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Monthly Archives: July 2019

There’s a desire, when making something, to have the creation be somehow new and unprecedented, unique, unlike anything that has come before. This can create issues – while ideally every work should offer something new, it is not necessary or even desirable that the entire piece be founded on novelty. The search for perfect uniqueness is similar to the search for perfect anything in that it is an ass-backwards waste of time.

I’ve been thinking about the ways this impulse holds me back. I’m not sure how many ideas I drop in their nascent phases because I’ve already written about them or read something similar – likely it happens to many ideas before I even think of them as ideas. Sometimes it probably isn’t even a topic I’ve written or read about, just something I’ve thought about enough times that I feel like I must have, which makes it a really unfortunate idea to discard – though if I’ve thought about it so much then I suppose I’ll probably think about it again before too long. Probably. Sometimes an idea discarded because I’ve already used it might have branched away and turned into another idea, a whole new way of building out from a common foundation, if I’d only bothered to think about it a little bit longer.

Aside from keeping me from writing certain pieces, this tendency may also make some of my pieces worse. I avoid covering ground I think people will already be familiar with, even if it’s necessary to understanding the thrust of my point. I rush through, assuming everyone’s familiar enough with my line of logic to follow, and am often unconcerned with whether everyone even started on the same page as I did.

I have a concept of the most perfect form of every piece as being that which strips out the most unnecessary elements, that which is most precise and concise, like a polished gemstone. This concept of perfection, too, is useless: Sometimes less is better, sometimes more is better, it is entirely conditional, entirely a matter of what the extraneous adds or detracts. The details add up, and can either accentuate or clutter. Longer words are sometimes better than shorter synonyms because they feel more satisfying to say and paint a better image. With every piece, there’s a core, a kernel, and the details wrapped around it, the aesthetic and expressive choices used to give voice to that core idea. Repetition can be mere redundancy or it can be rhythm. And, the same way that seeds and eggs must provide their own nutrients to themselves before they can become self-sufficient, there must be a certain amount of ‘extraneous’ text for the ideas to grow.

If you just say something once, no matter how eloquently you state it, people are likely to forget it soon. Even if you find the perfect phrasing of an idea, if you fail to ever repeat or restate it your audience won’t retain it. No matter how well an argument is framed, it won’t stick the first time it’s read.

Yet laying this groundwork can be just as treacherous as omitting it, at least when it comes to imparting the ideas I want to impart. Whenever one of my pieces gets boosted and more widely read, I inevitably get responses either taking issue with or inspiration from whatever the first idea presented in my essay was, even if it wasn’t the idea I was trying to get to or found interesting. Often it’s not even an idea I would take credit for, just a relatively commonplace concept, that many other writers have argued for far better than I am prepared to, that I was using as a stepping stone to get to another idea. When you place ideas in sequence, it’s little surprise when many people don’t make it through the entire sequence. If they have seen less far, it’s because the shoulders of giants keep blocking their vision.

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The way art happens, I think, is much the same way pearls are made: A tiny grit of something gets inside of our shells, grinds its way into us uncomfortably, and we have to weave some softer facade around it to keep it from hurting.

I’ve been very tired recently, so I’ve been dialing back my ambitions for the month. I’ve relaxed my scheduling, I’ve let myself feel okay with getting less done every day, and I’ve been generally taking a bit of time to lean back and think about why I feel so tired, so discouraged, so unenthusiastic.

For the most part I live a fairly solitary life. I sit around in my tiny room and I try to make art and enjoy art and that’s basically how it goes. I can usually do this because I believe in what I’m doing and I believe that it’s intrinsic to who I am to want to make things that are interesting and, perhaps, even beautiful.

The more I think about it, though, the less certain I am that this life is any more intrinsically a part of who I am than any other life I might live. Certainly I have certain priorities or activities I might be predisposed to, and certainly I value art, but I have learned to view certain aspects of my existence, certain priorities and values, as solid – as immovable. I have learned to believe that only one type of life could possibly suit me, and the only choice I had was to see what else I could fit in around those immobile points: That this was my nature, the core of who I am. However, when I ask myself questions about why I feel uncomfortable, why I live the life I do, I then also must question how much of this identity I inhabit is intrinsic to me as a person – and how much of it is just habit, just the memories called up by being in this room, living in this body, and having each day follow its predecessor in a chain that seems often to be unbreakable.

The tricky part is, even if you identify your current life as imperfect, it is at least one life that has worked. Out there, there’s an infinite number of lives that may or may not work. Once you identify that something that you thought was constant is a variable, you have to wonder what else could fit in its place… and, if it might be moved, what else could fit in around it that couldn’t before?

I like the idea of being an artist. I like the act of creating art – usually. However, I see very few models of how being an independent artist can be compatible with leading a happy and rewarding life. Not being able to see these lives being lived is unfortunate, because while I believe it can happen, I also believe it is a difficult life to build, and made more so by the lack of any reliable guide. In a context where many people exploit and abuse artists, in a context where what is considered good entertainment is increasingly consolidated into the coffers of a few megacorporations, in a context where social safety nets are getting sawed away by bandits, in a context where we are told that we must constantly be working and constantly be making or we are worse-than, less-than… How can one halfheartedly create, and hope to get anywhere? What can I do with these doubts besides diminish myself?

Yet halfhearted creation may sometimes be all I have, as I do not always have a whole heart available to create with. I’m split in so many directions, the projects and ambitions and the leisure and the longing, I feel like I have no time or energy left over to seek to rectify the holes I perceive in my life. I keep feeling I ought to give something up to make room for something else, and yet I have no idea what to give up, like ceding any territory is self-annihilation. I keep feeling that there has to be some way to rearrange things to make room.

I keep feeling so tired.

When you’re an independent artist, with little to no audience, and you lose interest in what you’re making, there’s no real reason to keep working on a thing that no one wants to exist – or, at least, a thing no one knows they want to exist. The only resource I have at my disposal for creating my passion-projects is passion, and if I let that slip I really don’t have anything. Which raises the question of how I can be consistently passionate if I want to do another project every month. Which raises the question of why I want to do another project every month.

I keep getting caught in these feedback loops, where I nudge myself to make progress, stall out, nudge again, stall, nudge, stall – and this process, even when I don’t actually do anything, consumes a huge amount of energy. While I burn energy this way, I burn even more energy getting angry at myself for not doing anything while I’m stalled out.

This, I think, is how a person can burn themselves out while doing absolutely nothing at all.

The nice thing about working for other people is you can know at least one other person wants your work. The nice thing about working for other people is you can blame someone besides yourself for feeling tired, crushed, hopeless. The nice thing about working for other people is that it doesn’t have to be your identity, it can just be a job.

The terrible thing about working for other people is that, because the richest have so much more power, the value your time and effort creates, in the form of the money you need to survive and thrive, is the value of the change in their pocket and is utterly without significance to them. The terrible thing about working for other people is you have no power to change your approach if you feel tired, crushed, hopeless. The terrible thing about working for other people is that they won’t let it just be a job for you, they want it to be the reason for your existence.

And at the end here I would like to come to some big meaningful conclusion, something with impact, something Important. We always want what we write to be important. And that which is important compels change. So if I conclude here with something Big and Important, I need to change my life afterwards. If I want to claim insight, I have to make a change. I wonder how much of my confusion stems from trying to regularly create viewpoint-shifting insights, and having to believe them. Is this another way I’ve sabotaged myself?

I suppose the next day will be much the same as today, and I won’t be compelled to make some huge lifestyle change. Perhaps this is just my process of finding point of discomfort and encasing them, softening them, beautifying them. Or perhaps my role, here, is just to be the tide that brings sand to you, and to make you uncomfortable – but just uncomfortable enough, and in a way that you can work with.

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I always had trouble identifying with the parts of kids’ cartoons where the main character wishes they were normal. I think that this is partially an indication of privilege: I’ve never really had to suffer much for being a weirdo. I mostly kept to myself and, always having been on the big side, was never a very attractive target for bullying. Maybe that’s why I never found ‘normal’ a very appealing thing to be. Perhaps this means that I really internalized those cartoons’ lessons about how it’s okay to be different, that everyone is unique and contributes something of their own, but as time has gone on, as I’ve found myself isolated and struggling, I’ve come more and more to see the appeal of normalcy.

There’s probably some sort of difference between opting out and being unable to fit in. I’ve always strenuously avoided having to think too hard about which, exactly, I’m doing at any given time.

I don’t really believe that any existing human being is not, deep down, a huge weirdo. We are a fundamentally neurotic species, overloaded with crossed wires, beliefs connected to anxieties connected to fetishes connected to fears, all of it coated in a vague post-hoc rationalization we call a personality. Normal is a set of behaviors, a standardized interface between you and society that you can fit on top of your natural impulses, and some people have an easier time of making that fit than others. Normal is a thing that you do and that is done to you rather than a thing that you fundamentally are – a distinction far too fine for me to grasp as a child, or for these children’s cartoons to attempt to impart.

And this allergy to normality might sound like a good trait to have as an artist – I sure thought it would be! But art is communication, and communication gets a lot more difficult when you have semi-intentionally disconnected yourself from the standardized interface of your culture. What I mean when I say this is that the most generic, uninspired, boilerplate boring design-by-committee extra-smooth-applesauce piece of art has a huge advantage relative to anything I create, no matter how careful or inspired or well-thought-out my work may be: People know what it is, how to engage with it, and what it means.

When I’m in art classes, teachers frequently tell me that I needn’t try to be so representational, that I don’t have to get every color and proportion perfectly accurate – which is, of course, true, but is also unnecessary advice. I know how to not do the obvious thing. What I need to learn is how to be expected, predictable, how to meet people where they are at. Maybe this leads me to overcompensate, but I figure practice is the best time to fixate on technique. Everyone is probably going to come at this challenge from one side of the divide or the other: Every artist is going to either find it relatively easy to make generic art that everyone can appreciate but is soon forgotten, or to make weird art that few people enjoy but is extremely distinctive and perhaps offers something difficult to find elsewhere. For passionate creators, they’re probably going to start pursuing whichever one they perceive themselves to lack.

As hard as I work now to pursue an understanding of shared language, cultural norms, realism, and ‘polish’, others are surely working just as hard to define a unique voice, a look and sound, a bit of grit and identity. Perhaps we are working towards the same thing from different directions, some searching for a truth occluded while others for words to speak a truth perceived.

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Generally speaking, I want to make games. Specifically speaking, making an actual game of the sort I want to make is a nightmare proposition. Games take a tremendous amount time and of energy to create, and for many years I’ve said: That’s okay. I’ll put in the time. I’ll put in the energy. Right now, though, I’m not sure about the supplies of time and energy. Right now, on our current trajectory, time is running short. And the more I think about that, the less energy I have to work on making a game.

There is a plausible apocalypse looming. There’s no point in pretending it’s impossible. Even if we dodge the greater threat of the global ecosystem collapsing due to greenhouse gases, there’s still the global rise of nationalism and fascism, the increasingly unsustainable income inequality, the creeping capture of all political systems by malicious actors – and then there’s the old problems, stuff that has been around for a while, the racism and sexism and sundry bigotry, freehanded abuse of the socially and financially and physically disadvantaged.

It’s a lot. Not sure what to do about all that.

It feels like a blockage. Fixing this feels like a prerequisite without which no other work can commence. But this cannot be completely fixed. There are no complete solutions to these problems, only processes that can be enacted to slowly ameliorate them over time. This is a frustrating realization because honestly this is not how I work. I like to fix things once, and I like them to stay fixed. I freely admit that this is an unrealistic expectation.

So I fret. I wonder what I ought to be doing. Is it ethically acceptable to make art on the eve of Armageddon? Is it ethically acceptable not to? What could I realistically fix, out there, in the world, given my aptitudes and experience? What fundamental change would I have to enact upon myself in order to do so? How dangerous would it be to try? How dangerous would it be not to try?

And so forth, in circles.

I think sometimes maybe it would be better for me to just do small works. Just do little paintings, bits of music, write these posts. Forget games. I could, I suppose, just keep making small games, little monthly projects like I’ve been trying to do (with mixed success) – but, so far, all of my small games feel small. Some people have the knack of creating small projects that feel like little explorations of big ideas, bite-sized chunks of something huge and important. I don’t have that knack, at least not yet. So I keep thinking, then, that perhaps this isn’t a good use of my time and energy. Maybe I shouldn’t be trying to make games.

And yet. The end can only come by consensus. This world ends when we agree it ends. Maybe right now is the perfect time, actually, for a long-term art project. It’s a vote for tomorrow. It’s a leap of belief in an audience existing.

There are three reasons to do creative work, as I see it – besides making money that is, which so far remains a largely hypothetical benefit to me. Often, it’s just for practice: We play our scales, do our figure studies, write journals or bits of poetry and lyrics that never go anywhere, and hone our skills. Sometimes, it’s to express something within us, to take it out of the unspeaking back corridors of our minds and out into the world, for exorcism or for self-understanding. And, of course, sometimes it’s for each other. Sometimes it’s to say something to someone else, to make them understand a viewpoint, feel an emotion, perceive a shift.

If we don’t practice we stagnate, lose the technical capacity to say what we want to say. If we don’t create for ourselves, we lose touch and create something we don’t care about, or cease to care enough to bring a work to completion. If we don’t create for each other, we sink into silence, stop hearing from each other, learning from each other, and eventually dissolve.

I’m going to keep creating. For practice, for me, and for you. I hope you will do likewise.

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If you’ve been keeping up on the blog for the past few months, you may have noticed that it’s been a while since I’ve posted any updates regarding monthly projects. What updates there have been haven’t really included any finished results. The fact is, these last few months haven’t been very conducive to getting work on these projects done – and, even when circumstances have allowed it, I have not had the motivation to pursue these projects as devotedly as I’d need to to bring them to completion. Even though I’ve been happy with how the weekly posts have been going here, that’s really only half the work I’m supposed to be doing. For March I’d wanted to collaborate with others to bring a reasonably-sized 2d platformer to life. There was less interest in the project than I’d hoped and I had less time and energy to pursue it than I’d hoped, so it eventually went on hiatus – hopefully to resume someday but, well, we’ll see. Afterwards, for May, I wanted to develop a vector graphics drawing tool for Unity. This is still an idea I have some enthusiasm for, but it turned out in the end that I needed to do a great deal of studying in order to understand the fundamentals of computer graphics that would allow me to bring this to life. It turns out that just understanding the math isn’t enough, you have to understand how the math translates into instructions that you can pass into a graphics card. And, though I eventually got a handle on these problems (I think), the next month was so busy that I ended up having to time or energy left over to work on actually programming the tool itself.

And now it’s July. I really don’t want to turn this project that I have barely any concrete work done on into a three-month project. I really don’t feel like finishing that platformer right now. So, for the time being, I’m doing something different. I need a win, here.

Five months have passed since I made Convergence Compulsion for Wizard Jam 8, and since it is a semi-annual event the next one is rolling around again. As with the last jam, it’s intended to last two weeks – but I’m going to spend the entire month on it since no one is really a stickler about these things. I don’t know what my project is going to be, but my commitment at this stage is to A) Actually finish a damn game, and B) Make it shorter and more polished than Convergence Compulsion, since I felt like a lot of players lost patience with it before the end (though I remain proud of that project).

Once the month is out, once this game is done, I’m going back to EverEnding for August. I’m currently considering ways to integrate EverEnding into my Patreon monthly work, and I’ll have more on that in a month or so. For the time being, I have to figure out what I’ll be working on for Wizard Jam 9. Wish me luck!