The Great Patreon Debacle, and What it Means for Independent Creators

By | Business, Creativity

I’ve raptly followed the recent Patreon controversy, eager to understand why one of the lifeblood services of so many independent creators inadvertently alienated and infuriated the very creators and patrons they serve.

How did this happen? What does it mean for creators?

What Went Wrong in Patreonland

A few weeks ago Patreon suddenly announced an impending change to the financial relationship between creators and patrons. It sounded reasonable on the face of it — simplifying some complexity in how and when payments occur — but it actually upended some core values of their community, and destroyed an enormous amount of trust in the process. After a swift and strong negative response, Patreon ended up reversing the change, but it’s surfaced a lot of issues around creative funding and the infrastructure that powers it.

I saw Patreon’s initial email announcement and my first reaction was curiosity, not anger. But then, I’m not a creator relying on this platform for my livelihood — and as I realized how big a mess this was becoming I became very interested in the deeper reasons why this announcement sparked such a backlash.

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My Gift to You: A Bounty of Billion-Dollar Business Ideas

By | Business, Creativity | No Comments

One night not so very long ago, my self-imposed daily writing word count goal loomed. But I was feeling like a sleepy dumb rhinoceros, and didn’t know what to write about.

So, I decided to play a game. It worked like this: J would prompt me with problems — potential gold mines of of disruption potential, as we’d say in the vernacular of innovation — and I would come up with solutions.

What resulted? Why, nothing less than a surprisingly fertile bounty of billion-dollar business ideas!

But alas, I’ve no time to build every business. So, I’m sharing these results with you. Read More

Intersection of Fiction and History

By | Creativity, Storytelling, Writing | 2 Comments

Fiction and reality often intersect in interesting, surprising ways. Actual events merge with the imagined; invented stories draw on and feed back into history. In many ways they’re obviously distinct and identifiable; in other cases differentiation becomes impossible.

Such relationships and dichotomies — experience versus invention, reality versus invented stories — came vividly to mind after seeing a deftly-acted and well-written play, Red Velvet, at St. Anne’s Warehouse a while back.

The play was based on the life of a nineteenth century black actor; but half the characters were fictional and much of the story was invented and interpolated, the known biography providing a framework within which the playwright could project her own beliefs and experiences and emotions, upon which the director and actors could layer their own interpretations as well.

I’ve thought before that it might be worth trying my hand at some combination of creative writing and journalism — writing something at once spawned from the imagination and rooted in historic reality seems like a fun and interesting challenge. Read More

Giving and Taking Shape

Incarnations of a Side Project; Evolution of an Idea

By | Creativity, Education | No Comments

On the incarnations of a side project and evolution of an idea: how I’ve conceived, reconceived and re-reconceived “Antilibraries”.

This is the ongoing story of a project I’m working on, Antilibraries. It’s a look at how such projects can be containers for continued exploration of personal interests that are deeply felt, but also still coming into definition.

It’s a smattering of meditations on how projects slowly change and grow in ways both natural and forced. And it’s my attempt to articulate the unpredictability, the forces of chance, that so often govern the things we make and attempt to nurture.

Note: I just published another post — “Everyone Needs an Antilibrary!” — with more background on this project and why I think antilibraries are important! Read More

Everyone Needs an Antilibrary!

How and Why to Learn from Books Unread

By | Creativity, Education, Reading | One Comment


It’s a strange word; a strange idea.

I first came across it in Black Swan, where Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes Umberto Eco’s massive library of 30,000+ volumes, many of them unread. These unread books, Eco’s antilibrary, embody the potential energy of knowledge, of books and reading and learning. Their value lies not in what they’ve already taught you, but what they’ll lead you to.

I love this idea. It makes me consider all the things I’d like to read and learn more about, and makes tangible how I might get there, slowly converting books from unread to currently-digesting to internalized, always adding more to my shelves as I explore the adjacent possibilities of my interests.

Why You Need an Antilibrary

You probably already have an antilibrary. Whether you have books piling up in corners of your home, or lists of “someday reads”, if you’re anything like me you always have more books in your peripheral vision than you have in front of you or under your belt.

This collection of books you know of, but have not yet read — your antilibrary — is tremendously powerful. It’s a window, a record, a goalpost, a fount of stimulus. It will open doors and take you places, direct and extend your learning.

Here are just a few of the ways thinking about this can be useful: Read More

Jiro, Mastery, and Limitations: Philosophies on Work and Learning

By | Business, Creativity, Life | One Comment

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is an intimate portrait of mastery, an exploration of the practiced art and craft of one of the world’s best sushi chefs, through the lens of his daily routine and philosophy of training and practice. In many ways, it’s about asymptotically approaching perfection, and the process of constant learning.

Jiro’s approach towards training and education particularly stands out. He’s dedicated his life towards the focused — you could say singleminded, but it’s in fact surprisingly rich and complex — pursuit of mastery and excellence in creating and serving sushi. This includes everything from sourcing the best fish, preparing the best rice, spending hours or even days preparing ingredients, paying incredibly close attention to details of presentation and service before and during the meal — in short, crafting an entire seamless experience that’s as orchestrated and as close to perfect as possible.

His belief is that by working incredibly hard and consistently at a high level for a very long time(a lifetime, let’s say) one can gradually refine a skill and become one of the best in the world. But at the same time: there’s no ultimate pinnacle but rather a continual process of learning and improving. Read More

Writing 750+ Words a Day for 365 Days Straight

Thoughts on Building — and Quitting — a Daily Habit

By | Creativity, Writing | No Comments

When I first set out to start a writing habit, I’d never consciously written on consecutive days, let alone kept a streak alive.

What was The Thing that Finally Motivated me to Write Daily? A strange, delightfully masochistic thing called NaNoWriMo. This, too, was something I’d previously observed from afar. It’s a yearly event, a monthlong writerly self-challenge (every November) the one and only goal of which is 50,000 words towards a novel, in 30 days. It requires rapid accumulation of words — at least 1,666 per day, on average — to meet the goal.

In early fall of 2013, I toyed around with both potential story ideas and the idea of submitting myself to the challenge. I’d always loved writing, but aside from a few short film scripts hadn’t much practiced my hand at fiction, and I thought it would be fun to try. Read More

A Personal Niche, An Internet Cathedral, A Networked Empire

By | Creativity, Life, Media, Technology | No Comments

Some people — and no, not the .gif virtuosi that walk among us — really are winning the Internet, sitting several cuts above the rest with really outstanding, intriguing, thought-provoking online presences. Oh, how I aspire to their ranks! It isn’t just that they blog well, or post great links on social media, though both are often the case. Beyond keeping a clean house and communicating with wit and aplomb, they manage to create a place that feels like an online home, a well-curated, carefully built space that shows the heart of their thoughts and creative work, reflects who they are and what they live for. Bret Victor. Derek Sivers. Frank Chimero. Diana Kimball. Lance Weiler. Jane McGonigal. Seth Godin. Robin Sloan. All — to name just a few of my favorites — sharing their musings and explorations and the traces of what they add to the world, built over time, with love and care and generosity and effort shining through.

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Field Guide to Phenomenal Creation (Learn Do Share #4)

By | Creativity, Education, Storytelling | No Comments

The following is one of my two contributions to this year’s “Learn Do Share” project—a booksprint designed to document the incredible diy days, using a process of open collaboration, and distill the lessons learned to serve as a resource for anyone interested in applying design thinking, social innovation, storytelling, and collaborative creativity. For more, visit the Learn Do Share and diy days websites, and download Learn Do Share #4 (available as a free PDF). Special thanks to all those who participated, and most of all to Ele Jansen and Jasmine Lyman for directing the booksprint and Lance Weiler for masterminding diy days itself.

Field Guide to Phenomenal Creation

The following is a list of things to keep in mind in creating phenomenal work. Not phenomenal as in “great”—though we, of course, should aspire to that as well—but work guided by the ideals of phenomenology, of creating experiences focused more on audience than object.

Brian Clark talked at length about how, as creators, we must approach our work from the perspective of subjective experience, not simply creating things but creating things for people, to be experienced and processed by conscious individuals. When we direct our creative forces with precision and care, and focus on channeling meaning effectively, we can use “things” and “objects” to guide experience—or eschew objects altogether and create experiences directly.

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Emergent Creators, Emergent Economies (Learn Do Share #4)

By | Creativity, Education, Storytelling | No Comments

The following is one of my two contributions to this year’s “Learn Do Share” project—a booksprint designed to document the incredible diy days, using a process of open collaboration, and distill the lessons learned to serve as a resource for anyone interested in applying design thinking, social innovation, storytelling, and collaborative creativity. For more, visit the Learn Do Share and diy days websites, and download Learn Do Share #4 (available as a free PDF). Special thanks to all those who participated, and most of all to Ele Jansen and Jasmine Lyman for directing the booksprint and Lance Weiler for masterminding diy days itself.

Emergent Creators, Emergent Economies

Emergence is a powerful concept, referring to the capacity of complex systems, composed of individually autonomous entities, to give rise to mass-scale intelligence larger than the sum of its parts. If evolution is the optimization of something over a long period of time, as beneficial characteristics are naturally selected for, emergence is something similar on the systems level, a level of collective intelligences.

Reflecting on the keynotes from this diy days, I gleaned several meta-themes, important threads running through all or many of the big ideas presented. These themes include creative entrepreneurship, innovation, and community-building—but one of the most important I saw was that of emergence. The concept itself is powerful, but its implications—that cooperation, group interaction, and human networks can converge to enable revolutionary systems of creation and transaction—are even more so.

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Spirit Fingers: Gestural Art in Action with the Leap Motion

By | Creativity, Media, Technology | No Comments

I received the Leap Motion a couple weeks back, and have had fun using it sporadically and testing out as wide a variety of apps as I can without breaking the bank. There’s an impressive lineup already available, from educational to music, games to random art/physics interactive visualization simulators—and more being released each week—so it’s exciting to see what people are doing with this new technology and have the change to engage with it myself.

It must be said: for the vast majority of computing tasks as we currently conceive of them, the current incarnation of Leap doesn’t add much to practical human-computer interaction. It’s not 100% reliable; in fact it’s probably not even 98% or 95% reliable, at least for many of the early, first generation of applications designed for it. But the Leap is a fascinating and fantastic device for many other reasons.

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Twofivesix Conference Notes

By | Creativity, Education, Media, Storytelling, Technology | No Comments

Below are my notes from the Twofivesix conference that took place in Brooklyn a few weeks back. I serendipitously discovered the conference via a tweet the morning of, and luckily was able to watch it via livestream and take notes at home. These notes are fairly comprehensive, though with a couple caveats (I missed the brief introduction at the very beginning so may be missing a bit of the scene-setting and context, and I didn’t identify speakers and attribute each point to a specific person). But this was a fascinating conference, both well-curated and expertly moderated, and I wanted to share what I learned. I hope you find this useful—I know I learned a lot!



May 11, 2013, at the Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn


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