August 26, 2014

A Journal of Life: Erin Huizenga at 33rd CreativeMornings in Chicago

At the 33rd gathering of the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings, Erin Huizenga, designer, strategist, and educator, discussed her experiences with “Failure,” CreativeMornings’ global theme for August 2014. Along with the great success that she has achieved through her realized projects—like EPIC, an organization that pairs creative professionals with Chicago-based nonprofits, and the Well Conference for branding agency Remedy, she has experienced resistance and setback in her career. She revealed a to-do, informed over time, that strengthens her:
“To fail forward: To pursue what I believe in”
A method that Huizenga recommended to help cope with defeats, was keeping a journal. She drew(1) the audience in with selected pages from her personal journal. Her emphasis on establishing and maintaining a journal advocated an enduring human need to recount, to translate, to sketch, to doodle, to draw.

Whether in the form of a timeline (above) or a chart (above), Huizenga’s documentation of her experiences with friction, in the company of her triumphs, is a way of claiming her life as it unfolds. She encourages using a journal as part of a “life-enhancing”(2) toolkit. The genesis of much of her work has its roots in journal-keeping.

Huizenga’s talk reminded me of an interview I had published the day before, with Summer Pierre, a cartoonist, writer, and illustrator (in this order). Pierre fills sketchbooks with drawings, prose, and comics—however brittle, dormant, in their tender condition as thoughts. Her sketchbook-keeping is kindred to Huinzenga’s journal-keeping. They’re opportunities to visualize imagination. They’re therapeutic attempts to record disappointment to soothe its inflammation. Both act as a bridge built for reflection, which, at any point, whether explicitly or softly, can fuel liftoff of a new and bright set of circumstances.

The author Ana├»s Nin kept journals over a sixty-year period. Brainpickings’ founder and editor Maria Popova featured Nin’s book “On Writing,” which was adapted from a lecture given at Dartmouth during December, 1946. In the following passage, Nin describes the allure of establishing a journal and persisting its expression:
“…in the Diary I only wrote of what interested me genuinely, what I felt most strongly at the moment, and I found this fervor, this enthusiasm produced a vividness which often withered in the formal work. Improvisation, free association, obedience to mood, impulse, bought forth countless images, portraits, descriptions, impressionistic sketches, symphonic experiments, from which I could dip at any time for material.”
The journal—whether used as a sketchbook or a diary—is a medium for navigating the spaces and times that living digests. What it particularly consumes are the failed scenarios. Huizenga’s first recommendation, of keeping a journal to cope with failure, absorbing it and channeling it, is the first grounded step to guide the other six life-enhancing methods that she prescribed:
Explore what-ifs
Go for it
Give yourself a break
Reframe success
Be grateful
I suspect that Huizenga’s first task of journal-keeping was the most fit start, because it stimulates the record of life by promoting sensitivity to it—being sensitive to what worked and what did not. With the latter, it’s inevitable, but not final. Taking note of failures in one’s journal could turn into stepping stones taken to experience victories, or as Nin put it, “vividness.”

(1) Verb surely intended.

(2) From this quote: “Space travel is life-enhancing, and anything that’s life-enhancing is worth doing. It makes you want to live forever.” Stated by Ray Bradbury, born in Waukegan, Illinois—one of the most celebrated 20th-century American authors. Erin Huizenga’s CreativeMornings/Chicago talk coincided with his birthday: August 22, 1920.

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“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” James Joyce, Author

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Big thanks: to both The Marketing Store—for hosting—and Braintree for sponsoring Chicago CreativeMornings #33; to organizer Kim Knoll and operations manager Kyle Eertmoed of Knoed Creative, who spoke at Chicago CreativeMornings #7, and to the Chicago CreativeMornings crew—Joy Burke, Pedro Carmo, Rusty C. Cook, Benjamin Derico, Erick De La Rosa, Steve Delahoyde, Talia Eisenberg, Chris Gallevo, Keith Mandley, Neftali Morales, Isaac Steiner, Martha Willis—for their volunteer work in making CreativeMornings happen in Chicago.

Especially big thanks: to Tina Roth Eisenberg—Swissmiss—for inventing CreativeMornings in 2008. The fifth chapter was launched in Chicago, June 2011—my write-up and photos.

Read more about the people who make the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings possible.

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My coverage: view more photos of 33rd CreativeMornings in Chicago; read more write-ups about Chicago CreativeMornings.

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2011 was Chicago CreativeMornings’ debut year. Download the entire collection of selected insights.

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