Creativity is the Property of Everyone (On “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert)

Joburg Skyline and Flowers (happiness things)

Joburg Skyline and Flowers (Home, Sept 2015)

It isn’t always comfortable or easy – carrying your fear around with you on your great and ambitious road trip, I mean – but it’s always worth it, because if you can’t learn to travel comfortably alongside your fear, then you’ll never be able to go anywhere interesting or do anything interesting.
And that would be a pity, because your life is short and rare and amazing and miraculous, and you want to do really interesting things and make really interesting things while you’re still here. I know that’s what you want for yourself because that’s what I want for myself, too.
It’s what we all want.
And you have treasures hidden within you – extraordinary treasures – and so I, and so does everyone around us. And bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small. (p.37, Big Magic)

“It’s a simple and generous rule of life that whatever you practice, you will improve at. For instance: if I had spent my twenties playing basketball every single day, or making pastry dough every single day, or studying auto mechanics every single day, I’d probably be pretty good at foul shots and croissants and transmissions by now.
Instead I learned how to write.” (p.145, Big Magic)

“Meeting Winnifred though, made me realize that your education isn’t over when they say it’s over; your education is over when you say it’s over. And Winifred-back when she was a mere girl of eighty – had firmly decided: It ain’t over yet.
So when can you start pursuing your most creative and passionate life?
You can start whenever you decide to start. ” (p.148, Big Magic)

A few months ago I spent a weekend mentoring teenagers at a camp in Brits, South Africa, and in the early hours of the morning before my cabin was awake and in moments between mealtimes and sessions, I shared stories of my first few months in South Africa with my fellow mentors and new friends. And in December, my husband and I travelled to Durban for the wedding of a dear friend, and in our post dawn walks on the beach or long chats over cups of tea, we continued telling stories of my transition to Joburg and the early days of our marriage. Throughout those conversations, the possibility and importance of chronicling some of these reflections and transition stories into a longer piece of writing was a topic of conversation – I was convinced that my story wasn’t interesting enough to be told (and that I didn’t have the ability to tell it in any case) but my husband and the friends we were speaking to felt otherwise.

For me, the word writer conjures up someone armed with an MFA, proper published writing credits to their name, a dedicated writing practice, no troubles with procrastination, natural talent, ideas that bubble forth constantly and an understanding of semi-colons.That description does not fit me, and so although the act of writing fills my heart with joy it has always seemed inaccurate to think of myself as a writer, and I’ve never felt like writing a longer piece of work is something I could do.

Despite this, lately I’ve been thinking a lot about why and how we tell stories and why we write, and how to know when you should and indeed can, tell a particular story. As part of this thinking, I recently read Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear”. (I confess, part of why I read the book was that I was hoping to hear that creativity is an inherent characteristic so that I could win the internal argument I’ve been having with the words of my husband, family and friends about writing, but alas, no such luck.)

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On Starting Again and Reading “After You” by Jojo Moyes

“Only one person can give you a purpose” ~ (After You, Jojo Moyes, p.300)


Witpoortjie waterfall , Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens (Joburg, Sept 2015)

Witpoortjie Waterfall, Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens (Joburg, Sept 2015)

On a long distance flight a few years ago, I started and finished “Me Before You” by Jojo Moyes, a story about Louisa Clark, age 26, who takes a job as a carer for Will Traynor, age 35, who is a quadriplegic. Louisa has lived in the same town her whole life, has few friends, and she has done and experienced very little. Before his accident, Will lived a full life with work and friends and adventure and passion, and when Louisa meets him, he is an angry and difficult patient. They come from different worlds, but they help each other discover life. In particular, Will helps expand Louisa’s horizons. He introduces her to new experiences, widens her ambitions, and helps her to heal after traumatic events in her past. He teaches her to expect more of herself and of her life.

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Paying Attention to the Details of Space (Day 14)

There is something about being unwell that makes you think of home. I was in Saudi after I graduated from undergrad for a month long study trip, and after the first week I was nearly in tears because I hadn’t managed to speak to my family. Four years later I’ve grown in the sense I don’t experience homesicknesses in the same way, but if it were possible, it would be amazing to jet home for an hour, breathe the air and come back. (My big toe is also very red and swollen from an awful bite, so in general though still enthusiastic, my desire to explore is low today).

After having breakfast at seven in the morning, I’ve been asleep for the past several hours trying to recover from a cold that sprung after a visit to a very cool, but very polluted gallery space 2 days ago. I spent yesterday (Sunday) resting at the hotel, and after another calm day today God willing I should be back in action soon(I can’t bear the fever, running nose and cough combo for too much longer!) So many members of our group have been unwell recently, but I’ve been ok, but I think this latest visit was too much for my lungs to handle. The rest of the group left this morning for a trip to Borobudur and Yogyakarta for about five days, but I decided to stay here in Bandung to explore a bit more. So thankfully I’m not missing any scheduled site visits, though it is a bit strange being on my own, and I’d like to venture out soon.

And my apologies for not having blogged for the past few days! My draft folder is filled with long unfinished entries, but the more I have to process, the harder it is for me to write, and the past few days have been so rich that I’m still struggling to make sense of everything we’ve seen and experienced in the first week. When I’ve been sitting down to write, I’m not sure what to start with first, the visit to the rice paddies we did a few days ago where we found a tiny one room masjid (mosque) near one of the rice paddies, the visit to a slum/creative village, where it seemed all the children of the village came out to see us and we were treated to an impromptu musical performance (featuring instruments like empty water coolers and other household items) the ambivalent attitude that so many people we’re meeting have towards religion, the number of questions I get (as opposed to the other members of our group) about what country I’m from and my religious practice, the speaker we met at the metropolitan board we met who broke down crying when speaking to us about how the urban poor in Bandung cannot meet their transportation costs and women end up entering prostitution, the list goes on and on of things that I’m thinking about and processing.

 One of the things I was thinking about this morning as everyone was leaving though, was the spatial design of living space. Each room of this hotel is different, and in the room that I share with one of the girls on the trip, we have a little foyer that has heavy curtains so that those outside cannot see in, sliding doors you can pull out to separate the foyer from the rest of the room, and then curtains which you then pull out over the sliding door so that those in the foyer and outside cannot see you. It’s a very private, segregated space, and I love it.

This morning the group assembled at 6:30 am to catch their train, and several people were planning on dropping off their luggage to our room so that they didn’t have to cart everything around while they were away. I ended up getting up so I could join everyone for breakfast, but while I was sleeping, because of our sliding door/curtains combination, people entered our foyer and it didn’t matter that I wasn’t wearing my scarf. This clear demarcation between public and private space is  wonderful culturally sensitive, inclusive room design, and something to think about as planners when we design spaces (such as recreational spaces for instance). Who is using a space, and what sort of privacy needs and usage needs they may have, should impact the way we structure space.
More later hopefully. And hopefully this cold and bites will sort themselves out soon!

2 Years Later,I’ve Got a Different Question (Reflections on Home and Travel)

Greetings friends!  Today’s episode (I still have a bad cold, but you can hear it here ) is about how although my term papers are still in full force, the sight of suitcases past my door of students has only intensified my desire to go home. I can’t wait to see my family, see the mountains, hug my books, make tea in a kettle,  have lunch on a proper dining table, cook food on actual counters, and iron my clothes on a honest to goodness ironing board. (I could go on and on) I found an old post from Dec 2009 today that talks about an equally intense feeling at that point in time, the desire to go and visit unknown places, and push myself to learn new things. Where in the home/travel spectrum are you? What are you thinking about? Do share your thoughts.

Is Resilience Just a First World Concept?

While you were doing the World Cafe, people were marching in Tahrir Square. And they aren’t protesting because Mubarak is a bad leader, that is beside the point, they are protesting because people in that country didn’t think about  the issues you are thinking about.  Back when the protestors were two years old, people in that country didn’t think about what they would grow up and do, and this is what happens when young men have nothing to do. So that’s why you see protests across the Middle East right now.”~ Craig Applegath, CAPS-ACEAU.

The final keynote speaker said these words a few minutes before the conclusion of the Canadian Association of Planning Students annual conference, and I’m still surprised it happened. Given the fact that many countries ( the US etc) have supported the Egyptian dictatorship for so many years and have been so timid in supporting the Egyptian people during the recent events, this is a simply inaccurate and inappropriate way to describe what has been going on.

More than it just being a crazy thing to say though, I mention the example of Egypt because it perfectly describes a wider problem with the CAPS conference this year. The discussion of resilience was incredibly simplistic.

I say this because in March 2010 I attended the 2nd Annual UBC School of Community and Regional Planning Symposium about Planning for Resilience, and over the course of an amazing two days, the conference showcased sessions about diverse topics ranging from planning for housing in Mumbai, to the relationship between social media and planning and resilience, to disaster management in North Vancouver, to just so so much more. Before the conference we were sent required readings that related to the keynote speakers, and Mark Holland sent us his Resilient Cities and Regenerative Regions Manifesto.  It was and still is, one of the most powerful things I’ve ever read. I blogged about a few key points here on Terry last year, but really the whole Manifesto is well worth a careful reading.

In Mark Holland’s work, his principles about the relationship between us and other places include:

  • “Everything is connected and that the dispassionate karma of the earth offers a reaction for every one of our actions;
  • That we must transform our cities from a parasitic to a symbiotic relationship with our all other species in the world;
  • That the scale of change we need can only be realized when we work together to coauthor a future that fits us all;
  • .. because there is no “social out there” any more than there is an ecological “out there”,  we must confront our fears and work to heal those who have been hurt or have hurt us ‐ for pain is a virus that is passed on until it is confronted and healed – and while in action, it hurts all species.

and later on in the Manifesto it says:

I will open to the pain that I cause in the world through my ignorance and fear and the distance I seem to have from my internal dignity and nobility, and I will feel the pain, shock and injustice of participating in the death of so many, if only by accident – and then I will move past that grief to the restless serenity of my responsibility – to my planet, to my community, to my family, and to myself;”

The key point: We are a source of harm and have a responsibility to rectify our actions because we are all connected. This idea is clearly evident throughout the whole document which emphasizes that while yes we must focus on building healthy communities, this can only happen when we are engaged and committed to building resilience everywhere.

At CAPS however, Thomas Homer Dixon noted in his presentation that it is very likely that Israel will invade Iran in the next five years, and that would cause disturbances in our energy supply, so we need to be ready for that. In other parts of his presentation he spoke about the need to de-couple and reduce energy dependency, and it seemed as thoug attacks in other places ok is long as long as we aren’t affected. Surely we don’t care about populations merely when our own survival is threatened.

So while withstanding shocks was spoken about, thinking deeply about reducing the occurrence of human produced shocks in the first place was not.  This is a shame because if we are concerned about fluctuations in access to oil from the Middle East due to conflict, our discussion is incomplete if we don’t talk about reducing conflict in the first place. It is a bit like trying to give a patient a pill for a fever, without thinking holistically about what is making the body sick in the first place.

It reminded me of the work of Scott McMurray, (one of the keynote speakers who actually was phenomenal), who said:

“Interdisciplinary work helps us avoid what Kenneth Burke called “trained incapacity,” which is a kind of blindness associated with being deep but not very wide. Despite the risks, we should step outside of the metaphors and narratives that form our intellectual safe zones as often as we can”.

And as much as I enjoyed meeting cool people, the experience of presenting my research, the humour and warmth of the Professional Panel, and the dynamic mobile tours, sadly, the conference discussion of resilience by a few of the keynote speakers did feel lacking. We all know energy is a problem, we all know climate changing is happening and that we need to think about food, but you’re only saying something  innovative and meaningful when we think about the system, the planet as a whole.

To illustrate, what wasn’t discussed was that as first world industrialized countries  we actively produce shocks in other places, and a real difference exists between places in terms of their capacity to plan for resilience.  A resilient city we were told, has “sustainable energy flows, maximizes flexibility, is about local self sufficiency, reduces redundancy of systems while still ensuring diversity of systems, and has a decentralized system (in addition to one more attribute related to the environment). On an international scale though, there are real impediments to places implementing these characteristics; foreign policy gets in the way. One of the panel presenters responded to a question about planning in Africa and noted that in Durban they got tired of what the World Bank was saying their cities had to look like, and so they created their own plan in response. Think of the capacity of places like Palestine, Pakistan, Iraq etc etc to do the same.  The whole Gaza flotilla crisis was about enabling basic supplies to enter Palestine in order to reduce the fragility of the Palestinian people and ensure basic human rights. The policies of our governments often create barriers for other nations to achieve resiliency.

Finally, we never spoke about the impact our work to become more resilient will have on the rest of the world. As we try to revitalize local manufacturing and increase local food production, what does that mean for other places? Wouldn’t that create ripple effects and create external shocks?  That doesn’t mean resilience planning isn’t important, but we do need to understand the wider picture.

In sum, without a description of power, the model is not helpful at best, and at most is scarily preservationist. The result is a world with resilient pockets and non resilient pockets, which is perhaps a recipe for an overall non resilient world, a world that is constantly generating shocks that we will be forced to respond to.