When I began this journey back in May, it started out as a selfish quest for an answer. I’d started writing my novel and kept running into the same roadblocks of fear: fear of failure, fear of wasting my time, fear of not being good enough, fear of being made fun of. So I went to some friends and some people I’ve never met and asked them the questions that resulted in this Series.
From you I learned that creativity takes courage.
I feel like Meister Eckhart is speaking to me when he asks, “Why is it that some people do not bear fruit? It is because they are busy clinging to their egotistical attachments and so afraid of letting go and letting be that they have no trust either in God or in themselves.”
This Creativity Series has shown me I need to trust, not only in myself and in the process, but also in God, that he his faithful and he will do it. Do what exactly? Move when I move, jump when I leap, walk when I take that first step, and be present when I write that first word.
I was very afraid to do this, but I went ahead and…
It is available for the Kindle, the iPhone and iPad, on your computer, or other devices like the Nook.
It is 99 cents and any profits will go to the charity I work for: worldschildren.org. It might be silly to charge a dollar for a book you can read for free, but you can at least feel really good about the purchase and know you’re making a difference in a poor child’s life. I haven’t told the charity I’m doing this. I want it to be a surprise. Hopefully a big surprise. If you feel so called I’d really appreciate it.
Adele Konyndyk’s post tomorrow will bring to a close the Bereshit Bara Creativity Series, but the Creativity Series will continue with Part 2 and I’ll have more information on that next week.
I begin. Fingers moving over the keyboard, because this is my time. I do not have a lot of time. I have to sit down with what is available. I do not have time to walk, and stew, smoke (I don’t) or drink, ponder or worry. I will ponder and worry between words, between phrases sometimes, after I write, always, but first I have to start.
The inspiration? Ideas, experiences, things I haven’t yet made sense of yet but know there is something there. I know there is something there because I haven’t made sense of it. Or because I have, but I’m starting to doubt it. “You live in the midst of mystery,” says Richard Rodriguez, “and you say you don’t know what to write?” Amy Tan says you start from a place of moral ambiguity. Sometimes it takes me a while to weed through the ambiguity of things to the moral ambiguity; that’s the good stuff. That’s where it has to end up.
It is about a mountain. It is about climbing the mountain. I have to describe this. I’m generalizing, not telling the story. It is about feet. I should describe the boots, the socks, the thin socks inside vapor barrier socks inside heavy wool socks inside neoprene lined plastic hiking boots. But I started with the mountain. This part will have to go, yield to the boots. There is time there for a quick worry, a quick ponder. The mountain must still be there. Where will it fit? Around the boots, even if it is so much bigger. It is not the focus. It is only the scene. Now the boots are the scene. The essay is about vulnerability. Vulnerability is the focus. Bigger than, smaller than the mountain, the boots. How do I write that?
The first word has to come from whatever is in my mind. It will not be the first word at the end. But it will set the scene, set the stage, start to move my mind, open up the passages through which course thoughts and ideas, like water, like blood…and occasionally grace. This is what I’m waiting for. Grace. It will only come from moving my fingers, moving my mind and letting my fingers follow, going back and correcting, letting them go forward again. There is something in this lubrication of thought that smoothes the way for grace, on occasion, just sometimes. If it comes, it will come silently– not a flash, not a bang—just a rush of thought like water, sometimes a word, always a feeling of abundance, of beauty. It might be just a glimpse, a mountain through a cloud, and it might linger, like a sunrise.
Elizabeth Gilbert recalls that the ancient Greeks and Romans believed creatives had a genius; they were not geniuses in their own right, but they had an external source of inspiration to be credited (or blamed) with their creations. She suggests the humanist move to consider a person a genius is at the root of creative angst. I like that. The real inspiration comes only sometimes, only if I sit down and start to work. It is not me, but it may come through me. Sometimes it does not. Then I close my eyes, and say: please. I have to also remember when it comes to close my eyes and say: thank you.
The mountain becomes boots, a tent. Then the words move on—the same piece– a woman I met in a hospital… Maunday Thursday Services. It is vulnerability, nakedness. It is boots. Foot washing. Exposure. Cold. Frozen water. Liquid water. Faith. Light.
I worry that what I write will not be good, and sometimes I don’t want to start. I make excuses for the day, and sometimes the next day. I worry that I wont get it right. I worry that I’m deluding myself, thinking I can do this, which can turn to fear, and even terror like…like…like a flash flood in a slot canyon (where did that come from?). It can slump to depression. It has done all of these things. The only way out is to sit down and keep writing, keep waiting.
The only way for grace to come is to sit down and write. It might not come today, tomorrow, or this month. My job is to sit down. To begin. To remember to say thank you, as well as please, no matter what happens. To question what I see and remember, to think of the scene, to think of the story, to think of what is important, and to try to write it as best I can. This is not sexy, or interesting to say, but it is everything. Maybe it is this that is grace itself.
Shannon Huffman Polson is a writer living with her family in Seattle and getting outdoors as much as she can, which is far too little. Her first book, North of Hope, a memoir including mountains, fear and grace, is due out Spring of 2013 from Zondervan. Visit her at aborderlife.com.
Evil for the French novelist François Mauriac was necessary to tell stories of hope and love and redemption. Stories of childhood and innocence also required to be stories of evil and violence. But it is not the easy, cookie-cutter projection of evil prevalent among characters today (ie. bad guys in movies).
Evil is a mystery. How does the Christian storyteller understand this mystery? Mauriac wrestles with this question in his 1952 Nobel Prize in Literature speech:
For a Christian, evil remains the most anguishing of mysteries. The man who amidst the crimes of history perseveres in his faith will stumble over the permanent scandal: the apparent uselessness of the Redemption.
The well-reasoned explanations of the theologians regarding the presence of evil have never convinced me, reasonable as they may be, and precisely because they are reasonable. The answer that eludes us presupposes an order not of reason but of charity.
It is an answer that is fully found in the affirmation of St. John: God is Love.
Nothing is impossible to the living love, not even drawing everything to itself; and that, too, is written.
C.S. Lewis once called myths lies and this riled up Tolkien so much he wrote a poem about myths and the creative act. In “Philomythus to Misomythus” (Myth Lover to Myth Hater) Tolkien calls all men and women “Sub-Creators.”
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted light through whom is splintered from a single White to many hues
The poem speaks about a future Paradise when:
poets shall have flames upon their head
Andrew Peterson (the author of an award winning fantasy series and a singer-songwriter), in referencing Tolkien’s poem, says we are just “men and women endowed with [God’s] image, scampering about like children on a playground, unable to help themselves from speaking into being these many lesser lights–lesser, but no less the Lord’s.” (via Rabbit Room)
For Peterson, the connotation of splintered light (men, women, and artists) is a hierarchy, the art of humanity is a lesser light compared to God’s holy creation. Because we are made in God’s image we can create like God, but our creations are “lesser.” Our art and stories and poems are “lesser.”
We are just children playing out and about.
Being a Sub-Creator is a permanent finality. God acts and deems it so. Even rejecting the Sub-Creator title renders one still a product of the great artist, an ARTifact. Changing your last name doesn’t allow you to escape your DNA. Sub-creators create refracted light from already refracted light.
I don’t want you to think you are a Sub-Creator. Not in the way Peterson describes the role. I’d stay closer to Tolkien’s views than Peterson’s interpretation, although I’m still unsatisfied. (Tolkien was arguing against materialists, evolution, and modernity, even more than he was contending against the myth-hater C.S. Lewis.)
I can be a stickler for words (as much as I can be flexible with words). Sub-Creator is a dangerous word.
It will infect how you think about yourself as an artist. Peterson is great, but this lesser light thing is bogus. (Since Peterson facilitates a creative community I can forgive him for appealing to those playful creators he fosters in wonderful discussions and posts.)
We’re all creators, but we’re not all children just playing in the park. If you’re just playing than I respect you and want to be your friend.
But I want something more than just play.
I need something more than just lesser light.
Stories and poetry and music and art are all something more. They aren’t lesser lights, they are illuminating truths.
They are “the elves that wrought on cunning forges in the mind, and light and dark on secret looms entwined.”
Sub-Creators can’t illuminate the mystery, the hidden realities, the depth and width and breadth of humanity. Not while on the playground with a God who only created them once.
God is constantly creating, in us, through us, with us, and to co-create with God is our human calling. It is the calling for all of us, his creatures, but it is perhaps more conscious with the artist–or should I say the Christian artist? –Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water
Co-Creators work in partnership with the Holy Spirit. There is reciprocity and temporality. A Creator is only a Co-Creator when he or she asks. The request must be made.
Sub-Creators are such by their existence. Co-Creators must appeal for the involvement of the Creator.
At least once a week I have this overwhelming feeling of mortification and I seriously consider deleting my entire internet presence and going off the grid. It’s a mixture of embarrassment and horror that I would write and then share my work. I’ve been in the blogging game since ’03 (began with Myspace) so you’d think I’d be over this fear. I don’t know if the fear will ever fade.
I’m afraid I’ll be exposed as a fake and a fraud. That someone will call me out for what I really am, just a person thinking they know something about something when they don’t.
The fear is always present and is probably what holds me back with a lot of engagement not just online, but in person as well.
I have to remind myself who and what I am to get past this fear for the moment. I go through that list of identities (husband, son, writer, friend, brother, etc.) and remind myself most of all who I am in Christ.
This is just a reminder to remember who you are, how special and needed you are. Your story, your voice, your friendship, so very much needed.
In a park two strangers sit on a bench in the dry heat of the afternoon. Beads of sweat gather on the their foreheads and upper lips and they stare off into the distance when one man says to the other some bit about his life, some small nugget of truth like, “I miss my daughter,” or “It’s hot,” or some other kind of cliched phrase one stranger might say to another.
To which the other replies, “Word.”
And here we’ve come into some kind of agreement, a pact, if you will, of two men saying truth has just spoken and we align ourselves with this truth. Hence the phrase, “Word,” which moves in and out of fashion (probably out by now), but which stays with me because of it’s irony, that “word” in its literalness is also truth, “Word-up,” or “For sure,” which is just music. We’re singing to each other now. We can say any number of variations which is all lyrical and musical and essentially poetry speak that’s created a reality between two people. Something that did not exist is now fully alive, yet, invisible.
Or we can answer silently, by nodding our head or in our hearts confirming, thus we are always creating new realities in twos and more, that interaction is based upon acceptance and rejection, deflection and disagreement.
We speak poetry to each other every day. In the mundane and unmemorable moments we’re singing poetic connection.
“The relationship between the poet, the poem, and the reader not as a static entity but as a dynamic unfolding. An emerging sacramental event. A relation between an I and a You. A relational process,” (Edward Hirsch). Like how reading Scripture places us within this process with our Creator. Or hearing the stories about a spouse’s day connects one to his/her feelings and emotions.
The secret knowledge I seek, I now believe, is embodied by and embedded in the number two. Just as two defines the information coding of computer science and genetics, two has become in my mind the essential number to create meaning in all texts, most visibly in short texts: Jesus wept. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee…
We may have the analytical skills to slice a long work into several parts. But when we seek the sources of energy, again and again it seems to resolve itself to two.
Here is the idea of noun and verb colliding and connecting the way a reader connects and collides with stories and poems.
The Bereshit Bara Creativity Series asks 13 Creatives to wrestle with how they make the first move, write the first word, fling the first brush stroke, peel back the first layer of clay? What inspires them, what moves them, what drives them? I’d also like to hear from YOU. Send me your thoughts or a link to your post wrestling with these questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first altar described in the Bible comes after mass destruction. When the floodwaters subside, Noah gets off his homemade cruise ship with his family, lets the animals out, and builds an altar. Then he sacrifices some of the animals on the altar. I wonder if it’s sorrow or relief driving him to create this monument, or something else entirely.
A few days ago, I was driving west over the St. Johns Bridge in Portland on my way to work. Since I am a server at a restaurant downtown, I leave for my shift when everyone else is leaving their shifts. The sun was overhead, the sky dotted with unmenacing clouds, and though I didn’t know I was heading toward adventure, I felt all the excitement of a good story purely because of the view before my eyes.
The St. Johns Bridge is my favorite bridge in this town. It’s painted green the color of the Statue of Liberty, as though it were not painted at all, but instead wearing a matted patina. Its two arches pierce the sky with spires—two apiece—making the whole thing reminiscent of a castle. The Castle Bridge. That’s what we used to call it as kids.
When you go west over the Castle Bridge, you face the West Hills. This time of year they are mottled in two distinct shades of green—dark for the older growth on the evergreens, and bright for the new sprouts and deciduous leaves. The West Hills harbor apartments, houses, and the Pittock Mansion, but also and more importantly, Forest Park, the largest city park in the country. Miles and miles of lush running trails. I like a good run as much as a good novel.
When I drive under a castle bridge and face a forest, I feel a certain thrum inside me. I remember good runs and good fairy tales I’ve read about forests and adventures like A.S. Byatt’s “The Thing in the Forest”, and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Colin Meloy’s new YA novel, Wildwood, and Christopher McDougall’s well-wrought Born to Run (a kind of non-fiction fairy tale for crazies like me). Sometimes when I am running underneath that mottled canopy of trees, I pretend I am inside one of these stories.
Getting scheduled for a shift on the patio in Portland means being uncertain whether you will work at all, and uncertain whether, if you do work, the weather will be nice enough for people to actually want to sit outside, let alone tip you. But once you get started, most shifts are just like the others: nothing to write home about.
We had fourteen tables set up on the patio that evening, seven were mine, and of those seven, five were seated at just before eight when the clouds changed from unmenacing to menacing.Three tables were nearly finished. Another asked to move inside to the bar, and the two men at the last table, as I took their drink orders asked if it was going to rain. “I don’t know,” I said evasively. I should have said, “Remember Noah? He pulled in the plank on the ark when the sky looked like that.”
I moved the one table inside with the first roll of thunder, and was printing checks for the other three as the rain began streaking the windows. The Is-it-going-to-rain men had ordered Tableside Guacamole which involves a server or expo and a tray filled with ramekins, a heavy black mortar and pestle, two avocados, and half a lime. It takes a few minutes to makeguacamole at a table, and I always feel like Rachael Ray in front of a studio audience when I do it. Is-it-going-to-rain was sitting under a giant striped canvas umbrella, but my guac-making coworker was not. He got soaked by the time he set the chips and green dip on their table.
As I headed back outside, the downpour escalated to “torrential”by Portland standards—as heavy as I’ve seen in this town—a steady rush of gray, sloshing in the streets and cascading out of full gutters. I covered my head with my little brown tray and made a run for my tables. I cashed them out and checked in with the two guys under the umbrella. “We’ll stay here,” they said. “We’ve got our food.” Wet through, I covered my head with the tray again and ran back inside through the front door.
When I came around through the restaurant, four or five of the staff were clustered at the top of the steps by the side door. The north wall of the restaurant is on a slope, and the rain, having filled the storm drains, was rushing and rolling over the sidewalks and into the lower entry of the restaurant. The dining room staff was having a good laugh at those of us working outside. We got over an inch of rain in that hour. It was all kind of thrilling, running from table to table, huddling under a canvas umbrella with strangers and wet credit card slips.
The menus were ruined, our wooden host stand was swollen, and the linen wrapped silverware in the bucket had to be washed and rewrapped. But I didn’t mind. It was new and raw and exhilarating—an aberration from all other shifts I’ve worked—a story to text to my brother, to call and tell my mom.
Noah had it worse. He had to deal with humiliation from the neighbors before the rains arrived, and a cruise ship full of turd-producing animals to feed during and afterward. Forty days of rain and six months of cabin fever until he could land his vessel and fall to his knees on dry ground. Was he more thankful to be off the boat or to have survived on it?
I wonder if his soul marveled within him as he dug his hands into the soil, ran his fingers the length of an olive leaf, or tested the weight of a rock in his hand. Throwing one rock as far as he could, he launched another and another as he realized somewhere down in the receding waters were bodies of men he’d known and animals he’d hunted. Noah could feel the eyes of his living wife, his sons, his sons’ wives, his grandchildren as he launched each stone, and finally kneeling down for another, he instead set it alongside a boulder. He gathered stones, one for each dead man he knew, and finally he’d built an altar.
There are lots of reasons why I write stories and make paintings and play the piano, and almost all of them are because some impulse of response forces me into it. Creation becomes this thing that I must do in order to maintain sanity—equal and opposite reactions—the world comes into my senses, and I have to let something out in order to make room for it. Maybe Noah made the altar out of gratitude for his survival, or maybe it was a sculpture marking his sorrow. I don’t know. Maybe he didn’t throw rocks when he got off the ark. Maybe he went for a run.
I write and I run for the same reasons: 1. I like doing both things. 2. If I don’t do them, I get depressed or anxious or listless and sometimes I forget why. I wonder if I have to earn my right to have this body or this brain by using them. It seems backward to say I do things because not doing them is a worse alternative. Often the first few miles or sentences are excruciating, but once I get warmed up, it feels like I was made for them. It feels like I am more alive than I’ve ever been.
I tell stories about life when it deviates from the norm, and I have to share them with someone else. And sometimes I gather words together because I’ve read good stories that are not quite satisfying because they are someone else’s, so I need to relive them by writing my own. I do know that some of my best writing and art have come out of the most painful periods of my life when I’ve been either flooded by relational disasters or poverty or circumstances out of my control. And in those moments I write or paint little altars, giving thanks when I am done that pain is a thorough teacher.
Diana Huey studied Printmaking at Whitworth University where she wrestled with the desire to litter her art with text. When she began writing fiction, she wrestled with how to form visual art with words. As she completed her MFA in Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University, the tension between the two media became a driving force toward the act of creation–toward fleshing out the ether between her art and life and faith.
The poet and philosopher Rubem Alves writes about the idea of writing a story or a novel with just one word. Could it be done? What word would he choose? Which words has the power to tell the whole story?
Of a singular word Emily Dickinson wrote, “I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and look at it, until it begins to shine.”
And Samuel Beckett spoke about the “literature of the unword,” which I would argue is the story of silence, or the story of nothing, or the story of chaos, or the story of the formless and void, which Scripture affirms is Christ, not only the maker of all things, but also the author, and the holder. Essentially Christ is reality, chaos, and silence. Christ is the story. Christ is the one word.
And when we tell our stories we’re essentially telling His. Mysteriously the stories are one and the same. We could even say our stories are the transubstantiation of the Gospel. For in it Christ is mysteriously present–he is with, over, under, and in our stories.
Which is why our stories (our lives) are so important, because all stories, fiction or real, poetic or musical, painted or drawn or built are the flesh and blood of humanity’s chaos, of the Spirit’s breath, of God’s kingdom here and now.
Why do we look to world events, to presidents, and new trends when the silence of the new heaven and new earth are right in front of us? That is the saddest story. That is the tragedy. For some cry out, “God I want to be closer to you!” without ever realizing they’re as close as they’ll ever be.
It’s the first day of vacation Bible school (why are school and vacation together in the same phrase?) and we’re sitting in a circle and I’m counting to ten while the third and fourth graders reach down to touch their toes and I notice a puddle forming under one of the boys. When I stand up I tell everyone we’re going to play a game in the grass on the other side of the church.
The boy, nervously laughing, tells his teacher he sat in a puddle. To which a girl replied, “How did you sit in a puddle when there’s no water out here?” I’m glad no one noticed or else I might have peed my pants too and told everyone it was the cool thing to do.
I started the next group off with a series of wind sprints, to which they asked, “Aren’t we supposed to play games?” I had them line up along the fence and told them that on three they were to run down the the yellow line, touch it, and stay there.
“One, two, free.” And they all started running and I told them they all had to go back. “One two bee.” Again I tricked them and they had to go back. “One two ski.” This time they had caught on except for one little boy who kept running. I told him to go back and when he turned around I noticed he was wearing a hearing device. I stopped trying to trick them after that.
The day began with a skit where the pastor was playing a chef cooking in his kitchen who suddenly gets overrun with rats, screams, takes a broom, and stands up on a chair trying to beat the rats. I, playing the assistant, run into the kitchen to see what’s the matter.
“Rats!” yells the chef.
“Hats? Oh, you need a chefs hat, here let me get you one.”
“Not hats! Rats.”
“Bats? There’s not any bats in here, besides they only come out at night.”
“Not bats. Rats!”
“Cats? I don’t see any cats. But we sure could use some with all these rats. Rats!” And then I grab a broom and jump up onto a chair and scream like a little girl and the kids of course are laughing at the two men wearing aprons standing on chairs.
And then a third character enters the scene and talks about the small things, like bad words and rats, that can cause big problems, like sin and hurt feelings.
A wise woman once told me that we live in this tension of law and gospel. The law of course being the list of dos and don’ts. And the gospel being the love and grace of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus. And with one hand gripped in the other she pulled in opposite directions to portray this tension. Our goal, she said, is to stay in the place where these tensions meet. She said that often we error on the side of the law and she pulled her hands to the left. And then pulling her hands to the right she said that if we error it’s best to error on the side of the gospel.
I’ve always agreed with that.
Because when we sin and cover it up and say something stupid like, “Look I sat in a puddle and I’m all wet.” Our mother still brings us a new set of underwear and shorts.
Jesus did speak this way [a powerful and profound way], in poetry—and here is something truly weird: according to the great German Protestant theologian Joachim Jeremias, when Jesus’s sayings are translated back into Aramaic, it’s clear that he favored a certain four-beat rhythm, and that he was especially fond of alliteration and assonance as well as rhyme!
But I guess this shouldn’t surprise us. That Jesus would be a Poet like his father(s).
Listen to Rick McKinley’s sermon on David being with God.