I realized today as I was making a left-hand turn from Coal Mine Ave onto Wadsworth Blvd that all language is some type of amorphous mush that we squish between our fingers and form into semi-recognizable sentences, paragraphs, and similar concentric circles, in order to communicate.
Chefs can smash grains together in a thousand different ways, yet I can only construct a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. They see something in the ingredients that the rest of us don’t. They look at a wheel of parmesan and see a billion complex curves and chemical reactions leading to a thousand different plates of food.
I fill my belly with 29 cent ramen.
Some people look at a pile of words and arrange them into the most base of sentences, making spartan use of their opportunity to communicate. They use language the same way I use food: Easy, cheap and simple. And there’s nothing wrong with that!
But lately, I have been inspired. I have realized that I am a chef in the kitchen of language, responsible to pick up this pile of words that the ancients left on the floor and arrange them into something powerful and delicious.
Maybe you’re a designer who arranges pieces of color and shape into something relaxing to the eye. Or maybe you simply staple drywall to beams so people can live in warmth. Or you’re the farmer creating new and innovative ways to insert flavor into simple crops.
I once thought God hated creativity.
That time was earlier this week.
To be honest, these struggles come and go as I see a thousand knock-offs, like the imitation Banksys which pop up around the world. Inspiration means originailty and authenticity, and I have grown weary seeing millions of photographers/models on Instagram contributing a ‘new’ idea to the internet.
#LiveAuthentic is possibly the biggest oxymoron in human history.
Am I being too cynical, or am I starved for fresh inspiration?
When you stumble upon true and original creativity, something shifts. I recently started watching a show about the best chefs in the world, what inspires them, and what gave them their starts. The way they work with their ingredients initially made me want to go out and start a farm/3-star restaurant, but then I thought better of it. When these people are inspired, they make new culinary plates which the world hasn’t seen before.
But what about when I’m inspired?
Or sometimes paint, make music, or photograph.
One of the chef’s wives relayed a story about when she and her husband were in a theater watching a movie. Afterward, she asked him what he thought of the film and he said he didn’t really remember it because he was imagining a new way to arrange pasta in his mind.
I can relate, except in my case, it’s not food that distracts me from reality, but words. Look at how these two words sound when you mash them together. What happens when you throw an article or linking verb into the mix?
I can waste hours thinking about simple phrases.
That same chef also talked about what initially attracted him to his wife. He used a phrase similar to one I’ve employed in the past:
“We spoke the same language.”
Ironically, he was Italian and she was American, but I knew exactly what he meant. It’s not a language of understood syllables and vocabulary, but of aligned experiences and ideas. In many ways, this goes far deeper than simply speaking English together; the language of creativity connects people at a deep, deep level.
I think this is why the artists seem to feel things at a much deeper level than many of us. At times, they seem more alive, and at others they seem to die at the onset of heartbreak.
One day as I was driving up 6th Ave toward Denver, I had a question pop into my head: Who gets paid simply to experience life?
Initially, I wondered if only artists and writers get paid to experience life, and they drag the rest of us into their experience. But of course, as any good philosopher will tell you, language is incapable of communicating experience.
All of us experience life (though many of us try to escape the experience. “I want off the ride early. This vivacious and vibrant world isn’t really doing it for me. Drugs, porn, or Netflix, please.”), but not all of us communicate that experience. Not all of us take the time to express our experiences in whatever medium we love. And I think that’s toxic.
The very first thing we learn about God in Genesis 1 is that He is a Creator.
And in the next chapter, we learn that we are made in His image. What does this tell us except that we also, at one level or another, are meant to be little creators? We take the lumpy clay He has given us and work to straighten it out into beautiful things.
The word for this is possibly my favorite Hebrew phrase: tohu-va-vohu.
Say it out loud.
Do it now.
It means wild and waste. And it’s where we find the world in Genesis 1.
“Now the earth was formless and void (tohu-va-vohu)” and over the course of the next two chapters, we see God take joy in arranging it and breathing into it and crafting new things that weren’t there before. He provides us the raw materials for our creativity.
And here I am once more, taking the raw materials of letters and words and arranging them into thoughts. What is their purpose? What are they here for? I don’t know.
I’ve decided that whenever I get into one of these ‘moods’ where my inspiration is running high and my zest for life is untethered, I’ll simply name the post after the day that caused the spike in passion. I’ve done it before and I’m not scared to do it again. These posts, though free-spirited and often aimless, tend to be some of my favorites, and based on the feedback I’ve gotten, they may be some of yours too.
Isn’t it funny that when our experience causes such an overflow of emotion that we simply feel the need to create in whatever way God has most gifted us, others benefit as well? I’m on some cooking kick tonight, so have you seen the film Chef? There’s one scene where his life is falling apart and he is so overwhelmed and emotional he rushes to his kitchen and stress-cooks. And the food he creates is a) enough to feed the population of The Island of Man, and b) so good-looking your mouth won’t only water, it will flood.
Others benefit when our creativity bubbles over.
So I hope these bubbles meant something to you. I hope they stir you to create something fresh and new and exciting! Don’t imitate your favorite celebrities or artists. Imitation means nothing except that someone has already done it before!
Take after the Lord, whose creativity is breathtaking and always new.
Psalm 103: Sing a new song to the Lord…
This all rings very true, except one thing. Everyone is an artist sometimes. No one is an artist all the time.
A grandparent buying cookies at the store for grandchild’s upcoming visit is seeking to alter the grandchild’s experience using their own observations and experiences. That’s what being an artist is ultimately.
For those who insist that art must pass some threshold of observation or experience which this example doesn’t, they are denying to themselves the opportunity to practise artistry and to get better at it through those little exercises.
It is a good exercise for us to look for and encourage all art. Labeling some people artists and others not ultimately leaves the world with less art.
Interestingly, I find the rest of your article is entirely supportive of this point of view.
Love this And you’re only getting started. Living into a Divine Life that is so much bigger than we humans….
Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful commentary Ethan! You never fail to inspire. As a fifty year old empty nester starting a new phase in life, your words inspire and motivate me to pursue my purpose and God’s will for my life. My wife always tells me how creative I am when I believe otherwise, and your words just confirmed her truth. We truly are “little creators”, and it’s up to us to use the raw materials we’ve been blessed with (like personality, talents, and skills) to create our authentic self. This “authentic self” is the source for all creativity. Thank you for this brother!
Thanks for this post, Ethan. I was just now feeling discouraged in my own writing and how being creative is not natural to me. Your post inspired me to bring this matter before God, knowing he himself is a creator.
Well, I’ve been following along with your blog for some time now, but I’m one of those silent followers who never comments because they’re just soaking up the words and can’t find anything relevant to say by way of a response; however, when I read this post, I instantly started thinking about the concept of ‘sub-creation’, as expressed by Tolkien:
“Although now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not de-throned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned:
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted Light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seed of dragons- ’twas our right
(used or misused). That right has not decayed:
we make still by the law in which we’re made.
Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.”
(On Fairy Stories)
I don’t know if this is true for you, but I usually find that my sudden bursts of creative energy are linked to my spiritual health.
The closer my relationship with my Creator, the more creative I become.