I Am An Elitist T-Shirt Snob

Every week I get an affirmation from friends & followers about how I need to put my doodles on a T-Shirt and sell them online. 

I am not into this idea. Seriously, it's not my thing. 

My doodles might make good T-Shirts, but it messes up my flow if I start to think about slapping them on a shirt. 

I'm a top of the line, first class, elitist T-shirt snob. 

I have yet to find an online factory that can capture the essence of a doodle and put it on the best fabric to sell.  All of them seem like Hanes T's that will stretch and have no color balance. 

I was in pure T-shirt bliss when I lived in London, I'd find the most detailed and long-lasting tee's, hugely expensive but I'd wear them for years, they were worth every pound.  

Sure, there may be other reasons for my snobbery. 

I was 13 when a friend in Junior High asked me to paint an album cover design on the back of his denim jacket. I had no experience doing this kind of thing, but I loved to paint, so I accepted the challenge and the $25, to paint a "Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow" album design on a Levi's jacket. 

It wasn't a cool process. 

I had no idea of the correct paints to use, or the gloss needed to really make the work look good.  I promised it would take a week, but it was months before I delivered it to him. 

The day I presented the jacket, my friend took it, stretched the jacket onto a school desk. A dozen of his metal-head friends gathered round him. 

There was a long silence. 

I imagined he was inspecting the gesture of the giant hand emerging from the ocean, or surveying the color of the rainbow and the visceral quality of the fist as it wrapped itself around that rainbow. 

More likely he was figuring out how many of his friends it would take to beat the hell out of me after school. 

"Ok, Petersen, you're off the hook," he barked, and put the jacket on.  

I got my $25, and over the school year watched as the paint chipped away from the jacket, piece by piece, the color faded, and the generousity of my friend as he gave the jacket away to a new student that needed clothes to wear. 

All right, I confess I may have escaped a beating from a bunch of mullet-wearing rockers, but I carry a few emotional wounds from the incident.  

But even when I get healing from these wounds, I'm still going to be a T-shirt snob. I mean, one of the best days of my life was getting a hemp tee with the Beatle's Apple Logo woven into the fabric in a minimalist design. 

I wore that dang shirt for years, it was true art.  

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What's the Big Idea?

When I get a new idea, a mad rush of a new concept, I tend to go really high.

An idea for a documentary, or doodle, or show, filters through my mind exponentially larger than it turn out in reality.  I'll present the idea with high vibes, full color, lots of expression.  

A late-night local cable program has a cast of dozens. A film about a worship band germinates as a 24 hour, multi streamed, world-wide event with fireworks and flamethrowers. 

The ideas have to filter down into present reality, but some aspect of the original vision ends up being in there! 

But a few years ago I had an idea to get a tattoo. 

Most people, on their first go, will start small. And with something not complicated, and maybe hidden away on their body somewhere. But not me, I had to go big. 

It had to be a celtic symbol. It had to cover the inside of my right arm. I found a trifecta design and the best artist in the coolest shop that I could afford. The dude looked like Frank Zappa, and blasted Black Sabbath as he worked. 

Zappa was kind enough to warn me not to place the tattoo on one of the most sensitive areas of my body. He recommended a smaller tattoo.

But no, I said, this is what I want, I am ready for it. 

90 minutes of sheer pain ensued, I felt like my arm would melt into a glob of burnt flesh on the table. I think I went into a trance, 'cos that is the only way I got through that experience.

There are mystics who claim that every Divine encounter leaves a mark on your soul, that the encounter can always be accessed by the power of your imagination, you own it, it's a badge of honor. 

Once touched by God, they say, that touch is always there to help. 

Well, my first tattoo was a big idea that I followed through on to see it in reality. I remember if vividly. It broke other's conception of me, it burned some flesh and stretched my own self-understanding. I never liked pain, whether it be pain from a doctor's needle, or basic exercise, or an ingrown toenail-- pain was not my friend.  But I learned I could survive pain. Even the grand idea of the tattoo matched the final reality of what it ended up looking like.   

Maybe the bigness of the idea is what helps drive a person through to see a final result.

Maybe receiving and flowing with a grand idea enables a team to make stuff that's larger than life on super-low budgets. 

And maybe, like with my tattoo idea, following through with a big vision can bring about a change that you'd never think was possible.  

 

 

 

 

 

Missing A Flight

"Perhaps one of the surprises of death will be a retrospective view of the lives we lived here and to see how our friends among the dead clothed us in weave after weave of blessing." John O'Donohue

2007 brought one of the busiest summers for me, I was working on some really cool projects, London friendships and work-relationships were blooming, it was a never-ending cornucopia of good things. 

A friend from Belfast and I were working on a self-produced documentary. It had a lot of promise, my friend was an author and speaker, in the middle of leaving his Christian fundamentalism and exploring how different faiths viewed life's deeper questions.  

We were interviewing the coolest people, we even spent an afternoon talking with the UK's Barefoot Doctor, who is sort of like the Taoist version of Oprah's Dr. Oz. 

John O'Donohue, though, was going to be the centerpiece interview for the film. A poet, mystic, author, speaker, priest, guru, I had discovered his book on Celtic Blessings, and soul-friendships. 

It just so happened that my friend was good friends with John. I could not wait to fly to Belfast and meet him. 

The morning of the flight, though, came several emergencies-- one a health crisis with a friend. The other, a client showed up at the office needing major changes on a project that was overdue. 

I remember standing there, client-in-office, thinking, I could still make the flight, I could sneak out, I don't need a suitcase, I don't need the job, I could get to Gatwick without change of clothes.   

But I caved to the pressure. I missed my flight. 

We re-scheduled the interview for the next month, and that got pushed to the autumn, then the whole film got pushed back. 

And then, John O'Donohue died.

Dang.  

There's not a time when I pick up one his books or see a post that contains a quote from him, that I don't have the a physical twinge of regret about not getting onto that plane.   

Did the client really matter that much? The films got done. 

The health crisis of my friend? It went away fairly quickly. 

But today, I notice that if I have an interview scheduled that I know has the feel of destiny, I will go to super-human lengths to get that interview. 

And over the years, I have delved into John's work in a way that I may not have had he not passed. His books have followed me through dark days. The simple act of lighting a fireplace, walking on a beach, or doing brunch with friends are cosmic blessings thanks to John's work. I feel close to the guy, as if he's become a guide to me. 

Do You Own Your Ideas?

I used to be hugely proprietary on my ideas. If I had an idea, I'd send it out for copyright, I'd be on the lookout for similar ideas or stories, I'd go to film fests and freak out about how similar someone else's short film was to mine and then threaten legal action. 

But then I did some reading, and study, and found that at one point in the world's history, it was considered an honor for an artist to be copied. And good Ideas were once thought to be a platform to build on more good ideas, all for the world's education and greater good. 

Then I spent some time and went deeper, realising that I really can't claim ownership of ideas, because ideas may come from Somewhere Else. Call it God or inspiration or the field of quantum energetic enlightenment or Oz or wherever. 

It doesn't matter where you end and inspiration begins, or what your copyrights are when you draw down ideas from that Somewhere Else, it just matters that you can express and spread these ideas. 

In the creative process, when I pick up a copic marker, I like to imagine that I can dissolve into a creative pool.  Yeah, my particular pool contains a majority supply of tiger-aliens, narcissistic prawns and orbs, but it's a pool that I like to swim in.  

You're pool of creativity might be more of an ocean, or a city, that contains lots of sea monsters or dramatic thrillers or legal battles, and you might be in touch with those worlds more than I am. 

I can get to my creative pool with meditation or worship, but you might get there through jogging, yoga, eating fried onions, or driving. 

As long as you get there, it doesn't matter what vehicle you are taking.  If your row boat sinks on the way there, then swim. If you can swim, float, or take an Uber boat. Just get there. 

Jesus, My Therapist Was a Buddhist!

"We buddhists have a saying: 'Did you have the dream, or does the dream have you?' 

I was telling my therapist about a vision I had: that I'd soon be directing films for a great Production Company who were friends of mine. 

The vision began with a dream, an actual, concrete, full-color dream that was so clear, so brimming with the "voice of God," that I had to yield to it. I had to steer my path to make this dream come true: I gave up a film I'd been working on, and a lot of my freelance work, to the creative direction of this Production Company. 

All it did was drive me into a crash. 

I sat in a therapists office, after a year of dream-chasing, my life in a creative mess. My friends at the Production Company were unhappy because my ideas were not jiving with theirs. I was miserable because the edgy weirdness I naturally carry was subdued to their normal mainstream-ery. 

And now even Jesus, who I previously got along really well with, was probably pissed off at me because my therapist was a Buddhist. 

She gave me a book by Sheldon Kopp, "If You Meet the Buddha On The Road, Kill Him." 

This book changed my life. It claimed I was responsible for my own life, my own therapy, even my own faith-- my subservience to authority burned away as I devoured each chapter.  

Ultimately, I had creatively dimmed my own voice to another, in fear of not being hired by the BBC, or being cast into outer darkness by Heavenly powers-that-be, or not being accepted by the mainstream. 

Subservience is a killer of creativity. 

 

Turmeric and Cayenne

Over the last year I've researched an Ayurvedic diet. I've learned that I am predominately kapha in constitution, which means I am able to sink deep into the earth, binge-watch netflix and not recognize the existence of other human beings for days at a time. 

I've also been working out what foods are healthy for me, ideal times to eat and not eat at Chick-Fil-A (it's always an ideal time), and that there's an infinite combination of vegetables and fruits that I can add to kale smoothie, but it all ends up tasting pretty much the same each time.  

One of the greatest discoveries I've made through the diet is the power of cayenne pepper.  When you sprinkle a bit of cayenne into an iced tea or coffee, it creates a buzz even greater than the caffeine in the coffee.  

The other morning I woke up way too early, dripped some coffee, reached up to the spice rack for cayenne, and mistakenly pulled down a jar of turmeric. 

The scent of the spice transported me. 

It wafted me back to a year ago, when my then-roommate would make us smoothies every day, and I'm guessing she'd add a dose of turmeric to what she'd call the deliciousness of the kale. 

I didn't know this then, though.

I hadn't placed the taste of the smoothie with the scent of the spice. And the scent of the spice now connects me with someone's loving, thoughtful daily action. 

We all go through the routines of life: I wake up, I drink a shake, I drive to work. I check facebook, I mindlessly scroll instagram. Same rituals, same process, every day. Days blend into one another, becoming a hazy cloud of sameness. 

But once in a while, though, the scent of spice seeps through the routine, and can wake us up.  

Technical Blocks

I was never given the gift of technical prowess.  

While I love to paint, write & edit video all day, I lack the ability to frame a canvas, to be grammatically correct, or to know all the specs and encoding details of an editing system.

To begin a work is easy, to complete that work is a bit more of a challenge. Call it low math skills, or ADHD, or maybe i just lack discipline, whatever you call it, it is a weakness.

I'm not an auteur -- when you see movie set portraits of Kubrick or Soderbergh shooting, lighting and directing the same scene-- that ain't me! I'm more of what my producer/director friend Jeremy Higham celebrates as having the gift of being an amateur

How have I overcome this dilemma? By seeing it as a gift.

Not being able to technically Light a set, I've learned to collaborate with great lighting and camera people who can. Lacking the math skills to navigate an online edit, I have found great working relationships collaborating with editors who are genius. And this process makes my work better. 

In more personal artwork, I'm short on patience to stretch or frame a canvas, but I've become blissful just doodling in a moleskine or iPad for hours. I've learned my way around grammar police by not using a lot of semi-colons, keeping my writing style simple, or working with writers who can take my crazier ideas and make them palatable for a human mind. 

I think the greatest gift of this weakness has been to learn the power of the tribe. By mixing talents of artists and technicians, working together in a flow, so much brilliance can happen, always making ideas and final deliveries so much more than just one person can do.  

 

 

Zen Habits Saved Me.

Leo Babauta's Zen Habits is a book that saved me. At least creatively it saved me.

The book teaches to take one simple action a day, and develop that action over a month until it becomes a habit. By practicing one habit at a time, Leo lost a ton of weight, stopped smoking, got out of debt, and changed his entire universe.

While navigating through a 6 month editing process on a documentary where I felt that my creativity could not be expressed, I sat in my local starbucks and read Zen Habits daily.

I found a way out of the stagnation.  

I picked up a marker, I drew an alien. I posted it on a Tumblr. I told no one. 

The drawing itself was crap, but it unleashed a floodgate of creative expression. I posted another. And another. 

I posted a crude doodle while sitting in an editing suite cutting a doc that was under constant review. Sketching out dinosaur aliens and UFO cats became a welcome activity, and I couldn't give a rip what others thought. 

My doodles grew, and grew, and all that blocked child-like creativity that was in me spewed onto the page. I ended up teaching workshops on doodling, I befriended other doodle artists, and we produced a festival of doodles. 

And that process-- doing one simple action a day, not caring what others think, and doing it for a month-- helped me to eek out some life into a dying documentary, informed my filmmaking, and is helping me to write this very blog post now.  

Thanks Leo! 

  

 

Art School Hell

I think complex creative blocks can begin in simple ways. 

My greatest block began on my first day of Art college. The Instructor stands in the center of our easel-filled class, stares us all down, carefully picks up a piece of paper, crumples it into a ball, and tosses it on the floor.  He takes a drag of his cigarette, adjusts his sunglasses, and says "draw this paper until lunch time."  

The next few hours were harrowing-- the sense of having to get it right, having to include every  detail of the ball of paper right. I was in the middle of a class of illustrators and artists from all over the world, and my drawing skills were decent, but not Rembrandt-level, and there were a lot of young Rembrandts in class. The sense of competition, the tension in the room, at least for me, was palpable. 

From that experience, and my art college years, I grew up believing that the creation of art was a serious, strained process, wrought with detail getting the line, shadow or grammar perfect. 

And the fruit of this belief bore very little art. 

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Spontaneity, For The Next 21 (or so) Days

I'm late to my 21 Day Writing Challenge. 

For the last 3 and the next 18 days, I am supposed to be writing one blog post a day. I have failed the first 3 days, and failure being the greatest step to success, I'm on my way to my first novel.   

It's a Challenge I'm taking designed by the writer Megan Macedo. She's the lady that does the really deep marketing  videos with the cool Irish accent. 

For me I will be exploring the theme of spontaneous creativity, hoping and praying that the fast and furious creativity of my doodle artwork will seep into my writing for the next 4 weeks.  

So in reverse-engineering my doodle process: I pick up a marker or stylus, I let go of my perfectionist mind, I just I just draw knowing that nothing-- and I mean nothing-- is too wierd to draw. Everything is allowed. If the raccoon I am drawing is really an alien, if it's hungry for a Big Mac, and if the raccoon's eyes appear as Big Macs, it is all well and good.

Can I apply this process to my writing? I'll let you know over the next 4 weeks.