It’s Already Been Done: A Particular Lie

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At any given moment, there are millions of artists and craftspeople working around the world, making things that may or may not have any pragmatic use (depending on how you define pragmatics), and for most of human history, those artists worked in small corners, unnoticed except by the few.

Not so today, thankfully.   An explosion of exposure to the truly stunning array of creativity on this planet is now at our fingertips, and for me, the effect of this exposure has multiple prongs.   I’d be curious to know how you deal with it.

First of all, there’s inspiration.  Yes, I can barely tear myself away from browsing among artists’ websites, and now that Pinterest is here, so many curators make discovery a simple process.  Simply find a board displaying the kind of artistic sensibilities that turn you on, and begin to follow the trail to site after site after site of truly creative, beautiful things.  Sometimes these artifacts and pieces are done for social cause, but more often not.   Beauty of line, form, color, and composition just calls to us, and there are images and sculptures and fashions that catch our attention, make us laugh, amaze us, make us point and share and post to Facebook.  We “repin” things all the time, saying “look at that,” “look at that,” “and that, too!”

And with that energy running, we turn to our own work, and get to it.

But there’s another piece to this, and I’m wondering if you feel it as I do.

It’s that what you’re about to make, as much as it comes from your own heart and sensibility, has already been done, perhaps—if not probably—better than you’re about to do it.   Follow the threads of photography, art, color, and design on Pinterest, Flikr, whatever, and there is such brilliance there, it seems as if it is ubiquitous already.  What is the need of yet another picture of a tulip?  What is the need of another play on racism (well, maybe we do need one of those) or better yet, King Arthur, of all things?  (For those of you that know my playwriting.) What will a poet say that has not been said far better? (An easy thought to think on Shakespeare’s birthday, which was yesterday.)

All of this, of course, cuts to motive and the heart.  Why do we make what we make?  What are seeking?  What do we hope for as we forge our novels, plays, paintings, and poems?   I don’t know the answer to this.   Here’s one of my mantras: motives are always mixed.   Humans are not purists in this way; we are motivated in gradients and mixtures, the slider leaning toward the noble or the more selfish, depending on the day.  In secure times, we lean toward complete service, hoping to further all the love and altruism the world can take on.  In lean moments, when the terror of utter failure raises its head, we can become self-serving sellouts, desperate to pay the bills or get the one nod of approval we think is going to restore our sanity.

Stephen Pressfield (The War of Art) writes all this off to resistance, which he calls evil.  I’m paraphrasing him, but Pressfield says resistance not only wants to shut your voice down, it wants to kill you.   He’s serious about this, I think, and as I sit here writing this post, I think I’d better be, too.  Because he’s right.

And finally, my own pushback to this notion that what I’m making is not needed because there’s so much great stuff out there already, is simply this:

What I’ve always wanted were moments.  Moments in which the curtains part and something of that invisible trail that leads to God (or insight or beauty or love or whatever it is you want to call it) becomes visible, slips into your spirit, fills up your soul, and you are reborn a little bit.   When I had those moments as a young man in my teens and twenties, I couldn’t name it, but I could sense—feel—what I was after.


A moment of light through a petal’s delicate membrane; a moment of a human body held in tension on the point of balance wherein all is still; a moment of voice uttering words five hundred years old in such a way as to break a postmodern heart.  A moment of holy silence in a chapel holding nothing but us poor, ignorant humans splayed out before the mystery of things.   A moment at a desk laboring to capture that elusive future moment when an actor will play an action that you’ll write today, and in some far off place, a person you will never meet will sit in the dark for an hour, and, responding to a moment you dreamed of years ago, he or she will make a small turn of heart, and hope will enter the world again.

Moments are not repeatable or interchangeable.   A human moment is about here and now, mindfulness, about being awake.

There will never be enough of such moments.   How many will you find, make, and share today?

“You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hid.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket.  No.  They set it on a table and it gives light to everyone in the house.  So let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good work and glorify your father who is in heaven.”

— Jesus of Nazareth

We can be such fools…


One Reply to “It’s Already Been Done: A Particular Lie”

  1. Jeff, Since reading this blog I’ve read a book by Ann Voskamp called, One Thousand Gifts. She was challenged to look for something to be thankful for each day and write it down. After reading that book, I see your comments in a different and better light. You both have challenged me greatly. Thanks for blogging.

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