Five Steps to Making Creativity Possible

“Telling people how to be creative is easy.  It’s only being it that’s difficult.” – John Cleese

What is Creativity?

Most often I associate creativity with inspiration, to be so affected by something or someone that creativity is born from it.  You probably know creative people or are familiar with creative people.  Were they inspired, or is their creativity innate?  When I think of creative people, most often I think of artists, poets, and musicians; or engineers, architects, and scientists.  In reality, creativity exists in all fields, not just the sciences and the arts.

I often associate creativity with brilliance; with a combination of intelligence and talent.  But creativity is neither of those things.  When you think about creating something – a painting, a song, a poem, a blueprint, a novel, a concerto, a website, a blog post, or a solution to a problem at work – what are you doing?  Do you patiently think about the subject as long as time will allow?  Or are you trying to come up with a quick solution to a problem?  Are you trying to produce or create something original?  Just what is creativity?  Can creativity be explained?

Let’s start with a Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (1981) definition:

Creativity:  1: the quality of being creative; 2: the ability to create

Hmm…that wasn’t very helpful.  (I realize I should probably get an updated dictionary, but the definition remains unchanged on Webster’s website.)

Creativity is a Way of Operating

When I started to research creativity, I found John Cleese (of Monty Python fame).  He is a student and a speaker on the subject of creativity.  Relying on the late University of California at Berkeley Psychology Professor, Dr. Donald McKinnon’s, theories about creativity, Cleese makes the following observations:

“Creativity is not a talent…It is a way of operating…It is not an ability that you either have or do not have…It is…absolutely unrelated to I.Q.”   So, it is not innate and it has nothing to do with talent or intelligence.

If that assumption is true, that two people of equal I.Q. can be given the same problem to solve, why is it that one person will come up with a decidedly more creative solution than the other person?  Could it be how playful you are willing to be?  According to Cleese:

“McKinnon showed that the most creative [people] had simply acquired a facility for getting themselves into a particular mood -  a way of operating that allowed their natural creativity to function…an ability to play…being childlike…For they were able to play with ideas, to explore them; not for any immediate practical purpose, but just for enjoyment.”

Do you enjoy playing with ideas?  How do you approach problems and situations?  Cleese’s lecture (the source for this blog post) was directed toward business people, but these concepts are not limited to the work environment.

People Operate in One of Two Modes

Cleese says that people operate or function at work in one of two modes – open and closed.  Most of the time, people are in the closed mode; an active, slightly anxious mode; a mode lacking humor; in which we are very purposeful, and in which we can get stressed.  The open mode is more relaxed, expansive, less purposeful, and more contemplative; it is more inclined to humor and more playful.

“Creativity is not possible in the closed mode…We need to be in the open mode when we are pondering a problem, but once we come up with a solution, we must switch to the closed mode to implement it.”  Once you make a decision, you must follow through with it without doubt.  Then you can evaluate whether or not your plan was a success, and move forward from there.

It sounds like creativity allows for mistakes to be made.  Is that the type of culture we currently live in?  Are we encouraged in school or work to try something to see if it works?  There is very little wiggle room with standardized testing in education and deadlines in the workplace for experimenting with ideas.  Cleese states that most of us operate in the closed mode.  My opinion is that we aren’t usually given the freedom to do otherwise.

5 Steps to Creativity

“There are certain conditions which do make it more likely that you will get in the open mode, and that something creative will occur…You need five things:  1. Space; 2. Time; 3. Time; 4: Confidence; 5: Humor.”

Cleese says that you must create an oasis for yourself that consists of space and time for creativity to happen.  It is important that you have a time when you will not be interrupted.  Because it takes some time to actually relax and stop thinking about things that need to be done (about a half hour); you should allow at least an hour and a half.  After that, you need a break.  Of course, there are no guarantees that anything creative will happen, only that you are making it possible to get into an open “playful” mode, so that it might.

Here is a brief description of each of the five steps:

1. Space.  The idea of space means that you need to get away from your usual pressures.  You must make a quiet space where you will be undisturbed.

2.  Time.  Time refers to a specific moment when your space starts and a specific moment when your space stops.

These first two steps have to do with setting boundaries.  Once you have established boundaries of space and time, then what?

3.  Time – again.  Ponder and defer.  This has to do with how to use the time you have created for your space-time oasis.  This is about thinking, and allowing your unconscious mind to work.  McKinnon discovered that creative people stuck with a problem and the discomfort of not having a solution.  They tolerate the tension of not having a solution for a longer amount of time than less creative people.  They don’t feel the need to come up with a quick decision.  It seems this is has to do with pondering and deferring the decision until it must be made.  Give your mind as long as possible to come up with something original.

4. Confidence.  Nothing will stop creativity like the fear of making a mistake.  You cannot be playful if you are frightened of being wrong.  You have to take risks.  “When you’re being creative, nothing is wrong” (as in right versus wrong).

5. Humor.  It gets us from the closed mode to the open mode faster than anything else.  Humor is an essential part of creativity, no matter how serious a problem you might be trying to solve.

Once you are in the open mode, you must keep gently bringing your mind back to the subject at hand.  Keep your mind resting against the subject in a friendly, but persistent way.  Put in the pondering time.


Can creativity really be that easy?  Create an oasis.  Sit and ponder.  Defer decision making until the last possible moment.  Don’t be afraid of making mistakes.  Laugh!

I don’t know about you, but I rarely never sit in one place for an hour and a half to just think and contemplate.  I am almost always doing something.  My husband is very creative.  He is a great ponderer, and I often grow frustrated while he takes time to examine a problem or situation and give it his full consideration.  I never really thought about how this relates to creativity.  In my misguided ideas about creativity, I think I believed that creativity just happens; that original ideas spontaneously materialize in one’s mind.  You know, some people are creative and others are not so lucky.  I hadn’t really given thought to the process; that in order to be creative, it is important to construct a personal oasis of space and time, to shut out the pressing and seemingly urgent responsibilities of daily life and allow yourself to become open.  Creativity is a way of operating.

I don’t think that this theory of creativity is the last word, but it is an interesting concept that differed from my thoughts about creativity.  It is a subject that I think is worth exploring some more in future posts.

© Robin Tjernagel
Crime and Literature
Real Life and Life Imagined

I am back from a wonderful and fun couple of days with my daughter and grandson.  They were visiting us in our new (temporary) home.  After waking early two mornings with a 2-year-old, it took me two days to recover – catch up on my sleep.  It was worth it!  My grandson helped us find a great little Italian restaurant (the first one, Nunzio’s, didn’t have pizza, but Villa Barone did). It might be our new favorite place.  Everyone had great food.  And my grandson also got me to play X-box.  Uh-oh, who knew that was so much fun?  My husband might have some competition for game time :)

Source – John Cleese’s 1991 Lecture on Creativity (36 minutes):

Another Cleese video on Creativity (10 minutes):

John Cleese’s Business Website:



What the FBI has to Say about Posting Your Photos Online – What Exactly Are You Sharing?

This is my weekend crime post.  (I am visiting with family so I am not sure if I will be in touch for a couple of days.)

As a continuing conversation about posting pictures online, I thought I would share what the F.B.I. (Federal Bureau of Investigation) has to say on the matter.  Have you ever really considered what information you might be sharing when you post your pictures online?  The above photo shows how latitude and longitude data is contained in a photo’s metadata.

A while ago, I wrote a blog article about posting pictures of your children online.  If you recall, I shared about a couple of mothers whose children’s photos were grabbed and used for illicit purposes.  Also, author James Steyer stated that if you are going to share those adorable pictures of your little ones, “make sure your privacy settings are very carefully restricted.”  He pointed out that you are creating a ‘digital footprint’ for your child that is permanent.

According to the F.B.I.:

[Y]ou might unwittingly be letting others know where you live and work and your travel patterns and habits.  These details can be revealed through bits of information embedded in images taken with smartphones and some digital cameras and then shared on public websites.  The information, called metadata, often includes the times, dates, and geographical coordinates (latitude and longitude) where images are taken. *

What that means is that criminals can use the metadata information attached to your photos to plot your location.  That also means that they can track the location of your children – possibly to your home or your neighborhood.  Do you have a teenager with a smartphone?  Just think of all the images they take and share.  Stalkers and predators are able to use metadata with online maps to find out where images originate – and many images are being posted in real time.  But even if it isn’t in real time, the information allows predators and other criminals to notice patterns that will help them learn your daily routines and find you right where you live.  Frightening stuff.

The good news is that many social networking sites strip the metadata in order to protect their users.  If you share images online, check to see if your metadata is being stripped by either the social networking site, your photo imaging site, or your blog hosting site.  Just how is your metadata handled?  As for your phone:  Kevin Gutfleish, head of the Innocent Images Intelligence Unit in the F.B.I.’s Cyber Division, suggests checking your phone’s ‘options’ or ‘settings’, as well as any applicable mobile applications, to see if you are sharing location information.  Check your defaults.

The F.B.I. is simply trying to make people aware of the potential danger of the hidden information in your photographs.  If you don’t want to share your location, there are ways to strip metadata, whether you use a smartphone or a camera.  First, find out if the location information is being captured on your images.  You can do this on your device, by going to the photo and using your Menu options.  If that doesn’t work, you can check the images on your computer.

For Windows, right click your photo, and select Properties, Details tab, and then scroll down to check the GPS section.

For Mac, open the image in Preview, click Tools, Inspector tab, and go to the GPS section.

If you find your location information stored on your images, possibly as latitude and longitude, you can remove it before putting your images online for the world to see.  There is software that will allow you to edit or remove location information.  There are also apps for the iPhone and Android that will let you remove the information.  One way to help protect your child (and yourself) is to protect your privacy.  Don’t let criminals have an opportunity to take advantage of your metadata.

© Robin Tjernagel
Crime and Literature
Real Life and Life Imagined


Asian Tiger Mosquito – Aedes Albopictus

I had a great visit with my brother and his family today.  My niece, Callie’s, swim team competed at a nearby pool.  She swam a great race!  Then we headed back to my house for some lunch – inside, even though we have a great porch.  Here’s why:

My sister-in-law:  Your legs look like something from a horror movie.

Me:  Mosquito bites.

I have so many bites that I look like I have been attacked by something quite horrid, and I have!

Meet my new neighbor – the Asian Tiger Mosquito.  These mosquitoes are very aggressive and they are happy to bite you all day long.  That’s right, they will bite you during the day and at night, but their favorite time is early morning and late afternoon.  Trust me, they bite all day long.  If they are showing a preference, it is for my arms and legs. They also prefer some people more than others. Me, again!

Tiger mosquitoes are a non-native species of mosquito, but they are rapidly spreading across the United States.  They only need ¼ inch of water to lay eggs and complete the life cycle of 5 to 10 days.  These mosquitoes will use anything that catches a tiny bit of water to lay their eggs.  We killed a nest that took up residence in a grill.  But we know we have more.  And they are not happy to stay outside; they try to sneak in the house every chance they get.  I even found one in the refrigerator.

Mosquitoes have some natural predators, such as song birds, bats, and frogs, but I don’t have enough of them to fight off the huge population hanging out in my garden and trees.  Even the screen porch isn’t safe.

What choices do I have?  Deet?  Poison, but it works.  Let them bite me?  Disease carriers – like West Nile Virus and encephalitis, to name a couple.  Expensive mosquito trappers?  I like it, but I don’t think it is a practical choice since this isn’t my permanent residence.  Spray pesticides?  Unfortunately, we had to use one to kill the nest in the grill.

Tiger mosquitoes use visual cues to find food. All mosquitoes (including the tiger) are attracted to carbon dioxide, the air we breathe out.  If I can just hold my breath long enough, and act invisible, maybe I can go outside for a little while without looking like dinner.


Photo 1:  Sean McCann, Copyright – Creative Common License –

Photo 2:  Classroom Clipart –

The Hair Part Theory and Chirality

The hair part theory is not new, but I was unfamiliar with it until recently.  A rerun episode of Radiolab was playing on National Public Radio, as I was driving home from getting some car maintenance done.  It was three weeks ago, which was moving week; a very pesky time for a leak in the coolant reservoir tank.  But, riding in the car is a good time for listening to the radio, and my favorite radio is good storytelling.  I always love a good story, and this one on chirality and the hair part theory was entertaining.


Before we get to the hair part theory, let’s get a very basic understanding about chirality, which has to do with “handedness” and reflection.  Have you ever looked in the mirror?  What happens when you hold your left hand up to the mirror?  It looks like a right hand.  It is the opposite image or shape.  Move your index finger in a clockwise direction.  In the mirror, it looks like it is moving in a counter-clockwise direction.  The mirror reflects back the identical but opposite image.

Chirality as it pertains to molecules.  There are molecules that have an identical makeup, but they have a different shape or a mirror image.  An example of this is R-carvone.  Right-handed R-carvone is the flavor of spearmint, while its mirror image S-carvone is the flavor of caraway.  Maybe I should have included actual images of the R and S- carvone molecules, but I thought these images of Alice Through the Looking Glass were a good example, not to mention fun.

When it comes to chirality and biology, all proteins are left-handed, which means that on a molecular level, all people and all life on Earth is left-handed.  (This has nothing to do with whether you are right or left-handed.)

A tragic example of chirality is Thalidomide, which was used in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s to help relieve morning sickness in pregnant women.  The left-handed version of the molecule worked as a sedative, and it was safe for pregnant women to take.  The right-handed version of the molecule caused fetal deformation.  Not understanding chirality, the testing was done with the left-handed version of the molecule, but when the drug was manufactured, both versions of the molecule were used.

The Hair Part Theory

So what does chirality have to do with hair parting?  It has to do with mirror images and our perception or bias based on “handedness”.  Might we prefer left-handed hair parts based on our biology?  Yes, it might affect our perception.

The hair part theory states:  “A left hair part draws unconscious attention to the left side of the brain, which controls activities traditionally associated with masculinity. A right hair part draws unconscious attention to the right side of the brain, which controls activities traditionally associated with femininity.”  According to the theory, it applies more to men than to women; because men tend to part their hair the same way their entire lives, while women change their hair styles.

Two decades ago, at age 19, John Walter was looking at some photos of himself, and he thought he looked odd.  Later, he looked in the mirror and thought he looked just fine.  You could say John had an epiphany at that moment.  He realized that the photographs were what other people saw when they looked at him, but what he saw in the mirror was his chiral image.

John had always worn his hair part on the right side.  He was a geeky college kid, with few friends.  It was the beginning of summer and he was starting a job with a Con Ed paint crew.  After his realization about the difference between the actual image he projected versus his mirror image, John immediately changed the part in his hair to the left side.  You might say he experienced instant popularity.  He fit in well at work, and he started hanging around with a group of cool kids who had rejected him in high school.  According to John, he “combined [his] new image with a new attitude that matched.  What was so amazing was that it was effortless.”  By summer’s end, John had 150 new friends.  Just from changing his hair part?  It does sound a little ridiculous, but John believed in his hair part theory.

A few years ago, to help prove John’s theory, his sister, Catherine, who holds a degree in anthropology, started to study the hair parts of famous people.  She studied pictures of elected officials, from presidents and vice presidents, senators and congressman, to governors.  Based on that, she was able to conclude that only 7 percent of presidents had a definite right part; only 16 percent of male governors had a definite right part; only 13 percent of male senators and 16.4 percent of male congressmen had definite right parts.  Of the other famous people Catherine studied, she found that of the 268 men listed as best actors, only 32 had a definite right part.

But what about men who parted their hair on the right?  Some of them are famous for all of the wrong reasons:  Adolf Hitler, Jim Jones, and Marshall Applewhite (leader of the Heaven’s Gate cult).  Others who have parted their hair on the right that are famous, but less notorious include:  Edgar Allen Poe, Charlie Chaplin, Frank Sinatra, and Ronald Reagan.

Might John’s theory be correct?  Just take a look at Clark Kent and Superman.


Perception is Everything

Based on her study, Catherine determined that John’s Hair Part Theory was right.  According to John and Catherine Walter, here are the characteristics associated with left and right hair parts:

Men with left part:  Natural for men, usually works well for them.   Perceived as popular, successful, strong, and traditional.  Can be out of touch with their feminine side. Examples: John Wayne, Tom Brokaw, John F. Kennedy.

Women with left part:  Usually OK, especially for women who want to make it in business or politics.  Perceived as intelligent, in charge, reliable.  Can sometimes be perceived as too “masculine”, and/or can create difficulties with fulfilling traditionally feminine roles.  Examples: Hillary Clinton [who has changed her hair part], Margaret Thatcher, Christine Todd Whitman.

Men with right part: Usually unnatural for men.  Can create an uncomfortable image; can cause social shunning, sometimes leading to unusual or eccentric behavior.  Perceived as atypical, open radical.  Can work okay if the man is very confident, attractive, or striving to be respected in a nontraditional male role. Examples: Al Gore, Rush Limbaugh, Ronald Reagan

Women with right part: Natural for women. Usually it works okay.  Perceived as very feminine, gentle, caring. Can cause problems of not being taken seriously. Examples: Martha Stewart, Jane Pauley, Geraldine Ferraro.

No part, center part or bald:  Natural for men and women.  Perceived as balanced, trustworthy and wise.  Can lack flair associated with other types.[1]

What do I do with this information?

In 1979, John used his theory to try and help President Jimmy Carter, in the same way that an 11-year-old girl had once helped Abraham Lincoln by suggesting he grow a beard.  John wrote President Carter a letter, and a short time later, the president changed his hair part from the right to the left.  John has no actual proof that his letter was the reason, but he is fairly confident he was instrumental.  It did not get President Carter reelected.

John has also developed a mirror that reflects a person’s true image.  It is called the True-Mirror and it is non-reversing. (See link below for the website.)

That is some of what John did with his hair part theory.  But what does it mean for me?  Should I change my hair part to portray a particular image?  Do I want to be considered more feminine and caring?  Do I want to be taken seriously?  Does my hair really play an important role in how I am perceived?

When I was a teenager, I used to wear a middle-part (it was the fashion), but I have long since started wearing my part on the left.  I made that choice because of a cowlick.  Once a hair stylist did give me a right part, which I changed as soon as I got home.  It looked wrong, was hard to control, and I have never tried it again.  I am definitely a left-parter!  How does the hair part theory hold up for me personally?  In organizations, I am often asked to fill leadership positions.  I have been the only woman invited to participate on all-male committees.  Hmm…Here I thought it had something to do with my abilities, but apparently, I can thank my left-sided hair part.

Honestly, I don’t want to put too much stock in the hair part theory.  I think it is fun, and maybe changing your hair part might make you feel better about yourself.  But, when it comes to how we perceive other people, I have to question this theory.  No matter what conclusions we might jump to based on first impressions, how long can a hair part influence what we think about a person?  I really hate to think that we, the American people, have been electing presidents for the past two hundred years, because we liked them based on the way they parted their hair. Also, although there aren’t any scientific studies to back this, only observation and anecdotal evidence, most men (if not women) part their hair on the left. It only makes sense that more famous men have left hair parts.

Now, I really want to go grab some photo albums and get on Facebook, so that I can start looking at hair parts of people I know.

© Robin Tjernagel
Crime and Literature
Real Life and Life Imagined





What’s in Your Mailbox? The Lost Art of Letter Writing

Every year, we receive a few Christmas letters from family and friends.  These letters are a wrap-up of the preceding year.  They are typed and mailed out with cards and photos to everyone on their Christmas card list.  Now I have a confession to make.  I don’t send out Christmas cards; no annual letter and no photos.  As much as I enjoy receiving these things, I am not good about reciprocating.  Heck, birthday cards, Mother’s Day cards, Father’s Day cards, are all late!  Ah, off I go on a tangent.  Back to the point…These annual Christmas letters are the only letters I receive all year.  There was a time when receiving letters was something I expected and anticipated.

One relative, who does not use the Internet, asked me this year to please send a letter and some photos.  I am going to do that.  At least that is what I told myself.  I grew up before there was e-mail.  I used to send letters, regularly and often, to family and friends.  It was fun to go to the mailbox and find a letter waiting.  These letters were usually long and informative and they were not just a recounting of daily life.  It wasn’t a quick, “how are you”?

Phone calls used to cost money if they were long distance.  There wasn’t e-mail, text-messaging, or social networking.  When there was a desire to stay connected with someone you cared about, letter writing was one of the best ways to do that.  Letter writing feels different than writing e-mails.  The content was different.  Or least it seems that way to me.  It was more than a brief comment or a click of the “Like” button.  It was real communication.  It was a conversation.

Do I want to know what someone did five minutes ago, this morning, yesterday, last week, last month, or over the last year?  Yes.  But I also want to know how the person is doing; how they are feeling and what they are thinking.  Letters used to be a place to share one’s feelings and express one’s thoughts.  They were handwritten and often deeply personal.  Here is a lovely example of a letter by D.A. Wolf, at “Daily Plate of Crazy”, that makes this point.  Maybe I am wrong, or overly sentimental, but I think that something gets lost in an e-mail versus a real letter.  I used to print out e-mails that came to me in the form of a letter.  But, there is something extra special about a letter penned in someone’s own hand and written on stationary.

Saving letters:  I used to save letters in a box.  Once I found letters that my parents exchanged while they were dating.  How exciting to share in their past; to learn things about them I didn’t know.  My husband’s family have saved and printed letters over the years in bound volumes.  Sure I save e-mails, but it isn’t the same.  It’s like all of the photographs that are stored in my laptop, but not in a photo album.  That’s another story.

I know it has been six months since I received that Christmas letter requesting I write back and send pictures of my children and their families.  I have gotten lazy.  I depend on technology too much – e-mails, texting, and social networking.  This week I am going to sit down and write a real letter.

© Robin Tjernagel
Crime and Literature
Real Life and Life Imagined

Link for letter:

Would You Like Your Computer Or Your Smartphone To Determine The State of Your Mental Health?

Do you think what you do online is a reflection of your mental well-being?  If you said no, think again.  A recent study shows that there is a correlation between the two.

This morning I had my local news channel on when I heard them talking about a study that shows a relationship between the way someone uses the Internet and whether they are depressed.  For a description of the study, you can go to this N.Y. Times article.

The findings suggest that people who obsessively check their e-mail, frequently switch between Internet applications (like video watching, games and chat rooms), and engage in high levels of file sharing (like movies and music) might be showing signs of depression.  An earlier study already suggested that people who constantly check their e-mail may be experiencing high levels of anxiety, a possible symptom of depression.

Well, the question is; what do researchers plan to do with this type of information?  The answer is a little weird, if you ask me.  The idea is to develop software that will let users know if how they are spending their time online indicates a depressive mood.  Many people are not aware when they become depressed, so this software will act as a tool to help them identify the signs.  This just feels like self-help with a twist.  But how might it be used?

The N.Y. Times article suggests that colleges could use it to track students’ online behavior and then notify counselors if there is a potential problem with depression.  That’s a bit Orwellian, if you ask me.  As the article states, it is unlikely that schools can do this for privacy reasons.  For the sake of argument, let’s say that colleges figure out a way to track students’ online usage to determine the state of their mental health.  What about businesses or the government finding ways to use it with employees?  Maybe there is a benefit for people in high stress situations.  But, overall, I don’t like the idea of being monitored via technology.

It seems that this type of technology is already in the works for Smartphones.  Check out this Cnet blog post to read more.  A psychologist, David Mohr, “has been adapting phones as a virtual therapist for patients prone to depression”.  This technology sounds a bit intrusive, since it can “determine specific states, so [patient’s] location where they are, their activity, their social context, who they’re with, what they’re engaged in, and their mood”.  If you seem depressed, your phone can text or call you with an automated message suggesting the person call someone or get out of the house.  Dr. Mohr has tested it with eight patients, who seem to have been helped by their virtual therapy.   See here (CBS Chicago).  Do I feel any better about this in a medical context?  According to Dr. Mohr, it could be a more cost-effective way to treat depression.

So what do you think?  Do you want your mental state, your emotional state, your mood, to be monitored by your computer or your smartphone?  If you possibly suffer from depression, would it be a useful tool?  Or do you think that this type of technology has the potential for abuse – in a Big Brother sort of way?

© Robin Tjernagel
Crime and Literature
Real Life and Life Imagined

Links and Sources:

The Lost Painting: The Quest For A Caravaggio Masterpiece – by Jonathan Harr

“An Italian Village on a hilltop near the Adriatic coast, a decaying palazzo facing the sea, and in the basement, cobwebbed and dusty, lit by a single bulb, an archive unknown to scholars.  Here, a young graduate student from Rome, Francesca Cappelletti, makes a discovery that inspires a search for a work of art of incalculable value, a painting lost for almost two centuries.”  From the book jacket.

It seems that Italians are meticulous record keepers, and since they don’t throw away any piece of paper, if you look for something with persistence and determination, you just might find it.  When Francesca Cappelletti, an art history student, is doing research to trace the history of Caravaggio’s “St. John” painting, she discovers information about another one of his paintings called “The Taking of Christ”, which has been missing for centuries.  Thus begins the search.  Tracing the sales records starting in 1600, from Italy to Scotland, Francesca comes very close to finding the painting, but not quite.

While Francesca is following a paper trail to find “The Taking of Christ”, an art restorer, Sergio Benedetti, who works at the National Gallery in Ireland, is hired by a Jesuit priest to clean and restore a painting.  Benedetti suspects he has found an important Caravaggio, but the painting is attributed to another artist.  While telling readers Cappelletti and Benedetti’s stories, Harr also tells readers about the life of the painter.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio is the famous artist, whose painting “The Taking of Christ”, is at the center of the story.  He led a rather tortured and violent personal life, even though his professional life was very successful. Sword fighting, prostitutes, and multiple arrests were a regular part of Caravaggio’s life.  He eventually descends into madness before he dies at the young age of thirty-nine, while returning to Rome, after living in exile after murdering a rival.

Harr gives readers a fascinating lesson in art restoration.  When Benedetti starts to restore the painting in question, he must put a new lining on its back – a near disaster.  While he could buy an over-the-counter glue, Benedetti likes to mix up his own glue with “a quantity of pellets of colla forte made with rabbit-skin glue, an equal quantity of water, a tablespoon of white vinegar, a pungent drop of purified ox bile.”  His boss, Andrew O’Connor, helps Benedetti to clean the surface of the painting using a cotton swab that he wets with his own saliva, which contains an enzyme that effectively removes dirt and oil.  Art restoration sounds yucky; but, it is a delicate business, and Harr makes it interesting and even a little suspenseful, as he relates the details of Benedetti’s work.

One of the things I liked about this story is the peek into the world of art history and art historians.  There is a wonderful portrait of English art historian, Sir Denis Mahon, who is the greatest living expert on Caravaggio.  He knows the streets of Rome as well as those in his home in London.  “Sir Denis believed that a painting was like a window back into time…that by studying the work of an artist he could penetrate the depths of that man’s mind.  In the case of Caravaggio, it was the mind of a genius.  A murderer and a madman, perhaps, but certainly a genius.”

This book is nonfiction.  It is well-written, and in my opinion, an exciting page-turner.  I couldn’t put it down.

Published by Random House, 2005

© Robin Tjernagel
Crime and Literature
Real Life and Life Imagined

P.S.  Since I read the book, I looked up Caravaggio.  Here are two related links:

His complete works:

His madness probably due to lead poisoning from his paints:

Wanted by the F.B.I. in the Morgan Harrington Case – $150,000 Reward

The name of my blog reflects an interest I have in crime.  In general, I am interested in our criminal justice system – from those who make our laws to those who enforce them.  I am interested in the types of crimes people commit.  And, I am interested in what makes people choose crime, in any form.  But, I haven’t really invested much time in this aspect of my blog.  So, I thought that maybe on the weekends, I would post something related to crime.

One of the best places to look for information related to crime is the Federal Bureau of Information’s website  This week marks the fifty-year anniversary of the famous escape from Alcatraz, and they have some photos and a story on their home page that I thought might be fun to include here, but I decided to go another direction.  However, here is the link if you are interested in checking out Alcatraz’s famous escape:

Below is a composite sketch of the man who is wanted in the death of Morgan Harrington, a college student who went missing, and was later found dead, after leaving a Metallica concert at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in October, 2009.  He is also wanted in another sexual assault case.  His D.N.A. links him to both crimes.

This is the story published on the F.B.I. website:

Help Us Catch a Killer
Unknown Offender Linked by DNA in Two Separate Cases


On a Saturday night in October 2009, college student Morgan Harrington left a Metallica concert at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and disappeared. It would be several months before her body was discovered in a field about 10 miles away.

We need your help to find Harrington’s killer. The individual we are seeking has also been linked by DNA to a sexual assault in Fairfax City, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. Today, the Virginia State Police, Fairfax City Police, and the FBI released two enhanced sketches of the suspect and are reminding the public there is a reward of up to $150,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the Harrington case.


A Familiar Face?

We are asking the public to   review the sketches and other information in the Morgan Harrington and   Fairfax City cases and consider whether they know someone who fits this   description or who lived or had ties to the areas around the times of the   assaults.

People who know the suspect   may not believe he is capable of committing such crimes. He may not have a   violent criminal history. Because investigators have DNA evidence that can   positively link the suspect to his crimes—or exclude innocent parties—the   public should not hesitate to provide information.

The Jefferson Area Crime   Stoppers is offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest   and conviction of the person responsible for Morgan’s murder. The band   Metallica has added an additional $50,000 to that amount.

The multimedia campaign being launched today to draw attention to the investigation will include information on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, a public service announcement by Metallica, and electronic billboards in Virginia and along the East Coast.

“Bringing renewed attention to the case will get people thinking about it again,” said Virginia State Police Special Agent Dino Cappuzzo. “Our hope is that someone will come forward and provide a crucial piece of information that will help us solve the murder.”

Harrington was a 20-year-old student at Virginia Tech when she went to the concert that Saturday, October 17, at the John Paul Jones Arena on the University of Virginia campus. At about 8:30 p.m., she left the building and was unable to get back inside. She was last seen hitchhiking nearby.

Her remains were discovered the following January in a remote field on a farm in Albemarle County, Virginia. A camera she had that night and a distinctive Swarovski crystal necklace she was wearing have not been recovered.

FBI agents in our Charlottesville Resident Agency have been assisting state investigators, and profilers from our Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) have also provided consultation.

“A lot of BAU’s work focused on the location of the body and what that told us about the offender,” Cappuzzo said. “We believe he was intimately familiar with the farm and the surrounding area where the body was recovered. He may have been comfortable there and felt he was not at risk of getting caught.”

DNA recovered in the Harrington case was linked to an unknown offender in a September 2005 sexual assault in Fairfax City. A 26-year-old woman was attacked at night while walking home from a grocery store. The offender was scared away by a passerby—but the victim got a good look at him, enabling a Fairfax City Police artist to produce a sketch of the attacker.

“It was a remarkable break to get the DNA match,” said FBI Special Agent Jane
Collins. The forensic evidence linked the two cases, so now we have a face to put with the suspect in the Harrington case. The suspect is described as an African-American male with black hair and facial hair (at the time of the 2005 attack). He is approximately 6 feet tall and was believed to be between the ages of 25 and 35 years old at the time of the Fairfax City assault.

Help us catch Morgan Harrington’s killer. If you have any information about the Harrington case or the Fairfax City assault, contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI or the Virginia State Police Tip line at 434-352-3467, or submit a tip online.

The Source of the Above Information is Located at the Following Link, Where You Can Find More Information about the Morgan Harrington Case:

The History of Father’s Day in the United States – Giving Dads Equal Time

“On July 19, 1910, the governor of the U.S. state of Washington proclaimed the nation’s first “Father’s Day.” However, it was not until 1972, 58 years after President Woodrow Wilson made Mother’s Day official, that the day became a nationwide holiday in the United States.”

Here in America, Mother’s Day has its roots in Civil War history, as a day when mothers would come together to celebrate peace and motherhood.  The first Mother’s Day was celebrated in 1908, in a church in West Virginia, and also on the same day, in the John Wanamaker’s department store in Philadelphia.  By, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson made Mother’s Day an official federal holiday.  Father’s Day was not embraced as quickly.

Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington, tried to establish a Father’s Day similar to Mother’s Day to honor her own father, a Civil War veteran.  Her mother died in childbirth, leaving her father to raise his new infant along with his five other children, by himself.  She chose the month of June because that was when her father was born.  Her efforts were rewarded on June 19, 1910, with the nation’s first statewide celebration of fathers.

Despite interest in Father’s Day by Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge, Father’s Day was slow to attain any real support and secure favor in general.  President Coolidge proclaimed the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day and encouraged states to adopt it, to: “establish more intimate relations between fathers and their children and to impress upon fathers the full measure of their obligations”.

Regardless of the best efforts to give dads equal time with moms, so both could enjoy a day of honor, they weren’t so easily impressed.  Men didn’t seem to appreciate the sentimentality of this type of holiday, not to mention their belief that it was just a way to separate them from their hard earned cash.  Father’s Day faced the same criticism about the commercialization of the holiday as Mother’s Day had.

It wasn’t until World War II that Father’s Day gained traction.  Advertisers basically exploited the situation; reasoning that this was a way to honor the troops and support the war.  They were successful in their efforts, and Father’s Day was informally established and nationally celebrated.

In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation declaring the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day.  In 1972, President Richard Nixon signed the proclamation into law, making Father’s Day a federal holiday, to be celebrated the third Sunday in June.

This morning, I realized that I spent a whole week writing posts about mothers as Mother’s Day approached, and to my horror, I thought, uh-oh!  I better write something about fathers before Father’s Day is here and gone.  Now I must go out and buy some cards for the fathers in my husband’s and my families, which, by the time I get them in the mail, will arrive late.  Sorry Dads.

© Robin Tjernagel
Crime and Literature
Real Life and Life Imagined