the silence behind art

There are weeks sometimes when I get deeply, horribly stuck behind a wall of writer’s block. I think any creative person can relate to this feeling. Perhaps it’s not even just a creative thing; maybe all of us sometimes feel as if we’re on one side of a wide brick wall and our best ideas, wildest thoughts, our ability to dream are all on the other side, within an arm’s length and completely out of reach.

That feeling is part of why I’ve been taking a break from this space. I didn’t want a break; I’ve been itching to write, but blanking on anything to say. And a big part of that was because of morning sickness. I’m expecting again – Yay!! But beyond that, I just haven’t taken the time or space to let the ideas I have simmer. That simmer is so important. Vital. The slow process of thinking is where our most curious, creative selves are born. And I think that’s an important thing to talk about.

I read recently that our modern perception of art as solely the artists unique, inner expression taking shape is, well, modern. Art didn’t always exist as a product only of one person’s genius, wasn’t just a window into one soul; it was created in and for community. And I believe that is true, and should maybe be revived, but I still would posit that for any individual to create something artistic, whether or not she creates in community, some part of that expression has to come from the inner world and life of the artist. Perhaps it’s as small as crafting the right shade of blue from a palette, or determining which word to use instead of its imperfect synonym. My theory remains – that all art comes in some way from the inner world.

It’s almost as if the wall of creative block we experience is a wall between us and our own thoughts.

I remember, last spring, feeling as if I had somehow drifted away from being a deep thinker. I felt like I was missing out on some level of thought that other people had access to. Unrelated to this lack I had identified, I was learning to spend more time in quiet and solitude as the warm days passed. I stopped picking up my phone, or bringing it on walks, or keeping it in my back pocket. I stopped being afraid of silence, of the way my thoughts slowly distilled into recognizable shapes.

I have realized, gradually, again and again, that the silence I was learning to practice has infinite value for art. The constant trickle of stimulation we find on our phones, our computers, our messages and playlists and newsfeeds don’t allow us the time we need to process any of the things we’re seeing. We can take things in all day long and if we don’t pause for a while here and there, we’ll never learn and understand it. We won’t have time to slowly morph the beauty on our pinterest boards or the content from Instagram into real inspiration if we don’t slow down and let our creative brains catch up.

I want to remind us to be silent, sometimes. Take walks without your phone, or savor your first morning cup of coffee looking out the window instead of scrolling. Eat a meal on your patio or balcony, in the sun, in the quiet. Replace some scroll time with an interesting podcast. And don’t be too bummed when you don’t feel your creative self coming back right away. It takes time. Give your mind lots of hours to percolate. Practice the simmer. Those deep thoughts will begin to resurface; art just requires a lot of silence.

quality days

I’m sitting in the couch across from him and he says, “We should do something productive with our Fridays.” I think of the side jobs we could pick up and wonder if it will interfere with our slow coffee habits.

“Extra work? What do you mean?”

“I don’t think a side job would be a good investment of our time,” he responded. I looked at him, confused and a little irritated. Was I supposed to guess what vague thing he meant by “being productive”?

“We don’t really need extra money,” he explained, “I was thinking more like an adventure day.”

I relaxed, and then smiled, “So something exciting! Could we still maintain our slow mornings with coffee?” I have priorities.

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That is how we came to have a shared checklist on our phones with the title Quality Of Life Day condensed into the initialism “QOLD Fridays”. The list full of things we’ve always loved to do and rarely planned. Things we will remember when the Fridays have slid by, and the firsts-of-the-month, and then the anniversaries in their own soft and steady way.

Last week we hiked a trail to a place called Pancake Rocks. We ate lunch in the sunny shelter of a boulder, and scrambled about on the sloped formations that genuinely resembled stacked pancakes. On our way down in the late-afternoon shade, we pulled on our snowshoes despite a particular lack of adeptness, and tromped beside the trail, as gleeful as if we were the first to discover the magic of powdery, snowy mountainsides.

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In The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf says to Frodo, “‘All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.'”

There are a lot of important things we do with our time, Grant and I. Parenting, working, discipleship, resting. Drinking coffee. I think these QOLD Fridays are wise; a beautiful way of imbuing our time with quality, and slowing down this spinning world for just a second.

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