comfort and new

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If you haven’t heard it already, welcome to another year!

As for me, I appreciate having a designated date on the calendar to begin again. It seems to come at just the right time, before I can spend too long regretting all my holiday indulgence.

Having a new year allows an opportunity for hope, for assessment, for recommitment. It’s a time for change.

But change isn’t always easy. It’s unnatural, it takes effort.

One of the big problems with embracing the new is that it’s not familiar or comfortable.

I think of a stuffed animal my niece has—a cow she calls her “Moomoo.” It is old, falling apart, and even when it’s washed, it still looks dirty. But man does she love that thing! It’s special to her, a reliable source of comfort.

Now, there are good reasons for comfort. It’s important for children to have things that give them comfort in a world filled with new, and often frightening, experiences.

And the recent holidays can and should be a time of comfort and joy to you. It should be a time to relax and take a break from the daily grind and instead enjoy the company of loved ones.

But, after all that, there comes a time to leave the old and comfortable at home and head out in exploration of the strange and new. 

Do you know any adults who are still clinging to those tattered old comfortable things in their lives, refusing to let go? Often it can become an unhealthy bond, such as an eating or drinking habit, a relationship, or a source of entertainment. Let’s not judge them too harshly, we all have our particular vices. The call of couch and blanket is a difficult one to resist, no matter your age. And all those screens with endless shows, games, and social media posts, who can say no?

Most of us will admit we know that too much of these things aren’t good for us, but they’re just so stinking comfortable. We’re used to the lifestyle they feed. Sometimes we don’t even enjoy them anymore—they’re old and tattered—yet we can’t quit them because of the habits we’ve formed around them.

And yet, change is possible. Newness awaits.

Now is as good a time as any for a change. Sleeping in and hanging around the house in your flannel onesie was fine for the holidays, but the New Year is here. I bid you, throw off the covers, clean up, get dressed, and take a confident step outside of your front door into the bright and brisk morning of new. Hey Christopher Robin, bring your Teddy bear along for the ride if you like, just don’t let him hold you back.

choose joy

How much of our lives are up to us? What truly falls within the domain of our control? It’s a much-debated subject. 

Is it simply mind over matter? Do we cause things to happen by our own force of will? Or are we leaves on the wind, dipping and twirling wherever the unseen forces take us?

I’m still figuring that out myself (and, I suppose, always will be), but lately I have been learning about surrendering control, or rather accepting my lack of control.

Whatever outside circumstances I’m faced with, I do believe my attitude toward them is something that falls within my responsibility. 

This quote comes to mind.

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” 

― Charles R. Swindoll

Despite some popular quotes saying otherwise, I don’t fully agree that I’m the captain of my own destiny. But I can be at the helm of my emotions, steering them where I wish through both clear and stormy weather.

Still, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Sometimes that ship’s wheel goes flying from my hands and spinning wildly.

Maybe the whole thing is more like flying the Millennium Falcon, with complicated panels of levers and flashing buttons. Maybe I need a big, hairy co-polot to help me. Maybe I’m taking this analogy a bit too far.

Anyhow, I do believe we have a choice in how we feel, which leads to how we act. For this reason I believe that:

Creativity is a choice

Love is a choice

Joy is a choice

There are some strong connections between creativity and love. I write a lot about it in my upcoming book, The Endless Creative, but for now I want to talk about joy.

In this Christmas season (or whatever holiday you might celebrate around year’s end), joy is one of the main sentiments. I’ve often heard joy described as something even deeper than happiness, an inner contentment not based on circumstances.

C. S. Lewis talks about being surprised by joy and how it was a feeling he could not fabricate. He claims it is a by-product of something else, the source of joy.

The two words, “choose joy” have been circulating in my thoughts these days. Can I really find joy in every circumstance? When work is challenging? When I’m not feeling creative? When I’m discouraged? When I’m sick? When my kids wake up crying their eyes out in the dead of night?

Yes, I believe so. In all circumstance, joy remains within reach. 

Joy can be felt alongside emotions like sorrow, fear, and even anger. Joy is a big, weighty feeling and, once captured, it presses upon all the others, giving them depth. But that doesn’t always make it easy to find.

I don’t know if it was part of the plan, but it makes sense that Thanksgiving comes before Christmas. I’ve found that thankfulness is a natural path to joyfulness. When I stop and think about all the things I have to be thankful for—my job, my family, and the many opportunities I have to exercise my creativity—it leads me to joy.

If joy is a by-product then the objects of our gratitude may be some of the best fuel to feed its flames. If that’s the case, there are also ways we can stamp out the glowing embers of joy.

When I set my mind on reasons for self-doubt or worry, I’m led to darker, joyless places. For me, I find joy in dwelling on Christ’s coming and how he has changed my life.

I hope, good reader, that whatever way you celebrate this season, you find creative new things to be thankful for—things that set your joy ablaze. Whether joy sneaks up on you or you must spend long, quiet moments slowly stoking it to life from the ashes, I hope its warmth remains very near to you.

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.

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

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.

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

 

book update

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Hello friends and faithful readers. Some of you may be wondering what I’ve been up to these days. Wonder no more!

It’s been a while, but I have an exciting new update on the book I’m writing: The Endless Creative. I’ve finally completed a draft I am proud of and have sent it off to my editor. I may have overshot my planned deadline by over a month, but life happens and it feels good having finally reached this point.

The Endless Creative is about finding purpose through creativity. It follows the journey of the creative as it parallels the three-act story structure and the hero’s journey. It’s something I’m excited about and looking forward to sharing with you all.

For me, writing the book has been a journey in itself and I’m eager to discover what changes my editor suggests (beside the usual spelling and grammar fixes). Though I like it where it is, I know there are many ways it can be improved. I’m just not sure yet which improvements are the best. Really, I’m trying to prep myself for the many changes I expect it’s going to need, and to not become disappointed by it.

Oh yeah, I should mention that the image above is not the final-final cover, but the artwork you see there is about finished. I’m really happy with how it’s turned out and had a great experience working with the artist, Robert Clear.

I just threw on that text for this post. To be honest, I’m no fan of choosing fonts, I prefer to leave that to the pros.

Having focused most of my creativity on getting the book ready for edit, I’m taking some time to celebrate. I often experience a little bit of a letdown after reaching a big milestone, but I’m also learning how important it is to recognize and celebrate big achievements for what they are. And then I need to figure out what’s next.

I have a life coach who has been helping me in that area, keeping me focused and goal-oriented. It’s a new experience for me, and it’s been a good one so far.

Looking to the horizon and what’s up ahead, I’ve been thinking more about this blog, my email list, and what I want to do with them in the future. More on that later. For now, we’ll leave things as they are. As always, I’m open to suggestions and advice.

I do have a short sci-fi story that a publisher is interested in and willing to work with me on. That may be the next big project right now. I’ve got some smaller things as well, but you’ll hear more about them when they’re finished.

Until next time, I hope you are excelling in and completing your creative projects, whatever they may be. If you need help in that area, you should grab my free e-book, Done! which is about that very thing.

And I’d love to hear what sort of creative things have you been working on lately. Feel free to share about them in the comments below.

Creatively yours,

A. P. Lambert