Thursday, February 28, 2008

Cultivate Your Inner Farmer....And Grow

This post is a bit off the wall...but I think the point is still valid. Looking for the authentic good life - this is about clearing away some of the trappings, and getting nitty gritty about it.

How does one make contact with the lurking inner farmer? Even for those with brown thumbs, buying and keeping alive a few house plants is always a good thing, both for your health, and for your inner life. Another way is to get into that kitchen and make things from scratch – simple things. For example: pizza dough, orange marmalade, strawberry jam, tomato sauce, bread, muffins, and cookies. Get up early, get outside, get your hands dirty. Develop your creative force in the process.

Given that 100 years ago approximately 98% of the American work force was farmers, you probably have farmer blood running through your veins, so realizing that may be an opportunity to become even more authentic.

Like real farmers, teachers and writers and teacher-writers have a strong streak of independence that runs through the fiber of their being. They also possess a courage needed to confront and harness the elements of nature involved in rural living, or unruly students and editors. Students can remember their farming families of the past, draw on that strength, and get through midterms.

To put it perhaps more simply, an excessively convenient life is not always as good as it was supposed to be. While Mixonian is certainly not suggesting a complete return to the rural life, there is wealth there to harvest and bring back into a totally modern existence. Water some plants. Get some flour on your hands. Remember Farmer Mixonian.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Better Gifts for Less Money

The good news about the way we live today is we can buy designer clothes for ridiculously low prices. In other words, we can all afford to dress nicely these days. Our society is so wealthy that children routinely expect, and receive, hundred-dollar-plus gifts for Christmas and their birthdays. Without mentioning brand names, most children own electronic toy gadgets that normally cost over $100/each....The bad news in this rosy picture is that good gift giving is more daunting than ever. How does one delight a loved one....who already has everything!?! And that's without thinking about our really wealthy friends and family members. Don't fool yourself thinking that people with money don't care about getting gifts; they love opening presents as much as any child does, or at least as much as you do.

Not that Mixonian is trying to get you into the pre-Christmas shopping frame of mind already, there are some guidelines we'd like to share, to help you buy better gifts...for less money. Mixonian acknowledges, as Plato did, that living the good life is easier when there is a reasonable level of income in the home. However, as our celebrities often remind us, being rich does not make one necessarily a happy camper. In creative gift giving, it really is the thought that counts, but thinking takes time and focus.

Tip 1) Be prepared, always. Just last week a Mixonian writer acquired two original paintings of Asian calligraphy - for $5 each!!! Not only are they aesthetically lovely, black calligraphy on a burnished gold canvas, each character conveys a positive message, like "peace" and " "healthy well-being." It is guaranteed that when everyone starts buying Christmas gifts, these will not be around. (BTW- these were at Emerge Art Gallery in uptown Greenville). The prepared mind will find treasures like these at unexpected times and places, keep some petty cash on hand for the occasion.

Tip 2) Personalize it somehow, either with your personality, or the recipient's. Inspire them by seeing possibilities in that person, that may or may not be evident to everyone else. Each person is made to create, so help get the process going, give a set of pastels, or crayons, or paper, or a beautiful pen, or journal. Inspire with a book of poetry, a biography, an art postcard. You may need to explain the inspiration with a short note, but being thought of in an intent manner is always gratifying.

A $1.00 art postcard + $3.00 in chocolate + maybe a $4.00 frame for the postcard = a thoughtful gift, when the postcard has meaning for the giver, and hopefully the recipient. Write out, "This picture reminded me of you because...", or that may be obvious, so much the better.

Tip 3) Wrap it. Mixonian wishes more little shops offered imaginative gift wrap that is more often found abroad, at least in Europe and South America. Nevertheless, any gift can be wrapped with creativity, for little cost. Recycle paper, decorate paper, have children draw on it, use recycled cards and postcards for decor, or even old Christmas decorations, odds and ends you find. If nothing else, plain paper with a hand-drawn monogram (or print it on the computer) on the gift communicates care. Wrapping the gift multiplies its perceived value in the eyes of the recipient.

So there it is: Be prepared, personalize it, wrap it. Happy gift giving!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Two Freebies

I wish Mixonian could take more credit for these two freebies - they're really valuable. Mixonian is merely the messenger.

The complete book, The Medici Effect by Frans Johnansson is available in a free PDF file. While you really should buy this book, you can realize the importance of hanging out with a variety of people to develop your own creativity, and develop killer innovative concepts and things. It's published by Harvard University, so you can't get a more prestigious publisher than that.

The other freebie is a short ebook written by Geoffrey Hineman, entitled The Lonely Writer. It's quite short and readable, it deals with distractions and other obstacles to your writing...among them multitasking!

These, plus two more, are both available at Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Why We Say That We Can't Do Something

This is a direct quote from Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way and it's so true! I want to emblazon this into each brain of every student (and child) I've ever had:

Usually, when we say we can't do something, what we mean is that we won't do something unless we can guarantee that we'll do it perfectly (121).

She suggests completing this sentence: If I didn't have to do it perfectly, I would try......

In other words, I think we squash our creative impulse because we suspect it won't be a glorious success. In the case of students, at times they focus so much on getting the high grade (the superficial payment) that they don't risk trying something untried. Then again, there are those who simply want to slap down something, at the last minute. But they have the same fear. If I just turn in "whatever", I am not exposing myself to real's obvious this is not close to my best effort.

Think of every project as work in progress. It will never be truly perfect, but it can be wonderful and each time we put effort into a project, we're becoming more human.

Make a list of the topics you like to read about.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Ten Lists to Help You

Antje graciously lent me a copy of the book, The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. It's written by Julia Cameron, who writes movies, plays, magazine articles, and gives workshops on creativity. This book is packed with suggestions and here are some lists of the many lists she highly recommends to help you be your more of a creator. Her first advice is to write 3 pages daily - just to get the crud out of your thinking.

Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace, and power it it. --Goethe

Note: Titles of the lists are provided but YOU have to fill them up! These are designed to help you get past the clutter in your existence so you can create more.

1. If I had 5 other lives to lead, I would do the following in each of them.

2. My 5 Major Activities in a Given Week.

3. 20 Things I Enjoy Doing.

4. 10 Tiny Changes I Would Like to Make in My Life....Now.

5. 5 Traits I Like in Myself as a Child.

6. 5 Childhood Accomplishments.

7. 3 Rotten Habits of Mine.

8. 5 Friends Who Nurture Me.

9. 5 People I Admire.

10. 5 People I Secretly Admire.

Get busy! More to come later.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

How to Spell Johann

A dear student and friend (who happens to be German) has just brought to my attention that I misspelled Johann's name in the piece on Bach. It's J-O-H-A-N-N!

Thank you, Antje!

Monday, February 11, 2008

10 Ways to Be More Creative

"Creativity is our birthright. It is an integral part of being human, as basic as walking, talking, and thinking." John Daido Loori, The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life.

Objective: To inspire authenticity, creativity, and elegance in communication.

Target Audience: Students, friends, students who are friends, friends who are students, etc.

10 Ways to Be More Creative

1. Realize that you are meant to create - being creative is not something just for professional artists. In places where life is less predictable than it is in the U.S., creative responses to the unexpected are obvious tools for survival. In most parts of the U.S., the need to be creative on a daily basis is not so apparent, but it's real!

2. To sharpen your creative focus you need to make the conscious decision to do so. That means making a change in your routine. You cannot do what you've always done and expect a different outcome. That is insanity. Look for opportunities to get closer to the good life.

3. Turn off the TV. Watching television is passive and the programming is highly formulaic. It also shortens your attention span and encourages non-creative responses.

4. Find a piece of cardboard or a poster and make a collage from magazine pictures. Designers and decorators recommend this to help you visualize your aesthetic preferences, your taste.

5. Write something. A letter to someone. A list of new things to do. Why you are grateful.

6. Eat breakfast. Low blood sugar does not help you create and can put you in a negative mindset.

7. Be careful about multitasking. Your brain cannot focus on multiple activities at the same time, you can do several things together, but thinking requires a focused mind.

8. Visit an art gallery or museum. Look at something different.

9. Get outside....even if it's cold. Go for a (brief) walk.

10. Subscribe to Word of the Day. Language is power and more vocabulary is more power to create.

Bonus Item: Being creative can save you money!

There are countless other ways you can develop your creativity. Christine Kane's blog has a good list. Mixonian would love to see your suggestions. Happy Monday!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Person inside Personal Branding

I have had this concept of personal branding on my mind over the last few days, I want to give some concrete steps to take to help you and me take advantage of this personal marketing possibility. However, I keep asking myself if personal branding is really a humane activity. It's taking a utilitarian perspective to telling your story. And we define ourselves by the stories we tell.

British author E. M. Forster wrote, "we don't know what we think until we hear what we say." I think if he were to express this today, he might put it, "we don't know what we think until we read what we post".

The technology and message explosion, together with our here today, gone tomorrow mobility puts pressure on each of us to tell our stories in a compressed manner. We have a few minutes or less to explain our selves to perspective employers, potential customers, or possible friends.

Seth Godin says a brand is a promise. What do you promise? I think a first stab at personal branding can be less intimidating: what do you like to talk about? What do you like to read about?

Mixonian is focused on living the good life, which does not mean shopping at Neiman Marcus. Mixonian is about close personal relationships, short commutes, homemade food, good music, and interesting books. Mixonian wants to talk about cutting out extraneous activities and expenses that drain us, rather than lead us to the good life.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Personal Brand Work

OK, folks, personal branding, as mentioned in the previous post, has been around for a long time now. Tom Peters introduced the concept in a Fast Company article in 1997. Here's the link: It's excellent. Peters helps you get past the egotistical aspect of personal branding to find the professional survival and potential blossoming that thinking of yourself in brand terms can elicit.

Garr Reynolds, the Presentation Zen man, writes that a brand is a promise. A good brand is obviously one that keeps its promise. What do you promise? What makes you different? That is the message of a personal brand. Tom Peters recommends keeping it to about 15 words.

Once you establish your brand, you've got to promote it, but that's another activity for another post.

Here's my work in process with the Mixonian brand: Eklectic (i.e. multidisciplinary) teacher focused on meaningful communication with creativity, integrity, and elegance, who inspires and encourages creative and intelligent responses.

I'm not crazy about the "meaningful communication", but it is better than the "effective communication" I had in an earlier draft. There are other qualities I'd like to include, but for now, I'm sticking with what I wrote.

What's your brand like? What are you good at? What things catch your eye or your attention? What do you like to talk about? How to you like to help people? What do people seek your help for? What do you like to have done? Get out your pen and paper and start writing!

Brand Yourself?

Yep- that's right, get the fire going so you heat up the branding iron. Ouch!

Well, branding yourself means knowing yourself well enough to express what you're about in a sentence, or two. I'll post more direction on that later today.

Meanwhile, if you have time, visit Garr Reynold's site for information and links about branding.

It's a way of breaking out of the demographic, even psychographic mold that other forces (think advertisers, employers, school acceptance committees) use to filter their view of you. It's a way of reminding the world that you have a soul; you're a human person, not just a consumer.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Tip for Better Power Point

I read from presentation expert Seth Godin that a single slide should have not more than six words. He says that the image should evoke emotion and curiosity, and the details can be provided on a handout given after the presentation. People simply cannot listen and read at the same time. Food for thought.

I got this from Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds. It's a meaty read with practical teaching on layouts and presentations.

Bach and Coffee

My grandmother has a funny name for female coffee addicts; She calls these people, and she always included herself among them, coffee hags.

Male coffee hags also exist! I know a man, a brilliant surgeon, who actually thought he was dying after three days of sheer physical agony, until his wife figured out that she had accidentally bought a pound of decaffeinated coffee. Growing up hearing my grandmother’s tales of coffee hags and their headaches had their effect on me and I remained caffeine free, for the most part, until my mother bought me an electric coffee maker. She wanted us to have coffee together at my house. I was 34 years old when I was thus corrupted. And my life as a coffee hag has not been the same. I simply cannot function without coffee in the morning.

Anyway, the problem of women and their black brew in society is not a new one. Almost 300 years ago Johan Sebastian Bach wrote a delightful cantata precisely about a father’s relationship with his upstart daughter who refuses to give up her coffee habit. Although the lyrics were actually written by Christian Friedrich Henrici, I am certain but that Bach being a responsible father of 20 kids, knew about coffee and relationships. He must have understood, as is abundantly clear, that no human person should ever try to take away a woman’s coffee.

My recording of this piece is in German and while I do know a smattering of that language, I understood only enough to want to look up a translated edition of what is commonly known (according to my CD cover) as the Coffee Cantata. I can also testify that the tune is so charming that I sometimes sing along. Not knowing the words or the notes has never been an obstacle for me.

What I had understood from listening with my limited German vocabulary was that this young lady preferred coffee to boyfriends. Now that’s an authentic coffee hag, according to my understanding of the term. Having read the translation, I can tell you the scoop: little Lieschen found coffee more delicious than a thousand kisses. In fact she threatens that if she doesn’t get three bowls, not cups but bowls, of coffee a day, the torment will drive her to shrivel up like a piece of roast goat. Not an attractive alternative. Well, I won’t give away the ending to this delicious tale of suspense, but it involves some form of prenuptial agreement. So we know that some German young ladies were getting wiser by the time this was written, in the early 1730s.

Now think about the possibilities. This is a work of music that is begging for a new audience and a Starbucks endorsement. Consider a “Starbucks Coffee Cantata by Bach”. Maybe we can get a sing along version. With free coffee.


Welcome to Mixonian Communication. This blog is, at the macro level, about living the good life; at the micro level, it's about how to get there, piece by piece. This is a place for inspiration, learning, and encouragement. Very soon you will see posts about making the best first impression, more effective Power Point presentations, and the small things that make the big difference. Mixonian is about the whole picture - your self, your work, your family, your home, friends, all mixed together. It's a place for intellectual refreshment, without heavy reading.

I am delighted to have you visit my blog. Please come back soon and tell your friends!