From the category archives:

Amy Hackworth

Old: The New Young?

June 10, 2013

Poland girl

By Amy Hackworth. Image by Justin Hackworth.

A few months ago I was in a local boutique, and held a skirt up to my waist in a sort of “can I pull this off?” gesture. The owner of the boutique noticed, looked at me, and, I think with the intention of being helpful, explained, “My store … is more for … juniors.”

Oh, boy. I was a little embarrassed, but mostly amused. Was I one of those people, in denial about my age? I don’t think I was quite as far off as the boutique owner suggested (I’m certainly biased, though), but it’s true that I have often thought of myself as younger than I am.

When I was a teenager, anyone over 35 was a varying degree of “old,” and that teenage feeling of perennial youth took a long time to wear off. Now I am 35, and I frequently refer to friends and stories from fifteen or twenty years ago. Twenty years? I do the math and marvel.

My perception of age is further complicated when I think about my role as a mother. I look at our 9-year-old son and often see my little baby, but I have to remind myself how independent and mature I felt as a 9-year-old. As a child, I saw my parents as the ultimate grown ups — the rule-makers who had everything figured out. Do my children think I have everything figured out?

I used to have an idea that traits I considered “grown up” would arrive when I reached a certain age, like a birthday gift I could unwrap and call my own. Maybe one year I’d receive wisdom, and another year understanding, and then I’d officially be grown up. That hasn’t happened yet, and instead I’m learning about the fluidity of age, of wisdom, understanding and life. One thing, though, is for sure: “old” has become a sliding scale, with its defining point being pushed ever a little further away.

What is your perception of your age? Have you ever felt younger or older than you actually are? Do you embrace the aging process, or fight it with every cream and lotion you can find?

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vintage brownie patches

By Amy Hackworth. Vintage Brownie patches here.

It’s the beginning of June, and I’m planning plenty of fun for our boys and some great family get-aways during summer break. But, inspired by my friend Cristin, I’m also scheduling some time where we reach out to others and devote some of those lazy summer hours to service.

Last week my friend Cristin’s family kicked off their third annual “Summer of Service,” as a way to help her children understand the good they can do for others as volunteers. I’m amazed at all they accomplish in the ten weeks of summer, and inspired by what she’s teaching her family.

In the spring of 2011 Cristin and two friends were discussing ways to turn the tide of entitlement that seemed to be creeping up on their children’s attitudes. As they talked about helping their children develop empathy and understand their own daily luxuries, the idea for a “Summer of Service” was born.

Keep reading to find out how she does it.

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Balancing Act

May 28, 2013

Balance

By Amy Hackworth. Image by Violet May.

My eyes have always been bigger than my stomach, and not just when it comes to food. I’ve always had an appetite for more projects than I can finish and more interests than I can handle. I can’t help myself—our world really is full of a lot of wonderful things.

Though the data seemed to prove otherwise, for a long time I believed there was room in my life for everything that interested me. I could sew beautiful quilts and also write beautiful stories. I was sure there was room for both, and more, and I held out hope: there had to be a way to do it all.

I realize now that I imagined a few mystical hours in the day that I just hadn’t found yet. Maybe if I kept searching, maybe if I got up earlier or learned to work faster, I’d be able to squeeze in all the quilting, reading, teaching, writing, volunteering, gardening and redecorating I imagined, plus do art projects with our boys and learn graphic design while I DIYed a remodel of our sweet 60s bathroom.

Balancing act ahead, keep reading!

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blurred trees by Justin Hackworth

By Amy Hackworth. Image by Justin Hackworth.

There are moments when I see a friend in need and I can rush to her side with the perfect offering of support and care. I feel useful and deeply satisfied when I know I’ve been just the friend someone needed me to be.

More often, though, I’m unsure of how to help a friend who’s hurting. I wish I had a delicious dinner to take her, or the perfect bit of encouragement to offer. My insistence on “just the right thing” sometimes, sadly, means I do nothing (still working on my tendency toward overthinking).

I’m slow to remember that what helps me most when I’m hurting is usually simple — just feeling loved, listened to, cared about. I’m slow to remember that’s what my friends need most from me. My friend Melody recently shared this short piece from the L.A. Times and it’s been such a great reminder that our listening ears (ok, and maybe our pot roasts) have such power to help our hurting friends.

Keep reading for expert advice on what words to use — and not use — when comforting a friend.

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Are You a Helicopter Parent?

By Amy Hackworth. Image by Lizzy Stewart for the New York Times.

When our first child was about a year old, my husband and I took him to the neighborhood park, more for ourselves, I suppose, than for our baby since he was far too small for any of the playground equipment. My husband put our big-eyed baby boy about an arm’s length up the tube slide a few times and held him as he slid down.

Justin was enthusiastic about this new experience, but our son didn’t seem to like it much. He whimpered, and to my surprise, Justin continued to slide him down. Frustrated with this lack of parental response, I rushed over and grabbed our baby with some searing indictment about lackadaisical parenting.

I’d no sooner rescued him from his offending father and that awful tube slide than I turned indignantly away and conked little baby’s head full force on the metal playground pole.

Oops.

Find out if you’re a helicopter parent — click here.

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a library of sketchbooks

By Amy Hackworth.

As an earnest high school art student, I labored over projects that had considerably more heart than skill. At the time, I couldn’t fathom that great artists regularly parted with their beloved projects anymore than I could imagine parting with my firstborn child. I was shocked and saddened to realize that artists made a living by selling their work. They created something beautiful, some piece of themselves, and then (hopefully) sold it. To strangers, even.

Thankfully, artists do sell and share their work regularly, and we are all the better when their concepts and ideas have a home in the world. But gallery space can be hard to come by, which is part of the reason the Sketchbook Project exists. It’s an interactive, crowd-sourced community art project where everyone is welcome. (Over 26,000 folks have participated so far!)

You sign up to receive a sketchbook, choose a theme to loosely follow, and then fill your book with your own personal brand of brilliance. I love the Sketchbook Project because its supports the notion that we all have something worth saying through art. You can fill a sketchbook with sketches (of course), or painting, drawing, collage, photographs, photocopies, phototransfers, stencils, or tracings. Wouldn’t a collaborative family sketchbook be a fantastic summer project with kids?

And unlike my carefully guarded high school art projects, this prized possession is meant to be shared with the world. Once your sketchbook is full, you send it to its permanent home at Brooklyn Art Library where it will be cataloged and shelved, but not before it travels the country in the Sketchbook Project’s Mobile Library (check out the tour here). You can even have it digitized so it can be viewed online.

Would creating (and parting with) a sketchbook be a breeze for you? Or a perfect summer challenge? I think I’d feel more motivated if I knew my project was off to a fancy mobile library. Would you?

P.S. I just picked up a couple of art books for our kids at a museum sale. I can’t wait to dive into this drawing book with our boys and try out some of the printing projects in this one. Do you have favorite art/activity books that have inspired you or your little ones?

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Julie by Moumine

By Amy Hackworth. Image by Moumine.

In my neighborhood there is a long, steep hill I avoid walking up. I strategically plan my walks so that I go down this hill. It’s long and steep. A few weeks ago I was walking for clarity, hoping that one foot in front of the other would ease an ache in my heart, and on my way down the hill I passed a young mother who was pushing two small children in a stroller. They were going up. Barely.

She wore a Boston marathon qualifier shirt, so I knew she was no lightweight, but she was several steps behind the stroller, leveraging her body, her arms fully outstretched. She was nearly parallel to the ground as she inched her way up the hill. I made a joke about how I try to avoid walking myself up the hill, and here she was, pushing two kids. Amazing! She smiled and panted, “This is harder than I thought it would be.”

I offered to help. There was room for two of us on that stroller handle. I even half-turned up the hill, sure she’d take me up on it.

Although she was clearly struggling, she declined.

I was disappointed. She needed me, and helping her would have helped me, too. We could have shared the burdens of motherhood and humanity for just a few minutes, and then we would have gone our separate ways, both a little better off.

But she declined. It only took me about two steps to start judging her. There she was, clearly in need of some help. And there I was, ready and willing to help. An offering of needed hands was right there, and she rejected it. She said no. Aren’t some people funny? I thought.

And then. A friend of mine came walking up the hill. A friend I don’t know well, but whom I already love and trust. Her kind face lit up. “Amy! How are you?” and in a split-second I considered my choices. I could tell her honestly about the sadness I was feeling, and my ready tears could spill over for a moment. I knew she’d care, and I knew I’d feel better if I let her care about me.

“I’m fine,” I lied. “How are you?” She was fine, too, and we both kept walking.

———–

You’ve seen Dr. Brené Brown’s wonderful TED talk on vulnerability, right? If you haven’t watched it lately, it’s worth revisiting. I’ve been thinking a lot about how being vulnerable can be scary, but it’s the path to authenticity. And then this experience on my walk put this theory to the test. I know I missed out on something by not sharing honestly. Have you found that it takes courage to share your reality? Does it make you stronger or happier? How do you go about helping others or receiving help when you need it?

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National Poetry Month 2013

By Amy Hackworth.

I was taking a writing class the summer I fell in love with Justin, and our first date ended on a stone bench in a rose garden where I read from a book my teacher had just recommended. As I read Albert Goldbarth, Justin listened with attention and appreciation for the carefully crafted words and images. It was all I could do to keep from kissing him then and there.

Although there is much about poetry that I don’t understand, there is plenty and more to love — the isolation of a single moment, unexpected and evocative images, and the fantastic volley and play of language. And although April may be two-thirds over, there’s still plenty of time to celebrate National Poetry Month (find 30 great ideas here!). Maybe you’ve been celebrating all month long anyway. Or maybe you haven’t read a good poem since high school. In either case, enjoy a little poetry today.

Poetry 180 is a great place to start. In 2001, during his tenure as United States Poet Laureate, Billy Collins (well known for his extremely accessible and often hilarious poems) created the website to offer “a selection of short, clear, contemporary poems which any listener could basically ‘get’ on first hearing — poems whose injection of pleasure is immediate.”

Collins hoped to help poetry find its way down from the ivory tower of overwrought explication and into everyday life with a no-pressure invitation to just listen, to hear the words and feel the images, and then go about your day. Although created for high schoolers, trust me — you’ll find treasures there. Start with Collins’s own poem “Introduction to Poetry” or the very short “Tour” by Carol Snow or Christina Pugh’s ode to the rotary phone.

Collins’s book by the same name (though with variations in content) is subtitled, “A Turning Back to Poetry,” and it’s the perfect way to do just that. (While you’re at it, enjoy 180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Everyday and Billy Collins’s own collections Sailing Alone Around the Room or Picnic, Lightning).

Keep reading for lots of terrific ways to celebrate National Poetry Month.

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  old fashioned family picnic

By Amy Hackworth. Image here.

“Tell us another one!” It’s a gleeful plea at the kitchen table after Sunday dinner, and our boys are dying to hear another story from their dad’s childhood. Fortunately, Justin is blessed with a great memory and enough mischievous deeds to tell story after story, keeping our kids captive, and laughing, and begging for more.

We all enjoy the stories, but I’ll relish them a little more after reading Bruce Fieler’s recent New York Times article about the importance of family narratives. Feiler cites research by Marshall Duke and Robin Fivush of Emory University that indicates understanding where our families come from — and how they’ve celebrated the good times and weathered the bad times — is the “best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.” The best single predictor!

I’m amazed that such a simple act of storytelling can have such a deep impact on children’s well-being, but the more children knew about their family, Feiler reports, “the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.” Professor Duke also cites “better family functioning, lower levels of anxiety, fewer behavioral problems, and better chances for good outcomes if a child faces educational or emotional/behavioral difficulties.”

There is actually a scale of 20 important questions. Keep reading to find out more.

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social media propaganda

By Amy Hackworth.

If you’re on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you’ve certainly had this experience: you’re scrolling along when suddenly you see it—an exotic vacation photo, an update about a really cool job, or maybe a living room makeover that you wish were yours. And just like that, an ugly sinking feeling has gripped your insides and won’t let go, even though you feel terribly guilty for feeling it in the first place.

If you’re on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you’ve certainly had this experience: you’re scrolling along when you come across some wonderful, exciting, awareness-expanding news—a link to a great TED talk you’d never have found on your own, a YouTube video that has your family laughing for days, or the news that an old friend just had twins after years of infertility. And just like that, you’re so thankful for this amazing world of social media that lets us share each other’s lives, ideas and thoughts so readily.

So. Does social media improve your life? Keep reading…

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Save the Arts!

April 1, 2013

meghan ellie bird brain

By Amy Hackworth. Image by meghanellie.

I recently read and re-read and thoroughly enjoyed a Stanford graduation address by Dana Gioia about the decline of the arts in modern culture. It’s full of more ideas than I can discuss here, so I hope you’ll read it and think about it, too.

Thinkers, poets, painters, and writers were household names 50 years ago because they were featured on television and in the news. Sadly, tragically, that content has been replaced largely by sports and entertainment, offering, as Gioia points out, not only a narrow swath of role models for young children but also a limited exposure to thoughtful, intentional, truly creative work.

And it’s making a difference in society. Gioia cites research that suggests two groups of people emerge in modern culture: those who consume entertainment passively and disengage from community, and those who consume entertainment and engage further. The difference between the two groups is whether they read and participate in the arts.

More fascinating discussion ahead… keep reading!

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What’s Your Art?

March 26, 2013

print from little things studio

By Amy Hackworth. Image by Little Things Studio.

Seth Godin writes about business and marketing in the best way, because I always find some fascinating idea that sounds suspiciously like good advice for living. When he writes about being brave, bold, and authentic in business, and especially the importance of contributing your work to the world, it seems to apply whether you’re the Manager of Home Affairs (my friend Sally’s title for her work as a stay-at-home-mom) or the CEO of a brick-and-mortar business.

I’m not a faithful follower, but every time I check in on Seth’s blog lately, he is talking about being authentic, and the importance of doing your unique work. He calls it art, but he’s not talking about visual arts necessarily. Your “art” is really just the thing you love, the thing you’re good at, the thing you do that’s authentically you. And we are all artists. Even if our work is simple, I believe being true to what we do, to our sphere of responsibility, does make the world a better place.

Keep reading. More good stuff ahead!

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On Being Busy

March 19, 2013

rome-2-fifth-and-hazel

By Amy Hackworth. Image by Fifth and Hazel.

In my early years of motherhood I remember hearing a lot about how busy life was. I often heard advice about cutting back, saying no, and the necessity of prioritizing. The discussion was interesting, but somehow didn’t feel very applicable to me. I guess I just wasn’t busy enough back then.

In recent years, though, I feel like the pace of life has increased, like I’ve gradually turned up the treadmill, because I knew I could handle a little more speed. But now I find myself panting for breath, hurrying faster than I’d thought possible. In my head, I hear echoes of those conversations about busyness, and finally, I’m nodding in agreement.

There’s no doubt that our days are filled with worthy work — we have so many ways to spend our time, and so many demands for it. But are there un-necessities, too, that keep us running just for the sake of being busy? This is what Tim Kreider suggests in “The Busy Trap,” an opinion piece for the New York Times last summer. For me, this is a powerful idea:

“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.” 

Keep reading. More busyness discussion ahead.

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By Amy Hackworth. Image by Justin Hackworth

Housekeeping and I share a tortured past. As a child, I knew I could find anything I needed if I could see it, and that was easy, because my things were scattered all over my floor. As a teenager, both my room and my car were reliably messy, and in college I continued to be oblivious to clutter (sorry, roommates!). I’ve developed considerably tidier habits over the years, but still silently congratulate myself when I put my clothes away at the end of the day, instead of toss them in a heap on the floor.

Tidiness is not one of my natural gifts. (I have other gifts, I reassure myself). So when I’m particularly busy, I find that maintaining my home — something I really have come to value — is one of the first things to go. I stop tidying up here and there, and I dismiss my faithful practice of rinsing the dishes right away, and there’s no way on earth I’ll pull out the vacuum until the project at hand is finished.

Even though I believe in the gifts of order, and I love the feeling of our clean living room, and the smooth sweep of the empty kitchen counter, when I am under pressure, I say goodbye to those gifts and watch clutter pile up while my head is down, focused on my deadline.

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, shares some thought-provoking wisdom: “Outer order contributes to inner calm.” It’s got me wondering if a different approach to my extra-busy days might be helpful. Would life feel less hectic if my kitchen were cleaner? If my home were more ordered on those deadline-driven days, would the subsequent calm increase my productivity?

One of Gretchen’s simplest suggestions for living a happier life is to make your bed, for the very reason that it’s a quick and easy way to create order. Interestingly, of all the advice she offers, people most often mention the difference this one small change has made in their happiness.

I’m eager to hear if  you find outer order does contribute to your inner calm? Do you find tidying up is worth the time even when you feel distracted by other pressures? Are there simple chores like making your bed that make a difference for you when life is especially busy?

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Thinking Versus Doing

February 28, 2013

By Amy Hackworth. Image by Baltimore Print Studios.

When I first saw this poster in a friend’s house, I laughed out loud at its brilliant obviousness. I am often so caught up in the planning and plotting of good intentions that they become nothing more than intentions—a whole world of great ideas that never become reality.

It took me years to identify this tendency toward thought-over-action as a form of perfectionism, but once I saw the connection, I realized I was over-thinking many endeavors as a way to protect myself from failing at them. If I didn’t try, I couldn’t do it badly, and the safety of over-planning was a great way to justify inaction. My desire to get certain things right…okay, perfect…actually resulted in the sort of pressure that kept me from taking any action at all.

Years ago my husband read some parenting advice that suggested putting failure and mistakes in perspective by talking with kids about who’d made the biggest mistakes that day and what they’d learned from those mistakes. I love this as an antidote to perfectionism, and it seems a perfect companion to Herb Kelleher’s advice. As I’ve tried to get ideas and plans out of my head and into my life, I’ve found great freedom in doing things, instead of just thinking about doing things.  

Judging by the number of platitudes we have on the subject—just put one foot in front of the other. Start with baby steps. Eat that elephant one bite at a time.—it might be a universal feeling. I’m curious, has the desire to get something just right ever kept you from taking action? Have you learned to embrace mistakes as a natural part of learning? And how has just doing things liberated you?

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The Curse of Praise

February 18, 2013

By Amy Hackworth. Image by Pewari.

You’re so smart!” “You’re such a good girl!” “Wow, you’re amazing!”

If we say these things to our children, it’s always with the best intentions. But ohhh, our good intentions and their unintended consequences.

Psychologist Carol Dweck and her colleagues recently published research that documents the effects of person praise — things like “you’re smart, great, amazing” — and how we’re not doing our children much of a favor by touting their overall awesomeness.

When compared to children who receive process praise­­ — praise for their actions or efforts — children who receive person praise are less likely to engage in and prefer challenge as they grow older.

“’You’re great, you’re amazing’ — that is not helpful,” Dweck said. “Because later on, when they don’t get it right or don’t do it perfectly, they’ll think they aren’t so great or amazing.” 

And if they aren’t great or amazing anymore, the alternative looks pretty bleak. Children who believe their awesomeness depends on continual awesomeness find little room for mistakes, and risks become particularly dangerous. With the weight of a label — amazing, smart, awesome — to manage, children are less likely to focus on the success or value of their efforts, or to engage in challenging work that could jeopardize that label.

Keep reading. More fascinating praise research ahead!

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By Amy Hackworth. Images by Animal Print Shop, used with permission.

All together now: Aww-ahhhh.

Don’t you just melt when you see Animal Print Shop’s fine art images of baby animals? The images capture all that sweetness with such fresh, incredible style.

Little creatures are undeniably sweet and we’ve been drawn to them for years judging by the motivational posters with which our elementary school teachers adorned their walls and the dentists of our youth decorated their ceilings. You remember the kitten dangling from a tree with the clever text, “Hang in There”? Or the basket of sleepy puppies? The kitten curled up with the dog?

There’s no end to the absolute adorability of baby animals, and — great news! — it turns out looking at pictures of tiny, furry creatures has been proven to boost productivity. In a Japanese study students’ focus and skill measurably improved after viewing images of baby animals, and was significantly higher than their peers who viewed images of adult animals or delicious food. Fascinating, right?

The study suggests that the improved productivity may come from increased attention, a sort of visual power of suggestion that makes us apply the care and nurture babies require to the task at hand. Other scientists have suggested we feel tenderly toward baby animals because they remind us of our own young. My own theory has to do with their adorable tininess and utter irresistibility.

Previously, I’d have been happy to leave the animal posters on classroom walls and dentists’ ceilings, but that was before I’d seen this face, and before I realized how much this little lamb and I could get done. Watch out to-do list, here we come.

Productivity boosting links ahead. You’re welcome.

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By Amy Hackworth. Illustration by Norman Rockwell.

Vogue writer Dara-Lynn Weiss was fiercely criticized last year when she wrote a piece for Vogue’s “Shape” issue about putting her overweight 7-year-old daughter on a one-year diet. The idea of helping an overweight child become healthier wasn’t the crux of the criticism. Rather, it was Weiss’s approach that drew the fire—things like withholding food, heated public debates about what her daughter was allowed to eat, and what sounds like a pretty serious power struggle all the way around.

Was Dara-Lynn in the wrong? Keep reading and let’s discuss.

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Finding Its Way to Memory

January 28, 2013

By Amy Hackworth. Image by Justin Hackworth.

When our boys were tiny and so much work, I internally rolled my eyes when well-meaning friends (and plenty of strangers) told me that these hectic baby days would go by fast. Fast? It was the most ridiculous thing my sleep-deprived self could imagine.

Just this weekend I, forgetting the uselessness of such an assurance, and unable to resist the urge to give the advice now that I understand it, assured—or maybe warned—a mother with two tiny ones how quickly it really does go by. I can’t believe I said it. But now I know it’s true.

Years ago, I could never have imagined this, but many a morning the boys are up before I am, and they play, safe and happy, while I take leave of dreamland at my own pace rather than at the abrupt demand of their call or cry. When we leave the house, they put on their own shoes, get their very own coats, and buckle themselves in the car. They get dressed on their own. (Although I’m not going to lie, I have to remind them to put on clean underwear more often than I’d like. But still. They can do it.)

[click to continue…]

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Having Fun, Alone

January 21, 2013

By Amy HackworthImage by Justin Hackworth.

I’ve been working through Julia Cameron’s excellent book, The Artist’s Way, with a group of friends over the past several weeks. It’s a book about honoring creativity, with 12 weeks of essays, exercises and activities designed to foster creative growth in any medium. I’m addressing my artistic life, but I’m also hoping to infuse my parenting life with more creativity and joy. 

One of Cameron’s tenets of a full creative life is a weekly date doing something you love, or exploring something you think you’d love. The idea is to nurture yourself a little, and to play a lot. Creative blocks suddenly disappear, great projects materialize, and things come into focus, all because you’re taking time to play, to enjoy life. The caveat: this weekly playtime is solitary. It’s meant for you, and no one else. Cultivate personal fun, she says, and your creative life will flourish. Cultivate personal fun, I like to think, and your capacity to care for others increases.

More on solitary play time ahead…

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