Category Archives: Art

Brenda Ueland – the Author & Story

I have to admit, I have a lot of books on writing or creativity in general. They range from “Negotiating the Book Contract” to “Writing Down the Bones.” But one of the most influential books on writing/art I’ve read is Brenda Ueland’s “If You Want To Write.” I was given this book in my late teens as a gift from my aunt, who had a writer-friend that recommended it. And here I am years later, recommending it to you.

If You Want To Write

The full title of the book is “If You Want To Write – A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit” and that truly does capture the essence of this book. I love the style and language of the writing (it was originally published in 1938!) and some of the references will definitely feel dated. But the heart of her message is still very relevant – be true to yourself, no matter what. She’s ferocious about it and anything but being true to the story you want to tell is simply not fair to yourself. She will have you convinced of it by the end of the book, trust me.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you’re writing a story and you create a character that likes to eat cheese sandwiches with a thick layer of ketchup. (Ugh.) But you hesitate, because your Uncle John Doe also eats those strange cheese/ketchup sandwiches. And if you attribute this characteristic to your fictional character, maybe Uncle John Doe will read your story down the line and think that character is based off him. But it’s not. And then it will be awkward. When truly, probably somewhere in your memory, you remembered that strange little detail about cheese/ketchup sandwiches and it’s resurfaced in this fictional character that is a combination of many, many things that is not Uncle John Doe. Here’s what I’m getting at: per Brenda, you better keep that cheese and ketchup sandwich in your book. Because once you start censoring yourself, even though it’s the smallest, insignificant detail –  you are starting down a very slippery slope. Again, be true to yourself, no matter what.

 

Image via Graywolf Press
Image via Graywolf Press

Brenda was born in 1891 in Minneapolis. When she wrote this book, she was very much a part of the “Greenwich Village bohemian crowd” as her biography calls it. You can sense this in her writing – she’s bold! She’s passionate! She worked as a writer, editor and teacher and did a variety of fascinating things later in life (such as being knighted by the King of Norway) before she passed away in 1985.

I’ve found that there seems to be a mix of opinions on Brenda’s writing practices and theories outlined in “If You Want To Write” – and that’s okay. Because it’s getting a conversation going, which I can’t help but think Brenda would have loved inspiring in the first place.

Honoring The Natural World

February is the month where it has been winter too long for me.  I find myself feeling cold and fatigued and my creative outlook bleak.  I think that one of the things I forget to do in this part of the year is to connect with nature and contemplate the created world, and I suppose that is terribly fixable.

All of the Psalms that I find most passionate, most inspiring have that wonderful wildness about them that only being intimately acquainted with the creation can bring.  “The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD thunders over the mighty waters…”  Psalm 29 goes on to talk of cedars, calfs, oxen, lightning…. oaks twisting, forests stripped bare.  It may seem like a hallmark of a book written in an ancient world, but the connection of the Word to the earth is as intentional as the Word creating the earth.  God put considerable work into this piece of art, and put it into our care, and I just completely forget about it sometimes.

In my comfy modern cave I forget to be stirred by the natural world.  I can be found under piles of soft blankets, laptop in front of my, cup of tea in my hand, and perhaps a cat nearby.  Sometimes I forget to look at the cat and marvel that an animal lives in the house with me, and become mildly annoyed that it is blocking me from watching “My Unfortunate Boyfriend” on Hulu.  By no means are these bad activities, but just like you can’t live on takeout alone and be truly well fed… one cannot live in their cocoon of constructed comfort and have one’s spirit fed in a holistic way.

I have planned out my February with the goal of going to museums and feeding my sense of wonder, but I have to re-assess and ensure that I’m also feeding my sense of awe and wonder of the Master Creative One. I shall never write a poem as lovely as a tree, I see the stars and hear the rolling thunder and proclaim How Great Thou Art, I shall listen to the declaration of glory from the heavens.  In other words, I hope you will join me in bundling up, and going for a walk.

Activist, Social Worker… Hymn Writer

Fanny_Crosby
Fanny Crosby, (Photo Public Domain)

 

“Blessed Assurance” is not a hymn that I think of often.   I mean, can you think of another hymn off hand with as archaic language, or which can be half as deadly in a church service when sung horribly slow for some unknown reason?  I guess it depends on what kind of church you went to.  And yet, it endures…

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!

Oh What A fore-taste of glory divine!

It’s unfortunate how interpretation can take a vital work and make it dull.  Look at those exclamation marks!  When put with the tune, those words bloom.

Fanny J. Crosby knew a little something about writing a lyric and pairing it with a tune.  Blind from the age of 6 weeks, she was a prolific songwriter, penning over 2000 songs of spiritual and secular lyric.  She also wrote cantatas, books and poetry.  She was so prolific that she had to write under literally hundreds of pen names for her songs to make it into hymnals.

It can be easy to sing this song and find it mawkish or boring. I mean, even for Crosby every song can’t be a winner, right?   A first, superficial glance at the lyrics and they seem trite and self serving… “Perfect submission, all is at rest, I in my Savior am happy and blest”… well good for you honey.  However, I think that there is something very important in the concept of this song that I personally forget to honor and it is right there in the title.

A pet peeve of mine in religious song is an over abundance of focus on meeting the Lord in the afterlife.  I mean, it’s a great thing.  It’s an amazing beautiful wonderful thing.  But I live in there here and now.  There is something to acknowledging that Jesus is mine as I serve and love right now.  I’m an heir right now, and how easy it can be to forget.  Yes, I am his but he is mine…! 

In her time, Fanny Crosby lived in the here and now as well.  I look at her photo and think of her story and song of praising her Savior (all the day long).  That woman was the first to be heard on the senate floor (reading poetry, but still).  She lived in poverty to work in the inner city of her day.  Some accounts have her struggling with the balance between socio-political reform and love/service.

For Fanny Crosby to write of delight and “visions of rapture now burst on my sight”… the idea of that kind of joy is transformative.  The photos of her make her look like an unfeeling old woman, not an innovator of the turn of the century with a strong artistic voice and passion… which is what she was.  “Blessed Assurance”, when sung with understanding, becomes a song of heirship, of power, and of daily promise of the here and now reality of an Eternal service.

Look at Fanny Crosby again… there’s something a little punk rock about her now, admit it. I’ve read so much about her legacy, and yet I don’t know that any of it conveys what it must have been like for her at all as an artist, as a Jesus lover, as a social activist, as a “rescue missionary”, as a blind woman… she left her life’s legacy to words and her soul to the assurance that Jesus was hers.

 

 

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

This last weekend I’ve been thinking about the process of going from Planning A Thing to Doing A Thing.  I’ve been in a season of planning for a while now, and getting the swirl of ideas from my brain, to paper broken down in actionable steps to execution has been a weirdly overwhelming experience.

It used to be that the big impediment to a project was a material component.  I needed some art supply or piece of equipment that I couldn’t afford and for what ever reason could not seem to find my way around, and often this issue would stop whatever plan completely.

Later, when I could Afford A Thing, the stumbling block becomes Time and Space.  I never seem to have the creative space I need, and even if I did I’m aware that I don’t have the glorious chunks of time I had back when I had little money to afford supplies since I wasn’t working the way that I work now.

For some reason (namely, that my brain is used to self-sabotaging and will scramble to cover up my insecurity and laziness with Reasons), I’m pretty sure that someone could come and give me a studio and pay me for my time tomorrow and I would see some other stumbling block that I never anticipated to keep me from Doing The Thing.

 

Planner

I worked with a really great therapist last year, and she started to get me back in the habit of journaling and journaling in different ways.  I started to break my ideas down into small, tasty, actionable steps.  I started to have a written record to keep me accountable to what I needed to accomplish.  I became one of those Planner Ladies that you see on Pinterest who lay out their goals on a timeline, and keep to do lists, and manage their time.  (If you are curious my journal is just a spiral bound sketchbook, and my planner is a MAMBI Happy Planner that I got on sale at Michael’s).  I felt like a fraud.  We will talk more about feeling like fraud another time, suffice it to say that I did not understand how to marry the side of my brain that works in office administration with the side of my brain that likes to make small mythological creatures out of clay and ink.  In fact, part of me really believed that they were antagonistic skills to each other, instead of realizing that they are vitally important parts of a whole.

 

Supplies

I’ve also realized that it is important to address some of these ideas that keep us from Doing, and that as in most things, these ideas are not unique to my own experience.  So I decided to go back to doing workshops/art meets using the kind of supplies you’d find in most kid’s schoolbags.  My big issue with that idea was… Space!  My friend Kiki mentioned we could use the big table in her tarot shop, and I immediately recoiled… I’ve been thinking about the parellels of art space and devotional space deeply for an upcoming post so working in a space where Tarot readings happen was not an easy idea for me.  But as I started praying about it, and looking for other options it became clear… an answer had been provided.  Not in a comfortable way for me, not in the way I expected, but I had opportunity.

So this weekend we made ATC’s at RockStar Tarot.  With crayola supplies and the leftover scraps from my collage work and papercraft.  And drank tea.  And had a good time. And no one “caught” paganism, we all just made art.  And the fraud police did not show up to call me a bad Christian or a fake artist.  So, I mean, I’m just saying… if you Did The Thing, that probably wouldn’t happen to you either.