Last week, my six-year-old granddaughter Zoe came for five days. It was my great pleasure to take her to see Mystere, her first Cirque du Soleil show. For the next three days, the music from the show played whenever we were in the car and Zoe recalled (perfectly) what scene each song accompanied.

The rest of her visit was filled with lots of art projects. This is obviously a girl who gets up in the morning asking herself, “What can I make today?”

On Saturday morning she begged for a return visit to Michael’s for more supplies. I relented because I’m that kind of grandmother. She surprised me by selecting a white mask and a bag of feathers.

As soon as we got home Zoe sat down with my 20 Years Under the Sun book, a history of Cirque’s first two decades. After studying the pictures, she set up her studio on my dining room table and began painting and decorating the mask.

While she worked I was puttering in the kitchen so she gave me updates on her progress. She said, “I want this kind of like Cirque, but it’s going to have me in it too.”

“That’s called inspired by,” I said. “Your mask is inspired by Cirque du Soleil, but it’s not a copy.” I explained a little bit more about what “inspired by” means.

That got me thinking about all the times I’ve been “inspired by” myself. Paradoxically, part of the creative process comes from being an enthusiastic spectator.

And we needn’t limit our spectating only to activities or enterprises that are like our own.

I have no desire to create theatrical experiences, but Cirque du Soleil inspires me. I’m fascinated by their commitment to finding the perfect balance between business and creativity.

Entrepreneurs and other creative types are constantly seeking inspiration, of course. This causes them to pay attention and be on the alert at all times because experience has shown them that inspiration can arrive at any time.

After watching Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, my sister Margaret posted a photo of her latest creation with this explanation:This is what happens when I watch Marilyn Monroe get married in the movies: a little hat made of pleated satin with a voluptuous, hand-made chiffon rose and a wisp of tulle.”

That, of course, is the lovely thing about inspiration. It begets more inspiration.

But only if we’re paying attention. Or as Mary Pipher says, “Inspiration is very polite. She knocks softly and goes elsewhere if we don’t answer.”

There was a small hotel I stayed at on several visits to London. It was within walking distance of Victoria Station and in a nieghborhood filled with bed and breakfast places and all sorts of little shops.

After a day of sightseeing, I’d often stop at the corner convenience store to buy a magazine or some Cadbury’s. The same man stood in the same spot behind the same counter (probably wearing the same clothes), with the same stony expression on his face—year after year.

Frequently, I’d  leave the store pondering such a life. I can barely imagine going to the same place at the same time and having the same experiences day after day after day. That’s a death sentence for the creative spirit and breeding ground for all sorts of negativity.

I also know that it’s an unquestioned way of life for many people. I was reminded of that the other day when a friend told me about a woman she’d met who said that the best thing about her job was that she didn’t have to learn anything. That’s not my idea of a job benefit. 

There are, of course, many ways to keep from evolving forward. For instance, there’s a man I know who seems to have formed all his opinons about life at the age of eleven and has spent the last thirty years looking for evidence to support those beliefs.

Consequently, his philosophy of life includes such things as people can’t be trusted, if something can go wrong it will, and so on and so forth. He’s quite certain about the correctness of his beliefs and determined to keep proving them. Needless to say, he’s a grumpy old man in a middle-aged man’s body. He doesn’t laugh very often, either, I’ve noticed.

Although I don’t hear it so much anymore, when I lived in the Midwest, I often heard people defend their limiting notions by saying, “I wasn’t raised that way.”  My (unspoken) reaction to that was, “You wouldn’t wear your mother’s clothes, would you?  Why are you wearing her outdated beliefs?”

We don’t need to trap ourselves behind the counter of a convenience store in order to be trapped in a world without discovery and adventure. Yes, I understand that limiting beliefs are often fueled by fear and self-doubt, but if we don’t challenge our assumptions, look at other perspectives, we stay stuck in certainties that may not bear any resemblance to the truth.

Opening our hearts and minds to a bigger world, a world where ideas flourish, where people are spreading joy, is absolutely essential if we’re ever to discover who we are and what we can become.

It’s no coincidence that the motto of the wildly successful Cirque du Soleil is, “We must evolve.” If we don’t take that challenge, we stay stuck in the Twentieth Century while the adventurers are blazing new trails.

Quite simply, we can’t make it better by keeping everything the same.


Every Friday morning, I wake up to a mailing from the folks at Prairie Home Companion. My favorite part is always The Old Scout’s essay and this week’s is worth passing along. Garrison Keillor is hanging out with the college crowd. You may want to eavesdrop.

Monday was a National Day of Service and Seth Godin offered 18 creative service ideas that could be a worthwhile way to spend some time whenever you’d like to offer it.

For the past several years, Kiplinger’s magazine has run an annual feature called What $1000 Can Do. Every issue has been filled with ideastarters ranging from be a philanthropist to save energy with a front-loading washer. Although these usually appear in August, you can see previous $1000 roundups online. 

If you’re new to Twitter (or not new, but still perplexed) there’s some terrific info on TwiTip including a helpful piece called 7 Ways to Be Worth Following on Twitter

Everyone who’s been around me knows that I’m a passionate fan of Cirque du Soleil. Besides their breathtaking shows, I’m also a fan of their philosophy of merging business and art. The first Cirque show I ever saw was O and I love it so much that I’ve returned five times. Naturally,  I was excited to hear that Dave Taylor had written about his behind-the-scenes experience (complete with photos) at O.   It’s a rare glimpse into the support system behind the awe.

In case you missed it, take a look at Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher’s I Pledge video. Then create your own pledge and say it out loud. 

I’ve also been alerting everyone to Rick Steve’s briliant PBS program on Iran. It’s running throughout the country now and into February. If your local station has yet to show it, make a point to see it. It’s a stunner.

When I made my first visit to Austin, TX after my daughter moved there, I wrote about some of the fun and funky businesses there. The new issue of Budget Travel magazine echoes my enthusiasm in their 25 Reasons We Love Austin. 

Stop and Kiss, the fun card game for couples, is offering free love coupons you can download from their Website just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Finally, I know there were more great ideas floating around this week, but I’m on a really tight deadline to finish the updated version of Making a Living Without a Job so that’s currently taking over my life. It’s only temporary, I believe.

It has taken me three decades to unlearn the impulse to be practical.  Just imagine what you might have accomplished if only you’d been encouraged to honor your creative reveries as spiritual gifts. ~ Sarah Ban Breathnach