Community and Creativity

 

I moved into a neighborhood with a school named Puckett when I was in the 4th grade. I found friends very quickly. I was sort of a character compared to my new suburban companions. I was a kid who probably became too fond of a good hyperbole, telling slightly fabricated stories of the schools and the experiences I had been a part of prior to my time at this new school. But what really allowed me into their circle of “elite and cool” kids at Puckett elementary was my ability to create monsters and other imaginary characters with a pencil.

This group of boys at Puckett elementary had an increasing appreciation for drawings and doodles of the fantastic variety. Knowing my honed drawing skills, I knew that I could be appreciated properly. (Hopefully my sarcastic tone is being picked up here). When they saw my drawings and as I was slowly drawn into the group I was met with an odd thing. Community.

This group of boys was consumed with each of the characters and the deep back stories assigned. Each participant had developed their own sense of folklore and fairy tale with each character and monster they drew, and we all cared about each other’s ideas. We would ask for the honest opinions and thoughts on each hero or creature. We thoughtfully participated in each other’s dreams – literally. We were engaging in community, and inside of this we experienced a certain amount of freedom.

No one felt they were less creative than the most talented, we merely just had a respect for the unique outlook and perspective each person had shaping our ideas. In the absence of airier motives and childish innocence we were able to do community unusually well. And inside of community done right, community that was unselfish in nature, we were able to create freely.

Inspiration: the myth

I write these stories and blogs. I also write songs, poems, and draw pictures.

I am what some call artistic.
When I was a boy watching old Godzilla movies and anime, or listening to my dad read me the Lord of the Rings, I guess something in me wanted to be a part of that, and so I started to create.

In my head, with my monsters and robots, and with pencils and papers, I started to make my own stories. And as that young boy with my head full ideas like intergalactic robot alien wars and the cave trolls in the mines the dwarves dug too deep, I could not have cared any less what anyone else thought if they were to know what I was up to. Hell, I’d parade my drawings around at family functions, with all my cool interesting cousins and uncles, and they would give me their insightful opinions and my aunt, grandma, and dad may even have fed me some thoughtful advice Even now, I can see my grandmother lowering her voice and pretending to be some creature I had drawn up, and then she would comment on a detail she thought was particularly “interesting”, and she meant it.
Inspiration isn’t some miraculous golden epiphany you wait around for to hit you late at night or in the desert while you’re on shrooms with that friend your parents don’t like (not biographical merely making a point).

We just ignore the things in our life that feed us, we quiet the restless thoughts and questions, those things that make you think really hard, stand up out of your seat and yell in a room full of people, the things that make you want to get out of bed.
I was talking to friend recently about song writing. Somehow or another, a question came along the lines of “Where do you get inspiration? What do you write about?” and I’m sure I said something like I try and lean into my influences and recreate what I love. (Austin Kleon Steal Like and Artist reference- look it up). But I think a more suitable answer for anyone interested in trying to think about their own life more and be more creative in a broad general sense, regardless of the creative opinions someone has about themselves, that answer would go more like: Each day I struggle to look for ways to think about all the crap in my life and in my head. I wake up and journal, I carry a little leather notebook holder around searching and listening for keen thoughts, comments, questions or dialogues, I read the Bible (Christian or not it is undeniably a life giving text), I read poetry, I listen to oodles of songs, read other books, I write a song every day, I call my Dad (at least once), I record my conversations with my 73 year old grandpa. And not to mention all the bad habits I have; those are important to, just not enough share at this moment in fear of being distracted.

So I guess where I get “inspiration” is just sort of being a neurotic, anxiety riddled, crazy person who lives in a warehouse.
You are a living, breathing person, who has hopes, fears, problems, flaws, secrets, and dreams. Start listening and asking your grandma what she thinks about your drawings, and show everyone you know.


Tell Me About When I Was A Kid: The boy who caught the Bird.

As I boy, and as I grew into my adolescence and so on throughout adult hood, I heard stories about myself. Stories about the odd things I would say, and the peculiar things I would do. I’m sure this isn’t too abnormal or unfamiliar of a concept. Children in third world countries want to know what they look like in a photo a tourist or missionary takes of them, but in the developed world the children don’t want to know what they look like, there is plenty of documentation of that sort, rather they want to know what people think of them. They want to know the stories of themselves when they were younger and how they were perceived by those around them. They want to know how their existence affected the world they inhabit. And as a boy, and even now, I am no different, at least in the sense that I too want to hear my story told to me. I may even need it.

I’m often told of my first outrageous words, Godzilla and Booty, clearly a child filled to the brim with potential and genius. Or the time I told my mom if she were to die and my dad were to remarry several more times, she would be still be my favorite. Which is an odd way to tell your mom she is the best, but she seemed to understand what I meant. These stories aren’t always that interesting or exciting but they do make for some good laughs in the living room when the family is in town.

But there are others that are interesting. Some don’t seem real, despite the vividness of memory. The interesting ones aren’t just history or just information, they have formational impact.

 

When I was four or five, I walked over to my older brother, Jake, at some family gathering and I told him that I was going to go outside and catch a bird. Jake, surely frustrated, insisted it could not be done. At some point in our conversation either I or my brother implored my dad for his opinion on whether catching a bird was possible or not. I can imagine him trying to hide the sarcasm in his voice as he tried to reassure us with the reality of how difficult it would be to catch a bird out of the air. This would have made Jake more intolerable and smug, while at the same it would have only moved me in frustration being told I couldn’t do something. Of course it made me want to do it more, and fueled my need to go against authority.

So apparently I went into the backyard and did just as I was told I could not do; I snatched a bird out of the air with my bare hands. With my avian trophy I grabbed the attention of my father and hopefully my brother. Whilst parading my prize around my dad was yelling at me to let the bird go because the flock of birds getting into formation to conduct an air strike rescue mission for their companion I had captured. I’m sure I did not let go without hesitation, but I did let go in light of my impending doom.

What an odd story to echo through my childhood and on into my adolescence. Its not a long story, You might not put in a documentary of my life, but I can remember hearing it as a boy and it giving me a certain confidence and fostered a sense courage, or even a boldness. This story impacted me.

What do I need that sits back there in the boy I used to be?

When I feel totally debilitated with anxiety and depression, I need to know I can catch birds out of the air. When I don’t believe in myself or when I drive myself into isolation, I need to know I can catch birds with my hands. When I don’t think I have a story, I need to know I caught a bird out the air.

 

 

 

 

(The sweet bird painting is by Artist Vincent Sheridan, look him up)

 

You Actually Can Do Anything: Why That’s Not Total Millennial Crap

I grabbed a coffee and a beer with one of my good friends over this past winter break. This friend and I meet up every six months or so to discuss all the moving pieces and new people in our lives. We have a special sort of friendship. It’s that sort of friendship that you don’t really have to say anything at all to have a good conversation, but we do anyways because there’s always a lot of ground to cover. And I would say this abnormal friendship exists partly from how well we get along, but also because both of us believe in the other.

As we unpack our lives we both cast shadows over our pursuits and passions, doubting the things we want to do with our lives, and each time we belittle our passions the other scoffs and begins to tell of all the wonderful things we see in the other. I don’t know about her I guess for sure, but when I begin to reassure her all I do is say what I know is true in her life. I tell her how I see her, how talented she is and able she is, how she needs to pursue what she believes in, maybe fail a couple of times to see if she really loves it (which of course, she does). And what she said this particular time, after I was finished with my rant and close to the end of our conversation she said this, “Wow, you make me feel like anything is possible.”

Now, I realize that sounds like I am just bragging on myself for being a good motivational speaker, but I cannot take all the credit. I didn’t do anything too noble I just spoke truth in her life. When we hear the truth about who we are, after that little bit of pride dies down, we realize that maybe “anything” might be much more possible than we thought. This isn’t exactly the same thing as a parent saying to their kids, “You can be anything you want to be when you get older.” Parents say this to their kids to keep their imagination alive, which is good, but to an adult it can sound patronizing and unrealistic. No it’s more real than that. Taking the time to know someone, learn what they are passionate about, listening to what makes them sad, and what makes them righteously frustrated. They believe in them, push them into their uncertain passions, and they will realize that both their passions aren’t as dumb they thought, and they are closer than they think.

I think it is really easy to dismiss and criticize this sort of talk and encouragement as some sort of liberal-millennial-antinominalist-hippie crap. I know because even I dismiss the statement “anything is possible” because it sounds too good to be true, but that’s only because we don’t even really believe the things that are true about ourselves in the first place. When we start to live in these truths about who we are our outlook on reality is blown up; stuff that was impossible seems a lot closer to possible.

One of my greatest desires is to be that person for someone that helps them feel like anything is possible.

Why I Tell Stories and Eat Runny Eggs

 

When I was a kid I didn’t like the yolk of the egg and it seemed to be for no particular reason. Maybe it was the texture, or the taste, or the idea of something being different from the other part of the egg. But now, now I like the yolk. The yolk is almost my favorite part of the egg. In fact I have a preferential way I’d like it cooked. I prefer it runny and gooey, like if the egg were to be on a sandwich so it might bust-open and bleed into the rest of the sandwich. But as a boy I would carefully and surgically remove the yellow center so as not to contaminate the rest of my breakfast.

I am a very different person than I was when I was a child. Not that I think about it that often, and maybe I shouldn’t worry about it too much. But when I do, I start to ask questions about that which transpired and I think about why certain things played out the way they did, and when I start thinking about all that, I realize why I might start to like something like the yolk of the egg after years of avoiding it for so long. I get why I don’t play with toys anymore or why I like to listen to music and why it makes me cry sometimes. I know why I want people to feel loved in spite of the things they’ve done and the things they’ve been a part of. I know what it’s like to cry on the floor of a house with no one home, and I know why I want to be with someone when they are crying on their kitchen floor. I know it’s hard, because I know how it hurts. As a child I had very little deep pains and the yoke was my most daunting adversary, but as I’ve grown my experience has given me history and depth to my life.

I have little illusions that even in light of that which I do know there exist an endless supply of things I do not know, and many of those things I will never know. My knowledge is mostly of where I’ve been, what I have seen, and those things coupled with the people I have met culminating into sorts of a defining experiences. I am not saying that because of these “experiences” I am elevated in some sort of way any higher than the average 21 year old, but that those experiences have shaped my life in such a way, provoking me, almost forcefully, into a certain posture to care about people the way I care about myself. At least that is my hope. And in that, part of this posture of caring or investing into people is an invitation into vulnerable intimacy in order to build and nurture relationships, and one way to facilitate that sort of thing is by sharing stories and experiences- allowing people to know me so that they might feel so inclined to let themselves be known as well. I have little wealth or political influence, so my life and time is all I can truly offer to someone- and some might say even with all the money and power in the world it would still be more valuable to offer your time and self, considering no matter how much you work you cannot buy more time.

As boy it seemed easier to just leave the yoke out, I did not want to mix things up. I was a young creature of habit avoiding change and uncertainty, preserving myself comfortably and safely. The yolk doesn’t bother me anymore, because I am so woefully familiar with the mess and chaos of life I sort of hope to welcome it by sharing my thoughts and stories. The yoke now is almost an invitation to the mess of life. So I’d like to offer myself up to anyone who’d like to listen as I work through some things that I struggle with and share some things that have torn me up. Stories of what I’ve done wrong and stories of what I’ve done right.