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?

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.

unqualified

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Elizabeth Swaney pulled off something I expect many of us have imagined attempting (or maybe I'm the only crazy one). She made it into this years Olympic Games despite being totally unqualified.

Swaney, a 33-year-old American exploited a loophole to compete for Hungary in the Halfpipe skiing event. While her performance was, well, exactly what you might expect from an average skier, her ability to get into such a highly competitive event is pretty impressive.

Sure, there’s plenty to be said about whether what she did was right or honest. Maybe it’s insulting to the other athletes. I wouldn't know. But I, for one, admire her cleverness and tenacity.

They don’t just let people walk in you know. Considering the qualifiers and all the various events one must attend as a competing Olympian, Elizabeth gave more than a passing commitment to endeavor—she was all in.

As creatives, we can start out feeling like we don’t belong in the games—in other words—completely unqualified. We begin to wonder, what are we doing here anyway. Everyone (even, and maybe especially, the people who have been at it a while) feels like a fake sometimes. But, you know what, if you never try, you don’t know what you’ll accomplish.

As the baseball-themed motivational saying goes, 

You can't steal second with your foot on first

OK, so you also can't get caught trying to steal bases with your foot on first. Even so, you won't go far (in sports or creativity) without taking a few risks.

I’ll admit, Swaney didn’t put in the years of hard training deserving the sport. This isn’t even her first escapade (she apparently ran against Schwarzenegger for governor of California). Still, you have to hand it to her, she’s got spirit.

If we had half the boldness to just step out there and show the world what we’re made of, well, the world would be a much more inspiring place. And hey, we might even catch the attention of a judge or two before they haul us off the snowy course.

fun and games

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Fun! 

There’s nothing I love hearing more than that word after introducing someone to a board game.

Being a board game aficionado, I have a lot of interest in what makes a game fun. 

During a family gathering, we played an old classic game I’d never heard of, Enchanted Forest. There is a special place in my heart reserved for old games. Granted, most of them don’t stand the test of time (based on my highly biased opinion), but they do retain a certain charm, an endearing quality, if you will. Likely this is because of all the old memories contained in their, dusty, weathered boxes.

I was actually surprised by Enchanted Forest. It had some interesting mechanics such as rolling two dice and using both results to move forward and/or backwards. It had a clever memory component where the players wondered through the forest peeking at symbols under trees in hopes to make it to the castle when a symbol they remembered came up. Though it had one aspect which I’ve never enjoyed and which took away some fun from the game: having to make an exact roll to land on a space. Even so, considering when it was made, it wasn’t a bad game.

The fact remains, many older games just aren’t as fun as their more modern counterparts.

But what is it that makes a game fun at all? I’ll save an in-depth treatise for a longer post, perhaps an article. Beside, the idea of “fun” is highly subjective. For example, my sister enjoys games with a high level of chance, while more hardcore boardgamers like games with more strategy. Chess-players enjoy a game with no chance at all.

All that said, there are three important fun factors which come to my mind: memorable, challenging, and surprising.

A memorable game does something unique, it has an element that stands out from any other game. When the party game Cranium came out it was a huge hit because it combined many forms of talent and artistry into one guessing game, rather than just focusing on a single one like drawing (Pictionary) or acting (Charades).

Who doesn’t like a little challenge in their game? A level of difficulty adds interest to a game, it creates a risk/reward system. Did I say Risk? Let’s shelve that for another time. Easy games with a predictable outcome get boring very fast.

Children’s games, on the other hand, are hardly ever challenging. Why, I used to outwardly scoff at games such as Candyland. The card game War isn’t much better. Then why are they so popular? Having kids, I’ve realized games like these do serve a purpose. They teach kids how to follow a set of rules, leading to a victory of some sort. They’re good for learning—a stepping stone to more advanced (and fun) games that favor smart decision-making over pure luck. Children’s games have their place, but you’d be hard pressed to find a bunch of grownups sitting down for a rousing game of Chutes and Ladders.

Last, a game needs some level of surprise. Replayability is the term you’ll often hear concerning a praiseworthy game. Most games have a randomized system built in, which allows for a good measure of the unexpected. Whether it’s a shuffled deck of cards or a modular board, even a familiar game should have some element of the new and unexpected to keep things fresh.

Alright, so that’s my crudely thrown-together list of what I find fun in a game.

How about you, are there any particular factors you’re looking for in your next game night?

flavor

The idea for this post came about after an experience I had playing the game Skyrim. In case you aren’t familiar, it’s an immense fantasy game from the Elder Scrolls series. 

In the game, I was visiting a small tavern when a serving maid walks up and asks if I’d like her to play some music. I reply yes and pay her 5 gold to do so. She plays some soothing music for a time on what I believe was a lute and then she’s done and walks away. Nothing else happens.

Her family isn’t troubled by dragons. She didn’t lose her brother’s favorite sword. None of that. She just walks away.

In Skyrim, as in many games, just about every interaction you have with anything bears some sort of significance to the overall story of the game. It seems like nearly every person you talk with has some quest they want you to go on, usually with the reward of some advancement such as a new item, skill, gold, more quests, etc.

But, in this case, all you got was the opportunity to hear some nice music for a few coins. Nothing more. 

I was a little disappointed at first. But, when I stopped to think more on it, I felt admiration.

This bit of flavor without function made the world feel more real, more vibrant. 

It got me thinking how flavor serves no immediate purpose yet without it our worlds (both real and imagined) would be quite dull.

You could survive just fine on flavorless food as long as it had adequate nutritional value. In fact, they often seem at odds with one another—flavor and nutrition. But to live such a way seems almost unbearable to me. 

I heard they invented a loaf for prisoners that had all the necessary nutrients to sustain life while being utterly flavorless. In the end, it was considered cruel and unusual punishment.

I remember a point in my life where the only part of the day I really looked forward to was when I got to eat. Draw what conclusions you wish about my mindset here, but I couldn’t imagine having that pleasure taken away.

Taste aside, even the way food is presented adds a whole 'nother level of flavor. The value of going out to a nice restaurant comes from the fact that you aren't just paying for good food, you're paying for an entire eating experience.

Personally, I'm a sucker for plates where the food is arranged to look like a face. I love it when my wife lays out my sandwich and accompanying sides to look like a happy person with a mustache. And I love doing the same for her or my daughter just as much. I would even argue it does make the food taste that much better.

A life without flavor is as dull and gray as a day without the sun.

Flavor pumps lifeblood into an otherwise ordinary story.

Flavor is the extra bling in your attire that gives you style.

The flavor text you may read about a product provides a description to entice you to learn more. It’s exciting.

Flavor is that little bit of detail you add to your art, which, while unnecessary for the work as a whole, is the spark that sets it on fire—especially if you’re really into pyrotechnics. 

Sure, flavor alone may not be enough to fill your belly, warm your body, or engage you in the story. 

Still, I hope the next time you have the opportunity, whether you’re building a bicycle or baking butternut squash biscuits, you don’t forget to add a bit of flavor—just for fun.

new year, same you

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Here we are again, another year in the records, another just kicked off. 

I’m telling you, I’ve tried to stop it, but it keeps happening, c'est la vie.

So, 2018 huh? How do you like that.

Me, I’m hopeful. I think that’s the general idea when it comes to new years. 

To hope, to hold on with a belief that the future will be better.

It’s not a bad way to go though, even when most of our resolutions don’t pan out.

My 2017 had a lot of big life-changes and I certainly didn’t accomplish all I’d hoped to (Ok, so I never do). It ended with some very nice holiday celebrations but also with some pretty heavy news.

So I’m going into this new year with definite plans for much-needed change but also with some fears of what is to come. Yet I’m also expecting the unexpected, waiting to be surprised in new and interesting ways, just wanting to enjoy life to its full potential.

The new year always seems like a trick of the mind to me. You’re still the same you on January 1st and you’ll probably continue most your same habits that you had last year.

Then again, perhaps it’s just the Jedi mind trick we need. Some people are only waiting for a good excuse to make a big change, to try something new, and the new year is as good an excuse as any.

I hope your new year is one filled with great expectations, even more I hope you are surprised and delighted by the things you never expected but secretly wished for. 

I hope, as always, that you take creativity by the horns and don’t let go no matter how hard it bucks. Even when it shouts at you to stop and complains that you’re ruining a perfectly good historical viking reenactment with your horn-grabbing ways, because, hey, all’s fair in love and creativity! Or something like that.