1/19/2017: Writing As Relationship

I was reminded this morning that life is all about relationships. I tend to get focused on knowledge and action, and I tend to try to dominate those things.

And it dawned on me that a more appropriate metaphor for my interaction with both knowledge and action is relationship, rather than domination. I don’t cow them into submission; I invite them to join me. 9/5/2017: Or, perhaps, I ask to join them.

It’s much the same as what I’ve been writing about. Magic, in my world, can be dominated or loved, and it’s the latter that’s better.

Esther Meeks has a book about knowledge that uses a similar metaphor, apparently.

And perhaps the best concrete example of relationship that I can use is my relationship with my wife. Think of spending time with her, having conversations with her, getting to know her, having fun with her, working with her… If I manhandle her in my attempt to do these things, and working together comes to mind the most, not only will she resist me, but I fail to love her. And excepting that she, in love, turns me around, our relationship will turn sour. It will die. And until it is again injected with life, it will remain dead.

Relationship takes time, forgiveness, learning (growth), flexibility, relaxation, fun… If it’s all work, and the only goal and guideline of the relationship is to get work done, the relationship breaks down. Relationship is all about love—loving each other, loving God, loving others together…

Yesterday I was having trouble writing. All I wanted to do was veg (I am in the middle of breaking my media addiction, so the cravings are intense sometimes, and my motivation for good things is often low, and I’m a grump). This is almost exactly like I have been with Mysti at times, especially when I was more into video games. I would want to play, and the time that I had to spend with her when I wanted to play was terrible. We couldn’t connect because I just wanted to be elsewhere. And yesterday a similar thing happened with writing. I made myself write instead of vegging. But I couldn’t connect with it. There was no chemistry. It wouldn’t come to me, and I kept averting from it. And the harder I tried to make it work, the more aloof I felt, and the less writing would respond to me (low quality stuff, writer’s block, language just not coming out). Because there was no desire for relating with writing, no warm connection, no real desire for connection other than for accomplishing my goal of 1) not vegging and 2) producing, the relationship was dead.

As soon as the warmth between you and whatever it is with which you are relating goes away, the relationship breaks down. And whatever you attempt to do with that thing will be as stifled as your feelings.

But I imagine it goes the other way more. If you only work on a relationship in order to make it of more utility, it seems… dead. But maybe that’s wrong. It’s like people with whom you work. It’s difficult to actually have a relationship if the only reason for doing so is the work or goal you share. The relationship really blossoms when you actually like each other, when you want to relate not only for the common goal but more for the relationship itself.

And I guess that’s what the goal of writing has been for me. The whole Bill Hendricks search for a vocation. I wanted to find something with which I would click. Something with which I would have chemistry. I feel like finding writing was like matchmaking. And if me and writing get on well, if we like each other, and the relationship continues to grow, it’ll work out long-term. I can commit to it with surety that things will work out.

This actually reminds me of my writing class. I thought of it the same back then—that learning to write was like starting a relationship. I guess I forgot about that.

But it’s not just writing. The more we healthily relate to anything, the more natural our common work with that thing will be. The more we try to dominate anything, the more it will break down—if not immediately then eventually. Domination only ends in death. It’s unlike God. It’s the difference between trying to control and feeling free enough not to have to.

So how to relate to writing from here; some ideas:

  1. Spend regular time together. And if it’s been a while since you have, don’t expect things to be warm and cozy right away. It’s regular time that nurtures a relationship.
  2. At the same time, sometimes it’s good to spend brief periods apart. Relationships take effort—especially at first. Give yourself a break from time to time.
  3. Fun helps: just as you go on dates with your wife, do fun things with writing. Those warm feelings go a long way.
  4. Try new things together. Learn together. Working on some common goal with writing. That’s what the healthiest level of the relationship is anyways—to not only relate with each other but to relate with others together.
  5. Learn more about writing. “Dialogue” with it by learning about it and then putting what you learn to practice. Listen to others who have studied it. Study others’ writing and see how they relate with it.
  6. If you have a bad day, figure out what you did wrong (if anything), make it better, and try again.
  7. My characteristics when I attempt to dominate: feeling the need for control (“It just won’t do what I want! Do what I want!”), feeling pressured for time or quality, wanting to force writing into those goals, frustration, lack of motivation,
  8. Relationships take time.It takes a while to internalize what works and doesn’t work for that relationship. Time and practice. “Brick by brick,” as they say. It probably won’t be magic right away—especially as you work through your addictions, which draw your desires elsewhere. I am still learning to relate with Mysti after almost eleven years of marriage. It’s waaaaaaaay better than it was before, but growing closer really never stops. Or it shouldn’t.
  9. If writing just doesn’t respond to you, no matter how well you try to make the relationship work, maybe it’s a bad fit. Likewise, if you just hate spending time with it, and you’re doing a good job at trying to relate with it, maybe there’s just no chemistry, and you should try something else.
  10. With that in mind, some key characteristics to look for in a good vocational pairing:
    1. Does it forgive you? Do you forgive it? After the dust settles, can you go back to it and the relationship be warm or get warmer? Or does it remain sour and defensive?
    2. Does it respond to you? When you try to work with it, does it work with you?
    3. Do you ever click with it? Those times when things just fall into place.
    4. Does it give you joy, or is it a burden (think of this on a scale)?
    5. Do you share common goals?
    6. Does it have a future? Can you see yourself committing to it?
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12/12/2016, 1/12/2017: On Art As Relationship, As Subcreation

If I read others’ work merely to learn to create my own, then I am missing the weight. I miss the relationship—like I did in so many classrooms, whose professors were nothing but talking heads. These are persons. These are the things they care about, the things they learn and think about. Through these works, I interact with them. I also learn about the Creator, the worker of Cosmos from Chaos par excellence. If the works of others reveal truth, then it is God who has revealed it to them and through them. Likewise, if it is beautiful, and if that beauty accords with God, then it is beautiful because of God.

Artwork, like relationships in general (for artwork is an aspect of relationship), has utility, but its bulk is not utility. Its bulk is relationship.

Jan. 11: The weight of art is not in the artist’s skill. Because art is rightly love, its weight is in authenticity, vulnerability, compassion, fellow-suffering, acceptance, hope-giving, cosmos… it’s in the sharing of humanity and the pursuit of its betterment. It’s in the cooperative pursuit of what is, ultimately, God, and such takes many forms, depending on the faith of those who pursue him.

Jan. 12 (I began editing the first bit to make it clearer): And to the degree that others elucidate or create cosmos from chaos (as Madeleine L’Engle calls it), they subcreate (as Tolkien calls it) on behalf of the Creator, the Artist of Cosmos from Chaos par excellence, and the source of all that isWe subcreate because that’s for what he fashioned us—for reflecting, in our finitude, in our dependence, his infinite creativity, his Life.

Thus if our works are true, then God has revealed truth through them (though we often fail to recognize his agency in doing so). If they are beautiful, if they are just, if they are lovely… We do not produce these things from some wellspring of our own, as if imperfection could ever arrive at perfection, as if what is intrinsically dependent could ever arrive at independence, as if death could ever arrive at life.

This was a more edited version of the above ideas from 1/12. I’m choosing not to finish it, but it has some developments on the above, so I’m including it here: 

If I read others’ ink-on-paper or see others’ paintings or hear others’ music merely to sharpen my own, I sever their weight. They might as well fly away with the wind.

These are persons. And what they give us are the things that shape them, the things they create and cultivate (as Andy Crouch calls it). They speak through their work. And in speaking, they share who they are. Thus by reading, watching, hearing, and making, we dialogue.

And what is dialogue but the medium of relationship, of love? It belongs in no other context.

Art, like all relationships, has utility, but its weight is not utility. Its weight is love.

12/8/2016: To Teach Or To Learn

The desire to write something that someone learns from, in an abstract sense, seems as steeped in pride as anything else in my life. I want them to learn because I want to be mighty enough to teach.

The true teacher doesn’t want to teach in an abstract sense. They want to help those whom they see as not having learned. I have felt that at times. And when, at my best times, I speak with someone who needs information I have been given, I try to give it, and I do so with as much grace as I can so that 1) they learn and 2) they aren’t belittled by not knowing. Typically, only when it seems like reasonable teaching has not led to their learning (and without an apparent, valid reason for it not doing so, like age) do I become annoyed.

The desire to impact persons seems similar. Is it? Do I desire to impact them with my profundity, with my wit and craft? Or do I desire to explore God and his cosmos with them, that it might impact us both? To subcreate, that it might enrich our common reality—that is, theirs and also mine, but not as individuals but as the community of man.

Should I then seek to be taught in my works as much as to teach others? It would seem so. And at my best times, I feel like this is the case. But just as we are simultaneously sinner and saint, the other side sits at the same table.

This made me think of something else, though it’s just a breath in my mind. I thought of it while doing dishes, forgot it, then remembered fragments of it. The reason the separatist church cannot create art is because they do not see themselves as a part of greater humanity. They see themselves only as teachers of humanity. As Not Humanity but something greater. Not part of the community of man, and perhaps even its enemy. Not someone who walks beside man and seeks with him the truth but someone who has it and speaks it down to man.

True teaching is not the desire to share one’s own greatness, insight, information, wit but to help an ignorant person (in the neutral sense, not the pejorative sense) or persons in need. I feel I should correct this. “True teaching” is not enough. The pursuit of truth, perhaps. Perhaps that is enough. And not just the pursuit of truth but the pursuit of moving the community of man toward the truth. We teach, and we listen to teachings, as long as both move us all—all whom we can—toward truth. As long as they move us toward faith and hope and love and toward God most of all. (1/19/2017 It’s relational, as I’m reminded again and again all good things are).

Likewise, art, as the desire to express oneself and to further the progress of the community of man, cannot come from a place of superiority. It comes from a place of communality and vulnerability. Tolstoy says, “…the purpose of our human existence is to afford a maximum of help towards the universal development of everything that exists.” I agree, and I believe God does as well.

By grace through faith.

The production of writing can become its own idol. I have written all this about how writing is basically an act of love, an interrelation between me and the world, and I have failed to connect the progenitor of love with writing’s production.

2-26-2017
Found this quote somewhere. Seems to fit.

“When I teach my brother it is not really I who teach him, but we are both taught by God. Truth is not a good that I possess, that I manipulate and distribute as I please. It is such that in giving it I must still receive it; in discovering it I still have to search for it; in adapting it, I must continue to adapt myself to it.” – Henri de Lubac

 

12/5/2016: What’s An Artist?

Gut reaction—an artist is a subcreator, with all the nuances that being a true subcreator requires. To the degree that a persons is a subcreator, a person is an artist. And to the degree that a person is a subcreator, the appropriate amount of grace is required—whether common grace or special grace.

Also, what is a writer, if an artist?

I feel like this idea that I am part of the community of man and that the purpose of man is to further us along (toward the glory of God). Christ became our head, and we follow him. But the community remains the same. In whatever I do, the goal is for the good of the community. For the good of all.

If I write, I do so not for greatness, not to separate myself from others. I write as one of… us. And if I write, I do so as a human, as a person, just living life but doing so as a person who lives life while writing. I learn, I feel, I explore, I create, I fall, I do all the things that humans do as I write, and I do so as part of the whole community of man. I share my work with my brothers and sisters.

Yes, believers are brothers and sisters of Christ and so of each other, and non believers are not. But we treat them with the same love with hopes that they might be part of us. With hopes that they might be saved from the path they are on—our errant brothers and sisters. Such is our hope. Not that we might sprinkle crumbs of wisdom and grace upon them as we walk the straight and narrow, they in the gutters, but that we might share what grace and truth and love we also seek and sometimes find. That is, we share it as we seek it. We seek it beside them, with them, though our search often takes us on separate paths (but in truth, is this not the case for everyone, believer or not?). And we also listen, for the rest of mankind, should they find the grace to do so, also look for the same things and sometimes find them. We also all look for comforting, for beauty, for acceptance, for justice, and most of all for grace, though we often don’t know we look for it until we find it, as is the case for the legalist who finds the love of Christ, for the perfectionist who learns the joy of creative writing.

For me, I think this is an issue of solidarity. It is an extension of the people of which I feel a part. I tend to act this way toward those people that have already won my trust and friendship. This is essentially me learning to view all persons in the same way. Of feeling like part of mankind. It is a reversal of the effects of my ostracization, of my “Christian” separatism, of my competitive nature (nourished over the years by games). In other words, being part of mankind means not being shunned from it and not standing above it. Indeed, even those who feel apart are not.

Something that I find fascinating vs. something that I want you to find fascinating.

12/3/2016: Insecurity

Stems from a lack of value and faith in the grace of God through Christ.

Leads to a desire to be something other than myself—something that matches my idea of what it takes to meet the standard (the highest standard only Christ has met).

I spend my time reading what it takes to be an artist, hoping to find a description of myself, because I have come to view artists as that standard to meet.

If only I valued and believed the love, the imputed character, the eternal hope of the one who met the only standard worth meeting. Insecurity would have no place in me. But only by grace through faith.

So as it stands, until he returns and calls me home, I remain insecure (to the extent that I lack faith).

But such is the nature of God’s work. He uses the weak to demonstrate himself. He allows me to remain weak in order that the greater good be accomplished—that he be seen both by me and by others through me.

Him being seen for who he is is the most important thing in life. Worthy of my pursuit. But also worthy of my continued insecurity. For me to believe in this, I must also commit to the continuance of my insecurity. For the glory of God.

9/6/2016: Loose Thinking on Writing

Schol! Whatever that means.

Is it a joy to write?

Joy joy joy joy.

Yoj.

Yooooj. Yojoy. Joyoj. Joyoi. Oi oi oi!

It’s a way of thinking. Of expressing thought. Of communicating.

Is it a joy to think, to express thought, to communicate?

It’s just life. For me, anyways.

Is it a cell to suppress thought, to hide it away, to remain silent?

Never done it. Not completely. It’d be annoying.

What is writing? Just a tool for creating. A craft. A skill. A practice. Keys on a laptop. Pixels on a screen (though very small pixels). Black on white. The canvas. A wooden post against my back.

A round-glassesed teacher in a white button-up and skirt, you in her 10th grade English class. Early twenties. Kind of cute. Kind of strict. Kind of tough. Kind of interesting. Annoys you one day. Coos to you another. Makes you jittery another. Not always in her classroom. And you seem to stalk her a bit—pretty sure she avoids you sometimes. Until you stop stalking. Then she comes back and teaches some more. Writing, the cute teacher. “Hey, you,” she says.

Writing is the dog that dug under the fence. Dang dog. Comere, boy! I have food! I have your ball! Is that a deer? Don’t run across the road! Come back! Come back! Where has he gone? Maybe the neighbors. Nope. Maybe the woods. Nope. Maybe my grandparents. Nope. Maybe the pound. Nope. I’m tired. I’m going home for a sandwich and a glass of ice water. He’s at the door? In the gate? Stop scratching on the glass! Hey boy. Good boy. Covered in sweat and thorn-scratches for nothing.

Coffee. More, more more moremoremoremormor. Gah. Less. Less. Less. Chill.

Is that perilous point—that magical, mysterious, mythical end—a place in which I write without loving my skill? Without caring so much about my craft’s perfection (or at least not for the same reasons)? If I am there, no doubt I will not care that I am there, as long as I can write and think and love. Sounds familiar. Perilous? Really?

The joy of writing vs. the joy of being good at writing. The latter doesn’t materialize for me when it’s my love and goal. Thanks to God, I assume.