enjoy the satisfaction only a guillotine can provide



On a chilly Friday afternoon, Kaia and I made art cards as a Slow Learning project.

The intention: Take something precious, like a painting or a drawing you’ve made, and chop it to pieces.

Our process:

1. Create a painting on card stock. (Better yet, find a drawing or painting that you once thought was something special.)

2. Take the painting to my favorite art tool: the almighty guillotine-style paper cutter.  Turn the card image-side down (you want to be surprised later) and prepare to chop to a uniform dimension (I like trading card dimension, 2 1/2″ by 3 1/2″ because they fit so nicely in the little plastic sleeves you can buy at hobby stores)

3. Execute.

4. Try not to cut your fingers off. (The next step is much harder if you do.)

5. Turn the cards over and see the beauty that emerges.

I’m always taken by how clever the compositions of my new-found paintings are when I chop them up at random.

Kaia pointed out that the framing of the trees outside by the windows reminded him of the framing made by the paper cutter.

Framing, it seems, is everything.

What do we do with our cards now?  Read about my card obsession in an earlier post.

It’s all in the cards

Slow learning sometimes gets ugly.

As I dig into a project, I often lose my way. Thoughts meander, new inspirations distract, themes overlap and diverge, metaphors expand and collide. Old wayward ideas have lusty affairs with hot young ideas. Best intentions reproduce, argue, cheat on past commitments, align with other inspirations and have messy seconds with other thoughts from other thinkers. My own thoughts battle with my own ideas.

Like any slow learner, it’s easy for me to get lost in my own learning.

I’ve found a cheap and effective power tool to help me find my way back.

I started using cards to organize thoughts about ten years ago while editing my meandering memoir, Looks Like Howard. I had written a lovely mass of loosely tangled vignettes. From this mess, I wanted to interweave a number of themes and nonlinear timelines into a narrative that would make sense. To do this, I used cards.

I distilled each story, theme, and idea to a single word or phrase that I wrote on a card. Then, I shuffled the cards around in about a thousand different ways until I found a sequence that would tell the story I wanted to tell. Without the cards, I don’t think I would have ever completed the project.

I soon found that cards are more than a tool for organizing writing. Cards can be magic.

I’ve used cards to

  • Collect bits of thought and information
  •  Ask interview questions (interviewees are given a card with one word topic printed on each card, and they choose which they’d like to talk about)
  • Organize thoughts and bits of information
  • Give as business cards
  • Inspire improvised movement
  • Trade as a collaborative cultural performance: Artist trading cards
  • Transform ordinary to-do lists and reminders to something inspirational
  • Tell me what to do next

Why Cards?  Why not something else? Unlike digital screen images, or –heaven forbid–sticky notes, handmade cards become a durable, physical, tangible artifact. I can hold them in my hand, put them in my pocket, shuffle them, lay them out, give them away.

I play with various plans and structures and maps. Sure, I could do this on the computer, but with the cards somehow it’s more fun.

When I make my own cards, I find the small format forces me to distill information, inspiration, and ideas to their essence. Plus I get to play with art supplies.

Who else is using cards?

Everybody, it seems. To list a few:

Dave Gray and his people at XPlane

Maya Design

Howard Gardner and Friends: the GoodWork Toolkit

Value Sensitive Design Research Lab

Tom Atlee and the Group Pattern Language Project

Centre for Nonviolent Communication

And then, everybody and her sister seems to be making her own goddessy tarot deck or something like it for divination and fortune telling.

The point is, the cards are so powerful,  I’d like to share my process of creating a personal deck for your slow learning journey with you.

And so, I’m offering this workshop,

It’s All in the Cards

 A session of  convivial art-making as we share the stories of our learning.

Why: to create a personal deck as a tool for use in planning for slow learning.

Where: My home studio in Liberty Village, Toronto

What to bring: I will be sharing my art supplies.
You can bring collage materials, paper artifacts to include in collages,
Your favorite art supplies if you don’t want to use my cheap ones.

When: By appointment. Expect to spend at least 3 hours.

If interested in attending this workshop, or for more information contact Patricia at Kambitsch dot com.

Haunted by the Zeigarnik Effect

Bluma Zeigarnk sitting at her desk. (Looks like she's disappointed in you. Was it something you did? Knowing you, it's probably something you left undone.)

When I first heard about the Zeigarnik Effect, it was an accident. I was browsing the Internet looking for some silly fact or other when I saw the words, “Zeigarnik Effect.”  Hmmm. That looks interesting, I thought, but then I soon returned to my mindless browsing.

While I was wading through the wastelands of the World Wide Web, checking in on Facebook, and Googling myself, I began feeling  troubled and anxious. Something just wasn’t right. I wondered: What is the Zeigarnik Effect? Who was this Zeigarnik person? I must find out.

The suspense of not knowing the answers about this mysterious Zeigarnik nagged at me so much that I looked her up. Turns out Bluma Zeigarnik was a Russian experimental psychologist who was interested in helping people to increase effectiveness in their work. So she did a bit of experimenting with people and asked them about their anxieties and worries about finishing things.

Zeigarnik’s work suggests that people remember what is incomplete or unfinished better than something that is all wrapped up nice and neat.  By nature, it seems, humans yearn to finish things. That’s why hearing part of a familiar song will leave you wanting to remember the rest of lyrics, and why the cliff hanger device used in a TV series is so effective.

Here’s how you can get the pesky Zeirgarnik Effect to work for you.

  1. Start something and don’t finish it.  Go ahead, let your inner Zeigarnikian pester and heckle you .  Eventually you will complete the project, but not until you allow the incompletion of it mellow, ferment, froth, and bubble and fill you with dissatisfaction that turns into disgust that turns into desire to just get it over with. All the pent up frustration and desire will thrust and burst you forward into greater achievement and higher levels of accomplishment.
  1. Break up your workday with moments whereby you do things other than work. When you are studying or writing or working on something that you want to remember later, resist the urge to work on it until you are done. The Zeigarnik Effect predicts that you will remember more if you give your brain a little incompletely digested grist for its mill, cud for its gut.  So, study until you almost have it, then go out and go for a walk, do some yoga, watch another episode of Battlestar Galactica, reorganize your seed catalogues, make a Marmite sandwich. Oh, heck, just go outside and play. Your brain will love you for it.
  1. And when  you are trying to get someone to fall in love with you, make sure you leave a little information missing from time to time. As my dear Grandma, Elizabeth Kronenberger, said of spouses: “They don’t need to know everything.” I used to think that meant that it was okay to be deceitful, but now I realize it was simply her clever way of keeping relationships fresh and Grandpa interested.
  2. And then, at long last, when you grow tired of that special someone and it’s not them, it’s you, and you’re ready to move on to greener pastures and you want to do other things and people, and they’re just not getting that it’s time to move on, you can do this: You can start to sing an obnoxious song, one they know well, say for example:

And he will raise you up

On Eagles Wings

Bear you on the breath of Dawn

Make you to ….”

And then stop. Go no further. Soon the song will be implanted firmly in your former loved one’s unwitting head and the Zeigarnik Effect will begin to work its magic. His or her brains will be tormented by trying to remember and complete the rest of the obnoxious song.  Alas, he or she will not be able to get that damned song out of  his or her brains. Do this repeatedly, if not continually, until the brains of the object of your disaffection associates YOU with the obnoxious song.  Soon you will be free from this person forever, free to move on and plant your seed in the hills of those proverbial greener pastures.