Reading: September 2019

Books come to us at a time and for a reason. I often pick up and put down a book  because our time hasn’t yet come. I am willing to jettison a book that offends me, whether because of the writing or the content; I don’t feel I have to finish every book I start (I used to), because life is too short to read bad books.

In this season of life, as fall has arrived and my sabbatical summer has ended, I’m reading mostly non-fiction about creativity and recreating my life. If you’re in a different season, likely we’re reading different things. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Art MattersArt Matters by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Illustrator Chris Riddell took some of Neil Gaiman’s essays and, well, illustrated them. “Make Good Art” was the best essay, with a clarifying image: the goal of my art is like a mountain. So long as I am walking toward the mountain, I’m on the right path. Anything that takes me closer to the mountain, say yes to that. Anything that turns me away from the mountain is a no. Helpful.

Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get DiscoveredShow Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book isn’t rocket science, but it is encouraging and helpful to those who create and want to be known for their creativity.

The Artist's WayThe Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve had this book for years but pulled it off the shelf to guide me through my summer’s sabbatical, having quit my career and needing to find my way (write my way, more precisely) into a new one. This book was so on point: each time I felt resistance in any area, she addressed it specifically. I plan to keep this book close at hand for regular encouragement.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a WalkLillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed my New Year’s Eve 1984 walk with Lillian through her city, Manhattan. Each stop along the way led her to share stories from her life- about history, culture, friendship, women and work and family. Her engagement with strangers, always respectful, always interested, were the highlights of the evening.

I enjoyed it until I didn’t. She took such sideways turns… I limped along with her as she walked to midnight and beyond, but she seemed deflated. I wanted more for her.

“A motto favored by the ancients was solvitur ambulando: It is solved by walking” (234).
“The point of living in the world is just to stay interested” (238).

A Circle of Quiet (Crosswicks Journals #1)A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Possibly my favorite non-fiction book of all time. I read it first when I was a 21-year-old college graduate, when the concepts of “ontology”- being-ness – and “chronology” vs. “kairos” – clock time vs. flow – were new to me and entirely formational. As a young adult, I was seeking how I would be in the world, and especially seeking those experiences that would take me out of time, like dinner parties with friends, reading a captivating book, walking on the beach, and using my expensive education and the skills I had (and would develop) to make a difference in the world.

Reading it again at almost 50 years old, I have a different, renewed, appreciation for what Madeleine wrote when she herself was 51 years old. So much of what she wrote in 1972 still feels relevant, even oddly prophetic.

“Creativity is an act of discovering…. When we can play with the unself-conscious concentration of a child, this is: art: prayer: love.” (12-13)

The Anti 9 to 5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the CubeThe Anti 9 to 5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube by Michelle Goodman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book would best be read by women in their 20’s, possibly before college graduation or soon thereafter. Since I’m not in that demographic, the best part of this book for me were the inspiring stories of women who followed their bliss into non-traditional careers.

Platform: The Art and Science of Personal BrandingPlatform: The Art and Science of Personal Branding by Cynthia Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

No denying the world has changed. Everyone who spends any time on social media of any form has a platform, whether or not they know it, admit it, or care about it. Johnson is bold, an actor who becomes any character she wants to be to live the life she wants. She has a lot to teach, and this book contains practical advice and real-life illustrations to back it up. I didn’t always enjoy the book, and TBH, I’m more than a little overwhelmed by this new reality, but as they say, that’s life.

“So if everything is constantly changing and evolving, why do we become complacent and accept things as they are in the present? Acceptance…stops us from seeking change and challenging ourselves to grow.” (13)

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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?

Cultivating Quiet

To increase happiness, I made a commitment in January to practice silence by minimizing noise and negativity of all sorts.

Since then, I’ve given myself permission to turn off the car radio when there isn’t a song that moves me. Music off, I get to sit with my thoughts for the duration of the drive—and struggle to quiet the voices in my head. So many imaginary conversations or arguments, complaints I will never speak, apologies I will never hear. Rehearsing what I might say, rehashing what I could have said, reimagining the route conversations should have gone…

Banishing imaginary conversation partners, I still have to contend with my own voice. Harmful self-talk, the comparison game, the voice Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way calls the Censor, “a nasty internal and eternal critic” who “blurts…a steady stream of subversive remarks.”

I picked up a book from the library with the intriguing title 10% Happier. In the preface, ABC News anchor Dan Harris writes about his own inner voice:

I’m talking about the internal narrator, the most intimate part of our lives. The voice comes braying in as soon as we open our eyes in the morning, and then heckles us all day long with an air horn. It’s a fever swamp of urges, desires, and judgments. It’s fixated on the past and the future, to the detriment of the here and now. It’s what has us reaching into the fridge when we’re not hungry, losing our temper when we know it’s not really in our best interest, and pruning our inboxes when we’re ostensibly engaged in conversation with other human beings. Our inner chatter isn’t all bad, of course. Sometimes it’s creative, generous, or funny. But if we don’t pay close attention—which very few of us are taught how to do—it can be a malevolent puppeteer.

I anticipate this wrangling to achieve peace-filled silence will be a lifetime effort. With practice, it has gotten easier. Practice, prayer, writing, even exercise have all helped. With continued diligence, it should become even easier.

During different seasons, involving more or less stress, the noise will obviously ebb and flow. Sometimes I anticipate I will avoid the inner noise by turning up the volume on exterior noise. Or I may have to, for a time, engage the imaginary conversations as a means to keeping peace, maintaining my sanity, and excising my own demons.

I remain committed to cultivating, even enjoying, the silence, speaking kindly to myself, hushing the blurts. Still, be still.

 

Creative Courage

When I invited my friend Paul to contribute a post on creativity to the blog, he responded, “Just one? I can write more…” That’s one of the things I have long appreciated about Paul: he is generous. Generous in creativity, in friendship, in spirit. Paul kicked off the 2016 Create Challenge with a heartfelt post about The (Wounded) Artist, and today he continues to show us how to move forward with courage.

Create Challenge #27: Paul Quinlivan

A little over a year ago my wife and I bought our first home. It is a wonderful starter home for us with a huge yard, fireplace, functional kitchen, in a developing neighborhood and, most importantly, in our price range. In this place we will lay down some needed roots and welcome nourishment it will bring.

One of the many quirks of the house, however, is a main bathroom with a window that faces out toward the street. Normally it wouldn’t bother me too much except for the fact that said window is in our shower with the glass starting a little over waist high. The window is not entirely see-through, though it is not entirely opaque either. It’s a busy enough street. Not that big a deal for me, but my wife…well…she asked me to do something about it.

For months now I have been working my way through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I was only diligent in my morning pages for the first few weeks and my artist dates never really took off as she intended, but the work and conversation was stimulating. Something within me came alive with the desire to create and to learn a particular craft. Often I feel so inadequate to do something artistic because I don’t know the technique, or have the specific tools, or know anyone who does. The anxiety behind the risk of being vulnerable feels so great that it’s crippling. It often leaves me stunned and powerless to move.

But this time was different. I felt like I had the courage to move, so I put the desire to create and the need in my home together and signed up for a stain glass making class. It was a birthday present really. A gift to my right brained, creative child hiding within.

I have yet to begin work on the final piece that will protect us from curious onlookers on the street, but here are the simple pieces I have crafted so far. The class as a whole is a funny experience. In my early thirties I am the youngest person in the studio by at least twenty years and the only one with ‘Y’ chromosome, but it has been fun. I now know and understand the basics to create any sort of stain glass pieces and will in all likelihood continue the craft in the future.PQ mtn 1 PQ mtn PQ sun

pq2Father, Husband, Friend, Therapist, Hiker, Surfer, Mystic, Writer, Farmer, Teacher, and Pastor are but a few of Paul Quinlivan’s many monikers. He lives with his lovely wife, almost 3-month-old son, and their South American dog in a slowly gentrifying suburb of Seattle. When he is not attempting to recapture his artistic self through writing he works to help others find themselves as a therapist in private practice and instructor at a graduate school helping to train future prophetic therapists, pastors, and artists.