In my campaign for creativity, I’m lobbying myself to move the creative processing outside my head and into the world. I wrote about shedding a fear of failure, and capturing creative energy as ideas rush in and out like the tides. Sometimes we need a push to get an idea out into the world, especially when complicating factors like pride get in the way. Continue reading “Creating Competitively?”
This is one of the most creative years on record for me. First I had to allow myself to be bad at something long enough to improve. Embracing failure keeps my perfectionist foot away from the brake pedal. But working through that fear of failure was only the first part of my creative drive.
I still had to get the other foot to step on the gas. So what’s been driving that? Continue reading “Creative Tides”
Overcoming the fear of looking stupid takes practice. I found plenty of that practice when I took up soccer.
Trying new things means being bad at something for awhile so that I can improve – and it’s brutal. When I was younger I resisted trying something new unless I had a hunch I’d be good at it. Age only worsens this tendency. As I develop particular spheres of expertise, pride and comfort insist that I stay inside them.
But after coaching and watching my kids play a thousand and one soccer games, I saw the beauty of the beautiful game and I had to give it a shot. (pun intended)
The only problem: I wasn’t good, and I hate being bad.
I mean I really hate it. It’s even worse in a team sport – what Malcolm Gladwell calls a weak-link sport – where even the best player’s success depends on the weakest. For a social perfectionist, the only thing worse than being bad at something, is being bad at something in front of others.
The first step was simply getting in shape – I was sore for an entire year. But after clearing that hurdle I was left standing toe to toe with a lack of technical skill.
Like a backseat driver my mind had remarkable ideas but couldn’t quite reach the steering wheel.
I played on. My schedule allowed me to play twice a week. I went back time after time, building confidence muscle with repetition. Even a hard day on the pitch was better than a safe day inside the workout gym.
Some days I saw progress but other days I felt like quitting. After losing the ball enough times, I noticed teammates simply passed it elsewhere. It felt like I’d lost their trust. I wished I could explain to these guys that I was actually good at other things in life.
I had to talk myself through many sessions, and occasionally just take a break. It seems pride, like hamstrings, can take only so much strain before seizing up.
But after nearly 5 years, I’m noticing a mental change that is impacting my life far beyond soccer.
I’ve become more accustom to making mistakes and moving on, and this simple adjustment is opening up creative freedom at home and at work.
Is failure an option?
As I’ve been trying to convince my ego, the “fail fast, fail often” movement has been gaining momentum over the last decade in Silicon Valley and beyond. It has even spawned its own conference, appropriately called FailCon, whose motto is, “Stop being afraid of failure and start embracing it”.
Starting with an understanding that we are going to fail at various points along the way, the goal of the movement is simple. Fail quickly, learn what went wrong, and correct course before you’ve gone so far that failing is expensive.
This mantra has taken root in my workplace, where our software is put before customers early. We let them decide what should be perfected or abandoned. Instead of planning for perfection, this encourages us to “try stuff” and learn from it. This approach seems to suit software, soccer, and creativity.
Instead of planning for perfection, this encourages us to “try stuff” and learn from it.
In the case of art, sketch something, tack it to a wall, and look at it with others over a few days; you’ll know what to fix and what’s already working. Share a half-written song and the early feedback will make your creation better. Write a short blog entry and dare yourself to click the “Publish” button even if another week of editing could make it better. Be willing to share a rough draft and then revise it.
Can you take criticism?
I’ve had to work at this, especially criticism from myself. It’s said the best athletes have short memories – they can move forward quickly without obsessing on mistakes.¹ When mistakes become a brain blocker, it only reveals my own high expectations.
If making a few bad passes devastates me, I must have expected that every pass would be perfect.² Playing soccer has forced me to play through mistakes and balance my expectations.
Likewise my artistic creations rarely live up to my vision. Ira Glass cleverly³ describes this as the gap between your creative work and your good taste – which motivated you toward art in the first place.
I certainly feel that gap between my soccer mind and my soccer cleats. But here in my creative driver seat, keeping my learning foot on the ball somehow keeps my perfectionist foot away from the brake pedal.
And that lets the creative drive, drive.
Now let’s get out there and fail. : )
¹See also http://believeperform.com/performance/whuy-mitsakes-are-birllaint/ The article is good and the purposeful mistakes in the URL proves the point.
²The reality is that failure and success are more distributed: If I touch the ball 10 times, 3 of them might be awful, 3 could have been better, 3 good, and 1 just might be brilliant. (when I first started the ratio was much worse) The point is this: if I can’t go out in public and make 3 awful passes I’ll never get the 1 brilliant shot that makes me proud.
³If you didn’t already click the Ira Glass link, do it now: it’s 2 minutes of motivation for anyone doing creative work. https://vimeo.com/85040589
I painted the above to express in simpler terms the many words I was chewing through. Of course Bob Dylan would completely disown me for explaining a work of art, but sometimes growing up means going against our mentors : ) .
Consider the right panel: the work starts with strict boundaries on the left – everything is clearly defined and of a solid color. As we move across – like a timeline – we see what was once neat becoming blurred, less defined, messy. Life still goes along, rich(er) with color, but no longer categorized as it once was.
If it’s no surprise to us in the present day that this piece is titled, “Deconstruction”, neither would it have surprised our ancestors. It’s nothing new to discover the world is not as it seemed. I’ve been finding friends through history, each of them deserving a more in depth look, Continue reading “Left to Right”
I was a little wary when I dozed off with a spider on the wall but when I woke to find it crawling on me. Panic. Get it off. I can’t think straight with this thing on me.
Only when I get some distance can I see the benefits of its fly-catching webs, and can begin to imagine living symbiotically, me and the spider, the spider and me.
I was born into the church and chose the church but then I woke up to find the church under my skin.
I’ve spent this year writing in frustration about that big bad wolf outside of me, but at some point I have to admit the wolf lives in me, and that’s why it bothers me so much. If I were immune to its power I would be indifferent and have no reason to write about it.
Find and Replace
Unlike old typewriters, modern writing software has a “find and replace” feature that can search for any word (for example, “Indian”) and update it with different words (“Native American”).
As I look back on my writing this year, I could surely use such a feature to replace each complaint about the “church” with “that churchy part of me”.
Here’s an example: “How could the church be so sure about everything?” (see more on this) to “How could that churchy part of me be so sure about everything?”
Or, “How could I let that churchy part of me have such a big say?”
Or simply, “Why didn’t I ask more questions?”
I am finally learning to do this at the doctor’s office, so why not in life? How many times have we taken a family member to the doctor for some minor thing, accepted the doctor’s first diagnosis and left with some ointment and bandaids only to get home wondering if we can get it wet or how we’ll know if it’s healed?
I think we have some implicit trust that the doctor has told us everything we need to know.
It’s time to start trusting that my questions are an elemental part of the doctor-patient relationship. (In fact the doctor expects this, and if they don’t, it’s time to find a new doctor.)
I’m going to try writing more from myself, making honest art and making art honest. But even if I don’t, the reader can know that whoever I am angrily writing about is triggering some part of me I wish weren’t there.
I want to write a letter of peace but the frustration seizes my fingers. This year I am learning to write out the frustration in order to find the letters of peace underneath.
Writing has been so beneficial to get this out, to point the finger without actually poking. All along I’ve wondered whether to mail this letter or just keep writing the letter over and over, until finally the letter itself changes.
Defining and discussing frustrations puts them in their place. Instead of keeping faith in a narrow box with frustrations swirling around – let’s turn the tables by putting frustrations in a box, and letting the joy run wild. Instead of keeping the chickens in a cage so the wolves of the world can’t get them, let’s put the wolves in a cage and let the chickens run wild.
♦ weekendswell ♦
For a new vision of church-to-world, see A Wasteful Embrace. Click Follow to be notified of future updates
Featured image by Dave Morrow, see more work at DaveMorrowPhotography
“He leaves the creature to stand on its own two legs – to carry from the will alone duties which have lost all relish.” ¹
It doesn’t exactly paint a picture of fun, this quote from C.S. Lewis, “to carry from the will alone duties which have lost all relish,” though standing on our own two legs is quite fulfilling.
Any lofty goal requires discipline to set your mind to it and stay the course, and this includes faith.
But should we always power through, whatever it takes?
If we woke up each day deciding whether we felt like going to work at our jobs – our feelings would rarely lead us there. To survive we must do the needful, ignoring our yawning mornings and beach-hooky visions.
But we do, from time to time, change jobs.
Likewise there is no athlete in the Premier League who grew up playing soccer only when he felt like it, when the teammates were fun or the weather cool. Working out is an age-old and proven metaphor for the rewards of the disciplined life.
But we do vary the workout in seasons, change up the route of the run, keeping the end goal in mind.
And here is what I can miss about the life of faith: distinguishing the goal from the course we take to get there. We want to simply say:
Know the goal + choose the course + stay the course = finish well
This equation works for stretches of time, but we must be willing to review our workout regimen, lest we overuse some muscles and atrophy others.
The trouble comes when we confuse the course with the goal:
Know the goal + stay the course + don’t question the course = trouble
We first come into a faith community agreeing that we want to understand our creator more than we do, tacking snapshots of Him onto the communal wall, then pulled onward by the joy of discovery. Posting more pictures each week, the collage fills in as we see God in more settings, in each other’s lives, through service and praise.
The goal is seeing God more², but eventually we stop adding photos, content merely to visit the wall, mimicking the settings and poses in the pictures already on the wall. We’ve found a course toward the goal, and it seems to work, so why change it?
The goal is reduced to protecting the course. We’ve changed from being primarily explorers, innovators, and learners, instead becoming protectors, watchmen, fearful of the outside. (Fearful even of the insiders who might begin to rearrange the photos).
We’ve changed, and so has our image of God.
Throughout, we’ve been learning to make up our mind to follow God “no matter what” (more on that next week), so when we see a few people here and there drop out, we might pity them, concluding they’ve lost the end goal when in fact they may have only changed course.
Into this mystery I suspect that God may be changing up the ways He reaches us
I am challenging myself to keep adding photos to the wall. Thinking beyond, pictures themselves may not be enough to hold the eternal mystery. The collage I am beginning to see has paintings, sculpture, tear art, even wild stuff like Cristo’s umbrellas
strewn about the countryside. All contributed by so many people (who, back to the earlier analogy of photos on the wall, might not even own a camera)
At times, we can see how extraordinarily good God is, how extravagant with us, how stable and unchanging a rock to hide away in. He is also a living God who created millions of different organisms with varied ways of living into their “Imago Dei” – the image of God.
Into this mystery I suspect that God may be changing up the ways He reaches us, maybe always has been.
Varying the course has not changed the goal, but does give glimpses of “the relish” to Lewis’ creature learning to stand on its own two legs.
“He leaves the creature to stand on its own two legs – to carry from the will alone duties which have lost all relish.” ¹
♦ weekendswell ♦
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1Lewis, C. S. The Screwtape Letters. Ireland: CrossReach Publications, 2016 (but it is much older than this)
2Is this an oversimplified faith goal? Enjoying and glorifying God, for instance, captures the goal defined by the Shorter Heidelberg Catechism.
Photo of Harry Kane / Tottenham Hotspur from Getty Images
Photo of Christo’s umbrellas from http://christojeanneclaude.net/projects/the-umbrellas
Knowing about ourselves and our Creator are intertwined.
My favorite corner downtown has within its reach art, music, books, coffee, and food. If I could afford to, I’d live there and never leave the block, while a rotation of artists, musicians, and writers filled each venue, illuminating truth. Could I find the Creator on this creative corner?
Art illuminates the truth.
It shows us who we are, paints our humanity, bypasses the entanglement of words to bring our soul to understanding. When we see Picasso’s, Blind Man’s Meal, we can feel his loneliness and thus better accept our own. The joy, the memory, of discovery is ours when we spend a minute with Renoir’s Gabriel et Jean (top of blog image). When art sheds healing light onto each wound of life, we inch closer to making peace with the many insults pockmarking our memory.
Then science shows us a strand of DNA and we feel wonder even before we understand it. (skip forward if you’re not in the mood to geek out) DNA is amazing: it stores blueprints for every short-lived cell in my body, and yet the DNA itself can last hundreds of thousands of years. It is small enough to be seen only with an electron microscope but somehow contains over 700 Megabytes of data, leading computer hardware designers to copy its design. Data scientists are building databases of unusual size (D-O-U-S’s for Princess Bride fans?) to unravel the mysterious coding sequences which make me – me.
But images of eternity are not themselves eternity.
We must take our art, our DNA, our human experience, and hold it up to the light. Instead of being squished between microscope slides, we might imagine them printed onto old square Kodak slides and projected onto an empty wall of a cathedral. We could glaze these into stained-glass and leave them up for the sunlight to shine through, casting images onto the concrete floor.
It becomes a double projection: We are projected up into the form of stained glass, then God projects back through the stained glass. With each projection, each painting, each well-crafted song, each scientific discovery: the less foggy is our mirror.
If art can know the soul and science can know the body and music can know the heart, then we – miraculous combinations of these and more – can surely know the Divine.
The breathing bashful bloody human can know the Creator. Next post will bring out some of the problems with this God-through-the-stained-glass model, but for now, sit back and let the light shine in.
♦ weekendswell ♦