Sunday, June 27, 2010

Reflection Entry # 2 Mind you, here's what I think...

My brain has gone into hibernate mode and will no longer cooperate with me. No matter how much I push and prod it to dole out half decent work, it just won't budge. I've stared blankly at the computer screen for hours now. Soon, Mr. Sun will emerge from the sky. He will take one good look at me, shake his head and make a "tut tut" sound as I am now in a place where I have always been whenever there's a paper due: downing copious amounts of caffeine and tapping madly away at the keyboard, attempting a photo finish in time for the deadline.

It is quite ironic that after reading Gardner's Five Minds for the Future, I have done exactly the opposite of what his whole presentation is about. Specifically, his first point. Right at the heels of developing his theory of multiple intelligences, he talks about five minds that we should develop in order to better ourselves and achieve our full potential. The future is a mysterious entity. Blurry, actually. Gardner believes that with the development of these five minds, we will have the tools that will prepare us for a world that is yet to be known, or even, predicted.

The Disciplined Mind: Practice Makes Progress

Gardner mentions that we need to build up our "disciplinary muscle". My dilemma of writing this blog entry, as stated above, wasn't that I didn't know how to write. It was because I wasn't doing enough of it. I have developed a crippling habit of leaving things to the last minute that it has been embedded deeply into my system. Talent cannot work alone. A lot of work has to go along with it. With work, comes refinement. I talked about a Disney animator named Don "Ducky" Williams in a previous blog entry. The reason he eventually got hired was because of his persistence in developing and practicing his skill, doling out at least a hundred sketches a week for two years. Now that, is flexing some "disciplinary muscle".

The Medici Effect article taps on this idea as well. You can think up the most amazing idea in the world, but if it is not actualized or at least, worked on, then it is nothing.

We may have the skill and talent, but we need the work to back it up.

How can we concretely develop a disciplined mind?

Pinpoint Passion
Practice Perpetually
Harbor the Healthy Habit
Thrive through Talent

The Synthesizing Mind: Ctrl+a, Ctrl+c, Ctrl+v

There are currently 15 million articles on The topics ranging from ice cream to insomnia. It took me literally less than a second to search for that particular statistic.

The second mind that Gardner discusses is the synthesizing mind. He mentions that "we are all inundated with information". Information can be accessed easily, and that has, sadly, taken the place of accuracy. To be successful in the future, I agree that we need to have a synthesizing mind. We need to be aware that although we are able to learn things quickly with literally, just a click of a button, not everything out there is relevant or true. We need to be more critical of what we feed on.

Copy Pasting has become an epidemic, especially in school. As a teacher, this is a big concern. By not addressing this problem, we are allowing students to make a habit of accepting things at face value. We are encouraging them to be mindless drones and letting others do the work for them. They are losing the ability to identify which idea works for them and why it works for them. This is why I think research skills should be taught at an early age. Research doesn't stop after typing a keyword into a search engine.

How can we concretely develop a synthesizing mind?

Instant Information is Irrelevant
Unless Users Understand
Discard Deficient Details
Accept Authentic Answers

The Creative Mind: Actualizing Innovations

Vincent Van Gogh sold one painting while he was still alive. Centuries later, art collectors and famous galleries try to outbid each other to get a piece of his 900 painting collection. On the other side of the world, Miley Cyrus has released her latest single, which on its first week, sold 226,000 copies.

Are they both creative?

According to Gardner, one of them isn't.

Gardner believes that to be considered creative, one has to master his craft for at least ten years. He also believes that the period of time in which your work is appreciated and accepted defines whether you are creative or not. Early acceptance means you are not. No acceptance at all obviously means it's worthless. Although I have a bit of trouble accepting this notion, it does make sense. Years from now, we will still marvel at the blues and hues of Starry, Starry Night. I doubt if anyone will remember the lyrics to "Can't Be Tamed" 100 years from now.

Developing a creative mind goes hand in hand with the disciplined mind. One has to work at an idea or a talent, harvest it and make it grow. The more ideas you put out, the more chances that one of them will turn out to be brilliant.

It is not all about a person's mental faculties. As Gardner mentions, it's also about attitude. We need to be able to foster creativity within ourselves by taking risks and taking chances. We were always taught that there's a fine line between smart and stupid. We have a great fear of looking and sounding stupid that we never venture outside our comfort zones.

How can we concretely develop a creative mind?

Do the "Disciplined Mind" Doctrine
Break Barriers
Innovative Ideas
Replace Reflection with Realities

The Respectful Mind: A Borderless World

The fourth mind that Gardner talks about is respect, which is something that should be instinctive. It doesn't have to be mentioned that we need to respect one another. It's human nature. But the fact that Gardner paid particular importance to it means that, although it's something natural, it leaves yet to be seen.

It's amazing how we Filipinos patrol foreign films, television, etc. and cry "racist!" when someone makes a joke in our expense. But switch to a local variety show and we do exactly just that. On a daily basis, you will see the host berate, insult and make fun of a contestant because of of his color, physical appearance or accent.

Why do we do it and how do we stop it?

We do it because as much as we would like to think that we accept all kinds and forms of people, we don't. Our opinions are based on prejudices that we have instilled in ourselves over the years. Our beliefs are so important to us that anyone or anything that resembles a threat to that belief system, we disregard.

We put a halt to this by simply being tolerant. We do not need to abandon our beliefs but we do need to accept what others believe in. Exposing ourselves to a variety of culture, traveling and observing will open our eyes and make us realize just how varied people and experiences are.

How can we concretely develop a respectful mind?

Meet, Mingle and Mix
Discover Differences Daily

Venture Vast Villages,
Celebrate Color and Connectedness

The Ethical Mind: Fulfilling Roles

Gardner mentions this element as the most important. For a person to be ethical, he incorporates three things: excellence, engagement and ethical.

Like what he mentions in his introduction: we do not talk about values or ethics anymore because people would disagree too much. Ethics is too personal a thing to be discussed. But it doesn't mean that because we skirt through the topic, that it should be forgotten altogether.

The study that Gardner and his colleagues have done is quite alarming. What we need to do is put importance to value laden subjects in the curriculum. Making students aware of ethical dilemmas early will help them in the long run. Our educational system still puts a premium on high IQ's. In Gardner's opinion, this is a mindset that should be changed. We need to develop not only a student's ability to compute and recite the alphabet. We need to bank on character as well. Knowledge can be learned, but Character needs to be instilled.

How can we concretely develop an ethical mind?

Character counts
Reach Respective Roles
Play Parts Perfectly

Looking at all of this can be a lot to take in all at the same time. We think we are all set in the world, and new ideas make us question what we believe in.

"I'm losing my mind" is a common expression.

Hopefully, we don't lose all five.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Paint Fest at Sea

Disney promotes and encourages creativity.

This is evident during one of their events on a recent Disney Cruise. The company enlisted the help of a charity called the Foundation for Hospital Art during a 14-night voyage from Florida to Barcelona.

This non-profit organization creates marvelous paintings that are then donated to hospitals around the world. To this date, the foundation has created over 35,000 paintings for over 2000 hospitals in 193 countries around the world.

During Ramos' presidency, he invited the organization to the Philippines and commissioned a painting that was then given to the Children's Hospital. Their goal is to promote art and creativity, bringing joy to the drab hospital walls around the world.

This event was the first ever "Paint Fest at Sea", and to date, the biggest, and with the most volunteers.

Disney Voluntears, along with 300 guests, hand painted a pre-drawn, color-coded mural of Disney characters, created by Don "Ducky" Williams. The mural is 12 feet high, 20 feet long with 60 canvases. Volunteer guests were given their own canvas, which were then pooled together to create this masterpiece.

The mural was hand delivered last April 23, 2010 at the Vall d'Hebron Hospital in Barcelona, Spain and is now hanging at different parts of the hospital.

Art for a good cause.

Art at its best.

Banking on Disney

Creativity Profile: Spotlight on Don "Ducky" Williams

Somewhere in Metropolis, Clark Kent runs out to the street, looking for a phone booth. A swift hand gesture later, and his glasses are off, transforming him into the Man of Steel, off to fight crimes.

Somewhere in Gotham City, Bruce Wayne hosts yet another soiree, heavily attended by the city's most elite. A quick visit to his mansion's underground lair, and he comes out as The Dark Knight, avenging justice.

Somewhere in Massachusetts, Don Williams packs the final remains of his desk into a cardboard box, as he gets into his car, driving off from him double life, deciding to solely live from now on as Ducky.

Superheroes have always fascinated me. Aside from their unnatural powers and surprisingly strong moral fiber, it's their ability to lead a double life that draws me towards them. It often makes me wonder which alter ego they actually identified with. Did they want to go back to their Average Joe lives, or did they find being a vigilante exhilarating? I'm positive that when they are not off kicking criminal's butts, they lay awake at night thinking about this very dilemma.

A double life seems to be the case of an astounding gentleman I've had the pleasure of meeting: Mr. Don "Ducky" Williams.

"I always thought it would be the other way around. I'd draw at Disney the whole day, and count my money at night". he joked, during his talk on board the Disney Magic ship. As he told his amazing story, he drew portraits, attesting to what a true talent he really was.

Don was up for a VP promotion when he decided to abandon his 15 year banking career to fulfill his dream of becoming a Disney animator. It wasn't a decision that came to him out of the blue. Years ago, he wrote Walt Disney a letter, asking if there were any job openings for an animator. Much to his delight, Walt wrote back encouraging him not to give up. Unfortunately, there were no job openings at that moment, for a 10 year old.

Walt's letter remains as his most prized possession. But along with the letter being neatly tucked away in a safe place, was his dream of being an animator. Being pushed by his parents into banking, he would entertain clients by day and ended up painting Disney portraits at the privacy of his own home at night.

Everything changed when one of his major clients, who happened to be a local TV anchor, noticed the Disney paintings that adorned his office walls. "I was always known as the Disney guy at the bank. Everyone knew how nuts I was about Disney, but nobody knew that these were my paintings." Soon after that, a human interest piece was done of him for the local news.

Being a local celebrity in his hometown depressed Don. "Everytime someone praised me for my paintings, it just reminded me that I wasn't doing what I wanted to do." Unknown to him, a local cop sent a tape of his story to Disney World in Florida.

Don never heard from Disney.

Then came his "it's now or never" moment. He quit his job, packed up all his artwork, and moved his entire life to Florida.

Without contacts or job prospects, he hopped on a plane and went straight to the Disney studios where he got turned down by the employment office.

For a few months, he worked as a cashier in a restaurant across the Disney parks. Everyday, he would pester the employment office asking them for any openings. "I was determined to sell peanuts, if it means setting foot inside Disney property." he explained.

After a year of this, there was an opening for a caricature artist at the park. He took the job right away. That lasted for 6 months as the caricature stalls weren't earning money. They were eventually replaced by orange juice stands.

A hopeful phone call the next day changed his life. Someone in the Disney office has unearthed the video tape of his story from two years ago and was immediately called into the head office where his paintings were scrutinized by two artists.

The head of animation agreed that he had talent but needed practice. He was given drawing guide sheets of every possible Disney character. "They wanted me to practice. I was to send them my sheets every week and they sent them back with with corrections."

He was excited at the thought of finally getting his foot into the door that during the first week, he submitted 100 drawings. The next week, 200 drawings. "I set such a high standard during the first week. I was afraid that if I turned in less than 100, it would look like I wasn't serious."

This unpaid Disney training went on for two whole years.

After two years of living, breathing and eating Disney, he could draw the characters in his sleep. He was finally invited to be part of the animation team.

This is where his Disney career finally began.

After a few months in animation, he decided that the work wasn't for him. His true love wasn't in drawing and redrawing characters, it was in painting portraits of them. He decided to make the shift after one day of drawing Tinkerbell's pixie dust.

After days of animating the 2 second clip of Tink putting Pixie Dust on Cinderella's castle, he moved to merchandising. "A lot of the paintings and drawings I do are what you would call 'throwaway art'. Those characters in brochures, posters and flyers are mine."

Currently, he is living his dream of drawing and painting portraits and scenes for Disney merchandise. He is also part of the Disney Cruise, giving talks and sketching lectures as part of the entertainment.

Here's a video of him giving a tutorial on how to draw Mickey Mouse

A lot of his artwork has sold for millions of dollars in art auctions, delighting Disney collectors all over the world. His Donald Duck paintings have been considered as the best rendering of any Disney animator or artist. Thus giving him the nickname "Ducky".

He has now worked for Disney for 30 years.

After relating all his struggles and challenges in hopes of reaching his dream, he ended his talk with this last line: "It's never too late".

Very few people would have done what he did. In this world where stability is favored over passion, a lot of dreams die along with their souls.

Don "Ducky" Williams is proof that we don't need to lead double lives. With just enough courage, we can lead the ultimate life we want, without fear of treading.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Reflection Entry # 1 Art VS Creativity

The word Creativity is misleading.

When I was in elementary school, my teacher always needed help with a project. She would look around the class, smiling; and proudly declare "I need five creative little helpers". Before she was able to finish her sentence, every hand in the room would shoot up, in hopes of getting picked for this very important mission. The teacher, of course, picked the girls who always had A's in art class and got their finger painting masterpieces displayed on the classroom wall for everyone to see. After all five girls have been picked, they would obediently follow the teacher into the faculty lounge, leaving the discarded thirty girls to copy two blackboards full of conjugated verbs, multiplication problems or historical dates.

While my teacher's five girl plan is understandable in a practical point of view, where does that leave the other thirty girls in the class? Did it automatically mean that those who could combine colors well and who could draw pictures that could rival Picasso were the creative ones?

Yes, the word Creativity is quite misleading.

In Ken Robinson's article, he discusses one common misconception about creativity; that it deals only with special things, like the arts. This is quite a striking notion. I have found myself agreeing with the exact same thing he talked about. Although I believe that there is not enough emphasis and importance in the current school system given to the arts, we cannot just point an accusing finger at math, science and language and yell "creativity killer!". After all, a lot of the greatest thinkers of our time like Einstein, Newton and Darwin built their ideas around these three aspects. Before scrambling to change curricula everywhere to include painting and photography as regular subjects in school, maybe we should take a look at something else first.

I am a teacher.
I used to be a high school teacher.
I taught about subject and predicate, punctuation and verb order.

Everyday, I would go into the classroom, call the roll and give the students practice sentences with instructions to "Underline the verb", or something of that sort. All of this was outlined in a lesson plan that every faculty member had to submit for checking, to the principal. Every action from the greeting to the actual lesson was carefully recorded. I loathed it. Soon, I was just merely passing my lesson plans for the sake of it, and started doing my own thing.

One day, the principal barged into my classroom. Before him, students ran around in chaos, chasing each other, trying to write on a piece of paper that was stuck to their classmates’ back. I was doing an activity on identifying adjectives. This didn’t go down so well with the principal and he took over, settled the class to his expectations, and began: “Now class, where is the adjective in this sentence?”

Alternative methods of teaching were frowned upon by the principal. His master’s degree in Education dictates how his faculty teaches students. That meant multiple choice quizzes, ennumerating steps and copying notes on the blackboard. The students then get robotic with the answers that were already programmed into them. This didn't seem like thinking at all. Much less, creative thinking. This particular experience taught me something. In order to promote creativity, one has to teach creatively. This, eventually, led me to quitting my job.

Bringing creativity into the schools doesn't mean that we have to make a major overhaul right away. It won't matter which subjects we put emphasis on. If society one day decides that music and painting are the core subjects of a school, it will not automatically mean that we have suddenly embraced creativity.

A more important thing to focus on, I believe, is to look at methods. How do we coax those ideas out of our brains? Never mind what the subject matter actually is. In some parts of Norway, for example, children are exposed to "play learning" until they reach the age of 8. Test scores didn't suffer, as their marks rivaled that of traditional schools around the area.

What we need to overhaul is the methods in the way we think. We always hear the expression think out of the box. But we forget that there's also a top, side, bottom and even, inside of a box.

Toilet Tales

I've always had an aversion to public bathrooms. This is partly due to the fact that I had an uncanny knack for choosing stalls that have been marked, in one way or the other, by its previous occupant. If I had plans to go to the mall, I do whatever business I had in my own comfy bathroom. So I was safe from emergencies whenever I had to head out to hunt for a new notebook, hang out with friends, or watch a movie. In turn, I've missed a huge chunk of important girl gossip, as I always took a pass on joining the group bathroom breaks.

I never knew what my reasons were exactly for harboring such negative feelings about public bathrooms. My dad made no mention of any childhood traumas. I also do not remember seeing any creatures luring me into its dark abyss. Maybe deep down, I really am just a stall snob and didn't care for the literature that was on the walls.

I've had my mind on toilets lately. One cannot erase the picture of those pink atrocities along the roads. I pass them every single day when I go to work and it somehow has seeped, unwillingly, into my unconscious. Sure, placing portable toilets is an ingenious idea. All the aimless men of Manila will have somewhere to go. Nearby bushes will remain clean, and dark corners will no longer emit mysterious odors. BUT, they could have been designed better.

I recently made Grace Bermejo history by willingly going on a public bathroom break on a recent trip to Paris. After reveling at the marvel of the Eiffel Tower, and climbing its steps, I was presented with a bone chilling realization: I needed to go to the bathroom. So I had three choices: suffer the long ride to the hotel and pray that my bladder cooperates; dazzle one of the waiters from the nearby restaurant with my Loony Tunes-inspired French; or just (wo)man up and find a bathroom stall already!

For my bladder, I chose the latter.

After minutes of deciphering street signs, this emerged before my eyes.

I patiently took my position at the end of the short queue. It looked like Captain Kirk would emerge out of it at any minute. Quite exciting!

As a virtual expert and travel guide commentator on "Toilets around the World", naturally, I was fascinated. It was an interesting installation outside, on the sidewalk, and yet it looked safe and solid. No one was going to accidentally peek in. You also had no fear of someone mugging you while you are at your most vulnerable.

I probably should explain how it works.

There are four buttons. You push button #1 and a panel slides open. You step inside and there is a sink, a mirror and a toilet at your disposal. You can do whatever you want to do on a 15 minute time limit. (Whatever happens AFTER 15 minutes, I didn't dare find out). After you are done, you push button # 2 from the inside, and a panel slides open where you can exit. The next person in line pushes button # 3 from the outside, and the stall prompts an automated device, cleaning the entire thing for one minute: It flushes the toilet; washes the floors; cleans the sink; empties the trash and disinfects the entire area. Button #4 opens the stall for the next occupant, all ready, clean and pristine. No fear of nasty surprises; no more holding your breath while you do your business.

Now THIS is a bathroom.

So has this become the turning point of my public bathroom phobia?

Of course not.

But it sure is a step towards recovery. =)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Me in Pictures: Seven Quick Facts

I am Gracie.

I love my extended family.

But to my adoptive dad, I owe everything.

I travel. A lot.

I am Obsessive-Compulsive.

I collect (well, hoard actually) notebooks. Yes, I know, I have a problem.

I am a theater geek! Ask me anything about musical theater (Just please, no singing)!

Looking forward to getting to know everyone better in class!

Heirs and Graces

A Princess by any other name

I was named after a Princess.

A real Princess.

But I can count the million different ways how unprincess-like I actually am. My parents unknowingly put a curse on me even before I was born. To be fair though, I am sure they meant well, when they decided on what I would be called for the next 100 years (if I'm lucky). Their minds probably reeled with the brimless possibilities of what their little girl would be like; a prim and proper young lady they could dress up in ribbons and lace; delicate as a flower and someone who will grow to break a million boys' hearts.

Now, what would be the perfect name for this flower picking-eyelash fluttering-cute as a button-little girl?


They expected this, but instead, got this.

That's me on the right.

Much to my parents' dismay, I proved to be less poised and charming as my namesake. I picked no flowers, I picked up ladybugs. Instead of breaking boys' hearts, I broke their legs (or at least tried to). Grace Kelly, the icon of style and sophistication is probably looking down/up (you never know) at the clumsy, awkward girl that I came to be.

Quite ungrace-like.

After countless hours of ballet lessons and finishing schools, it was official.

I was no princess.

Fall from Grace

Not to be outdone however, I soon decided that I could not be bullied by my first name anymore. Even though I was completely and utterly useless at handling eyeliner, something else happened whenever I got my hands on pen and paper. I glowed. From then on, I knew what I wanted to do. I was going to write. And write I did. Paper, notebooks, walls, furniture, sidewalks, wet cement.

It took a while to build an identity around something, but I believe I am getting there.

Looking back now, I'm glad that my parents named me Grace. Grace can mean a million different things and I am glad and proud to be one of the million fabulous definitions it has.