Tag Archives: Creativity

Interview Blues

How do you parse your life in marketable packets?

Coming home from a botched interview for a job I really wanted, I navigated the ensuing snowstorm without incident until I got home. Going up the steep drive to our apartment I couldn’t quite crest the hill. It ended up being a drawn-out ordeal with getting stuck and all the fun that comes with such situations.

But I ended up learning two things from a neighbor who helped me out.

  • If your car has front wheel drive and you’re stuck, try putting on the emergency brake and hit the accelerator. Emergency brakes are usually connected to the back wheels, so doing thus should whip you around and out of that situation. I didn’t have to do this, but I filed this information away as a last resort.
  • I always had previously thought salt with ice and snow. But my neighbor suggested – and that night effectively used – dirt. I filed this information away as well.

These snippets of data are retained and will be recalled in future snow incidents. However, if I went to a job interview the next day and was asked something general like “When have you tried a new solution to a problem?”, I’m not certain I would think to bring up this incident.

Data in my head doesn’t get organized in such nicely sellable chunks. It gets absorbed, recalled and used when needed, modified if necessary, then becomes reabsorbed. This ultimately makes me a heck of an effective worker who is able to accomplish much, but makes me altogether lousy at showcasing ability during interview time.

Once I learn something or accomplish something, either trivial or major, it becomes so integrated into the already existing and constantly evolving chunks of what I know and what I can do, I am hard-pressed to chisel them out again for the presentation successful job hunting requires.

In a probably futile effort to salvage this latest job search disaster, I wrote a letter to my interviewer, pressing myself hard to isolate a look at this rock of ability. Here is the letter, without names of course:

Dear __,

I gave a rather anemic answer to your question about when I have used creativity. So I thought I would provide this additional thought.

Creativity by its very nature is fluid. It flows daily and throughout the day enhancing activities in both minor and major ways. It is so ubiquitous I take it for granted and do not typically “record” specific instances of use. Its immediate output is ad hoc; its mechanism overshadowed by the results it fosters.

That said, here’s a concrete example of my solution-generating creativity at work:

I created a queer history display for Pride Vermont. My original vision featured a center panel with a collage of pictures from prides throughout the decades; a visual history. I diligently copied materials from the Vermont Historical Society.

The problem: As I put the display together, it became apparent that a collage would necessitate not including some years, which would subtract from the larger goal of infusing the display with a sense of time. Indeed, the space itself seemed too small to encompass the trove of wonderful information I had unearthed and wished to share. Even paring it down to one or two pages per year presented logistical issues for such limited surface area. There were too many years…

My creative solution: Instead of a standard mounting, I chronologically overlapped the documents, thereby allowing an easy view of year-by-year via a simple lift of one page to see the page – in its entirety – that it overlapped. Through this approach, no years were omitted and I did not have to compromise my aesthetic sensibility; form, function, and beauty coexisted.

Creation of the display involved other assorted creative bursts, which I discuss in some detail here on my website:

http://jdfoxpresents.com/queer-history-on-display/

Focused as I am on the present and the future, I am not good at heralding past accomplishments; an interview weakness for sure.

I reiterate here my impassioned interest in working for ______ and hope that this missive adds favorably to its articulation.

Respectfully,

JD Fox

Things blur inside me, not just creatively but analytically as well. I help Gary with formatting an excel spreadsheet, then that knowledge too goes back inside me until needed. Which is a very minor example of analytical, for sure, but it happened just yesterday and is what I am able to chisel out at the moment, other incidents currently being irretrievable.

Though I know they – both creative and analytical skills — are there for me to use when I need them; or someone else needs me to use them. I just need to find a way to prove it during the allotted 30 minutes of question and answer showtime.

Queer History on Display

 

Queer History Display, Pride Vermont 2014

Queer History Display, Pride Vermont 2014

For Pride Vermont this year I created a display on Queer History. I thought I’d give it some additional life by posting it here along with the content I wrote for it / in it. That specific content can be found by clicking on Queer History Display near the top of this Web site.

As a bonus for weird people like me who think about creativity and how the mind works — particularly the somewhat happenstance  way the mind works — I’ll end with some comments about my creative process in putting it together.

First, though, it’s overall structure was this:

Center Panel: Pictures and text from past Prides, photocopied from old issues of Out in the Mountains, which are archived at the Leahy Library of the Vermont Historical Society. Pages are in chronological order, taped by top edge and overlapping. This allowed a page to be viewed and then lifted to view the page (i.e. the subsequent year) underneath.

Left and Right Panels: Selected Dates of Queerness I thought were important. My husband helped identify some key items I should include, like specific landmark court cases, and provided great insight into past events. His knowledge of queer history was (and remains) invaluable to me and any egregious errors that may be present in the copy I wrote describing such events are mine alone.

In the front of the three panel display, I had three sheets, each highlighting something of significance. Each had props, too!

LIKE SPORTS talks about queers in sports and the good news of more players coming out. Props were originally a basket full of miniature sports balls of all sorts, but people kept thinking they were to take, so I settled on a football taped to the table.

LIKE OUR TROOPS talks about queers in the military and the vileness of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Props were originally four toy jets circling the page, but people kept thinking they were to take, so I settled on one plane taped to the table.

LIKE SMARTPHONES talks about the absolutely horrible post-war treatment of the incomparable — and queer — Alan Turing, who, as father of computer science, laid the foundation for all computer technology. The prop was a toy smart phone, just the one, but still people kept thinking it was for taking, so it got taped down as well.

As far as creation goes, I originally intended to cut up the pages from Out in the Mountains, and tape them in an aesthetically appealing arrangement. But I was loathe to lose the year indication and other information inherent in the pages when kept as a whole. Cutting up the pages was also a more permanent move that I was hesitant to begin. The overlapping pages was an alternative that in hindsight I think ended up being the right decision.

I got important dates from Gary and a host of other sources, then wrote my own copy of such events in my own words. I tried to format such information in a way that was both logical and eye-catching, adding a few images here and there that seemed to fit.

The props — and indeed the stand-out pages — were an eleventh hour thing. Gary and I went to the Dollar Tree store (“Everything a dollar”!) so I could get the 3-panel display, markers and tape for the display. I wandered around the store and saw party favors, like the jets, and that got my mind thinking of doing some one-pagers. I found the balls as well as the phone, there. Or rather Gary found the phone.

I originally hoped to find a toy laptop, but failed to do so. Gary said why not use a cell phone, and it turned out that even makes more sense, as now we live in an age where phones are actually computers. How fitting for it to be used for a prop on a sheet on Alan Turing.

The point of all this creative talk is the consideration that creation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Sure, I had an idea, but the idea then got shaped and reshaped by the materials I gathered, which sparked other ideas and so on.

This is extremely important, I think, as sometimes potential writers will sabotage their creativity by saying something like I try to write, but I can’t think of anything to say. But such comments put things in the wrong order. Only the truly gifted start out with a specific — and presumably wonderful — something to write. I believe that most of us start out with a more vague notion of that something and write to clarify what that something is.

And we hope that it ends up being wonderful. Or at least readable.

Courting our Thoughts

This post is about words

More specifically, a word: court.

So if you don’t give a fuck about words and/or the word court, don’t read. But then again, even if you do give a fuck, go ahead and read but please don’t give your fuck to me. I’m not sure I even know exactly what you would be giving me, but I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t want it. I’m also fairly certain that I already have a sufficient supply of fucks of my own to give or not give.

Ah, beautiful language. Beautiful fucking language.

I attended a cool mixed-media performance last night at Buch Spieler, a record store with records. Owner Fred Wilber — of the band Madman 3 — laid down some nifty electronic sequences to accompany the ever provocative spoken word of VT Poetry Slam Champ Geoff Hewitt.

One thing good art does is lubricate the brain and heaven knows that my rusty brain perpetually needs a squirt now and again to remind its more creative neurons to stay on their axons; not something easy to do when your paying-bills job reminds you of the machine room in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

As I watched, listened, and zoned in to the show, I thought I need to write more poetry.

I also thought I’m hungry, as I had worked all day at the aforementioned job and had yet so far only had a couple of muffins several hours ago. But I mostly thought about poetry, as I can go longer without food than without creativity.

Fast forward to the next day, this morning actually, to after I fed our cats and was out walking our dog, both those things needing done before I’m off to my own version of Lang’s world.

WORD ALERT — the word COURT ahead —- WORD ALERT.

The above is for readers who might either be skimming or bored or both, wondering when the hell is he going to talk about the word court. So now you to know the hell is soon forthcoming.

I walked us up State St to the Vermont Statehouse, then through the parking lot, spilling onto a street I thought I’d never been on before. It turned out to be Court St, which I had previously traveled — though I hadn’t walked that part of it — when walking to Hubbard Park.

To get to the Park, I went up School St and turned on Hillside Ave; that intersection where Court St angles off to go its own northwest way. I absently registered the name and idly thought about the word Court in the context of names like Fowler Courts at Purdue University, where I lived for a couple of years. I tangentially thought of how roads are called streets, avenues, lanes, boulevards, courts, and so on, and wondered about the distinctions.

I also thought holy mackerel, Hillside Ave and especially the Cliff St that it becomes is friggin’ steep; this is tiring. But that’s unrelated to the promised Court discussion, so we will say no more about it here.

Walking southeast from the State House down the unfamiliar street I came upon the Hillside Ave signage which also informed me I had been walking on Court St.

This time I thought, “Oh, duh, that makes sense.” The name of the street, that is. Before the Statehouse, is the Vermont Supreme Court. So a road leading to Court being called thus isn’t exactly head-scratching. But it is fascinating from a philosophy of mind viewpoint.

The duh, that makes sense came about because I automatically, and effortlessly, drew the “logical” connection of their being a judicial court and the road to it being called Court. Previously not realizing the presence of such a building, my Court thoughts were different.

To me this illustrates two important mental points.

The first should be obvious: that thoughts are always about something; that is, attached to something. I mention it here because sometimes in philosophy you’ll hear goofy ideas about Pure Thought, as if we can strip away the mental from the physical and thus better understand it. But that would be like cutting down all the trees so you can have a better look at the forest.

The more sublime — and amazing — point is how its aboutness and its attachment changes along with our experience. We never think in a vacuum; in a space devoid of content. Our interactions with the world — and what we are doing at any given moment in time — influence it.

What is altogether neat — or spooky — is that most — practically all — of this type of processing occurs at the unconscious level; our brain continuously processes — and reprocesses — the inputs we feed it via our senses and our ongoing mental activity. Its “conscious” output is thus heavily — primarily, really — influenced by the Un, even though it feels otherwise.

I have a lot more to say on this, but unfortunately I have to go to my non-thinking-about-thinking job. But I want to end with this illustrative thought:

When you read the first two words here in this little blog — “This post…” — what did you think “post” referenced? You likely didn’t think of fence posts or flag posts or bulletin board notices or daily mail or any other usage of post except for an entry like this.

But the two words — This post — give no clue on their own as to which meaning of “post” is intended. Yet you did not need to have anymore than those two words to have an expectation of a blog entry.

You consciously read the words, but it was your unconscious that gave the otherwise vacuous words meaning.

Ninth Place

I ended up in ninth place at the Cabin Fever Spelling Bee on Saturday.

I know this because my husband diligently kept track. I must admit such knowledge made me feel pretty darn good about my performance. Maybe not as good as winning would have, but with my bar set on the floor at “please don’t let me be the first one out,” the losing felt like a win.

Still, I lost on a stupid word.

Pomegranate.

Well, to be fair, I reckon the word itself isn’t stupid. I love language far too much to slander any contribution to it, even rather bizarre new entries like twerk or old ones from my generation like tubular.

But still, from a thinking about thinking viewpoint, the misspelling possessed a couple of levels of most curious mental freezing.

The first was with the word itself. Although I occasionally get paid for writing, it’s not yet been the kind of paid that extinguishes the necessity of having to eke out a living by doing all sorts of non-writing things. One of my current such eke’s is stocking groceries, which includes handling a yogurt with the aforementioned fruit on the bottom.

I must have seen that word hundreds upon hundreds of times, yet I couldn’t spell it when called upon to do so.

The second was with what I actually did spell.

I spelled the last part g-r-a-n-i-t-e. Which may have been influenced by us now living in Vermont, but still…  even as I spelled it that way I knew it was wrong; I just couldn’t think of the right way. Yet, where did this feeling of wrong come from, if I ostensibly did not know the right way of spelling for such a comparison to be made?

A reasonable answer would be that it was not a case of merely not knowing, but more a case of not being able to bring that knowing up to the conscious level. It might seem here that the shorter sentence of I couldn’t recall would suffice and mean roughly the same thing as my more verbose sentence with all its nots.

But it doesn’t and doesn’t.

For recall makes it sound like the conscious part is the only part involved in thinking; like we reach into our bag of memories and mental whatnots, and once we do, once we make the retrieval, that is where thought happens.

But thinking is what our brain — our entire brain — does, 24/7. We are thinking whether or not we think we are thinking. Sometimes, though, all those thinking parts aren’t always the best at communicating with one another.

So the part that thought about granite, compared it to its no doubt knowledge of the correct spelling of pomegranate, and finally advised, nope, that’s not right, failed to take that extra step and provide the correct spelling to what we typically refer to as consciousness.

Although frustrating at times, subconscious thinking is one of the things that makes writing so fun for me. Even when I plan, I never know for sure what will come out; what the unconscious parts of me will think is important enough to nudge me in that creative direction.

For instance, when I started this blog entry, I thought I intended to write about the weirdness of how things are spelled and pronounced in English, hoping to have an excuse to use The Tough Coughs As He Ploughs the Dough by Dr. Seuss in such a discussion.

Or at least use the word gallimaufry, which is a neat word that I had never heard before and the person sitting next to me spelled correctly. She knew it as the title of a book on obscure words she had recently received. It means a confused jumble or medley of things.

But all’s well that thinks well and I included both anyway, appearances of gallimaufry notwithstanding.