Archive for February, 2011

February 20, 2011

aaaand we’re back

cup of coffee, blueberry/blackberry scone, jazz samba. it’s a fine day for starting again.
the hardest thing these days is turning off the urge to multitask. my brain running three or four processes at once has long been my m.o.; now i just want to practice being where i am.
i had given up and moved on. this blog was a rock in my mind that i was content to walk away from in favor of other projects, other mediums; sitting down at a computer and free-associating got old quick. i could never stop the urge to write entries based on preconceived titles, to fake some cheap and tired wisdom. that was what i expected of myself and the habit i’d built over time.
the tradeoff is scary: giving up what you know you can do for things you know you might be able to do, but not without a good deal of embarrassment and clumsiness and generally poor execution; the early steps of anything new. between that and the sheer ease with which i get distracted, the prospect of ‘making it’ as i’ve come to hold in my mind has looked grim. in my daily writing i’ve learned the value of pushing through hard spots and seen the satisfaction that comes from working through a cold start in spite of not wanting to. but multitasking, itself a minion of the Lord Trying Always To Be Elsewhere and Do More Than I Can In A Day, remains. my recent preoccupation – or sideways flight – into a game approach has yielded one definitive truth thus far: life does not resemble a game so much as an office job, where most of the time is unremarkable and repetitive. setting out first thing in the morning with goals like have an epic day are fun in theory but largely impossible to execute, and are rather exhausting to attempt anyway. working within smaller, mundane confines is our lot.
today was like any other day.
and then i checked achewood.
for the last several years chris onstad’s work on achewood has served as an example of what is possible in comics, both in terms of quality of writing and the endless possibilities of what can be said and done. over the course of nine years he produced an incredible variety of stories, in a manner that could perpetuate itself forever. the world of achewood was not limited by sequence or consistency or continuity, or any other marks of a small perspective. it simply went anywhere and everywhere, one small and absurd and wonderful step at a time.
last year, achewood began to slow and slow until it came to a full stop early this year. it seemed that onstad had broken down under the mental pressure of his legacy, that he had lost faith in his powers. in the dry month of january checking for new strips became more and more a futile act of self-deception. it was over. what hurt was not that it had ended, but that it had ended with its author in defeat. storylines lay open and unfinished, and there was not even a farewell-and-thank-you to signify that the end had come. just silence. it shouldn’t have ended like this, not after all this time.
i felt despondent; if the price of making something like achewood was the mental collapse of a man, what hope was there for the rest of us?
i was on the verge of composing a eulogy for the strip as one might do for a friend who died too soon; the energy of all the life they had still to live screaming out like a siren of all things wrong in the world. forever a bitter taste.
and then, today.
achewood has returned.
only time will tell if it regains its former speed and strength, but this much is certain: i could have asked for no better sign this morning that today, always today, is a fine day to start fresh, and make what was so wrong right again.

February 4, 2011

let’s play a game

jane mcgonigal writes that the four defining traits of a game are:

a goal
a feedback system
voluntary participation

the premise of her book reality is broken is that games provide us with something we’re missing from our everyday lives, but that if approached correctly (this is the game designer angle) we can implement the lessons of games to whatever end we like. i am on board so far. (note: i have a bad habit of taking something and spreading it around too generally; it’s the same tendency that lets us fixate on some floating, context-free aphorism and apply it to every part of our lives. is there a word for taking a good idea and trying to make it apply to more things than it actually does?)
she opens with this beautiful definition: playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles. it is easy to see how this can be useful. early in her book mcgonigal hit me with the first real perspective-shift that games teach us: we don’t want to succeed so much as we want to work our asses off in the service of something we choose, not that was chosen for us. games mean designating obstacles that have little to do with necessity (a big reason no one has fun going to their jobs). and we don’t even want to win or arrive or master or whatever; we just want a challenge that is doable.
think about it: when you beat the game, the game is over. tetris is a nice example of an enduring game because, strictly speaking, it can’t be beaten. you can only do as well as you can before you are inevitably overrun and die (this, again, is a metaphor i like a little too much). but i digress.
i have yet to get to the part of the book where she speaks to the hows of applying game-logic and design to real-world issues, but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to begin getting there on your own. so, taking the above four as a framework, i’m trying to create a game construct to feed into accomplishing the things that make me feel, er, accomplished, writing and drawing and such. first, a goal: to make x amount of output on any given day. next, the rules. here is where it can get fun, and while normally i scoff at the idea of formal rules, it’s different when you impose simple, strict limitations on yourself. the more you know yourself, the better game you can devise. the wisdom goes that you want to make it hard based on your current abilities, so you are neither bored nor so frustrated that you quit (think of how many times you have resisted the idea of doing something not because you thought you couldn’t do it, but because you knew that you could it without effort, and how dull is that?), and as you – yes i will say this – level up, the goals become harder. hooray.
a feedback system is trickier in the real world to establish, especially alone; just like playing games alone is less fun than playing with others. so you enlist other people to hold you to task, or compete, or whatever. and voluntary participation: you are here because you choose to be. because it’s fun.
it this goes well i may extend the game construct to other things in life; right now i’m just excited to see how it changes my approach to making things. updates to come.

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February 4, 2011

and it keeps coming til the day it stops

it’s almost 3 in the morning and my brain won’t stop spinning. over the last four days ideas and lines and titles have flashed through my mind and seconds later the process is bollocksed because the moment you start to think this is what i’m going to do then it’s tainted and you don’t do it. you see a flash of something you could capture, and nine times out of ten the infant thought comes packaged with a good reason you should let it die. i cannot tell you how many time between then and now i felt like writing, much as i am now, and it could have come out any number of ways. only difference is i did it this time, but minutes ago i was clenching my eyes, thinking just sleep, just sleep, just sleep.
when i had the freakout it spoke mostly to paring down, to starting again, call it what you like. to regenerate. the language of doctor who has seeped into my being to the point that i have written outlines of what i don’t like about my current incarnation, who i want to be in future versions, and so on. that show. they make it look so simple, to go up in a ball of light and fire and there you are. the same, but not. you’re still you, yeah, any of your mates would say so; but oh, to have it be that easy. a quick regeneration and you’re free to discover yourself all over again, none of the work and the daily pour through the habits you’ve spent a lifetime building because you didn’t know better, or because it was the best you could do at the time. a crash is necessary, but it’s not enough. you still walk away yourself.