June 24, 2012

Peggy's Progress
        (Not to be confused with John Bunyan's tale of agony and doom!)

I have visions of tiny ballerinas in pink tutus dancing to this sweet little song:

Never give up on wishes

Wish only for the best

Just close your eyes

Open your heart

Now you can do the rest!
Never give up on wishes

When you are down and out

Wish a wish to make you smile

That's what it's all about

Never give up on wishes

Wish for the sun or sea!

A wish is treasured in your heart

A wish can set you free
  —from the animated Madeline Christmas show, lyrics by Judy Rothman

It's a really sweet little song made even sweeter by the image of adorable little 4 year olds in beautiful pink ballet outfits. A song about wishes making you happy.

What the heck is she talking about, you may be asking yourselves. Maybe I'm just delirious. You'll have to forgive me if I'm a bit loopy. Michael and I just spent 8 hours watching our granddaughters' dance recital. Technically, two back to back recitals in which, Angi and Brianna performed. Eight hours of ballet, hip hop, jazz and something called lyrical. (I don't know much about dance, and had never heard of "lyrical" related to dance before, but if you'd seen it you'd get the idea). There were literally hundreds of little girls and big girls dancing their hearts out. Most of them looked like they were having a great time. It was good to see and I've got to say that it was a really nice way to end yet another busy week.

Actually it's been intense the last couple of months. While in the midst of the Phantom Project's giant art show, my work started to get really busy. The old saying is true about being careful what you ask for. Like many other architectural firms, RRM Design Group, where I have worked for almost 9 years, was hit pretty hard by the recession. The company is half the size it was five years ago and we went from 5 to 2 office locations throughout the state. So I've been wanting to put more hours in at work because we could certainly use the money. I've put in more hours on a regular basis lately than I have in years. Every day, and a lot of full 8 hour days.

At RRM I get to do interesting things that stretch my brain and my limited graphic design skills. I get to pick out colors and materials for buildings and houses. I'm finishing up the LEED (Leadership in Energy Efficiency in Design) process to get the new Visitors Center at Pinnacles National Monument LEED Platinum and Hollywood LA Fire Station 82 LEED Gold Certified. I'm researching senior housing and generally doing lots of graphic materials for city agencies, clients and review boards. The last several weeks I've been leaving the office after 6:00 p.m. and most of the guys are still hard at work. I have virtually no training in graphic design, so I'm really pushing the limits of my Photoshop and InDesign skills on one deadline after another. Those of us in the architecture group at RRM managed to get out of the office for a field trip to the building site of Serra Meadows in San Luis Obispo, a large project our office designed. It was definitely fun to get out of the office and see dirt and lumber, hear saws and nail guns and the buzz of construction, and hang out with our design team when we weren't all up against a deadline.

But the pace of work has left me pretty tired, and Tuesday I came home in a nasty mood, not happy about anything. I was tired and frustrated by a project, and by one co-worker in particular. I was tired of work, tired of commuting, tired of not having enough time, not enough money, and having to come home to a house I haven't had time to organize and clean. It was one of those low points. Feeling overwhelmed, I was super grumpy. Part of the reason for the grumpiness was not being able to do anything fun, just for myself. It's all been work, work, work. Throw in all the effort involved with the Phantom show, and I think I burned myself out. And if that wasn't enough we've had the whole slew of graduations, weddings and birthdays to celebrate out of town. All fun, but that meant absolutely no down time for me. We had one weekend at home and I was thrilled to be able to sleep in late one morning. And I got to hang out watching the chickens. But that was too short. And I've had absolutely no chance to play and do any of the creative stuff I keep wishing I could do and that I told you all that I was going to do.

But like the song says, Never give up on wishes. Those adorable little pink ballerinas could make even the most cynical believe in wishes too. But if you don't have an 8-hour marathon dance recital on you calendar, there are other things you can do to perk you up and get you motivated again to follow your dreams. Here's something I read at NPR this week called 5 Ways to Spark Your Creativity. Read the full article here, but here's the short course:

  1. Take a shower (or a bath would work too I suppose)
  2. Work in a blue room (blue is a calming color so work somewhere that is soothing)
  3. Live abroad (or get out of your comfort zone)
  4. Watch a funny video (just laugh); and
  5. Get some sleep (this always does wonders for me).

It all boils down to, "Take care of yourself!"

I also watched a TED talk by Tim Brown of the design firm IDEO that helped me get to the heart of my stuckness. He emphasized how creativity requires thinking with your hands and quickly getting something into the real world, just as they do at his company. Some of their most successful industrial design projects came from people putting together prototypes and mock ups made from everyday objects.

Those primitive prototypes give life to the ideas and help people get the picture, the concept. He also said you don't have to go into a formal workshop. Their studio is full of bins of stuff, like tape, playdough and paperclips and those are always handy so designers can just play. That really got to me because I'm always making the excuse that I can't do any creative work because I don't have the dedicated space for it. But he's right you don't need a formal workshop and I have plenty of outdoor space where it doesn't matter how messy I get. The key, Brown says, is openness to ideas, no self-editing (that's me!) and just going for it, going for what he calls playful exploration and playful building.

And it occurred to me that I've been doing none of that. No wonder I've been in such a funky mood! And Michael immediately knew all was not right in my world. He knew it because I wasn't doing things I cared about that I'd been wanting to do. So he poked at me to talk about what I was missing—what was it that I wanted to do. We ended up talking about concrete projects and had fun scribbling on the white board in the kitchen about ideas I have for making outdoor furniture. He gave me a brand new sketch book in my favorite color, lime green! He practically ordered me to take it to work with me and sketch whenever I felt like it. The next day in the office, a new magazine appeared about decorative concrete and I brought it home to study more closely all the techniques and products covered in the magazine. Talk about serendipity!

One of the comments posted by a viewer on Tim Brown's TED talk asked, "Why aren't there playgrounds for adults?" I liked that question and clearly that’s what we need. A place where we can have the freedom to just play without being self conscious. I guess we just have to make our own playgrounds wherever and whenever we can. And of course, never give up on wishes, a wish can set you free!

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Peggy Sonoda

Michael Reddell
PO Box 160
Cambria, CA 93428

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