Creativity, Disability, and “Etch A Sketch Brain”

I’m a creative person. I’ve always had this creative spark that drives me to be inventive, imaginative, and innovative in the way I express myself. And I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to create some truly great things over the previous two and a half decades.

Take a look at the Stories and Scripts, Comics, Manips, Songs and Audio, Video, and Video Games links at the bottom of the page here to see what I’ve made. I’m very proud of all these things I’ve done, and of all the collaborative projects I’ve worked on with so many talented people to make some of them. Some of the greatest experiences of my life have been seeing these creative projects through from the spark of inspiration inside my head to their final released form as you experience right here on this website.

The most recent of these, and my current favourite of them all, are my video games. Having learned how to use the game development software RPG Maker, I’ve now made four JRPG style games that I think are fun, engaging, and unique experiences – each in their own ways. I’m the most proud of these partly because these took the most amount of effort and work to create.

I very much want to continue making more games, but there’s something that makes it difficult for me. I have mentioned before on this blog that I suffer from Chronic Migraine and Costochondritis. Most people have a poor understanding of what Migraine really is, and have never heard of Costochondritis. So here is a brief explanation of how these conditions affect me.

Migraines for me are not simply bad headaches. Yes, there is pain in my head, but the truly debilitating thing about migraines when they strike is that I am felled by overwhelming dizziness, confusion, and nausea. It’s often so bad that all I can do is sit and do nothing or go back to bed for a few hours. As for my Costochondritis, that’s a chronic inflammation of the cartilage joining the chest wall to the rib cage. If I over exert myself, it hurts – badly. It can feel exactly like having a heart attack.

So that’s what I have to deal with. About half of the time, I do have a migraine going on, and if I’ve got a flare-up of my Costochondritis, I can’t be using a mouse or keyboard for extended periods of time because it just hurts too much.

And now about “Etch A Sketch Brain”.

For those who are too young to remember what an Etch A Sketch is, it’s a toy that was popular about half a century ago. It looks kind of like a tablet, with a “screen” of clear plastic and fine, grey sand under it. You could use two knobs to manipulate a point along the x and y axis to “etch” drawings out of the sand. When you were satisfied with your drawing, or if you wanted to clear the sand and start over, you shook the device.

This shaking to clear away everything and start with nothing is why I call my mind “Etch A Sketch Brain”.

When I get a bad migraine, it’s like my brain just dumps its memory and I forget all the details of all the creative projects I’ve been thinking about lately. I’m currently planning to make a new JRPG in RPG Maker, for example, and I have some notes on it. I’m trying to come up with an overarching plot, and I think about it from time to time as I’m doing other things. Then a migraine comes along and I literally forget everything that I’ve come up with for the plot. I come back to my notes, and they just seem like disconnected lines for something that is vaguely connected.

It’s really frustrating. I remember back about 20 years ago, I wrote a whole freaking novel – an entire novel-length story full of characters, plot points, and an overarching story that interwove a previous very long story that I had written. And I made the whole thing up as I went along, night after night. At the end of that process, it all made sense, and I was really impressed with what I was able to achieve.

About a decade later, I tried writing my last short story. It took weeks, and I had to resort to writing out extensive notes on every plot detail, character, and motivation for those characters. It ended up being disjointed and unsatisfactory for me, and it signaled the end of that free-flowing ability to create such massive works while retaining all the pieces in my head.

I’ve had the same problems with the games I’ve made, to the point where I start to lose track of the visual scripting in elements I’ve made just a day before, and have to spend time reading through them just to remind myself what they do before I can build upon them. It sucks to realize, but my days of creating very big, impressive, and intricate works might be over.

But to look on the bright side, at least I can look back at all the things I’ve made, on my own and with the help of others over the years. I know many don’t appreciate what I’ve done. I was told at one point to stop spamming my stories on one website. But I’m still proud of everything I’ve made, and I bet that there are at least a few people out there who like the things I’ve made too. These things are for me and you to enjoy.