Saturday, June 21, 2008

When Do You Create?

I really enjoyed Ratatouille, but even more than that, I enjoyed the video about the movie's inspiration. The mini-documentary followed Brad Bird (the Pixar wizard) through bits of the creative process, and also followed their culinary inspiration, Thomas Keller, owner and chef of The French Laundry through a dialogue about his own creative process and inspiration and commitment to work.

One thing that Brad Bird said has stuck with me. The long and short of his point was that you can't force the creative process. You have to pay attention to what puts you in a creative state of mind. What environment makes you quiet enough to listen to the art that is being given you? Do your best to recreate that environment or put yourself in that situation when you work. I suppose that the rest of the process is to do as all the good writers I know say, and to get up every day and write something. Or play something. Or practice - like I need to practice at both the hammered dulcimer and making hollandaise sauce from scratch.

My creativity seems to flow from hearing and perhaps seeing the art of others. When I listen to a new record and it touches me, I feel words spring up from beneath my granite heart. When I write, at least prosaically, I feel that all I must do is write a little to unhinge the door, and then words and ideas will begin to flow. Then there are those painfully inconvenient times when I'm showering or driving. Or selling coffee, as the case may be.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sigur Ros: Primus et Secretus

I have, at the suggestions of friends, recently paid quite a bit of attention to the band Sigur Ros. They are an Icelandic group whose music strikes a very organic chord in the psyche and the spirit. My first real experience with them was watching the video for the song Glosoli, which you can watch here on YouTube. I highly, highly recommend it. Watch it few times and really take it in. Another fantastic music video is Svefn-g-englar. These two alone are a redemptive force in the medium of music video, a medium in which I otherwise have little faith.

A few minutes ago, I watched a video for their upcoming album. I was not a little shocked and frustrated when the video appeared to be mostly about a group of people who spend the entirety of the presentation in the nude. I'm not quite certain how I feel about this on the whole, but a few questions and thoughts came to mind.

Where is the line in the sand as far as nudity goes? Where is the mark that says, "This far, and no further"? In Madeleine L'Engle's Penguins and Golden Calves, she talks about the juxtaposition of the human body: how it can either be an icon (that which leads us to meditation on God) or an idol (that which draws our eyes away from the light of his glory). For me, the body itself is a wonder. Just today, as I sat on the bus with people spanning at least four races, I was struck by the wonder of skin. That it should be opaque, that it should function as it does, that it should differ amongst us, is all a grand and wonderful mystery to me. We, as a part of creation, are the words and the paint-strokes of God, a toss-up of color and cut. But skip ahead to the viewing of the body in the intimate expanse of nudity, and I cannot often see it beyond my own idolatry. Perhaps the nature of the male gender to be visual in identification is a strike against me. Perhaps my own faults and disposition are strikes against me. To be honest, I don't know.

A professional photographer friend showed me some photos he had taken. His focus was on the clarity of the image captured. He was proud of his work. He was proud of the fact that you could distinctly see individual water droplets on each model's body. I shifted uncomfortably and tried to appreciate his work and his profession as I watched the stills for magazine covers and beach retreat advertisements pass in front of my eyes. He is much older than I, and has been married to his wife for much longer, but he revealed that he has his difficulties as well in that line of work.

Another dear friend with whom I spoke mentioned the sanctity of the human body. Even the naked body of someone of the same sex, he said, is something which should be treated with a penultimate degree of respect. Call me old-fashioned, or call me what you will, but this is a holy sense of secret-keeping with which I can happily agree. I have done my share of dormitory shower rooms and such, but the idea that everyone's body is sacred warms my soul. The idea of seeing a person naked feels a bit like cutting down an old tree to count its rings.

Sigur Ros has a history of nudging the primal longing for beauty within us. Their music will often brush up against that feeling that brokenness sometimes (perhaps even always) overlays truth. I am quite aware that the European notion of nudity and the American notion of nudity are two different things (though one is drifting slowly towards the other), but I don't know if I can watch that video again. The artist in me is governed by a priest, and the priest by a doorkeeper.

All that said, I think feet are simply amazing, and I like the outlines of metatarsal bones.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Sound of Many Waters

Two dear members of the Lord's family got married yesterday, making their mysterious promises to each other, to God, to all of us who desire fidelity and blessing, there in the warm afternoon shadows behind a stone house built before Abraham Lincoln sat on a train to Gettysburg scribbling his small eulogy for the fallen there. There was a great feast, complete with fried chicken, sweet potato casserole, and cheese grits. There was dancing and laughter, and looking back upon it, I am deeply thankful that many of my unbelieving friends and coworkers were present for the holy iconic moment of the making of vows. The stormclouds that had lowered their brows upon the afternoon parted and warmed to the color of ripe peaches, the blush of the bride. It was, in all respects, a perfect evening.

And it was also a perfect coda to the sonata that Kat and I sang along to all week, down in the lee of St. Simon's Island. We were blessed to be counselors at MDA camp for a few days. My camper's name was Jacob, and I seem to remember that name from somewhere, from someone who grappled with the Almighty. A few facts about Jacob: he is, first of all, perfectly ready to smile at the slightest opportunity. He is also further proof to me of the awesome power of meekness, because while I am loathe to create dissonance between myself and those I respect, I am deeply fearful to offend the conscience of this young man, lest I have on my hands the blood of one so innocent. I would be happy to say of myself that I was as disturbed at the prospect of offense toward others, but those whom I wrongly count my enemies - at the very least, by my actions and thoughts - stand as testimonies to my hatred. I am glad for that, because it is telling. It reveals all that the mirror does not show.

But when spending the week with those who are counted as broken, their humanity becomes a clearer looking-glass in which to see my own, much more organic, brokenness. I was glad, after a week of finding myself inadequate to afford my own salvation, to see the grin of a groom, enamored with his bride. I was glad to read from Ecclesiastes and to hear the Songs of Solomon spoken as blessing over the two becoming one. Perhaps, says the wellspring of hope planted in me, perhaps there is a bridegroom waiting to grin at you as well, his bride.

      For love is as strong as death...
Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot wash it away...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Quiet Return

Kat and I have returned from St. Simon's Island, where John Wesley wrestled with the self-same angel that made a limp from Jacob's swagger. I'm doing my best to get back into writing, though I'm feeling the creeping dry whisper of writer's block. Hopefully it will pass soon. More later.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

MacDonald Takes a Holiday

It is far too late for sanity.

The sun long ago retired from his perch in the Tennessee sky. I must be at work before he arises, and tomorrow shall be a long day, but having worked late, I have decided that staying awake might befit the times better than sleep.

I'll probably be wrong.

Anyways, I'm taking the opportunity to tell you that you should read books by George MacDonald. If justice wore a gentle and honest face (and I think it might), you would see it peering a bit phlegmatically through his poetry and prose. His characters, insofar as I have read, are generally carbon copies of what I am and what I desire to be - that is, the naivety or interrogative silliness of his heroes is quite akin to my own, and the sagacity of their teachers is something that I wish that I possessed (most likely, out of a naive understanding of what begets that venerable wisdom).

Mostly though, I want you to read George MacDonald because his is a name that is not quite as popular in circles both Christian and pagan as it should be. His fantasies are treasures, and his theology should be far more widespread than it is. I believe that you are likely to find more truth in Lilith, Phantastes, and Unspoken Sermons than you will in The Prayer of Jabez (let it be known that I pick on Jabez because it is easy, not because I'm aware of what Jesus thinks of Dr. Bruce Wilkinson, though I might venture to say that Jesus loves him). Though you are not likely to find MacDonald's works in your nearest Christian bookstore (if you are, that's wonderful!), you may find the internet a useful tool. If you, like myself, were addicted to the romance of antiquity, then you would sift through your local antique-book-and-novelty shop. In any case, you should put this soon-acquired book above that copy of Nicholas Sparks' latest endeavor that was sitting at the top of your stack. Indeed, you should probably put it above Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, or, at least, nearby it (since, once you pick up Harry you likely won't put him down until you are finished).

By our sheer numbers, we will flood the market with a demand for reprints and publications. I know we can do it. A spark fires a movement.

Kat and I will be leaving for a few days on Friday, and I will be devoid of both the ability and the desire to gain internet access. So if you have something important to say to me, put it off until later, because it can't possibly be that important if you're reading my blog. You should do something productive with your time. Like gardening or writing a letter. On the other hand, if you're reading my blog, you are a person with great patience and pure, uncoerced interest in what I have to say. May the Lord bless you, dear reader.