Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Courage to Create

There are a few things in my life I refuse to put on my bucket list: jumping out of planes, skiing down mountains, and racing cars at two hundred miles an hour. These are just not things that I wish to do. That being said, should I ever find myself in the middle of a action adventure experience in which I need to do those items, I will.

My personality likes adventure, just not reckless (to my mind) adventure. I find it hard enough to talk to people about my books and arts when I'm not at book signings or art fairs. It's even harder to converse with someone about art in general because most of the people I know couldn't tell a Matisse from a Picasso let alone know who Matisse is from Rembrandt.

Knotted Pile, 2011
Some people believe being an artist is easy. All we have to do is throw paint on canvas, write a few pithy sayings, or play a song. It's not hard at all, really. For many of us who do create, no, it isn't hard to do those things. I have stories coming out my brain, and for the most part it takes everything I have to organize them.

I enjoy creating stories or weaving material for accessories. I especially enjoy the times I can utilize both elements whether in a book or in the woven garments. It fascinates me, and that fascination keeps me coming back.

It takes courage to show someone else my work. I came across a quote by Henri Matisse that simply states, "Creativity takes courage." No matter where you are in your creative life, it will take courage to create.

For the beginner, it takes courage to practice day in and day out when whatever you create doesn't look quite right.

For the more established ones, it takes courage to edit or remake your project. You might have finished your novel, but now you need to edit it.

For those who have made a career in the arts, it takes courage to pursue a new avenue or a new train of thought. To step outside what is expected, and follow what is possible.

For all of us, no matter our level, it takes courage to talk with people, to show people our work. We open up ourselves to criticism and praise, and it takes courage to do that. It takes courage to pursue your dreams when everything around you has failed. To stand there on the dark, rough road, and to know that the path you're on is where you need to be.

While we enjoy the process, the creation, and the art within us, never underestimate the many small steps of courage artists make each and every day. Art isn't easy, and it isn't for the faint of heart. It is a quest to find that which brings beauty and truth to the world so desperately in need of both.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Walking through Rough Roads

Darkness has been a theme on the blog of late, partly because darkness is something that I fight daily. It isn't inner demons from my past or present, but often, my struggle comes from pursuing a path without seeming support.

Irish Sea, Holyhead, Wales
This past Saturday, I had a book signing - a wonderful opportunity for the Lord to provide money I needed for upcoming bills, and ones I need to pay. My previous two signings had yielded no sales. In fact, the first one this year yielded no people.

It was frustrating to say the least.

All my life, I've been taught that God would provide for my every need. When he doesn't, I struggle with the reasons. For me it is simple: God provides an opportunity therefore he will provide the means to pay for it.


Mission trip? Check - God provided the money.
Bill to pay? Check - God provided the money.
Food on the table? Job? Whatever it happened to be? Check - God provided the money.

Until now.

It isn't as though I expect God to shower me with blessings without working for any of it. I write; I put my name out there; I do what I'm supposed to do. I apply for jobs, and receive rejection. I apply for fairs, but when I'm accepted ... the money disappears.

I'm a rules person. I need boundaries for peace of mind. I can and do break rules, usually for a specific purpose, but all in all, rules are my friends. I follow the rules, and I expect to receive what I need at day's end.

God is supposed to provide for us. He isn't supposed to actively thwart us, right?

I don't like not having answers. If I have a question, I usually research and question until I can find the information I need to provide an answer, or at the very least provide some sort of guidance. When I have none, my brain works in overtime to discover the answer.

My experience with conservative Christianity has been one that hides from the rough patches of life. When darkness comes into our lives, few stand beside, but many offer trite words of no encouragement. Now, let me say that this is true across the board: humans tend to flee conflict and uncertainty. I have nothing against anyone that does otherwise, neither do I expect everyone to understand.

I don't.

What I am saying, however, is often times what we say and what we do don't mesh. We say that God will provide all our needs, but when he doesn't, we either spiritualize it or we ignore it. We tell people that those walking in darkness must be in sin or ignorance therefore if they (a) repented or (b) learned of God then they would not be in darkness.

I stand in the middle of a dark road. I am not ignorant, and I am not in sin.

We tell those who stand in darkness that this "time of testing will bring God glory."

How is it supposed to bring God glory when I have opportunities that he doesn't provide for? When we gives me opportunities then refuses to pay the bill?

"It's in your patience and in your perseverance that God is glorified, of course," people answer.

Pursuing something that consistently doesn't provide; hoping for something to be better is madness. When do we make the choice to stop following? When must we choose to keep following a path that we believe is right, when all sanity tells us otherwise?

I don't know. It's where I stand right now. In the midst of darkness, on a rough road with no money to pay for a proverbial inn beside the road. I'm a traveler who is quite fearful she's lost her way.

Honestly, I feel like I'm living out my play, Yet Hope Remains. With twenty-twenty hindsight, we know that Tikva, the character who hopes in God, is correct: Christ did rise from the grave; but when we're in the midst of the night, we wonder if Tikva is crazy for her hope.

One of my former pastors tells us that there are three types of people in the world: those who are in a trial, those who have come out of a trial, and those who will be facing a trial. It's a true statement, but we often wipe it off glibly. Trials might be some rough times in the family or at work. Those trials, I find are easier to help - or at least easier for the church to help. It's the dark times of the soul where I find the biggest struggle.

We as the church must realize that not everyone's trials are going to be cotton candy trials:

Scene opens in a kitchen. Mom and Dad talk are talking. Mom says to Dad: "Oh, honey, Jonny doesn't have enough money for basketball camp."

Dad says to Mom. "Let us pray for the money, and God will provide."

Both bow heads to pray. Doorbell rings. Both look astonished and go to answer the door. Mr. Mann from down the road says, "Geez, Mr. and Mrs. House, I just received a two hundred dollar check, and the Lord told me to give it to you. I don't know why, but have a nice day."

Door closes on Mr. Mann. Mom and Dad smile, and Dad says, "Praise God. He works in such mysterious ways."

Above is also an example of a really bad ending though it sounds nice, I might add. More often it's Mom and Dad in the same kitchen trying to figure out how they're going to pay for Jonny's summer camp, because it is the best opportunity he has to develop his gifts and earn a scholarship which would help pay for college. The door opens, Mr. Mann is there, without a check, but says that fuel bill is two hundred dollars.

When Mom and Dad go to church on Sunday and ask for prayer, some might tell them the platitudes which most of us just brush off, but as they sit in the service, their pastor talks about how we all have rough roads in our lives. Times of darkness that come. Mom and Dad nod their heads in understanding - they're there right now hoping for a morsel of hope.

The pastor says that we must push aside the doubts and focus on God. Put away the sins that beset us, and repent.

It hurts Mom and Dad because they have doubts. They struggle with what they are to do. They have no sin in their lives, and try to lead holy lives. What else is there for them to do?

As a writer, I can have Mom and Dad continue down their path with their bumps and bruises because I know the end of their story. Through their story they learn that it isn't always easy to follow Christ, and sometimes doubts and questions are needed since they help us grow.

As a human living the story, I struggle with the doubts and questions. I don't know the end; honestly, I don't even know if I'm going in the right direction. I don't need platitudes or pithy verses flung at me. I need a place where I can go with my brokenness and doubts and find a morsel of hope. I need a place where I can bind my wounds and find a salve for my soul.

Some of the healing comes from opening up oneself to those nearby. For many of us, it isn't an easy process. I allow my doubts to churn around in my head because it's the only place I know where my salvation will not be questioned. It's the only space beyond my immediate family where I know I won't be given strange looks.

As an artist, I have to dive into the darkness. It's a scary place to visit, let alone to live. If there is one thing I wish the conservative Christianity could realize it's this: questions, doubts and fears are a part of life. We will all face moments in which we wonder if God exists. We will all face times in which we wonder if we're fools for following Christ. We will all face days of doubt. There will be times in which God doesn't provide for us, not for something simple like a basketball camp, but for something big like a fuel bill. 

And it's all right. It's all right to doubt, to struggle to face the rough road in the darkest nights. It isn't easy, and it isn't wrong. It's all right to sit down and cry ourselves ragged trying to find the answers that only God can provide. He may never give us answers. He may never provide the check in the mail, but we can know that he understands and cares for us.

At the end of the day, sometimes that is all that matters: knowing that God cares for us.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Light in the Darkness

The past twenty-four hours have been interesting. First of all, it hasn't been crazy, just interesting. My mom owns a rental property, and we've been finishing that up ... fun stuff. Today, I spent my morning at the DMV helping a friend, but that ended up being problematic when not all the papers were signed, and I couldn't reach the insurance company to change something. Yeah, it's been interesting.

Unfortunately, life happens to all of us. Sometimes it's the normal things: DMV stuff or our homes. Sometimes it's those dark times in the art when we have no clue where we are presently, where we're going or even how to go there.

I wish I could say that life as an artist will be easy, but it isn't. Currently, I'm in one of those places where I cannot move one way or another. I do what I'm supposed to do, but money isn't coming in ... and bills need to be paid, and more money is needed to generate more income. It's tight, hard, and by no means pleasant. Stress levels rise, and I find myself turning to God in prayer.

He isn't answering - or at least not in the way I want him to answer.

I've heard the song below on the radio of late, and finally looked at the video. It's a good reminder, for me at least, that God gives us a light to follow. Sometimes it's the path we need to take, and sometimes it's simply the guidance of where not to go.

On a side note: tomorrow, April 12 from 11 am to 2 pm I will be at Benders Bookstore for a book signing. If you're in the Western NY/ Ontario Canada area, why not come out to visit. Better yet, if you're coming down for the opening of the Mummies of the World at the Buffalo Museum of Science, swing by Benders.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Truth in Art

Last week, I talked about how hope remains with us; the week before that, about how the church views art. This week, I want to focus on something similar, but slightly different: how the church views truth in response to art.

Art is, for many people, something that hangs in galleries and museums. Wealthy people buy it ... or the people who want to be wealthy. Art isn't always about beauty; sometimes, and most often, it is about something just as ethereal, just as uncertain, and just as fluid: truth. On my wall, I have a quote by Willa Cather:
"Artistic growth is, more than it is anything else, a refining of the sense of truthfulness. The stupid believe that to be truthful is easy; only the artists, the great artist, knows how difficult it is."

One of my greatest pet peeves is when people ask for my opinion in something then are offended when I tell them exactly what I think about the topic. Sometimes, I admit, individuals happen upon a sore spot, but often I do tell people what I think. I am being truthful.

Coming in at a close second are two that often intertwine with one another: sales and information. I can usually spot a sales pitch when it's given. It annoys me that the person thinks I don't recognize it.
Connected to that, is when someone gives me information (read opinion) about something, and either (a) doesn't have all the facts or (b) doesn't recognize other problems within the context of the facts.
Usually in those cases, I refrain from speaking, especially if I don't quite know what unsettles me. It takes me time to research other viewpoints to develop a better view of the situation.

For me, truth can be a fluid entity, much like beauty. Now, are there elements of truth that remain? Yes; but those absolutes tend to be fewer than most people realize. In my process of life, I've come to the conclusion that the Nicene Creed and the Apostle's Creed are the two best entities for unification within the church. If we can agree to those two creeds, then everything else can be superfluous and debated.

Debate, for me at any rate, rarely involves winning. It is about seeking. It is the process I take to weed out the bad parts to find the good parts. It removes the dross from the gold, providing me with the best material to create something. I'm not looking for purity, I'm just looking to make the best decision based upon the information I have. And, if I find information later that doesn't work with my choice, I can adjust the decision to serve the newest information.

Truth is a standard to which I can weigh other elements, but not all facts are truth, and not all fiction are lies.

Facts Aren't Always Truth

I've had people tell me they don't read fiction because it isn't real. It isn't truth. As Christians we are to focus on that which is truthful therefore if it isn't truth, it's false and lies and therefore ungodly.

Unfortunately, what is truth and what is false are not necessarily so easily divided. I'm currently working on a series set in 1920s Buffalo, NY. It's a fascinating time with new scientific discoveries happening on a daily basis. In 1920, atomic science did not exist. Ernest Rutherford had only predicted the possibility of a neutron in that year. It wasn't until 1932 that his prediction was proven.

Science gives us facts so far as we understand the world around us. Facts can, have and will change. What science might tell us to be true this week may not be true next week, next year or even next decade. Science fascinates me because of the new discoveries.

Fiction is much like science: it is replete with new discoveries, and changes based upon the knowledge we have. When we study classic literature, we understand the concept of universal truths: elements within the story that remain the same throughout time. Elements such as greed, love, hope, anger, lust and countless other human emotions. These stories be it Pride and Prejudice, Much Ado About Nothing, or The Iliad fascinate readers throughout time because we can connect to the storylines.

Within these fictional worlds, truth exists. They aren't lies told by writers to trick you, but are suppositions written and created to explore other avenues. They are the accumulation of facts as we have them, set into a storyline to understand them. Short stories like parables are given to make a point. Longer stories are written not always to make a point, but to discover something. A longer story might even have the reader discover something along the way.

Not every story has a message like a parable does. Sometimes, it is simply a story, and we discover truths along with the characters.

Fictional Truths

I read to learn whether through a fictional story or through a non-fictional history. Reading non-fiction helps me understand my world in a factual basis while providing the real-world struggles my characters face. Fiction helps me understand what another character might feel or express because fiction can go into the hearts and minds of characters easier than non-fiction can.

Fiction is, for many people, something to pass the time. It rarely requires them to think or to analyze what they believe. Sometimes lies can spread this way whether through stereotypes or slanted storytelling. Conservative Christianity blames media for spreading lies and changing truth, but Conservative Christianity can be just as guilty of the same process. One of the most pervasive lies in Christianity is a two-fold concept:
  1. If you follow Christ, your life will be better, and
  2. If you are following Christ, and life isn't better then you are sinning.
These untruths are often found in literature in a variety of settings. It's in the stories of redemption where the bad boy comes to Christ. It is in the stories of love where the good girl waits forever (until she's twenty) then finds true love just before she sacrifices herself to the mission field. In the stories of healing where the husband and wife realize they have been doing things wrong the whole time and want to have a Biblical marriage.

Fiction, however, is often the best way for us to explore truth. For example, two of my series exist in realities where mermaids, elves, aliens and dragons exist alongside humans. For Azure's world, mermaids are humans who happen to have tails. She provides a mean to explore a world where the concept of human is fluid - are mermaids human? Can they be saved? Those two questions Eliam wrestles with, but you don't see because Azure tells the story. Should we find a gene that, in essence, turns on the tail, how would that affect what we understand as reality?

In another series I'm working on, my main character is an elf. For her, salvation doesn't exist, per say as modern Protestants would understand it. She understands the concept because she has non-magical human friends, but she sees the world in a bigger reality where the creator of the world battles with a rebellion in his ranks. To her it is a matter of allegiance, not salvation that binds her to the creator.

In both of those cases, the storylines never follow the big pictures of good versus evil, though Azure's is significantly bigger in scope than the second series. For both of them, as well as my non-fantasy/science-fiction series such as with Shamrocks of Stone, the day-to-day battles are more important. The world is broken, and in rebellion. How we respond the brokenness and pain says more about how we see the world than what we say. Fiction allows me to explore truth without the limitations of reality. Through fiction, I can see new worlds and civilizations. I can see how they might express universal truths. It is through fiction that I can shove aside the extraneous information to find what matters.

Truth through Art

While fiction allows both the writer and reader to explore truth, we all realize that life is rarely clean and easy. Often it is messy and confusing with no rhyme nor reason. Mark Twain once said:
"Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't."

The author, Tom Clancy adds,
"The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense."

In fiction, the ending has to be logical and fit within the realm we understand. It is part of the reason why we sometimes have bad endings when everything wraps up properly (here). In these moments when the world doesn't make sense, Art steps into life. The art might come through a great novel or a painting. It might be a song playing on the radio, or it might be poetry read on a cold spring morning.

See, in great art, truth remains. That truth might express itself in anger because anger is what I feel when I learn of injustices. Frustration is what I feel when I listen to people accept second best as good enough. I feel sorrow at loss be it the death of a loved one or rejection for a story. Art steps in, and either expresses what I feel (someone else's creation), or allows me to explore the emotion (my creation) or somewhere in between such as when I play a musical instrument.

For me, hope is not some happy feeling, it connects with truth - the plumb line in my life. Reality stinks: the bad guys win, the good lose. Things are stolen, people die, and hope can fade away, but when truth is allowed to shine through the muck and mire of reality, then hope can build again. Often, it isn't through the real world I find truth; it is through art that I find truth. If we are to be the lights of the world then the church needs to accept art in all its many forms as a viable, and oftentimes the best, way to express truth. Until then, we will always struggle to reach a world that is broken and lost.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

First of the Month Review

Today I'm focusing on my latest purchase: A Field Guide to Fabric Design by Kimberly Kight.

I first saw this book while flipping through Amazon* for design books. It intrigued me, and I wanted to borrow it from the library, but the system didn't have it.

Thankfully, while interviewing at the local art store to be a bookbinding teacher, I found the book. To be honest, I thought it would be one of those books that gives a lot of patterns and projects. Not that books like those are bad - actually, they can turn out to be good inspiration, but I find that they don't provide the answers I need.

After all, I design my own woven items, and I would like to design my own fabric as well. It isn't simply enough to take another author's design and make it my own. There is this nasty little thing called copyright. When I saw two pages dedicated to copyright laws in this book, I knew it would be worth the money.

Kight steps you through the process of designing. She doesn't give you projects, but gives you the information you actually need. You won't find patterns for the designs on the cover. What you will find is the information on color design, pattern repeats, and theme development.

Later in the book, she focuses on working independently or for a printer. For me, it's intriguing to see how the layers work together, and how they develop into a finished product.

If you can't find the fabric you want for clothes, quilts, purses or whatever, but don't want to follow someone else's patterns, this book is for you. If you want to explore the possibilities of running a boutique fabric store where the items are created by you - buy this book. It is perfect for anyone who wants to design fabric to their specifications, or for those who don't want to be like everyone else.

*If you click on the photograph, it will take you to Amazon. I am an affiliate of Amazon, and earn a little money off each click.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Take a Chance

One of the hardest things involved with being a writer, or an artist in general, is the choice to take risk. There are few things in life that don't require some sort of a risk: asking that someone special out on a first date; applying for a job; choosing a different path than what is expected.

We all face daily challenges often without realizing it. It's a challenge to take your stories, thoughts and dreams from this:

Pile of Journals
To this:
First copy of Azure Maris
People who don't write, those who only read if that much, don't fully understand the horror and fears wrapped up in the submission process. Some people compare it to sending a child out. I have no children, so while I accept that as a valid comparison, it never reflected my feelings.

In all honesty, I felt as though someone had suddenly turned back my defenses to look inside my being. Not just to the me I projected, but to the me I hoped few would find. Writing is an intimate process. Artists pour themselves into their art, revealing portions of themselves to the world around them.

A world which may or may not care about you.

A world who doesn't know you from Jack.

A world that is often mean.

And we dive into the world because we're compelled to create. For us to not create is paramount to death. It's impossible for us to not create, and that power can overwhelm us, threatening to surmount any defenses we've placed around the soul.

I can tell you that over time, it becomes easier to bare your soul. You learn how to navigate the currents, to find those to trust. Until then, it is a ride through dangerous times where you might feel you cannot take another hit.

I assure you: you can take another hit; you can take another blow. You will learn to see the attack, and you will learn to defend yourself or navigate around it. Much of this just comes from maturing.

So, to those of you who stand on the edge of the waters of creativity; to those have dabbled in the soft currents beside the streams and wonder what worlds lay beyond your sight - don't hesitate; don't fear; find the way to navigate the waters and take the journey.

Push off from the shore, catch a wind, find the current, and live.