I often think about a day when I was young sitting in the middle of the living room while our family watched the Super Bowl. We always watched the Super Bowl. Despite the fact that none of us were the least bit interested in football the other 364 days of the year. We watched the Super Bowl. Mom made the bean dip. Dad drank beer. We all chose our team. And we had it on all day. ‘Merica!
I remember as a kid not caring very much about the game, but loving that we were all together in the living room gathered around a single thing. I’d bring my toys out and spread them far and wide on the floor; playing quietly while we all watched and listened. Well, as much as you can watch and listen while making Batman and Robin save Gotham from the Joker and Riddler (my four favorite toys growing up). I admittedly didn’t understand most of what was happening in the game anyways. So playing with toys seemed like a good way to be present while not bored or completely lost.
This particular year though, Batman and Robin didn’t make their way out. Instead I had a huge box of legos. Most of which were from some space ship set. (Yes we had the blue astronaut LEGO figure). And I guess I felt extra industrious that day, because I was also building houses of cards with some decks my dad had brought home from Vegas. He was a truck driver and went to Vegas every week. Every once in a while, he’d bring home a trinket from the hotels he stayed in. I still have the Swiss army style pocket knife he got me from the King 8 motel when I was probably, ironically, 8.
Anyways, so there I am in the living room… legos and playing cards sprawled everywhere while I build towers as tall as 104 cards can go and spaceships to fly around them. Oh, and did I mention I had my homework out too? I was practicing my cursive letters. So it must have been 3rd grade. I distinctly remember working on the letter D. Doing my best to copy the example while staying in the lines and trying desperately to get that swoop perfectly centered on the dashed line. Can you picture it? It was such an interesting day.
Then it happened…
At some point, as the sun was setting and the red-orange sky began to turn purple, something happened. It was later in the game, I had finished my homework and got back to building, when a commercial came on. Now, I don’t really remember what Super Bowl commercials were like back then. Today they all seem either super funny or super profound… and super expensive, I’m sure. A bunch had played that day, but this commercial caught my eye. I think it was a Nickelodeon commercial that was highlighting how kids have creative power or something like that. A real “you can do it!” kind of message. Anyways, it was about a kid who had created his own comic book. And I was stopped in my tracks. Or rather, blocks. Probably before the commercial was even over I said aloud, “I could do that!” And then I did it. Right then.
I got some paper, colored pencils, and a stapler, and put together a whole comic book story. Complete with pictures and dialogue bubbles. I called the hero Skeeter Dog. He was a dog with Superman-like powers. His suit was basically a combo of the Flash and Shazam (which, let’s be honest, the only difference between the two is a cape). His villain was a cat in a purple and green costume who was going around scratching people (as cats do). There was a villain’s lair of course and an altercation on a bridge… And as you’d expect, Skeeter Dog saved the day.
I was stoked on it. I showed my classmates and teacher the next school day. I thought I had done something pretty awesome. And other people seemed to think it was cool too. My dad was especially proud. He was a bit of an artist himself. But didn’t draw much anymore. Not much room in life for doodling when you’re driving a semi-truck to Vegas every other day. But he still made time to draw the occasional super hero when I asked him to. Honestly, that’s how I learned. By watching him and trying to copy it. You could definitely see his creative influence on my design for Skeeter Dog that day.
Like I said, I think of that day often. I remember it with such vivid detail. For a long time, I honestly didn’t know why. I think it may have to do with the creativity I felt that day… that unbridled, self-assured, almost manically-compelled desire to create something. I was 150% Cody that day. I don’t have days like that much any more. I don’t know where that energy – that spark – went. Or the moxie to think that I could just do something cause I said I can. I mean, I saw something I wanted to do, said, “I can do that”, and then I did it! Maybe it was cause my mom always told us “can’t is a bad word”, or maybe I was just a bit extra that day. Whatever the reason, I jumped into it with no concept that I wouldn’t be able to do it.
Most of us adults don’t approach life that way anymore, huh? I’m trying though – trying so hard – to get back to that. The spark. I know it’s still there. Cause every time I see a design I like, or hear a great song, or read a book that resonates with my soul, I say, “I can do that.” But instead of actually trying, I allow this voice to come in and rationalize all the reasons why I can’t, or shouldn’t, or should really spend my time on something more practical. But here I am at 1:54 AM writing this cause I can’t keep it from spilling out of me like water boiling over the edge of a pot.
So what happened next?
What happened between then and now? Well… that super bowl Sunday was a catalyst for my dream to be a comic book artist. And I kept that dream all the way up to high school. I would pull out my comics and draw what I saw. I got pretty good. Often giving my own interpretations. I’d draw super heroes and cartoon character in class. For awhile my peers were impressed (even if my teachers were perturbed at my lack of attention) But somewhere along the way, I became aware that drawing super heroes wasn’t cool. So instead, I started making cartoons of my classmates. And that was cool. Til it wasn’t. [Yeah, it got a little weird.] After that, my artistic expression was quickly relegated to art classes. But even there, cartoons and super heroes were a no-no.
Then… I picked up a guitar. And I fell in love. All my creative energy was re-harnessed into those six strings. The hands that once drew Skeeter Dog were now learning to play Smells Like Teen Spirit. I traded my Batman toys for an electric guitar. Literally. I traded them to my friend who somehow understood what I didn’t: that you can enjoy super heroes and learn angsty grunge rock at the same time. In some ways, you’d say I was setting aside my childish ways. But along with it, I think I lost a bit of my childlike wonder.
It’s also worth mentioning that my dad died in 6th grade. Just a few years before I picked up guitar. The man who inspired me to draw. Who encouraged me. Who would (at my request) draw a picture of an action figure I was holding in my hand just because I wanted a drawing from my dad to study and cherish. He was gone. And now one of my deepest connections to him (drawing) was set aside. It’s no wonder I made the same mistake he did: Shelving my creativity in order to keep up with the hustle of life. Hiding away the parts of me that truly make me who I am in order to be what the world around me expected me to be. In recent years, I’ve even done this with music. Which has been painful to realize. I don’t think I have ever actually said what I am about to say in this way, and certainly not publicly, but…
I LOVE music
I love making music and writing songs. I love playing live shows and jamming with friends. I want to do those things more than anything. There’s a big part of me who wants songwriting and performing to be the main thing that I’m known for. Not for the sake of my ego. But because I love it. More than drawing, more than writing, more than design and communications, more than speaking to crowds. It’s not to say I don’t love those things too. And truly, right now I am in the most exciting time of my career using many of those gifts. I LOVE WHAT I DO! And it even gives me opportunities to play music now and then. But as the years have gone on, and I’ve stepped into various roles and vocations, my greatest passion – once again – has taken a backseat. And if I’m not careful, I’m in danger of losing songwriting and performing the way I lost drawing.
So what now?
I honestly don’t have the answer. How do you stop the eventual death of creativity and wonder in the face of real life? What’s the magic solution for pursuing your passions while still adulting? I know there’s a way to balance it all. And even though I haven’t figured it out yet, I am hopeful. So now I am gonna put in the work of reviving that kid sitting in his living room, playing with legos, and creating with wonder and abandon. And I hope you’ll come along with me.