Creativity is Just Better Problem Solving
Good creativity doesn’t occur in a vacuum from the “creative mind,” whatever that means. It’s not from a simple desire to make something flashy and get attention, since there’s simple (and often annoying) ways to do that. Just look online.
Creativity is rooted in problem-solving. Solving interesting problems leads to creativty, since they demand interesting solutions. Which is more work than simply “thinking up something new.” It’s thinking up something new that gets a new job done.
I should ask myself a different question when bored. It shouldn’t be “how can I be creative?” It’s “what problem can I try to solve?” It can be big or small, as long as I find it just challenging enough.
Where Will You Be In Ten Years?
I was recently asked “where do you want to be in ten years?”
I had no real answer. I still don’t.
But I don’t think I need to yet. It’s still early enough in my life. I can go in the right direction without knowing my specific goala.
Someone can know they need to head north, but not know exactly where for a while. But I need to get an answer ready when just “north” isn’t enough.
Getting Sucked Into Ruby
As a front-end developer, I think Ruby may be my favorite programming language I’ve used the least in my career.
I’ve fiddled with Ruby before, but I reached the point of using it to pull off all my once far-reaching ideas. It’s easy to take a goal like “scraping the web for my favorite anime artwork” and break it down into several classes. Each ones is easy to manage, fun to optimize, is a great cook, and will automatically email me great images like this each day.
But every day can’t be like today, where I stay at work thirty minutes too late, lost in the eyes of a Ruby module. There’s a thin line between love and a crazy code obsession, Ruby. Let’s not let things get so off the rails that we find ourselves lost and full of regret inside a Rails app.
At least not right away.
Which Came First?
Which came first, the decrease in writing or the decrease in self-esteem?
I’d argue it doesn’t matter, since regardless of order, the result is a downward spiral of both.
The best way to break this cycle is writing anything, even if it hurts. As long as it build momentum and carries the self-esteem up with it.
I wrote before about good writing being a habit. I didn’t write about how if I let my guard down at all, those habits will shrivel up and die off.
Keep the Mind Humming
Vacation time is all about relaxing. But what makes a good relaxing activity?
During my own vacation to New Orleans, my favorite ways to relax are:
- Twiddling with new Ruby ideas
- Starting to write Sonic Pi notes
- Bringing my personal site back to Jekyll (ugh…)
- Reading old and new books
- Walking in Audobon Park until my legs scream
My favorite ways to relax here are (mostly) simple things that keep my mind at a gentle hum instead of at full throttle. I’ll indulge in an episode or two of Bones, but eventually my brain gets antsy. A life without thought, however small, feels like a wasted one.
Health Benefits of Violent Punching
I’ve noticed my most relevant, powerful epiphanies happen during my boxing workouts. Somehow, bruising my knuckles against a heavy bag amid remixed pop songs helps my mind discover (or rediscover) important personal truths.
My guess is all-out boxing has a similar effect on my brain to alcohol - it lowers mental inhibitions so my thoughts flow more freely. The upside is, instead of embarrasing thoughts no one should ever hear, it affects useful ones related to health, motivation, and how I should write more.
So for all you naysayers who think there’s no upside to violence, I’d argue in the right circumstances, violence can be quite healthy! And I’m sure this won’t be plucked and twisted out of context at some point in the future, so I can rest easy.
Some Meaning Behind Birthdays
To be honest, I never thought birthdays were too important. The day I was born was a result of almost pure randomness and luck, which makes it hard to see it as meaningful. Before I saw birthdays as a measure of how much someone cares (too much) about aging. The more they care, the more of their attention is stuck on youth, aging, and having a portrait in their hallway reflect their inner ugliness while they pursue eternal youth.
That’s true in one documented case, I think.
Lately I’ve seen a different meaning that doesn’t relate to the birthday person at all. It goes back to the friends and family who celebrate it with them. The more someone takes the time to celebrate another’s birthday, the more they care for them. The birthday just gives another excuse to express that affection.
So this note goes to the people who took a little time to wish me a happy birthday, either in person or online. It’s a strong sign someone’s grateful to know me, and I’m quite grateful for that in turn. As thanks, here’s a gif of a corgi going off a water slide in slow motion.
This note also goes to myself, who after realizing all this, will actually try to wish others a happy birthday instead of realizing I forget in a panic several days later.
For everyone else, just know I’m understanding and forgiving of your reasons for not wishing me a happy birthday. I even have a “Forgiveness List” with the names of everyone I plan to “forgive” one day. Don’t know if you’re on my Forgiveness List? You will soon enough, so don’t worry and don’t bother resisting.
Anyway, here’s to 26 years alive, and hopefully at least 26 more!
The Thankful Stoic
A recent Existential Comic about stoic dating made me ponder a stoic way to be thankful. Having read plenty of stoic philosophy before, I figure it’d go like this:
- Take the top five things in life you’re grateful for.
- Imagine life without each of them, one at a time, and all the stress and misery that’d cause you.
- Stop imagining these scenarios with a blend of gratefulness for still having them, and misery for realizing how they’ll eventually leave your life.
- Continue after Thanksgiving with a fresh perspective on the fragility of everything we love in life.
I think if we’re going to practice thankfulness, we should take it seriously!
A Break with Drawing
When I want to be creative but can’t get the words going, drawing is always a good backup activity.
Now I just need time to get good at it again.
Being Willingly Disabled
“Death Stalks Kettle Street” is one of my favorite novels for many reasons. Chief among them is an idea captured in this quote:
There were lots of so-called able-bodied people who were more ‘disabled’ than she was simply because they chose to sit around, letting their health suffer, watching television or playing videogames twelve hours out of every twenty-four. How many people couldn’t write a coherent sentence, not because they had learning difficulties, but because they just couldn’t be bothered to learn, and were content to have the only book they owned be the Argos catalogue?
~ Death Stalks Kettle Street, 211
I remember this on days I’m being too lazy. Not making proper use of my time to do something meaningful is wasteful, bordering on cruel to myself.
On Saturday Night
I have an idea of the stereotypical Saturday night, likely from media I’ve seen and anecdotes I’ve heard. The night where friends get together for drinks and laughter while they can.
On a saturday night, some have nights just like this. Some get drunk at bars and eat pizza. Some go to wild warehouse parties and stay up well past midnight. Some have private fun with friends. Some chat with far-away lovers.
On a saturday night, some stay inside and enjoy their solitude. Some are content to read or play video games. Some take walks outside alone. Some have wine for the taste, not to cover up any loneliness.
On a saturday night, some are stuck working. Some catch up on overdue paperwork. Some are stuck in a busy food line. Some serve drinks to patrons they nervously watch drive home. Some have peaceful shifts where families dine together, or horrible ones where fights tear them apart.
On a saturday night, some are withering away. Some are suffering heartbreak. Some are mangled in freak accidents. Some look in a mirror silently before shattering it with their fist. Some are watching their loved ones die in a hospital. Some are dying in that same hospital.
On a saturday night, every conceivable good or bad event is happening.
On a saturday night, it’s like every other day and night. Some nights it’s both harder to, and more important to, remember that.
A Newhouse School Flashback
I got a surprising tweet in my mentions recently.
Wait is this @Maxwell_Dev from one of my graphic design classes @NewhouseSU? https://t.co/6NWznDJ4zD— Deb P Davis / 방 연 호 (@yuncod) October 31, 2018
It’s surprising for two reasons:
- A major front-end blog, CSS Tricks, found my accessibility article worth sharing.
- A university professor whose class I took as a sophomore still remembers me over three years after graduation. My graphic design skills then (and likely now) weren’t getting into any galleries.
1. Holy crap I didn't know @css tweeted out this link! It's an honor to be nominated...er, shared.— Max Antonucci (@Maxwell_Dev) October 31, 2018
2. Indeed it's that same @NewhouseSU student! 👋
But I do remember Professor Davis from my time in Newhouse. Mostly from a Newhouse event where someone mistook her for a student.
As great as the conversation at #TechCurve has been, the best moment so far was Deb Davis's beautiful reaction to being called a student— Tom Charles (@tcharles411) March 27, 2014
A Form of Immortality
I recently spoke to someone who, even though they’re an atheist, is unsure about their beliefs about reincarnation. After the death of a loved family member, this person took their lessons and ideas to heart. In a weird way, they felt like a reincarnation of their loved one. Other family members even commented on how their actions, ideas, and even mannerisms are similar. Was it reincarnation or just their memories?
I don’t believe in literal reincarnation myself, and told them so. But I believe their actions are a way to keep their family member alive. Remembering this person’s positive influence means, even indirectly, they’re still affecting the world like before. Their family member still exists, even if it’s limited to their memories of them.
Isn’t that, in its own way, a form of reincarnation and immortality? Carrying a loved one with you instead of waiting for them to reappear?
Wasteful Words and Snark
One of my worst habits (other than trying to make soup in an Instant Pot) is making side remarks just to get a laugh. Funny comments themselves aren’t bad - but doing it mostly to get a laugh is.
Why, you supposedly ask? It’s bad since it needlessly gives power to others. People can (and usually do) ignore my remarks or say they were annoying. Sometimes they’re just being honest, other times they’re jerks. The result is the same either way - The more validation I want, the more it stings after.
The lesson is it’s better to listen, rather than pepper discussions with needless snark. Plus if I’m putting that much importance on snarky remarks, I have bigger problems. Problems with my self-esteem and the amount of TV I’m watching.
The Good/Bad Habits Poster
When I’m feeling aimless, this poster always nudges be back on track.
The common themes I see for successful people I see? Flexibility and gratitude.
I'll Never be Edgeworth
I’ve always wanted to be more like, and had a mild man-crush on, Miles Edgeworth.
What can I say, cravats are sexy. ❤️
You don’t need to know who he is. Just that I’ve idealized Edgeworth, and others like him, for their eccentric level of intelligence. They effortlessly see the truth and stay two steps ahead of enemies. That’s why people need them, and how they do so much good. He’s like Dr. House, except working in law, is a more charming kind of jerk, and asexual.
I’ve always wanted to be dangerously brilliant like him. But as you may know, I’m just a young front-end coder. It’s safe to say I’m not like smart and never will be. I doubt CSS will help solve murders, except for when it makes back-end coders kill someone.
Trying to be like him anyway has been like forcing a square peg in a round hole - pointless, frustrating, and breaks my fingernails. Much as I admire Edgeworth, and similar far-off personalities, trying to be him isn’t what’s best for me.
But there’s lots of things I can be. I can be curious. I can explain tough info clearly. I can get engrossed in solving complex coding puzzles. I can isolate myself indoors with books and games amid mild social anxiety and loneliness.
The takeaway from most of those strengths is it’s important to be who I am and do what I can. Max is all I’ll ever be, and no one else can be that. Might as well do some good that way instead of wasting weekends trying on cravats.
The Courage to Speak Out About Assault
A common criticism I’ve heard of Christine Blasey Ford amid the Kavanaugh hearings, as well as other women speaking about their sexual assaults, is they’re “doing it for attention.” It’s not the most common dismissal, but is the most idiotic.
If these women just “wanted attention,” the easier choice is being the simple sex object many men want them to be.
- They’d dress themselves up for men they don’t know.
- They’d avoid saying anything too intelligent or opinionated to offend men with fragile egos.
- They’d put up with men catcalling her to humiliate her and exert power, doing nothing but smiling and waving.
- They’d prioritize a man’s pleasure over her own, even men she barely knows. Even, and especially, men who’d get physically violent without the pleasure they felt entitled too.
This is the way much of society wants women to act, and would gladly give women attention for it. Attention without the public shaming, personal attacks, and death threats. Attention met with that condescending “thank God you’re not like those other women” sneers and a pat on the head.
The fact that women like Professor Ford have known this all their lives, yet speak up against their assaulters, shows their bravery. It’s easier to fit into the silent, sex object role American society carved out for them. But it damn sure won’t lead to change.
The Passive-Aggressive Perfectionist Fairy
Cartoonist and web developer Rachel Nabors once drew a comic about something she called the “Self-Doubt Fairy.”. I’ve found I have a similar voice in my head I call the “Passive-Aggressive Perfectionist Fairy,” or PAP Fairy, and is just as bad for my mental health.
The PAP Fairy says many things that pull me toward self-doubt and depression. It picks apart every little thing I didn’t do perfectly. It blames me for not trying to improve enough. When I feel defensive, the PAP Fairy claims it only wants what’s best for me. It says if I’m fine with being imperfect and undeserving, that’s my problem.
For the longest time, I couldn’t argue against all that well enough. But lately I’ve realized how its arguments are total bullshit by remembering a few fundamental truths:
- Perfection is pointless to strive for. The best I can do is be a bit better each day, a respectable goal for an imperfect human.
- I can want to be better while knowing my limits and priorities. I can accept the tradeoff of working harder in my career than my boxing workouts.
- What’s “best for me” isn’t relentless pressure for impossible perfection. What’s best for me is self-compassion, accepting my ups and downs as they are and as they change.
So you, PAP Fairy, are a stupid liar and not worth listening to. But you’re not universally bad - you also make me work harder and think critically. So despite being a stupid liar and all, I accept you as part of me with compassion. Maybe someday we can truly coexist.
But if we can’t, I’ll squish you with a sketchpad. It worked for Rachel and her Self-Doubt Fairy, so it’s a solid backup plan.
God's Evil Problem
In all definitions of God I’ve heard, they’re all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing. I assume a God would need at least that much going for it to be worth worshipping.
But this same God also falls apart with the classic “Problem of Evil.”
- An all-knowing God would know how much evil would be in their world, and how to create a world without evil
- An all-good God would want to remove as much evil as possible
- An all-powerful God could create this world without evil
- Despite the above, evil still exists in the form of poverty, crime, murder, inequality, and flat-out misery happening to good people
A common response I’ve heard is it’s all part of “God’s Plan.” Human’s can’t understand this great design, so we must trust it’s for the greater good.
First off, I’m worried that someone’s willing to swallow a design where they’ll never know the reason for so much suffering. Plus no one could understand if a design “beyond human understanding” was for the greater good. By definition, no one could know if this plan of God’s is good or bad.
Even worse is how someone could accept these evil designs in the name of “faith in those with power.” That’s the kind of belief those in power are happy for people to have. The same leaders who, coincidentally, preach religion as a source of morals and inspiration. Makes me wonder if this answer to the “Problem of Evil” is how humans do so many evil things.
Instead of justifying evil to protect beliefs, people may be better off trying to understand the world’s evil more, decrease it, and build their beliefs from there. Then would it really matter how much of a role “God” played?
There's Always Something Better
No matter how good something seems, I always find something better shortly after. A book that looks immersing later looks boring compared to another. Coding tools or frameworks I see one day soon becomes obsolete next to others.
It’s an endless cycle of want disguised as need. Ending that cycle means truly appreciating what I already have. Never forgetting the value I saw in it from the start.
For new things, if I only feel a “need” something once I learn about it, chances are I don’t really need it. The things I actually need, I probably already have and just need to remember.
This note brought to you by an hour after work wasted browsing Nintendo Switch before realizing it was an idiotic waste of time.
Do I Deserve What I Have?
Whenever life is going well, I’ll ask myself one thing: do I deserve any of this?
The most likely answer I can think of is, I probably don’t. Maybe I never will. But the bigger point is that regardless, I have what I have. I better make good use of it. In some way.
Because if I don’t, these feelings of guilt and undeservedness won’t just get worse. They’ll be justified.
Good Writing is a Habit
When your main thing is writing, it’s easy to get too caught up in reading and neglect the actual writing. It’s true whether one wants to write code, blogs, or stories. Reading examples helps, but my best progress comes from actually writing.
It doesn’t matter that writing’s for a detailed post, or random thoughts in my pocket notebook. Writing is a muscle to use each day. It’s is a habit I use to get through each day. It’s not something to turn on-and-off when I think enough people are looking.
It's Never the Right Time
I’ve based a lot of my happiness around my environment being consistent. I hate it when my car needs repairs, my posters fall off the walls, or my furniture gets too dirty. My brain wants these things to be constant, so I don’t need to worry about them.
Reality doesn’t agree. Something always breaks and must be fixed or replaced. My environment is never “as it should be.” Whenever things seem smooth, something always goes wrong.
One response is not bothering to try. There’s always something wrong I could use as an excuse to not do what matters to me - to write. The lazy, scared part of my mind is drawn to them like gravity. I think all human minds are. It’s a cheap, effective way to lower stress.
But it’s not about things “feeling right” before I do something. It’s about working around what’s wrong so I can do what I want anyway.
These “it’s not the right time” excuses aren’t right, they’re just easy. And the easy path is rarely meaningful.
Smart TV Shows Still Make Me Dumb
I’ve liked television shows like House, and recently Bones, since they make me feel smarter. Part of my brain has said I shouldn’t waste time watching them. I rationalize that worry away by thinking about the show’s intelligence. Shows based around critical thinking, puzzle-solving, and science can’t be all bad. Right?
That rationalization has gotten weaker once I began accepting a few truths.
- Of everything I’d supposedly “learn” from shows like this, how much did I remember instead of it just washing over me? Little.
- Of the info I remember, how much of it is accurate, instead of being polished or simply wrong to increase the drama? Little.
- Of all the accurate info, how much did I critically think about in context, instead of being handed it as I unthinkingly down a plot path handing me answers? Little.
Ultimately, shows that make me feel smart are still shows. As almost any show does, they make me dumber, not smarter. It’s the same for medical dramas, mysteries, and late-night comedy shows going over the daily news. They’re made to entertain, not teach. It’s why my brain’s drawn to them more than articles or documentaries.
When it comes to my mental strength, I consider those shows honey traps: tempting, but better avoided. Resisting all that free nectar while watching others gorge is never easy. But it’s ultimately better for me.
Inspired by Zombie Apocalpyse Bloggers
The book series “Feed” features two adoptive siblings and their team blogging about their careers covering political campaigns and vast government corruption…around the time zombies walk the earth.
Between each chapter is a blog post or some other written communication by one of the characters. They range from articles they wrote, private letters to others, or unpublished glimpses into their streams of consciousness. Sometimes the writing is brief and lacks substance out of context.
For some reason, reading any of those posts inspires me to write more than anything. I think it’s less about the content and more about the characters’ clear purpose in what they write and why.
Do I often struggle to find blog topics since I’m not sure what my main purpose in writing here is? If so, I should at least have the same underlying purpose Feed’s characters have in writing their blogs: finding clarity and meaning through writing.
If you’re not using your own blog for that, then what are you using it for?
Leaving a Natural Imprint
An insight I sometimes remember comes from an unlikely place - the Hello from the Magic Tavern podcast.
It was at the end of an episode with the homonculus made of bodily fluids (again, don’t judge). Someone dealing with a chronic illness said the podcast’s humor helped her through much of the pain. Even something as silly and pointless as an improv comedy podcast left a positive imprint on others.
Maybe it’s less about finding something new to help others, and more about helping others with what you already love. If people pretending to be, among many things, a drunk wizard, a passive-aggressive shapeshifter, and a bitchy talking flower can do that, can’t we all?
Seriously, don’t judge.
We all know we’ve inherited instinctual behaviors from our ancestors. We crave fatty foods, have sex drives, have a “fight or flight” mode, etc. But maybe people can inherit more.
What if people could inherit moral ideas and instincts? Things like a powerful desire for truth, hatred of injustice, or a wish to help the poor. Like our innate reactions to things like food, some ideas could have been so influential in someone’s life they were genetically passed down. There they’d unconsciously influence our thoughts and actions. We’d never know it, but this way our ancestors could still guide us.
Next time you reflect on a personal principle or truth, it could’ve been passed down to you. A guidepost passed down to help us navigate this messy world.
I like to think all that’s true. It shows we can all offer something valuable to the next generation.
Finding a Helpful Passion
Something all the real people I respect I have in common is they pour their passion into something that helps others. Sometimes more than one thing.
- Laura Kalbag and Aral Balkan for a more ethical web
- Heydon Pickering for greater web accessibility
- Rachel Nabors for better inclusivity and diversity in the web industry
- Bill Coplin for college students learning useful career skills
- Adam Conover for inspiring a mixture of humor and curiosity in others
It’s ideal since these passions likely bring them satisfaction (and a living) while leaving a positive imprint.
The hardest part of my career is finding a passion like that.
Most Thoughts are Useless
How many of your thoughts from yesterday can you specifically remember?
I’ve done this many times, and each time I barely remember any. This includes all that were snarky, depressing, serious, hilarious, witty, elating, sweet, sour, or secret prophecies from the future. The next day, they’re all lost in the ether. Never to be thought of virtually ever again.
I actually see this as a positive.
Whenever some thoughts intrude on my mind and get me down, I remember any power they have will fade by the next day. I feel their presence, count down from five, and imagine they’re a gust of wind flowing by. I see them fading into the ether myself, and moving on without them.
We often don’t have a choice with what thoughts crop up in our minds. We do have a choice with how they affect us. I think those choices do much more to determine who we are.