Week Off: NYC

nyc skyline

No blog post this week, due to traveling in New York City. Till next Monday, be well!

 

Mini Book Review: Tidying

Over the weekend I stopped at the library and a little squarish book caught my eye.

the-life-changing-magic-of-tidying-up

I had never heard of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up before, but you may have. Apparently it’s become quite popular. At any rate, I took Marie Kondo’s book home with me and read it straight through in one go. It is rare that a book captivates me in that way, but not only was it well written, the information inside was right up my alley.

I recommend taking a look at this book. I won’t go into a full synopsis here, because there are plenty of places online that do that and frankly I think reading the book is going to be far superior to any breakdown you might find. To summarize, this book presents a method for organizing and decluttering the material possessions in your life so that you will never have to deal with clutter ever again. It sounds unreasonable or too good to be true, and yet the method makes a lot of sense once you reach the last page.

It’s difficult, as most worthwhile things are. However if living without clutter ever returning (which is, in my experience, the downfall of all organization methods) sparks your interest, consider hitting your local library or ordering a copy of this book online. I am in no way affiliated with the book; this is just a personal recommendation based on finding something I really enjoyed.

And now I’m off to start the process, to see if it really works. I have a feeling it will, so long as I see it through to the end. That will be the real challenge.

 

Everyone Is Way Worse Than Me

Two things I know well about human beings is that we quite enjoy judging others and really, really dislike judging ourselves. It doesn’t take much foresight to see how this can cause some problems.

For starters, that attitude means our natural assumption is “we are right and they are wrong.” We aren’t generally as critical of our own opinions the way we are of others. We can find holes in their logic until the cows come home, while our own thoughts seem water-tight. We just don’t see how we could be wrong. (This is a good case of “you don’t know what you don’t know.”)

Another challenge that our it’s not me, it’s you point of view can dredge up is that we focus on the faults of others while ignoring our own. This is the sort of thing that quickly degrades to destructive internal thoughts like “At least I’m not as bad as X.” While you may not have committed the atrocity (or perceived atrocity, as the case may sometimes be) that Person X did, yours and my hands are hardly clean. We all make mistakes. We just like to judge the mistakes of others as more severe than our own.

I find remembering this helps to bring some much needed empathy to my life. Certainly it does not excuse the horrible things others (or myself) do, but it tempers my judgment of it. It pokes me with the reminder that I’m just-as-if-not-more broken as my fellow human beings. It implores me to look deeper and consider what could have happened in my life that would have led to me taking such actions or making such mistakes.

The truth is, we all have inside us the capacity for amazing and/or horrific things. A big mistake we can make is to believe we are incapable. There is a situation, though it might be extreme and different than what causes someone else to fall, that would cause us to act in a similar way. I may think it’s horrific that terrorists are killing people in the name of their beliefs, but put me into the lives they’ve lived instead of the one I have now and I very well might walk the exact same path. I’m not above it. I’m broken inside too. I had racist family members of previous generations. It would not have been difficult to sync up to their views and join them, especially at a young and impressionable age. Alcoholism runs in my family as well. With a few different steps during the walk of my life, I know full well I would be in that boat.

When we know we love judging others and hate judging ourselves, we can temper our natural instinct and turn our attention back where it belongs: on us. As I’ve said before, and will no doubt say again and again in the future, our job is ourselves. It takes a lifetime to fix what’s broken inside us; we don’t have the time to go trying to fix other people first.*

*This of course does not mean we can’t help others as we go through life’s journey together. The focus, when it comes to judgment, should just remain squarely on what’s inside our own hearts. We have a lot of work to do as it is!

 

The Choice is Yours

I spent the weekend – all weekend – helping someone move, and am exhausted! So here is a tweet from earlier today, and I will rest up and return to regular lengthy updates next week. (Though there’s something to be said for keeping it short and sweet!)

You always have more choices than you think.

 

What Are Roadblocks Telling You?

Sometimes I write blog posts for others, and sometimes I write them to work through my own challenges. This is a “my own challenge” blog post, so feel free to read it or skip it depending on your interest level.

In life you’re going to encounter road blocks as you progress towards your goals. This is inevitable. (The alternative is you reach no road blocks because you are not moving forward, and that is far worse.) At these points on your journey it can be extremely beneficial to determine what the roadblocks are telling you.

Road block ahead!The first option may simply be that you’ve encountered a normal hurdle you need to get past. Meaningful work is hard, and requires you to put in effort to accomplish what you’ve set out to do. If this is the type of roadblock you’re facing, buckle down and push on. You’ll get past it, eventually.

The second possibility is that the roadblock is there to move you towards a different direction. For example, I’ve encountered nothing but misery since working full time on the game I’m trying to make. I’ve hit wall after wall, and through sweat and tears gone past them to find yet another wall waiting. More and more it seems that these roadblocks are telling me to do something else.

How do you tell the difference?

That’s the tricky part, to be sure. I’m not certain there is a single answer. Some of it may be instinctual. Of course, instinct can be a liar at times. Giving up because you’re worn out from all the roadblocks and you convince yourself it isn’t the right path doesn’t mean you’re definitely experiencing “Option 2.”

What I’ve seen through this particular experience is that I’ve never truly felt called to make this game. It was something I just decided to do. I’ve felt much more that subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) tug inside to write, and animate, and draw, and help others. I have never felt that tug to program. I’ve ignored other tugs in order to try and force my way into programming. What has become clear is that the interruptions I encounter while working on the game have been far more fulfilling than the game development. These interruptions are not inherently “easier” but they are in tune with the gifts I have, rather than this programming which seems to function opposite of how my brain works.

I need to change course. That isn’t to say “give up” because I still feel very compelled to finish a goal I set, in this case. However all the road blocks I’ve faced in the past two weeks regarding this game seem to be pretty clearly pushing me towards finding the right people for the tasks at hand. I do not believe I am the right person to be coding this game. It’s time to find a wiser solution as I continue towards my goal. The roadblocks seem to be telling me that very clearly indeed.

 

Work = Want

How much we want something is a good indicator of how hard we’re willing to work, and vice versa. Right now I am working on making a game app for (hopefully) some future release. It is very early in the process. I hate the process. Programming leaves me drained and infuriated. It often makes me physically ill and certainly emotionally stressed. I don’t like programming, and I’m relatively sure it doesn’t like me.

Why continue? Because, similar to my previous dream of writing a book, I have always wanted to make a game. It is a goal of mine. Clearly it is a goal I want enough to suffer for, as here I am, watching tedious tutorials on coding that I can hardly make any sense of.

The Olympics are going on currently. Here are human beings who are so focused on a goal that they spend almost every waking hour working towards it, merely for a once-in-four-years shot at an attempt of achieving it. Success is hardly guaranteed. In fact, it’s unlikely. More athletes don’t win a medal than do.

You can do it

Today is a good day to look at your own life, and your goals and dreams. What are you working towards? Where do you put the most time and energy? Those are the things you want most. Your actions will show you this clearly.

If the reality of what you’re working on doesn’t match the goals in your head of what you think you want to pursue, today is the day to start down the path you’ve been dreaming of. If you don’t, well, you probably didn’t really want it as much as you thought.* I’ve spent a good number of years doing that myself.

*What about day jobs, though? Many people are “too busy” to follow their dreams, right? The thing is, you’re still choosing where to put your time and energy. Your “things you want most” may be financial security and a paid-on-time electric bill. That’s not a bad thing, it is simply what you need to know. Own that decision instead of thinking you’re forced into it. It makes life a lot better when you’re honest with yourself about why you do what you do. There is no shame in choosing to put your energy towards a regular paycheck, so long as you aren’t spending that time wishing you were somewhere else!

 

Spec Work is Not Evil

The following is a response to this article, which unfortunately has had the comment section closed. It relates to the tricky subject of artists and designers working for free.

While I certainly understand the current “War on Spec Work” that is cascading through our industry like a disease, I have to disagree with several points of the above article (and the war) based on experience in the real world.

Work Ahead! Free or Paid, still work.

I have had the opportunity to do both spec work and paid work. In almost every case, spec work has lead to exciting relationships and interesting future (and current) projects, particularly because I choose which to take on and which not to. In almost every case, paid work has lead either to more boring paid work, or nothing. And yes, sometimes spec work leads to nothing as well, but do you really want to pass up the chance for something amazing simply because of dollars and cents? I sure don’t.

Does that mean you should be a penniless artist who always works for free? No. Because life is about balance, not extremism. It’s about doing paid work sometimes and free work other times. Not saying “NO NEVER” to either of these rewarding experiences.

I do totally agree with the author’s creed of “Know Your Worth!” This is something every artist should take heed of. The thing that I think may be missing in the article/advice is the knowledge that when you TRULY know your worth, you don’t get bogged down by a set price list. You can work for any amount, or nothing, because you know your worth. You have no need to be afraid someone else is determining your worth. I have an hourly rate of $85. I very often work on projects that I believe in for free. Does that mean my worth is nothing? Good heavens no. My worth is actually far greater than $85/h because no amount of money is truly worth my time. You can always get more money, but you cannot get your time back, ever. I would never say my worth was ANY amount of money. Money is simply not worth enough to buy me.

The good news is that there is more art work to be done in this world than people to do it. There are no shortage of jobs or designs to be created. Every day more small businesses are started than graphic designers graduate, because one is a niche market and the other is broad across millions of industries. (They also more readily fold than do designers quit.) I know the average response is “Well, I have to pay the bills” but you really can choose who to work with while you accomplish that goal. You truly can.

This dog gets paid in stock options.

That is what it really boils down to. As an artist, no one is forcing you to take a certain job, and that’s vital to be aware of. To work with a client that clearly only wants to take advantage of you? That isn’t worth your time, no matter what the check they’re waving at you says. Don’t work with those people. (And the check probably isn’t that big anyway, right? If they’re trying to take advantage of you!)

It is not spec work that is the problem, it is working with greedy, selfish people. The answer is not “no spec work” the answer is “wish the greedy people well, and walk away.” Unfortunately some of the anti-spec-work folks adopt an extreme perspective and believe all people who go this route are evil monsters, which leads to the common outcry of “down with spec work.” It is not about the work, it is about the heart of the person behind it. You owe it to yourself to seek out and work with good people. A simpler life surrounded by good people will always trounce a stress-filled, garbage life surrounded by piles of money and selfish people you can’t trust. (Plus, being around those selfish people is more likely to make you like them.)

Life is too incredible to have yours defined by a number. When you hold onto this idea of “I only work for X dollars, otherwise I am giving up power!” life gets a lot crappier and then yes, you DO have your blood start to boil when you encounter greedy people. Because they are threatening to you, because you are letting them determine your worth. If you know your worth – really know it – whether they pay you a million dollars or zero will not ever change the peace you have inside yourself. And that peace is worth far more than any monetary payment you could get in the mail.

Working for free as an artist is certainly a hot button topic at the moment. What are your thoughts? Feel free to share them in the comments below, and I’m happy to respond in kind. I’ll likely write about this topic again in the future, so more ideas and information is always useful!

 

Project: Music Stand

Today I’m sharing a personal venture that was just completed. It has less to do with creativity than me just showing off a cool project, but if you want to stretch it to a creativity lesson you could go with “It’s possible to take something rough and ugly and transform it into something great and suited to solve whatever problem you’re facing!”

As you may know, I’m currently learning to play the guitar. As a result, a bunch of sheet music and how-to books are scattered around the chair used for practicing. I needed something to keep it organized.

Goodwill find for 15 dollars

I found an old trash container at a local Goodwill store while dropping off some items. Not quite my style with the punched tin fruit basket and white ceramic knob. It was in rough shape, but only $15 with a lot of potential.

Refurbishing Goodwill find

I took it apart (careful to remember how to put it back together, ha ha), sanded it down, and gave it a coat of tinted primer I had left over from a previous project. Then a final coat of black paint, some new hardware, reassembly and…

Finished music stand

It turned out pretty well, I think! The new modern handle was an old spare in a box in the garage. The middle panel is a piece of fabric I brought back with me from a trip to Hawaii, so it will always remind me of my second favorite place on Earth when I see it. Plus there’s a ukulele inside, so that adds to the Hawaiian motif.

Music books inside the stand

I was surprised how quick the project went. The longest part was waiting for the paint to dry. Also it smelled a little off so I had to scrub it out well after I took it apart. I suppose that’s because it was, in its previous life, a garbage can holder. (Smells like the lavender bleach I used to clean it now.)

Anyway, next week it will be back to the creativity/inspiration stuff, but I thought I’d share this side project in the meantime! Have a great week!

Before and After music stand cabinet from Goodwill

 

Want to be an artist? Start here.

Art is not about talent.

It’s not about studying in Paris, or going to a big name college.

Art is about effort. It is about work. Put in the time and energy and see how far you’ll go.

What Art is All About

This is advice that, if followed, will allow anyone who wants to be an artist to become an artist. It really is that simple. There are no shortcuts to doing great art, only a ton of hard work. Don’t want to do the work? Don’t wish to be a great artist. Wishing doesn’t get you there; effort and practice gets you there. You really and truly need no special ingrained talent. Every human on Earth does terrible drawings when they’re a kid. Every single one. Some merely stick with it and do thousands more drawings until they finally start to improve.

If you want to be a great artist, go do it. Put in the hours. If you don’t, that’s fine, too. Just know that the only thing stopping you is the effort you’re willing to put in.

 

When We Get Defensive

Human beings continue to be fascinating subjects. For example, have you ever noticed that when we get defensive we often immediately jump to extremes? It’s almost as if we’re so afraid of losing ground in an argument that whatever it takes to win becomes acceptable.

Someone might be discussing the benefit of national healthcare, for example, and an opponent leaps to “Look how well Communism worked out for Russia!” Or if the topic is pro-life, responses can quickly fall to levels of “Stop trying to tell other people how to live!”

We get crazy when we get defensive

Man your battle stations! There’s arguing to be done!

We are very good at finding small, reasonable holes in another person’s point of view and then ripping those holes as wide-open as we possibly can, even when it makes no sense.

When I was younger, in the earlier days of The Internet, I spent day and night doing similar things. I found arguments where there were none to be initially seen, and I wouldn’t rest until the other person had given up because I had twisted their words and the argument so far it didn’t even make sense anymore. But to me, that was still a win. Somehow it gave me some perverted pleasure to achieve even such an empty, hollow “victory.”

Most people aren’t like I once was, thankfully. Most truly just want to defend their perspective and naturally slip, by accident, into some extremist argument that is far from where the conversation started.

There’s not a lot we can do about that when we come up against it, but we CAN eliminate it from our own bag of tricks.

The biggest key is to remain calm, though sometimes in the heat of discussion that can be difficult in and of itself. Remember the person with the different point of view is not attacking you, and they probably aren’t an extremist fighting for the total opposite of what you believe. They might be misinformed, or just have a different opinion. And that’s okay. We can share our side in a kind way and see if that changes their mind. If it does, great. If not, that’s alright too. Our job is ourselves, not tackling other people as projects of some kind. One thing that has helped me greatly to remain calm in such situations is to delay my answer. I walk away for a few hours and then come back with a better mindset, ready to reply with a better attitude. Or I may write my response immediately in a Word document, then start a new page to write a better, less emotional reply.

It pays to be confident enough in your own opinions and beliefs that you have no need to get defensive if someone says something challenging. When you are, you can present your case and then continue living your life in the way you feel is right, regardless of someone else’s opinion. At the end of the day, we may ourselves be as wrong as we perceive the other people to be, who knows? We’re only human.