Category: Creative Inspiration

I’m fascinated with how the mind works and how that ultimately can help understand how to be the best creative. Here you can see all my ideas for creative inspiration and other facets of creativity.

Seinfeld in 2016: What I Learned from Watching all Nine Seasons for my First Time

I’m going to admit something embarrassing: Up until this year, I have never watched Seinfeld. Every time Seinfeld came on television in the 90s, I would change the channel as quickly as if I had just accidentally stumbled upon a network that consistently showed dentists drilling into teeth without putting their patients on novocaine. For whatever reason, I hated the show, and I would much rather watch reruns of The Simpsons or anything on Nickelodeon (Doug, Rugrats, All That) or reruns of Nick at Nite shows. Perhaps I was too young; perhaps I didn’t understand the jokes; perhaps Jerry’s voice just annoyed the crap out of me. Whatever it was, I never really watched an entire episode of Seinfeld.

Years later, I fell in love with Curb Your Enthusiasm, and through that show, I began to grow an superficial interest in Seinfeld. (Larry David is hilarious and awkward and brilliant.) Plus, I had a neighbor in Miami who just loved Seinfeld. He used to quote lines to me all the time, and they would float over my head. For instance, we were out to lunch one day, and I pulled out my wallet. Back then–this was when I was in graduate school–I had a gigantic, over-stuffed wallet. It was packed with papers, cards, business cards–pretty much everything but money– and I began to think it was hurting my back. When I put the wallet on the table to ask him what he thought, he burst out laughing and called it the Constanza wallet. Of course, I didn’t catch the reference.

The George Wallet
The Constanza Wallet

Perhaps it was an interest in Larry David, perhaps it was a frustration with not being able to catch cultural references, but whatever it was, I knew I had to watch all nine seasons of Seinfeld in 2016. Over the last several months, I have embarked on a mission to watch every episode in chronological order. I have vowed to begin to understand references, and I have sworn that no matter how annoyed I became with Jerry’s voice, I would get through the series. Strangely, as an adult, I found that I loved the show–how can you not?–and I wanted to share with you some of the aspects I had been missing out on. Some of this might be a recap for you; some of it might be new. But this is what I learned from watching all nine seasons of Seinfeld.

1. George Constanza Gets Extremely Dark

In the episode “The Invitations,” George Constanza’s fiance dies after licking a bunch of envelopes from cheap wedding invitations that George, of course, buys. The death was shocking, and it was amazing how dark George became in the episode. We saw himself as a man who was heading into a marriage that he didn’t want to partake in but couldn’t stop from happening, and when his fiance died, he almost rejoiced–or at least remained completely indifferent–to the death of a woman he was about to spend the rest of his life with until the end of eternity. This episode didn’t seem like it came from a mainstream television show; it seemed like it originated from the mind of a brilliant French short-story writer who wanted to pursue the themes of love and existentialism. What was most shocking was the reaction that all of the actors had when they heard she died. They all just went and had some coffee.

Perhaps this statement from Jason Alexander will shed some light into the decision to kill off his fiance:

“I couldn’t figure out how to play off of her,” [Jason Alexander] said in a “Howard Stern Show” interview Thursday. “Her instincts for doing a scene, where the comedy was, and mine, were always misfiring. She would do something, and I would go, ‘OK, I see what she’s going to do, I’ll adjust to her.’ And then it would change.”

2. Elaine Benes Was Sex in the City

For a mainstream show on a national network, Elaine Benes’ character was truly a progressive woman. Of course, she was famously a part of the masterbation game–where the four friends wanted to see who would crack first–but she was also unashamed about her life that wasn’t traditional in terms of marriage, monogamy, or career. She was clearly ahead of her time–or perhaps our world was too far behind–for mainstream television. Elaine contrasted to many of the other female characters at the time, and Brigit Katz at the New York Times wrote the following:

“While Elaine’s TV contemporaries—say, for example, Rachel from Friends—were getting bogged down in humdrum will-they/won’t-they romance narratives, Elaine was cycling through partners almost as often and usually as dispassionately as her BFF Jerry.”

I never really thought much about Elaine before watching the show, but after learning about who she was, how independent she was, how real she was, I couldn’t help but find her to be, perhaps, my favorite character on the show. I also started watching Veep before Seinfeld, and I have come to think of Julia Louis Dreyfus as one of the funniest comedians–and skilled actors–out today.

3. These Pretzels Are Making Me Thirsty

If you said that line (“These Pretzels are Making me Thirsty”) before I started watching Seinfeld, then I would have stared at you and waited for context, for reasoning, for logic. The entire gag would have flown over my head like a humming bird moving onto the next flower. But now I understand. In one of the funniest moments on the show (at least for me), Kramer reveals that he has a line in a Woody Allen movie, and it’s “These pretzels are making me thirsty.” Each one of the crew give their take on how to say the line. Of course, George is in the midst of car-parking fiasco, and he turns the bit of dialogue into a moment that reveals his frustrations with life, love, and success, simply by the way he says the line.

From a perspective as an aspiring novelist, this scene spoke to me clearly about writing dialogue. It was all about inflection; it’s all about the way the character moves around the room; it’s all about how he runs toward the window at the cars below who are honking for him to get back to work and confront his failing and miserable life that translates into meaning. It’s a moment of brilliance, but it’s also a moment about meaning and language. What we say can change so drastically by the way we say it.

4. The Last Episode was Horrible

Seinfeld last episode
Seinfeld last episode

Out of all the seasons, I loved seven and eight the most, and I did think that season nine took a step back. It was still a good season, however, but the finale, well, was pretty terrible. I expected a great show like Seinfeld to end in a way that was spectacular. I expected there to be something incredibly hilarious, some twist of fate that brought two worlds together in a way that no one could have seen coming, but instead, the final episode was a recap, a walk-down-memory-lane as all the characters came back to serve as expert witnesses to testify how terrible Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine are as people.

Of course, everyone must have been wanting Jerry and Elaine to admit finally how in love they were with each other. (We almost had it on the plane.) The television audience must have been craving for them to embrace each other, look each other in their eyes deeply, and say our existence is better now that we’re together. Well, it didn’t happen, and the show ends with them all in prison. (Sorry for the spoiler alert.) While the last episode was pretty lame, I admire them for not giving into the pressure, to the idea, that life should only be seen as a epic voyage to love and marriage. Of course, my life has taken that route, and I’m grateful for it, but that doesn’t mean everyone’s lives have to be that way. There are other narratives to a personal journey, and there are other ways to live.

5. A World of References Have Been Opened

In the end, if I was going to write about all the different things that I learned from watching all nine seasons of Seinfeld, then this post would be so incredibly long, and I would be forced to spend more than a couple days writing this thing. But if I had to sum up what I learned in one final point, it’s that a world of culture almost opened up to me overnight. I now understand the puffy shirt and what my friend means when he makes fun of my overstuffed wallet. I understand what it really means when someone has an incredible desire for a calzone, and I, yes, finally understand the larger appeal of “No soup for you.” But ultimately, I was able to watch a series of actors so attuned with their characters, and that feels like it only comes once in a decade on t. I just feel bad it took me this long to realize how much I was missing.

Why I Finally Decided to Join Snapchat–and You Should Too

At the beginning of 2016, I read an incredible piece by Joanna Stern, a Wall Street Journal reporter, on why Snapchat was about to have a “Facebook” moment–a term she used to describe a social network when it reaches a massive audience and becomes a part of the collective conciousness–and she encouraged people 30 and over to join a network known for being used mainly by tweens. The article really struck a chord with me, because she offered the first real reason why I should join Snapchat. She said Facebook was for major life updates; Twitter was for keeping up with live events and news; and Shapchat, well, “is for bearing witness—telling stories in raw, often humorous, behind-the-scenes clips or messages.” As someone who has built a career and creative life on the ability to tell stories, I jumped at the idea of seeing Snapchat as a medium for my storytelling–a way for me to easily use videos and focus on sharing my personal journey in a new and innovative way…an almost extension of my blog.

Of course, I didn’t think that way at first. Like most people my age, I initially thought Snapchat was for dick-pics and bored tweens who wanted to send photos of their lunch like it was a freaking Joseph Sudek photo.

Joseph Sudek Photo
Joseph Sudek

I thought Snapchat was another form of social media that would pull me away from the real world and further apart from my own creative life. I thought it would further pull me out of the moment and into a matrix of likes and retweets, entangling my conciousness in a rabbit-hole obsession with my analytics. But I have actually found several reasons why joining Snapchat was a great idea, and I think every single person who has a smart phone should join the social platform, especially if you work in a creative field. See my reasons below.

4. Snapchat is Changing Storytelling

I work in a creative field and tell stories in many different forms–marketing, journalism, public relations, podcasts, blogs, and fiction–but I also tell stories in a social setting as well–stories at a bar to friends or just through social media. Using Twitter, Facebook, or even this blog is a form of storytelling. But Snapchat’s stories are unique in the sense that I can tell the story of my day through video and photos in a format that is easy, quick, and immediate. I have often tried to enter into video, but I have failed because I’m too big of a perfectionist. I want the video to be so top notch that I refuse to send it out into the world. But with Snapchat, I don’t have to worry about any of that. It’s all shot on your phone, so it’s raw and straight from the moment. I love that ability to share stories that don’t have to be carefully constructed or edited.

3. Snapchat Discover is the Zeitgeist

The Open Road in the Western United States
Original photo, Joseph Lapin, somewhere on the open road

If you’re in the creative world and you rely on staying up-to-date with trends and cutting-edge content, then Snapchat Discover is essential. When you’re creating content that is designed to interact with the largest amount of people or land publications at some of the best publications in the country, it’s important to have an understanding of the zeitgeist–the spirit of the times–and know what news is breaking and what trends are popping off. Of course, Snapchat is not the only tool I use to ensure I’m tapped into the zeitgeist (I’m an avid reader of the Wall Street Journal and other publications), but watching the WSJ, CNN, ESPN, and BuzzFeed in the discover section really helps keep me in the know as much as possible. If you don’t believe there is value to the snap stories from a creative and professional perspective, then let  Bill Adair, Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke University and the creator of PolitiFact, describe to you his experience with Snapchat:

After a week with Snapchat, I went back to the Times and the Post to see what I had missed. I found that the Discover providers had covered many of the same stories that got prominent play by the big papers. The Snapchat channels even had some good enterprise stories that explored politics and business news in some depth.

2. Stay Connected with Your Friends

I hate text messaging. It annoys me. I’m still the type of guy that would prefer to hop on a phone to talk with their friends, but I still have a hard time finding the energy or the time to jump on a call. I’m not entirely proud of my lack of effort toward my friends, but Snapchat bails me out. It’s so easy to send what you’re doing or a quick message to a friend you haven’t seen or heard from in a while. It’s an efficient and scalable way to maintain friendships with people, especially if you have moved around the country. For instance, I have a great buddy back home in Clinton, Massachusetts, and we’re not the type of guys to get on the phone and talk about our days. But almost every week, I receive a Snapchat from him, highlighting his new job site or what new trick his gigantic great dane figured out. Snapchat brings you into the room with your friend; it brings you into their day; it brings you closer than the carefully curated algorithm of Facebook.

1. Future of Broadcast Journalism

If you have ever seen the Snap Story “Good Luck America,” then you have seen the future of television and storytelling. The Snap Story is hosted by Peter Hamby, a former politics reporter for CNN and Snapchat’s head of news, and it exhibits how Snapchat is going to disrupt the very idea of how we watch “television,” and it provides us with news that is wired for the digital-media brain in a way that I don’t think I’ve experienced before. Of course, BuzzFeed started disrupting the story with the list and videos that are almost candy for the brain, but the way Hamby tells a complex story using cut aways, animation, and humor makes a lot of sense to my generation, and it feels like something that could have only come out of the Snapchat movement.

 

Follow me on Snapchat by taking a screenshot of the image above.

 

Yosemite National Park Photos

In early November, 2015, Heron and I went to Yosemite National Park. We almost didn’t go, because we were worried about the cold weather and the snow, but I’m so glad that we just put the fear and uncertainty out of our mind and drove from San Diego to Yosemite. Below you will see five of my best nature photos from Yosemite.

1.When the Trees are Bigger than You Could Imagine 

Walking in the woods

2. Running to Catch the Last Glimpse of Light on Half Dome 

Sunset at Half Dome

3. Using a Neutral Density Filter on Vernal Falls 

Waterfall two

4. Water on the Rocks 

Bianca at Yosemite on the rocks

5. Half Dome During the Day 

Half Dome .jpg

How does a Writer View the Open Road?

At a certain point, I feel that a writer has to make a decision on how they view life: Do they see the journey as a lonely one where they have to forgo family and friends to find their voice? Or do they need to be surrounded by family, friends, and strange characters to fill those pages with? I’ve made my choice, and it’s certainly the right one for me. But I have a feeling this is something most writers struggle with during their creative journey. You ever struggle with this question?

Best Apps for Writers

When I first started writing stories, poetry, and (attempts) at novels (I’m still actively attempting btw), I thought the act of creation all came from the hand of God or a lightning strike from the muse, but honestly, what I’ve realized is that whenever an author talks like this he or she is mostly full of shit. Inspiration, of course, strikes, but saying that a novel is completed because it came to an author in a dream or was written in one night after a hallucinogenic trip is mostly marketing and exaggeration. For example, Kerouac wrote his draft of “On the Road” so many times that when he wrote it in two weeks that just meant that’s when he wrote the final draft. The marketing behind that gave the book mystique, and writers and artists capitalize on this branding (admit it!) all the time. Don’t believe the hype. (Kerouac’s credibility as a writer has suffered and thrived based on this idea.)

Well, honestly, I did believe the hype before, and I would try to write in a way that believed in the sudden strike of inspiration: waiting in my office for the muse to tap me on the shoulder and whisper in my ear. What this led to was a pile of digital shit. Yeah. But now that I’m older and I have a profession where I’m required to stay organized and structured, I’ve started to apply a lot of the knowledge I’ve learned from marketing and project management to my creative work. I’ve learned that there are tools that I can use to ensure that I’m focused, organized, and motivated. I should probably thank Clayton Dean, the co-founder of Circa Interactive, for showing me several apps that have helped me harness my creativity. So here are my top 3 apps that I recommend for every writer to stay organized and on track to finishing your gigantic project.

3. Evernote

Evernote_Logo_Vector_Resource_by_rstovall

Evernote is the app I just can’t live without. I’ve heard people from corporations to creative agencies swear by this app, but I didn’t really understand how to use this tool until I read The Secret Weapon. Evernote keeps everything in my life prioritized and organized, and if this app ever shut down, then I would probably, legitimately, collapse. I’m able to create a tag system that allows me to move my tasks around, send emails directly to my app so I can look at them later, and sync my notes across my lap top, smart phone and desktop. Without Evernote, I wouldn’t be able to keep track of the countless tasks in my life (from writing, to work, to my relationships) and then organize them depending on need. What’s really important about this app is that it allows me to stop exerting so much mental energy trying to remember what tasks I need to care of (Did I send that email to my client? Did I remember to buy flowers for my wife for our anniversary? When was I supposed to send the editor those revisions?) and focus on creating my art in my free time. It allows my subconscious to focus on building stories rather than organization.

2. Aeon Timeline

When I’m writing a novel or a complicated short story, the hardest part for me is figuring out the backstory. It’s not that I can’t create the ideas and build a rich life for my characters; it’s that it’s so hard for me to keep them together and know exactly when and where dates and events
happen in time. Right now, I’m working on a novel that is fairly complex and needs to be carefully plotted. It spans generations but the actually telling of the story happens in just under a week and a half. While I’m not actually going to include all of the events of the characters’ backstory in the novel, I need to know what they are, because for these characters, the past is always pulling at them, altering the present and causing characters to sometimes take dangerous paths to find answers to personal histories. So I was looking at organizing generations of characters lives and trying to find ways to keep them organized. I was stuck. So I just started Googling for tools to help. That’s when I came across Aeon Timeline.

What I love about Aeon Timeline is that it’s easy to use. You can watch a couple of videos on YouTube, and you’ll know the interface pretty well. But it really captures exactly what I need to build a novel. I can create birthdays for characters and then add events on a timeline, and it will automatically calculate their ages based on the event. I can see from an aggregate when characters meet, when tragic events happen, and how much time happens between events. I can separate events by characters, highlight the characters who are involved in the scene, and build separate timelines for what actually happens on stage (to borrow a plot phraseology from the great author Lynne Barrett) and off stage. In other words, I’m able to see what the reader is seeing while I need to know what is happening elsewhere in the world of the novel. I am able to figure out when I can reveal these developments to the reader and create precision with plotting and build suspense. Of course, you have to come up with the idea first, but Aeon Timeline provides an author with the tool to digitally map a story while using modern technology to build a plot rather than the messy colored pencil method, which of course works. It’s just that for me I need to see the story digitally and zoom in and out and manipulate the information ad nauseam.

1. Scrivener

scrivener-logo

For writing long manuscripts, I’ve always felt that Microsoft Word never really performed. Of course, Word has a pretty solid UX, but it’s clearly not designed with the author in mind. It’s meant for the business professional and the daily lives of American people. Clayton was really pushing me to find a writing app that was targeted specifically for writers. He’s a major supporter of Evernote, and he encouraged me to consider Evernote’s writing platforms. He loves the simplicity of the UX, but it just wasn’t feeling quite right for my work. Evernote drips with my professional life as well as my creative. It’s sort of the essence of my work life, and I wanted to have another arm of my being that was devoted just to creative projects. That’s when I came across Scrivener.

It’s not easy for me to describe why Scrivener is so important, but in a nutshell, it allows writers to break down gigantic texts into parts, move back and forth between displays, and create flash cards for chapters. It’s really an amazing product that does everything Evernote does — organize research, save audio and video, and build a tag structure around content to easily search between parts — but it’s made with the writer in mind. I love their distraction free writing mode, too, which has a typewriter effect, which allows the mouse to stay in the center of the screen…like a typewriter. I’m never going back to Word. I’ll literally never write the same way again.