worship

I’ve been experiencing some anxiety lately. I’ve come to the conclusion that anxiety is the feeling everything is wrong even when nothing is wrong at the moment. At least that’s how it seems to me.

I imagine there are a few things I’ve taken in that have contributed to this: interviews with Elon Musk about AI, podcasts discussing space debris and Earth-facing CMEs, and also watching a play through of The Last of Us, a zombie apocalypse game. Oh yeah, also California fires and more active shooters. Mild things, really.

To combat this, I keep thinking of something I heard during a Levi Lusko sermon. It is impossible to worship and worry at the same time.

Those of you who don’t come from a faith background may have a harder time understanding this, but one thing I’ve noticed in a lot of church-goers is a certain attitude toward worship.

Worship is often thought of in the context of singing. It’s something that happens during the part of a service when the band (or choir, or worship leader) is leading the congregation with music. Or maybe worship happens when you’re driving or doing some chores at home and a “worship” song is playing.

That all may be part of it, but it’s not the thing itself. For instance, you could be doing household chores in worship with or without the musical accompaniment. And you could be doing them in a non-worshipful way as well.

The idea that worship is more than a song is hardly a new one. I can think of a song (ironically) about that very thing. Still, I found the notion that worship and worry can’t coexist to be a striking one. It got me thinking, what makes something an act of worship in the first place?

I do agree that all our best qualities shine forth when we’re in worship. If I’m worshiping, I’m not living in fear or anger, I’m not stressed out or anxious—I’m in a state of satisfaction and peace, I experience wholeness. But why is that?

Worship happens when you’re living the way you were meant to, when you’re being you, and when you’re doing what you’re supposed to. Many times, doing the work (the hard stuff you know you need to do) is doing worship.

There are portions in the Bible where things like rocks and trees can be found offering praise. This always struck me as fascinating and strange. How can something without a consciousness or freewill engage in any manner of worship?

But that’s the thing, a rock or a tree is always being exactly what it is—no more and no less. We humans, however, have something special—a choice. 

I’ve definitely known people who are not living as they ought, who aren’t being true to themselves, and who aren’t doing what they were made to do. They aren’t living in worship. Instead, they’re living in all those negative qualities—fear, anger, worry, and so on. They’re anxious, they’re addicted, they’re out of control. They harm themselves and harm others.

There’s a lot more to worship than all that, but I believe being creative and living your creative calling can be a big part of worship. It’s living in one-ness, centralized, being as you’re meant to be. It sounds kinda fluffy-puffy and maybe even a little feely-wheely, but I don’t think it’s too hard to tell when you’re doing it and when you aren’t.

I hope today finds you in a state of worship and not worry.

Tyrus

Even though Google may be taking over the world and all, I do so enjoy their Google doodles about people of importance. Often they choose lesser known figures who have made a great impact in some way.

Recently, Google featured Tyrus Wong, a Chinese-American artist, who passed away a couple years back. I’d never heard of him before but I’m glad I know of him now. 

Tyrus was the driving creative force behind the animated Disney movie, Bambi. He was also a major influence on the artistic direction of movies like Rebel Without a Cause, and his work can be found in many household items such as dish wear and greeting cards. Besides all that, he also designed really fantastic kites that look like animals.

Turns out he had a pretty hard go of things in the US, traveling here with his father as a young boy, leaving the rest of his family behind. He endured a lot of racism and didn’t receive much recognition until later in life (he lived to 106). But his work has now made it into museums alongside some other greats like Picasso and Matisse.

Besides being in awe of the man’s brushwork, I always appreciate creatives who are good at more than just one thing. Hey, why not be a painter of movies and dinnerware as well as a kite maker? As I’ve found while working on writing and game design, creativity has so many applications. Why limit yourself to one? Just don’t try to do them all at once.

There isn’t much more to this post than to say you should look the guy up, just do an image search of “Tyrus Wong” and be amazed.

full of thanks

I don’t have anything sexy to say this week (have I ever?), or particularly funny for that matter.

For those of us in the USA, it’s Thanksgiving—a time to eat a lot of food and hang out with special people. But, most importantly, it’s a time to be thankful.

As for me, I’m thankful for my friends and family, the house we have, health, clothes, food, new opportunities, simple pleasures, and for the creative life God has granted me. And I’m thankful for you, good reader.

During this season, I hope that wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, you find a time and a space for the giving of thanks.

combined

This is the second of a two-part series, both of which are excerpts from my upcoming book, The Endless Creative.

You can find the first one here:

Unexpected

To recap from last week: 

There are two common aspects of creativity I’d like you to keep your eyes peeled for, especially when looking for inspiration.

  1. Creativity is unexpected (yet understandable)

  2. Creativity combines (the unrelated)

Now the second point, creativity combines. It’s about juxtaposition—two different things placed together. Imagine a life-sized sculpture of a man walking his dog made entirely of discarded coffee cups. Common trash has been used to make a piece of art.

This juxtaposition is a hallmark of creativity. It’s unmistakable and easy to identify. It’s one of the qualities that makes the work of the famous UK street artist Banksy so popular (besides their controversial nature, of course). 

Images such as trees growing out of a barcode, a man who appears to be throwing a bomb but is actually holding flowers, the Mona Lisa with a rocket launcher or the painting of a grim reaper in a boat painted over an actual dirty old canal—they all stand out because of their unusual combinations.

But don’t think for a nanosecond this only applies to art. For example, my brother-law, Jonny, needed to find a place to teach his students how to read maps. He found a local frisbee golf course (one with a fairly confusing layout) and printed out a satellite view from Google Maps, with a few discovery points he’d included for the students to chart. Mapping and frisbee aren’t two activities often found together, but it turns out the event was a big success (and I’d wager that the people who owned the course didn’t mind the extra business).

It’s remarkable what you’ll find when you start to look for unusual combinations. I heard about a board game being featured at a convention where the board itself is actually created during the game by a programable sewing machine. The way the game is played determines what sort of board the machine ultimately prints out. Such a game might not have mass appeal, but it’s a clever idea.

You can even find such things during your regular old day-to-day activities. During a visit to the dentist, I noticed an informational poster about gum disease and tooth loss. It had a large picture of a perl necklace with one pearl missing beneath the words, “Each one matters.” The tooth of their message was not lost on me.

Like Banksy’s work, some combinations are more to prove a point. Some, however, are simply made for the novelty. Take the shoebike—a bike where the wheels are made of shoes. It sounds fun at first, but when I saw it in use, it looked like a very uneven ride and I can’t imagine tying all those laces is a pleasure.

Other combinations are actually useful, like a backpack that becomes a tent or a bracelet that’s also a paracord, compass, whistle, and lighter. Yes, I just went on a hike. Why do you ask?

When you stop and gander (but please don’t goose), you’ll find creativity is all around. Whether it’s the unexpected, the combined, or some other aspect of creativity—you will soon have more source material than you know what to do with.

So next time you’re out on the streets (or on the trail), look out for the unexpected and combined—you won’t be disappointed.

unexpected

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This is the first of a two-part series, both of which are excerpts from my upcoming book, The Endless Creative.

There are two common aspects of creativity I’d like you to keep your eyes peeled for, especially when looking for inspiration. When you do, you’ll notice they show up all the time, like flies at a picnic.

  1. Creativity is unexpected (yet understandable)

  2. Creativity combines (the unrelated)

Let’s start with the first: creativity is unexpected. If you’ve seen the sci-fi show, Firefly, you may remember this line from one of the early episodes, “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!” 

It’s an unusual line and comes during an unusual scene (the titular spaceship’s pilot is playing with toy dinosaurs on the dashboard). It’s comically melodramatic and a great character moment. I believe its memorability comes from a truth it contains—something we inherently understand about storytelling and creativity—the need for the unexpected, yet understandable.

How often have you heard of a movie receiving criticism for being too predictable? There is something about predictability we can’t stand—it’s uninteresting, unexciting, unimpressive, and unfulfilling.

The predictable is dull.

When we were young, the world was fresh and new, everything was a surprise. But as we age and experience more, we become harder to impress, especially in this age of information over-saturation. We’re hard to impress because we already know it all and have seen it all. 

Predictability is not a bad thing—we’d be in big trouble if mathematic equations didn’t yield predictable results. Without predictability, we’d never get a grasp on how the world works. 

The problem with predictable is that it fails to grab our attention, to make our brains think in different ways. Besides, it’s not all the entertaining. 

The unpredictable, however, leads to discovery and learning. We love stories with unexpected elements like plot-twists and surprise endings because we didn’t see them coming—they challenge our expectations. While we might not like our expectations to be wrong in real life, it can be very rewarding in someone else’s story.

But there is a balance. It can’t only be unexpected, it still has to make sense. Just as we complain about movies being too predictable, we’ll also complain when we leave the theater scratching our heads, often due to an ending unwarranted by the rest of the movie. In a way, we feel cheated or tricked.

Granted, there is more to it than all that—there are other things to consider, like the viewer’s expectations going in, the films intended audience, and whether it’s supposed to be an absurdist film. But, on the surface, a good story should surprise the audience with an outcome that also makes sense—one the narrative naturally leads to with foreshadowing and the repetition of theme.

They say every story has already been told, or that there are really only a few types of stories (something like five to seven). Despite that, new and interesting stories are coming out all the time, some with massive success. Some element of the familiar is necessary, otherwise the story will be unrelatable, but there is always an opportunity to add something fresh and surprising to the mix.

Keep this in mind while you’re on the lookout for creative examples. When you discover something that surprises you and also resonates with you, take note of it.

You can find the second of this two-parter here:

Combined

success secrets

It’s not hard to find a ten-step list leading to almost guaranteed success in just about any field. While these lists don’t always have exactly ten steps, they’re pretty common nowadays.

I’ll admit, they can be helpful in breaking down an otherwise complicated process to its bare essentials, but such guides often do not lead to the success they promise—at least not immediately.

Here’s the problem: there usually isn’t just one formula that works all the time for everyone. Otherwise we’d all be rich, famous, bestselling authors with amazing six-pack abs.

There are just too many factors and too many complications to know for sure that the same course of action will yield predictable results for everyone.

Like it or not, most of our long-term goals will take a good amount of time and dedicated effort. Those promised shortcuts may exist, but they’re few and far between.

That said, I got a lot out of this article from Paul Kilduff-Taylor on The 10 Secrets to Indie Game Success (and Why They Do Not Exist)

Even though I’m not an indie game designer, I discovered some great insights that could be applied to creative design in general.

To entice you, here are a couple quotes from the article that I quite liked:

Your sojourn on this plane of reality is incredibly short and your perception of time accelerates as you get older — you will not have the hours, or the mental space, to work on everything that matters to you in your lifetime. If you can, spend your time creating a legacy that you will be proud of. 

 

Confidence, rather than arrogance, comes from being able to see the true value in yourself and in your work. You can be polite and humble but still have high self-confidence: in fact, these traits often go hand in hand. You do not have to become an all-singing all-dancing extrovert, but if you have issues in this area then you do owe it to yourself and others to work on them: the rewards will extend well beyond game development.

seasons

One thing particular to life in LA is the lack of seasons. Sure, it gets a little chilly in the winter and hot in the summer, but, most of the time, it’s a nice day outside. It’s one of the reasons so many people live there.

I didn’t realize I missed seasons until I moved away. There’s something special and important about changes in weather patterns and how they mark the passage of time. For me, it creates a mental expectation of change. Without that, I had a vague sense that time was passing, but most days felt just like the one before. There was an ongoing sameness that dulled me.

Seasons bring their own challenges, and also their own moods. Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring each have a different feel to them—a special uniqueness.

Much like the annual seasons, there are also seasons of creativity. There are times of newness and discovery, times of repetition and improvement, times of rest, and even times of loss and failure. Each one is an important part in the cycle. 

Currently, I’m entering a time of trying new things and also bringing old projects to a close. I’m learning to allow and plan for the time each creative undertaking requires, rather than trying to rush through it. I’m also learning which investments yield too little results to continue.

After having been through some big life changes, and a time in which I didn’t accomplish much in the pursuit of a creative career, I’m now returning to routine practice, goal setting, and measured growth.

I’m still figuring out what is most important and how I should best manage my time, while also experimenting. As I hear someone describe: when you’re getting started, you just throw a lot of spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks. Though I’ve done all that before, I’m rearing up for another round of spaghetti chucking.

How about you, have you thought much about what season you’ve come from and which one you’re entering?

Warfare

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What sort of act is creativity? Is it an act of love, of defiance, of expression?

Were this a multiple choice, I’d say all the above. Honestly though, I hate when they put that as one of the options in multiple choice tests—it’s seems kinda cheap and non-committal.

Anyways, authors like Steven Pressfield and K.M. Weiland claim creativity is an act of war.

Weiland wrote a nice little post about the subject based on this quote from Twyla Tharp,

“Creativity is an act of defiance.”

It got me stirred up and ready for battle—in a good way. Really, you should check it out and let me know what you think.

looking back

Have you ever looked back on something you made a long time ago and felt a sense of shame or disgust?

This just happened to me. But first—backstory.

The computer game Thief: The Dark Project came out back in 1998. Twas a good year. Though it’s aged a lot, Thief still remains my favorite video game of all time.

Besides the game itself (a sneaky medieval steampunk-ish game), one of the excellent things about it was the strong fan community. I learned a lot about proper (and improper) digital etiquette through the company’s online forums. 

 Even cooler, the developers released the level editor for the game, allowing fans to create and share their own missions. Many did, myself included.

Though I expect it had happened before, this is the first game I’m aware of to release a level editor to the public. And this wasn’t the polished user-friendly sort of fare you see today. It was clunky, technical and difficult with more commands you had to type in a prompt window than buttons—something clearly made more for the developers than the fans.

Anyhow, I made and finished two missions, as well as a handful of incomplete ones and some contributions to other’s missions. The experience was a valuable one, and partly the reason I have the full-time job I do today.

My mind has returned often to those old missions I’d designed so long ago, especially the half-done ones I wish I’d completed. But interests change and life requires one to move on.

When relating these experiences to a coworker, I got the idea of searching for images of my old creations. I found something even better: a play-through of my first mission on YouTube. I began viewing with a sense of trepidation and it didn’t get better as the video played.

Turns out the person playing it didn’t enjoy the mission very much at all. And I couldn’t blame them—it was bad, much worse than I’d remembered. It’s a wonder they bothered to play it at all, and even finish it. Truthfully, I could only watch in little five-minute spurts.

Looking back, I think of all the things I could have done differently, how I could have made it so much more awesome, wondering why I’d made some of the decisions I had back then. But that was then and this is now. I’ve come a long way, baby.

That was my first ever foray into game design and I’ve learned so much since then. That particular mission had quite a few challenges and barriers to completion, and yet, imperfect as it was, I still finished it and got it out to the public.

All this to say: when you look back on your old stuff, don’t judge it too harshly. It isn’t who you are now, but it was an important step to getting to this place. Even if you think it’s ugly, embarrassing, and amateur—you should consider it a trophy of accomplishment; it’s a  piece of the story, a necessary part of who you are today.

UX

User Experience (or UX as it is abbreviated) is something I’ve considered without thinking upon specifically.

What I mean is, I’ll ponder what makes one game more fun than another, what sort of teaching methods I find most helpful, or what assembly manuals I find the most clear and enjoyable to read. These are all cases of user experience.

Creativity is a tough thing. In one aspect, we want only to create in our own private world without having to bother about anyone else. But, really, if you want your work to be effective, you must consider your audience.

What will they think? How will they be affected by your work? Is your message easy to understand or veiled?

Engaging with creativity is as much a part of user experience as anything else. With a little forethought and planning, us creatives can make the “user’s” experience that much better. 

A friend of mine shared this article with me about the subject. Upon reading, I found it to be quite helpful. In short, it was a good experience. 

Check it out:

The 7 Factors that Influence User Experience