Sunday, September 21, 2014

Review: Disney's Maleficent -- Pure Girl Power Magic

[NOTE: There will be massive spoilers after I do the review part, but there will be an angry wall of asterisk thorns, so you'll know when to stop.]

I'm an unabashed Disney fan. Love the movies and the parks. And they've done some really great retellings and revivals of classics in ways that I've generally found pleasing. But nothing, to me, really compares with the truly awesome and inspiring redux of "Sleeping Beauty" that is "Maleficent."

For those who know me, let me say this: I am not being sarcastic; there is no dagger hidden behind this review. No bloody prick of irony. I promise on my black, ribald heart that I truly enjoyed this film and was actually quite moved by it. Both by the very different take on the story itself, and by the sheer guts it took somebody/somebodies at Disney to attempt such a radically and beautifully feminist retake on what is, arguably, one of the weakest of the original Disney classics and, frankly, a pretty horrible original tale from the Grimm Brothers' dank vault. As much as I never liked the original nor the Disney film, I loved this movie.

If you see it for no other reason, do so because of the 100% pitch-perfect casting of Angelina Jolie as Maleficent. I loved that she was cast as Lara Croft in the "Tomb Raider" franchise, but was deeply disappointed by those movies. She was great in them, but they basically sucked. In the case of "Maleficent," she's super, the writing is solid, the action is good and the story/message succeeds on at least two levels at all times, three if you count the frisson between the original and this retelling. There is a minimal amount of cheesy cuteness, mostly limited to the three fairy god-aunts who aren't horrible. Yes... we need Happy Meal toys to pay for these movies, so it's a fair exchange. If they'd had about two more minutes of screen time, they'd have been annoying, but managed to feel more "Rosecrans and Guildenstern" than Jar Jar Binks.

The king (Sleeping Beauty's Father), Stefan, played by Sharlto Copley was somewhat uninspired and blocky and I wished they'd gone for someone with a bit more... elan... for lack of a better word. He was serviceable, but I couldn't really fathom the "why" behind the casting when there are so many other folks who could have done better. To be fair, I didn't like him in either "District 9" or "Elysium," either. If you did, then you'll be fine with his take on the role here.

Elle Fanning was lovely and did what she was supposed to do, which was to make us all fall in love with her. They could have held back a bit on the glorious, glowing nimbus of hair and ripe, apple cheek make-up a bit... but we need those signals and the movie is ostensibly for kids, so there you are: she needs to look like a princess, even when hiding out in the woods.

Maleficent's steward/crow/dragon, played by Sam Riley, was a pleasant surprise. A little humor, a little gentle nudging, excellent special effects during transitions... he was lots of fun to watch.

Now... if you want to watch it without knowing basically everything about it that makes it truly interesting, stop here and go see it and then come back and either agree/disagree with me on the stuff below. This is your warning... Beyond this point, there by prickly spoilers.

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If you've ever studied folklore with any seriousness, you know that Grimm's Fairytales are full of sex, mayhem, psychological darkness and some truly heinous social shite that really didn't deserve to be handed down for generation after generation. Good writers? Sure. Sometimes. Important work in terms of the canon of western entertainment and culture? Of course. But, lord almighty, read any deeper than a wishing well and those are some weird, troubling messages down in the depths.

"Sleeping Beauty," or, as the Grimms titled it, "Little Briar Rose," is simply awful. Again, if you've done any exegesis of folklore (especially the Grimms), you'll know that it's chock full o' sexual symbolism. Go read the original (well, the translation) at the link above. It's short.

The message? In brief, the "curse" of the thirteenth fairy (the one in black) is, of course, the "curse" of menstruation. That horrible, ugly, filthy, burden that God has placed on the daughter's of Eve ever since she caused the fall of man. The curse arrives, of course, with blood and the arrival of adulthood. This curse sets up a wall of thorns that, for 100 years, protect the sleeping beauty from men who would claim her as their own. Eventually, the curse is broken -- interestingly, in the original, NOT by the kiss of true love, but simply be the odometer of time -- and the kingdom can go on about its business while the random hero whose timing was right gets to marry the princess and enjoy her post-thorny beauty.

Classic stuff. Girls as victims of nature and whim. Exploration as danger. The discovery of "women's work" (spinning) as the trigger for a fugue state between pure childhood and the sexual duties of a grown-up. Men -- even a random man whose only virtue is being there at the right time -- as the answer.

It's a crappy narrative from a misogynistic time that didn't deserve the effort the 1959 Disney film put into it. But it was free, public-domain writing for Disney to pilfer (that's another rant), and so we got a decent animated classic with a bit more meat on the bones, spruced up for the American audience of the time. But the central message was left largely the same, more's the pity.

Not so with today's "Maleficent."

So much better. So, so, so much better. So much more complex, so much more heart, so much more thoughtful and -- if I had a daughter -- so much more appropriate for a modern look at some of the themes treated casually and superficially (and sexist-ly) by the original. Here come the spoilers, kids...

In this version, Maleficent starts with wings. Great, big, beautiful wings that let her fly all over her the fae lands of which she is not the queen... but sort of the leading cheerleader. The kingdom next door is run by a king who's a simple, European flavor of conquering asshole, and he wants the moorlands (the faerie kingdom) for his own.

Maleficent, a girl at the start of the film, meets a young boy from the human world, and they become friends. When he learns that the iron in his ring can hurt her, he throws it away as a gesture of his friendship. Over time, they become closer, and share what Maleficent believes is "true love's kiss" at the age of sixteen.

However... The king, having tried once to overthrow the moorlands (serviceable action-set-piece Ents vs. Knights), promises that whomever vanquishes Maleficent will be his heir. And so Stefan, eager to rise from his place as a servant, drugs the trusting Maleficent. At the last moment, he cannot quite kill her... but cuts her wings from her instead, bringing them back to the evil old king as proof of valor and coin of reward. He is made king, and given the princess' hand in marriage.

The scene where Maleficent wakes up and realizes her wings are gone is shockingly stark and brutal for a Disney film. We do not see the actual butchery, but Jolie's shrieks of, first, shock and surprise and, eventually, horror and pain over what has happened to her are, essentially, those of a rape victim. She has had the source of her joy and power severed by the man she thought loved her, and she descends into darkness and revenge almost immediately.

Hearing those screams, you know, "This ain't your daddy's Sleeping Beauty."

Her pain and anger transform the faerie kingdom from a land of bright, amusing hi-jinx into a dark, sinister wood of grief and shame. When, years later, she hears that Stefan and his queen are expecting a daughter, she goes and lays upon the girl the curse we know so well from the original. Although, in this case, she (not another fairy) is the one who mitigates it with the codicil, "The curse may be broken by true love's kiss." This, she makes clear to her crow-familiar, is irony: there is no such thing as true love, and so the curse will remain in place forever.

The king, trying to prevent fate, adheres to the original, hiding the spinning wheels and sending his daughter, Aurora (an interesting name choice, compared to "Briar Rose" from the original) to be raised by the three "good" (read: charmingly eccentric) fairies so that she won't be able to prick her finger and trigger the curse.

Maleficent, of course, cannot help but spy on the baby/child/teen's life, and, over time, becomes more and more enamored of the girl. She brings her food when the three ninnies give the baby raw vegetables, saves her from wandering over a cliff, and generally keeps trouble off the girl's path. When, at sixteen, Aurora goes to the wall of thorns and calls out to her unnamed benefactress, she (Aurora) claims that she has known all along that her "fairy godmother" was the "shadow" watching over her. Maleficent acknowledges the fact, and the two become, openly, friends.

Skip forward a bit through some emotion-building scenes... and a prince from another land wanders by to be smitten by the girl's beauty. Check. Set up for true love's kiss.

Maleficent tries to break her own curse a few days before the girl's sixteenth birthday, but can't... her original need for revenge was too strong. Instead, after Aurora (discovering that Maleficent is the source of the curse) goes back to the castle, Maleficent magics the prince behind her (ironically, in a spell-bound sleep which lasts far longer than the eventual nap Aurora will take) and deposits him in the castle.

The prince, prodded by the good fairies, kisses Aurora and... nothing. "You see?" says Maleficent to her crow... "It is as I told you. There is no such thing as true love."

You see where this is going, don't you? Of course you do.

Maleficent, truly saddened by her own earlier act, bids goodby to her god-daughter, promising to keep her safe and "miss your smile" every day of her life. Tears in her eyes, she kisses the girl on the cheek and... yup. That's true love's kiss.

Not the random act of prince-ness. Not the man who waded through various symbolic brambles and menstrual yuckiness. Not the guy in charge of providing the next generation's batch of little princes... the woman whom her father had disfigured and raped before she was born.

Cue big fight, which, well... we need, of course. The crow becomes a dragon, King Stephan is even more brutal and awful. Aurora discovers the case where Stefan kept Maleficent's wings and frees them. They reattach and she is restored to her flying prowess. She and Stefan fight on the tower of the castle, and, in defeat, he grabs her in a bear-hug and jumps off the edge. If he can't win, at least they will both lose. Maleficent frees herself at the last minute and hovers, somewhat sad, over the lifeless body of the man who had once set aside iron in the name of friendship.

Aurora moves back to the woods, which go back to being colored like a Disney movie instead of an Edward Gorey book. She's made queen of both lands, the briars come down, and everyone lives happily ever after. I was a little disappointed that the new prince showed up just long enough to make a kind of, "Hey... Maybe later?" face at Aurora, who batted her eyes a bit and looked OK with the idea. Yeah, yeah... Princess needs a prince... I guess. But I'm sure, at one point, the idea was tossed around that there didn't need to be a prince, really.  The End...


I'm going to assume that we owe all this chunky, girl-power, feminist goodness to Linda Woolverton, the main writer on the film. She's worked on a number of Disney films, and so knows her oeuvre very well, almost meticulously sticking to language and plot that, while new to the story, never feel out-of-place or non-Disney. That's a hard row to hoe, people. Many props to her for really, really hitting this one out of the theme park.

For those of you who didn't spend four years doing postmodern, textual deconstruction, here are the main, symbolic points of the new version that make me inordinately happy:
  • Maleficent's power is not, originally, evil. She is a natural creature, using her magic to help heal and inspire others. She is the joy of being a girl with wings.
  • An act of male-power-base barbarism and really brutal violence causes her to lose the part of her power that provides freedom, perspective and the ability to move among worlds. That's a big deal. She still has lots of magic... but now it's all about protection (from the evil kings) and revenge.
  • Stefan does this solely for worldly power. Maleficent, upon hearing that he's been made king, cries out in rage and confusion, "For this you stole my wings!"
  • The second victim -- the daughter, Aurora -- becomes the vehicle by which Maleficent lets go of her hatred. Watching and protecting her, as mother-to-daughter, is what heals her heart.
  • Aurora herself isn't just a stick-figure. She asks questions, makes conclusions and takes some action.
  • Aurora's actual mother sickens and dies when her girl is removed from her life. For the king, a daughter is only as good as her ability to whelp heirs and attract suitable suitors. The mother of the princess is, in the absence of the political vehicle of her daughter, useless. 
  • The king becomes obsessed with killing Maleficent, although that won't break the curse. Knowing what he does of the power of iron to harm the fae folk, he turns over the entire production of his economy to the creation of iron weapons. While the visual imagery used isn't (thankfully) too phallic... "hard iron" being cast to kill the powerful she-witch isn't exactly subtle stuff, either. 
  • The "evil" faerie queen isn't a Man-Hating-She-Bitch. Her familiar is, while not an equal, a friend who eventually seems more like a buddy than a servant. The Ent-like tree warriors have a fairly male vibe, and Maleficent respects them as the guardians they are. The new prince is heralded as a possible way to save Aurora, and Maleficent treats him... well... not with much respect, but certainly with some affection.
There's all kinds of chewy, allegorical goodness in here. We truly sympathize with Maleficent's anger and wish for revenge. We see Stefan's lust for power as a destructive thing, both at the personal and kingdom-level of badness. We like watching Maleficent's heart melted by the baby/girl/teen and enjoy her interplay with her crow.

It's truly great stuff. And has, at its heart, the benefit of being true to the way the world actually works, rather than a simplistic, moralistic, misogynistic (ahem) fairy tale. The world is a worse place when men let their lust for power drive them to acts of violence and degradation. The reward is never worth the price, personally. There is healing to be had in forgiveness. There is, finally, "true love" for those who care for their daughters beyond keeping them pure as a vessel for the next generation of cruel tyrants.

You don't have to watch this movie as a feminist recast of the original to enjoy it. There's plenty of Disney-style fun and emotion to be had regardless. But if you give yourself just a moment to examine the delta between the female roles in the original and those in this remake... well, if you're anything like me, it will go from being a PG, family-friendly action-romp to a new classic with some important and relevant messages for mothers and daughters to share.

Monday, June 16, 2014

This tastes awful... try it. My review of "3 Days to Kill."

I was at a restaurant once with Neil, one of my best friends of all time. I used to drink cola, so I ordered one and when it came, I was surprised that not only did it not taste like good cola, it did not taste like cola. It did not taste like food/beverage substance. It tasted like something that shouldn't be in your mouth at all. Like when you're a kid and you suck on a battery or if you inadvertently pop a piece of chalk in your mouth thinking it's a mint (note: I once saw an MD/PhD do that, so it's not so far-fetched).

I basically retched a bit, made a really bad face and a noise of some kind. Neil asked if I was OK and I said that, yes, I was, but... "This is awful! Try it!" And I pushed the cola across the table to Neil.

Who looked at me and said, "I'm your friend. Why would you want me to try something awful?"

Which is an excellent point. And one that I conceded to him immediately. There is no earthly reason why I should want someone I like to do something that I already know is bad/wrong or taste something that has more in common with cleaning products than actual beverage.

And yet... and yet...

There's something there, right? When you see or hear or smell or taste something that isn't just bad... but out of the realm of normal for that thing. To make sure that you're not insane. To confirm with someone whose opinion you value that, yes, indeed, that cola tastes like the inside of a a shoe that's been used to house a hamster for a couple months.

There's something there. Right? Right. And that's why I want you to go, right now, and watch the movie "3 Days to Kill." To confirm for me that, yes... it's that strangely awful. That it's not just a kinda sad excuse for an old man's spy flick... but that it really, truly is differently bad.

If you need a bit more convincing, my wife agrees with me. This tastes awful. You should try it.

Our boy is out of the house for five nights at camp, so we got Chinese food and streamed the movie from Amazon. I figured... Kevin Costner. OK. He's easy to watch. I usually like him. Luc Besson was one of the writers. OK... he's done some fun stuff. But what started out as a kind of... disappointingly cookie-cutter old/ex spy flick turned into something very, very close to theater of the absurd. Please note: I am now going to spoil the movie. So if you want to watch it and be surprised, stop reading. I guarantee, however, that your enjoyment will not be diminished by knowing what's coming. Because, like finding a post-it note on your plate beneath the piece of key lime pie you just finished, knowing it's there only makes you more curious about... what the hell? Here are some thing that happen in this movie, in no particular order:
  • He is diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer that has metastasized to his lungs. I don't know if this is a real thing, and I'm not sure why it wasn't just lung cancer. There was no reason why it shouldn't just be lung cancer, except...
  • A sexy CIA agent (who seems to be 22 or so) offers him an expensive, experimental drug that might save him or give him more time than the 3-5 months the doctor predicts.
  • The experimental drug causes seizures that can be alleviated with vodka. 
  • I am not kidding.
  • The main bad guys are "The Albino" (who is an albino), and "The Wolf," (who is not a wolf). 
  • Still not kidding.
  • Elevator decapitation
  • A family of charming Jamaican (I think?) squatters living in his house. Whom he threatens, then allows to stay. Until the grown daughter has a baby. That is then named after him; Ethan.
  • Subway decapitation.
  • Going on a nice daddy/daughter date on carnival swings and for cocoa, followed directly by daughter going to a club where she's roofied and nearly gang raped. After which dad teachers her how to ride a bike.
  • After which, at some point, dad teaches her how to dance in preparation for her prom... to the song, "I'd like to make it with you."
  • Applying a car battery to a fellow's ears to torture information out of him, and later asking the same man for advice about how to raise a daughter. 
  • Threatening to torture another man and then asking him to describe, over the phone to his daughter, a recipe for Italian spaghetti sauce.
There's more. There's a very odd moment where the sexy CIA agent is telling him that, "You must not stop until you kill the Wolf," but the words, "the Wolf" are really, really badly dubbed in. Like, you can see her saying, "My koala bear," but the sounds that come out are, "The Wolf."

At some point, I began hoping that this whole film was an "Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" thing. Or an art piece. That there'd be a bit at the end where we'd find out that it was all a fever dream while he's in the hospital waiting to die. Because he gets his wife back, of course. After killing 20 or so guys at his daughter's boyfriends father's partner's pre-prom party while she (daughter) blithely has romantic eye-contact with the boyfriend in a room two doors down from the killin'. Because, of course, his daughter's boyfriend's father's partner is... The Wolf!

But there's no twist. It just ends like so many other thrillers, with a kind of shrug/grin about all the killing, a promise to try harder, and a pull-away shot of the sexy CIA agent watching over the beach house and nodding knowingly. 

It's fantastically bad. Partly because the actors are really quite good. The cinematography is good. It's got budget. It's got well choreographed fight scenes. For fuck sake, it's got Kevin Costner. Who, while not 1982 Kevin Costner, is still not 2014 Mickey Rourke.

So... I honestly suggest that while this tastes awful... you should try it. I'm truly glad I watched it all the way through. It's like an outfit you see on a mannequin that you think must be a joke... but you need to spend 15 minutes finding a clerk to reassure you and... no. No joke. The ensemble is available for purchase.

On a scale of 1-5 stars, I'd rate this movie "Frosted Donkey."

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Poetry n' stuff

As part of my four-day weekend of actually doing some stuff that I've meant to for awhile (changing the CMS for my resume and old consulting sites, and switching this blog to Blogger from WordPress), I've moved my poetry from various writing/sharing sites on the web to here. See links in the sidebar. Since Blogger only allows 20 non-post blog pages, I've ganged poems together under some randomly named pages.

You can take a look at The Whole Dang List or Page Eggplant, Page Mighty Mouse, Page Humidor, Page Charlemagne and Page Mitosis.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Conversion experience

I started TinkerX in 2005. I'd been blogging for a couple years about legal marketing, and when I started working at OCLC, I wanted a place to do non-work writing, so this was it. I enjoyed doing the initial setup with WordPress, and liked playing around with the various templates and settings.

Then comment spam took over.

This is a modest blog. To say it is a modest blog is possibly even a great overstatement... or understatement. What I mean is that I don't have lots of readers. Maybe only a few. I had a couple posts with 10+ comments, but mostly none. That's OK. I chiefly do this for myself. I was deeply glad that one of my posts, on the game "My Team, Your Team," was turned into, "The Superest" book... but that was the height of its fame.

Not lots of readers. But lots of lots of comment spam.

In the last year, since the last time I did a comment purge, I had more than 32,000 spam comments waiting in the queue. And, at a point int he past, before WordPress anti-spam stuff caught up with the volume, about 20,000 had managed to sneak through and get posted to the blog without my consent.

About every six months, it gets so bad and the security issues with WordPress (and, to be fair, other self-publishing tools/services) so compromised, that my web host makes it mandatory to update to a newer version of WordPress or SQL (the database behind the scenes) or PHP (the code). That's a pain in the ass for a blog that's mostly supposed to be for me to just randomly spew about movies or poetry or the weather.

So I converted it to Blogger, which is what you're seeing now. To my great sorrow, however, in order to convert the posts, I had to drop ALL the comments, because the volume was so high that they made the export file from WordPress waaaaay to big to import into Blogger.

Meaning: the fake comments from spammers (may they rot in hell) killed the few comments from real people. Comments that made me happy, because it meant that someone was reading my junk and getting something out of it. Comments that had some thought and humor. Comments from friends, family and lovely strangers.

Perhaps this is a good reminder that everything is, after all, ephemeral.

Perhaps it's just another example of how a few shitheads tend to ruin it for the rest of us.

Perhaps I'm over thinking it.

Anyway... Perhaps having this blog hosted by Google -- who does a pretty damn good job keeping spam out of my email -- will mean I blog more often and get some new comments and make some new friends.


Monday, May 7, 2012


He does not love her.
He loves a volume of space
shaped just like her,
filled with [

shed dander clips cuts shredded gift voodoo
scented soap fetishes crink nipple eye lock
fashion skin scraps
pinched laughter traps
bone shadows
black hollows
fake numbers
lost tatts

] need.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The ABC's of job hunting for designers: D = Direction

[See previous post for intro and ABC. See here for the Google Doc version of the whole tham ding.]

"D" is for "Direction"

The most important quote for marketing, imho, and when looking for a job is from "Alice in Wonderland:"
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” [said Alice]

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.“I don’t much care where,” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

Or as a VP of mine used to say: "If you succeed, and you don't know why, it's an accident and probably won't happen again. If you fail and don't know why, you've learned nothing... and that's just a waste of everybody's time."

I'm not saying you need to know what you want to be when you grow up before hunting for a job to keep the wolves at bay. I'm saying you need to have a plan for even the most random-ass job search or you won't get anywhere, except somewhere random ass and less interesting/profitable than you'd probably like.

So here are some very tangible, very measurable things you can do to help at least face in some direction when searching for a job:

  • Set written goals based on this list and any other activities you hear about. Lots of people know more than me. Write down what they say.

  • Get a friend to keep you honest. Tell him/her/them what your goals are. Ask them to beat you with a frisbee if you don't do what you said you'd do.

  • Write down all the possible different job titles for all the different jobs you might possibly accept. This will help you when doing job searches online. Keep the list updated with new titles you find during your search. This will help you learn what other people call what you want to do.

  • Write down the names of twenty (at least) companies that you think you might want to work for. This will help you check their websites every week for job openings (some of which you won't find on the Monsters of the world).

  • Contact the HR departments of each of those companies. Explain you're searching for a job and that you find the idea of working at their company something to aspire to. Ask for their advice on how to best present yourself for future jobs. Don't ask for a job at that point; you're making a new friend, not pimping (yet). Ask what you can do to make yourself more attractive as a candidate. Ask if you can stop by sometime and meet with them and/or get a brief tour. You are doing all this in order to have someone at the company besides the hiring manager of a future job as a contact there. HR people are good at this. They want you to like their company, and they want to help you get a job, even if it's somewhere else... because their stock-in-trade is referrals. They might send your resume to someone you've never considered, because they're better at thinking about jobs like that. Do this until you've got contacts at all 20 (or more) companies. Then make a point to re-contact each HR person you've heard from at least every 3 months. Or if you know of someone else who might fit a position they've got posted. Think about the relationship from their point of view.

  • Go back and do that last thing. Seriously. If there's one tip I have on this list that will bear fruit, it's the cultivating HR friends thing.

  • Set some stretch goals. If you find you're getting comfortable sending out 3 resumes a day, try doubling that.

  • Have both a "designer-y" resume and a "boring Word resume" available. Art directors and heads of agencies will want to see the pretty-pretty one. HR people want the Word one.

  • Think about the next job. Not the one you're going for, but the boss of that one. Look for those positions in the job listings, too. If they're hiring a new art director, odds are they'll be asking him/her to hire some designers. When you find those jobs, add them to your HR contact list from above.

Looking for a job is a job. Most jobs provide helpful people called "bosses" who set directions for you. While looking for work, you're your own boss... which basically sucks. I know. I've done it. I'm sorry... there's no help for it. Get together with a group of friends once a week and report what steps you've taken. Celebrate with each other, even if you don't have jobs, or don't have the one you want. Why? Because you're a designer... a creative person living in the Age of Content. You rock and your talent will be rewarded.

Sooner rather than later, if you set yourself some directions.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

ABC's of Job Hunting for Designers: Intro and ABC

I've now given a talk on job hunting for designers about... five times. I like the talk. It's smooth, goes down easy, and leaves a pleasant aftertaste (I'm told). So at this point, why not serialize it on the Web? It's all my wisdom on how designers can help themselves get into a new or better job faster, and prepare for a lifetime of doing work they'd rather be doing. And because we need to have info delivered to us in reasonably edible chunks, I broke my thoughts up into 17 groups and stacked 'em around the alphabet. So we'll put these up one at a time and see if folks find them helpful.

These tips are not meant to be exhaustive or fool-proof, obviously... but they also conform to the main rule of the Hypocratic Oath: first, do no harm. I don't think any of these ideas can hurt your job search. Many of them just make sense... but aren't regularly applied.

Anyway... good luck on your job search. The document version of all these tips is available as an open Google Doc here: So if you need something portable, give that a whirl.

ABC = Always Be Creating

Please note that I did not say, "Always be creative." Everyone is creative (that's another set of blog posts, I think). You need to always be creating things, though, if you want to earn a living as a designer. If your day gig doesn't let you (which may happen), you need to do it on your own time. If your day gig forces you to be minimally creative in ways that seem to deaden your soul while actively making your artistic spirit hurt... same thing. Go home and be one with your canvas, clay, charcoal, ukulele, dancing, etc. You need to keep doing stuff or your creativity will wither and die.

That's the real difference, I think, between people who say that they're not creative and those of us who believe we are: doing it.

When you're trying to sell yourself as a designer, you will invariably be interviewed by one of two types of people: another creative person, or a non-creative (business person, manager, etc.). Here's the thing -- in both cases, you need to be doing interesting creative things to impress them.

Why? Because if the other person is a creative, they get it. They understand how hard it is to remain inspired and purposeful in our arts. And they want to work with someone who can do that and who, maybe, might even rub off on them a bit. I have met very few truly creative people who are jealous of other creatives' talents and achievements: we tend to be impressed and supportive of them, since they are often unique.

[Note: that's a difference between some people who are very money-oriented and those who are more creative/art oriented. A buck is a buck is a buck. If your business activity made $2 and I made $4, I'm twice as good as you. Doesn't work that way with creativity. There is no zero sum: we can both be twice as creative and can use that to inspire each other, not take away.]

The other kind of people -- those who generally believe themselves to be non/less creative -- are always super impressed by our hobbies, our ongoing learning/dedication to craft, the outputs of that, how we externalize our muse. It's like magic to many people.

So... either way, you want to be able to talk about stuff you're working on, even if you're not working. Some of it should, obviously, be related to what you want to do for a living... but it doesn't all have to be. Lots of it can be only marginally related, but it shows that you are dedicated to improving the artistic center of yourself, which is really what you're selling when you're trying to get a gig: your ability to create.

Some specific thoughts on how to stay creative when you're not working (or when you are, but aren't being particularly challenged/stimulated):

  • If you've gone two weeks without learning something new about your craft(s), do something about it

  • Improve design around you

  • Do work for free; church, civic organizations, family, friends

  • Put yourself on a schedule for trying/creating new things: one new (whatever) per day, week, month. Set goals and stick to them (or do them ahead of time)

When I first developed this presentation, for example, and decided to organize it around the alphabet, I decided to learn new Photoshop tricks for each of the slides' main graphics. So even though all the slides are, essentially, just letters, I made myself do more than just illustrate the letters in ways I already understood. Do a search on "Photoshop tricks" and you'll find about a bzillion responses. I did that, found about 15 that I thought looked cool, and worked them into the slide graphics. They're not fantastic graphics or stunning pieces of art... but the process helped my learn Photoshop that much better.

Some resources that might help provide inspiration:

So your homework for today is: pick a project. Something you haven't done before. If you haven't written poetry, go do that. If you can design a logo for something weird in your life (your pet, lunchbox, pet's lunchbox), do that. But, today, figure out what the next thing you'll create should be. And then get to work.