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!
If you're a Creativity Newsletter subscriber at JKRiki.com you already heard this story, so forgive me for repeating it. Recently I realized the Year of the Monkey is fast approaching, which means it's been 12 years or so since Fred the Monkey and company hit the Internet.
I really wanted to do something to celebrate. Yet I've been out of the "game" so long that I had no idea where to start. Well, I did have an idea where to start, but the sheer work involved was overwhelming. At any rate, I hope to at least make a little "happy year of the monkey" video message to send to everyone. It won't be animated, but hey, it... um... *trails off muttering*
I got a comment from D Shwizzle (bet you 10 bucks that's an alias) on the blog the other day, reminiscing about the olden days. It was a great little pick me up that came at just the right time. I had been feeling a little down about the abandonment of FtM considering I wouldn't have a new cartoon for the Year of the Monkey in a week or so. A reminder that it was there for people while I used to do it was a nice boost.
Those days are gone, and while I'm still interested in doing the occasional Fred cartoon (someday, which I hope I live to see) it's nice to revisit the memories. As I fired up Flash and stared at the old FtM House Background Asset, I returned for a moment to times when my days were filled with Fred work. I must admit, it was a much more stressful, difficult time, but there were bright spots too.
I hope everyone is set to have a great Year of the Monkey in 2016, and I'll keep you posted if I manage to get anything together to celebrate the occasion! Maybe I can do a piece of Fred art, at least. Though... sometimes illustration is more work than a whole cartoon, ha ha.
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 Things beyond this point should be considered outdated at best, and may contain many errors or opinions I no longer hold.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!
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.
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.
Since each of us have a different "why" question (or more likely numerous questions) that circle in our minds when we're struggling, I can only speak on my own behalf. This post will be a very "me" centric post, because I can't answer your why questions; you have to. I hope that my own raw answers lead you to sitting with your questions as well, but that's entirely up to you. For now, I deal solely with me.
Why do I not do the amount of life drawing practice necessary?
When truly considering a question like this, early shallow answers inevitably crop up:
- Because life drawing is hard!
- Because I'm not good enough at it!
- Because I feel frustrated when it doesn't go well!
- Because I don't have time to dedicate to it!
- Because I need a new Prismacolor Premier black noir PC935 pencil! (Don't laugh, I've used this excuse before.)
These answers are truthful, mostly. They blur lines in places some of the time. Do I NEED a new pencil? While my old one ran out and is too small to use, I could use one of a dozen #2 pencils (or even a pen) and practice anyway. Some of the most amazing art you can imagine has been done with a simple ballpoint pen. Do I REALLY not have time? No, I have all the time in the world, I just make priorities and decide to spend the time elsewhere.
These answers aren't deep and are unlikely to provoke real change or enlightenment. They are the brain's way of trying to sate your questions and move on.
"Here's an easy answer," your brain tells you. "You don't do the right amount of life drawing because it's hard! No one can blame you for that! Some people are better at this sort of thing, and it's difficult for you. Just think about how many people tell you how good you are, you're clearly not awful, and with a little more work you would be great. If only you had more time to practice, then you'd reach your goals. That's hardly your fault, life just gets in the way."
In the book I'm working on right now, which is about Creativity, I talk a lot about the way your brain naturally tries to keep you unconscious. Not in some cruel way, but for your own survival. We naturally think consciously on a shallow surface level because going deeper means the brain is occupied and if a tiger suddenly leaps through the window, you might not be ready for it. (News flash to my brain, if a tiger leaps through the window it doesn't matter how deep in thought I am, we're screwed.)
Part of Creativity is telling your brain to shut up for a minute. Part of thinking deeply requires the same.
So let's go past those shallow answers, hmm? What's the response when I dig a little deeper?
Why do I not do the amount of life drawing practice necessary?
- The outcome isn't worth the effort to me.
If you want to lose weight, eat right and exercise. Certainly there are some rare people who have glandular issues or chemical imbalances that don't allow this method to work (very rare) but the truth is no one who wants to lose weight needs a book on dieting or some fancy program. Eat right and exercise.
BUT the majority of people don't want to eat right and exercise. Why? Because food is delicious and exercise is work. Exercise can be fun, but it's still effort. The goal of "lose weight" is (pardon the unintended pun) weighed next to "lots of physical exertion and less scrumptious fat, sugar, and carbs," and sitting on the couch with a bag of chips wins that duel 99% of the time because it's more fun.
In essence, the goal just isn't important enough.
I don't do the amount of life drawing practice necessary because becoming a great animator is not important enough to me. If it was, I know exactly what I need to do. I know how much work it would take, and I'm unwilling to put that work in. This is a hard thing to admit to myself and others! Our society looks down on this type of honesty, because that means I am "a lazy slug who isn't worth the time of day" in their eyes. To admit I don't want to do hard work is some kind of horrific taboo, and how dare I actually say it out loud!
What if my priority changed? If a tiger jumped through the window right now and said "If you don't practice life drawing in earnest for the next two hours, I'm going to eat you" I would immediately sit down at my desk and say "OH MY GOD YOU CAN TALK!" But then after I got over that fact, I would draw with gusto, not wanting to be eaten by a talking tiger.
We accomplish the things that are important to us.
Before we moved to our new house, I worked from morning until night remodeling it. I REALLY wanted to move, and I was tired of living in a state of perpetual boxes and mess while waiting for that to happen. After we moved, my work on the house went from full effort to (scientific term) diddly squat. I've had a bathroom mirror to hang for the past three months and it's still not done. Six screws, that's what's stopping me from hanging that mirror. But it's just not important to me at this point, I got the reward I was looking for already. My priorities have changed.
When we sell this house (which is planned for nine years from now, but who knows) I will make it a priority to make it perfect, because fixing it then will directly equal selling it for more. I will change priorities yet again.
So back to drawing!
It is important for me to sit with the fact that I do not care about being a great animator enough to put in the work. For too many years I've lied to myself and others about this fact, and said "Oh, it just takes a long time!" or "I'm working on other things that are eating up all my energy right now."
I don't practice life drawing because I just don't care enough. My goal of being a great animator is low on the totem pole, and some days it sits lower than "check Twitter and message boards, and blogs, and IMs, and email, and maybe recheck Twitter because it's been an hour since I checked last." (I don't think I'm alone in this way of thinking, I just think most people are like I was before, blinded by my brain to this fact and making excuses. I could, of course, be wrong and this is just me.) When I answer the "why" question deeply, I see an answer that lies closer to the root of the truth.
If I don't KNOW that, I can't change that, which is why actually answering the "Why Questions" is so, so important.
But then I must ask, do I WANT to change that?
And so I have another big question that needs to be sat with, considered deeply, and most important of all: answered.
In the title of this very blog (Life, Art, and Monkeys), one of the main focuses is "Art."
When I created the idea of calling the blog that, I honestly was just trying to be "clever" more than "accurate." I thought Life, Art, and Monkeys was a fun blog title. True, I posted often about life, art, and Fred the Monkey stuff, but the way it sparked interest in just a quick glance was the biggest factor for making it to the top of the list. (Fun fact, another possibility in the early planning stages was "Lifeisshortdreambig.com.")
Last week I posted about the gesture drawing practice I've been doing lately. In the comments, Louis made this remark:
This is something I really ought to do more of, since in the past I found myself improving even in just a few hours. Very useful!
Louis makes an excellent point here. As artists, life drawing is something we really ought to do more of, and even with a few hours invested we will see improvement. Right before our eyes, we have the ability to make strides in our craft. There's no secret, or mystery. Young artists often ask of masters "What can I do to get better at life drawing (or art in general)?" It's unlikely these artists don't already know the correct answer: Practice.
And yet I, like Louis, ought to do more of it.
So, then, why don't I?
We go through this life often wondering on some surface level "I want to accomplish this goal (art, losing weight, going to bed on time, starting a business, whatever) so why am I not just doing it?" This question is a complaint in disguise. It is not something we ask to be answered, but as a way of saying "Darn it, I'm upset I'm not doing better!" When we ask these questions, we rarely intend to answer them. I brought it up just the other day in the post discussing this line of questioning from Jon Acuff: "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?" Mr. Acuff doesn't answer these questions, he just uses them in an example of what we might struggle with when we struggle.
And for me, I think this lack of making a question an actual question is a mistake.
When I scrunch up my brow and grumble "Why don't I practice life drawing more, dang it?" I need to stop and answer the question I just asked. Not flippantly or in a shallow way, but really dig in and LOOK.
I know that practicing life drawing will improve my drawing skill. An increase in my drawing skill will make me better at art, which is currently holding me back from doing the animation I say I want to do. I claim my goal is to do great animation. I do not do the life drawing practice necessary to increase my skill in a long-term meaningful way. (Oh I do some, and convince myself some is better than none, but not the necessary amount and I know it.)
Not "Oh woe is me" why, but from the dictionary "for what reason, cause, or purpose?"
Why do I not do the amount of life drawing practice necessary?
This is a question that needs an honest, truthful answer. Otherwise I'm not actually asking a question, I'm merely complaining in an off-handed way and that will leave me feeling discouraged, frustrated, and never change anything. It may even spark me to action, though that's unlikely. Mostly it is a way to nestle down into a pit of self-loathing and berate myself for not trying harder.
Rather than make this post too long, I will leave it there for today. Leave things with the idea of "Why do I ask why but not actually answer why?" Tomorrow, I'll be turning this question inward and answering the bolded question above about drawing. Today, we all have an opportunity to sit with our own questions like this one, and truly ask ourselves "why?"
There's a question mark at the end there, so give it the answer it deserves.
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.
(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.