Residual Luck of the Design
Organic--a most beloved word, of seemingly everyone in the twenty-first century. This vegetable is organic. This shampoo is organic. These boots are organic. We want organic community. We want organic inspiration. The promise of organic is that of something real in a decaying world of artifice and farce. Like Montag in Fahrenheit 451 being confronted by Clarisse's joie de vivre, we yearn to taste the rain and find it sweet and smell the leaves and find them like cinnamon. But how do we get it?
I remember once having a discussion with a pastor about church community. He wanted to dissolve the church's discipleship groups, opposing the stifling structure of curriculum and the contrived connections. I, a profound lover of structure, was taken aback at his claims that gospel community would happen "organically". By organic he meant naturally, without an artificial structure. His approach proved to be a failure, as did mine.
While organic means a lack of chemicals/artificial, not every chemical-free garden flourishes. Some gardens, completely void of artificial help, wither into dry husks of good intentions. A flourishing, chemical-free garden must be cultivated to create a system that nourishes itself.
Twyla Tharp writes in The Creative Habit: "There's a paradox in the notion that creativity should be a habit. We think of creativity as a way of keeping everything fresh and new, while habit implies routine and repetition. That paradox intrigues me because it occupies the place where creativity and skill rub up against each other," (Tharp 9).
The question then arises for the creative (aspiring, closeted, or otherwise engaged) of how to set up the system that you have been placed in to nourish you.
I have wanted to be a writer for a long time, and I have been waiting for the ideas, opportunities, and works to drop out of heaven. I pined, staving off jealously with distraction in teaching and academic pursuits. If I were to be like Keats, Shelley, and Byron, the ideas should just come, right? It didn't, and so I surmised that I was not a writer. The pre-packaged fully formed writing life did not organically appear. The wisps of inspiration evaporated into resignation of an uncreative life.
Years passed, and my self-assurances that Milton didn't start writing till he was middle aged (so I had time) faded, and I felt like Dorothea Brooke beholding her husband Casaubon, expecting the likes of Milton, and realizing that there is actually nothing there but putterings and mutterings.
And then Noelle, my very own Dickens-esque resurrection (wo)man, dragged me into Coffee and Creatives, and I started creating. It happened! But it was laborious and slow, and after a lot of investment of time and effort I started producing writing that I deemed acceptable to share with the general posterity.
So how do we create a system that nourishes us? Each person's system is as different as they. However, our humanity gives us at least some parameters of what makes a nourishing system.
Truth: we need the painful, freeing truth in both our interior and exterior life. This may mean a sage, insightful friend, candid self-reflection, and/or a rich prayer life. But truth is at the heart of each great artwork, and so we need to be bathing ourselves in truths about ourselves and reality.
Connection to God: John Calvin contended that our nature is a perpetual factory of idols. We will either find our rest in right relationship with God or we will have an unending activity of making lesser, life-stealing gods. Even (especially?) art can become an idol, consuming you the author and the work itself in a skewed sense of what should be worshipped. This damages our souls and by extension our our art.
Love of self: I have struggled with this truth will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, but recognizing and celebrating yourself is important in finding your voice and your work. The penchant for self-love to mutate into ravaging egoism makes me hesitant to even swim in these waters, but the stoicism that offers itself as a balm is really just another form of self-obsessive worship. Truly knowing and loving self in the security of connection to God heals souls and foments the vulnerable confidence to create.
Solitude: as a natural outflowing of self-love is solitude and introspection. Milton writes that solitude is sometimes the best society. To know and create is not necessarily to be a hermit, but creativity is eked out of a contemplative life that has regular times being alone with your thoughts and opening up and experiencing your feelings.
Routines: if you build it they will come. Construct a schedule that sets the steadily-crafting habits to create. The inspiration may not strike for months, but, as Twyla Tharp says, you must prepare to be creative.
In looking at the structures in your life, think of ways you can hear truth, connect to God, love yourself (enough to take time to listen to yourself), and set habits to practice creativity.
Milton writes that "luck is a residue of design". The world we seek is not a wilderness or a wasteland, but a cultivated garden. Perhaps not a garden of the freakish, overly designed variety of Versailles, but a garden nonetheless, watered, fed, de-weeded, and ready for the sunlight of inspiration.