Keep Going

I fell this morning while running with the dogs. I have no idea what happened, whether I tripped on a crack in the sidewalk or if I bumped the dogs or they bumped me, or maybe I just didn’t pick my foot up high enough. Whatever happened, I soared gracelessly through the air and landed flat. I had the sense to throw the leashes so that I didn’t entangle myself or, worse, land on the pups. I uttered a series of startled yelps as I went down, knees, thighs, thank God for tatas that cushioned the blow, hands scraping across the sidewalk as I tried to shield my face, though my left cheekbone bounced before it was over.

I laid still to collect my breath before picking myself up. Assessing the damage: dogs concerned but fine; no blood, and the only broken skin was on my right palm; no rips in my clothing. I decided I could work out the kinks on my way home. I even ran a little, though the dogs seemed less enthusiastic.

I’m sore already, and I cut the distance shorter than I’d intended, but I kept going. To quote Samuel Beckett, “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

I’ll decide in the morning whether I need a day off to recuperate, but even if I do, it’ll be one day. I’ll get back to it the next.

Because exercise and art are disciplines. We can have bad days. We can take literal and metaphorical falls. We can feel like we can’t go on. And we can choose to go on anyway.

Yesterday I had an all-around crap day. A family disagreement before I’d finished my coffee started things off poorly. I took myself to the gym and worked my body to distract my spinning mind; I tumbled headlong into a nap (joys of working from home); I took a call from a far-away friend; and I still felt blue.

In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield describes the resistance that intends to keep us from creating:

“First, unhappiness. We feel like hell. A low-grade misery pervades everything. We’re bored, we’re restless. We can’t get no satisfaction. There’s guilt but we can’t put our finger on the source. We want to go back to bed; we want to get up and party. We feel unloved and unlovable. We’re disgusted. We hate our lives. We hate ourselves” (31).

Yes, I’m emotional AF and that paragraph describes me yesterday to a T.

And still, I wrote. I worked on my personal projects because, for the time being, paid freelance writing work evades me (hence, the doubt: will I ever again get paid to do this thing I love? Maybe I suck. I do, I suck. Of course I suck. See how this goes?). Not having paid projects means I have time to work on my own stuff. As Pressfield also encourages: “Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives” (22). And so I write.

I can’t go on. I’ll go on, winding my steps through our neighborhood streets and my thoughts into words on my computer. Even when I think I can’t, I will.

 

Cover image by Prawny from Pixabay
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Creativity as Spiritual Practice

I read in The Artist’s Way:

Are you contemplative? Yes.
Do you allow yourself to go on retreat? Oh, well…

Shortly thereafter, I saw a magazine ad for a nearby retreat center. An ad for the same center popped up on social media a few days after that; I clicked, and Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, would be speaking there soon. It was expensive.

A week later, I randomly received a yoga catalog in the mail. I flipped through, and saw that Cameron would be leading a retreat at a yoga center on the East Coast. Even more expensive.

Interesting: I’d considered retreat-ing, and opportunities popped into view.

About a week later, another ad appeared on social media: a FREE online retreat with Cameron and one of my favorite artists, SARK, plus five others. The topic: Creativity as Spiritual Practice. In my wheelhouse, do at my own speed, and free? Sign me up!

I’ve listened to two of the seven speakers so far and gained wisdom from both. As I took notes on the second speaker, though, a rather obvious thought grabbed me:

Creativity is a spiritual practice.

The speaker talked about being told as a child that she couldn’t draw, so she should find something else to do in life. She cut herself off from creativity and became a successful doctor instead. But she wasn’t whole until she recovered her creative self.

I want to write, “Who tells a child they can’t draw, so find another career?” Except, how many of us heard the same message? Art’s just not your thing, honey. You’ll find your thing, don’t worry.

Hogwash.

First of all, Art and Creativity aren’t necessarily the same thing. Too often we get all high and mighty about Art. Art hangs in museums, so the average human can’t make Art. Maybe not, but we can all create. And it doesn’t have to be your career, although it might be. It can be a hobby that fulfills you in ways you never imagined and influences who you are in all spheres.

Secondly, creativity is spiritual. At the least, it connects us to our own spirits. Creative activity is pure self-expression. As a Christian, I believe that humans have been created in the image of the Great Creator. We join God in co-creating our lives, and we image God most fully as we engage with Him in body, mind and spirit. I regularly practice my faith, praying/meditating, worship, etc. Why not fold creativity into that mix? I connect with God in new ways as I create.

Whatever you believe, creative work is less work than flow, getting things down rather than thinking them up. Receiving, not straining, and expressing. Poet Jon Fosse said, “To compose poetry,” he might have said, to create, “is about listening…it is, so to speak, about bringing forth something that already exists…”

Thirdly, creativity is about practice, not necessarily mastery. It’s not something you do just like anyone else. You do you. Not everyone can be Picasso, Matisse, O’Keefe, but everyone can express themselves. It doesn’t have to look like anything specific, and it doesn’t have to look like anything else anyone has made.

When I practice yoga, it’s my practice. I don’t have to do it perfectly, because the best I can do is breathe and stretch my own body, imperfect and healing and differently balanced each day. I don’t compare, because someone else’s breath and stretch makes for their practice. I don’t practice towards an end, but for the sake of my presence in the process.

When our kids were young, we expected them to participate in a sport most seasons: soccer, basketball, baseball, swim. Hiking and biking with family and friends on weekends. We didn’t expect them to be champions, but to enjoy movement, play a game, be active, learn good sportsmanship. Eventually, they’d tried enough sports to know what they liked and didn’t. They understand that physical exercise is a practice, a discipline for overall health.

Why don’t we treat creativity similarly? So what if you can’t draw, try painting. If not painting, ceramics. Try music or writing or collage, mosaic or poetry, jewelry making or sewing or cooking or…

Why oh why do so many young children hear the message that they’re just not creative, especially at, arguably, the most creative stage of their lives? No wonder so many adults don’t believe they are creative. We lose part of our humanness when we cut off our creativity.

Like playing sports, we can play at creativity. And like anything you practice, it gets easier over time.

Creativity is a spiritual practice. I’m all in. How about you?

Proof of God’s Existence

I stand in awe of people with the kind of artistic ability you’ll see in today’s guest post. In fact, creative talent of this caliber, in any form–painting, drawing, making music, dancing, writing–seems to me proof enough of a Creator in whose image people were created to create.

re:create recess #21: Jae Moon Lee

Coincidently, during one of my walks, I found a stone that caught my eye likely because its formation looked so similar to one I remember from the place where l spent most of my time in childhood.

Probably not only me but many people must have had a similar experience, that somehow you have seen something before or you have been somewhere before though you might not have, actually.

In China the very first word people learn is “chun.” It means “the whole universe,” no matter where you are, since we all live under the same sky.

The second word is “ji,” meaning, “mother of earth,” like the stone and the dust. No one invented these words specifically. They just spread out among the people for many, many years.

The sky and earth.

The Bible, on the very first page of the Old Testament, also clearly proclaims that God Himself created the universe and the mother earth. I think this similarity between the eastern and western hemisphere is not a coincidence. Am I silly enough to think about it this way? But I like to believe that we are all connected in inexplicable ways.

An atheist skateboarder, mistakenly missing his momentum while showing his flipping technique for nothing, went straight into the bushes like a falling kite. Of course we can easily hear that first word coming out of his mouth: “Oh My God! It hurts!”

And then we say, “Thank God he was wearing a helmet!”

Why is it we mention God so often without giving it a second thought?

In my mind this is proof that someone already controls us from a long, long time ago in secret—or maybe in plain sight. We are all unconsciously programmed in our minds by someone very powerful. We cannot live even one day away from Him or escape Him as long as we are living on Earth.

No matter what we do, our future is already planned, decided by one God who is the pure artist himself.

Lately I paint stones, or rocks, even pebbles that might know the secret of the ancient times. I observe first the color and the lighting carefully, then I will put again and again on the same piece of rock a lot of details here and there, over its own universe and time.

Thanks, God. You are giving me strength and the Spirit to finish more paintings for an exhibition.

Jae Lee is a native of Seoul and has made the Bay Area his home for the last 30+ years. Having earned a BFA in Painting and Printmaking, Jae has made a living in the Film, TV, and Theater industry as a Scenic Painter.

Comfort in Creation

Today’s post comes from a beautiful person who creates beautiful art. English is not her first language, but the way she uses the language strikes me as poetic. Here she writes about the healing power of nature, and I feel as if we are meandering together along a path through the woods.

re:create recess #20: Michelle Prinz

re:create recess
A refreshment for the soul by means of relaxation with a sizable dose of enjoyment.
Reenacting memories of a pleasant nature, unwinding to a state of bliss.
Performing an act to comfort the surrounding world.

Again and again in times of weariness and exhaustion, the natural world that created me leads me back to it.

It is a time to rejuvenate and feel acceptance by restoring one’s self-worth in the creation enveloping us.
Ideally this essential endeavor will show us an awareness of his purpose,

namely, to put our universal body into a state of bliss by finding comfort in His creation.

Recreation spruces up mind and soul.
This has always meant to me being in a scape wide open, be it rugged or smooth, where I can joyfully climb or meander and feel the universal self, down to the bone.
In this landscape I always find a smaller or larger oasis offering shelter and protection.

This environment is without limit, filled with opportunities to find caressing solitude and to reflect on life’s gift.
It certainly will lead to a less worrisome load we choose to carry as our yolk.

This feeling of our body and soul against the bare elements—in all their freshness and decay—keeps me growing fonder of the life given to me.
Wouldn’t this force show us how much we are part of his works and feeling the balance of his waves…?

Nature’s gift, no matter how barren it seems, gives us the cup to replenish and recreate ourselves. Our time for recess in comforting solitude seems of the essence.

I can only imagine that everyone under the sun, at least once, gets to grasp the everlasting “lifeline” that beats our hearts and calms our souls.

Retreat
Realign
Replenish
Rejuvenate

Michelle Prinz is a native of Munich and has lived in the SF Bay Area since the early 80s. After her education in Art & Design, she also gained experience in Western Bookbinding and the Restoration of Paintings before earning a BFA in Illustration.

She has worked on logos, posters, spot illustrations and was honored to create images for a documentary about The Untold Story of Black New Orleans.

 

“I am so grateful to my sister in Christ for giving me the chance to recreate time out. I began retracing times spent with family outside of home. I realized how my father had a big role in offering us time to appreciate new environments, to discover our sense of rest and play outdoors. No road was too tiny or too winding for him to eventually find us a new path that gave us a chance to also find ourselves.

This post is dedicated to and in memory of my Papa Kurt. You see him here in his mid-80’s, joyfully stomping on the local redwood trails.”

The Sad Song

I had a rare treat last weekend: a Barnes & Noble sat across the street from the hotel where we stayed. Since most bookstores in our area have closed, I relished the opportunity to spend an hour meandering, collecting a stack of books that attracted my attention for various reasons, and sitting in a corner with them, slowly turning pages.

One book addressed our fear response to life’s hard times. The author wrote, “We habitually spin off and freak out when there’s even the merest hint of fear. We feel it coming and we check out…The most heartbreaking thing of all is how we cheat ourselves of the present moment” (Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart).

Yes, and yes. Life is hard. We feel badly. We check out and cheat ourselves.

Or we could not. Listen to my friend Mike advocate for a different approach…

re:create recess #19: Mike Loretto

I might be a little bit odd.

I had this thought recently when I was feeling the need for a break–for recreation–and my first impulse was to reach for…

…the saddest music I could put on.

I love sad songs. I love them. And I love them because–hang with me now–they make me feel sad. I actually love feeling sad. I know. It’s weird.

When I’m in the thick of the busyness of life and feel that internal prick of “I need to recreate, to play,” I have learned that some of the things that felt like recreation when I was younger don’t call to me as much. In those needful moments, I still might reach for the remote control, a tennis racket, a video game, a drink, a book, or any number of other things. Some of the time those things are the right decision; some times they’re really not. Most of them have no inherent goodness or badness. They all have the potential to be informative or celebratory or good exercise or just plain fun. They all also have the potential to be avenues for escape.

And I’m prone to escapism. Some combination of my personality, my experiences, and the myriad ways that modern culture offers us to escape our reality have, for me, led to 37 years worth of finding creative ways to escape. To not be present to what’s really going on in my life. To not be attentive. To not, in all honesty, be fully alive in many moments.

Sadness and grief can be paralyzing. Depression is no joke. I say all of this from experience. Intentionally diving into the waters of sadness isn’t always the right move, either–sometimes escape is a survival technique. Everything in its season, and everything in moderation. But I find that my default setting is one in which I’m not really letting myself grieve the big or small rips in the fabric of life that I encounter. The ways I’m broken. The ways the world is broken. The pain of people I love. The pain of people I’ll never meet. And I need regular doses of art, conversation, experiences that will prod me to do that grieving.

That’s where, for me, sad songs come in. A well-written, well-performed sad song has the capability to take me right to the core (or at least to dig into the mantle) of feelings I’ve been avoiding. When I turn on Patty Griffin’s “Rain,” or the soundtrack of the musical “The Last Five Years,” I access the pain and grief of relationships not going like we thought they would, hoped they would, needed them to. When I listen to Jason Isbell’s “Elephant,” I’m seared by the sadness of death and dying and of loving someone deeply. I remember in college listening to David Crowder’s “All I Can Say” on repeat, and feeling the desperation of spiritual longing, of the “dark night of the soul.”

Sometimes the sad song might end on a hopeful note. Many of the best don’t. The hope is found in the alchemy of turning grief into beauty, and in the “Oh, you too?” recognition that breaks us out of our isolation. There is something incredibly moving to me about a piece of art that tells the truth about the hard parts of life and somehow begins to redeem it in the beauty of the telling. The craft of the lyrics, the choices of instrumentation and rhythms and chord progressions, the sigh of a steel guitar line or the weeping of a mandolin, the voice soaked in the waters of experience–the right combination of these things cracks me open and brings me to my knees.

My faith and my experience tell me that the world is (and that I am) flawed and broken, and also that even good things must eventually burn down to let something better rise from the ashes. Being intentional about accessing sadness is, for me, a way of sifting through those ashes and finding the building blocks of new creation. As an (often frustrated) songwriter, I find that listening to a song that gets me in touch with my sadness is one of the best avenues for finding the head- and heart-space in which I do my best creative work. It’s a way of touching the live rail that energizes creativity. It hurts, but the hurt motivates and animates.

So here’s to the sad song. Turn it up and cry it out, my friends.

Mike Loretto (@mikeloretto on Twitter/IG) is a songwriter, worship leader, husband to Sarah, and feeder of dogs Bristow and Jed Bartlet. He and Sarah write and perform music under the name Truesdell and are hoping to release an album this year. (Find Truesdell on Facebook or @truesdellmusic on Twitter). Mike is passionate about the intersection of art & spirituality, contemplative prayer, good food & drink, Kansas Jayhawks basketball, and Kansas City Royals baseball. He almost never blogs at mikeloretto.tumblr.com. Email: mikeloretto at gmail dot com

All of the Above

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone say “I’m not creative” just in the last eighteen months. I disagree. We are all creative, as humans created in the image of a creative God. We’ve misunderstood creativity. We’ve unlearned the creativity so natural to children. We’ve allowed the critical voices to occupy space in our heads and censor us. Honest: I often feel like I’m not creative, or not creative enough, especially when I look at others who engage in creativity different from my own. So I need, as we all do, regular bursts of encouragement from creatives like my friend Nancy.

re:create recess #15: Nancy Ingersoll

reCREATE. Creating over and over again, or having fun (as in recreational). Why not both? Yeah, I choose all of the above.

After all, I choose more than one discipline for my job. I have so many job titles that a friend helped me narrow it down to a single overarching title. So, I am a full-service creative resource. That title covers all of it. Part-time graphic designer for marketing collateral, part-time high school teacher (photography & yearbook), and part-time artist (even that is diverse since artist includes photography, hand lettering, and graphic design). Notice the common thread there? All of them have me creating or fostering creativity in others.

Additionally, I consider myself a life-long learner. I occasionally attend workshops, periodically enroll in online classes, and dabble in a constant battle of self-taught topics. In each, I’m almost always creating something, but rarely duplicating my efforts. Cooking, painting, hand lettering, a myriad of computer/digital based topics, and a few randoms that still fit into the creating category (like the time I attended a tiling workshop and had the carpet ripped out and a tile entry in our house laid before my husband was home from work).

I was hired to teach photography at a a three-day workshop this summer, which makes sense since I teach Advanced Placement Photography at the high school level. As part of the gig, each of the five instructors were asked to come up with a secondary topic for a mini-session on the last day of the workshop to provide a breadth of instruction for each of the attendees. My pick was typography. You see, I know from preparing to teach other things (from the second grade Bible class to each of the ten subjects I have taught in high schools), that the teacher gains just as much from the research and lesson plans.

I have adored typography for ages. It was one of the few college textbooks I did not sell back when the class was over. In addition to creating graphic designs for marketing purposes, my role as Yearbook Advisor has had me examining fonts annually to pick a new mix that works well together, provides personality, and maintains content readability. Creating does not have to be the act of inventing. Creating includes curating and arranging.

While most of my creating involves some visual product, there are a gazillion forms of creating: from writing to playing an instrument, from gardening to cooking, from flower arranging to fashion stylist, and so on. All of which need ideas to feed them.

I am not a real writer, like a few of my friends who have top-selling books or regularly published blogs, I am an idea girl. I tend to give away half of these ideas to students who are stumped or to marketing clients who want to execute something new. Okay, not all of my ideas are given away for free, these are parts of my job. But I also occasionally share some of my ideas, on my totally irregular, sporadic and un-calendared blog.  And of course, I keep a few ideas for myself to create artwork that ends up in my online shop (which has shipped to thirteen different countries, last count).

For a long time, I have integrated my faith into some of my art. But, for fear of what others thought, I kept those pieces to myself. In March 2015, I gained the courage to post some of it on social media. I kept those to small doses, buried between other ‘regular’ posts. Exactly two years later, I participated in a faith-based hand lettering challenge which had me posting a verse everyday for a month. I realized that my faith-based art received a favorable response and I was able to let go of the fear and embrace the fact that my hand lettered Bible verses can inspire others and serve as a means of conversation starters. By conversation starter, I mean that it can open the door to share the Gospel because it is a sign for those with questions that you are a believer, or it can be a reminder to stop and reflect on the message and pray about it. Prayer is also a conversation—a conversation with God.

So the point of me sharing all of this is that everyone can create because creating comes in many forms, and you should never hold back.

 

Photo credit: Christy McCarter Photography, http://christymccarter.com/

Nancy is a California native with an affinity for typography. Professionally, she is both a teacher and a practicing artist. She teaches a high school Advanced Placement Photography class, hence the instagram name, and does freelance design work in addition to creating her own artwork, most of which recently have been hand lettered faith-based pieces. She and her husband live in the San Francisco Bay Area; they have launched two kids through the UC system, one recent graduate and one still in school.

 

 

 

 

instagram | @thephotocottage https://www.instagram.com/thephotocottage/
website | nancyingersoll.com
hand-lettered fonts | https://creativemarket.com/thephotocottage?u=thephotocottage
print on demand art | https://nancy-ingersoll.pixels.com/index.html?tab=galleries

 

Everything Thrums

As I prepare this post, Teen has the TV on while watching videos on his phone and Tween stares into the computer game abyss. The competing sounds drown out the natural world: birdsong, chattering squirrels, leaves rustling in the (too) slight summer breeze. My friend Bruce encourages us to listen, to tap into the flow, to tune our ears to the thrum of God’s creativity. But first, to deal with the noise…

re:create recess #14: Bruce Lawrie

When we were little our play was filled with creativity. Children can conjure up whole worlds before sitting down for a bowl of cereal only to dismantle their creation in favor of three or four more elaborate universes they assemble before lunchtime. I used to spend hours with my Revolutionary War army men that I ordered from the back cover of one of my Spiderman comic books after saving for months, hundreds of tiny molded plastic figures, red for British and blue for American. Great sagas unfolded out back in the sandbox behind the old farmhouse where we lived in Indiana. Regiments of infantrymen and drummer boys, backed by rows of cannons, fought epic battles in the shifting sands, deluged by flash floods emitted from the garden hose, bombarded by bricks and cinderblocks from above, set aflame, in one of the more gruesome and memorable battles, by my dad’s lighter I had snuck from his desk.

One of my daughter’s favorite forms of recreation when she was young was creating endless shows: plays, book readings, operatic arias, puppet shows, tumbling exhibitions, karate demonstrations, ballet, rock-n-roll shows, modern dance, the Macarena. The only encouragement she needed was a momentary lull in the adults’ conversation.

Maybe it’s because kids are so fresh from the Creator that their recreation revolves around creation. Imagine the fun God and Jesus must have had as they sung the cosmos into existence, reveled in the creation of the DNA helix, grinned at each other as the two trillion galaxies unfolded. How they must have marveled together at the first beloved child they breathed into being. Everything thrums with God’s infinite creativity. The mountains proclaim it; the Pacific shines with it; the Milky Way aches with it. Our kids are filled to the brim with it and when they play they are swimming in it.

As we age our creativity is dulled by worry and planning and all the other grown-up thoughts that fill up our heads. When adults make art they set aside the constant murmuring of these internal voices long enough to allow the Creator’s love to flow through them again. To create is to connect with the Life we sense pulsing just beneath our day-to-day reality, just out of sight. We catch glimpses of it, hear faint echoes of it, but can’t quite hold onto it. To pick up a pen, a paint brush, or a lump of clay and take the first step in search of what lies below is to reach out for the unknowable. We hope to capture a bit of the Light, something real that others can feel and connect with. To create art is to connect. These mirrors we build—a poem, a sketch, a line in a play—manage to reflect truth in a way our words and thoughts cannot.

It is as if these truths pre-exist us and it is the artist who discovers them, hacking through the thicket in search of something she herself can’t fully describe. The writer sits at her desk and aims in the general direction of where she caught a glimmer of Light. She writes and rewrites, not yet clear herself on where the piece is headed, cutting, editing, and editing some more. And then slowly she begins to see where she is going, perhaps she is on to something here. She reads her work aloud again and again until she discovers she may have found it, or a bit of it, the truth just beyond the veil. Built from words, her poem is a vessel that holds more than the words themselves can convey.

In 1964 Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias first heard the distant echoes of the Big Bang, an “inexplicable hum” they picked up on their radio telescope in New Jersey. Apparently, when the Word and God got together to kick things off, they started by humming a tune. To sing and to dance is to align yourself with the Flow, to experience the harmony of Father and Son. How easily our kids pick up on the joy singing through the world, ready at a moment’s notice to boogie with all they’ve got, to run and leap in the fading evening light, to curl so thoroughly into a story being read aloud to them before bedtime that their bedroom, their daddy, their teddy dissolve into the unwinding tale. Perhaps we can learn from them, turning our senses like a finely tuned radio telescope to the music of creation. Perhaps we’ll discover the song that moves us to play with our Creator.

Bruce and his creative daughter

 

Bruce Lawrie lives in Moraga, California. His work has appeared in Portland, Notre Dame, The Best Spiritual Writing, and elsewhere. Links to published stories: Who am I Lord, My Turn, and The Ride of a Lifetime