Archive for Around the Web

Bill Watterson on Creativity, Inspiration, Playfulness, and Artistic Integrity

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Today, thanks to the genius Brainpickings site, I discovered a wonderful commencement address by Bill Watterson, the creator of the Calvin & Hobbes comics.

I have so much respect for the integrity and wisdom of this artist. Here’s a small sample:

“If you ever want to find out just how uninteresting you really are, get a job where the quality and frequency of your thoughts determine your livelihood. I’ve found that the only way I can keep writing every day, year after year, is to let my mind wander into new territories. To do that, I’ve had to cultivate a kind of mental playfulness.

[…]

At school, new ideas are thrust at you every day. Out in the world, you’ll have to find the inner motivation to search for new ideas on your own. With any luck at all, you’ll never need to take an idea and squeeze a punchline out of it, but as bright, creative people, you’ll be called upon to generate ideas and solutions all your lives. Letting your mind play is the best way to solve problems.

[…]

A playful mind is inquisitive, and learning is fun. If you indulge your natural curiosity and retain a sense of fun in new experience, I think you’ll find it functions as a sort of shock absorber for the bumpy road ahead.”

Go ahead and click here. You might be inspired.

As for the comic above, I think Mr. Watterson is correct. And I am sure he’s writing from personal experience. There’s nothing like a deadline for a kick in the pants.

Students often ask about writer’s block. They seem fascinated by it. I tell them that my father was an insurance salesman with seven children. He never had insurance block. Nope. He just went to work.

In this profession, when you are stuck?

Make something up!

I discussed this with author Todd Strasser the other day at an event in Walkill, NY. He agreed and said [sic]: “No reader ever opens a book, points to page 112, and complains, ‘You just made this part up.'”

Because: of course.

It’s how we roll.

Thank you, Bill Watterson, for your great shining example.

 

 

YOU CAN TRY THIS AT HOME, FOLKS: “And Then the Murders Began.”

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There’s a thing going around the interwebs, credited to author Marc Laidlaw, who came up with a handy suggestion for improving the opening of just about any book.

Basically, after the first sentence — or, I’d say, at the first possible opening — insert the sentence, “And then the murders began.”

I thought I’d give it a try with a few favorite children’s books:

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The kids in Room 207 were misbehaving again. Spitballs stuck to the ceiling. Paper planes whizzed through the air. And then the murders began.

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At the foot of an old, old wharf lived the cutest little tugboat you ever saw. And then the murders began.

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Mr. and Mrs. Mallard were looking for a place to live. But every time Mr. Mallard saw what looked like a nice place, Mrs. Mallard said it was no good. And then the murders began.

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Leo couldn’t do anything right. He couldn’t read. He couldn’t write. He couldn’t draw. And then the murders began.

 

Fun, right? You can try it home.

Of course, as any law-abiding, egotistical, self-obsessed author, I couldn’t resist seeing what opportunities I may have missed with my own books.

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My mother pushes me out the door, and I don’t know why. “I don’t want to go,” I tell her. And then the murders began.

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Two weeks before Morgan Mallen threw herself off the water tower, I might have typed a message on her social media page that said, “Just die! Die! Die! No one cares about you anyway!” And then the murders began.

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Sam Reiser’s bed was pushed against a second-story window that overlooked a stand of cherry trees. The trees on this June morning were filled with birds, chirping like lunatic alarm clocks. And then the murders began.

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The first time Eric Hayes ever saw him, David Hallenback was running, if you could call it that, running in a halting, choppy-stepped, stumpy-legged shamble, slowing down to look back over his shoulder, stumbling forward, pausing to catch his breath, then lurching forward again.

He was running from, not to, and not running, but fleeing.

Scared witless.

And then the murders began.

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“Wait up, Jigsaw!” Ralphie Jordan cried out. “My bike chain slipped off!” And then the murders began. (Macmillan, August 2017)

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Carter Novack pulled hard on the school front doors. And then the murders began.

 

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There I was, lying on my bed on another sticky summer afternoon, examining my reflection in a hand mirror. I pondered the first day of seventh grade, just four days away, and gazed at my decomposing face. And then the murders began. (Macmillan, October 2017)

 

The Truth Behind the Photo that Tricked the Internet into Hating on Kids Today

If you spend any time on Facebook, you’ve probably seen this 2014 photo, which periodically makes the rounds to disgusted clucks of disapproval.

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There it is, the end of the world as we know it. A metaphor for our times.

One thing we’ve learned about the internet, people love to pile on. It makes us feel better about ourselves. Read the comments under this photo when it is shared and you’ll find the overwhelming majority of people are appalled by “kids today.” This shot, for many people, represents all of society’s ills in a nutshell: this is why we’re going to hell in a handbasket. Those darn kids and their stupid phones!

And yet to me it never looked quite right.

Maybe that’s because I’ve spent time in schools, have teenagers of my own, or perhaps I’m just not so ready to believe the worst about this generation. In fact, I incline toward the opposite direction. I look at young people today and feel hope.

And I also believe in teachers — that they wouldn’t be so ready to allow students to stare vacantly at phones during an educational field trip to a museum. Right? That’s obvious, isn’t it?

Earlier this morning I saw that photo come around again. I typed out a quick response, but didn’t post my comment. Instead I saved it.

I had written this:

“My two cents: I’ve seen this photo before and I don’t like it. Very easy to shame these kids for using their phones, and the reality is we don’t know what’s going on here. It may be as bad as it looks, or something else entirely. They might be bright, thoughtful, intelligent, creative young people who are using those amazing computers in their pocket to enhance learning. They may even have been instructed to do after viewing the artwork. I know the idea here is to portray these students as brain-dead zombies and for us all to feel smug and superior about the younger generation. It doesn’t seem fair or accurate.”

I didn’t post those thoughts because these days I am trying to stop myself before unloading on innocent victims. But it did spur me to do some research, and I discovered this:

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It turns out that these students were, in fact, on a field trip. The museum allowed them to download a free app onto their phones — you know, those useful, instructive computers they carry around in their pockets.

Reports indicate that the students were active, engaged, inspired.

The lesson here is don’t be fooled by one photo.

And more importantly, don’t be so ready to judge.

You don’t want to be this guy:

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Make Digital Photos Look Old in 5 Seconds Flat

NOTE: I originally posted about this website back in 2011 and am delighted to report that it still exists. This is an updated version of that old post.

For a quick, easy way to make your new digital photos look brand old, check out this Japanese website.

All you do is upload your photo and in about five seconds, the site spits back an aged-looking version which you can download. It’s insanely easy. Clearly, some shots lend themselves better to this treatment than others, but it’s fun experimenting with it to find out. I’d bet a baby picture might turn out especially swell, or a new photo of an old house.

For example, I got this from an image I found a few days ago . . .

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I like what it does with a landscape, which is already timeless . . .

Or this, from my daughter’s regatta up in Saratoga . . .

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And it’s also a neat way to salvage a great but poorly lit moment . . .

Celebrate National Poetry Month (April) with a FREE POSTER

Teachers, librarians, book store owners! Follow this link for a FREE POSTER created by artist Maira Kalman — who happens to be great! — commissioned by the Academy of American Poets in celebration of National Poetry Month.

The organization distributes more than 100,000 free posters to schools, libraries, and bookstores from sea to shining sea. Just click on the link to fill out the easy form while supplies last.

Support poetry, share your love for the written word, and beautify your wall. Sorry I could make that image bigger, but it’s the best I could find.

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Additional information the Academy of American Poets:

National Poetry Month is the largest literary celebration in the world, with tens of millions of readers, students, K-12 teachers, librarians, booksellers, literary events curators, publishers, bloggers, and, of course, poets marking poetry’s important place in our culture and our lives. 

While we celebrate poets and poetry year-round, the Academy of American Poets was inspired by the successful celebrations of Black History Month (February) and Women’s History Month (March), and founded National Poetry Month in April 1996 with an aim to: