tags off!

After moving to northern Arizona, I felt obligated to buy boots. 

I should preface this by telling you I am not a cowboy in any sense of the word. Were the boots to help me fit in? Sure, I’ll take some ownership there.

But really, they’re just good to have on when working outdoors. There are all sorts of foot enemies about in this country: snakes, cacti, other pokey plants, biting insects, biting children, that sort of thing. Boots are a great preventative to injury. Plus they make me taller, which is always fun.

After purchasing said boots, I kept the tags on and walked around the house in them for a while. This looked especially ridiculous because it’s the dead of summer and I’m wearing shorts. I know, highly unfashionable.

Boots are not the exception though, I do this for every article of footwear I purchase. You see, I’ve got a tenuous relationship with shoes of all varieties. It takes me a good while to trust them.

The thing is, I’ve got some very real (and completely undiagnosed) foot issues. This has been the case ever since I went on a week-long backpacking trip in Yosemite and then lost feeling in one of my toes for about half a year. I blame the hiking shoes for this.

My shoe problems have persisted since then to the point that even when shoes feel comfortable in the store, they’ll become pain-inducing by the end of the week. It took me three total trips to a New Balance store before I could find cross trainers that felt good on my feet. The clerks were rolling their eyes by my final return. The struggle is real, people.

Back to the boots. Yes it looks silly stomping around the house wearing shorts, high socks, and boots—but it’s completely necessary. The good news is, the boots have been feeling good and I’m about 90% sure I’ll keep them.

So, why the long story about boots? This realization came to me as I was clomping about: many people treat their creativity the same way. They try it out, maybe wear it around the house where its safe and free of judgement, but don’t really own it or take it out. They keep the tags on, so it can be returned if it turns out to not be so great a fit.

I can’t tell you how many highly creative (even artistically talented) people I’ve talked to who will not admit their own creativity. It’s truly shocking.

Creatives, it’s time to tear those tags off and own it! It’s time to have your “first rodeo” and show the folks what those puppies can do. There are puppies at the rodeo, right? Again, not a cowboy here.

inspired

Have you ever wondered where creativity comes from? Why do some people seem to be more creative than others? Is it an innate ability only a select few are gifted with or do we all possess the same creative potential?

Here’s one thing I’ve noticed: all the really creative folks I know hold a genuine and ongoing interest in many things. They’ve got an increased receptivity to inspiration. 

Is this something they’re born with or something experience has developed in them? I couldn’t say, but I do know this: it’s a posture everyone can develop—a wellspring available to all.

There are times in my own life when I have kept myself closed off and closed in. As a result, my sense of inspiration waned dramatically. But when I’ve focused on dissevering and appreciating more of the world around me, BAM, inspiration hits like a load of bricks (though not as painful).

Chances are, you already have a good idea of what you find inspiring. Consider what excites you, what piques your interest; what do you find fascinating? 

Dig deeper until you gain an understanding of why you find inspiration from such sources, this will help you look for it in other places.

When it comes to the inter-webs, Pinterest is a very popular source of inspiration. I hardly find a baked good, craft, or room design that didn’t have a little help from Pinterest these days. In fact, my wife recently used it to get some ideas for our son’s dino-themed first birthday. 

She discovered a clever way to cut watermelon so it looked like a monster’s head. However, we didn’t just straight-up copy the design, we added some flavor of our own, including little cantaloupe wedges for teeth and head spikes. Personally, I think it made a nice improvement, and the kids loved it.

Check it out:

IMG_5465.JPG

Pinterest hunting is fun, no doubt about it. But heed my warning, oh hunter of inspiration, once you find it, never take it as-is. When using it for your own creations, you’ve got to change it in some significant way—make it your very own. 

This might not seem like a big deal for cake pops and bookshelves, but the more serious you are about growing as a creative, the more important it is that you don’t just steal another person’s work.

For a little more on the subject of inspiration vs. stealing, check out my post: The Planets.

Death Cloud

In case you haven't noticed, I like to share other creative projects from time to time, usually ones completed by friends of mine.

This week, I present the super ominous, super cool Death Cloud. It's a novel by my buddy RJ Batla from his Senturians of Terraunum fantasy series.

He's trying something new this time and running a Kickstarter campaign. Naturally, I've backed it.

If you're interested, you can check it out right here!

 

And hey, if you've got some cool creative project you're ready to share with the world, let me know about it. You never know, I might just check it out and post something.

AlphaMystica

2018-06-28-alphamystica_v01.jpg

So, what’s the deal with AI these days?

What do they know? What are they capable of? What do they want from us? And how do they feel when we abandon them in the woods with their sad little faces staring longingly into our swiftly departing rearview mirrors?

You’ll find out all that and more from this article.

Designer Diary: The Search for AlphaMystica

Alright, I confess, it’s not really about that stuff I said before. But it is about AI and boardgames. 

Tysen Streib, an AI developer for games shares his insights and struggles as he works on an AI for a digital version of the game Terra Mystica.

I’ll admit, the article gets very technical by the end—even for a genius like me (yes, I still have to look up how to spell the word ”genius”), but the beginning part is especially interesting. It turns out that not only can AI beat the best chess player, they can also beat the best Go player.

First, there was AlphaGo, which learned by studying human games, then came AlphaZero, which was completely self-taught and markedly better than AlphaGo. It’s kinda freaky when you think about it too much (which I do), especially if you’re really into boardgames (which I am).

What other areas of life will AI develop complete mastery over their human competitors?

Well, I have yet to meet one able to make a better quesadilla than I can, so we’re still safe for the time being. But when that day comes ... be afraid, be very afraid.

mystery

I figured I’d continue on the Star Wars trend (ha, I almost wrote trek) from last week.

Most people over the age of 7 agree the Star Wars prequels (episodes 1-3) are not great. I suppose they have some redeemable qualities (if you look really hard) but I found most of the content to be either forgettable or unforgettably bad. Sorry, George. 

One of those memorably bad decisions has to do with the introduction of “midi-chlorians.” Apparently, they’re microscopic life forms that facilitate The Force, or something like that. Anyways, midi-chlorians brought The Force down quite a few notches on the coolness scale. 

But why are they so bad? Don’t we love getting a scientific explanation for things we don’t understand? Sometimes, yes. But not always. Here’s the big problem: they explain away the mystery.

Without mystery, creativity dies a slow, boring death.

More recently, Lucas announced his original plans for the later trilogy in the main storyline (ep7-9)

“[The next three Star Wars films] were going to get into a microbiotic world. But there’s this world of creatures that operate differently than we do. I call them the Whills. And the Whills are the ones who actually control the universe. They feed off the Force… If I’d held onto the company I could have done it, and then it would have been done. Of course, a lot of the fans would have hated it, just like they did Phantom Menace and everything, but at least the whole story from beginning to end would be told.”  

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a terrible idea to me, for the very same reason. It takes everything people love about Star Wars, throws it out the window and instead dives into a detailed explanation of how The Force works. It mercilessly slaughters the mystery.

Without mystery, creativity becomes quite dull. Rather than surprising and exciting, it morphs into a prison of predictable pattern. It ceases to be new and therefore ceases to be creative.

Magic tricks are fascinating, but once the trick is revealed, that sense of awe and wonder is lost—it becomes a rational, ordinary thing.

As a writing teacher often reminded the class: RUE, resist the urge to explain. A story is much more interesting when it unfolds slowly. Readers enjoy the excitement of each reveal that comes with a new plot point, rather than being given all the juicy secrets in chapter one.

There is something to be said about not knowing. True, not knowing can drive us crazy sometimes. In our information overloaded world, we want to know everything. But there are times when knowing can be even worse than not knowing. How many times have you discovered something you were curious about only to look back and realize you would have been better off remaining in the dark?

Take the TV series, Lost, for example. When the writers tried to explain all that weird stuff happening on the island (smoke monsters and polar bears anyone?) during the last season, and especially the last episode, it felt like they were taking all the magic they had created and dumping it down the toilet.

Sure, it’s good to be well-informed and prepared rather than confused and befuddled, but there are times when a state of confusion can lead to greater innovations. Confusion forces you to question what you know, to look for a solution that isn’t obvious.

So, I say, don’t be afraid of the mysterious and strange, they might open a new window and allow a light of inspiration to shine on that creative mind of yours—one which is completely (and blessedly) devoid of midi-chlorians.

Con-unity

2018-08-16-con_v01.jpg

This summer, I attended a Christian writers conference called Realm Makers. It wasn’t the first Christian conference I’d been to, but it was my first writers con.

In short, it turned out even better than I had expected (not that I had a lot of expectations going in, good or bad). I met many a fine folk and gleaned quite a bit from the seminars and panels I attended. I boarded the plane home feeling rejuvenated and restored. Plus, I have a few new books and a bunch of new friends now.

There is something to be said about being around creative people with similar goals, mindsets, and experiences to your own. The sense of belonging I felt there was wonderful. It was a little like being home but with 300 people I’d never met before.

Generally, while out in public I have my guard up. Now, I’m a rather friendly guy, but I operate with a sense that most people I’ll meet don’t truly understand or resonate with where I’m coming from. Meeting someone I have a strong affinity with doesn’t happen often, even at other conferences and conventions I’ve gone to.

This event was an exception. Not a single person I talked to felt like a stranger, despite how different our personalities, backgrounds, and even appearance might have been. There was a connection, a feeling that, on some level, this person gets me, they’ve dealt with (and maybe still are dealing with) some of the same struggles I have.

Creatives, if you can find a place and people such as that—people who you can truly identify with—I highly recommend you make a strong effort to attend. Yes, such things can be expensive (besides just the registration, there’s travel, accommodations, and a time commitment). Despite my severe lack of sleep during the con, I felt refreshed by the end.

It’s healthy to live and work around people who have a different outlook and walk of life than your own, rather than living in an echo chamber of people who all sound the same. But it sure helps to take the occasional opportunity to refocus your creative energy as you glide along, squawking merrily with some birds of a feather at your side. 

Oh, did I mention we ended the whole shebang with an epic Nerf gun war? Totes awesome. And the sweet pair of mugs I won in a raffle didn’t hurt neither!

a place for everything

2018-07-05-organize_v01.jpg

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?

fresh and new

2018-06-14-fresh_v01.jpg

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

2018-06-07-bible_v01.jpg

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

2018-05-31-madness_v01.jpg

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.