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.

balance revisited

As I’ve mentioned in the previous post, I’m reading The ONE Thing. In the book, they talk about “lies,” people often believe.

I’ll admit, most of them I can nod along with and say, “sure, sure,” like Paul Newman’s character from The Hudsucker Proxy (great movie if you haven’t seen it). But some of the supposed “lies” are actually a bit harder for me to swallow. Two in particular: a disciplined life and a balanced life. The book’s authors claim both are a lie.

I consider myself to be a fairly disciplined person and I’m all about that balance stuff.

It turns out the disciplined “lie” isn’t so striking. The argument is that instead of trying to be disciplined in all aspects of life (and failing), just be disciplined in one thing. It makes sense and they use Michael Phelps as an example, so who can argue with that, right?

Balance though, that’s something I’ve really got to lean into (pun alert).

We live in a world full of extremes and I’ve always felt that balance is a healthier approach. There’s a balanced diet, a balanced checkbook, even balance bikes (you know, for kids).

The book makes the argument that while balance sounds great, no one actually achieves it—it’s an impossible ideal. Okay, yeah, maybe there’s some truth to that. 

In my mind, when I finally reach perfect balance I’m sitting alone atop a grassy knoll with legs crossed in some Zen-like trance and, somehow, little stones are hovering around me. That’s the moment right before I single-handedly take on an army of Storm Troopers. Hey, it’s my dream, I can do what I want.

Really, that’s never gonna happen. There are dishes to feed, mouths to change, and diapers to load. Oh, and that whole business about making money in order to keep the lights on. Plus the only Storm Troopers I know are just folks in costume.

Life is too full of important and necessary things to keep them all in balance. I get that. But I still think a mindset of balance is beneficial.

It’s better to allow yourself a little bit of sugar once a day (diabetics not included) than to go a few days without and then totally gorge yourself on it. Same with exercise. A little bit of exercise (like a short jog) every other day is way healthier than none at all followed by a day of pushing your body to the edge of cardiac arrest.

The book’s argument against balance is that only the people who live on the extremes are successful. That may be true in some sense, but I think it’s debatable as a principle for everyone. I know plenty of people who have lived their life on the extremes and done quite poorly for themselves.

The ONE Thing offers “counter balance” as the alternative to a balance life, where you focus on one thing while everything else gets neglected and then you return to the other things and focus on re-balancing. But even they can’t help but give the strong warning not to neglect family life too often for work. So even the balance haters have to admit there’s a need to hold work and family in some kind of equilibrium.

In the end, I think we might be talking about two sides of the same coin here. 

To me, balance is not holding everything equally, giving it all the same amount of time and attention. Clearly that’s not possible. Balance is finding the right amount of time to give every task, thought, emotion, goal, habit etc. If you’re angry all the time, or sad all the time, or even happy all the time, that’s not good. Life has rhythms and flows. For everything there is a season (you know the rest).

It’s kinda like a hula-hoop. You might look pretty silly swinging your hips that way and at the start you just keep dropping it again and again. But, the more you work at it, the more you figure out just the right way to keep that thing going, around and around and around.

Wait, were we talking about balance or centripetal force? Ah well, save it for another post I guess.

By the way, here's my previous post on balance, if you're leaning that way.

a creative divided

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I’ve been reading The ONE Thing by Gary W. Keller and Jay Papasan. It’s got a lot of good information, much of which I’ve read elsewhere.

Let’s face it, once you start reading those sorts of productivity and success books, you get a lot of the same advice from different people. That probably means it’s good advice.

One practice it warns against (one I know I’m guilty of) is multitasking. The book points out that multitasking really just means dividing attention unequally between two things and, more often than not, doing them both poorly. 

It presents evidence that we can really only pay attention to one thing and the more we try to accomplish at once, the less productive (and more exhausted) we become.

Unlike computers, our minds are not great at quickly switching between multiple tasks.

Sure, we can walk and talk, but that’s because walking typically requires little brain power. Try walking on a tightrope and all of a sudden your jabbering goes away. This is what makes phones and driving a potentially dangerous combination (a little PSA for ya).

As for me, I often divide up my creative attention, and thus my creativity suffers. Writing a book and checking emails at the same time (or designing a game while surfing the web) turn out to be counter-productive. Instead, I should set aside specific blocks of time for each task.

But I have gotten better at doing this (as well as recognizing when I fail). There have been those long stretches of time where I really do sit down and write without interruption. And I feel much better for it.

How about you, have you noticed that your creative output suffers when you try to share your time? More importantly, have you done anything about it?

I leave you with two quotes (I’ll let you guess which of them comes from The ONE Thing).

To do two things at once is to do neither.

-Publilius Syrus

 

Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.

-Ron Swanson

 

your own thing

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Brief one today.

First, a confession. I really like Maggie Rogers’ music. I don’t know, it just moves me. Ya know?

I only recently watched her success story video, which you can find on YouTube here.

In it, Pharrell Williams (Mr. “Happy” himself), listens to Maggie’s song during a music class critique and is clearly blown away. 

Even better than his facial expressions throughout (and Maggie losing herself to the music) is his feedback. 

“You’re doing your own thing,” Pharrell says, “and that is such a special quality and all of us possess that ability, but you have to be willing to seek.”

I think it’s a wise outlook for any creative. 

You can learn from others and study a craft, but in the end, you have to be boldly creative in the one way you were called to be—your own unique way.

When you do that, it stands out because you're doing something truly special in a world full of imitation.

appreciation

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Typically, I’m about a year behind on watching movies—sometimes longer. 

A few reasons: we don’t make it to the theater much (a product of having two young children), movies take time to watch, and there are a lot out there to catch up on.

That said, we saw La La Land recently. This is hardly a review, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. The songs were great and I got to relive my experiences of life in LA, including my pursuits as both a budding actress and an underground jazz club owner.

Ok, maybe not the last bits.

One thing I found ironic (not sure if it was purposeful) was the song, “City of Stars” since, as anyone who lives there knows, both the light pollution and air pollution prevent the seeing of many celestial bodies in the sky. 

Something that really stuck out to me, and the point of this post (yes, I’m getting to it finally), was the presentation of this universal truth: 

You often won’t appreciate something until you see someone else enjoy it.

I don’t think the following is much of a spoiler, but, if you care, be warned.

One of the main characters, Mia, comes out early on in her relationship with Sebastian informing him that she hates jazz. Sebastian, however, is a jazz enthusiast who dreams of starting his own jazz club in hopes to revive the art form.

Sebastian takes the time to sit Mia down and show her why he loves jazz so much. Over the course of the movie, his excitement rubs off and she, too, learns to appreciate jazz.

Now, I’m no jazz buff, but I’ve seen the same story played out many a time through movies and real life. One person has a real passion for a hobby, sport, art form, etc. Eventually, as that passion is lived out, it spreads and others share the same love.

Why does this happen? Excitement spreads.

I’ve definitely seen it happen with board games, and it’s worked on both sides of the table (heh). I’ve learned to enjoy them because of other friends and family who shared them with me. In turn, I’ve shared them with my own friends and family and their interest has grown.

That’s the beauty of creativity: when you share what you love, others learn to appreciate and enjoy the same things you do. A community develops.

I encourage you, take time to sit with someone else and learn about the things they love and why. You may be surprised how your interests change and what you discover. 

In the same way, don’t be afraid to share what you love with others. You just might find a friend or a fellow aficionado. Hey, maybe you’ll find yourself dancing across tables playing jazz flute. You’ll never know until you try.