Select Page


Inspiration is one of the most difficult things to write about–like anything creative–because there is very little consensus about what the word symbolises. It’s easy to talk about it casually, because we agree to same generalities, but if I use the same language on myself constantly I’m likely to get frustrated with lack of direction.

Most of the time “inspiration” is used casually as a stronger word for “interesting”* or a softer word for “motivation”. As in:

That movie was really inspiring.


I’m not feeling particularly inspired.

Since inspiration brings a sense of immediate interest and motivation it feels like the thing I want to encourage the most, there is a security around it. But I can’t really cultivate inspiration in a precise way.

I can choose to surround myself with things I admire, love, and study–and they can provide me with pleasure, reflection, and perspective–but there is no way I can know what will inspire me, and not just interest me next.

Scholastically and personally too, I can fill my head, shelves, and sketchbooks with ideologies and policies but there is no guarantee that those will remain relevant to me (let alone my gorgeously beautiful artworks) tomorrow. Every time I’ve been inspired (blindly and willingly enscripted to creative action with no thoughts as to its meaning, motivation, or purpose) it has come as a casual surprise.

There are realizations that come through the unconscious through prompting. When problem solving the solution could arrive through being hands-on, or through a dream. Either way there is an active dialogue. Intuition can be strengthened by observation. Risk mitigated by experience.

Building familiarity with all of those things allows you to make mistakes with more ease.

Inspiration feels like chance. For some reason an alignment happens and before you know it you’re quitting your budding career as a paralegal and moving to another city to open a vegan bakery that’s only open until 3pm. The bigger the inspiration, the bigger the chance, the more foolish it might seem to others.

At least: gleaning inspiration from the air probably takes into account more than we can calculate with our tiny psychologies.

If I am feeling stuck pinning down a lack of inspiration as a centre to pull the strings of my frustration around devalues my own efforts and potential**. The feeling becomes that, without outside inspiration, the creative block is formed around the gravity of myself. I feel I own what I do.

Ideas then get judged on whether they bring the right validation as well as interest and motivation now. Most ideas are incomplete fragments that require them to be laced to one another. It’s easy to ditch these when you’re focused on finding the “big picture” idea that puts your practice into quick focus.

It’s not fun.

It’s like, though I know inspiration is mysterious, imagining an additional level of irrationality to the mix will create the clarity I want. And as much as love the prosaic–especially when it comes to talking about art and music–I think even the plainest language is confusing enough.


If you can look at the language you use, and find out what you mean by it, you’re likely going to find double/triple/quadruple or more meanings to the things you say. It’s much easier when you know what emotion you’re really invoking in yourself when you use words like: art, creative, interest, love, hate, design, music, etc.

Where do you draw the line? What isn’t music to you? Why not? All of the things you believe when you use the word in a statement. Many of the writer’s blocks we face are about inconsistencies in the relationships we’ve established for ourselves. (And we can find the entrance and exit to some of those in our language.)

In the cases where “inspiration” means interest and motivation the cognitive dissonance (believing two opposing things) just doesn’t help. Having an interest and being motivated are internally generated states, which we feel. Inspiration means divine guidance, a realization/release, that happens to us.

I might not be able to force inspiration. But if I accept that I receive it (whether that spiritual or psychology or both or whatever) then I have to make room for it. Part of that might be about sitting still and being available to it (which I believe) and the other about working parallel to it–practicing, reading, technique, etc.

If I’m needing to renew the purpose behind my motivation, but hand it over to inspiration alone, I’m going to become frustrated. Frustration further dampens the sensitivity to life’s subtle influences which continues that problem.

My desire for motivation could be drowning out a distant call. Maybe my need to feel motivated is part of the problem. What happens when I day dream? What motivates that? What do I love? How does that motivate me? Am I thinking too much? (I am.) Am I just craving stimulation?

If I am feeling a lack of interest I can wait for inspiration but I might be waiting a long time. How can I encourage my own curiosity right now? Have I exposed myself to something new? Can I go back and reignite something old? A lack of interest could be a lack of focus. By which I mean: go look at something intently. Should I go to the aquarium/bird santuary/market?

In either case, the only thing I think I can do is follow my intuition and trust that inspiration will arrive when it’s ready. In the meantime: I can focus on other aspects with intent. I find this an empowering idea: that, while we’re at the mercy of divine bestowment, you prepare yourself for it.

Having a creative practice of any kind is an acknowledgment, whether you mean it to or not, that just beneath the surface of everything is a process we don’t understand.

Having a creative practice of any kind is an acknowledgment, whether you mean it to or not, that just beneath the surface of everything is a process we don’t understand. As human beings we seem to be the only ones who use it the way we do. It seems to be a fundamental part of our development as conscious creatures.

We have to live and work with a foot in the practical and a hand in the mystical. For some reason we’re just blind to basically every truth out there.

Right now: I’m interested and I’m motivated to write. Maybe when I get inspired I’ll start to actually enjoy it.

*Interesting is one of the most loaded words out there. I use it way too much.

**Which I do quite fine with by myself thank you very much.

the Basic Idea, 003: Write Music with a Bathroom Fan

Most people are a blend of two extremes when songwriting. On one end is the objective, writers who fit pieces together like Lego, and subjective at the other, people driven by expression. One of the common issues shared by both extremes is how to start something new?*

The blank page can feel as daunting as a mirror. In the absence of anything to ally yourself to it’s easy to get caught up in your expectations and frustrations. Especially since our minds and emotions seem to outrun our hands most of the time.

There are some simple strategies to start moving through those feelings though. Here is one.

For example: If you’re trying to come up with visual art ideas an old technique is to stare at complex patterns and just draw what you see: smoke, fire, water, tree bark, carpets, clouds, drop acid, etc. You just copy what your brain is wired to naturally find (connections), seen through your own experience, produced by your technique. Tada, some kinda art.

Letting content naturally float to the surface of your mind gives you two opportunities:

  1. To give your subconscious something to play with, to auto-suggest
  2. To give your consciousness something to work with, to problem solve, to edit

Intentionally letting your mind wander and explore is 50% of making anything, the other half is making it. Doodling like this is great because it’s an honest type of drawing. There’s very little to get judgemental with or attached to: it’s daydreaming with a bit of direction.

Working from something you’re observing trains your senses, copying what you perceive trains your focus. Forcing yourself to find content amongst “noise” is a great tool to sharpen.

What is surprising is that the joy of exploration and discovery, that feeling of deepening yourself through creative work, is really at hand all the time in this light. It’s a state not dependant on your education or manifesto so anyone can start, whenever, wherever.


Hey here’s a guitar.


It’s possible to do the same thing with music. You can take advantage of your brain by giving it suggestions and copying what you hear:

  1. Make a big random playlist with music with a beat
  2. Play it loud enough to hear it in the bathroom
  3. Get your phone/pencil/paper, go in the bathroom and close the door
  4. Turn the fan on and listen to the music through the noise
  5. Wait
  6. Record/write what you think you hear

Fans make a lot of noise, which wipes out a lot of the music, but as your ears get used to the sound you stop hearing it in the foreground. The noise becomes ambient and acts like a filter changing what you hear. As your attention wanders this effect increases

When the ratio of sound, time, and attention is right songs can song completely different. Then you can just copy this “new music” and use it to write new material.

This works because of a couple things:

  1. The brain’s natural tendency to complete overtones series
  2. Our psychological tendency to search for recognition
  3. Noise simply blocking sound and phase cancellation

When it works it’s really remarkable but the volumes have to correct. If you don’t have a fan you can a noise generating website and a laptop or another fan. Bathroom fans are usually pretty noisy across a nice mid-range area though and that’s ideal.

You may have to wait a couple of songs until one comes up that you cannot place. (If you recognize the song the spell is broken so skip it.) Waiting also lets your attention wander, which means it can also be snapped back into place.

This is letting your attention breathe and I think it’s paramount to quick problem solving.

If you have any techniques let me know, I’m all ears.

If you’re mixing music you can create the illusion of fullness in instruments by using overtones too. This is a good trick to get more bass out of smaller speakers especially***.

An example: If your song is playing in the key of A, standard tuning is 440hz. Doubling the number of frequency gives you an octave so the bass is mostly 220hz but down to 110hz. Either way some small speakers can’t do those well.

Adding a little EQ at 440hz or 880hz, a bit every octave up, can give the bass more presence. The highs help it cut and reinforces the overtone series of the fundamental. That means listening brains will hear the bass as fuller than it really is. It’s called the restoration of the missing fundamental. Tada science.

*Problems in objective writing are: perfectionism, over thinking, difficulty with narrative, structure over sound. Problems in subjective writing are: editing, waiting (for inspiration), difficulty with structure, melodrama.

**Shout out to Pat for long discussions on song writing, mixing, and being obsessed.

***I think this is a Tony Visconti tip. I thought about it again when I read about Petr Janaka’s barn owl experiment in This is Your Brain on Music.

The Basic Idea, 002: Sandwiches

Do I need to invent a sandwich or improve the sandwich?

Those are two questions I use to help me focus my thinking at the start of a project or when I’m at some crossroads.

Inventing* a sandwich is about two perspectives. On one side it’s a good way to get less precious about your creative process. You spend time using it just for using it, which is fun practice, and you sharpen it by getting more specific with your visualizing. You just imagine for the sake of imagining.

It’s also a mnemonic device to remind me that there are hidden options in every situation. Both inside the project and in the creative process. Basically: keep your senses open.

Improving a sandwich is about problem solving. It’s an easy way to change the language you use to approach problems.

Both types of “sandwiching” really just train two things: visualisation and examination. As far as I explain it here I don’t really sit down and think of only sandwiches when the time comes. These are just convenient ways to remind myself of processes I think are important to me. I also am reminded of that every time I see a sandwich. (Cheaper therapy.)

I like using food metaphors because they’re an easy way people can discuss complex problems without getting too elaborate. Everyone eats. We also talk about food, and are encouraged to, in ways that involve all the senses. We can just use that same vocabulary to tease out subtleties in how we create and relate to our own art and music.

When you bite into a sandwich you take all of the components and smash them all together to give you a full experience, all five senses. If you wanted to make it taste better you could change the sandwich. Or the presentation. Or the environment. Depending on what the issue actually is.

To fully understand all the interplay of the layers you have to commit.

That’s why I love sandwiches as a metaphor and a visualization. In the end you have to bring the pieces back together in your mouth to see how the parts work as one. You have to taste it to see how it really is.

In short: One of the best ways to get past mental blocks is to start focusing on your other senses to see what they could offer to your situation. (And giving it some time to see where it goes before you judge it.)


Inventing a sandwich

This is an exercise that’s about expectation and visualisation. You start with something simple and add elements to it to test how far you can stretch your concentration. It’s not really about building memory palaces or that kind of thing.

Start with a sandwich you can picture well. How about peanut butter? How well can you picture it in your mind? If you close your eyes can you picture it so well that you can smell it? How well can you reproduce the experience?


Now can you picture the same sandwich but now have it smell like coffee? Or gasoline? Can you make this new visualisation feel as real as the “real one”? Can you take something you know and superimpose something else into it?

Switch out one sense from something and try to continue to visualize it clearly. Maybe the bread just smells totally wrong. The peanut butter is blue. The jelly is salty. The goal is building clarity in your visualisations.

How real can you make it?


Bending in all directions: volume, dimensions, texture, and time. Inflate it. Make it into a column. Make it plausible or implausible but remember to take it slowly and examine what happens. How well can you visualize options and transformations. What happens when you burn it? How does it rot? How does it rot in the desert? How does it rot on Mars?

How many elements can you change or add? Does it have a sound? Does it float? If I slice it or pull it apart what happens? Can you picture it made out of fur or foam? What if it glows? You get the idea.

Nothing edible or realistic. What’s the fun in that?


What happens when you bite something? I can imagine what a PBJ tastes and smells like because I’ve had them many times. I’ve also had canned tuna many times. Can I combine these two ingredients in a sandwich and imagine the flavor, smell, and texture?

There’s no limit. What if I add soy sauce, cotton candy, pickles, and bones? I’m just trying to get involved with more than one sense. What does it feel like? Sound like? Make yourself barf why not?

Fixing the sandwich

Need salt? Breaking down a problem into its priorities is like building a sandwich. No problems exist entirely on their own. You can have a great sandwich ruined or depleted by one bad element.

Looking at something really is like chewing it. Everything goes in at the same time and your brain sorts it out. You see the world in a focused way but create a big picture through your relationship with all the senses. We live in a very visual world but we don’t have to restrict our thinking that way.

We can break down a problem into layers ad infinitum. It can get very confusing when we’re talking about art and design. By approaching it with a sandwich analogy helps you keep the interplay of each piece in mind while you sort and test new elements.*

For argument’s sake the simplest sandwich needs four elements.


The setting is stuff you can’t change at the moment. You’re at lunch. You can’t rebuild the room at the moment. This could be a client, due date, or a condition; the stuff you recognize but can’t focus on right now.


What is your bread: what is the overall concept or idea and does it carry through? Does the work reflect this intention? When I pick it up do I know this is part of “the sandwich” or have I accidentally left out something? Did it get mushy? Can I toast it if it’s not the right bread anymore?

Most importantly: is the bread appropriate for the sandwich in hand?! If the bread is not working it will need to be changed, altered or supported. Without it there is no sandwich.


My bread feels like it’s good and substantive. Is my main component lacking? I have a message but is it being delivered? Does the bread work with the meat or are they fighting? Are there competing narratives? How is the composition? Does the meat of the thing deliver or is it just a nice thought? If it doesn’t deliver, why not? (Is it D’Giornio?)


Sauce can change everything. Is it the color? Are my materials the right ones to use? Are they too cheap? Too fancy? Too colorful? Not colorful enough? Do they add to the meat and the bread or is it just about the special sauce? Am I okay with that? Is this just one of those things that’s entirely about the sauce?

You can take either analogies as far as you want provided you spend more time working with them and not on them. Today’s sandwiches are tomorrow’s compost whether you eat them or not.

Bonus Recipe

Fried Tortellini Sandwich

I made this sandwich up in high school and it’s really, really delicious provided you are really, really high and have no shame. I’ll have to credit my dad for pan frying penne crispy as one of the best alternatives to french frieds ever since they hold so much ketchup. The same goes for this sandwich: you can pack a lot of garbage into it.


  • Prepackaged tortellini (any filling)
  • Sandwich bread
  • Oil
  • Condiments

Boil the pasta according to the package instructions but take them out el dente. Dry them off. Pan fry them in oil until they are crispy on both sides. Pile them into a layer on one slice of bread. Put condiments on them. Put the other bread on top. Die happy.

*I like the term “invent” as opposed to “imagine” or “create” because “invent” infers direction and newness. It implies studiousness as well as exploration and I like that attitude quite a bit.

The Basic Idea, 001: Premise

I’m drawn to write now.

What I am asked the most is: how do I make so much work? Here is the short answer: I make time for it. But that’s not a very good answer because, even if that’s essentially true, just making time for creativity doesn’t guarantee anything. And encouraging productivity doesn’t feel good if there’s nothing behind it.

I obsess over imaginary things, stuff like art and music, because they ask for my attention. Creativity is a game, it’s a tool, it’s an art, it’s a science. It’s powers everything we sense around us. It’s about adaptation, control, freedom.

We think our creative blocks happen because we are out of ideas. They actually happen because we’re focused on results. We get addicted to “good ideas” because we feel they are helping us to become either more complete and more stable or more complex and more interesting.

By not focusing on results you get more of them.

When we are focused on a result it can create a couple problems. Not feeling attached to the process for one, losing motivation or energy, rushing, loss of context… Stuff that pushes you away from what you can learn from working with it.

There are always problems in a project. Some of them are concrete problems you can think your way around using your education, intuition, research, material skill, tricks of the trade… Plenty to work with once something is underway.

But what about your sketchbook? How do you find ideas? How do I develop style? How do I look a little deeper into what is in front of me? Is what I’m doing meaningful? Does what I’m working on contribute to some larger vision, either mine or socially?

I really don’t want to be asking myself stuff like that when I’m drawing. I’d like whatever education or material skill I have to help form my ideas, not the other way around. There is a place for every question as long as the question is appropriate to the task at hand then.

I like soberly clear instructions when trying to find new methods to work. Even though I’m a really big romantic at heart, and I think creativity is wonderful and spiritual, I like processes that get my assumptions about how and why it works out of the way when I need it. The things that make me who I am, and the things that make you yourself, will show up in my work regardless. I want to get myself out of the way.*

Because I feel I will inherently appear in my work I don’t need to treat the creative process as something I need to enforce with my personality. It’s more of a cycle that you bring yourself into in the role of a partner or moderator.

The work you make is an impression of your process, how you relate to this continual cyclical process of growth at that time. It’s different from the work that is made. And then what happens to said work.

You are the process, not the work.

So what specific intentions or actions can I bring to myself to help make the process work more smoothly? You can’t run on the same gear all the time. But you can switch them. Certainly there are things in my life that affect my work deeply on an emotional level, that stop the feeling substance in what I’m doing. How to work with, around, and through those periods is part of package.

There are 3 areas needed for the thing to function. Focusing solely on ideation or concept isn’t reliable and will cause burn out. Mostly because of the energy we spend trying to justify the idea itself first. It’s about setting the stage for your work practice so you can ask the right questions and develop new tools.

This graphic has the 3 areas (Body/Emotion, Mind/Intellect and Senses/Interaction) as I see them as well as a rough breakdown of a process. Which areas would be engaged at each stage is highlighted.



(This is just off the top of my head. But the best ideas, the ones that mean the most to me, have a strong foundation in each category. For example it could be technique, research, and intuition that leads to a great result, or it could be through politics, expression and engagement.)

When you split your process it gives you specific things to focus on. That makes it easier to get started and helps you avoid feelings of early discouragement. Also improving area gives benefits to the others; small actions build up faster than large thoughts.

Small actions also help move our judgement out of the way. By breaking things down into smaller pieces we can also break down ourselves a little bit. We all have a manner of expectation in our process. Facing that expectation and frustration is easier when we feel the connections between our actions. And we can do that with intention.

The best work is unpredictably pleasing. Everything serves everything else. You can’t control that reaction in other people. But you can pursue it for yourself. Everything else is outside of your scope anyhow.

Now how do you start to get ideas in the first place? What is the simplest way?

I ask for them. Then I wait three days.

My entire life has been, up to that point, about me setting my intention for the next thing to come along. It’s all about finding the right question.

*what I love about practical tools is that they don’t require much energy to run and give you focus and results. And focused results. This is really important to me as i have panic disorder, it runs in the family. I won’t lie: it’s extremely limiting at times and has cost me a lot. It’s given me a lot too but, as a personal point, my toolbox is full of tools that came from mental illness or are greatly influenced by that fact.

Because of that methods that “get me out of the way” aren’t just practical, they can be necessary. My judgement isn’t always feeling that great and my mood swings can be pretty intense and I don’t necessarily need that reflected back to me with more frequency. That’s why I’m careful not to fetishize my process too much either. It works on either side of the fence, so to speak.

Anxiety emits an immense amount of energy so you can use its searching quality on occasion. However it’s usually overwhelming and takes with everything along with it when it leaves. Like massive flooding in the tributaries. It is exhausting and, if it were up to me alone, little would be done in its wake.

What makes anxiety difficult to treat is that it is a symptom, a physiological state. Not a diagnosis. And there are cognitive, neurological, psychological, psychoanalytical, genealogical, and behavioural studies of anxiety conditions. So though dealing with anxiety attacks is much the same, controlling the physiology, root causes may elude different types of treatment. Especially since we are just starting to understand how different disorders are linked, especially through how our genes regulate the ability to metabolize catecholamines.**

Also recent fMRI imaging is showing us that anxiety disorders cause abnormal reactions to stimulus in the brain. This means that perceptual differences are actually occurring in the brains of people who have anxiety issues. Behaviour modification is based on physiological conditioning, not just psychological ones.

My thoughts have always leaned towards a metabolic disorder of some nature, especially seeing as how strong it runs in the family. The future of support is pointing towards enzymatic personalized medicine rather than in general psychotropic medication.

That’s where I’m headed.

**There are strong links, though no definite answers, to catechol-o-methyl transferase (COMT) and methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR, heh heh) gene expression and aspects of anxiety, depression, OCD, bipolar, schizophrenia and a number of other mental health disorders.

Personally I am interesting in the MTHFR pathways at the moment and have had some (great and terrifying) results with L-5-methyltetrahydrofolate and the methylcobalamin form of B12. This is what I’m trying again, gently, now.

11/1: A.J. Bond

*11/1 now has it’s own site! This interview with A.J. Bond can also now be found at:

A.J. Bond is a film maker, writer, and producer. He lives and works in Toronto.


11/1*, Vol 19: A.J. Bond

#1: Twelve hours of the perfect day or twelve hours of the perfect night?


#2: What is always worth the price?

Good food.

#3: You have unlimited space and unlimited resources. What will you make?

A time machine.

#4: It’s not working: try something new or persist?

Try something new.

#5. In general; start from chaos and reduce or start from silence and add?

Start from silence.

#10. What is your favourite machine?

Weed eaters and wood chippers, followed closely by wet vacs and Zambonis.

#12. You own a store that only sells one type of object. What is it?


#17. What about yourself can you not trust?


#20. You can spend an hour any place and at any time. Where and when?

Ground zero at the Singularity.

#21. What is your favourite plant?

Venus Fly Trap.

#23. What object or tool is perfect?

The egg.

*I’m sending 23 questions to artists, designers and musicians and asking them to answer 11. I think these questions give revealing answers, especially regarding creative work. Here are their responses. As these are interviews I’m publishing their answers as they are, fully appreciating that English may not be their first or preferred written language. Thanks to all the participants.

Try it


Click the album and try it.
CVS/AAA: Entry