Negotiate your humanity using a limbic mascot

fun vice cartoonWe all have a Mitch-the-insatiable-itch. Yours may have a different name, or set of genitalia, but we all need a way to negotiate with our brain’s limbic system – our emotional selves. Science has found that our prefrontal cortex, our ‘rational’ brain, is second in command to our limbic system. Our conscious selves are gatekeepers ever struggling to hold back the dopamine wielding forces of our emotionally charged motivations and temptations. Brain scans can reveal a decision up to 7 seconds before you consciously decide! Of course, this shouldn’t come as any surprise to those of us who have ever sat down, rolled up our sleeves, and inhaled an entire pizza. Either we were so wasted we’d already locked out our prefrontals, or we were actually able to rationalize this act of symphonic gluttony. Scary thought either way! And for those of us who have never adopted a rigid set of internal regulations (hello anyone creative, oh, and anyone madly in love), we so often sabotage ourselves by being able to effortlessly ‘rationalize’ the most absurd glamours, insatiables, and be-all-end-alls.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. When the Calgary Flames are down 5-1 in the third, and Harvey the Hound is still dancing manically in the stands, drumming up a rallying cry from the crowd… sometimes a mascot is our last best hope for survival. A limbic mascot is a visual thinking tool that can be used to help create a subtle separation, a space for negotiation, between our emotions and our intellectual reasoning. To ensure we stay faithful to our long term goals, we often (hourly unless you’re one of the lucky ones) need to challenge the urgency and importance of short term impulses that are demanding (and I do mean demanding) attention and satiation. A limbic mascot can serve as an entity of attribution that allows you to make these conscious intellectual challenges without directly attacking your ego.

Mitch-the-insatiable-itch is my limbic system middle-man. He’s ever-present in Blank Canvas Living’s sidebar, and he’s even snuck his way into one or two posts. The petulant little darling is all belly and cute pink package. Go ahead and read in a light dose of Freudian penis envy – but they really are such fun. He has a perpetual indignant frown and fingers for pointing at what he wants, but no real mouth. He leaves all the verbalization, rationalization, and justification to the prefrontal side of the equation. He’s a master of the ever-so-seductive myth of “this is the last time.” I love the little guy, even though his ear horns mean he’s rarely sitting on the angel side of my shoulder.

I’m so curious, dear readers, what would your limbic system mascot look like?

The design process applied to office sanctioned crafting

design processCreative problem solving isn’t about sitting by yourself in a little corner hashing out some rigid step by step plan of action. It’s about responding to your materials, interacting with your environment, and fearlessly risking your time and ego by challenging your ideation at every step of the process.

When my boss asked me to design paper gauges for our two giant printers, I was thrilled; especially considering that despite my background, I’ve deliberately chosen a job that strictly confines me to rolling said paper when it comes out the other side of said behemoth printers (but that’s another story).

“Ooooo yes please!” I said, always eager to engage in any office sanctioned crafting. And really, is there any better kind?

I quizzed him on the design criteria: show amount of available paper (two sizes) without having to open the machines. And set to work, scouring our office for any potentially useful materials. A key exercise in creativity – feel free to try this at home – is to look at objects in terms of their inherent physical properties, not just by their associations (click here for classic candle/box experiment). For example, an elastic’s basic properties can allow it to become be a shock absorber, a vice, a sound generator, a friction enhancer, a weapon, a hinge, a sex toy… etc.

First attempt: I cut out the center of two paper plates (using small ceramic plate template), used Sharpie coloured wood coffee stirrers as indicators around a central pivot made of a paper clip (by first creating holes with thumbtacks and securing potential wood splitting with packing tape), then partook in label making to obscene excess. Brilliant!!

Except… for the fact that the resulting gauge looked exactly like two paper plates with coffee stirrers sandwiched in between, and carried the ugly evidence of someone with an obsessive fetish for label makers. And then there was the embarrassing discovery that moving one indicator influenced the rotation of the other. Sigh… not so brilliant after all.

Solution: Back to the drawing board. Always a sharp physical pain, but part of the creative process that must never smell your fear. There can be no mourning period. Huzza! Onwards and Upwards! I extended my foraging area to include resources available within walking distance on my lunchbreak.gauge design Brass spread-leg fasteners obtained! Cardstock… cardstock? After waiting for an eternity at the counter of a print shop, I’d almost given up hope. Then low and behold, a miracle! A dashing, ever so gallant, white knight of customer service came to my rescue with a stack of backroom off-of-stock-list sheets of two different weights. Huzza!

Sometimes, when you go out into the world with excitement, openness, and a clear mission, that world gets excited along with you and gives you what you so desperately need without asking anything in return. The gift of those few sheets were more than enough motivation to re-energize my demand for perfection from this project. No more compromises! This gauge was going to be perfect down to the mm… who are we kidding… the 1/2 mm!

Final design: So what if the heavier cardstock jammed the printer. I simply laminated the lighter version with packing tape and got on with X-acto-ing and blending my pencil crayons to a professional blur with strips of Kleenex. Brilliant! Perfection achieved! Perfectly proportioned, eminently easy to read, two super pro looking paper gauges = Mission accomplished?

“What do you think?” I asked my boss, proudly showing off my brand new twins.

“Hmmm,” he said, “I was thinking of something maybe a bit smaller.”

…oh for the lova’ pete.