Pride on a Monday

Only a few days into this whole “writing consistently” endeavor, I seem to have already hit a roadblock. Perhaps I’ll blame it on today being a Monday.

Monday, according to my brain, is always the best time to look forward into the coming week and calmly panic at the massive load of tasks which I must accomplish in the uncomfortably near future. At the beginning of the week, it is terrifying to look forward and know that, somehow, I will have to finish the pile of responsibilities that looms ahead.

In regards to writing, I know that I have to write a collection of words for the next six days in a row. And then again the next week. And again the week after that. What could I possibly have to say? Perhaps today I can get away with paradoxically rambling about having nothing to say, but tomorrow I will need new words. As someone who values words and tries to avoid wasting them, that is a scary realization.

Or maybe it’s just a pride issue.

Maybe I just fear sounding stupid one day, because I may not say the right thing. As if I wasn’t a human who, like all humans, often makes mistakes, and says the wrong thing, or says the right thing in the wrong way.

If I am prideful enough to think that everything I say could be important, or well-worded, or insightful, then of course writing every day will be terrifying. Not because of the frequency, but because of the impossible standards I have arrogantly tried setting for myself. If, on the other hand, I remember that the goal is simply to become a better writer, suddenly the thought of daily typing up new words is not so intimidating.

I must constantly (or, at least, every Monday) remind myself that I am not as important as I would like to think, that my words do not matter as much as I give them credit for, and that the goal is to improve my writing, not to sound smart, or to inspire anyone, or to win arguments.

And finally, I must remind myself to keep working towards that goal, one Monday at a time.

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The Potter

This is the first time I’ve ever shared my poetry with anyone. It is nerve-wracking to put myself out here like this (I’ve been sitting at my computer for 30 minutes debating on whether to hit “Publish” or not), but practice is the only way for it to improve. I am looking forward to the day when posting a poem doesn’t require so much bravery.


In the pottery studio, she works, quietly

hunched over the slippery clay that smells like cold dirt

and will soon, under her gentle touch, be a

masterpiece. Patiently she works, alert

 

and listening to the potters’ gossip around her,

but never interjecting with a thoughtless word

that she may soon regret. She listens

at her wheel, nothing said but everything heard.

 

Lumpy bowls perform pirouettes as these potters’

words patter on, complaining about life.

God, how I hate doctors­. The rest all chime in instant

Agreement—all but the doctor’s patient wife.

 

They think she is shy, too insecure to interject, but

as she guides the clay—up, out, further up, in—

she is wise. She keeps dignified silence and holds

the half-made vase in her clay-caked hands, forming it as it spins.

Another Pretty Day

Today is the kind of day that sings. Campus is bustling not only with its regular students, but also with the many high schoolers who are visiting for the weekend. Their nervousness and excitement effortlessly blends in with the day’s hum. The sun has warmed the air, tantalizing us with a glorious, brief glimpse of spring. Chaco-clad feet dance in freedom, bare arms rejoice at not being trapped under sweaters and jackets. Pale, blinking students rub their sleepy eyes and slowly emerge from the dark hibernation of their dorms, soon to retreat once again when the oncoming blanket of rain clouds buries our campus in the upcoming week. But for now, we sing in the sunlight.

Or maybe I am the only one singing.

Maybe I am seeing my own laughter and song on every face I pass. This day has been so beautiful, how could they not feel like I am feeling? Surely behind that slightly amused smirk is explosive laughter, and behind those pressed lips is excitement, not anxiety. And that bored face, why does it look like that? That crying girl– is she really crying today, when the sun is smiling?

Maybe the sun and I are singing a lonely duet, and everyone else is passing by. Our song is the trumpeter’s song on the street corner. It fills the entire block, and yet it is ignored. A melodious day, a bright song- to pay them too much attention requires being shaken out of one’s own mind. The most recognition such fleeting beauties receive is a passing comment on their prettiness or perhaps some spare change.

First Day on the Job

I’m starting a new job today! It’s writing consistently. Viewing my writing as a job, and calling myself a writer instead of “someone who likes to write” will, I believe, help me take it more seriously. It’s a scary job. Luckily though, this first day hasn’t proven quite as intimidating as Reggie’s first day on the job.

~~~~

Reginald Macintire looked at his black dress shoes as he sat lightly on the corner of his crisply made side of the bed, feet together and back perfectly straight until it slumped forward the tiniest bit at his shoulders. Since his alarm clock rattled at 5:03 AM, he had already smoothed wrinkles off his side of the bed four times. He’d had enough of that. It was now 6:42 AM, and he was ready for work. The thin laces of his shiny shoes were neatly tied, his briefcase and fedora rested at the foot of the bed, and his hands were fidgeting in his lap. He had even switched the lamp back off so that Angela could keep sleeping. Her slow breath matched the rhythm of the feeble strands of steam coming off his coffee mug on the dresser.

He had woken up too early. He did that to give himself plenty of time. What if he wanted breakfast, or spilled coffee on his tie, or couldn’t find his socks? He had thought of these possibilities the previous night, as he lay a fresh pair of socks on top of the folded outfit he planned on wearing. Well here he was, too nervous to eat breakfast, not a drip of coffee on his tie—or any other article of clothing, for that matter—and a sock on each foot.

That twitching needs to stop. He folded his hands and forced them to stay still. His tactic worked for a moment, until he noticed his foot had started tapping. 6:43 AM. He did not have to be at work until 8:00, which meant he would arrive no later than 7:45. Even considering the twenty minutes it took to walk to the office building over on West 43rd, there was too much time.

He always did this on big days. Last time he’d gone in for the first day at a new job, it was even worse. He was ready by 5:53 and had to wait in agonizing silence for nearly two hours. That was before he’d even met Angela. He remembered telling himself back then that it was the last time he would have a first day at work. At the time the thought had comforted him. But now it stung. He had forgotten that companies sometimes downsize. Even companies with flexible hours and generous editors.

Angela’s deep breathing evolved into a snore, which shook Reggie out of his thoughts. He needed to move. Gently smoothing out his side of the bed one last time, he grabbed his hat, briefcase, and mug, and made his way back into the kitchen.

The room was a narrow strip with cabinets overhead on both sides and limited counter space. Counter space is capital in the City. The subtle pattern on the vinyl flooring hid the fact that it had been several days since either of them had swept. The not-so-subtle pattern of the wallpaper managed to incorporate avocado green and burnt orange in a shocking explosion of floral that clashed horribly with Angela’s treasured set of turquoise pots and pans. But he didn’t dare tell her that. There was no room for them in the cabinets anyway. They had to sit out on the precious counter space, assaulting his eyes every time he walked into the kitchen. The aluminum coffee percolator still sat on the gas stove, and Angela’s note still sat on the countertop. He read it again. In her round, cursive scrawl were the words:

“Good luck on your big day! Remember- first impressions are important but they aren’t everything. Love you Reggie! -Angela♥”

It was sweet. It made him smile, it really did. But it was wrong. Robert had made a better first impression, and look who still had his job. Nineteen years of no sick days and never showing up late didn’t matter. They liked Robert better. He made a good first impression.

Reggie pressed his lips together and poured the rest of his coffee down the drain. It was lukewarm now, and besides, he was already too jittery. Caffeine was the last thing he needed. What he needed was for the time to hurry up and pass so he could leave without being embarrassingly early. A glance at the round clock on the wall told him only a few more minutes had passed.

The paper!

The paper would kill some time. Reggie congratulated himself for this sudden thought and hastily grabbed his briefcase and hat, forgetting, in his excitement at having some activity to occupy his mind, that he should move slowly to fill the time and avoid breaking into a premature sweat. With the fedora covering his slicked hair, he stepped out the apartment door.

Six flights of stairs below, he turned left onto the sidewalk and joined the first of what would soon be a throng of fellow sleepy-eyed, suit-clad men heading to work. He exchanged a dime for a copy of the morning paper. An empty bench was just across the street. Perfect. Reggie checked his watch as he opened to the Business section. Still thirty minutes to spare. The sounds of the city waking up included footsteps, distant chatter, pigeons calling, the occasional honk of a car horn, windows opening, and a man playing the trumpet on the adjacent street corner. This combination excited Reggie, and he found his foot tapping to the rhythm of the trumpeter’s morning call.

People glanced at him as they walked by. He thought they were rude, repeatedly pointing out with their sideways looks that he had too much time on his hands. Clearly he woke up a little early, no need to stare. Their eyes made him start breaking into a sweat. When he realized this, he started sweating more, stressed at the knowledge that he was already sweating before even getting to the office. That would not make a good first impression.

He discretely lifted his arms by holding the newspaper a little higher in front of him, hoping a breeze would somehow rush through both his jacket and button-up to save him from pit-stained embarrassment. The air hung still, and he resigned to keeping his arms securely by his side all day.

Since leaving the apartment, time had passed uncomfortably quickly. He checked his watch again. It was time to leave for the office. Oh no. As he powerwalked up the busy avenue, now alive with bustling, his mind raced between imagining the worst possible scenarios (sweating through his jacket, stuttering, or spilling lunch on his lap) and self-reminders (Just be confident. Confidence is a good first impression.). Before he knew it, he was standing in front of a tall building that, despite its height, still looked established and dignified rather than purely commercial. He stepped through the door. Could they tell he was nervous? He crossed the lobby. The moisture on his hands made it difficult to keep the briefcase from slipping. He entered the elevator with several others, each pressing the button for their respective floors. He pressed 16 and had to endure the agony of the elevator stopping for everyone else until finally, he was alone in the box, trapped in with the heat and his tapping foot, which seemed like its own, untamable being.

Ding.

The metal doors slid open in slow motion.

Reggie stepped off the elevator. He tried to look confident, but that was hard when it was so hot in here. Hot like the hell that he knew this place would soon prove to be. When earth demands that you earn money, and heaven lays you off, the only place left to go is down to hell. Or up, he thought, remembering the long elevator ride.

As he walked into the office, everything grew silent. It was a silence that seemed to last a decade, one in which he could feel his cheeks throbbing red, his chest growing heavy, his armpits becoming swampier than before. Every eye was on him. He tried to remember how to make a good first impression, but all he could focus on was the erratic storm of furniture and papers that made the whole office seem inches from falling sideways.

To his left was a hat rack. Yes, that’s what to do. Take off the hat, idiot. He walked over, shoulders relaxing the slightest bit as he realized the silence had finally ended. Quiet chatter among coworkers, the click of manicured fingernails on typewriters, and the shuffling of paper echoed throughout the room.

He hesitated to take the hat off. Underneath it, as he was all too aware, his faded red hair was simultaneously graying and balding, which meant it did little to conceal the nervous beads of sweat that had formed there. Oh well. He took a deep breath, which made his muscles relax a little more. Nothing he could do about that.

Hat hung, he turned around to face the room, when suddenly the panic came flooding back. Where was his desk? He needed to search the room but could not appear confused or stupid. That would be a bad first impression. Bad first impressions are what get you laid off. Eyes frantically scanning the vast stretch of desks buried under files, typewriters, and pencils, he finally located an empty seat at an empty desk. That must be his. Of course it was the one furthest away, in the corner with no windows. It seemed fitting though; something as wonderful as sunlight never made its way into hell. He carefully traversed the room, somehow managing to avoid a disaster such as: knocking down a three-foot-high stack of papers, smashing his hip into the sharp, hip-height desk corners, or making eye contact with someone.

At the final destination, a single file sat on the desk. It was already waiting. Does that mean he was late? That would not be a good first impression. He hastily set to work.

Yet Again

Well, here I am, starting up this blog. Again.

It’s a familiar cycle: I suddenly feel ashamed, or convicted, or motivated about my writing (or lack thereof). When this rush of emotion is not accompanied by any clue of what to write, I guiltily gulp the uncomfortable feelings back down. “Sure, I want to be a writer, and sure, writers need to be in the habit of writing consistently, but this isn’t a good time to start that habit anyway. I’m much too busy.” Or so I tell myself.

On the off chance that my sudden motivation happens to coincide with a good idea of what to write about, I excitedly type up a couple hundred words and hit “post,” confident that this is the start of a new habit. But sure enough, by the time the next week rolls around, I no longer have either the motivation or the ideas. And thus my pitiful attempt at a habit ends, for days, weeks, or (most likely) months.

Recently I’ve come to two conclusions.

1. I will always be “too busy.”

Waiting around for the magical day when suddenly I have no deadlines, responsibilities, or commitments is foolishness. If I ever want to make a habit of writing, today is always the best day to start.

2. I don’t always have to have a brilliant, inspiring idea.

Every writer ever says that consistency is the first step. The thought-provoking, creative topics in their writing come later. If this is true (it is), I shouldn’t stand at the bottom of the staircase, gazing up, shifting my feet, and waiting until I can jump past the first step. I need to pick up my hesitant feet and take the step.

This is new and exciting and scary all at the same time, but I look forward to every word of it. Thank you for joining me on this adventure. Here’s to taking the first step. Cheers!

The Fools Who Dream

As someone who is planning on pursuing a career in the arts, La La Land really hit home for me when I saw it a few weeks ago. Then a few days ago, I read this article by Jennifer Trafton, and I realized all over again just how much the movie meant.

It stars two young artists in Los Angeles- Sebastian, a jazz pianist, and Mia, an actress. Their passion and uncontrollable love for the arts is obvious from the beginning. They are brave enough to dream, stubborn enough to fight for their dreams, and strong enough to let some of those dreams go.

Artists are dreamers. They are makers. They have thriving imaginations, aching hearts, vivid colors swirling through their minds, and countless stories hidden just beneath their skin. Out of necessity, they are also fighters. The battle to turn dreams into reality is not an easy one. Mia and Sebastian realize that this battle brings frustration and failure. They must repeatedly ask  themselves, “Is this fight worth it?”

Because the battles also require sacrifice.

In this broken world, we cannot have all we hope for. Sometimes, our dreams lead us to a fork in the road, and we have to choose a path. For the young artist, the choice can be between either creativity or money, career or relationship, originality or acceptance. The list goes on and on.

I am currently in the process of choosing a school to attend in the fall. A year or two ago, when I first started the terrifying College Search, I had a hazy, glorified vision of my school. I looked for schools that fit with this vision, and soon realized that I would never find an exact match- such a school does not exist. Now I am faced with five schools, all of which can offer me a wonderful education for my next four years. But I must choose only one. At some, I would be sacrificing my dream academic environment. At some, I would have to give up the community I want.

And I have to choose.

We make our choices- life demands that we do so. Some are easy, some are almost too hard to bear. We carry on as we must. If we are making our choices for the right reasons, the path we ultimately choose leads us to beautiful new heights; it is a good path.

But artists are dreamers. We will always wonder what might have been, had we taken the other road. We still look back wistfully on the road not taken, with a melancholy smile, wondering where it might have led us.

Does the inevitable sacrifice of some dreams make it useless to dream at all? Of course not. Dreams are what motivate us. They give us goals to ceaselessly work toward. They push us to realize our full potential. In short, dreams give us life.

In the end, however, we must remember that they are still just dreams. La La Land is so powerful because it slams its viewers with the painful truth that Sebastian and Mia cannot end up with both the dream career and one another. That is reality. Had they ended up with both dreams fulfilled, the movie would have been just another fairy tale movie that is too good to be true. Instead, we were bluntly reminded that we have to make choices.

And how should we go about making those choices? Is regret avoidable?

As we wrestle with choices, we must remember to keep our moral compasses pointed straight. It is easy to be lured away by our surroundings, but keeping our eyes looking due north ensures that our decisions are good ones. This often leads us to make decisions that the world considers foolish, to give up dreams that others would have killed for, or to choose the straight and narrow path rather than the wide, winding way.

In Addition to the Amish Romance Novel

Have you ever experienced the sadness of going to the Christian Fiction section of Barnes and Noble, searching for an enjoyable, quality weekend read, and finding, to your dismay, only Amish romance novels? Or perhaps, in a similar case, you want to see a movie with your friends this weekend. You’re not pleased with the current box office hits, so instead you try to find a wholesome movie to rent online. All you find when you search for Christian Movies are films trying to convince you to convert to Christianity.

Why is this?

Sadly, our culture has made a distinction between “Christian art” and art produced by Christians.

“Christian art,” according to our culture, is only that which explicitly preaches the Gospel. Some argue that art which does not directly proclaim God’s word is secular and can be misleading. It blurs the lines between good and evil, doesn’t it? And Isaiah 5:20 specifically says, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness.” Secular art could lead us to confusion in our own beliefs and could confuse unbelievers as well, since enjoying not-explicitly-Christian art could communicate that we are not called to abide by higher standards. Often it is tempting to shut ourselves off from any art that does not clearly and directly preach the gospel.

However, others realize that the term “Christian art” should encompass a much wider range. As Francis Schaeffer says in Art and the Bible,

“Christian art is the expression of the whole life of the whole person as a Christian. What a Christian portrays in his art is the totality of life. Art is not to be solely a vehicle for some sort of self-conscious evangelism.”

Christians need not fear the secular world, nor need we fear subtlety and symbolism. Using these in a secular setting may not as loudly scream “Christian!!!” but the messages and worldviews will be the same.

Christian art is any art that is produced by a Christian and exemplifies Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.

This wider definition is perhaps more valuable to us than a restricted definition.

Christian artists are often urged to explicitly proclaim the Gospel in every work of art they produce, but isn’t this unfair to the artist? In what other profession does this happen? This extra burden on artists is like ordering the doctor to tell every patient about Jesus. That would be an excellent thing, but it should not be what defines a doctor as Christian. The call to honor God in all we do is a call to be an example in this world. It is a call to work with a cheerful attitude, uphold Godly morals, to “be imitators of God,” as Ephesians 5:1 says.

For a painter, this could mean producing his best work with the intent to glorify God rather than himself. For an author this could mean providing examples of Godly men and women in his stories. We can fulfill the call to honor God and proclaim his truth through our lives and our art, not simply through direct evangelism. By interacting with the world around us, we can use our lives as an example to nonbelievers.

Thus, when we as Christian artists create only art that will end up in the Christian fiction section, this forms a problem: we are preaching to the choir. Typically, the only people who seek out art marketed as “Christian” are already Christians themselves. Unbelievers look up the current best-sellers; they do not browse the Christian isle for a good book.

Christian artists often focus on the messages in their works rather than the quality of their works; this should be reversed. As a Christian, underlying Gospel messages and worldviews should come naturally; talent in the art is what can always be improved. This is why great authors who are Christian are not banished to the Christian section- they are great by secular standards too.

For example, let’s take the band Twenty-One Pilots. Every member in this group is Christian, and this is overwhelmingly clear through their song lyrics. We hear them calling out to God, “Can you save my heavy, dirty soul?” We hear them pleading with their listeners: “Faith is to be awake, and to be awake is for us to think, and for us to think is to be alive.”

And yet, they never sing hymns or directly mention the name of Jesus. They insist on not being labelled as a “Christian band.” Because of this, their music is played on secular pop and rock radio stations all the time; they’ve broken records and had numerous songs on top charts. They realize that without the label “Christian,” they can get the same messages out to a much larger audience.

Lastly, humans are created in the image of God, so because he is the ultimate Creator, we are sub-creators. We must follow his example and imitate his masterpiece. However, God created the entire Universe as his masterpiece, not only the Gospel story. If he thought roaring waves, mysterious forests, vast heavenly expanses, and the depth of human emotion were worth creating, should we not think them worth reflecting? He poured his abundance of beauty out for us to feast on it all.

“Art is gratuitous. Art is extravagant.  But so is our God.”

-Makoto Fujimura

And God didn’t stop there- he also gifted us with huge imaginations that go even beyond what we see around us. He gave us the capacity to understand depth. We can understand symbolism, pick up on subtlety and implications, and understand through example.

Works that directly give us the gospel story can be beautiful and beneficial. However, these are only one type of Christian art. We should not exclude all the others.

“What makes art Christian art? Is it simply Christian artists painting biblical subjects like Jeremiah? Or, by attaching a halo, does that suddenly make something Christian art? Must the artist’s subject be religious to be Christian? I don’t think so. There is a certain sense in which art is its own justification. If art is good art, if it is true art, if it is beautiful art, then it is bearing witness to the Author of the good, the true, and the beautiful.”

~R. C. Sproul