Category Archives: Psychology

Remembering the World is Alive Matters

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

It’s easy to get depressed at the state of the world for many reasons. There’s a cloud that passes over us that makes everything look mechanical, inevitably clicking towards doomsday. When the world is a machine, we see no hope to survive the crises we face.

But then, when we get creative, making art or writing, the world becomes different. We see there are many possible futures. We see solutions to problems. The world has options, it’s organic, it’s alive – and the future can be shaped.

Something about creativity wakes us up, so we see the world more as the complex, many-faceted thing it is. It’s not just that we can imagine solutions; we’re operating differently. You can’t create mechanically, and creativity can also snap you out of mechanical thinking.

Of course, we might look at this rush and then ask “wait, can my creative abilities change the world?”  It doesn’t matter – the state does.

This is important to remember – keeping this “organic” state of mind comes from our preferred creative acts. It could be drawing, it could be RPGs, it could be writing. There is no right way to get to this state, just your way.

Keep that mindset of the world being alive and I’m sure you’ll find a way to make a better future.

Steven Savage

Big Ideas and Big Egos

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

As of late, my friend Serdar has been on a tear, speculating on constructive loafing to quality and “difficult” work. I’ve come to realize a lot of creative speculation is self-justification and self-aggrandizement. That is hardly creative.

For instance, consider the idea of the “auteur” creator, the wild madman (always a man, isn’t it?) who doesn’t play by the rules. Supposedly their greatness is in their disdain for rules of all kinds.

 . . . but isn’t a great part of this a desire to just not have to play by rules? Many a wild auteur, deconstructed, is a gloss of transgressiveness over unoriginality. But if you can say you’re a troubled genius, you can get away with a lot.

Or consider how we treat creativity as some magical happenstance from outside. That there’s this bolt of lighting or genetic lottery that decides creative power.

. . . but isn’t this part of the desire to feel special? We want to feel chosen. Of course, if you pretend to be special, some people may see you clothed in the wardrobe of an artist, despite your naked lack of talent.

Creativity is a messy way of bringing about order – or an orderly way to make a glorious mess. It’s hard work because no matter what magical spark you have, it takes work to make it real. The reception of creativity is unpredictable, as many a talented person can tell you by pointing to their bank account.

It may soothe egos to believe one is a great auteur or give one license to take the frustration out on others. It may boost one to think they have some unique divine creative spark burning within them. But we only delude ourselves with such thoughts, and delusion rarely leads to creativity.

Worse, if we encourage these fantasies for ourselves, we allow them in others. I think we’ve learned again and again we need less egomaniacal auteurs and artists with delusions of eugenics or godhood. No matter how gifted, such people will eventually have their art be all about themselves, and then it ceases to be art.

I’d rather deal with creativity face to face, like a person, with the humility and unsurety that involves.

Steven Savage

The Intimate Effort of Gratitude

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

“Have gratitude,” old New Age gurus and profit-seeking profits tell us. “Be grateful for what you have” is pounded into our ears by people that want to force gratitude. If you’re suspicious people are telling you to be grateful, your suspicions are well-founded.

But let’s step away from that and ask how we can use gratitude. How it can make our lives better – when we take ownership of it.  

Consider an adverse situation – not hard in the age of COVID-19 – can you find something that lets you feel gratitude? Is there a lesson there, a surprising benefit, a lucky coincidence? Is there something, in short, promising you can appreciate no matter how awful things are?

Ferreting out what is truly good in a situation changes your relationship to the situation. Finding something good develops an intimacy with the world, even when it’s not a pleasant part of the world.

In my practices of Buddhism, often informed by Pema Chödrön, she emphasized how unpleasant things became transformative. To feel adversity, to breathe in black unhappiness, was to get to know yourself and the world. It was not pleasant, it was not expected to be – but the experience of diving into bad feelings made life more real.

Gratitude, even in bad times, lets us find a new connection to the world. By having to look at a situation and find something truly and honestly good, we experience intimacy. Life becomes more real at that moment.

In turn, by practicing gratitude in bad situations, we can bring it to the rest of our life. We can appreciate things easier, take down our defenses a bit and get real. It may hurt, it may be minor, but our lives belong more to us.

It’s just gratitude on our terms. Though perhaps we can be grateful to the fake gurus and hope-peddling con artists. Their lies are a great way to point out the real value of gratitude.

Steven Savage