MuseCubes Help Stave Off Cancer?!

Sitting might cause cancer?! It sounds extreme, doesn’t it?

That’s the announcement in a growing body of research. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research:

As many as 49,000 cases of breast cancer and 43,000 cases of colon cancer occurring in the U.S. every year are linked to a lack of physical activity.”

Furthermore, sitting for long periods of time can increase indicators of cancer risk! Evidently, doing a high intensity workout at the gym doesn’t help if you end up sitting for the rest of the day.

All the research is pointing to the importance of taking multiple breaks in the midst of your workday.

So, if sitting too much increases your risks for cancer, and if MuseCubes encourage you to take breaks from sitting, does it follow that MuseCubes decrease your risk of cancer? Hmmm. Perhaps that claim is a little far fetched.

However, a set of MusesCubes conveniently placed near your computer is a great little reminder to take an occasional break.

I keep MuseCubes in several strategic spots in my office. Sometimes I choose to roll them; other times I simply look at them and think, “Oh, right! Move my body!” Then I’ll get up and take a walk or go wash the dishes — anything that gets me up and moving.

Do you need a set of MuseCubes to serve as your take-a-break reminder? Or do you know someone who does? If so, contact me and I’ll hook you up with a set or two. You can also check out the free iPhone app.

This blog entry is re-printed from www.musecubes.com.

Doing Slow Business in a Fast Business World

***WARNING: This blog post contains some technical jargon. Don’t worry; I don’t understand many of the terms, either. Thank goodness for context clues!***

Why iMuseCubes Development is So Slow

It takes many folks up to 40-80 hours over three to four months to develop their iPhone apps. It’s taking Wendell and I over a year!!

That’s Wendell in the picture, by the way. He’s my iPhone app developer. He’s also (thank goodness!) my good friend.

It’s not surprising that our process has been so slow, given the limitations with which we’ve had to work:

  • Wendell and I both have full time jobs,
  • I don’t have the money to pay him upfront,
  • Wendell doesn’t own a Mac so he has to borrow mine, and
  • Wendell is learning Xcode (Apple’s program that develops the apps) as he works.

These constraints have necessitated that we work slowly.  In some cases, really slowly.

How Slow Business is Helping Me Find Balance

Which is why I’m grateful  to have discovered a movement all about the gifts of living life more slowly.  Here’s what blogger Jerry Stifelman says in an entry titled Slow Business: A Manifesto for Reclaiming Our Lives:

Just as the Slow Food movement is all about really getting into food and the community it engenders, we think we need a Slow Business movement that’s about the quality of work and the experience of doing it –– as opposed to the alternative — namely the tendency to turn work into an ever-escalating arms race of longer hours, quicker email responses, and an obligation to be checking your Blackberry at your kid’s birthday party.

This ever-escalating arms race had gotten a bit out of control in my life recently, as I juggled MuseCubes and my growing academic coaching practice.  Needless to say, my weekends were wittled down to naught. And I certainly wasn’t enjoying either the quality of my work, or my experience doing it.

In the spirit of slow, though, I’ve relaxed my expectations about how much each of these projects will grow this year.   I’m still moving forward on all of them, just one small step at a time.

Lowering my expectations for how much each of my projects will grow has allowed me to reclaim my weekends, balancing relaxation and adventure (neither of which had been in my life on a consistent basis).  As Jerry Stifelman says, slow business enables me to live as if  I matter, my relationships matter, and joy matters. Hallelujah!

When the Rest of the World is Moving so Fast: The Down Side of Slow Business

However, slow business can also have it’s downside. Take the iPhone app.

Apple is constantly updating its operating systems and app development processes. Since we’ve been working for over a year on this app, we’re constantly encountering technological roadblocks that result from these updates.  Often, the first chunk of our twice-a-month work sessions  is spent troubleshooting outdated technology. Sometimes we lose the entire four hours to updates!

Just today, for example, it turned out that the provisioning profile on my iPhone had expired; we couldn’t move forward until we’d updated it. Luckily, Wendell moved past this road block pretty quickly.

However, during our last two work sessions, we weren’t so lucky.

Apple had updated it’s version of XCode (the program we use to develop the app), which takes hours to download, depending on the internet connection. Then, we had to coordinate all the new iPhone operating systems with this new version of XCode. Between the downloads and the troubleshooting, we lost about four hours of development time. That’s almost a whole month’s worth of work time. Arggghhh!!!

Patience Pays Off: What You Can Expect from the Updated iMuseCubes

Today, though, we were able to move through our roadblock rather quickly.  And the truth is, iPhone app development seems to go pretty quickly without the technical glitches! All morning I’ve been writing this blog entry (using Wendell’s Dell laptop) while Wendell’s been lying on my couch working on the app (isn’t that a great picture of him, above?).

Infact, I wonder how he’s doing today? Let’s check in:

Me: Hey Wendell, how’s it going?

Wendell: Good! Within the next little bit, we will be able to not only download the expansion pack, but have it integrated into the process so that it loads the right sound files. Then we’ll be really close! We’ll just have to plug in Apple’s purchase API. After a little clean up, we’ll be ready to sell the expansion pack!

Cool! For the rest of you, let me translate: See, we already have a free version of iMuseCubes available for download from iTunes. However, soon we’ll have expansion packs available for purchase. Expansion packs will be sets of  additional verbs centered around themes, like:

  • Barnyard (with verbs like “Bark” and “waddle”)
  • Wild things (with verbs like “roar” and “slither”)
  • BeeBop (with verbs like “croon” and “twirl”)
  • Sports (with verbs like “cheer” and “dribble”)

As I finalize the verbs for the expansion packs, I’ll probably send out a survey to my community to get ya’ll to help choose themes and verbs. Got any good ideas?! Stay tuned to my blog for more updates…

Finally…

Just now, Wendell chirped, “We’re close! We’re really close!” However, that was followed by a big “Oops!”

With just 20 minutes to go during today’s work session, we’ll get as far as we can get.

And that will be great!

 

 

iPhone App Update: The History of iMuseCubes

It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon, and I’m crunching pumpkin seeds alongside my hero.

His name is Wendell Martin, and he is the iPhone app developer for iMuseCubes.

The iMuseCubes development team has decided that it’s time to be more “out” about the iPhone app development process.

So get ready, dear readers! From time to time I’ll be posting updates. And since this is the first one, how about a little history of the project?

Where Will I Find a Programmer Who Will Work For Free?

A year and a half ago, I was overwhelmed with my new life as an entrepreneur. It felt lonely and risky, and I felt adrift.

I had so many creative ideas, but I didn’t believe I had the skills or the resources to bring these ideas to fruition.

For example, the task of creating an iPhone app for the MuseCubes seemed completely insurmountable! I had no technical skills, no money to hire professionals, and no desire to work alone.

The Resources are All Around Me

One day I was complaining about this to my friend Randy while we were on a walk. Suddenly, he asked me some questions that changed everything:

“What if the resources you need are all around you? What if you don’t have to do it alone? What if all you have to do is ask?”

A few months later, the very first iMuseCubes meeting adjourned. It turns out that Randy’s friend Wendell is a Java programmer who’d been curious about learning to program on the iPhone. He liked me and enjoyed the MuseCubes. Furthermore, he didn’t need to be reimbursed for his time until after the iMuseCubes began to make money. And Randy was willing to serve as business manager for the project.

It turns out Randy was right. The resources were nearby. I didn’t have to work alone. And all I had to do was ask. Amazing!

Limitations Create Unique Opportunities

We had a team. But we also had limitations.

Wendell, for example, didn’t even own an Apple computer, which is a requirement for programming xcode. We decided that he’d simply come over to my house to work, and thus: a new guideline for collaboration was born: no one was expected to work on the project alone. We would always be accompanied by another member of the team.

On the one hand, this isn’t the most efficient way to work. Sometimes weeks would go by without moving forward on the project. Sometimes we’d spend the first half hour of a three hour meeting gabbing… about dating, relationships, job searches, and more.

But on the other hand, working together became so much fun!! We both looked forward to our work sessions together. Wendell commented that programming is usually a completely isolating experience during which he’s hunched over a lonely computer in a cubicle or at home. However, the iMuseCubes project was entirely social and creative.

We sat next to each other on the couch. I used Wendell’s PC while he borrowed my Mac. I brought him snacks and drinks. We always kept a set of the real MuseCubes nearby, and when programming got tricky, we used them to shake off the stress. Totally fun!!

And the best part was: when Wendell left my home, I didn’t have to do any more work on the app. And neither did he. We were free to lead our regular lives. No homework!! What a relief!!!

Even this blog post, I’d like to point out, was written while we were working together.

A Year Later…

It’s hard to believe a year has passed!

On March 25, 2010 iMuseCubes 1.0 became available as a free app on iTunes. If you’ve got an iPhone, check it out!

It’s still a rough version, and we have so much more that we want to do with it. I’ll blog about those plans later. Because we’re still smoothing out the edges on the app, we haven’t done any real marketing (other than a shout out on Facebook, and this blog entry).

Without any marketing, though, there are 102 phones who sport the app. And the cubes have been rolled 613 times. Yay!!

What I most want to celebrate is: we did it!! At our own pace. In our own way. And I’ve learned (at least) three valuable lessons:

  1. The resources are all around.
  2. Warm bodies working with me are key to collaboration.
  3. Slow work is satisfying work.

Wendell, Randy and I are meeting again in two weeks. More news then…

How My Clients and I Learn from Each Other

LakeMerritt

I recently took a walk around Lake Merritt with a former academic coaching client. What sweetness! One of the things I adore about my work as an academic/life coach for teenagers is that I get to build strong connections & collaborations with young people. And those connections don’t usually die when the client/coach relationship ends.

This young woman and I walked and talked — about friendships, dating, love, and of course, life as a college freshman.

Multiple Choice, F’s, and Advocacy

Turns out that she made mostly As and Bs in her first semester of college — but also one F. I asked her to tell me more about this F (which happened to be in her favorite subject, one out of which she wants to build a career. Extra odd to get an F).

Turns out the teacher gave only multiple choice tests, and this young woman has a learning disability that makes multiple choice tests especially difficult. I’m simply amazed that her college allowed her to fail out of a course that didn’t provide an alternative assessment strategy for someone clearly diagnosed with a learning difference.

Luckily, this young woman understands the value of relationships and networking. She is not shy to stand up for herself and ask for what she needs. She said she will — and I’m hoping she follows through — petition to write a paper as an alternative assessment. She understands the content, after all, but just can’t identify the information when it’s worded in a multiple choice format. (Those classes she got As and B’s in? Yep, you guessed it, the class grades were based on essays and in-class discussion).

I’m thrilled to see this former client continue to practice her self advocacy skills. I’m also thrilled at how this kind of client/coach relationship is not simply a one way street; mutuality is the name of the game in my work.

When There’s Too Much Good Stuff

As I walked to meet her at Cafe 504, I was feeling overwhelmed with the “too muchness” of my life.  Too many close friends, too much interesting work, too many requests for my time (all of which I want to say “Yes!!” to).

The question at the forefront of my mind was: what do I do with MuseCubes?! I love the product, I love the IDEA of building it into a successful business, but I really don’t like the ADMIN WORK necessary to build the business. On the other hand, I love my academic coaching relationships, and I want MORE of those. I don’t have time to build BOTH business. But do I want to let the MuseCubes go? No!!!!!! Maybe?!?! I don’t know!!!!!!

I was thinking about this question as my young friend was telling me about taking that 90 question multiple choice final exam. “I tried everything!” she said. “I even tried your MuseCubes thing, shaking myself and yelling. But I just didn’t recognize any of the answer to the questions.”

Ahhhhhh, this is exactly what I needed to hear. “I even tried your MuseCubes thing.”

Of course, in her situation, the MuseCubes didn’t help her find the answers. But they gave her a concrete idea for something productive to DO when she was feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, and at her wits end.

Just when I start questioning the value of some of my work, I get a little message from an angel saying: “MuseCubes are worthwhile! My life is better because of it.”

I immediately felt less stressed about making a decision about the business side of MuseCubes. I suddenly felt TRUST that I will find the exact best way to build this business and maintain my own life balance. It might mean I need to take a little break to reground myself. It might mean the business takes a different form than I expected. But I needn’t fear that I’ll have to abandon my baby in order to reground myself again.

My former client and I hugged each other goodbye at the end of the walk. “I love talking to you,” she said. “I always learn so much from you.”

“I love talking to you, too!” I answered, while thinking “I always learn so much from you, too.”

Make Your Own MuseCubes?! Reflections on Creativity, Entrepreneurship & Ownership

SelfMadeMuseCubes

As a product inventor, people often ask me whether I’ve “protected” Musecubes. Certainly, I’m in the process of trademarking and copyrighting my products. So in that sense — yes.

But with any creative idea, to what extent do I truly “own” it? And would I really want to?

A year ago, I found out about a preschool teacher who made giant MuseCubes by covering boxes with wrapping paper, and adding her own verbs.

Just today, I stumbled upon Dayna Collins’ blog, Alley Art Studio. Wow! I’m stunned at Dayna’s creative application of the MuseCubes idea. In her own words:

Our creative project for last night was to design and make a personal set of MuseCubes. I heard about Muse Cubes sometime last year and went online and bought a set. I used them during my last Artist’s Way session and they were great fun. Basically, one cube has words related to noises and sounds you can make and the other cube has action verbs, i.e., shake, bend, and dance. You roll the dice and do as instructed. You might be howling and bending, or laughing and shaking. You get the idea.

I absolutely love how Dayna personalized the Cubes. And aren’t they beautiful?! I’ve included one of the pictures, above, but I highly recommend going to Dayna’s blog and checking out the gorgeous art work yourself.

Back to that question of ownership. I think of the MuseCubes as my child. And as poet Khalil Gibran points out in The Prophet, we do not own our children:

Your Children are not Your Children
They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

The timing of Dayna’s blog is ideal for me in terms of MuseCubes business development.

Because I live in the land of America — where we encourage entrepreneurs to get bigger, better, faster — I’ve been feeling the pressure to turn MuseCubes into a mass-produced, commercially viable product. And I won’t say that I’m NOT moving in that direction. Perhaps I want to!

However, one of the pleasures of this delightful product is the homemade beauty of each Cube. And Dayna’s blog entry reminded me of just how stunning the cubes are when they are decorated with random art cutouts.

As Khalil Gibran reminds me, the idea of MuseCubes — that we are all inherently creative; sometimes our creativity gets buried underneath thinking and mistrust; and movement, whimsy, and silliness are GREAT tools to unlock our stored gems — is not “mine.”

So I still don’t know which direction I’m going to go with the business. Will I mass produce? Will I quit altogether and sell the idea to someone with more resources & time? Will I continue making small, homemade ones by hand? Will I sell MuseCube making kits? Will I put more of my focus onto the upcoming iPhone app?

What I DO know is that more and more people (in general) and women (more specifically) are taking to the Cubes. This is an idea that, now that it’s born, can’t be stopped.The whimsy, creativity, and surprise that comes from a random roll, and subsequent shake & howl, really does open up our creativity and sense of possibility.

What might happen if I now, following the guidance of Gibran, “strive to be like them”? In other words, strive to have my business processes and goals be more like the MuseCubes themselves — whimsical, creative, flexible?

I’m not sure what this all means, but you can be sure I’ll blog about it when I figure it out.

Thanks, Dayna, for your creative application of MuseCubes — and for inspiring to expand my vision of how my invention might play in the world.

This entry is a re-posting of an entry that first appeared at www.musecubes.com.

One Of The Most Thoughtful Gifts Ever

Taiko Kathryn

Awwwww! I’ve always known that MuseCubes make great gifts. But it’s nice to hear it directly from the recipients. Here’s how composer and Taiko drummer Kathryn Cabunoc, describes how the MuseCubes helped her break through stuckness:

…writing solos is so hard. That’s one of those things that have never come easy for me. I sit down and get up and sit down again and I get one line out at a time–and very laboriously so. I suppose it will get easier someday.

A friend of mine gave me a great gift a week ago. They’re called Muse Cubes, and when you find yourself with writer’s block, you pull out these babies and give them a roll. … The instructions said that we’re more creative when we’re not standing still. And they’ve worked! I’ve howled and bended, sang and wiggled. It’s helped! It lets me get out of my head for a minute and then return to work again with a fresh mind.

They’re one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve gotten in a long time.

MuseCubes KathrynJudging by the picture in Kathryn’s blog post, she got one of the original MuseCubes sets, no two designs alike. Some day this might be worth a lot (finger’s crossed!).

Feel free to read the rest of Kathryn’s blog entry about MuseCubes here. To order MuseCubes, go to our Etsy store.

This blog entry was first posted to www.MuseCubes.com on November 27, 2009.

Can Howling Make You Smarter?

howl

Wowzers! I invented a new use for the MuseCubes today. Story first, then tip below:

The Story: Singing Unlocks Brilliance

My friend Annie came over to cowork with me this morning. We usually meet for 3 hours, each working separately on important projects. Nothing like a fellow warm body to get these two solo entrepreneurs focused!

Today Annie needed some help. She was trying to write an essay, but was feeling stuck. I suggested she get up, dance around my big living room, and talk while she moves. In InterPlay lingo, this is called a Big Body Story.  I took notes, because I know that amazing ideas get unlocked when we move our bodies. And boy did I have to scribble hard — she was saying some great stuff!

I was surprised, though, that movement wasn’t the only trick to unlocking Annie’s creativity.

Afterwards I pointed out that Annie often uncovered a new brilliant idea whenever she would sing! More specifically,  when she sang the words “I don’t know what to say!” Usualy her singing was silly, often her head was thrown back with a more full throated sound. Each time (at least 3!), she always found a fun idea right after she sang.

MuseCube Tip: Roll Just the Voice Cube

Of course I couldn’t help think of the MuseCubes.

If you own a pair of MuseCubes, try this next time you find yourself feeling stuck:

  1. Roll the voice cube alone.
  2. Sing some words in the manner that the cube suggests. For example, if you roll a howl, try saying “I don’t know what to say!” in a howling way. Or if you roll “whoop”, try whooping the words “What should I write next!?”
  3. Roll the cubes at least three times.
  4. Go back to your work and see what’s new for you.

If you don’t own a pair of MuseCubes, you can still play with making silly noises while you talk. But if you’d like to get your own set of Cubes (or if you know someone who needs them!), please visit www.MuseCubes.com.

MuseCubes & the Right-Brain Business Plan

RBBPCubes

“I want me some of THAT!” was my reaction when Jennifer Lee showed me her business plan —  a hand-made, collage-covered 3″x5″ accordion book all about Jenn’s business Artizen Coaching. That was a year ago.

This weekend I finally GOT me some of that, by attending Jenn’s workshop on The Right-Brain Business Plan. She provided all the art supplies, and led us seamlessly through visualizing, brainstorming, and collaging, and now I have the beginnings of my very own fancy-schmancy business plan. (Still need to add a lot to the plan, but how great to have the draft!)

RBBPdraft The picture above is a close up of one of my favorite pages on the plan. There’s a woman with wings, and a hot air balloon flying high over a map.  Over the next month I’ll be adding words and numbers so that the creative vision is bolstered by a practical plan.  I’ll blog about it here so you can watch the businesses unfold — quite literally! Stay tuned for more info about how I plan to grow academic coaching and the MuseCubes.

Speaking of MuseCubes, did you notice them in the pictures? What a joy and an honor to have Jenn infuse “MuseCube Moments” into the workshop. Jenn sensed when the rest of us were hyper focused on our art-making and needed a little shaking up.  She rolled the cubes and got the entire group bouncing and howling, twisting and groaning.  Although I originally invented the Cubes for individuals, they’re clearly a perfect tool for groups too.

In fact, do you know any group facilitators who’d love a new tool to get their groups to shake things out? They make an inexpensive yet unique (and practical!) holiday gift! Order sets at  www.MuseCubes.com.

The MuseCube Team Expands

MuseCubeManufacture1

The holiday season is right around the corner, and I have a goal to sell 500 sets of MuseCubes — 5 times the amount sold last year!

Problem is, I don’t have enough time, hands, or patience to make that many sets myself. I need help, and I need it soon!

Enter: Charles and Mariah. They are freshman at West County Community High School (WCCHS), a unique charter school in Richmond, CA of which I am a founder (and to whom I donate a percentage of the MuseCubes profits).

When I advertised for MuseCubes Assistants at WCCHS, Charles and Mariah were the first to send in resumes. I couldn’t be happier! They are bright, eager and thoughtful 14-year-olds. Charles is a boy scout and mows lawns; Mariah has made crafts at home with her mom. For both of them, it’s their first real job.

Yesterday we got together for our first work session. I told them that I’m depending on their creativity and problem solving to design more efficient manufacturing processes. They accepted this assignment with gusto!

As we rocked out to Green Day and Aerosmith (from Charles’ iPod), we painted Mod Podge and experimented. Forever the teacher, I talked to them about Henry Ford’s assembly line process, and we discussed whether it makes more sense to break up our tasks into parts, or have each person make an entire cube.

Here are a few things we learned:

  • For training purposes, it makes sense to make the whole Cube, so each person understands the entire process.
  • Charles likes making 3-at-a-time, and seems to be slightly faster than Gretchen’s 18-at-a-time process.
  • The hot setting on the hairdryer works better than the cold setting.
  • We’ll try the cottage industry approach, whereby each Assistant takes home a kit and gets paid for the Cube.
  • As excited as they are to work at their own pace at home, we had such a good time working together! Maybe when I drop by the school to pick up finished Cubes and drop off new kits, we’ll work for two hours together.
  • Charles & Mariah agree that if we had two more Assistants, we could be really efficient with an assembly line process. They’re going to encourage their friends to apply.

They’re going to see if they can drum up more assistants. In the meantime, I’m grateful to have a growing team of Assistants, so I can focus on marketing while they expand my inventory.

Get ready, folks! MuseCubes make great, inexpensive stocking stuffers at only $15 plus tax, and soon we’ll have plenty to go around.

MuseCubeManufacturing7 MuseCubeManufacturing6

The Joy Diet ~ What I Really, Really Want

Normally I’m a pretty good directions-follower. Scratch that. Really good!

On this week of The Joy Diet blogging group, however, I barely read the directions.  I just glanced at the title — Desire — skimmed the text, and dove right in.

Hence: the Spice Girls. It doesn’t get more empowering than “Let me tell you what I want, what I really, really want!” I’m listening to it over and over as I write this post. Zig-ah-zig-ahhhhhh!

~~~

At the end of our coaching session — when I was walking 16-year-old Annabelle to the lobby to greet her father —  I found out: she wanted to skip our next session.

Of course, she didn’t tell me. Her dad was the one who asked, “Hey, did you ask Gretchen about next week?”

Suddenly this confident, chatty young woman turned into a slouching, whimpering mess. “See, next week … there’s this famous actor … he’s coming … he’s going to speak … but my parents want me to see you …”

I interrupted. “Annabelle. It sounds like you really want something. Stand up straight, look me in the eye, and make your request!”

She did stand up straight. But eyes darted fearfully and leaky words slipped out over a pouty lip. “I wanna watch him speak instead of come see you. I’m sorry!”

“You never need to apologize for what you truly want,” I reassured with a smile. “I’ll see you in two weeks.”

As she slipped gratefully out the door with her dad in tow, I thought about my own difficulties claiming that which I truly desire. What a journey it is, to the realization that our desires are okay, legitimate, achievable.

~~~

In The Joy Diet, author Martha Beck urges us to get honest about our “pulse-pounding, grab-you-by-the-guts” yearnings.

Wow. Ok. So here goes.

If you read last week’s post about Truth, you know that I’m seeking new housing. You also know that this is a difficult transition.

My current house is a rambling craftsman on a quaint inner-city culdesac. Neighbors play banjo on front porches and hoola hoop with their kids in the circle.  My roommates are dear friends. The delicious Cole Coffee is close by…

In the nurturing embrace of this house, I finally — finally! — came home to myself.

I quit trying to be a teacher (a job that made me angry much of the time), and stopped my anxious search to find a life partner (in my frenzy, dating ceased to be very fun).  I invented the MuseCubes, began facilitating InterPlay, and started working with teenagers as an academic coach. In other words, I claimed my new, true identity as Passionate Woman Entrepreneur Extraordinaire.

Then the landlord sold the house. I have until November 1st to move.

Confession #1 – As sad as I am about leaving, I know that it’s time. I’m ready. I’m home, and I’ll take home with me wherever I go.

Confession #2 – Although my story is that I can only afford to live with roommates, my deep desire is to live alone in a lively neighborhood near friends.

Confession #3 – My grab-me-by-the-guts yearning is to have a bright, airy apartment with room for a home office (with space for MuseCubes to thrive), an open space for stretching/creativity/prayer, and an outdoor area. I want to live alone, but in a walkable neighborhood near friends.

Confession #4 – There are gremlins who hang out on my shoulders right below my earlobes. When I get close to naming my heart’s desires, their grumblings get more vociferous.  “You can’t afford that!” they hiss. “Be realistic. To be successful you have to sacrifice. Sometimes you can be so irresponsible!” Ouch. That last one really hurt.

Confession #5 – OK, Gremlins. Stop biting! I know you’re trying to take care of me. I refuse to believe that good things are scarce, but I do acknowledge the importance of clarity and planning. So let me also be clear about what I can responsibly afford. $800/month tops (ideally, this includes utilities and internet).

Confession #6 – In the midst of the Gremlins, I have this deep trust that I’ll find a space I love for the amount I can afford. It throws me off sometimes, this peace I feel. But as Martha Beck says, when we’re in touch with our true desires, we also know that “good things are abundant” and “life is about cooperation”. It’s my job to remind the Gremlins of this, from time to time.

*******News Flash*******

As I was typing this, I got a call from a potential landlord/homeshare situation. She told me that she’d rethought her offer; living together is not going to work out for some very practical reasons.

But here’s the crazy thing. She just happens to own a business manufacturing and distributing products; she also needs help organizing a room full of product samples. I love helping people organize their stuff, and I need advice about how to take get MuseCubes mass produced. Neither of us have the cash to pay the other, but we do have valuable skills we can trade. Huh!

So here I go, off into my birthday weekend (I turn 36 on Sunday). I’ll continue telling myself — and the world — what I really, really want — and trusting that it’ll show up, although perhaps in a form I never expected.

MuseCubes in the Blogosphere

The Making of the MuseCubesMuseCubes are popping up everywhere! I’m especially grateful to a group of creative women bloggers who have spread the word this month.

As Jenn, Jamie, Leah and Cynthia share their impressions of the MuseCubes,  I’m learning oodles about the power of whimsy to embolden people’s lives.

Thank you, ladies, for your kind words, generous spirit, and astute observations. Read on:

MuseCubes Stir Up Creativity Thinking

One way to stir creative thinking is to bring together concepts or ideas and see what happens when they hang out. Gretchen Wegner has done that in a delicious and beautiful way with MuseCubes. … Whenever you need to shake things up a bit, just toss and play. Every roll gets your body involved and shifts your energy. Here’s what happened when I rolled Sigh & Dance: (Watch the short video of Jamie’s Sigh Dance here).

~ Jamie Ridler, Creative Self Development Coach

MuseCubes Cure Writer’s Block

Often when I have writer’s block, it’s because I’m stuck in my head. I have all that inner critic stuff going on, and it’s really not helpful. … My friend and blogger Gretchen Wegner created a tool called the MuseCubes. You roll them, do what they say, and that really helps get you into your body and into the flow. (Watch the entire interview on Blogher).

~ Jennifer Lee, Artizen Coaching

MuseCubes Ease You From Constriction to Spaciousness

The way we are in our bodies moves us from constriction to openness and spaciousness.  If I want to have an open mind, it is helpful to start from a place of movement.  It’s the fastest way to do it. … This is one of the reasons I love Gretchen’s MuseCubes. I find that I have to roll the dice three times to get myself over the hump of being self conscious about it. That self consciousness is a constricted, narrow, self evaluating (and other evaluating) way of being. (Listen to the whole interview with Leah Piken Kolidas here).

~ Cynthia Winton Henry, co-founder of InterPlay


The Inspiring Science of Fitness & the Brain

I think I’m in love with Dr. John J. Ratey. What’s not to love about this declaration:

What I aim to do here is to deliver in plain English the inspiring science connecting exercise and the brain and to demonstrate how it plays out in the lives of people.” p. 7, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain

Amen!! Now that I’ve just outted myself as an ecstatic nerd, let me explain.

Lately I’ve been on a crusade to get more people “using the brains in their whole body.” This is a deeply personal crusade, as well as a professional one.

PE Classes That Teach Kids to Think!?

As an educator, I got especially excited about Ratey’s case study of a revolutionary approach to PE classes. Imagine–  heart rate monitors replacing dodge ball:

The essence of physical education in Naperville 203 is teaching fitness instead of sports.  The underlying philosophy is that if physical education class can be used to instruct kids how to monitor and maintain their own health and fitness, then the lessons they learn will serve them for life. And probably a longer and happier life at that. Spark, p. 12

Ratey presents study after study that proves that fitness is essential to maximizing not only people’s health & happiness — but also their smarts. Turns out we think especially clearly and effectively after we engage in:

  • 30 minutes of aerobic activity, and
  • complex physical tasks.

This kind of fitness literally builds new neuropathways in our brains, as well as strengthens old ones. As the coaches in Naperville 203 are fond of saying, “in [the PE] department, we create the brain cells. It’s up to the other teachers to fill them” (Spark, p. 19).

MuseCubes Help Us Remember to Move

I’ve known through experience that movement effects my thinking. In fact, the more I move, the more I experience freedom, passion, balance, and productivity.

What’s amazing to me, though, is how often I forget to move! Yesterday I spent over 6 hours on the computer. I woke up this morning in physical pain, emotionally drained, and without an ounce of alertness.

As a heady intellectual, I’m constantly looking for ways to be more embodied. That’s where MuseCubes come in.

Now, a MuseCubes break takes 30 seconds, not the recommended 30 minutes.  However, I notice this: the more I remember to roll the MuseCubes, the more I choose to move in other aspects of my life, too.

For example, on days that I wiggle and howl with the MuseCubes, I’m more likely to take a 10 minute dance break, and then ALSO go on a longer walk. Movement inspires more movement, which eventually builds up to fitness! Ahhh, I love incrementality.

Ratey himself says that “the most important thing is to do something” (Spark, p. 250). And if that something ultimately adds up to six hours a week of exercise on behalf of your brain — well, that sure is smart!

OK, speaking of moving, I’m gonna finish this blog post and walk to the library to return Ratey’s book. What are you going to do to exercise today?

Exformation

Sieve

This post is part of a project to share reflections about all 28 of the Core Elements of InterPlay.  For background information about InterPlay or this project, read What the Heck is InterPlay?!.

What creates information overload for you?

Too much time browsing the internet does it for me. And juggling multiple creative projects at once.  Not to mention the emotional ups and downs of navigating the world as a (hopefully) clear and honest communicator. Phew!

Information overload can sometimes be too much of a good thing — like excitement about falling in love or finally accomplishing a personal goal.

When I’m in a State of Too Muchness, I crave balance. And that’s where exformation comes in.

Exformation is InterPlay‘s word for the process of moving unnecessary information out of one’s body.

Imagine for a moment that information is physical, and it accumulates inside our bodies. It’s almost like our bodies are sieves that process our daily experiences.

Most of the time our experiences flow easily through us, like the flour in the picture above. But sometimes that sieve gets clogged. What can we do to loosen up that gunky, yucky clogged feeling that comes with stress and overwhelm?

We can exform! And if information has a physical component, then so does exformation.

The simplest kind of exformation is breathing, sighing, and shaking your body out.

But exformation can include just about any activity that allows you to be truly in your body. The InterPlay facilitator’s manual suggests activities like

exercise, art-making, journalling, making love, taking long showers, meditating, doing housework, cooking, walking in nature, singing, etc.

I invented MuseCubes as a simple exformational tool. After a roll of the dice, folks can howl, twist, and sigh their way to feeling more refreshed and balanced. I’ve been collecting stories about all the ways people use MuseCubes to exform; you can read those stories here.

The regular practice of InterPlay is another way many people choose to get exformation in their lives. By telling our stories, playing with our voices, and moving our bodies, exformation becomes a multi-sensory experience!

The beauty of exformation is that we don’t have to wait for a State of Too Muchness in order to do it.  Instead, we can build exformational activities into the daily rhythm of our lives. Preventative exformation! I try and incorporate movement, creativity, and play throughout my day.

What do you do to keep your sieve clumpless and flowing freely?



Incrementality

Inchworm

The following post is part of a project to share reflections about all 28 of the core elements of InterPlay.  For background information about InterPlay or this project, read What the Heck is InterPlay?!.

Last week I spied a teeny inch worm gracefully maneuvering across the top of my laptop screen.  Its miniscule body curved up and then flattened itself, advancing a millimeter each time.

Curve up. Flatten down. Curve up.  Flatten down.

I was entranced by it’s slow, steady — even artful — progress.

The idea for my MuseCubes business came to me last August.  Since then I‘ve received a lot of advice from well meaning friends:

It’s cheaper to manufacture them in China.  Sell the idea to a game company. Distribute them to Barnes and Noble.

These suggestions used to stress me out.  I heard them, and felt pressured to grow my business Bigger! Faster! Richer! Now!

Lately, however, I’ve decided to learn from the inch worm. One graceful little step at a time. I don’t want to grow this business faster than I’m able to nurture it…and myself.

I’ve also been learning from InterPlay’s philosophy of incrementality.

Incrementality is the process of breaking a task down into small, manageable steps.

We have learned many of the important things we know incrementally — how to walk, talk, read, use a computer, play an instrument, learn a language.  We accept that these skills are learned in many small steps, over a long period of time.” (Phil Porter and Cynthia Winton-Henry, Self Study Handbook)

The philosophy of incrementality gives me permission to apply this same wisdom to the big things I want to do — like start a product manufacturing business.

In a culture that pushes me to work harder, faster, and better than the competition, InterPlay recommends the opposite. It’s perfectly acceptable — even downright healthy! — to build my business at the speed of my own body.

Now I ask myself, “What’s the next easiest step I can take?” And I take it.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t set big goals. Or push myself. But I do so with balance. I give myself permission to pursue the lofty goals one little, slow, easy, fun step at a time.

Interestingly  — (Huh! I’m just putting this together right now! I love how much I learn when I write) –the MuseCubes are a practical tool to help people remember incrementality.

So often when we feel stuck, the real problem is that we’re trying to do too much.

For example: (1) Why can’t I just finish writing this paper!? (2) Arrrrgggggh! Reconciling this whole spreadsheet is driving me crazy!

The MuseCubes remind us to — quite literally — shake ourselves free from the tyranny of Too Much.  Once we’ve moved our bodies and voices around a bit, we’re better able to see the whole picture. We can then recognize the next, easiest action to take in service to that larger goal.

For example: (1) How about I write for 5 minutes without a single edit, and just see what I produce? (2) Maybe I’ll plug in 10 more numbers into the spreadsheet and then see where I stand.

So  now I’m curious.  What about you? What’s the next easiest step you can take to get you where you want to go?!

“Relax Your Brain” with MuseCubes

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Last August I invented an office toy called the MuseCubes.  It’s designed to liberate people who think too much.

Although I originally intended the MuseCubes for grown-ups, teachers have been buying them right and left.  They recognize the MuseCubes as the perfect, short break for stressed out students.

This afternoon, a geography teacher from a high school in Texas sent me the most amazing email.  She’d just read through all her course evaluations and couldn’t help but notice all the references to MuseCubes. Dedicated customer that she is, she typed up her teenagers’ words for me to read:

You should keep the muse cubes. They’re really fun and when you do what they tell you to do, it’s funny and it gets our hopes up. –Jose M.

I think you should keep the fun little cube game for next year because it relaxes our brain by making us laugh and, in that way, we think better. –Maria S

You should keep the muze cubes because they are a lot of fun and they are a great way of giving us a well needed break but not losing our focus at the same time. -Cesar M.

You should keep the little dice thing because that’s funny. –Irving A.

I think the cubes you used at the end of the semester were awesome and it lightened up the classroom when it was dead. -Lizeth C.

You should keep the silly dances you would do when we were tired. -Mariza S.  [Note: Mariza is referring to the fact that, sometimes the kids would watch Susan while she, alone, did what the MuseCubes said to do. It must be refreshing for students to watch an adult be such a goofball. At least, Mariza thought so!]

Wow! This is such great feedback.  I’m thrilled that Susan’s students realize how important movement and laughter is for their brains.

We humans were not designed to sit and think for hours on end.  We were designed to move and think.

Thank you, Susan, for taking the time to share your students’ words!

Move Your Body, Solve Your Problem!

IMG_1703

Anyone who knows me is aware that I’m crazy about the links between movement and cognition (“embodied cognition” is the fancy term for it, I’ve recently learned).

So imagine my thrill when the following headline came across my email today:

Body Movements Can Influence Problem Solving, Researchers Report

In a recent study subjects were asked to solve a problem while taking occasional movement breaks.  The problem involved strings that swung from the ceiling. Researchers discovered that the subjects who swung their arms during breaks were 40% more likely to solve the problem than people who simply stretched.  Evidently, the subjects’ unconscious kinesthetic identification with the swinging motion helped them solve the problem!

You can read the whole article here if you want to, or just check out these excerpts by University of Illiois Professor Alejandro Lleras:

“This emerging research is fascinating because it is demonstrating how your body is a part of your mind in a powerful way. The way you think is affected by your body and, in fact, we can use our bodies to help us think.”

He continues with this practical take-home message (which makes me very, very happy):

If you are stuck trying to solve a problem, take a break. Go do something else. This will ensure that the next time you think about that problem, you will literally approach it with a different mind.

I’m crazy about this advice because my  invention — the MuseCubes — are based on the idea that we can use our bodies to help us think.

The MuseCubes are a set of dice designed to — quite literally! — shake you free when you’re feeing stuck. The picture at the beginning of the post shows you one of the original sets.

Recently my InterPlay colleague Dorothy tried out the MuseCubes with some stressed out students at Yale University:

MuseCubes were SUCH A HIT on campus at Yale last week! SUCH A HIT! There were so many twisting-moaning, shaking-yelling, bending-howling moments. People letting loose and feeling more ready than ever to tackle their end of year classwork! PEOPLE LOVED THEM! I LOVED THEM MORE THAN EVER!

I’m so glad that my product could help bring stressed out students relief!

(Side Note: There are shocking statistics about mental health on college campuses, and I believe that is partially because of the unbalanced and unembodied ways we are expected to learn.  But more about that in future blog posts).

What about you? What can YOU do to act on this research?

  • If you’re curious about MuseCubes, please check out the website.  I’m happy to send you a set or two.
  • If you’re jazzed about this topic, and would like to read about how I used movement to help graduate students unpack heady concepts, check out this blog post about using the brains in our whole body.
  • Maybe you need to go take a break right now?
  • But first, please comment below: how have you noticed movement influencing the way you think?