The apparent evolution of a blog.

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

These days, all I want to talk about and/or write about is the brain. It’s really interesting to me! And it makes me think that I probably made the right decision to enroll in this psychology class, and that makes me happy.

When our house settles it makes these loud clicking noises which I normally sleep through, or else I don’t hear them from my bedroom. But last night for some reason I slept on the pullout couch in our living room. I heard the clicking lightly weaving in and out of my dreams for a few moments, unconscious that it was the house settling or anything else, and then suddenly my brain interpretted those noises as someone trying to take the locks off of our front door, to break into our apartment and do me harm. Instantly I was wide awake, my heart was racing, and my breath quickened. And do you know what was my very next thought (while I was still very afraid for my safety)? I thought, “Sympathetic Nervous System!” which is the nervous system that produces the biological responses to potential danger known as our fight or flight response. Anyway, in my confused but alert state it took some time to assure myself that the noises were simply part of the building (and meanwhile I experienced the “Waiting for the other shoe to drop” phenomenon I had only just learned about that morning while reading Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers at the library… would the prowler just break through the front door already, so I can either fall back to sleep or be killed??) Anyway, I mostly just found it amusing that my first response was to recall a bit of brain anatomy, as if I were being tested on this information even while I slept, even on the brink of a terrible event.

And with that, I’m going to try to stop writing too much more about psychology, partly because I am far from an expert, and partly because it’s not quite under the umbrella of the topical goals of this blog (art, creativity, faith, and various acceptable tangents). But then again, this is the most recent direction my life has taken, and the handy thing about psychology (versus chemistry or calculus) is that it is very relevant to those other things. All of these things that fascinate me take place right there in that gross, squishy, and marvelous organ. I can’t wait to learn about the psychology of faith and religious belief. Or about the ideation process. About taste and preference and opinion and all of that. About emotion! So here, let me take this paragraph and do a 180 and say that you probably will have to read a bit more about the subject here. Or maybe you’ll enjoy that, depending on your brain.

On the edge of the waste bin, precariously – Part Two.

Sunday, March 9th, 2008

I didn’t mean to let a week go by before I continued with this post. Maybe you thought I forgot about it. Maybe you even hoped I did! But alas, here I am on another Sunday evening and I fully intend to finish my thought. To refresh our memories (read Part One here), I am the kind of painter who will abandon a project once it has moved out of my control. I will begin to create something, and if it is too slow to get in line with my vision I will scrap it with little remorse. I do not lose sleep over this, generally, that is to say that I am quite at peace with the power I wield as a creator to cease and dismantle any creation that displeases me. Writing that makes me sound like a quitter, but even if that were true about me (I could argue that I’m not, perhaps another day, another post) I would think that even the most steadfast and persevering artist would, at some point when his creation has reached a dark and unforgiving dead-end, give up. Cut our losses, cut and run. It’s expected.

The question I posed in Part One was would God, the Creator, when faced with the same frustrating rebellions of his creation, similarly give up? Setting aside the story of The Great Flood for now (which, like the battlefields of Joshua, is a difficult one to understand) it’s a pretty simple answer. But sometimes simple answers take us by surprise. Such was the case as I was first considering this, some time towards the end of February, after my canvas had disappointed me and I had thrown it away and I thought, “Is this how God operates?”

And a verse crept up on me, kind of toeing shyly at the edge of my consciousness at first, but doing so persistently, and then I had to search around a bit to locate it. In Philippians 1:6 Paul writes, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Anyway, there is the answer. But I didn’t start writing this to give you a single verse and a pat on the back. I want to make you imagine that, to consider what that means. God. In his studio. Creating.

He’s started this one painting but the framework is a little bit warped. He takes the time to correct it. He is stapling the canvas down but notices it buckles in some places. He carefully removes the staples, pulls the buckled cloth taut, and restaples them. He begins to apply gesso with his wide bristled brush but notices there is dirt and hair collecting on its surface, mixing with the white acrylic and causing the surface an unsightly texture. He waits patiently for it to dry, then sands away the imperfections and applies another coat. He begins to paint, lines of delicately varying weight, arching and dipping gracefully across the canvas, and the subject begins to emerge. It is me. He is continuing to form me with shapes and colors when I make my first ugly mistake. With hardly a blink he corrects it and continues painting. I jerk again, almost involuntarily (but of course it is always voluntarily) and something is smeared. He sighs this time and dutifully he corrects his painting once again, but almost before his brush meets the surface of the canvas his subject has begun her outright rebellion. Every color is garish and unsightly, every line revolts against its intended path and black and gray tangle with muddied pinks and oranges and browns and yellows and the Creator, realizing that the subject has every intention of running its own life, steps back and lets it do so for a time. It becomes increasingly vile, increasingly hideous, and it is painful. It is a crime against the art world, against creation. The Creator, after a time, steps back to his painting and begins to wrestle with it, fighting color with color, texture with texture, and after much effort he has reworked the piece into something lovely, something much closer to what he had intended. The artwork revolts yet again. It threatens to become something putrid, something truly abhorrent, but the Creator had made up his mind before he even began: this was his painting, he would see it through to completion.

And so it goes in God’s studio. We who are creations of a diligent and faithful Creator can be assured that we will not be discarded at the first sign of failure, not even after the tenth or twentieth or ten thousandth mistake. The reason why, I think, is also aided by an art metaphor, that the final work, the masterpiece, is priceless. It will hang in a museum for all to see and it will be a light shining, reflecting the Creator’s glory. There is nothing more valuable to a creator than his masterpiece; it is, without a doubt, worth every drop of sweat, every hour spent toiling. God has given us this promise, that he will sweat over us and toil over us and will not give up on us, no, not ever. I will throw away a canvas because I have failed it, but God will never fail us, and never throw us away. God is faithful. He who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

So there, your sermon for today. If you’re reading from Wisconsin, go make yourself a mango smoothie and enjoy the last few days of winter. The great melt is coming!

On the edge of the waste bin, precariously – Part One.

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

There is a God who created us, at least that’s what I believe. I thought I’d jump right in and say a few things about this, as longtime readers may agree I’ve been known to do (with unfortunate irregularity, I’d say.) The reason this Creator is fascinating to me is because as a (lower case) creator myself I can’t help but draw some comparisons, or at least attempt to, between God’s character and my own. I don’t think that’s heresy or blasphemy or whatever, because in God’s holy book he tells us that he has created us in his own image. So of course some of his character has been imprinted on us, different bits on different folks. With me he shared his desire to create something out of nothing, and although I do so on an infinitely smaller scale and to much less success, I feel the deepest connection with this Creator sometimes when I, myself, am creating. So there, that is something of a preface.

Well, this past week I was doing a little bit in my studio, trying to finish my latest painting before the weekend so I could deliver it to my people, and in between work on said painting I was preparing a new canvas for my next painting. The idea was that I would have it stretched, gessoed, and ready to go by the time I finished this other painting. Well, somewhere along the way some unforeseen physics took over, or more likely I got sloppy, and my newest canvas was saggy, crooked, and barely stretched. I noticed this as I was gessoing it and became frustrated, jabbing the handle of my paint brush into the slack canvas and finally tossing it aside with a grumble, never to be touched again. It’s not the first painting I’ve destroyed and then left for dead, but the fact that it happened at such an early stage gave me reason to think. What if God, this Creator that I am supposedly attempting to emulate, gave up so quickly on his creations? Granted it’s not a perfect parallel because God would not have poorly stretched a canvas to begin with, it’s his creations that tend to self-destruct or destroy one another, but regardless, what if? What if God gave up at the first sign of deviance from the plan? In my studio (and who knows where else) there are stacks of neglected canvases that I don’t intend ever to return to, because they disappointed me at some point and they weren’t worth the trouble to correct. What if God looked at us this way? Does he? Does it ever get to a point where our lines are just so wavery and our colors so muddy and our proportions so disgustingly askew that God just throws up his hands and says, “Eesh, enough! I can’t look at this piece of garbage anymore!” Does God have a waste bin full of discarded failures?

I didn’t stop thinking there. That is, I did come some kind of resolution on these wonderings. Maybe you can already guess where I’m going with this, but I think I’ll pause here for now. If you’re inclined, you should consider these things. I guess asking you to do this presumes that you believe in the same God as I do, or a God at all, but even if you don’t it doesn’t hurt to think in abstracts, occasionally. This whole post is a “what if” after all. So there I’ll leave it tonight. To be continued, I guess.

Part two.