classic

I Just Bought A Collection of Six Trillion Stories

I have been avidly collecting Creativity Aides for the past few years, and very recently stumbled upon The Storymatic. It comes with the following tagline/warning, “Six trillion stories in one little box.” And they are not kidding. With hundreds of character types and objects to combine, it’s a limitless story-generating machine.

I just opened the box and started with The Classic Storymatic exercise, which involves combining 2 character cards (gold) with 2 item cards (copper), and letting the story unfold. Here’s what transpired:

Bim is a professional video game tester at a large online gaming company until a rare blood infection causes the deterioration of his optic nerves. As his vision gets worse, he tries to hide it from his employers. Trying to make sense of his situation, Bim becomes paranoid and comes to believe that he caught a ‘blindness virus’ from using dirty controllers and rubbing his eyes. He obsessively blames his co-worker Stanley, the one who rarely washes his hands. Before total blindness sets in, Bim decides to exact his revenge by unleashing a virus of his own. He begins to visit hospitals, walk-in clinics, and emergency rooms to collect swabs from random arm rests, toilet seats and counter tops. He cultures his ‘findings’ in petri dishes, which he brings to work every day to smear on Stanley’s controller in an attempt to exact revenge. Eventually Bim is let go because he can no longer keep up the facade of testing games as a blind person. As he suffers in darkness, and begins to adjust to his new condition, he hears of a strange outbreak affecting the city. People are dying from a rare and highly infectious fever that literally cooks its victims’ brains. The spread of the virus becomes pandemic, and Bim struggles to find news about Stanley and to cope with his guilt. [Gold Cards: blind person, video game tester; Copper Cards: blood, fever]

One of the other fun exercises is called XYZ. X has an issue with Y because of Z:

Ron Stanton is the royal taxidermist, as was his father before him, and his grandfather before that. For six generations the Stanton’s have been stuffing the dogs and cats and bats and squirrels and bears and foxes handed down to them by their regal masters. And they have always done so without conflict or complaint for over one-hundred years. Until Ron discovers a hidden trunk filled with hair unlike any creature he had ever ‘treated’. It is too corse to be human, but does not fit the profile of an ape or a gorilla. It is long, dark brown, and smells of thick musk. As Ron starts to question other royal servants about his find, he begins to unravel a long-avoided secret of almost mythical proportions. Did King Gregory shoot a Sasquatch seventy years ago and try to have it stuffed? Or was it the other way around? Did the old King have a secret twin? Who was the hairy ape man that used to live in the back woods, or was it an old wives tale to scare the children into submission? Ron’s life begins to unravel as his obsession to solve this mystery threatens his occupation, his sanity– and his life! [Gold Cards for X: taxidermist, bigfoot; Gold Card for Y: royalty; Copper Card for Z: box of hair]

This is a very cool toy/writing prompt/teaching tool/parlor game! Thanks to Brian Mooney for creating such a simple and infinitely enjoyable box of cards.

The Storymatic

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IDEA 1: 1,000,000 Crunches
Want to rectify your stomach situation? Join me to attempt one-million sit-ups before years end. We’ll take pictures of our bellies (gross!) everyday and post them on Instagram along with our daily crunch totals, and remaining crunches to reach our 1,000,000 crunch goal. Don’t forget to use our hashtag: #millionpack

IDEA 2: Vintage View-Master Tumblog
My friend Timmy Stafford and I have a large vintage collection of old view-master slides. He’s got a NASA moon landing. I’ve got Queen Elizabeth’s first visit to Canada. We have fairy tales and comic books. All in tiny 3D. I just need a great macro lens and a light table to share. We could rate and review the reels, cataloging them as we go.

IDEA 3: Spontaneous Invention Blog
Get three big canning jars and label them WHAT IS IT, WHAT IS IT MADE OF, and WHAT DOES IT DO. On separate scraps of paper, describe everyday objects and put their names, descriptions and functions into the separate jars. Try to create at least 50 and add as many as I can think of per day. Then, every morning, draw one random and scrambled scrap from each jar and consider the new combination. Think of it as a new invention. Sketch it out, name it, and describe it to the world. Create 365 new inventions in the first year. Invite readers to come up with their own inventions, names, and descriptions along side mine. What fun.

Now back to my regularly scheduled reality.

Hot Stuff

Reverse Procrastination: A Friendly Little Demon

My hiatus (from blogging) turned into a dry spell. And what happens when you stop watering the plants?

I have some of my happiest moments when I am thinking and ‘working’ on my Creativity Framework. So why do I limit my happiness so much? Why do I only work on it when the situation is right? The key (or at least one of them) to getting things done in your creative life, is to just do them. Even under the worst possible conditions. You need to finish your work IN SPITE OF the conditions, not BECAUSE OF the conditions. There are too many other things going on in the universe for it to always line up perfectly just for you and your project. Don’t feel bad about this, challenge it.

I tend to experiment. Sometimes (actually most of the time) the experiment overtakes the project. I experiment with ways to battle inertia. I experiment with different digital tools and mediums to make sure I have access to my work during ‘down’ times (like taking the streetcar to and from work). I constantly have ideas for how to start my book (Create More Better Different) over again, how to write it better, how to break it up into smaller pieces. It should be a pamphlet! It should be digital only! It should be done with pictographs! It should only have one idea per page! It should be written only by hand! It should be written only on an iPhone! It should be written only on the streetcar, one idea per day! It should be written only in the morning before work. It should be written only after midnight. I should just stop and re-edit the material I’ve already written. I should make sure there is a blog-style sidebar for each section… The list goes on and on. I’m luck if I only have 3 or 4 of these ideas every day.

This friendly little demon is something I call Reverse Procrastination. It is so frickin’ helpful, isn’t it? It’s always suggesting cool new ways to do thing, cool new ways to start over. It has billions, trillions, of new ideas to throw into the mix. And you have to shut him down to be able to get something done. I try not to listen to him (for me, it’s a boy, for you, it might be a girl). But I’m usually too polite and entertain his excited rantings and ramblings. Perhaps it’s the parent in me, the part that listens patiently before dropping the ‘not now’ hammer. But you have to hold him back, or he will demand all your attention and spin you in circles instead of helping you move forward. The reason I listen to the extra ideas is because I’m a creative packrat. I can’t have too many ideas, and I like to know them all. I like to react to everything, to see all possibilities. But it can’t lead to choice paralysis or else it’s pointless to have choice.

Be wary of adding or changing what you set out to do. There is nothing wrong with change, but try to be self-conscious about whether this change is to improve your work, or to make sure it never gets done.

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Life is improv. Life is in perpetual beta. I hoped to get this picture perfect, but the burn barrel got between my son and the sky and his sillouette isn’t placed exactly where I wanted it. Oh well. I can obsess or I can let it go.
Or can I? I will always try to make it better. I will always try to get a taste of perfect, of what I meant to capture, meant to say, or to write.
As I was walking to catch the streetcar this morning I thought about my 8 Creative Types, and concluded that they should really be ‘Modes’. I’m currently stuck in Dreamer mode, and need to shift to Producer mode now. Sometimes, especially when I’m just falling asleep, I slip into Crazy mode and get wild, disconnected ideas. Other times I attempt to practice a sound or a melody and shift into Mimic mode.
So when are we finished? When we are dead is my answer. That’s when the improv curtain drops. Until then, it’s all up for grabs. Every moment, every single moment, is an opportunity to try to do something as amazing as you can muster.
When I lived in BC, I loved looking at the mountains. I promised myself that I wouldn’t take them for granted. And every day when I left my apartment I would see the mountains and remember my vow. “I love looking at you,” I would say, quietly (because it would seem a bit odd to a stranger walking by). Even when it rained, even when thick rolls of fog lay over my view, I would think of those mountains. I would take a deep breath, as if I could contain their essence, and exhale a certain sense of contentment. I try to do the same things now with my kids. I try not to forget to kiss them goodnight. Or to give them hugs. Or to not get too annoyed at their perpetual requests for water after bedtime… they are finite moments, but if I can appreciate them daily, if I can make them a part of me, then I can extend the feeling longer.
I long for perfection. For a moment of perfect, blissful creation. But I’ll keep showing you the in-between stuff too. Perhaps this is what drives me.

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When you want a pristine and perfectly uniform green lawn, dandelions are hated. They are disgusting weeds with prickly leaves. But on their own, they are stunningly bright and detailed bee-attractors. So which is it? Why do we create a perspective that demands an industry of weed-killing products? Did you know these little plants are good in salads, or that they make colourful, tasty jelly? Up close, they are really beautiful plants.
There’s got to be an analogy in there somewhere.

crack

You Are A Great Divide

The most curious thing about us humans is how we struggle, even when all of our needs are met. Even when we have what we thought we wanted. We are the only creature that can divorce itself from its own body through the mind. We create things that we imbue with meaning. We carry complex ideas for generations. We write in languages. We believe things that can’t possibly be facts. We trust our guts. We see pictures in our heads. And we make things to connect our inner and outer worlds. Is that what creativity is, the struggle to mend the divide between our minds and bodies? Is it therapy? Is it instinct? Is it madness? Or all of the above? I have never been comfortable doing nothing for too long. I often think that I just want to relax and watch television, but I feel compelled to make things. New things. Express new ideas, connect disparate elements together, distill and bottle oblique ideas in concentrated mixtures of various potencies. It’s not for pleasure. It’s not for fame. It’s because I simply have to do it. There is no other explanation. My struggle isn’t a work/life balance, as most people describe it. My struggle is a work/life/create balance. And it’s less of a balance than a splicing of DNA… it’s like The Fly, but less gruesome and more rewarding. But at the same time, I have no idea what it will eventually turn into. wo/fe/ate/li/rk/cre

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
~ Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”

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Realize This!

I just realized that I say, “I just realized…” a disproportionate amount compared to normal conversation. I’m guessing about 62% of my posts contain a sudden realization. It’s like there’s a light bulb hovering over my head… or perhaps it’s more like those OCCUPIED sign lights that go on when you slide the lock shut in an airplane bathroom…

I also really like elipses. And yes, I had to Google, “elipsis plural” to know what to call more than one elipsis…

At any given time I have 30+ tabs open, and am obsessed with saving them. I use two Google Chrome extensions to manage this: FreshStart and Session Buddy. I do microresearch constantly, and go off on literally scores of tangents sometimes from one core idea.

I love numbers. I used to sit and watch my clock radio when I was a kid, just to watch the numbers turn over. I would often count, clicking my teeth together every second, and see how closely my counting to sixty would match up with the changing numbers. Sometimes I was within two seconds of counting off a minute. I could spend an hour doing this as a kid. Watching a clock. And yes, I like watching paint dry too: the way it goes from wet and shiny to matte, the way the matte spreads in reverse across the surface… I also love watching the numbers when downloading torrent files (legal ones of course!). I like knowing exact speeds and percentages. I always have.

I love riffing off of an idea. I like trying to push an idea off a cliff and see how it handles falling, twisting, landing. This might sound macabre, but to me a boring idea is macabre. You will never know if an idea can fly unless you push it off a cliff.

I love the scene in the movie Amélie (which has a much better French title: Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain) where the narrator describes the sensational likes and dislikes of various characters. Amélie likes the feeling of pushing her hand into a bag of dry beans…

I love statistics. I remember numbers better than names. I suffer from minor ‘nominal dysphasia’ where I forget a person’s name before they are finished telling it to me. I learned this term by watching the reality tv show Survivor where a character brought up his condition. For some reason, I didn’t forget the name of the condition, but the name of the character escapes me. Recently I needed to remember the numbers 6183, so I did some microresearch on boxofficemojo.com. I can remember the year movies came out, so I knew that if I blended Breakfast at Tiffany’s with Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi, I wouldn’t forget it. So I came up with Breakfast On Endor. Now I don’t forget that number. (And yes, I looked up Endor on Google to see if I spelled it correctly.) What was your name, again?

I just realized that now you’ve realized a lot more about me than I intended to write about today. Because I like to post every day, I usually keep some notes of interesting things I come across, or thoughts that come up, or discussions, or even current events. Today is my son’s birthday. He turned 7. I thought I would write about that, but nothing came to me. I write about him quite often, and it just didn’t flow.

I was going to write about some other numbers: like how I just passed four thousand followers on Twitter, but that sounds like bragging (but see how I slipped that in there anyway?). My most recent SlideShare upload about The 8 Creative Types became the Presentation of the Day, and got over 20,000 views so far. That made me happy. It also means I have to get off my ass and write more about it. My bullsh*t Klout score, which I still check even though I hate it and think it’s wrong, went up a point. And despite the FITC conference this month, my website hits for April were over 500 less than March. These numbers are not important, but are no less interesting because of their irrelevance.

I think that’s all the realization I need to make today. It came upon me in a wave of rapid fatigue, that I should stop writing and get some rest.

kryptonite

The Baddest Robot In The Universes

Today I realized that I can name 5 metals and/or minerals that don’t actually exist, thanks to geek culture. Here they are in order of cultural exposure:

  • Kryptonite - Rare, radioactive ore from Superman‘s home planet of Krypton. It comes in many colours, but the most common is glowy and green. Created by DC Comics.
  • Adamantium - Man-made, nearly indestructible metal alloy most famous for being fused with the Wolverine‘s bones. It is nearly colourless and shiny. Created by Marvel Comics.
  • Liquid Metal- Nanomorphic mimetic poly-alloy used by Skynet to build the T-1000 robots from the Terminator series. Created by James Cameron.
  • Unobtanium – Rare mineral mined on Pandora, a planet near Alpha Centauri. Created by James Cameron for his movie Avatar.
  • Amphilicite – A mineral that is mostly inert, but becomes a potentially universe-destroying energy source after processing. Created for J.J. Abrams’ show Fringe.

Now imagine a Liquid Metal robot with an Adamantium exoskeleton powered by Amphilicite, with a Kryptonite core encased by Unobtanium. It could be a DC/Marvel cross-over, directed by James Cameron and produced by Bad Robot, Abram’s production company where this… well… bad robot from an alternate future fights Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Green Lantern, the X-Men, and the Avengers. Joss, if you’re reading this, call me.

maker

The 8 Creative Types Presentation

Design Edge Canada covered my presentation at FITC Toronto and wrote a great summary of the work:
Here are the eight types and [Jason Theodor's] explanation of each:
  • The Taker (The Consumer): Desires to be creative, but succumbs to inertia. Craves meaning and voice, but dreams of winning American Idol. Needs patient mentor and a full toolkit.
  • The Mimic (The Xerox): Most of us begin as mimics, especially designers. Need to work on deeper associations, storytelling, research. Need to experiment more to find their own expression.
  • The Producer (The Machine): Get things done right, unstoppable. Fundamental understanding of the work. Have difficulty with self-expression, but love teamwork.
  • The Empath (The Geek): Live primarily in books and online. Prefer the comfort of their thoughts. Get caught in rabbit holes.
  • The Dreamer (The Wannabe): Filled with lofty, creative ambitions and ideas. Have trouble with inertia. Talk the talk but can’t walk the walk.
  • Crazy (The Wildcard): Passionate, filled with wild ideas. Lacks understanding, can’t focus ideas on a project. Too scattered to finish projects.
  • The Outsider (The Recluse): Very creative but insecure, try lots of different things. Haven’t found their passion, the meaning behind their work. Often feel like a fraud, an outsider.
  • Maker (The Creator): Have a well-balanced skill set. Make cool stuff of their own. Work, learn, play.

What’s Your Creative Type?

Today I gave a presentation at FITC Toronto 2012 about creativity. I promised I would post this diagram about how to discover your basic creative type. These are not meant as scientific labels, but as a starting point for understanding your own creative strengths and weaknesses so that you can create a toolkit to help you create more, better, and different. I’m working on an ebook to describe everything in detail, but feel free to try the test yourself and let me know how it plays out for you:

You START at Action, take the Action Test, and then choose the strong path (+) or the weak path (–) depending on your answers.

Action Test (yellow diamond)

Action is about getting things done. It is about practicing a craft and building experience. It is about having a routine, and cranking shit out. If you are strong in action, then when you see great creative work, you immediately start creating something. The important thing about your creative work is that you are doing it. You never have trouble getting started, and always have a project on the go. You usually finish what you start, and make many versions of your work before you are satisfied.

Answer yes or no to the following questions.

Do you…

  1. Have a hard time getting things started?
  2. Suffer from writer’s block, or often feel distracted and doubtful?
  3. Have difficulty finishing a project because you procrastinate too much?
  4. Hate practicing?
  5. Have lots of ideas, but precious little to show for them?
  • If you answered YES to three or more of these questions, you have an action weakness. Follow the (–) sign.
  • If you answered NO to most of these questions and only got one or two YESes then you have action strength in your creative approach. Follow the (+) sign.

Connection Test (blue diamond)

Connection is about making associations, about understanding details, about seeing the big picture. It is about storytelling, about connecting the dots. If you are strong in connection, then when you see great creative work you ponder its intrinsic meaning. The important thing about your creative work is that that it resonates with other people. You do a lot of research, you find it easy to empathize with others, and are intrigued by the many ways different cultures, races, and religions approach solutions to problems. You are never happy with a project until it ‘feels’ just right.

Answer yes or no to the following questions.

Do you…

  1. Loathe the thought of research, and avoid details?
  2. Have little patience for new ideas or cultural experiences?
  3. Have difficulty telling stories?
  4. Have a hard time seeing the big picture, of understanding the relevance of what you do?
  5. Rarely imagine yourself as someone else (in someone else’s shoes)?
  • If you answered YES to three or more of these questions, you have a connection weakness. Follow the (–) sign.
  • If you answered NO to most of these questions and only got one or two YESes then you have connection strength. Follow the (+) sign.

Deviation Test

Deviation is about experimenting enough to find your own expressive voice. If you are strong in deviation, then when you see great creative work you imagine how you would have done it differently. The most important thing about your creative work is that nobody has ever done it before. You like to experiment with a variety of options, and thrive on change. You wear ‘strange’ like a badge of honour, and if people knew all of your ideas, they would probably lock you up.

Answer yes or no to the following questions.

Do you…

  1. Have difficulty expressing yourself, finding your own voice?
  2. Avoid trying new things?
  3. Have a hard time coming up with completely new ideas?
  4. Not know how to imagine things from new perspectives?
  5. Fear the unknown and stick to what you know (do you always order the same thing at a restaurant)?
  • If you answered YES to three or more of these questions, you have a deviation weakness. Follow the (–) sign.
  • If you answered NO to most of these questions and only got one or two YESes then you have deviation strength. Follow the (+) sign.

Congratulations! You should now know your creative type.

Want to know more? I’m currently writing a book about the elements of creativity, the create types, and specific creative toolkits to help you create more, better, different. You can do one of two things: