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Finding your creative community: we are Devo

Devo pin and astronaut cat

Creative people sometimes start out isolated and different. No matter how positive and full of energy we are, we still stand out from everyone around us because we want to change their environment. We are full of ideas and questions things. The vast majority of people expend their energy making sure that nothing changes, so when someone creative appears, they are diminished and ignored. The urge to fit in and be like other people is strong and for a lot people, that leads to their creative side being completely submerged. They would rather be someone they aren’t than be lonely.

However, sometimes you get a signal that no matter how weird or different you are, there is someone out there just like you. That signal is an important indicator of the path you are about to go down. For some people it’s a book or a movie, sometimes it’s a person you meet or a specific location. Whatever it is, it’s an indication that it’s ok to be yourself.

For me it was the summer of 1979 and and I was 10 years old. I was riding to Graceland shopping center on my blue BMX bike with a banana seat. I made my way through all my usual stops — the hobby shop, the toy store — when I noticed a new store. It was a music store and I didn’t know anything about music. I hadn’t had much exposure to music beyond TV and music class at school. My parents played the occasional Simon and Garfunkel record and some Peter, Paul and Mary, but most of the music in our house came from a tinny radio in the garage as my father worked on Volkswagens.

I walked into the shop without any thought of actually buying something. It was more of an exploration to see what it would be like inside. I knew I enjoyed the Beatles, but not much beyond that. I wandered the aisles without direction, soaking in the hyperreal fluorescent ambiance and avoiding the vaguely punk cashiers, when a cassette tape caught my eye. It was a peculiar figure wearing a hat with the letters D-E-V-O next to him, and for some reason, I felt an instant connection to it. I was drawn to it. I knew, in that moment, that whoever had decided to put that image on that case was talking to directly to me. He was whispering a message directly in my ear.

“You are not alone.”MI0000924801

That’s what it said. Those words formed in my head. No exaggeration or hyperbole involved. If I made a movie of it I would animate the lips of the man on the tape saying them to me. Seeing this album cover was love at first sight – not me loving it, but it loving me.

I bought it, took it home and listened to it over and over again on my dad’s handheld, monophonic tape recorder. I memorized it. I was so unsophisticated that I didn’t even look for other albums by the group or try to look up any information about them at all. I didn’t even know that “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was a cover of a Rolling Stones song.

For at least six months, all that existed of those mythical creatures “Devo” was that one gray cassette tape in a cracked, clear plastic case. Even the album name spoke to that question of connection. Are we not men? We are DEVO! I included myself in that “we” as I sang along.

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When he was asked about that album cover, Mark Mothersbaugh, one of the founding forces of Devo, told this story:

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Creativity Tip: Let Yourself Be Awesome!

Screen Shot 2017-08-05 at 8.10.44 AM
You let so much hold you back. Fear. Self-doubt. Money. For just one day, let yourself be awesome. Not ok, not good, but completely and totally AWESOME!

No longer are you a tiny doubt-filled tadpole in a giant pond, not today. Today you are Godzilla and the rest of the world is a terrified city gazing up at you with their mouths hanging open. A simple flick of your tail has massive repercussions. To you, everyone around you is a swarm of tiny, irritating flies trying to distract you with their buzzing.

Oh, they’re going to try to bring you down. They’ll come after you with tanks, airplanes and electric power lines designed to fence you in. But, you know that those are just limitations that would stop somebody who wasn’t as awesome as you are. You are so awesome that you can simply step on these minor problems and crush them. If that doesn’t work, your Atomic Breath Ray will blow them up. Take that boring day job! Take that self-doubt!

Best of all, you are unstoppable. Whatever you want to do or accomplish comes easily. No need to procrastinate or over-plan, you just do it! Even if the world sends MechaGodzilla to stop you, you still triumph in the end. In fact, it makes you stronger because you are super-charged by the radiation he emits. Imagine a day where everything that stands in your way is afraid of your massive crushing jaws! Nothing can stop you! Let today be that day!

I know there are some people who don’t feel comfortable being awesome, but you do. I also understand you can’t be Godzilla level awesome all the time. No one wants to date Godzilla or be Godzilla’s roommate, but isn’t it great to know that you can be Godzilla when you need to?

Tame Your Creativity Monster With A List

100monsters

Everyone remembers being afraid of dark spaces as a child. Even the shadowy space under your bed was a potential monster hideaway. The bigger your imagination, the worse the monsters you imagined.

A friend of mine posted her 7-year-old son Chester's school project on Facebook. To celebrate their one hunderth day of school, his teacher asked each student to bring in a hundred of something. He decided to bring a list of one hundred monsters.

At first, as with all scary things, it seemed like there were an infinite number of monsters. So many monsters, in fact, that he decided to group them into tens. Ten dragons, ten cryptoids, ten movie monsters… Also, it wasn't enough to just have the name, he had to look up each one and learn about it. He then painstakingly wrote each one, learning how to spell even the Kaiju monsters. With each step the list got more and more manageable until, toward the end, it was hard to even come up with enough monsters to finish.

It struck me how helpful it would be when you are faced with completing an impossible, scary project to list your monsters. Sometimes just a blank piece of paper is the terrifying dark closet that contains everything that scares you into inaction.

Instead of letting yourself get overwhelmed by fear and inertia, why not list out all the things that are stopping you from starting? Get a piece of paper and write them out. Break them into sections if you want, anything to make them more manageable.

In fact, try and list a hundred things preventing you from moving forward. It's not easy to do. I bet it's hard for you to get past twenty. You can start with the teacher in the fifth grade who told you that you'd never amount to anything and then move on to that nasty commenter on your blog that tells you that it's hard to read your writing because there are so many grammatical mistakes and run on sentences.

Once you see the monsters all laid out neatly on a piece of paper, I bet they're no scarier than Spongebob Squarepants. Who, if you look carefully at the picture above, you'll see in the Sea Monster category between the Gloucester Serpant and Gill-Man.

Image copyright 2011 Chester Haugaard

The Writer Who Never Finished Anything

 

TimBurton

In his always interesting blog, writer Mark Evanier answered a question from a reader who was having trouble finishing any project she started. She wanted to know how she could motivate herself to finish if there was no guarantee of an audience when she was finished. His answer brought up even more questions. Are you a writer if you’ve never finished anything? Is it enough to just call yourself a writer?

Here’s part of Evanier’s answer:

You’re fooling yourself to think you’re a writer. A writer finishes things…even things that never get sold. Every professional writer has things they’ve written that never sold or reached the public. In fact, we all have things we’ve written that upon reflection, we’re very glad didn’t reach the public. That script you’re writing now may turn out to be one that will never sell but you’ll never know that until you try, which means you have to finish it. As the saying goes, there are no great uncompleted novels.

His answer brought to mind Seth Godin‘s pithy quote that makes the same point, “Real artists ship.” Godin uses ship to mean completion of any project, personal or professional.

He points out that not shipping is just an expression of fear of failure. In his, and Evanier’s thinking, failing is as much of being an artist as shipping. In this post on Tim Burton, Seth sums it up succinctly:

One key element of a successful artist: ship. Get it out the door. Make things happen.

The other: fail. Fail often. Dream big and don’t make it. Not every time, anyway.

Do you have a project you’ve been putting off? Ship! After all, the quickest way to succeed is to fail as quickly as possible and move on to the next thing.

Massive Creative Recharge From Captain Beefheart

Ishot-1450

Captain Beefheart‘s music is not for everyone. That’s a good thing. I’ve seen this bit of his prose reprinted multiple times since his death, but I thought it would be useful to reprint it again. The advice isn’t for everyone, but it might be exactly what you need to hear at this exact moment. Don’t be put off because it says it’s about guitar playing. It isn’t. It’s a magic spell. It’s about whatever you’re doing right now.

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Captain Beefheart’s 10 Commandments of Guitar Playing

1. Listen to the birds

That’s where all the music comes from. Birds know everything about how it should sound and where that sound should come from. And watch hummingbirds. They fly really fast, but a lot of times they aren’t going anywhere.

2. Your guitar is not really a guitar

Your guitar is a divining rod. Use it to find spirits in the other world and bring them over. A guitar is also a fishing rod. If you’re good, you’ll land a big one.

3. Practice in front of a bush

Wait until the moon is out, then go outside, eat a multi-grained bread and play your guitar to a bush. If the bush doesn’t shake, eat another piece of bread.

4. Walk with the devil

Old Delta blues players referred to guitar amplifiers as the “devil box.” And they were right. You have to be an equal opportunity employer in terms of who you’re bringing over from the other side. Electricity attracts devils and demons. Other instruments attract other spirits. An acoustic guitar attracts Casper. A mandolin attracts Wendy. But an electric guitar attracts Beelzebub.

5. If you’re guilty of thinking, you’re out

If your brain is part of the process, you’re missing it. You should play like a drowning man, struggling to reach shore. If you can trap that feeling, then you have something that is fur bearing.

6. Never point your guitar at anyone

Your instrument has more clout than lightning. Just hit a big chord then run outside to hear it. But make sure you are not standing in an open field.

7. Always carry a church key

That’s your key-man clause. Like One String Sam. He’s one. He was a Detroit street musician who played in the fifties on a homemade instrument. His song “I Need a Hundred Dollars” is warm pie. Another key to the church is Hubert Sumlin, Howlin’ Wolf’s guitar player. He just stands there like the Statue of Liberty — making you want to look up her dress the whole time to see how he’s doing it.

8. Don’t wipe the sweat off your instrument

You need that stink on there. Then you have to get that stink onto your music.

9. Keep your guitar in a dark place

When you’re not playing your guitar, cover it and keep it in a dark place. If you don’t play your guitar for more than a day, be sure you put a saucer of water in with it.

10. You gotta have a hood for your engine

Keep that hat on. A hat is a pressure cooker. If you have a roof on your house, the hot air can’t escape. Even a lima bean has to have a piece of wet paper around it to make it grow.

Taken from the Captain Beefheart Radar Station

Addition Inspiration

Here's a great method for coming up with new ideas. First, make a list of at least 10 things that you think are awesome. If you can't do that, I feel sorry for you and you might as well not read the rest of this. Seriously, if you can't make a list of 10 things that you love, you should be out looking for things to love.

Now, take your list of 10 and start combining things on the list together. For instance, you might have robots and werewolves on your list, I do, so jumble them up in your head and see what comes out.

Let's say you decide to use those two. The most obvious would be an animatronic robot werewolf that someone might build for a haunted house or for some kind of Scooby Doo-esque trap for a van full of nosy teenagers. But, we can go deeper than that. Werewolves are based on magic, not science. So, when a werewolf bites something it becomes a werewolf not through some biological process but magic connected with the moon.

What if a werewolf bit a robot and that robot became a robo-wolf on nights of the full moon? What if it was all machines? What if it was a toaster or waffle iron with added wolfiness? What if it was only machines shaped like a human? It's magic, so it doesn't have to make sense.

See, all interesting thoughts. 

Now take the items on your list and start combining them and see how they fit together. They are all things you love, so I'm going to assume you know something about them. If nothing works, try a set of three.

Remember, if you don't like the first thought you have, try fitting them together in a different way.

I'm off to write a story about half-toaster, half-wolves combing the countryside looking for human flesh to eat and bread to toast. 

Creativity in Bad Times – Think Like Water

Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way round or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.

Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.

– Bruce Lee

In good times, people have the illusion that coming up with a single good idea is enough. A single good idea will make you rich for life or solve a problem permanently. People think of problems as walls and ideas as battering rams to break through them. It’s not true, but it’s easy to believe.

Problems do not stand still. They grow and shrink, sometimes they fade away on their own and new problems appear where there were none before.

In bad times, people get frustrated because what worked before is no longer possible. The shifting landscape of the world puts up barrier after barrier and things that have worked for years become impossible, illegal or just plain stop working.

This is when it’s easy to fail, because to succeed means having to constantly change and, even more painfully, having to admit that you were wrong.

That’s why I think it’s important to think about your creativity as if it were water. Instead of charging forward and battering things down, although it is capable of that, water can slowly wear down mountains and is constantly searching for a way to flow forward. It can break through a problem, but can also go under, around or through it.

Water is patient and seemingly undemanding. It fits perfectly into any situation it’s put in. Water changes with the landscape as it changes everything it touches. It isn’t upset to have to change its path.

Creativity is survival. Water survives difficult situations by setting its own conditions for victory.

If you feel like you’re beating your head against a wall, try being water for a while. You might find a crack in the wall and get through, but even if you don’t, at least your head won’t hurt while you work your way through.

The ABC’s of Staying Creative

Abc
 Do you experience lulls in your creativity? Do you run hot and cold with ideas? Want to be ready when you need your creativity the most? Here’s one way you can be sure that you are always at the top of your game.

In David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, Alec Baldwin shows up to deliver a motivational speech to a room full of salesman. Really it’s more threatening than motivational, but one of the bits of simple “wisdom” he shares with them is the ABC’s of sales. The letters stand for “always be closing.” To a room full of people struggling to make a single sale, this advice seems more like a cruel taunt than a guiding philosophy.

What if we changed the C from “closing” to “creating?” Always Be Creating. Is it a taunt to use this as a philosophy of creativity? Let’s take away the idea of failure. We aren’t using the phrase to imply quality, just quantity. So, there really isn’t a way to fail except by not doing anything. It’s not a taunt, it’s a cheer!

Instead of working on something, finishing it and then waiting for the next project, what if you always had multiple projects going on? They shouldn’t all be equally important. In fact, having a few low priority creative projects to work on for fun is completely freeing. What about writing Bacon Haikus? Or doing a drawing a day? Or even wearing a different outfit every day? It doesn’t have to be something you’re good at, in fact, being bad at it might be better in the long run.

These seeming distractions are actually keeping you at your top creative level! Your creativity isn’t a faucet that you can turn on and off, it’s an exploding geyser in the middle of your brain. The problem is that if you don’t go there all the time, you might forget where it is.

Multiple projects. Plans. A giant novel about a war between the ant-people and the walrus-people.  The perfect cupcake recipe. An elf outfit for your bulldog. A list of believable lies about Abraham Lincoln. A list of heavy metal band names that haven’t been used yet. (That last one is harder than you think.) Designing underwear for chickens. Anything you want!

ABC, Always Be Creating! Don’t take a vacation from doing what you love. Keep your projects secret or put them on the web. It doesn’t matter! The whole purpose is to maintain your highest levels of creativity at all times.

It’s as simple as… well.. you know…

Resensitize Yourself

You hear a lot these days about how desensitized we’ve all become from the reality of the world around us. From violence to tragedy to advertising, we’ve managed to build up filters that keep us safe and sane. Let’s be honest, if you let yourself react to every story you see on your local news you’d soon be a quivering mess on the floor – terrified, sobbing and depressed. If you noticed every advertisement you were exposed to, your brain would be filled useless information designed to modify your behavior.

However, have you considered that this desensitizing also works against you while you’re trying to create? That this useful shield for modern living might also be blocking things from coming out? The subtlety of detail, the depth of emotion and raw honesty that art demands are stuck behind the same barrier that you use to not cry when you see a story about a grieving mother on TV.

Why not let yourself the freedom to notice details again? To feel other people’s emotions as if they were happening to you? To actually hear the cars driving by your bedroom window as you fall asleep? To taste food? To feel the socks on your feet right now?

You can always put the shield back up when you need it, but can you take it down when you want to?

You will never lack for ideas and materials if you resensitize yourself. Taking a shower can be of operatic proportions if you feel each drop of warm water hit your skin. Petting a dog and feeling each hair on your hand as the dog relaxes, reassured that its taken care of, is an epic story. This is not exaggeration of the truth, but emphasis on a moment.

How you react to things is how you communicate your perspective on the world. If you cut yourself off from reacting to it, it’s impossible to put anything of meaning back into it.

Ignorance can be Creative

Dragons
It’s always good to work at the top of your intelligence and do research when you need to, but doesn’t ignorance spur creativity?

Doesn’t some of your best stuff come from trying to figure things out?

Explore what you don’t know, what you don’t understand and don’t be afraid to make things up.

Emotional complexity is interesting. Not knowing how you feel about something before you start is riskier, but also potentially richer.

At its best, creative stuff creates a map to uncharted territory – an attempt to describe ignorance. Whether its finding a new solution to a problem at work or painting a masterpiece, it’s at once totally new but it also makes complete sense.

Most people are scared of ignorance. Think about old maps, whenever there was an unexplored area of the map it would be labelled “here be dragons.” They just projected all the fear and anger and everything terrifying projected onto the unknown. That’s how people treat the unexplored territories in their own heads. Dragons are lurking around every corner.

It’s the artists job to brave the dragons and try and describe what is actually there. Instead of fearing your own ignorance, get excited every time you find one of these areas. Move boldly into it and explore.

That doesn’t mean what you’ll produce is scary, a comic strip like Calvin and Hobbes and Peanuts (at its height) faced the unknown as squarely as Death of a Salesman or Hamlet.

Ignorance may be bliss to some, but to us, it’s just potential genius!

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