Beyond freedom…

ultimate beach

Freedom, pushed to its purity, becomes the opposite of its definition. I have tested freedom, bravely or foolishly – I’m still not sure. I have followed every low limbic permission to its end expression – and nearly my own. I have walked alone, naked, on the shores of a lost lake deep in the woods of Quebec – without my glasses. And in that freedom, that genetic honesty, I chilled with the recognition of our true vulnerability. Our bodies, our little eddies of friction in the flow of the universe have not evolved to support this freedom.

We court it, muse on its promises and expansiveness. But pure freedom – the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint – isolates, shrinks our viable worlds smaller and smaller as our system rejects our constructs: social rules, orders of perception, paradigm dependent value hierarchies… Want, taken down to its base, the very literal center of our brains, is so dangerous we have evolved entire neural structures to wrap it and protect us from its lethal motivations.

On the shores of that lake, I felt for the first time the need of other bodies, other brains, other eyes to guide and protect my own. What did I reach out for from freedom? With a child’s eager fingers… I reached for love.

Love is beyond freedom. This primal connection brings multiple worlds of perception into parallel, not by force, but by desire, by want. What drives us towards freedom saves us from its endgame. If you live through freedom, if you survive it, you know that even love is a choice. A choice between men, between women, becomes quite simply a choice between worlds, between selves. There is no right or wrong.

Let’s go beyond freedom, bravely and foolishly – together.

Turn story into play with a creativity consultant

diy kids gameWelcome to play! Invite a creativity consultant into your child’s life and watch the magic happen! Who needs video games, anorexic dolls, and regimented craft kits when kids have so many stories ripe for exploration and invention. mary poppins carpet bagA creativity consultant isn’t a babysitter or a simple craft coordinator; our specialized skill set opens imaginations and turns story into a personalized – ridiculously fun! – physical reality.

Why let companies and conferences have all the perks of our research, organized methodology, and highly developed sense of wonder? The creative process is universal, and let’s face it, kids are already ahead of the game. It’s a privilege and a pleasure to be entrusted with keeping their imaginations fluid and engaged throughout childhood’s natural synaptic pruning. Inspired by story (either the child’s own or other favourites), a creativity consultant can design personalized projects, interactive books, events, and custom craft kits to stretch and preserve imagination while bringing an entirely new level of engagement to play. These objects and experiences are wonderfully unique gifts with lifelong benefits.

So let’s open my Magic-Mary-Poppins-Carpet-Bag and take a trip through a multi-session example of how a creativity consultant can – how do I put this – blow your kid’s mind! And after watching how much fun she or he is having, you just might be tempted to bring your own stories into reality. From storied portraits, personalized recipes, to anniversary gifts… just imagine the possibilities…

Bug’s Booger Buddies Summer Kids Game – A dialogue in creativity

Preparation: During our preparatory interview, I discover that this lovely parent has been telling her daughter (and two little cousins) amazing bedtime stories about a wacky troop of adventuring insects for years.

kids crafting Session One: To open the creative dialogue with the three girls (ages 6, 7, and 8), I bring all supplies (pre-formed icing sheets, icing ‘glue’, and candies) needed to make edible insects. After priming their curiousity by removing each material and tools, one by one, from my Magic-Mary-Poppins-Carpet-Bag (all hail the original creativity consultant!) I announce, to rapt and astonished faces, “We’re gonna eat bugs!!” While they’re busy crafting/snacking/giggling-like-crazy, I invite them to teach me all about their imaginary bug world through ‘soft interviewing’ and gentle, non-invasive assistance with the materials.

diy kids game pieces 2Preparation: After getting to know the girls, and their ‘booger-philic’ sense of humour, I take one of the original characters (Bug) and create 3 new ‘Booger Buddies’ to extend the story based on my notes from the first session. Note: it is the creativity consultant’s responsibility to educate themselves about appropriate content for different age groups (e.g. bathroom humour can be fine, but let’s keep the adult content for the adults!). Using foam modeling clay, mini-water guns (found at the dollar-store), and pipe cleaners, I design the 4 Boogerizing game pieces.

Session Two: Along with my ubiquitous Magic-Mary-Poppins-Carpet-Bag, I bring a big green bucket filled with tissue wrapped game components (streamer, glitter stickers, dice, water filler) and the foam game piece characters. After the fun and surprise of opening their multiple presents, I outline the game’s basic premise and invite the girls to paint and decorate the 4 Bug’s Booger Buddies along with making up their names, special skills, and giving their own suggestions for the game.

creative processPreparation: I make four character pages for the girls with drawings of their Booger Buddies, names, and special skills. Also, I come up with 50 easy and 50 hard Boogerizing challenges for this DIY kids game. Why so many? Bug’s Booger Buddies can be played endless times by shaking up the challenges and changing the streamer orientation of the giant ‘gameboard’. The idea here is to take the girls’ imagination and create a new story, with a unique vocabulary (Booger Buddies + Boogerize!), and a tangible, reusable end product invention.

garden gameSession Three: For our climax session, I show up wearing a fuzzy monkey bikini top over my t-shirt and a high energy party attitude. I invite the girls to get started by colouring their characters (either how they painted them or totally different exoskeleton outfits). Then they take turns laying out the streamer all through the house and into the backyard. After the trail has been set, they place the glitter stickers at regular and not-so-regular intervals. We fill up our Boogerizers and take turns rolling the die. Each sticker is a step, and whoever lands on it takes it back to the challenge bags and reads her diy kids game piecesBoogerize (water squirting) challenge (insect stickers for hard and flower stickers for easy). Here’s the crazy fun part! We all go with her and watch the mayhem of challenges like… Boogerize up someone else’s nose! Boogerize the healthiest food in the fridge! Boogerize an adult! Boogerize 4 different types of plants! Boogerize in someone’s shoe! Boogerize something starting with R! Some challenges are designed to be educational, some more physical, some nonsense, and some mischievous. All players keep a collection of their stickers to trade after the game. This game is over when the end of the streamer and/or a time limit is reached, or all the stickers have been collected.

As I’m sure you can imagine, this DIY kids game turned out to be completely bonkers wet n’ wild summer fun! We had a blast (literally and figuratively), and the girls’ grandmother recently let me know that my new feisty little friends haven’t stopped talking about it! The rules are flexible enough to allow for continued evolution, and the story is personal and physically/mentally engaging.

A creativity consultant is so much more than a coach or a brainstorming surrogate… we hold a secret… we can make your dreams and stories real. Let’s play! For more Blank Canvas Living Creativity Consulting services, please contact Cymbria Wood at

How to take a psychologically safe selfie

perfect selfieOur lovers are beautiful, uniquely so, and in the throws of first passions their imperfections glow with that secret light of possession. He is mine. He is exquisite. He is love. But in this low age of the selfie we trap our most precious lover with reflections, refractions, into two dimensional pixel grids that tempt our brains’ unconscious mechanisms to betray us into ugliness.

The brain is a sly fellow and as the eye moves like some manic gps around these selfie maps of dead, lost light, it searches – relentlessly – for inconsistencies and asymmetries. Even now, I’m sitting here bemoaning that blotchy bit in the hair above’s pen line – and that’s just an illustration! This is the era of idealized, photoshopped, team-executed perfection, and we can’t escape our social tendency to internalize these false Plato ideals. There is only one way to take a psychologically safe selfie… put down the camera! Let’s subvert our biology and get serious about training our most flattering vision of self.

In Emily Balcetis’ brilliant Ted Talk about how vision and perception influence fitness, she reminds us that the eye can only truly focus on “what is the equivalent of the surface area of our thumb on our outstretched arm.” The following graphic (borrowed from Wikipedia) illustrates this concept – go ahead and test yourself… it’s pretty freaky. Eye focus graphicNow, let me tell you a story. When I was a teen (we’re talking full-on braces, glasses, and a series of gender bending tragedies in the hair department) I developed a strategy that I still use today. It was an intuitive reaction to a desperate situation and formed well before I had any knowledge of neuroscience.

How to take a psychologically safe selfie:

Step 1: Practice in front of the mirror to find your best angle. Study how the masters use expressions and light – I highly recommend Marilyn Monroe. If we want to be really scientific about it, the best source for learning this skill is pornography. Porn taps into our most primal signals of hotness – head back, mouth parted… need I go on?

Step 2: Select your top three features (you need backup in case your lovely nose is hosting a giant zit). I feel no shame in confessing to you, dear readers, that I’ve always had exquisite nostrils.

Step 3: Here’s the trick. Since the brain can only focus intently on a tiny fraction of the whole, flash your pose and then immediately close your eyes or look away. This is the image your mind will hold onto in connection with self until you hit refresh.

Each ‘psychologically safe selfie’ will reinforce the neural wiring that supports your private, personal story of hotness. Because don’t forget that many of the most gorgeous men/women have been trapped in private stories of unattractiveness. If you practice these positive selfies every day, I guarantee it will make a major difference! perfect selfie bwI’m especially talking to you teens! I usually take one of these selfies before heading out for the day and make sure to repeat one right before bed (to hold the image for as long as possible). It’s still an act of desperation, because (mathematically speaking) I’m no model (even though the carefully cultivated photos on this blog might fool you ~wink) and because now I’m getting a wee bit older and apparently there’s something wrong with that?! But alone, with my greatest, most loyal lover, I am the most beautiful woman in the world. And in this culture of best face forward, we may as well start with our own.

Designing a new handwriting font

autodidact notebooksIn this age of constant communication, the medium of our translation is homogenized into set typefaces of surprisingly limited variation. How can we regain our personal relationship with the physicality of the written word?

The English language gives us two options: printing or cursive. But for those of us who live, ski, and make love right on the edge of control, our bodies cannot be counted on to transmit the depths of our emotions using either of these two rigid systems with any legibility. Wrists cramp and tendons tighten in the effort to keep a balance between the flow of our ideas and their subsequent communication. What’s the solution? Designing our own new handwriting fonts!

Since the success of any system depends on its adaptability, accommodation, and regeneration, the primary criteria for any new handwriting font actually gives us plenty of space to play. It must be adapted to our bodies and ideals, accommodate readers accustomed to current systems, and regenerate through ease of transmission through learning.

Using the blank canvas living font as an example, let’s look at a specialized set of secondary criteria. Note: #1 and #2 combat my personal spaz factor, while #3 and #4 honour my individual ideals concerning love, symmetry, and neuroscience. personalized font creation table graphic

1- Limit of one pen stroke per letter
2- Limit of one sharp direction change per letter
3- Each letter must relate to mate (sigh… a hopeless romantic in pursuit of geometric elegance)
4- Must be intuitively legible in relation to previous font systems by triggering appropriate letter-form concepts in our neural network

Whatever you choose as your unique secondary criteria, remember to be as loyal as possible to our pre-wired letter-form concepts (upper and lowercase are part of the same cluster of neural connections and therefor interchangeable) because gestalt can only get you so far. Once you have a working theoretical system (see chart), it’s time to train the ol’ brain by practising until it becomes automatic and intuitive – won’t take as long as you think. When taking any system from theoretical to practical, in any field, modifications will most likely be required with respect to the original criteria. In this case, the yellow chart boxes indicate where certain geometric concessions had to be made (albeit painfully) in order to better accommodate readers.

Is the blank canvas living font a successful system? My hands and wrists don’t ache anymore; my research notes have a unprecedented cleanliness, and my individual passions are expressed every time I put pen to paper. Does it accommodate new readers? You be the judge! Click the top pic to enlarge the image and test it out for yourself. But even if adaptability and accommodation are satisfied, only time will tell whether the BCL handwriting font will regenerate beyond its originator.

IBM took market share in the 1960s because its computers accommodated (integrated with) its previous office offerings. And yes, even I the proud parent, can admit that the blank canvas living font has a few potential weaknesses in terms of accommodation: numbers must be circled for differentiation’s sake, starting a sentence with a 3 can look rather odd, and the X and K can be a bit confusing for first time readers. blank canvas font samplerHowever, I must leave the resolution of these ‘minor’ issues to the next generation of BCL adopters, because every successful system evolves through time. But I will say that eliminating the upper/lowercase complication has proven to be surprisingly liberating and makes potential regeneration through learning a full 50% easier.

Most importantly, what’s made the whole ideation, development, and retraining process worthwhile is that I can finally read my own writing!

Rebranding a Marriage: Writing a mission statement

mission accomplished weddingIn our age of extended courtships, the wedding is so often seen as the endgame – “mission accomplished!” But marriage is just the beginning. Writing a marriage mission statement will help keep the story of your marriage on track, goal oriented, and inspiring. This installment of Blank Canvas Living’s ‘rebranding a marriage’ blog serial is all about laying down a clear path for bringing your dreamy ‘why’ vision statement into reality.

“Start with a market defining story,” says Tim Berry, founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Dan Pickett, CEO of nfrastructure, has a similar approach: “If you keep your company story in mind, you will always have a mission that speaks to everyone and pushes your company forward every day.” And don’t forget, it’s also important to keep your customers, shareholders, and owners in mind. So how do we apply this to a marriage?

What’s your love story? Who were you when you came together? Who do you want to become, together and as individuals? And how the heck are you going to get there? When my man and I met 12 years ago (and got married after 5 months – pure insanity) we were two starry-eyed kids with bold dreams. marriage mission statementI was a writer, and he was a golfer. At the time, we had no idea how financially incompatible these goals were out there in the big ol’ real world. Golfing is expensive and writing fiction isn’t exactly the most lucrative vocation. We’ve both worked 9-5s to support our relationship and our passions, but, quite frankly, sometimes it’s been a bit of a bitch. Because when you want to be somewhere else, doing something else, this whole ‘real life’ thing can be a major pain in the butt. Love isn’t enough, true, but it’s gotten us pretty darn far.

But enough moping. It’s time to focus our love and recommit to our passions and each other with a revised marriage mission statement. Our shareholders are our families and friends; our customers are our community, and our owner, when it comes right down to it, is God. We took those vows (still can’t believe I got swept up into the romance of that Victorian old school “obey” business) and we didn’t pussy out with some “as long as our love shall last” bullshit. We’re in this until death, natural or, on snooze alarm battle mornings like today’s, possibly mutually facilitated. In honour of our dearly departed Leonard Nimoy, let’s look to Star Trek for a marriage mission statement template…

Marriage: the final frontier. These are the voyages of Cymbria and George. Their continuing mission: to explore strange new golf courses and stranger narratives, to (potentially) seek out new life while honouring their full support crew and God by taking them along on their marital journey of inspiration. To boldly go where no one has gone before, and to go there with love, together.

Whatever template or format you chose for your own marriage mission statement, the following quote from Nicole Fallon, Business News daily Assistant Editor, is important to keep in mind: “It provides the framework and context to help guide the company’s strategies and actions by spelling out the business’s overall goal.”

We all remember Bush’s battleship ‘mission accomplished’ catastrophe. Don’t let this happen to you! This ‘life’ thing can feel like one battle after another. A marriage mission statement will help make sure that at least you and your spouse are fighting on the same side.

Catch up on this Blank Canvas Living blog serial…
Change the game this Valentine’s Day
Writing a vision statement

And stay tuned for the next post…

So healthy I could cry quinoa and mung bean salad recipe

quinoa and mung bean saladChop, simmer, and story your way to an incredibly healthy, surprisingly delicious, quinoa and mung bean salad. Plus, no sense doing all this recipe prep for a one night stand supper. The first 5 ingredients make extra salad base, which can be kept in the fridge for up to 5 days and repurposed by adding broth to make an amazing vegetable soup.

eating healthyThe Ingredients…

Salad base:
2 medium organic… (basically just
insert ‘organic’ in front of everything
on this list) sweet potatoes
3 medium beets
1 cup quinoa (uncooked)
1 cup dry mung beans
2 cups frozen peas

Salad garnish:
1 free range egg
1 green onion
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds
Himalayan rock salt

Smokin’ hemp heart dressing:
2 tbsp raw apple cider vinegar
3-4 tbsp light olive oil
1 tbsp whole grain mustard
2 tbsp hemp hearts
1 tbsp buckwheat honey
Himalayan rock salt

The Directions…

Don’t bother soaking the mung beans, just rinse and get them simmering in a pot until tender (approx. 45-60 min.). Scrub and cube sweet potatoes and beets. Roast in 400 degree oven on lightly oiled baking tray until tender – 20-30 min (beets take a few minutes longer). Prepare quinoa – don’t forget to rinse! Defrost peas in warm water. Cool all base components, then combine equal quantities of each and coat with (shaken) smokin’ hemp heart dressing. Garnish with chopped onion, parsley, pumpkin seeds and a 3 minute soft poached egg.

The Story…

Claire manages to hold herself together all the way through Calgary’s Community Natural Foods, each aisle more intimidating than the last. Bee pollen? She reads the package again to make sure. Seriously? WTF? Like swallowing the taste of a BJ while walking up the aisle to take communion, Claire’s breath and body are still ripe from last night’s fatty fish and chips debauchery. Even though the Natural Foods staff is cheerfully inclusive – not to mention frighteningly encyclopedic where gluten in concerned – Claire can’t help feeling like this whole health food thing is a cliquey club and she doesn’t know the secret handshake. Sure, the vegetables are brighter, the bran somehow brannier, and the dense loaves perverse concentrations of nutrition… But the overt, narrow eyed, judgement from the checkout line tells her she’s screwed up the official password when she makes the rookie mistake of keeping, rather than donating, her $0.05 bag credit.

Claire keeps her composure even as her stomach rumbles in despair at the rainbow spread on her kitchen counter. Rich oranges, greens, and purples, but still so darn far from being edible. How do people do this everyday? Don’t these people have lives?! Claire can’t quite put herself in a category with anyone who would ever, under any circumstance, choose carob over chocolate, or worse, use hemp for its health, rather than hallucinogenic properties – such a waste. Change is bullshit! The veggies don’t argue back. Why would they? Change is bullshit. It’s hard and long and hurts until you warm up to… er… it. But we only do what we want to do and somewhere deep inside Claire’s brain, her most primitive self is craving a new form of satisfaction – system state satisfaction.

Why does healthy have to take so much freakin’ work!! Already her boss, her kids, her hair, take so much of her before she gets anything back. Why can’t somebody just make me a sandwich! Claire finally loses her cool when the mung beans explode in protest after being ignored for three seconds too long. Lid in hand, faced with the tragic pot of grey-green Oliver Twist – “please sir no more!” – mush, she stands there hating the bastard beans, and hating this whole ungodly, unmanageable process. She sniffles, then sobs, then wails with the kind of abandon only a woman alone in a kitchen where everything’s gone wrong can truly experience. Why does life have to TAKE so much!!

But one bite of this magnificent quinoa and mung bean salad turns the entire thing around. The truth flows free with the soft, delicate release of the yellow yolk. This is life. Offer it a little time and attention, a little love, and it gives back more than we’ve ever dared to ask.

Enjoyed this storied recipe? Why not try a taste of Blank Canvas Living’s I want sex tonight steak sandwich…

Rebranding a Marriage: Writing a vision statement

golden circle marriageAfter doing all that wedding paperwork, you may as well get on the same page. Writing a marriage vision statement will help keep your shared ideals front and center as the living room is slowly overrun by golf equipment – last count 53 clubs plus bags and accessories – and/or when your wife gets laid off and commits to writing – a vocation as lucrative as golf is cheap.

patrick hullWriting for Forbes, serial entrepreneur Patrick Hull offers a succinct definition of a vision statement: “What’s your vision for your company? In an ideal world, what does your company want to do and how is it perceived by others? What’s the best you can be?”

How can we apply this formula to our most important legal partnership? When sitting down to negotiate the language, whether before the wedding or deep into a rebranding mission years later, it’s vital to keep author (and true Blank Canvas thinker!) Simon Sinek’s “the golden circle” in mind. His brilliant Tedx Talk explains how the most inspirational visions for success (business/leadership/etc.) are rooted solidly in the ‘why’ – with ‘how’ and ‘what’ being respective peripherals. “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

Interestingly, Christian marriage statements come closest to this root ‘why’ (and are worth checking out), while most companies still tie vision, at least officially, to the outer rings of the circle. Let’s try writing some practice marriage vision statements using the template of preexisting statements.

Heinz (c. 2005): “To be the world’s premier food company, offering nutritious, superior tasting foods to people everywhere.”
Becomes… To be the world’s premier marriage (nothing like setting the bar high), offering nutritious food, love, and superior sex to people within a very exclusive demographic.

Avon: “To be the company that best understands and satisfies the product, service, and self-fulfilment needs of women – globally.”
Avon’s vision statement doesn’t really need any tweaking, just change the last word to “in-house” and we’ve got a deal! Although my husband might disagree.

Honda (c. 1970): “We will destroy Yamaha.”
Becomes… We will destroy any interloper who tries to flirt with our 100% marital market share, even if they have bigger headlights or longer drive shafts (can’t imagine!).

I asked my Viking man to brainstorm some ideas, a risky business since, as I’ve mentioned before, this is not a Cosmo quiz or ‘cuddle jar’ type of guy. Splayed on the couch in the flickering glow of some widescreen ball/puck/net situation, he looked up mischievously at his dear wife of almost 12 years and said, “Bitches should be seen and not heard – that witty enough for you?”

Seeing the devilish grin on my face, he panicked, “Wait! You can’t put that in there!”

Because, dear readers, as I gently reminded him, “I’m a writer and anything you say can – and will – be used against you.”

But being the man I married, he still managed to get the last word. “People just don’t appreciate that sort of thing in this day and age – too sensitive.” Sigh… men, especially ruthlessly sarcastic men, however cute.

simon sinekSo back to the drawing board and Simon Sinek’s ‘why’.

Cymbria & George’s marriage vision statement: To explore and expand our (including but certainly not limited to sexual) potential through mutual support, respect, and freedom, as an expression of our faith in the abundance of love.

But really, maybe it’s so much simpler than that. Maybe we all just need to go back to the vision statement that inspired Disney for years, and keep it short and sweet.

Disney: “To make people happy.”
Revised mission statement: “To make each other happy – Amen!”

I would love to read about your own marriage vision statements. Care to share in the comments below?

Catch up on this Blank Canvas Living blog serial…
Change the game this Valentine’s Day

And stay tuned for the next post…
Writing a mission statement