Madeleine L’ Engle says that “An artist at work is in a condition of complete and total faith” – a faith that some minute piece of the manifold mystery will become material for a moment. A faith that some small substance of the things hoped for will become manifest albeit in an ephemeral way. A faith that we will uncover the evidence of things unseen, the evidence of the possible, and that the possibility will claim meaning.
We are full of secrets. We contain a multitude of mysteries. We are breathing inkblots, walking Rorschach tests. Perhaps, its in experiencing the weight of our own untold secrets that we are driven to create and compelled to keep creating.
Maybe art, itself, is an external attempt to touch our deepest secrets, the secrets buried so deeply that we don’t even know that they’re there. And maybe, these are the secrets fighting the hardest to be unearthed.
We stand poised upon the precipice of a sacred unknowing. We don’t know what comes next for us as a culture, as a society, we don’t know what our civilization will become, but we know that there are glimmers of hope in the kitchen, and maybe that’s the secret sauce.
Maybe I’m just getting to that age where conversations about the weather is a thing that happens now. Maybe the weather is as good a metaphor for life as any other. Perhaps then every conversation about the weather is an implicit conversation about living and being alive. Perhaps what we really talk about when we talk about the weather is how we are handling the way life is at this moment right now…
If you want to look further into some of the writers and thinkers I mention, check the links below:
This episode is kind of a hodge podge of ideas and reflections. I talk about some recent art work I’ve done and some feedback I’ve got from that’s given me some food for thought. And so I thought I’d offer you some of these random thoughts on art, poetry, and everything in between. I hope you like it.
I reference a lot of books in this episode and quite a few artists. Here’s some relevant links if you want to delve deeper:
Welcome to Friday. Just a quick note to let you know that early this morning I dropped a brand new podcast episode.
In the previous episode we talked a bit about why I haven’t put out any new podcast episodes, videos, blogs, etc. for the past 6 months. In other words, we talked a lot about what I haven’t been doing. But, we didn’t talk about what I HAVE been doing, what I have been making and creating. So, this week I wanted to discuss what my work creative work is; a kind of return to my first creative loves – art and poetry. I talk about what that looks like, how it plays out, what it means for me, and what I’m learning from it.
After an almost six month hiatus from releasing a podcast episode, I’m back. In this episode I talk a little bit about where I’ve been, what’s been going on, and why there hasn’t been any podcast episodes for the past SIX MONTHS. I share about some personal difficulties I’ve been having and some hardships I’m still reeling from and going through. I also get into why I decided to finally make another episode.
Liu Wei says that “a piece of art is never an answer to something”. The purpose of a piece of art is, rather “to pose a question” but, “the question is only the beginning”. To me, that says that art is the iterative attempt to ask better questions. It’s continuously attuning the questions expressed through the work directed at the audience, but it’s also the constant refinement of the way in which the artist poses questions to themselves.
I think that means asking ourselves questions not only about “what we have to say” or “what we want to say” in the work, but also asking ourselves questions about “how we say it”. In other words, I think it means examining and analyzing the creative processes we use that enable us to express our questions; questioning our methods of artistically asking the questions.
This kind of critical and creative soul-searching has been teaching me about myself and my own creative process. It’s becoming more and more obvious that, artistically speaking, I’m a writer before anything else. Such a realization is more an act of acknowledgement and acceptance than it is a statement of shock or surprise. The fact that I have a long held love of language is not a revelation. What is slightly more revelatory is how I’ve often neglected or ignored my predilection for literary expression purely out of vanity. In a culture that preferences the consumption of audio/visual arts, it simply isn’t as sexy to be a writer, a blogger, a poet, etc. And, rather than allow my writing to take the wheel, I have relegated it to the backseat. Sometimes even barbarously stuffing it in the trunk, bound and gagged.
But, no matter how much I try to place video, or design, or drawing, at the forefront of what I do, writing has been the tell-tale heart pounding beneath the floor boards, refusing to relent or subside.
Truth be told, when I’m being creative my thoughts turn to the language of the written word before anything else. That’s where everything begins for me.
Austin Kleon calls himself “a writer who draws”. Something about that feels right even for me. Maybe you could say I’m a writer attempting to make art, or maybe, a writer who makes podcasts, videos, and art. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue though, does it? I’ll have to work on it.
The point is that writing is the catalyst for all of my creative endeavors. Almost every podcast or video I’ve made has begun with a piece of writing. Even many of my art projects arise from something I’ve written. It’s like I can’t envision “imagery” or the “images” until I see the words. But, somewhere in the process of searching for the words, in sculpting the language, and guiding them from my head to the page, the pictures arrive.
For example, the picture at the top of this post came to me after I had written an essay called “Gratitude is Mutinous“. Interestingly enough, even the image I created for “Gratitude is Mutinous” came from another piece of writing as well. That’s how it happens for me. Sometimes the simple turn of a phrase is the key that turns the lock to the door of a secret I’ve never seen.
In a way that’s gratifying. When it comes to writing I’ve always wanted my words to paint a picture, and it seems like it does, if for no one else than for me.
Suffice to say, whenever pen gets put to paper, I’m home…
Earlier this morning I put out the audio and the video of a New Podcast Episode.
Last month I wrote a blog called “I Am Grateful for the Insight of the Other“. In many ways that essay opened some creative flood gates. It’s been the catalyst to much of my recent creative work, so I thought it might be interesting to talk about it on the podcast.
Realizing that November is the “National Month of Gratitude” prompted me to take a hard look at myself and my propensity to be “ungrateful”. I began to think, what would it look like for me to be more intentionally grateful? What would happen if if I made it a point to purposefully practice gratitude? What would I find? What would I see?
One of the first things that I found myself incredibly grateful for are the countless conversations I’ve had with so many inspiring people; people who have brought me to insights I would have never arrived at on my own, people who taught me so much about myself and the world.
I remain presciently grateful for the insight of the Other…
Almost all of my work is done in the digital domain. The only exception might be the random notes I scribble down during podcast interviews or when capturing a thought requires the utmost speed and immediacy. The videos and podcasts I make are recorded and edited digitally. It’s the same for my forays into photography – all digital. My “writing” is done primarily in a digital format. Even now, as I write this very essay, my thumbs are tapping furiously upon a digital keyboard displayed on a smart phone screen, watching the words arise letter by letter into an Evernote document.
Recently, I’ve even started dabbling with collage. That too, has been an exclusively digital endeavor.
Working within this digital environment has been creatively freeing but, for one reason or another I’ve found myself wanting the experience of physically cutting out images, the sensation of spreading glue across paper, the motion of moving the pieces into place by hand, the tangible unpredictability of brushing on paint.
The flexibility of digital, allows me to overcome some of the anxiety of creating. but, as I’ve been dabbling in Analog mediums again I’m beginning to learn unanticipated lessons. Digital work provides the ability to infinitely undo and redo. The ceaseless option to reset to original means that No mistake is ever permanent, and I think sometimes that can be problematic.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredibly helpful to those of us who judge ourselves harshly because of the mishaps that inevitably occur during the creative process but, I think the reliance upon this kind of digital forgiveness has the potential to hinder as much as it helps. It insulates us from the weight of our artistic transgressions. By becoming dependent upon this ability to fix everything that falters we are each in danger of creating in a “bubble”; seduced by the sterility of safety and security. If Art imitates life then, here we implicitly create an unrealistic view of life and reality; a view of the world anesthetized of error, a reality sanitized of slip-ups – an artifice, an un-reality…
That may sound tempting but, it also sounds boring and uninteresting.
In a recent conversation I had with my friend Daniel Midson-Short he said that “You don’t have a story until something goes wrong”. In every story, every book, movie, and tv-show something dramatic, something traumatic, or something catastrophic, maybe even cataclysmic, occurs and that’s when things get interesting. A tale without a twist is a tale in which nothing takes place. A story that doesn’t go sideways isn’t a story at all. The misadventure is the adventure. It’s the adversity that gets our attention. It’s the crisis that peaks our curiosity.
Midson-Short says that “we’re interested in the character development of the person after something goes wrong not because they succeed”. There can’t be a protagonist without an antagonism, and calamity reveals the character of a person. When the shit hits the fan we demonstrates the truth of who we are, and it’s who you are when things don’t go well that matters most, that’s what makes you interesting, “that’s the parts that people remember”.
Sometimes we fuck up. Sometimes we fuck up bad. There is no undo. There is no reset to original. That’s life. But, those moments of profound “fucked-up-ness” are the most telling, the most insightful, and the most revelatory. We don’t know what what we’re made of or what we’re capable of until we encounter adversity and things get fubar.
We have to sit with the mistake, we have to take it in long enough to really understand it, and we have to figure out a way to make it work. Sometimes working with the stray marks of an unsteady hand or the brush strokes that go awry actually open us up to new creative possibilities. Sometimes it reveals something we’ve never seen before.
But, sometimes we just can’t make it work, sometimes there’s no “fixing” it. There are times when we just have to live with our errors, accept them for what they are, and start again…
My favorite part about having guests on my podcast is that there is little to no “structure” to the conversation. I have a propensity for over thinking, over analyzing, and over planning but, not when it comes to the dialogue that takes place in the context of a podcast interview. I have no notes, no talking points, no topics, no previously determined questions. The conversation is a blank canvas that the guest and I begin to fill together, as we go. I try to let the structure of the conversation, the structure of the interview reveal itself to me because I think that begins to reveal the authentic structure of who each of us are.
I never know what’s going to come up in the course of the conversation. We simply dig until we find something extraordinary.
When I interviewed my friend Daniel Midson-Short, who is a writer, speaker, and digital marketer, the conversation could have went anywhere. It could have revealed any number of things but, one of the most interesting things that came up was “integrity”. (You can listen to the episode here and you can find the full video here).
I’ve talked a lot about transparency and authenticity with past guests but, this is the first time “integrity” has come up. Already, this reveals something incisive about Daniel.
He mentions the word “integrity” several times through different topics as we talk. When I asked him zero in on the subject of integrity specifically he said that “Integrity is the structure of who you are” .
It’s interesting that “integrity” is also something that is ultimately revealed rather than created. Our integrity, or lack there of, is something that becomes apparent through the deliberateness of our intentions, the consistency of our behavior, and the congruence of our actions.
Maybe you could say that the structural integrity of who you are is built upon your underlying agenda, you ability to be consistent and congruent.
If what we build is in-congruent with our intentions, if our intentions are in-congruent with what we are building, if we are inconsistent, what we build will not stand, it will not be structurally sound.
If that’s the case then the integrity of the structure we build is determined long before we ever begin building anything.
And what we build will begin to reveal our underlying intentions, without us ever saying a word…
If you’d like to check out the portion of the conservation in which we talk about “Integrity” you can find it below:
A few weeks back I had the privilege of recording a few thoughts for The Riverside Church’s podcast “Be Still and Go“. The podcast has been exploring the connections between spirituality and the environment through meditative reflections from various practitioners of differing traditions. I am humbled and honored to be included in such an interesting and insightful group of thinkers.
At one point in time ecological thinking played a pivotal role in some of my creative work and writing. It was invigorating to bring environmental thought back into current work. Below you’ll find a link to the episode and a rough transcript of my reflection. Enjoy!
Spiritual traditions are at their best when they’re breaking down binaries, when they are bridging the gap between binaries, when they’re dismantling and deconstructing dichotomies, when they’re collapsing all the categorizations that we’ve constructed to keep ourselves separate divided and disconnected.
I think one of the dichotomies, one of the binaries, one of these places of division that is most in need of being dismantled, and deconstructed, and broken-down is when we believe that we are separate from this earth, separate from the land, when we believe that we are disconnected from this planet, this environment that we are a part of.
I think that’s one of the things that attracts me most to Buddhism, and specifically Zen. They begin with this idea of “interdependence” and “inter-connectivity”, this idea that everything that “is” is dependent upon everything that is in order to continue to be. Everything is connected, everything connects, everything is engulfed by this lively mesh of existence and “Being”, this tangled brew of life.
In Buddhism we take refuge in something called the Three Jewels, we have these refuge vows. We say that we take refuge in the Buddha, we take refuge in the Dharma, we take refuge in Sangha. The Buddha, the dharma, and the Sangha. The teacher, the teachings, and the community. But, I think the reason that these refuge vows, these three jewels, are so important to the this practice and to this tradition is because there is a way to see them play out that shows that they are an expression of this interdependence, this inter-connectivity.
I think when we say that we take refuge in the Buddha, the teacher, we’re not saying that we take refuge in the historicity of a figure, or that we take refuge in the particularities of a person. I think what we’re actually doing is saying that we take refuge in the “universality” of awakening. We are recognizing that all of existence exists in an already awakened state. And if that’s the case, when we say we take refuge in the dharma, the teachings, we’re recognizing that because everything that exists is an expression of this on-going process of awakening, then everything that exists, everything that is, has truth to impart to us. Everything is the teachings, and everything has something to teach us. We have lessons to learn in the examination of all that lives.
When we say that we take refuge in the community, we’re not saying that we take refuge in the spaces and places of fellowship. We’re not saying tat we take refuge in our communities of practice, our communities of observance. We’re saying that we take refuge in the community of all being. We tale refuge in the community of life as a whole.
There’s a zen master by the name of Dogen who says that “Mountains practice with one who meditates. Water realizes the way with one who practices.” He goes on to say that “Because earth, grass, trees, walls, tiles, and pebbles of the world of phenomena…all engage in buddha activity, those who receive the benefits of the wind and water are inconceivably helped by the Buddha’s transformation…and intimately manifest enlightenment.” He says that “The sutras are the entire world… There is no moment or place that is not sutras.” There is no moment or place that is not the source of truth, the source of the teachings.
“The sutras,” he says, “are written in letters of heavenly beings, human beings, animals, fighting spirits, one hundred grasses, or ten thousand trees. This being so, what is long, short, square, and round, as well as what is blue, yellow, red, and white, arrayed densely in the entire world… is no other than letters of the sutras and the surface of the sutras. Regard them as the instruments of the great way and as the sutras of the buddha house.”
Mountains, rivers, lakes, streams, grasses, everything that we encounter, everything that is, are the letters of the teachings, they form the letters of the lessons we have to learn. They form the expression of how we’re connected. And when one meditates, when one sits down to practice, when one becomes observant, all of existence becomes observant. When one of us wakes up, everything wakes up. When one of us comes alive everything comes alive…