Growing up, I had some bad teachers (and a few great ones). Haven’t we all? I’m grateful for this. I learned to be independent early on and to never assume that my teachers held all of the answers. I’m what you would have called a challenging student. Not outwardly impolite, but internally skeptical. You should be, too. Creative thinkers don’t often test well. In art classes, I was labeled “too focused” which was codified for too limited or too stubborn. In elementary school, my math teacher called in my parents to discuss concerns over my “satanic” drawings- dragons and skulls. My parents politely thanked him for his concern and privately praised my bad-ass skull drawing skills. As a freshman in high school in a class of seniors, when I asked my teacher why I received a “C” on an art project, she took a long pause and let me know that I hadn’t signed my work. I got the message. What my teachers failed to realize was that I drew not out of distraction, but to be present. I dream in the future and my mind and body rarely occupy the same space. When your mind switches channels like a radio looking for a signal, you do all you can to quiet the white noise. Between drawing, coffee, and basketball, I discovered things that put up guard rails for my wandering mind.
In our home, our kids aren’t allowed to say they are bored. Bored is a condition that they can self-medicate. We feed their imaginations and give them pens, markers, pencils, thread, needles, putty, paste, digital sculpting tools, and any other thing they need to give shape to their thoughts and to make sense of their lives. No unclaimed and unattached scrap of wood, paper, cardboard, or fabric is safe.
I, in turn, draw them; documenting their growth and progress over the years. We have great adventures that take us out into the world, and we bring treasure back in the pages of our sketchbooks.
I’ve never been diagnosed as ADHD, but my wife has and she’s told me that I’m way worse. Thanks, babe. Apparently, I’m a firestarter and a hurricane all rolled into one. I’ve experimented with an endless number of tools, devices, software, and systems to corral my energy into focused efforts. The remnants of these failed systems surround me. Yet, from each, I’ve learned a little more about what works for me. How to hack into the best parts of my creative self. A space where the discipline and structure that I seek, and the raw, creative individual that I am meet, coexist, thrash and thrive. I learned early on how to design myself into the person that I wanted to be. Outwardly, I’m “normal”. I grew up knowing I was an artist and fighting hard to be an athlete. One foot squarely planted in each camp. Internally, there is a chain reaction of ideas, images, and an endless appetite of curiosity. I know that I’m wired differently.
Through all of this, I’ve discovered something extraordinary. A pattern and a system to pull these wild ideas into polite society. In doing so, I’ve been afforded an opportunity to lead a creative life with a sense of self and purpose.
The following is a System of failed systems. It’s a boneyard of trial and error. Yet, from this, some of the big ideas have stuck. Like cherry-picking the best parts of an intergalactic robot junkyard to build a kick-ass, star-traveling golem of your own design. Or a dragon. With a skull. On fire.