Sending a Message

Messages are in everything and I think we always create with a message. Maybe sometimes you’re just drawing for the sake of drawing, or writing for the sake of writing. Maybe your end goal is just to produce an enjoyable piece of art, but you’re often going to find there’s a message in there whether you like it or not; there’s always something to take away.

In a previous post, Learning Themes from the Wonders of Disney, I discussed Disney, and how they manage to weave a message into an enjoyable narrative. They can do it subtly, to such an extent you may not really realise it’s there, but is that always the best way?

Today I’m launching another blog, Play Positive, in which I’m going to discuss video games. If you don’t know, I used to be a Games Journalist and I kind of miss it, so I’ve set up a platform specifically to talk about Video Games (and to keep it separate from my more general content here on the Clouds). To celebrate my first article, 5 THINGS, I wanted to discuss messages and how they’re delivered throughout our artwork. Strangely enough, I’m going to be drawing on my review of Power Rangers… Yeh, I’m reviewing films now too!

(The messages I’m going to be dealing with are ones of Equality and Diversity, but I strongly feel you can apply these ‘messages’ to be ones of anything, from the trivial to the extreme)

From those unversed with video games, Horizon: Zero Dawn is a game about tribes in the Post-Apocalypse. It’s a game about fighting Robot Dinosaurs with a bow and arrow, it’s a game about exploring the wilderness and getting lost in a world where humanity is a child once again… It’s also a game with a subtle message of equality and diversity. Whether this message is intentional or not, the game is lead by a strong female character, and supported by people of many different races, genders, and personalities. Nothing here is forced. As a Cis White Middle Class Male (throw as many adjectives you can think of to make me as ‘average’ as a government consensus would like me – and they’ll stick) there’s no end of role models or characters that are designed to ‘speak to me’. As such a player, this message of diversity and equality is so subtle it could be lost on me. For others out there, though, I can imagine it is particularly good to see such examples of strong female characters, of Black or Asian characters… This message, whilst not central to the game in anyway, whilst not heavily insisted upon at any point, is important.  

Then I compare it to Power Rangers. Strangely it’s the same theme, to an extent. The reboot of Power Rangers that hit cinemas this March features an eclectic main cast of different races, genders, sexualities and personality types. However, here it’s done far less subtly; characters have moments where they explain their autism, or explain their sexuality and, it can come across as trying too hard… but it’s still important.

On the surface, as a piece of art, I prefer the subtler weaving of Horizon: Zero Dawn. I prefer that the message is there, under the surface, resonating at the subconscious level or for those that want to pick up on it. I find by making it less of a taboo, just treating the subject as something completely normal that needs no reference at all, is the best way to do things. What better way to show that something is completely and utterly normal and acceptable than by not drawing attention to it at all? In that vein, then, Power Rangers, can come across as jarring and expositional when characters reveal they’re autistic, or they’re not heterosexual.

An important factor, though, is audience. Power Rangers is aimed at Kids and Teenagers, I’m not exactly it’s ideal audience. What can come across as a poorly blended message to me, is perhaps (and I’m hypothesising here) more important to younger audience. Having role models that identify within different groups promotes that equality and that inclusion; it allows the youngsters out there to feel unashamed of who they are and strive for the inclusion they deserve. I know I’d gladly let my children watch it, because it provides representation and the message is correct no matter how its handled.

At the end of the day, regardless of which you prefer, the fact is these messages are there and that’s the most important thing. I’d sooner have a heavy handed message of equality, than one that doesn’t promote it at all (or worse – promotes the opposite). I’d sooner see lead characters who are Black, Asian, Gay, Bisexual, Female, Trans, Autistic, or any combination of the above, and see it handled heavy handily and unsubtly than continue to see the usual suspect of ‘Muscular, Handsome, Generic Safe-Bet White Man’. Hopefully one day the two will be the same, hopefully we’ll be so equal this isn’t even a talking point, but sadly in a world that still has racism, sexism, and homophobia these things are more than necessary.

This also acts as a thinking exercise. What message is in your work? You may not think your work carries a message at all, but perhaps it does to someone else. If you’re writing a story in which everyone is blonde, you’re accidentally excluding all the brunettes. If you’re painting a picture of a community where everyone is a white male, then you’re accidentally excluding anyone who isn’t. These messages in our work are important, even when they’re accidental. Readers, players, and viewers out there need role models, inclusion, and representation. We can all strive to show equality in our work, whether we weave those messages tactically or not.

What do you think? How do you prefer a message to be told? Do you agree that all artwork has a message behind it? Let me know in the comments below!

Creating Coincidence

I don’t believe in fate. Simple as that. I’m not someone who believes in horoscopes, or destiny, or that the world owes me anything. I don’t believe in karma, I don’t believe in judgement, and I don’t believe the world is fair… I do believe in coincidences though, but I also believe we can create these coincidences for ourselves.

For those of you that have been following, I’ve been a bit down recently. I don’t have a lot to grumble about, I mean I probably find myself stuck at work too often, and the house is constantly needing work done, but overall I have a good life. What I’ve lacked though, is motivation. The worst thing about feeling unmotivated is it can snowball; by feeling unmotivated you end up doing nothing, and the more you do nothing the less inclined you are to do anything. It’s harder to fight the inertia of doing nothing and actually do something.

This is where coincidences come into play.

You see, I have a cycle. I have moments of pure, unadulterated enthusiasm, where the world is open to me and I am en route to achieving my dreams… then I have moments where I wallow, unimpressed with my previous efforts (or lack of) and let myself sink into an unmotivated state. It can take a while for me to break this cycle, heck it can take a while for me to realise the cycle is happening, despite the amount of practice I have dealing with it and despite how obvious the signs should be by now. Sometimes, though, life breaks the cycle for you.

You may know by now that I’m a Partner of Level Up Photography LLP, well, on Saturday, Greg and I shot our first Wedding of the year! It couldn’t have come at a better time. What a kick up the ass! What a way to fuel a dwindling passion! What a way to fight the inertia! What a coincidence that it came when I needed it most… but hold on, it’s not exactly a coincidence is it?

The timing, and my mind-set, were both a coincidence, I’ll grant you. The timing was perfect, I needed inspiration and here it was handed to me on a plate. The set up though? That’s a different matter entirely. The thing is, we’d been booked to do this Wedding for months. We’d done the legwork, we’d contacted the Bride, we’d provided the service; there was no coincidence there.

The point I’m making is we can create these opportunities, we create these coincidences. I may not believe in fate, or destiny, but I believe that if you put yourself out there you stand more chance of getting results. That’s just logic. When I lie around grumbling that I’m uninspired, unmotivated, unfulfilled, I am simply not putting myself into a place with opportunity… in fact, I’m slipping away into reclusion where talents go to waste. If it hadn’t been for our previous Photography work, Greg and I wouldn’t have been booked for that Wedding. Similarly, If I hadn’t written blogs previously, you wouldn’t be here reading today.

Saturday has been a fantastic motivator. It’s been a reminder of the end goal and proof of what can be achieved with a bit of time and effort. Do I wish it happened more often? That my life was spent more often in a creative pursuit than a 9-5 office role? I do, but when I wallow in that I close the doors to my preferred future. By taking the smaller steps and by keeping up the motivation these days of inspiration are more likely to occur. That, really, is today’s message.

Today’s message, both to readers and to myself, is simply: Put yourself out there. Opportunities will appear only when you open yourself up to them. You’re going to have days, weeks, months where your work feels unsatisfactory, where you feel it’s all for nothing, but as long as you keep creating, keep putting things out there, your own work might provide an opportunity and, coincidentally, it might arrive at just the right time. Keep creating your own coincidences. Keep yourself open to opportunity.

Have you had any moments like this? Where inspiration occurred at just the right time? What do you think, was it fate or was it self-made? Let me know in the comments below!

Breaking the Cycle

Due to the success of the post I wrote for Monday – When Problems are their own Solutions. – I’m writing again for Today!

The thing is, the more I write the better I feel, the better I feel the more productive I feel, and the more productive I feel the better I feel… It goes on and on like that. I thought I’d utilise a Friday Feeling to get it all out in the open.

Mondays post mentions I wasn’t feeling great, that I wasn’t writing much, and I wasn’t feeling in a ‘good place’ productively. Thing is, I don’t often realise these things are amiss until they’ve already become a problem, and at that point I can reflect back and think: Fuck.

As I wrote before in 3 Steps to Help Combat your Anxieties!, we need to not just treat the smoke, but understand where the fire came from and how we put it out; we need to realise what is causing our feelings and how we can stop it before it even begins. My feelings of stress recently? My feelings of anxiety? They’re caused by having so much to do, and from having done nothing of it. If you’re interested, then please read on!

Last Saturday, Kirsty and I had a lovely day appreciating the sun. We had a brunch out at the Deco Lounge in Shirley, and we went to visit my parents. There, we started talking about all the things we needed to do to the house. We moved in last year, it’s one of the best things that’s happened to me, but due to a lack of activity on our part its now also a cause of stress. As we started to list all the things we needed to do, I started to panic. There’s not a room in our house that doesn’t need something doing; it’s a major source of anxiety for me. I wanted to end the conversation there and then, avoid it, not talk about it, and let it slide for a few months. Would this help? It might cure my immediate upset, but it doesn’t treat the cause of the problems. Instead, that night Kirsty and I made a list of the things we needed to do.

Yes, the solution was we made an actual list, on actual paper; not just talking and letting imagination get carried away. It felt so much better to have it written down; where we knew what needed doing. From there we made plans to treat the areas we can do first, we set a date to go to B&Q, which we’ve followed through on, and we set a date to get the garden sorted. It felt more productive and it lightened my stress. There’s still a lot to do, but we’ve taken a small step forward, we’ve engaged in productivity and it’s made things more manageable.

So, the house was causing me stress. I’ve talked before how it should be a Sanctuary in Seeking Sanctuary: A Monday Blog, but this was the opposite. It became a topic I avoided talking about, which in turn made it harder to talk about when it came up. Not to mention it made Kirsty feel I was disinterested, when it’s not the case at all! The thing is, it wasn’t just the house getting to me, the rest stemmed from somewhere else.

The rest of my stress stemmed from, as it often does, the chasing of my goals. It stemmed from my writing and my photography, or lack there-of.  The thing is, the past few weeks I’ve been feeling rubbish with toothache and dental surgery, and it’s hampered my productivity no end. Before that I was working a lot, working thirteen days straight with some twelve hour shifts thrown in. Since, I’ve been trying to relax and enjoy doing nothing, which normally would be a welcome break, but when you add it all together it’s just a month of zero productivity when I actually have so much I want/need to do.

As I’ve learnt from the house, the more I do nothing the harder doing something becomes; it’s that inertia. The more I do nothing, the more stressful something becomes for me, and the more stressful it is the more likely I am to put it off; a vicious cycle that continues like a malevolent ouroboros. How do I go about solving this? By breaking the cycle. When I was writing a post in time for Monday, it occurred to me that simply by writing I was feeling better, simply by being ever so slightly productive I was feeling less stressed about my productivity as a whole. The more I write, and as I write now for Todays post, the better I feel. Breaking the cycle is liberating.

How are you feeling this Friday? Let me know in the comments below!

The Hiding Place: A Monday Motivations

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Behind the fireplace in the drawing room, once you’d moved the book case slightly to the side, lay her safe space, her sanctuary; a place where the rest of the world just didn’t exist.

It served her those nights when her siblings were squabbling, when her mother had been drinking, or when her father was crying; those times when the world seemed so wrong and made no modicum of sense.

Recently, though, she had found need for it more frequently, as though things were slowly breaking apart, and her once sturdy sanctuary walls were now permeated more easily… the outside world was getting harder ignore.

*****

Two prompts in one day! Aren’t you lucky?

Like with this mornings Writespiration post, it’s been awhile since I’ve took part in one of  Esther’s  Monday Motivations; so long, in fact, that I didn’t realise we were now using Photo Prompts too! I really need to stay better up to date. My last post was At The End: A Monday Motivations

The themes here was: Hiding Place!

If you want to see my previous entries,  you can read Creation, The Musician or Gold & Misery!

The Switch: #Writespiration #12

The Switch pulsated; bright, rainbow light breaking into the pitch black room.

Everything about it was as exciting as it was mysterious.

Still, some part of her resonated with it, as though her life had lead her to this moment, and, deep down she somehow knew that it had to be pressed.

*****

This prompt brought out a nervous twitch in me, as I’m still lamenting not buying the Nintendo Switch… May can’t come soon enough! Still, it was nice to partake in another wonderful challenge posed by Sacha, in which we had to write a 52 word piece using only the prompt of “The Switch”.

I’ve been a bit lax in my entries of prompts recently, my last entry was The Juice Thief: Writespiration #5 which was… well, a fair amount of time ago!

 

Looking Back at Fizz Free February

As I write this I’m drinking a bottle of Pepsi Max… I wish I could claim it is some sort of experiment I am conducting, but really I’m just thirsty and it was the only thing available (besides plain water, bleh!).

Last month I was doing Fizz Free February: A Fight with Caffeine Addiction and I thought that, after my first post and since it’s now March, that it was worth checking in on this subject to see how I was fairing a month down the line. In the interest of accuracy, it is worth noting that, dispite ‘Fizz Free’ being the title, I wasn’t 100% Fizz Free. In fact, it is probably more apt to call it ‘Reduced Fizz February’ instead. That said, even Kirsty will admit my habits are completely and utterly changed.

So, when have I been drinking ‘Fizz’ (in our case, Pepsi Max). I’ve drank the dreaded Fizzy Pop when it’s been a bit of a treat, i.e. with a meal out, or with a takeaway (might as well, since I’m ruining my body with grease anyway, right?). That said, there have been a few moments where I’ve had a bottle, one of those 600ml, 20% Bigger** bottles, and I’ve drank them fairly slowly. I used to drink these constantly, I could finish them in a few minutes, but now? Well, I can make one last. Not only that, but they sometimes leave me feeling a bit naff. They make me feel bloated and yuck… this one certainly is!

Of course, I used to notice this before, but I think I was just that conditioned to filling up my body with them that I’d accepted it as a standard feeling. It wasn’t until I felt better that I began to realise the body shouldn’t feel this way. That’s a lesson for life right there, sometimes you don’t realise how naff you feel until you feel better.

For some people this might be enough to never touch it again, but like a kid (or, lets face it, Grown Ass Adult) who keeps eating his weight in chocolates despite the awful repercussions afterwards, I’ll still continue to drink it; I know I will. I also know, though, that my addiction is broken.

I certainly don’t find myself craving it as I used to. When faced with the option of a drink of Pepsi Max or a drink of Water (with Cordial, thanks) I would always opt for the Pepsi Max, it always seemed the most delicious. Now though, coupled with the bloating after effects, I realise it just doesn’t quench my thirst, and I notice I actually prefer to reach for my cordial infused water far more often.

As for Caffeine, the major feature of the previous article, I’m not entirely sure I’ve fully recovered. I have days where I wake up as though I haven’t slept, where it feels like the time between my head hitting the pillow and my alarm (Kirsty’s hairdryer) going off were instantaneous. I think these moments are just symptoms of life, though, rather than symptoms of caffeine withdrawal. Same goes for me being moody, having a foggy head, or being demotivated. These are just my usual cycles, previously enhanced by withdrawal, and now settling into a norm. Who knows, though? All I know is I don’t need it anymore, and that’s good. Too much reliance on anything outside of prescribed medication is a bad thing.

So, has Fizz Free February been a success? Damn right it has.

At least, I think it has.

Let’s Recap: No more addiction, no more cravings, saving a ton of money (who knew Water was so cheap?), and functioning with minimal withdrawal.

That’s a success right there!

Why I Don’t Hate Valentine’s Day

What is Valentine’s Day? Waste of Time? Sign of Corporate Greed? Pagan Festival rebranded by the Romans?

Valentines is one of those days people either seem to love or hate. People either buy into the overly romantic nature of the holiday, or dismiss it as nothing more than an excuse to claw money away from society. In truth, many holidays follow a similar suite.

Christmas, is often advertised well in advance, making sure nobody misses the memo that we have to spend money to enjoy the season, that we have to buy our loved ones the best gifts to show them we love them the most. Even Easter, which will soon be upon us, joins its festive brethren in advertising and cost; you must buy Chocolate Eggs, you must cook a big dinner.

Valentine’s gets a big brunt of this though, with statements like “I don’t need one day a year to show someone I love them”, “I don’t need a gift or present just to show love”, and “it’s just another meaningless day”. The thing is… I get that. The thing is… I agree.

But why so cynical?

When I was younger, when I was at the height of my ‘down with the system’ beliefs, I couldn’t have agreed more. Then I realised something, I realised that these things are what you make of them, and only what you make of them.

In the true vein of Capitalism, Corporations are going to do everything they can to push things onto us; they’re going to offer sales, deals for couples, breaks away. That’s what they’ll do, like with every other day and every other reason they can find to make you spend money. It’s up to you, though, if you buy into it… and hell, maybe you’ll get a cheap deal for something?

My biggest argument is when people say “I show someone I love them all year round, why should we have a day to it?” and my argument is simple… “Why not?”. If you show someone just how much you love them as often as is possible, every moment of every day, that’s absolutely great. In our busy, hectic lives it’s sometimes easy to forget things though, it’s sometimes easy to take people for granted. Why not utilise one day a year that really does say “I love you. Nobody is saying you only show love on Valentine’s Day; that’s a terrible argument. See the day as a reminder, just a little memo, that maybe you should tell/show someone just how much you love them.

More to the point, use the day to just say “I love you” to more than just your partner. Love is such a strong emotion, yet it’s one we don’t show as often as we should. Tell your partner you love them, tell your parents, your siblings, your friends and your colleagues.

I suppose a summary to this, and to my thoughts on all the holidays, is to use them as reasons and excuses to show someone your love. Don’t want to buy cards and gifts? Don’t! Why not make something or do something instead? Don’t want to go out for an expensive and busy meal? Don’t! Cook something nice or have a cheeky takeaway together. Kirsty will often say one of the best things I can do is tidy up, do chores that she’d normally do, and just show I’ve thought about her in some way. That stuff is free!

Things can be pushed onto us all we like, and it’s true that everyone will try to make a quick buck, but see the occasion for your own reasons. I love Christmas, because it’s a reason to see all my family, it’s a reason to show them how much I love to spend time with them; but I try to do that as often as possible too. I treat Valentine’s the same. Kirsty and I show each other our love Every. Single. Day. but this time of year we also just make an extra effort to make a bit of time for each other, or maybe cook something a bit different, or to bake/make/craft something. The day doesn’t have to be a waste of time, it just depends on how you treat it.

How will you be spending Valentines Day? Do you hate it? Or do you celebrate it?