Random acts of creativity.

Creating

Love Is2

Sometimes, just being alive is draining enough.

I’ve been bunkered down for most of today with an earth shattering migraine, while pulling together work for a range of different clients and answering emails. My eyes honestly feel like they are going to pop out of my head, and I have begun to see spots. This is a bad scene.

i took a twenty minute break though, over my lunch, and sat down with some cotton thread and a few needles. The piece above is the result. Why do this? It’s my new strategy for dealing with frustration, pain and general whatever-ness. A random act of creativity.

Most of the time, what we make as creative professionals has such a specific purpose. Am I right? We’re creating copy for a website, a logo for a startup, a marketing plan for a new cat food. It has a clear end goal, and it can often feel like we’re being closed in. A brief is nothing to laugh at – I need ‘em, and I need ‘em bad. The thing is, it’s so important, the harder you work, to take time out and make things. Make things that have no point. Make things that won’t generate income or change the world.

Participate in a random act of creativity.

I challenge anyone creative out there to sit down once every day and make something/anything. Make it, finish it, don’t perfect it. Then put it out there. If nobody clicks on it, that doesn’t invalidate your work. If nobody cares about it, that doesn’t invalidate your work. Make something.

Have a kick ass week.

Making and letting go.

Writing

I want to tell you a story about when I was 13 and I wrote my first song. Things weren’t great, at the time. I was a budding artist, and spent hours drawing and sketching away, working on my own little comic book. It meant the world to me, the story I was telling and the characters I had clumsily assembled. My inspirations were Todd Mcfarlane and Jack Kirby, weavers of dreams that were far beyond my abilities.

Unfortunately, drawing art like that came with an occupational hazard; my Dad. Dad didn’t like comic art. He thought I was wasting my time and my life by not learning to paint landscapes and freehand portraits. I guess he wanted me to go to art school and become a professional artist.

We used to clash about a lot of things, in a relationship that would only get worse as the years went by. But when I was thirteen, that was when I gave up on trying with him. Because every time he found the art that I put my heart and soul into, he’d tear up each piece of paper and throw out the remains. Without fail.

I used to go to my room and cry, wishing he could understand, wishing I could understand why he was like that.

It was in the middle of all this, in a hot Australian summer, that I discovered punk rock through bands like Black Flag and the Ramones. My older brothers gave me CDs to listen to, and for the first time the guilt that I had felt for disappointing my Dad began turning into anger.

I wrote my first song at the end of that summer. I wrote it holed up in my room, on the bunk bed that I shared with my younger sibling, and for the first time I expressed the way my Dad made me feel. When I finished writing the lyrics, I read back over them and I was calm.

I had clarity. I had made something new, something that he could never understand. I had made something that I believed in. The more I wrote songs, the more I made things that let my anger and frustration and depression out, the better I felt. I started my first bands, one after the other, and explored what I intended to be a career in music.

It was something my Dad didn’t understand, which appealed to me.

When I first started seeing a therapist, a little while ago, she told me that I needed to clear my mind and let go of the things that bothered me. She said I should envision myself placing each thought onto a water lily and watching it float away. When she said that, I realised something. For me, that’s what making things was like. I would put every fear and every emotion or memory that bothered me into whatever I was working on, and when it was finished, try to let it go.

Understanding this about my own creative process was a big step, and it wasn’t an easy one. The more I think about it, and the more aware I am of how I work, the better my relationship with myself has become.

My Dad and me? We haven’t spoken in years. And I like it that way. He was an angry man, and a man who made his family afraid of him. For me, knowing him is a lose-lose situation. So I don’t lose sleep over how or what he’s doing.

I still make things every day. They aren’t songs, anymore. Truth to be told, I think I said all the things that I wanted to say with music. These days, I write a lot more and I draw a lot more. I try to apply my creativity to business as well, which has helped me to found Reach and start planning an online magazine.

I’m a lot happier now than I ever used to be.
We are who we are, and we make what we make, because of some people. We are who we are, and we make what we make, in spite of others.

That’s it from me. Have a kick-ass week.

Going Back.

Writing

I drove out to Newcastle with a mate on Wednesday night. He lives in Toronto, but he’s back Sydney-side for a few months, and it’s been great catching up.

We decided to get out of Sydney for the night to catch a small hardcore show. A UK group, Basement, was headlining, with a few local Australian acts. Tiny little warehouse gig.

It was the first time I had been to a “local” sort of show in years. Back when I was younger, I’d be down at The Den every Thursday, and the Hype rec centre each weekend. We used to memorise every lyric from the local acts. Bands like Game On, The Valley, Die Trying…It felt vibrant and alive back then.

Wednesday’s show felt like stepping back in time to 2006. There were even a few familiar faces, people who we used to hang out with, back in the day. As I looked around, I couldn’t help feeling excited for the younger kids there. For some of them, it might have been their first gig. I recognised the looks on their faces, slightly intimidated but thrilled to be there. That’s how I used to look.

Over the last few years, some of that old excitement has faded for me. I don’t go to many shows, and I gave up playing music. I’m quieter now, than I once was. More inclined to stay at home and work on art or writing, less interested in cutting loose.

Maybe the biggest difference between now and then is in my mindset. I no longer believe that everything I am doing was never done before. That’s how it used to be when I was a kid. I thought we were doing something unique and remarkable.

I guess feeling and thinking that way was pretty ridiculous. I guess it doesn’t make a lot of sense now. Maybe it’s feeling that way that enables great music and great art to sometimes burst out of nowhere and change the game. I don’t know.

I’m writing this over a coffee in a small back alley cafe. The kind of place I would never have been inside 10 years ago. I’m feeling calm, I’m feeling relaxed.

Looking back, I miss who I used to be. But all the same, I like the guy I turned into. I might not ever feel a fire inside me again, and I might not ever make art that changes the world. But I’m happy.

Exploring.

Writing

You ever feel like you’re stuck in the same routine, where you go to the same places and do the same things, day after day? Sucks, don’t it. In order to combat it, I have been putting aside time lately to explore. It can be anything really, a new coffee shop, a new book store, a new author. Something I have never tried before.

So far, and I haven’t been doing this long, I have been amazed at how fast your eyes can open up. There are hidden gems down alleyways that I’ve walked past a dozen times before, whole sections of my city that I’ve never bothered to visit. 

Right now, I try to set aside one day every week to do some exploring. Not the whole day, necessarily…it can even just be a few hours when I knock off work. For me, the middle of the week has worked the best for this, normally Wednesdays. It breaks up the monotony, adds a bit of smooth rhythm to my life. 

Today? I’m driving out to Newcastle with an old friend to check out some coffee shops, record stores and bands. I’m looking forward to getting out on the road and finding something cool. Maybe I’ll uncover something exciting to write about. Who knows? All that matters is the exploring.

 

On Definitions.

Writing

Recently, I took the exciting (but not at all unique) step of becoming a startup founder. This is, clearly, not as unique these days as it once was. I have been working on creating a Social PR startup since I exited my last full time job. I’ve been kicking around concepts and ideas, trying to come up with something worth doing.

Last week, I had the fortune of reading an incredible book. It was called the $100 Startup. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend doing so. It’s author, Chris Guillermeau, is dedicated to the idea that sometimes, you just have to do things.

That was an idea that spoke to me. Really, really spoke to me. In one week, I took a lot of steps. I took a lot of immediate actions. I built a website, defined a product (unfortunately, in that order) and began letting people know that I was open for business.

In that week, I changed the way I defined myself. Where before, I had defined myself as “a guy who used to be a musician” and “a guy who used to work full time”, I suddenly realised that I had started to define myself as “a guy who had founded a startup.”

It was an incredible transformation. It was a massive jump start to my creativity, my excitement, my self confidence, my willingness to take risks and reach for my dreams.

It was just a definition. But it meant the world.

I started to think about the other ways that we define ourselves. The labels that we take on, and the impact that they have. I have tended to define myself in mostly negative terms. I suspect the same is true of many people. Rather than define ourselves by the University we got into, we define ourselves by the University we *failed* to get into.

Rather than define ourselves by the career path we took, we define ourselves by the career path that we failed at.

Man, that’s stupid. That’s so unbelievably crummy.
How dare we. How dare we look for the things we did wrong and act like they’re the only things that matter?

After my recent re-definition, I decided something. From now on, my definitions will only be positive. From now on, I will only define myself in terms of the things I *have* done.

I am the guy who got a record deal once.
I am the guy who decided to stretch out his Masters degree to try full time work.

I am the guy who founded a startup.

So, who are you?

Henry Rollins On The Ramones.

Writing

Henry Rollins:

The Ramones are the lesson on how to do it. They worked tirelessly on the road and in the studio. They were great and they knew it. The challenge was bringing the world up to speed.

If you want to hear a band damn near kill their audience, check out The Ramones’ in-concert epic, It’s Alive. They are almost sadistic in how they tear through the songs, seemingly bashing them senseless to get to the next one, as if each song will never be played again and must be given proper trajectory into the stratosphere. They truly achieve something that is bigger than the four of them.

If you never had the chance to stand in front of this band, I dare say you missed out on something truly spectacular. I will never forget the first time I saw them. When they walked onstage and, within 10 seconds, started playing, I thought I was going to explode. The show was the very definition of how powerful true rock music is. I couldn’t understand how they could keep going. It was as full-on a live experience as I have ever had and almost ruined me for going to other shows.
 

I never did have the chance to see the Ramones live. Being born in 1989, I guess I lucked out. However, my first experience of the band was listing to It’s Alive. My older brother’s girlfriend gave him a copy of it on CD and I remember listening to it over and over again, just being blown away by how intense the music was. A song would still be ringing out as the band screamed “1-2-3-4″ and launched into the next.

Recently, I found a copy of It’s Alive on vinyl at my local record store, and I just had to pick it up. When I dropped the needle, it took me back. To the days when I was just a kid and everything seemed simple. To some extent, I think that’s what the Ramones will always do.

R.I.P Tommy, Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee. Here Today, Gone Tomorrow.

Screen Time Zero.

Writing

I want to start this by specifying that I love technology. I am a person who is almost constantly connected, using my UP band to track my daily stats and keep a regular log of my emotions, always buried in my iPhone, iPad or Mac.

You know what? I am not going to change that. I like it. I enjoy technology, and I enjoy using it. I think the abilities that these devices give me are amazing, and I think that the experiences they can provide are truly incredible.

However.

Over the past few months, I have been trying rather irregularly to set aside a few days to enjoy zero screen time. When I say enjoy, I really mean struggle painfully through, of course. The reasons are pretty simple. Every now and then I get caught up in routines, where I open apps and I do the same little things on them over and over again, and sometimes the information that I am opening myself to won’t even sink in.

Ever found yourself checking the time on your phone only to have no idea what it was just a few minutes later? Yeah. I’m talking about that. I can’t explain how it happens. Maybe we just become totally desensitised to how incredible this technology, these screens really are. We just fall into a rut and our thought patterns become too predictable and start to feel almost pointless.

On my zero screen time days, I keep everything turned off. I read a few books, draw some artwork by hand and go for walks. I write in my journals and I play guitar. These are rarely productive days.

I am convinced that sooner or later, I will end up busting out the action figures and playing old classic games such as Gandalf vs. Darth Vader vs. He-Man.

These zero screen time days become partly a break from technology, but partly an excuse to rediscover ways of enjoying myself and passing the time that I have forgotten about over the years.

What are the effects and benefits of switching everything off for 24 hours? I feel relaxed. Relaxed and energised and ready for new challenges. My brain feels like it could take on any problem (which it can’t because math always defeats me.)

I would never advocate becoming a Luddite and rejecting technology. Hell, when I wake up the day after a zero screen time break, I can’t wait to reach for my phone and catch up on everything that’s happened while I’ve been offline.

It feels like Christmas morning used to, before I discovered the Santa Scam.

Here’s my advice to you. Just once a month, set aside a Saturday or Sunday to turn off your devices and hit zero screen time. You don’t even have to enjoy it as much as I do. You can hate it all you want. But try it. You won’t regret it.