Humble and kind and creative

You know my happy place has kittens in it, right?

Finding ways to unclench

By Ellen Margulies

There’s a side effect to binge-watching Orange is the New Black.

I actually loved the original book by Piper Kerman, which is a different animal altogether. The side effects from that are good; you will find yourself thinking really hard about what it is we want from our correctional system. I also love that she really owns her shit. Nothing pisses me off more than someone who does something wrong and won’t own up to it. (I’m looking at you, Teresa G. of Real Housewives.)

Also, I happen to love the show, which as I said is a very different thing from the book. The actors are absolutely incredible. They occupy these roles and create these characters that are so compelling and so riveting you can’t stand to not know what’s going to happen next. And the writers and directors are doing this phenomenal thing where they sandwich in these flashbacks of various inmates’ lives that give you their stories piece by piece while never letting them off the hook entirely. I totally get why this show wins all the awards.

But I found myself over a long snowy weekend in a more and more negative space, even though I was really getting into the show. I was getting pretty angry about some things in my past—some work situations—and I was getting a little paranoid, too. By midday today at work I was in a pretty sour place. A place I thought I’d left behind. I actually had gotten a little preview of this last night when I was watching OITNB. I’ve been having a lot of trouble sleeping lately, and I really didn’t want to have all these existential angst-ridden thoughts keeping me up again. So I treated myself to one episode of The Mindy Project before bed. It was just the perfect thing to do. I absolutely adore this show, it’s hilarious and it’s another show I’ve been binge-watching lately on platforms that aren’t Comcast aka the devil. (Speaking of which, have you seen that new show which purports to have a really handsome Lucifer vacationing in Los Angeles? I didn’t know if it would have legs or not, but I tried to watch a few minutes of it and was so disgusted by its utter stupidity, even for TV. In the one scene I watched part of, Lucifer is comforting a little girl who’s being bullied, which is not what Satan would actually do, and then he goes and tells the bully, also a little girl, that there is a presumably literal special place in hell for bullies like her. Wouldn’t he have been more likely to take the side of the bully and egg her on? Just sayin’.)

tasty collage
According to (my version of) the Frederickson Positivity Ratio, you should eat at least 3 TastyKakes every time you watch Taystee on Orange is the New Black.

Back to my day today. So midday, I’m in a bad place, feeling kind of bitter and pissed off and generally resentful. I do not like feeling this way, entitled or not. Then I recalled what a coworker had told me the day before about a new song she was listening to from Tim McGraw. I’m not really a big country music fan right now, but I enjoy it when I hear it. Anyway, the name of the song is Humble and Kind. My coworker told me she listens to it every morning before work to get herself in the right frame of mind for the day. She told me I ought to give it a listen. So today when I was in that very sour place, I looked it up online. It’s very sweet, a simple little message kind of song about, you know, being grateful and trying to be humble and being kind. I think just listening to that positivity, I don’t care how commercially calculated it might have been, just honestly helped put me in a better place. I felt myself unclenching. I was able to pull myself out of that dark, bitter, negative, angry place. 

(I took a little positivity ratio test when I got home tonight, and my positivity-to-negativity ratio today was about 1:1. UNC-Chapel Hill researcher Barbara Frederickson devised this little quiz —it only takes 2 minutes — after concluding the most effective ratio for your negative little brain cells is 3:1. There are approximately a gazillion studies out there showing the effect of positivity on creativity (hint: it’s positive), but just go click on this one AFTER you finish reading my post and then click over to that little positivity ratio test.)

Reality time: I’m still going to watch OITNB. The actors are amazing, and the show is so well put together that yes, at times, you do feel like you’re in prison, experiencing all of those negative emotions that those women are experiencing. But I’m going to make sure I balance that with something like The Mindy Project or baking or cat-petting or dancing down my hallway or something equally ridiculous.

I know people think creativity has to come from this dark place, you know, the whole tortured artist thing. Believe me, I know. I’m a writer, and I’m plenty tortured. But I can also tell you that for me personally, finding a way to unclench and go to my happy place really frees me up to create and do things that make me feel better about myself, about my life and about this little blue marble we live on. I much, much, much prefer the works I create when I’m happy vs. when I’m sad.  

So I think you should go and find yourself a happy place. I don’t necessarily think it should be binge-watching OITNB, although that really is super-fun, or watching horror movies or snuff films or whatever awful thing makes you happy. (Yes, we all have that awful thing that makes us happy. I like cussing people out in traffic. Makes me SO happy.) But you need a genuinely-happy happy place. You can have dogs there, or chocolate, or Alan Rickman. Doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it’s a place that will help you unclench, free your mind and soothe your dark, tortured soul. You really should try a little spot of brightness to free up your creative potential. Give it a shot. A happy shot. And maybe find yourself in the creative flow again.


How to Drive Your Imagination

by Laura M.

“Only when the brain is confronted with stimuli that it has not encountered before does it start to reorganize perception. The surest way to provoke the imagination then, is to seek out environments you have no experience with.” By Gregory Burns

How’s that for a concept? Pretty cool, huh? Ellen introduced me to it last summer and I absolutely love it.

Even small changes in your everyday routine can have a positive impact on your creative output – for instance, taking a different route to work everyday, or taking on new hobbies and activities. These changes:


  •          keep the mind sharp
  •          0pen neural pathways
  •          shake loose cobwebs

As an experiment for the blog, I decided to drive different routes than I normally take to work/run errands. Before I got behind the wheel, I drew a picture of a car on a post-it and stuck it on my dashboard:


I’ve gotta tell you: this part is a pretty critical step for me. It’s really easy to get behind the wheel and go on auto-pilot. I need a visual reminder or else I’ll totally forget. Even tonight as I was leaving work feeling exhausted, I got in the car, saw the little post-it and was like, “Oh yeah! Gotta shake things up!” So if you’re going to try this particular exercise, I highly recommend using the post-it prompt.

Here’s what I found:

I discovered ALL kinds of things by going a different way:

  • New businesses
    • Filling Station on Halcyon. This is in the popular 12 South neighborhood in Nashville. The thing is it’s off of 12th, tucked behind another building – you would likely not see it if you were on 12th.
    • There used to be this really cool cheese shop called Corrieri Fromageria on Caruthers, again, in the 12 South area. Something new is going in its place. I’m excited to see what it will be!
      • [Update: It’s a new bakery! Five Daughters. Ellen says they have the best cronut in town.]
  • Incredible view – It’s never even occurred to me to go down Ashwood, East of Belmont. But I did so and discovered it features an awesome hill at the crest of which, just as you’re approaching 12th, has an incredible view. Who knew?


  • Stained glass – I drive up and down 10th Avenue constantly and apparently drove past this church all the time and never noticed it. But when I came down Caruthers to the intersection at 10th, I got a full frontal view of it and it turns out it has amazing stained glass windows. I couldn’t see them before but seeing the building from a different angle provided this.


  • Fond memories – One of my alternative routes took me down Blair and so when I approached the intersection at 21st, I could see the old laundromat I used to go to when I first moved to town. It made me smile to think about that time in my life.


  • Reminder that waiting can be a gift – I thought I was going to be all clever and duck down an alleyway to bypass a congested intersection. I was foiled by construction – the alleyway was blocked. While I sat waiting for the light to change I remembered: sometimes waiting can be an opportunity to take a breath and relax. I’ll get there when I get there.
  • Being present – When I’m not on auto-pilot, I’m more likely to be present (and because of that, be a better driver.)

I know what you’re thinking: ok, you tried something new so how did it spark your imagination or stoke your creativity? The truth is I don’t know. This is an exercise through which you might not see immediate results or be able to draw a direct correlate. But I still think it’s worth investing time in. I tend to get a kick out of the process rather than the outcome. It’s always been that way with me. Hey, if nothing else, you might find a cool new shortcut.

Let’s be clear: I totally get that time is a precious commodity and that meandering down side roads is not something that fits in everyone’s schedule. Maybe you have a long commute from, say, Nashville to Murfreesboro and you’ve got it down to a science and don’t want to fool with it. Or maybe you’ve got kids and have to figure out how to be in 5 places at the same time. I understand this might not be a feasible exercise for everyone.

If that’s the case, maybe ask yourself “What else can I do to break up my routine?” Perhaps you go for a walk each day and have a favorite path. What you could do is reverse the route. It’s amazing how things look different when you come at them from a different angle. My friend Alecia is great about encouraging us to do this when we run together.

So, why not try it? Everyday in the next week, drive/walk/bike a different route to work or the grocery store. Then come back and post in the comments. Did you see/feel/think anything new because of it?



What’s yours is mine

Some of the accessories up for grabs

And what’s mine is yours

By Ellen Margulies

I’ve never been one for vintage and thrift shopping. I love the idea of it; I love the way others are able to see possibilities and put together outfits from someone else’s discards. But I’ve never been very good at that on my own.

I may have stumbled upon a version of that, however, that will work. My friend Beth recently put together an impromptu accessories swap on a Sunday afternoon. She invited several female friends to bring five accessories they didn’t wear or use anymore to swap with others. We ended up with a pleasant couple of hours poring over each other’s one-time treasures, finding new treasures of our own, and possibly consuming some alcoholic beverages because, hey, it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere, amirite?

I’d never heard of this idea before but I thought it was brilliant. And very creative: No money changed hands, everyone brought home several new items and it was seriously a great way to shake off the post-holiday blues. I had envisioned a free-for-all, snatch-and-grab situation, but it was thankfully more organized. First up: Beth wrote down little numbers and put them in a bowl. Everyone drew a number, and that was the order in which each of us got to go up to the display area and pick one item. We went up and down the numbers, 1-8 and then 8-1, until everyone had at least five items and no one wanted anything that was left.

accessories to the crime
Accessories after the fact: Donna, Karen, Susan, Beth, another Donna, Caroline and Gale show off their gotten gains. Coco Chanel would not approve.

There were a few things left over, and these are being donated to charity.

My sister Karen, who went to high school with Beth, was there, too, and she and I predictably both went home with at least one of the other person’s cast-offs. I’m pretty excited about my earrings and bracelets, with plans to turn the latter two, both adorned with pretty cross charms, into something crafty. (I expect it will show up in this blog before you know it.)

accessory swap collage2
At left, seasoned jewelry shopper Karen snatches up a necklace so quickly it’s all a blur (kidding; I’m just a bad picture-taker); top right, we also chose from purses and lunch bags and totes (oh, my!); bottom left, I drew lucky No. 4, and these were my winnings.

I would love to do this idea with Christmas wrap; I can’t be the only person who is sick to death of the rolls of wrapping paper that I’ve had for years on end that never seem to run out. Fine, because I keep buying new ones, but still! Wouldn’t it be great to know someone else could get some life and enjoyment out of something you’re so over? Everyone at the party was keen on doing this again with home accessories.

This swap-party idea also appeals to my desire to overcome my hoarderish tendencies, since I did not come home with more items than I’d left the house with. I try to have a new-item in, old-item out policy, but my three dressers, three closets, uncountable storage bins and random piles of clothing and shoes suggest this has been a less-than-successful policy.

So, creativity lesson No. X in a series: There’s more than one way to bring new life to your closet. Or your earlobes, as the case may be. Happy swapping!

Summertime Oasis

by Laura M.

Our loyal reader Julia, posed this wonderful question to untapped: How can I creatively find a bright spot on the landscape when a) it’s cold and dreary outside, b) the post-holiday letdown has set in, and c) there’s no vacation in sight?

My immediate thought was: Let’s figure out a way to create a summertime oasis in your home. Something that will figuratively or literally add some sparkle to everyday life.

Once I settled on this idea, I thought about how one or all of the five senses could be used to achieve the oasis effect. So I tried to figure out what would simulate summer in terms of touch, sight, taste, sound and smell.

Images that come to mind when I think of summer are the beach, bonfires and paper lanterns. I haven’t experienced bonfires or lanterns in a beach setting, but I feel like I see them in commercials for blood pressure medication (and probably more than one episode of 90210). Anyway, in my search for said paper lanterns, I found these delightful tiki hut string lights from the store At Home:


You could also find similar lights or paper lanterns at World Market or Pier 1, I’m sure. Don’t they put you in the mood for summer?

For the sense of taste, I had to ask myself what foods/beverages remind me of summer. Lemonade, for sure. One of my absolute favorite summertime foods is gazpacho. Here’s Mom’s trusty recipe:


A sound closely tied to summer bliss is waves crashing to shore. I went to the Google Play store (Android gal here) and found a ton of free apps that play that sound:


Let’s face it: the smell of salt water is intoxicating. You can re-create this at home with a ocean-scented candle. I found this one at Kroger:


Here’s how things came together:



Bonfire: check

A delicious summertime beverage: check

Tiki huts: check

The smell of the ocean: check

And you’ll just have to imagine the app making the sounds of the waves.

By the way, you could also package all these items up and gift them to a friend. Summer in a box!

For work, I had a simpler solution.

My favorite summer place is my friend’s cabin in a tiny town in Maine called New Harbor. The cabin sits on the bay of a peninsula, with the back deck facing the water.

When I call up this oasis in my mind, I envision sitting on the deck, watching the sunset with my dear friends. So for my office oasis, I printed up an 8 x 10 and slapped it on my bulletin board:


Now all I have to do is cast my eyes 10 degrees to the left and I’m brought back to that peaceful place and reminded of my dear friends. BTW, Walgreen’s has a great app where you can upload your photo and order prints in a snap.

Other suggestions:

Maybe you have a hammock you could bring inside? Or maybe you have one of those stovetops that has a grill? By all means, fire up the barbie, mate! When it comes to touch, sand is the best representation of summer, am I right? I don’t know about buying 50 lbs. worth of sand (smallest quantity Home Depot sells it in), though. Feels like a big investment, even at a measly $3.97. But, hey – if you wanna go for it, grab that kiddie pool, stick it in your living room and fill it up with sand!

What are some ideas you have? Please post them in the comments!