Oblique Strategies (subtitled Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemmas) is a card-based method for promoting creativity jointly created by musician/artist Brian Eno and multimedia artist Peter Schmidt, first published in 1975 (…) Each card offers a challenging constraint intended to help artists (particularly musicians) break creative blocks by encouraging lateral thinking. (Wikipedia)

I’m no musician but out of curiosity I purchased a deck fifteen or maybe eighteen years ago, I can’t remember exactly when. What I can tell you is that since that time I’ve kept the deck at hand somewhere on my desk, always.

It is sitting there, right now, on my brand new desk, ready to help me like it so often did. Ready to push me in unexpected directions, or to make me notice something I overlooked, or just willing to remind me the obvious-to-anybody-but-me solution. Like it just did, once again.

The text I was writing for the fourth time wasn’t working at all — worse: each rewriting made it shittier than the already shitty first version. It was driving me mad and re-reading it felt like looking at one of those bad painting of a countryside landscape. You know, you look at it and you can see what the artist tried to paint, sometimes with talent — a house here, a road, trees, flowers, blue summer sky and some clouds, perhaps a meadow and a cow grazing, maybe the sun is shinning too — but looking at it you feel absolutely nothing. It’s just a poor painting. Whatever the artist tried to put in it is muffled by heavy brush strokes, gagged by thick gobs of paint. Replace ‘brushes’ with ‘words’ and ‘paint’ with ‘sentences’ and you’ll have a good representation of what my text felt like.

Illustration. Oblique Strategies deck of cards

The two cards that helped me get my head out of the sand as I was wondering why I only managed to write shit.

Reflecting back on it, it now seems quite obvious why the text was failing: I had not stepped in my character’s shoes. But that wasn’t obvious up until I drawed those two cards.

Why I could not tell how frightened and terrified my character, a poor student, was at the idea of failing his test? Why wasn’t I able to show how exhausted he was, studying his hardest for hours and hours, if not days, while not getting anywhere?

It was because I was not sitting for hours on this bad wooden chair, and I was not hunched over these boring books spread on a too small desk — I felt no pain in my back, and felt no boredom. It was because I wasn’t failing at revising and I had nothing at stake — no pride and no fear. In fact, I did not care the slightest about what it would cost my student to fail, I was already and impatiently waiting for him at the other side of his failed test where the story actualy begins — or so I thought. Was I wrong. The story begins here, with my back hurting so much I’m forced to stand up and move. With some much boredom that I’m forced to get outside my tiny room, get some fresh air to forget about this stupid test, and then…

Have I told you how much I love my deck of Oblique Strategies?

I love it so much that, back in the very early days of iOS, I purchased the app too. Alas, either the app was not officialy endorsed or it was not a success, I don’t know, but it was quickly removed and one day it simply ceased working on more recent versions of iOS. I so much miss having my Oblique always with me, in my pocket.

Oblique Strategies on Manjaro

It’s available through the Terminal. You will need to install fortune-mod — the “Fortune Cookie Program from BSD games”, that is available in the official repositories and comes with many sources that you may enjoy or delete if, like me, you only want to access Oblique’s (they’re all in /usr/share/fortune/).

Now, download the Oblique quotes themselves Oblique Fortunes and copy the files in /usr/share/fortune/. Done.

To display a random card, open a terminal and type the command fortune. Of course, nothing is preventing you from making an alias in your .bashrc to type “oblique” instead of “fortune” ;)

A quote from Oblique Strategies inside the shell command

To be clear, I much prefer using the deck of cards on my desk — after all these years, the simple act of opening the box helps put my brain in ‘debug’ mode — but my eyesight being what it is, and the text being so tiny on such a blindingly white background, I now often find myself using its terminal cousin instead.

Try Oblique Strategies online

Not using Linux or no desire to install stuff? Why not give the online Oblique Strategies a go?