Stories, Musings & The Vision Thing

Tag: vision Page 1 of 3

Elle Luna – On Launching Your Creative Journey

Elle Luna’s creative journey is a touchstone for many eager to find creative expression in their lives. A designer and artist, she’s become somewhat of a creativity guru with her recent book, The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion.

Elle Luna twitter page

Elle Luna from her twitter page

From The Great Discontent site:

I have so much respect for anybody who will step away from what they can do in order to find what they must do. That’s a hallmark characteristic of entrepreneurs and artists. And it’s scary and exciting as all hell.

I’ve read her book and highly recommend it. You’ll find it’s many things: a journal about her struggle to find and express her creative passion – painting, an exploration of roadblocks we erect on the path to creativity, and a guide to discovering and realizing your own creative impulse.

Crossroads book

It’s also surprisingly reasoned – unlike Timothy Leary’s famous call in the 60’s to “turn on, tune in, drop out,” she talks about how issues like time, money and space challenge your ability to transform your life from the world of “should” to the challenge of doing what you “must” to follow your creative passion.


from “The Crossroads of Should and Must”

How did she launch her creative journey and what can we learn from her experience?

Creativity is a process and often, each experience builds on the next. It’s also a jumble of confusion, inspiration, stillness and bursts of activity – all leading to a final outcome. The process can be disciplined or unfocused, spontaneous or meticulously planned in advance – the specifics vary with each person.

photo by Anna Alexia Basile

photo by Anna Alexia Basile

Elle Luna would say it’s a journey that is potentially open to everyone. Here’s her story in brief:

Elle Luna grew up in Texas and came from a long line of lawyers, on her father’s side. She took some art courses in college but saw law as her destiny. She applied to 9 law schools and was rejected by all. So she pursued her early interest in art and got an MFA in design and conceptual storytelling from the Art Institute of Chicago.

Her ability as a storyteller led to a dream job with the design firm IDEO. From there, she helped redesign Uber’s iphone app, won an Innovation by Design award, designed a logo and app for the start-up Mailbox, and helped scale up the storyteller site, Medium. She was 31, at the top of her game but all she accomplished left her feeling unfulfilled.

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 4.40.41 PM

From The Great Discontent:

I started having a recurring dream about a white room: it had really high ceilings, white walls, industrial windows, and concrete floors. I had the dream over and over again. Finally, a friend of mine said, “Have you ever thought about finding this white room in real life?” I remember feeling stunned by the question. What an obvious thing to ask. I didn’t know what I was looking for or what the role of this white room was. I felt ridiculous.

white room

Feeling restless and unfulfilled, she began looking for her dream space.

One day I was on Craigslist and saw a thumbnail of an apartment—it was the room from my dreams. When I walked into the space, it was crawling with people, but I felt like it was already mine. I walked up to the broker, wrote a check, and left; it was almost an out-of-body experience. A couple of hours later I got a call that I had gotten the apartment. 


I had no idea what I was doing, but I showed up in the new apartment with two suitcases and my dog.

her studio2

I sat, looked at the space and said aloud, “What in God’s name have I just done? Why I am I here?” As clear as day, the space spoke back to me and said, “It’s time to paint.”

ike edeani

photo by Ike Edeani

That next morning, I went to the art store and filled my cart with anything and everything that spoke to me. Then I went back to the space and started painting nonstop for the next seven months.

from her tumblr site6

from her tumblr site

Still, she was stuck between should and must – How would she live? How could she support herself? Would her work be any good at all?


photo by Ike Edeani

From an interview from

Shoulds are everywhere. You should read this book. You should go to that event. You should ask that question. They can be small; they can be big. Should provides lots of rewards.

Must is different. It’s about the essence of you: what you believe; what you stand for; what you want; who you must be; and how you must live. Must isn’t always easy. In fact, it can be brutal. But, choosing must is the greatest thing we can do with our time here in this life.

self portrait


She spent time in solitude to slow down, explore, meditate and seek inspiration. She showed her work to people she admired for feedback and criticism. And kept working, refining and following her muse. Her art gained attention – a solo show sold out.

Far From Shore Ian Ross Gallery

Elle Luna’s “Far From Shore” exhibit at the Ian Ross Gallery

From the Great Discontent:

Everything is a paradox. I feel like I’m on a path I’ve never seen before, yet I’m not on a path at all. There’s no prescription for where I’m going, yet many people have been down this road. 

her studio3

In 2014, she wrote on Medium about her struggles and insights into the conflicts between “should” and “must.” Her article went viral. That led to a book and inspirational talks like this one at DO Lectures.


She took a deep dive into painting, plus giving interviews and inspirational talks. This year she felt the need for solitude once again. She decided to take her “white room” on the road.

Elle van2


Here’s a video of that experience, from the Adobe Create site:

Adobe Creative Voices – Elle Luna from ALCHEMYcreative on Vimeo.

More than anything, I’m struck by her courage, curiosity and belief that if she takes time to stop and listen she’ll find a direction forward. It’s exciting and difficult, crazy and illuminating to find your own direction and follow it. When you give yourself to the “must,” you may not become a social media darling but you will be doing something that’s true to yourself. That’s a huge gift in its own right.

Medium.comFrom the Great Discontent:

I began to wonder, “What if we went through life assuming that everyone actually was an artist? That everyone had an offering to give? To share?” Let’s broaden that up a little and ask, “What if everyone has a gift inside of them, a unique gift to give the world?”

If your time is short – read Elle’s article on Medium (15 minutes) or watch her DO talk (30 minutes). If you have some time – buy her richly illustrated book. You’ll feel inspired and realize there are many small steps you can take to launch your own creative journey. She’ll show you how.


Nirvan Mullick’s Perfect Moment

When the perfect moment presents itself, what will you do? Will you let yourself embrace it or let it pass? If you open your arms and take it in, what then?


Nirvan Mullick, photo from the website

Two years ago Nirvan Mullick, a struggling filmmaker, encountered a perfect moment and it changed his life. When I wrote about his experience, I described a moment of serendipity that blossomed into an inspiring story about a boy and his dream, captured in a lovely video that Nirvan created. Now that story has grown in ways unimaginable back then.


Caine Monroy, photo from the website

Here’s how it began: needing a door handle for his car, Nirvan drove to East LA in search of an auto parts store. He ended up at George Monroy’s shop and discovered there George’s nine-year-old son, Caine.

Caine had spent many hours hanging out at his father’s store, constructing an elaborate arcade from the discarded cardboard boxes he found there. Seeing what Caine had created from his imagination was simply amazing. Nirvan could see how much thought, care and creativity Caine put into his arcade, so he just had to stop and play and, in the process, bonded with Caine and his fanciful creation. It was a perfect moment.


Caine’s Arcade, photo from the website

To celebrate  Caine’s arcade and invite others to enjoy it, he launched a flash mob to come, play and cheer Caine on – all captured with Nirvan’s camera. His video, Caine’s Arcade, quickly went viral with over 1 million views just the first day.


Flash mob at Caine’s Arcade, from the website

This probably sounds familiar to you – Caine’s Arcade was an Internet sensation and the story reached TV news stations around the country. I wrote about it in 2012 as did scores of other bloggers and journalists. But as I recently discovered, that was just the first part of the story.

Here’s the original video about Caine’s arcade.

Caine’s Arcade from Nirvan Mullick on Vimeo.

Besides bringing customers to play Caine’s arcade, Nirvan set up a scholarship fund – at this point he’s raised over $240,000 for Caine’s education. But something else happened as well.


Caine with LA Mayor Villaraigosa, from the website


Caine held by Nirvan, Caine’s dad on the right, from the website


Some fans of Caine’s Arcade, from the website

In Huffington Post, Nirvan describes the response to the video:

A community of over 130,000 people connected to Caine’s Arcade on Facebook, and parents started to share photos of new cardboard games that their kids made after watching the film.

It quickly became clear that there were kids like Caine in every community around the world, and the question became: What can we do to foster their creativity as well?


Nirvan and Caine, from the website

Two days after posting the film, we decided to try and start a nonprofit to foster the creativity and entrepreneurship of more kids. The Goldhirsh Foundation believed in our mission, and gave us a $250,000 startup grant to form what has become the Imagination Foundation — this all happened just 5 days after the film went viral. The timely financial support combined with the viral grassroots support of parents and educators, allowed us to transform the momentum of Caine’s Arcade into something that has continued to grow.


from the website

Nirvan created the Imagination Foundation to “foster creativity and entrepreneurship in children around the world.” The Imagination Foundation’s Global Cardboard Challenge and Imagination Chapters have been embraced by children, parents and teachers from all over the globe.

Nirvan, from Huffington Post:

For me, the growth of the Cardboard Challenge is more meaningful than the viral success of the film. It represents more than a passive view; there are thousands of volunteers coming together to organize events for kids around the world.


Cardboard Challenge, from the website


Cardboard Challenge, from the website

Kids have used their cardboard arcades to raise tens-of-thousands of dollars for various charities and local causes. Educators have created design thinking challenges and open-source common core aligned curriculum for kids K-12. And the creativity of the kids continues to inspire.

Nirvan’s second video fills in the details:

Caine’s Arcade 2: From a Movie to a Movement from Nirvan Mullick on Vimeo.

How is Caine doing now? Nirvan:

Caine is now 11 and is in middle school. He is doing great!

The impact on Caine has been profound. Caine’s dad told me that before the film, Caine was behind in reading and that his school considered him “slow” and wanted to hold him back a year. After the film, Caine became a poster child for gifted children everywhere — his grades improved and he even stopped stuttering. Caine began to refer to himself as an engineer and a game designer.


Caine age 11, with Nirvan and his dad

Caine is still a regular kid who loves to work on his bike, play basketball and build things. On his 11th birthday, Caine officially “retired” from running his arcade to focus on middle school and his next big dream — starting a bike shop.

I’d like to return to the questions I asked at the beginning of this post. While Nirvan and Caine’s story has all the elements of a fairytale, there’s something there for us too. Those perfect moments are rare, if we keep our eyes open to the possibilities we’ll be able to recognize them when they appear. The challenge will be to act on them and follow through. So, with Nirvan and Caine as our inspirational guides, the take away is this: when opportunity knocks, open the door.


photo from big Ideas Fest website

Leave a comment and tell me what you think.

What Motivates a Change Artist?

What motivates a change artist? I’m sure part of it is a sense of positive power and a belief that the actions of one person can create change. Perhaps it’s an ability to see things differently than everyone else and a desire to realize that difference. Or maybe it’s just a deeply felt sense of fairness – and outrage when innocent people are hurt. Perhaps for all of these reasons this man, Hong Kong native Deng Fei, is a change artist extraordinaire.

Spanish People Daily

Investigative Journalist Deng Fei – from the Spanish People Daily site

His story starts a few years ago, in rural China.

Tricia Wang3

photo by Tricia Wang

Here’s some background to the problem he tried to solve, by NPR’s Louisa Lim.

For 10-year-old student Xie Xiaoyuan, just getting to school is an ordeal. On a recent day, her frostbitten ears are testament to just how difficult the trip is.

“I get up at five o’clock,” she says, “then I comb my hair and start walking.”

w680a npr site

Xie Xiaoyuan walks to school – from the NPR site

Xie navigates a mountain path in China’s remote Shaanxi province in the dark, trudging through snowstorms and mudslides. Then she has to get a bus for about 10 miles. She hasn’t time to eat breakfast.

“For lunch, I spend 15 cents on two pieces of bread and a drink,” she says.


Xie arrives at school – from the NPR site

For Xie, those two pieces of bread used to be all she ate until dinner at home at 5 p.m. That’s all her family can afford, with their combined income of about $120 a month providing for five people.

w680 npr site2

Xie’s classroom – from the NPR site

Many of her fellow students at Hujiaying primary school in Shaanxi province’s Nanzheng county go hungry every day.

A local group tried to get news organizations to report on the children’s plight.  One of the journalists they contacted was Deng Fei.

from the site

In his mid-thirties, Deng Fei worked for Phoenix Weekly Magazine, written in Hong Kong and distributed on the Mainland. For ten years he investigated and delivered over a hundred articles exploring some of the dark recesses of Chinese society.

He wrote ground-breaking articles about China’s social issues, especially hardships faced by the nation’s women and children. He also published his pieces via his microblog on  – people trusted him and he’d gained a following.

Becoming a Change Artist

Everything ramped up in 2010 – when he became a change artist. Deng had learned that two young women, fighting to keep their home from being expropriated, were on their way to petition the government when they were waylaid by a local official in an airport bathroom and prevented from leaving.


Deng called the young women and started live blogging about their situation. Here’s what happened next, reported by the Christian Science Monitor:

Learning that three of the women’s relatives had set fire to themselves to protest the destruction of their home and that two of them required hospital treatment, he asked people who had followed his live blogging to send him money to pay for the women’s medical care. They did.

Shanghai Daily

Deng Fei – from the Shanghai Daily

“That was when I saw the power of new media to organize and encourage people to do things in line with the public interest and human nature,” he says. “This may change the definition of a journalist.”

“In China you can write articles, but they don’t often change things. We need action, and the government reacts very slowly to social problems.”

Serving Hungry Children

The next year he learned about Xie Xiaoyuan and the many poor rural children who went without lunch at school – drinking cold water to fight off their hunger.

After visiting some schools he realized it was a national problem.

Through his microblog he reached out to his followers, encouraged other reporters to write about the problem and posted pictures of hungry children. Then he did something extraordinary – he left his position with Phoenix Weekly, opened a bank account and asked his Weibo followers to contribute to help feed the kids. The money poured in.

Tricia Wang5

photo by Tricia Wang on location with Deng Fei

He also set up an elaborate system to guarantee transparency and ensure that all of the money he raised went to feed the school children.

Tricia Wang

photo by Tricia Wang on location with Deng Fei

Within six months he’d raised $3.7 million. Each of the 110 schools his charity helps must have their own blog and post details showing how much money they receive and how it’s spent.

China today website

from China Today

The publicity surrounding his efforts spurred the government to get involved, announcing it will spend $2.5 billion to provide a basic lunch to 26 million rural schoolchildren. All because one man took it upon himself to act.


from Focus/Forward Films

Deng Fei’s Story Captured in Video

Deng Fei’s story was captured in a video from GE’s Focus/Forward films. The video images of children baking potatoes illustrate what served for a meal for many of China’s rural schoolchildren before the free school lunch program was set up. As you’ll see, the video is well constructed and celebrates Deng Fei as a change artist.

Operation Free Lunch | Lixin Fan from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

I found Lixin Fan‘s video very powerful –  fast moving, well shot and edited, the images very compelling and the portrayal of Deng very heroic. But it makes me a little uneasy, as if the filmmaker edited the story to put forward his own political point of view – touting the journalist as the lone figure standing up to government ineptitude. In emotional tone, the visual portrayal of Deng Fei reminds me of a political candidate’s biopic.


filmmaker Lixin Fan from the Eyesteelfilm site

Visually and emotionally, I was moved by the piece and found the images of Deng Fei in the city, standing alone as the great man, very heroic. I’m sure it took some effort by filmmaker Lixin Fan to find a spot where he could portray Deng as the lone hero standing out from the crowd. It’s powerful filmmaking and a theme familiar to Western ears and eyes. But is there a little too much emphasis on Deng as heroic figure and too little on his motivation to make a better world?  I’m not sure – perhaps there’s something important here that’s lost in translation or misinterpreted on my side of the cultural divide.

What Motivates a Change Artist?

But either way, I certainly don’t want to diminish what Deng Fei was able to accomplish. I salute him for his courage to make a difference. Perhaps in the end, that’s what makes a change artist, the need to act and make the world a better place.

byLouisa Lim

from the NPR site

Deng Fei, from China Today:

“It brings me a warm glow of accomplishment. Having previously had limited influence on readers and society as a journalist, I find microblogs are an effective tool for mobilizing people and accumulating resources to solve problems. China has no lack of writers, but what it needs is people who take action.”

So what do you think? Share your thoughts and leave a comment.

Capitalizing on Capitalism


Otto Engineering, photo from their site

What comes to mind when you think about capitalism? Innovation, creativity, entrepreneurism? Or something concerned more with profit than people? Like most things in life, it depends on how you look at it. While Hollywood makes lots of money railing against evil businessmen, there is definitely another side to the story.

Christopher Hankins Daily Herald

Otto Engineering factory site by Christopher Hankins Daily Herald

Personally, I get interested when entrepreneurs show a driving vision to make something out of nothing. At its best, their brand of capitalism gives us hope that tomorrow might be better than today. Not just because they provide services or make things. But because some entrepreneurs think that what they’re doing should not just benefit themselves, but also help their community, their customers and the people they employ. In the old days, you might say they were out to serve the greater good.

If this sounds too blue sky, meet one hard-nosed manufacturer who is definitely making a difference – Tom Roeser.

CNN Money site

Otto Engineering President Tom Roeser, from the CNN Money site

Do you believe in altruism? On the face of it, what Tom Roeser is doing flows from a sense of self-interest. He has a company – he wants his company to thrive – and what he’s doing for the town is also helping his company grow.

What is he doing? Because more than 10% of his town’s homes have been foreclosed and abandoned, he’s buying the most dilapidated houses, fixing them up and selling or renting them – at below market rate.

Michael Smart Sun-Times Media

photo by Michael Smart Sun-Times Media

Pretty unusual for a businessman, you might say. But his factory is profitable – and those profits give him the capital to invest. His goal is to break even, recoup his expenses and reinvest to renovate more distressed homes. That way, his town’s housing problems won’t be a blight on his factory’s future. That’s why he decided to take action.

Here’s a news piece from CNN Money, published April 2, 2013.

Often, innovation comes from need. When Roeser first tried to get help for the problem, he was rebuffed:

“I went to the town, the county; I went to Habitat for Humanity; I told them that we needed to do something about this neighborhood. I couldn’t get help from anybody.”

So he went forward on his own. His initial thought was to rent and sell the homes at a reduced rate to his employees. Which he did.

“The plumbers make money, the electricians make money, everybody makes money and the people get a new home at cost. I come out of it whole.”

His efforts have become a catalyst for revitalizing the town’s neighborhoods. When he renovates a home it inspires other owners to fix up their homes, too. Crime has gone down, he’s planning to renovate some commercial buildings in town and last year the county received a $1.5 million grant to fund other neighborhood stabilization projects.

Paul D'Amato NYT

photo by Paul D’Amato, NYT

What’s he like as a factory owner? A few years ago Alex Kotlowitz, a NYT reporter, spent some time with him:

Nearly half of Otto’s 502 employees are Hispanic, and Roeser insists that they learn English. Prospective hires must first pass a language test. He requires supervisors to give instructions in English.

Still, he has a full-time instructor to teach English to his employees; they won’t receive a pay raise until they become more fluent. Add to that this observation by Kotlowitz:

 Roeser takes great pride in his relationship with his employees. Most call him by his first name. Each year, he gives them a picnic, and at the one I attended earlier this summer, Roeser knew the name of just about all the employees there, as well as their spouses.

Whether you see him as patronizing or patriotic, selfish or sympathetic, Tom Roeser has gone to a great deal of effort to make a difference in his community.

I like knowing that he’s multi-dimensional. Regardless how the media likes to portray it, we don’t really live in an either/or world. Rather, many contradictory things are true at the same time. So whether Tom Roeser is motivated by altruistic or selfish reasons, in the final analysis I think what he’s accomplished is quite remarkable.


photo from the Homes by Otto site

What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know.

Page 1 of 3