Jeff Gomez, CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment, is a leading expert in narrative, story worlds, and transmedia development. Talking with CJ Halbard on the Project Tempest Podcast, Jeff offered fascinating advice for young creators with unusual perspectives on the world.
This is a combination of two segments at 49:00 and 1:14 of the original podcast, edited by Jeff himself for clarity.
As someone who has grown up grappling with mental health and surmounting the challenges of such conditions as obsessive-compulsive disorder, I empathize and talk with a lot of people who would be characterized as neurodiverse. When they speak, describing the world as they see it, many of them use these analogies where their subjects are broken down or detailed in fascinating ways. It’s sometimes hard to understand because what they are perceiving are coming in as fragments or divided up in some way.
But what I’ve discovered is that this way of seeing things allows for them to be subjected to a kind of inspection or analysis that is highly unusual. I am going to share a term that I use for that kind of thing, term introduced to me by the brilliant creator and software developer John Saddington - tessellation.
You and I, CJ, we tessellate. It’s hard to describe except that when we enter an environment, anything that's surrounding us suddenly gets segmented into a massive three-dimensional grid. That grid can be a dozen, a hundred, a million different little tiles, and somehow in our minds we are observing those tiles, not as if we are leaning back and looking at a screen, but as if somehow, we are everywhere in that environment and looking at those tiles from a million different perspectives. This hyperactive perception is feeding data into our imaginations that cause us to come up with observations that can be bizarre. Truly, truly unusual.
This way of being causes us think about the world in different ways, and if we are young and naive and we start to comment on it then we are seen as outsiders, because those observations are blunt or weird. Some of us categorize what we tesselate, creating these massive databases of information in our minds, and it’s pleasurable and reassuring for us to pour through all that data and talk about it and live inside it.
This is something that I really grappled with when I was younger. It was a gift because it allowed me to escape into a world of imagination and amuse myself, but it also made me disconnected from people. My social life suffered. There would be exceptions, and wonderful friends would somehow navigate through all that and come to know and love me, but for the most part it made lasting bonds difficult to achieve.
The commonality when it comes to young people who are experiencing these kinds of problems or challenges, is that, because of the way that they see things and have experienced things is all they’ve ever known, they’re taking it all for granted. It is what it is. A lot of the work that I do with these young people is to get them to recognize the uniqueness of their specific set of abilities. What kind of tessellating are you doing? What are you seeing? What do you find cool about it?
Some of them say, well nothing - there's nothing cool, so we go through it all step by step and experience the cool together. There was one young person that I spoke with who did micro tessellation. They dwelled on the tiniest details of the objects around them. Often, human hair or the size of one’s pupils were a big deal, which is more common than you’d think! I said, please describe to me what you’re seeing, and they did. It was breathtaking, it was beautiful.
Emotionally I was touched. I said, do you realize how beautiful that is? Can you admire the beauty of the way that wind catches hair? What does the size of pupils tell you about the feelings in that person’s mind? They would say, “I never thought of it that way but yeah it is kind of cool.” To awaken that admiration, to warm someone like this to the aesthetic of what they are perceiving, it warms them as a human being. This can help them access others.
The words that they're conveying to me, no one ever asked them that question before, nobody cared. Nobody was able to place themselves within that person's perception. So, I’d say, you want to be a writer - can you exercise a little bit? Write down what it is you’re seeing when you tessellate hair. Can that be juxtaposed with some of the other things that you're seeing? Suddenly, in an almost fractal kind of way this person's creative world just opened because now they can communicate what it is they see. They have fresh eyes on what it is that they are looking at and it becomes a manifestation of skill, of art, of talent.
After that it’s schooling. How do you discipline yourself to complete the project? That’s not just a simple piece of advice. It’s about taking a journey, learning to appreciate what it is you’re perceiving along the way, because what you’re seeing is what no one else in the world sees. It is filtered through the magnificent array that is your specific mind, and that’s a gift. It’s a gift not just if you want to be an artist or creator, it’s a gift you have as a human being.
The challenge that we all face as a world of neurodiverse people is that we need to start sharing those observations and those experiences with one another because those are the building blocks of a new kind of story, a Collective Journey story.
The Project Tempest Podcast is where creators from around the globe talk with author C J Halbard about their journeys, struggles, and inspirations.