One of the benefits of my style of organization is the joy of rediscovering things. Move a pile of stuff and find a book you haven’t seen in a long time. Such was my fortune a couple of days ago. We did some rearranging here at the house which set me to cleaning up some other stuff and I came across a book that I love not only for its content but also for the memory it evoked.
In 2010, Ginger and I had a chance to go to New Orleans for our anniversary, thanks to our friend Jay. We had a wonderful time in a city we both deeply love. A Durham friend, Leonora, who had lived in the Crescent City sent us on an afternoon adventure off the beaten path and out of the Quarter, down across Frenchman Street and into a neighborhood that appeared to see few folks but those who lived and worked around it. We ended up on Chatres at the Sound Café, which was connected to Beth’s Books and newsstand. It was there, after a rich and quiet afternoon of conversation and coffee together, I found Art and Fear.
This afternoon, I perused the book, mostly rereading my margin notes and what I had underlined a couple of springs ago. Here are a couple of samples – of what the book had to say:
Basically, those who continue to make art are those who have learned how to continue – or more precisely, have learned how not to quit. . . . Quitting is fundamentally different from stopping. The latter happens all the time. Quitting happens once. Quitting means not starting again – and art is all about starting again. (9-10)
As Stanley Kunitz once commented, “The poem in the head is always perfect. Resistance begins when you try to convert it to language.” (17)
By definition, whatever you have is exactly what you need to produce your best work. (26)
To demand perfection is to deny your ordinary (and universal) humanity, as though you would be better off without it. Yet this humanity is the ultimate source of your work; your perfectionism denies you the very thing you need to get your work done. Getting on with your work requires a recognition that perfection itself is a flawed concept. (31)
When you are lazy, your art is lazy; when you hold back, it holds back; when you hesitate, it stands there staring, hands in its pockets. But when you commit, it comes on like blazes. (49)
Each new piece of your art enlarges our reality. The world is not yet done. (69)
I could go on, but then I would use up too much of my quote pool for future posts. The book comes alive for me because I am working to be a better writer and I want to make art with my words and my food, among other things. The other reason is because I think art is an amazing metaphor for both life and faith. I can best make my point with a couple of paraphrases:
When you are lazy, your faith is lazy; when you hold back, it holds back; when you hesitate, it stands there staring, hands in its pockets. But when you commit, it comes on like blazes.
Each new act of your faith enlarges our reality. Our faith is not yet done.
As I read today, thinking about Lent and what I might make of these days, a couple of sentences I had not previously underlined found their way to the forefront:
Habits are the peripheral vision of the mind. . . . The theory is simple enough: respond automatically to the familiar, and you’re free to respond selectively to the unfamiliar. (100)
Habit is not always an easy word for me, or at least not a positive one, because I most often contrast it with ritual, particularly in matters of faith: habit is repeating things mindlessly; ritual is meaningful repetition. To keep it at church for a moment, we might pass the offering plates as habit, yet the aim is to make the familiar action of sharing Communion be ritual. With that contrast in mind, I came to this paraphrase:
Rituals are the peripheral vision of faith. . . . The theory is simple enough: respond automatically to the familiar, and you’re free to respond selectively to the unfamiliar.
The ashes are familiar, as are the days doing without or adding on as we work our way to the Cross. The road through Lent is well-worn with the steps of those who have come before us. The story is familiar to the point that we have to decide whether to be lazy or engaged. We can make a habit of our devotion and float by on our familiarity unscathed by the magnificent defeat that makes possible the empty tomb or we can make a ritual of all that has been handed down, cherishing each moment as a morsel of grace and focusing on what we know is true such that we see new things – and new people — on the edges of the story that we have not seen before.
The first song I ever wrote with my friend Billy said:
here’s another picture of life
all of us together in Christ
it’s an open heart
it’s a work of art
it’s the basic stuff
that makes another picture of love
Our faith is not yet done.