As a child, there was just something different about me, different from the rest of my family and the people I met at church or at school. I hardly knew what that difference was. I enjoyed play outside, like any child. I had a deep imagination and richly patterned tapestries put together during that play. In 5th grade, a friend received attention in class for writing a poem. Desiring the same attention, I began to write poetry. I wrote and wrote and wrote and the thing became something I desired for its own sake. In 6th grade, I began to write stories. I fancied myself a great novelist, destined to be famous. This was an important development from my days of singing loudly in the front yard while I swung on my play set, imagining a radio producer would drive by and discover me.
I wrote and wrote and wrote. Deep imaginative worlds. Richly patterned tapestries. My play dissolved, as is common, in junior high; the writing continued. I did not see at the time how much of myself I put into the main characters of these stories. The stories had to reach 100 pages, because that was the predetermined length I set for myself that would make it a real novel.
In 7th or 8th grade, while staying over at my best friend’s house I stayed up late speaking with her brother, a year or two older than she, who was two or three years old than me. There was something about that conversation, which I can no longer remember, that changed forever how I wrote. I learned about detail and description in that conversation. Now my tapestries were no longer patterned only in my head but on the computer screen as well.
With my conversion came an inclination to scruples and rather than my visions of grandeur, I pictured writing as a gift bestowed by God, an emotional outlet, a fantastical escape, a gift which he might choose to take away at any time. Each story I finished, I feared it would be my last.
One day it was my last, a story I began while serving as a missionary, which, if you have been reading this blog are familiar with. Called A Girl and Her King, it follows my adventures in prayer, not much else. It is neither descriptive nor imaginative, I think, but felt inspired as I wrote. I’ve not written any fiction since, though I have since learned that God is not the type of giver I once imagined him.
Beyond that story, which is a treasure to me, there are only three stories I would care to look back on. The first is called Mary’s Fairytale, about a girl who has no family and whose young brother whom she cared for died suddenly. She is alone and searching for meaning in the world. She finds Christ.
The second is Velveteen. The main character, also a girl, also lonely, at odds with her sister, who seeks meaning and purpose, a place in life where she is wanted and useful. She longs to see again a girl the family fostered for a short time who ran away. The girl represents everything the main character wants, the freedom to think and dream in a world where reality has made dreams unbearable.
The last is The Story of Marin. This story was an enigma to me for a long time. I find genuine ugliness in it, hopelessness, and sin. I shared the storyline with a fellow missionary, admitting that I had no idea how to finish the story, it seemed hopeless. I discovered the potential of relationships while serving that year, and in that sisterhood, I discovered a fulfilling relationship much needed by the main character. That relationship became a place of hope to lead her out of the darkness of her life.
In that year of missionary work, I also encountered people, in Oregon, who opened my eyes to the possibility that there were others like me: artists, poets. What is it exactly? That ability to see the world differently that makes some tasks others like so un-fulfilling and other tasks which bore to some to tears utterly engaging?
Josef Pieper seems to have some answers. In our book club we have begun reading Only the Lover Sings. In the first chapter, or essay rather, better yet, reflection, he explores the meaning of leisure and the claim by Aristotle “We work so we can have leisure.”
“For nothing less it at stake here than the ultimate fulfillment of human existence.”
“There do exist activities that are meaningful without being either work or mere respite (from work, for more work).” These are the liberal arts which are meaningful in themselves. Leisure is not mere play. It is the thing that sets us apart from animals. He does not say this here, but it is the thing that comes after the first few levels of the hierarchy of needs are fulfilled. It is the purpose for which we continue to invent machines to ease life’s burdens. It is art, as he calls it first, the liberal arts and they are the work that is meaningful in itself, not work done out of usefulness, to serve some other good.
He gives us two preconditions for work to be meaningful in itself.
- Receptive openness and attentive silence (unlike the concentrated exertion of work).
- Man’s willing acceptance of the ultimate truth “awareness of being in harmony with these fundamental realities and surrounded by them.” This acceptance enables man to celebrate a feast, to engage in leisure.
“Wherever the arts are nourished through the festive contemplation of universal realities and their sustaining reasons, there in truth something like a liberation occurs: the stepping-out into the open under an endless sky, not only for the creative artist himself but for the beholder as well, even the most humble.”
This was my experience writing. This was art for me. Though my imagination has cooled and the fantasies calmed, I still look at the world, look out my window and see the spiritual interwoven with the physical. I can sit and gaze, it does me no harm to do so, causes me no boredom. I decorate to create an interior space in which I can do this, gaze at the wall and take in the beauty of a particular color, or the shape of an arrangement.
And I write again. I photograph again. I look for the image, wait for the word to come, seek to find that inner voice which spills so willingly out my fingers while I type. It comes too quickly for my typing skill and so my words are usually riddled with errors. Oddly enough, the same happens when I write by hand.
I do not know if I should share more of my writing. I look back on it as child’s play, as I do the games with imaginary horses I played during recess on the playground. I’m not plagued with those visions of grandeur. Rather, it is a blank slate; I do not know what to think about it, except that it is special to me. Your responses are helpful. Your comments welcome. It is a pleasure for me to spill some digital ink before you, and I hope a welcome gift for you.