Didn’t write this morning–woke up a bit later than usual (being up in the night with small children can mess with sleep patterns), and had to be out of the house early. I’m not going to worry about it, but simply pick it up again tomorrow morning.
But how will I stay in the momentum of the book having missed this morning’s writing session?
To do this, I utilize a few tricks I’ve picked up along the way over the years of false starts, slothfulness, and self-doubt. Here they are:
The first is daily pages, which I got from the wonderful book by Julia Cameron entitled The Artist’s Way. If you’re a writer and haven’t read this book, you must. Her book is a kind of program for blocked artists; and one of the ways you unblock is by writing again–through daily pages. This took years for me to learn. I have been an avid note-taker and have innumerable journals throughout the house, but did not develop the discipline of daily writing (hence the name jour-nal).
In order to retrieve your creativity, you need to find it. I ask you to do this by an apparently pointless process I call the morning pages . . . . What are morning pages? Put simply, the morning pages are three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream of consciousness . . . .
– Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way, 9-10.
Cameron really awakened me to the importance of this discipline, and I’ve been diligently doing my morning pages now for several years. I don’t write in them everyday, I must confess, but most days. Daily pages are particularly useful for working through the book I’m writing, or jotting down ideas from the books I’m reading, or just flickers of insight. So when I miss a day of book writing, I can rely on my daily pages to both keep the ink flowing as well as keep me in the momentum of the book.
The second tool is just carrying around a notebook, a small one. Again, I don’t rely on mobile devices because a) I can be a Luddite, in spite of working professionally with technology, and b) I don’t want my intimate ideas being beamed up to a cloud somewhere on a google-barge off the California coast. My notebooks are small. The best kind are slim softcover notebooks. I particularly like ones that Rhodia puts out: they’re very slim and the paper is very kind to fountain pens. These notebooks can fit seamlessly in my denim or blazer pockets. And when an idea hits, I jot them down immediately, being sure to date the pages. I will go later into my system of notebooks and note taking, but am just mentioning it broadly here.
One of my mentors–though he doesn’t know it, for I’ve never (yet) met him–is Steven Pressfield. In his book The War of Art, Preston pinpoints the most destructive force that every artist faces: Resistance. There are many ways we fall prey to resistance, but only one way to beat it: work–plain and simply. Just sit down and write. The hardest thing for any writer is simply sit down. The hardest part for me is the moment my alarm goes off at some crude hour of the morning and I am left with the fateful decision: get up and go downstairs to write, or drift back to sleep. If (a) I will be successful for the day; but if I choose (b) Resistance has defeated me.
[Joseph] Conrad, who could spend days looking at a blank page, didn’t start writing fiction until his thirties. Nevertheless, he averaged a book or play a year until his death at age sixty-six . . . . Only a few of Conrad’s pieces are masterpieces, but the ones that are didn’t come from a mere few years’ inspiration; they came from Conrad’s ability and willingness to dedicate nearly his whole existence to his creative activity.
– John Briggs, Fire in the Crucible pg. 204.
So this third trick of mine has a bit of a crude name: Sitzfleisch, which is German for ‘sitting down flesh’. The trick is to commit to sitting down everyday to write, unless another commitment takes you away. Some writers write 7 days a week. I write 5-6 days a week, taking Sunday off (but still keeping my active note taking). When I am committed to writing everyday, it doesn’t matter if I miss one, because I know that tomorrow morning my alarm will go off, and I’ll stagger downstairs, set up my workspace, and get down to business continuing where I left off and using my notebook(s) as a bridge.
I just finished a writing stint–it’s 7am, and I’ve written for about an hour. Though tired, I feel energized. I’m following Hemingway’s prescription to stop when you have more left in you–to avoid draining the well.
The book I’m writing is about a lost man, an attempted murder, and a hermit. I started writing it four days ago, but the story itself has been on my mind for months when the idea first struck while at a dinner party–the greatest ideas come at dinner parties! There is a famous writer, the name escapes me (I’ll try to add it later), who was known for suspiciously hanging his head at dinner parties–his wife would elbow him and urge, “Stop writing!”
As a writer, I’m always looking for new ideas. My notebook and pen go with me everywhere–I don’t trust mobile devices. When an idea strikes, I immediately write it down, unless I’m driving of course.
My thoughts while writing this book are on solitude–the solitude from the heart, and what it means to write from that place. I’m hoping, praying, that this desire of mine for solitude somehow comes out in the life of the protagonist who, I have him state at the book’s opening, just wants to “draw deeper into the mystery . . . ”
I’ve got a book proposal to work on now, but I’d much rather be writing. It’s tough to pull myself away from the thrill of ink flowing in lines of words, but that’s the discipline . . .
16 Hours Later…
It’s approaching 11pm. I used to be a night owl, burning the midnight oil till all hours. Being a father of 3 changed all that. The quiet hours are those stolen in the early morning. 5am wake-up call will come early. That is the hour of solitude, of quiet, of prayer.
Today I read Thomas Merton’s theology of creativity, found in his Literary Essays–a brilliant series of essays–in which he describes art as an ascetic practice. That the artist first becomes his or her authentic self by giving up the ego and reaching out to Christ:
[It] is the renunciation of our false self, the emptying of the self in the likeness of Christ, that brings us to the threshold of that true creativity in which God Himself works in and through us.
This is what I take with me to bed, that desire to put the false self aside and be-come like Him; to rise up in the morning to meet Him, and allow Him to write through me when the nib of my pen is pressed to paper.
This is different from seeking a ‘muse’ or some kind of creative ‘experience’–this is seeking the Creator God, and asking Him to guide and direct me in my art, which is an act of becoming. Art becomes life becomes Art. As a friend and spiritual advisor of mine recently told me, we are be-coming, but He always is.
Sufficient unto the day.
For a number of years now I have thought a lot about longevity: I’ve read Ray Kurzweil’s books and regaled myself with Aubrey de Grey’s various talks on TED etc. “Would I chip, or not chip?” has been a lingering nagging question, the weight of which brought on by Bill Gates and others who warn us that if we do not enhance our brains technologically we risk being conquered by ever and rapidly advancing artificial intelligence. If Ray Kurzweil is right, we’ll want to enhance our brains through ‘chipping’ not only to avoid intellectual but also existential obsolescence.
I’ve asked myself so many times, “What’s my longevity plan?” It’s a big issue. As we’re moving closer toward singularity, I have had innumerable conversations with people about the importance of enhancing our brains–I’ve even consulted people in such directions for business plans and other strategic points of departure.
Aren’t we geared toward thinking of our future? Isn’t that a primordial, fundamental human concern? What will happen tomorrow? Will I live or will I die? Will I have enough? Will I grow ill and be unable to recover? What happens in the moment of a catastrophe? Am I ready?
Biotechnological solutions are ways for us to insure a future for ourselves; to shore up against age, disease, dementia, and even career obsolescence.
And what about from a Christian perspective, for those who are? Would you chip? What does it mean to take it? To what are you wired up? Whose controlling whom? And even outside of the Christian context, what about basic human liberty–are you free if you take a chip?
“Yes–” one would argue, “but look at the benefits! Living for the next 300 years with an amped up brain capacity that would make Einstein look feeble! Who doesn’t want that? Besides, computers and all external forms of data gathering, are passe, not to mention onerous.”
It wasn’t until I sat in the Pascal Lectures by John Lennox that I came to a crazy realization that I have been taught since Sunday school, but in the course of ‘becoming educated’ withdrew from consciousness: That as a Christian, a believer in Christ, I have everlasting life. What does this mean?
In the story of Genesis, we see human beings with these amazing bodies and minds: supple, youthful bodies, and minds one-pointed and straight-edged. But at the fall, everything changed: our bodies became degenerative, and our minds divided. When Christ came, he revealed to us not only that He is God (in the beginning was the Word), and not only that He suffers with us, but most importantly that He defeated death through His resurrection.
In the book of John, Jesus appears to Mary, Martha, and the disciples. Did they recognize Him at first? No. In fact, He chose to reveal Himself to them, after which they recognized Him. John tells us that His body was so magnificent, so glorious, that He was unrecognizable–even by His closest friends and mother. And through His resurrected body, Christ shows us what our bodies will be like in Eternity–unrecognizable, and like the bodies of the first humans prior to the fall.
If you worry about the singularity and your longevity plan, and are a believer in Jesus Christ, I urge you not to worry–you have the real thing, the real longevity plan; only this plan is for eternity with our Creator and those we love, and not built on the hubris of human advancement that will surely perish.
If you are not a Christian, I urge you to check out the John Lennox lecture at my previous post. There is Hope. You don’t need to worry about whether you can afford the technologies of the Singularity, or about some ambiguous longevity plan about which the greatest minds have only limited belief based on conjecture. God created you and offers you eternal life through His death and resurrection–it’s a beautiful thing. Christ will restore your heart, will heal your body, will bring you joy.
This is a very interesting interview with Art Historian and philosopher, Boris Groys. Here he claims that it is everyone’s responsibility to be an artist, which is, essentially, self-expression: to create oneself in one’s image.
However, as I’ve maintained in an earlier post, there must be something more to that, unless one thinks of ‘self-‘ as one’s authentic self. As a Christian, I believe that one finds one’s authentic self through the redemptive work in Christ, and the creative dance between oneself and God through the long and arduous process of repentance (or, in the Greek, ‘metanoia’.).
And it is on this point that I believe Groys’s statement to be correct (though he most likely would not agree with the context): That as human beings created by God, we are to seek out and live our true selves as our primary responsibility on this earth, and thus, as Groys maintains, become artists; but not creating ourselves in our own image, but rather being molded in the image of God, as we’ve been truly created.
This, however, does not mean that we become conformists to some kind of Christian gestalt particular to a denomination, but rather that as we live according to Christ’s redemption in our lives and thus become more of our selves, we become more truly and fully unique–as God created us. Hence, the life of art is not only to live authentically, but also to live in freedom–freedom to become truly ourselves.
And as much as Groys seeks to eliminate the soul from the definition of what art is, while still ironically seeking that which is ‘transcendent’, the Christian seeks to bring more of the work of the soul–that process of smithery–out into the materiality of his/her particular art.
Regardless of what one’s inherent beliefs might be, there are always things we can glean from the thought of others. In an article, titled “Immediations” from the The Research Journal of the Courtauld Institute of Art, Groys is posed a question about his suggestion that philosophers have a naturally closer relationship to art than do art historians, to which he makes this, to me, insightful reply:
We can look at art in two ways. First as if we were biologists trying to construct a neo-darwinian story of ‘our species’: how artists develop, how they succeed, failed, survived. In these things, art history is formulated like botany or biology. The second way of of considering art is part of the history of ideas. . . . So the question is whether we consider art history more like botany or more like the history of philosophy–and I tend more to the latter, because the driving force of art is philosophical (Vol I. No 4, 2007, pg. 4).
This explains how I became interested in art in general, and literature in particular. A friend of mine, who is now a professor of philosophy, once told me many years ago at the beginning of my philosophy studies at the University of Toronto that the best modern philosophers were found in literature. It took me a while to figure out what that meant, until I worked through and landed on some of my favourite 19th/20th Century writers (Joyce, Eliot, Dostoevsky, Beckett, Camus, name a few), and began working at fiction on my own.
What I draw from when writing is this history of ideas that I have been indoctrinated in, which as such remains a blessing and a curse: the former simply because new ideas and the dialectical approach to bringing numerous together and finding a new one, comes rather easily; the latter (namely a curse) because as a Christian writer, I find much of the history of ideas to be of a certain kind of citadel called ‘the history of reason or consciousness’ that I believe Christianity attempts to push us beyond–to very dramatically liberate us from. This requires a great deal of explanation, but I will say this of the matter: That in spite of all the talk of ‘soul’ and ‘reason’ and even ‘conscience’ one finds in philosophy, it will not teach you to love more, to become less self-centred, and, ultimately to give yourself to God. It may speak of those things, gloss over them, or bring them under some kind of straw-man judgment, but it will not give you love for God and your fellow human being. You may even read all the Kierkegaard you want, but, and he too would say this to you, it will not save your Soul–you must reach rock bottom and assent to God yourself. He will be there when you leap, but there’s no elevator, no automatic switch that you can simply intellectually dally with in your mind.
And what I attempt to write about is this very tension between the rational and salvific (I avoid using ‘absurd’ for those not versed in Kierkegaard and would thus interpret the connotation of that word as somehow subservient to reason), drawing out the existential struggle in pursuit of God within the overbearing ambiguity of existence itself. And the contexts I draw from are those closest to that history of ideas mentioned by Groys; those ideas held most dearly by the great thinkers whose works have shaped our western collective (un)consciousness.
Prefaces are about beginnings–and I have had, and continue to have, many of them. In the Christian life, our Way is made up of many false starts, detours, crash landings and stalled engines, all of which require some kind of re-entry into Life through the Grace of Christ, and some of which lead to the telling of one’s story–a way of prefacing the new life or beginning: “Well, things have been getting better these last couple of months, but you should’ve seen me a year ago at this time–man was my life a mess!”
For new books, I always read the Preface–it’s the best way to get inside the author’s head, or heart, and have a good thumbnail print of the work itself. One of my favourite prefaces is Schopenhauer’s The World As Will and Representation in which he suggests to the reader that if he or she doesn’t like the book, then it can be easily set upon a coffee table and used to hold a cup of tea (or something to that extent–the book’s not with me). So this blog is about prefaces, new beginnings, and the narratives that accompany and often precede them. Sometimes the ‘old life’ is simply one’s absence from church for a period of time spent gorging oneself on too many episodes of House MD in a row; however, there are other ‘old lives’ that are full of the rawness and grittiness of life itself–and those tend to be the stories I am interested in, both writing and reading about.
Are there Christians who seek out literature that draw the bow tautly between, as it were, the sacred and profane? Or, has fiction been bifurcated into a Christian stream that simply draws neat little parallels to scripture and blithely answers all of life’s questions, and, conversely, that of ‘secular’ fiction that enters into the funk of life, but with little in the way of redemption?
What does it mean to be a Christian artist anyway? I resonate with Tolstoy’s What is Art? in which he designates art as that which involves a struggle with the divine, with one or more transcendent topics that one must toil to get out; and it is in the toiling, the existential struggle, the dance with the Divine, that the product can be considered art. With this as my operative definition, I feel comfortable actually scrapping the ‘Christian’ and simply call such experiences ‘art’. Indeed, Merton talks about this as some kind of creative process: that as we give God our gifts (our writing, oration, visual art, etc) that He gives them back to us, and it is in this dance with God that we create. This creative process, this art, then, is the artist’s struggle with life, existence, despair, anxiety, guilt, and the redemption he or she finds in Christ.
What I want to know is if there are Christians out there who want to read such literature, and thus are not shaken or driven away by prose that is steeped in the funk of life; art that draws out the tension between the profanity of life and the redemption found in Christ.
If you are interested in this, please post me some feedback, whether you agree or think I’m way off.
This is a book I picked up at a garage sale for a surprising–and unwarranted–mere fifty-cents. Indeed, it’s worth much more than that. In this book, Stahlberg–a Hungarian-born writer who left Hungary after surviving the uprising of 1956–takes one through a series of very carefully observed scenarios all of which have a high level of plausibility, regardless of their seemingly alarming or far-fetched nature within conventional consciousness. No–this is a serious work, and I highly recommend that all of you who stumble upon this blog and read these words order yourselves a copy.
As a ‘civilization’ (and I use that word almost in jest), we are at a cusp point at which the systems that we have put into place are starting to run us, not the other way around. As Kevin Kelly argues in his book regarding technology, these systems are indeed eco-systems: they have a life of their own, and emerge spontaneously and capriciously. This cusp point is demanding that we has human beings apply ourselves to learning a whole new set of skills: in our thinking, and ability to access and systematize information, in how we design and create (and I use these words very deliberately and literally) new life-solutions that are separate from the market fetishism that words like ‘design’ and ‘create’ have been applied to ignorantly and in complete bad faith, and in how we skillfully apply our thinking to surviving on this planet. Life on earth is being pushed to the edge of a cliff–a force that we put in motion centuries ago, but has now taken on a life of its own and is now pushing us. Many claim it is indeed too late–we should cut our losses, and just hope for the best. If it is indeed too late, or we are on the brink of ‘lateness’, then we need to seriously think about and plan how we’re going to survive in a world when all that we have learned in the past, over generations of cultural and manufactured practices of producing and consuming, is obsolete. This can be a renaissance of human creativity and ingenuity, and it can be just as much a time of catastrophe, chaos, and collapse–I don’t see any reason why the two will not co-exist.
The video above is archer Lars Anderson whose meticulous and tireless study of his craft led him to discovering ancient archery techniques that have lain largely dormant for centuries. This is one example of a skill that is important for one to consider, quite simply in the event that we are all left to survive as hunter/gatherers again–and no I’m not talking about Walmart.
This also means that children will need to be educated in completely different ways as well: not so much specifically on the theoretical maths and sciences, i.e. educated as specialists, but more as generalists who can access multi-disciplinary information, collaborate with each other, and design, build, and use stuff. In such a model, designo is just as critical as scientia. Our children will need to learn survival skills also, in spite of the culture of helicopter moms and dads who–contrary to their own upbringing–hover over their armoured kids and don’t allow them near knives and fire and hammers and nails. Nevertheless, the world may be at some point soon divvied up among those who are prepared for these capricious unpredictable times and those who are not. The difference between the two is simply a matter of 1) admitting to yourself and others that we are at a tipping point of human civilization, and 2) taking the time to learn about these issues and put real intentional plans in place for your family’s and your own protection and survival. What Stahlberg’s book does successfully is begin that self-realization and the dialogue among those around you. But time is running very fast, the world is growing more complex, and change is emerging well beyond our ability to immediately react–and it is only getting more intense.
My research and professional work as a writer and educational designer are centred on these issues. I have worked with world leaders on these very issues that Stahlberg, and others I will write about here, outlines in his book. These issues are not mere ‘hot button’ issues to be carelessly broached for entertaining dinner conversation, but are shaping our social, economic, political, religious, and ecological world as we speak. I will be posting more of this material here from my research. Moreover, I am in the process of writing a book on these issues from my experiences internationally and pedagogically, parts of which I will also be posting here as they emerge. In my experience, leaders of our world are drawing out plans in the several decades, even into the hundreds of years–we who are stewards and occupiers of this world must do the same.
I am always searching for new ideas and ways of seeing the future. Scenarios are becoming an ever-important way to build models of the future–something I’ve had experience doing with the World Economic Forum and other international venues. What I love about Post Cards is that the artists, Robert Graves and Didier Madoc, represent a particular scenario as if it were reality–they give us a glimpse into a future as if it has already happened.
Work in progress…