My desperate grasping at understanding my creative self.
I can see the end of this fifty thousand word challenge. Either an end to the time or an end to the words, but either way within one week it will be over.
As of today, I have just thousands of words left to write. Just thousands. Not tens of thousands… so… there’s that.
And when I write and read and write more and re-read and try to convince myself in my bipolar, love it hate it love it again way, I always think back to this quote from Ira Glass… it’s called the Gap, and if you are a creative basketcase wannabe author, artist, maker-tinker, photographer, anything like me you should have this bookmarked, taped to your wall, ingrained into your brain…
That is all.
“Dad, do you remember that girl who made a comment about my dancing cat?” She asks over her toast at breakfast.
I blink only once or twice at the near-nonsensical question. It’s too early in the morning for that particular brand of kid-using-the-internet gibberish, but the fog clears with a bit of my own peanut butter laden bread and I cough out a confident, “Oh, yeah… sure.”
At not-quite-eight, she’s still seems a little (nay, a lot) young for the digital wilderness wasteland that is social media in the early twenty-first century. The elil are at hunt, and it seems but all a parent can do. Her recent forays into this unexpected interest, however, have been bolstered by the mostly-sheltered social aspect of it and I’m wary about hiding that carrot for fear of losing the (seemingly positive) grip the toy itself holds upon her. She’s been coding. I’ve been nudging and providing guidance, but mostly she’s exploring on her own and finding a kind of creative success in doing so.
“She made a really cool game.” The Girl explains, then her tone turns a bright shade of justification. “But she’s eleven. It’s better than mine.”
I grin. “That’s okay. You can learn from her, you know. Did you look inside to see how her game works?” I ask.
“A little.” She shrugs, considering, which is good enough for me at the moment. The simplified programming-style of the free website has her engaged enough to pry back the corners a little more at each attempt, trying new things as her ideas get more confident, and adding complexity and she groks the abstractions of the code. She’s learning how to turn her imagination into step-wise commands that can be fed into the system. And she’s learning how to peek into the gears of what other kids have shared. For now, and for me, that’s a win.
“And?” I prod.
She takes another bit of her toast and chews in what seems like a thoughtful manner. “I don’t know.” She shrugs again. “It helped.” Another bite. “But I have something I want to try after breakfast. Is that alright?”
“That’s great.” I reply.
nurturing imagination, rule 023
hack logical imagination: code something… anything
I may be biased about writing code, being a bit of a web monkey myself, but computer programming has become something of the trendy skill-du-jour in which everyone wants their tech-savy kids to dabble, at least a little. Like learning French or studying the piano, there is probably a rational argument to be made in either direction for child rearing, pro versus con, structured learning versus free-play, and on and on and on. And perhaps we’ll stumble through the anxiety of knowing that the opportunity cost of pursuing any one skill above anything other is irreducibly complex, and it probably doesn’t matter anyhow. But like any father through history passing down skills to his kids, I’m teaching mine to code and the narrow-minded techie in me thinks its a skill everyone should have.
In the end, coding –be it through words or pictures, IDEs or point-and-click websites– is just another outlet for creativity and imagination: and the power to synthesize abstract ideas into visual, literal, shareable, interactive toys is just a perk of this toy in particular. If nothing else, she’ll appreciate my job a little more. In a perfect world, she’ll hack the multiverse of their infinite digital possibilities.
 I just finished reading Watership Down. Google it.
 Scratch is a project of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab https://scratch.mit.edu/
“But mine is so bad.” She says, a pouting glare focused on me as she slump back into her chair and folds her arms across her chest. “I don’t know how to make it look nice.”
While many parents will be quick to point out the brilliant qualities of their children, the buzzword of the week touting a rash of so-called “over-sharenting” wherein doting parents brag up the glowing wonder of their infallible tots, not many will be so forthcoming with their flaws. As it turns out, my daughter is flawed: she is a perfectionist who is far too quick to throw in the metaphorical towel when the going gets tough. Also, I’m way past the undeserved praise stage. “We’ve been through this a hundred times.” I insist, frustrated at the cycle of the same-old whimpering complaint. “You’re not going to just be good at something the first time you try it.”
Of all the things to try perfecting, this time she’s taken a shining to digital art. She’s watched her father dabbling in simple doodles, puttering through the efforts of electronic sketches on the computer, mostly for use in brightening up various websites. It did not help that earlier that same day I’d proudly shown her the digital book I’d self-published, blossomed from a made-up story she herself had helped refine, and whose pages had been stuffed full of her father’s amateur artwork. So, of course, she wants to replicate that effort on her own.
Monkey see, monkey do. At least, monkey see even if monkey can’t quite do it perfectly.
“You know,” I say in my best dad voice. “I’ve been drawing on the computer for nearly thirty years. I’ve had a lot of practice.”
“I don’t want to wait that long.” She huffs, and I am forced to practice my skills at holding back a burst of knowing laughter at her unrealistic and impatient expectations.
This isn’t the first appearance of the Girl’s impatient perfectionism, either. She pouted at the piano, slumped in the snow when we took her skiing, slouched at soccer practice, knocked needles with her mother over learning to knit, and even balked at baking anymore when her first attempt at cookies weren’t up to her her high standards. Not that we’ve let her quit: but the refrain is all too familiar: “I don’t know how to…”
“Look.” I say. “Everything takes practice.” And I probably paused for dramatic emphasis here. “Everything! If you really want to learn how to do anything at all, you need to practice it. And you need to practice remembering that, too.”
nurturing imagination, rule 020
only practice makes perfect: demand imperfection
I’m pretty sure that not every kid leans towards the fusspot end of the spectrum, but from my sample size of one I’m also pretty sure that I’m dealing with a perfectionist population of roughly one hundred percent. Lofty goals and high standards are great, but when anyone, especially a kid, has neither the patience to build towards them, nor the chops to get there without trying those expectations turn into a real road-block. So, where the apparent problem resides is on that road not-yet-travelled between now and some point in the future when she’s actually able to suit her own criteria for high quality. I simply need to figure out how to make her walk that path, even if the destination won’t be clear to her for a few more years.
Actual perfection is ultimately and likely unattainable for we mere mortals, however, but convincing a kid of that can be a herculean effort. Not quite so epic of a task may simply be to demand something lesser, insisting on the incremental improvements that come with patience and practice and more realistic intermediate expectations. Imperfection isn’t a compromise, it’s a milestone.
In wishfully filling the gaps between idealism and reality.
I’m never NOT busy –at home, work, or elsewhere– but you can probably judge with a good accuracy how much of my creative reserves I’m using for some other project by the frequency and robustness of posts on this blog. The problem with creativity, whatever that is, boils down to overflow: creativity is kind of like water in a rain barrel. Over the course of time, the barrel is varyingly full. If you are in a rainy season the barrel is in constant threat of overflowing, so you are scooping water out and pouring it all over the place. When it’s drier out, you conserve. But there is that little spigot part way up that lets you attach a hose and get a nice even flow… provided you keep the water level above the height of the spigot. So, you always have the option of dipping a bucket in and pulling water out, but for the most part you use the hose and keep it nice and even. But when you need that water (which is a metaphor for creativity, wink-wink) for something important, like say, something you are being paid for, you need to make sure you keep the water level above the spigot line so that you’re never so desperate as to be scooping buckets out from deep down just to meet deadlines and obligations. It’s been a bit of a drought lately, but I have lots of people in my life who love beautiful flowers… and that’s still a metaphor, too.
Rain churns my creative mind: I like to sit somewhere I can watch it and write… then take photos after it stops and everything is still dripping.
Buckled down and barfed out my creative brains in the form of a more-than-a-little wacky wedding slide show video.
“Can this be my movie?” She asks.
We’re huddled under the canopy of a tree beside a small pond near our house, and I’m struggling to find a suitable branch upon which I can clip the little sports camera I’ve brought along. We were out for a bike ride when she suggested that we “make a movie” down by the lake. “Why not.” I shrug.
“No, dad.” She says, her voice dropping an octave. She is serious now. “I want it to have my starting thing on it.”
I’ve been making small home movies for years. Our collection of amateur video is often little more than a few scattered clips –some from here and others from there– all highlighting the randomness of our family life. These are strung together into pop-song-length compilations of HD video set to soundtracks of the same. At the front of each video I often prelude the action with a custom vanity card, a little animated bit of intro bumper footage that usually just says “Family Features” …and ups the production value in a slight and amusing way.
“You don’t have a bumper.” I argue.
“Dad! You are supposed to make one for me.” And she’s correct. I’d promised to spend some time animating her own little personalized vanity card so that if she made the effort of recording a video of her own that she could leave her personalized mark on it. But no such thing yet exists.
“Alright, alright…” I sigh. “But first you need to make a movie.”
Not surprisingly, a few minutes later she was confidently staging a one-girl performance of her (very vague) interpretation of “The Three Little Pigs” under a tree in the park. And not surprisingly I was recording it, already trying to figure out when I was going to find the time to create her custom intro.
nurturing imagination, rule 011
create something personal: embrace on-screen vanity
Only it’s not vanity. Claiming ownership of something that you’ve created, no matter what that something might be, is not so much about pride or vanity at all: it’s about a snowballing of confidence to create something else after it, and then something more, and following that a dozen more each slightly different than the last.
On the wall of my office I have a printout of that somewhat famous quote about “the gap” from Ira Glass, the one you should look up, and the one that goes on about the heaps of terrible, weak, and unappreciated creativity that precedes success. And that “you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.” Part of any kid’s blossoming imagination is not just that faint glimmer of creativity, but the confidence to claim that creativity as her own… and to do the work that goes along with it.
Write. Post. Write. Post. Pic. Post. Sometimes quantity is about reaching for something nearly ineffable that is only marginally knowable through brute force.
As a followup to my bit of a teaser yesterday about that kid’s book I’ve been working on, I thought I would share a few of the draft pages and some of the background story. It goes something like this…
See, occasionally you get struck by a burst of creative energy. I won’t claim it’s some kind of mystical thing or cosmic force. It’s just that the neurons are aligned properly one morning, the caffeine level is just perfect, there are enough extra minutes in the day and the lack of stresses or brain-numbing creative inhibitors are allowing things to process a little more smoothly than usual.
These things gush out in waves.
You get a little idea, you sit down, and you write.
I was having a good day a couple years ago, and not much was going on: life was slow, time was plenty, and a little rhyming poem about a bee popped into my head. Silly, yes. But at the time, Claire was about four and we were reading a lot of kid-books and listening to a lot of kid music and watching a lot of kid television and… well.. you’re brain gets into a space and does things while you’re not paying attention.
Mostly we just ignore it, but occasionally you take the time to get it out on paper.
Thirty verses of a rhyming poem later, I had a cute little story about a Bee… named Baylee… with a very trivial little “ugly ducking” type problem.
At the time I’d abandoned some other more “grown up” comic-book efforts I’d been poking at, and was itching for an “artsy” project to hone my Inkscape chops: vector art and cartoon-esque images. Everything just fell into place.
So, as I’ve implied: the whole story is written (drafted out in completion in about an hour of focused effort), revised a couple times, kid-tested on a few kids over the course of the last couple years, and ready to illustrate. The illustrations are about half done: I’ve got 17 pages out of 32 in the hopper, some minor tweaking required, but basically ready to build into a digital book of some kind.
More work over the next month, to be sure… but the plan is to finish it. Soon. So, now you know.
This is another instalment in my (sixth) Week of Lists: one fun and awesome list posted every day for seven days on a variety of topics.
Just this past weekend I quietly celebrated another blog anniversary on this site. Technicalities of names, technology, and other factors aside, I’ve been blogging within the realms of this collection of writing for some thirteen plus years now — and boy are my fingers tired! Ba-dum ching!
Actually, it’s not usually my fingers that get tired. It’s my brain: the poor idea factory that is responsible for churning out original ideas for content here. The thing is, if you’re wondering why I do all these little blog post stunts —daily happy updates, weeks of lists, reloaded summary posts, photo challenges, and virtual runs, just to name a few– it’s because coming up with original ideas, day after day after day after day… that’s a tough prospect. Lather, rinse, repeat… insert new stories here, and don’t worry as much about format and style and blah-blah-blah-blah…
But a blogger has to try.
That said, it doesn’t mean I can’t throw new things against the wall on occasion, either. Sure, some of it sticks, some slithers down and lands in a whimpering mess on the floor, like so much metaphorical spaghetti, sure. But a blogger has to try.
With hundreds –sometimes thousands or tens of thousands– of readers picking over posts here, there is a certain sense of obligation to try new things. And as spring revs into full gear, the rains starting to wash away the dust of a long winter, I’ve put my mind to some of those ideas. Feel free to borrow or adapt from my…
Five Spring Blogging Plans to Record Your Amazing Summer
1 : An Adventure To-Do List Challenge
People like lists. One of the reasons I keep coming back to this list format is because of the two types of lists I keep on my site, these are the less popular and they still get a butt-load of traffic relative to the rest of the site. The other kind is to-do lists: for example, my completely orginal 100 Things to Do Before You’re a Teenager list is closing in on twenty-nine thousand reads as of me writing these words. That tells me that if I were to come up with a post called, say, “16 SummerTime Adventures” or “23 Epic Local Wanders” or “14 Awesome Days Plans” or something like that, people would probably be interested. Plus, I’d be guaranteeing myself at least X-number of blog posts as I wrote about each and linked it back to the original list.
Along the same lines, having a kid who is starting to catch a little of her dad’s photography obsession bug, I’ve been pondering the idea of a photo scavenger hunt for her. Mine would be kid-focussed, but your doesn’t need to be. Plan out a solid list of photos-to-take this summer, from bugs to foliage to rainbows to muddy boots, and track your progress as the summer goes. And it goes without saying that you’ll post the photos.
3 : The Epic Serialized Story Project
I’m in the air about this one, but I like the concept. I’m in the air because last November I swore to take the year off of my creative fiction writing obligations. It was kinda a brain-break. But, that said, the notion of writing a serialized story that takes place somewhere in your life –and maybe this could even be a non-fiction one– seems like a neat idea to me. Again, the once-per-week model works well, keeps you busy enough but not too overwhelmed with work, and gives you the chance to do some interesting work. Personally, I was going to find some kind of little pose-able character who could have imaginary adventures in our backyard. Photos. Stories. Adventure. And sure-fire fascination for my local six-year-old… even if I would be breaking my own writing rule this summer.
One of the things I’ve learned from writing my various blogs and posts is that whenever you write something you tend ot learn something. It might not be much more than a bit of personal self-reflection, but often you’re forced to dig deeper on topics if you want to sound even remotely knowledgeable on a variety of topics. Whether you go full-hog and set up a unique category or post-type on your blog, or just simple keyword the relevant writing, there is a lot to be said about writing about the things around you: for example, one my summer goals is to learn more about the local foliage and flora. I’ve lived here for many years and I can name like six species of plants (and that’s counting the ones I bought from the greenhouse with little name tags on them.) Pathetic, huh? My hope is that by picking out something to write about on occasion –like local plant species in my case, you can pick your own interest– will motivate me to do a bit of research and learn more.
5 : The Photo-A-Week Finale
Daily photos are tough. Believe me. I did that 365 days, a-photo-per-day thing a couple years ago and I’m still trembling in fear of the idea of a repeat. I did something similar with videos last year which, though much less demanding on my time, was still complex and time consuming. That said, I think most bloggers could handle one pic per week. In fact, I’d bet most bloggers randomly snap one pic per week, anyhow. But try this. Find a spot in your yard or neighbourhood that you can visit at least once per week. Pick an angle, pick a shot, and then snap. Repeat weekly. At the end of the summer, take all those (nearly identical, but seasonally changing) pics and write one post as your summer finale. You’ll have about sixteen to twenty pictures, depending on when you start and end, but it will make for an interesting chronology of your summer when it’s done.