This writing thing, it takes so long to learn.
Actually, it takes so long to heal and develop better habits.
Maybe that’s the nature of making art: it has to make you over first.
Sometimes I think I’ve figured something out only to realize I haven’t captured the most important part. Sometimes I think I should be more practical and stop pretending and just amusing myself and my family right into poverty.
But here’s what I’m done with: narcissism that passes for authenticity. This pseudo-vulnerable disease I’m prone to. The tell is in the motivation. True honesty can’t be faked. The ego falls away and the humanity shines through, and you feel known and seen and helped.
I want to experience something real in opposition to the undertow of the ever-deepening mire.
The higher purpose is in the unfakable connection. It’s fighting to hold to what’s real and learning to avoid the rest. It’s holding to the change we really need and finding the maturity to resist pandering and dismiss more simplistic stuff.
And sure, some days I can’t seem to do it and I forget to set my timer and go AWOL on the ol’ Interwebs. But more and more often, I’m succeeding because I remember that to embrace the mystery of a story is a feeling without parallel and in it, I know I become more fully alive.
But why do we treat those who slow us down to appreciate more of our lives as obstructions rather than the true angels they are? It’s a priceless favor and I’m so grateful to the artists, the poets, the musicians who hold the line against the encroaching chaos, who hold my face up to the smudgy window to see as they’ve seen for a few precious moments with my few remaining breaths fogging up the glass.
See? they ask. See what you could be?
Who can afford to waste one more day in the prison of amusement? A-musement, literally “without thought.” We think of amusement as fun, but what’s fun? Is it fun to escape what’s real? Or is real fun finally escaping into what’s real? What’s ultimately the difference between entertainment and education? Shouldn’t both be for our betterment?
“Anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn’t know the first thing about either.” – Marshall McLuhan
And yet not everything is equally bettering. I don’t want to make art that amuses because amusement steals the best and replaces it with the good-enough. It panders to provide unhealthy preoccupation and tempt with shadow missions. I know too many of those all too well.
I have no need of amusement. I’ve been called to something better.
Insecurity about this causes me great doubt. And in that compounded self-pity, I accept all the ugliness that forces me to fight still harder for the truth. To write, I must get free of blindness and narrowness to see as Jesus taught with the eyes of compassion, or I’ll only linger at the beginning of this endless journey.
The fearful writers share much in common with the ego-driven—they’re two sides of the same coin.
I know these traps too well.
But it matters to get to the root of your issues to improve your own core. That’s the artist who is making the art, doing the thinking, wielding the tools.
“You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It’s easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally.” –Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Okay, I admit it. That’s why it takes so long. That’s what I want. I’m not looking for perfection. I just want to be an engaged artist. I want the higher purpose, to be bettered so I can better. For the work to be the inevitable result that connects me to a community who’s doing that too. For the art not to stand alone but to be the effect of this greater cause.
When the artist is more patient and mature, the art will be simpler and finer as well.
If you’re blocked or worried or jealous of others, you look at that because it points to what you really want. That’s what artists know. It’s an arrow to what you need to face next.
St. Lamott: “better to feel it and talk about it and walk through it than to spend a lifetime being silently poisoned.” Blocks and worries and fears and especially jealousy all reveal your dreams.
That’s a fact. And my jealousy tells me I want to be Neil Gaiman, Markus Zusak, John Green, Madeline L’Engle, Harper Lee. That’s terrifying to admit because I immediately hear laughter. Witness the egomaniac! “Who do you think you are?” I’ve heard that voice a long time and I’ve coached writers for years because I need to hear the truth and learn to follow my own advice. If only I could believe that’s not God’s voice, it’s never God’s voice asking that.
And what does he say? He says, “He’s/She’s MINE!”
As I’m in Christ and he’s in me, to be love by his power, that’s never a pride thing. It’s being humble enough not to fear being so honest. To begin truly helping others rather than merely amusing myself I must be who someone needs.
And that someone is me. I experienced this conviction just this week and had to repent of getting sidetracked yet again. Then a decision to be changed was needed:
Am I his?
Throughout my journey I’ve seen Christs in my parents, my wife, my siblings and their wives and my kids. I’ve seen him in friends and other writers and in their characters and they’ve become my story too. Thank God for the lives I’ve known. They show me my own journey and why I want to do this work.
I was first changed by Meg Murray in A Wrinkle in Time 30 years ago. She was Christ to me. And then so many others too, but I can only contribute if I’ll die to the selfish part that wants approval and realize, as Jennifer Dukes Lee says, I’m already pre-approved (if you struggle with being known and accepted, oh my, get this book).
Do I believe that more than in theory? And does my fear prove that functionally, at least, I really believe the opposite?
So I persevere to preserve the best words I can.
And I write to experience what’s real.