Posted by: Jamie Hahn | December 1, 2010

Read a lot. Write a lot.

I haven’t always loved to read. (This is hard for a would-be author to admit.) As a child, I did whatever I could to avoid picking up a book. While my friends were cozied up in beanbag chairs with Ramona Quimby, the Black Stallion, or Anne of Green Gables, I was blankly turning pages wondering when the bell would ring for recess. Summer reading lists were akin to torture. Why would I spend one moment with a musty book when I could be splashing in the lake, riding my dirt bike, or playing Super Mario Brothers? Books were for kids with nothing better to do.
 
So, what changed? How did I transform from a kid who despised reading to someone who believes that reading and writing are as necessary to life as breathing? How did I decide that stories were worth my time — both the reading and the telling of them?
 
It was a book — just a simple book that changed everything. It wasn’t a particularly special book. It’s not even one of my favorites. It was the first book in a fantasy series called The Belgariad by David Eddings. Finally, characters that meant something to me. I let them in. Garion. Polgara. Belgarath. Silk. Barrack. I still remember their names and their world. Looking back, it probably also helped that I was on a small boat in the middle of the Caribbean without my typical forms of entertainment. And thank goodness, or I might have never discovered the magic of stories.
 
I finished all the books in the Belgariad series and kept going. I read all the books in the next series and all the books in the series after that. I conquered tons of other fantasy worlds and branched over to non-fantasy fiction. I don’t think I ever looked back, and today I have more books that I want to read than time to read them. And somewhere along the way I decided I wanted to write.
 
It wasn’t until recently that I realized the connection between reading and writing. They’re opposite sides of the same coin, twins joined at the hip. Stephen King insists that writers must love to read. He says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” And it is that simple.
The more I read, the more I want to write. I’m inspired by great writing. I learn from each word. It makes me feel. It takes my breath away. It fills my dreams. On bad days, I’m humbled and shamed by it, wanting to throw my hands in the air and quit (because how could I possibly compete with such perfection). But that’s wasted energy, and ultimately, what would I aspire to if not to greatness? I can also find inspiration in mediocre or bad writing. There are kernels of beauty and truth in even the most terrible writing (mine included). At the very least, I find myself saying, “Hey, I could do better than that!” Whatever it takes to keep us writing, right?

Stephen King also says, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

So, that’s our homework. Read a lot. Write a lot. Thankully, that’s homework I don’t mind doing…not anymore, at least.

What books do you love? Which ones have inspired you?

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Photo from Catherine Hadler / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Beginnings get a lot of press when it comes to the creative process. There’s something mystical about taking those first tentative steps toward a new creative journey. Maybe it’s because the path ahead is unknown and potentially dangerous. Maybe it’s because we don’t know who or what we’ll encounter along the way. All we can only hope is that we’ll be changed for the better once we get to the other side. This is the hero’s journey, and it starts with one step. It’s the stuff of legends.

But what comes after those first steps – after Frodo accepts his role as ring bearer, after Rocky Balboa decides he’ll fight the world champion Apollo Creed, after Clarice Starling teams up with Hannibal Lecter, after you decide to start writing a novel?

After the beginning comes the middle. And the middle of any story or creative endeavor is nothing but work – lonely, soul-crushing work. This part of the journey is Act II of a screenplay – that doubly long section in the middle where our hero is fighting her way through impossible obstacles, both internal and external. Every moment offers an opportunity to admit defeat and slink back to the life she had before she answered “the call.” These are the days when I wonder why I ever started the infernal project, for certainly such undertakings have vanquished better people than me.   

Act II is hard. It’s hard to write, and it’s hard to live. One of my favorite screenplay instructors liked to say, “Act II is where screenplays go to die.” And he is so right. Act II is also where our creative projects go to die. The energy that we need to get through Act II of our journeys is completely different than that magical energy we mustered to get started. It’s no surprise that most of our creative projects, many started under auspicious tidings and the best of intentions, fall by the side of the road once the newness of the beginning has worn off.

In the face of these obstacles, how do we keep our creative journey alive? Do what any good hero would do:

Take your knocks. Every hero’s journey is fraught with challenges of all shapes and sizes. There are threshold guardians around every corner waiting to test your mettle and send you home. Don’t let these secondary characters keep you from reaching your ultimate goal. Much of a hero’s fortitude is measured by their ability to pick themselves up and keep limping along despite continual beatings, both literal and figurative. Think Rocky here.

Learn your craft. An important part of the hero’s journey is to learn how to master the elements of a new world. This is Luke Skywalker learning how to be a Jedi. It’s Neo figuring out how to harness the power of the Matrix. The more you learn about your craft the more proficient you’ll become. If you’re a writer, write. If you’re a painter, paint. And do it often. You can call on your knowledge of the craft to see you through those dark and frustrating hours.

Find allies. While the journey ultimately belongs to you, every hero has some help along the way. Keep your eyes open for those allies, those safe houses, that small oasis that can nourish your soul, if just for a moment. Think of the Knights of the Round Table, the Fellowship of the Ring, Goose, Watson, Robin, or any supporting character that can offer a respite or piece of information that can keep our hero on her path.

Have some fun. A sense of humor is important for getting through challenging times. Many heroes take some time to have fun during Act II. Despite their predicament, Thelma and Louise found time to set fire to an obnoxious man’s gasoline truck and had fun doing it. Crash Davis played in the sprinklers with his teammates while ensuring a rain out for his Durham Bulls. Your work will be better if you infuse some joy into the otherwise difficult process.

Stay open to luck and magic. We don’t have complete control over our creative process. Getting to the end of our journey requires work and smarts on our part, but it almost always requires a bit of luck and magic. Stay open to it. Trust that it will find you. Listen to the voice telling you, “If you build it, they will come.” Great things will happen.

Do the work. Above all else, show up every day and do the work. The hero has to believe in her journey enough to keep doing the work even when all the external inspiration is gone. You have to show up even when your muse has deserted you. Stephen King says his muse sits around admiring his bowling trophies while he does the “grunt work.” And that’s what the middle of the journey holds for us – the unglamorous, grit your teeth, nose to the grindstone sort of work.

There’s no getting around the middle of your creative journey. The only way is through. So, get through it like a hero. Riches and rewards await you on the other side.

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Photos from Evgeni Dinev / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Posted by: Jamie Hahn | November 4, 2010

I might subscribe to your blog if…

Do you have a blog? If so, you have roughly 30 seconds to convince me to subscribe. I approach blogs like I do a new novel. I read a page, and in that short amount of time I decide if I want to keep reading. In those critical moments I’m considering many factors. Do I connect with the narrator, the setting, the story? Does the prose delight me? How does the book feel in my hands? Do I want to know more? Most of what I need to know is discernible from that very first page, and the same goes for blogs.

I consider myself a good audience. As a rule I’m patient, forgiving, and interested. I want to be inspired, entertained, and informed by you. I love leaving comments and engaging in conversations. I enjoy supporting bloggers, especially those, like me, who are just a little less famous than the Seth Godins and Chris Brogans of the world. But despite my best intentions, the demands of my day require that I be selective about the blogs I follow.

Though I’m fairly new to the blogosphere (reading and writing), I’ve explored enough blogs to formulate some thoughts about the factors that influence my decision to subscribe or pass. Keep in mind that these are only my preferences, not recommendations or guidelines. Follow them at your peril.

Here’s a list of the things I look for in blogs:

1) Awesome content. This goes without saying, so I won’t spend too much time here. Great, well-written content will keep me coming back to your blog, above all else. Decent content might keep me coming back if some of these other factors are in place.

2) Welcoming and easy to read format. I’m referring to the fonts, graphics, and colors on your blog, not how well-written your posts are (see #1 for that). I do most of my blog reading through Google Reader, but my first visit is always directly to the blog’s website. Make that first visit count by having the newest content on the first page, an easy way to navigate through posts, a title or a description of the theme or purpose of the blog, and readable fonts (dark fonts on light backgrounds preferred).

3) Information about YOU. Blogs are written by people, and I like to know something about those people. It’s unlikely that I’ll subscribe to a blog that doesn’t have some sort of author profile or About page. It can be brief, but tell me something about you, something I can cling to in the swirling sea of the blogosphere. And please tell me your first name. I don’t want to follow a blog whose author is a shadowy, unnamed figure — let’s keep that to the fantasy novels.

4) Pictures, audio, and/or videos. I like to read good writing, but I also enjoy different forms of media. Pictures are a plus. Videos are fun too. Podcasts? Yea, maybe once in a while. Although, if your blog is all audio/video, chances are I won’t follow it. I won’t get out the headphones and un-mute my computer for every one of your posts.

5) Optimization for RSS Readers. If I’m reading your blog regularly, I’ll be viewing it through Google Reader. This means you should know how your blog looks and behaves in Reader. I beg you to make sure your entire post comes up in Reader. There’s nothing more annoying to me than having to follow a link out of Reader to finish reading a post. I’m not inclined to follow a blog that requires me to do that for every post (unless I really like you).

6) An easy way to subscribe. Add the cute little RSS icon to your homepage. If you make me hunt for it, I might lose interest. I’d rather spend my 30 seconds enjoying your well-written posts instead of trying to figure out how to subscribe.

7) A regular and consistent posting schedule. This is my “Goldilocks Rule.” I get overwhelmed by bloggers that post too frequently, and I lose interest in bloggers that post too infrequently. I prefer a posting schedule that falls into the “just right” category. For me, this means 1-3 posts a week. Obviously, a regular schedule isn’t always possible, and I’m willing to be patient with deviations and inconsistencies, but too many, and I may unsubscribe.

I really do want to become a faithful reader of your blog, and the list above will encourage me to subscribe. If you have something meaningful to say, of course.

What factors do you consider when evaluating blogs? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Posted by: Jamie Hahn | November 1, 2010

6 Reasons to “Get Rad and Vote”

I learned the definition of apathy in 7th grade. My U.S. History teacher warned us that the highest form of apathy, in her book, was to take for granted your privilege to vote. I was twelve, and government was some abstract entity that was perfectly conceived by our all-knowing Forefathers and acceptably executed by wise and well-meaning government officials. My comfortable upper-middle class upbringing did nothing to disabuse me of these assumptions. I had a TV to plug my Nintendo into and a soccer field to play on. What else does a twelve year old need? 

Over the last 20 years, I’ve done my share of voting — mostly in the big Presidential elections. I may be a member of Generation X, but I’m not a complete slacker. Ironically, I never saw the importance of voting in other elections, especially local ones. So, maybe I am a slacker. But I’ve turned over a new leaf, and so can you. In case you need some convincing, here are 6 reasons you should vote:

1) Not everyone has the right to vote in a fairly counted election. Hanging chads aside, the US has a pretty decent and fair election process. At least I know that I won’t be harassed as I walk to my polling station (if I even know where it is), and that my vote will be counted as I cast it. Recent election disasters in Kenya and Afghanistan remind us that we’re lucky.

2) People fought for my right to vote. Women have had the right to vote in the U.S. for less than 100 years. Prior to 1920, they were fighting for women’s right to vote, not for our right to take it for granted. As a woman, I feel deeply grateful to everyone who fought for my right to vote, and I often think that exercising that right is some small form of repayment for all of their struggles.

3) Your vote does count! When I haven’t voted, I’ve often told myself that my vote would have been just one in a sea of thousands, so no one would miss it. Imagine if everyone used this line of thinking. One vote means everything, and without your vote our election process is that much weaker. Whatever your political leanings, please stand up and be counted.

4) You’ll be more infomed. Thoughtful voting takes effort. Anyone can stand in a voting booth and check the boxes, but it takes time to truly understand the candidates and issues. Listen to debates, check out candidates’ websites, read endorsements and opinions, talk with your friends, and ignore negative political ads. This goes for the national elections as well as your local community elections. You can’t come away from this process without being more informed than when you started, and information is power.

5) Support local-ness. Supporting local businesses and initiatives is all the rage these days. And for a reason! Everything starts with your local community. Take some time to understand the issues that are facing your community as well as the work of your state and local government representatives. Find out what your taxes are funding. You might not like what you find out. And if you don’t, vote to change it.

6) “I voted” Foursquare badge. Just in case you weren’t convinced, Foursquare has created an “I voted” badge for anyone who checks in at a polling station. Yes, we’re all badge-motivated. Get yours!

Election day is tomorrow, and you still have time to do some research, find your polling station, and VOTE! In case you need a slogan to get you motivated, I’ve borrowed one from my friend, Kriste, a fellow Generation X-er with a strong sense of commuity and citizenship: “Get rad and vote.” Need I say more?

Posted by: Jamie Hahn | October 28, 2010

What’s Your Great Pumpkin?

Halloween is on Sunday, and as is his tradition, Linus Van Pelt is in the pumpkin patch. As I read the funny pages this morning, it occurred to me that Linus has been sitting in that pumpkin patch each Halloween for more than 60 years. Some might call him stupid, but I think we can all learn something from Linus’ stubborn idealism and seemingly unbreakable grip on his dream to see “The Great Pumpkin.”

We all have our own Great Pumpkins, don’t we? Those inklings we feel in our gut about what we’re really here to do. Maybe they’re faint. Maybe they’ve grown loud. They’re the things we know but don’t always trust. They’re the roads we can’t see to the end of — the ones we’d just like to forget so that we can go about our daily lives in peace and comfort. Often our Great Pumpkins are hard to share with the world because they’re fragile and can easily wither at the hands of challenge, adversity, and the input of others. Unfortunately, they’re also the things that need our stubborn tenacity the most, which is what Linus demonstrates for us each year.

Linus was never my favorite Peanuts character. His odd commitment to his blue blanket coupled with his bend toward the brainy and his seemingly endless patience for Lucy’s bullying made him hard for me to love. I never understood what Sally saw in him. But as I try to hold tight to my dreams in the face of everything the world is throwing at them, I feel a new solidarity with this quietly fierce little boy. His firm dedication and trust in his own beliefs, despite the bullying, laughing, and lack of support, is inspiring to me.  

So, cheers to you, Linus! I’m rooting for you this year. I finally understand that the only way to have a chance to see that Great Pumpkin is to show up in the pumpkin patch day after day and make it known to god and everyone that you’re serious.

Who knows if Linus will see the Great Pumpkin this year. Maybe after 60 years of waiting, this is finally his year. Unlikely? Yes. But you just never know, do you?

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Great Pumpkin image from Wikipedia. Used under fair use license.

Posted by: Jamie Hahn | October 25, 2010

Creativity lessons from a lump of clay

I have an unnatural fear of sculpting clay. The kind potters throw on a wheel and turn into marvelous pots. The kind Rodin might have used to make prototypes of his famous sculptures. That unformed, gray substance that lives in a moist plastic bag, as if it has a life of its own and was just dredged from the bottom of a sediment-filled stream. Never being a potter, or a Rodin for that matter, my first reaction to seeing this clay is fear and dread. Fear that I will never turn it into something beautiful and dread that I will have to try.

Clay and I got off to a rough start. It’s the early eighties, and I’m a first grader. Like all first graders, I march to Mrs. Lease’s light-drenched art room for our weekly get-together. I know the routine. Wash your hands. Grab your smock (which is actually a man’s cast-off suit shirt, if you’re lucky), put it on backwards, and find your seat. I wait patiently for my familiar finger paints or paper mache, but they don’t come.

Instead, Mrs. Lease is wielding a long wire between two thin wooden handles and a sack of something gray and alien. She dips her hands into the bag and drags the wire across the gray substance in a motion that you’d use to sever a head. She plops the gray blob in front of me with a smile and moves on. For the next 20 minutes I stare with dread while the other kids are happily at work pinching and pulling, poking and patting. I feel no joy, only the fear of having to create something out of this foreign substance.

I left my chair that day without a sculpture. Since that day, I’ve had many run-ins with clay. None of them much more successful than my first. I’ve thrown peculiarly shaped pots on wheels, glazed coiled bowls that looked like lopsided ashtrays, and carved figures that resembled block-headed LEGO pieces. Clay was just never my creative medium, and we both knew it.

I graduated from high school and felt sure that clay and I had parted ways for good. I knew as an adult that I would only encounter the dreaded stuff if I made a conscious decision to do so, and I knew that that wouldn’t happen. I was safe.

That held true until just a few weeks ago. You see, I’m taking a class. It’s not a pottery or sculpture class. It’s a class that’s not really a class and can’t really be categorized. It’s called “Approaching the Sacred,” and it’s best described by the instructor, so I will quote her here:

“The purpose of the course is to develop a group committed to positive life changes based on universal guidance. Our intent will be to become more conscious, more compassionate, and more connected to a sense of the sacred in everyday life. Through study, discussion, practice, and ritual we will grow together as we develop habits and practices that bring a new sense of peace, contentment, purpose, and direction to our lives.” (read more about the class here).

On my path toward a higher consciousness and greater connection to the sacred, I have run smack into my old nemesis. During one session of the class, it was our goal to create something using materials we’d found. I was already dreading this session — bogged down with worries and judgments about the beauty of my potential art (or lack thereof) before I even started. And to my horror, when I arrived at the session, someone had brought a bag of clay.

I cursed her for being an artist and a potter who had this material on hand. All my feelings of inferiority hit me with a rush, and I couldn’t help feeling a little depressed as the bag of clay was passed from happy hand to happy hand around the table. I looked at it with undisguised contempt when it landed in front of me. I was at a crossroads.

I had convinced myself all day that the importance of this session was to create without judgment, without worry about whether or not whatever I created would be worthy to display in my house or hang on my wall. I wanted to truly trust the process of creation on this night and try to create something that surprised me, not something that sprouted from my will to create something pretty. The universe in all it’s wisdom had upped the ante.

I decided that I was willing to play her game. So, I dug into that bag and grabbed a chunk of clay. I closed my eyes and willed my hands to start moving. Make shapes. Tear pieces. Keep it simple. Just do something. And I did. After a few minutes, I was rolling. I had no idea where I was rolling to, but I was creating without any preconceived notions, and it felt wonderful. I even started incorporating some of the other materials people had brought in.

By the end of the session, I hadn’t created an incredible work of art. But I had created something, and that was the point that I’d been missing since that day in first grade. And even better, what I did create is a simple reminder that creativity is mostly about openness and trust. My creation is no Rodin, but it came from me, and it’s perfect in it’s own right.

This is "Clay." I created him in my recent class, and he's my reminder that wonderful things happen when you trust the creative process

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Potter’s wheel photo from Bill Longshaw / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Posted by: Jamie Hahn | October 18, 2010

Beware: Fake Food

The infamous Krispy Kreme Burger

The State Fair is in town, and it seems that what’s dominating the headlines isn’t the racing pigs or the cake decorating contests — it’s the food. Well, if you can call a bacon cheeseburger stuffed between two Krispy Kreme donuts “food.” Here in North Carolina, we’ve turned deep frying into an art form. Our motto seems to be, “If it’s edible, it’s fryable.” Oreos, Twinkies, Snickers, Chips Ahoy, Coke (yes, they fry the Coke. No, I haven’t tried it).

I don’t mean to single out my fellow North Carolinians. The love of food oddities extends well beyond our state. This weekend McDonald’s announced that they’re bringing back the McRib sandwich nationwide. McRib is a misnomer. An invertebrate has more ribs than this sandwich. Shaped to look like a rack of ribs – fake bones and all – I can’t help but think that this little sandwich represents everything that’s wrong with our food industry.

Fried Twinkies, McRibs…we could call these things “junk food,” but are they even food? I don’t think so. A McRib in all of its processed glory is fake, and why would I want to eat something that’s not even food?

I’m not an evangelist or an expert on the topic of food. I like the occasional donut. I eat mostly what I want, exercise a couple times of week, and am mostly at peace with food. I’m a student of the school of moderation. But I’ve read enough to be disturbed by our food industry and wary of what’s available for our consumption. It’s frightening, and there isn’t one easy or clear solution.

One step toward disentangling the mess is for more of us to open our eyes to what our system of mass produced food has done to our understanding of one of the most fundamental human needs. I know that whatever I do, I’ll never completely eliminate the harmful effects that my eating has on our environment and/or myself, but there are some things that might lessen it. I wanted to share some things that I’ve picked up on my quest to better understand how I can eat to support my health and the health of the world. This is a simple list, but even the simplest things can have a big impact.

1) Eat locally as much as possible. Not only can you shake the hand of the farmer that grew your vegetables, you can also know that the food didn’t travel thousands of miles to get to you (thus reducing the amount of gasoline consumed and emissions spewed).

2) Just say no to high fructose corn syrup. The stuff isn’t natural. It’s a cheap alternative to sugar that’s pumped into just about everything these days. A recent study showed that cancer cells absolutely love high fructose corn syrup. The researchers said, “cancer cells can readily metabolize fructose to increase proliferation…efforts to reduce refined fructose intake or inhibit fructose-mediated actions may disrupt cancer growth.”

3) Eat food that doesn’t come from factory farms. This practice limits the places where I can eat or buy meat, but it’s worth it to me. We truly are what we eat, so why would I willingly choose to eat something that has been pumped full of unnatrual and potentially harmful substances? Huge factory farms are also the cause of tons of waste, environmental hazards, and animal abuse. I readily admit that I am a bleeding heart liberal who believes that animals, even if they are destined to be eaten, should be treated humanely. I don’t want to support factory farming. It’s that simple.

4) Eat organic. I understand that the “organic” label isn’t a panacea. I know foods that are labeled “organic” are not 100% organic (I’m not even sure what that means). But when it comes down to it, I don’t want to eat pesticide, antibiotics, or genetically altered food. So, if I can reduce my consumption of it by buying food that’s labeled organic, then that’s what I’m going to do.

5) Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants. I can’t take credit for that mantra. It’s Michael Pollan’s. It’ simple yet profound. Eat food. Food – not  food products that are masquerading as food, but food that your great-grandparents would recognize. Not too much. There’s that moderation thing again. Mostly plants. Leafy greens and plant-based food should be the foundations of our diets. This one is tough for me because I would be happy to live on crusty bread and cheese.

I’ve tried to live these choices for the last year, and it’s been hard. It’s also been expensive. It hasn’t escaped me that often the average American just can’t afford to purchase anything but the cheap, factory farmed food. It’s something else that’s wrong with our system, and I do hope we find ways to address that.

There’s so much more out there. I have more reading to do and more listening. I’d love to hear about your relationship with food and how you ensure that what you’re consuming is healthy for you and the environment. Or, I’d love to hear if you disagree with me entirely. If you’re the guy or gal who can’t wait for the McRib’s comeback, let me know…would love to “rib” you about it. Sorry, bad pun.

Here’s a list of books and movies that might be interesting if you want to learn more about the issues surrounding our food:

1) In Defense of Food. Michael Pollan

2) King Corn. A documentary film about two friends, an acre of corn, and the subsidized crop that drives our fast food nation.

3) Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit. Daniel Quinn

4) Omnivore’s Dilemma. Michael Pollan

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References:

1) Photo of the Donut Burger taken by Chris Kuehl.

2) Girl Holding Carrots photo by Clare Bloomfield / FreeDigitialPhotos.net.

Posted by: Jamie Hahn | October 11, 2010

Out and Proud

Today is National Coming Out Day. I have mixed feelings about identifying one day to celebrate something that should be celebrated every day of the year. I do understand that in our mostly homophobic culture, we need to have a day that recognizes the struggle and encourages the courage needed to be “out” in our country. But I feel great sadness that the day hasn’t yet arrived when everyone – gay or straight – will be embraced for living their truth.

Further complicating matters is that “coming out” isn’t just one single event. Unless we’re talking about Elton John or Adam Lambert, most gay people don’t bust down the closet door with one swift kick, claim their gay birthright, and start living their alternative lifestyle openly and freely. For most gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered individuals, coming out is a slow (sometimes painful) process that happens in stages. No matter how many people you come out to, there’s always an endless line of others waiting to hear, judge, and comment on your life. Add the uncertainty about people’s potential reactions to deeply ingrained feelings of shame and homophobia taught to all of us from an early age to the fear that being openly gay will define you completely and totally in others’ eyes, and you have a recipe for some challenging years.

So, yes, it’s hard to be gay and live your truth. It’s also hard to be straight and live your truth. Life is just hard. We all face great challenges to embrace our truths and share them with the world. I wonder why those shared struggles don’t bring us closer – why we continue to insist that we are separate from each other, especially when the rewards for coming together are so great and the consequences for not doing so are so profoundly awful. Why all the hate and fear when each of us is searching for the same things — acceptance, tolerance, and love? I guess that’s something for another post.

I will bring this post to a close by saying that today (and most days), I am out and proud. I love my life, and I feel grateful each day for all the love and support I have. Today, I recognize all those who don’t have that same love and support. I stand with you, whether you’re out on the front lines or hanging back in the shadows. I know that the world is changing and acceptance is coming. And I know that my courage and strength on this day, and every day, will help bring about that change even faster. I may not be marching on Washington or riding on a float at Pride, but I am living my truth one day at a time, so that all of us, one day, can be out and proud, too.

Posted by: Jamie Hahn | October 5, 2010

Do you believe in magic?

I believe in magic. Always have. I don’t mean the “dove appearing from a magician’s sleeve” sort of magic. Nor do I mean the “magic” marketing professionals across the globe purport to sell. No, Apple, your iPad is not magic. I’m talking about the kind of magic found in the tall grasses of ancient meadows, within the wing beats of dancing dragonflies, and in the wonders of our universe that can’t quite be explained by hard science.

What does it cost us to believe in this sort of magic? In my book, not a lot. Yet I’m continually amazed by the level of skepticism and closed-mindedness in our Western society. Don’t get me wrong…I don’t believe everything I read, see, or hear. A healthy level of skepticism is important to keep us out of the clutches of the junk bond salesman and Elvis and Madonna’s half human/half monkey love child. But a compulsive and overbearing level of skepticism just makes me tired. I hear the echoes of the chronic skeptic’s protests, “Oh, that could never be true” or “I just don’t believe that.” But why?

It’s safer to be a skeptic. Being a skeptic fits into our insatiable need to control, measure, and categorize. Phenomena that don’t fit into one of our neat little boxes get dismissed out of hand. There’s no wonder, just judgment. We’re very good at judgment. We’ve also gotten very good at hard science. We rely so heavily on “proof” that if we can’t verify and replicate something, then it must be a scam or a waste of our time. I’m a believer in science, and I’m grateful for all that we’ve learned and done, but why can’t we leave a little room for some magic and wonder among our microscopes and test tubes? Isn’t a deep curiosity about the wonders of our universe the root of most of our scientific pursuits anyway?

I’ve decided that arguing with the skeptics is wasted energy. I can’t control them anymore than I can control the weather. I can, however, control my level of openness to the unexplained, and I choose to believe (with a discerning and open eye). There’s just too much out there. There are shamans who travel to other realms and come back with physical objects and wounds; water crystals that are affected by words and thoughts; animals that can communicate across incredible distances; meditations, dances, and music that lead to altered states; memories of the future; ghosts from the past; and everything in between. I have no idea what’s real, but I choose to stay open instead of slamming the door and burying my head among text books and beliefs that make me feel safe and comfortable.

We can spend our lives explaining away all the things that we can’t understand, or we can choose to immerse ourselves in wonder. We can choose to give in, open up, tap in, experience, and feel – feel awe, inspiration, love…maybe collectively…magic (some might call it ‘god’). That magic can take us to new places, if we let it. Let the magic in. You only have to look to the tiny wing beats of that dragonfly – it’s all right there.

“One must explore deep and believe the incredible to find the new particles of truth floating in an ocean of insignificance.” – Joseph Conrad

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Image: Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Posted by: Jamie Hahn | September 27, 2010

Got Boredom?

I wanted to write a post about our society’s seemingly insatiable need for entertainment. We all know that opportunities for entertainment are around every corner. We don’t have to look much further than our own pocket or purse these days. The now ubiquitous smartphone has put the internet within our grasp 24-7. Beyond that, there’s always TV, movies, plays, sports, and an infinite number of ways to be entertained.

None of that seemed terribly interesting or new, until I started thinking about things from another angle. What is driving us to seek entertainment on such a grand (or frightening) scale? It may be good, old-fashioned boredom.  

OK, that’s not too interesting either. In fact, it’s sort of boring. *Yawn* But then I remembered an article I read about boredom. It’s 8 years old, which is postively ancient using today’s perspective on age, yet this topic still resonates today — maybe even more.  It was written by Roy Rivenburg, and it provides an interesting analysis of the origins of boredom, the behaviors it creates, and the consequences of allowing it to run rampant through our lives and society.

I wanted to do a similar analysis of boredom in this post, but after I re-read this article, it seemed like a waste of energy. Instead, I encourage you to read Roy’s article, “Is Boredom Bad?” It’s well worth your time.

Some high points from Rivenburg’s article (in case you can’t tear yourself away from the latest episode of Mad Men or your twitter stream or that internet news site or or or…)

1) There wasn’t even a word for boredom in the English language prior to 1750. As Rivenburg says, “Boredom is very much a modern ailment.”

2) Richard Winter says (ironically), “In an age when we have more entertainment available to us than ever before, there seems to be an epidemic of boredom.” He also postulates that being saturated with media and entertainment is causing us to lose our sense of wonder. *

3) In addition to over-saturation, we’re experiencing an increase in leisure time. “For most of history, daily survival took so much effort that people didn’t have the luxury of being bored,” says Century City psychologist and attorney Rex Julian Beaber.

4) The quick fix for boredom is novelty. Ultimately, this throws us into a viscious cycle of boredom followed by the need for novelty followed by more boredom and an even greater need for novelty.

5) In fact, the true cure for boredom may actually be more boredom. As the late poet Joseph Brodsky said, “When hit by boredom, let yourself be crushed by it; submerge, hit bottom. The sooner you hit bottom, the faster you surface.”

6) ” The trick [to moving past monotony] is learning to experience familiar things in new ways,” says anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson, a visiting professor at Harvard and the daughter of anthropologist Margaret Mead.

7) Rituals and tasks repeated in a ritualistic way can help us move past boredom to something deeper. Abbot Francis Benedict, a Catholic monk at St. Andrew’s Abbey near Palmdale, says: “When you do the same tasks over and over, you can go beneath the surface, beyond the task itself, to the landscape of the soul.”

My two cents…entertainment isn’t bad in and of itself. In fact, much of the entertainment industry showcases our very human need to create and share. I do, however, think we could all benefit from finding time to just be silent — truly silent and still. It’s during this time that our minds will listen, open, and speak, instead of consuming wildly. It’s in those moments that we’re truly alive.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic — if you’re bored enough to share them. 🙂

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Image Courtesy of Graur Codrin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Is Boredom Bad?” Article by Roy Rivenburg, February 22, 2003

*Reference: “Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment” (InterVarsity Press).

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