Incurable Curiosity

In-cur-able: (adj.) Not likely to be changed. Cu-ri-os-i-ty: (n) A desire to know.


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Photo Series 2: Still Life

Still Life. It’s a style of photography that I hadn’t really looked at before this challenge. I’d always associated it with paintings. And I figured it would be an uninteresting couple of weeks.

There’s a kind of science to still life that can’t be produced in the genres I’m used to – in fact, I always leaned away from manipulating the subjects of my photography (mostly flowers or outdoor scenes). I didn’t expect to enjoy staging a shot, especially when it was late at night and I realized that I hadn’t touched the camera all day. But enjoy it I did. Yes, I missed a couple of days here and there, but when I took the time to do it right, the effort was worth it.

Looking through the collection, it’s pretty obvious that I didn’t spend as much time on this series as I should have. I think I like Day 22 the best – it was certainly the most fun of the series to photograph, and I think the line of the flower is good. As seen in days 19, 22, 23, and 28, I like playing with shadows.

What do you think? Which side did I play in the chess game? Is there something you’d like to see in my upcoming series, Black & White? Comment below!


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The Book Sale: Supporting My Local Literacy Foundation and Building a Library for Next to Nothing

A building full of thousands of books, arranged on tables by genre, author, and type. People everywhere, moving in tides between the volumes, pulling in and out of the crowd to scour the selection. Some search for quantity, taking advantage of the cheap prices. Others look for gift potential. A great many look for school materials. But there are a few that look for that one table of books. Whether it holds classics, sheet music for mandolins, or anthologies of German short stories, it is their table; the table where they zone out the chaos around them as they search for that one book. Maybe it doesn’t even exist. Maybe it hasn’t been written yet. But if it has, surely it’s here, somewhere in the boxes, or underneath the table, hidden until more room is made. The crowd shifts again, around and behind and beside the searcher, unspeaking, their focused eyes looking only at the books. The searcher looks at every title, picking one or two or three volumes up, wondering if one might be the book. But none are. Then, as books are shuffled, something new comes into the picture. Is this it? Look at the cover, turn it over to read the dust jacket. Flip through the pages. A little bit of penciled writing, a few dog-eared pages, not bad on the whole. This is it! Look at the cover again, find the colored sticker. What does the sign say that color means? One dollar! Is that all? But there can be no doubt that the sticker is blue, and why question the sticker-placer? The searcher has become the finder, their bag one book heavier, and their day that much better.

As you can guess from that short vignette, I went to a book sale yesterday. Quite a large book sale, put on annually by the area literacy foundation. It’s really a win-win situation: you can literally build a personal library in a few hours for less than $50, all while supporting a good cause. It was the first time I’d gone in several years, and it was much bigger than I remembered. I spent most of my time hovering around the classics table, and I got 14 books in all:

To list:

  • A collection of 63 short mysteries compiled by Alfred Hitchcock ($1)
  • A book of classical music for piano (for when I finally learn to read sheet music) ($1)
  • The published journal of Philip Vickers Pithian, written in the 1770s ($1)
  • ‘The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney’ (replacement for a copy I previously had in my collection) ($3)
  • ‘Edda’, a Norse book on writing poetry ($1)
  • ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’, a classic tale of seafaring ($.50)
  • ‘Ivanhoe’, a story I only know of because of Wishbone ($.50)
  • A compilation of various Oscar Wilde works ($.50)
  • A paperback copy of ‘Wuthering Heights’ to take a heavy editor’s pencil to ($.50)
  • A paperback copy of ‘Jane Eyre’ to make notes in ($.50)
  • ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and ‘Through the Looking Glass’ ($.50)
  • ‘The House of Seven Gables’, because I’ve never read it before ($.50)
  • A pocket-size hardback edition of ‘Pride and Prejudice’, to replace my falling-apart paperback ($1)
  • A matching copy of ‘Jane Eyre’, because it was the only other pocket-sized hardback in the lot ($1)

Unfortunately, unlike my searcher, I did not find exactly what I was looking for (paperback copies of my favorite Agatha Christie’s). Instead, I found several books I didn’t know about and picked them up on a whim (the anthology of mysteries, ‘Edda’, the journals of Mr. Pithian, and ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’). I might not like them, but they’re worth a try, and I’ll at least see examples of different writing styles (and maybe get ideas for this year’s NaNoWriMo).

If you hear of such an event close to you, I would highly recommend braving the crowds. It’s is a great way to find new inspirations: in the books, the crowds, and in the experience.


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Iron Sharpens Iron

“To talk to each other is but a more animated and audible thinking.” – Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

Part 5 of the Pursuing Inspiration series.

So you’ve tried everything: you’ve spent so much time in the bookshelves that people think you work at the library, you’ve actually found the edge of the internet, you know the geography of the tri-county area better than Google Maps does, and you have ransacked your records several times over for lost moments of genius. Yet you still have the creative ambition of a doorknob. What now?

“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” – Proverbs 27:17 (NLT)

Do you know anyone you find particularly inspiring? Someone you go to when you have a light bulb moment?

Conversation is invaluable when it comes to generating and developing ideas. It can follow a specific topic or be completely random. Bounce thoughts off each other, no matter how crazy or off-the-wall they seem.

Discussion cultivates ideas; debate refines them. Go over works-in-progress together. Sometimes what you need is a sharp editor to point out both the flaws and the diamonds of your work, and other times just hearing your ideas spoken out loud and from another perspective is enough.

Go adventuring together. Some of the best ideas can only come from the interminable duration and unpredictability of road trips, and having a travel buddy makes exploring new destinations that much more exciting.

So go grab a friend or two and go hunting for inspiration together! The memories will last a lifetime, even if the muse eludes you.

Who’s your sounding board? Friend, family, colleague?


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Ideas: Right Where You Left Them

Sometimes to move forward you have to go backward.

Part 4 of the Pursuing Inspiration series.

Sometimes following rabbit trails leads you to a dead end or two; in those cases, it may be a good idea to retrace your steps back to a previously-beaten path.

Do you have any unfinished projects laying about? Any brilliant notes written in the middle of the night and forgotten by morning? I certainly do, unfinished in half-used sketchbooks, tucked away in dismissed notebooks, hidden in the maze of my laptop’s hard drive, and buried in the depths of my backpack, hastily scribbled and hastily forgotten. Perhaps yours are written with bold strokes on post-it notes, or hesitantly penciled in a neat, organized notebook; maybe your idea was merely an impression of something that you never fleshed out, or maybe it was thought-out to the point of execution. But somehow the idea was cast to the side.

There are any number of reasons for ideas to be abandoned: Lack of support, faulty reasoning, an uncertain outcome; perhaps something more interesting just caused you to forget this bit of genius. Whatever the reason, just because it didn’t work before doesn’t mean it can’t work now. Redesign where necessary. Edit out what doesn’t fit. Rearrange paragraphs. Start from scratch if you need to.

On the same line, don’t be afraid to let an idea go for a while. A dormant idea isn’t a dead idea; like a good cup of tea, it might just need time to steep. According to the brilliant Mr. Snicket, “Nobody knows what an idea will do when it goes off to entertain itself.” Why not find out?

Moral of the post: Save stray ideas for the inevitable creative dry seasons.


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I’m Not Lost; I’m Exploring

“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J. R. R. Tolkien

“I never thought I’d be driving through the country just to drive….” – Relient K

Part 3 in the Pursuing Inspiration series.

So far I’ve covered exploring unfamiliar parts of familiar places (the library and the internet) in search of inspiration. Those are good, and you can certainly find new things that way, but sometimes you have to go a bit further beyond the bounds of the known into the unknown to find what you seek. Today’s topic: Pursuing inspiration outside your locale’s limits.

You don’t have to go very far away, just cross the line that defines your knowledge of local geography. Step out of your shire into the next town, city, or county. This can be an afternoon’s excursion or a day-long expedition, depending on where you go and what you find. Immerse yourself in local culture: Visit local landmarks and icons. Eat at one-of-a-kind coffee shops, lunch counters and diners. Talk to the natives. Be prepared to get lost and ask for directions.

So what should you bring on your journey? 

Things to take:

  1.  A sense of adventure; you’ll notice interesting details that would otherwise be missed.
  2. Some method of capturing the elusive inspiration; this can be a camera, notebook, laptop, etc.
  3. Music; something by a local artist, perhaps?
  4. Recommendations; don’t be afraid to take advice from locals on neat places to visit – so long as you follow common safety sense.
  5. (Optional) A traveling companion; a friend to share the experience with is always fun, though sometimes you might want to explore solo.

There are also things that you shouldn’t bring.

Things to leave at home:

  1. Your GPS; you aren’t headed anywhere in particular, and you’re not traveling so far as to completely lose the trail of breadcrumbs leading home (maps, however, are allowed).
  2. Geographical bias; if you’re taking a road simply because it’s familiar, you’re on the wrong road.
  3. Assumptions; don’t assume anything – instead, look at everything like you’re seeing it for the first time.

But the most important thing is not what you have with you, where you go, or what you do; it’s what you find – hopefully inspiration. So go out there, intentionally seek out inspiration in your own backyard, and as Mark Twain said, “Explore. Dream. Discover.”


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Pursuing Inspiration

As I have said before, I have a natural curiosity that tends to jump from subject to subject, always searching for new information. Occasionally, though, my imagination will jump straight into a brick wall and I’ll be at a loss for creative thought. Impatient as I am, I don’t like to wait for new ideas to come to me; rather, I pursue inspiration.

There are as many ways to find inspiration as there are inspiration seekers, so I can only write about what has worked for me. Below is a table of contents to this 5-part series:

Part 1. A visit to the library — that storehouse of knowledge is sure to contain an abundance of inspiring thoughts.

Part 2. Searching the organized chaos of the internet — be warned, you can get lost for hours.

Part 3. Going exploring — gems of inspiration can be found closer to home than you think.

Part 4. Rediscovering old ideas — forgotten notes from years past may just contain that bit of genius you’re looking for.

Part 5. Brainstorming as a team — creative friend(s) + random conversation = idea generator.