Day Late, Dollar Short

Hello patient readers.

I took a bigger break than I thought.  The thing about depression is it can be sneaky and it can be crippling and it can take a long time to notice that you are there.  I’m not really out of the woods if I’m honest.

But!  I’ve been thinking about Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Outliers” because I’m reading it for the first time and it gives me hope that the strange and diverse situations in my life are preparing me for something particularly.

It’s been hard for me to Make Art lately.  In fact, it’s been hard for me to do anything but play World of Warcraft without intense obsessive compulsive thoughts and behaviors kicking in.  It’s this time of transition where so much is up in the air: the direction of my job, where I’m going to live, the situations of the people around me.

So, you know what?  I can’t do that anymore right now.  I have to care about things, and make things, and sing things and I’m not sure how I’m going to do that yet, but what I do know is I need my fellow Leaguers… so the treehouse is open again! ❤

My Creativity Toolbox

I was out of town for a few weeks and to be honest, had zero creative spark. Nada. Not even an ember, it was just plain extinguished. Now that I’m home in my little corner of Oregon and back at it, I started thinking about the tools I use to get those ideas burning again.

Here’s what I rely on the most:

  • Music is a HUGE part of my writing. I think more than anything it helps to keep me from getting distracted. And to get very specific here – I love writing to Celtic music. If I’m writing a really intense scene, bring on the Riverdance! I use Pandora (it’s free if you don’t mind the occasional commercial) and I have some very finely tuned stations to fit my “writing mood.”
  • After many years as I handwritten writer, I finally transitioned to writing direct on the computer several years ago. Maybe not as romantic, but a much more effective use of my time. But when I’m stuck, I always default back to scribbling on a piece of paper. Instead of focusing on writing actual prose, I “talk myself” through a block. Such as “Okay, what I am trying to say here. I’m trying to get this character to____.” Before you know it, your story is off and running.
  • Write/draw/compose/create by a window. Even if it’s dark out, it always helps.

I started getting curious about what other artists use as tools to help with creativity. Here’s a few ideas that I might add to my own toolbox that are easily available online:

  • Allow yourself to get lost on Flickr…there’s some amazing photography on there to peruse and you never know, you may find an image that inspires your own project. (If you actually use it, make sure it’s part of Creative Commons!)
  • Many sites recommended using Pinterest for ideas…now, this is a tricky site for me. I tend to get VERY distracted on Pinterest and before I know it, three hours have passed and nothing is accomplished except 30 more pins. But I found searching specifically for “art journal ideas” or “art therapy”  or “writing prompts” came up with some amazing options! So if you tread carefully, I think it is a great creativity sparker.
  • Motivational quotes can be a big, well, motivator. For me, I have a poster with a Margaret Atwood quote hanging right over my computer.
Proof.
Proof.

To be honest, many of the websites that boasted “motivational quotes” were drowned with ads. I’m recommending my go-to for quote finding…which is good ol’ Goodreads. If you search for “quotes” they have a huge selection organized by tags such as love, knowledge, power, etc.

What are some of the tools you use to help “spark” your creativity?

The Color of the Wallpaper in my Head

I see a specific shade of blue and I think of a Charles Vess comic.  I see another shade of blue combined with marigold and a Chanel lipstick red and I think of Wes Anderson.  I don’t think of the artist maybe as much as I do the way their art made me feel at a certain time.

It’s almost like when you hear a turn of phrase and think “Oh, that’s so Wodehouse” or that feeling that Chesterton would have phrased it in a similar way.  Or you see something quiet and startling in the spring and know you have wandered unknowing into a Neruda poem.

Color is different though.  There’s something about color that lift your heart and dashes it all at once.  The best writing speaks in color.

I am so much an infant still sometimes because I see something beautiful and I want to put it into my mouth.  Not to eat it, just because I feel like if I could take it in I would understand it better.  I am not sure if anyone else has that impulse, or if I’m just sort of regressed.

Patrick Rothfuss writes in green.  Neil Gaiman and Madeleine L’Engle write in the colors of Moonlight.

Paint is so difficult to shape into colors that make sense.  I am always in awe of painters.

This last weekend I was laid flat with a pressure headache and didn’t make it outside as I wished, nor could I draw or paint.  But as I thought about color and saturation, hue and contrast, Robert Frost just ran through my head over and over… “I have been one acquainted with the night”.  I don’t know what color the poem is, but I feel like I have been one acquainted with color. Perhaps some day we shall be friends. rcw600x600

 

A Rainbow Connection, Darkly

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 Caspar David Friedrich [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve heard the proposition that evil is nothing but the complete absence of good. We Christians especially seem to like this way of thinking about where the bad in the world might have come from. It’s a tidy solution to the conundrum of whether or not God created evil (if God created everything) and whether God can really be good if He did create evil. If evil is just a void, we don’t have to worry about where it came from; it came from nowhere.

I don’t think this solution is true, though. My life has been safe and sheltered, so my encounters with anything I’d characterize as real evil have been few and brief, but whenever I’ve had that contact, I’ve been left with the indelible impression that what I’d encountered was not just an empty space. It had form and substance. Flavor and color even, strangely.

I suppose it’s conceivable that evil started out as an empty space, but if that was ever the case, something seems to have shown up to fill it.

I don’t know very much about the theology of evil and its myriad possible sources (and it sounds like a terrible topic to explore, so I’m not likely to in the near future), but I’ve come to think of humans as a series of tubes. We either let God & goodness or evil come through us into the world. (Or possibly, I guess, we can try to just stuff ourselves up and not serve any function at all.) This is probably not how the cosmos works, but I find it useful shorthand to explain to myself the mess the world is in and my role in it. It gives me a handhold to grip. It means that even if we’re helpless to single-handedly heal the tragedy we find ourselves witnesses and parties to, there is still a direction we can move toward.

It means that we can let light in.

I find it easy to get bogged down in the negativity of my religion in this place and time. We’ve let the culture wars push us into a position where we base our corporate identity in opposition, an innately negative place to be. I’m not the only Christian to voice concern that we’ve become publicly defined by what we’re against, a list that too often—at least at face value—includes help for the poor, mercy for the prisoner, refuge for the alien, and justice for the oppressed. As much as I’d like to believe that the most outrageous of these oppositional stances are the unnuanced exaggerations of a vocal minority, I’m sore from hearing Christians in my own circle say heartless things without reservation or regret about people we supposedly believe God made and loves AS MUCH as us. In this climate, it’s difficult for me to hold the image of God as loving Father in my mind. The more loudly I hear my coreligionists declare that people deserve what they get, the harder it is to believe that we serve the same God that Jesus described in the parable of the Prodigal Son.

The harder it gets to believe that God is good.

This is funny because God being good is the whole point of Christianity. According to John, the message of Jesus was that, “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” You know, all that sight-to-the-blind and release-for-the-captives stuff. Rebirth from death into incorruptibility. The kingdom of God among us. Burdens lifted. Sins forgiven. Freedom. Light that the darkness doesn’t overcome. All that outrageous, impractical stuff that tends to get spiritualized, qualified, symbolified, or that-was-then-ed out of the picture of how we live and think about ourselves and others. The Sunrise from on high is a little too bright, cuts too sharply. We tend to prefer to act as conduits of a more manageable and rational half-light.

Grace, after all, has never been the pragmatic approach to behavior modification.

The temptation for those of us who want something more than this dimmer-switch modification of the Gospel is to form a double negative identity around being against the Christians who are against these other things. But this amounts to trying to increase the light by stopping ourselves from letting in half-light, and that isn’t the same as opening ourselves up to let the true light flow freely. And, of course, if the problem is that what others see as light seems to us more like darkness, we should know better than to try this approach. Everyone knows you can’t get rid of darkness by blocking it out. You have to promote, not negate.

You have to let light in.

We have, perhaps, grown too big in our own minds. In C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra, he puts the following words in the mouth of an archangel speaking to the protagonist, Ransom:

“Be comforted, small one, in your smallness. [God] lays no merit on you. Receive and be glad. Have no fear, lest your shoulders be bearing this world. Look! it is beneath your head and carries you.”

It’s not our place to carry the world. Seeing what happens here might break our hearts, and maybe that is part of our job, to see and to acknowledge that this is terrible, to try to fix it and fail. And maybe part of the point of it being terrible and unfixable—if it can be said there is a point—is to get us to see that we are small and helpless, because where there is helplessness, there is no good that we can do, and where we can do no good, there is no responsibility to try ourselves to do it, and when we can no longer cling to a responsibility that isn’t ours, we can start to learn to open and only receive and be made into a conduit for the One who took all responsibility upon Himself, twice—once when He made the world and again when He died and came to life again in it. He is the healer; we are merely the healed.

Maybe before we can even understand what it means to campaign for peace or love or justice, we have to die in the mud and be healed back into His life ourselves.

We walk in a dark place. We’re children in pain among children in pain, to whom none of this makes sense. But as Jesus said, He has not left us as orphans, and God doesn’t always hide Himself. I’ve been surprised over and over to find that this is true: In the room without windows, sometimes when I close my eyes and stop staring into the darkness, I can feel my hand in His.

And for no good reason I can understand, a light occasionally startles through my veins and out into the world.

Accolades and Art

Leonardo DiCaprio finally got his Oscar.  This moves me even though I stopped watching the Academy Awards after the 2006 awards. The Oscars are notorious for not being really representative of a lot of the art put out there in cinema, and yet I’m so happy for DiCaprio.  There’s something really touching about this man who has worked in this industry since childhood be recognized by the best known award ceremony in the country. Even more touching was the standing ovation.  He received one at the Golden Globes too.

Why is it so important to us to be recognized?  Why is it so hard when we are not? I mean, we all know the general answers to these questions, but there seems to be moral assignation to whether something is properly recognized or not.  We hear about a struggling artist whose art only comes into prominence after their death and endures for many lifetimes and we shake our heads and say “what a shame”.

There also seems to be judgement if you desire acknowledgement or accolade within the art community.  If you do well in a work -a-day job, and you desire recognition your ambition is lauded.  If you crave applause at the end of a performance it’s inferred that you are a bit of an egoist.

There’s something about doing something artistic that leads people to believe it should be wholly satisfying in and of itself.  I wonder if this stems a bit from the idea that art is somehow not properly Work, that people are fortunate to be Artists.

Some YouTube Videos exist of famous musicians playing in public places, like the subway, and people rushing by and ignoring them.  Not even giving them a glance as a busker, much less as a Master.  It’s interesting to me that people are so shocked when a commuter walks by Lindsay Stirling without a second glance, but isn’t shocked to have say… Bryson Andres just playing in the street for their enjoyment.

I think that a social contract should exist between the people working to enrich the world around them and the people who enjoy that enrichment.  We sing, you clap,  we make art, you spend a moment to look at it.  A busker makes your morning?  Drop a few coins into their case or hat or whatever.

To start with, locally, as a community, we should be better engaged with recognizing, appreciating and encouraging each other. I mean, that’s the thing  we can change.  And be happy for each other when we receive recognition, that’s the other thing.

Between meh and blah.

I haven’t even journalled this week.  I have been really tired, fighting some combination of virus and hormones that makes me feel like I’m at war with my own body.  The most creative thing I’ve done all week is place stickers on my new laptop.

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My personal brain takes this as a signal to come up with All The Ideas.  It goes between unreasonable amount of activity for how tired I am and super whiny.  I never know if this is a particular quirk of my manic depression or if that’s just how it goes for creative folk, and I don’t know that it makes a difference.

Have you ever been so relieved to be home and so relieved to be away from your desk at work staring at a screen, but then all you have energy to do is watch TV?  Last night I couldn’t even watch TV properly, I curled up in bed and watched Travel Man on YouTube because Richard Ayoade is one of the most interesting creative people I can think of in Television.

Anyway, it is Friday and I’m looking forward to this weekend, and if you have some great journal pages from this week, why not post them in the comments?  They’d cheer me up mightily!

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow…

My personal hymnbook was given to my by my classmate Cody upon our graduation.  It’s the hymnal of the denomination of the church we both attended at the time, of the boarding school we both attended our senior year.  Everyone in the class received one.  To me, it’s a beautiful object: img_4406

Shane Bertou recently commented that he uses a hymnal as a devotional, and I deeply resonate with that use.  This morning I cracked the book looking for something to speak to me.  I hadn’t carefully planned the dip into hymnody this week.  (Isn’t hymnody a ridiculous word?  Someone used it in conversation with me and it never occurred to me that someone would use that word for serious. I love it).

Paging through, noting songs like familiar friends and becoming surprised at many that I have no recollection of… I stopped at page 111: I Know Who Holds Tomorrow.

I probably stopped because I love the cadence of the word “Tomorrow”.  It immediately brings me show tunes and Macbeth and a feeling that I’ve called since highschool “the possibility of maybe”.

My favorite verse is the third:

I don’t know about tomorrow, it may bring me poverty, 

But the one who feeds the sparrow,  Is the one who stands by me, 

And the path that be my portion, May be through the flame or flood, 

But His presence goes before me. And I’m covered with His blood. 

My classmate (or likely his remarkable mother) gave me possibly my favorite graduation gift, a collection of songs that I sing, that I learn from, that feed me and challenge me.  Even the ones that are edited by the church that printed the hymnal, even the ones that I think seriously miss the mark theologically or otherwise.

Art is important. Music gets to places inside of us that nothing else can, poetry can do it too.  If I haven’t been clear this series; if nothing else I hope you open a hymnal.

Edit: previously I had written my classmate was named “Casey”, this is incorrect, it was Cody.  Casey is his brother with whom I worked at said boarding school.

Bells on Her Fingers… Bells on Her Toes…

It’s Friday and I’m a little fried.  I want to listen to The Cure and read fiction and be in bed, but that is tomorrow’s activity docket. (Okay, so I might listen to The Cure while at work).

I haven’t drawn all week, either.  You ever get the feeling when you don’t draw your hands ache?  When I don’t play music my hands itch sometimes, when I don’t draw; they ache. I sometimes feel like I don’t have much choice in being a creative person, it was decided long before I was born.  I used to think of it as creative compulsion, but now I just think it’s who I am and that’s my lot.  Usually I’m grateful for it.

Sometimes it is hard to go about my normal day.  I’ve gotten over the not doing art for a living thing, I changed my perspective on that and I’m pretty good with working a normie job.  It’s more that my brain comes alive when I solve something at work and starts to compose a song or lay out a painting and it’s super distracting.  Sometimes I’m able to jot it down but often I have to turn it off and just lose the kernel of it.  It’s that trade off that we make sometimes in life, and I haven’t found a balance for it yet.

It’s been a week full of that, so I’m sure I will creatively explode this weekend… and I’ll post the results.

TGIF, y’all.