449. Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Introverts (but Were Afraid to Ask)

I’m currently gathering questions for a blog Q&A this Friday. I’ve received questions from exactly one person so far. (God bless him.) Friday’s post will be really short if no one else speaks up! If you’ve ever wanted to ask me anything about my life, blog, book project, or anything else, ask away!

I plan to attend a writing conference later this summer. It will probably be an educational experience. It shall certainly be a caffeinated one. I plan to drink a lot of coffee, that very present help in trouble. After all, as an introvert at a crowded social event, I’ll need all the help I can get.

That said, I recently picked up a book titled Networking for People Who Hate Networking on my latest visit to the bookstore. The book was on sale, is marketed to introverts, and has penguins on the cover. Penguins, guys. How could I refuse?

Networking with penguins

Professional Networking: Now with 100% More Penguins!

The book hasn’t offered any spectacular insights, but it has served (so far) as a solid introduction to introverts, extroverts, and ways both groups can connect with new people.

A few of the book’s points are well worth sharing, so I am going to share them.

Misconceptions shall be shattered! Stereotypes shall be broken! A sword day, a red day, and the sun rises! Ride now! Ride—wait, sorry, that’s Théoden’s speech from The Return of the King. I got a bit carried away. Let me try again.

For introverts and extroverts alike—and for all of those people who don’t know the difference—here is everything you ever wanted to know about introverts, but were afraid to ask.

Trying to cope

I’m an introvert. You may have noticed.

Introverts are not necessarily shy or quiet.

Many introverts can be talkative; this introvert, especially so. Introverts are often labeled shy because we tend to be guarded around people we don’t know well. Once we feel comfortable around others, we drop our guard and speak up.

Extroverts, by contrast, often feel comfortable talking around others, even people whom they don’t know well. That can be a great gift. Good for you, extroverts.

I’m generally very quiet around new people. Once I get to know them, they sometimes can’t shut me up.

Introverts are not necessarily negative.

Introverts tend to be less impulsive than extroverts. We need time to consider circumstances and process decisions. Thus, when given a request or invitation for which an immediate response is expected, we tend to say, “No.”

If we have a little time to think about an invitation or request, and to make up our minds without being rushed, introverts are much more likely to respond positively.

Introverts need time alone.

I use the word need here deliberately. We don’t merely want it—we need time alone in order to function well. Without opportunities to regain our mental balance, away from distractions and other people, we become stressed, anxious, or grumpy.

This, dear reader, this is why it bothers me so much when people interrupt me when I’m reading a book on break at work. It isn’t really about the book. In my job, which consists of working with dementia patients whose behaviors are often exhausting, I need time alone, immersed in a book, without coworkers dragging me into inane conversations. I get enough tiring human interactions when I’m working; I don’t need them on break.

Not that I’m bitter or anything.

(I may be a little bitter.)

Introverts tend to weigh their words carefully.

I typically choose my words with near-obsessive care. I want to say exactly what I mean, and to mean everything I say. Nuances matter to me. Like most introverts, I think to talk.

Extroverts, by contrast, often talk to think. Talking is how they reach their conclusions. They think out loud. This means their views and opinions can change wildly from one conversation to the next, and even from one moment to the next. This makes it easy for introverts to label extroverts thoughtless or indecisive. It’s important for introverts and extroverts alike to understand these differences in mental processing.

Introverts excel at depth, not quantity.

Extroverts often have vast social circles. Introverts tend to have a close circle of dear friends. Extroverts go wide; introverts go deep. With fewer social commitments, introverts can spend more time and effort developing those closest relationships.

These principles can be applied in the context of networking. Introverts can be aware of different communication styles, plan opportunities to recharge, and focus on making a few key connections instead of using up their energy on small talk. As I’ve read the Guide to Networking with Penguins, or whatever that book is titled, I’ve been rather gratified to see that it also recommends some of my own strategies for coping with social events.

When I attend that writing conference later this summer, I will add to the book’s admirable list of tips my own tried-and-true strategy: liquid courage. It is for such times, after all, that God made coffee.

447. Ask Me Anything… Again!

This blog hits four hundred and fifty posts next week. I could celebrate this milestone with something extra-special, or else I could be lazy and make my readers do half the work for me. At the moment, that second option sounds pretty good.

Yes, before TMTF bites the dust, I’m going to squeeze in one last AMA. (That stands for Ask Me Anything, in case you didn’t know.) I held one about a hundred posts ago, and to my everlasting surprise, a few people did actually ask me things. I’m not sure whether it’s worth trying again, but I don’t have any other ideas, so it’ll have to do.

From today, June 6, until Thursday, June 16, you may ask me anything! I will accept all kinds of questions by any means of communication: comments on this post, emails, notes via the Contact page, Twitter or Facebook messages, or fortune cookies. (That last one might be a bit tricky.)

On Friday, June 17, I will answer your questions, however many or few. Ask away!

446. Will the Circle Be Unbroken?

I had planned to share this beautiful cover of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” at some point, but quixotically decided to record my own cover of the hymn instead. You see, kids, this is why we don’t let Adam near microphones.

My wobbly vocals are propped up by a dynamic piano arrangement from Silas Rosenskjold, who made it freely available on his YouTube channel. The photo in the video, snapped by my dad quite a number of years ago, shows the Basílica del Voto Nacional: a cathedral in Quito renowned for its architecture and hideous gargoyles.

I discovered this lovely hymn in a violent video game, of all places. BioShock Infinite, a first-person shooter, offers the most fascinating take on Christianity I’ve ever seen in a video game. “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” is part of the game’s soundtrack.

Around the time I shared of how I almost left my faith last year, I found myself often listening to this hymn. Some of its questions seem to be aimed squarely at wavering skeptics like me.

There are loved ones in the glory whose dear forms you often miss; when you close your earthly story, will you join them in their bliss?

You remember songs of heaven, which you sang with childish voice; do you love the hymns they taught you, or are songs of earth your choice?

One by one their seats were emptied, one by one they went away; now the family is parted—will it be complete one day?

One question, the question, stands above the rest: Will the circle be unbroken? Will that legacy of faith, cherished by your loved ones, upheld by generations past, live on in you—or will you break the circle? Will you be the one to shatter this legacy of religious faith?

I know people who’ve broken the circle. I know people who’ve kept it whole. For my part, the circle remains unbroken.

As I work with the elderly, I face regular reminders of the transience and frailty of human life. As James Thurber flatly expressed it, “Even a well-ordered life can not lead anybody safely around the inevitable doom that waits in the skies. As F. Hopkinson Smith long ago pointed out, the claw of the sea-puss gets us all in the end.”

While the skeptical part of me can’t help but question the notion of an afterlife, I rejoice that death is a temporary separation, not a permanent one. I can hardly bear the thought of losing loved ones forever.

When my family is parted, it will yet be reunited one day—thank God.

445. How Much Should I Talk about My Book?

All right, guys. Serious question.

How much should I talk about my book project, the Lance Eliot saga, on this blog?

As TMTF staggers ponderously toward its imminent demise, I’m wondering how to fill its final fifty-something posts. I’m also thinking a lot about the changes I plan to make to Lance Eliot’s story. Should these musings intersect? Should I start sharing some of my plans for the Lance Eliot saga—no major spoilers, mind you, just basic stuff—on this blog?

I’m excited about my book project, and eager to share some of my early ideas. I would appreciate feedback, too. As Neil Gaiman observed, “writing is, like death, a lonely business.” Community is important for creativity. I could use the suggestions, ideas, and enthusiasm of my readers.

Writing is hard

A writer needs all the help he can get.

Another potential benefit of writing about the Lance Eliot saga is the possibility of raising interest in, and awareness for, the project. It would also give me a smoother segue from writing a blog about nothing in particular to writing a book.

However—and this is an important “However,” spoken in a deep voice and with a concerned expression—I don’t want to annoy or alienate any of my readers by talking too much about my writing plans. People read this blog, I assume, for… whatever it is that happens here. (Heck if I know.) Most readers don’t come here to read about unrelated projects.

I don’t want readers who enjoy TMTF for what it is to be disappointed by repeated discussions of a completely separate project. I don’t want anyone to feel that TMTF has become a blog “just for that book project,” especially since there is only a limited number of posts left.

If I wrote about my plans for the Lance Eliot saga, new posts might offer character profiles, an updated geopolitical situation for my imaginary world, stories from its lore, thematic elements, and maybe more.

I’m not sure what to do, so I’m leaving this one to you. What are your thoughts? What would you like to see from this blog? Should I share early ideas from the Lance Eliot saga? Should I stick to… um… whatever this blog is already? At this point, TMTF exists largely because of its readers. (I care about you, believe it or not.)

Should I write occasional posts about my book project, or stick to this blog’s usual topics? Let us know in the comments, or send me a note on social media!

443. Good Things, Bad Things

While this blog was on break, I went to a wedding. It was splendid. I’m not the sort of person who enjoys weddings, but this one was all right.

The tables at which the wedding guests were seated were named after fantasy lands, from Hyrule to Narnia to Middle-earth. I sat at the Redwall table, drinking coffee and stacking the paper cups like a conqueror piling up the skulls of his vanquished foes. I chatted with relatives, some of whom I hadn’t seen in many years.

The whole stacking-empty-cups-like-skulls-of-slain-enemies thing is a habit of mine.

All around me rang the joyous hubbub of dozens and dozens of people, all gathered to celebrate the union of a man and a woman who really love each other. I may not care much for weddings, but heck, I’m not made of stone. It was a lovely evening made special by lovely people, and also by cake and coffee.

For a few months, I’ve struggled more often with depression, but on that evening, it all seemed very far away.


I love road trips. A good road trip is a breath of fresh air—no, a blast of fresh air. It blows away the dust and cobwebs of tired routines and lingering anxieties, making even familiar things seem new again.

My younger brother and I took a road trip to attend that wedding. (Due to scheduling difficulties, we had to miss another wedding last week, which is too bad.) We followed back roads through woods and meadows, along rivers, and past quaint little towns. An iron sky stretched over us. Rain spattered the windshield, but we were wrapped in warm clothes, with coffee drinks at our elbows, comfortably braced for our travels.

Eliezer

There’s nothing like a road trip on a wet day.

At one point, as I lounged in the passenger seat, I spread out my duster overcoat like a blanket. “If you need me,” I told my brother, “I’ll be in my duster cave.” With that, I dove into warm darkness, where I spent a few cozy minutes thinking of nothing in particular.

After the wedding, as we drove homeward in deepening gloom, I made up for lost time by thinking hard about my plans for my book project, the Lance Eliot saga. I bounced some ideas off my bro, who listened patiently and made encouraging noises.

After years of feeling stressed and guilty about my book project, I felt something different. I felt optimistic. I felt excited. “Lance Eliot’s story is going to be so much better this time,” I told myself, “assuming I ever get around to writing the damned thing.”

I don’t know whether I’ll ever finish Lance Eliot’s story, but after that trip, I felt eager to try.


Those days of rest and travel were like a strong wind, blowing away the dust, and breathing hope into my life. I appreciated the break from blogging. It was good to spend a few hours on the road, and great to spend time with family. I’m encouraged and refreshed.

However, a cynical part of me can’t help but wonder: How long before the dust settles again? In the past few days, familiar shadows of gloom and anxiety have crept up on me at odd moments. Has anything really changed? What happens when my hopefulness wears off?

I don’t know.


C.S. Lewis once wrote,

Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes.

Blogging pro tip: When in doubt, quote C.S. Lewis. Works every time.

My hope and courage are more dependent on my moods than I feel comfortable admitting. When times are good, I tend to assume they’ll stay that way. When times are bad, I lose hope of ever seeing better ones. I get so caught up in the moment that I can hardly imagine the future being any different than the here and now.

TMTF returns today after a two-week break. I took that break because of some bad days, and during those two weeks I had some really good ones.

Life is full of good and bad things. I once wrote of a lesson from Doctor Who, in which the good Doctor says,

The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. 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.

I tend to let these good and bad things dictate my moods, and thus, much of my life. I’m trying to learn to enjoy good things without becoming overoptimistic, and to endure bad ones without losing hope. As it is written, “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other.”

God is there, in the good times and the bad. So are many of the people whom I love most, and that’s a comfort.

In other news, TMTF is back to updating regularly. We apologize for the inconvenience.

442. On Break, but Not Broken

This blog is taking a two-week break, returning on Monday, May 23.

I wasn’t planning on taking another break until TMTF reached post four hundred fifty. However, as the Scottish poet Robert Burns once wrote, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.” Translated from the Scots language to contemporary English, this phrase reads something like, “Stuff happens, yo.”

In the past few weeks, I’ve had some dark days. Recent developments at my job have made it much more stressful—and it was stressful enough already! For an alarming number of days, I fought to keep functioning under the weight of depression and anxiety.

Depressed Adam

If you’ve ever caught a cold, you know how it feels to fight a temporary illness. You feel tired, achy, sore, or feverish. You have less energy. If you aren’t too sick, you continue going to work or school, but it’s harder to function than when you’re healthy. Even little chores—washing dishes, doing homework, or walking out the door to work—become huge obstacles. You are physically at a disadvantage.

My depression comes and goes, but at its worst it follows the same pattern as the common cold. However, its symptoms aren’t physical, but mental and emotional. The lack of energy still occurs, but instead of aches and fevers, I experience anxiety and hopelessness. I am mentally and emotionally at a disadvantage.

Then after a week or two, when I feel exhausted and ready to give up on everything, I simply get better. My energy, hope, and good humor return. After I recover, I doubt my memory and ask myself, “Was my depression really that bad?”

When the next cloud of depression settles over me, and light seems to fade from the universe, I give my own question this bitter reply: “Yes. Yes, it was.”

Fading light

Depression is a tricky subject for me to discuss. Its symptoms are deceptively difficult to distinguish from the ups and downs of everyday life. Nobody seems to understand it, and I can’t blame them—I’m not sure that understand it. Depression is a sickness whose symptoms are invisible. It’s like a shadow: elusive, intangible, and never far away.

Over the years, I’ve picked up tips and tricks for coping with depression, but I’ve also realized that it’s a problem with no easy fix. Even so, I’m still fighting.

Last week, I discovered that my employer offers seven free sessions of professional counseling through a local hospital, so I’m trying to set up an appointment. (The counselors’ schedule is full, but I’ll keep trying.) At some point, I may be able to get proper counseling instead of talking to plush toys. That’ll be nice.

The doctor is in

My honest opinion is that antidepressants would help me more than counseling, but chatting with a counselor is a good place to start—and my employer will pay for it. Free stuff is good stuff, yo.

In the meantime, I need a break from deadlines. The last eight or nine posts on this blog have really been down to the wire. I could use a couple of weeks to adjust to my job’s latest developments, work ahead on blog posts, and get some rest. Besides, I have a wedding to attend next week, so I’ll be spending some time on the road. With TMTF’s end finally in sight, I hate to slow its sprint to the finish line, but I think it’s for the best.

I usually republish old posts during breaks, but I’m letting the blog go dark this time; there shall be no posts published until the blog’s return on Monday, May 23.

There are tons of creative people on the Internet whose work you can check out during TMTF’s two-week break. My recommendations this time are The GaMERCaT, a webcomic about cute cats and video games; The Monday Heretic, which continues to share thoughtful thoughts about Christian living; my friend JK’s blog, which offers tips on creativity; and the hilarious YouTube series CinemaSins, which points out everything wrong with movies. (None of these suggestions are sponsored, I promise.)

All of my recommendations are guaranteed one hundred percent velociraptor-free. You will not be eaten by velociraptors if you click any of the links above, so feel free to check them out while TMTF is on break!

We’ll be back, guys. Thanks for your patience, and for being awesome.

437. My Name Is Adam Stück, and I’M FINE!

Once upon a time, three friends—a surgeon, an architect, and a lawyer—argued over which of their professions came first.

The surgeon declared, “Come on, guys, surgery was obviously the first profession. God performed surgery on Adam to remove his rib, which he used to create Eve. It’s right there in the Bible.”

The architect shook her head. “No, no, God was an architect before he was ever a surgeon! ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ It’s literally the first verse in the book.”

At this, the lawyer crossed his arms and smirked. “You’re both wrong,” he declared. “There was a lawyer before any of that.” His friends stared. “Before God made the world, there was only darkness and confusion,” he explained. “Of course lawyers came first. Who do you think caused all that darkness and confusion?”

Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson

Yes, lawyers have a reputation for dishonesty. They probably don’t deserve it, but then I don’t know any lawyers, so I’m not sure. Honest or not, lawyers are certainly a bit intimidating. It was Dave Barry who identified Fear of Attorneys as one of the six basic human emotions, along with Anger, Lust, Greed, Envy, and the Need to Snack.

My own experience of lawyers is limited mostly to Rumpole of the Bailey, Marvel’s Daredevil, and the Ace Attorney series of video games: none of which are terribly realistic in their depiction of the law.

I can think of at least one lawyer, however, whose insight I value. In Ace Attorney, an up-and-coming lawyer prepares for each trial by repeating the same statement over and over.

“I’m fine!”

I’m fine!

“My name is Apollo Justice, and I’M FINE!

(His name really is Apollo Justice; I can’t decide whether it’s stupid, awesome, or both.)

I'M FINE!

In every trial, no matter how much he wants to throw up or run away and hide, Apollo tells himself that he’s going to be okay. He reminds himself that no matter how difficult the trial, no matter how bad it gets, he’s fine.

As anyone knows who has followed this blog for a while, I live with mild chronic depression and anxiety. They aren’t severe enough to warrant medication, and they’ve improved greatly since I left a toxic work situation about a year ago, but they’re definitely a nuisance.

My malaise comes and goes. On good days, I forget it completely; on bad days, it’s hard to think of anything else. For years, I’ve occasionally felt close to breaking down or giving up—yet here I am. I’m fine. I’m fine.

As a family member once pointed out, for all the times I felt like I couldn’t make it through another day, my survival rate has been one hundred percent so far. That’s pretty good, all things considered. I’ve made it this far by God’s grace, and I have every reason to suppose his grace won’t ever fail.

For years, I hoped to figure out some perfect strategy for coping with the bad days. I’m beginning to think there isn’t one. The bad days seem just as dreary and hopeless as they ever have, and I feel just as unprepared for them. I shall probably always feel unprepared for them. There are no magic words or foolproof plans for dealing with certain problems.

Maybe I should just remind myself every so often that I’m fine. I may not feel fine, but I’ve made it this far, and today shan’t be my last. I’ll make it. With God’s help, I’ll make it. Things will get better. They always do.

I'M (also) FINE!

For the record, I don’t feel bad at the time of publishing this post. It’s just something I’ve been meaning to write for a while, and I’m only just getting around to it.

I’m fine, really!

I’m fine!

My name is Adam Stück, and I’M FINE!

433. I Nearly Left My Faith Last Year

I have put off writing this post for a long time. I was afraid it might cause some of the religious people in my life to shout, “ADAM WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU HAVE MORE FAITH,” and some of my nonreligious friends to shout, “LET IT GO ADAM BE ENLIGHTENED,” and shouting stresses me out.

That said, this post is an extremely personal one, and I’ll be grateful for sensitivity in the comments. Advice or criticism, however gentle or well-intentioned, probably won’t help today. I’m not asking for any of that.

I’m just telling a story.

I considered leaving my faith last year. I didn’t actually leave it, in case you were wondering. For better or worse, Adam Stück remains a follower of Jesus Christ.

Crucifixion statue

The year 2015 was, all things considered, a memorable one. I quit my old job, started a new one, went on an unexpected adventure, switched job positions, lost a dear friend, grew a scruffy jaw-beard, and got a cat. As I blogged about the turbulent changes of 2015, there was one I didn’t mention.

I have long wrestled with doubts about the existence of God. Of all the posts on this blog, probably the most important to me is the one in which I discussed my uncertain faith. “If I’m a fool,” I wrote long ago, “at least I have the consolation of being God’s fool.”

I’ve been a dedicated Christian since 2004, when I began taking Christ seriously. Faith was effortless in high school, and even college (despite my Thursday Afternoon of the Soul and other rough patches) didn’t dampen my devotion to God. I was convinced he had a plan for my life, and I was following it, and everything would work out if I kept the faith and worked hard.

Cathedral

Then, around the time I started this blog, I realized I didn’t want to follow the career I had studied in college. I panicked, uncertain of where to go next. My plans, which I had always assumed were really God’s plans, suddenly seemed mistaken.

Less than a year later, my most cherished writing project, a little book titled The Trials of Lance Eliot, crashed and burned. I had wondered before whether I had wasted three and a half years of college; now I asked myself whether I had wasted twice that time working on a failed novel.

My career plans had gone awry. My book plans had failed. I was stuck in a really bad job situation. However, I didn’t give up. I assumed my situation was some sort of spiritual desert: a test after which God would lead me to my “real” future. I clung to faith. I endured.

Then, when I finally left that lousy old job last year, I didn’t arrive at my long-sought promised land—I just reached another dead end. (Sure, it was a much nicer dead end, but just as dead.)

It made me question things.

Was there ever a bigger plan?

What if there never was?

Where is God?

Along with these questions came the all of the familiar ones with renewed urgency: Why does Scripture seem so inconsistent and self-contradictory? Why has Christ’s life been followed by two thousand years of empty silence? Why is the world so broken? Why do so many religious people seem hypocritical or out of touch?

As I set aside my long-held religious preconceptions, a naturalistic worldview began to seem more rational than a religious one. I asked myself, “If I give up faith in Christ, what happens?” Do I put in two weeks’ notice? Is there paperwork? Do I sing “Let It Go” on a snowy mountaintop somewhere, or what?

As I pondered who I would become without Christ, an ugly picture emerged: a bitter, self-centered geek wrapped in a cocoon of video games, television, and other anesthetics, reveling in theretofore forbidden pleasures like porn and alcoholism, grieving the death of his faith, and pursuing his own comfort and happiness at any cost.

I didn’t like that picture.

Jerk [resized]

I don’t want to believe in Christianity because it’s convenient or well-intentioned. I want to believe in it because it’s true. Is it? I wish I knew. A lot of evidence supports it, but no conclusive proof. I hope Christianity is true. I choose to believe it is, and I’m trying to live my life according to that belief.

Whatever good I’ve done, I’ve done because of my Christian faith. Whatever good I’ve done, I’ve done for Christ. There’s something in that, even if my beliefs turn out to be mistaken. I would rather live for Christ, and die in hope, than live for myself, and die miserable.

I conclude with a scene from one of the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. (Spoilers, I guess?) In one of the books, the heroes are trapped deep underground with a beautiful witch. She enchants them into believing the world has no surface. There is no sky, she says, and no sun. There is no land called Narnia, and no king named Aslan. The only world is underground, the only lights are lamps, and the only ruler is the witch herself.

Everyone falls under the witch’s spell, except an old grump named Puddleglum, who has this to say:

One word, Ma’am. One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing more to be said, even so.

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it.

We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.

I’m less certain of my faith than ever before, but I’m going to stand by it. I’m on Christ’s side even if Christ doesn’t live to lead it. I’m going to live as a Christian even if Christianity isn’t true—and I believe it is.

Either way, for better or worse, I’ll stand by Jesus Christ.

431. My Creative Heroes

Creative people are fun, quirky, smart, and responsible for most of the entertainment in my life. (The rest of it comes from acting silly in public to make my younger brother uncomfortable.) I have many creative heroes: people I know personally, people on the Internet, and professionals in the media.

Today’s post honors three of my creative heroes, one each from the media of film, video games, and literature. I admire and respect the heck out of these people. If I were the sort of person who cries and gives hugs, I would embrace these heroes of mine and weep tears of joy and gratitude. I’m not, however, so instead I’ll ramble about them, because rambling is what I do.

John Lasseter

[Update: I wrote this post long before the #MeToo movement exposed Mr. Lasseter’s history of sexually harassing coworkers and others. While I admire his creative genius, I hasten to add that success and talent are never acceptable excuses for being a sleazebag.]

I considered naming Hayao Miyazaki one of my creative heroes, but this brilliant Japanese filmmaker is also demanding and grouchy: not qualities I admire in anyone, creative or not. John Lasseter, like Miyazaki, is a legend; unlike Miyazaki, he seems like a nice human being.

John Lasseter

Lasseter’s career is one of the most incredible rags-to-riches stories I know. As a boy, he dreamed of working for Disney as an animator. He achieved his dream—only to be fired after just a few years. His mistake was annoying his superiors by experimenting with a brand-new form of art: computer animation.

Heartbroken, Lasseter drifted to a division of Lucasfilm, which later became an independent company called Pixar Animation Studios. (You may have heard of it.) For a decade, Pixar pioneered computer animation with masterpieces like Toy Story and its sequel, both of which Lasseter directed.

It seems strange to us nowadays, as we enjoy terrific films like Wreck-It Ralph and Zootopia, but just ten years ago Disney’s animation studios were stuck in a losing streak. Their films found neither commercial nor critical success, and their fans yearned for the good old days of Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. Disney, the most successful animation company in history, had sunk to the unimaginable low of mediocrity.

Faced with this crisis, Disney’s newly-appointed CEO, Bob Iger, did the only sensible thing: oversee Disney’s purchase of Pixar, and then put Lasseter and his colleague Ed Catmull in charge of basically everything. After more than twenty years, John Lasseter returned to the studio that had fired him—as its chief creative officer. His employees welcomed him with cheers and applause.

In the following years, Lasseter renamed and restructured Disney’s main animation studio, canceled cash-grab projects and lazy sequels, and oversaw the release of superb films from both Disney and Pixar: all while wearing colorful Hawaiian shirts.

I admire John Lasseter for his creative vision, which blends an appreciation for tradition with a dedication to cutting-edge innovation. Mr. Lasseter emphasizes teamwork, strives for quality in art and storytelling, and seems like a genuinely nice guy. He’s one of my heroes, and a colorful one at that.

Shigeru Miyamoto

Several decades ago, the president of a company on the verge of financial collapse made a desperate plan to salvage unpopular hardware. He tasked a young employee named Shigeru Miyamoto with creating a new game for old arcade units. That game was Donkey Kong, that company was Nintendo, and that employee went on to create Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and many of the greatest video games ever made.

Shigeru Miyamoto

Nintendo is awesome, and Shigeru Miyamoto is the genius behind many of its successes. Many of the turning points in the history of video gaming hinge on Miyamoto’s games. Donkey Kong established the platforming genre. Super Mario Bros. helped save the video game industry after it crashed in the eighties. Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time pioneered movement in a virtual 3D space, and the Wii experimented with motion control.

Miyamoto has helped shape the video game industry for nearly four decades, but you wouldn’t guess it to look at him. He’s a mild gentleman who enjoys music and gardening, and walked or biked to work until his company pressured him for his own safety to drive. For a creative visionary, he seems entirely down to earth.

Nowadays, Miyamoto is more of a creative consultant for Nintendo than a game designer. He is notorious for “upending the tea table” during game development, flipping design concepts on their heads. (His suggestions are game-changing, so to speak.) Miyamoto seems like Nintendo’s idea guy, stepping in when a development team needs a boost.

I admire Miyamoto’s design philosophy: he values fun over fancy graphics or technical intricacy. Most of his games are based on his own life experiences, from exploring woods and caves as a child to gardening as an adult. (He even made a game inspired by his attempts to lose weight!) His work is colorful, charming, fun, and friendly. Nintendo is basically the Pixar of the video game industry, and Miyamoto-san, like Pixar’s Mr. Lasseter, is one of my heroes.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Of course this man is one of my creative heroes. Really, they don’t get any more creative than J.R.R. Tolkien. The man created an entire world—an earth with its own geography, mythology, languages, cultures, genealogies, and thousands of years of history—and he did it in his spare time.

J.R.R. TolkienLong before he published The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien was a noted academic renowned for his groundbreaking work in literary criticism. He lectured, graded papers, translated old texts, published books, raised a family, and still found time somehow to create his own vast, private, intricate mythology.

Tolkien was irrepressibly creative. For example, every year his children wrote to Father Christmas, aka Santa Claus—and, incredibly, Father Christmas wrote back. For twenty-two years, Tolkien played the role of Father Christmas to amuse his kids: writing and illustrating stories about his misadventures at the North Pole. These letters were published as a children’s book after Tolkien’s death; I’ve read them, and and they’re delightful. Even in his little pet projects, Tolkien’s creativity and cleverness were astounding.

Of course, Tolkien’s greatest project of all was Middle-earth and its stories, the most famous of which is The Lord of the Rings. The sheer size and intricacy of Tolkien’s world is astounding; by some estimates, it’s the largest and most complex ever created by a single person in all of human history. Tolkien’s influence on literature and pop culture is literally incalculable.

In his vast mythologies and in his little stories for children, at work and at home, J.R.R. Tolkien was incredibly creative, and he’s one of my heroes.

Whew! That was a long post. What can I say? Creative people inspire me!

Who are your creative heroes? Let us know in the comments!

430. Revelation Is a Weird, Weird Book

Donald Trump is all over the news these days. He reminds me of the book of Revelation, and of the end of the world.

Nah, I’m just kidding. When the author of Revelation described trumps resounding, I doubt he had this particular Trump in mind. Then again, maybe he did. It is a weird book.

Revelation

Brace yourself. Things are about to get weird.

A high school teacher of mine once declared, “I hope this doesn’t offend anyone, but Revelation almost makes me wonder if John was tripping on something when he wrote it,” or words to that effect.

Revelation is a bizarre book, full of visions that seem more like hallucinations. A closer look reveals something even stranger. Revelation is a bit like Frankenstein’s monster: a book stitched together from bits of other books. It combines concepts and images from Old Testament prophets like Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah with New Testament events such as the life of Christ and the spread of the Christian Church.

Revelation is weird, man.

The book is a bizarro mixture of warnings, prophecies, and visions, practically all of which are incredibly vague, and some of which are just weird. There are plagues, earthquakes, beasts, angels, demons, and locusts with human faces and scorpion stings. (I’m not making up that last one, I swear.)

La Virgen

This statue from my hometown of Quito represents a vision in Revelation.

Opinions on Revelation are extremely divided. Some interpret these visions and prophecies as literally as possible, which is the basis for the Left Behind books. (They’re pretty terrible.) Others believe the visions are somehow symbolic of world events. A few lunatics believe the mystical “secrets” of Revelation can be somehow “unlocked,” which is rubbish.

I have no idea how to interpret Revelation, but the most sensible theory I’ve read is that its visions and prophecies applied not to events in our own future, but to events that occurred nearly two millennia ago. According to this view, Revelation prophesied imminent events such as the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. This theory isn’t perfect, but it seems more rational than most of the ideas floating around these days.

Of course, there’s more to Revelation than its unanswered questions. Certain elements of Revelation have captured imaginations everywhere and left a huge cultural impact.

Consider the number 666. “This calls for wisdom,” wrote the author of Revelation. “If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666.” Many have tried to solve this riddle, but none have figured it out.

The best theory I’ve heard, based on established traditions of biblical numerical symbolism, is that it represents someone who challenges the sovereignty of God. The number three represents God, who is three Persons, and the number seven symbolizes perfection. The number 666 (three sixes) represents an imperfect trinity that falls short of perfect divinity.

Nowadays, the number 666 is used mostly in horror movies and stuff. Superstitions surround the number to a point at which some people are a little scared of it. This fear is called hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia. (Seriously, I’m not making this up.)

Another popular image from Revelation is the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. These bringers of divine judgment ride differently-colored horses and are widely believed to represent cataclysmic events. The riders of the white, red, black, and pale horses are thought to symbolize conquest (or possibly plague), war, famine, and death, respectively.

Alpocalypse

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, more or less.

The Four Horsemen have been embraced by pop culture, even becoming characters in superhero comics. (Heck, the trailers for the next X-Men movie suggest the Horsemen will make an appearance.) There are even unofficial My Little Pony versions of the Horsemen, because this is the Internet.

Revelation is full of weird images and intriguing concepts, but the note on which it ends is a hopeful one. The final chapters of Revelation paint a picture of a world no longer broken, but restored and renewed. God wipes away the pain, the injustice, the suffering. He makes things right.

The older I get, the more I see the brokenness of the world. In my twenty-something years, I’ve glimpsed the sickening realities of poverty, abuse, depression, mental illness, and addiction—and God only knows what horrors I haven’t seen. It makes me long for everything to be fixed.

This brings me to a song. It is, honestly, the most beautiful song I know. No song in the universe stirs my soul quite so deeply as Michael Card’s “New Jerusalem.” It makes me long for a time when there will be no more hunger, no more child soldiers, no more senseless massacres, and no more pain.

That is the great message of Revelation, which not even its weirdest visions can eclipse: God will someday set things straight.