I like the word "intention" better than "resolution." It implies something to work toward, move toward, rather than something at which you either succeed or fail.
Here's what I'm intending for the new year:
Experiment more. Create more; consume less. Trust more; worry less. Read more; write more; watch less. Write more of what lasts longer. Waste less time. Spend more time in "creative idleness". Spend less; save more. Pray more. Use more paper, lots of paper. Use a pen more, a keyboard less. Find an agent; find a publisher; deliver a manuscript worth publishing, worth reading. Love more. Talk less but say more. Figure out how patience and urgency co-exist. Hope always. Cook more; eat less. Start sewing again. Play the piano more. Pursue truth, beauty, and goodness at every opportunity; realize every moment is an opportunity. Stand up straighter. Speak more often in the strength of my own voice. Find the way to do what needs to be done; sit quietly and wait for the Lord. Accept paradox. Pray more, pray without ceasing. See the signs, ask for signs; be more willing to step into the unknown. Use less; have less; give more away. Shorten my to-do lists. More intentionally be a conduit for the flow of God's grace to the world. Be silent more often. Pray more fervently for safety coast to coast but live less fearfully. Remind myself as often as needed where true hope lies. Start fewer projects but finish more of those I start. Be encouraged. Be excited. Be more attuned to the burdens of the people I pass on the street as well as those with whom I share a table or a home. Love God with ever more of my heart, soul, strength, and mind. Thank more. Eat less sugar but more dark chocolate.
Last week I went to a talk given by Helena Hernmarck, the master weaver whose exhibit I wrote about here on this blog. She showed slides of many of her pieces and told some behind-the-scenes stories of how they came to be. What came through was her pure delight in these creations of hers. Each made her laugh, each had a story, each had a handful of people (and she named them) who had helped make it possible.
She talked about her processes, including how she gets her wool from a specific kind of sheep at a specific family's farm, a particularly lustrous light-absorbing wool, which she then dyes herself. She has done it this way for years and years.
As a writer and not a weaver, I'm alert for pearls I can borrow from practitioners of other crafts and here's one of the pearls from Hernmarck: "What makes weaving with this wool magic is that it allows light to enter in." That's the kind of weaving she does. That's the kind of writing I want to do. Use words that allow light to enter in.
The DVD of the movie “Runaway Jury,” starring John Cusack, Dustin Hoffman, and Gene Hackman, contains an interview with Dustin Hoffman in its “Special Features” section. Hoffman speaks about the privilege of working with Hackman, particularly within the context of one scene in which their two characters have an intense angry encounter. After that scene was shot, he and Gene went out together for a drink, and while they talked they admitted to each other the same thing: whenever they finish a movie they are sure they will never again be able to accomplish another, nor even be asked; that what they've done was a fluke (my paraphrase). Listening to the interview, I was stunned but encouraged. Here were two movie giants who I imagined cruised from success to success without any personal fears or doubts. If the greats can feel this way, there’s hope for the rest of us.
I’m playing around with a new writing project. Not sure whether my idea will turn into anything but the blank pages are in front of me. In light of Hoffman and Hackman's admission, it's not so terrible to have self doubt when looking at a blank page or a pile of random thoughts that need shaping or to wonder if a finished piece is the last before I'll fizzle or am discovered as an imposter. It's just the way it is. In these creative enterprises there are no rules that you can follow, 1 to 10, and be assured of an outcome, and so it may always feel like beginning for the first time.
I’m a fan of the writings of Josef Pieper, a German philosopher who tried his best to convince people with noses to the grindstone after WWII to introduce sabbath-like leisure into their lives. (See a blog post here and here.) In fact, I have an essay coming out in the next issue of Under the Sun (its last print issue) in which Pieper is a key player. His seminal essays are compiled in the book, Leisure: The Basis of Culture, but this morning I’m thinking about another slim companion volume, Only the Lover Sings: Art and Contemplation.
In this collection of essays, he again begs us to take seriously his call to leisure, “For nothing less is at stake here than the ultimate fulfillment of human existence.” A key component of this brand of leisure is contemplation, which he equates with seeing, meaning having the “spiritual capacty to perceive the visible reality as it truly is.” We can boost that capacity, wrote Pieper, by fasting and abstaining for periods from daily visual noise, and through artistic creation. In the book's last essay he expands the definition of contemplation beyond that of seeing to include also loving,
"Eyes see better when guided by love."
So the question that arises on this weekday morning with work projects stacked on the desk and writing projects hovering all around is how contemplation--that is, seeing in love--can be woven into a work day, or said another way, into the everyday life of a working person, such that one's gaze is toward reality and guided by love?
This week The Atlantic reported on a study by Ravi Mehta et al and published in the Journal of Consumer Research, "Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition." The study provides data to support what so many of us already know: coffee shops are the place to go for more than coffee. Based on these data, Mehta and his colleagues link the surge in creativity that is common in coffee shops not to the caffeine but to the moderate noise level.
"Modest background noise, the scientists explain, creates enough of a distraction to encourage people to think more imaginatively.
The next time you're stumped on a creative challenge, head to a bustling coffee shop, not the library. As the researchers write in their paper, '[I]nstead of burying oneself in a quiet room trying to figure out a solution, walking out of one's comfort zone and getting into a relatively noisy environment may trigger the brain to think abstractly, and thus generate creative ideas.'"
Just yesterday I took a project to a coffee shop. I'd been feeling stuck on the project and it languished on my to-do list. An hour later I left the shop with pages of notes on what to do next. Coffee shops: they work like a charm. Well worth the price of a cup, and of course, a blueberry scone can't hurt.
In Irving Stone’s biographical novel of Michelangelo, The Agony and the Ectasy, there is the line: “Inside himself he had to grow as his sculpture grew and matured.” Each sculpture required not just time but his own internal growth. I think it’s that way with writing. Not necessarily the writing of blog posts, which will move off a blog’s front page within a week or a month’s time, but the writing of work that both stands on its own and stands the test of time. This kind of writing needs the writer to attend to it daily or nearly so.
It seems to me that if I go more than about three days without attending to a piece of writing, key connections about that piece that have been forming in my brain, even without being aware of it, become lost, conferring a much greater setback to the project than the question, Now where was I?, might reveal. But the line about Michelangelo takes the need for regular and ongoing attention a deep step further.
The lasting kind of writing requires the writer and the work to grow simultaneously. If the writer isn’t spending time with the work, then she can’t grow along with it and it can’t grow and mature with her, no matter how many tweaks or edits are made.
I think about this ideal as my calendar fills and my other “noncreative” writing work (although hopefully still creative in a sense) also requires time and attention to become something solid and good. It feels like an unattainable ideal, but the value in such an ideal is that it keeps you striving after it in at least some capacity. I assume this tension is there for anyone pursuing a creative endeavor. Even reading a book that has formative potential can take that kind of daily attention and growth.