I have been taking a MOOC, a massive open online course, offered by MIT Media Lab. Every Monday morning, along with, like, 24,000 people, I listen to a lecture and chat on a back channel about creativity.

Last week, Alan Kay, one of the founders of the personal computer, was a guest lecturer.

The subject of that class was BIG ideas.

On a Google Plus side conversation, I went off on a tangent and found this link Steven Johnson: Where good ideas come from.

“An idea is a network,” Johnson said. And this: “Chance favors the connected mind.”

I love that MOOCs spark serendipity and digressions. MOOCs are a means to an end but they are not the end. MOOCs also must ignite  real life encounters.

I dig Johnson’s TED talk for he values the coffee house vibe and the slow brewing nature of good ideas. Good ideas are not a sudden AHA! Good ideas slow cook. Good ideas need many cooks to throw in stuff for the soup.

Good ideas need to get together, face to face, to ferment. I signed up for this MIT media lab with Mitchel Resnick because a real life friend Emily Miller recommended it. Honestly, I’d probably get even more out of it if I met people face to face to discuss the big ideas.

In my own way, I am doing that, trying to make IRL face time creative ideas happen. I’m putting together a slew of writing workshops and weekend retreats.

My next afternoon workshop is The Story of Your Life in Jamaica Plain, Boston, on Sunday, March 24th, 1 to 4:30 pm. ($25 registration fee goes to the food pantry.)

P.S. Here are a couple of pics of my afterschool creativity students. They took on a project I learned about on the MOOC —  the spaghetti challenge!

Given 20 pieces of spaghetti, a bit of tape, and a bit of string, how tall could they make their structure and top it off with the marshmallow? You can see how kids feel pride when they make stuff and are encouraged to be creative and playful.

And you can see how the girls won the challenge! Girl power!



our backyard tree

I loved climbing the tree to my platform. You climbed up three bricks of wood nailed into the trunk to get to the spot. I think one of my brothers and my father had nailed that platform into the V-shaped gap about 12 feet up. I sat on a two-foot by two-foot piece of wood, my platform.

To be an artist or a writer, I’ve wondered if it’s necessary to be an outsider.

This is Central Park a couple of weeks ago after the beautiful snow storm. There is nothing so beautiful as Central Park after it snows.
This is Central Park a couple of weeks ago after the beautiful snow storm. There is nothing so beautiful as Central Park after it snows. (It doesn’t have to do with the post, but isn’t it pretty?)

From the platform in the tree, I could be on the margins of our big suburban house, not far from the action. But far enough away to be alone.

Having three brothers, all around my age, I was the only girl for many years, I was, at times, lonely, different, misunderstood.

There was no way a tree could misunderstand me. The tree was simply a tree, asking for nothing. I appreciated the non-judgmental nature of a tree.

I had sinus headaches regularly. The pediatrician took pinpricks on my arm weekly, until he, a George Castanza kind of guy, determined that I was allergic to mold and dust; trees and grass. I was especially allergic to Oak and Elm, the two kinds of trees in our suburban Chicago yard.

I rarely climbed the backyard tree as I got older and started high school. Instead, I hung out in the kitchen of our next-door neighbor Mrs. Zimmer. She administered my weekly allergy shots. We talked a lot. I felt understood. I remember once we talked about Zoroastrianism.

I liked our backyard tree; I liked my adult friend; I liked relief from my sinus headaches.