Art


Living in Nashville can be tough.  As a musician here, it’s easy to feel like a cliche.  Because, well, you are.  I live on both sides of the street, as both a cliche, and a judge of other cliches.  When I get rental applications for some properties that I help with, at least half of them are groups of kids moving here with no money, no connections, and a guitar.  (Its all I can do not to warn them,  “musicians don’t move to Nashville without a dime and suddenly find them in their guitar case…”)

Anyway, we’ve begun to find our footing in this boom-town, mostly around our little neighborhood in east Nashville and our little 1 year old that dances incessantly and speaks in full paragraphs but has yet to learn English.  And it seems we’ve, finally, figured out how to work real jobs/ responsibilities, AND complete some creative endeavors on the side.  Mostly that means cooking and canning for me, but occasionally, like right now, we have some music to share.  This song is a preview of a four song EP that Jaron is producing for me, Katherine.  Which means Jaron is doing most of the work, but I get to put it out under my name.  🙂  I wrote this after reading a book by Kathleen Norris on the ancient bad thought, “Acedia” that resonated deeply with me. So, here is my first solo recording.

Every once and again on a holiday or weekend, Jaron and I will declare a “cabin day”.  It’s a time to shun personal electronics and try to retrain our brains for a slower, more present way of living.  We make meals that take time, listen to music without lyrics, make sure Banjo gets a long walk, read, and most of all, look around.  It’s a time when, as Jaron said, “the cardinal regains its rightful place” as the most enthralling thing to vie for our attention over coffee.  Sometimes I get my way (read: on my birthday) and we even camp out in the living room with our dog the night before.

It used to be that I looked forward to these times with a little trepidation.  I’m pretty sure Portlandia got their idea for the technology loop skit by watching me.  My mind isn’t very good at being idle, and when it is I realize how idle my body and spirit have been, too, and to be honest, I’m just too lazy to let that happen very often.

This year we are invoking cabin days for all of the lenten season, and while I know it’s a long time and there will be moments of frustration, I really can’t wait to start.  I love being exposed to different pieces of writing and music online, seeing what my peers are working on, and hearing from people I don’t get to see in my day-to-day life.  But much of the time my mind receives sharing as an entry in a competition for whose work is most worthwhile.  Or whose haircut.

Last week Andrew Peterson shared a Huffington Post link – a short article with Nick Cave’s response to his nomination for the MTV Music Awards several years ago.  I was shocked and relieved to read it.  Finally, a reminder that competition in art, whether for money or attention, is a mutation of its purpose, a cheapening of the source of beauty.

The sense of my hands in the dough, or the sound of their interaction with the strings, of honesty in a song that is too difficult to communicate any other way, of enjoying a long laugh with my spouse and refraining from diluting it along the information waves.  It sounds like the good life.  Like indulging in freedom.  I’m looking forward to this time, even just the feeling of it coming on.

It is a temptation.  It is a submission.  For me, fear is even an addiction.  It is a place I know how to inhabit, where I believe I gain control of what happens to me.  If I fear it before it happens, I can see it coming and prevent it.  I’ve experienced it before with other failures of my mind.  Like judgment.  Like pride.

It once took me several months to decide to forgive someone that I love.  And another two years to really get it done.  Book after book, talk after talk, wall after wall, learning how to forgive a fully repentant person.

It wasn’t just about deciding to forgive, it was about breaking the cycle of unforgiveness.  A cycle in which my mind longed to recall the ways that I had been wronged, a cycle that made me feel less vulnerable by keeping me in the place of victim at all times.  Never would I be surprised again.  A cycle that poisoned my heart and mind and relationships.

Any time we want to eschew a habit, we have to say “no” to it once.  And then we have to say “no” again the next hour, the next day, and every day after.  For me, one of the most helpful things is to replace my previous thought pattern with a new mantra.  One that is easy to remember and available to repeat at the first sign of danger.  My mentor wrote one for me once and since then I have found my own.

My forgiveness mantra is pretty simple now that so much time has passed.  Every few months now I may find a flash of paranoia, and I can say in response – I have forgiven that person and I am loved by that person.

My fear mantra will probably change over time, too, but here’s what I’m starting with:

It is an act of obedience and worship to create.  I will seek and indulge creative promptings, and I will present my work to my loving Creator with open hands.

I may crochet it on a pillow.  Except that I am afraid of needles

When I started writing and making music recreationally, fear was hardly a factor.  Little risk, I suppose.  But with each post, each attempt, each listener, my fears grew.  Small successes actually made them stronger.  Farther to fall, and other fallacies.  I’ve pushed them down, tried to ignore them, but all it’s done is made me avoid my pursuits in order to avoid the voices.

So, my first step is to expose the fear, and I invite you to do the same.  Tell someone you trust to listen, journal a prayer, write them here in the comments.  Whatever you do, be specific.  Don’t just say you’re afraid of failure, describe what it looks like under the full light of your inspection.  Here are some of mine.

There is only so much success to go around – another person meeting their goal precludes me achieving my own.

I will make my work too honest, or not honest enough.  Too honest and people will shy away or feel they have to boost me up, or not honest enough and there will be no personality or truth on the page. 

I will include too much moral, which will make someone feel I’ve preached at them, or not enough, which will deny my belief that our surroundings are full of teachings that we should attend.

As I identify previous mistakes I’ve made, whether in writing, music, relationships, or the day-to-day, I become afraid that sometime in the future I will look back on this very moment as a mistake.  It is common to say that one regrets more the things they didn’t do or say than the ones they did, but my regrets fall at least equal, if not more toward the latter.

I did not hone my craft enough in my younger years.  I would stay in bed all morning on a Saturday reading, like many who are interested in writing, but it was typically The Baby-Sitter’s Club, not Anne of Green Gables or The Hobbit.  This means I will never understand good writing.

If I receive praise, I’m being patronized.  If I receive critique, I’m being told to quit.

The list could go on, and probably will, elsewhere.  It feels good to ask myself what exactly I’m afraid of, to answer honestly and without a filter.  With some, hearing myself out loud is enough to break the spell of fear, and with others, it is good to know what I’ve been listening to internally.  No wonder it’s hard to get work done with all that noise. 🙂

Fears found.  Tomorrow, a post on replacing them.

January is for plans, for resolutions, for new motivation.  I love this time of year.  Love the possibilities and goals.  Love it.

Well, no, that isn’t entirely true, but it’s true enough.  Well, okay, it’s just a little true.  It’s truthy.  I also begrudge January.  Because while I watch other folks with plans, resolutions, and motivation, I am jealous.  I want to participate in the talk, which is easy.  But most of all I want to succeed, which is daunting.  I set my sights on the desires of my heart, but pounding in my ears is, “Best laid plans…”, “You know you don’t stick with resolutions”, and “Have you seen your gut lately?  Motivation?”

I know, my internal dialogue is riveting.  But truly, I do love the marker that is January.  I love that we give ourselves the freedom to re-evaluate and try again.  Immediately behind each goal, though, for me, comes fear.  Fear that I am an imposter trying to sneak into the world of art and music and it is only a matter of moments until I am discovered and expelled forever.  And the surest way of being discovered would be to make something that is bad.  Something that will let everyone know I have no business here.  Worst of all, something that I had thought was good.  And I will be made the fool for believing.

In December I sprained a ligament in my lower back.  Not doing anything glorious, just stepping off a ladder.  Apparently I am tall.  And have been doing too many things in a slightly bent position for my lower back to keep up with, and now it has retaliated.  This means a new position at work and for the past several weeks, fewer positions at home.  Namely lying down, walking, some standing, and minimal sitting.  I would’ve imagined that all that time would get me through my stack of reading and a lot of writing, but my mind has been a scatter and the few times it has come to rest it has done so on discontent with my lack of productivity.  My doting dog breaks me out of the cycle when he can, eager as I am for purpose and movement.

Last night the best of my friends quietly sat and probed.  Quietly waited while I searched for a way to convince him that I am done trying.  I will cook and garden and pursue the things that I can fail at without anyone being the wiser.  And then he got angry, which was the most surprising and helpful thing he could have done.

These next few posts I will be exploring this dynamic of art and fear.  An old and common journey, but one I clearly need to fully travel.  Because I have a great desire to give in to one more than to the other.  And because I have a  husband who calls me an artist, even when it makes me cry.

If you like, come with me.  We’ll wear fear-colored ribbons and stop ignoring the problem.

You’ve seen them.  Instagram, hipstamatic, coolerthanyoutronic.  Photography apps that do the art for us.  We use them to broadcast the shiny parts of our best moments.  I can show you my dinner in a cool, cropped shot that is far too narrow to show just how dirty the kitchen behind it is.  My first inclination is to be annoyed by this trend.  Isn’t that what trends are for?  To annoy us until we buy in or move on?

This morning, though, I’m grateful for these cropped shots of life.  A childhood friend of mine is at the hospital with her eighteen month-old.  Two nights ago he tripped in the bathroom and ended up in the hospital with bleeding in his brain and emergency surgery.  They are spending their new year in worry, prayer, and cafeterias, surrounded by machinery that shouldn’t be attached to their child.

This morning this mother posted an instagram of a coffee mug. Not what I expected to see from her today; I’d gone to her page for an update on her boy, maybe another picture of his wound or hospital room.  But there was her coffee mug.  She put a caption that she’d brought it from home to fill up on the newly routine trips to the Ronald McDonald House, something normal to keep her grounded.

I was struck then with the up-side of this micro-view trend.  On the ever-shrinking, increasingly connected globe we inhabit, it can be hard to find focus.  Hard to sift through the headlines and friendlines, to distinguish between filler and pertinent information.  But an artfully cropped take on the situation gives new direction to this task we have of weaving order from chaos.   I’ll take whatever help I can get to highlight the small, important things, no matter how trendy.

The big picture is important, but in many ways it has little to do with us.  If we pay attention to what is before us, the tasks and blessings and talents of the day, we keep going.  We show ourselves worthy of the small jobs, whether it’s writing a chapter, or wiping a table, or holding our son’s hand in a prayer for intervention.   And we trust the outcome to someone greater.

I was not an Anne of Green Gables girl.  I didn’t read the entire series of Little House on the Prairie. When I was given a Skipper doll I immediately cut her hair off to have a tomboy cut.  Or maybe it was my sister’s Skipper.  I did watch BBC’s “Pride & Prejudice” a few times in college, but that had less to do with the fancy outfits and more to do with good company and the opportunity to feel like a rebel as we indulged in a Mike’s Hard Lemonade while watching.  And the fact that I had an inkling that I, like Elizabeth Bennett, was one of the few with the stellar combination of wit and intrigue to one day win a worthy but seemingly unwinnable man like Mr. Darcy.  I was right, but that’s another story.  🙂

Somehow in spite of all this tomboy training, last weekend I was home, car-less,  with hot tea in hand and a severe thunderstorm outside when I happened on an episode of Downton Abbey, a BBC Masterpiece Classic I had not heard of before.  It would seem I’ve finally caught the bug for historical fiction in fancy dresses cause two days later I had watched all seven episodes.  The story begins with the introduction of the family of a British earl during the days of the waning power of royalty and aristocracy in England.  The earl has three daughters, none of whom can receive his inheritance, and is surprised by the news that his nephew, who was to come and care for the abbey and his family one day, has died in the sinking of the Titanic.

To the dismay of everyone involved, the earl must now pass on his great wealth and title to a third cousin, a middle-class lawyer.  The lawyer is a prideful man who smugly regards himself as “self-made” and snubs his nose at the frivolous lives led by his family and at their request that he now live as they do, with more servants than family members.  One evening at dinner he made it known that he had no wish to give up his vocation and would just find time to manage the affairs of the vast abbey on evenings and weekends.  At this, the earl’s mother, played by Maggie Smith, turned to him and said, “Hwhaattt…. is a wheek… eendt??”

Jaron and I, along with many others our age, are in ways trying to undo the dynamic that this lawyer’s generation began.  We are trying to carve out a life that is not about our employment.  For days and episodes after this scene, those words kept returning unbidden.  I’d get home from work and feel entitled to use the rest of my day for leisure, talking myself into ignoring chores or even productive hobbies because I had earned my free pass being on my feet all day at the store.  And there it would be… Maggie Smith’s voice again.  What is a weekend?

Work and responsibility, as Maggie’s character so perfectly pointed out, are utterly distinct from employment.  In a time when the five day-work week was just beginning to dominate, the upper and lower class still had no use for it.  A task was a task, regardless of the day of the week and their life and work were largely indistinguishable from each other.

A life’s work couldn’t very well be expected to fit into a specific schedule of employment.  It’s an important distinction for us, as people who wish to have a life’s work to show.  We live in a time when being an artist, writer, musician is not often a viable career choice.  We also live in a time when the culture tells us that the career is a means to fund the entertainment.  We “work” so we can “play”.  We must be diligent if we don’t want to get caught up in the confusion – if we want to be people who know the glory of working hard in every area of our lives and the peace of rest in each part of our lives, as well, rather than the exhaustion of mere employment and the numbness of being entertained.

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