Exploring Ugly

My Creative Mornings Talk: The Stories We Tell Ourselves About Failure

I had such an amazing time delivering the Creative Mornings Vancouver talk for August last Friday. The global theme for the talks this month is failure, and I used the opportunity to think about and flesh out some ideas that had started circling at the back of my mind. I wrote more about it on my blog. Please let me know what you think! Are there stories you tell yourself about failure?

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Longshot Radio on Creativity and Failure

Last week, on a whim, I pitched a story to some radio people who were putting together a whole show in just 48 hours. In conjunction with the brilliant public-radio show Radiolab and the 99% Conference in New York City, Longshot Radio was exploring the topic of creativity, revision and failure. If Mighty Ugly’s not about that, I don’t know what it’s about.

To my surprise and delight, I ended up working with a Radiolab producer on the piece I wrote and recorded in less than 24 hours. It was an honour to be part of such a smart and ambitious project, and downright awesome to have my piece included in the final show.

Here it is:

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Beautiful Losers

Over on Twitter, my friend Mercedes just linked to the trailer for Beautiful Losers, a documentary about artists in NYC in the ’90s. Here’s the trailer:

Beautiful Losers film trailer from beautifullosersfilm on Vimeo.

This is so what I’m talking about, people. The trailer gave me chills, after all I’ve been thinking about after the Summit of Awesome (more on that soon!), and about where I see this project going (to great heights, that’s for sure!). I’m going to see this as soon as I can. Have you seen it?

Here’s what they say on their Facebook page:

Beautiful Losers celebrates the spirit behind one of the most influential cultural movements of a generation. In the early 1990’s a loose-knit group of like-minded outsiders found common ground at a little NYC storefront gallery. Rooted in the DIY (do-it-yourself) subcultures of skateboarding, surf, punk, hip hop & graffiti, they made art that reflected the lifestyles they led. Developing their craft with almost no influence from the “establishment” art world, this group, and the subcultures they sprang from, have now become a movement that has been transforming pop culture.

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Celebrating Mistakes – and Even Failure

I love this post by Alexander Kjerulf over on his blog Chief Happiness Officer: Top 5 reasons to celebrate mistakes at work.

His focus is on business – on how it’s good to create a business culture that celebrates the learning and innovation that can result from mistakes – but I think the attitude he’s promoting is just as important in the rest of life. We have to be easier on ourselves. When we are, we can accept that we screw up sometimes, and we can learn more easily from our screw-ups.

It wasn’t just on a whim that I made the tag-line of this project “where failure’s kinda pretty.” I’ve spent years talking to way too many crafters who say they’re afraid to mess up their projects. One of my many goals with Mighty Ugly is to turn failure on its head so we can all get more comfortable seeing the (sometimes bountiful) benefits in it.

My favourite part of Kjerulf’s post is the quote from James Dyson, inventor of the wildly expensive, life-changing vacuum we recently brought into our dog-fur-infested home:

We’re taught to do things the right way. But if you want to discover something that other people haven’t, you need to do things the wrong way. Initiate a failure by doing something that’s very silly, unthinkable, naughty, dangerous. Watching why that fails can take you on a completely different path. It’s exciting, actually.

[Hat tip to @the99percent, one of my new favourite Twitter feeds.]

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Stop. Judging. Yourself.

One of the things I’m most interested in exploring through the Mighty Ugly project is how we’re affected by the judgments we make in response to other people’s beautiful creations.

Today on Jezebel, Sadie Stein wrote a post that perfectly encapsulates what I mean. It can be very hard, when the vast beauty of crafts and lifestyle blogs is always just a click away, to judge ourselves against the stunning photos and whimsical stories people create. On the days we’re not very open to inspiration, we may read those blogs and end up feeling like crap. We can end up feeling like our photo-composition skills are severely lacking, like our fashion sense is so conventional, like we can maybe throw together a plate of chocolate chip cookies but not a meringue like she can.

We judge ourselves. Harshly. Unfairly. We decide we shouldn’t bother making stuff. And what do we get out of it those days we fall, as Stein put it, “down the picturesque-vintage-design-craft rabbit hole… and [emerge] three hours later, bleary-eyed and full of self-loathing”? Nothing good, that’s what.

I wish Shoshana could wave her magic wand (mental note: make Shoshana a magic wand) and stop people from creating such misery for themselves. But she can’t. We need to do it ourselves. We could stop seeking out all that beauty, but what good would that do? No. What we need to do is stop freaking judging ourselves so harshly.

Stop it. Now. You owe yourself better.

[Hat tip to @SisterDiane, who tweeted the link to Jezebel.]

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Ugly Is as Ugly Does?

I got the first email sent from our contact form this morning. Tisha‘s thoughts on ugly sure started off my week on a thoughtful note. So thoughtful I asked her if it would be alright if I shared parts of our exchange with all of you.

Tisha: Thought about your challenge. Looked at the pictures sent in by the people who made “Uglies” and discovered I do not think these creations are ugly and I asked myself “Why don’t I think these things are ugly?” I rolled this around for about 5 minutes and then I realized that UGLY, for me, is in intention – that is to say, if a thing does no harm then it is not ugly to me. I found many of the creatures from this Flickr group adorable.

Kim: Thanks for sharing your perspective on ugly. I hadn’t thought about the benign effect of “ugly” creatures taking away from their ugliness. You’ve brought me to a whole new level of thinking on this. If you were to create an ugly creature yourself, how would you make it ugly?

Tisha: I don’ know if I would want to spend time making such a thing – but it would have to have pins or shards of glass or be covered in a toxic substance, with the intention to cause harm. Do you think there is a difference between UGLY and REPULSIVE? Because, for me, something that is repulsive is hard to look at but does not necessarily mean to cause harm. I might be spinning my wheels here. I so understand that most people think of ugly as you intended in your challenge, it’s just that the more I thought about making something ugly the harder it was to think something up that would be passive, and that’s when I realised UGLY to me is: a high school student who is mean to a classmate, a parent who neglects their child…

I’d always thought of the difference between ugly and repulsive as the difference between something being thoroughly unattractive and something that repels me physically – a repulsive thing evokes a physical response, be it a cringe, a wrinkling of the nose, a turning stomach.

Tisha’s perspective on ugly as being defined by the intention to do harm – where ugly is determined based on behavior – is one I hadn’t considered with respect to this project.

Now that she mentions it, of course I think ugly behaviour is uglier than anything that’s only ugly on the surface – and certainly beautiful people can be hideous.

Having had this perspective brought to your attention, do you think it’ll affect your approach to making an ugly creature for the challenge?

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