On Hiding and Remembering

Last night, we played hide and seek. It’s been a favorite pastime lately, and the girls and I took turns seeking. Our four-year-old, especially, has finally mastered the art of staying quiet. Six months ago, she reveled in being found. If you entered the room she was in, Maci would pop out and yell, “You found me!” Now, she stays quiet. Quietness, combined with the size of a four-year-old body, can make a difficult combination.

I looked in the closet for her last night, but our older daughter, Ellis, had helped Maci hide behind my workout bag. It may not have been the most aromatic place to hide, but it was effective. At other times, my wife and I will take turns hiding the girls. This is an exercise in paranoia: we scour through cupboards and closet shelves, searching for where the other perched one of the girls. Again, Maci fits neatly on a closet shelf, six feet off the ground. As long as she doesn’t roll.

I try to constantly remind myself that these years are short, and the memories are long.

We also started reading the Narnia series. Maci generally plays while I read to Ellis, but the older of the two listens, rapt. We read about the thaw of the winter last night, and Ellis squirmed on the couch while I began describing it: Lewis does a lovely job of showing rather than telling, and Ellis could see that the snow was melting long before anyone acknowledged it directly. She often surprises us with her ability to predict and decipher stories. Perhaps, by now, we are at fault for being surprised.

I need to write these moments because, otherwise, I will forget them. Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist, has defined our “experiencing self,” and “remembering self.” While our experiencing self may move through the world on a daily basis, our remembering self has actual control, despite the fickle and often erroneous nature of our memories. It’s our remembering self that helps control major decisions, that helps us see what certain times were like.

This is an exercise in reinforcing my remembering self.

Advertisements

What I’m Reading – 2.3.16

A professional does it.

Most writing advice boils down to this: sit down and write, every day. There are endless caveats. Read, too. Show, don’t tell. Arrive late to scenes and leave early (the same good advice goes, of course, for parties). But few professions seems to engender procrastination—talking about it, reading about it, thinking about it—more than writing. This goes for novels, articles, sermons, reports. We form the habit in middle school and continue it forward into our adult lives.

Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art is a writing book, yes. His background is writing, and most of his advice seems to be aimed at writers, even if he tries to expand it to anyone involved in creative work. It’s a pep talk in 160 pages, something you could read in a sitting or two.

What he does that is most helpful: he names what we face each day. Resistance. “The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it,” he writes. He lays out the terrain of how Resistance works, where we find it, how it operates. This is why it’s called The War of Art—not only does he invert Sun Tzu’s famous title, but he mimics it, laying out the basics for laying siege against Resistance. He talks about how the more we fear doing the work, the more sure we can be that we are called to it. Resistance and fear go hand-in-hand.

The solution? Turn professional. He doesn’t say to only write for money (though, that’s a different debate waged often today). He says treat your writing, or your creative endeavor, as your vocation. Do it. Do it every day. Avoid excuses.

I think of this and the solitary life of the writer—or the artist, or the entrepreneur, or the pastor, or anyone involved in creating—and the misery that our vocation sometimes calls us to. Rejection, for writers. Slogging away. One of my professors in graduate school said there is a point where the manuscript turns into the “damn manuscript.” Pressfield writes about being miserable.

“The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.”

Sometimes, I don’t like to tell people that I’m a writer because I have so little to show for it. A few published short stories. Novels that are repeatedly rejected. I wonder aloud to my wife if I should continue.

I asked a teacher at a workshop this question, once. I took her out for a beer to talk more about a writing career, and I told her of my self-doubt. Really, I expected her to offer me some platitudes, to tell me that I was better than I thought.

She didn’t. She told me I have to decide for myself.

I was surprised in the moment. Aren’t we supposed to just give someone nice words when he’s feeling down? But she gave me more. As Pressfield tells it, we cannot write for the audience—the hierarchy. Writing for the hierarchy is an attempt to get noticed, to be okay in the eyes of others. To move up the hierarchy.

Instead, we must write only if it comes from our center. No one can answer if I ought to keep writing, because, even if I have talent, it must be my answer. Now, a year and a half removed from that conversation, I’m grateful for the answer my instructor gave me. I had to find my own answer. I write because that’s who I am.

I had to get accustomed to the rejection and self-doubt, the isolation, to find out that I needed to do this. I still need to be reminded that this is the war of art: it is often miserable. (I’m sure others want to sign up as writers now, as if they don’t regularly engage in tasks that are uncomfortable and with no guarantee of success. Maybe engaging in such tasks is simply wired into us as humans.)

Should you read The War of Art? Perhaps. It’s not groundbreaking. It’s a simple reminder of the role you have to play, and that the best contribution you can make is to show up, every day, and play your role. We all need that pep talk sometimes. We need someone who can define the enemy and the objective, and call us again to engage.

On Dogs and Improvisation

We’d been watching a Bernese Mountain Dog as a trial, to see if she might fit in our family. (She didn’t fit with her last family, which is why she is at ours.) Sunday, we made the decision to adopt her.

We sat the girls on the couch and told them that afternoon. Ellis, our soon-to-be seven-year-old, squealed and hugged us. Maci, our four-year-old was quiet. We asked Maci if she wanted a dog, and she said yes, and she said she wanted this dog. But she insisted that she didn’t want to be too excited. She is hard to read and we always place it on her German ancestry. It’s the same reason that, every four years when we watch a German soccer game, my wife laughs at me: the heavy brows and strong chins.

I cannot help but wonder if the dog will work out the way we imagine now, and when she will be a joy and when a nuisance. I suppose there is no relationship without both, broken as we are.

I wonder, too, about Maci. Ellis is demonstrative and outspoken; her body language is impossible to misinterpret. What she feels is directly acted out. Maci, however, is more like her dad (again, the German ancestry). She will have her feelings hurt and disappear to her room to cry. When she was younger, she would get angry with us if we made too much out of a skinned knee. She would be crying, yes, but she wouldn’t want too much sympathy.

See what I mean?

So we embark on another body in the house. Just an animal this time. I am adamant about not becoming one of those people who confuses his dog with a person. In fact, this afternoon as Brooke went to buy some supplies for the dog, she mentioned the dog’s lumpy bed. It couldn’t be comfortable, she said.

I reminded her that neither would the floor be comfortable for a human to sleep on, but it suits the dog just fine. So does a lumpy bed, as long as she is familiar with it.

I’m reminded how with the dog, or with Maci, we are tenuously doing our best. We may make false steps, and assume too much or too little. But this is what it means to be a parent or a dog owner, to pour ourselves into any worthy endeavor. Writing a novel is the same, and I imagine starting a business would be, too. We jump with all the knowledge we have, and we make the rest up. We improvise. This is, evolutionarily speaking, one of the traits that set humans apart from other animals: our ability to improvise. To take known information and apply it in a new situation. I’m glad our ancestors had millions of years of practice at this. Because I need it on Sunday afternoons just as I do on while teaching a class on Monday morning. Life has much to do with our ability to improvise.

How to Write When You’re Taking a Break

Last Tuesday, my book entered the beta stage. I sent it out to half a dozen trusted readers to see what they think. This has come after a first draft (which produced an unreadable, poorly-paced, plot maze) and a second draft (confusing, better paced, and plotted), and a third, clean-up draft (as good as I could make it by myself; finally able to show it to others without crippling humiliation). I’ve asked my readers to go through the novel over the next month, and then they can give me feedback in exchange for beer.

What this means, of course, is that I’m not actively writing a novel right now. Since it’s been a week, I’ve properly let myself decompress (decompose?) after a push toward the finish, but I’m now feeling that void: I have nothing to do first thing in the morning, and there’s only so much sports news in the middle of the summer.

I have fully imbibed the writer’s adage: “I must write. It is my purpose. It is what I can give to the world.” (We do this, of course, to trick ourselves into actually writing.) The problem is that, for the next month, I have no purpose.

It seems my options, then are: a) spend the next month drinking and growing my beard as long as possible, plus wearing sweatpants in the middle of the day, or b) find a new way forward–fulfilling my purpose without working on my novel.

If I choose b, however, the problem is compounded by the fact that after the draft of a novel, it’s like I’ve finished a marathon: I’m tired, spent, and need a break to let the paralyzing soreness subside.

So, like a marathon runner, how do I hit the pavement again in a way the brings energy and sustenance, rather than beginning another long race without a break? For this month, here are my top three. Why three? One wasn’t quite enough (although I’ll boil it all down to one in the end), and any more than three really won’t happen. I won’t do all four or five.

1. Write outside my genre. After working a long time on a literary novel, I think a little cross-training is appropriate. I could go the short story route, but novel to short story doesn’t seem to be enough of a genre-buster, despite the differences in the forms. Instead, I’m going to start a screenplay that’s been bouncing around in my head for a while. I may never finish it, but I’m really excited to tackle the dialogue and conflict that’s necessary in a screenplay. In this last novel, I worked hard to break it into beats and scenes, searching for the conflict between characters at each moment. A screenplay will demand that I get stronger at this, and look more deeply at story structure. Plus, I’m always hoping to grow with dialogue–especially how it can raise conflict without always devolving into a shouting match.

Poetry, too, is a favorite of mine. I love writing poetry. But I don’t think it’s what I need right now. That is, I don’t need to work on rhythm and the attractiveness of my prose as much as I need to work on making things happen.

2. Take notes. I’m not a strict note-taker by nature, though I’ve come to realize that I don’t hold on to ideas unless I write them down. But this is simpler. Throughout the month, I’m going to spend some time each day taking notes: notes on what I see and felt and heard during a walk, notes on how I felt at a party, notes on how the evening sun shines through my daughter’s hair. I’ll note story ideas, should any come (and they usually do if I pay attention to them). I’ll record some dialogue (see no. 1 above). It’s a chance to refocus–and perhaps begin a new practice that aids in my writing.

3. Reach out. It’s not uncommon for me to think how I ought to call/text/email someone, and maybe even put this person’s name on my daily “To do” list, only to fail at reaching out. But writing is a lonely, lonely hobby, and my writer friends, I’m sure, would appreciate a note as much as I would appreciate one from them. Beyond my beta readers, it’s always helpful to talk with others struggling through their work, to offer encouragement and find some of my own. Especially as I take a break, it’s like I’m at the raft before treading water for another hour: my friends are out there in the water. I may as well encourage them before going back out, too.

All of this, of course, adds up to the idea of refilling my well. This is the mindset I need after a novel. Not stop and rest, but refill. Rest, too often, degrades into the aforementioned sweatpants. But refilling it a conscious effort. It’s doing new things to ensure I’m fresh for the next revision. It’s also celebrating what I’ve accomplished.

As a sports fan, I think of this whenever a team cuts down the nets, wins the Super Bowl, and confetti comes flying down. It’s a real moment of accomplishment, of stopping. They go to Disney World and talk shows; they rest. And, for a month or two, they refill their wells before beginning the process again.

We need more confetti parties for finished novels (though it would be a quiet, depressing party). Absent that, we need to make it a practice to refill our wells after the championship game: to rest, to do things that energize and prepare you for the next push.

On Dropbox and Running

runningI was supposed to take this evening to write, but my antiquated computer couldn’t make heads nor tails of Dropbox, so I’m doing a different type of writing than fiction. I’ve been wanting to keep my fiction muscles fresh for my morning writing sessions, so perhaps my Dropbox snafu is some type of divine intervention.

Staying fresh, I’ve realized, is the way that I’m able to write–and write productively–every day. Most days I’ll write for half an hour (I find time to be more helpful than word counts at this stage of my development); though on some I’ll push ahead for twice that. Never, by rule, should I write more than an hour a day.

On one hand, this rule could translate to mere slothfulness: a refusal to push myself too hard. This, doubtless, is the focus of a great many Americans, or those of us who heard about Kerouac’s benzedrine-fueled first draft of On the Road, pumped out in three weeks (at least, that’s how the story was passed down to me). But, since my stimulant of choice is a dark roast of coffee, three weeks is far too short for me to produce anything of substance. Rather, I piddle away for half an hour or so each day, eating the whale of my novel in small nibbles.

I’m also a runner, at a rather slow and plodding level. I’ve been on a running fast this spring, with the load of working on a second draft of my novel and teaching two classes on top of my regular job. Something had to give, and I’ve tried to wiggle workouts into the beginning or ending of my days, with varied success. But as a runner, I can simply go so hard for so long. If I exhaust myself on Tuesday (generally a hard hour’s run at my athletic level) I find my legs don’t have much pick up on Wednesday.

This, I suppose, is fine for running: I’m not running competitively, and I know there’s always tomorrow. But for writing, there is little more frustrating than realizing that I don’t have anything to write: I used all my inspiration and creativity yesterday. My writing muscles are accustomed to half an hour or hour-long bouts. If I push much past that, my writing becomes forced, wooden, mandatory. I squeeze words out of the rock that is my brain, leaving a trail of broken pebbles, void of magic and wonder. Void of life.

On one hand, I’m reminded that, as physical beings contingent upon time, we have what C.S. Lewis terms the law of undulation: “As long as he lives on earth,” Lewis writes as Screwtape, “periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty.” We experience peaks and troughs, often from one day to the next, or one hour to the next.

Lewis’ adage is true, of course, because on some Wednesdays–even when I haven’t exhausted myself on Tuesday–I find no spring in my legs. (I found the same tonight but attributed that to a second brownie after dinner). But I’m sure to find it so if I push myself to the limits the day before.

Writing, or thinking, or creating, or whatever it is we do for our vocations (even if it is not our day job), is a muscle. If we exhaust it without growing it, we will find it strained and weak the next day. This can throw off the writer seeking to form a habit, the pastor or musician or designer seeking to bring fresh energy to a project after an arduous day. We must protect those muscles, even if Dropbox sometimes must step in for us.

I’m reminded of the quote, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all,” which I originally read attributed to Vince Lombardi, but the internet seems to think anyone from Shakespeare to General Patton first said it. The nebulous origins do not make it less true. If I do not rest, if I do not allow margin and space, if I do not put myself in a pattern of exerting and ceasing, I rob myself of the vital energy to let my words crackle and spark. You rob yourself of the energy you need to speak truth and goodness and beauty into your world.

May we be people who refuse to be fatigued, not out of some dogged call to machismo, but out of a deeper wisdom to ensure that we have the energy to engage our strongest loves.

On Mixed Drinks and Identity

shutterstock_107523386I’ve been out to eat a surprising amount lately, considering how much my wife and I regularly dine out. We’ve frequented trendy gastropubs and new restaurants in the area. At each, as the drink list gets set down with our menu, I’ve noted the Moscow Mules and Old-Fashioneds, the Manhattans and other highballs that are ubiquitous now, like it’s the 1940s.

It’s interesting, actually, that I mention the 1940s because that era featured a similar trend–in the way of music. In the late ’40s and early ’50s, what was termed “sweet” music filled the radio waves, so much so that people complained that each song on the radio sounded exactly like the one before. Of course, in the early 1940s we experienced World War II, and our entire culture responded by wanting romantic, soothing music for the remainder of the decade. Everyone wanted to think about their (in the parlance of the day) guy or gal, to think about love and closeness: it was like half a decade of comfort food. People didn’t want challenging, interesting music. They wanted something comfortable.

You could make the argument that the changes over the last decade in our society have been the largest since World War II, at least in ways that we see ourselves and know about the world around us (and I, for one, am making said argument). But rather than sweet music, we’ve become obsessed with vintage. Slow. Old-fashioned.

This is reflected in our love of highballs and “older” drinks to designs we love. In fact, even Major League Soccer recently redesigned their logo to a shield, adding some of that vintage look. The logos we love often have this vintage feel. People, more and more, are interested in organic (a return to the not-so-distant past) in their eating, or paleo (a bit more distant). You know someone who has grown a beard–probably lots of someones. People you come into contact with are interested in making their own–something. From beer to carpentry to the DIY craze to simple filters on Instagram, a confluence of events has made us desperate, thirsty if you will, to get in touch with what we perceive as simpler times.

Part of that is the recession. The other part is the continual connectivity and pace of life. We seek roots. It’s the same reason the ancestry craze continues to beat on, only our ancestors our set, but our hobbies and tastes are not. We can create our own vintage selves by applying a filter or building a chair–or drinking an Old-Fashioned.

This shift toward everything vintage will not last. It will become passe (perhaps it has), but in our increasingly changing world, people will continue to seek for ways to find peace, solace, rootedness. It may happen again in our music (or it may already be happening, if you listen to certain stations: every song does often sound the same).

But we cannot change identities by the drinks we choose or even the hobbies we take up. We need to speak more forcefully into culture, offering alternative ways to live. This is why religion will not die and may even find rebirth in the coming generations. Strict adherence to religious orders and communities offers a new identity in ways that filtering your photos cannot. This is partly why I belong to a religious community, and I read authors who have been published for hundred or thousands of years. It roots me and allows me pause about what’s new; it allows me to see my identity beyond these choices I make of clothes and hobbies, which are ultimately consumeristic choices.

May you find your identity in something far beyond consumeristic choices, and rather in the meaning and community you provide to others. May you find it deep within, rather than needing to broadcast it. And may that identity provide you the framework to make those choices–so you can smugly enjoy a Moscow Mule while knowing it does nothing to contribute to who you are, unlike those heathens at the bar (or someone who uses a typewriter photo in their blog header).

Because, on the other hand, much of culture will continue to try on new identities with the least effort and cognitive dissonance involved. Thank you, Instagram.

 

Thoughts: On Church Music

I drove our two daughters to a birthday party on Sunday afternoon. The house was half an hour away, and we started out without speaking much; the youngest fell asleep. Ellis, our oldest, and I sat and listened to the radio. She complained, at one point, about the song, so I went searching for a station that was palatable to my daughter and myself. With young children, most of talk radio was ruled out: she would simply ask for another station. I had to avoid any stations with singers who might “sound mean,” and anything with off-color lyrics or banter. Or, really, anything that focused on falling in love as the end goal of any relationship.

Which, naturally, left Christian pop music.

Were I more of a musician, I could note what it is that allows someone to immediately identify Christian pop. Perhaps it’s five or ten years behind, still flowing in acoustic guitars, refusing to take chances. But a lot of music refuses to take chances. Perhaps it’s the endless bubbliness, the continual refrain of how we’ll make it with God’s help. There’s something identifiable about the sound, and certainly about the lyrics, that signals the genre.

The church has ceded cultural relevance at an astonishing rate over the last 100 years (200 years, perhaps, in Europe). I do not know if the songs on the radio are symptomatic or drivers of the disease. Obviously, there is a feedback loop that they participate in: as the mind of the western church decays, the songs mirror this, then they add to it. It happens on Sunday afternoons in the car or Sunday mornings in the pew. We sing the same refrain: God is good and he makes me feel good.

Part of the cultural relevance the church has lost is its ability to speak into hardship and loss. This is also one of the places church–religion, spirituality, the whole kaboodle–is most needed. Our society has no way to deal with destruction and death: we deny it and move on as quickly as possible. We seek revenge. We fail to properly mourn and question and flail against whatever has allowed this.

The poet Christian Wiman, in My Bright Abyss, refers to this:

It means that conservative churches that are infused with the bouncy brand of American optimism one finds in sales pitches are selling shit. It means that liberal churches that go months without mentioning the name of Jesus, much less the dying Christ, have no more spiritual purpose or significance than a local union hall.

Somewhere between these two problems–the first being the Christian music problem and the second being it’s opposite: denial of a good God–is a middle ground of honesty. It is something that we must talk about from the pulpits and sing about from the pews. We must begin to realize that this life is not about me, or you, but religion invites us into a story beyond ourselves. And this story is not one of ebullient happiness and American optimism. It is one of struggle and denial, suffering and loss.

It is one of great beauty and love, but we can only find joy in proportion to our experience of pain.

For churches to find relevance, they must find language that speaks into this experience of pain and joy. This is why the creeds will never go out of style: they have been found, over centuries, to articulate our existence. Until churches rediscover this ability to speak both pain and hope, they have nothing to say. The most liberal will be Wiman’s union halls, and the most conservative will swap the romantic lover of pop songs with a supposedly transcendent God. They must, in the words of Walter Brueggemann, find ways to speak prophetically: to criticize and energize.

To hurt and hope.

We need to find these articulations in new songs. Until then, you might find such words in an old poem or song–or a psalm–or you might find the act itself on a cross.

Thoughts: On Morning

shutterstock_95328721

This morning. This morning: snow gessoed the world, swirled thick through the trees. Their branches, gray at the base, disappear into white the farther your eye follows them from the trunk. Below, the lawn is chalked with snow, thick and uniform. It tops the fence and piles on the power lines, a line of white on the line of black, the black drooping a miniscule amount more. The snow piles even on last summer’s tomato cages, stuck haphazardly in the ground, the white perched even two inches above the horizontal metal wire, casually ignoring gravity.

Icicles droop irregularly off the bottom of the deck and I can see them from the ground-level window of my office. As I watch, the gray sky bends to a zinc-white.

Inside, the furnace pumps, the hum and heat of air that I can feel on the left side of my face. The only noise the furnace and my pen. Outside is silent. To be awake, to see this day birthed: the world is a far greater miracle than we ever give it credit.

Pay attention, the morning says, as it does again and again, and will again in 24 hours. If you do not, the morning may as well not even happen.

Thoughts: On Freedom

The American story is one of flight. We teach our kindergarteners about the Pilgrims who came here in 1620, fleeing religious persecution. We tell of the migrants passing through Ellis Island, finally finding a chance to remake themselves. We mythologize stories of the frontier and the Old West, noting the hardscrabble man who strikes out in search of something better.

We should not be surprised at America’s love affair with cars, how we figured out how to mass produce them here, how they are not a conveyance as much as a symbol. Ask any old man or woman who has had to give over the keys, or any 15 year old ready to get her license, or anyone at all who has packed up the car and driven away for a week, a month, the rest of his life. Cars symbolize the freedom that our forebears sought. They are the 20th century version of what steamships and trains were in the 19th, horses and homesteads were in the 18th.

Cut ties, remake yourself, and you will be free.

There is an alternative story beneath the surface, one evoked in those men embarking west, men who often were running from debts or unhappy marriages. You see it lurking in places like On the Road, Kerouac’s beautiful picture of escape and true living, but you can see the disillusionment, the need to push farther, go down to Mexico, find something else new. It’s wonderful, yes, but there is a darkness to it.

All my stories are about this idea, in some ways. They are about this urge to flee, to remake ourselves. It is quintessentially American–from Kerouac to Huckleberry Finn to Moby Dick. Call of the Wild. Grapes of Wrath. Catcher in the RyeRabbit, Run. It is a temptation upon which America was founded. One that sits at the edges of our daily consciousness, this yearning to flee, to find something new. Things will be better.

Of course, there’s a great lie to all this: we are forever stuck with ourselves, whether in Boston or Bali. More poetically, he cried out in his anger and his shame, ‘I am leaving, I am leaving,’ but the fighter still remains.

No, real freedom is not found behind a six-cylinder engine or over the next horizon: it comes only in the well-worn relationships, those where we’ve fought and struggled, laughed and hoped together. It comes in those places where we are known better than we know ourselves. If continuing to form new relationships and move from group to group means we are adrift about ourselves, then we only find mooring in staying with others.

Freedom inheres in relationships of love, of respect. It’s much less conditional and more inherent in lifestyle: we cannot grasp freedom at a stroke, but we pursue it with choice after choice, finding ourselves loved and loving, and able to say and do what will give more freedom, whether it’s expressing anger and finding your partner is still beside you or doing something potentially more vulnerable and demonstrating your latest dance moves.

We cannot flee to find freedom. Yes, sometimes, like those principled pilgrims, flight will be part of our movement toward freedom. But it is never the end. Freedom is a series of daily choices. Of habits. To think otherwise is wrong, but it isn’t new–it’s as old as indebted men running away west, or boarding a whaling ship to experience something new, or even, as old as Cain himself.

Thoughts: On Creativity

Everywhere I stumble this week, I see articles about the need for boredom in order to be creative. People are railing against checking your cellphones and advocating (I think) reading the phonebook aloud. Apparently, if you stop the former and begin the latter, your creativity will spike.

One might hope there are easier–less boring?–methods to creativity. Any artist worth her salt already grasps this: creativity is borne from margin and ritual.

The margins are, to some extent, physical margins we need. We need time to rest and recuperate. But busy people can also be extremely creative. The real margins we need are softer ones: margins of emotional and mental space. If we are obsessed with problems, cut by anxiety, we’ll never find those creative moments–those aha! moments. To find those, we must allow our minds to wander, whether in the shower or the morning commute. If you cannot do this, you cannot be creative.

If you are trapped by anxiety, you cannot be creative.

It’s ritual that often helps us build these margins. Just like old-time religion, we enter into rituals to engage our creativity. I get coffee in the morning and come to sit at the blank screen, the same way each morning, the same steps. The two minutes of ritual prepares me, initiates a creative sequence.

The same thing happens, of course, in the shower or on our commutes. That’s why these are creative spaces, spaces where you’ll often solve problems or develop ideas (assuming you sometimes turn the radio off, of course). You can see why these spaces also inhibit creativity if they’re filled with worry or anxiety: our unconscious has no room to pop up, speak a word, then disappear until the next shower.

The real problem, of course, is that we do not see ourselves as creators, but consumers. Some of our most intractable problems are what to buy; we define ourselves by the buying choices we’ve made in clothes, house, car, how we spend our Friday evenings, the shows we consume, the sites we visit.

Part of the problem lies in our very language itself. We invest in things. We spend time wisely. These are consumer mentalities. Three hundred years ago, no one spent time. They passed time. Experienced it.

The role of an artist, but also a pastor or an entrepreneur (and there’s often not much difference), is to look at the world and describe what you see. The artist does this with words or images or music. The entrepreneur sees holes in the market and imagines ways to fill them. The spiritual leader steps back and asks where we are really going.

Look at the world and describe what you see.

This is the mind shift of the creator. It may mean we check our phones less often or limit our time on the internet. It probably should. It may mean we engage in rituals, showering thrice a day, or engaging in less waste by building in time to think, to look, to engage in a different way. It probably should mean that, too. It may mean we speak about time differently. It will definitely mean that we speak about ourselves differently.