a place for everything

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Everything has its proper place. 

This statement holds more weight for some people than others. Is there really a right place for everything? Furthermore, is there a proper place for creativity?

As for the first question, I believe it’s a personal matter.

For many people, organization is a big deal. Being organized is especially helpful when you want to be able to find something again quickly. Besides that, it's aesthetically pleasing. A disorganized room can be a real eyesore!

After helping my family move, I was reminded again how important it is to label boxes before loading them up into the moving truck—otherwise, you’re bound to misplace something you need on the other side and spend a good long while searching for it. And you'd better mark that dish wear fragile with a few underlines if you don't want it getting smashed up.

Organization itself is a booming industry. Whether you’re organizing clothes, emails, work tasks, or pictures, someone is always coming up with a new and improved system of sorting all your stuff and making it easier to find in the future. For me, the simpler the method the better. After all, even our organization methods can get cluttered.

Organizing your time by scheduling and time blocking is a great way to make sure you get the most out of your day and finish things of highest importance first. It's something I'm very slowly getting better at. As I've found, it takes time just to plan out your time. But it's worth it in the long run. Living moment by moment with no laid-out plans is a bit like living paycheck to paycheck—you just hope you have enough to do the things you need to.

Without organization, life can begin to feel chaotic, out of control, and unwieldy. Some people don’t mind that so much. I heard an argument in favor of just leaving piles of papers wherever you place them on your desk because the last one you used—and thus the one you will most likely need to use in the future—will always be on top. While I can appreciate that on some level, I’m sure glad we have a filing cabinet in our office, otherwise tax filing would be a nightmare (instead of just a couple of lame nights). 

Organizing is often a left-brain activity—it’s logical and methodical. This could be why creatives (who are often stronger with right-brain activities) are stereotyped as working in cluttered environments. How often have we seen depictions of the painter’s studio or inventor’s shop where everything appears strewn about haphazardly? Even then, there is often a method to the madness.

Fear not—organization can certainly be handled with a creative approach. For instance, I like it when items are sorted visually, such as clothes grouped by color or board games lined up by size. In the social media landscape, Pinterest has proven to be a popular way to save and share images and links, often as a source of inspiration and ideas. I can't tell you how many times I've seen furniture with a nifty new way of storing your stuff (like wavy bookshelves or hanging shoe bins).

The next time you find yourself in need of sorting your sock drawer or archiving old project, why not look for a fun new way of doing it? Besides just being more interesting, creative organization can help with recollection as our minds are more apt to remember something done in a unique manner.

Now, how about a proper time and place for creativity itself? Why, it’s everywhere and all the time, of course!

I leave you with a quote often attributed to Einstein, though I'm not entirely sure he actually said it:

If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?

the power of now

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Life is a strange thing to me. The more I think about it, the stranger it seems. 

Just how much control do we have over our own lives? In the case of external events and circumstances, it often feels like very little. But, in the case of our internal attitudes and the actions we take from them, we have much more.

I’ve heard one preacher describe life as a series of choice, decisions, and consequences. In some aspects I believe that’s true.

As far as time goes, and the passing thereof, we have no control. Like it or not, time just keeps on ticking into the future. All we have is right now. This moment. No, I mean this one. Even so, our now is shaped by our past and what we do now determines our future.

So often I’m tempted to dwell too long on the past or worry to much about the unknowns of the future. Either obsession can become a hamper to creative thought because both can be the result of dwelling in fear.

Yoda claims that fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering. For Anakin Skywalker this was true. It also led to three mediocre (at best) prequels. Sorry George, but it’s true.

As far as dwelling on the past and worrying about the future, fear leads to indecision, which leads to inaction, which leads to … well … not creativity. Maybe you have a better word for it.

In Clint Eastwood’s movie, Gran Torino, Walt is a retired vet who is, in many ways, stuck. He’s old, in bad health, has lost his wife, and despises his multi-ethnic neighbors. He’s a man haunted by his past wrongs who has a grim outlook on the future. Now, I wouldn’t call him scared (he’s a ballsy guy, to be sure), but there is an internal fear that keeps him disengaged—at arms length from his neighbors and even his own family.

But things change (a necessity for any story) and Walt is drawn out of his cocoon of beer, home repairs and car maintenance and into caring relationships with his Hmong next-door neighbors. He finds creative ways to protect and care for them, especially one boy in particular. Eventually, Walt takes an extremely heroic (dare I say, creative) action to put a stop to a gang that has been attacking the family.

In the end, there is a sense of redemption for Walt and hope for the family he helped. His decision to step into the moment and make some real changes lead to a positive outcome. That’s not to say everything is peachy, but it’s a much better story than what would have happened if Walt had stayed holed up in his house until he died of old age.

At some point, we’ve got to let the past be the past, let the future worry about itself, and focus on what we can do right now and the impact we have on the people who are around us today. I hope you, unlike Walt, don’t wait until you’re a crotchety old fogey full of regrets. But, even if you are one, it’s not too late to start living in the now, right now.

hard to find

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Much like good help, some well-known people are hard to find. Others—Bob Goff for example—have made themselves easy to reach (he put his cell phone number in the back of his book, for laughing out loud).

I’ve often considered which lifestyle is more appealing. 

There is something idyllic about living in a remote cabin far from society, only submitting your work through a complex chain of untraceable contacts, including a speckled northeastern carrier pigeon. But I imagine such a life could get lonely. And I hear carrier pigeons make foul company. 

Then again, being surrounded by a posse of watchful guards and raving fans all the time sounds overwhelming. I’ve heard, and believe, that some of the most famous people in the world are also the most lonely. 

After all, just because your famous doesn’t mean you have many close friends. Actually, I think fame often becomes a barrier to true friendship. Are they really your friends or do they just want to get something out of you? 

So, which is better for a creative? I think there is room for a bit of both.

It’s important to make time for the people who appreciate the creative work you make, even if you’ll never meet them in person. This could be a short email, a phonemail, or even a reply on social media. It shows people that you care that they care. 

Personally, I’ve reached out to a few successful creatives (artists and authors) and when I get a response, man, it really made my day.

But, even more important, there is a necessary time to get away from the crowd, to turn off all those notifications. Your work may belong to your fans, but you do not.  Besides that, your family should get special attention from you that no one else does.

It’s also important to maintain a few close friendships. This could, and even should be people who have no specific interest in your own creative pursuits. Such people help round you out and can be a support for you when other areas in life are a struggle.

No matter how well known you are or how successful your work is, we all need to be part of a community. We also need a place where we can find peace, quiet, and safety—an escape from masses. 

As Dorothy realized, there really is no place like home, even if that home happens to be in a bird sanctuary high in the Rocky Mountains.

Something new, just for you

If you haven't noticed, there's a fancy new section on the home page.

After a considerable amount of work (more than I had imagined at the outset), I've finally got my email course up and running, along with a bunch of splendid giveaways that I think you're gonna dig.

Find out more

So, if you aren't on my email list yet, now is the perfect time to join (and don't worry, you can unsubscribe any time if you find out it's just not your thang).

Planecrafters

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Every now and then someone I know makes something awesome. In this case, it’s a board game (well, technically a card game) by my buddy Michael Patience.

And the name of the game is

Planecrafters

It’s up on Kickstarter right now and if you’re into card or board games I recommend you get it.

In Planecrafters, you build a task force of specialized workers in order assemble airplanes out of any spare parts available. Based on the workers you hire and the planes you build, you get shiny coins.

I have played the game in a nearly finished state and my wife and I loved it. It has all things I enjoy in a casual game: easy to learn, many roads to victory, player interaction, great art, unique theme, and, most of all, fun!

So fire up your engines, propel yourself over to Kickstarter and nab a copy.*

*I was not in any way paid or even asked to promote this game, I honestly enjoyed it and hope it sells well (I’ve already backed it myself).

fresh and new

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Have I talked yet about how much I love bread? It’s highly likely. 

Point in fact, I could eat a sandwich for lunch every day for the rest of my life (I do most days) and not have a problem with it. I’d prefer not to eat the exact same style of sandwich every day, but, hey, beggars can’t be choosers. 

I believe one of the best smells in the world is homemade bread fresh from the bread maker or oven. Mmmm boy!

I could cut anything else out of my diet if I had to (okay, not water, jeez), but I don’t think my soul would survive without bread. Now you know my secret weakness … with grain power comes grain responsibility.

Creativity is a lot like bread. Yeast, the active ingredient in bread, is alive. Likewise, you are the active ingredient in your creativity, and you are (I hope) very much alive. Unlike the yeast, you do not die in the process of creation (let’s hope)!

Most folks (myself included) like their bread hot and fresh. It’s the same with creativity. Old and stale doesn’t spell creative—mix those letters up however you want, I guarantee you can’t make it happen.

Not long ago, I took a few writing classes from an author and children’s book illustrator (it’s just one person in case you were confused). He had a lot of advice, but this was the one thing he repeated the most:

You have to say the same old thing in a fresh new way.

Whether you’re a writer or some other form of creative, it’s good advice. You’ve probably heard that there is “nothing new under the sun,” or something to that effect. Solomon may have written it first, but I bet even he didn’t come up with the idea.

All that has been done and seen and told has happened before, in some manner. Yes, apparently even the cavemen were distracted by texts during family dinner time. Someone pass the mammoth spare ribs!

Point is, the fact something has been done before shouldn’t dissuade you from engaging it creatively. For everything that has been done, there is a new way you can do it, a manner unique only to you. Even the commonplace and ordinary can be turned into something spectacular. Like the guy who fashioned sculptures out of Starbucks cups. Opportunities to create something fresh and new are all around you.

It’s funny, there are only 26 letters in the alphabet, but new words are being created all the time, and not necessarily long ones either. Walsorf, for example. I just made that one up, see? I’ll let you figure out what it means.

Even if you’re engaging in a very old art form—baking for example—there are always new ways to do it. There are new techniques, new ingredients, and new tools. All sourdoughs were not created equal. Trust me on that one.

So whether you’re scrapbooking or scrap baking (I think I made that up, but it sounds cool), serve it up with a fresh new take on an old familiar flavor.

Good Book, Good Animation

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As you probably know already, I’m a Christ follower. It’s not a big secret or anything, but I also try not to be too forward about it either. It’s who I am, it’s an important part of my life, and if you get to know me, you’ll find out about it one way or another.

Since I’m a Christ follower, reading the Bible is something I do pretty regularly. Believe it or not, I actually love reading it. It’s not a chore for me (though it’s not always easy). I could go on about why I think the “Good Book” is so great, but hey, if you really want to know, just ask me some time.

But this post is not about Bible reading, it’s about Bible watching.

Say what?

If you like animation and have even the remotest interest in what the Bible is about, you definitely need to check out...

The Bible Project

This may sound surprising (it does to me), but I think I’ve learned more about the central themes of the Bible from The Bible Project than I have from listening to sermons or even my own reading time.

They do a great job of breaking things down into simple ideas and explaining a lot of stuff that is typically misunderstood about the collection of ancient texts known as the Bible. And that’s pretty nice because the Bible can be super confusing and daunting. Have you seen the size of that thing? It's huge!

Besides, let’s be honest here, no one has ever accused me of being too smart or too Biblical. Not once. But I’ll wager even if you have suffered such fiery accusations, you’ll learn a thing or two watching The Bible Project. Plus, the animations are top notch (this, from a professional animator).

madness

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Not long ago, I finished listening to an audiobook of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (thanks to LibriVox). I quite enjoyed it on a number of levels. 

Here’s my cheeky little synopsis:

A lovely tale about a writing group that gets together to solve a mystery and take down a vampire.

Just before listening to Drac, I’d finished Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. They are two very different stories written in two very different styles. Now, I can appreciate Frank for its novelty (pun, pun, pun!) as well as its place as a forerunner for the horror genre, but I don’t know if I could say I enjoyed it. Make no missed stake (get it?), I’m still glad I gave it a listen, but I think it’s now very dated, while Drac still holds up as an excellent work of prose.

That said, the purpose of this post is not an untimely book review.

As you might expect, both books include a good dose of madness. That’s pretty standard for horror stories. In Frank, the protagonist, Victor Frankenstein himself, suffers through quite a lot of (very drawn out) mental instability. In Drac, nearly all the main characters question their sanity, but only Renfield, a patient in Seward’s asylum, has truly lost his marbles (and not the fun way, as in the movie Hook).

There’s one line from Dracula (the book not the vampire) on the subject that really stood out to me:

Stop; that way madness lies!

In context, it comes from a scene where things have taken a turn for the worst and the heroes are tempted to dwell on regret. They’ve made some costly mistakes and also missed picking up some very big clues. I believe the line is also a reference to Shakespeare's King Lear, who himself went quite mad.

So, what’s the point?

Dwelling on our past decisions and mistakes only leads to one inevitable destination: madness.

Have you gone far down that path yourself? I know I’ve tread those steps. I’ve sauntered up the very doors of the Mansion of Madness itself (also a title of a great board game, so I hear). Therein lies a bottomless pit where your thoughts spin over and over in crazy, tumbling circles, on and on without end.

It is the endless mantra, if only, if only, if only, drilling into your skull. 

It is a deadly poison wrought from a most vile brew: a concoction for insanity.

I bid thee, turn thine steps from that avenue of shadows, the one called Regret. Heed my words, learn from my own bitter woes, that trail will lead you nowhere good. Turn back, turn back, before it be too late!

---

Oh, ahem, sorry about that. What were we talking about then? Ah, yes, keep your creativity moving forward and let the past be the past (or Rafiki will hit you on the head with a stick and knock some sense into you).

Well, that was interesting. Now, what should I read next … some Poe or Lovecraft perhaps? Hmm, I think a bit of lighter fare may do me good. Until then, adieu, and keep the garlic and the holy symbols ever at the ready, lest the sharp fangs of regret sink into your so tender flesh!

cough

Apologies, I simply don’t know what has gotten into me lately. Oh, the sun, how it burns! Someone pass the aloe vera please.

space & sound

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Two fun audio/visual links for you today, both brought to you by APOD, which I've mentioned before.

 

First, a galactically packed image where each galaxy has a sound based on its distance:

The Hubble Ultra-Deep Field in Light and Sound

 

Next, a cross-section of Saturn's rings, which can be played in both major and minor keys.

Play Saturn's Rings Like a Harp

 

Safe travels (mind the tribbles and the treble clef) as you enjoy you voyage through space and sound!

adopt, adapt, and improve

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There’s an old Monty Python sketch where a bank robber breaks into a lingerie shop. Even after he realizes his embarrassing error, and that the place has no vaults or large stacks of money, he doesn’t let it thwart his plans. In a form of self-motivation, he quotes his old teacher, “Adopt, adapt, and improve.”

I can empathize with the guy. Not that I’ve done much in the way of bank robbing or lingerie shopping lately, but we’ve been undergoing remodel for two of our bathrooms. It’s been a lengthier process than I expected with plenty of semi-permanent decisions to be made.

The toughest part, by far, was trying to pick out the right tile. So. Many. Choices! On top of that, we’ve had to consider what looks good with the parts already in the bathroom. Mainly, how do we work with what we’ve already got, but make it nicer?

I imagine you’ve had a similar experience if you’ve been a creative for long. There are different ways of going about a creative “remodel.”

It may be worth scrapping a project altogether and starting over. That’s a hard (and painful) decision to make. Sometimes necessary though.

However, more often, you’ll retain at least part of your work, but find ways to add to or change it. In that case, you’ve got to decide how to “adopt, adapt, and improve.”

This can be a challenge because, while you may have a sense of what isn’t working, it takes time and testing to figure out what does work. My advice: trust your instincts, even (and especially) if they lead you to unexpected places.

One of the tricky parts is knowing when to stop making changes, when you’ve finally reached completion (not perfection, mind you). Here’s some good writing advice I’ve heard, which applies to more than writing:

If you can’t tell whether the changes you’re making are improvements, it’s time to stop.

So go ahead, rework, reshape, and remaster. But don’t spend so long on it that you can’t see the garden for the flowers. In other words, take a good step back and reexamine the thing as a whole before you get too caught up on details.

And hey, while you’re at it, why not ask for advice? You might try your friendly lingerie clerk down the street for instance. Or not, depending on the street.