Monthly Archives: September 2019

I’ve been drawing for a while now, and the mindset of art has changed the way I understand human beauty. I find it strange now that people can admire the beauty of a body as a whole without really noticing the shape and movement of the limbs, the folds of nose and eyelid, the manner of the fingertips, the position they take, the way they hold steady or fidget or tremble. It’s strange that people can love the beauty that’s skin deep without really seeing the muscles and fat underneath that skin, how they slide over under one another and give that skin shape, the bones they attach to creating levers and joints to move that skin, give it ways to touch the world and interact with the world with purpose, with meaning. And below the fat and muscle and tendon and bone is the brain and other assorted organs, keeping it all moving, giving it all intent and life. How odd to only feel the exterior of that system is the beautiful part. The exterior is the part we see, the exterior is the part I draw, but every part of how that exterior is shaped and positioned is a symptom of and consequence of these underlying structures – what makes it beautiful is this relationship, this system of causes and effects, this machine that we call human.

It’s not actually drawing that made me feel this way, though. I’ve always solved problems by tracing backwards, to determining, once I find an end-state, what must have occurred to bring it about. I’ve always observed the reverse to revere the obverse, understanding things from both ends, conflating the effects and their causes: What is effect and what is cause is mostly a matter of perspective. It’s how a lot of humor works: Show the audience a situation that is, at first, inexplicable, and then connect it just tenuously enough to its antecedents to give them the delightful sensation of discovering the explanation for the inexplicable.

When we tell stories, if we tell them well, every moment leads to the next in a way that seems inevitable. We create not just a series of moments, a set of scenes, but also a set of connections between those scenes. A moment in the story may be exciting and beautiful, but what gives it meaning isn’t just that moment, it’s the moments that made the moment happen. There’s the whole ‘butterfly effect’ idea, of how a butterfly flaps its wings and down the line by the by eventually causes a great storm – but it’s never just one butterfly, it’s the breeze of a million insect wings, heartbeats, falling leaves, that somehow coalesce into a great consequence. There’s nothing special about the butterfly or its breath, and the great consequences could descend from any sufficiently long chain of insignificant events, moving the world by weight of a sufficiently long lever and place to stand.

You can’t be so blinded by the beauty of the system at play that you cease to care about results though. Every system is equal if you stop caring about results – death and life, sickness and health, liberty and fascism, these all may emerge from systems of beauty and elegance, but some are far less agreeable than others to those of us doomed to live in these systems. There’s no difference between the accidental systems of natural happenstance and the (supposedly) carefully cultivated systems of human society – except that (again, supposedly) the systems of human society provide results more congruent to the purposes of living a comfortable human life.

There’s a sense of inevitability when you look at the moving gears, at the anatomy of the world. But there’s no reason why the gears need to be where they are. There’s no reason for us not to move them as needed. We may, in fact, only be a tiny part of the system. It may, in fact, only be guesswork what will happen when we move things around, when we seek to change the system. And yeah, occasionally our spasms will cause earthquakes and our wings will cause hurricanes… but earthquakes and hurricanes happen anyway. We’ve lived in a system long enough to have some idea, some idea of what might lead to what. We can move. We can change. And though we will be attended by disasters and though harm will be caused, the world will change with us, and we will create more than we destroy, and we can slowly tune the heartbeat of the world into harmony.

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I’ve been having a hard time writing recently. Sometimes it feels like I’ve got nothing left to say – not necessarily there aren’t any ideas for topics, but that all of them seem thin or redundant, either something I could only say one or two facile things about, or something I’ve already written about, or something that anything I wrote about would be so close to the common pre-existing conception of the topic that I might as well not bother. Usually I figure something out. Every time, though, it gets harder – not consistently, since some are easier and some are harder, but steadily, over time, the resistance builds up.

The world is vast, though, far vaster than my meager writings. Even my chosen niche, that of games and art and how we touch them and they us, is wide enough that I ought to be able to write on it indefinitely. Still, it becomes more difficult to do so meaningfully. Every time, there’s a part of me that’s scared that maybe I’ve mined this vein out, that maybe I’m running dry and I’ll just be unable to say anything more that means anything – without, perhaps, going out and finding new experiences, without prospecting the stories out from the world at large.

This fear reveals a gap, a hole, a bleeding wound in my conception of what creativity is. I have a tendency to view creation as the act of taking something out of myself and polishing it and presenting it to the world, and in exchange I take whatever their response is, be it emotional or fiduciary, and digest it, and then along with other bits and pieces of myself use that to fuel the next work, and so on, and so forth. The factory model, the miner model, where resources are stripped away and manufactured and sold and then more resources are acquired to replace them. It is a very American mindset. I am colonizing myself, stealing my territory, stocking my shelves off of my shipments of vital supplies.

Why would I think about myself this way?

I am not plundering when I write. I am not burning resources – even the time and energy it takes to write are still mine, as much as any time or energy were ever mine. I am just mapping the territory, charting the ever-changing landscape of my mind, of the world as I understand it. The work will always be incomplete, because both my inner world and our outer world which it resides in are in a constant state of flux. The work will always be imperfect, because it is impossible to understand anything completely.

We do not understand anything in the world as it is, but approximate it successively through symbolic analogy. The painting The Treachery of Images, by René Magritte, shows an image of a pipe with the caption “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” or “This is not a pipe,” written underneath. This illustrates the difference between the real and the image – but even the physical object we call a pipe isn’t itself a pipe, at least not on its own. What makes it a pipe is its perception as and use of as a pipe – the ‘pipe’ symbol, stored in our brain, as it is applied to the pipe-shaped object with pipe-like properties. This is the way we understand the world: pipe symbols, tobacco symbols, fire symbols, smoke signals, none of which are quite directly related to the world objects they refer to, and we become adept at understanding how the real-world objects can interact so that we can abstractly model these interactions using the symbols in our mind. This is what applied mathematics are as well: A methodology for converting objects into symbolic representations and performing abstract operations on them in an effort to predict how they will behave.

All of this is a long detour to state that, no, I can’t strip-mine my mind, because my mind cannot store a language to completely describe itself, just as a book can’t losslessly contain the description of a book ten times its length. No matter how much of myself I can strain to successfully describe, there will always be uncharted parts of my mind, left covered in clouds, stamped with a legend that says “Here be Dragons.”

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Can't tell if I'm just dizzy
or if the ground is moving
We try to stay
in just one place
on the deck of a ship
perhaps off a waterfall

When we wake up
we're not where we slept
A person's the sole landmark
On the path of a person
Everything else moves
too slow or too fast,
the mountains remember
the rivers forget

Only we can move
at the speed of each other
When one of us changes
both of us change
I hope
converging like vines
on a house together
frail, short lines together
But soon
it may be just us
who are keeping that house
from falling apart into dust

The monthly project thing didn’t work out. There’s a few reasons for that, but the biggest one is the issue of enthusiasm management, a skill which I’ve had to improve at over the past few years. I guess some people call it passion when they’re able to work on the same project for half a decade. It’s passion in the way that gripping onto a flotation device in the ocean is passion, I suppose. It’s passion in the way that being compelled to return to the scene of the crime is passion. In the way getting a song stuck your head is passion.

I like making things – or, at least, I get restless very quickly when I stop. However, I have a hard time caring about any particular thing consistently. Something that seems extremely important one day can seem utterly pointless the next. It’s a toxic amount of perspective. EverEnding is the rare project that still interests me on successive days, weeks, months… and when I have something that I can care about consistently, that still feels like it has meaning from one day to the next, I cling to it. Perhaps I cling too tightly. Perhaps I sabotage myself in terms of completing the project because I’m not sure what will come next. I think I could come up with another project, though, if I needed to, once this one’s done – what I can’t do is commit to a bunch of small things, objects made to be practice, to be stepping stones, to be disposable, forgettable, irrelevant. I know that’s a bad way to think about them. I know that you never know where a work of art might lead, what might reveal itself to be important later, what might be the actual core of who you are as an artist.

Nevertheless, if the work feels trivial, I cannot do it. Not for long. So it seems.

And yet, if all I want to work on are large projects, then I can work for a very long time while achieving relatively little. If I spend weeks making an animation or a feature, and the game never comes to fruition, then what have I done with those weeks? Are they wasted? Evaporated?

Is this a question that only makes sense to ask because I have little else in my life besides my work – work which seldom seems meaningful to anyone besides myself?

Sometimes all it takes is a change of perspective to see value again. I don’t like anything to be forgotten, to be just a point in between, to be flyover country, so I’ve started to change the way I think about work. Every game is made of hundreds, of thousands of tiny components – art and music and writing and so forth. I’ve tended to think of these as being stepping stones: of being necessary components to create the game I envision. That’s not inaccurate, but each of these creations also exists in its own right, each is something I’ve made, each is a work of art. It’s time I took pride in that. It is necessary: Otherwise every today becomes dependent upon an unknown tomorrow, instead of each tomorrow extending from the foundation of today. At a time in the world where tomorrow is so uncertain, when I don’t know how long I will be able to work before disaster begins to overtake us or who will be left to be interested in my work, I have to find value in what I am doing now. Later can wait until later.

Rather than every month being a new monthly project, every month from now on is both part of a large overarching project and a succession of micro-projects, which I will do my best to share with you. I may withhold bits and pieces here and there if I think it would be spoiling a surprise, but short of that I will try to be as open as possible. I’ll also be, once I get a bit more groundwork laid, setting myself milestones. If I commit to the idea of a large creation as a series of smaller creations, and if I’ve proved that I can do smaller creations to deadline, then there’s no reason why I can’t create, and perhaps even release, the entire project that way.

So far, EverEnding is one of the few projects I’ve managed to care about for more than a month or two, and also one of a very few among those few that I have a chance to actually bring to fruition. As overambitious as the concept may be, it’s fairly modest in many ways. If I was less particular about the methods of its execution and more consistent in my ability to work on it, it would likely be done by now.

That was the main thing I wanted to talk about. But something else is gnawing at me, and I can’t exactly describe its outline. I feel so strongly about imparting emotion and experiences to others that I feel like I’ve numbed myself, cloistered myself, robbed myself of emotions and experiences of my own. My world is a world of words and lines and numbers. It is beautiful and these are good and necessary things, but it’s nutritionally incomplete. If the unexamined life is, as they say, not worth living, what about the opposite? Is a life comprised entirely of examination any more worthy? It feels like half to two-thirds of an actual human life. I don’t know how to finish it – but I suppose life, like all art, is never finished, only abandoned.

If nothing else, I will continue to write. More than being a consistent creative outlet, more than it hopefully providing interest and insight to readers, this has become an invaluable tool for sorting out and expressing my own ideas and emotions – not to mention archiving them, since it is terrifyingly easy to forget things that seemed very important just days before.

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