The Last Station

January 08, 11

Once a student came to me and asked me, “What is the purpose of life?”  When I replied, “To play,” he was disappointed. 

“Just to play, is it?” he asked and went away. 

But, if you are still thinking that life must have a purpose, then you have not yet arrived at the last station at the end of the railroad of life.  When you arrive at the last station at the end of the line, you play. 

In the Kannon sutra, it is written, “How does the Bodhisattva Kannon play in this Saha world of suffering?”  When Kannon comes to save sentient beings in this world, the Bodhisattva is “playing.” 

When you have reached the last station at the end of the line, there is nothing to seek, all one does is play.

— Zen Master Yamada Mumon, commentary on Ten Oxherding Pictures


The Ripe Fruit

January 05, 11

I have a few squirrel friends. They PLAY. They pump and amble their nimble little bodies along a fence shared with my neighbor usually in sync with my own lunch efforts.

They seek tasty golf ball sized fruits, of the uncommon variety, to bite just once and toss into my pool for maximum filter clogging potential, definitely enjoying it all the more if they believe me to be watching.

For awhile, I was entertained just watching them traverse the four inch wide fence rail while never really witnessing a single missed step. Then I started watching the “transfer” moment when they would leap onto the tree from the fence. Once safely through the leap – again they never miss – there were several branch paths they could take to a wide variety of scattered fruit outcroppings.

I started to notice that not only did they use highly efficient paths on the branches, they always seemed to go straight to the perfectly balanced shade of fruit. Yet, they can’t see the relative shade of ripeness of fruit outcroppings all at once. They don’t have a good view of the whole.

Who does?

Does perfect fruit smell differently? Is it some kind of nasal advantage? I’ve logged some National Geographic Channel time, and squirrels ain’t bloodhounds. They can’t zoom in on fruit clusters using google Earth. No one radios in to these fuzzy pool cloggers the triangulation of perfectly shaded fruit clusters. I found myself getting kind of mad about it.

How do they know where the perfect fruit outcroppings even lie?

If I pick a mutual fund with a stellar Morningstar rating, I’ll still lose half my investment by dinner. So I’m left to just sit down with my soup bowl knowing that I’ve never had this much success or efficiency in any of my own tasks. We all feel like we’re sometimes taking the wrong branches, and often eat plenty of bad fruit.

The Crush

December 07, 10

One of the problems in the constant CRUSH of development, is that few are able to gain the luxury and benefit of play … play that involves the physical, mental, and tangible. 

The big problem here, and the weird paradox, is that most design discoveries of any impact or interest, come from play. 

So if you aren’t playing, you’re probably not doing anything very interesting.

Let’s look for more evolved accidents enjoyed while playing around. Off path from the intended target. 

You can’t plan your way to discovery, you have to play your way to discovery. We often find ourselves way too busy in execution to even fully understand the boundaries of this trap.

Blips and Bleeps

November 09, 10

Today, I’m thankful to have started messing around with electronic kits in the silence of my parent’s garage. 

Most of the stuff I tried melted and/or smoked.

Lots of stuff in life melts or smokes. 

In trying to build blips and bleeps or make lights flash on a Radio Shack kit, I learned something more than how to build a blip or make a bleep.

I’m glad that my Dad was too lazy to hand address Christmas cards, so he bought a kit computer to run a teletype machine to do it for him.   Through my Dad’s self described laziness, I eventually found games, music, and philosophy.

And, really, if you have games, music, and philosophy what more do you need? Games are play with rules.  Music is play with tone.  Philosophy is play with concepts.

Diogenes sitting in his tub. J.L. Gerome (1860)

If Diogenes could live in a wine barrel observing the carnival around Sinope, I could do my own modest version in the burbs.  

Philosophy had the right personalities tackling the right problems. 

They seemed to know something about what was at stake.  They knew how to play it.

I didn’t. 

Only those who take leisurely what the people of the world are busy about can be busy about what the people of the world take leisurely.  — Chang Ch’ao

Naruto Shippuden Comics : Enemy Types

November 02, 10

The Naruto Shippuden Comics world features several enemy types.

It’s always fun to look at the enemy lineup first in any world, and work backwards to the characters that oppose or confront them.

The enemies often tell you more about the construction and alignment of the world than the heroes will.

Enemies are often baked or evolved by their world surroundings – literally made out of the stuff of the world: lava, shards, parts, effluvia, bio-organics, etc.  

If you look at Mega-Man, Pokemon, Magic, you’ll see these similarities.  

Sometimes there is a pattern to how these enemies evolve and what we come to expect from them based on the pattern.  Some borrow heavily from a world theme: machine/human, insectoid, supernatural, powers based, and so forth. 

Whatever their origin though, they help setup the world boundaries (edges of evil) and suggest the best sorts of interaction with the hero characters.

A great resource for thinking about character construction is Barlowe’s Guide to Extra-Terrestrials – the perfect construction reference.  It isn’t just useful for extra-terrestrials either.  There’s plenty to learn from how Barlowe sets up character properties for illustration.

You Are Who You Were

September 16, 10

As my pals over at retroland say: “You are who you were.” 

Or, as Hugh MacLeod  says: Remember Who You Are

I mean, really, it isn’t just nostalgia that we’re after here.  What’s all this talk about comic covers, cartoons, cereal commercials and the importance of play about anyways?

These are only pointers.

When you left the theatre after seeing Star Wars for the first time and felt like you were reborn:  that was you.  When you timed your TV dinner so that the apple cobbler would go along with the start of your favorite show: that was you.  When you forgot how long you’d played in the sun at the beach and got that bad sunburn: that was you.

Charles Schulz’s Peanuts characters are not so different from Shakespeare’s.  Jealousy.  Self Doubt.  Revenge.  Regret.  Again, only pointers — this time in cartoon strip form.

When you wanted to be the six million dollar man, a smurf, a transformer, a master of the universe, or a teenage mutant ninja turtle — you wanted to transcend.  That was you.  Ultimately, no one will care what kind of car you drove, or the kind of house you lived in, or what you tried to say about yourself on a business card.  Reclaim that ability to transcend.  Make a connection.  Try and solve a problem.  Offer something up. 

You are who you were.

Play and Balance

September 01, 10

If you’re even close to finding a reasonable balance of work and play, consider yourself among an elite sub-group.  Most of us are radically play deprived, while simultaneously sleep deprived.  85% work and 15% play depending on what you will allow to count as play.  If you count video games, TV and movies — there goes your 15%. 

Our play muscles have atrophied into dried up figs on the crackled vine.  Some of us don’t even remember how to play.  We can’t process the feeling when we do it.   

If, by a cosmic miracle, a single day’s agenda were cleared, we wouldn’t even know where to begin.  We’re kind of shell shocked in the corner having enough trouble dealing with daily details:  Rain gutters. Filling out forms. Kid patrol. Moving the car for the street sweeper. 

It can take awhile to pull yourself back towards play.  First, you’ll have to give yourself permission.  Sounds silly.  This can be harder than it would seem.  There are plenty of social and cultural forces telling you that play is a waste of time.  That you aren’t allowed to play if you want to be productive.  You might not even think that you need or deserve to play, but you really do.

Maybe it starts with stealing back a few minutes.  Finding a few minutes might lead to half an hour.  Half an hour might be the start of something more.  Let it scale according to your comfort level.  HOW you play is entirely at your command.  Find something you used to enjoy, and do it again.  The beginning can be that simple.   

Maybe it’s watercolors or your bass guitar.  I started with 30 minutes of frisbee golf at lunch.  This led to an avalanche.  I started re-arranging to eat lunch while playing, in order to play a little bit longer.  Next, I figured out how to do this with other meals inventing what I call the Triple B (Basketball Breakfast Burrito).  It will take sacrifice and questioning, but the results are well worth it.  Watch what starts to happen when play informs work, rather than trying it the other way around.

The Birdman of Maui

August 30, 10

I had a single week of vacation time to try and shake out a couple years of 1-2 hour commutes in both directions dependent on wrecks, weather, and the unexplained.

I probably averaged 3 hours of daily commute time on top of a 10 hour day minimum. 605 to 5 to 134 to North Hollywood if you know the freeways of Southern California.

During my one week of blessed vacation, every day, I watched this guy I started calling “the birdman of Maui” stick a perch in the sand for his macaw and start boogie boarding or snorkeling.

He was about 45 years old and had a long beard, boardshorts, and a rusty bicycle with lots of parrot droppings on the handlebar. I started talking to him.

He used to do construction in Boston and gave it up one day to move into a 400 square foot living space two blocks from the beach. He did some construction and trade work for local businesses 4 hours per day and supplemented his income as a turtle breeder and flower grower. His hobby was ceramics and pottery. He brought a figure one day to show me. He was very talented. He gave me an expired coupon for a 1 hour photo back when such places still existed.

His work/play balance was close to transparent in retrospect. You couldn’t tell what he was doing.

When I got back to work, I told my co-workers about meeting him. We all had good jobs at the time. We certainly didn’t hate our work. We felt fortunate to have it. Still, everyone in his or her own way wanted to find a way to be more like the birdman of Maui.

Some of us started researching this and discovered two important books. Just like the birdman giving me the expired coupon, I’ll try and pass them forward …

The Circle of Simplicity

Your Money or Your Life

Do Playful and Competitive Square Up?

August 24, 10

Some folks might think taking a playful approach means being hapless, immature or unwilling to compete.

 I think this is a huge mistake.

A playful approach is by nature expansive. It tests boundaries, conventions, and modes of thinking. This tends to support innovation and competition of any kind in any field. It’s really the lack of play that leads one to being listless, self-focused, and reactive.

Lin Yutang insisted 80 years ago that it will be the playful who do most to try and solve the formidable challenges facing us. Those who are trudging along old paths, weighed down heavily by bad assumptions, trotting out broken paradigms, will be of little help. However, those who can move from a point of play, you might say, are squaring up with their own biology. 

The Wisdom of Foolishness

August 23, 10

“I do not think that any civilization can be called complete until it has progressed from sophistication to unsophistication, and made a conscious return to simplicity of thinking and living, and I call no man wise until he has made the progress from the wisdom of knowledge to the wisdom of foolishness, and become a laughing philosopher, feeling first life’s tragedy and then life’s comedy. For we must weep before we can laugh. Out of sadness comes the awakening and out of the awakening comes the laughter of the philosopher, with kindliness and tolerance to boot.”

 – Lin Yutang: The Importance of Living

Can a playful approach be our demonstration of the wisdom of foolishness?