Cool story snippet: The IBS

In the future everyone will have a internet blog score (IBS), which is maintained by a third party and is comprised of all of an individual’s internet input (included  any aliases they may use) and rates that person for integrity, politeness, mental health, aggressiveness, and other factors. This IBS is used in job interviews, dating services, etc, to help weed out the crazies and limit potential legal action.

On Roller-Coasters

I love roller-coasters. They are awesome, plain and simple. Hop on one and you get to safely come close to death; to cheat him, as it were, and still walk away without having to give him your soul at some later date. Sure it costs a few bucks, but that’s cheap compared to being dead or losing your soul.

But here is the real reason why you should love roller-coasters: They are the perfect metaphor for your creative process.

What? you say. What are you talking about? What metaphor? What creative process?

Well I’ll tell you. You know that feeling you get when you’re going down the track, and you can see it drop away in front of you? You know, when your breath catches in your throat, and your arms grip the cushions (or your boyfriend’s arm) really hard? Its that part where your body is saying, “oh crap. I’m about to be launched into space,” but your face is smiling because your brain knows it’s only going to last for a moment. It is that duel reality part, where your body is saying one thing (Holy Shit!), while your brain is saying another (Weee!) that makes the ride so wonderful.

You see most of the time we listen to our bodies, and do what they say. So when your eyes see a car coming at you while you are crossing the street, you jump when it tells you “Watch out!” Or when you see a cute girl (or guy) walking down the sidewalk, your body says, “hey, check that out,” and your head follows. Most of the time this is a good thing. Its good that we don’t get run over, and its good (or at least pleasurable) that we notice attractive people. However, the problem is that sometimes the messages the body sends are not so good for us.

You see, your body will respond with the exact same fervor when it senses the danger of a car trying to run you over, as it does when it senses the danger of a new idea of yours being criticized by your best friend. On the one hand, the body’s response is helpful and appropriate, but on the other had, not so much. Mind you, your friends criticism might be hurtful (although probably not as hurtful as a car accident), but then again it might not. In fact, it might be helpful. And therein lies the rub. Unlike the black and white response to a speeding car, there are levels of grey involved with the creative process. But the body doesn’t know this, and so you get the same “Oh shit, we’re about to fall” feeling when you’re on a roller-coaster going over the edge, as you do when you are creating something interesting.

So here’s why a roller-coaster is so helpful to the creative person. Because it teaches us to listen to the “oh shit, we’re falling” response from the body, and yet do nothing about it. With the creative process, that “oh shit, we’re falling” message the body sends is crucial. Not because you are about to die, but because you are on the right track. It is your body’s way of telling you that you are getting to the good stuff. That you have struck a rich vein, and it’s time to dig hard.

You see, creativity requires risk. Sometimes big risk. I will even go so far as to say without the risk there is no reward. But your body doesn’t know this. When your are hurdling down the roller-coaster track, and fly over the edge, your body can only see the track drop away, and then quickly calculate the likely result. In other words, the risk. This is all our bodies can understand. It is what they are trained to do. This is why you hold your breath, and grip the cushions hard. Now it is your brain, on the other hand, that knows perfectly well your body will be safe (far safer then the automobile drive to the amusement park) so it allows you to smile even while your knuckles turn white. The brian knows the reward will come at the end of the ride, and doesn’t panic even while your body is trying to.

The problem is, when you start to do a creative process, your body senses the risk, and responds like it is supposed to do. “Danger, Will Robertson. Danger.” It senses the risk, and responds in the appropriate manner. If you are not used to this, you will sense this risk, and stop being creative immediately. The danger signal will overcome your creative impulse, and shut your brain down, just exactly like it will take over your thoughts to get your body out of the way of a speeding car. Alas, this is the exact opposite of what you need to do when you sense this risk, because the thing the body is of afraid of is usually the good stuff, the rich vein of ID, the mother-load of creative ideas. In effect, it is exactly as if your body is working against yourself, trying to keep you from being creative.

But this is true only if you are not expecting it; if you don’t know how to react to the “danger” signal your body sends. Once you know that the “oh shit, we’re falling” signal can be a positive thing (at least in terms of creativity) you can turn it around, and use it as a tool. It is a signal that you are on the right track. That you are digging down the correct mind shaft (yes, I spelled it that way on purpose). That you are going in the right direction. Yet to do this trick, you have to learn to separate what your brain is saying about your creative process, from what your body is saying. And that is not such an easy task. Which is why a roller-coaster is so darn handy. In a blink it does what no amount of thinking or talking can do; it separates the brain/body signal quite cleanly, and for very little cost. Certainly much cheaper than a session with your therapist.

So the next time you find yourself at an amusement park, ride the coasters, and dream great big dreams.

A bad day on the train

Last week I took the train in to work every day, but Friday. The first day, Monday, started so bad I didn’t think I could make it the rest of the week. It started like this.

The station where I catch the Red Line subway is the first one (or the last one, depending on your point of view) in North Hollywood. It’s common for a train to break down when attempting to come back, which is why they keep an extra train beyond the station just in case. Monday started like this. I got on the train and it was so full I knew right away that this was the second train, the first one had broken down and was waiting on the other side of the platform with it’s doors closed, and the sign reading Not In Service glowing on it’s side. The doors chimed, then closed, and the train attempted to move forward. It jerked forward only a few inches and stopped. Not a good sign. The driver tried a few more times, but the train refused to move.  Shortly thereafter, the driver got on the PA and announced that this train was Out Of Service, and that we’d have to catch the next train which was just now pulling into the station. Everyone rushed to got off the train, and cross to the other side (all of 20 feet), where they proceeded to mill around the places where the train’s doors would open. This is somewhat normal, so I didn’t think much of it. What was abnormal was what happened when that new train opened its doors.

Right when the doors opened, the crowd surged into the train. Now normally they wait politely outside the door for the passengers inside to depart. This time they didn’t, and in some cased literally shoved them aside. I made some comment about waiting for the others to get off, but was ignored in the otherwise silent rush to get a seat. It was sad and disgusting to see people who normally act politely to be so hostile and selfish.

But that is not all. When we got off the train at Hollywood and Highland, many of us (it was a larger than normal crowd becuse of the train delays) stood outside waiting for the bus. Amongst the people waiting was a young man in a wheel chair, and a young women attending him. Now normally one waits for the people in their wheelchairs to get on first, but on this occasion the crowd surged forward, and immediately started getting on the bus. The young lady said politely many times to the crows that they needed to get on. The driver either did not see them, or was too pacified to care. Many people held back, but the since crowd kept trickling in, they saw no reason to wait, and got on themselves. Finally the driver noticed the wheel chair, and told the people to get back, but by then it was too late. The bus was so packed that even the people standing could not go back far enough to let the guy in the wheelchair on.  The driver shrugged his shoulders, and the bus moved on. By that time I was so disgusted with the passengers that I didn’t wish to ride with them, so I waited with the young couple for the next bus.

And man was that a good decision. You see while I was waiting for the next bus I struck up a conversation with a young couple from England. They were from the Midlands, and on their honeymoon, spending a few days in LA before they flew out to Tahiti for 2 weeks. He is a Bobby, and she is a Chemist (that’s cop and pharmacist, for those of you who speak American), and they were so charming and friendly. It was nice to meet fresh faces, and see some genuine happiness in the world. They got off the bus at Santa Monica and Fairfax, and I went on my way to work, for once forgetting how nasty humanity can be.

I dream of peaches

I had a strange dream last light. I was opening up a bag of frozen peach slices, and eating them. For some reason I knew these slices had been prepared by my paternal grandfather. The taste triggered a memory of his large wrinkled hands carefully cutting and bagging the slices, before putting them in the freezer. It gave me a sense of connection to him, the peach piece was something he had touched in his hands just last year, and now it was in my hand.

When I woke up I remembered that Pops, as we called him, hadn’t died last year. He’s been in the grave for 30 years come this fall. Funny how your time sense is distorted by dreams. i also don’t recall him ever freezing fruit, although I’m sure he did it. The man kept a HUGE garden, and was happy to pass off fruits and vegetables to us whenever we visited. As a kid we thought that anything grown by Pops was bigger and sweeter then anything else you could buy. This was a rule we all believed earnestly up until his death made it impossible to prove otherwise.

He did freeze the trout we caught every time we went fishing, but I don’t recall peaches. Except for last night.


My day job is working as a particular type of artist (a finish retoucher), and since it is a craft one needs to have examples of their work to show to others. Think of it as a resume of projects, as if you were sell yourself as a author by putting together a book (for that is what we call them) based on a small snippets, a page or two, from each story or novel. The variety of different “books” or portfolios, out there is amazing, and as they migrated to the internet they have been able to overcome one of the biggest limitations of a printed portfolio; that of space. In the past, one could only carry so many examples to a prospective client, so you had to pick and choose carefully what you would show. Now you can put up on your website literally thousands of pieces.  Some retouchers seem put up to have every piece they ever completed.
I’ve always found this process painstaking. Every time I go to organize my work it is like exhuming the dead. The weight of my knowledge (or lack thereof) seems to lay on every piece. Every success or failure has imbued the art with its heady aroma until I start to feel lost, as if I am trapped into the past. It is the most disagreeable of sensations.
Which is why I keep my portfolio small. I don’t want to show everything I’ve done. Heck I don’t want to remember them all. Some of these pieces carry with them some sweet memories, but most of them were work, hard work. And often they carry with them every disagreeable client decision, every stupid limitation brought on by bad photography, or poor planing at the shoot. Every project has its share of mistakes, and they all have to be worked out by the finisher. Literally, the buck stops here. So while you might look at a piece and see the smiling people, I look at it and see the all the mistakes I had to gloss over, or I see the better way we had the art before the client turned it into a piece of shit.
For me, when the project is over, I am DONE with it. Done with a capital D. Finished. I guess that is why I call myself a finisher.
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