Drawn by an irresistible attraction, to the regions of light.~C.S. Lewis (From Out Of The Silent Planet)
On the evening of my daughter, Bethany Wren's artist event, I was drawn to the regions of light. Bethany debuted her new EP, Kindred. The album is a collection of songs she wrote. She graciously invited other artists to perform. The night was filled with song and laughter, poetry and music, champagne and cake. Fresh flowers. Light and beauty. Bethany invited me to read an essay during the event, and I post it here. It is lengthier than what you usually read at this site. You will notice themes you've heard before in my posts.
I also invite you to listen to Bethany's gorgeous songs. You will love the collection. And please feel free to share the link with friends and loved ones. Kindred
IT CAN BE EVERYTHING
Bethany, there is an image of you that I carry in my mind. It was the eighties. Your father and I rented a weathered clapboard house in Portland, Oregon. The landlord tended a vegetable garden in the side yard and you liked to watch him harvest his crops and talk to him while he worked. You were almost two. One day the man placed a gigantic zucchini in his wheelbarrow, and you became fascinated with the vegetable. He asked if you wanted to hold it, and you readily tucked that verdant beast under your arm. In your other arm you carried Fozzie Bear, your favorite stuffed animal. You then promptly took your treasures to the front steps of that old house, sat down and began to sing O Little Town Of Bethlehem. The man paused from his work and said, "You know, she has a wonderful singing voice for one so young. It's clear and beautiful. I believe the happy gardener was prophetic in his declaration.
We begin early, I think, to embrace what delights us. No shame or fear or anxiety has set in yet about liking what we like. Noticing what we notice. No comparisons with others. No performance-based pressures. No perfectionism.
And then we begin adulting. Suddenly it doesn't seem so simple to pursue an artistic pathway. Childlike delights can become distant, or sadly, forgotten. We get talked out of things. Sometimes it's the most well-meaning people who can sound so persuasive. Heap on the guilt. Cause second-guessing. "You mean you really think you can make money with your art? You're so good at accounting. Aren't numbers more your thing?"
"You know everyone in our family gets into the medical field. Surely, you're not thinking of pursuing theater. I mean maybe as a hobby. But really. Think about it." We let the painting lessons go by the wayside. We hide the poetry in the bottom drawer. We don't take the class in film making. We cancel the ballet workshop. We don't count decorating our home as a real art form, nor the passion we have for cooking or parenting or starting a business. We say things to ourselves like, "Who do I think I am to write a play?" We tell ourselves that we don't have time. We move opportunities for submitting our work to the spam folder. "Who am I kidding?" we say.
Most of you here probably don't have this type of thinking. You've transcended the discouragement or disillusionment and are happily creating. Bravo! I'm not quite there yet. I continually need to be reminded of some things to stay on the creative pathway. I invite you to consider the following, taking what you need and leaving the rest.
CONSIDER "FINDING OTHER BIRDS"
Wallace Stegner writes in his book, The Spectator Bird, "It is something--it can be everything--to have found a fellow bird with whom you can sit among the rafters while the drinking and boasting and reciting and fighting go on below; a fellow bird whom you look after and find bugs and seeds for, one who will patch your bruises and straighten your ruffled feathers and mourn over your hurts when you accidentally fly into something you can't handle."
Sometimes the people you believe will be your most ardent cheerleaders turn out to be skeptical, critical or indifferent toward your endeavors. This is hard. I implore you to keep looking for fellow birds that understand how important it is to keep at it. They are out there. They are here tonight. Fellow birds can be everything.
CONSIDER THE ABILITY OF ART TO SUSTAIN YOU
Think of the times when you create. Often these are the experiences when you feel most yourself, when you're in the flow of joy, when you feel exhilarated to have created something tangible our of nothing. I think about all the times writing has gotten me through hard stuff, been a friend to me. Continuing to pursue art acts as an anchor during times of grief or life pressures. Writing, for me, is like a legal stimulant, making me alert to my emotions and thoughts, helping me to make sense of my life. Placing my hands on the keyboard and hearing the clatter of the keys is perhaps like singing myself a brave lullaby to help me cut through the chaos of life. Don't underestimate the ability of art to nourish and sustain you and give you hope. Please don't quit, even if you feel discouraged. I follow a woman from Israel on social media. She continues to post beautiful images during this traumatic time in the world. Another woman responded to one of her posts and wrote, "Seeing your photos today gives me courage to write. Art is lifesaving."
CONSIDER HOW YOUR VOICE CONTRIBUTES TO HELPING OTHERS BE SEEN AND VALIDATED
Many of you may have watched Devon Rodriquez on YouTube. He rides subways and secretly sketches peoples' portraits, Each time the person is provided their picture, they light up with awe that their likeness has been captured so authentically by this artist. Art does this. How many times have you listened to a song or looked at a photograph or read a book or hung a painting on your wall because the artist captured how you felt or understood your experience or offered you solace when you were lonely? Art has a way of offering others understanding and empathy, beauty and comfort. Don't underestimate the impact of your art to act as an agent of healing in this world.
CONSIDER THE BEAUTY OF INCREMENTS
Julia Cameron writes in her book, Finding Water, The Art of Perseverance, "So much of the trick with a creative life is maintaining optimism and forward motion. So much consists of doing the next right thing, however tiny." I have a great love and high regard for the concept of pursuing increments in life. It is the small steps that add up, the small actions over time that create something new--a book, a home, a relationship, a play, a painting, a song. A garden. One microscopic action leads to another:
Write the next sentence.
Wash the next dish.
Pay the next bill.
Attend the next ZOOM meeting.
Say the next prayer.
Buy the next blank canvas for the image residing in your imagination.
Practice the next song in your car while you drive to work.
And when the next thing feels too difficult, break the increment into another increment.
Take the next step. Won't you?
CONSIDER THE CONCEPT OF LOVE AS IT CONCERNS YOUR CREATIVITY
We humans have a deep capacity for love. The poet Joy Harjo says it like this: "All that love we humans carry makes a sweet deep sound and we fly a little." We invest a lot of love in our creative expression. I believe humans love art so much, because God loves art so much. Because He loves to create, and He loves it when we create.
I offer this encouragement to you as I close. These words came to me as a poem in a dream that I had in the night watches. This is what I heard:
You are the beloved.
Hide in me. Shelter in me.
For this is the season of healing favor.
And I will help you like a father.
May you know now that God places His hand on your head and hangs your artwork on His wall. No doubt He has a photo in His studio of a little girl sitting on the steps of an old creaky house, holding Fozzie Bear in one arm and a giant zucchini in the other. Sweetly singing "O Little Town Of Bethlehem." He loves your creativity because He put it there. He loves you like a good father.
And the Good Father might say something like this:
I see you. I am proud of you--how you keep choosing to create, despite the hurdles in your life. Despite the crumbs on the table and the dog that keeps peeing on the rug. Despite the password you forgot and the fight you had with your wife. I champion you for the way you keep trying when it's hard. When the response to your efforts is negative, or when there is no response at all. When you encounter the painful places, the circumstances you didn't expect or want.
Keep moving forward. All your steps are noticed by me. All the thousands and thousands of steps. Each one counts. I notice and rejoice with you. I see you. I bless you.
Don't turn back. Don't compare yourself with another. Don't be jealous of another. Your voice is the only one in the world. That unique sound is needed. Essential. I see you. You are not hidden from me.