Monthly Archives: May 2011

Two Pennies Left: Why The “How” of a Thing Matters

The Two Pennies Flower

FYI, up front, this post is not about flowers.  It is about content and form in art-making, conversation, and relationship.   It’s about the connection of human essence and identity to the fundamental, structural realities aesthetic forms demand.   It’s about the challenge of creating art wherein form and content create a unity of power and affect.   And perhaps, it about why I secretly churn when joy over rich content obliterates the discussion of that richness delivered in middling form.

In an age of rising global concern over injustice, poverty, hunger, homelessness, and emergency responses to tsunamis, tornadoes, and political upheaval, the old Chinese Proverb (that I would love to have some real history on) seems a bit ludicrous, especially if you take it in an old-fashioned literal sense, as if it’s a levitical law.  I’ve seen this proverb at least three ways.

  • When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other.
  • If you have two pennies, spend one on bread to give you life, and one on a flower to give meaning to your life.
  • If you have two pennies, spend one on bread and the other on a flower.  The bread will sustain life.  The flower will give you a reason to live.
Most websites I saw as I googled this (“two pennies bread flower”) put up a picture of a flower, stuck the quote underneath, and left it at that, figuring the reader gets the point.  But whenever I trot out this idea out, I inevitably get pushback from the literalists in the group who think it’s ridiculous.  50% for beauty?  If you had a $100 million dollars to give, you’d have us slice off $50 mil of it for…what?  Flowers?  Paintings?  Music? Bright color fabric instead of feed sacks?   Spend money teaching one person to dance, and let three others die hungry?  Ungodly, wasteful, and selfish.  Absurd, really, as sentiment tears usually are.

Sound like anybody you know?

Stay with me here: this came to mind this morning while reflecting on the importance of the “how” of a thing.   It’s a personal thing, I know: read about us INFP’s (Myers-Briggs again), and you’ll discover that often, to us, the answer to the question at hand is far less important than the tone and atmosphere of the interactions taking place–in other words, the “how” of the conversation is just as important as the “what.”  Equally important.   Sometimes more so. 

For me, content=what, form=how.  Art happens when the two come together in skillful, multi-layered fashion.  Some artists begin with the “what” (the bread, the idea, the content), and then struggle with the “how” that actual materials demand, be they words, play structures, or pigments.   Others begin with the “how” (the flower, the paints, the colors, the lines and shapes), manipulating them on a path of discovery that leads to ideas and content–the what–in a process that becomes so unified that it’s nearly impossible to tell where the how ends and the what begins.

I like the first rendition of the quote above: When you only have two pennies left in the world…speaks of essence, foundations, fundamentals of being human.  At the end of things, in final breaths, in desperate, nail-biting times, we are content and form, mostly broken in both places, often trying to dance our fading hearts and meanings on sore and bleeding feet.  But if you give me salve for my feet and warn me that I must give up dancing, you show little understanding of my me-ness.   My dance-ness.

When in the theatre, I often thrill at messages given, and shake my head at forms they come in.  Truly, I am as interested in forms as I am messages.   Sometimes–and here I confess my heretical nature–I think I might just as soon see a questionable message in strong form as a good message in lousy form.   Even as I type those words, I balk at them a bit, and know I’m not 100% serious about it, because bad ideas delivered in beauty can wreck and destroy.  On the other hand, and we all know this, ideas of the “good” delivered poorly often change lives for the better.  God’s arrival via bad art is an everyday occurrence.  How many passionate artists are honest enough to say they wish that wasn’t true.

Here’s the rub: “hows” are hard.  Great delivery of “hows” is very hard.   Isn’t a good “what” enough?  To mean well, to speak life-giving ideas, to even garner praise from people who, because of culture, education, and preference, have a hard time telling one “how” from another…isn’t that enough?  After all, as I’ve mentioned, good gets done either way, doesn’t it?

There are more things in heaven and earth, though, than we dream of.  Shakespeare’s tipping of the hat to the mystery of how sacrifice and beauty work on us as we pursue them is profound.   We long to know the good, even the best ways of living, and as artists, we seek to express, communicate, inspire, and compel.  To do it, we have to grapple hard and long with ways of doing things, with material, with forms and structures.  We hammer and stretch, build and wreck, thrill and strain under heavy lifting, and all the while, as we long for the great moment of aesthetic unity in which artistic power engulfs an audience, transformation is already engulfing us.

Bread and flower, destination and journey, flesh and spirit.

Content and form.

The -ness of the human lies in these unities, and the soulful physical labor to bring these tensions into a taut and graceful dance is the birthplace–not of great meaning alone nor great form alone–but of that which we call great art.

The night of theatre that changed my life?  One in which I did not understand one word spoken.

But, oh, did I get it.

I’ll take the bread and the flower…

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Trolling the Newsfeed, Choosing This Day…

What are we doing, texting these little updates?

When my friend Carlos Nakar first told me about Twitter, I could not imagine anyone being interested to know I was, say, at Belle Pastry with my friend Jeffrey Crouch (for what is no doubt a God-ordained croissant–scrumptious), or in hearing my 140 character rumination on our conversation.    Famous people might be interesing, maybe—though why we’re fascinated with their politics and peccadilloes, I’m not sure—but we smaller folk?  What did Mark Zuckerberg know about us that we’re still all finding out?  That we want to know we’ve been here?  That a moment needs validation?  That minute details of quirky living provide opportunities for a sense of connection, and in this lonely world of ours, who cares if the connection is illusory or not?  That in a postmodern world where reality is defined by the stories we tell ourselves, those same stories need their framings affirmed by “like” clicks (there’s a place to “like” this post at the bottom of the page), those upward thumbs providing low-level shots of dopamine surges, and in this fog, we’ll take all the dopamine we can get?

Just now in my Facebook newsfeed: a brief treatise on American freedom chastising us for our misuse of said freedom; a film trailer featuring an actor friend of mine; a call for prayers for an accident of a motorcycle accident; scattered happy birthday wishes; a promo for a music gig in Plano, TX; a random quote about Capt’n Jack and Davy Jones’ locker; a celebration of the discovery of a French Market somewhere in England, and the savoring of crepes and tartiflette; a report of someone arriving at the hospital for a bone marrow aspirate and spinal tap in relation to an ongoing battle with leukemia; excitement about the beginning of the cross country season; a lament about a body’s breaking down, metaphorically comparing it to an old broken engine; lots and lots of people making new friends, 4 and 6 and 10 at a time; joy over children, Fridays, school ending, and sleep; software giveaways, blog posts (like this one), and lots of people liking lots of disparate things (Harry Potter, Blue Scholars, and PaperBackSwap).  And then, of course, there are all those photos and videos, friends pointing to things around the web, spreading laughter and concern, often prodding us to stop wasting time, to do something good in the world, adding responsibility and guilt to our already overcrowded plate.

It’s chatter, really.  Amazing chatter, being, as it is, about far more than the weather. (Though the weather’s been pretty important lately—the newsfeed was really hopping earlier in the week as tornadoes threatened the Dallas Metroplex: IT’S HEADED OUR WAY!)

Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks allow us to turn our attention, at any given moment, to a membrane of experience.   Surfing, turns out, is a great metaphor; we skim along, having a great time riding the waves as they crash to shore.  The worldwide “trending” Twitter feed is nuts as is zips by on Tweetdeck faster than you can read it.    But didn’t we know this already?  Didn’t we know, intellectually at least, that life was traveling this fast, with this density, that the combined, running-in-parallel thought-life of 300 million people (let’s leave it at the U.S. for the moment) is out there, just waiting to inspire and overwhelm?  And surely it would be amazing to silde our minds onto that membrane, drenching them in that oh-so-wet, oh-so-visceral experience, wouldn’t it?  What knowledge!  What wisdom!  What sensation!

Stealing a bit from Dallas Willard, this whole enterprise reminds me of the basics of mental life.  In our unseen consciousness, thoughts, ideas, and images offer themselves, a la the inner newsfeed, and we scan, deciding to “like” or “dislike”, choosing to download and watch, or giving the thought a pass.  Constantly, we are the targets of attempts to steer our attention toward someone’s idea of an argued good.   But with the twitterverse, what was once a private process has exploded into physical form.  A jumble of near infinite possible plot points for the stories we are telling are everywhere, and we are editors, writers, and audience, all at once.

As my friend Mike mentioned in a comment on How to Follow Your Heart (given that you can find it first), it becomes about choice.  And in real terms, to choose one thing is to choose something of an exclusive path.   To choose one thing is to not choose another.  To choose one thing is to close down possibilities.   New ones open, surely, but to say yes is to say no.   And, I will argue, those yeses and nos are game-changers, life-changers—change agents that will impact our great-grandchildren.

I often come to my morning time with God with a low-level panic about how to manage the online storm of well-meaning hawkers (of which I am one).  Prayer requests, career connections, family and friends all tweeting and facebooking, looking to you for response, for engagement, for your time and attention: what are we doing, texting all these updates?  What is being done to us, receiving them all?  What does it mean that we engage as tennis players having forehand rallies one-on-a-thousand?

Has the injunction to “get wisdom, though it cost all you have” ever been more urgent?  How about “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not on your own understanding?”  Or “Guard your heart, for it is the well-spring of life?

A long time ago, God set before the Jews a very simple idea.  We choose life and death as we choose to follow Him or not.   He also said his life wasn’t too hard for us, that the commands and the heart that gave them were near.  Paul later says we won’t get more than we can handle, that the Spirit will help to face it all.

Watch, click, download, consider, serve, shutdown.

All the while, choosing this day whom you will serve…

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Filed under Blogging, Daily Life, Pop Culture, Social Networks, Spirituality, Technology

How to Follow Your Heart: Part 2

Start with a cup of coffee.  Fast from coffee altogether.

But pay attention, and let words mean something.  To pay requires cost.

Be quiet.  Find the quiet in the noise.   If no quiet can be found, then sleep, and dream of it.

Breathe.   Oxygen and its life are rarely overrated.   Holding breath does nothing but turn you blue.

Listen.   At the very least, speak more softly.   Not always, but sometimes.   Spirits tend to hover when ears are attuned.

Read.  More.   Take things in.  Discern.  Keep.  Throw away.  And leave the trash alone; digging in it stinks.

Walk.   Go for walks.   Houses, sidewalks, and skies hide masterpieces in plain sight.

Look.  Don’t comment, just look.  See not what you want to see, but what’s there.

Bite your tongue when destruction’s on its tip.

Don’t forget what music moves you.  And once you’ve remembered, don’t fail to turn it on.

Write songs.  Even if you can’t sing, and know nothing of music.

Don’t forget that poems need not rhyme.  But they do need to stand.   Or at least walk a bit.

Dance.  Deny yourself that, even at parent’s insistence (they may be dead, after all), and you forfeit muscle, tone, and grace.  Not to mention joy.

Syllogize.  Make up words for that matter.   If “A” cannot be “non-A”, don’t force it.

Think.   When cognitive dissonance is unbearable, bear it, and think.

When walking in rain, release the muscles and slow down.  Tension is no umbrella.

Give.   Money burns, and is mostly too expensive.   Hoarding is a synonym for fear.

Pray.   Forget it working…talk with God.  Be frank, and let that be enough.

Obey.   The conscience is there.  Ignore it at your heart’s peril.   Authority must be given somewhere.

Delight.   Each one’s good is a gift.   Delight in it as it sustains you and those you love.

Weep.    Don’t be afraid to crack wide open.   What bleeds through is that heart you’re looking for.

Choose.  Life and death result, neither of which are abstractions.

Act.   Passivity is decay, though patience is needed.   Still…move.

Trust.   Who are we to think we arrive knowing anything?   God help us.   He will.

Love.   The greatest of these is love.   True.   What does love mean?  How do I do it?   Will I ever find it?

That answer lies at the end of long journeys along roads I think of as the heart to follow.

His is the heart to follow, to find my own.

Rest.

Do again.

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How to Follow Your Heart (given that you find it first)

If I were to ask the inhabitants of Cyberspace to advise my newly minted 21-year-old son about his adult life, one of the chief answers lobbed back would be the ubiquitous charge to “follow your heart.”   So, given that how-tos are all the rage among us humans (how to love, how to make money, how to win facebook friends and influence people),  I thought I’d instruct him on how to go about it.

Ah, the “heart.”  Squishy word.   Better take a whack-a-mole shot at defining terms.  When a thing is at “the heart” of something, it’s central, core to the very thread of life.  The heart has to beat or life is over.   To say, “this is my heart” is to say that you’re about to comment on something fundamental in  your psyche.  A “feeling” you ascribe to your “heart” is hard to locate: it’s physical, it’s emotional, it’s spiritual, it’s smack in the middle of the felt reality of being human.   Love the Lord with all your “heart” goes the great command, and we’re supposed to get a new “heart” somewhere along the way.   Pick a definition: “seat of the emotions,” “that which you find when you relearn to play,” or maybe just “love.”

The call to follow the heart assumes that at some deep, foundational level, we are–finally–wise.  And our urging to this “followship” suggests that our wisdom resides in this “heart” we’re trying to locate and follow.  Problem is, it seems to be a challenge to get to; it lays hidden beneath layers of something else, layers of some other substance I’ll call not-heart and not-wisdom.   The Proverbs writer tells us to get wisdom (though it costs us all we have), which suggests that not-wisdom presents alternate possibilities on a fairly regular basis.   How does not-wisdom present itself?  Certainly not-wisdom wouldn’t be a problem if it showed up in ugly clothes, noxious odors, and crass, brutish behavior.  How else does not-wisdom present itself except in feelings and urges that remind you of something, namely, the heart?

You protest that when we urge each other to follow our hearts, surely we don’t mean to yield constantly to the impulse of the moment, to that which feels good, to that which pleases, do we?   But this is confusing:  the words “impulse,” “instinct,” “pleasure,” and especially the word “feeling” (most of all when the word “passion” is attached),  are packed in the basket of meanings assigned to following the heart, along with surges of fervor and urgent resolves of tension, sexual and otherwise.   So moving forward let’s acknowledge that the language of “following the heart” is murky and that to discern the true nature of a “heart” requires something other than not-wisdom, regardless of how it feels

Terribly unsatisfying line of thought.

Proverbs again: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but it’s way ends in death.”   Talk about tossing a bummer-bomb right into the middle of the discussion.  So here’s a question: Does each person’s “right way” necessarily lead to life, if only they find their “heart” and follow it?   Are “hearts” and “right ways” different?   Well, they must be, because we know that to follow hearts leads to life, never to death, yes?  Unless, of course, the Proverbs writer was just wrong.

Okay, I’ll stop.

The sage advice about following the heart is true enough, I think, depending (heavily) on what you mean.   Even as we know that there is some sense in which following the heart is wise, we also know, equally, that the heart is fickle, tricky, elusive, and deceptive.  The word “heart” encompasses all of this;  if we go deeply enough into our consciences, and sit quietly, we know it’s true.  Wisdom, meaning, context, discernment are needed if “the heart” is to be heard and “followed” in life-giving ways.

Reading back through this, I feel like I’m trying to dance a ballet in oversized wooden clogs.

When people tell us to follow our hearts, I find the Apostle Paul’s reminder that good and evil travel together helpful.  The heart, as many speak of it, does have it’s wisdom, connected as it is to the source of life.  We are God-designed, in my view, and His image in us remains, and there is wisdom and life there.   And yes, it’s emotion and longing, the play instinct and good impulse, roaring passion and spirit, as well as the quiet listening to conscience, the little voice that whispers.  But if we’re honest, the heart is also a dissembler, a peddler of not-heart and not-wisdom, a wanter of what it wants, engaging in all manner of emotional and rational backflips to get just that–what it wants.

“My precious” comes to mind.

Thomas Merton was the first in my reading to suggest that my heart not only belongs to God–it’s hidden in Him.  That “the heart” which we think is our heart is an illusion, layered by sin, poor impulse, mistaken identity, and passionate energy for that identity by which some fling themselves far into death.   History seems clear in its evidential support of the proverbs writer: there are ways which seem right to us, best to us, most fitting, most of all that’s good, that in the end, lead to death.

So God holds my true heart?  The natural question is this: and where, and how do I find him?

Ask Cyberspace, and guess what you’ll hear.

“Follow your heart.”

Aacck.  Sigh.

Then I remember…I do not pray to my own heart…

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On the Occasion of a Son Turning 21

He’s always been a surprise.

Not that the expectation for something special wasn’t there, but who this young boy I played catch with would become just wasn’t on my radar.  The music piece, in a generic sense, didn’t surprise me; we’ve got singers in the family–some good ones (My uncle, closer in age to a brother, was All-State in high school and continues to sing with some hefty classical folks.).  The athleticism (that none of his current friends really know about) didn’t surprise me either.  I’ve mentioned in previous writing how, back in the days of Pea Patch soccer,  the ease and smoothness of his six-years-old running stride caught me off guard, making breath hard to catch for a moment or two.  But I was an athlete back in the day (a facebook friend just asked me just a couple of days ago if I still played football), so that made sense.   And he wiggled and squirmed like he was supposed to, noticed girls pretty much on schedule, and over the years has had lots of questions that you might expect a young man to have.

So what’s the surprise?

The shape of his heart, and the way it’s wrapped itself around mine.

I’ve written on these pages about my daughter Amy, and how she’s a hero of mine, and it’s even more true these days than it’s been before.  My love for her is unmatched and untopped, and she holds my heart in a way that belongs to her alone.  To you, Amy…(zoom in to clinking of wine goblets).

This piece of writing is trying to describe the shape of that sort of thing as it relates to my other child, the boy who turns twenty-one at midnight, at which point I will raise my glass to him, though he be twenty-five-hundred miles away.

My son.

He got to my deep places when I wasn’t looking.  He’s a spelunker of a kind, quietly ruminating on God’s ways in the world, finding lots of different shadings, shapes, and qualities in those mines.  It’s a little horrifying to think there’s a kid in the world watching you, and the chief prayer is that God will bend his sight to see the good stuff, the stuff he needs, and that God will make him mostly blind to the lesser things, the stuff he doesn’t need.  Daniel helped me build the book shelves back in Kent; that’s when David Wilcox’s music began its gracious work in our lives.   (“Show the Way” is a shared anthem.)  We tussled and played tackle in the rain, played catch with a baseball for hours, and as he got a bit older, he’d come into my office and ask eyebrow raising questions about this whole God thing.   His heart nearly pounded out of his chest the day he was baptized–I’ll never forget the sensation of my hand on his back as we stood before the church together.   I somehow think God noticed that pounding and decided that here He’d found a heart that could stand some big hammering, some big gifts, and a big, living-water kind of life.  And who knows, maybe it was then that God thought, let’s give that heart a voice.

And what a voice it is.

But make no mistake, the singing voice (which I’ll mention in a minute) is not all of what I mean.  A voice is a speaking into the world, a giving of energy into the people around you, a pouring of spirit into the world you walk in, and all kinds of moments require the delivery of the best voice you’ve got.  We all have these voices, and to follow the metaphor, all too often, we are like the folks who don’t like their voice much (too nasal, we think, not rich enough, too screechy or pitchy), so they artificially raise it or lower it or try to make sound like someone else’s.  Or they get too tired to bother or they scream too much cause they’re just so mad, or they just go quiet, thinking what’s the use.

Among vocalists, it’s called “not speaking on your voice.”

One of Daniel’s great desires, I think, is to speak (and sing) on his voice, squarely in the middle of it, wide open, matching it’s timbre, tone, volume, and musicality to the need of the particular moment in front of him.  And as we who’ve lived awhile know, most of those moments are going to be about love–its lack, its presence, its healing, its growth, its discovery, its first offering, its repair.  And lately (let the reader understand) he’s discovered some new things about love, and the joy that particular theme can bring.  But he knows the pain of it, too; he’s an old soul that way, which we love about him.  He can be 14 one minute, and 45 the next.   There have been many days when he’d just as soon not be like that, when he’s been tempted to maybe trade in that old soul for some flatter, simpler version.

But then, that old soul is what comes roaring out in those moments so many of us have experienced, that most the world doesn’t know about yet.  Whether it was “If I Didn’t Believe in You” that first time we all got a taste of what was to come at 15, or “Bring Him Home” at Taproot’s summer camp version of Les Miserables, or “Something’s Comin’” at Roosevelt (one of the hardest songs to deliver in the Musical Theatre canon, in my humble opinion, and he was standing there not just singing it, but actually bringing the art of it), what’s been surprising is not that he can sing, but that whatever-it-is-that-happens-when-he-sings, happens.   They know it at Michigan, they know it ACT, and something tells me the “circle of knowing” about whatever that is, is about to grow some more.  I could make this post really long talking about it, or trying to, but let’s just let God do what He’s going to do with whatever that is, and return finally to the simple fact of Daniel’s person, and his sonship.

To say I’m proud of my children is to state the obvious.  But what Daniel (and Amy, all of this is for you, too) must understand moving forward is that performance and accomplishment and accolade and even his own sense of fulfillment do not have any bearing on my love (and Anjie’s love) for him. I yearn for and long for his spirits and his heart to be free, to be free of the burden of having to measure up to anything that might live in my fatherly head about his life.  My hope for him is that he will rise into the full expression of his voice, his gift, and his life.  That he will be unencumbered by imagined shames.   That he will listen to the voices of promise and hope and possibility rather than the voices of doubt, fear, and cultural comparison.   That he will keep that easy way of moving in the world, the quick laugh that shouts faith to those around him, and the deep sigh that means it’s time to go deep once again.  That he will be unafraid to weep over that which requires it.  That his writing and creation will bless what worlds God gives him, be they large or small.   And that all those who travel with him will be companions well aware of the tenuous nature of love and gift.

That’s enough.

Raise your cup to the days to come, my son.  All those who love you raise them as well.

To Daniel.

Time to fly.

I believe great things are comin’…

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Filed under Beauty, Daily Life, Faith and Art, Family, Theatre

READERS WANTED: Reflections on Finding an Audience

“Does it matter if you have a large readership?  Do you want more hits? If you do, then why?  The answer to that question is very important.”

My friend Jenny always asks good questions.

To have a moment of theatre, you need two things.  An actor and an audience. Does it need to be a big audience?  No.  Can an audience of one be life-sustaining?  Depends on what you mean.  Should an audience of one be enough?   The “audience of One” usually refers to God, but in this case I mean the word “one” to stand-in for the word “small.”  Are small audiences enough to be life-sustaining over time?  Again, depends on what you mean.

Once, near midnight, I played a very physical, 90 minute solo musical to an audience of seven.   Another time, I played my solo show based on Leaving Ruin in a living room that held less than a dozen teenagers, none of whom were too interested at the beginning. (It’s the wrong kind of show for an exclusively teen audience.)  I’ve played many rooms that were less than a quarter full.

I’ve also played to full houses running in the thousands.

Theatres want audiences, songwriters want venues and fans, writers want readers.  Why?  Beyond the well-known idea that audiences are why artists exist, there are a thousand reasons–pure, crass, commercial, and missional reasons.  Truth is, if we’re honest, most of us are a wild combination of motives in dynamic flux.  Whether we tip towards pure or polluted depends on the day, the work at hand, and the prevailing winds of critique, reward, and mood.

In a purist sense, in the ideal sense (and if I’m anything, I’m an idealist–MBTI again), it doesn’t matter at all if a writer has a large readership.  One reader is plenty.  I get random emails from people who have read my book a full decade after it was written, and it means the world to me that people are caught up in singular experiences arising from an encounter with my life of creativity.   Which of course leads to the very natural desire to have more and more people encounter that work.   And my faith that a single encounter with another person, and by extension, with a single work of art, can change worlds for generations to come, is fundamental to the way I’ve lived my life for many years.

Back to Jenny’s question.  Do I want a larger readership?  Yes, I do.  That used to a hard thing for me to say, but as a writer, I want readers.  The more eyes that come across my writing means more opportunities for those consciousness-shifting encounters.  And the point is not only artistic expression, but communication as well Expression has been my default mode, and as Jenny said yesterday, part of what I do is allow my mind to “naturally skip” around those things that matter to me without a ton of structure, especially in this particular forum.   That skipping is part of the permission I give myself to just get words into the air.  For anyone who follows my blog life (Jeff Grady, I’m talking to you), you know that it’s been up and down at best.   Depression, self-criticism, futility, perfectionism, the weight of the imagined world on my back, all of which are variations on ridiculous pride and selfishness (so says Merton, and I believe him), have been derailing me off and on for years.   The every-day-posting of the last two weeks has been unusual, but with the help of readers, I aim to keep it up.

But the whys of this forum are still elusive.   As I say on the “About Jeff” page, it’s about the cultivation and nurturing of God’s presence and beauty in the world.   Maybe this is just tilling the soil of my imagination, my reason, and the constant work of getting some kind of handle on the onslaught of popular culture and it’s powerful thought-forms.   We need to talk, and we need to be heard.   And the whys are multiple and impure.    There are shades of holy longings to change people’s lives, ambitious dreams of writing words that will outlast our breathing, a sheer desire for lots of people to come along and affirm that there was a good reason for us to be in the world, not to mention the thrill that comes just from the work itself.  The words that dance just behind the little cursor going by, knowing that ideas are skipping into the world to maybe do some good…well, often that’s plenty to keep the work going.   And there’s the ever present reality of economics and commercialism, the need to pay bills and feel valuable in a culture that mostly values the creation of things that appeal to nearly everybody.   Not that I blog for money–talk about an exercise in self-deception, if I thought that were the case.   But still, you always hope a random thing leads to a not-so-random thing, maybe even an important opportunity, and in the current professional working life of writers, getting words out through all the channels of discourse matters.

So sure, Jenny, I do want more “hits.”  But mostly, what I want is to make the writing stronger, so that when the “hit” of the web surfer comes, the writing hits back, in ways that interest, inform, entertain, challenge, and over time, play a role (however minor) in transformation.   Skipping stones is fun, but building structures is better.  In the end, that’s what I mean by focusing and narrowing.  Simply getting better at making reading experiences that land powerfully for a growing number of folks.

But in the end, one is enough.   One is all that’s needed.   Jenny or Mr. Grady or theatre friends new or old, bloggers or trollers or my own children; any one of these is enough.

And then of course, there’s that audience of One we keep talking about…

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Filed under art, Blogging, Daily Life, Faith and Art, Spirituality, Writing

Focusing Wonder, Narrowing Mystery

Help me out here.

The project?  Focusing my blogging, narrowing my subject matter.   Answering the question: what is all this blogging about?  I mean the blogging in the jeffberryman.com world.   If you’ve been reading my work for awhile, tell me what you think I’m up to. It’s not that I don’t know…exactly–after all, I am putting words down for some reason.   My mind wanders and wonders.  I’m not trying to convince a reader of anything, obviously.   Or am I?  I watch my senses and my minds (funny expression, that–minds.  What I mean is my conscious mind and unconscious mind working together) encountering beauty and truth and tensions and questions and all manner of divine break-ins as I make my way through a day, then I stand in this space and mostly point, saying, “Do you see that?”

My lovely wife, enjoying her birthday on the couch across from me, just read me the news that 90 people died in Joplin, Missouri from a tornado.   As a writer in the middle of a blog post, I’m completely undone.   Terrible tragedy, ridiculous pain in that town, unplanned for, unexpected, devastating.   We sit in stupor at such news.  Response is called for.   But we’ll be driving to Enumclaw in a couple of hours for birthday lunch.  There’s work to do.   My son leaves for New York tomorrow.   I have a play to write, and the call on my life must be answered.    So must yours.   So, we’ll pray, and talk about it, and do the work we have to do, and the stupor will dissipate.

Maybe it shouldn’t.

Truth is, not that many folks read all this.   There are nearly 390,000 blogs on WordPress alone.  That alone is worth a decent blog post.  Focus is the key to readership, they say.   Widget creation, production, and distribution is the idea–just pick the widget you are passionate about.

Well, my widget is “the nature of things.”   Hard to focus.  Go figure.

Christ is certainly at the heart of things, as is the story we find ourselves in.  The human experience is central, as is our Imago Dei identity, but there’s also the infinite specifics of how our image-of-God-ness works itself out in flesh and blood.  Beauty, transcendence, and art-making are the big frames through which I see.  Poetry has made a late run at my heart, and I know that if I write about the current all-the-rage film or TV series, the hits on the site will go up.   Psychology, theatre (and all its companion subjects: acting, directing, presence, etc.), theology are subjects.  And then there’s that family of mine, the one that keeps popping into my consciousness constantly.  Much of what I write about, I’ve learned at their feet.

Stream of consciousness writing?  Maybe that’s it.  But who needs or wants the unbroken string of stuff that runs through anyone’s mind, much less mine?

But much of what I talk to people about is that somewhere out there is someone who cares about your need and desire to be known.  Perhaps it’s just God, but I figure He’s sitting here with me in some way, leaning in, watching the words pop up, knowing full well what’s going on already, but still…He’s there, and He’s interested, even in the funny little debate I always have in my head when I come across his name or pronoun.  Do I capitalize or not?   I don’t think He really minds, either way.

Staring at the world, slack-jawed, trying to hammer out a sentence or a play or a novel or a sermon or a song or a glance that just might pull back–just a hair–that curtain of wonder and mystery we’re shrouded in.   Discovering everyday that grace is a constant rain, that there are worlds we’ve been entrusted with to care for and create, and that such work is best done in the company of an ever-widening circle of traveling companions and friends.

So much for focus.

I’ll just keep getting out of bed, looking out the window, and telling the few about the beauty and nuttiness out there.

All the while, glad my wife was born…

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Filed under Beauty, Blogging, Daily Life, Faith and Art, Spirituality, Writing