Monday Night Rambings

So, I’m sitting at the local Panera Bread thinking about what sort of post I’m going to write this week, and the only thing that’s making my brain work is the couple that is sitting sort of diagonally to me across the restaurant. They’re a college-age couple, very obviously on a date. The guy’s body language is open, inviting. The girl’s body language is a little coy, playfully interesting without being all-out flirtatious. After the guy brought the food back, he looked like he was praying briefly…”giving thanks,” I imagine…and she was respectfully quiet, but stole a curious glance at him for something he said, then smiled and closed her eyes again quickly. When he looked down at his meal before starting to eat, she slipped her chewing gum out of her mouth and secreted it into a napkin completely incognito from his awareness. I can’t help but smile. They’re a cute couple.

Before you start thinking I’m weird, let me say that any writer or actor or painter or anyone else of a creative bent is always observing those around them…seeing people, watching interactions, analyzing mannerisms. Creativity comes from the stuff around us, from the people around us. We’re surrounded by our inspiration constantly. The problem is, we stop to really observe it so infrequently that we’re sort of surprised at the depth of it when we do.

At least, that’s the unfortunate pattern into which I feel myself lapse. This afternoon I found myself with the much-coveted opportunity to slow down and have a quiet 30 minutes. I had time to read, to stop and think about what I had read, to let my thoughts wander. Now, at the risk of sounding mystic (not that I’m opposed to that), I felt so much more connected to the life around me. People, animals, even flora and fauna. Not that I was experiencing a pantheistic euphoria, but instead I had just had enough space and quiet to allow the things that are dulled into the background by a hectic life to return to the foreground. As always, I re-discover that the foreground is, in fact, their rightful place.

That pleasant state of mind and awareness was broken all too quickly when I once again had somewhere to be, and life intruded afresh as I navigated through traffic, listening to the voice of my GPS instruct me as to where I should turn, and worked on beating the deadlines of things to complete before arriving at home in time to prepare for guests…you get the idea.

Tonight, however, now that I find myself again with a few moments to spare, I am still much more aware of what and who is around me than I was this morning. This is the stuff from which creativity flows, because it is life…and creativity is about life, and portraying it in its comedy and its tragedy. That life is what gets lost in the rush of our day to day, because we stop seeing the forest for the proverbial trees. Then, when we pause to realize just how cool the trees are, we’re stunned as though we’ve never experienced them before.

So, my hope for you this week is that you find a shockingly quiet moment or two. I imagine that, if you do, the things with which you find yourself busy will come out the beneficiaries for that, as well.

Strumming a Story

It’s sort of surprising what you end up listening to when you get free music.

A few months ago, Starbucks and iTunes were giving away these free sampler playlists. I’m always up for free music, so I downloaded away. A great deal of the music was folk-style music (in fact, a lot of it had political themes, but I suppose that’s another topic). I don’t normally listen to folk music…in fact, I’ve never really enjoyed it that I can recall.

Now, let me offer the disclaimer that I realize these selections qualify as more of a pop-folk fusion than true folk. Still, I was playing one of these playlists in the car Monday night, and I was drawn into the story that the lyrics were telling. Folk music tells a story.

I’ve never really been drawn so much to music that told narratives. I’ve always been more interested in the poetry of other sorts of music that leave interpretive space and lead to an introspection on the moment at hand, moreso than story-telling in song. I’ve always preferred to leave that work to fiction.

So, it’s likely no surprise that a great deal of my writing in college was non-fiction: a lot of op-ed and journalistic pieces, combined with occasional poetic ventures. Both permitted me to attempt introspection into the moment. Storytelling…in fiction, at least…was a later venture for me, not really coming into its own until late in my undergraduate days.

I find myself very much in love with fiction now, and passionate about the decline in the perceived importance of storytelling in all forms, fiction or non-fiction. I think introspection and contemplation are critical, yet I find I can communicate what’s in my head much more effectively by telling a story, be it fiction or non-fiction. I’ve just never really connected before how my inclinations have changed, and how the types of music to which I listen seem to be reflecting that. My reading preferences went through a heavy non-fiction phase just before grad school, after which I found myself starved for good stories, as I had nearly no time to read anything other than academic material for two years. Now, I force myself to make every third or fourth book on my reading list non-fiction, because the stories have become so much more important to me.

I’m not going to say that my music preferences have ultimately changed: I’m still extremely eclectic in the genres I frequent, just as I am with reading choices. I suppose I had just never before paused to connect the sorts of things that I take in with the sorts of things that I produce.

As far as the folk thing, however…I think it’s just a sort of accidental phase. I won’t be transitioning my iPod library exclusively into acoustic guitars and banjos any time soon. And that should be no great surprise.

Check Out Something Sketchy

A couple of years ago, I listened to a friend give a lecture at a local art museum. I remember him talking about the fact that the average viewer spends about eight seconds in front of any given piece of art before moving on to the next. This allows no time to really engage the piece, to work for its subtext, its meaning, its importance. This really allows for nothing more than “I like the colors” before moving on, to say nothing of line, texture, balance.

Paintings and poems share that malady, I think: they are deceptively quick to take in if you approach them with the intention of consuming them instead of engaging them. Neither comes at first blush. They have to be pondered and allowed to sink in.

I discovered today that cartoons follow this principle, as well. We’ve all encountered cartoons in a paper or magazine that give us pause, make us stop with an “Oh!” at the unexpected succinctness with which they illumine a cultural issue. I think, though, that many cartoons need to be pondered, given time to sink in. I don’t think that all of their layers of meaning appear with merely a surface glance.

At least, I found that to be the case with this cartoon from this week’s New Yorker. I hope you find it as illustrative of our cultural climate as I did.

And, just for laughs, you’ll probably enjoy this one, too.

What do you think? When is the last time you engaged a cartoon?

Photo Attribution:  

Slated for Improvement

I touched it, and it was amazing.

Now, now, don’t let your mind go somewhere it shouldn’t. I’m talking about the huge release of the weekend…Apple’s iPad. Notice I didn’t say the huge event of the weekend. And that is sort of my point.

As some of you have guessed from my Twitter whining, I’ve been under the weather for nearly two weeks. Friday evening I decided that it wasn’t just seasonal allergies run amok, and went to the doctor, after which point I had digressed into laying on the sofa and waiting for the antibiotics to kick in. After a week that just hadn’t really gone according to schedule, especially as Holy Week observances went, this was the icing on the proverbial cake, causing me to miss the Good Friday observance that I had earnestly desired to attend. I’m normally not overly into communal religious observances, but Advent and Easter are events to be observed for my spiritual well-being, and I honestly felt as though I had neglected God this week. I know, I know…its not like He thinks less of me, but still…I felt…discombobulated.

By Saturday afternoon, thankfully, the antibiotics had caused an amazing improvement, and we were able to keep dinner plans with a friend. After, we decided to go look at the iPad, as we are all three Apple addicts…umm, I mean, fans. As we would expect from the artistry of Apple, it was gorgeous, and I can’t wait to purchase the two that Karen and I plan to obtain. Seriously, however, I am glad that she understands the spiritual responsibilities of financial impulse control, because had I still been single, I would have left with one in hand, hang the early-adopter risks and financial consequences.

She’s good for me like that.

I was happy to feel back on track by Easter morning, although still slightly off-kilter, but at least able to participate in Easter activities. After about noon, however, all of the talk seemed to be about the iPad.

As I’ve referenced before, we are created as creators…that’s part of what the Imago Dei implies. Ultimately, that’s behind the creative impulse. We design and build, draw and paint, rhyme and sing because it is inherent to us. We accept the beauty of the landscape around us, and add to it with what we build, completing that landscape, if you will, with our own cityscapes. We do this because we are not whole if we are not creating, and we long to make because we were made. Thus, all of us are creative. This is not just the realm of the so-called artists. My father is a true sculptor of wood, but none would attribute an “artistic bent” to him. Those of a more technical mindset, such as those apparently employed by Apple, design technology. That is how they create. And, might I say, they do an amazing job, every time.

Karen and I are Apple fans because we appreciate quality craftsmanship.  Whatever you do, I think it should be done to the utmost quality that you can attain. I feel that Apple accomplishes this far more than any other computer manufacturer. At the end of the day, however, it is at worst a tool, and at best a work of art.

The danger of art, as Lewis points out, is that it is so powerful, and transports us to such amazing places, that we can easily be misled into worshipping it. In the past 48-hours, I have heard the iPad referenced as a messiah to dying media producers. I’ve watched a vlogger turn her camera to the logo of the Apple store in front of which she stood and point upward to it, in a way that smacks a bit of falling before divinity. I’ve experienced the way shiny new things can pull you away from what is important, from the human beings around us. Even as I attribute to Apple’s craftsmanship the quality of art, I qualify by saying that, as amazing as the painting hanging in our dining room is, we would be amiss to be enwrapped by it at the expense of the dinner guests around our table.

Art enriches the human experience at a deeply existential, and even spiritual, level. Superb quality craftsmanship is to be respected, and I will always purchase the best quality craftsmanship that I can. The tendency I’ve seen of late, however, to place our creations on a sort of hi-tech altar, is disturbing. Even more disturbing is the thought that we may be attempting to fill a void with our own creations that can never be successfully filled in such a way.

I’m happy to be finished with that perfect storm of a week, in which the lines and priorities of events became slightly blurred, despite my best efforts. I’m not going to adopt a “work harder to be better” mentality, because that is destined for failure. I will merely hope to be cognizant of how to prioritize conflicting concerns in the future, because, at the end of the day, my world would not have ground to a halt had I not touched the revolution in tablet computing for another few days.

A belated wish for a wonderful Easter to you all.