creativity

An intimate look at The Nutcracker Ballet for Rochester Woman Magazine

Recently, I was asked to write an article for Rochester Woman Magazine about The Nutcracker Ballet, which is performed by Rochester City Ballet in collaboration with The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and Bach Children’s Chorus. I learned so much about this holiday classic, ballet in general, and how dance can convey a poignant and unforgettable visual experience thanks to Rochester City Ballet’s senior marketing manager Debbie Tretter and artistic director Jamey Leverett.

I couldn’t put everything I learned into my 900-word-article, but one of the most memorable moments I had was a behind-the-scenes peek of rehearsals at Rochester City Ballet, which is located on University Avenue in Rochester. Dancers were working on the popular “Waltz of the Flowers” scene, which occurs in the kingdom of the sweets. The dance is literally a waltz, and the dancers were working on perfecting their steps under the eagle eye of Leverett. This was also one of the first rehearsals that the Sugar Plum Fairy, played by Jessica Tretter, got to wear a classical tutu. My wonderful guide, Debbie Tretter explained to me that once the dancers put on a tutu – a wide, flat skirt that is hooped, and tightly tacked – they can’t see their feet!

You can read my article online here and see the entire November issue of Rochester Woman Magazine on Issuu.com.

If you’re like me and have never seen a live performance of The Nutcracker, I hope that after you read my piece it moves you to consider attending one of the six performances from November 23rd to 25th at Kodak Hall in Eastman Theatre. Tickets are available at rpo.org.

Thanks and happy reading!

Life lessons learned from taking pictures

There’s something incredibly invigorating and inspiring about taking pictures. It not only makes me happy, but taking pictures teaches me a few things about life. When I take a picture, I’m capturing a fleeting reality of an intense moment in life. When I see something interesting – an emotion on a child’s face (anger, joy, sadness, love, or fear), a flower, a dog at play, a giant acorn in the middle of a garden, a glass building, or a sign advertising pig powders – I want to capture it and save it for later.

“I got a Nikon camera/I love to take a photograph/So Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away/Oh yeah!”

I have a new Nikon camera. It doesn’t take Kodachrome, but it captures nice, bright colors. I can take the greens of summer (or grays of winter) and make you think all the world’s a sunny day (or just the opposite). Having this camera, a gift from my Mom and Dad, also makes me want to sing that Paul Simon song just because it’s fun.

Although there’s no Kodachrome left in this world (sigh), there’s creativity and ingenuity – a legacy that George Eastman and Kodak left for us. I used to take pictures with a Minolta X700 – a gift from my parents – during high school. I still have that camera with all the lenses and filters, plus a roll of Kodak film. With my camera I took pictures for my high school yearbook, and film study class project, as well as of many, many friends and family.

Although the world’s turned its back on film, I just can’t bring myself to get rid of my SLR camera.

I can’t blame the world for believing digital is better. I also can’t blame Kodak for missing the clues. Heck, I feel partly responsible for Kodak’s demise. I hung on to film long after it was cool, shooting pictures with it well into 2004. I’ve been through two point-and-shoot digital cameras and yet my camera still worked long after the others died. (One camera fell off the roof of my car as I drove away and the other bounced on the floor one too many times.)

This story, however, is not about Kodak or cameras as my keyword analysis tool might suggest. This story is about having fun while taking pictures and learning a bit about life along the way. Nobody’s perfect. We all make mistakes. I’ve discovered that the secret to improving my picture-taking ability is effort. As in life, effort is the difference between artist and automaton.

I see trees of green, red roses too/I see them bloom for me and you/ and I think to myself/what a wonderful world/

These words written by George David Wiess and Bob Thield, in 1967 was first recorded by Louis Armstrong. The song was intended to bring hope and optimism into a racially and politically charged climate of the 60s. When you take a picture, you’re putting part of yourself into it. What do you feel when you look into the viewfinder? Happy? Sad? Hopeful? Fearful?

Images are everywhere and photography is easy.

“You press the button, we do the rest.” Eastman used that slogan in its Kodak camera ads in 1890. That iconic phrase still rings true today. Just push a button and ta da! You have a portrait. Now it’s even more exciting to be interested in photography as more pictures are taken and shared than ever before. Pictures are instantly accessible on our phones, computers, tablets, and in the cloud.

My iPhone has a camera that takes pretty good pictures and is always accessible. There are also many great apps like Instagram, (free!)  to help you transform the look and feel of your pictures and quickly and easily share with your friends.

I’m no expert, just a photography enthusiast. There are many of us out there who, like me, don’t know a lot about advanced photographic techniques. We love to take pictures of our kids playing sports, or partying with our friends, or celebrating with family, or smiling pets. I don’t know about you, but every so often, my son gets to the point when he’s had enough of my silly picture taking and tells me to stop. What he’s actually doing is inviting me to participate instead of observe. And that can mean all the difference as I explore my inner creative. So I’ve learned to pace myself. Don’t push too hard. Take it all in. Watch, learn, listen, and play.

Picasso said this: “All children are artists. The problem is to remain one when you grow up.”

I’ve noticed that children find, discover, look, listen, and engage. They are at ease with the world and that’s what’s so attractive to me in watching them play. Kids get caught up in creating their own world of fun and staying in the moment. I love to look at pictures, take pictures, talk about pictures, organize pictures, and make stuff with pictures. For me it’s play, and I’ve found the more I play, the more creative I become and the happier I am.

One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words. – Goethe.

Feed and water your creative side often and well.  A creative life is full of imagination. And imagination is for everyone. Take time today to stop, look, listen, and share a story or two.  You might be surprised at what you find.

What did you learn today?

Thanks for reading. If you like this post, please feel free to share it with your friends or send me a comment at Send me an email. You can also post a comment on my blog or Facebook. See more of my pictures in my set on Flickr.

How useful are you?

“No matter how useful we may be, sometimes it takes us awhile to recognize our own value.” – Tao of Pooh

My husband had been reading the book The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff, which explains the joy of discovering life’s simple pleasures and working in harmony with life’s circumstances through dialogue between Pooh-bear and his companions. There’s a part about being useful that struck him as remarkable and he shared it with me. After reading the line above, I had one of those “aha” moments.

We are all useful, aren’t we?

If you believe that we are all on this planet for a reason and are not simply extra parts waiting to be made useful in, let’s say a clock, as the character Hugo explains to his friend in the film Hugo Cabret  (based on Brian Selznick’s best-selling children’s book The Invention of Hugo Cabret then this makes sense.

Kids are a lot like Winnie-the-Pooh because they believe that life is fun and they behave as if life is a never-ending summer vacation: sweet, sticky, and no work. I doubt that my ten-year-old has even thought of the question I’m pondering now: How am I useful?

As a grown-up, I often think of myself terms of being useful, helpful, or valuable to others. In Tao of Pooh, the author shares the Chinese story of The Stonecutter to illustrate why grown-ups might ignore our own usefulness in search of fame, fortune, power, or strength. In “The Stonecutter,” a man who cuts stone for a living is unhappy with himself and his status in life. He sees someone or something that he wants to be: a wealthy merchant, a dignitary, the sun, a storm cloud, the wind, and a stone. Every time he wishes to become each of these symbols of power and importance, he magically transforms.

As he enjoys the luxuries of each stage of his new life, something else more powerful catches his eye. It’s not until he becomes a stone – more powerful than anything on the earth– and a man begins to change him with a hammer and chisel, does the stonecutter realize how valuable and useful to the world he really was.

I relayed the story to my son, who said that the story was boring. Quickly he followed up with “it’s about just being yourself.”

I think he’s right on both counts. A stonecutter is like an artist: an individual who creates value and beauty from his carvings for others to enjoy. Sometimes, however, it’s hard work to separate the art and just be yourself. It’s also hard work to sit through a boring story.

What do you think?

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