Leon Neyfakh wrote a really nice article in The Boston Globe about all the bots and generators I’ve been creating over the last two years.
We spoke for about four hours total in preparation, and exchanged multiple emails. Of course he didn’t have room to put nearly everything we talked about in the article. So I want to take a moment to address a few things that are important that often get left out of this kind article.
Also note I’m not putting any sort of blame on Neyfakh here! He’s writing in a very specific genre for a very specific audience, and I think he did a great job on the article. At this point it’s what I’m going to link people (especially non-technical people) when they ask me what I do.
A broad sketch of my background as a creative person would be: I tried really hard and mostly failed to do creative/interesting work from ages 14-25. Then in early 2009 I sort of started getting somewhere, but I was stuck in a videogames rut and I stalled and floundered. The stalling also coincided with a relationship that rapidly turned sour.
At the end of 2009 I met my now-wife Courtney Stanton. She’s the love of my life, and since late 2009 my life has steadily become more and more, how to put this… emotionally stable? I mean “stable” in the same sense of “financial stability”, in that I know there’s someone who will always be there to support me no matter what (and I try to do the same in return). She supports my creative work in direct, obvious ways, but also in a multitude of indirect, nonobvious ways. Without our relationship I don’t think I would have grown to a place where I felt comfortable enough to put my work out there for people to see. She helped me become the creative person I am today.
In a similar vein, I have my mother to thank for instilling in me a sense of humor and especially of wordplay. And my father, who taught me math and science at an early age and always encouraged my interest in computers. And my sister, for being my first audience, my first fan, and who taught me that I like to make people laugh.
Thinking about this has reminded me of one of the best classes I took in college: Science and Scientists in Modern Literature, taught at the time (and perhaps still) by Lance Schachterle. One of the themes he stressed throughout the class was that we have this myth of the mad genius: the idea that brilliant, creative people can’t be normal or lead normal lives, that something about creativity displaces whatever it is in your brain that allows you to be a stable person. But that’s just a myth. For every Paul Erdős, you can find a corresponding Claude Shannon (who doesn’t even get a “personal life” section on Wikipedia because his was pretty normal). Some creative types certainly do thrive on instability and weirdness. As for me, I need love, stability, and a roof over my head before I can even begin to think about creative work. It’s not very sexy or interesting, and it doesn’t make for great newspaper copy, but I’m very lucky that I have all of those things.