The Long Game of Creativity: If You Haven’t Created a Masterpiece at 30, You’re Not a Failure

Orson Welles directed the greatest movie ever made, Citizen Kane, at age 25, with only a limited knowledge of the medium. When Paul McCartney was 25, he, along with his fellow Beatles, released the era-defining album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. By age 29, Pablo Picasso revolutionized modern art by developing cubism.

If hearing such stories sets off an existential panic attack because you squandered your 20s with too much reality TV and graduate school, then take heart -- you’re not necessarily a failure.

As Adam Westbrook points out in his video essay The Long Game, Leonardo da Vinci was a total loser before he painted The Last Supper at age 46. As a youth, Leonardo planned grandiose projects that he wouldn’t be able to finish. This, of course, did little for his reputation and even less for his career as a freelance artist.




But he continued to work, eking out a living by enduring the demands of picky, small-minded clients, and, through this lean period, Leonardo emerged a great artist. Robert Greene, in his book Mastery, calls this period "The Difficult Years." Every successful creative slogs through some form of the Difficult Years, even child prodigies. Mozart just went through his struggles at a time when most children are learning to read.

In other words, “genius” has less to do with innate talent than just doing the work. Of course, that isn’t nearly as good a story as that of the romantic genius. But it is encouraging for those of us who haven’t quite yet won that MacArthur grant.

You can watch Westbrook’s video essay in various parts above.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in April 2015.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

What to Wear to a Successful PhD Thesis Defense? A Skirt’s Worth of Academic Rejection Letters

Some people are paralyzed by rejection.

Others, like Michigan State University’s Earth and Environmental Sciences PhD candidate, Caitlin Kirby, sport rejection like a mantle of honor... or more accurately, a pleated skirt falling to just below mid-thigh.

"Successfully defended my PhD dissertation today!" Kirby wrote in a Tweet that has since garnered over 25,000 likes. "In the spirit of acknowledging & normalizing failure in the process, I defended in a skirt made of rejection letters from the course of my PhD."

The custom garment, which Kirby teamed with a dark blazer and red waistband, was organized in two tiers, with a tulle ruffle peeping out beneath.

MSU’s Career Services Network’s Director of Employer Relations, Karin Hanson, told the Lansing State Journal that rejection comes as a shock to many high achieving MSU students.

Kirby’s decision to upcycle 17 disappointing letters received over the course of her academic career was partially inspired by a Parks and Recreation episode in which the skirt of Leslie Knope's wedding dress is a wearable collage of newspaper articles about the character, drawn from earlier episodes

More to the point, Kirby’s skirt is part of an ongoing campaign to acknowledge rejection as a necessary, if painful, part of academic growth.

The whole process of revisiting those old letters and making that skirt sort of reminded me that you have to apply to a lot of things to succeed. It seems counterintuitive to wear your rejections to your last test in your Ph.D, but we talked about our rejections every week and I wanted them to be a part of it.

And, as she later noted in a tweet:

Acceptances and rejections are often based on the traditional values of academia, which excludes POC by not valuing the approaches, research questions, and experiences that POC tend to bring to their work.

Kirby’s letters were culled from a variety of sources—scholarship applications, submissions to academic journals, and proposals for conference presentations.  Unfortunately and We regret to inform you are recurrent motifs. About 8 letters were left on the cutting room floor.

But she is prepared to lower her hemline, when she starts applying for jobs, following a stint at the Research Institute for Urban and Regional Development in Dortmund, Germany, the result of a successful Fulbright application.

Follow Kirby’s example and turn your temporary setbacks into a power skirt, using the tutorial above.

via Boing Boing 

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, December 9 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain, resurrects Dennison’s Christmas Book (1921). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Benefits of Boredom: How to Stop Distracting Yourself and Get Creative Ideas Again

Here in the 21st century, we have conquered boredom. Impressive though that achievement may be, it hasn't come without cost: As with many other conditions we've managed to eliminate from our lives, boredom now looks to have been essential to full human existence. Has our reality of on-demand distractions, tailored ever more closely to our impulses and desires, robbed us of yet another form of everyday adversity that built up the character of previous generations? Perhaps, but more importantly, it may also have dried up our well of creativity. The frustration that descends on us when trying to come up with new ideas; the itch we feel, whenever we start doing something, to do something else; our inability to go more than a few minutes without looking at our phones: we can hardly assume these modern problems are unrelated.

"When you're bored, you tend to daydream, and your mind wanders, and this is a very, very important part of the creative process," says psychologist Sandi Mann in the animated BBC REEL video at the top of the post. "If you find that you're stuck on a problem, or you're really worried about something and can't seem to find a way out, take some time out. Just be bored. Let your mind wander, and you might just find that a creative solution will pop into your head."




But we've fallen into the habit of "swiping and scrolling our boredom away," seeking "a dopamine hit from new and novel experiences" — most often digital ones — to assuage our fears of boredom. And the more such stimulation we get, the more we need, meaning that, "paradoxically, the way to deal with boredom is to allow more of it into our life."

"Once you start daydreaming and allow your mind to really wander," Mann says, "you start thinking a little bit beyond the conscious, a little bit into the subconscious, which allows sort of different connections to take place." She says it in "How Boredom Can Lead to Your Most Brilliant Ideas," a TED Talk by journalist Manoush Zomorodi. Like the public-radio podcaster she is, Zomorodi brings in interview clips from not just Mann but a range of experts on the subject of boredom and distraction, including neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, who warns that "every time you shift your attention from one thing to another, the brain has to engage a neurochemical switch that uses up nutrients in the brain to accomplish that." And so the "multitasking" in which we once prided ourselves amounts to nothing more than "rapidly shifting from one thing to the next, depleting neural resources as you go."

We've become like the experiment subjects, described in the Veritasium video above, who were asked to sit alone in an empty room for a few minutes with nothing in front of them but a button that they knew would shock them. In the end, 25 percent of the women and 60 percent of the men chose, unasked, to shock themselves, presumably out of a preference for painful stimulation over no stimulation at all. How much, we have to wonder, does that ultimately differ from the distractions we compulsively seek at every opportunity in the form of social media, games, and other addictive apps? And what do these increasingly frequent self-administered jolts do to our ability to identify promising avenues of thought and follow them all the way to their most fruitful conclusions? As the old saying goes, only the boring are bored. But if our technological lives keep going the way they've been going, soon only the bored will be interesting.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Best of the Edward Gorey Envelope Art Contest

What a delight it must have been to have been one of Edward Gorey’s correspondents, or even a postal worker charged with handling his outgoing mail.

The late author and illustrator had a penchant for embellishing envelopes with the hairy beasts, poker-faced children, and cats who are the mainstays of his darkly humorous aesthetic.

(A number of these envelopes and some 60 postcards and sketches are included in Floating Worlds: The Letters of Edward Gorey and Peter F. Neumeyerwhich documents the correspondence-based friendship between Gorey and the author with whom he collaborated on three children’s books, including the delightfully macabre Donald Has a Difficulty.)




The Edward Gorey House, a beloved Cape Cod residence turned museum, has been keeping the tradition alive with its annual Halloween Envelope Art Contest.

Competitors of all ages vie for the opportunity to have their winning (and runners up and “very-close-to-being-runners-up”) Gorey-inspired entries displayed in the Gorey House and its digital extensions.

2019’s theme is the highly evocative “Uncomfortable Creatures” … and depending on the speed with which you can execute a brilliant idea and deliver it to the post office, you may still have a shot—entries must be postmarked by Monday, October 21, with winners to be announced on Halloween.

In addition to Stef Kiihn Aschenbrenner’s winning envelope from the 2018 contest’s over-18 category (top), some of our favorites from past years are reproduced here. Our inky-black hearts are especially warmed to see the spirit of the master kindling the imaginations of the youngest entrants—special shout out to Daniel Miley, aged 4.

View five years’ worth of notable Halloween Envelope Contest entries on the Edward Gorey House website (20182017201620152014) or download the official entry form and race to the post office with your bid for 2019 glory.

Entries must be postmarked by Monday, October 21 and addressed to Edward Gorey House, 8 Strawberry Lane, Yarmouth Port, MA 02675 USA.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, November 4 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates Louise Jordan Miln’s “Wooings and Weddings in Many Climes (1900). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Make an Adorable Crocheted Freddie Mercury; Download a Free Crochet Pattern Online

Given his passion for his pussycats, is it really such a stretch to imagine Queen frontman Freddie Mercury passing a quiet evening at home with a cup of tea and a basket of crochet supplies?

Tis but a handicrafter’s fantasy.

Other than a boyish interest in stamp collecting, Mercury claimed to have no hobbies, famously telling an interviewer who inquired, "I have none. I have a lot of sex. Try and get out of that one!"

Which is not to say sex and crochet are mutually exclusive.

If your crochet notions are rooted in frumpy afghans, lumpy baby sweaters, and 1970s beer can hats, you need to get with the times and picture a church bazaar populated exclusively by sexy woolen Mercurys in miniature facsimiles of his Wembley Stadium era garb.




Moji-Moji Design's Janice Holmes, a self-taught expert in amigurumithe art of tiny crocheted creatures, devised the pattern in order to stitch up a special request for a Queen-loving friend.

The result, complete with hairy chest, jacket buckles, and a bamboo skewer mic stand, was so fabulous that she felt compelled to share the pattern with the world, in hope that those who took advantage of the free download would consider donating to the Mercury Phoenix Trust, a charity that bandmates Brian May and Roger Taylor and Queen manager Jim Beach founded to fight HIV/AIDS worldwide.

Those who braved the tricky, many-stepped pattern were invited to share photos of their final creation on Moji-Moji’s Facebook page. As of last count, there are 21, and it’s fascinating to note the slight variations in eyes, mustache, and chest hair.

In keeping with amigurumi tradition, the affordable patterns in Moji-Moji’s Etsy shop run toward cute animals, cuddly monsters, and seasonal favorites like witches and elves.

But Freddie clearly stirred something up. Read the comments and you’ll find crafters petitioning Holmes for more music icons like David Bowie and Prince.

Ready to snuggle up with a crochet hook? Download Moji-Moji’s free Freddie Mercury amigarumi pattern here.

If that’s rather too daunting, ease into the craftiness with another free download—Lady Lazybones’ far less advanced foldable cubecraft Freddie.

Even if you plan on sticking with sex as your sole hobby, please consider making a voluntary contribution to the Mercury Phoenix Trust here.

via Boing Boing

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Join her in NYC on Monday, October 7 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates the art of Aubrey Beardsley. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Harvard Students Perform Amazing Boomwhacker Covers of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin,” Toto’s “Africa” & More

Shortly before he died, Queen’s frontman, Freddie Mercury, famously remarked, "Do whatever you want with my life and my music, just don't make it boring.”

Mission accomplished, thanks to the Harvard Undergraduate Drummers, more commonly known as THUD.

The ensemble, which rehearses weekly, is willing to consider anything with percussive potential—plastic cups, chalkboards, buckets—as an instrument, but is best known for its virtuoso boomwhacker performances.

boomwhacker, for the uninitiated, is a lightweight, hollow plastic tube, whose length determines its musical pitch. When smacked against hand or thigh, it produces a pleasingly resonant sound. Color-coding helps players keep track of which boomwhacker to reach for during a fast-paced, precisely orchestrated number.

In theory, boomwhackers are simple enough for a child to master, but THUD takes things to a loftier plateau with custom crafted sheet music systemized so that no one player gets stuck with an impossibly complex task.




“A lot of it really comes down to feel and muscle memory,” THUD’s assistant director Ben Palmer told The Irish Examiner. “After playing the song enough and internalising it, we have a sense of where our notes come in. Also, many times our parts will play off each other, so we give each other cues by looking at each other just before we play.”

(That Kermit the Frog-like voice chiming in on THUD’s "Bohemian Rhapsody" cover, which many viewers have mistaken for an obnoxious audience member getting a little too into the proceedings, is actually an ensemble member helping the others stay the course.

As serious as the group is about rehearsal and providing local school kids with free interactive music lessons, their live shows lean in to the silliness inherent in their chosen instrument.

This good humored self-awareness defuses the snarkier comments on their YouTube channel (“So this is why Harvard's tuition is so expensive…”)

Check out more THUD performances on the group’s YouTube channel, or help defray their operating costs with a pledge to their Patreon.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Nigerian Teenagers Are Making Slick Sci Fi Films With Their Smartphones

Someone should really snap up the rights for a movie about The Critics, a collective of self-taught teenage filmmakers from northwestern Nigeria.

The boys’ dedication, ambition, and no-budget inventiveness calls to mind other filmmaking fanatics, from the sequestered, homeschooled brothers of The Wolfpack to the fictional Sweding specialists of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Be Kind, Rewind.

While smartphones and free editing apps have definitely made it easier for aspiring filmmakers to bring their fantasies to fruition, it's worth noting that The Critics saved for a month to buy the green fabric for their chroma key effects.




Their productions are also plagued with the internet and power outages that are a frequent occurrence in their home base of Kaduna, slowing everything from the rendering process to the Youtube visual effects tutorials that have advanced their craft.

To date they’ve filmed 20 shorts on a smart phone with a smashed screen, mounted to a broken microphone stand that's found new life as a homemade tripod.

Their simple set up will be coming in for an upgrade, however, now that Nollywood director Kemi Adetiba has brought their efforts to the attention of a much wider audience, who donated $5,800 in a fundraising campaign.

It’s easy to imagine the young male demographic flocking to a feature-length, big-budget expansion of Z: The Beginning. It's possible even the art house crowd could be lured to a summer blockbuster whose setting is Nigeria, thirty years into the future, a novelty for those of us unversed in Nollywood's prodigious output.

The post-apocalyptic short, above, took the crew 7 months to film and edit. The stars also inhabited a number of offscreen roles: stunt coordinator, gaffer, prop master, composer, continuity…

What’s next? Earlier this month, Africa News revealed that the boys are busy with a new film whose plot they aren’t at liberty to reveal. We're guessing a sequel, to go by a not so subtle hint following Z's final credits and a moving dedication to “the ones we’ve lost.”

“Horror, comedy, sci-fi, action, we do all,” The Critics’ proclaim on their Youtube channel, carefully categorizing their work as “films not skits.” (Their films’ length has thus far been dictated by the unpredictability of their wifi situation—Chase, below, is five minutes long and took two days to render.

“One of the targets we aim for in the years to come is to make the biggest film in Nigeria and probably beyond,” Godwin JosiahZ’s 19-year-old writer-director told Channels Television, Lagos' 24-hour news channel:

We want to do something crazy, we want to do something great, something that has not been done before, and from what has been going on now, we believe quite well that it is going to happen soon enough.

Watch The Critics’ films and making-ofs on their Youtube channel.

Support their work with a pledge to their recently launched Patreon.

via Kottke/Africa News

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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