Achievement Unlocked!

Achievement Unlocked!

I first saw Space Invaders in an Osco drug in Mundelein, Illinois in the late 70s. It’s fair enough to say that it changed my life.

I had piles of Atari 2600 games, and I was the first kid in the neighborhood to have a ColecoVision. I had a subscription to Joystick magazine, and when the nearby Pinball Palace didn’t satisfy my love for video games, an arcade across town with more games did. I jumped on most home consoles when they came out; I spent late nights and early mornings playing games in arcades while others were shutting down bars. I was a video game junkie.

Somewhere along the way, that faded away…

The Choice

I stopped playing video games after the initial version of the X-Box came out. By that time, as much as I like games, I was done. It wasn’t that I came to a point that I no longer liked games — I just looked at the free time I had and thought about how I was spending it. The choice was simple: I could play games in my free time or…I could write, podcast, blog, and do other things.

It’s a personal choice. I don’t care how people spend their free time, but for me, other things won out over games…

Goat Simulator

Earlier this month, Goat Simulator came out.

It wasn’t just the first video game I bought in almost a decade…I pre-ordered it!

The Friday I got access, I played for a couple hours. Over that weekend, my wife and I had a couple beers and played the hell out of the stupidity that is a goat running around town while destroying things.

When we got the goat into orbit, we figured it was time to stop.

Achievement Unlocked

There are about 25% more achievements to be unlocked in our Goat Simulator game, but…I will never unlock them on my system. The remaining achievements are “video game” achievements — by that, I mean the kinds of things where one has to jump perfectly to reach certain points to jump again and again to hopefully land just right in order to unlock an achievement.

For me, that’s where video games lose me. If I’m going the spend hours fixated on something, why spend that time jumping a goat on trampolines and dirty mattresses just so I can say, “I was in the storage container on the crane!” (Especially when I can see others do it on YouTube.)

If I’m going to spend that much time on my computer, I’d rather knock out another chapter of a novel or edit another podcast — that’s a better achievement for me…

What is Art?

What is Art?

This article on Rolling Stone’s website about Wu Tang Clan’s most recent album led me to the website about the project.

If you’re not in the mood for links and reading, here’s the short version: a hip-hop group is releasing only one copy of their latest album. To hear it, you will have to go to a museum or gallery and listen. After that, the one physical copy will be sold like a work of art…possibly never to be heard again — or at least for a long, long time. (Or maybe mass produced right after sale.)

But is it Art?

Some would say, “Is it art?” and many who simply don’t get a style of music would say, “No!”

But music is art — even if you don’t like it. Like the person who looks at a [good] abstract and says, “My kid can paint that!” so goes a certain ignorance with [good] hip hop.

One may not like Wu Tang Clan; however, I can name many artists I do not like, but can still look at and appreciate their effort, what they stand for, and the conversations that arise from their work. Wu Tang Clan seems to understand this — from the linked site above:

By adopting a 400 year old Renaissance-style approach to music, offering it as a commissioned commodity and allowing it to take a similar trajectory from creation to exhibition to sale, as any other contemporary art piece, we hope to inspire and intensify urgent debates about the future of music. We hope to steer those debates toward more radical solutions and provoke questions about the value and perception of music as a work of art in today’s world.

Many may not agree with that, but I think it’s cool as hell!

Old Ways

I think the reason this fascinates me so much is it’s something I’ve thought about a lot in the past year and a half. I’ve mentioned before that if someone approached me and said, “I will pay you this nice, annual fee to write a novel every other year and several short stories each year — that only I can ever read,” I’d take their patronage. Patrons used to be more common, and in the case of Wu Tang Clan…music used to not be as far reaching as it is today.

There was a time when, to hear music, you had to be present as it was played or you didn’t hear it.

Art and Effort

For me, writing is about the work — the art in the effort — and not about the fame (that is rare for most writers anyway). I’ve thought about this very thing: creating a single, beautiful book and selling it to an individual like a piece of art. Much like a painting, what the buyer chose to do after the sale would be up to them. But there’s something appealing about a work only a handful of people — or only one other person — may ever see.

Even if this were a hoax, it’s already getting people talking, and that’s great. Even better, though, is imagining the mix of people in museums and galleries all bobbing their heads in unison as music only they and a select group of others will hear plays just for them through headphones…

…and the rest of us will only hear through their stories…

More about Having a Thing

More about Having a Thing

One of the strangest things I think I’ve seen on social media is an almost rage from some when someone shares with them something they associate with that person. By this I mean…let’s just say someone is really into flying kites. Articles about kites are written every spring and people share the articles with the kite flyer…who’s probably seen the articles because they’re really into kites. Instead of a polite, “Thank you,” and moving on, it becomes this:

People, I am really into kites…do you not think that I haven’t seen the things you share with me since that is my thing?! I see these articles weeks before the rest of you — there’s no reason to keep sending me these things, so stop!

The Horror!

If the New York Times, Forbes, or someplace else has an article about podcasting, chances are several people will share it on my Facebook wall or email me the link. The rare juggling article: I’ve probably seen it weeks before the people forwarding it to me, sure…but how hard is it to say, “Thanks,” or even — if one feels the need — “I’ve seen this already, but thanks for thinking about me.”

Because that’s why people share some things, and why I can never get mad when someone sends a podcasting article I’ve already seen 10 times: it means in the minds of people who share these things that I am what they think of when they think about podcasting.

Stuff about Amtrak’s writer residency program I received, recently, means people think about me when they think about writers they know.

If a juggling video shows up on people’s feeds, it’s often sent my way because people associate me with the juggler they know.

The Thing(s)

I recently wrote about the power of having a thing. These are the things that mean the most to me in life:

  • Being a good husband, son, friend
  • Being a good writer
  • Being a good juggler
  • Being a good podcaster

So if people send me articles about writing, juggling, or podcasting, it means I’m doing my job on some level. It also means if they hear about an opportunity for any of these things — chances are — they will come to me with the opportunity before others.

Really…how bad is that?

The Power of Having a Thing

The Power of Having a Thing

It’s no secret that in the past, I struggled with working and doing my thing. (My thing being writing, blogging, podcasting, making videos, and other “things.”) Now that I have my favorite day job ever, it’s not the struggle it was at jobs I didn’t like, but there will always be that want for doing the things I love more than anything…even more than my job. For me, though, having a day job I love helps me do my thing without concern…and because I can do my thing without concern, I value my day job more than ever.

This sometimes leads to moments when someone at my day job sees me accept something they would not accept.

“You’re seriously gonna let that slide?!” they say. And my answer is, “Yes — that does not bother me as much as it bothers many others.”

Someone wanting more control at my day job is not reason to bristle because…I have my things…

The Things!

Every week on a podcast I do, my partner and I close with the motto: “Chill the fuck out, and make the damn thing!” By this, we mean, “Don’t get so caught up in every little thing that it steals from you the ability to do at least one thing you love!” (More about our motto, here.)

My big things:

  • Writing
  • Juggling
  • Podcasting

Of these, writing and juggling are wholly mine — meaning nobody else has a say in what I do with these two things I love. (In the case of Men in Gorilla Suits, Shawn and I flip-flop, letting each other run the show every other week. It works very well, and it keeps us on our toes!)

The Power of Having a Thing

Having something that is wholly mine means when someone at work wants to control something, I can let it go. Same thing in many facets of life.

I see so many people tired because they try to control everything around them; they turn little things into full-scale battles rivaling a crusade. It looks so exhausting and often comes with anger.

It’s amazing the hours lost at old jobs when I’ve seen people arguing about applying punctuation to bullet points, or even people fuming about using Oxford commas or not. Now, I will defend the Oxford comma to the end, but when I’ve written newspaper articles — AP Style — I’ve had no problem not using them. It’s style, and I’ll write the way I’m paid to write. (“Tildes instead of bullets, and two commas after each point with and/or and then a period at the final point? Sure — check, please!”)

Some people, though, spend their dinners complaining about these things to significant others who don’t care. Somewhere this evening, a kid will beg:

Daddy, not the bullet point rage again…

Have a Thing

This is where having a thing matters.

When all around me people are drawing sides and demanding blood over something as small as a punctuation argument that can go either way (Oxford commas), I’m waiting for the issue to be settled so I can write to a style guide…and then go home and write what I want, the way I want — all that other stuff be damned!

Swimming in Chaos

Swimming in Chaos

I recently listened to a podcast with Terry Gilliam. I’ve written about Gilliam’s influence on me before and I’ve talked about it as well (17:40-18:11). Just know this: I’ve been a Gilliam fan since before I knew I was a Gilliam fan. (I liked the animated spots on Monty Python’s Flying Circus, but at the the time, I didn’t know who was behind them.)

There’s a section in the podcast with Gilliam where they discuss a scene in the movie, The Fisher King. It takes place in Grand Central Station, in New York City. They had permission to shoot, but as is often the case with Gilliam things, it didn’t go as entirely as planned. To get things done, they just had to do it! They shot footage after their allotted time, using people who weren’t extras. In the end, by the way it was cut, they made something wonderful from the chaos of the moment.

Doing It

Gilliam is big on just doing it. In almost every documentary or interview about his process, there is a time when all the people around him believe there’s no way something can be done. Whether it’s a sick actor, flash floods, or other things, when producers and others say they need to wait, Gilliam says, “Let’s just do it!” and shoots anyway. In shooting, he’s doing something — and in other interviews he’s said some of his greatest moments came from cobbling it all together after the madness.

Writers can be known for not liking changes to what they’ve written. While Gilliam is a perfectionist, he’s also a realist and knows that sometimes he has to break from the scripts he’s written and shoot what he can and make it work in the end. He doesn’t stop…even when setbacks have everyone around him throwing up their hands in defeat.

At that point, Gilliam is at his best…swimming in the chaos.

Comfort in Chaos

Now, I know there are times one can’t “just do it.” My wife is an artist, and when things are placed on a final sheet of paper or canvas, she can no longer charge in — at that point, it’s sometimes wisest to wait a day or two until the moment is right. As long as there’s some progress and it doesn’t become habit, waiting is good. I’ve written about taking my time writing before; I do not need to be convinced that there’s a time for patience.

I just think patience and chaos can co-exist.

When people try avoiding chaos until just the right moment, I do think it’s best to find comfort in chaos and move forward. Sometimes in life, chaos lasts long enough that to let it win means setbacks in something important to you. Right now, I’m coming off a weekend of working. I put a lot of things off, but I still made time to write. I could easily be working right now, but I want to write this entry and go for a nice walk. It’s a chaotic time in my life with big deadlines, but right now I’m in my little bubble, comfortable with the situation.

Chaos might be common, but it doesn’t mean it has to pull you in and win. Or even steal your time for more than a bit of time…

Adapting

I’ve worked with enough people to understand the frustration of those who feel defeated when things don’t look good. “Let’s just do it!” can burn you at times; however, more times than not, it’s a great way to get things done because you’re deep enough in that you have no choice but to figure things out and finish. I know people who will not write for months because conditions aren’t perfect. In Gilliam’s world, it seems, perfection is only a target he strives for — there is no doubting his need for perfection in every little corner (and even in the shadows) of what he does. But he knows there are no ideal situations. More than that, he knows that to wait for ideal situations means never finishing things.

When one realizes that, no matter what it is they do, it’s a bit easier to move forward. Maybe we’re wise not to tilt at windmills with the reckless abandon Gilliam often seems to have, but at least charging in is some kind of movement forward. Maybe you get knocked back further than where you started, but you change the plan and just do it until it works out.

It’s that ability to adapt that can lead to such wonderful things…

The Coffee Fade

The Coffee Fade

A couple weeks ago, I committed a cardinal sin for writers: I quit drinking coffee.

It wasn’t a hard decision; while I enjoy coffee, it’s never been something I felt I needed, even first thing in the morning. My morning routine is something like this: wake up and think about what I’m about to go write. No coffee, just straight to the desk.

Writing wakes me up much better than caffeine.

The First Cup

I can’t remember the first time I had coffee. I’m sure I tasted it on a camping trip with my parents, or maybe while visiting my father after my parents went their separate ways when I was young. But this is my first definite memory of coffee: my great grandmother’s house on Sunday afternoons.

After lunch, coffee was served in delicate cups that looked like something plucked from the gardens in her backyard. Coffee served with cannoli, sfogliatelle, and Napoleans always followed a lunch that was more like a dinner comprised of some recipe she brought with her from Sicily. Because of this, I usually preferred coffee in the afternoons or evenings to mornings.

Why Quit?

So why would I quit something I enjoyed? I realized, recently, that coffee and my stomach do not get along. While I can consume hot peppers, tomatoes, and other things people say wreaks havoc on a stomach, for me — it’s coffee. I can eat a bowl of cereal before bed, lie down, and nothing. Burritos at night? Done that; no issue. But a cup of coffee, and my stomach protested.

So I stopped and things got much better.

The Image that Comes with Coffee

I know coffee and writers are synonymous — some would claim you cannot have one without the other. I get the humor in it and believe those who take that kind of thinking seriously are probably not the kinds of writers worth reading. Image has never been important to me as a writer. I get it, I really do…the importance for some to sit in Starbucks and tweet on and on about how they are writing in between Instagram photos and Facebook updates. Whether writing is done or not, it’s the image of what it is to write that’s most important to some.

Coffee plays a vital role in that image.

In my case, writing matters more than image. While I love the thought of the perfect office with the mahogany desk, I write in an office that doubles as hobby storage space at a desk that’s more functional than fashionable. Hell, as I write this, an empty stick of deodorant sits beside me as a reminder to put “Deodorant” on the shopping list for the morning.

That’s not very writerly.

My Fix

Coffee was never a fix for me — writing is why I wake up 1 or 2 hours before I must wake up in order to make it to work on time.

Even if I don’t get much sleep, once I wake up and think about what I’m about to write, I’m alert. If I’m sleepy, I make it through the day and get a decent night’s sleep. For me, that always worked better than coffee; I’ve never been one to believe that a person can run themselves well on 3-5 hours of sleep a night as long as there’s caffeine. If your body’s saying rest, let it rest.

But back to coffee: “Do you miss it?” a couple people have asked me. I miss the concept of a cup in the afternoon after lunch or in the evening after dinner. But what I always liked best about coffee is the smell.

Should my wife ever decide to quit drinking coffee, you might find me searching for an olfactory fix. You might even find me in a Starbucks, seated alongside all the writers telling the online world they’re writing while I breathe in one of the best smells on the planet and trudge along with the task at hand. But until that day comes along, I can be found in the dark of morning, at a desk bought at Office Depot tapping away at a keyboard with no other sounds…and no coffee.