Life, Art, and Monkeys
26Apr/16Off

Movin!

Well, given how infrequently I update this ol' personal blog, I think it's about time I moved things over to JKRiki.com permanently. It's updated every Monday, after all! Plus I'm going to be upgrading it in the next few months to include links to other spots I hang out online, such as my new digs at Instagram. If you're looking for me in the meantime, check over here!

Zipping over to JKRiki.com!

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24Jun/15Off

Past Archives Begin Here

Caution sign
Please note: Posts here older than June 24th, 2015 should be considered officially archived. I am not removing them, but in the ten years that I have been writing on this blog I have changed a great deal. Things beyond this point should be considered outdated at best, and may contain many errors or opinions I no longer hold. These things tend to happen as you grow and live life. Or at least, they hopefully happen as you try to become a better person as you age! I just want readers to be aware of that, so that if you decide to go poking through history you will know that it doesn't necessarily reflect my current or future views. :)

 

If you'd like current thoughts and posts, please visit JKRiki.com for regular scheduled updates that provide better insights and information. Thanks!

JKRiki.com

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20May/15Off

Out of Apathy

I am feeling particularly apathetic at the moment, which is not a very good deal at all. The Relient K song (Apathetic Way To Be) is constantly playing on the radio in my brain, and generally speaking I'm doing a pretty lousy job of being enthusiastic about life. Which makes no sense, but here we are.

This stems from several things, but the biggest one is a long, complicated story about my church, and specifically a bell tower that needs a $20,000 repair. I don't want to spend twenty thousand dollars repairing a useless tower. There's not even a bell in it anymore. Do you know what $20,000 could do for the world? A lot. It's very, very hard for me to justify such a cost on an old bell tower instead. If there was a bigger purpose for the project, I'm alright with that. Unfortunately it's a large, pointless tower that will never be used again. It's in too bad shape, and truthfully if we needed a bell it would work just as well in any other place in the building. Bell towers are a great piece of history that doesn't make sense in 2015.

So essentially all I'm doing currently is arguing with imaginary people in my head about how foolish I think it is to get a loan to shore up a failing tower with no purpose. I've heard several reasonably compelling arguments to go with this proposed plan and repair, but none have been more compelling than the fact that $20,000 could dramatically change the lives of a LOT of people, and frankly that's the direction I'd rather put my time and energy (and money, though I don't really have any of that anyway). It's depressing, because most of the time my church is very good about being fantastic stewards and caring about people. When it comes to the building, though, there seems to be a pretty big blind spot. And me, I'm apathetic about the whole thing. I just don't care anymore, and that's a very dangerous place to be, because it's spreading past just a building issue and disenchanting me from life in general.

This will pass. It's a dark gray cloud that can't possibly last. Still, it's rarely any fun being under the clouds that spring up. At least some great lesson is bound to come from all this.

Part of that lesson, if I'm honest, is that this is a magnified version of what I'm not content with myself about anyway. Namely that I do a piss-poor job of being unselfish. When there is $20,000 on the line it is easier to see my selfishness. Yeah, I'd love to plunk down 20k for my own comfort to stay in the situation I know. That number makes it exceptionally hard for me, though, to put my comfort over a great many others. Meanwhile I do the same thing every day, just not with the number 20,000 attached. I live very comfortably while a lot of people are suffering. I came across a verse from Luke the other day:

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

Do you know how many shirts I have? TOO many. I literally have too many, they clog up the closets.

Now, this verse is very likely not about "shirts" but something much deeper. Still, it works on a very shallow level too. I have two (many more than two) shirts. It is my job to share one with the one who has none. The world says I need a lot of shirts, but I totally do not. I need one, to keep the sun off my back in summer, and stop me from freezing to death in winter. The rest is my own vanity.

I'm just really sick of being me, but clearly not yet sick enough to change. And that's awfully frustrating.

(Also please note this post is written by me for me, and I'm not sitting here preaching "Sell all you own and give to the poor!" That's not my call to make for anybody's life. All I know is I'm supposed to do better than I'm doing, and I'm never going to be happy until I do what I'm supposed to do. This bell tower is a brilliant, shining beacon shaking me out of being overly comfortable, because I still have a lot of growing to do.)

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Filed under: Being Human, God No Comments
30Apr/15Off

Come a Long Way

If you missed it, the city of Baltimore has been having some issues recently. Long story short there are riots and looting going on under cover of protests against racial police brutality (what a mess it all is). There are people protesting the right way, and there are looters who just want free stuff. There are police officers who did their job poorly resulting in a man's death, and there are police officers who are doing their best to protect the city and do a good job. What there is NOT, in any of this situation, is an overall group of anyone that you can cover with a blanket statement. Unfortunately many people have used this to make quite a few blanket statements and push their own agendas. What can I say, this is us. The human race, on display.

It can be easy to get caught up in the rush of things when events like this occur. I'm certainly not immune. In particular, there is a Twitter user who I do my absolute best to avoid but still occasionally pops up in my timeline via retweets. For me this person is one of my most difficult challenges as I strive to fulfill my calling to love everyone on earth. I could (and sometimes do, to my wife) rant about all the things that drive me crazy about everything this person does (hence my decision to avoid them completely). Few people get under my skin more.

Part of the reason, I think, is because I see so much of my old self in them. I see the self-righteous fury that declares "I'm right, and everyone else needs to be as right as I am!" When I shared that mindset it didn't matter who I hurt, because it was in the name of justice. I see it in this Twitter user as well. It pains me to see it, as it pains me to look back at how I once acted (and still sometimes do despite my best efforts).

At any rate, I became involved in a conversation that I would prefer I had avoided and I was doing my best to remain calm and kind. Trying my best to point out that we are all broken inside, and my opinion that violence should never be condoned or supported. That there are many people "in power" and not all of them are evil (or rather, everyone on both sides has evil in them, myself included). The idea that if you focus all your attention on one group, you're creating an "Us vs. Them" situation and that never ends well. Instead, I suggested looking at it from a "we, together" perspective. We, together, need to fix "us."

Long story short, that did not go well.

In my frustration, I tweeted the following to no one in particular:

One of the best lessons of my entire life was finally seeing how screwed up I was myself, which instantly flooded me with sympathy for others as well as shame for my own hurtful actions. I NEED reminded, every time I try to "fix" someone else, of how messed up I personally am. I need to turn all that attention right back on myself, and then work towards doing better instead of trying to make someone ELSE do better.

As it says in Matthew 7: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."

If I wrote a memoir, I imagine the title should involve something about the plank in my eye. Most of my life has been spent ignoring it.

A short time after tweeting the above, my friend Autumn responded asking if I was okay. Truthfully I wasn't in the moment of tweeting, but I had calmed a bit afterward. I mentioned that I needed to remember my own flaws so that I would judge others less. Then she said something very interesting:

This response fascinates me. I have not known Autumn that long, so her view of me is based more on the person I am trying to become rather than the person I was for the majority of my life. In just nine little words Autumn was able to show me on a grand scale that the work I'm putting in is DOING something. That even though there is a long, long way to go, I'm changing. If you ask hundreds of people I've interacted with online in my twenties if they saw me as a judgmental person, they would stare at you like you just asked if water was wet. "Judgmental" was my defining feature. It was the word my picture would be next to in the dictionary. As I wrote in a personal journal the other day:

I am an excellent judge. I could judge with the best of them. If there was an Olympic event on Judgment of others, they would not bother with the contest and just hand me all three medals.

This passage was followed by lamenting that I do not want to be this way anymore, and it seems that desire is slowly creeping into my daily life. Slowly (much more slowly than I'd like) my judgmental tendencies are being stripped away. It's tricky, because I run back towards them some days. When I watch an animation for critique purposes I am actively judging. Obviously there's a difference between that and personal judgment, but the same feelings tend to fire off chemicals in my brain.

I still have a long way to go, but it has been a joy for me to see in a small moment of life how far I've already come. That someone out there has trouble seeing me as a judgmental person is a tremendous victory for me. Not because I've done a good job at hiding it, as I used to try to do. But because I've finally reached a place where I truly don't want to be that way anymore, and efforts to change are starting to show up.

Every day we have the option to walk any number of paths. We generally pick the ones that takes us towards who we want to be or what we want to have or feel. Choose your wants in earnest, carefully, and keep walking as best you can. It's worth the effort.

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24Apr/15Off

Like Dominoes

Every so often, if you're like me, you have a day when God sets everything up over a considerable length of time (during some of which you may or may not be complaining to Him about the current state of things in your life) like a long line of dominoes, and then, on that special day, He lets you watch as each one falls over into the next in the most inspiring and beautiful way, all coming together for one grand show.

Yesterday I was blessed with one of those days. The glory was palpable. I hope you have experienced one of those recently, or if not, then will very soon. :)

 

PS. I found a bunch of Fred the Monkey related stuff while clearing boxes at the new house, and posted a ton on Twitter if you care.

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Filed under: Being Human, God No Comments
22Apr/15Off

So Many Roads

Thanks to technology taking care of some base-needs of survival these days, it has never been a better time to do stuff. As they say, the sky's the limit. The world is your oyster. Every good boy does fine. (Wait, that last one is a music memory tool, nevermind.)

I find myself in recent days at a crossroads. Truthfully every day is a new crossroad, and we have the opportunity to go in any direction we want, even one vastly different than the day before. It's a good thing, too, because if we screw up and are angry, bitter, and mean one day, the next morning we can make a sincere attempt to turn it all around and do better. Sometimes, though, the crossroads are bold and apparent. When you declare a major in college, for example, or even choose which college to go to. If you have two job offers and need to decide which to pick. House hunting, which honestly determines a huge, unknown part of how the rest of your life will go.

I am not picking a college major, buying a new house, or really choosing between two potential jobs. I suppose in a way my crossroads are job-related, since what I decide to do in the next few months will lean more towards the "Career" label than anything else. I unfortunately (fortunately?) don't have only two options, though. I have dozens. I have found myself at a place where I could fine tune my focus on a number of projects or paths, and none of them feels particularly right or wrong.

Oh...

While writing the last sentence I came to the realization that I have not yet prayed about this decision, and that is the next step. It ought to have been the first step, but it's one I too often totally forget. It certainly isn't that I don't pray, but I have not turned the focus of that prayer on this topic. My prayers have been more general in nature, like "Give me the words to say" and "Help me to stop being so me all the time."

Thanks to the simple act of writing this blog post I have the next action to take. And who says the Internet is a waste of time!

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Filed under: Being Human, God 4 Comments
17Mar/15Off

On Focus

Last week I woke up and immediately came across something disturbing online. (Shocker, I know.) I don't want to talk about what it was, because that would give it credit and it deserves none. To summarize, someone had made up a claim and falsified data to get people who were already riled up even more riled up because those people believed it to be the truth when in fact it was a misrepresentation of actual history. This never fails to get me riled up. We humans love misusing information.

After spending the morning ranting and raving about this occurrence (there was thankfully no way to respond to the post in question because they had disabled that feature, so I could not go off on a more public tirade [which is usually a very good thing]) I was asked "how I was" on Twitter in a separate conversation.

We often ask "How are you?" or "How's it going?" in our society without any desire to actually know the answer. Instead we get automated responses of "good" or "fine" but there is no real conversation. These words have become a substitute for "Hello."

At any rate, having been asked how I was I had to sit and consider it for a moment. Look deeper than the surface level and ask myself how I truly and honestly was. And how I was was not good. I was worked up, and irritated, and mad. Lousy things to be. I made note of such, and then followed with a tweet of "It's time to change that and refocus though. So I'm fantastic, thanks!"

Our mindset is so often tied to our focus.

If we focus on the bad, we inevitably feel bad. If we focus on the good, we quickly feel better. There is a wonderful little verse in Philippians that says "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." Like any verse, you cannot pluck this out without seeing the bigger picture (or rather, you can but it is ill advised) so I'm not saying "Ignore reality" or anything of the sort. Merely sharing a bit of ancient wisdom that we neglect far too often. The wisdom that says "If you focus your attention on all the good things, life is so much better."

There are plenty of directions to take these thoughts, and I fear trying to handle them all would cause the very Internet to run out of space. After a certain number of words, still early in the discussion, a small window would pop up that says

Instead I will go off, back into the world that is so dark, and I will personally keep one eye trained on the light, so no matter what I face I can know the joy that comes from things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Even while wading through the muck and mire, of which there seems to be more every day.

 

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16Mar/15Off

One More Novel Post and Then I’ll Shut Up

I know I've been writing endlessly about the novel I'm working on currently, so thank you for your patience, any readers who are tired of hearing about it. :)

It's done! Woo hoo!

Final word count of the completed first draft is 20,434. A short novel, but a novel nonetheless. It will probably stay around that mark, but change slightly once I sit down to edit. Some stuff will likely need removed and I have one thought that has to be inserted but I didn't consider until writing the second to last chapter.

I will try to finish rambling about it today and then go post about other things for a while. So bear with me for one final post.

This book is very personal to me. It has so many autobiographical elements that it's weird for me to read. The main character isn't me, but some of his experiences are from my life and I can picture them so vividly that it feels strange. Then other parts are totally not anything like what I've lived through, so it was fun to combine the two into a different "person." Someone who, if I sat down with him for tea, would totally get where I was coming from but also have their own experiences to bring to the table. Really cool.

I think a very large part of the credit for this book's existence needs to go to Mr. Adam Stück because it was only by reading his book and seeing how he'd achieved his dream of being published that I decided to stop dragging my feet and work to get my own book published (not this one, but another). Then, as my wife was proofreading that book before I do the final edit for print, I found this small cavern of time to sit down and do this new novel. None of it would have happened without that inspiration, and I'll be eternally grateful for that boost. (I think sometimes we don't get to see the effect just "living our own lives" has on others. I doubt Adam had any inkling when prepping his manuscript that it would later lead to another author's inspiration. Or maybe he did, in which case mission accomplished!)

Another very odd aspect is that I wrote the entire first draft in two weeks. Granted some of that time was "all day writing" where I wrote from 10AM to 6PM, then again from 10PM to 1AM. Still, that seems really fast to me considering I've mulled over my previous novel (much longer in length, but still) for about 10 years. Maybe you just have to get the first one done and then it gets easier, ha ha. Or (more likely) this first draft is crap and will need really re-written.

Part of it, I think, is the new feeling in me to just let go of whatever was holding me back. Judgment, I guess. After I decided earlier this year to just stop fighting so hard and DO WORK - whatever quality work it was - everything started clicking. It's a lesson I thought I had learned more than a decade ago with Fred. If you didn't know, FtM was a comic strip for about 10 years before it was a cartoon. The reason it wasn't a cartoon before that (or a book of some kind) was I was scared of rejection. Sure, some kids at my school liked Fred's crazy adventures, but what if someone said it was no good? In the words of George McFly:

I know my worth now, much more than I used to, and I've stopped hiding. I certainly understand George's feelings, but at this point I'm like "Eee? Pah." It's time to shrug off these feelings and go create what I'm supposed to.

Which, actually, I was thinking about yesterday just before I finished the book. It was exciting, nearly being finished, and it was the kind of feeling you get when you know you're doing what you're supposed to do, if you know what I mean. Sometimes you do what you want to do, and it's nice, but when you do what you're called to do there's no feeling quite like it. So I was dancing around (metaphorically) celebrating this feeling and I thought "What if this was the book I was put on this Earth to write?" That was immediately followed by dread, with the idea that the moment I put the final period on I would drop dead, ha ha. (We're weird creatures, we human beings.) Then I decided that was okay, because I would have done what I was here to do. And finally I sent up a quick prayer of "I'm not done with the book yet, God! Don't take me until I finish!"

:)

At any rate, it is done now (and look at that, I'm still typing! Must be more to do here) so I'm going to take the advice of Autumn Seybert and just "enjoy the moment."

Ahh...

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Filed under: God, Writings 2 Comments
17Feb/15Off

Further and Further

It seems justice, of the poetic variety, that after yesterday's post "Closer and Closer" I would go on to write "Further and Further" today.

The truth is, as we get closer to something, technically we get farther from something else. (Less deep than this post, if you ever wondered about the difference between farther and further, here's a primer.)

For me, I've become a bit more distant from The World. I use capitalization here because it is something more metaphorical than the actual planet. I still live quite firmly on this planet. So far any attempts to fly off into the great unknown have been thwarted. At any rate, I say The World regarding the general opinion that seems most prevalent throughout society. The deeper I go into thought and philosophy, the less The World seems interested in joining me, and I them (it?). The more simple things appear to become, the more complex The World says they need to be. The less I try and the more I simply "am," the further The World appears to be.

I came to this realization yesterday when I stopped by one of the blogs I check in on a few times a week. I'm not exactly sure why I stop by this blog, to be honest. I see the appeal, and why I would once have probably visited daily. There's an inspirational quality there, and a medium-depth insight into things that people really ought to think about. Heck, I talk on this very blog about similar topics quite often. But maybe because of that, this other blog really isn't FOR me. It's designed for someone else, who needs that inspiring word to break free of the bonds of The World and move onward. The World and I have already parted ways on 99% of things (if you're interested in the 1% left, it's basically The New York Yankees, piracy, and self awareness, which I have yet to fully let go of).

I don't announce this as some triumph, or to beat my chest in pride. This is not "Look at me! I have no use for the world! I am enlightened!" or some such self-righteous proclamation. Those days have passed. This is me thinking out loud. It is, simply, what it is. Iiwii, as my wife likes to say every time I use that phrase. (To which I usually yell EEEEEWEEEEEEEE! because it's so much fun to say.)

I know that the blog isn't for me when I read things like this:

"Why do I get paralyzed in fear wondering what the ten-year outcome of the next decision will be? Why do I get stuck trying to make the best move? Why do I freeze up when options are presented to me? Why do I have such a dreadful fear of missing out?

Have you ever felt that way? It feels like you’ve hit a ceiling. You don’t know where to turn next. You’re in a corner and either can’t see a path out or can see too many paths and don’t know which one to pick."

Have I ever felt that way? Yeah, I vaguely remember such things. Been a long time. I've let go of that, and I know exactly where to turn to next and what path to take now. I've found the only path that's been proven to me worth taking. And since I know now, I can't truly empathize with where I once was. I mean, on a surface level I can. I can remember what it was like (though I don't enjoy doing such remembering). More so, though, I scratch my head and wonder why I ever felt that way. Why did I throw myself at the feet of The World and beg to be accepted? What did it have to offer me that was worth the stress and anguish? There's just nothing there but illusions...

I never sat with the "Why" questions before. Perhaps if I had, I would have seen through the illusions sooner. Why DID I get paralyzed in fear wondering what the ten-year outcome of the next decision will be? I know my answer now, I can respond and not have that be a rhetorical question, and that answer makes all the difference.

Again, this post is mostly just for me, thinking out loud. It's a way to process thoughts, and come across something and sit with it and ask "What is this thing?" Part of me wonders if I should even post it, or leave it in some sort of me-only journal someplace. Yet it has potential, I suppose. These words have the power to help someone, as the words of Jon Acuff do. Less people, perhaps. I don't think anyone would leave comments here like "You are literally lighting a fire under me (not an actual fire LOL)" that are found there, and that's totally okay. (Not "I say totally okay but really it bothers me and I'm jealous" but really, total peace over where I'm at.) But I do trust now that whatever it is I feel so compelled to put down in words, it can be used. And I'm okay with however that is.

It's no longer about me trying to change The World. It's about me changing me, and having my life used for something bigger than anything I could do on my own.

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16Feb/15Off

Closer and Closer

(This post was written Tuesday February 10th)

Yesterday I wrote my to-do list for the day, which is a morning ritual that (usually) helps me stay on track and at least know I've accomplished something towards a future goal, even if it wasn't something gigantic. Constant progress forward usually trumps huge leaps anyway, as huge leaps tire one out very quickly.

Unfortunately (fortunately?) I didn't get anything on my list done. Instead, the day was spent helping friends with various things. Drawing critique here, life advice there, animation stuff too, and generally not the writing and art I had listed on my little notepad. When I came to the end of the day, I was rather frustrated because I "hadn't done anything" all day. I also felt like I had used up all my positive energy and was totally drained.

My wife, upon hearing this, played a song for me. This song.

In spite of Relient K being one of my top three bands, I had not heard that song before. In the song (if you don't want to listen) it talks about being apathetic and how stuff doesn't matter and it's easier not to care. (It's very Ecclesiastes.) Somewhere in there it also seems to talk about how that's NOT really the best solution, but frankly I was too busy laughing at the other lyrics to hear that part. I asked her why on earth she was playing me that song. Trying to finish tearing me down the rest of the way or something?

She played me another song next. In this one you've got the lyrics:

This one last bullet you mention is my one last shot at redemption
because I know to live you must give your life away

By the end of this song, I was crying a lot. I can't say it would have had the same effect without the first song before it; I think they played perfectly together. The first is about that place where you put up walls and complain a lot, and the second is about the freedom that's possible when you let those things go.

The realization that I made during the second song was this: If I'm going to be empty of energy and drained, I want to be empty because I lifted up my friends.

It's these wonderful little moments when I get to see that ever so slowly I'm being changed inside to "not the selfish monster I've been my whole life" which keep me running forward. That's who I want to be, the one who is okay with having nothing left in the tank so long as every ounce of fuel was spent helping others in love. What better use of my life can there be, really? Animation? Writing? The things I chase after because the world says I should?

We complicate life a lot. I was having a discussion with a friend last week, and he made a note of how complicated the universe was. My response was "Is it?" While we never agreed, I think the universe is actually extraordinarily simple when you boil things down to their very essence. Yes, we can complicate things by trying to explain it via human-devised systems like Physics and Chemistry (which are indeed monstrously complicated) and then it SEEMS awfully complex. But that's kind of because we made it that way, in an effort to try to put some numbers to what's happening around us. In spite of those numbers, and our complicated systems, the universe was here before us and it will be here when we're gone.

Today I sat down to write my to do list again. I remembered yesterday, and how I didn't get any of the things on the list crossed off. I sat in that moment, and then found myself writing. This is what appeared when I put down the pen:


This list would be rather cheesy if I hadn't truly meant it. If I was just putting that because "I should" or something. Instead, it came from someplace deep inside me, and it was true, not just for show.

Later while driving, I was having trouble breathing. Probably allergies or acid reflux, I imagine, but it was anxiety-inducing nonetheless. As my throat closed up and heart beat faster and I contemplated mortality, I thought to myself "You know, if I died today, that's the to-do list I'd want to leave here with having written."

Today I'm a little closer than I was yesterday to the glorious end of this road. I wouldn't mind one bit if future to-do lists reflected the one above more often.

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