Choking Creativity (Part 3)

This is Part 3 of my series, Choking Creativity. To read Parts 1 and 2, follow this link.

1. The Politics (But this is not about politics, per se).

The first few weeks of the Trump presidency have stoked the fires of outrage in this country (the fires of both left and right) and if the fires of outrage are good for anything, it’s powering the engine of opinion. The news (and #FakeNews) has an endless stream of topics to cover–the Muslim travel ban (“your words; not mine”); the Department of Education tweet; the Sessions confirmation; the Dakota Access Pipeline; #ShePersisted. CNN, BBC, Fox News, all of Twitter, everyone on Facebook, they’re all producing content these days. And here I am, producing content relating to all the content that’s been produced. (The irony is not lost on me).

There is a river of information, gigabytes streaming through the air and into our pockets.

Buzz… swipe… read… opine.

Buzz… swipe… read… opine.

Buzz… swipe… read… opine.

This is the endless rhythm of so many of our lives these days.

2. The Problem

In the first quarter of 2016, it was reported that U. S. adults consumed 10 hours, 39 minutes of media, up a full hour from the corresponding quarter of 2015. On average, two hours and ten minutes of that media consumption was through a smartphone or tablet. I suspect that during the first quarter of this year, media consumption will be even higher, the current political climate being what it is. Our smartphones and tablets, these have become the portal to the digital town hall, and meetings are always in session.

Don’t get me wrong, digital media is not all bad. It allows us access to news, commentary, and that long lost friend from Plano, the one that stuck the raisin up his nose on a third-grade dare. (He’s a brain surgeon, now; funny how life turns). But when digital media becomes habitual, addictive even, our consumption of it robs us of creative space.

“It’s so hard to find creative time,” so many of us say. But what if we carved out twenty minutes of creative space from those two hours (and change) of digital media consumption? What if instead of scrolling Apple News, or YouTube, or Facebook, or Twitter, we sat outside, pen and paper at the ready, and stretched into the quiet space of creating? What if we started our day this way, and ended it this way, too?

Would it hurt you to lose twenty minutes of digital media a day?

3. The Practice

We’ve discussed the practice of setting aside twenty minutes a day to practice creativity. Today, let’s consider another practice. Let’s consider the practice of unplugging.

Would you consider living the first and last thirty minutes of everyday digital-media free? If the pull of your smartphone is too much, charge it in another room instead of by your bed. Set aside this beginning and end of your day as a dedicated creative space. Journal; doodle; write a poem; brainstorm solutions to a tricky problem (even a work problem); mindmap; whittle; carve; sculpt; bead; play guitar, or piano, or banjo. The output of creativity matters less than the lack of digital input. Follow this practice for a few days, then ask yourself: how do I feel?

 

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Choking Creativity (Part 2)

1. The Pace

Drag to the kitchen. Pour the coffee. Wake the kids.

Stop that jabbering and eat your breakfast! Make your lunch! Brush your hair, for Pete’s sake!

The carpool, the drop, the hustle to beat the clock. Push the papers. Please the boss. Check the list. Microwave supper and scarf it down.

Stop that jabbering and eat your dinner! Gymnastics, basketball, karate, whatever is in thirty minutes!

Peddle down. Sit in the bleachers. Make pleasantries with the other parents. Slog through the bedtime routine, the endless cups of water, the infinite one-last-kisses. Find the bed, the recliner, the couch, whatever. Fall to veg.

What’s on Netflix?

2. The Problem

It’s a cultural rhythm, one with which so many of us are acquainted. The breakneck pace of activity–isn’t it all-consuming?

Yesterday, we spoke about consumption, and I made a working hypothesis, which is as follows: over-consumption kills the creative drive. And isn’t our anxious pace emblematic of over-consumption? Don’t we all try to suck the marrow out of every day, out of the endless opportunities? Are we told we should parent, work, and carpool our kids to every activity? If we do, what energy is left to create? How can we nurture creative thinking when every spare minute of thinking-time is consumed? Perhaps this kind of over-consumption is why American creativity scores are falling.

Consume; consume; consume–is this the thing that’s doing us in?

3. The Practice

Let’s not stop at the point of problem identification. Let’s take it a step farther. How can we break this endless energy suck? How can we incorporate spaces of quiet creativity?

For the next five days, carve out twenty minutes of uninterrupted quiet time. You might need to wake up early, or incorporate it into your lunch hour. Perhaps you’ll sit in the car during your child’s evening activity. Could you reserve twenty minutes at the end of the day, just before you scroll through your Netflix options? However you do it, make it your first priority to carve out twenty minutes of quiet, creative space.

What should you do with that space? I suppose that’s up to you. You might journal, or doodle, or brainstorm solutions to problems that have been nagging you. You might scribble a poem, or a short story, or start that novel you’ve always wanted to write. There are no rules to how to create, but it all starts with a conscious decision, a decision that may well turn into a manifesto: I choose creativity over endless consumption.

How will you use your twenty minutes? Jump over to Facebook and let me know.

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Choking Creativity

Man was the envy of the animals, first known for his opposable thumbs, then his creativity. We are an ingenious species, aren’t we? Innovation, ingenuity, genius, creativity–it’s all baked into our DNA, made in the image of God as we are. And throughout the millennia, we’ve applied imagination in every facet of life. We’ve become poets painters, sculptors, storytellers. We’ve created new means of value, have bartered and bargained our ways into new ways of doing business. We roll, rail, fly, and soon, we may be zipped down pneumatic tubes. Communication has been reimagined, and our virtual selves amplify messages that might have once been heard only by a handful of local folks sipping Saturday coffee in the town diner. Spirituality–we’ve innovated there, too, reimagined the limits of human enlightenment. (Don’t believe me? Here’s a list of new religious movements, most of which sprung up after 1900.)

Innovate; innovate; innovate.

Create; create; create.

We are a people made to make things. And yet, with each passing day, I’m finding more and more resistance to the practices of personal creativity. The tank runs dry far too often, and instead of creating, I found myself spiraling down the consumptive drain.

What’s on the tube? What’re the masses on Twitter saying? Which political thread is 100 comments deep on Facebook? The Times. The Post. The Gazette. CNN. Fox News. BBC. Whatever.

We’re known for consumption these days, and so often it displaces creativity in my own life. Do you know this feeling? Be honest.

Over the next few days, I’d like to explore the things that choke our creativity. I have a working hypothesis–one I can’t get back up just yet, but it goes something like this: over-consumption kills the creative drive.

We’ll continue this series in the coming days, but for now, tell me: have you found it difficult to carve out creative space these days? Why?

Please join the discussion on Facebook.

 

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Make America Great (Again)

The lectionary and daily office readings have been on point over the last few weeks. “How is such a thing possible since these readings were scheduled years ago?” you might ask. Call me absurd; call me a religious nut; call me whatever you like. But know this is my opinion: God is trying to speak to us, if only we’ll listen.

Today, I’m simply sharing yesterday’s Old Testament lectionary reading (which is also today’s daily office reading) in several different versions. Let the words sink in.

***

Isaiah 58:1-9a (NRSV)

Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins.

Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.

“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.

Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.

Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

 

Isaiah 58:1-9a (ESV)

Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins.

Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God.

“Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?” Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers.

Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.

Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’

Isaiah 58:1-9 (The Message)

Shout! A full-throated shout! Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout! Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives, face my family Jacob with their sins! They’re busy, busy, busy at worship, and love studying all about me. To all appearances, they’re a nation of right-living people—law-abiding, God-honoring. They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’ and love having me on their side. But they also complain, ‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way? Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’

Well, here’s why: The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit. You drive your employees much too hard. You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight. You fast, but you swing a mean fist. The kind of fasting you do won’t get your prayers off the ground. Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after: a day to show off humility? To put on a pious long face and parade around solemnly in black? Do you call that fasting, a fast day that I, God, would like?

This is the kind of fast day I’m after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families.

Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once. Your righteousness will pave your way. The God of glory will secure your passage. Then when you pray, God will answer. You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

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A Letter From My Grandson

I don’t normally post on Sundays, but the events of the weekend this poem out of me. Thanks for reading.

***

January 29, 2067

Dear Grandpa,

The historians remind us, now, how you and yours leveraged your last gasp to make us and ours great–definitions being what they are, fracturable things.

Yours were the days of the news outlets, the reporters, the cameramen and college-educated journalists chasing the facts by the tail, and what are facts but wild dogs, tamed now by the great government then given to The People on a leash. It was the time before the New Iron Curtain was built by the chicken pullers in De Queen or the ranch hands from there to Brownsville, before an avocado cost more than a line of coke or a good night with the women who negotiated affections to stay in this great America. (There are always ways of getting around a wall, they say.) Yours were the days before the brown huddle masses were returned to their wars and rubble, before you crucified the many Jesuses–women-Jesuses, child-Jesuses, honest-men-Jesuses–and left their remains to the many devils.

(At night, I pray “forgive them, Father, they know not what they’ve done.”)

The new Oligarchs have won our hearts, now. For free whiskey and all the American flags we could drink, they worked their ways into our homes, and we came to count them as friends, and if not friends, at least kind, and if not kind, at least as stern fathers who might excuse our drunkenness so long as we waived our flags and paid the poll tax.

Your people might call this greatness jingoism or xenophobia–definitions being what they are
these days, fracturable things–but The People see past small notions of equality, now. We are called The Patriots, and we were fashioned by strongmen, by paid-for history, by the projection of fears you harbored in secret without speaking, without acting,

action being divisive as it was,

action being destructive as it was,

action being revolutionary as it was.

And what are revolutionaries but people whose bones are scattered as forgotten martyrs?

Sincerely,

Your Grandson

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