Monday, September 06, 2010

Creation is a Spiritual Imperative

I have been doing something unusual (for me) this summer:  I have been writing songs.  I am not a songwright in any meaningful sense; still, I find myself drawn again and again to the piano — plunking out tunes that refuse to exit my brain; scribbling down lyrics on any stray piece of paper.  It's totally weird.  And yet, I'm tickled to death, because I've always wanted to write songs.  And though I have musical taste enough to know that my songs are not very good at all, they are mine — my own little bursts of creativity — and they bring me unspeakable joy.

So, I got an inspiration a few days ago for the final chorus of one of the right-wing protest songs (hey! it's a largely untapped market!*) I've been working on for several months now.  I was so jazzed to share it with Jason when he came home, that I followed him into the bedroom, new lyrics in hand, and sang them to him while he changed out of his work clothes.  At the end, I gazed at him expectantly, hoping for a chortle, but willing to settle for an appreciative grin.  Instead, I got silence, a sideways glance, and then a withering, "What do you want to do with this?"  Ah, when Art marries Economics, moments like these are the offspring.

"What do I want to do with it?" I shot back incredulously.  "I want to write it, finish it, learn to play it well on the piano, maybe figure it out on guitar, and sing it for you, my dad, and Flicka Spumoni.  That's all."  While I was proclaiming my modest ambitions, I confess that an image flitted through my mind of myself — wearing a bandanna kerchief, "Welcome Back, Carter" T-shirt, and my most groovy tattered jeans — sitting cross-legged, guitar in hand, at a Tea Party Rally, leading a few thousand of my fellow conservatives in a rousing rendition of the song's chorus (believe me, it's great for a sing-along).  This vision was quickly discarded.  First of all, I am way too shy for such a display; secondly, I can't play guitar for shit.

"Well, it seems to me that you're expending an awful lot of time and effort for something with which you are not really planning on doing anything," replied he — unnecessarily grumpy, I thought at the time, though the poor fellow does have a lot on his mind right now.

Hmmm . . . he is right, in a way, of course.  The only thing these songs will be good for is maybe to entertain Jason (though I think I'll be excusing Mr. Stinky Attitude from granting me audience for the foreseeable future), my dad (who is honor-bound to be receptive to all my creative effusions and marvel at my genius), and Flicka (whose unreserved — and, perhaps, heedless — approbation of whatever I send her only encourages my further imposition).  But, and here is the key, these songs — no matter how lame, how silly, how incompetent, how banal they are — are for me.  I like them; I get a kick out of them; and, in the end, that's enough.

Carolyn Arends mused on a blog post for Conversant Life almost two years ago about beginning work on her 10th album (the since-released and absolutely breathtaking Love Was Here First) in the face of what has become a particularly inhospitable remunerative climate for creative artists.  On one hand, it has never been easier for an artist to get his work out to the public and find his niche audience; on the other, though, this niche-driven art market makes the bigger labels and publishers skittish about investing in unique or untried talent.  As Carolyn wrote in her post, CDs and Books and Massive Anxiety Attacks, Oh My!, she was having "difficulty in giving a solid business rationale for the undertaking.  Digital distribution models (both of the legal and pirate** variety) have radically changed the income potential for artists, which is a nice way of saying I won't make very much money."  Now, she came to a conclusion a lot more lofty than my own (but, then again, she is a musical and lyrical genius who writes songs that immediately make it onto God's iPod, while I am a dork with a spinet and a laptop), but, ultimately, reflecting the same inner calling of creation as pleasure — pleasure in the challenge to dig deeper, find the right word or phrase and link it to the right melody or mold it seamlessly into a paragraph so that it becomes intuitive; pleasure in giving pleasure and receiving pleasure from artistic reception; pleasure in brushing your fingertips against the hem of the divine robe and sharing a small part of the Father — the Original and Ultimate Creator.

Carolyn's more elegant explanation:  "So what am I doing? Why am I doing it? . . . I want to sing honest songs. I want this CD to be better than the last one--a deeper pocket or a sweeter line. I want to record some bit of something that gives me and maybe someone else goosebumps. I want to be moved, and to move someone else.  Like most artists who are also Christians, I walk a fine line between calling and indulgence; I could not honestly tell you the ratio between flesh and spirit at any given moment. But this is what I know. We must all tell our stories, as truthfully and as beautifully as we can, and God is such a good God He can and will use our efforts. I've seen it more times than I can count. And I don't know if that gives me mojo, but it gives me motivation. And I can't wait for the next recording day." [emphasis mine]

Carolyn is too modest to bring up another point:  she was so obviously created to do what she does, that there are divine implications if she does not fulfill that calling.  In other words, I believe that God has a major stake in whether she creates or not; I'm not convinced that He does in whether I do.  So, though my creative expressions may not have eternal ramifications, I have become certain that there is a spiritual imperative that draws humans of all levels of gifting to create.

Michael Medved has posited an idea about the words in Genesis that we are made after God's image that I love.  Because God is Spirit — and the Word had not yet become Flesh — this line from Genesis has little to do with a giant old man in the sky and everything to do with the substance of our souls.  Our Maker has bestowed upon us the unique gift of creation; He has given us a share in His ability.  No other created being in heaven or earth shares this with the Father.  Do the angels create?  There is no evidence in Scripture that they do.  That famous fallen angel cannot create; he can only destroy.  Do animals?  Well, certain trainers love to astound and awe audiences by showing off painting elephants.  But no elephant will manipulate its natural habitat in order to create art.  Humans always have.  Along side artifacts of survival — perhaps an integral part of our survival instinct — there is art.   

A couple years ago, I took a Creative Writing class on the short story at a local college.  I came away from that class convinced that I have not been gifted in fiction.  God, who has the best sense of humor, immediately inspired me to start writing short stories, one after the other, pretty much against my will.  It was almost as if He were gently reminding me that my calling is not up to me; it is completely about Him and His Spirit flowing through my hands, willing or unwilling.  Between that and the constant encouragement of Flicka, I have since decided just to be open to the blessing of creation — no matter how embarrassing or uncomfortable or disappointing to my own high standards.  He is using it all for His glory, even in ways I may not know until the other side of the veil. 

*Conservatism is counter-culture!
**Please, please, please do not pirate music.  If you love an artist enough to share his work, pay him for it.


Joelle said...

Beautiful post, Justine. Made me sad, too, because I feel like I've tramped down my creative side due to the stresses of life.

They may never get a wide audience, but I get a smile out of your joy in song creation. :) I think God is smiling, too.

Justine said...

I look forward with you to a time in your life when your creativity can flow again. God has blessed your family with great communicative powers.

You can hear my songs, too, if you want to -- should we ever meet up again someday. But not Jason. Mr. Poopy-pants.