Friday, February 12, 2010

Say Oops! More

Over the years I’ve given a lot of workshops on creativity and at the end of every one I would ask participants to turn in critique cards. One of the questions was: What was the favorite tip of the day?

More often than not it was: SAY OOPS MORE.

Imagine you’re a mechanical engineer in the Navy trying to find a way to protect sensitive equipment from being knocked around in rough seas. Thinking that tension springs might be the answer, one gets accidentally knocked on the floor. You watch as it moves end over end over end. OOPS! Suddenly the Slinky® was born.

Or maybe you’re a scientist in France working with cellulose nitrate in a glass flask. You turn and hear the muffled sound of glass as it shatters on the floor, but doesn’t break. OOPS! And we’ve been grateful for laminated glass, especially in car windshields, ever since.

Or try convincing your bosses for five years that a glue you accidentally discovered but doesn’t really adhere well, could really be worth something. They never went for it. But thanks to his OOPS!, Post-It® sticky note paper is as ubiquitous as beads during Mardi Gras.

So how do you find more Oops in your life?

My top three tips (out of many) are:

  1. Embrace Detours. Thoughtless routine tends to dull the mind and cloud the eye. Every now and again life throws detours in our “normal” routines. Most people get so frustrated or angry by them that they fail to see the many opportunities for discovery that are along the path. New stores. New people. New catalysts for new ideas. Detours compel us to be more alert, think more quickly and offer creative potential for those who will embrace them.
  2. Forget the Box. I know, creativity gurus have for decades advised us to think outside the box, because that’s where the unknown lies. The problem with that is the comfort of the box is usually within reach and too often, especially when we are confronted by less than enthusiastic reactions to our outside-the-box thinking, we jump back into the comfort of the cardboard.

However, if you truly want to stretch your creativity muscles, once you get outside the box, kick it where you can’t see it and can’t get to it easily. Get far away from it. If you need shelter from criticism, build a lean-to, find a cave, sleep under the stars, but don’t go running back in the box.

  1. Go back to kindergarten. Seriously. Call your local elementary school and ask if you can visit a kindergarten class. Tell them you need to recharge your creativity and kids are creativity unhampered. Ask the teacher if you can assist him/her for the day. Finger-paint. Read stories. Run on the playground. Eat a peanut butter and pickle sandwich. Take a nap. Be loud. Laugh. Jump in the puddles. Put your jacket on inside-out. Color a tree yellow, color outside the lines, and what the heck, don’t draw the tree like a tree. I mean the list goes on and on.

And if you can’t find a cooperative kindergarten class. Do those things anyway. (Although you may not want to do them while you’re at work. They might not understand.)

Oh yeah, and say Oops! more.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

No time to say Hello. Goodbye. I'm late, I'm late, I'm late.

The White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland

It was a simple enough question: “What you doin’ today?”

The answer: “Well after I drop off the kids at day care I’m going to the gym for the 49-minute workout after which I’ll stop by the dollar store to pick up some party favors for the kids party tonight and then drop by RedBox to pick up a few videos then over to the drycleaners to pick up my husband’s shirts then do some shopping at BB&B right before I pick up some soil at Home Depot then I’m meeting some friends for lunch but I won’t be able to spend too much time there because I’ve got a 1pm appointment for my nails followed by a 1:45 appointment to get my hair done but I’m still hoping I can squeeze in some time to get a massage after my hair but before I have to pick up the cake at the bakery then it’s off to get the car washed and I’m really hoping there won’t be a long line because my husband wants me to pick up some cigars at the shop near to where I’m meeting my sister who thank God picked up my kids from day care earlier but who needs me to pick them up at the library so we can all catch Bobbie’s soccer game then head home for the party and I can start putting the snacks and such together, make the table, decorate the living room oh but I’ve got to remember to vacuum the living room first after I put the dog outside, take a shower get dressed and hopefully be all set before the first guests arrive.”

Really? That’s all? Oh and that whooshing sound you hear? That’s just Marlene taking a breath before her next onslaught of one run-on sentence after another – what she’s doing during and after the party before she sits down at the end of the night to plan how every minute of tomorrow will proceed.

And all I could think of was … Breathe.

Slow down.


We miss so much of life because we’re so busy rushing from here to there, doing this and that, and passing on that franticness to those around us. We seem to have forgotten the power that lies in being still.

So the next time you feel that you just don’t have time for anything.


Slow down.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Just the facts, sir.

“Puh-lease, at least drive the speed limit,” I frustratingly thought to myself. But after about 5 blocks of doing 19 mph in a 35mph speed limit, my frustration got the better of me. As soon as the oncoming lane of traffic had an opening, I sped around the decaying driver and breathed a sigh of relief as I was able to drive the limit unimpeded.

It didn’t last.

Two blocks later I was pulled over by the local police.

“Do you know why I stopped you?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said with some of the frustration returning. But mostly I just felt chagrined. “I passed a car in a no-passing zone.”

I had already taken my sunglasses off to make sure I had eye contact. Maybe she would notice that I was already remorseful about it. She asked me why I did it.

“I was just frustrated by the slow speed of the driver in front of me and after 5 blocks I just let my frustration get the better of me.”

She took my license and insurance card, and went back to her squad car to run whatever checks police do and waited for the ticket that was about to cost me.

She returned with my stuff and the ticket. As she handed it to me she said, “I’ve only given you a warning this time. I appreciated the fact that you were honest with me. Just don’t let it happen again.”

I expressed my gratitude with her leniency and made a mental note to send an anonymous thank you to the Chief of Police about the kindness extended to an out-of-area driver.

Book 'em, Dano

Fast forward to a couple of years later. Different city. Different traffic violation.

“Do you know why I pulled you over?” the officer asked.

“Yes sir,” I said, again feeling mostly chagrined. “I made a right turn when I shouldn’t have. I just …” and let my voice trail off as my shoulders and face made a resigned shrug. “Sorry.”

License. Card. Police check. Officer returning with ticket.

“I’m just issuing a warning this time,” he said. “Most drivers lie to me, and it’s refreshing to hear someone just tell the truth straight up. Sometimes honesty pays and today it did for you. Just watch those signs in the future. Drive safely.”

I don’t drive stupidly. In fact, I’m a rather conscientious, courteous and defensive driver the overwhelming majority the time. Over a couple of decades, I can count on one hand the number of tickets (only one) and warnings (these two) I’ve received.

So why share this story? Two things.

One. When it comes to relatively minor traffic violations, honesty really is a good policy. It won’t always get you out of a ticket, or even out of any tickets, but at the very least, almost every cop will appreciate your respect and honesty and likely treat you the same.

Two. Keep your car clean and in good shape. It probably has little to do with whether or not you get a ticket versus a warning. I’m just tired of seeing so many dirty cars that look and sound like they could fall apart at any time.

Oh, and if someone has written the words “Wash Me” followed by someone else having written “PLEASE!”, take the hint.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Photo Source:

“Just write something and send it to me,” she said. “You have forty-five minutes.”

Right, I thought. Like I’m going to just sit down and begin writing and nearly an hour later have something worth reading.

Of course, the purpose here was not to produce something worth reading. It was to write something.

Writers write.

Non-writers think. And think some more. And plan. And plan some more. And imagine themselves busied by the task of editing their work.

Or they wait for the inspiration fairies flittering around inside their heads to dig deep into their velvet bag of word-seeds and sprinkle it all over their brains hoping that enough words will take root and grow into something worth reading. Non-writers hope that their tome is worth reading.

I wanted to be a writer. I was tired of being a non-writing writer.

So I thought I’d try her advice.

Just write something and send it to her forty-five minutes later.

So where were these words going to come from?

I’d been promising myself that I would get back to a writing discipline for (insert very long pause here), well actually for years. Writing an idea here. The beginning to a story there. A paragraph to the next great American novel penciled onto index cards and filing it somewhere I would probably fail to remember.

Yet never actually completing a project. Well, a few, but none worth really mentioning.

Forty-five minutes. Could I actually write that long and send her something she wouldn’t just laugh at? Or worse, shake her head and wonder aloud, “WTF?”

But writers write and let the reaction fall where it may without worry.

I am a writer. A good one I’ve been told. I have after all received awards for my writing and been published. So what was the hang-up?

It doesn’t matter. I’m a writer and she told me to just write something and send it to her.

But again, where would I find those words that would make the reader continue reading? Was there some well hidden deep within my marrow that would somehow whisper to the quick and end up tickling the fingers on my keyboard? I wiggled my fingers but I looked more idiotic than inspired.

I tried shaking my head hard and fast. But nothing. If there were any inspiration fairies they were probably out drinking coffee. Decaf, most likely. They undoubtedly don’t feel the need to stay awake or alert.

Next I tried shouting a stream of consciousness. But my ears wouldn’t have much of that. Something about stupid and a lost cause. I’m not really sure because I stopped listening after about five words into the cacophony.

I checked my recently acquired moleskine. A gift from my daughter. Some notes that now some rather un-noteworthy. And there was the thought about sometimes when I fart my butt smiles, but is that really worth forty-five minutes? Yeah, it is. But maybe next time.

But for now, I’ve managed to stay at the keyboard for forty-five minutes, writing.


Monday, February 8, 2010



Celebrate the 201st anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday this Friday with a copper engraving of our 16th President for only $10 plus a nominal shipping and handling fee and the engraved image honoring one of our Country’s most respected presidents will be sent to you by return mail.

But we’re not done!

Respond by midnight tonight and we’ll double your order. That’s right. You’ll get TWO detailed and specially-machined copper engravings and all you pay is the small shipping and handling fee for each engraving.

But wait, there’s more!

We’ll also include at no cost, a silver-tone alloyed engraving of our third President and principal author of the Declaration of Independence. In fact, we’ll include TWO free engravings and you only pay shipping and handling for each.

And the specials aren’t over yet!

Call in the next 30 minutes, ‘cause we can’t do this forever, and we’ll add two more clad engravings to your presidents collection Set. George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt, the first and 32nd presidents will become part of this previously unheard of superstar presidential engraved portraits series. Tell us to “double down” and we’ll send you TWO of each engraving FREE. You pay only separate shipping and handling.

Have your credit card or checking account number handy when you call and we’ll rush you your Free Superstar Presidents Engraved Collection, that’s EIGHT engraved portraits, and all you’ll pay is the nominal separate shipping and handling for each one.

Don’t Wait. CALL NOW!

Well, I didn’t wait. Of course I didn’t call either because my brain is not sludge and my logic is not “mush and such”. Even with shipping and handling fees of $2.25 per engraving, that’ll still cost you $18.00 for those “nominal” S/H fees, plus the original $10 for the first Lincoln. But before you get too excited over paying less than $30 for eight “collectible” engravings of four noteworthy presidents, you might want to know what you would have actually received.

In one envelope, you would have found two pennies, two nickels, two quarters and finally, two dimes. Loose change upon which you will find the engraved images of the coins respective presidents so honored. That’s right. For only $28, they would have sent you 82-cents in U.S. currency. A mere $27.18 overpayment of stuff you probably already have in your pocket or ashtray.

It is a marketing ploy that is once again raising its very ugly head. People are selling a lot of cheaply made but overpriced and useless crap, then offering to DOUBLE your order, for only the additional cost of “shipping and handling”. Too often, the stuff they’re selling costs less than the fee they’re charging for “processing”, which means even when they’re offering money-back guarantees (MINUS S/H), they still make money. And they must make more than enough money because they also have to pay for the advertising.

So here are my tips to avoid paying too much for those “free” things.

One. If you don’t really need one, you definitely don’t need two. I knew a guy who bought a pair of car seat covers with a sharp looking red dragon embroidered on it during one those buy one get one free sales. Problem was, he didn’t own bucket seats. He justified it by saying that the price would likely go up over time and when he did own a car with bucket seats he would save money by having bought them early. Problem was, by the time he finally bought a car with bucket seats he had outgrown his “red dragons are so cool” mindset. Making matters even more poignant, the price had actually gone down by the time he wanted to give them to someone else, and then couldn’t find them anyway.

Whether you get one or two, if you don’t use it, you didn’t need it. If you didn’t need it, you shouldn’t have bought it.

Two. Look a gift-horse in the mouth. The old saying is, “Never look a gift-horse in the mouth.” I say, just because it’s free, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check it out. At a time when I thought I really needed a car, a generous acquaintance gave me an old Cadillac. I was thrilled with the opportunity to drive anywhere I wanted to go, instead of relying on public transportation, I happily accepted. Problem was, the cost to feed (gas and oil) and maintain the car, plus insurance, parking fees, etc. had never been considered and within the first month took a very huge chunk out of a very small budget. I had to “give it away” to someone else but a few months later because I just couldn’t afford it.

Whether it’s a gift-horse or an old Cadillac, there’s likely some costs to keep and maintain it. Never be afraid to check it out and then say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Three. If you really, really, really, really want it, wait a week or two before buying it. Chances are good that the manipulation of your emotions that triggered the impulse to own it, will likely pass within a short period of time. This seems especially true when confronted with “limited time offers” (which tend not to be all that limited).

Consider this tale of woe too often re-told. You buy that kitchen widget that will make oven cleaning seem like a wave of a magical wand, because you’re so tired of spending an hour every month or so cleaning your mess by hand and that infomercial “promised” an end to that “dirty, messy, back-breaking drudgery.” You send your hard-earned money. Six weeks later the widget arrives. Unfortunately, gone is the excitement you first felt. In its place: the realization that cleaning the oven isn’t all that hard or needed all that often. And that $39.95 widget that works like a magic wand (plus $8.95 shipping and handling)? Yea-a-a-h, not so much. And that 30-day money back guarantee (minus shipping and handling)? Yea-a-a-h, that passed two weeks ago.

Whether the advertising has convinced you, or you’ve convinced yourself, let your heightened emotions wane before you plunk down your cash or card. You’ll often discover that your wallet will remain fuller, the emptier you maintain your clutter closet.

If an advertiser is giving away something for nothing, look for the cost, the conditions, the strings or obligations. While it is possible to discover “free” stuff, even free stuff that you might actually want, need and use, be smart. Don’t get sucked into marketing’s maw of manipulated emotions (it’s true, I really like alliteration) and you can avoid joining the suckers chorus of “My Free Cost How Much?”