Growing Ideas For The Black-Thumbed

Ideas do not come at convenient times to be gathered.

They burst into your room at 1 am like a drunken frat boy. They are the phone call that interrupts dinner. Have you ever had a great idea or realization as you shower? How about just as you are about to fall asleep? I recently had an idea strike me while driving, and knew that it would be gone before I hit the next mile marker on the freeway.

Personally, this happens most whenever I am working on something that does not require my committed focus (which happens a lot). They fall out of my ears like seeds from an industrial planter. It gets frustrating to lose all those potentials, those million dollar ideas and those worlds of stories.

According to the tests I’ve taken, I’m in the lower end for ideaphoria (coming up with ideas). I think that this is biased for two reasons:

  1. I had to physically write down my ideas with pencil and paper and I’m in the lowest 5% for writing speed in my entire country.
  2. I come up with most of my ideas while I’m thinking about something else.

No one’s brain works quite like yours: you need to write your own manual.

To grow an idea, you first need to capture the ones that introduce themselves to you. Find a quick, reliable, and convenient way for you to record your ideas that you can come back to organize at a later time. It is at this second glance that you can start to add to your ideas and grow them into something more.

And don’t forget to capture the seeds that fall from those new ideas too.

See you next Wednesday.

Chris Jabas

When Drawing A Cat, Don’t Look At A Cow

What makes a good drawing of something?

The first rule of drawing something is to make sure it can be seen in picture. I know that seems like a ridiculously simple rule, but it can be forgotten quickly as you draw. The second rule is to find references for what you want to draw. No one is born with the ability to draw perfectly. You need to find things that look similar to what you want to draw if you want to improve at it, and draw while observing those references.

A drawing is only as good as the reference you draw from.

You want to draw a cat? Look at a cat. You want to draw a person? Look at that person. As you build your experience of viewing references, you can start to combine things in your head more easily, making the reference you need more specific. You can take parts of ten different references and combine them into things the world has never seen.

This is true of everything from art to business to government.

In business, don’t be so proud as to build something blindly disconnected from what others are doing or have done.

Whether you are adding staff to your business or designing a new service or product to offer your customers it’s important to look at examples, or references, of what other businesses have that are similar. You may find things that are missing from your version that would help you, and you may find things that are there that don’t fit with what you want to build. Both are valid and useful.

Even if you are hiring a job that has a name, make sure that you know what responsibilities that person should have. If you think a manager should talk to their subordinates but the person you hire as a manager doesn’t, you’ve drawn a cat while looking at a cow.

Don’t assume that everyone thinks the way you think, or sees the way you see.

No one can read your mind, and each person on this planet thinks differently than the next person. It’s frankly a miracle that we communicate enough that we’ve built our civilization this far, and it will take even better communication to build up from where we are now.

The United States is trying to redesign and redefine the departments of public servants it uses, and their responsibilities. I hope that someone that is part of that discussion knows how to seek references, and does so. It’s the only way this can be done, because we’re trying to build something the world has never seen.

A good drawing shows the thing that you saw to someone else, even if what you saw was only in your head.

Seek references to make sure your drawings of cats are cats.

See you next Wednesday.

Chris Jabas

Just Eat Your Donuts

Happiness is blissful freedom. When you’re happy there is nothing wrong, no problem too big, no task too pointless. We can walk through almost any fire with a smile on our face and realize the world is not nearly as dark or as lonely as we thought the day before.

Most of us don’t get a lot of happiness in our lives, and the moments we are happy are shaded by the projects that aren’t finished, the weight we’ve gained, or the parking ticket we don’t have the time to fight in court. As Christopher Titus described it, we’re all just on a donut run, looking for that next bigger, shinier donut. We worry about the future, about our jobs, about our families, about not having the latest and greatest gadget, and just want to find something to fix it so we can be happy. We spend so much time being on the donut run that we never just sit down and eat donuts.

The human brain is an amazing thing. We can actually think forward and predict what might happen tomorrow. We can even be right on occasion. We can also organize our thoughts into compartments and then focus on a single compartment to the neglect of everything else. If you don’t do it often, it requires conscious effort, but you can focus on what is happening to you right now and to the exclusion of everything else.

We can choose to be happy.

For this moment, choose to set all the fears, doubts, debts, and pains aside. Then do something fun. Kiss your spouse, go for a walk outside, draw, paint, write, build a historically accurate 18th century French dining table or maybe use those pretty fonts you found on Pinterest to write something rude and crude. Enjoy it. Revel in it. Let it in past every guard you put up, and truly be happy like you used to when you were a kid.

Eat your donut.

It’s amazing how hard life can be when you never let go of all the pain and grief that keeps being piled on by it. It’s also amazing how long even a little unweighted happiness helps makes everything lighter. Then you can focus on getting something done so you can let it go. A little less weight to carry. And remember this the next time it hurts to keep dragging life over the rough path of time, and let it stop you in your tracks.

Eat your donut. It makes what comes after a lot easier to deal with.

See you next Wednesday.

Chris Jabas

When Is Someone Evil?

In the roleplaying game Dungeons and Dragons there is an alignment chart to help you decide what your character cares about and what they will do to chase what they care about. Good versus Evil, Lawful versus Chaotic. Being on the “evil” end of the scale doesn’t mean you have to be a murderous, maniacal psychopath. You can play characters that are “evil” because they don’t follow the law, or because they are willing to do terrible things if the reasons are right. “Good guys” can murder and steal and pillage and “bad guys” can save the town from something far worse than they are.

So where is the line in the sand of what is evil?

Just like in real life, that line gets muddied. Sometimes the ends justifies the means, sometimes they don’t. It was once considered good to sell people to other people. The word retard use to be only a medical or technical term, neither good or bad. No one is born being Hitler. Even Hitler wasn’t born Hitler. He started out wanting to be an artist.

Villains in games and other entertainments are never as clear cut as being evil to the core. That’s how you get mustache-twirling caricatures instead of characters. If any of you are writing villains, ask yourself what are they gaining by doing “evil” to others? Everyone wants something, and it is the rare and broken person who only wants to inflict pain and suffering.

Everyone is the hero of their own story. Most people wouldn’t recognize they’re evil even if a band of heroes showed up to stop them from continuing their evil deeds. Without some objective guidelines on what is good and what is not, the road to being evil is a slippery slope.

Check your thoughts and actions. Without a party of adventurers to stop us we need to stop ourselves first, which unfortunately is much harder.

See you next Wednesday.

Chris Jabas

Have You Stopped And Wondered Today?

The internet astounds me still, even after watching it grow from nothing into what it is today.

This past weekend, I chatted face to face with a man in Australia in real time. The next day my family shared dinner in five different houses across two states. I flew a drone with a first person perspective around an obstacle course as if I was a fighter jet pilot.

And I never left my house.

I remember only being able to imagine doing such things as a kid, when video calls were limited to science fiction like Star Trek. How far we have come. Now, anyone can buy a device that connects them to the rest of the world and all the information we have gained as a species. Some of those devices even fit into our pockets.

Staring out onto my deck that leads into my backyard, I can see the pine trees that give me privacy from my neighbors, the enclosed fire pit that I haven’t used, and the kids playset that is in desperate need of repair in a sand pit full of weeds that don’t seem to struggle at all to sprout year after year.

I’ve owned the backyard, and the house, for six years. The wonder that it’s the first yard I’ve ever owned has worn off. I don’t see a haven, or a playground for the children in my life. I see a to do list more often than not.

Trim the grass, weed the sand, fix the playset, stain the deck.

It worries me that there are places that I’m losing my wonder. We need wonder in our lives. It’s something that nourishes a part of us most have long let dry up. When we were kids, everyone had a bucket of wonder larger than they were. It made you hope. It made you imagine. It made you dream.

Wonder makes us build not what is, but what can be.

We have to fight to keep the wonder in our lives. Every day, we risk becoming numb by not taking the time to feed our sense of wonder. That numbness eats away until all we have is a phone, all we see is a responsibility, and we stop caring to get better.

When the universe becomes your backyard, after a while that’s all you see: just a backyard.

-Doctor Who

See you next Wednesday.

Chris Jabas

Finding Your Tribe

I know every mile will be worth my while. I would go most anywhere to find where I belong.

Michael Bolton, Disney’s Hercules

High school can be bad if you get caught up in the cliques. These little groups focus not on who they can include, but who they can exclude. They become insular to the point of being antagonistic and even hateful of those who “are out”. It’s a blessing to be able to ignore and avoid groups like that.

Humans are social creatures. We join together as groups when faced with adversity and divide ourselves into groups when we have the chance to create the adversity. We choose to bond with others, and can fight like hell to protect those bonds when challenged. Those we are bonded with the closest we consider family, but every group we bond with becomes a tribe.

Some tribes can be bonded over politics, some over religious views, some over the kind of dog we like best. We can bond over the silliest reasons, or just because we were at the same point in our lives at the same time. We choose what tribes to belong to, but we also need to realize when we are in a tribe we no longer belong in.

Everyone belongs somewhere, and it’s not always where you are right now.

If there is something you want to pursue as a career, you should find people that want to do similar things and choose to bond with them. The support and kinship you find in the bonds you create makes you into a tribe. They will help you to not be discouraged, and to keep you from feeling alone. It takes a ridiculously strong person to face adversity alone, and no one can face it on their own forever.

There are always ways to connect to people that share your interests, your drives, your passions and it is easier than ever to look for them. Look into social media sites such as Facebook, Discord, online forums, and specialty websites that fit your focus. Be willing to be vulnerable and show the fruits of your interests to others. The right ones will appreciate and welcome you.

Search for people that you can trust to connect with you that you can each add to each other’s lives. You will meet good people. You will meet bad people. Do not discount the good because of the bad, and do not ignore the bad for the good.

Be picky. Your tribe is out there.

See you next Wednesday.

Chris Jabas

Seeing The Masterpiece

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

Michaelangelo Buonarroti

Growing up, I loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They were cool, dangerous, funny, and always saved the day. Being into art, I also liked that they were named after famous Renaissance master artists. It got me to look into each of those artists as I grew up, and even drove me to visit Italy for a month on my own, but that’s a story for another Wednesday.

Michaelangelo (the sculptor, not the turtle) created multiple of the most famous sculptures in the world, and worked at every one to bring out from the stone the sculpture he saw in his head. While not all of us are sculptors, we all are working on a masterpiece of our own. Becoming manager, writing that book, creating that game, being a good spouse or parent: we each have that ultimate goal we started chasing sometimes years ago.

Over time, that masterpiece can be harder to see, or what we’re doing isn’t what we imagined in our head of what it was supposed to be. Like an errant golf ball or a dog that flopped into a lake, we can get lost in the weeds.

We have to remind ourselves what our masterpiece is supposed to look like.

There’s a great book by Rich Christiansen called the Zig Zag Principle. He describes it a bit differently than I do, but the idea is the same.

As you pursue your masterpiece, your perspective changes. You can see new ideas, new challenges, new information that you didn’t have when you started. Is the stone chipping too easily? Are your tools too dull? Did you not have the right tools?

You may finish a statue and have it not be the masterpiece you wanted it to be. Does that mean you failed? Only if you don’t keep trying, and learn from the mistakes you’ve made to not make them again. We can only hope to be as tenacious in our pursuit of our masterpieces as Edison was about inventing the lightbulb:

“I have not failed 700 times. I’ve succeeded in proving 700 ways how not to build a lightbulb.”

Thomas Edison

Keep pursuing, keep trying, keep climbing, keep creating.

Maybe someday someone will name their turtle after us.

Cowabunga, dude.

See you next Wednesday.

Chris Jabas

What To Do When The World Doesn’t Care

Did you know there comes a point where sunflowers will stop turning to face the sun?

The sunflower will physically rotate itself for the head of the flower to receive the most sunlight it can. It needs the strongest connection to the sun to gain the energy it needs to continue to do its job: grow. Our phones, computers, and televisions are a tad easier to deal with. We can just plug them in.

In the extreme ends of this planet where the lengths of the days and nights change wildly from season to season, there is a form of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder. During the seasons where the daylight hours are short, people can feel hopeless, be sluggish, and lose interest in normal activities. In the United States alone, it affects 3% on the population. As of 2020, that’s 10 million people. This can leave a person feeling drained to the point of not being able to even get out of bed.

We all spend energy to accomplish the tasks and activities set in our schedule, but not everyone recharges their battery.

Someone who never charges their phone and yet expects it to keep working is seen as a fool. We see it as “normal” to run and run and run until we collapse, then down an “energy drink” to get back up and do it again. Spending your energy without ever seeking out enough to replace what was spent is just as disastrous as spending more money than you earn.

If you don’t seek out what recharges you, you will eventually fail to function.

Taking care of yourself can recharge you. Doing something for the fun or joy of it can recharge you. Even getting encouragement or recognition for your efforts can have an affect. That’s why sporting events have cheerleaders and support groups have meetings. It builds you up when you wear yourself down.

A sunflower still growing that stops turning to the sun dies in just a few days. People with Seasonal Affective Disorder need the sun in the same way. We all keep needing to seek energy in some way until the day we die.

Make sure not to starve yourself.

See you next Wednesday.

Chris Jabas

Ever Climbed A Mountain? Ever Ran A Marathon?

A mountain can kill you without moving.

Philmont Scout Ranch is 136,000 acres of New Mexico wilderness. A branch range of the Rocky Mountains cuts through the camp, and the views are incredible. It takes days to get to the top of the mountains, and then days to get back to civilization. You carry your food, your tent, even the water you drink. Dehydration from the exertion of walking is a very real danger.

The man the marathon is named for died running the full 26 miles. Pheidippides was a Greek soldier who was commanded to go to Athens to report the victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC.

You can’t climb a mountain without first walking down the street.

If you want to climb a mountain, run a race, or write a book, or cook a holiday meal, don’t try to do it without first practicing. You set yourself up for failing publicly at best, or never finishing, or dying in the attempt. Build your muscles, create smaller meals, write articles and short stories. Walk, draw, write, but make sure you finish what you’re working on. Then make another one just a little bit bigger, a little bit better.

There are so many writers who have books in their souls that we will never read, and so many works of art that will die in the hearts of the artists who could have made them.

Don’t leave your mountain unclimbed, your race unrun.

See you next Wednesday.

Chris Jabas

To Thy Own Self Be Loved, Beloved

What can be said about love that doesn’t feel trite or clichè? Poets, preachers, politicians – love is expounded upon so much that it slides over you without changing you.

That love can have so little impact is a tragedy.

Love is an amazing force that must be described a piece at a time. No one description can encompass all that is love. It warms, it drives, it soothes, it protects, it connects, it heals. What is love? Baby don’t hurt me, don’t… sorry, I had to.

Friday is Valentine’s Day, a celebration focused on love between couples.

Love does not have to be accessed through another person.

Know that you are lovable, even if you don’t yet love yourself. Believe that someone can love you, believe it to the very tips of your back hair. Then realize that you love yourself. You wake up, you eat, you sleep. Even if you are terrible at it, you take care of yourself day in and day out.

Show those quiet critics in your mind that you love yourself by taking care of yourself this Valentine’s Day.

Shower a little bit longer.
Eat that apple instead of that candy bar.
Do that one thing that makes you happy for a minute.

If you want to continue past Valentine’s Day, commit to the process of daily working to take care of your body, your mind, your soul. No one little thing does much, but a bunch of little things done day over day can change everything.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

See you next Wednesday.

Chris Jabas