The Adorable Logic of a Two-Year-Old

Meet Kait, she’s a two year old friend that comes to see us from time to time.

The first thing she does when she comes in the door is runs and grabs my finger and starts pulling me to the back door saying “om… om…. om!” (of course we’ve learn that this is short-speak for “come!” I would like to think she likes me enough to share her experience with me – but not really, she can’t open the back door by herself. As I open the door she starts to yell with excitement “shicken, shicken!!” Then she sees them and the excitement takes her right out of the door.

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I love having chickens in our backyard – delicious eggs for sure, but they are just kind of calming to have around. Love having them, don’t necessarily love them – they are not pets. Kait runs up to them and tries to pet them–but they are chicken you see and run higgledy piggledy to escape. Kait then runs and gets some chicken chow out of the feeder and tries to feed them by hand… of course they’ll have none of that because, you might remember, they are chicken… of everything for the most part, and especially unpredictable two-year-old girls.

To wind up her whirlwind tour of the backyard Kait heads for the chicken coop. She lifts the door that leads into the laying box and checks for eggs. Yesterday she squealed with delight as she found three eggs – two green and one white. I knew the younger chickens had donated their share for the day. Kait picked all three up and carefully moved to the back door where she went in and carefully put them on the counter. Adorable! I’m not going to lie – she’s adorable.

An hour later I saw her open the door to the laying box again and find it was still empty. It didn’t seem to change her mood at all, she went on playing in the planter pots on the patio…

A couple of hours later I was completing a honey-do on the deck and Kait came out of the back door again. She was so excited yelling “egg, egg, grumpa, grumpa! egg!”. She had a green egg in her adorable little hand holding it high for me to see. I wanted to, but I’m glad I didn’t interfere – I figure an egg more or less isn’t going to kill me, so I chuckled/laughed at her, I confirmed that indeed it was an egg “you have an Egg Kait!!!”, and watched.

She went back to the coop, opened the door to the laying box and saw the empty box again. Very gently sat the egg back in the box – let the door slam shut and brushed her hands together with a satisfied look that comes from a job well done. With nary a glance in my direction she ran over to where the chickens were gathered in the shade and started babbling happily to them.

What motivates a two-year-old? I’ve no clue, but I sure love hanging out with them to see what two-year-old logic comes up with next!

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Those Darned Socks!

My dad was a bit of a miser. You know, a cheapskate. To his credit he did start working to pay the bills of his household when he was twelve years old. First a paper route and then other jobs including a stint in the Army. Money wasn’t a frivolous thing ever – it was never for fun, it was serious business.

I remember one day my siblings and I were dying!! We needed ice cream STAT!! So we went to him pleading our sad case and pointing out that cones were only $.15 at the local burger joint – ANYBODY could afford four kids at $.15 each! He declined – there just wasn’t enough money this month he said. And we were dismissed.

I’m sure he felt bad that he couldn’t give that to us – I still wonder if sixty cents would have put us in bankruptcy…

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I went into the living room on my 8th birthday and there was a Schwinn Stingray! I could hardly believe that bike leaning on it’s kickstand was mine! I wanted a bike so bad! But this was too much – it overwhelmed my eight year old mind – and I think my first sound after the shock of it all was “WOW Dad, How much did this Cost?!!!”. Yes, I had been indoctrinated well. I felt a little bad that he had spent so much money on me when an ice cream cone was a stretch.

So an eight year old with a new bike – can you guess what happened next? Maintenance! And plenty of it – it started with flat tires (we lived in sticker bush central it seemed) and then other things to fix as my new bike caught the attention of a school yard bully. He seemed delighted to take it from me to wreck it… my beautiful bike rammed into a brick wall while his cronies held me and made me watch…sigh. The trials of youth. I’ll tell you that story another time.

Nevertheless I was often the owner of a bike that didn’t run! Of course you know who I’d take it to…One of my dad’s mantras was “oh, I can’t fix anything, I’m all thumbs when it comes to tools” . So just ask for money to pay the bike shop to fix it. Right? hah! I knew better than to even ask.

So I learned to fix it. It wasn’t that hard, but there were a few sticking places – I learned as I went–mostly by mistakes. But I kept the bike functioning and ridable. Sometimes I would gather pop bottles to recycle for money for tubes and goosenecks and other miscellaneous parts. I made it work, and I was really proud of that bike because it was my best friend in a lot of ways – we had learned a lot together on many different levels. My financial creativity got a good start there – it served me well in business twenty years later as I ran my own freelance art studio.

I grew up with the saying:

Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do, Or do without. Keeping that bike running and many other opportunities to work for Dad made that saying a part of who I am.

 

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Kathy is the grandmother of 13 grandkids – and several great grandkids! I didn’t think she looked old enough to be a great grandma. And she doesn’t. She married at 16 – but that’s a story she didn’t tell me.

One day not too long ago she was pushing a lightbulb into a sock. Her grandkids were so curious why someone would ever do that! I’ll bet you know–don’t you my internet friend? Why would Kathy be pushing a light bulb into a sock?
She pushed it clear to the toe of the sock and the white of the bulb showed through the hole in the sock. Kathy paused her story and held up her fingers to show the size of a dime as the size of the hole in the sock. She took a needle and thread and started sewing the hole shut – she was darning the sock.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING??” the grandkids were horrified at the answer “i’m fixing the hole in this sock” Kathy said.

Grandma! You don’t fix that! – you throw the sock away!! They instructed her. They were quite sure she was doing it wrong. She took a minute to try to teach them – she said, “but the hole is so small, and the sock is this big. Why throw all of that good stuff away just because of one small thing that can be fixed so easily. Besides it only takes me 5 minutes to darn the sock.”
They sat and watched her darn that sock – trying to talk her into throwing it away the whole time. I could tell she was proud of that small accomplishment – fixing that sock instead of giving in to the pressure of her grandkids.

She paused her story and looked at me and said “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without”. BAM – we were connected – I told her I was raised on that saying and she said she’s from that same generation – and she kind of feels sorry for the “throw it away” generations that are following us.

My conversation with Kathy, seeing how important these concepts are to her still… brought my thoughts back to that stingray and all the other bikes I’ve built and maintained over the years since. I thought about the gardens my dad would plant and then make me weed – and how excellent that food tasted when the harvest started coming in. As I thought about it later I realized I was remembering the sweet taste of “make it do or do without”.

I’m with Kathy – there is value in working with your hands far beyond any monetary savings. I feel a little sorry for those who make it to adulthood not knowing that sweet feeling of having “made it do”. Fixing stuff rocks! I hope they get to learn that – all of the kids in the latest generation…

I hope their dads take them for ice cream every now and again too.

I’m so grateful for a dad that took his thrift and work ethic and taught me – whether I wanted to learn it or not. Grateful. Thanks dad.

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Going with the Flow

In 1967 my family lived in Provo, Utah where my dad was attending BYU. The house we moved into had a huge gutter in front of it between the sidewalk and the street. The gutter was a foot deep and was wide enough that I had to focus pretty hard to jump from one side to the other. I don’t know where the water came from or where it was going – but every time I wanted to play, the dark green rushing water was there. Pretty awesome house – I loved it.

The driveways of our neighborhood started in the street as concrete arches over these deep gutters. I remember driving home one evening and someone had missed the driveway backing out of their house and the back wheel was in the gutter. My dad told me they would have to wait for a tow truck to come and get them out.

My best friend Paul and I found all manner of things to float in the water. We’d throw sticks in and run next to the water cheering our “boats” on. The water would gurgle under the driveway of our neighbor carrying our boats with it. And that would be that – we’d never see those sticks again! We would run to the other side of the drive way and wait, but nothing ever came out the other side. Sometimes we’d see them 3 or four inches under the dark green surface, sinking and being swept away all at the same time.
One day I went to my dad to ask him to buy me a cool toy boat. He said “finally a use for that junk mail” and opened an envelope and pulled out a sheet of paper. He carefully folded the paper in magic ways – I had no idea what he was up to until he handed me one of these:

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I ran out and showed Paul my new boat! Soon we were both back asking my dad for a second boat. Another piece of junk mail made the transformation into a toy and we ran back to the waters edge.
On your mark, get set, GO! The boats dropped and we were running and laughing – our boats were amazing! We got to the driveway arching over our river and saw them disappear into the darkness under the arch. I was sure that somehow the magic of the origami was going to protect the new boats! So we ran to the other side of the driveway” waiting expectantly to see our boats emerge. After a five year olds eternity we looked at each other wondering what could have happened to our boats! Sadness started to descend as we laid down on the warm concrete of the arch and stuck our heads down over the edge to peer back into the dark to see if there was any trace of our junk mail regatta. We were pretty sad to have lost our cool boats on their maiden voyage… – and we ran back to my dad to explain why we needed a couple more. For all I know those boats and all of our sticks are still there, because we never saw them again.

Over the years of my educational journey I’ve picked up phrases like “go with the flow” It always meant “conform” and make sure you’re doing it like others are doing it” to me. It also reminded me of my lost boat, so it was a phrase/concept I wasn’t really fond of. Then last week I heard it again and it had nothing to do with water…

My wife and I stopped for a sandwich at a national chain restaurant last week. It had to be 43° in that place! What is it with air conditioning in this world! As soon as it gets mildly warm outside you have to wear your winter gear inside! Oh, that nearly turned into a rant. Sorry. Back to our story…
My wife and I were chatting – comfortable small talk, you know– and all of a sudden it was like the sun had come up! I’m telling you I could warm my hands on the cheerful coming from the human being that had stepped up to our table! Bright, energetic, and happy with a capital “H”! Kirsten introduced herself and asked how she could make our day better – she took our order and brought us food and beverage and she would check back to make sure we were ok. You know… she was a great waitress. (do we still call them that? or is she a “server”?). Call it what you want – she was good at it – she was seriously making our day better!

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My wife and I chatted about what makes people happy. I’ve always had the notion that one must work hard at being happy. No matter how naturally it came, it was always some form of work to be that happy. …like running up a down escalator, the flow was always toward sad, and to go against the flow was, well, work!

So the next time Kirsten stopped at our table I asked her “is it genetics that makes you this bright and cheerful and positive? Or are you working really hard at it?” (you know, like a duck – all calm and collected on the surface and paddling like a maniac underneath)
She chuckled at my duck analogy, but then the smile ran away from her for a moment and she said “I’m generally pretty happy, but today… well today it’s taking a lot of work”. I told her I was sorry she was having a hard day and she replied “I just decided it’s just as much work to be happy as it is to go with the flow” And there it was! That phrase! That thing we’re all supposed to do – go with the flow – don’t rock the boat baby!

I was so grateful and impressed that she was working hard to make it look that effortless. I love the idea that she feels she has a choice. She doesn’t have to let her life’s boat flow underneath the driveway into that dark place. She’s actually figured out how to move upstream in the flow – to be happy on a day when the flow would make it so easy to go the other direction.
I told her how much I appreciated what she had chosen that day, and asked to take a photo – see that smile? Hopefully we managed to brighten each others day. Kirsten gave me a reason to smile -
And determine: Am I going with the flow or making decisions and defining my own destiny.

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Hammering with a Crescent Wrench

My grandma always used to tell me the story about when I was two years old…

It seems I would go get the badminton racquet and the birdie and bring it to her. Then she would throw the birdie at the racquet that I was holding and I would hold really still and let it hit. Sometimes I would try to swing the racquet, and would miss the birdie. I would look at her very sincerely and say “You’re doing it wrong Grandma”. She told me that story every time I saw her like I had never heard it before…

Fast forward ten years and now I’m driving my dad crazy. I love my bike and it’s pretty clear to me if I wait around for him to fix it, well it’s probably not going to happen. So I had gotten pretty good at fixing my bike, building new bikes out of bike parts scrounged from around the neighborhood, I just kind of had a knack for it.  It was fun to think of something in my head and make it real using tools and parts etc.

My theory at that time was crescent wrenches are awesome because you can do just about anything with them. In fact, when it was time to work on one of my bikes–often my only two tools would be two crescent wrenches!

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The part that drove my dad crazy (beside the fact he could never find his tools) was the fact that I would use a crescent wrench as a hammer all of the time! Why get up and go find a hammer when I had a perfectly good pounding device in my hand already? He was not a handy man, but he had that “the right tool for the right job” mentality. To me, if pounding on it with a wrench got the job done – well that was good enough for me. The job was done, and I saved a few steps.

Besides, Dad would get decades more use out of his hammer that way!

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I talked to Mike on a dock in Tacoma – I had stopped and parked the car after driving past the Glass Museum.  I had heard good things about the museum, so I parked and startede to walk back. On the way I started talking to Mike and never did make it to the museum.  I thought it worked out great just the way it happened.

He was sitting in just the right spot for me to take this photo, so I asked him if he minded. He was cool and gave his consent.

While I was setting up the shot I casually asked him “What kind of fish do you catch here?”.

“I don’t know” he said, “I’ve never caught one.”

And with that he started reeling in his line, and up and out of the water came a chartreuse spinner that had been sitting on the bottom of the inlet. He looked at me to make sure I had seen what he was fishing with, reached back and cast it back out and let it sink to the bottom. Then he turned and smiled at me and went back to just sitting there holding his pole. His spinner just sitting there on the bottom.

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While I took a few photos I had to ask him why he fishes with no bait. After all, he was clearly not even using the spinner in a way that would attract fish.  He replied “my doctor told me to fish, but I don’t like to catch them”.

He suffers from anxiety attacks… stress related he told me. He went to the doctor and was told that he needed to find ways to relax. At the time I still couldn’t get over the fact that he’s using these tools in all the wrong ways – so I asked him if it’s working. He answered that he had been “fishing” for about an hour at that point, and he had been sitting there the whole time. Before he went to the doctor he couldn’t sit still for longer than 10 minutes.

“So it’s working… I guess” he said offhandedly.

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He put his pole down and stood up to get a 7up out of his cooler. We stood there and talked for a while. He works in IT for an IT security firm – he mentioned he had to be to work at 4:00. He lives just down the dock in a condo there, and the company he works for is using some commercial space on that same dock.  He loves Tacoma and living and working on the water like that. In fact, his whole life was going great until the anxiety attacks started. Now he comes down to fish several times a week – “it’s a nice way to sit and think about things” he said, “and it seems to be working.”

Using the tools of fishing to relax, without any of the worry of actually catching a fish – it’s almost like Mike’s pounding the stress out with a crescent wrench.

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And I Thought of Africa

Why is it when a “homeless” person starts to approach we start to feel uncomfortable? I think about that after I’ve spoken to one of them, wonder why I reacted the way I did as they came up to me…

I have this thing about expectations – and I wonder if it’s linked to that. When they make that little move that lets you know they are heading your direction, I find myself wondering what it is they want – what is it they think they need. Is it more than I want to give. It’s hard for me to think about refusing them, letting them down. Am I concerned with how I will be perceived?

I’ve been taught all my life that when someone asks for help you give it. If they ask for money, you give it. Simply asking for the help/money is enough to justify sharing what you can with them – and the question as to their motive and what they actually do with the money is between them and God.

So I try to give where I can -

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A few years ago Matt and Lynne decided to go on a mission for the Mormon church. Imagine their surprise when they were asked to go to Africa. They decided they were up for the adventure and got on a plane and left their family, their home, and the lifestyle that they knew and headed out at their own expense for two years of a grand adventure.

They were assigned to a “village of 80,000″ in Matt’s terms. Dirt roads, one room huts where entire families live, no sewer system, and every day the women head into the jungle to collect wood and water so the family can live another day.

Oh, did I mention 90% unemployment? Yeah. 90%.

Matt and Lynne rented a house there, one of 15 houses in that town with indoor plumbing. One day their landlord told them he was going to start a business in their front yard and soon a truck came and dumped a huge pile of rocks in the front yard. Matt holds his hands up to indicate the rocks were about the size of his head.

Later that week two women showed up with a 5-year old, a newborn, and two hammers. They had no food or water. They sat down on that pile of rocks and started breaking them into gravel – as soon as that pile was all gravel someone would buy the gravel from the landlord to make concrete… and you thought your job was a thankless task.

Matt and Lynne were working at home that day, and as the hours moved on, the “pink, pink, pink” of the hammers striking rocks continued. The child played and tended to the newborn, the women broke rocks into gravel, and Matt and Lynn felt more and more sick with each passing hour about the working conditions of these poor women.

Finally they had to do what they could. They took some refrigerated bottled water, a couple of “biscuits” (small cookie-like wafers) and a banana out to the women. After some charades (neither group spoke the other’s language) they convinced the women to let the child and the newborn sit in the shade of the porch. Then they watched as the women enjoyed the food and the water and continued with their work.

The next day Matt and Lynne were surprised when five adults and four kids showed up. Still just two women breaking rocks, but more people hanging out. The men had taken over the porch and sat there in the shade playing card games. When Lynne took out some food and water for the women, there was a scuffle over who actually was going to eat the food and drink the water…

Then the next day Matt and Lynne were dismayed to see 20 adults and several teenagers and many children hanging out in their front yard, with only two women still breaking rocks. The teens were running around the house trying to look in the windows (if they saw anything good they would break in and steal it Lynne told me) and there were more men than could fit on the small porch.

Word had spread of the charity, and every day more people were showing up to receive their share.

At this point in our conversation Matt and Lynne both throw their hands in the air at the same time, they both sit there shaking their heads silently at the memory. Even now they feel helpless in the face of all that poverty. Mike tells me he knows they are rich in comparison to any of the people of that town, and Lynne chimes in that they would love to help all of them if they could – but just two people helping a community that grew exponentially every day was just more than they could do. The need was too great, their resources nowhere near large enough, and so they had to ask everyone to leave.

The crowd left and it returned to two women and a child and a baby working in the brutal heat. Matt and Lynne couldn’t figure a way to help them without it getting out of control again.

Lynne and Matt and I spoke for two and a half hours – I can tell there are hundreds of stories of people they encountered, the need of the people and the small things Lynne and Matt did to help. Everything they did helped, but there is always the feeling of “we just wish we could have done more”.

It’s fascinating to hear the adventures that they have had. It’s heartbreaking and humbling to hear of the poverty of the people who live there.

Since our chat I’ve been approached by a beggar. He came up to me.  He asked for money – I gave him what I had. It wasn’t much. Hardly any help at all…

And I thought of Africa…

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Models

I ended my last post talking about finding a model and copying it, adapting it to your needs. I’ve been thinking a lot about that word “model” since then.

For my eleventh birthday my dad bought me a membership to the “Model of the Month” club. For one year I got a package once a month with a new model to build. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I learned a lot about the mechanical world by assembling engines made of plastic and tiny rubber hoses. Helicopters, cars, battleships, aircraft carriers, funny cars – I modeled them all. I’d dream about the real world and how these amazing machines were used.

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For a school project on Vietnam I put together this paper mache landscape with a Huey Cobra flying over the top. The cloud to cover the coat hanger mount was the part my teacher went on and on about. I got a very good grade on that, and found that overall models were very good for me. They taught me a lot and got me an A in the sixth grade and that’s all right by me…

Then just the other day I heard that word again… on NPR I heard this line “So and So is the model of a compassionate doctor.” There it was, that word. but different. Now it’s not a smaller thing that represents a big thing – it’s a role model. It’s the very definition of something that I want to be… a goal to shoot for.

Which brings me to the most popular use of “model” – those images we see in our magazines. I think that meaning of “role model” seeps into us, and we look at those people, at their pretend lives, and we feel a restlessness with our own- we want a model life too! Those images breed discontent with our lives – make us want to buy something to fill the void that the model has actually opened up by being a model…

It’s crazy. Crazy I tell you.

I’ve worked with aspiring models for many years now – it’s more than making beautiful images of them, I get to know them… their fondest hopes and their terrifying fears. So many have this intense desire to simply be validated… and being in front of the camera gives that to them for a moment. Others use it unapologetically as an escape from the stress of life. In front of a camera it all goes away for a few hours.

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I got to know Hali on Facebook. Her mom was my friend, her mom’s friend was my friend, and they both gushed about how beautiful this girl is. How I simply must shoot with her.

Then one day Hali’s mom posted a very sad status update. Hali’s fiance had passed away very suddenly and very unexpectedly. All of her plans for the future shattered in one phone call. Can you even imagine? My heart aches just writing about it. To love that deeply and have it torn away…

And then mom and mom’s friend talked her into a shoot with me. Just like that it was scheduled and I was… well I had no idea what to expect. I knew she was beautiful, but what would we talk about? What if I said something that made her cry? I was grateful for the chance to give her a couple of hours to shoot and think about other things, but I wondered what would happen in the gaps… the places where we weren’t shooting.

Hali is amazing. Those three words don’t even come close. The reality of who I met, of who I worked with that frigid day makes those words completely ineffectual.

There was no dancing around the touchy subject. Jonathan was spoken of by name, with pride and love and heartache. Tears would flow out of her beautiful eyes, and she would not try to hide them, she cried with strength… she seemed to embrace that reality, faced it. The tears would flow for a minute, and then would be gone and we’d move on with what we were doing.

We laughed a lot – talked and joked and froze and made beautiful images. I tell my models that “by definition” anything they do is perfect. I need that kind of confidence to make images of strength and beauty. And here is this girl who has had her entire reality ripped away from her… and she’s just remarkable in that brutal cold wind, the very embodiment of confidence and grace and strength.

Her images are amazing.

I didn’t tell her, but it moved me to tears watching her model – watching her be that strong, that confident, that beautiful, knowing what she was facing in her life.

Later when I was working with the images in Photoshop the tears came again. Not tears of sadness, or of pity. Tears came as I wondered if I could be that strong, If I could handle that kind of adversity with grace. If I would have the strength to cry without being ashamed…

And I realized…. this is a model. A model of the kind of person I hope I am deep inside. A model of the personal strength I hope I have.

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The Seed of Creativity

I’ve always had this independent streak… those who know me will tell you. I don’t like people telling me what I “have’ to do. I’ve found in my life that it is very seldom the case that I “have” to do anything and have always quite resented those who would impose their will upon me.

This did not bode well for gainful employment. Oh yes, my internet friend, i have been fired a time or two. What is it about people who pay you that makes them think they are the boss of you? Seriously.

So as I started to discover my creative side, started to understand that it might be the ticket to a place where I could “be my own boss” (a term that I will riff on further at another time to be sure) I realized that I needed a portfolio to start showing people my capability. Sadly I didn’t have any paying clients at the time, so no projects to show to others so I could get work… talk about a Catch 22. I felt like I was kind of stuck. I wasn’t sure how to proceed.

Fred and I talked about that very thing – having a problem and not quite knowing what the solution is.

In fact he and I talked about the Bangerter Highway here in the Salt Lake Valley quite a bit. As his occupation, Fred would purchase the land needed to build roads, Bangerter Highway was one of the biggest of his career. He smiled as we talked about the first time he knocked on people’s doors to explain that a highway would run right through their driveway in a few years…

We talked about the huge construction project that Bangerter Highway is going through right now – Fred knew quite a bit about why they were converting each intersection to be a “continuous flow intersection”.

As a driver I have wondered about these new intersections. Ok, I’ve sworn artfully as I’ve missed the left hand turn lanes that are now about a hundred yards before the intersection. Fred laughed at that – he said lots of people have described their first experience with the CFI (as he called them) the same way. They do take some getting used to.

But here’s the part that interested me. He said that the state was really having a hard time because the highway has so much volume that the streets intersecting it were backing up significantly waiting for the light to change. Then the light would have to be short to keep traffic from building on the highway… it turned into a long wait sometimes to cross the highway. People were complaining. (that is SO unlike people isn’t it?)

He said the state found the same solution that I did as a new artist. They started looking around to see what other people had done to solve the same problem. The state’s solution was found in Mexico City, and they used that model, adjusting it slightly to meet Utah’s needs, and the result has increased traffic flow significantly.

That’s what I found worked for me. A friend told me to simply pretend I was getting paid and do a few projects that I could show around.

So I watched TV a lot (it was “work” you see, research, yeah, that’s it), and I simply would find something on TV that interested me, and I’d work very hard to replicate it on my own computer. I found my creativity always crept in and altered the project so the result ended up being something of my own creation. I got my beginning demo reel, but more important I learned a great strategy…

I learned I could take a seed of creativity from someone else, but the soil of my mind always altered it and made it my own. That was a great lesson to learn early on in my career, and a strategy I still use a lot many years later.

Find a model that’s worked for someone else in a similar situation.

Adapt it to your situation.

Liberally apply your own creativity–and you have your own unique creation that solves your problem in a way that perfectly suits you.

It works for highways.

It works for careers.

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