Creating is Like Breathing…

I met Jim when he served as a volunteer youth leader with a ministry my husband and I led what feels like a bazillion years ago; well, Teen was a toddler and we were in grad school, so everything might have been a bit blurry about the edges. Jim wasn’t. He was crystal clear, thoughtful and truthful, a straight shooter who preferred the creative fringe. He saw the boys in the back and found out-of-the-box ways to engage them, to love them, where they stood. He made a difference in their lives and, through his work, in the world; and I have all the respect in the world for him. Please welcome Jim Moriarty!

Create Challenge Guest Post #5 – Jim Moriarty

Creating is like breathing. I can’t imagine living without also creating.

God wired us as creators. He’s surrounded us with this crazy, endless pallet of colors, tools and inspiration. He’s sculpted us into infinite variations within the same human meme…and planted us with insatiable seeds of curiosity and endless imagination. How absolutely amazing is that?

I’ve come to the conclusion that I literally cannot go to sleep without the creation of something. That might be sewing a new bag for a surfboard or spray painting something that most people wouldn’t paint. Most of the time I hack photos.

I get a kick out of the tag #nofilter because we take photos with smart phones which are made up of hundreds of electronic components and run operating systems and apps that are executed from thousands of lines of code…and yet somehow we think what we’re doing is #nofilter. I think this is close to the root of why I take photos and then edit them the ways I do.

A photo to me is false, by definition. What is real is in front of us and whether we sketch that image, paint it or take a photo of it, all of those things deliver false representations of reality. So why not keep pushing those false limits as far as possible and create something else, something new?

This first photo is from my last day at a previous job. It was a party at San Onofre State Beach and we were watching the sunset. The truth is that all sunset photos miss the mark; reality is SO much more interesting. The colors of an actual sunset are lit from behind and change with every passing minute. With these things in mind I took another photo, motion blurred it until it became horizontal lines and then treated it as a transparent layer on top of the beach shot. In my mind this image comes closer to what I felt watching that night.JMsunset

Lowriders work for me on many levels. They define Southern California. They embody a cross-border existence. They make amazing use of what we’ve forgotten and sent to landfills and they (usually) embrace nutty-cool color schemes. That’s why I make images like this one.JMlowrider

The sky is as close to cobalt blue as I could make it. The vermillion, metal-flake car paint is overdone…pushed to a place where it’s no longer calm. It’s overly hot in every way. And to further push things, I’ve made everything that isn’t the car the same color as the sky.

When we take photos we are visually capturing assets. These are pieces to puzzles. They will never become the real thing, that’s impossible. So let’s create things that challenge our point of view and turn it into something else, something hopefully more emotionally interesting.

Creation should be pushed until it breaks…and then pushed a bit more. This is when we find something new.

That’s what I’m trying to do with this photo. JMsurfer

First, Southern California skies are simply magical in the winter. Many nights I’m out on the water looking at a sky-sized gorgeous fade that feels imaginary. So why not try and represent skies that way? Regarding the surfer, I see this image all the time. I love the simplicity of an isolated surfer and their board. I also like pushing that idea until it breaks and is on the edge of not making sense. That’s why I cut off the body and floated it up. I’m proactively trying to create something that makes me think differently about that surfer.

I love graffiti, especially smart graffiti. Any time I’m in an urban environment I’m that person off to the side, photographing interesting tags and walls. If I share those images I rarely present what actually exists and this wall is no different.JMgraffiti

The death to hipsters was a sticker in Brooklyn, the mail label came from San Francisco (I think) and the MP sticker doesn’t exist at all. It’s a photoshopped hack I made to round out the tags (and show a nod of respect to what I see as the best surf photo ever taken).

Life is this way. We take influences from various places and people, mix them up, interpret them, add in things that weren’t there before…and move ahead with a new take or new idea. This is what software development is about, what art is about, cooking, etc. Same with photos. It’s all innovation. All invention.

Creativity is about making something that wasn’t there before but doing so with the tools, influences and assets that existed prior. We’re all standing on the shoulders of those who created before us.

I dig old, outdated things. Look at this RV. The aerodynamics are…nonexistent. The color scheme is brilliantly simple (and perfectly ‘70s). This vehicle just works for me. I take photos like this all the time and always straight on like this one. I like the stark truth a profile delivers. Let’s face it, a photo of an RV is kinda boring, so I tried to make it less boring. I floated it on an ocean of an almost-complimentary color. The exact complimentary color is easy to identify…but less interesting.JMwinnie

Many of us have to make something and so the question becomes, What should we try to make? Images like these work for me because creating them can be done on a highly portable platform. We always have a smart phone in our pocket and tiny slices of available time as we progress through a day. And most of us also have powerful computers nearby for other touches. We create for selfish reasons; we create for ourselves. What I’ve noticed more and more is that we create because we have God-given curiosities, talents, restlessness and experiences.

Creation is how we understand who we are; creativity is how we understand who God made us.


Jim’s life has been defined by ideas larger than himself: punk rock, Christianity, fatherhood, software development, the internet, environmentalism and brand citizenship. He spent the last decade running Surfrider Foundation, the largest nonprofit focused on coastal environmental protection, and currently works at 72andSunny where he connects global brands with deeper purpose. He married the love of his life yesterday (almost 30 years ago), is father to twins and his favorite surfboard is a 6’ singlefin. 



“What do your kids want for Christmas?”

Honestly, I have no idea how to answer that question. Unlikely they’ve finally taken our “Need before Want” family value to heart, but they haven’t asked for much. Good thing, since we aren’t buying much. Black Friday came and went with only so much as a fleeting glance at the mall; instead we enjoyed the San Diego Zoo Safari Park for a few hours and then drove home to the Bay Area.

You might not notice if you come to visit (always more to do!), but we’ve spent considerable effort this year decluttering. I don’t want Christmas to add another pile of stuff to our small home. Thankfully we don’t need much and, thankfully, we don’t want for much.

However, a gift-less tree on Christmas morning would be depressing. We attempted it one year – one gift each, unwrapped in minutes – and it was sad. There is such real joy in giving and receiving; it’s a good thing. So we’re putting another set of values on the gifts we purchase: intangible, experiential, practical, meaningful.

Intangible: For people who already have so much, a gift given in their honor can be a meaningful gift. And it’s so easy!

From the time our kids were little, they’ve received a card in their stocking letting them know that a gift of socks and underwear has been donated to kids in an orphanage in the Dominican Republic. They think socks and underwear are funny (Boys!), and often this gift has accompanied socks & unders in their sizes. They understand that children everywhere need them, and especially so after we took them to the orphanage in the DR and they saw a levelor-paned window covered in hand-washed undies hung to dry.

Our church supports local and global mission partners through a Mission Market. You can buy backpacks of school supplies, clean water, warm blankets and jackets, shelter, sports equipment, education, food… the list goes on. Other organizations do similar good work, World Vision and Heifer International among them.

For the animal lover, you could give a gift of animal sponsorship through World Wildlife Fund – you choose a particular species of animal to adopt plus sponsorship level, and you receive small gifts (plush animal, sponsorship certificate, etc). Environmentalists and beach lovers might appreciate a membership to Surfrider Foundation.

Another special gift which comes with the possibility of relationship: child sponsorship. Our family has sponsored a boy in the Dominican Republic since our oldest son saw his picture on a table at an event eight years ago and declared, “This is my brother.” And so he is. When we took that Thanksgiving trip several years ago, we met him, talked with him, and our kids played soccer with him. We know other families who gave their kids “siblings” in other countries their same age and gender. It makes a huge difference in a child’s life as well as to your own family. We sponsor through Kids Alive; other organizations include Compassion International and World Vision.

Experiential: This is my favorite gift because it also creates memories. Buy tickets to a game, concert, play, even movie passes. Buy a restaurant gift card. Buy an annual pass to a museum or zoo. Give the gift of a trip: one of our kids is getting gear for a sporting trip while the other will receive warm gear for a weekend snow camp, both indicating a Yes to the trips themselves. Buy admission to a class. One year for my fall birthday, Guy bought us two spots in a glassblowing class where we made our own glass pumpkins. We had a new and fascinating experience, and we have darling glass pumpkins to decorate for fall.pumpkins

Practical: Give something the recipient will use, and best case use up – food or drink, candles, lotions, soaps, cosmetics, perfume or cologne. One of my favorite tuck-it-in girl gifts is OPI nail polish. It goes on well, comes in fabulous colors with humorous names, and it lasts. Bed, Bath & Beyond carries it for less than salons and you can use those 20% off coupons you get in every magazine you read.

Another favorite practical gift: books! This family loves to read and recommend books we’ve loved. Which also makes for a personal gift – if you receive a book from us, chances are high that we’ve read it, maybe even aloud, and loved it. Some of our recent favs: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Flora & Ulysses, Stargirl, The Genius Files series, Tiger Boy, Running for My Life, Orphan Train, The Rosie Project, and Me Before YouAnd while I’m still a big fan of reading books printed on paper, Amazon has Kindle Fires for a pretty great deal.

Meaningful: You can buy great stuff and simultaneously do good for the world. I have two fun and comfortable pairs of Punjammies from Sudara. Punjammies could be pajamas, but I wear them as pants. They’re bright, colorful, and easy to wear dressed up with jewelry and heels or down with Tshirt and flip-flops. Best part: they’re made (and each style named) for women rescued from sex slavery in India. I always get compliments when I wear them, which gives me opportunity to share about Sudara’s good work giving women a new lease on life. I also adore their new tote bags made in cooperation with Mulxiply, employing fair trade artists in Nepal.


Fair trade is a social movement advocating and promoting equality in trade, especially among developing countries. For example, fair trade coffee or chocolate ensures that those who harvest the goods earn a fair wage for fair service. Profit doesn’t get to take advantage of those who make profit possible. You can buy chocolate from Hershey, but more than likely the cacao beans that became your chocolate bar were harvested by a child slave 12-16 years old. Or you can buy chocolate from Equal Exchange, Tcho, or Divine and get (even better!) chocolate sustainably harvested by people who receive a fair wage for their work. Make a good choice, get a good product, and do good for the world.

Two new-to-me organizations that came on solid recommendations and I can’t wait to check out: Youme Clothing and Serrv. And one more, from a high-end clothing company that vets their producers before – and during – their shared business ventures: Everlane. I have a few of their T-shirts (because they are surprisingly affordable) and they are my very favorite T-shirts ever.

Tomorrow we’re taking our kids to buy gifts for kids involved with some of our church’s local mission partners. The gifts we purchase may be among the only gifts these kids receive. Our kids will awake on Christmas Day to a gift-filled tree, and so it’s important to us that they also give. They give of their service in different ways throughout the year, but at this time of year when the cultural spotlight shines on what we will get, we want them to choose gifts for kids who might not have a full Christmas tree, who might not have a tree at all; kids they might never meet who have real needs they haven’t experienced.

I’d love to hear your holiday gift-giving values and ideas. Please share!