Creativity Series: “Altars” by Diana Huey

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

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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.

How Informal Creative Communities Thrive

We have a loose and informal community of creatives. I try to be a part of the conversation and facilitate the discussion and the goal is the discussion guides us to a place of inspiration, hope, encouragement, and belonging. Gauging the effectiveness and reach of the community happens through feeling and anecdotal evidence. I just want to know it’s going somewhere positive.

Here are the challenges:

1. It’s mostly virtual and hardly face to face.
2. Many people with many different needs, wants, hopes.
3. It’s too easy to avoid being known in a digital community (a phrase I heard from the guy behind this).

This is how we can address these challenges:

1. Meet with people face to face who we connect with online.
2. Keep my interests and goals clear and focused so others with the same interests can connect.
3. Create space where people can tell their stories.

I want to begin addressing #3. The purpose is layered. While creating community by forcing people to make themselves known, we’re also struggling with a creative challenge. I want this to be a labor of love. In telling your story you’re creating something much larger than what you can see. You’re adding to “the stock of available reality.”

I will formally begin this venture after August, but I hope you’re subconscious begins thinking about your story.

On Wednesday Chris Hunter will be featured in the Bereshit Bara Creativity Series. Chris lives in Olympia Washington. He teaches science to people in the 8th grade. He eats one chocolate croissant per week and prefers cats over dogs. Although he didn’t write about it, he believes challenge and discomfort are catalysts for creativity, and that often these are delivered by fateful forces. So to this, he often succumbs.

I don’t know Chris, but one friend described him as the most creative person he knows. I hope to see you on Wednesday. If you check out the Podcast on iTunes you can hear the episode before Wednesday.

I usually add a few things in the Podcast that aren’t in the post. I’ll be featuring some posts from our creative community in the future podcasts as well.

Let me know in the comments what creative project you’re working on.

Creativity Series: Tyler Braun “The Blinking Cursor and My Rising Pulse”

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

If you comment on today’s post you will be entered into a drawing to win Tyler Braun’s debut book Why Holiness Matters. You have until Friday to enter and I’ll announce the winner over the weekend.

Download episodes or Subscribe to the Podcast on iTunes by clicking here.

Listen to the podcast:

Those of us who write know the awful feeling of staring at a blinking cursor on a blank page. For those who paint, it’s the bristles of the paintbrush sitting in the paint while staring at a blank canvas. For those who write music, it’s the fingers resting on the keys of the piano waiting for inspiration to come.

I liken it to staring out into the empty expanse of the desert. We see seemingly no life. Everything around us is dead.

Something I can only describe as God-breathed or magical (depending on your worldview) happens between the blinking cursor, my rising pulse, and the finished product of beauty.

I could write about the four principles that drive me from beginning to end, but those principles won’t work for you. We love to create a formula for creating. The problem is each of us was made differently. We each have different passions, desires, and experiences. Why is it that we then try to formulate overcoming the blank page into tried and true principles and action steps? We should know better.

Here’s the reality I’ve come to know about creating out of emptiness: It takes humble submission.

Creatives don’t need more confidence or more inspiration to do the work. Nope, creatives need humility in order to create well.

Somewhere in the midst of the blinking cursor and my rising pulse I have a moment of clarity when I realize I’m incapable. I cannot do this creation on my own. I do not have the ability. My own worldview informs me that it is the God inside of me who begins His inspiring work once I’m able to get my own arrogant agenda out of the way. Why must I learn this lesson over and over I wonder?

In the creation account found in Genesis 1, God has created much of the world we see around us, even the cosmos our own eyes cannot see. He made it and called it good. But the work continued on as God created Adam and Eve.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26)

Think of the implications of this as it relates to our own ability to create:

1) We are created in the “likeness” of the Creator.

2) The same creative power that breathed the universe into existence lives in us.

We could translate Genesis 1:26 by saying God created us to be His “icons” or reflections or windows. We were made to point to Him.

So what does any of this have to do with overcoming the blank page? Everything.

As we lay down our own agendas and our own creative arrogance for the sake of serving the Creator we have an opportunity for Him to work through us. We were made by Him, with His creative imprint, to go about our lives creating for the sake of our Creator.

Between the blinking cursor and the finished product is the place where we humbly sacrifice ourselves for the sake of becoming people the Creator can use in order to create through us.

True creation comes through no other way.

Creatives need to humbly submit themselves to the Master Artist.

Tyler Braun is a 27-year-old INTJ living in Portland, Oregon with his wife Rose. He works full time as a worship leader, while also finding time to study at Multnomah Biblical Seminary in pursuit of a masters degree. Tyler’s first book releases in August of this year through Moody Publishers and is available for pre-order now. You can find Tyler on TwitterFacebook, or his blog.

The Changing Image of our Thoughts and Introducing this Week’s Creatives

Download episodes or Subscribe to the Podcast on Itunes by clicking here.

You might notice I’ve changed the images for the series. I began with a spider preparing to weave her web by making that first jump. I’ve since changed this and I want to tell you why. The spider metaphor is inspired by the Brazilian philosopher, Rubem Alves’ The Poet, The Warrior, The Prophet:

The spider: a metaphor of myself; I also want to weave a web over the void. But my world is not woven with anything material. It is made out of a substance more ethereal than gossamer thread, so ethereal that some have compared it to the winds: words. The human word is made with words. ‘In the beginning, the Word…’ And, like the spider’s thread, words come also from within our bodies. Words are transformed flesh. I wonder if Nietzsche was not watching a spider when he said that ‘man is a rope over an abyss.’

The first word: a leap into the void, a leap out from the void…

But the spider is luckier than we are: she already has the recipe for such a portentous event: it was given to her by birth. her body knows, her body remembers. but we have forgotten it. We do not know…As Eliot put it, we know ‘words’ but we are ignorant of ‘the Word.’

Since reading the submissions from the 13 Creatives (and you brave Creatives who shared with me your own posts struggling with these same questions), my thoughts and feelings about creativity changed from being positioned on firm ground—while preparing to make that first leap into the void—to beginning from the void and the chaos with nowhere to stand.

The image places the Creative into the middle of the Tarantula Nebula, one of the “largest, most violent star forming regions known” in this stretch of the sky.

Where we create rarely begins on solid ground. We start inside the chaos and violence and we strive to create something which shines for everyone to see. It is here, in the forming gas and explosions, we too are formed.

Monday will feature the poet Dyana Herron with her post “I Thought I Saw It.”

Dyana Herron is a writer and editor originally from Tennessee. She now lives with her husband in Philadelphia. You can visit her at

Then on Tuesday, the author and worship pastor Tyler Braun shares, “The Blinking Cursor and My Rising Pulse.”

Tyler’s first book Why Holiness Matters releases in August. Those who comment on his post will be entered into a drawing out of a hat (by my wife) to win a copy of his book.

Tyler Braun is a 27-year-old INTJ living in Portland, Oregon with his wife Rose. He works full time as a worship leader, while also finding time to study at Multnomah Biblical Seminary in pursuit of a masters degree. Tyler’s first book releases in August of this year through Moody Publishers and is available for pre-order now. You can find Tyler on Twitter, Facebook, or his blog.

Creativity Series: Derek Smith “19 Beginnings for a Blog About Beginnings”

• Download episodes or Subscribe to the Podcast on Itunes by clicking here.

• If you missed Elizabeth Myhr’s meditation titled, “Hello” go here to catch up. My wife pulled the name out of the hat and the winner of Elizabeth Myhr’s book the vanishings & other poems is: Evan Kingston. Congratulations! Send me your mailing address at rossgale4 at gmail dot com.

From Ross: Teachers were once described to me as performers, putting on a show to help students learn. If this is true then Derek Smith is an Oscar winning performer. He creates in the classroom with as much skill and wit and humor as he does with words. His tempo, flow, and rhythm always surprise and delight my expectations. He pushes the boundary of story with his images and characters. No matter how far out he takes us, he always brings us back to humanity and to the little things; objects that shape the human experience, give it a pulse, and also cause that pulse to die. His own stops and starts of words act as a defibrillator for the readers’ heart. Taking our breath away. Then returning it in grace.

Listen here:

1. Peanut butter cup wrappers, empty bottle of wine, greasy fingers, greasy mouth.

2. My friend Ross asked me questions about creative people getting started. Stuck on the freeway on my way home from work one afternoon, I heard Ross’ questions in my head. Against all sense I typed some ideas into my cell phone while sitting in traffic. Stop and go.

3. When I was in college my friends and I learned hip-hop choreography from a girl in high school who taught dance out of her parents’ garage. After a certain number of practices there was a show, and I performed a Lil’ Kim routine. The show was in a Greyhound bus station waiting area, so my routine was in front of the arriving and departing travelers, other community dance types like my instructor, clusters of tween students, and a crowd of parents with cameras.

4. I passed through the checkout line with a bag of yogurt-covered almonds stuffed in the front pouch of my younger brother’s Calvary Chapel Bible College hooded sweatshirt. Bulk items were for sampling, I reasoned, and this was a big-box store. I could take large samples and it would be okay. No one would notice or get hurt.

5. An artist follows a line where it leads. The words were scrawled over a black and white picture of a chubby man by a campfire following his nose into the air. His body hovered several inches above the log on which he had been sitting.

6. G.K. Chesterton: “Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere.”

7. When I put pen/cil to paper, I hear the voice of a teacher telling me to read my writing out loud.

8. I’m a teacher. I do the calling. No one needs to read anything out loud.

9. Ego marbles rattle my skeleton.

10. I work day after day for a glimpse of revelation. Sometimes the work is akin to looking past the boundaries of my body and through a window on an adjacent wall to a world I know little about.

11. I dance in a nightclub. Mirrors and decadence and depravity all around!

12. I am a quasi-historical comic book hero-legend. My pecs are so large they have a line down the middle where my silver chain gathers.

13. For emergencies: Anne Lamott spoons me on my bed and pets my hair while I nibble the upper left-hand corner of a Toni Morrison book.

14. Usually: a dead body washes up.

15. Today: I’m angry about middle school.

16. Always: my partner says she won’t read a thing till it’s finished.

17. Sometimes I move a folding chair from the patio outside my apartment to the bathtub, draw an inch of water, turn on the fan and lock the door, and sit on the chair with my laptop balanced on my knees. I love to swish my feet in the shallow pool.

18. Sometimes I am so afraid of the First Word I gather a thousand little words and call the thousand little ones a “collection.”

19. There’s nothing special about words. Writing is hand-work, like tying a knot in a Safeway bag used for garbage.

Derek Smith teaches language arts at Renton High School in Renton, Washington, and earned an M.F.A. in creative writing from SPU in 2011. He edits and contributes to Magical Teaching and is working on a memoir called Mr. Smith Is Magic — And Other Fantasies of a First-Year Teacher.