Creativity Series: “Tossing Ferdinand Magellan” by Tyler McCabe

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Most writers I know have a pet metaphor for this station, the ultimately strange role of writer, and I suppose I do, too, though lately I have grown suspicious of it—or rather, him. I am considering tossing Magellan.

I think he originally occurred to me during a college entrance exam. I recall composing a long flowery rant about the writer as an explorer; I wrote something like, “an explorer sees the world as an oyster into which he readily forks his tongue.” (My youth blinked past the innuendo.) I hyperventilated on about, yes, lapping at that goodness.

And once I stop blushing, I admit there’s some truth to that because the world is sweet. This is a world that repays exploration.

I think Tolkien had this exploration in mind—a kind of discovery of the real—when he wrote his bit about humans refracting “a singular White,” and although I think he probably wrote that sentence like I wrote my entrance exam essay, missing its problematic undertones, I think he probably wrote it in earnest as I write (generally) in earnest, and perhaps he even wrote it next to a window overlooking sea like the one I write by now, because who can deny witness to the light shattering over water and the salt-clean air and gulls in pines, bleating? The world is sweet.

I’m sure Magellan thought so, or he wouldn’t have died trying to circumnavigate it.

But I no longer think of writing as a true exploration of a beautiful world, a discovery of the real, and here’s why: having created this art for some time, it’s occurred to me that the vista out my window is a variegated color beyond the written word. I experience the complex color sea, and I can write a sea-like sentence, sure, add rising and falling sounds, a certain swish, harp the moribund S, but I cannot write the sea as one actually experiences it. The ocean—human experience—is ornate beyond serifs.

To Tolkien I say: this white light burns my eyes.

Which isn’t to raise any more controversy than this: the writer, if anything, is not the explorer as we tend to think of him, Magellan at the prow of his ship, laying his plans upon his desk, drawing up lands as he encounters them. Something stranger is in art happening. The writer is parting darker waters.

Considering this Christianly, I’ll hijack for a moment the story of God giving Adam reign to name Earth’s animals.

And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.

This might be the most important parade in the entire Judeo-Christian tradition. So I apologize for this quick and somewhat distorted analysis: I believe Adam was, like any writer I can bear to be friends with, a little bored and lonely, and luckily for him, God intended all along that Adam not only explore the sweetness of the world, but alter it, reconcile himself to it, leave his shadowy strange mark on it: beginning with a syllable. Crow.

For the creator-artist and the viewer both, art is an extra mode of knowing that is just as likely to muddle Tolkien’s light as it is to coax it into spectrum. That is why we call some books good books, and also why we can’t pick The Best Book Ever. It is why we writers feel there is something left to be written: because we are not exploring the actual world in words, but through playing with words coming to situate ourselves in the actual world.

Playing with words, we organize the world, fillet it, direct it, sharpen it, slow it down, speed it up, deceive it, chop it into manageable pieces or amass it into unspeakable wonders.

Most writers will tell you they are in love with words themselves—I am in this camp—and I will venture a guess that most of us get into this business not because we are looking out windows on beautiful vistas that compel us to record them shoddily, but because the last paragraph of “Dover Beach” is so rhythmically compelling. Because the opening sentence of One Hundred Years of Solitude gives us goosebumps.

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

The best creators are Adams—transfiguring one blackwing flurry into crow, for love of that open sound, soft punch.

All this to say, my first metaphor’s soured. A writer isn’t really an explorer discovering the world; what she offers is other-worldly. Her work transforms the world.

Then again, I may be tossing Magellan unfairly. Words are elastic. Maybe I need only revise the way I imagine him. Sure, a creator is like Magellan as I can picture him now: stepping from the dock and sliding off the map, returning from uncharted space, notebooks full, and changing the way we relate to the world, for better and worse, muddling and concentrating that foreign light.


Tyler McCabe is the program coordinator of Seattle Pacific University’s MFA in Creative Writing program and managing editor of Image journal’s bi-weekly e-newsletter ImageUpdate. He has also written for Ruminate and SPU’s Etc. magazine.

Creativity Series: Adele Konyndyk “Redeeming Meandering”

Learn more about the creativity series here. Like the series on Facebook. Listen to the podcast on iTunes.


I could tell you that writing fiction feels like making some sinuous watercourse. A river. A creak. A stream.

I could describe my ideas—my characters, even—as the traveling water. The outer banks, you see, could be my imagination. With time and movement, with the mysterious back and forth of my work, these banks would change—expand, and widen. Excitement, clarity, compassion, eloquence—those would be words of my widening. And I would write hoping that when (if) a reader came upon my finished ‘river’ someday, they would be widened, too.

Or I could compare starting a story to carving an elaborate design into a stone. This design would be made from a continuous pattern that bends somewhat wildly, but also repeats. So there would be order in it—an inherent sensibleness to its intricate, echoing motif as I chisel it into place, sentence by sentence.

I suppose, in this scenario, I would hope for my final reader to be both comforted and provoked by my creation’s strange symmetry. That its curvatures would mimic their own experiences, and yet also invite them to the unknown—the challenging realities of others.

But I can’t compare beginning a story to making water rush or slowly chiseling stone. In the six or so years I’ve been seriously attempting short fiction, starting out has felt much different.

Most of the time it just feels like…rambling. Like roaming around without my shoes.

Like meandering.

Unless I accept this—live it out at the desk—writing fiction scares the… Bereshit Bara out of me. I have the abandoned paragraphs and orphaned pages to prove it—words that never really became real in the beginnings at all.

So to fight stasis, I have to embrace some seriously nonsensical seeming wandering. Some zag and some zig.

Often I start with an image—but not always. There is no always in this process, for me.

Sometimes I start with snatches of dialogue of fragments of setting. Like many writers I know, I have entire documents and notebook sections that don’t contain a single complete sentence—odd testimonies to my nomadic process.

I might begin by mimicking lines (often first lines) I love—sentences that are mysterious and simple in all the right places. My own creations are shoddy in comparison, of course. But, I am writing. And I am writing sentences, and I am starting something, here.

Forget that someday-reader, I tell myself—I am writing, now. I am meandering, but not—as the common definition of the word suggests—moving about from place to place without aim. My aim is to make, and making I am.

The only truly aimless days are the days I dismiss these raw pages. I deny their place in the process, too afraid to see them as the beginning of what could one day be called…literature.

But lately I have come up against this halting fear armed with etymology. I allow myself to think about a single word in whatever I have written—to pause on it, mull over it, and suss it out. Why is this word in my twisted little sapling of a story draft? And where did it come from, anyway?

To give you some idea of how it works, even if just in the process of writing a (this) non-fiction piece–consider the word: meander.

Meander: a turn or bend along the course of moving water.

Meander: an ornamental pattern of winding or intertwining lines used in art and architecture.

Meander: the title of a Stanley Plumly poem that I have read at least five times this month while struggling to get a story started. A poem that unpacks this word with spare eloquence and sensory imagery by speaking of:

endings as beginnings, the egg, the moon,
the perfect snow,
geometry and physics of completion, symbols of certainty,
the formal beauty of arrival.

These are but a few of the meanings and histories to spill out from this one word. They remind me that I am not language’s Creator, but created to re-create.

When I write fiction, I might not be making a river, but I can be the bend in it. I can be a curved line in a design already completed, even if I cannot see the end from where I am. There is pleasure in scrabbling around, through the cadence of just-made prose or details of character.

There is early joy, even if its raw source makes me uneasy. I can’t test my writing unless I trust it as writing—at every stage.

Novelist Michael Ondaatje believes: “The first sentence of every novel should be: Trust me, this will take time but there is order here, very faint, very human. Meander if you want to get to town.”

He is speaking here of assurance offered by an author to his reader. But the assurance I seek as I write sounds nearly the same. In them I hear God’s urging—first to get going, and then, once the tracks are there, to go with them for as long as I can. To be a triumphant meanderer, praying as my stories moves.

And as I go about my making, I will try to remember the winding watercourses I have seen from airplane windows. How their twisted, even snake-like bodies had an order very faint, very earthly. They were not quite holy—not yet. But they were beautiful as they flowed, and flowed, and followed.


Adele Konyndyk lives and meanders in Hamilton, Ontario. While she enjoys writing reflections on culture, faith, and justice, she sometimes uses freelancery to distract herself from her short stories. So feel free to urge her back onto the fiction track by Tweeting her, emailing her, or sending The Avengers to her house.

Creativity takes Courage. Announcing the Creativity Series eBook

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.

The eBook

I was very afraid to do this, but I went ahead and…

I have published the Bereshit Bara Creativity Series in an eBook format available here.

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.

Why does it feel like I’m always failing?

It’s funny how one word can have so many connotations and mean a thousand different things to different people. Like the word blogging, or writing, or creativity, or baseball.

When I think of baseball I automatically think about the feeling of a hitting a double in the gap, the surge of a near-perfect swing.

Others might think about that boring sport on TV or the pain of a bruise on their ribs.

The cool thing about the internet is that it opens up so many possibilities. It’s like the pitches are the size of watermelons and the outfielders look away to watch the butterflies float across the grass.

Then why does it feel like I’m always striking out?

Why do I think the Internet is something to conquer, something to serve my needs for affirmation and validation?

I’m running a race I can’t win. What I think about when I think about writing and blogging is failure.

I am thankful for this ability to write and create stuff and put it all out here. And I’m grateful for all the people I know and don’t know who read and comment and think and share. That all takes time and effort.

I just keep reminding myself about all I’m grateful for (like you) and I lose the desire to pursue the world (and the internet) like a foolish conquistador. That’s when writing and blogging come back into perspective for me. It’s not that it’s not about me (to use a Christianese cliché), but that it’s all about something so much bigger than me, so much more pressing, so much more worthwhile.

I thank God for that.

I’ve turned off comments today. Send me a note at rossgale4 at gmail dot com or send this post to a friend.

Creativity Series: Britt Tisdale “Better Than a Butterfinger”

Learn more about the creativity series here. Like the series on Facebook. And listen to the podcast



As a grad student in Counseling Psychology, I sat cross-legged on shag carpet with my supervising professor who was reviewing notes while she ate a candy bar. I don’t remember whether it was Butterfinger or Baby Ruth, but it must have been good. “Man,” she said, rolling her eyes. “That was orgasmic!”

Weird, was all I thought at the time.

The exclamation, or expulsion as it were, was an odd expression for a professor—hippie-cool at best, inappropriate at worst. Something about the juxtaposition of the adjective orgasmic against that run-of-the-mill, 7-Eleven noun candy bar has stuck with me ever since.

Last fall, the aspens held their yellow as I arrived for a Colorado retreat led by The Allure of Hope author Jan Meyers. (Meyers did not eat a candy bar that I recall.) She did, however, talk about orgasm. More specifically, she discussed extasis, or the state of being outside of oneself. Orgasm is just one example. Experiences of beauty or pleasure transport the soul, as if away from the body, in a rapture of delight.

A medical journal from 1866, defines ecstasy this way: “In this condition, the mind, absorbed in a dominant idea, becomes insensible to surrounding objects.”

Centuries earlier, John Locke said in his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, “Whether that which we call Extasie, be not dreaming with the Eyes open, I leave to be examined.” In aspen-drenched Colorado, Meyers reminded me that God loves ecstasy—pleasure, beauty, passion, play.

Years ago, I received an invitation to play. Here’s how it happened.

A dancer friend, her face like a kid’s in a candy store, showed me a statue. It was an elegant, silvery metal carving of a beautiful woman. My friend claimed God gave her this icon representing His pleasure in her dancing. No fair, I immediately thought, before I caught myself and morphed my first reaction into something more spiritual like, I, too, would be blessed by a token of your favor, Lord.

After that, I was on the hunt. I scavenged malls and galleries with the hunger of a new writer desperate for encouragement. Is that it? I asked God. Is that my icon?

One day, rounding the corner of a downtown city block and checking my watch, I was distracted by some Mexican pottery, garish as a child’s scribble, glaring from a shop window. I hurried past. Then I stopped. I shook my head. Seriously, Lord?

I knew I’d found it. My divinely appointed icon was a grinning ceramic monkey holding aloft a little blue pot in his yellow hands. Okay, I get it. I play. You fill my cup.

Play. Pleasure. Ecstasy.

I crave the extasis I experience in the creative act. I play like a child—all skips and scrapes—and I am propelled from the commonplace. I am beckoned, transported, outside of myself into mystery.

Anne Lamott was perhaps more apropos than she realized when she said, “[I]t is only when I go ahead and decide to shoot my literary, creative wad on a daily basis that I get any sense of full presence.”

“Yes,” my professor would say, licking her fingers. “It’s better than candy.”


Britt Tisdale has written for publications including LeadershipGroupIgnite Your FaithRock & Sling, and a forthcoming southern writers anthology. She graduated from Seattle Pacific with a MFA (Fiction) last week, and continues her work as a mental health counselor/creativity consultant in downtown Orlando, Fla. Britt is a bit too ecstatic to connect with anyone interested in her first novel Arden Alive, but she’ll try to calm down. You can find her at www.alivestudios.net.

Creativity Series: David Clark “Writing and Remembering”

Learn more about the creativity series here. Like the series on Facebook. And listen to the podcast.


I sometimes wonder why I write or paint at all. This bewilderment grows not because the craft is long and hard—-although it is surely that—-but because once having written an essay or etched the image I am dissatisfied. Even when the words or paintings garner praise from people whose opinions I most value, I remain unconvinced. While the craftsman in me can always find grist to revise, the dissatisfaction with my art has deeper and less certain roots. C.S. Lewis once said, “What does not satisfy when we find it, was not the thing we were desiring.”

In recent years I have become a gardener of flowers. To the surprise of family and colleagues whose memory of my earlier years included disparagement if not ridicule of those who spent precious time tending roses, I now expend abundant energy creating a multi-colored perennial garden. To my surprise, since becoming a gardener my winters are filled with a visceral yearning to feel spring’s warm sum against my cheek and spy the first lime shoot pushing through the black soil. I endure Colorado’s blustery early spring days while working the gardens bare cold earth, despite near frost-bitten hands and a reliably sore back. I tend my flowers with the same reckless frenzy my grandchildren inflict upon the wrappings of their birthday presents.

I confess that some of this anticipation and subsequent dissatisfaction is inherent in all I do—like say when I add or subtract flowers or revise a manuscript or return to a canvas. It is art embedded in a false hope, a myth that some penultimate hoop can be negotiated, that I might actually obtain, as Curley in City Slickers suggests, “The One Thing.” But somehow, my longings seem, or at least I imagine them to be, larger than hoop jumping. Rather, with an embarrassing ardor that despite the winters slush and cold not only persists but grows, I am motivated by summer’s lushness and color. It is within the memory of last August’s late afternoon sun dappled across the delphinium’s purple blooms that births a deeper longing, a longing I know but cannot name, a longing pointing beyond my garden.

I view my writing and painting studio like a garden. I often come to the blank page with a fiery desire to transform the words of my mouth into a meditation of the heart. I become mesmerized by my words, oblivious to time or surroundings. Indeed, as the movie Miss Potter suggests, “There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story.” But my art contains both flowers and weeds.

When others read my manuscripts they do not see or smell or hear my memories. Often I get a response with some variation of, “Your writing needs more “sense” prose.” That is, the words describing the smells and sounds and tastes of my characters or scenes in addition to visual and aural clues would, so the wisdom implies, make these people and places more “vivid” or “real.” What I think my well-meaning advisors mean by suggesting such a cure is the addition of sensory details incites the reader’s memory, allows the recall of their previous experience with a particular taste or smell, a lived experience that now becomes fused to words creating a new, revised image making the story more real or at least, more memorable.

I still remember the startled Saint Matthew sitting among the dandies counting his money while Caravaggio’s Christ figure pointed that beckoning finger and dazzling expanse of painted light. Christ’s finger and light exploded off the painting calling both an astonished Matthew and me. It was a finger pointing to a world bigger than the canvas or the Contarelli Chapel or anything else I knew. But, that memory remains yoked to two other sensations: the smell in the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi—a drafty dank odor found in the air of all Cathedrals over 300 years old—and the magical almond chocolate flavor of my first Roman Gelato, an ambrosia consumed just prior to standing before The Calling of St. Matthew. Years later I cannot enter an old church or taste chocolate gelato without the smell or taste conjuring Matthew’s look of astonishment or of my own.

I write in the early morning. I set fresh coffee on the desk, murmur Psalm 19 as my morning prayer, and with an old-fashioned ink pen and yellow pad copy two or three paragraphs from the work of a favorite writer’s prose. I did not always follow this plan. During the discipline of graduate school, I would arise early and after the first coffee sip plunge into writing. But then the words stopped. I desired to write but while the hoops remained, I no longer had hops.

A wise friend suggested I would know what to write when I allowed my memories to speak. But I don’t think that advice is quite right. After Joshua led the Israelites across the river Jordan and into the Promised Land, God instructed him to place twelve stones from the river as a monument. When asked why, the prophet said the stones would remind their children that this was the place where God allowed Israel to cross on dry ground. My memory does serve as a fertile source of desire and a rich experience repository, a resource needing careful stewardship. But memory like the stones is not the end and cannot satisfy. I meditate upon my memories, murmur the Psalmist’s poetry, and read the graceful words of writers upon whose shoulders I stand—my own stones—because when I remember rightly they point to why I write. I desire to write, to put that word on the page, because I long to tell of a Beauty I have not experienced but a beauty my experience has seen and tasted and heard.


David Clark is a physician, writer, and visual artist. After publishing forty professional articles as a University professor of medicine/surgery, he now maintains a printmaking studio, writes short stories and creative non-fiction, and teaches English part time at Fort Lewis College. In addition to recently earning a M.F.A. from Seattle Pacific University, Clark writes a regular column—The Occasional Reader, edits a medical journal, and blogs at Art, Words, and a Journey of Wonder. He and his wife Terry live in southwest Colorado.  Contact: www.davidclarkart.com

An Argument Against Andrew Peterson’s “Lesser Lights” and Tolkien’s “Sub-Creators”

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.

This is why I misquote Psalm 45 in my prayers:

Fill my heart with a noble theme
as I recite my verses for you the King;
give me the words of a skillful writer.

Sub- and Co- are as different as the Old and New Testament.

Sub- is the story of God creating and naming it good.

Co- is the story of God indwelling and incarnating.

Co-Creators create to explore mystery.

Sub-Creators play around with “lesser lights.”

What kind of Creator are you?

Creativity Series: Chad Thomas Johnston: “When Work Begets Wonder”

Only a few more weeks until the end of the Creativity Series. I’ll be continuing the series in a mysterious, as of yet announced, way on Facebook. Go here to follow along with the future conversation on creativity.

Listen to the podcast. Subscribe to the podcast at iTunes.


In the beginning, I created only when the skies rained inspiration—when ideas pelted my brain and irrigated my imagination from above. When inspiration descended and I failed to capture the runoff, it was lost forever.

It was my friend, Kansas City-based artist Danny Joe Gibson (@DJGKCMOUSA on Twitter), who taught me a more practical approach to creativity. At age 33, he has already created well over 2,500 works of art, and posted over 30,000 original photos on Flickr.com. If he only created when inspiration rained down readily, he would need to be Methuselah’s age to create as many pieces as he has.

I can tell you with absolute certainty that Danny does not live in the creative equivalent of the Pacific Northwest, where it rains ideas daily. Instead of waiting for the rain, he does the creative equivalent of a rain dance: He wakes up every morning at 5 am and begins creating in time with the rhythms of his imagination. Sometimes the ideas trickle down. Other days, he finds floods.

But his rain dance is a daily discipline—an act of work that begets wonder.

Somewhere along the way, I decided to follow Danny’s example. I began waking up at 5 am to perform my own writerly rain dances. I knew I loved creating enough that I was not satisfied to do it solely when rainclouds loomed on the horizon. I learned from experience that, if I sat down to create, my work often gave way to wonder, too.

I also learned that if I did not make time for creativity, life would not freely give it to me. Danny and I both have day jobs in the Joe Versus the Volcano sense. At the end of each day, our brains are sizzling in our brainpans like the fried eggs in the frying pans in the anti-drug commercials that dominated network television in the ‘80s. “This is your brain. This is your brain after your day job. This is your brain after your day job with a side of bacon-flavored regret. Any questions?” Fried brains rarely offer much in the way of ideas. But at 5 am, fueled by ambition and coffee, my brain’s yolk intact, I find my footing most days.

I no longer have any interest in waiting for the weather to prompt me to create. Muses come and go as they please. I would say they are fair-weather friends but, for the longest time, my muses primarily appeared precisely when life’s weather turned foul. In my teens and early twenties, I only wrote poetry and songs whenever I was heartbroken over some poor girl who never asked to be the subject of a tragic work of epic scope. In retrospect, I’m a little surprised none of them threw handfuls of Prozac at me.

By creating only when I found myself mired in the same swamp of sadness that claimed Artax the horse in The Neverending Story, I limited my creative output to one decidedly drab emotional hue. But worst of all, creating only under the influence of the muse has the potential to reduce would-be agents of creativity to mere recipients of inspiration.

I recently watched a Swedish film titled As It Is In Heaven, which was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Oscar in 2005—and rightly so. Directed by Kay Pollock, the film focuses on a renowned orchestra conductor who is forced to pursue a life outside of the glow of the concert spotlight when his health begins to fail him.

Eventually, he finds himself leading a small church choir in the rural town that was his childhood home. He tells the members of his choir—and I am paraphrasing him here—that music is hanging in the air, waiting for people to harvest it, if only they will reach up and bring it down. What initially sounds like foolishness to the choir becomes reality as its members bring melodies worthy of Heaven down to Earth. They do not merely receive the music—they harvest it from the heavens themselves.

Unexpected rains fall from time to time, and I am grateful when they do. But many of the creations I cherish above all others were fueled not by flash floods of inspiration, but by a commitment to create. I walk a strange tightrope, teetering between labor and luck, when I create.

If I do not show up to create with intentionality, I am lucky to recognize the creative opportunities that do manage to surface serendipitously. That is, like a stuffy old codger who’s forgotten how to enjoy himself, I am inclined to open my umbrella when it rains instead of catching the droplets of water on my tongue like a child.

Each day, I watch the sky and perform my rain dances, and work until wonder guides me. But there are other ways to ensure a good rainfall: First, I write exclusively from my particular patch of sunlight. My wife and I have five felines, and there is skylight in our living room that cuts across the floor with the movement of the sun during the day. The cats follow it wherever it goes, as if that light is the Sun of God, and they are its dimwitted disciples.

Like my cats, I follow a patch of sun where writing is concerned. I let my brain guide me, not to ideas that seem like they will please someone else, but to ideas that set my brain alight with excitement. I only write about those things that bring me some amount of joy—that offer the promise of warmth when repeated revisions bring the threat of boredom. So I curl up in the sun, where the ideas are warm and alive, and I write.

I also know that if I do not salt the clouds as well—if I do not engage in the creative equivalent of cloud seeding—all is for naught. So I stack the creative deck. I put the odds in my favor that work will beget wonder—that my rain dance will actually lead to rain.

I load my brain with culture: the works of writers I admire, films of all flavors (including Swedish ones, of course), books, and music. I pour all of these things into my brain and, as I engage in the creative process, I find the clouds are saturated like colossal sponges—ready to yield buckets full of ideas. The old adage, “What goes up must come down,” is apropos here: If I store up cultural treasures in my mind, they percolate there, and the result is a steady trickle of associations, ideas, and possibilities.

In the end, then, the first keystroke in a piece of writing is not just a physical act—at least not for me. It’s like training for an athletic event, albeit an extremely sedentary one that makes my posture even worse than it already is. I rain dance in my desk-chair until the words begin to dance onscreen. Eventually—the rains fall.


Chad is a writer, blogger, artist, singer-songwriter, and publicist who resides in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife Rebekah, their daughter Evangeline, and five felines. He is represented by Seattle-based literary agent Jenée Arthur, who is currently shopping his manuscript, “The Stained-Glass Kaleidoscope: Essays at Play in the Churchyard of the Mind,” to publishing houses. Visit him on the web atwww.chadthomasjohnston.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Saint_Upid.

The Fear I’ll be exposed for who I really am

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.

There’s a storm coming

I spent the weekend finishing the edits of a long manuscript. Editing is a strange process somewhat different than creating. It requires having a vision for the minutia as well as the whole, but in a way different from an artist or writer. It’s seeing what isn’t there and rearranging or seeing what is there and bringing that to life. It’s possible I don’t know what I’m talking about, my brain is mushy.

The Bereshit Bara Creativity Series Series resumes on Wednesday with a post by Chad Thomas Johnston.

Chad is a writer, blogger, artist, singer-songwriter, and publicist who resides in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife Rebekah, their daughter Evangeline, and five felines. He is represented by Seattle-based literary agent Jenée Arthur, who is currently shopping his manuscript, “The Stained-Glass Kaleidoscope: Essays at Play in the Churchyard of the Mind,” to publishing houses. Visit him on the web at www.chadthomasjohnston.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Saint_Upid.