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Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

I’ve been meaning to post here for awhile. But things got busy. And of course, there’s the holidays. Etc. Etc.

It was a year ago that I began this blog. My intent was to try to post twice weekly. I had some success with it at first, but it wasn’t easy, as final drafts take more work to pull off than the initial scribbles that birth them. Perhaps it was the perfectionist in me taking over, rechecking several times when I knew there would be other eyes involved, though this may go against the grain of blog style and sense. Then I whittled my appearances here down to weekly, before eventually showing up sporadically or not at all for lengthy spells.

But there have been some writing successes this past year. Perhaps the biggest: I wrote my first book.

It’s a book I coauthored with a dear friend of many years, and with whom I’d often dreamed of collaborating together since we first met in Fort Worth in 1995. A chaplain in the Air Force, my friend, James, sought to turn his doctoral dissertation into something suitable for a wider audience. So in July of 2009 while visiting Orlando with his family, James invited me to help him with his project. And about a year and some cumulative 250 hours later, I finished my contributions to the work. It’s a book geared for helping pastors and laypeople who desire to walk with people on their journeys toward God, especially those who are spiritual but may not be particularly inclined toward church.

I’ve also recently been working on some pieces for possible inclusion in a new magazine devoted to the intersection of art, creativity, and the spiritual life. I’m pretty excited as it gives me opportunity to dig into an area I’m pretty passionate about, a place where God met me eight years ago and brought me great joy, particularly after picking up a book by Julia Cameron called The Artist’s Way, which helped me to cultivate a sensibility that our creative impulses aren’t just something that makes for a nice pastime. They often are the doorway to weighty matters, meant to be nurtured and developed, like a calling, and a place where God loves to show up, as all true creativity hails from the mind and heart of God.

Speaking of Ms. Cameron, of everything she preaches, the most important is a practice she calls Morning Pages. The idea is to spend 30 minutes at the beginning of the day writing freehand for about three pages. She contends that nothing will kickstart your creativity like this practice (along with taking time at least once a week for “Artist’s Dates”—time you set aside just for yourself doing whatever activity it is that is fun, brings you joy, and releases the heart of the child within). Moreover, you’ll see the payoff not just in showing up to the pages, but in your daily routine and relationships as it enhances these, whether artist or attorney by trade.

In short, I agree, as I became a disciple of the practice myself, awkwardly beginning one day on a bus ride from Christchurch, New Zealand over the Southern Alps en route to the west coast community of Greymouth, while passing through Lord of the Rings country (These doses of beauty—great stuff for Artist’s Dates—really do help the process). In about three weeks time, I began to notice a shift taking place, where my morning musings did not have to be coddled to come forth; rather, they began to burst forth onto the page. And the quality of the work reflected this over the course of the next year.

So while you’d think I know how to follow my own advice on this, I realized over the past few years that though I journaled frequently, and usually early in the morning, I had long since stopped making my handwritten work the locus of activity, choosing to type it out on my laptop instead. I’m not saying one always trumps the other; do whatever works for you. But having a conversation about this with my writing coach, Jamie Morris, about a year ago, I realized that it may do me good to return to “Old School” Morning Pages again. So that is exactly what I’ve been doing now for about two months. Some days, it feels like routine. But on the whole, it is helping me return to a creative center.

Another creative endeavor of note: It looks like the short film I wrote and directed in a summer class out in LA over two years ago may see the light of day, going from a hard drive in storage to an upload on Vimeo or YouTube. That may not seem like much given how multimedia savvy we are nowadays, where your neighbor’s kid may have put out a better production than Steven Speilberg’s first piece in film school. However, I’m deeply grateful for that experience, facilitated by my writer/director/producer friend, Jim Lindsay (Jim’s spent many good years creating primetime programming for NBC and the History Channel among others.).

Anyway, the principle acting role in the film was by a young woman who is beginning to make some great connections in Hollywood, as she just worked with the writer/director of an up-and-coming A-lister filmmaker on his latest project. So it will help her in getting more exposure as she pursues her dreams. And if I can get another published credit out there myself, so much the better.

That’s all for now. I will return in the New Year.

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A Brief Meditation

I will find myself here…

When I write.

 

To write is to live.

For me, to live is to write.

 

It may not always be literal construction of words.

Writing is moreover a courageous act of being—

Of entering into the world to express oneself anew.

Daring to risk disclosure.

Challenging of norms and status quo.

And the risk to be wrong now and again.

Very wrong, even foolish.

 

But it is still an act of love, one that despite words ill or good,

is profitable to writer and reader alike,

and to that ongoing reciprocal relationship.

And to the continual remaking of this Self—

Writer as Reader of Self as much as

Writer of Self—as Self shows up.

 

Becoming.

That is the call.

Others say it far better. More deeply. Truly.

But it’s the same—All things are one—

And this is my Holy Task.

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“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.”

– Ecclesiastes

This week, a new chapter has begun for me as I started a new job.

Now in this economy, this is certainly good news for anyone. But it’s much more than this for me.

Eight years ago this month, I walked away from the stability of a job and way of life that while good in many ways, in other ways had also become tired and stale, and badly in need of some renovation. Now for some, such talk may sound the onset of a midlife crisis. But in this case, rather than running from something, I felt I was running to something—a chance to get my life back. And the previous year had made clear to me I was to do so by leaving behind all that I knew for a season of rest and soul recovery off the grid.

So selling all my furniture, I moved out of the nice home I owned then in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, and embarked on what would be a one-year traveling sabbatical around the world.

The day I left November snows were blowing, the kind that were readying the high country for the beginning of ski season in just over a week. Two days later, I awoke in my hotel room to the sounds and smells of paradise, on an island deep in the heart of the South Pacific. And so a new journey had begun.

Just like the experience of my sabbatical was for me, we all have a need for rest. But I’m talking about more than mere vacation, or taking time to relax on the weekend. No; what I’m thinking of has more to do with the idea of a season or space in our lives that is spacious and abundant. Where everything seems to fit together in such a way that deep inside you know things are as they were meant to be. Everything is as it needs to be. And you hope that it never ends.

It finds its expression in the old Hebrew word shalom. Yet, as much as we were made for something like this, and need it, it seems to be the case that it is not something that we can easily arrange for, but rather something that we are brought into now and again—as life also has a way of doling out times and seasons that seem to care not whether a sense of shalom is part of the equation.

My year brought forth shalom in ways that have changed me forever. Looking back, it’s almost hard to believe sometimes. Not just the things that I was doing and what I was experiencing during this year. But the way in which it came together, as there is story upon story of one door after another opening to make this thing happen, and much of it without trying very hard.

And then there have been the seven years since, which have largely been anything but this. Very difficult in many ways, where conversely to the time leading up to and during my sabbatical, there is a lot that did not come together as I would have hoped, even when making what I thought were the next right steps. By and large, it has been a season spent outside of shalom.

In saying this, I don’t want to say that these last few years have been without meaning or significance. Far from it. For one thing, during the sabbatical, I realized that I am an artist, and I have remained committed to living out of that ethos, even if not always so well, in the time since, putting my values into action.

And just as light and hope came to restore me during a golden season, periods of darkness in the time since have helped to refine what began in that journey. I bring two snapshots from this interim period which capture this.

From a blog entry, November 2006:

I tell myself often as I’m about to arise from my bed, when finally disrupting those few moments of waking pensiveness leading up to that choice, “Get back on your horse and ride, B.” I say this to myself in a spirit of compassion, because many days I feel that the cost to living in a way that seeks to connect my inner life to my outer life seems too much to bear. Lives lived as journeys are often cases of love in a dangerous time, or life on the run, much in the way that the fugitive David fled from the murderous Saul in the years that would eventually open to a triumphal entry into Jerusalem as king. “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58, NIV).

The only thing that keeps me going some days is a defiant choice to be creative—even if in small ways—to honor my inner architecture… And when I do this, I get a temporary resuscitation of heart. “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it” (Matthew 11:12, NIV). This is no mission for pew-sitters or preaching-to-the-choir types. It is the call to be a “living sacrifice,” not according “to the pattern of this world,” but in a true “spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12: 1-2, NIV). The dangerous life of a pilgrim radical.

From a July 2009 journal entry:

I am different. Feel different. Changed. Defiant—but not some punk-ass sniveling cause. More like “furious indifference”—released unto my true strength—even if I soon slip back into some sort of amnesia. A strength that curiously enough—it seems I had to go to hell and back before I found it, knocking on death’s door, alone in a big cold city where I knew few people… But more curiously still, it is the place that God found me—and I found myself—through “the darkness that introduces a man to himself.” Alone but not lonely… And grateful.

* * *

I intentionally stepped away for a season. I followed this by a return to grad school, exiting right as this recession we’ve been weathering began. So much of what I’ve wanted to do has not been possible for more than short doses, if at all, due to the fact that like many, I have found my wings clipped. And my recession began well before this, because face it, almost everyone’s living tight when they’re in school.

So fast forward to the present. After a long, long period of undulating unemployment or underemployment, and then precious few promising opportunities coming my way, just over three weeks ago, I simultaneously had four promising job opportunities come my way, and all of them connected to core passions and long-term vision. And as I begin one of those positions this week, I’m a bit floored to see how things are beginning to come together again, not just for the needed provision of the job itself, but how I see it setting me up for success in other areas.

When God rains, He pours.

There’s just something sweet about a taste of redemption and freedom that is made all the more so in proportion to the struggle and suffering we experience on the road to get there.

Shalom, Y’all.

The Best Scene from One of the Greatest Films Ever

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“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

– Hebrews 11:1

The other night I received a call from an old friend whom I’d not talked with in a couple of years. Over the course of the next hour, we played cross country catch up on the intervening period since our paths last crossed.

Then Josh, my friend, asked me a question that caught me off guard: “Are you still doing anything with film?”

Two summers ago, not long before the last time we’d spoken, I’d flown out to Los Angeles to study for a few weeks under a modestly successful filmmaker there who was offering takers the chance to make their own short films while soaking up an industry insider’s perspective, and for dirt cheap. People from all walks of life showed up: some already working in the industry; others wanting to break in; some already enrolled in good film schools; and even one socially active senior who wanted to raise awareness on a neglected population living within his community by making a documentary.

The philosophy of our instructor: “Just do it.” Start making film, as nowadays you shouldn’t have to go to an expensive film school in order to enter the industry and do good work.

A few years earlier, I couldn’t have imagined such a wild lark. And even when going, the idea of the LA Dream Factory was not all that appealing to me. On paper, as a recent graduate from a counseling program, it almost didn’t make sense. Yet having time in my schedule as I was unemployed, and offered an invitation that spoke to something deep inside, I headed to LA.

But to my friend’s question—with the brief exception of beginning a screenplay turned novel last year—I answered with a quiet “No.” That that part of my life is on the shelf for now.

On one hand, it wasn’t easy to hear Josh’s words because they elicited an ache. An ache underscored by feeling called to live a certain way over the last eight-plus years which for the most part has been hard and had relatively few outward signs of success, where there have been many brick walls, disappointments, distractions, and temptations while seeking to honor this sense of call.

But this isn’t a story about film; it’s a story about desire. And being invited into my story by a friend who knows me—who sees me, and gets me—was a great kindness. Though recognizing my difficulty, Josh was glad that I have not deadened myself to desire. That I still live with it.

As I put it to him, I’m at a place in my life where there are certain things that I have no other possible way to reckon them now but by faith. They just seem too impossible, and out of reach. Foolish.

To live by faith is to live with the ache of desire. It is the calling to live as an artist—seeing into being those things which do not yet exist, carried by what William Blake called a “firm persuasion.”

When drawn into territory where there are no clear road maps, can you be a fool? Will you be a fool?

I’ve often been tempted to be too practical for my own good, and at some of the worst possible times. But due to the apparent foolishness I’ve succumbed to in recent years, why begin now?

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Vanilla Sky

The other day I was coming out of LA Fitness, when I was surprised with a visual feast—a late afternoon sunset following the cloud break of a recent shower.

Now Florida already has some great sunsets. And due to the fact that most of the state sits between two coasts, the collision of moist air currents can make for some spectacular storms. But to say it was a beautiful sunset doesn’t quite capture the encounter that led me to take another way home just so I could stretch out the experience a few moments longer.

It was a quality of light that some artists have been known to chase after. Pacific Northwest photographer Mary Randlett probably says it best: “I have always called it Toledo Light [for the dramatic sky in El Greco’s noted painting Storm over Toledo]. We have wonderful liquid light in the Northwest.”

Liquid light. That is what I experienced on the drive home that evening. Back at the house, the sun now safely hidden behind the trees, its effect could still be seen in the clouds above—carrying a luminescence that seemed almost unnatural. Around that time, my roommate stepped outside to smoke a cigarette, as he settled into the comfort of a lounge chair. He cracked a wide grin and nodded his head upward.

“Vanilla sky,” he said.

I nodded in mutual admiration of the moment, about something touching on the transcendent in an otherwise day-is-done routine. I have a huge capacity to be stirred by nature, which is why I’m grateful every now and again to be jolted like this.

I’ve other moments very similar to this one in its quality of light: the late afternoon ride back to Seattle from Vancouver with my friend, Rob, following the breaking of another storm; the surprise of the sun managing to peek through gloomy skies shrouding the slopes of Chile’s Mount Osorno; and the brief penetration of light through a veil of valley mists following a soggy afternoon in Dorrigo National Park, Australia. Experiences of the holy breaking into the now.

I’m reminded of John Eldredge’s statement: “The world is overflowing with beauty. God seems to be rather enamored with it. Gloriously wasteful. Apparently, he feels that there ought to be plenty of it in our lives.”

Gloriously wasteful is right. I don’t always notice. But in moments like this that I do—Wow.

The Glowing Veiled Forests of Dorrigo / Brian Bragdon

Dorrigo Mists / Brian Bragdon

Late Afternoon Light Near Osorno / Brian Bragdon

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Poets vs. Engineers

The other day I went to a networking lunch here in Orlando. It’s one of the better such meetings I’ve been to, enabling me the chance to have a few conversations of substance, and not just that sense of a whir of faces sizing me up as if to say “I wonder if you are of any value to me… Next please.”

At the end, I struck up conversation with a realtor, each of us sharing a bit of our stories—how we got to Orlando—and weathering the current economy among other things. After a time, he surprised me a bit with a couple of his comments, which he meant to be taken as compliments.

He said I had a “Zen quality” about me.

He also said I seemed “entrepreneurial.”

Perhaps they seem at odds. But taken in context, I totally tracked with him.

I had explained my love and experience of international travel, and well as living in far flung places such as Seattle and the South Pacific prior to coming to Orlando a couple years ago. And a quality of living that only comes by, well… getting out there and living.

That’s what he meant by entrepreneurial. Not afraid to experience life. And where things have not been all that, allowing the experiences to shape me for the better, nonetheless.

That’s where the Zen thing came in, contrasting what he described as my easy-going demeanor with his own edginess, which—normally taken as a good thing in business circles—he felt to be a disadvantage at times.

My new acquaintance was also talking about how he recognized a Zen demeanor does not always sit so well within the super-charged atmosphere of business circles.

Yep. I just laughed a bit, and quipped, “Poets vs. Engineers.” Or (true) entrepreneurs vs. technicians—living in tune with larger cycles and rhythms to life and not just the bottom line. Or artists vs. business people… Name your cliché; you get the point.

Of course, each has their place. But try telling that to the guy or gal who’s convinced that theirs is the most important thing in the world. Ever. Now let me charge you $500 for that advice. Or if I’m an artist, will you pay me peanuts for this thing of beauty now so that one day you can brag to your friends when it’s worth a $1000?

Beauty will save the world

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“Easy reading is damn hard writing.”

—Nathaniel Hawthorne

The other night I was reading a short piece by travel author, Paul Theroux. Theroux has distinguished himself over the last few decades as something of a man of letters, whose fiction and non-fiction explores the many faces of humanity, like good Greek drama. He’ll talk about the common in a way that is extraordinary, causing us to look at things as though for the first time.

Part of his gift is that Theroux is a master in setting up a scene, or a character in a scene, with great yet subtle details, with a satisfying payoff in the end. Whether that’s to be shocked, amused, or challenged.

I was reading a story called “Sadik,” from The Great Railway Bazaar, about a traveling companion on one leg of his journey. A picture is painted of a seedy, unattractive, but highly shrewd and entertaining man.

The picture was painted so well, that by story’s end, I didn’t see what was coming. Like a sucker punch to the gut, I found myself howling in laughter. The best laugh I’ve had in a long time. I laughed so hard that I could not finish the short paragraph, as I could not get a focus as my book was shaking, and tears began to form. I had to pause before reading the next sentence; pause and laugh hard again before finishing.

To prove the story’s power, I recalled it a couple times the following day—and began to laugh once more.

There’s plenty to occupy our thoughts and days that have a quite opposite effect: a painful memory that brings shame and regret. A missed opportunity. A strain in a relationship. Worrying about all there is to do in the coming week. Things that have power, too, but in a way that shrivels, and even kills.

That’s why I’m grateful for the interruption of this story. For a moment, it rescued me from the routine and invited me to enjoy myself freely without thinking about all these other things. And that is a wonderful payoff.


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