Yesterday was one of those kinds of days when the surprise-lunch-hour and not-enough-coat found me walking through the main library downtown instead of by the river.
I do love the library.
Besides my own love for books, reading, and all things created with words, there is my entire childhood spent growing up in my mother’s libraries. My earliest memories are of staring at the lines made by rows of shelves and columns of books, the smell of antique pages, and the shapes of words long before I knew what letters were. I spoke my first words in a library, took my first steps in a library, and learned to read long before I could do much else. This love for words was a gift from my mother, and maybe my most treasured gift she ever gave me.
Yesterday, I wandered up and down the aisles, walking my legs and resting my brain, while my fingers flit-er-ed across the spines of books in search for something calling to my heart and stirring to my spirit.
Not surprisingly, I landed in the poetry section.
More surprisingly, I found a whole section of books by poets about other poets! I had never seen these before, and loved the meta-narratives of poems about other poems. Here is a quote from one chapter (from Professing Poetry), that was analyzing both a poet’s marriage and his writing:
… and with no intervening commentary from the author, this is the moment of the girl’s falling in love. And she loves the man not because he values her, but because he values something capable of over-arching them both. The somber consequences of this are the novel’s theme: but the attraction, and its nature, are beautifully demonstrated. To identify with such a movement, to enjoy the admiration and loyalty of those who can see the beauty of a life given to the struggle… it must often seem to a writer the solution of his personal problems. But, then, if the writer can’t face personal problems, and a lot of them, he shouldn’t be a writer… The starting and finishing point, of course, is his experience as an individual. It will sometimes happen that a cluster of events… will elicit a response from his entire being: it will affect him morally, imaginatively, emotionally, and the work he produces will unite all these.
This so beautifully describes both the strength and courage required for any relationship, and the depth of beauty and power that lies within writing, music, or art. It describes how the success of the relationship is no more in the man or the woman, than the value of the art is in the paint or the brush. The real-ness comes from something greater than the sum of its parts, from something that is created beyond what either of them can do on their own. The art comes from the expression, and it is the expression that makes an artist.
There is a cycle to writing, just as there is a cycle to creating anything else. No one decides when to write, when to paint, or when to give birth. One just knows when the time has come. You cannot (naturally) force it. You must wait for it, the way you wait for seeds to burst through the soil, the way you wait for seedlings to unfold into saplings, the way you wait for flowers to turn in the sun. You can’t make it happen, you can’t choose when, and you can’t speed it along. You wait, and then you just know when it is time.
My favorite author in the field of psychology is Clarissa Pinkola Estes, and she writes about create-ing:
It is the love of something, having so much love for something – whether a person, a word, an image, an idea… that all that can be done with the overflow is to create. It is not a matter of wanting to, not a singular act of will; one solely must…. Creativity is not a solitary movement. That is its power. Whatever is touched by it, whoever hears it, sees it, senses it, knows it, is fed. That is why beholding someone else’s creative word, image, idea, fills us up, inspires us to our own creative work… As we create, this wild and mysterious being is creating us in return, filling us with love. We are evoked in the way creatures are evoked by sun and water. We are made so alive that we in turn give life out; we burst, we bloom, we divide and multiply, we incubate, impart, give forth… To create is “creare” in Latin, meaning to produce, to make (life), to produce where there was nothing before… It has an innate or inborn quality to it, but also has to “grow up”, be taught, and be trained… To create, one must be able to respond. Creativity is the ability to respond to all that goes on around us, to choose from the hundreds of possibilities of thought, feeling, action, and reaction that arise within us, and to put these together in a unique response, expression, or message that carries moment, passion, and meaning… Being with real people who warm us, who endorse and exalt our creativity, is essential to the flow of our creative life. Otherwise we freeze… Warmth is a mystery. It somehow heals and engenders us. It is the loosener of too-tight things, it enhances flow, the mysterious urge to be. We want to put ourselves in a situation where, like the plants and trees, we can turn toward the sun. But there has to be a sun.
In ancient Greece, this creative force was called αἱ μοῦσαι, or “the Muse”. Originally, before the tales of nine muses (or, rather, nine expressions of creativity, or nine types of poetry), there were only three muses (sources, rather than types). The work that leads to inspiration, they believed, came in three ways: knowledge, practice, and memory.
I love this because often people assume that if you are a writer, or a poet, or a painter, or a create-er of any sort, that it is easy for you, as if it were some simple magic by which colors or words or notes appear on a page without any effort at all.
In reality, writing or painting or song-writing is as much work as any other birthing process, with similar labor pains with similar rhythms. It is hard work, and is much more like a wrestling match in the mud than it is like a fairy godmother waving her wand.
But after the struggle, there is a sentence, or a picture, or a song.
After the struggle, there is an artist transformed by the experience, re-created by the process of creating.
When we create, whether it be words or paintings or music, we become more than we were before.
When our creations are relationships, whether it be with our parents, or a spouse, or children, or friends, we become more than we were before.
This is why relationships are scary (hard work), because to create something that is more than ourselves, we have to give the seed that is our own Self. We get so focused on protecting that Self (instead of daring to give it away), so focused on making sure the other person does carry us gently, without spilling, that we forget our purpose is to be spilled, to be poured out, to be given for the nourishment of another.
It is a scary thing, because if we spill ourselves to nourish another, then how do we know that we, ourselves, will also be nourished?
This is why relationships are more than just trust-building, but an actual act of faith.
This is why nothing teaches us more about the at-one-ment than our relationships.
It is the atonement that is the “something capable of over-arching them both”.
And she loves the man not because he values her, but because he values something capable of over-arching them both.
If we love only because we are valued, then we are set up for disappointment as much as we have set the other person up for failure. If we love only because we are appreciated, then we are no better than a spoiled child. If we love only because we are cherished, then our very-human-spouse will fail us often. If we love only because of what we receive in the relationship, then the earth in which the seeds of our relationships were planted will become dry and cracked.
Being valued, being appreciated, being cherished, and receiving love do not cause us to love another person. These are the result of us loving another person. Selfish love is only an illusion and will not last. Real love will last because it creates more of itself by nourishing the other – by valuing the other, appreciating the other, cherishing the other, and loving the other.
There are sweet-and-sappy moments that water the earth, nourish the seed, and bring necessary warmth as the green unfolds above the dirt. This is part of the experience, and these experiences bring us comfort and joy and enjoyment, like butterflies dancing with us as we grow.
But the hard work of actually growing happens under the dirt, inside of ourselves, where the atonement is applied so that resurrection can come, so that new life can come, so that Spring can shine again.
We apply the atonement by becoming the warm sun, by becoming the nourishing water, by becoming the deep earth for another.
We do this in faith, unafraid, because as long as we value the atonement as “something capable of over-arching us both”, then love will grow, and we will find our way.
To love is to give and to receive, to warm and be warmed, to respond and be responded to, and to trust in something capable of over-arching us both.
To love is to create, for when a person loves, it “will elicit a response from his entire being: it will affect him morally, imaginatively, emotionally, and the work he produces will unite all these”.
To be united, in ourselves or with another, is to be at-one.
When a person loves, they are at-one.
When a person creates, they are at-one.
When a person loves, they create.
When a person creates, they love.
Loving and creating is the work of being at-one with God by being at-one with ourselves and with others. We learn that to love is not to have a muse, but to be one. We learn that to create is more than just invention-of-something or organization-of-expression. To create is to come alive.
This is why it doesn’t work on our own, why we mess it up so royally when we try to do it our way, or forget to try at all. This is why it is scary to try again, if we do not remember the God that is greater than ourselves, if we do not act in faith in effort to be at-one with Him. This is why it is such hard work, because it is loving another instead of protecting ourselves.
And this is what brings happiness: when we do this hard work well, and another does this hard work well, and there is peace and at-one-ness. There is no in-love without there first being an at-one, no matter how many years have passed. It is the at-one-ment that moves us into love.
It takes knowledge, practice, and memory.
The hard work is gaining the knowledge, practicing the skills, and remembering that something which is capable of over-arching us both.
Our muse is the Spirit, which does instruct and inspire and remind us of who we are, why we are here, and who we are to become. This is who we must be for ourselves, and for another. This is how to create.
The more we know this, the more we practice this, the more we remember this, the more we will create. The more we create, the more ourselves we become.
Creating changes everything.