A letter of apology to our future children

I am sorry that you have to grow up in a world without Robin Williams.

It seems nothing short of cruel that you have to face this brutal world without one of the greatest comedic geniuses who could always find a way to evoke unadulterated laughter.

I’m sorry that you won’t get to meet a soldier who fought in WWII (like my grandfather). You won’t get to hear first-hand how they boldly stood up against Hitler and his Nazi regime – and with it, all of the world’s immorality and injustice.

I’m sorry that the buzz and glow of technology may blot out the sunrise before you are old enough to truly appreciate its beauty.

I’m sorry that our generation and the generations before us have – at times – allowed greed, anger, hatred, and ignorance to prevail. That sometimes we simply can’t find a way to get along.

But along with this sorrow, I would like to point out glimmers of hope. I hear hope in quotes that are now circulating from Robin Williams’ movies. I have personal hope that his death will shine a light on the terrible mental illness that is depression, and that it will soon become a treatable disease.

I feel hope when people band together to help those in need, to fight for a good cause, or even to say goodbye to a legend.

I see it in street art, in creativity, in individualism. I see it in those who refuse to let life define them, but rather, choose to define life.

I have hope that we don’t dwell on sadness, but embrace it and force it into fuel for greatness.

I know it’s not quite so black and white, but I believe the future can be saved. To do my part, I ask a few favors of you:

  • Find something you believe in and stand your ground. Because without personal ideals and principles, you will never truly know yourself.
  • Reach out if you are feeling lost. And reach out to others who might look a little lost. Life isn’t a journey to be made alone.
  • Choose your idols wisely. Don’t choose them because they are thin, or pretty, or famous for being famous. Choose them because they make a difference.
  • Watch Hook. Never let that cinematic masterpiece fade away.
  • Assume at least a piece of the responsibility that Robin Williams left us. Fill our world with laughter.

___

“Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” – Robin Williams as John Keating, Dead Poets Society

“Comedy is acting out optimism.” – Robin Williams

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” – Robin Williams

 

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Does Education Kill Creativity?

Structured, organized education or homeschooled, creative learning? It’s a question that has plagued society since society itself became structured. While students in Asia and the surrounding countries have a very rigid education system and are commonly thought to be ahead of their American and European counterparts, new research has surfaced that suggests children who participate in unstructured activities tend to fare better in the classroom.

Is the current assessment-test-based education system simply pumping out cogs for the workforce assembly machine? As I work in advertising, I am constantly surrounded by out-of-the-box thinkers, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But why must that only apply to the creative fields? After just three and a half years in the “real world,” I have come to realize that creativity serves you well no matter the industry. And creativity is not taught. It’s practiced.

No matter how many grammar tests I took or how many late-night study sessions I blew through during journalism school, my breadth of knowledge would not have been complete without writing freelance articles for the local paper in my college town or attending student-run yoga classes (however unsuccessful they might have been…). This is not to say that I do not believe in structured education. In some ways, it proves immensely useful, especially with the outstanding teachers I was lucky enough to study under.

Perhaps, there is no answer. Or perhaps, it’s an intricate balance. Instead of coming home with hours upon hours of homework after already spending all day in the classroom, maybe kids should be instructed to start a neighborhood soccer game, take a risk, conquer a fear, or find a passion.

Whatever the solution, it can’t be found in a textbook, that’s for sure.

“Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” – Pablo Picasso 

“Creativity is contagious, pass it on.” – Albert Einstein 

Book Review: Life After Life

Reincarnation. Rebirth. Chances. In Life After Life, the heroin, Ursula Todd, received these three phenomena. Over and over and over again.

In a plot similar to that of Groundhog Day – but without the comedic genius of Bill Murray – Kate Atkinson expertly explores the depth of a character. It seems that she rejected the fact that an author must choose a single path for his or her protagonist. Personal choices were key in each of Ursula’s life journeys, reminding us that even the smallest decision can alter the outcome of our lives. A lesson I learned years ago from Mark Twain’s Mysterious Stranger (another must-read).

We see Ursula, a girl coming of age in war-ravaged England during the World War II area, live many lives and take many different paths that inevitably lead to her demise. Though Ursula continued to find death through childhood illness, abuse, old age, bombs, and even suicide, she gathered valuable lessons along the way.

It sounds morbid, and in some ways it was, but Ursula’s character was inherently good. She spent much of her time (whether a particular path led her to live out her life in England, France, or Germany) brooding over Hitler’s appeal and whether she was right not to trust him. As the book progressed, she began to grasp her “gift” and use it to save others, from the small scale – her neighbor’s murder – to the large scale – I won’t spoil that one.

My only gripe would be that I felt some of her lives received an unnecessarily long amount of time while the ultimate climax – Ursula actually utilizing the knowledge that she had gathered – was glazed over at the end.

Overall, the effect of Atkinson’s novel was one of compassion. The bond between reader and protagonist is stronger than usual. You just want Ursula to get it right. But what is “right” anyway? Is Atkinson just trying to tell us that a life well-lived is simply a life lived?

“He [Hitler] was born a politician. No, Ursula thought, he was born a baby, like everyone else. And this is what he has chosen to become.” – Kate Atkinson, Life After Life

“No point in thinking, you just have to get on with life. We only have one after all, we should try and do our best. We can never get it right, but we must try.” – Kate Atkinson, Life After Life

“Become such as you are, having learned what that is.” – Kate Atkinson, Life After Life

Meat Sweats

I don’t normally eat red meat, but when I do, I eat a steak at Ruth’s Chris. Don’t get the wrong idea – this is not a regular occurrence. However, I would be remiss not to claim the “good taste in great meat” title.

This weekend for my mom’s birthday, I went with my family to Ruth’s Chris where I indulged in a buttery, sizzling petite filet that would have made even the staunchest vegetarian’s mouth water. Then, on Easter Sunday, my family decided that instead of our usual (sacrificial) lamb with mint jelly, we would grill steaks.

Needless to say, I am going vegetarian this week. With a diet that rarely includes red meat, just thinking about my meals this weekend gives me the meat sweats. With another big meal coming up on Friday (Restaurant Orsay…unquestionably the BEST restaurant in Jacksonville), the menu I set for this week keeps meat at arms length. Au revoir, see you next week, carnivore Kate.

Who’s with me??

Monday – Fish tacos
Tuesday – Spaghetti squash caprese bake
Wednesday – Leftovers OR breakfast for dinner (does not include bacon or sausage)
Thursday – buffalo-style quinoa sliders

Book Review: The Monsters of Templeton

Echoing a theme from my first book review, I want to reiterate that first impressions aren’t everything. When I first began my journey into the town of Templeton (closely and unapologetically based off of Cooperstown, NY), I thought that this was going to be a depressing whine-fest from Willie, a 28-year-old woman who arrives back at her hometown heartbroken and pregnant the same day that a monster surfaces dead in the town’s  lake.

Quite the contrary.

I found this book to be a moving novel in which you travel through time to visit generations upon generations of Willie’s ancestors and discover scandals, murders, and love stories. Upon arriving home, Willie – a decedent of the town’s namesake, Marmaduke Temple – learns that her father (whom she originally believed to be a random hippie from her mother’s wild days) was actually a man in town she had known her whole life.  In Willie’s quest to discover her father’s identity, she uncovers a family history so rich that it must leave some readers yearning to discover more of their own heritage.

The scenes are achingly realistic, and the characters are deep, mysterious, and beautifully flawed. I found myself inthralled in each generation, each illegitimate child, each crooked path of the Temple’s family tree.

In the end, I thought it ended rather abruptly. It was hard for me to believe that this life-altering situation would not change Willie – a smart, but very cynical and slightly misguided woman – a bit more than you are led to believe. I suppose I could label it as one of those “the rest is up to you” happy endings.

The mixture of pure fantasy and strikingly honest quarter-life-crisis-style prose creates a mysteriously exciting and curiously inviting town that you will long to remain a part of.

“…no genius, I am a girl who knows too much to know anything at all…”- Lauren Groff, The Monsters of Templeton

“…all I’m saying is that worrying about it isn’t going to fix anything. The only thing we can do is keep on with our own small thing and try hard to be good and to make life better, and know that if it all ends tomorrow that we were at least happy.” – Lauren Groff, The Monsters of Templeton

“Amor animi arbitrio sumitu, non ponitur; we choose to love; we do not choose to cease loving.” – Lauren Groff, The Monsters of Templeton

Healthy Eating for Foodies

Food is my life. No, I am not overweight. No, I do not eat my feelings. But my vacations do revolve around local eateries that have the best reviews on Yelp, and I am happiest when my hunger is satisfied.

When I finally started cooking for myself, I reveled in experimentation. I tried vegetarian meals; I tried vegan meals; and my most recent endeavor has been paleo. When my husband and I began training for a 15K race coming up in March (talk to some of my oldest friends, and you will find that “Kate” and “running” are two words do not belong in the same universe, much less the same sentence), we joined a crossfit group that recommended the “paleo lifestyle.”

Always willing to try new recipes, we gave it a try. In a nutshell, to eat paleo, one must give up all grains (yes, this includes bread, rice, pasta, and even granola), legumes (beans, peas, etc.), and dairy (MY PRECIOUS CHEESE). Needless to say, this diet does not play well with weekend plans, but I did learn a few things when we dipped our feet (ok, toes) into the paleo pool.

My pale-observations:

  1. Too many things to remember. Though I understand the thought-process behind staying away from preservatives, and the fact that “all” legumes have not been processed legitimately, I don’t agree that eating hummus will shorten my life much more than standing in front of a microwave will cause cancer.
  2. Live a little. The phrase “live a little” applies to both everyday life and everyday meals. I already ate what most would consider a super healthy lifestyle. I don’t remember the last time I ate anything fried; I substitute all high-fat products (like mayonnaise and cream cheese) with “smarter” fats (like avocado and coconut); quinoa and lentils are a regular part of my vocabulary. HOWEVER, if I am in the mood for a potato chip or even – God forbid – a French fry, I am going to treat myself. Because, life’s too short. And apparently even shorter now that I had that fry…but at least I will enjoy my short life.
  3. Food is not the enemy. Sometimes I think that these diets or, excuse me, lifestyles, can become obsessive. Though this way of eating does not necessarily encourage you to count calories as it is more focused on where the food comes from and how it was preserved, it can still promote the mindset that a potato will take a time off of your life.
  4. Genes simply have a lot to do with it. I have yet to see any hard research proving that this way of eating makes a life any longer than those 110-year-old Southerners who grew up on biscuits and gravy.

These observations lead me to my conclusion that eating a balanced meal and incorporating a few of the best aspects of each diet that appeals to you will make you a healthier and happier person than any single diet or “health food lifestyle” ever could.

The best dieting advice I have ever seen came from a blog that I stumbled upon called What a Dietitian Eats. Dietitian Chloe Phillips basically recommends never forgetting breakfast, a whole grain form of carbohydrates, healthy snacking, and exercise (among other things).

So don’t avoid your favorite restaurant because you would rather order the chicken sandwich than a limp salad. Go, and enjoy that chicken sandwich on wheat bread! Just try to avoid the fries (unless it’s a special occasion, of course).

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it.” – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off 

A Ferret Hitman and a Recipe for Success

My all-time favorite Super Bowl commercials are the old-school Budweiser series (shocking, I know). This particular ad series involved frogs, ferrets, and lizards, and it was a recipe for success. But I guarantee you no one walked into a creative brainstorm meeting and said, “I’VE GOT IT – A FERRET HITMAN! That’s the Super Bowl advertising sweet spot!”

I won’t pretend to know how this commercial came about – the creative process is a strange, emotional whirlwind – but I think it hit right on the mark. And few Super Bowl commercials since then have come close. In general, rolling out an ad series is a bit dicey. You never want to risk losing (or worse, annoying) your viewers because they might have missed something important.

Stepping out of the mind of an ad-professional, and into the mind of a Super Bowl ad-viewer, here are some tips (because you’ll never get those 30 seconds back…):

  • Don’t try too hard. We can tell.
  • Don’t be too “weird” – take a page out of Publix’s playbook. The soft stuff resonates.
  • Keep your clothes on. The “sex sells” mentality is getting old.
  • Be bold. (In this case, bold means new and different…but still classy.)
  • Sometimes simple is the way to our hearts.
  • Most importantly, understand that we are all judging you.

You’re welcome.

Judging a Book by Its Cover

Book review: The House in Paris

I’ll admit it. I judged this book by its cover.

The cover was the only reason I picked it up at my local used bookstore, Chamblins aka If Heaven Were Made of Bookshelves (and I hope it is). I had never heard of it, but the cover reminded me of a piece of artwork I might hang in my house – if there was actually room left on my walls. It didn’t hurt that the word Paris was in the title.

The book winds from the present (post WWI) to the past (a decade prior) and back again to the present. The “present” sections of the book take place in a single day, which is an interesting perspective. I am, at times, wary of books that unfold over a major passage of time.

The seemingly main character, Henrietta, is introduced as a traveling 11-year-old who is to spend the day at her grandmother’s friend’s house in Paris waiting for her next train. Her one-day stay turns into a somewhat thrilling journey into the private lives of everyone in that house. So much so that it remains hard for me to pick a single protagonist.

Leopold, a bastard child who was put up for adoption, is introduced as young boy waiting to meet his biological mother for the first time. I will admit; I was not a fan of his character. Though only nine, he seemed angry and overly willing to leave his adoptive parents in Italy for a new life with a woman he had never met.

To make a long story (actually a novel…) short, a trip through the past unfolds the secret that Leopold’s mother had an affair with her friend’s (owner of this house in Paris) fiancé. Enter Leo.

All of the characters seem flawed, save Henrietta. They all have their own agenda, ranging from selfishness to overboard selflessness (and I’m honestly not sure which is worse). Though happy to be on her way, Henrietta leaves the house smiling…perhaps thrilled to know that she was the only sane one in that entire house.

Don’t we all feel that way sometimes?

“Untrodden rocky canyons or virgin forests cannot be more entrapping than the inside of a house, which shows you what life is.” – The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen

From Basic to Beaming

Sometimes, I’m afraid I’ve lost it. Sometimes it feels as though all of the creativity has fallen out of me. The very creativity I once prided myself on. I like to refer to those times as “basic.” It takes a good book, an article, even a particularly moving movie to remind me that creativity is not so much a natural gift as it is a learned and practiced skill. A skill that gets rusty but can always be cleaned.

So how do you fight this basic feeling? Easy: with life.

In honor of the coldest day of the year and because I was wearing the most layers I would ever wear in Florida, I decided to get a flu shot. I struck up a conversation with the physician and found that she gave me my flu shot last year when she was nine months pregnant. Needless to say, today she was gushing about being eyeballs-deep in 1-year-old birthday party planning. (I will save my sarcastic comments on why we spend unexplainable amounts of money and time on birthday parties for a tiny being that wants nothing more than to shove its face in that over-the-top, specialty birthday cake for another post).

Our conversation bounced from babies, to coworkers, to the unbelievably cold weather. Nothing in particular was said and nothing was accomplished (besides a vaccination that takes 2 weeks to take effect anyway…so antibacterial soap is still a necessity). But I left with a better attitude and a small smile that came from nothing other than camaraderie found in the most unexpected of places.

Today I wrote, and tonight I will sketch because a moment spent feeling basic is a moment wasted. Every moment of every day is precious. Feeling basic is unacceptable. There are too many fascinating things to see; too many people to connect with. When I’m feeling basic, I pledge to talk to people, get outside, start a new hobby, memorize a song, run in the rain, laugh at a stupid joke. Inspiration blossoms when you least expect it.

“If you want to write, here’s a secret: the writer’s struggle is overrated, a con game, a cognitive distortion, a self-fulfilling prophecy, the best excuse for not writing.” – Roy Peter Clark

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” – Ernest Hemingway

Words Are My Medium

I can assure you that no great writer sat down and immediately erected a masterpiece. Just as there are not many great painters, or sculptors, or entrepreneurs who immediately created a world-renowned picture, sculpture, or business. And I choose not to trust those who say they did.

I read somewhere that Hunter S. Thompson (all hail: Dr. Gonzo himself) copied pages upon pages upon pages of his favorite authors’ work. Not to be published, of course, only to capture their true value. To learn from the words.

Too often, we host a melancholy desire for instant gratification. Lost in a digital age, we plow through endless headlines pausing just long enough to grasp the essential meaning of each article before moving on to the next. We fight against storytelling that might – God forbid – hold our attention for more than 30 seconds. The world moves too fast for that, right? Unfortunately, we have collectively chosen quantity over quality.

My intent with this blog is not to come across as cynical – though at times I may seem that way. I simply want to appreciate words for what they are: infinite, stimulating, emotional, but sadly, sometimes forgotten.

I hope to end all of my posts with a quote…because what better way to pay tribute to the written word than to repeat it. Honor it. Enjoy it.

“He worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium; a master.” – A Christmas Story

“Bea says that the art of reading is slowing dying, that it’s an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming scarce by the day.” – The Shadow of the Wind

“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.” – The Book Thief