Critical Reflection on Creative Activism

Whenever we hear the word activism, we typically associate it with some political or social issues.

Activism is the doctrine or practice of vigorous action or involvement as a means of achieving political or other goals, sometimes by demonstrations, protests, etc. (
And if we prefix it with ‘creative’, we tend to associate it with creative people, such as filmmakers, photographers, artists, designers, digital media practitioners etc. (
For our team project, I was trying to identify something other than the above stereotypes. I wanted it to be more appealing to our everyday life, for everyone, something reasonably easy to achieve.  I like Dr. Crissman’s BlueBird House inspiration, and I appreciate our fellow classmates’ Arbor Day initiative.
The Reversed Graffiti is a scalable idea. It can be as huge as what we saw from the Google Search results:
Or, as manageable as cleaning a neighborhood’s abandoned wall, kind of like Candy Chang’s  ‘Before I die‘ wall in New Orleans. (
The other idea that I had was inspired by a popular video where the hell is Matt‘.  The creative activism of which is dancing badly with Matt.  What attracted me most about this idea is that one does not have to be a good dancer so that everyone can be comfortable participating.
I think Matt did a good job connecting with different cultures around the world.  So next time when I travel, I might just follow his footstep and  try to do this silly dance with the local people, to make our interaction more meaningful and fun. Imagine… if half of the travelers around the world would do this on a daily basis, what will that be like….?… !! Maybe, world peace will not just be a Miss America’s slogan.
In the process of making the video documentary, I pushed myself to try different things. First of all, the very uncomfortable (to me) selfie – my arms are simply not long enough to take in a better view. I was simply not able to film myself doing the scrubbing work.  I had to make some decision while cutting out most of the uncomfortable scenes and keeping just a few seconds of the remaining. Secondly, in iMovie, I tried to edit a sequence of my ‘artwork’ to illustrate the time lapse  (i.e. waiting overnight). It was a great learning opportunity for experimenting the video functions. I was getting more comfortable with iMovie, and did not encounter too much difficulty. I was happy with the end result. Check it out and let me know what you think –

Critical Reflection on Meaning

Creativity is the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, and relationships, and generate meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations.”

‘Meaningfulness’ is the element that makes something interesting, and thus, adds value.

When I was working on the Roots and Wings project, images of the videos that I took in my classes flashed back. It struck me that those were the ‘play’ moments Thomas and Brown were referring to that brings out so much energy to share knowledge and to participate.  I found a good use of those old clips where they add meaning the point I was making.

The series of Web 2.0 tools that I included in the project were from one of the training programs that I presented. The intention of incorporating them in my bookcast video is to make a point that these tools are abundant, that we cannot possibly teach every one of them nor do we need to. The students are developing the skills to learn new tools on their own. From the comments during studio time, I realized that I made a common error of forgetting ‘more is not necessarily better’.

‘JDLR’ is another comment I got that referred to the bullet points that I used to showcase the 3 key points of my book response. I thought about adding pictures or video to convey the 1. play, 2. how to fish, and 3. collectives, but the schedule did not allow me to do so. However, had I been able to, I would probably still keep the text and the imagery. A visual-and-text combo is what I, personally,  need to learn and remember. Whether I am reading a book, listening to a speech, watching a TED talk, it helps me when I scribble notes to register the key points   into my head. When I hear a new word that people use, my typical reaction is ‘how do you spell that?‘ Then I will air-write it on my palm to ‘see’ the text, because it helps me remember it. That is the same reasoning when I decided to have 3 simple slides of key bullet points. Adding some imagery alongside would be a good idea.

Understanding the connection of meaning and creativity, I would like to share with you some of my favorite Meaningful Creativity from Art and Design.

What am I grateful for?

What am I grateful for?

The answer to this depends on when it is asked, and it fluctuates according to where you are in your journey of life.  Very few of us have the wisdom to be grateful when life throws us a curve ball. Some of us, when looking back, may see the positive effects many years later.

Louis Schwartzberg’s yoga-and-meditation-style speech awakened my senses. I have so taken it for granted and suddenly, I am grateful for my eyes that helped me receive 80% of the information, and for my ears that give me the gift of hearing the nature, and listening to the knowledgeable voices in my life.

I studied in two convent schools before college. The most rebellious thing that I have ever done in my life was to be baptized in a Catholic church!  I grew up in a protestant family! When sending us off on the graduation day, Mother Superior reminded us that we should take it upon ourselves to bridge the two cultures of east and west. Those words stuck with me since then.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to be taught by the nuns who were inspiring and kind. I am grateful for the opportunity to immigrate to this country and slowly grapple the idea of bridging the two cultures.

The Chinese word for interesting is 有意思, which literally means, ‘has meaning’.  For something to be ‘interesting’, it ought to ‘have meaning’.  If it does not have meaning, it must not be interesting. I am grateful that I always seem to have meaningful and interesting jobs in my career.


Someone told me once that I will not run out of guardian angels in my life and that they will appear when I need them the most. I do believe that angels come in and out of our lives as we need them. I am very grateful for all the angels who did appear in some of my hardest moments in life, and for those who will in the future. It is them who give me hope, faith, and confidence to take the next step.

It was, however, Dr. Brian Weiss, who first introduced me to the idea of Same Soul, Many Bodies, and Only Love is Real.

Sharing one of my spiritual enlightening moments that always helps me put things in perspectives. I am genuinely grateful for stumbling into one of his books in the library the year that marked a turning point in my life.

(No need to start from the beginning, use this URL to jump to the 8m20s marker directly. )

Reflection on Empathy

I remembered that in my youthful days, my friends and I would find a nice day to sit in front of of a train station or bus terminal and do some ‘people watching’. We would then make up stories about the ‘chosen’ ones, why is he walking so quickly against the traffic, why does she have a notepad in her hand, why does he look worried, why is she smiling… ? We did not really have a full fledged story on anyone, that was not the intent.  It was just an exercise (game) to check how observant we are, and how quickly we can catch the mood of our objects, and tell a compelling story, well, at least the opening of the story.

It’s not until the past two weeks did I find out the name of the exercise/game that my friend and I played is called connecting-imagination-and-creativity-to-empathy. 😀

The story of the Blinds and the Elephant has been retold many times. Each of the blinds insists their version of the story is true, but none actually ‘sees’ the whole story. What each ‘sees’ is merely a single story. While each one’s subjective experience is true, it may not be the whole truth.

6 single stories!

6 single stories!

The discussion of empathy recently reveals another layer of the story.  It is the empathetic view of those who happens to know that they are merely single stories, and fully understands the subjective opinion each holds, AND makes an effort to tell the whole story.  If the blinds admit that they are blinds, and are willing to accept new concepts, great! But if the blinds do not even accept the fact that they are blind, and continue to insist on their single stories, then they may never ‘sees’ the whole truth.  May we all have the wisdom to find the multiple stories!

A Creative and Artful Life of Karl

Finding the creative and artful person in my everyday world is easy. Trying to tell a story about him is not.

Karl Schaefer is an Instruction Technology Teacher, a creative person who lives an artful life.

working with 5th graders to set up their ePortfolios

working with 5th graders to set up their ePortfolios

Karl lives on a farm, raises horses and dogs. He and his wife also take care of their fruits and vegetable gardens. He shares his produce with his children and grandchildren.

feed the horses every morning

feed the horses every morning

Every morning, he feeds his horse and cleans their waste before he goes to work – as an Instructional Technologist.

the tractor is used to haul the horses' manure to the area where it can be sun-dried and left to be fermented.

the tractor is used to haul the horses’ manure to the area where it can be sun-dried and left to be fermented.

freshly tilted garden ready for the new planting

freshly tilted garden ready for the new planting

Karl loves teaching Middle School students, and working with faculty. However, at the end of the day, Karl goes back to his farm, and stays offline to maintain a balanced life. He has two grandchildren, and he makes sure that they have plenty of time playing in the nature, digging dirt and planting watermelons.

Here is an un-edited footage of Karl talking about his farm and grandchildren. Although it did not make it to the documentary, it is very inspiring! It is difficult not to envy his artistic balance of family and work.

I followed Karl to one of his classes, a meeting, and his office. At the end, I collected 2 hours worth of video footage and 60 stills.  Compiling and editing them into a 5-minute documentary was a challenge. After I had a virtual story-board in my head about the approach and sequence, selecting the clips and editing them was time-consuming, but not short of technical difficulties and ‘exciting’ moments…. including abandoning iMovie altogether and picked up Camtasia for the editing tool, and risked losing five hours worth of work at one point when it crashed and returned with an ‘unexpected error’ that could not be recovered.

Fortunately, I only lost 10 minutes of editing, and was able to reproduce it and finished the first version an hour later.

As I was getting ready to post it to YouTube, I noticed the ‘detail’ in the assignment to include a blog with reflections on the process and product!

I had fun figuring out the voice-over, and other editing techniques in Camtasia. It was mostly intuitive, and the online tutorials were helpful.

The product….? I felt that it did not do Karl any justice!

I wanted to cover his farm life, but was not able to work out the time. I was glad that Karl found, from his albums, a precious video of an afternoon with his grandchildren while two rainbows appeared above the farmhouse. I was able to incorporate that into the documentary.

I also gave a facelift to Karl’s own video of ‘Search me’ from two years ago, and used it for the opening and ending of this documentary. I owe Karl for all his help with my quest in becoming a 21st Century teacher and stays abreast with the technology.

Here is Karl.

Reflection on Metaphor

‘Catching up is no fun! Do not ever get yourself in the catch-up mode!’ I always give this advice to my student. So if nothing else, I should know.

The worst is the anxiety. It is so powerful as if it comes with saber-tooth and it chews up all traces of creativity and patience, but mischievously deposits a sense of panic.



It was under such emotion I started looking for Photoshop. I actually had a silhouette of what I wanted to compose for the project, but was struggling for the semantics of what a metaphor is. I looked it up. I had no trouble differentiating metaphors and similes. I can comfortably recite some of the classic metaphors, Life is a journey. America is a melting pot. It seems that metaphors usually have a verb in the phrase. So can it be a metaphor without a verb? Yes! I was happy to find Joe the Plumber on the top 10 metaphors in 2008! And Prince Charming is also a bona fide metaphor. A relief. My Imperial Doctor ‘Wen Tai Yi’ is a legitimate metaphor.

My next challenge is to make my product interesting and effective, to compensate the lacking of photo-editing elements. I would tell a story, with a beginning, a middle and an end, in an interesting way. I collected all the essential ingredients and verified their Creative Commons attribution.

I usually don’t seem to have any problem coming up with ideas. But I seem to encounter road blocks when it comes to implementation and using new tools. That is, actually, quite ironic. I always consider myself a 21st Century teacher who embraces technology, and has no trouble learning something new. But when it comes to Photoshop (which is not only a new tool, but an extreme tool), the YouTube Tutorials are no longer enough. I needed the time, and a More Knowledgeable One in a Zone of Proximal Development as suggested by the Social Development Theory by Vygotsky.



My technological attention shifted to iMovie which I used briefly approximately two years ago. Relearning should have a lesser curve, I was optimistically calculating.  Once I got the ‘distractions’ out of the way, I was able to indulge in the creative process. It took me around six hours to put all the elements together in a way that I am happy with.

So advice from me to me: do not put myself in a catch up mode again.

Lost in Metaphors (belated)

A couple of months ago when we were discussing Chinese idiomatic stories and Chinese metaphors in my high school class, I used some of the commonly used English ones as examples. My students looked at me as if I were speaking Martian when I mentioned the phrase don’t throw the baby out with bath water! Their expression went from puzzlement, to horror, to disgust, to doubt .. well, that was quite common. Since English is my second language, when they do not understand me, one of their habitual reaction is that I say it wrong. Some of them quickly did a search online, and was still confused or even more terrified because they somehow left out the ‘don’t’ in the phrase.

Don't throw baby out with the bath water!

Don’t throw baby out with the bath water!

We eventually burst out laughing about it. But the really funny thing is they have absolutely never heard of the phrase!

As I went on to bring in the second one, there was another round of disagreements and laughter. And, of course, more Google Search. They insisted that it actually meant, literally, the cats and dogs were being dropped from heaven when it rained! And they found a picture to prove it!

Raining cats and dogs!

Raining cats and dogs!

This was what they found: Raining animals is a rare meteorological phenomenon in which flightless animals “rain” from the sky.

This was what I found: raining very heavily. However, the etymology was slightly different than what I used to envision… dripping cats and dogs on the streets during a heavy down pour which is so heavy that even the poor creatures have nowhere to hide.

Nonetheless, we have this gap in literacy that a good representation of students today do not know/appreciate/understand these metaphors? how did the gap occur? These metaphors sound very ‘foreign’ to these post-90’s teenagers! They either have not heard of it, or have a different understanding of the metaphors. Is it an issue with the education (an easy target for criticism)?   Retrospectively speaking, I did not learn neither one of these phrases in school, I learned them from TV or reading, then I looked them up in a dictionary or asked the native speakers about them. We all say that information is ubiquitous nowadays, then… what has happened to learning?

I believe that it is the attitude. I recently read a posting that goes something like this:

It is the mindset that drives one’s attitude,

the attitude drives the behaviors,

the behavior drives the habits,

the habits drives the personality,

and the personality drives one’s lifetime!

So what is the ‘mindset’, how is it formed, can it be influenced, are we born with it, do we acquire it?  I don’t have an answer to these questions. What I do know is that in Chinese culture (does not mean that it is correct, I am just sharing what I know) , we do not speak of ‘mind’, but we speak of ‘heart’. We believe that everything, i.e. thoughts, desires, dreams, decisions, etc., originates from our ‘heart’, not in terms of the physical organ, but by a metaphorical inference. ‘Heart’ is what gives one’s livelihood.  e.g. Home is wherever one’s heart is.

So if our ‘hearts’ are not in the right place, then we will not have the attitude we need for positive behaviors or productive habits to determine our lives. I can reiterate this message to my students till the cows come home, but for some of them, they have very apparent priorities that go the other directions. So in the end of the day, the best that we, as educators, can do is to lead a horse to the water but we cannot make it drink.

... cannot make the horse drink unless it wants to.

… cannot make the horse drink unless it wants to.