The Creativity Interviews: Writer-teacher-entrepreneur Alexandra Franzen

As part of my ongoing quest to explore what it means to live a creative life, I periodically invite kick ass creatives to come play with us on the blog. First, I ask them five questions about creativity, and then they get to ask you something…

… and that’s when the real fun (and wild generosity) begins.

Today’s episode:

The extraordinary magic of dapper, stylish & fabulous elderly people… and yet another hell-yes sort of give away!


I can’t remember the first post I ever read by Alexandra Franzen; it was many, many perspective-altering posts ago. I do remember the one that got me hooked, though. It was called “How to throw a rave inside your brain.” I didn’t read it when she first posted it. I found it later, when I was confused and terribly disheartened, and what I needed most was to plug into something fun, irreverent and seriously life-affirming.

Enter: Alex. I’ve been hooked ever since.

Alex is on a quest to inspire ecstatic self-expression — in life, love & business. She’s been spotlighted on over 50 blogs & radio programs on creativity & entrepreneurship, and in a handful of books, including  Grow Your Handmade Business, When Talent Isn’t Enough and The Declaration of You!

Her first book — 50 Ways To Say You’re AWESOME — will be released in Fall 2013, through Sourcebooks.

She serves up laser-lucid lessons on life, love, work & writing at


j: Life is demanding. What are your tricks for getting into a creative space?

Alexandra: I’ve learned that building playtime into my daily rhythm isn’t a “luxury” — it’s an absolute necessity.

Doing yoga, flipping through glossy magazines, having lunch with my girlfriends, baking, resting, snuggling, perusing the latest trinkets at Jonathan Adler, going to the movies to see a saccharine romantic comedy … those are the times that I get my very best ideas. And then, when it’s time to get back to work, I’m happy & rested — instead of brittle & resentful. Go figure.

j: What’s the weirdest thing that inspires you?

Alexandra: I love extraordinarily dapper, stylish & fabulous elderly people. All I can think is, “If I play my cards right, someday, I could be YOU.”

j: How do you deal with critics?

Alexandra: I’ve been blessed with very few critics — that I’m aware of, anyway! And on the rare occasions that someone does lash out at me, they’re usually (a) a total stranger who’s unfamiliar with my work & what I stand for, and (b) kinda, oh, let’s say … emotionally imbalanced?

Criticism upsets me. I won’t lie. It hurts, it burrows into your brain, and it can easily become The One Thing you think about all week — regardless of how much praise, kindness & validation you’ve (also) received.

But it’s part of the deal — if you’re expressing yourself in a public space, you’re making yourself vulnerable to all kinds of reactions. Nothing to do but ignore what you can, release what you can’t, and respond when it seems appropriate.

j: What energizes you, solitude or engagement?

Alexandra: Solitude. I talk to myself, on the regular.

j: A box of old comic books, a rickety wooden chair, two walkie talkies, and a lifetime supply of Sharpies: What will you make?

Alexandra: A tidy profit on eBay.

(I am completely inept, when it comes to handmade crafts.)


Now it’s your turn. Here’s Alex’s question for you:

How will you PLAY with yourself (teehee!) today?

(Why, yes. I do love that question!)

Answer in the comments section (or just say hello), before Friday, January 11th, and I will pick a commenter at random to win Alexandra’s wee-book, 100 Ways To Play With Yourself. It’s filled with 100 ways to infuse your life with creativity, cheeky humor and a spirit of profound curiosity. You’ll find prompts and challenges to shake up your communication, self-presentation, physicality & sensuality, down-time, meal-time, friend-time, and more; plus playdates with inspiring artists, coaches, chefs & entrepreneurs, and a parcel of print & play worksheets!

And since normally $5 of the purchase price for this book goes to The Women’s Earth Alliance, I will make a $5 donation in the name of our winner.

I love when everyone wins, don’t you?

Let’s play.


Congratulations, Pam Carlson, who won Alex’s 100 Ways To Play With Yourself ebook and a donation to the Women’s Earth Alliance in her name!



  1. Christie on January 4, 2013 at 8:26 am

    I am going to lunch with a friend today and we will play together and although I am not playing just with myself I think it still counts because I am playing and not stressing out about all the first of the year things I haven’t done yet :^)

    • j on January 4, 2013 at 8:47 am

      I think (just now, because of your comment) that whenever we play with someone else, we’re playing with ourselves too. Which seems, in my pre-caffeinated head, like kind of a profound thought.

      I had lunch in San Francisco with a friend on January 1st, and thought, “THIS is how to start a year.” Have fun!

  2. Nancy on January 4, 2013 at 8:33 am

    Today at work, I’m going to race with myself to see how much of a tedious task I can get done in one day. Tonight, a trip to the store for some creative food ingredients, and then I’m sitting down with a stack of Martha Stewart books my neighbor passed along with me. I’m going to cut out the good stuff for my ideas notebook and recycle the rest (I’m thinking the book covers might be good for another use). That should prime me for a good deep house clean this weekend, including dealing with the items in my cupboards and drawers that are neither beautiful nor useful. I always find that task makes me more creative later, in a variety of ways. Clears the house and clears the soul and makes room to create things!

    Oh, and I’m also going to figure out where/how/when to post my 365 pics because I’m doing that again this year!


    • j on January 4, 2013 at 8:51 am

      Wow! I wanna come play!

      One of my big goals for 2013 is to clear space by (among other things) getting rid of possessions that I don’t need or love. You’re so right about it making you feel more creative… and productive. I’ve never thought of it as play before, but in the sense that it’s outrageously positive forward movement in service of our creativity… it’s play!

      When you figure out where you’re posting your pictures, make sure to tell me!

  3. Cynthia Fassett on January 4, 2013 at 10:14 am

    Great question, and I love the way it was delivered 😉

    I love your energy and enthusiasm, Alexandra! This answer: “I love extraordinarily dapper, stylish & fabulous elderly people.” Love that. And me too =).

    We have a green Eclectus Parrot, named Echo, living in this house, and of course he likes to whistle as much as he likes to talk. I’ve never been able to whistle well, but wanted to, because my mother could whistle like a bird. My whistles always came out all breathy sounding, and off key, so I eventually gave up, believing I just didn’t have it in me. Then came Echo. He and my roommate have had this game where they whistle the same sound back and forth. Echo began doing it with me when my roommate wasn’t around, and so I tried my best to match the whistle he was making. When I didn’t make the sound he did, he’d give me a screech, so I’d try again, and he’d let me know when I got it right by moving on to the next whistle. Yup…it finally hit me that Echo was giving me whistle lessons. He’s such a funny bird, and I love and enjoy him so much, and during my whistle lessons I can’t help but feel it’s play. It lightens my heart, and I laugh at his responses to my mistakes, and he’s teaching me something I always wanted to be able to do, and never thought I could. Fun. And so….I’ll be showing up at some point today for my whistle lesson from Echo.

    Fun post, j!

    • j on January 4, 2013 at 5:02 pm

      I love this response, Cindy! How many people can say they were taught to whistle by a parrot? Talk about an expert teacher! Are you becoming a world class whistler?

      HUGE smile!

      • Cynthia Fassett on January 5, 2013 at 7:58 am

        Uh…no, not quite. Let’s just say I can now produce a whistling sound that you can actually hear, and that isn’t off key. Which is a far cry better than I could do before my Echo lessons.

  4. Tina Lee on January 4, 2013 at 10:37 am

    How will I PLAY with myself today? Well, since my mini-vacation to my mom’s is ending today, and I will begin the nearly 3-hour drive home, I have the absolute pleasure and blessing of visiting with a friend whom I’ve known since we were in the second grade. Yes, it’s Christie Martin Zuverink! I’m having lunch with her on my way out and am SO looking forward to hearing everything about her travels in Italy! Make it a wonderful day, Judy!

    • j on January 4, 2013 at 5:10 pm

      Ha! Got both parties to that lunch commenting on the fun. Hope you two had a lovely lunch and visit.

  5. Clare Flourish on January 4, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    It is 9pm here. I will write a blog starting “I am surrounded by beauty” for 10 January, and then go into my ritual space.

    • j on January 4, 2013 at 5:11 pm

      I like the title. Good night, Clare!

  6. Pam on January 4, 2013 at 6:15 pm

    Love this! I’ve been in a grumpy/sad/tired bumper-car ride all day, so tonight I’m going to start painting something. (Dammit.)

    Yes, lunch in San Francisco with a friend is great way to start the year! <3

    • j on January 5, 2013 at 8:22 am

      I hope you did paint! I’m going to start doodling today. I’ve been busy mapping and planning and charting courses – time to write and doodle now. (Creation is play at its sweetest.)

      Regular lunches with a friend in SF (or wherever) would be a great way to spend the year. #justsayin <3

      • Pam on January 7, 2013 at 8:06 pm

        I did!

        You are so right about the lunches. *makes super-sized note*

  7. Whoa_Mary on January 4, 2013 at 6:46 pm

    I don’t know. I am a little too introspective to be playful, that and the day is nearly done. I am, however, considering what to create for supper. I am thinking some pasta with hummus made with sunflower seeds.

    • j on January 5, 2013 at 8:28 am

      In a (recurring) conversation with a mutual friend, we were talking about the tendency of introspective people to be too serious. We can be so busy analyzing meaning that we forget to just be, and “just being” is essential to play.

      I think we just have to make a bigger effort to schedule our playtime, and define that term broadly. Like Nancy above – organizing, cooking, even cleaning can be play if we go into the activity with the intention of treating it that way. (There’s a post here, I can feel it.)

      I’ve only made hummus from scratch two times. It was experimental and delicious… which I think qualifies as play, right?

  8. sophylou on January 4, 2013 at 11:53 pm

    Notebooks! Notebooks and colored pens! And somewhere in my bedroom closet is an Art Box that I haven’t looked into for a long tie, which I think/hope has a Magnetic Poetry set in it, which has been calling out to me. The start of the year for me this year means lots of notebooks, because I like to dedicate specific notebooks to specific tasks/projects (especially if I can color-code!) and I have a bunch of different things that need specific and focused spaces for writing/drawing stuff out. Some of those notebooks will be more playful than others, but I’d like to start drawing in all of them…

    • j on January 5, 2013 at 8:33 am

      One of my friends color codes her to-do list. I love how that looks, but I’m not organized enough to manage it. I’m forever forgetting my code or my pens or… yes. (I doodle all over my list, though. It is not unusual to have my list broken up by a rocket ship blasting off, or a snake winding it’s way through the items.)

      I love your answer, and Nancy’s, because it breaks open the word “play.” You’re making me realize (or reminding me) that play is an attitude as much as anything. That’s a powerful truth when the object is to have more fun in life… replenish the soul.

      Thank you!

      • sophylou on January 6, 2013 at 3:46 pm

        I am also planning to use fun stickers (as well as color coding) for a to do list, though I have trouble with to do lists… they start feeling too rigid to me too quickly and I find I do better if I make a list of suggestions at the beginning of the day, and then write down later what I did accomplish. My problem right now is that it seems really important to keep my “work” to-do list separate–physically, separate–from “everything else” to-do list, because I need for those boundaries to be pretty firm! The stickers are for the “everything else” list 🙂

  9. Karin on January 5, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    My big thing this year for me is to give myself more “me” time, to take better care of myself. It doesn’t just include letting myself enjoy things like manicures (completely foreign to me), shopping, makeovers, etc. By treating myself to a little more than I used to, perhaps it’ll help with a lot of self-image issues I have.
    I don’t know if that counts, but that’s how I plan to play, not just today, but for the rest of the year. I went to the hair salon this week, and today I went back to the gym and “played” hard to make myself feel strong. It’s not just a body thing, but working out relieves a lot of stress. I’m working towards being a better, more fun me.
    Work hard, play harder 🙂

    • j on January 5, 2013 at 1:13 pm

      It absolutely counts! In fact, for me, a manicure would never constitute “play,” but a hike would, or a used bookstore expedition, or a serious yoga workout. The nice thing about playing with ourselves is that we get to define what “play” means, without any regard for whether most people would agree with us.

      Work hard, play harder. <--- Excellent 2013 mantra.

  10. Something Good « A Thousand Shades of Gray on January 7, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    […] The Creativity Interviews: Writer-teacher-entrepreneur Alexandra Franzen on Judy Clement Wall’s website. Two of my favorite women talking about one of my favorite […]

  11. Becky on January 7, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    1) I have heaps of love for Alexandra Franzen.
    2) I play with myself everyday… wait, I mean, oh never mind.

    I love my job, love it. I went through a time recently when I was doubting my ability, I second guessed every recommendation I gave. Then I had several long talks with myself and had to push myself to speak with authority even when I was freaking out that I had lost my touch, but now, I feel like I got my mojo back so it’s fun again. So my work is play.

    When I get home, my kids and I have this newfound relationship with each other — group hugs and we read aloud books and we dance and I’m teaching two of them to play the guitar (Imagine was their first song).

    I started running/walking/jogging/crawling again a week ago after a two month hiatus. The difference in my spirit is huge — tonight, 2.5 miles in 34* in the dark! It felt so good!

    I’ve had my own traumas, haven’t we all though? They’re not all the same but if we are affected, traumatized, then we know what each other is going through… collectively. So, I don’t know, I’m doing a lot of playing these days… it’s a survival skill.

    I don’t plan play, sometimes it just happens, and I stay in those moments as long as I can.

    Oh!! … and I read, a lot.
    Oh!! Again! … and I’m turning the office (like that’s ever used) into a craft room! Now that is play.

    • j on January 8, 2013 at 1:09 pm

      So true: playing really is a survival tool… that’s probably why kids instinctively make it the highest priority.

      I turned my office into a craft room too! I love it here now. I’ve been amazed at how doing my work on a great big work table instead of a cramped desk in the corner has changed my whole perspective. Plus, having Sharpies and colored pencils and art supplies at my finger tips all the time makes them much harder to resist. Which is a good thing.

      Good luck on the conversion!

  12. sophylou on January 8, 2013 at 10:48 pm

    I should have said earlier that this year I want to start reading more blogs and other sources that are about/inspire creativity. The internet has been starting to feel both too utilitarian and too mean to me lately, and I need to find ways to incorporate nonutilitarianness and nonmeanness into pretty much all areas of my life. So, hi!

    • j on January 9, 2013 at 8:55 am

      Yay! So, here, instead of meanness and utilitarianism, you get love, doodles and shenanigans, which of course is all very good for the soul. So, hi back! xo

  13. Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) on January 9, 2013 at 7:33 am

    Great interview! Love the ebay comment, lol! And today I will play by cooking something fun, all by myself. 🙂

    • j on January 9, 2013 at 8:57 am

      I know. I like the ebay comment too. It’s what I’d have to do. My next two (exciting) interviews, got a different 5th question. Stay tuned.

      Good luck with the cooking adventure!

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