producing a flurry of excited responses and follow-up questions. Good listening grounds all dialogue, expands our body of knowledge, and builds community.

Although they probably haven’t thought about in these terms, many of the lecture’s critics would probably favor one side of Aristotle’s scheme of knowledge, which separates theory from practice. Historian Pamela H. Smith succinctly describes the difference: theory (episteme, scientia) describes knowledge based on logical syllogism and geometrical demonstration. Practice (praxis, experientia) encompasses things done — like politics, ethics, and economics — or things made — technē, which require bodily labor.

Before the modern era, technē was widely denigrated. Smith writes, “Technē . . . was the lowly knowledge of how to make things or produce effects, practiced by animals, slaves, and craftspeople. It was the only area of knowledge that was productive.” Today of course, the tables are turned; technē’s productive quality elevates it above supposedly impractical theory. Indeed, under capitalism, anything that doesn’t immediately appear as productive, even if only in the most superficial way, is dismissed as a waste of time.

Good lectures build knowledge and community; they also model critical civic participation. But students have suffered a wide variety of bad lecturers: the preening windbag, the verbatim Powerpoint reader, the poor timekeeper who never manages to cover all the session’s material. Lecturing does not come naturally and can take years to master, yet very few instructors have the opportunity to learn how to deliver a good lecture. Given the outsize emphasis many universities place on publication and grants — not to mention the excessive workloads, low pay, and job insecurity the majority of instructors face — lecturers have little incentive to invest the time and effort it takes to gain these skills.

Meanwhile, active learning partisans sometimes overlook the skill it takes to conduct their preferred methods effectively. Becoming a good lab instructor, project facilitator, or discussion leader also takes time and practice. In addition to bad lectures, I’ve sat through plenty of bewildering labs and meandering seminars. Because these teaching methods have the guise of activity, however, their occasional failures are not dismissed as easily as those of the supposedly passive lecture.

Lecturing is increasingly impugned as an inactive and hierarchical pedagogical method. The type of labor demanded in the lecture hall — and the type of community it builds — still matters. Under an economic system that works to accelerate and divide us, institutions that carve out time and space to facilitate collectivity and reflection are needed more than ever.

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The Power of Failure…and Resurrection

Every one falls.

Creative types especially. Nothing great comes easy. Turns out that failure is an absolute necessary component to the equation.

Some Easter Motivation comin at you.

Why Writers Must Practice Resurrection

It’s almost Easter, which is a pretty good time to get reborn, if you ask me. Especially if you’re a writer. What do I mean by that?

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Every writer as a creative entity “dies.” And every writer, in a manner of speaking, must be resurrected. If you choose to ignore or avoid this fact, it could be mean the end of your art and even, possibly, your life.

Let’s unpack this a little.

Every writer dies

To create is to suffer. Just ask any mother. It is a painful, grueling task of bringing new things into existence. This is why, among many reasons, there is an unmistakable sadness to most creatives, even God.

And this is also why writers commit suicide, why painters cut their ears off, and why actors go through serial divorces. Creativity is a hard business.

There is an inherent frustration to it. And if you don’t know what to do with the inevitable pain, it could be the end of you. (It was for Hemingway.)

Ironically, those who destroy themselves never learn to die — they don’t know how to grieve loss and let go of past seasons. Are you struggling to let go and reinvent yourself as a writer and an artist?

Every writer must be reborn

When you write, you share a piece of you with the world. You put your very soul on display for all to see.

Sometimes, the world doesn’t reward creativity. Sometimes, it stones prophets and crucifies saviors. Sometimes, the world scowls at genius and scoffs at insight.

Every creative has critics, and every critique is an arrow. There is no getting around this. Creating is painful, and every writer gets wounded. In order to move out of wounded-ness (“My God, why have you forsaken me?”), we must face the injustice of unfair criticism, and heal.

We must get reborn and become whole again.

The art of practicing resurrection

This is the season in which we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Even in non-Christian contexts, the earth is teeming with rebirth. It’s hard to ignore.

Trees are budding. Flowers are sprouting. All of creation is collaborating to share one message: New life is here.

I struggle with these cycles — the ebb and flows of the seasons. My creative self wants to camp out in the wilderness, to to sulk in its travail. It’s been hurt, and it wants to wallow in its pain. It’s scared of trying again.

Currently, I’m coming out of a season of death — of letting go of what once was familiar and beginning to walk in newness of life. But I’m taking these first few steps slowly.

There is grief that needs to happen — losses to be mourned, disappointments to be acknowledged. We must grieve before we can move on. We must acknowledge what was before we can welcome what will be.

Death before life

We writers must acknowledge failure. We must come to grips with death. And we must practice resurrection. There is hope beyond the story of a tragic hero. There is health. There is freedom.

If this describes you (and it might), I hope you can move out of the pain of dwelling of what’s been lost and start creating beautiful art once again. It begins with honesty — with acknowledging the rejection you’ve experienced without excuse or justification.

As an exercise, try writing it all down. Then, if you’re comfortable, give it to God. Receive healing. And welcome a new day. Like I said, this is a great time to get reborn.

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