Archive for the ‘beginnings’ Category

The myth of the alone, insane, artistic genius runs deep in Western culture.

Vincent Van Gogh.

It isn’t so.

I just finished reading Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith’s fascinating, well-researched, thought-provoking biography of Vincent van Gogh.

Vincent fought with everyone he knew, sabotaged every close relationship, longed for family, but lived alone even when he had house companions like Gauguin. And yet not.

He suffered deep social pain, rejection and abandonment, and at times he was isolated by mental illness,  but he was not unconnected from other people.

His art, his letters, his paintings all reveal a profound link to others. They reveal the wars with his parents, the parasitic relationship with his brother Theo, his attempts at pastoring, his efforts to build family with with his prostitutes, his effort to create family with his fellow artists.

Gauguin, Pissarro, Monet, Bernard, Rembrandt, Millet, Delacroix  — all these and many others influenced Vincent.  He lived inside his own inner dialogue with them.

Vincent’s art was a product of his relationships.

Even when Vincent was an island, cut off from others in a locked room at St. Remy, struggling with his mental demons, he was in reality connected by great techtonic plates — below the surface of  deep water — to those he knew on the mainland of rationality. They were always in his head, his heart, his paint.

Anyone of us, with our various versions of insanity, can retreat from others because of relational pain and hurt, and yet even there we will not be alone. We will always bring with us the voices of our community, our critics, our family, our friends, and our self.

What is insanity? What was Vincent’s mental illness? I’m not at all sure. But perhaps insanity has something to do with us not being able to work out our relationships with our community, family and sweet ones.

We are connected, and we are all a bit whacked; the issue of life seems to lie in how we mangage to come to terms with that.

That struggle, that deep longing for connection, that is one of the great forces of life that results in great art, in great pain, and in great love.

“Love,” commanded Jesus.

All beauty comes from that.

DSC00814“What class would you like to teach?” she asked me at the end of the interview. I hadn’t expected that.

I had only walked into the English Department office at this California community college a few days before, and now I was being given a chance to choose the class I wanted. I left the campus excited, surprised, thrilled!

Opportunity knocks; perspicuity answers. I choose to teach “Critical Thinking About Literature,” because I wanted to think and read stories and teach students to do that with me. I choose well, looking back, because I thrived on teaching this class, and by doing so, I realized a long-standing passion — to teach college students literature.

Sometimes we get to knock out the opportunity-that-knocks.

How does that happen? We usually have to belly up to the fact that life’s opportunities don’t come knocking that much, particularly early on, when we are new to the game, young, or a novice, so we have to go knocking.

A few years earlier, on a trip to Brazil with some students from my church, I got to talking to a pastor I worked with about how important children are to a church. I enthused, I gushed, I fired him up, and myself too, and I made a decision right there to write a piece on how to creatively ramp up the positive attention given to children in churches. When I got home, I wrote the article, and then I sent it out to the best magazine in the field. They bought it, to my surprise, and I realized another dream I had been sheltering for years — to be a published writer.

It’s tough when we are young to figure out how to do what we ache inside to do but aren’t sure we can but want to try anyway even when we haven’t tried yet. What to do, what to try, are we good enough? Will it be a mistake, can we live with failure, do we  really want to do it? Does it sound to good to ever be true, are we worth it, can we cut it?  The questions mount, and sometimes come to loom high, like formidable Annapurnas jutting into skies of impossibility.

We should knock anyway. It is worth moving, in a particular direction, when we think we can. By an approach march, we test what is possible. Every journey has its uncertainties, its headwind, its steep pitches, but we don’t know if we can push past these until we try. Trying is not overrated. By trying, even by failing, we learn what we can do and what we can’t, at least at that particular time.

I’ve applied for teaching jobs I didn’t get. I’ve written articles that were rejected by editors. I have sometimes even felt that in these very special areas of personal giftedness, I couldn’t cut it. And I’ve come to see that this is normal. In every area we attempt to succeed in, at some point we will feel inadequate, temporarily frustrated, even done.  And yet,  despite some set backs and disappointments, my chosen careers — teaching and writing — have been my sweet spots, my personal playgrounds, my lovely battlefields, my sacred spaces for thriving and succeeding and making a difference.

I play the guitar; I’ve done so for years. I’ve written songs; I’ve led worship, but the guitar has never been a sweet spot for me.  I have never been paid for my modest guitar skills, I don’t have a good singing voice, and I have never had a song published. I’ve had fun with the guitar, and enjoyed playing on my own, but through experience, I’ve learned my musical limits, and I’ve come to see song as a sidebar for me,  a fun diversion, not the main thing, an appetizer, not an entrée, and this realization has been good for me. It has kept me from wasting too much time with a pick,  and set me to spending more time with a pen, and yet my awareness of the  place of music in my life has still allowed me a fair of amount of pleasure banging out some minor, partial, and power chords at home.

Opportunity — I’m still knocking. These days I’m thinking about what is next, creatively, and I’m looking inside the developing me within the very me of the quintessential me. What can I still do? Where should I yet knock?

The best place to find this answer lies inside of each of us. Other friends and family and counselors can help, but it is crucial that we come to own our own passions. We must, to be genuine, to be authentic, to keep moving toward an inward sense of success,  honor our own unique skills, treasure and safeguard our talents, and resource the opportunities we secretly burn for.

We all will do best when we begin to move towards what we want to do that no one has to tell us to want to do. We must trek toward the thing that gives us pleasure while at the same time that scares us like crazy.  We must go ask for what is reasonably possible and yet is so beyond what we have ever done before that we  fear  that we will not have the energy, intelligence, skill or opportunity to do it.

Our passions, I’m for taking a swing at them.

We just might knock out the next opportunity we knock on.

What could make you so excited that if you began

it you could hardly wait to get up in the morning to complete it?

Do that!

I like uninhibited short people who enjoy being told a good story.

This week at a party I sat down with Abigail, my nephew’s daughter, and invented a story for her. Abigail is six. Oddly enough the little girl in the story that I told her was six, and had a dog named Obi, and strangely enough Abigail herself has a dog named Obi, named after Obi Wan Kenobi.

Abigail sat still beside me and listened intently. She loved it when Obi went out on  a bike ride with her, riding his “platform bike,” which her dad had invented for him, and Abigail loved it, when after Obi’s disastrous bike crash, he was comforted at home with chicken nuggets that looked like dinosaurs. Chicken nuggets in the shape of dinosaurs are her favorite food.

Later, at the party, I found Abigail’s dad,  Roger, and  outlined the story to him, how Obi, the adventuresome dog, rode a “platform bike,” and crashed and was dramatically rescued by him from the sewer under the street. Then and there I and gave Roger some pointers on the next installments of the story so he could continue it, if he wanted . The next thing, I think for Obi, the adventure dog to do, is to enter a bike race. After all Roger owns a bike show and has himself raced competitively.

It’s all about timing, when you race, and when you tell little girls stories about racing dogs.  Being in the right place at the right time with the right information and “bingo,” a good time is had by two!

When I was in Brazil a few years ago, I told the leaders I was working with that I thought that in institutions such as churches and schools, children should be treated as the entrée, the main course and  the absolute, riveting, uncompromising center of it all.  I believe that, and practice it.  I believe that children should never be babysat or watched; they should be engaged, challenged, centered on and introduced to new things — dogs that ride bikes and such.

I came home from the Brazil  sick and weary of not saying enough about the value of children,  and so I wrote an article on children and spirituality that was published in a magazine for people who thought the same thing. It lobbied for creating super-meaningful experiences for kids.

I’m still all over this. In the beginning, we must teach children to begin thinking creatively or they’ll grow up to be adults who are blindly fascinated with the same thing, over and over and over and over again.

Know a child?

Then begin a beginning.

Are you a child?

Yes,  you are, even if you are an adult  you are still a child in some deep and mysterious cabinet of wonders within the psyche that exists hidden in your child-like psyche? Yes, you all are, children!

And because I love you, I want to encourage you, to begin beginning what you have in your heart to begin.

Think about it.

If you don’t begin a new story, and tell it to someone else, then how will you ever end that story so you can begin another one and tell it to another one who is so much like yourself.

So, just begin it and keep going on from there —  together.

You’ll like that!