Tuesday, January 24, 2006


I’ve been thinking about creativity a lot lately.

I think I buy into a misconception that engineering is a left-brained activity –devoid of creativity, the opposite of the arts. The reality is that my job demands creative thinking 40 hours a week. I’ve never designed a system that was just like the one I designed before, and it always seems to take the combined efforts of a room full of people to come up with a suitable solution for every problem. It’s tough for me to go to work all day, then go home and still have the energy to paint. I use up my creative energy solving problems at work, and come home with little left to apply to my art.

People who aren’t familiar with art think it must be a relaxing activity - a release, if you will. But it isn’t. Not for me anyways.

For me, painting is anything but relaxing. Painting can be exhausting. It’s one of the most difficult things I’ve ever tried to master. I’ve been oil painting for 5 years now and am just now starting to turn out work that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to hang in a gallery. And when I look at my best paintings now, I know with 100% certainty that I still have a long way to go.

I used to struggle with the reality that I didn’t have the skill to do what I wanted to do with my art. I think that society conditions us to believe that artistic talent is something bestowed on us by God, and that the greats were born with the ability to create masterpieces. When we fall short of perfection, it’s easy to believe that we just weren’t born with enough talent. It makes for an easy excuse – a reason to give up.

I’m starting to understand that this is a big lie. I’ve met a lot of successful artists over the past two years, and none of them got where they are without a lot of hard work. That might sound like common sense, but in the art world I don’t think it is common sense. People believe that creativity comes in great flashes of light, and only to an inspired few.

I believe that you might start with a bit of talent, but that it isn’t going to get you anywhere if you don’t know how to channel it.

When I was at the bookstore the other day, I picked up Twyla Tharp’s book, “The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life.” The title is kind of gimmicky and self-help oriented, but it looked interesting and I thought I’d give it a read. I’m glad I did – I got a lot out of it.

It’s not so much a guide to being creative as it is a thesis on the creative process and a view into the work habits that have turned Tharp into a successful choreographer. It talks a lot about what one needs to do to foster the right environment to support the creative process, and it’s not full of touchy-feely suggestions like you might expect. It all boils down to discipline and hard work. Again - common sense, but a refreshing reminder that art is not about staring at a blank canvas waiting for inspiration. It’s about deciding what you want, and having the discipline and preparation to get you there. I’d recommend this book to anyone who is remotely into the arts – whether it be music, writing, dance, or visual arts, I think the concepts in it are applicable, and it’ll get you thinking about what being creative means.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Home Sweet Home?

So, Nate and I have always had this dream of living in the mountains, and we're always on the lookout for the perfect mountain property. My main requirement for a piece of land is that it be in or near a cool mountain town, and that it have a nice view. Nate's a little more picky and wants to be near a lake (slightly hard to come by in Colorado - not much water here!!).

Over the past two years we've fallen in love with Steamboat Springs, and decided that even if we never move to the mountains we'd at least like to have a cabin somewhere near Steamboat where we can spend summers and go for ski trips in the winter.

Turns out that there's a lake just south of town called Stagecoach Lake. There used to be a ski area near the lake that operated for a few years in the 70's before going bankrupt. The area was just starting to be developed when the ski area went under, and hasn't been developed much further since. Because the area hasn't been fully developed (many lots don't have utilities at all), the lots are still semi-affordable (yay!).

My husband, being the water junkie that he is, decided that this was the perfect location for our future mountain cabin. Disappointed that no waterfront lots were for sale at all in 2005, he took matters into his own hands and sent letters to all of the waterfront property owners, asking if they would be interested in selling. Two of the property owners are willing to sell, and we're seriously considering buying one of the lots.

Since we were in Steamboat skiing this weekend, we drove down to the lake (it's a 20 minute drive from downtown Steamboat), and took a look at both lots. Both lots are technically waterfront lots - the only land between them and the water is owned by the state. One lot sits lower and closer to the water, and one lot sits higher but has a better view. We're trying to figure out if the lot closer to the water would be a better investment before we decide which one to buy.

(Yes, I really am a big nerd. But the diagram is meant to be illustrative of the lot locations, so I just had to include it.)

Either way, I'm excited. It would be a great location to build - isolated enough to be a nice getaway, close to good skiing and a cool town, next to a wilderness area with a bunch of trails, and on the water so Nate can waterski in the summer.

Let's just hope we can agree on what lot to buy and get things moving!

Hitting the Slopes

I just got back from a weekend of skiing in Steamboat Springs and I'm really wishing I could have just stayed there.

If only I was a good enough skier to consider being a ski bum... Maybe I should work on my skills.

A bunch of friends from Chicago flew out for the weekend, and we decided to rent a condo in Steamboat so we could avoid driving home in ski traffic every night. It turned out to be a fantastic idea - Steamboat has had a record amount of snow this season, so the conditions were perfect!

Me and Nate getting ready to go:

Scott conquering the mountain of snow in the parking lot:

The view from mid-mountain:

A failed attempt at skiing in 3 feet of powder:

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Experience or Excuses?

Seems like I haven’t been doing much other than work lately. I took the week off after Christmas and had a fabulous time painting, getting my website updated, and getting back on track with running and swimming. I’ve been paying for it ever since I returned – I’m completely buried in work!

After working all weekend and staying at the office late the past three nights, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is just not what I want to do long-term.

Well, okay – I’d already reached that conclusion a long time ago, but sometimes I like my job for a minute and think to myself, “Well, they pay me pretty well so it can’t be that bad, right?” Sometimes the comfort of having a nice steady job is appealing, you know?

But I just don’t think that’s what life is all about. The past few weeks have jolted me back to reality. It’s painfully obvious that in the field I’m in, career advancement means more responsibility which means more work which means more stress. And I just don’t know how intelligent I would be if I knowingly chose to devote my life to that for the next few decades.

Fact is, I want to have time to do the things I like to do outside of work. I want to eventually have a family and be able to see them every once in a while. And I want to give my art a serious chance, not just as another hobby.

So I think this is the year that I make an honest effort at trying to make something of my art. It’s not like I’m losing anything by trying – I don’t have to quit my job to try it, I just need to rearrange my priorities for a year. If that means I have to spend most of my spare time painting and marketing, so be it. It’s worth it to give it a try. And at the end of the year it won’t be a “What if?” anymore – it’ll be a yes or no.

I read this quote on Wil’s blog a long time ago, and I love the way it speaks to me:

“What we have is based upon
moment-to-moment choices of what we do.
In each of those moments, we choose.

We either take a risk
and move toward what we want,
or we play it safe and choose comfort.
Most of the people, most of the time, choose comfort.

In the end, people either have
excuses or experiences;
reasons or results;
buts or brilliance.

They either have what they wanted
or they have a detailed list
of all the rational reasons why not."

~ Anonymous

I don’t want to play it safe forever. I don’t want to have a long list of excuses someday. I’d rather aim for brilliance and fail than say I never tried for fear of exiting my comfort zone.

I want to move forward - I want to choose experience over excuses.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Another New Year!

This morning I took a look through my triathlon training log from this time last year, and realized that a lot has changed in a year. Now that I’m a week and a half into 2006, I figure it’s time to review 2005 and set a few goals for this year (I’m such a good procrastinator that I don’t even make New Year’s Resolutions until after the New Year!).

So, to recap 2005, I present the good, the bad, and the ugly:

The Good:

  • Went to Maui for a week with Nate to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary and had a fabulous time (saying we’ve been married 5 years still makes me feel old – I keep having to remind myself I’m only 27…)
  • Spent a ton of time in the mountains, including weekend trips to Steamboat Springs, Vail, and Aspen and a 5-day trip to Telluride.
  • Hiked to some beautiful places that I’ve never been before, and spent some great nights sleeping under the stars.
  • Got a big promotion at work and transitioned from staring at my computer all day to managing people (bit of a mixed blessing, actually, but more on that later…)
  • Increased my triathlon training time and distances, and met some cool new people in the process. Cut 14 minutes off my Danskin Triathlon time from 2004, even with a foot injury that kept me slow on the run.
  • Made a ton of progress with my painting. Had a great time in a 4-day painting workshop with Jay Moore in Rocky Mountain National Park, and finally made some progress toward a landscape portfolio.
  • Finally learned to golf so I can hang out with Nate more often.

The Bad:

  • Worked too much. I started the year working overtime for an awful project manager, and managed to end the year working OT on a different project. I got a promotion mid-year which completely stressed me out all through September, October, and November. Learned that I have no desire to climb the corporate ladder!
  • Ended up with a nasty case of extensor tendonitis in my foot and had to cut my triathlon season short after training my butt off all spring.
  • Didn't manage any backpacking trips - just hiking and camping. It's just not the same when you don't get away from everything!

The Ugly:

  • This time last year my Dad had just had quadruple bypass surgery for his heart, and my mom was healing from a nasty broken shoulder. Started off the year with way too many evenings in the hospital, hoping everyone would end up healthy. Luckily they did, and I’m thankful they caught my Dad’s heart blockages before they caused a heart attack!

My favorites of 2005:

  • Best Book: “Searching for God Knows What” – Donald Miller
  • Best CD: “In Between Dreams” – Jack Johnson
  • Best Movie: Tough to decide, but probably the new Harry Potter (Goblet of Fire)
  • Best Race: 5430 Sprint Triathlon, Boulder, Colorado (great organization and course!)
  • Best Trip: Definitely Maui. Can’t beat laying around on the beach with a margarita in hand!

Luckily the good outweighs the bad and the ugly, but it was a stressful year and I’m kind of glad to see it go. I’m hoping that 2005 will be the year that I do the following:

  • Obtain gallery representation for my landscape paintings
  • Get a painting accepted to the Arts for the Parks competition or an Oil Painters of America show.
  • Find the right piece of property to buy in Steamboat Springs so Nate and I can eventually build the mountain cabin we’ve been dreaming about for years.
  • Think about having kids (yes, think about it – I’m not committing to anything here)
  • Swim 200,000 yards (swam ~80,000 in 2005, which wasn’t nearly enough considering that I love the water)

There, now they’re all in writing so I’m committed. Here’s to a great 2006!!