I Love These Days

Just another graphic remix/happy graphic accident coming out of a project I’m working on (I wrote about this last week too.) Excited to share the final product soon.

Enjoy the season.



Happy Graphic Accidents & Blog News

I’m working on a project for a client that’s really fun and graphically rich–I’m sure I’ll post some progress and finished work at some point soon–the project is just moving so fast. I usually believe in documenting while doing, but….hey sometimes you can’t live the ideal.

Sometimes, while mapping or rendering, or creating graphics for projects I’ll end up creating an object of beauty by happenstance. These ‘accidents’ trigger something in me aesthetically that I just love and I can see how they can spur other artistic possibilities and spinoffs for them.

Here’s a few images I created recently for this project. Stripped of their contextual information, they read a little bit like a John Cage drawing. I really like them, their proportion, movement, balance and color and I hope you do to.

(click on the images to see close ups.)

Happy Graphic Accident 3-01

Happy Graphic Accident 1-01

Happy Graphic Accident 2-01

On other topics I have two pieces of news:

  1. I will be scaling back my posting on this blog from roughly two posts per week to about one. I started this blog to put into focus some of the things I was learning as I navigated aligning my work more tightly with my values and interests. Happily, this has happened! But now I find myself with a lot more to do, and less time to write about it. Blogging has been invaluable to my process, though (and I’m pretty sure my mental health as well) so I will be continuing to write, just on a lighter schedule. In the coming months you can also look forward to more posts on client work, the things I’ve been getting up to that are keeping me busy.
  2. I am taking a social media fast. This post will go out on twitter automatically, but I am taking a week’s break from actively posting to social media. I used to be a social media hater (“how can you say anything meaningful in 140 characters”) then I became a social media lover (“I can find out the most interesting things directly from the people I find interesting.”) Lately, however, I’ve found myself spending a lot of time on social media, thinking a lot more about my posts and anticipating/waiting for likes. That was the sign that I needed to cut myself off for a while. I love social media, and I’ve connected with some wonderful people and communities with it, but I need a reset.

That’s it for now. See you next week and in the meantime enjoy the eye candy.

Hitting Fifty! Looking Back at Five Months of Blogging

When I began blogging in November I didn’t know what the process would have in store for me. I didn’t set out to start a website and build my ‘tribe’ and I didn’t even know how long I would be doing it for.

I only wanted a place to think ‘out loud’ and sort through everything I was learning.

But consistency has paid off and it’s played a strong but background role in helping me shape my interests and ideas into action.

Blogging has helped me give shape to ideas that were ambiguous and tighten nascent connections among my endeavors.

I wanted to take a moment of celebration for ‘hitting fifty’ by calling out five of the things that have shifted for me since I began blogging that I am really excited about.

#5: I Founded the Creative Somerville Series.


This speaker series, which I run with Elyse Andrews of the Somerville Beat features local creatives and entrepreneurs in an intimate Q&A format, that eschews the ‘fabulous life of…’ approach that a lot of lectures end up at. Although the series is young, we’ve been sold out for every event we’ve hosted, and it’s clear the series is resonating with people.

I’ve loved being inspired by our speakers, the founders of Aeronaut Brewing, Kate Balug of Department of Play, Erin Heath and Rose Mattos of Forêt Design Studio and Trevor Holmes of Wistia. I’m also meeting wonderful people (see item #1) and love working with Elyse and our slowly growing crew of volunteers. Want to join in? Check out our schedule here.

#4 The Build Yourself+ Workshop is Taking Off.

Build Yourself Workshop_Old Girls Club

I taught the Build Yourself+ Workshop, an empowerment workshop for women at the Boston Society of Architects for the first time this spring and it was absolutely fantastic. Evals that came back from the workshop are showing that the experience was life changing for many women.

I’ve always had plans for taking the workshop to the next level but a wonderful piece in Fast Company from a few weeks ago has expanded the workshop’s visibility and the workshop’s focus and challenge-based model is clearly striking a nerve. I’m looking at expanding the workshop to other cities and to other fields.

Want to join in the conversation? I’m moderating a panel at the BSA bringing together women in different fields this week, and next week I’ll be part of a National Endowment of the Arts webinar on women in social impact design.

#3 Issues of Impact Have Risen to the Top.

I’ve always intended to use my design skills in service of social impact, but blogging has helped me define a more sophisticated approach, language and set of strategies that I specifically use. Months ago, when I first started blogging I wrote this epic post (it was a manifesto of sorts) on how I thought landscape architecture could drive health outcomes.

That impact focus, driven in part by learning about lean startup concepts, has become a core part of everything I do, whether it’s the challenge-based model of the Build Yourself+ Workshop, or the strategy behind work I’ve been doing for clients. I’m currently taking an Acumen fund class on “Lean Impact Assessment” with my research partner Gilad Meron, and Katie Crepeau of the Impact Design Hub and am excited about how the class and our conversations. I’m excited to continue expanding my take on impact-focused work, and to investigate some instincts I have about how impact assessment can be more creatively driven.

#2 My Research on Social Impact Design Business Models was Funded by the NEA.

Social Impact Design Research Funding

Ok so it’s not really fair to include this one as a blogging-related outcome, since we laid the groundwork way back in the fall when our research group, Proactive Practices applied for the funding.

PrintBut this was my first self-initiated project in the realm I work in: The intersection of design, entrepreneurship and social impact. I can say that I have used this blog as a platform to explore that intersection and draw out key connections and insight and direction. The blog has also demystified writing for me, and made ma a more confident, easy and fast writer, which I know will come in handy as we move forward with this project.

#1 I Have a Crew I Love Here in the Boston Area.


Most importantly, blogging has been a behind-the-scenes organizing force for me to learn, meet new people and get deeper into the city I’ve lived in for almost five years. Blogging gave me a place for reflection, a way of pacing out life, a week at a time, and a way to ‘file away’ thoughts as I met people. I’ve met fantastic folks in the area, and through events like the Design for Equity conference this fall, the Creative Somerville Series and the Boston Society of Architects.

Do you ever get that feeling that you’re surrounded by great people who you respect and admire, and they’re really digging each other? I am starting to feel that way in the place that I live and that’s a huge blessing.

I’m not going to conclude this post with a “and here’s to another fifty!” I’m going to conclude with a feeling of gratitude that slow steady progress can spiral into so much more. Here’s to so much more.

photo credits: featured image adapted from flickr user Elaine. Creative Somerville Series photo by Ben Holmes of Aeronaut. Build Yourself+ Workshop photo adapted from Nina Chase.

Mood-Enhancing Videos

I am known to be an earnest person.….And sometimes, maybe a little bit too much of a serious, almost literal person. I very easily slip into “Super-serious Mia.”

But it turns out, “Non-super-serious Mia” is just as smart as her serious twin and she’s way more fun to be around. And maybe even, a little bit more creative too.

So what do I do when I need to flip out of serious me zone? Do fun weird things (like fill water guns with margaritas and bring them to parties) and of course, listen to the right music.

Here are three music videos that I love with a passion. They are insane and colorful and hilarious in that really wacky sort of way that I like best.

Move Your Feet-Junior Senior

Great workout song, so can’t beat that. I just love that insane squirrel that wants to blow everything up at the end. I could watch him blow up the dolphins and the tops off of ice cream cones forever.

Sophisticated Side Ponytail-Brite Futures (formerly Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head)

Gabe Fine introduced me to this group and for that I will forever be grateful. They made all their music when they were in high school. The exploding glitter cat at minute 1:30 is my favorite. It occurs to me, as I write this that I may have a thing for explosions.

Dance Thief- Con Bro Chill

These folks are a former boss’s cousins and their friends. Just love the neon. How can you not? This song is also eminently danceable. I highly recommend their other videos as well. Especially the one in which they wear color-coordinated neon leisure shorts suits.

What strange loves spur your creativity?

It’s Here, It’s Here!!!!

I was zoning out looking off into the distance… And then I saw it. That look–splotchy yellow against the Boston urban background–like messy dabs of paint. The first blooms of the season.

Witch hazel. This winter has seemed so long. I think we’ve gotten more than 7 feet of snow over the course of this Boston winter? I’ve probably been one of the only people I know who hasn’t minded. I work in a place that gets great light. I’ve been looking out my window onto our sunny, snow-covered frigid days for months.

But blooms. That beautiful beautiful, absolutely gorgeous look of flowers on a bare stem.

There’s a blessing in the Jewish tradition you can say when you see your first flowering for tree of the season. Witch hazel…? Nope, not really a fruit tree. But when I saw those flowers I felt a wordless prayer bubble up of deep gratitude, for the simple joy of being alive.

When an Obsession Goes too Far….and it’s Fabulous

It started a few weeks ago—well, really it started quite a while back. I’ve been thinking and learning a lot about pollinators and backyard wildlife lately. In a recent job, I was charged with designing the plant mix for a salt-tolerant wildflower meadow. It got me thinking a lot about non-human species.

species photo strip
Some Backyard Wildlife of Connecticut.

I followed this interest up with a custom holiday present for my niece and nephew focused on backyard garden pollinators and wildlife…. (more on this to come on the blog) and continued it through independent research and drawing projects on backyard wildlife.

I got excited about the National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife program which helps residents use simple interventions to turn their backyard into habitat, and has a self-certification program to incentivize making your property part of a larger pro-wildlife movement. I started reading books on bees and other habitat.

So when I had a costume party to go to a this week, the ideas were brewing…. I’d had my eye on the awesome “Queen Bee” look of Missy Elliot in her classic Work It video (that video is piece of art by the way–the movement, the color scheme, the abandoned playground….wow) and the pieces came together.

I didn’t quite have a name for it, so when pressed I came up with “Pollinator Celebrator…” (It didn’t quite describe the birds perfectly, and the butterflies were missing, but sometimes you gotta go with what rhymes.) I didn’t have the bees I’d hoped for (they ended up going to the wrong address, but hey, ants pollinate some plants too!) There was a healthy dose of Lady Gaga-ism, I must say… which I think is important in any costume–or in life maybe? (When my niece was a baby one of her grandmothers and I were severely tempted to dress her up in the cold cuts we were having for lunch, we thought she’d look really cute in her own “Baby Gaga” version of LG’s famous meat dress.)

Missy as Queen Bee in "Work It"
Missy as Queen Bee in “Work It”

I couldn’t find a good way to explain creepy long nails, but sometimes you have to go for the art and take some artistic license.

Anyway, this is one of the the things I love best. Mixing art and science. When nerd and pop culture collide. I call it eco-fabulous.

Nerd Happy

I ran into a colleague at an event earlier this week. We’ll be working together on a class on the Fairmount Greenway at the Boston Architectural college. She’s a planner but she has a strong horticultural bent. She worked on the Rose Kennedy Greenway.

She mentioned reading a book about gardens and their ecological value. I decided I could reveal my nerdy pastimes and told her about the book I was reading about invertebrates. We’re meeting next week for the class. We decided to hang out afterwards and talk plants and pollinators. Very excited.

“Dude I was Daring Greatly.” Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

Daring Greatly by Brené Brown starts with a startling premise: That the ability to be vulnerable is actually an expression of courage, not weakness. Brown starts with a quote by Teddy Roosevelt which inspired the book’s name, one I found so compelling I just had to reproduce it in full here:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,

because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause,

who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

I picked up the book because I’d been referencing Brown’s TED talk in Build Yourself+ my empowerment workshop for women in design. I was ready to mine the book for good content and tips for the workshop.

I didn’t expect to be as profoundly moved by the book as I was. The last time I remember tearing up because of a book was more than five years ago, and it was a tear jerker by Salman Rushdie (I haven’t gone back to his work since. I’m not ready.) I certainly can’t remember having a nonfiction book elicit such a raw emotional response.

Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.1” This means everything from the the uncertainty and exposure involved in putting our work out there, speaking up for something we believe in, getting up to make a speech in front of hundreds of people, or even just being in love. Brown writes “when we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof until we walk into the arena we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and turn our backs on our gifts.2

The idea of being kind to yourself and accepting yourself as a work in progress makes sense to me. After all, I am the kid of a social worker. It’s one of the key lessons of my workshop. We talk about applying the iterative process of design to our lives and careers. I tell my workshop participants about a log I started while working on a startup in grad school in which I listed each ‘ask’ we made while marketing the startup and developing partnerships. The idea was to celebrate ‘showing up’ and not whether or not we succeeded or failed. Brown talks about the “vulnerability hangovers” you can feel after you put yourself out there. I know that feeling and I love that she put a name to it–somehow it makes those ‘hangovers’ easier to move past.

The part that really shook me was the schema Brown presents about the relationship between a certain paradigm that she calls ‘wholeheartedness’ and the ability to be vulnerable. While I won’t go into all the aspects of wholeheartedness, one of the key elements is believing that “you are enough.” If it sounds simple, maybe that’s because it is… It’s just that.

You are enough…. You’re not enough because you’re smart, or personable, or you have killer fashion sense, or you know a lot about invertebrates, or you’re hooked into the contemporary art scene, or you graduated in the top 10% of your class, or as a child you were always asking ‘Why?’ or any of these things. You’re enough, because you are. ‘Nuff said. The feeling that drives the sense that we’re not enough, Brown found in her research, was shame. Shame, she describes as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed, and therefore unworthy of love and belonging3

Brown goes on to write about the ways in which tying your self-worth to external factors (or even “internal factors” which are really external factors in disguise) not only affect our ability to succeed, but also our ability to live and experience life fully.

Many of us respond to fear of being vulernable, and that underlying shame/fear that we ‘are not enough’ through expressing control. Brown writes, “I did believe that I could opt out of feeling vulnerable so when it happened–when the phone rang with unimaginable news; or when I was scared; or when I loved so fiercely that rather than feeling gratitude and joy, I could only prepare for loss–I controlled things. I managed situations and micromanaged the poeople around me. I performed until there was no more energy left to feel. I made what was uncertain certain, no matter what the cost. I stayed so busy that the truth of my hurting and my fear could never catch up.4

While it’s clear that Brown’s frameworks are backed up by very rigorous data and analysis, (there’s a hefty appendix in the back of the book) she does a great job of making her ideas accessible and personable. She brings her ideas to life with examples from pop culture (Harry Potter and Snape have cameos) and from her life (I know more Texan slang than I ever thought I would.)

The one criticism I had–and criticism even seems like too strong a word for it–is that Brown’s book feels like it rests pretty heavily in her specific life stage (that is mid-career and married with kids. Or kid?) And while she uses examples from other experiences or life stages, and does admirable work looking at the effect of gender on her frameworks, much of the emotional grounding of the book comes from her life stories.

I am surrounded by and work with (mostly very privileged) people in their 20s/30s and see just how uncertain and vulnerability-inducing that time can be. So many people are still in that wonderful but messy mess of growth, testing who they are against the world outside, and engaging in that back and forth dance of increasing vulnerability as they form and deepen relationships with people–and that’s just the micro-community I’m part of. The frameworks are there in the book for that life stage or experience, and others, I think a reader just has to work a little harder for them.

Brown ends the book, endearingly, with a story of a guy in his early twenties who told her that her book inspired him to tell the girl he was dating that he loved her. He got in the arena, but it didn’t work out–she told him she thought he was “awesome” but that they should date other people. The guy tells Brown, “I felt pretty stupid at first. For a second I was mad at myself and even a little pissed at you. But then I thought about it and I remembered why I did it. I told my roommates, ‘I was daring greatly, dude.’5

I just love that. Daring Greatly is certainly one of the central resources I’ll draw on in my workshop, and it’s one of those books that I intend to read every few years, just because I’ll need the reminder. “I was daring greatly, dude.”

Brown Brené Daring Greatly Gotham Books. 2012. p. 34
Brown, p. 2
Brown, p. 69
Brown, p. 55
Brown, p. 248

Words for 2015.

I am adapting a strategy from a new favorite blogger of mine and instead of having a list of new years’ resolutions, I am picking out a word (or really a few words) that I want to guide my way this coming year.

When I look back on the last year, I see a year with a lot of growth. I can’t say all that growth has been easy. A lot of it has been hard-won. It’s been a year of decisions and transitions. I’ve continued to up my tolerance for creative risk taking and uncertainty–something that I think is an essential skill to do the work I want to do in the world–but at times I’ve wondered whether learning some of these life lessons could be easier, less scary.

When I think about the year ahead, I see two clear mandates–that of building my happiness, and seeking meaning.

build your happiness | seek your meaning

build your happiness.
Despite any ups and downs, there’s been a lot of happiness in my fall. While there’s a lot of discussion about happiness in our culture today–how to get it, what happens when it ‘flees,’ I’ve been thinking a lot this past fall about the joy that I find in the interstitial cracks between myself and what’s around me–the people in my world, and my environment.

I had a few friends come to visit this summer. We sat on my porch for hours, drank iced coffee, and watched the world go by together. There was such a simple joy and rightness in it. I’ve gotten more of that simple joy, visiting my family, niece and nephew, and even spending a few days with one of my research partners on Proactive Practices, eating too much junk food and arguing about what activities community design consists of.

I’ve also been blessed this past year to start developing a number of friendships–both on the personal level and the professional level. While I have lived in Boston for almost five years, it feels like I’m finally starting to build a deeper network where I live. Sometimes it’s been formal, for example through launching the Creative Somerville Series, or a book group that I just got involved with, and sometimes it’s been informal, but I have met people this year with whom I’ve felt that gut/core feeling of, “Yes. My instincts say you are a wonderful person and I want to get to know you more, learn from you, work with you.” In both new relationships and old, I want to continue being around people who make me laugh, make me think, and will bring more joy and light into my life.

Building my own happiness is also about making time for the pursuit of beauty. I have realized just how much I am still in the slow thaw-out of a design training mindset (who would have known it would take so long??!?!?) where  time is short and all is focused on production.

ginkgo leaves

While much of landscape architecture is about the pursuit of beauty (and order, function, ecological health) I am starting to make time for beauty–for both creating and investigating it–for no other purpose than to appreciate it. For me this has meant everything from my first experiments with illustration this summer, including my mushroom series, to collecting ginkgo leaves just because I love them. I can credit my training in landscape architecture for the appreciation part–I now see differently; I more closely observe patterns in the world around me, in both time and space. “Building” my own happiness doesn’t mean forging as much as it means making space. It means noticing.

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”

-attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt (but it’s complicated.)

seek your meaning.
I’ve done a lot of things that have scared me this year and I’m proud of myself. Yet, somewhere along the way, with the focus on me in the driver’s seat, I’ve lost a little sense of all the other forces on the road. My spiritual journey and my creative process are linked. For some time, I’ve thought of my creative work as a process of ‘co-creation’ which I strangely enough, jacked from a podcast on Tolkien’s writings that listened to a few years ago. The idea of ‘co-creation’ is that there is a larger story of creation that our individual creations play a role in. While Tolkien is referring to the process of storytelling in his writings and short story “Leaf by Niggle’ when he refers to a ‘leaf on the tree of tales,’ I think this concept applies to the other works we do in the world as well.

‘Co-creating’ means making room for what I could never plan, it means making room for what could surprise me. It means bringing faith into the process and letting my actions be guided not just by me, against the meterstick of my own life milestones, but against a sense of my own calling.

Life is short, life is precious. I am thankful for the year of growth and life I was just blessed to experience. I look forward to what lies ahead.