Everything I Know about Creativity I Learned from The Legend of Zelda

Today’s post was written by Wes Molebash, blogger and cartoonist extraordinaire. Be sure to check out MOLEBASHED, his latest webcomic!

Like most people my age, I grew up playing the Legend of Zelda video game series. I loved every minute of those games, and Ocarina of Time played a defining role in my young adulthood.

Now I like to consider myself a “creative person.” What I mean by this is that I love to create art and I’m always scheming of my next “big” project. Ideas are cheap; art is work, and I’m absolutely in love with the creative process.

That being said, I realized the other day as I was toiling in my basement office that everything I know about creativity was learned from playing the Legend of Zelda video games.

For instance:

It doesn’t matter how small you are or what tools you are using

In several of the Zelda games, Link starts his journey as a little boy who wields a measly wooden sword and a Deku shield. A DEKU shield! No one is afraid of a Deku shield. But he doesn’t let this stop him. He goes straight into his first dungeon and defeats the baddie with his slingshot David-and-Goliath-style. The journey has begun. He’s received his first taste of victory, and he’s off to the next dungeon.

So what does this tell me about the creative process? Simple: It doesn’t matter how skilled you are or how big your platform is or how expensive your tools are, just create! Don’t be hindered by your limited experience or lack of resources. I know famous cartoonists who draw awesome cartoons on three-thousand-dollar computer tablets. I also know a lot of amateur cartoonists who draw awesome cartoons using Ticonderoga No. 2 pencils and Sharpie markers. Take the resources you have and use them to the best of your ability.

Every obstacle has a weak spot—exploit it!

The Legend of Zelda series has been around since the eighties and it continues to follow a familiar formula: go into dungeons, collect maps and compasses and special weapons, and fight seemingly indestructible beasts who all have a glaring Achilles heel. Does the beastie have one huge, rolling eyeball? It’s a safe bet that you’ll want to shoot some arrows into the beast’s ocular cavity. Does the baddie occasionally stop to roar for a prolonged period of time? I’d grab some bombs and make it rain inside that guy’s maw. No matter how big the monster is, his weak point is right there in front of you begging to be struck.

The same holds true with our creative obstacles. They seem impossible to topple, but—the fact is—they’re quite easy to destroy! If I had to guess, I’d say that 99% of our creative obstacles can be toppled by simply CREATING. Are you having a hard time motivating yourself? Get out your tools and create. Do you have some naysayers telling you that you suck at life? Tune them out and create. Are you swimming in a sea of rejection letters from agents and publishers? Take the critiques and criticism with a grain of salt and create.

It really is that simple. Once you get started it’ll be hard to stop. The weak spot of your obstacle is right there staring you in the face. Exploit it.

You’re going to get better

As I said above, when Link starts his journey he is just a little boy with a crappy sword and shield and three hearts in his life meter. However, as he continues his quest he gets better. He collects more weapons. He becomes more resilient. He ages. By the end of the game he’s got the Hyrule Shield, the Master Sword, some rad magic powers, a pair of flippers that help him swim and hold his breath under water, a bunch of sweet weapons in a bag that would be impossible to carry in the real world, and eighteen hearts in his life meter. He finally ends up at Ganon’s door and he’s ready to—as they say in the UFC—“bang.”

The same is true for your creative endeavors. The more you create, the better you’ll get. You’ll also acquire new tools and awesome advice from other creators. Most importantly, you’ll gain experience. No longer will you feel completely daunted by project proposals, pitches, and rejections. It’s all part of the process and you’ll get better and better at those things.

So wipe your brow, keep creating, and—when you need to take a break—dust off your N64, pop in Ocarina of Time, and wander around Hyrule Field for a spell.

What have you learned from video games? Let us know in the comments!

This post was originally published on November 18, 2011. TMTF shall return with new content on November 30, 2015!

381. Change Is Hard

Well, I’m back. So are my typewriter monkeys, which is too bad. When they skipped town and scampered off to Florida a couple of weeks ago, I hoped they would run into alligators, like this:

Monkey Vs. Alligator, Part 1If I were truly fortunate, I thought, they might even be eaten by alligators, like this:

Monkey Vs. Alligator, Part 2Alas, my monkeys’ travels were alligator-free, and the wretched blighters have returned, swaying drunkenly and smelling of bananas, wet fur, and bourbon. I don’t know how they spent their two-week break, or how long it will be before they resume their favorite hobby of setting stuff on fire, but I won’t ask. When you’ve run a blog as long as I have, you learn to stop asking these kinds of questions.

I don’t actually pay my monkeys to set stuff on fire. In fact, I don’t actually pay them for anything. (Thanks again for the comic, JK!)

While my typewriter monkeys were doing God-knows-what in the American South, I spent much of my break from this blog attending CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) classes. Now I have only to finish up my final week in the kitchens of the nursing home where I work, and then I’ll begin CNA training in earnest, before taking a couple of state exams. Then, God willing, I’ll settle into my new role at the nursing home: taking care of old people.

Y’know, change is hard.

I used to think I like change, but I was wrong. I like variety. Change and variety are different things. Variety is a refreshing, temporary break from routine. Variety is a vacation, a road trip, or a new flavor of pie. By contrast, change destroys routine, only to remake it. Change is an exhausting rearrangement and relearning of routines. Change is moving, getting married, or switching jobs.

It was a change, albeit a really good one, when I left my old job to work at the nursing home. As awesome as it was to leave behind an awful workplace, the transition took effort. My current transition from Dish Washer Guy to Nurse Assistant Guy has already been challenging… and I’ve only just started.

For a person whose twenty-something years have been full of change, I’m not particularly good at it. I’m frequently surprised by how hard transitions are. At this point, I really should know what to expect, but change nearly always catches me off guard. Still, I’m learning—or so I like to think.

Change is hard, but I’m still here, so I suppose that counts for something. It will be nice to settle into comfortable consistency over the next few months. In the meantime, I’ll keep practicing my CNA skills: making beds, taking vital signs, and washing my hands with the frenzied desperation of Lady Macbeth. OUT, DAMNED SPOT! OUT, I SAY! (That’s a Shakespeare joke.)

I just heard glass breaking, and I can smell gasoline, so I had better see what my typewriter monkeys have done this time. Whatever the changes or challenges in your life, dear reader, I bid you Godspeed! TMTF will be back next time with its usual nonsense… I hope. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to remember where I left the fire extinguisher.

342. A Grateful Post

You’ve done it, you wonderful readers, you.

Some of my dear readers and I worked together over Christmas to raise money for Living Water International, an organization that provides clean water for people in impoverished areas. We also raised money for Child’s Play, a charity that gives toys and video games to kids in hospitals. All said, we donated $450 USD.

We did it, guys.

The clean water fundraiser has finally ended its longer-than-originally-planned run, and I have some readers to thank!

Charity logos Because of these awesome people, the world has become a better, wetter, brighter place.

  • First of all, there were a bunch of anonymous donors. If any of you are reading this: Thank you!
  • I would like give Ian Adams a shout out for his generosity. Thanks so much, Ian, for your support!
  • Amy Green took a break from blogging, baking cookies, and generally being awesome to support one of these fundraisers. Thanks, Amy! (The rest of you should go read her blog, The Monday Heretic, immediately. I aspire someday to be as good a blogger as Amy.)
  • I want to thank Logan and Kristi Drillien for their support. Thank you, Kristi and Logan! (By the way, the Drilliens’ friend Errol started a webcomic a few weeks ago, and I’m really enjoying it. If you have a sense of humor and/or a soul, you should check out My Neighbor Errol.)
  • Besides donating to one of its fundraisers, JK Riki has supported TMTF in about ten thousand other ways. I’m still amazed and touched by your kindness, JK. Thank you so much! (The rest of you should check out JK’s blog: Life, Art, and Monkeys. He’s also written a couple of guest posts for TMTF!)
I'm still not sure I trust JK's monkeys around any of mine, though.

I’m still not sure I trust JK’s monkeys around any of mine, though.

Finally, I want to thank the rest of my dear readers for sticking around this blog! I mean it when I say a writer has no greater joy than to be read, and I appreciate every one of you.

Is it just me, or did it get really sentimental in here? I’d better open a window.

314. The Parable of the Monkey’s Whiskers

When I shared on Monday about my struggles to cope with depression, I promised today’s post would be less gloomy. Not only shall my reflections today be more cheerful, but they’ll also feature pictures of cute monkeys!

(Don’t be surprised. This blog is called Typewriter Monkey Task Force, after all. The pictures belong to my dad, who graciously dug them out of his archive at my request.)

Here’s an old African parable. There were once two monkeys; I’ll name them Apollo and Socrates after two of my typewriter monkeys.

Monkey Parable - Playful monkeyApollo and Socrates frolicked across the savanna one day, tossing around a coconut and being adorable. Neither monkey realized they were playing near a foul swamp. (As I know from long experience, monkeys aren’t very bright.) Apollo and Socrates tossed their coconut back and forth until Socrates missed a catch. The coconut landed in sticky mud far from the bank.

As the monkeys sat on the bank, staring forlornly at the coconut, Apollo nudged Socrates as if to say, “You go first.”

Monkey Parable - Sinking monkey

Socrates stepped into the swamp and trudged toward the coconut, holding up his tail to keep it from trailing through the stinking mud. At last he picked it up, tried plodding back to the safety of the bank, and realized he was stuck. The clinging muck held him fast by the ankles… and slowly pulled him downward.

Socrates let go of his tail, dropped the coconut, and tried pulling a foot out of the mud. It didn’t even budge. He tried the other foot. It was hopeless. The little monkey was trapped, and the mire sucked him steadily down, down, down into the gloom.

Monkey Parable - Desperate monkey

Apollo began running back and forth on the bank, waving his little arms helplessly. There were no branches, no vines, nothing that could be used as a bridge or lifeline. If only there were something to which Socrates could hold—something to keep him from sinking.

Then Apollo had an idea. He chattered at Socrates (now waist-deep) to get his attention, and then tugged on his own whiskers. Of course! Socrates didn’t need a lifeline. He could pull himself out of the swamp by his whiskers! The solution to his problem was literally right under his nose.

Socrates understood and began pulling his whiskers. He pulled and pulled and pulled, trying to raise himself out of the slimy mess drawing him into its reeking depths.

Monkey Parable - Drowned monkey

The last Apollo ever saw of Socrates was a pair of paws, twitching faintly and grasping handfuls of monkey whiskers.

Wait. That wasn’t a happy story, was it? Dash it, this is embarrassing. I promised my readers today’s post would be more hopeful. Well, it’s not too late to make a few changes to this parable. Let’s give it a happier ending!

Monkey Parable - Noticed monkey

As Socrates yanked vainly on his whiskers, a nearby giraffe glanced over and saw the little monkey struggling in the swamp. Art Garfunkel Giraffe was this noble creature’s name. (Art’s parents were huge fans of folk rock.) He galloped away to find his friend Ringo Starr Elephant. (Ringo’s parents were more into classic rock and roll.) Art and Ringo reached the swamp just as Socrates’ head was about to slip beneath the mud.

Monkey Parable - Rescued monkeySocrates was saved! The animals, who never went near a swamp again, all went out for coffee and lived happily ever after.

There. Was that better?

On Monday, I mentioned that I hate my inability to cope with depression. I also pointed out that many of us struggle to win our private battles. Why have I shared a parable about monkey whiskers?

Some problems have no easy fixes.

As much as I want to find the perfect strategy for coping with depression and anxiety, it may not exist. There may be no easy fix for these problems. My best intentions may be no more useful than a monkey trying to lift himself up by his own whiskers.

Oddly enough, this comforts me. I tend to blame myself for every failure to cope with my depression. The parable of the monkey’s whiskers suggests the possibility that I may not always be able to rescue myself. Some battles may be beyond my power to win… and that means I can stop blaming myself for losing. I can feel depressed without feeling guilty.

If depression is a problem my best intentions can’t fix, should I just give up?

Well… no.

We can’t rescue ourselves—but others can help.

Depression is a private battle. All the things I mentioned on Monday—addiction, self-loathing, broken relationships, self-destructive impulses, and so on—are things we hide. They’re private. They’re shameful. They’re embarrassing. They’re also things we don’t have to face alone.

In fact, facing them alone may be as stupid as a monkey trying to haul himself out of a swamp by his whiskers.

We all need help from others. Some of us could benefit from professional counseling, antidepressants, or therapy. We all need hugs. Some of us need hugs. We feel better for talking or going for walks or playing Mario Kart with loved ones. It’s amazing to share a private battle with someone and hear them say “I love you” or “I’m praying for you” or even “That really sucks; I hope things get better.”

In my struggles, few things have brought me greater hope or healing than people listening to me, praying for me, encouraging me, or simply acknowledging that they know I’m struggling. Maybe that’s what the Apostle Paul, bless him, meant when he wrote, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

We can look to others for help, and we can always look to God. As it is written, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” He listens when no one else will.

We all have our battles to fight. What we must always know is that we never have to face them alone.

Three Thinkers and a Chimpanzee

Three Thinkers and a Chimpanzee

A few days ago, I recalled a work titled Chris Chrisman Goes to College and thought, “It was a decent book, but it had a great cover.” It boasted a superb caricature of Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and Charles Darwin. Man, those guys had sweet beards.

When I was in high school, my favorite teacher had me read a bunch of books exploring various worldviews from a Christian perspective. I tackled thoughtful books by guys like Peter Kreeft, Philip Yancey, and James W. Sire.

It was Sire whose book featured the outstanding picture above of three famous nineteenth-century thinkers (and a chimpanzee). Chris Chrisman Goes to College was, if I remember correctly, a fictionalized account of a sheltered Christian going to college and facing new ideologies. It wasn’t a bad book, but it didn’t make nearly as much of an impression on me as its delightful cover.

Marx, Freud, and Darwin are an interesting triumvirate. Each of these bearded gentleman crafted an ideology that rocked the world. Marx revolutionized politics by laying foundations for socialism and communism. Freud revolutionized psychology with his daring and controversial ideas. Darwin revolutionized scientific study with his naturalistic theories.

To wit, for better or worse, these guys really made a splash.

I can’t pretend to be very knowledgeable about these thinkers, their philosophies, or their legacies, but there’s at least one thing of which I’m absolutely certain.

Those are seriously some awesome beards.

The Legendary Hayao Miyazaki

Art by Orioto on deviantART.

Art by Orioto on deviantART.

Hayao Miyazaki. If you’ve never heard of him, you’re most likely wondering who he is and why he’s important. If you’ve seen any of his films, however, you’re probably one of two things: a fan of his work, or else a person allergic to joy, creativity and childlike wonder.

Miyazaki is a Japanese filmmaker and one of the most influential animators of all time. There are a lot of adjectives I could apply to Miyazaki’s movies—breathtaking and awe-inspiring come to mind—but the best word for them is beautiful. Hayao Miyazaki makes beautiful films.

Miyazaki’s work is notable for its thematic complexity as well as its stunning animation. The conflicts in his stories are seldom black-and-white clashes of good and evil, but subtler disputes among flawed characters. Environmentalism, feminism and Japanese folklore are woven throughout Miyazaki’s movies—along with airplanes and airships, for some reason.

Miyazaki and his colleagues founded Studio Ghibli, the animation company behind movies such as My Neighbor TotoroKiki’s Delivery Service, Academy Award-winning Spirited Away and my all-time favorite film Castle in the Sky. (Studio Ghibli’s mascot is the adorable Totoro.) Miyazaki’s latest movie, The Wind Rises, was just released in the West and I want to see it so much.

This is supposedly Miyazaki’s final feature before his retirement, but I hope he continues working. He has “retired” at least two or three times since the release of Princess Mononoke, his first “last film,” in the late nineties. Whether or not he keeps making movies, his creativity and vision will continue to influence filmmakers all over the world.

Consider John Lasseter, director of classics like Toy Story and chief creative officer at Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. Lasseter declared of Miyazaki’s work, “It is unbelievable, it is hand-drawn animation at its finest. Unbelievable.” (May it also be known that Toy Story 3 included a plush Totoro as an homage to Miyazaki.) Thanks to Lasseter and the good folks at Disney, Studio Ghibli’s films have escaped the hack localization and lousy dubbing from which so many foreign films suffer. The American versions of Studio Ghibli’s films are superb.

If you like animated movies and/or have a soul, I recommend watching at least one of Studio Ghibli’s films. Castle in the Sky is an epic fantasy adventure; My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service are slow, gentle family films; Grave of the Fireflies, directed by Isao Takahata, will break your heart; Spirited Away is Japan’s lovely answer to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; and Porco Rosso stars a flying pig. (Hey, don’t laugh! The hero of Porco Rosso is a legendary fighter pilot, thank you very much.) Watch just one of these films. Everyone needs a little Studio Ghibli.

Better yet, watch all of these movies!

250. Life Lessons from a Thirsty Blogger

So I drink a lot of coffee. Don't judge me.

Yes, I drink a lot of coffee. Don’t judge me.

If anyone has ever wondered how I come up with ideas for this blog, the picture above tells the whole story: I sit and drink coffee and wait for something to happen. What can I say? Blogging is thirsty work.

(Due credit to the inimitable Wes Molebash for the splendid caricature, which has become my official Internet profile picture and a new banner for this blog.)

Today marks another milestone in the sunny existence of Typewriter Monkey Task Force: a blog fueled by coffee, sustained by geeky enthusiasm and buoyed by the support of loved ones. This blog has allowed me to share my passion for everything from God to tea to Tolkien. In good times and in bad, working on TMTF has brought me no end of satisfaction, comfort, encouragement, joy and pleasure. It has also given me the privilege of connecting with many fascinating, creative, generous people—writers, bloggers, artists and others—whom I would otherwise never have known.

In the two and a half years since starting this silly blog, I have gained a number of personal insights about life, the universe and everything. Today—as my typewriter monkeys and I celebrate this milestone with banana shakes and coffee, respectively—I’d like to share ten of the best lessons I’ve learned since TMTF began.

I must focus on today

I’m really good at brooding about the past, worrying about the future and generally thinking about all times but the present. God has given me today. Yesterday and tomorrow are in his hands, and I need to leave them there. My business isn’t to be burdened by worries or regrets, but to make the most of the time I have been given.

What matters is not what I feel, but what I do

For a long time, I made a simple assumption: If I felt bad, I was doing badly; if I felt good, I was doing well. I was wrong. Feelings are mostly beyond my control and largely unconnected to how well or badly I’m living my life. Depression isn’t proof of failure, nor does success does guarantee happiness. I should do my best under all circumstances, no matter what I feel.

I need sleep

I hate to say it, but I can’t shrug off sleep deprivation. Those late nights playing Ace Attorney or reading random Wikipedia articles seriously affect my concentration, mood and overall health. A long sleep can totally brighten my day; a short sleep can tip me over the brink into sickness or severe depression. In fact, I would go so far as to say sleep is almost as important as coffee.

Prayer and Scripture really, really make a difference

The past two years have taught me that prayer and Scripture are anchors. These commitments to God keep me rooted in my faith and focused on things that matter. When I quit praying and reading Scripture, I drift away from God. When I drift away from God, I become kind of a jerk. When I become kind of a jerk, everybody loses. Prayer and Scripture make an incredible difference in my life for good—even more than coffee, which is saying something.

I am not a great writer

I’m a pretty good writer, I think. Writing is one of my greatest talents, along with drinking coffee and having magnificent sideburns. I’m a good writer—but not a great one. When I was younger, I assumed my writing was brilliant. Working on this blog, failing to make The Eliot Papers a success and (above all) reading fantastic works by truly great writers have given me healthy doses of perspective and humility.

Things don’t fall apart

Heck, I wrote an entire post about this. No matter how I try to keep things together, I shall sometimes fail. It is well, then, that God is there to hold things together when my best efforts can’t keep them from falling apart.

I can’t fix people, but I can love them

If Doctor Who has taught me one thing, it is the importance of having epic sideburns. If the series has taught me a second thing, however, it is the value in simply showing kindness. “The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things,” the good Doctor reminds us. “The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant.” The world is full of hurting people. I may not be able to take away their bad things, but nothing will ever prevent me from adding to their good ones.

I must be focused and intentional

It is so hard—so darn hard—to stay focused. I seem to live in a disorienting fog of distractions, diversions and complications. Depression and obsessive-compulsive impulses are only slightly greater obstacles to productivity than the Internet and its endless wealth of interesting articles and funny cat pictures. A useful, meaningful life doesn’t just happen. It takes intention, self-control and (in my case) a good deal of caffeine.

People are awesome

Human beings are amazing, awful, odd, ordinary, selfish, selfless creatures. In general, they’re pretty awesome. I’ve realized it’s worth getting to know people, and important to respect even those I don’t know.

I have good reasons for believing in God

When I began this blog, I felt conflicted about God and life and the universe in general. Many of my questions about God were unanswered. Some of them still are. It was while working on this blog that I reached a fundamentally important conclusion: I have my doubts about God and Christianity, but my evidence in their favor definitely outweighs my evidence against them. No worldview makes perfect sense to me, but Christianity makes the most sense.

Well, dear reader, thanks for reading this blog, putting up with our shenanigans and generally being awesome. My sincere thanks to everyone who has supported this blog, and to God for grace and coffee and stuff. Here’s to many more cheerful ramblings about faith, writing, video games, literature, life, the universe and everything!

244. Many Are Cold, Few Are Frozen

Many Are Cold, Few Are FrozenI hate cold weather. There is a reason Dante put ice in the inmost circle of hell. When this blog froze—literally froze—last month, I felt pretty miserable, and very cold.

(My younger brother felt perfectly fine. He’s impervious to cold. It’s like a superpower.)

Late in January, when my typewriter monkeys got out of prison (don’t ask) and returned to my apartment, the cold was insufferable. It was then I decided to give my readers a glimpse into the trials of a chilly blogger and his assistants. Thus my dad sketched the Typewriter Monkey Task Force at work, depicting my monkeys typing with aching fingers, tails kinked by cold, fur specked with frost, muffled in parkas and muttering bitterly.

(Yes, I tried turning up the heat in my apartment, but my building’s feeble furnace was no match for winter’s insidious chill. Warm clothes were all that stood between us and the cruel ferocity of winter weather.)

I had planned to share my dad’s full sketch, but there was… a problem. My typewriter monkeys—pyromaniacs, every last of them—decided the best way to keep warm was to start a fire in my living room.

Well, a huge patch of my carpet has gone up in smoke, and my typewriter monkeys are back in the clink for arson, and only fragments of my dad’s lovely picture remains. I have shared this single scrap, singed and brittle, in gratefulness toward my parents for supporting my blog and in bitterness toward the Typewriter Monkey Task Force for burning a hole in my carpet.

Ah, well. I hope my monkeys are warmer in prison than they were in my apartment. Now, if you will excuse me, I should probably seek treatment for frostbite and hypothermia. I hope you’re warm, dear reader, wherever you are!