I Went To Work When 9/11 Happened

(This is to the best of my recollection. I’ve never put these thoughts into words until now. If you were there at 3DO and have more to add or suggest, let me know. Also, I might update it slightly if things don’t read properly. Thanks.)

It was the morning of September 11, 2001. I woke up one morning to get ready to make games for 3DO like I had done for the past year or so. I turned on the news while I got ready for work. At the time, it was part of my daily routine to hear the daily bustle of the world. The content really didn’t matter, and I didn’t ever really listen to what was being said. It was a form of white noise to get me ready for the day. So as usual, I walked into the living room and switched on the television before tossing the remote on the couch and returning to my room.

While I was putting on my clothes in the bedroom, I heard serious talking coming from down the hallway. Something major was happening. I can’t remember what words prompted me, but the thought in my head was, “Oh shit…something major is happening.” I scurried back into the living room and picked up the remote. I wanted to hear everything.

I saw a building on fire. It was one of the Twin Towers. I didn’t know much about the Trade Center at the time, but I had heard of it. I never expected it to be shown like this. My heartbeat quickened.

My friend Hunter called. We were both wondering what the hell was happening. It wasn’t clear. We were both a bit shocked. For me, I was living the rookie programmer life in Silicon Valley where everything was rosy, and my thoughts were pretty insulated from something so tragic and so real. I don’t remember what we said, but we didn’t talk long. The conversation was basically, “Holy crap. Ho-leee crap. Are you going to work? I guess so? See ya.” We hung up. I watched the news a little longer before grabbing my keys and heading out the door.

I didn’t actually want to go to work, but I didn’t want to sit at home and watch those buildings burn either. I hadn’t lived in the city for very long, and staying at home would have just made me feel lonely (which is not a feeling I’m usually worried about). I needed the crowd right then. Besides, it was also a very short commute and the routine felt reassuring. The short jaunt on the highway made everything feel normal for about ten minutes. I didn’t turn on the radio or play music though. This time, I rolled down the window and listened to the city and traffic. It was the same drive I’d taken every other day: same blind turn out the parking lot, same weather, same trees, same taco shop, same underpass, same winding road, same waterfront, same office park, but it all felt different. I think part of me expected chaos to break out in Redwood City. I looked at every gleaming office building that passed a curious expectation of something being different.

When I made it to work, it was as expected. Everyone was standing in clumps reacting to what happened. There was fear, anger, confusion, and every range of emotion going on. There were also people that went straight to their work like nothing (or everything) had happened. I said some things to some people but I don’t remember what it was. I called my parents. It felt like I was sitting at home with them around the dining room table sharing thoughts about our roles as Americans. Their sentiment was along the lines of…”Remember this. It’s happening.” We ended the call and promised to speak again later that day. They were calling all the other family members as they were apt to do.

Whatever we were doing in the office, it was short-lived. Management soon called everyone down to the cafeteria to briefly discuss what had happened and to announce that we were all expected to go home.

Well…we were all there trying to create games to make people happy, and it was one of the most surreal days in memory. Nothing had sunk in yet and nothing would until the full story started playing out on TV and on the Internet. After that day, things changed for me. I wasn’t just some kid making games and living out life in Silicon Valley, I was a player in a world with many different forms of angels and demons. The context was forever altered.

I went to work when 9/11 happened.

On This Day, I Labor, and I Like It

This Labor Day, I decided to get up and get to working on something. I started off the first couple hours by doing some writing for Transcendent Press. (I’m still not in the habit of daily writing, but I’m getting there.) Then I did some light stretching. Next I ate breakfast (oatmeal w/ fresh fruit and nuts). After that, I started working on this blog post. After this, I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I might get to “work” on figuring out a new chess opening or figuring out if that new coffeehouse down the street is a good place to draw. There’s some website tweaks I can make (or a complete overhaul). I could also do some things to tighten up my social networks. I might even work on my anime studies by finishing my Soul Eater study. I may even do some learning from Udemy or Overdrive. I’ll probably finish the layout for my next zine though. The next zinefest is always around the corner. Whatever it is, I’ll have fun.

See, I actually like work. Not work-work like going to the office and doing whatever the corporate machine has told me to do. And not work-work like grinding away because I’m afraid of what people will think about my accomplishments. I mean that I like creating and making positive change in my universe and doing it how I want to.

I like to have fun in everything that I do, including labor. I celebrate it. It’s better than celebrating laziness or getting pushed around by the winds of chance. Try it out one day.

I Dislocated My Toe, Now I’m Focused

This is what happens when you let them get you off your game. That’s the only thing I can say to describe what happened. I was working with some people, and I got frustrated. Usually I’m focused on the task at hand, but this time, I was caught off guard. My mom used to say, “Your mind’s not with it!” when she saw us losing focus.

Anyway, like I was taught, I count it all joy. This little incident allowed me to find time to sit down and write and draw some things that were floating around in my head. I also have quite a bit more focus right now. No more walking aimlessly around Target or Sprouts wondering if they have just what I need.

So what am I writing? Well if you haven’t been following along, I have a new little project called Transcendent Press where all of the ideas over the past couple of years will be going to. The first few products will be in zine format. Starting with characters from the sketchbook, I’ll be creating sudden fiction that tells stories of super-powered beings from what I think is a pretty cool perspective.

Follow along! I’ll have a lot more coming through the pipe leading into the fall.

I Didn’t Know How To Win, So I Upped The Difficulty Level

I was playing this chess game on my phone, and I got into a funk where I was continually losing. It had gotten past the points of frustration and disgust. I was getting bit turned off by the idea of playing. And on a deeper level, I was starting to have thoughts that I had reached the limits of my expertise. I knew that wasn’t true, but I started to feel that way.

I tried switching sides, changing strategies, altering my play times, adjusting the board color, and so on, but nothing seemed to work. I just started digging myself in deeper and deeper into this loser mindset. But then I realized something vital…I’M BETTER THAN THIS. See, I’d had that feeling before. It was nothing more than mental restraints of my own doing. By getting into the right mindset, I could move freely.

At the time this dawned on me, I was lying in bed, resting from a long day. While I was in no mental shape to play a difficult game of chess, I powered up my phone and did the one thing I hadn’t yet tried. I turned up the difficulty a few levels…far past where I had ever played before, let alone conquered.

I was playing black, and after the first couple moves, I realized that this was a different beast. My concentration went up. This new computer opponent was coming at me with more devious plans than I had expected. I sat up in bed and took notice. I thought about moves and made the ones that felt right. I was fully engaged. This match was bringing out a newfound intensity that I thought had gone away.

I was winning.

When I made my final moves and checkmated the opponent, I sat back and reflected.
Nothing had really changed.
But yet, everything had changed.

So What’s This Transcendent Thing About?

I was at an art fair, and I was showing my new zine to some people. A group of kids stopped to ask me, “What does ‘Transcendent’ mean?” I smiled and said, “In the business of rising above.” They nodded in satisfaction with my response and continued their day.

Just to be sure we’re on the same page, here are some defintions of transcendent:
  1.  beyond or above the range of normal or merely physical human experience.
  2.  existing apart from and not subject to the limitations of the material universe.
  3.  universally applicable or significant

(I also know of the philosophy of transcendence, but I’ll save that for another post. Possibly after some soul food and deep reflections on life.) 

Basically, I am going to be creating stories and characters while exploring ideas that will help transcend the bullshit, the ordinary, the mundane, the stodgy, the out of control, and anything that prevents us from growing properly. After observing the directions that parts of society have decided to go in, I wanted to do my part by creating art that moves us to a better place. I want to tap into the same vibe that got me into reading fiction and non-fiction when I was a kid. It’s those ideas that proclaim that life can be better when we make it better. Those ideas stuck with me, and I want to share them.

The new website is up now.

– Mr Benja –

Constant and Never-ending Improvement

I was recently reminded me of the time I heard the phrase “Constant and Never-ending Improvement (CANI)” from Tony Robbins. That was over a decade ago, and I have constantly gotten. While that had stuck with me. While I had never really done so, it’s not hard to relate CANI to similar concepts: building a wall brick by brick, an apple a day, the 10,000 hour rule, perfect practice makes perfect, and so on.

These ideas aren’t any secret, but I wanted to remind myself of how good practice can be. Because when I’m in the zone and doing just the right amount, the practice feels more like destiny than a chore. I learn a little more, I connect a little more, I notice a little more, I resonate a little more. I feel a little more. It’s all just a little…better. 

I think I’ll go practice something right now.

Enjoy your day.
– Benja –

New Years Is My Favorite Holiday

Happy 2018 Everyone.

So yes, New Year’s is my favorite holiday, and I don’t even like to go out and party like that. I mainly sit around and meditate while sorting out the four actions I’m going to take in different parts of my life. That is, what I plan to Build, Acquire, Maintain, and Release. The last time I REALLY went out was way back in my Rockstar Games days, when in one night I became an expert on no less than four different types of tequila and drunken freestyling. Although fun, things are different now.

Now I take the time to plot out actual changes.

I don’t plan on speaking on specifics, because it all works better when I just *do* the thing, and let the universe respond as it may. Favorable or not, I learn and grow for the next year. Also, my resolutions aren’t a marketing platform for me or a discussion piece, but they represent a way to grow. As I introduce new things into the world (month by month), you will see an evolution. If I am ever talking about something very publicly, the process is already in motion. I used to think this was a bit of a cop out, but it’s a process that works better for me. Think of the process as a form of personal prototyping.

So with this post, I just wanted to let you know that I’m still around and will be pushing new things in the new year. And no, blog posting isn’t specifically one of my resolutions, but I suppose it helps me achieve my goals. And that’s the important thing to me. Hopefully, you’ve got some challenges for the year that you’re ready to take on.

Let me know what’s going on in your 2018 and if you have any things you’re looking to manifest. Alright! Let’s go!

He Said He Didn’t Like Cartoony Art, I Went Full Toon

Most modern artists will end up having to talk to this special class of people called gallerists. They are the gatekeepers that get you in and out of the art scene. Here’s a brief discussion I had with an LA gallerist:

Gallerist: “I like your art.”
Me: “Thank you.”
{fifteen minute (or more) art networking jibber jabber ensues}
Gallerist: “Hmmmm…well…we don’t do cartoony art.”
Me: “Well thank you for your time.” *

My art has been called many things “fun”, “colorful”, “whimsical”, “saturated”, “odd”, “anime-like”, and so on, but this was the first guy that ever used the word “cartoony”. At the time, my work wasn’t *that* toon-like to me. So the gallerist’s statement stuck out. If the cartoon label was the sticking point for this person, it could also the focal point for other people. By pushing my art even further in the cartoon direction, I would attract more people that would recognize the pop art influences.

For my purposes, I’ll call it “toon-shading”.

While it makes sense to me, I actually have to be more careful about making sure that I I’m communicating that I have more that surface visuals going with my art. This isn’t just eye candy or something “fun” to me. People’s gut reactions are to be expected, but I have to be careful about falling into holes I can’t get out of…like the bad pop art hole.

Anyway, maybe the toon-shaded look won’t work out and I’ll have to go with something else. Maybe it will work out, and I’ll suddenly be that cartoony guy. Either way, the art isn’t having the desired conversation, then I have to change what I’m saying with it. Such is the way.

– Mr Benja –

*Note on talking with gallerists/galleries: 
The quick back and forth is basically how a good portion of art meetings with galleries go, and that’s okay. You can replace “cartoon art” with whatever sticking point they have. They want to keep people interested and they want to have a stable of artists around that they can use, but they usually don’t envision a use for you right away. It’s a timing and numbers game. I’m not mad at it, but it can be annoying.

Also, it’s not that I wouldn’t work with that gallery guy in the future, but there were more promising opportunities to pursue at the time. Anyone looking to get into a gallery or museum situation should  build a relationship with that gallery and take their time. Leave doors open for working with gallerists, but don’t waste time going on a fool’s errand.

When? Every. Fucking. Day.

The Everyday Minis

Every. Fucking. Day.

I’m making a commitment. Right now. To release a painting every day, ad infinitum. This blog post is going to be my accountability metric. These little things have gotten me places I didn’t expect, so I’m just going to keep doing them. They’ve turned out to be a better investment than I initially thought. But how did this all get started? Most every art advisor has told me to “go big”. While that’s not generally bad advice, I’ve learned that it’s the small things that count. 
I didn’t really set out to create pieces of diminutive art, but they were started as a way to form habitual painting practice. I got the idea after seeing how heavy some artists got for Giant Robot’s Post-It Note show, where all art is created on a 3×3 inch Post-It. After wondering how much (or how little) work it would take, I created a few pieces, and it was cool! And since I’d already created a few powerup styled paintings that were relatively small, this wasn’t that far of a leap for me. So the next art event that came around, I displayed the notes, and they sold! Huh. 
That was nice, but it wasn’t enough to get me cranking them out. I was more interested in selling larger paintings and needed to feel like an artist creating his latest masterpiece. “GO BIG!” kept ringing in my head. But I was trying be more habitual, and with the minis I saw the opportunity for a good habits to be built. So far, it’s been working.
Here are some results I’ve seen from working on the minis:
  1. Ideas manifest more quickly.
  2. Concepts are explored without a heavy investment.
  3. Public reactions to ideas are gauged/measured.
  4. I remain in closer contact with the audience.
  5. Processes are refined and developed faster.
  6. The older ladies tell me, “They’re fun.”
  7. Break through artists’ block easier.
So while I’m doing these, I’ll continue creating larger paintings. They have a feeling all their own, and I won’t screw with that dynamic, but in the meantime, you can see them as they’re posted:

The Pixel Aesthetic

I never liked pixel art as an aesthetic. For the most part, I felt the look was a bit kitsch. It felt like an odd throwback to the days of retro video gaming and bad graphics. (Because it was.) And that’s not to say I disliked pixellation, I just didn’t have a strong affinity for it. I feel the same way about polka-dots and most electronic dance music. In the 2000s and the early 2010s, I’d seen many uses of the form on Etsy, on Tumblr blogs, at conventions, and in indie games. 

My own venture, The 8-Bit Cubist, attempted to be something interesting in terms of art that respected people that came from that era, but was not “geek” in the traditional sense. We strove to be more than kitsch. In fact, We heavily restricted the use of pixel art as a way of expressing ourselves. The 8-Bit referred to where we came from, not a definition of a visual or stylistic period. So in that sense, using pixels (what are literally 8-bit graphics to people) would have confused the message.

But recently, I’ve rethought what the look means to people in 2017. I believe that we’re far enough away from the hipster-retro aspect of pixels, that I can confidently present the look without communicating the wrong thing. The hand-painted pixels can be seen as representing art created traditionally in contrast to computer generated images that no longer maintain such a primitive look.

It’s a continuing study into a complex conversation about the reality and the fantasy, the timeless and the temporary, the organic and the synthetic, and of course, the medium and the message.