Pig Pile Once in a While

For Thanksgiving I had the pleasure of having my father, brother and sister-in-law visit with my family and me. Aside from the scrumptious meal we made, pleasing both the omnivores and vegetarians alike, my family is always good for a whole bunch of goofiness. The lot of us are prone to doing and saying the silliest of things at any given time. If it’s a pun, which my father in particular is known for, there’s a lot of groaning. If it’s an activity, though, most of us will join in.

Such was the case when my son who, at age 11, said those words that are like fingernails on a chalkboard, “I’m bored” followed by “What should we do now?” To which I replied, “Pig pile on your uncle!” Without missing a beat, we all clambered across the rug and flumped ourselves on my brother who appropriately yelped and ughed and generally protested all in good fun, while saying, “The runt should be on the bottom!” And I’m thinking, um, my son weighs all of 80 pounds and I don’t want any crushed ribs.

Once we let him free, he told us a tale from his youth (always a good segue from a pig pile). When he was a teenager hitchhiking across the country with his buddy, he was given a ride by a woman driving a pick up truck. In the bed of the truck was a litter of piglets. They were all about the size of a small dog, except for one. The runt. He was about the size of a house cat. And what did the piglets proceed to do when the truck picked up speed on the highway and the wind roared past them? Pig pile on the runt! The whole lot of them clambered on top of this tiny little pig. Why? Most likely to keep him warm. Now isn’t that amazing instinct and family bonding? Yes, I think so too.

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Pigs are actually quite amazing creatures, and surprisingly similar to humans. What strikes me the most about pigs is their playfulness. They love to stimulate their brains and can be seen playing with soccer balls, performing tricks, making nests, relaxing in the sun, and even enjoying a massage! They thrive when given new opportunities and survive by bonding with other pigs. A lone pig is not a happy pig.

From the pig pile, I was immediately thrown back into my youth when my brother and I spent time playing together and torturing each other (okay, he did most of the torturing, being slightly older than me). So in the name of good fun, I challenged him to an Indian leg wrestle, which he won.

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We all played a game of pretzel.

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We made a human machine.

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And then we played the group picture making game.

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It was the closest I’ve felt to being a kid again in a while – since the last time I saw my brother! When we’re together, fun and playfulness are the operative words. As much as he can moan and groan at my ridiculous suggestions, he can be the most playful of the bunch. And it’s wonderful.

I love my goofball family, and they inspire me to remember how important play is in our everyday lives. For the author in me, that’s an invaluable tool for writing picture books. For the mom in me, it’s a reminder to keep life fun. As a wife, it reminds me how important laughter and play is in a marriage. And as a human, it inspires me to help others feel free and playful and take life a little less seriously.

Life Lesson #14: Let go of your preconceived notions of what’s acceptable and not for an adult, and make a pig pile with your family! Embrace a playful, bonding spirit and see how your heart and mind magically open to each other and to new ideas. It will get your creativity and joy flowing!

Play can also make the drudgery and chores of everyday life a whole lot of fun and silly, like Mrs. Jollybones does in Warren Hanson’s…

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Click on image to see author’s website

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The Idea Machine

This month, as I have for the past 3 years, I’m participating in PiBoIdMo. (For those of you that don’t write picture books that translates into Picture Book Idea Month). It is Tara Lazar‘s brilliant challenge for writers to come up with 30 ideas for picture books in the 30 days of November. Every day of  November she sends an inspiring post from an author about how and where to get ideas. And it got me thinking. Not just about picture book ideas.

It got me thinking about how we treat ideas in our everyday lives. As a teacher and parent, I’m all about getting kids thinking and not limiting themselves; letting their imaginations be free and non-judgmental; sky’s the limit! But how many of us as adults live by the same mantra? I know plenty who don’t. They are stuck. Some in small ways, some in life strangling ways. Sounds melodramatic, but think about it.

How many of you know someone that is so stuck they are miserable, and they just can’t seem to find a way “out”? Now, everyone’s life circumstances varies greatly. But unless you are trying to get basic needs met, like food and shelter, I firmly believe there is always a way to get unstuck. The hardest part is taking a risk.

Here is where the idea machine comes in. Okay, buckle your seatbelt and don’t go anywhere. This is going to take a leap of faith and you’re going to have to turn off that naysayer button in your brain. You know, the one that says in the nasty little voice (or maybe it’s a high and mighty one?), “That’s the stupidest idea you’ve ever come up with. Give it up.” Put a sock in that little voice! Give it a strong dose of melatonin and let it sleep for days. You need to think like a child. Sky’s the limit.

What’s the point of this? The point is, when we allow ourselves to turn off the “no good” voice, ignore what others think or say, and give ourselves time to vomit up as many ideas as possible (sorry for that gross image – works for kids), we just might find a nugget in there that we never knew existed. But it isn’t just going to happen. You have to be purposeful and free. Give yourself time. It could be 30 minutes once a week for a month. Or it could be 5 minutes once a day for a week. How you divvy up the time doesn’t matter as much as giving yourself the time.

Now here’s what you do. Get a piece of paper or a notebook, or even a paper napkin if you’re in a coffee shop, and a pen. Find your favorite, most comfortable, and even inspiring spot to sit (or walk). It doesn’t have to be indoors. If you read last month’s post oftentimes we need to find a new scene for inspiration. Anyway, once you’re in that quite spot (alone), relax. Think about the problem you want to solve, the life change you want to make, the creative idea you want to come up with, or whatever it is that you’ve been stuck on or in.

Ready? Start writing down EVERY SINGLE IDEA that comes to your mind about how you can get unstuck, get that creative idea you’ve been searching for, or ways to solve the problem you’ve been grappling with. I mean it. EVERY SINGLE IDEA. Do NOT filter or judge. In fact, be absolutely sure to write down the ones that sneak in there with the naysayer voice (even though you were supposed to have turned that off. See paragraph 5 above). Good. If you’re sitting for 30 minutes, write as many ideas as you can. If you’re doing this 5 minutes a day for 7 days, go for at least 2 ideas at each sitting. If you come up with more, great! There is no pressure here. Just the opposite. You want to relax into your imagination, and into possibility.

Next, resist the urge to edit this list. DON’T cross anything out. If you think this might be too big of a temptation, consider using a fat sharpie to write down your ideas and then throw the sharpie far away, quickly (try not to hit anyone in the head as you throw). Words in sharpies are hard to cross out in pen or pencil. I’ve tried.

Let this list sit. Don’t show it to anyone. At the end of your week, or month reread everything you’ve written down. Imagine actualizing each idea. Again, don’t edit. Really go with your train of thought and visualize yourself doing this thing. If that’s too hard, imagine someone you admire doing it. See how they go about it. Imagine and visual yourself (or your hero) smiling, feeling good doing this thing. Now go on to the next idea and do the same thing.

A couple of surprising things might happen. One, you might come up with a new idea as you’re doing this exercise. Write it down! The other – and here’s the ultimate goal – you might actually hear yourself saying, “I can do this.”

So that’s it. No need to be stuck any more.

Now go ahead, turn on your idea machine, and let’s hear from you! Give yourself a starting date (like, um, today?) and an ending date (no later than 30 days from now). Post a comment and tell us how many ideas you came up with.

Life Lesson #13: You can always create something from nothing if you let your ingenuity be free, like bored-to-tears Gavin, in Mark Fearing’s latest hit…

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(Click on image for a link to Mark’s website)