5 Ways To Look Stupid Doing 5 Things

Every art form has a learning curve. When you see these clichés, you don’t have to look any further to know someone is an amateur.

Film & Photography

  • The 180 Rule – Imagine an invisible line drawn between two actors who are speaking. This is the line of action. Don’t cross it. Keep the camera on only one side of that line.
  • Rule of Thirds – Divide the image into 3rds, vertically and horizontally. Place your subject along those intersections.
  • Focus – To draw attention to the subject, keep it in focus, let everything else be out of focus.
  • Cropping – Crop to the action. Unless it’s for a special effect, get rid of useless space.
  • Action – Non-moving, directional objects (guitars, swords) should face the center of the page. To convey motion, face it towards the outside of the page.
  • Performance

  • Speaking – Don’t lick your lips, clear your throat, adjust your hair & clothing, or say “um.”
  • Hide – Don’t go out on stage until you’re ready to start performing. It ruins the mystique.
  • Surprise – Don’t noodle the first few notes of the song before you play it. Don’t say the song name, either. Let the audience react in the moment. Unless you make a gag out of it like Ween: “This song is called Fat Lenny. By Ween.”
  • Tuning & Testing – Don’t tune and test your gear in front of the audience, while everyone waits. Don’t tap the mic and say, “Check. 1, 2. Testes. Can you hear me?” Have someone else do it before you go out there.
  • Mind Your Own Business – Avoid looking at your bandmates while playing, especially when a mistake is made. Nothing screams amateur like, “Everyone ready for the change? Here it comes… and…” If you’re a drummer, don’t do that “leaning back and getting ready to sneeze the chorus on everyone” face.
  • Typography & Layout

  • Scaling – Don’t stretch your type horizontally or vertically.
  • Drop Shadow – Never use it, unless it’s necessary to separate the element from its background or to add depth against something. Black type on white background = please, just leave it alone.
  • Unity – Use fonts in the same family. Never mix more than two typefaces, unless you need to “break the reality” of the page. It’s acceptable when you need to quote an external work, such as a screenplay.
  • Contrast – Vary the sizes, weights, and tints & shades of your elements. On the art board, size is relative. Big is only big when it’s next to something smaller.
  • Never, ever, ever use Comic Sans, Papyrus, or Hobo. When you can help it, avoid Helvetica, Times, Impact, or any font that is installed by default.
  • Writing

  • Use sentences of different lengths, so people don’t get bored. Like this. See?
  • Don’t repeat yourself.
  • Avoid adverbs. Choose a verb that doesn’t need decoration. “Tony ran really, really fast all in one single, quick, instant burst, like a hungry, starving, desperate cheetah after prey in the brutal wilderness” becomes “Tony sprinted.” If the action isn’t inherently interesting within context, tell a different story.
  • Don’t bold, italicize, underline, and colorize every sentence. If your writing is concise, you won’t need to make the important sentences stand out from all that crap you wrote.
  • Don’t try to sound smarter and more professional than you are, especially if you don’t know what the words mean.
  • Music / Audio Recording

  • Trimming – Unless it’s intentional to add charm, attitude, or humor, trim the beginnings and ends of your sound files to get rid of pops, swallowing noises, your fingers rubbing against the strings, and extra breaths.
  • Posture – Don’t cock your head down and sideways to look at your hands when playing guitar.
  • Effects – Only use them on purpose to create… an effect!
  • Melodic Contour – Melody should have peaks and valleys, and only hit the highest note ONCE. It’s called The Focal Point. Ever notice that a vocalist sounds like a pro when singing a cover song, but their originals hit the same 3 notes? (It’s usually the tonic, b3 and b7 over a major chord. Ugh.)
  • Scrubbing – Don’t strum the guitar strings up and down for the duration of the song. Vary your rhythm. Hold some notes. Leave some space. Drummers also commit this sin, and it’s called Double-Dribbling. Don’t alternate between the Snare and Kick on every 8th note as if they’re of equal value.
  • Of course, these can all be broken, but only on purpose. (And at the risk of looking like you made a mistake.)

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    How To Capture An Alien

    Religious fanatics and Atheists make the same mistake.

    Creative inspiration, the paranormal, God — these things can’t be analyzed, systematized, controlled.

    They’re faster than light, don’t like eye contact, and our logic is the fence than keeps them safe from us.

    (Ah, see what I just did?)

    So put away your Monster Manual. Let the mystical be what it is. A collection of experiences beyond our understanding.

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    How To Be A Bad Magician

    Expecting that I’ll be surprised and delighted that the good guys smile and dance and hug at the end of the movie is an insult. It’s why I quit college, won’t try hallucinogens, and never read the final book of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.

    The story has to know more than me.

    Otherwise, it’s just a bad magician.

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    How To Make Confusing Bullshit

    I’ve been writing abstract blog entries lately.

    When I wrote my most recent book, I chose to use a voice that made as much sense as possible. I didn’t want the writing itself to be the focus. I wanted it to be so conversational and relaxed that you’d forget you were even reading.

    That meant:

    Get the author out of the way.

    No big words. No long sentences. No showing off.

    The subtext isn’t, “Behold! I shall bestow my superior intelligence and esoteric knowledge unto thee. Plethora. Utilize. Lest, thus, indeed!”

    It was helpful that I studied screenwriting for a year. That sure shut me the hell up. I recommend it to anyone who thinks they know what writing is about.

    My previous book was a complex artistic mess. For that voice, I followed my intuition, invented words, and used every trick I could think of to be kooky and mysterious. I even copied and pasted spam emails into the middle of random pages. Readers called me out for grammar and spelling mistakes, not getting the joke.

    I do a lot of Lateral (not Literal) Creation.

    Sometimes the “point” I’m making with my blog posts can’t be found in only the title, body text, links, or the video — but in the way they harmonize. Or I’ll just smash them together to make an ugly chord.

    As an exercise in communication, it’s fun to use a headline that has nothing to do with the body text, and see what kind of reaction that gets. I’ve written essays that are about an ex-girlfriend, with a title that makes the reader think I’m insulting Tool. It proves that no one is paying attention. Knee-jerk insults, condescending answers to my “questions” and death threats are something I’m used to.

    I like art that argues with itself. Makes it more alive, I think. Some people can’t stand it, but Fictional Philosophy (instead of Philosophical Fiction) is one of my favorite genres.

    There’s just no place for that in Instructional Videos, Recipes, and Encyclopedia Entries.

    Sometimes the strange things we eat only require a spoon.

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    35-Year-Old Man Held Hostage In Pre-School

    There was a comedian at the Tomorrow Show — name was Kyle Kinane — who said something like, “When I get into a debate with someone with a lip piercing, I figure… well, if you made that mistake, why should I listen to anything you say?”

    Along those lines, if you haven’t solved something important… like the problem of mankind’s corporeal mortality, or that we have to play the mundane and illusory socio-economic game that is modern survival, or that we are required to reduce an entire planet of happy little life forms to food and afterwards shit them out… it pretty much invalidates whatever philosophy you preach.

    Over a Hundred Billion Humans have been created and will probably be destroyed. And most of them never realize they are only cells in a larger Organism that they can’t see or understand. After a short time, they reproduce, try their best to pass on their knowledge, and die.

    It’s fun to point at the other cells and believe “that guy is the conspiracy, not me.” But from outer space, we’re not all that different from each other. (So don’t get too excited about how enlightened you are, because the aliens might not even be able to distinguish Joel Bauer from The Chosen One. I know I can’t.)

    Maybe we really are just silly Sneetches.

    To the universe, the earth might be a concrete, steel, plastic, sodium, and carbon monoxide factory, getting ready to ship its product. And maybe all we’re doing is arguing over the fastest way to get there.

    Can we learn to enjoy our ride through space, while working in this factory? Is that the point of it all? Should we narrow our focus to the context of gossip, entertainment, and sports to distract us from The Question? Give up and take some medication? Pretend we don’t know this is all a joke? Pretend we think the Monopoly money is real?

    Or should we keep searching for something bigger than our imagination?

    Because we know it’s there.


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    Pfizer: New Pill Cures Introverts

    I wish this was a typo by a web designer.

    Since it’s not, here are the problems I have with it:

    1.) Introversion is already a term widely (often loosely) used for something else, and has been for almost a hundred years. It’s not a Disorder. And it has nothing to do with how “socially-aggressive and indiscriminately friendly” you appear to be in public.

    2.) The criteria listed are an extreme generalization for something that doesn’t really exist, like the “War On Terror.” This text is turning people who are dominantly Introspective into The Boogeyman. Who wrote this stuff? I feel like I’m back in high school, being mocked by athletes.

    3.) Agenda? This is probably motivated by a pharmaceutical company that will soon announce a Wonder Drug that will “cure your Introverted child.” Taking the conspiracy theory one step further, this plan clearly targets people who are capable of divergent thought — so they can be wrangled up and fed to Sarlacc. Think I’m crazy? Andrew E. Skodol, the man behind this nonsense, has disclosed “significant interests“, specifically “Stock or other financial options” in Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Eli Lilly. (You’d think that since he received his psychiatric training at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine he may have realized that Albert Einstein was an Introvert.)

    4.) If you’re going to include Introverts, then include Homosexuals, Bodybuilders, Monks, Police Officers, and Celebrities — anyone with less-common social roles and lifestyles. If 70% of the population aren’t exactly like you, watch out!

    5.) If Introversion is measured on a spectrum, why is there no entry for Extraversion? I could certainly write an equally colorful set of criteria (for a share of the profits, of course).

    The fact that this is even open to debate, that it even made its way onto the ballot, that it is seriously being considered by experts (38,000 physician leaders in mental health?), is solid proof that Idiocracy is a documentary.

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    The Cowboy Talks About Class

    There’s sometimes a town.

    In that town, there is a correlation between wealth, altitude, and the direction of psychic energy.

    The Upper Class live in the mountains, where it’s clean and quiet. Many of the houses are concealed by complex landscape. No straight roads, lots of contour and curves. Unusual architecture. Surprises around every turn. Exotic trees and plants. A view of the town and ocean below. The only cars are the expensive ones parked in driveways. Obviously, the inhabitants like to be left alone. They plan their time and energy years in advance.

    On the way back down to Earth, things get more depressing and mundane.

    Halfway between the Mountains and Beach are the Middle Class. Their world is flat. The places they live in are smaller, cramped together, and surrounded by activity. Traffic on the streets. Less plant life. Competition for space. Noise. They are cyclical consumers. Most of the money they make is spent at Best Buy and Restaurants on the illusion of abundance. They see about a week or sometimes a month into the future.

    The Lower Class congregate at sea level, around The Beach. Beggars, derelicts, punk rockers, street musicians, drug addicts, criminals. Graffiti and trash everywhere. Loud music from every direction. Those who have a home will refuse to stay inside — and will even leave their front door wide open. They never stop talking, yelling, and banging on things. The conflicts they focus on will never improve their lives, even if they win. They see about an hour into the future, if that.

    Stop for a little second and think about it. Can you do that for me?

    Common sense would say that all of the money, power, and freedom is up by the Rich Introverts living in the Mountains. Let’s just say that if you want to improve your situation, go towards them.

    Now you will see me one more time if you do good. You’ll see me two more times, if you do bad. Goodnight.

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    Up The Evolutionary Ladder of Work

    Each rung of the ladder solves different types of problems.

    The problems at the top are more important — and more difficult. As you climb, you’ll find fewer people capable of solving them. They require increasing amounts of autonomy, conceptual thinking, and creativity.

    They tend to pay more, too.

    (When thinking of examples, I noticed Restaurants and Touring Bands are remarkably similar. Hmm.)

    Level 1: Physical Laborers (Dishwashers, Roadies)
    This role takes no mental effort. It’s all muscle.

    Level 2: Mechanics / Technicians (Kitchen Cooks, Session Musicians)
    Warning: mental activity required. Whether it’s fixing cars or fixing computers, it takes specialized knowledge and experience. Still, you’re following instructions to achieve results for people higher up. The important thing to notice here is that, sadly, it’s one step above Physical Laborer.

    Level 3: People Wranglers (Managers, Band Leaders)
    It takes an entirely different set of talents and skills to run a machine made out of humans. Still, it’s a machine. If you’re one of the few who can conquer this one and move to the higher levels, you can go from being an Animator to an Animation Studio Owner.

    Level 4: Salesmen (Hosts, Entertainers)
    I think highly of Salesmen. It’s said in business that “nothing happens until a sale is made.” Do not overlook the importance of this level. If you pay attention, you’ll realize that these are some of the most creative improv actors you will ever meet. Still, they are second to…

    Level 5: Creators (Owners, Artists)
    This is the person who had a vision. “We are the dreamers of dreams.” They take all of the risk and all of the responsibility. The highest level of self-discipline and self-actualization is required. It’s not for wimps.

    Points of Interest

  • There are diminishing gaps between the levels as you go up the ladder. In other words, Creators and Salesmen have a lot more in common than Physical Laborers and Mechanics / Technicians do.
  • Of course, some of these roles overlap. You don’t have to be one at the exclusion of the others. I’m not saying Creators shouldn’t do any Physical Labor. What matters is which of these you spend your most valuable time and energy on.
  • Any creative person who hopes to control his own destiny should make it his mission to master all of these roles. If you’re at the top and having problems, you might have skipped a level.
  • Personally, I spend way too much of my time on Level 2. It takes away from what I can be spending on 4 and (most importantly) 5. That’s because I’ve avoided Level 3.

    It’s time to change that.

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    Artistic Fury And Conflict

    [Photo stolen from Halloween Street.]

    It’s 1 a.m. and I just woke up. So I have to write my blog. That’s the rule.

    Earlier today, I attended the Michael Wiese Publisher’s Summit. I was exhausted when I got home, and I went straight to bed. So I’m writing this entry as a vampire.

    People always try to talk to me about music, but I dodge the topic. This time I won’t.

    On the way to the event, I listened to Kevin Gilbert’s The Shaming of the True. It filled me with Artistic Fury.

    I had some thoughts:

    • I wondered if I could have somehow become friends with him in real life if I hadn’t spent 30 years in exile in Florida. Maybe I moved to Los Angeles way too late (or maybe I’m just in time to fill the empty seat).
    • I first heard about Kevin Gilbert because people kept mentioning him when discovering my music. “I was researching Kevin Gilbert and came across your album.” I don’t really know why that is, but I heard his name often, and it was years before I discovered his music, too.
    • Kevin understood the Conflict of being talented yet aware of how badly the system is broken. And he didn’t hide it. He was capable of making music as innocent and pretty as Toy Matinee, and then plunging into psychological darkness with his later work. The more time I spend in The Imaginary City, the more the songs on his final album make sense to me. It’s as if his songs are revealed to me one-by-one when I’m ready to actually hear them.
    • I concluded that I don’t listen to music anymore, I listen to stories.
    • Kevin’s life story is such a tragedy. I don’t know how much of it is true, but WOW.
    • By the time I got to the event this morning, I was really, really angry at the world and didn’t want to be there. I almost just turned around and went home. I was feeling a lot of pressure, because they wanted to shoot a video interview with me, telling the world about my book. I wasn’t in control and haven’t performed in years — and I happen to know I suck without reading cue cards or having a good host. I tried to rehearse last night, but realized it was futile. My short-term memory deficiency is worse than I thought. I decided to just show up and be me, in the moment.

      When you’re at a conference with about 50 other authors, you find yourself pitching your book concept to people repeatedly. It’s good practice. It was a weird bunch — posers and visionaries of every kind. Michael Wiese described us as facets of a diamond.

      Instead of shaking hands, fake-smiling, and giving everyone my business card, I told the story of Kevin Gilbert. It occurred to me that his story related directly to the topic of my book, and I was able to see my own project on a deeper level because of it.

      When I just follow my own path with honesty and trust the artistic process, great things happen. I took a chance and just said whatever crazy things came into my mind. I could tell I was making people a little bit nervous and confused, but they seemed to like me… and I liked them, so that’s good. Not to sound too New-Agey, but this event was on a much higher level of consciousness than last year’s. At lunch, Judith Weston called my blog “Nutty.” Probably the best compliment my writing has gotten.

      Still… whenever I’m treated with respect or offered an opportunity, I assume someone made a mistake.

      Today’s example: I met a fellow MWP author who happens to host the podcast I listen to every week on my long bike rides to the comic book store. Within moments of chatting, I was asked to be a guest on her show, which just seemed impossible to me. I’m still convinced she thought I was someone else. If this actually happens it will be my biggest career achievement all year. It’s so spooky, like becoming a part of The Neverending Story. I won’t count on it, because yeah, it has to have been a mix-up.

      But that’s usually how I know I’m going in the right direction. Strange coincidences pop up. This entire book publishing deal has been an example of that. I didn’t think it would actually happen, and a year-and-a-half into it, I still have a hard time believing it. So I have to accept that being conflicted about it is essential. Because that’s how the magic of creativity happens.

      If you’re not seduced by the mystery of your own work, what’s the point?

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    Hidden In Plain Sight

    In Atlas Shrugged, the world’s most important invention was abandoned to rust in a factory. No one recognized what it was, so it sat there for years, invisible to everyone.

    Thoreau said:

    “The works of the great poets have never yet been read by mankind, for only great poets can read them.”

    Yesterday, I posted what I think was my most important blog entry. It wasn’t my own idea… it was something I read back in 2001 in a book called Good To Great by Jim Collins. The knowledge contained in that post could save people and companies incredible amounts of time, energy, and money.

    I’ve gotten a stronger reaction out of Facebook updates about my low-class neighbors arguing. In almost 24 hours, my Jim Collins post received only one comment: “Good stuff.”

    It’s been almost A DECADE since 100+ ex-military, scientists, and other government employees appeared at the National Press Club, willing to testify and share physical evidence in front of Congress that Extra-Terrestrials have been here, and that we have access to their technology.

    If that happened, wouldn’t you want to know about it? I guess not.

    Above my desk, I have a framed “blueprint” of an Alien Reproduction Vehicle, a hand-made copy of one of the pieces of evidence used in that presentation. No one even asks what it is.

    Oh, and it’s been a year since Nano-Thermite was discovered in the dust of the WTC. Can you make it through 12 videos?

    If you’re going to riot, at least make it about something more important than basketball.

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