Sunday, November 2, 2014

Sunday Sermon

"Character is formed on Sunday afternoons." - Ramon Eder

Monday, October 13, 2014

Hate with Conviction

Hate bothers me. It's easy, obvious and negative. What I'm really bothered by though, even more than the initial object of my hate, is act of hating itself. I hate hating! And so it begs the question: could there be anything more annoying than hating hate? Yes. Trying to ignore the hate all together. It just doesn't work. As much as I've tried to ignore my hate by hating it, it doesn't go away. It lingers and festers, and becomes more glaringly obvious and terrible. 

I realized this the other day while passing by a store front I hate. I've passed it hundreds and hundreds of times, always trying to ignore how much I hate it.

I couldn't do it anymore. So I stopped and allowed myself to just indulge in the hate. It went a little something like... 

I hate this! I hate this so fucking much. This store is called "Het Bed" or "The Bed". Guess what they sell? Yup. Beds. I hate it. I hate its obvious name and complete lack of creativity and originality. I hate how often I see this sort of laziness from Dutch stores. Why are there so many boring store names like this?!?!

Almost immediately I felt guilty and disappointed about giving into my hate, when suddenly a brief moment of clarity hit me over the head. What's fantastic about "het bed" is that the people running this place just rolled up their sleeves, got to work, opened the store and started selling beds. Clearly, they didn't waste any time trying to come up with the perfect name and brand. Sure, this could help them sell more beds, but isn't selling some beds a perfectly good place to start? 

I realized that instead of thinking these Dutch store fronts are lazy, I might try to consider how they aren't. You know what's not lazy? Running a business. So guess what, "Het Bed"? Hats off to you – you're a fine example prioritization and time management at its best. 

"You can do anything, but not everything" 
                                – David Allen 
And the great news? You can change your name and brand any time now (and I highly recommend that you do!), but until then, you're selling beds and I've found a little admiration for you. And now when I pass "Het Bed", I'm no longer consumed by my hate. I simply look up at that stupid sign and I greet it with a smile. 

By giving "Het Bed" the conviction of my hate, it showed me that there is something for me to love. 

This little epiphany taught me that instead of pretending that hate isn't a part of my process, I should allow it to have its place. To do this, I've designed a little experiment for myself. From now on, instead of hating hate, I'm going to challenge myself to love hate. To explain how this might work, I'll reference a book I'm reading (and loving and can't recommend enough), The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera. Kundera writes, 
" is a continual interrogation."
I love this in so many ways, but specifically in this case, it works so well. To love hate, I am committing to its continuous interrogation. My hypothesis is that in doing so, I'll see beyond hate's easy, obvious and negative faults, making room for hate to reveal more of its beauty and brilliance. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Life Lessons from a Dog

This is Ida. She's a sassy bitch. 

Our motto: Always be Training!

Ida's been teaching me new tricks since May of this year. Quickly I learned that getting the best results from Ida starts with setting her up for success. Let me put it another way, anything she does wrong, is always (yes, always!) my fault. For example, if I don't want her to chew my shoes, I shouldn't leave them out for her to chew. Not a bad thing though, because her success is my success and my living space has never been so clean and organized.

Teaching Ida everything she needs to know is hard work. It never stops and sometimes it takes a long time for the hard work to pay off. So, while she's not exactly a good dog... yet... what I admire most about her is that each day she works really hard to be a better dog. And the most rewarding part of all her little puppy effort, is that she actually manages to teach me about life along the way. Being the good student that I am, I've started keeping a list of what I'm calling 'Insights by Ida'. Here are the first three: 

1. Consistency is key to successful progress.

Ida's like one of those annoying people who watch movies only to point out flaws and inconsistencies in filming rather than enjoy the story. She's smart and fairly manipulative, too. Once I've established a boundary or rule for her, she'll spend 90% of her time watching me, just hoping I'll slip up. If I'm inconsistent, even once, she takes notice and then boastfully throws it in my face. In a nutshell, inconsistencies in our training make the road to successful progress far more difficult. 

Case in point: I once swore that no dog of mine would ever sit on the couch, but then there was this one time I thought cuddling with her on the couch would be nice... and it was nice, so I thought, "hey, win some, lose some" and I let it go. But now that I have a couch dog, I also have to have a really clean dog. This means that Ida takes a lot of baths and I can honestly say that bathing Ida is an experience neither one of us looks forward to. 

Although losing battles to Ida is rather disappointing, each time I see her furry (clean!) muppet limbs draped comfortably across my couch, I'm reminded that my short-term behaviours shape my long-term outcomes. And even though I thought I already knew this (a little nod to the title of my blog), I still need reminding that doing what's right is always more effective than doing what's easy. 

2. Choose to notice and celebrate the good.

This is an excerpt from The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera. It's excellent, and so is the word litost. To describe its pronunciation, Kundera explains that, "its first syllable, which is long and stressed, sounds like the wail of an abandoned dog". Which makes some logical sense because abandoned dogs are "bad." What people abandoning their dogs (or people who just have really bad dogs) often fail to realise is that when a dog receives negative attention for bad behaviour, much like the student, their response is almost always more bad behaviour. 

 Dogs see everything as a game and they expect us to show them how to play. This is hard to remember because a state of constant play is unnatural for us. And when dogs start playing games without proper instruction, the response required of us isn't instinctual. For example, once I've noticed Ida is doing something naughty, instead of telling her off, I pay as little attention to the bad behaviour as possible and quickly change her focus towards a more desirable behaviour. Once, and only once, she behaves correctly, I reward the good behaviour. In summary, the very best way to correct Ida's bad behaviour is for me to give it as little attention as possible. It sounds a bit harsh, but a lot of energy goes into ignoring Ida. This is because Ida's biggest desire is to win my attention, and whether or not that attention is affection or shouting is entirely up to me. 

Ida and I have a finite amount of time together and I've already decided how I'd like for us to spend it. Instead of waiting for her to act up, each day I make it my intention to stay present and notice the good. And for my effort, Ida rewards me by giving me even more good behaviour to notice.

Noticing Ida's good reminds that the only energy required to notice the good in others, is my own. It's up to me to take the time to see and appreciate the good in those around me. Because unlike the bad, which is screams for our attention and demands our energy, the good is quiet and unassuming. And if we don't make seeing the good our priority, without even trying, we are taking it for granted.  

3. Feed yourself first. 

If you know me at all, you know that I get hangry (angry + hungry = hangry). I become this annoyed, angry, different person when I'm hungry, so I've got to make time eat. Although my hanger is unpleasant, I'm not a complete beast and I do still have my nurturing instincts. So in the morning, if I'm hungry and Ida is hungry, naturally I want to worry about her first and then look after myself. 

It's puppy 101 for me now, but before I feed Ida, I have got to feed myself first! This is because once I've fed Ida, she's filled with an intense amount of energy. She needs to play, a lot! She needs to be let outside, or she'll burst! She needs to run! She needs to meet everyone! She needs to smell... EVERYTHING! And more than anything else, she needs me to have my game face on. And I should. The world is exciting and she's curious, and I want her to enjoy that. And I want me to enjoy that. Feeding her when I'm hangry? I can totally do that. Enjoying that post-meal energy when I'm hangry? Not a chance. 

In the mornings I've learned to remember that dogs (even puppies) are resilient and fairly sleepy, and it's really okay to let Ida be the one waiting on me. My real challenge in caring for Ida is remembering that my first priority is always me. This is because building a strong bond with Ida requires that I'll continue to enjoy satisfying her needs in the longterm, and in order for me to do that, I've got to satisfy my own first. 

It sounds selfish, but it's exactly the opposite. We so often hear that true love is selfless or that sacrificing by putting the needs of others before our own is what's honorable and good. These are nice ideas, but they're simply not sustainable. Serving and loving others in the ways they deserve starts by serving and loving ourselves in the ways we deserve. 

I define love as our ability to reciprocate our own self-worth. I believe that being at the service of others is about preparing ourselves in such away that service never feels like sacrifice. Self-worth is hard. It takes practice and no one can do it for us. I have to continuously practice taking responsibility for my own emotions. I have to continuously work at being accountable to myself as priority number one. I take time for myself, I honor my own priorities before devoting attention elsewhere, and I feed myself first. But by putting self-love and self-care at the top of my list, I am able to love others more fully and in the ways we both deserve. 

So there you have it. Ida might be a sassy bitch, but she's also a really good bitch (and teacher). I look forward to her lessons every day and will of course be sharing more 'Insights by Ida' as they reveal themselves.   

Monday, September 15, 2014

Practicing Gratitude

A few weeks ago two of my very closest friends left Amsterdam for their next adventure in Sydney. I had known this was coming for a long time, but it took up until their very last Saturday morning in town for me to fully comprehend the stark reality that they would no longer be a short run or bike ride away.

I know it shouldn't take such significant change to notice and appreciate our friends and family, but for whatever reason it sometimes does. While their leaving hit me pretty hard, I'm thankful that it finally afforded me the time and space to not only consider, but articulate what their friendship has taught me over the years. 
For much of the past 4-5 years, I've only written sporadically. I tend to grapple with the idea of a blog being too self-centered and in the past I haven't always allowed myself to write about my personal relationships. While I don't want to start an online diary, or over share... I do want to use my blog to practice gratitude a bit more regularly. I want it to be a space for me to reflect on my own experiences, observations and life insights, but more than anything I want to use it as a space to celebrate the people I love. So in honour of HendOrla's big move, today I'm celebrating them. 

I first met Chris and Orla on craigslist. They posted the most epic "roommates wanted" listing and I knew instantly that we would be friends - whether they wanted to live with me or not. With me still living in Oregon, we had to meet on Skype and even though I was pretty confident in their trustworthiness, sending cool strangers money for first month's rent and a deposit is still sending money to strangers. Upon arriving in Amsterdam with five suitcases, you can imagine how overjoyed I was when a real, live, actual, tiny, Irish Orla greeted me at the door. 

I couldn't have known it then, but Orla would teach me to see the world differently. For starters, she taught me that eggplants are really aubergines, that zucchinis are actually courgettes, that when I have a cut I'm looking for a plaster, and that you can put cilantro on anything so long as you call it koriander. 

Orla is a master of her own time. She's utterly content spending a Friday evening in and she's in her element sitting on her own with her paper and a cup of tea. It took time for my loud, constantly talking self to get used to this kind of solitude, but after two years of living together, Orla has taught me how to sit quietly and enjoy my own thoughts. 

Being Irish, she automatically has a sense of humour. But she's also got the unique gift of making me laugh even when I don't want to, or when it's not actually funny at all (...Father Ted). And not to go unrecognized, she's also got a Simpson's quote on hand for any and every occasion. 

Laughter is important and Orla knows this. Unlike so many of our friends taking marketing and advertising too seriously, Orla is actually working to improve the world. Since knowing her, she's finished her masters in conflict, security and development, and so far she's dedicated her career to sustainability and most recently to counter-terrorism. She's one of the smartest ladies I know and she is committed to not only understanding serious, complex problems, but to solving them as well.

Orla has taught me many things, but above all, she's shown me how to see joy in life's simplicity and find beauty in its complexity and for that and her friendship, I am forever grateful. 

Chris, also known as "Hendo" is equally generous with gifts. And just as his names suggest, his personality comes with a duality all its own. Where Chris has taught me to pay attention to detail and to fully focus, Hendo has taught me to lighten up and be carefree. 

Since knowing Hendo (for the sake of this post, from here on out, let's just stick to one name) I can definitely say that nearly all aspects of my life have improved. After spending a lot of time in the kitchen with Hendo, probably one of the greatest results of our friendship is that I'm no longer burning my meals anymore. This is all thanks to three amazing little words he taught me: Patience, love and care. 

Not at all surprising, I hear myself echoing these words as a daily reminder both in and out of the kitchen. And it's these kind of lessons that made Hendo feel like the brother I always wanted. He has this incredible talent of making you feel completely at ease, while simultaneously challenging you. He knows just when to give advice, when to pay a compliment, and exactly how to get the best of me. 

He's taught me to be humble, to apologize first and in his jedi-like silence, he's also taught me how to listen. 

When I first arrived in Amsterdam, I thought I would stay for maybe one or two years, but after knowing these two, this place quickly felt like home. Our friendship has taught me so many things, but the most special lesson of all is that in this life, we really do get to choose our family. And so I will close by saying, HendOrla... I chooo chooo choooooooose you. Thank you for everything, and I can't wait to see you again. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Leaving Busy Behind

I'm leaving busy behind. I'm taking it out of my vocabulary, because busy is a trap. It is a clever con artist capable of stealing our time before we even notice that it's gone. We're so comfortable accepting busy as a passing phrase that we overlook its nature as an excuse for our bad habits. We've become so busy celebrating busy that even in its absence, we covet it. 

It's time we start to see busy as the glorified falsehood it is. Busy disguises itself as productivity. Busy tricks us into feeling important. Busy feeds our ego with distraction and happily sacrifices our well-being and relationships. When we default to busy, everything is an obligation. In the name of busy we skip meals, lose sleep, show up late or sometimes not at all. Little by little, busy demands too much; that we lose touch with those we love, with ourselves, with all the beautiful little nothings just waiting for us to turn them into great big somethings. Each time that we stop noticing, appreciating or listening, busy is winning. 

I know this because I used to be very, very busy. Until one day I wasn't. And what I found was that without busy I needed new ways to measure my productivity. I decided that instead of crossing endless tasks off of a list, I would measure productivity by the amount of new people and experiences I could encounter in each day, week and month. And before I knew it, the best things began happening to me. 

I started exploring new neighborhoods and I reconnected with my own. I've learned that each one has a unique story. For example, the streets of my neighborhood are named after famous Dutch authors, and there is actually one living right around the corner. I also learned that one of my neighbours is about to celebrate his 70th year living on our street, and that he's lived in his same apartment his entire life. By not avoiding conversations with people working in shops, restaurants, and parks, before I knew it, I was forging new friendships and making connections with people outside of my expat and industry bubble. I also found that I have the time to stay in touch with my friends and family back home. I'm talking to my sisters more than ever, and through the good graces of the Internet, I'm even learning Dutch with one of them.

Without busy, I suddenly realized that all of my time has always been my own and that the decision to be busy is a choice I'm no longer willing to make. Without busy, I am able to notice my own growth and I've learned to enjoy my own company. I'm finding that inspiration is all around me, that I'm more creative than I have been in years, and that I'm most happy when I'm making time to not only have ideas, but to work on them. Without busy, I'm finding my confidence and learning to embrace the world around me.

Without busy, I've made room for sincerity and presence. Instead of using busy as an excuse, I simply tell people what I am doing. This benefits me most of the time. By sharing more of my life with people, they feel more connected to me. Because of this, I'm also finding that generally people have something of value to add - either an idea, an additional solution or a recommendation. When I'm too short on time to do that, I'm just honest about why and I no longer give excuses for my bad behaviours if what's required is an apology.

From now on, instead of thinking about all of the things I have to do or places I need to get to, I'm going to make each day my classroom and view every person as my teacher. And I'm going to do so without the distraction of busy.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Inspiration of sorts.

A grab bag of goodies that have been inspiring me lately:

The Lost Art of Play

By: Livia Albeck-Ripka

We don’t play anymore. Why is that?

As children, play is one of the first things we learn to do. It teaches us to be optimistic, 

flexible and social. Yet when we grow up, it seems to almost disappear from our lives.
We forget to make a mess, to dress up, to make things from egg cartons and shoeboxes—to create when we know we might fail. We replace “idle” enjoyment with work and seriousness; somehow, we start believing that if there isn’t a goal, there isn’t a point.
We become monofocused, but it burns something at the other end. Increasingly, we are overworked, obese and depressed. We escape into drugs and alcohol, even though we know that these altered states of consciousness are detached and ultimately, empty.
But we are hardwired to play, and we haven’t been coping without it. Play is the foundation for intimacy, cooperation, creativity and resilience. It is essential to our mental health.
So let’s get out the glue and streamers and make something that might be ugly. Let’s be spontaneous. Let’s improvise. Let’s fail together. Let’s reconnect.
Through play, we can awaken our innate ability to trust and adapt. And instead of feeling the fleeting happiness that comes from goal-orientated success, we can engage with something far more magical, free and expansive.
We can’t play where there is judgment, so we will have to ignore our egos. Let’s try to remember what gave us joy as fearless children. Did you love to sing, to dance, to build? When is the last time you felt free, light, lost in a story? Disappearing into the make-believe can nourish our brains and hearts and inspire a world of possibility.

Find rewards in creating things for yourself and make things for no other reason than for them to exist.

"Design is the choices we make about the world we want to live in."

Wilson Miner - When We Build from Build on Vimeo.

Be good. Get better.

1. You don't have to dream
2. Don't seek happiness
3. Remember it's all luck
4. Exercise
5. Be hard on your opinions
6. Be a teacher
7. Define yourself by what you love
8. Respect people with less power than you
9. Don't rush

Amy Polher's Smart Girls at the Party, inspiring girls to "Change the world by being yourself"

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Becoming an Adult Child

The arrival of the adult child plagues both parent and child. It is an unavoidable stage in life as someday we're all forced to become someone's adult child. The very notion of the adult child causes parents endless worry and concern:

"Will they still need me?" 
"Will they build a life they are happy and proud of?" 
"Will they remember how proud I am of them?" 
"Will they be proud of where they are from?" 

And in time, guilt begins to slowly creep its way into the daily lives of even the greatest adult children: 

"I should have called sooner." 
"I know I should visit for the holidays, but..."
"I should be closer to my family." 
"I'm not around enough." 
"I hope they know how much I love and miss them." 

Living far from home is a common symptom of adult childhood and learning to lead a life separate from the family you've always known is an inevitable part of growing up. In place of everyday interaction, we're forced to rely heavily upon our memories to keep us close. But memories themselves can pose an even greater threat than separation itself.  This is because families are made up of individuals and while it is not so difficult to agree a history based on a shared time and place, it is sometimes impossible to agree the exact events, emotions or outcomes of time spent together. So many families rely on a shared story as a false measure of unity and strength. And its dispute creates tension second only to that of religion and politics.

Our family is complex; complex to the point of it really only being my family. My parents divorced when I was very young and as my mother's youngest child and my father's oldest child, I am the only child between the two of them. This has made looking through family albums feel something like memory loss. Only knowing fragments of stories has left me to fill in the rest and assumptions made over the years caused me to create a mythology all my own. 

For much of my youth this mythology frightened me. As a child I could never make sense of my mother's knee jerk reactions at the telling and reliving of seemingly happy past events.  After witnessing a quick turn of the head or a casual exit, I would prompt her for an explanation. She would do her very best to carefully tell me that some of my best memories were actually some of her worst. This never settled well for me and as I grew older I spent far too much time fighting with her, and demanding facts. 

It's only now that I am an adult that I've been able to appreciate all the things that my mother has done for me and while we might never agree on facts of the past, I want her to really know that it's finally okay with me. I wanted to write about this as a way to thank my mother. Because even with all the distance between us, I hope she knows that every day she becomes more and more a part of me. 

I want her to know that whenever I see a beautiful garden, I think of the two of us digging in our yard until the sun would go down. And that I only know how to appreciate the wilderness because she took me on such long, beautiful hikes. I want her to know that when I need quiet time, I think of her saying to me, "shhhh, I need quiet!" and laugh. I hope she knows that whenever I receive a card in the mail, regardless of who it's from, I'm reminded of the year she sent me a birthday card every day for an entire month. And that when I make my bed, I tuck my sheets tightly into the corners just as she would, so that each night reminds me of being home. I want her to know that I am able to do all that I do because of her encouragement. And that I am strong and independent, only because she taught me to have my own thoughts and opinions, never forcing her own. And that when I do hear her voice in the things I say, I smile and am reminded of who I am. 

Mom, I appreciate all of the things you have done in my life. I could never list all the moments that your memory fills my heart. For so much of our lives we've been both together and apart, but I hope you know that you're a part of my life every single day. Happy Mother's Day – I love you so much. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Clarifying Optimism

A friend once told me that being happy is far more difficult than being unhappy. She said that "happy" takes a certain kind of bravery and confidence and at times, pain. I like this thought and I like reflecting on the idea of happiness. 

A quick Amazon book search tells me that there are roughly 28,893 books related to "happiness." Some titles express happiness as a skill that we can all master, suggesting that real, authentic happiness can be achieved every single day. They promise that optimism can be learned and that it alone has the power of changing our minds and lives for the better. And while I do not doubt that many of these authors and books are worthwhile and have helped many people significantly improve their lives, I find my friend's point of view the most honest. And yet, even with her satisfactory answer, I've still found myself feeling somewhat skeptical. 

Some people subscribe their permanent state of being to optimism with the hope of attracting its counterpart, happiness. I've never described myself as particularly happy or unhappy, because I've not always been certain what that is supposed to feel like. Should my happiness feel the same as yours? And while it sounds nice to describe myself as particularly optimistic, I don't know if that's really the case either. So I've been trying clarify optimism:

  1. Hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something.
2.  The tendency to expect the best and see the best in all things. 

Optimism suggests that we are seeking our most optimal state of being. As an ideology, that sounds pretty good. But is that all it is? An ideal set with the hope of achieving a better future? Where does that leave the present? This definition of optimism has become a quick fix for excusing negative feelings. When something goes wrong, choose optimism and hope for the best. 

Does hoping for the best suggest that some element of happiness exists within every reality? When are we supposed to feel bad? If we never feel bad, how do we know when to feel good? I don't believe that we can actually sustain happiness as a constant state of being and I don't believe that we should try. When asking a person how they are doing, nothing feels more numb to me than the repetitive response of "great." As humans we are engineered to seek out social connections with one another, but we so easily fail to achieve fulfilling relationships by constantly portraying idealistic versions of ourselves. 

I've come to the conclusion that happiness is not a skill to be learned. This not an excuse for being unpleasant, I simply don't think happiness is easily defined or a characteristic that we mystically attain after enough time spent being optimistic. Holding onto ideals or fantasies becomes harmful when we are no longer able to distinguish them from what is real. I associate happiness with a state of awareness. I believe that the result of mindfully allowing ourselves to exist within the very realistic present provides far greater feelings of fulfillment and potential. 

So rather than relying on an overly positive outlook of the future or a rose-tinted view of the present, I've clarified optimism as the opportunity to constructively reflect upon the past and accurately experience the present; both happy and sad. I choose to understand optimism as the ability to thrive and not dwell. I find that this definition combats anxiety with the reassurance that the more I allow myself to enjoy the present, the better the past and future will become. 

Monday, January 14, 2013


A few Sundays ago I attended a storytelling night at a cafe close to my house, but I almost didn't make it. For once, I wasn't late. I arrived on time, but before getting off my bike, I peered into the window at the small gathering and let intimidation take over. Quickly turning my bike around, I peddled back towards home. Thankfully it didn't take too long for my better judgement to kick in and again I found myself outside of the cafe. This time I got off of my bike, locked it and went inside.

I had every intention of being a fly on the wall, but as soon as the door swung open, I was greeted by a man who looked as if he'd just stepped out of the tree of life – his hair and beard were long and flowing and his presence felt calm and zen-like. He introduced himself as Abraham and immediately welcomed me into the group. Tea in hand, he kicked off night and the stories began. 

At first things felt a little unorganized. Without a set theme or agenda, we hesitated to share, but it didn't take long for the room to open up. I was completely fascinated by everyone. While most of the room was Dutch, we were still a really diverse group. Each story was so told with a completely different style. The first a metaphor – educational, yet filled with meaning. The second was beautiful and it was hard to distinguish between reality and fiction. The third was an exciting recount a mysterious volunteer experience abroad that left us all a bit puzzled.

Half way through we took a short break and the side conversations opened up. A woman turned to me and asked me what my story was. I looked at her blankly and began to stumble over my words. I heard myself describing who I was a bit, and then I said something like, "I suppose my story hasn't been as important as helping others express their stories." 

It's a simple question. What's your story? My story. For the last few weeks I've ruminated about that.

The night reminded me that stories don't have to be significant to be shared. The last year I've felt my thoughts and stories becoming a bit more scattered. I never thought that keeping a blog was too significant in the past, but something about that evening made me realize that I missed writing it. 

Being quiet is important, but perhaps I've spent too many months keeping to myself. What I realize now is that I've changed so much over the last two years and have hardly taken a step back to notice it. I stopped blogging and I stopped creating projects without purpose. I suppose it's good to take a break, but in doing so I've missed capturing my own stories. I'm not promising myself a significant return, but I do promise a return. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Imagination of Children

For those of you who know me, you probably know I used to nanny for two adorable children when I was a university student. I loved, loved, loved that job. To me it was more of a break than it was a job. It was a reminder to use my imagination and an opportunity to play pretend. Noa was famous for explaining to me how things worked and how she viewed the world. Here is one of my favorite examples from an old blog I kept during that time:

"Every now and then I take my car to go get the kids from school. Eli sometimes asks me if my music is skipping or what that "sound" is. It made me realize that there are probably a lot of different kinds of musical genres that they haven’t really heard before. On our way to get Eli from school the other day, Noa asked me what the scratchy noise was- I didn’t understand at first. Oh! I got it- she was asking about the scratching from the music playing. I tried to explain electronic music to her.

I told her that some music is made from playing instruments and that some is made from synthetic sounds with a computer. I tried to explain what a DJ does when he scratches old records on a turntable and what sound that produces. Then I thought to myself, “I wonder if Noa understands what a turn table is?” So I gave her a quick run down of that. I asked her if she understood what I was explaining. She said, “yes.”

Noa and Eli both play the violin and so they are pretty well rounded at an early age about musical composition. Finally I thought of a good example. I asked her if she could tell me the difference between a piano and a keyboard. She eagerly responded with, “Yes! They are different sizes! One is really big and one is smaller.” “Right,” I said. I asked her if she knew why and she paused. I asked her if she knew what was inside of them. “Have you ever looked inside a piano and seen all of the thick steel strings and little felt covered hammers?” She said she had.

Then she told me, “I think that when you look inside of a piano it is more like looking at a jungle with vines and trees and leaves and stuff, and it's all vines."

Kind of amazed with this answer, I asked her what she thought the inside of a keyboard must look like. She said "I think it's like a city with tall buildings and sidewalks.”

Oh my God. Yes. And here is where my teaching stopped, and Noa’s began."

We let a lot of that imagination and curiosity for the world go when we become adults. Recently I read how Sony Ericsson created their new global Xperia ad and was pleasantly surprised at how beautifully they captured imagination through the eyes of a child: 

The ad and concept is wonderfully executed. The line is "Made of Imagination" with the actual script coming from the real imagination of an 8-year-old boy. The only thing I find a bit funny is that the creds at the end of AdWeek post don't mention a single planner involved. I know we're usually behind the scenes and not used to waving our planner flags high in public, but from my knowledge of the industry, a planner would typically do these discovery interviews and have a major hand in selecting the kind of interviews conducted. So whoever you are, wherever you are, hats off to the unmentioned planner in this team, great work!