In an attempt to figure out what I might like for Christmas, my sister Susy sent me a list of fun, oddly brilliant gift ideas I would never have thought of:

-cable tv subscriptions for premium channels
-night vision binoculars or goggles
-flash paper to make sparks fly from your hands
-devices to measure volume, area, distance in rooms
-an assortment of thrift store oddity books (ventriloquism, etc.)
-a Flip 60-minute mini camera w/usb
-a cheese-stick sized recorder that transfers voice files to your computer
-a telescope to view the stars from your apartment
-a voice synthesizer that makes you sound like a man on the phone

I’d like any one of these gifts (though am curiously compelled by the flash paper).

Susy is an incredibly imaginative person. A few years ago, she re-invented herself. She used to be a “writer-performer”, that is, she acted, did stand-up comedy and performance pieces and wrote for Saturday Night Live. Now she works at the University of Washington Foster School of Business coaching faculty and students on communication and presentation skills. “Teaching Associate/Communication Coach” doesn’t begin to describe what she does, which is to help people say what they really mean and put their best self forward. I asked her to describe her job:

“What I really am is artist-in-residence in a business school, or a creative consultant. I work with and for just about any body that needs help at the school. Bottom line, I’m probably a dramaturg. This great word has been appropriated (like everything else) by management science (Goffman, et al) but it means someone who understands the organization’s goals, its narrative style and helps individual players stay on track without losing their own voice via questions that make them be specific. In the process fears and great hidden content emerges.”

The process that took her from “writer-performer” to “Teaching Associate/ Communications Coach” is a story in itself but I can tell you this much: When she set out from acting – leaving the thing she’d done for years – she had no idea she’d be doing what she does today. She followed one thing, and that led to another, and another: she started teaching acting to actors, then did workshops for anybody who had something they wanted to write or do or create (including a few terminally ill people) …and discovered she was good at it. She took some classes with forward-thinking business people…and talked to a lot of people…and one thing just led to another…

My sister’s Christmas gift list reminds me of the quality she has, that anybody who is seriously shifting gears has to have: imagination for possibilities a lot of people don’t think of, and a willingness to be open, to try new things…see what resonates…and follow the path as it unfolds up ahead…

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4 replies on “oddly brilliant gifts + following your own odd brilliance

  1. Love the list. Comments and questions:

    1. Flash paper is great stuff, but be careful. It explodes in your face, more or less, and just heat is enough to set it off. Bookies use it to tally bets on because if the cops show up — poof! No more evidence.

    2. Binoculars are far better than telescopes for looking at the stars.

    3. Can you combine the ventriloquism with the voice synthesizer, film yourself and your goggle-wearing dummy with the flash paper using the Flip, then transfer all to your computer using the cheese stick? It could all go onto a cable TV premium channel….

  2. I heard you on an archived “The Splendid Table” last night and was led to your website today. Thank you so much for this post. I am shifting gears myself, and your last paragraph are really wise and exciting words to me.

  3. Maggie, thank you for your words and WELCOME to ‘the improvised life’. I hope you will find lots of inspiration and encouragement for your ‘shifting of gears’ which is so important and so much part of life (and which we are all doing here…)

  4. Dear Mr. Thunderbelly. Is your true name Wild Man? Thank you for the helpful info. Please let us know if you actually do that combo-platter.

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