Lately I’ve been considering how artists create. Photography is a hobby for me, and I’ve been playing with it recently and trying to create. The trouble is I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. How do the best photographers do it? How do Stieglitz, Strand, Hine, and Adams take those pictures? What did they see when they looked through the viewfinder? And what’s the difference between what they saw in the viewfinder and the finished product? Do they construct an image within the viewfinder knowing they can later crop it? Or do they do as much cropping as they can when they actually take the picture? How much of the art of photography is done in the darkroom? The other thing I don’t understand is how do they capture such stunning shots of active situations? They take pictures of things that can’t be staged, yet the image is laid out like a masterpiece, as if they did stage it. Are they just lucky, in the right place at the right time? Or is there a skill involved in it? What about painting? What kind of an image of the final product does the painter have when they start? Or does it just come into being as the paint is applied? What about writing songs? Which comes first, the music or the words? In writing, I often find that the creation can come from both a preconceived idea and just the spontaneous act of writing. Sometimes I know what I’m going to write, other times as I type and it tells me what to write. Creating is a mind boggling thing. It requires such attention to detail, such mastery. It makes God that much more amazing, doesn’t it?
Yesterday I wrote a letter to a six-year-old in Guatemala. How do you even begin to communicate with someone when you’re separated by thousands of miles, two languages, and a vast age difference? Never mind that the relationship is initially based on a monetary gift. I wrote the letter to a girl in Guatemala that my fiance and I sponsor through Food For the Hungry. I feel like any response I get from this girl will be completely contrived. How would you respond to someone who was donating money to pay for your education? It just seems like an awkward situation. Certainly a six-year-old wouldn’t have issues with it, But what about when the child gets older and begins to understand the world around her? I would almost expect her to be grateful for my monthly gift. But more likely I would expect cynicism. Some well off American in Los Estados Unidos thinks he’s all that because once a month he donates the equivalent of a meal out to an average restaurant. Am I supposed to be impressed at his sacrifice? Am I supposed to be grateful that he gives so much?
Tonight I was wondering what it would be like if we didn’t have to sleep. Of course I realized that wouldn’t be any fun because there’s nothing like crawling into bed when you’re tired and waking up after a good night’s sleep. But what if we didn’t need so much sleep. What if we only needed an hour or two? I was thinking how nice that would be. And I wasn’t even thinking of using the extra time to finish my neglected duties of the day. I was thinking of reading books and just thinking. Bed time comes and instead of shutting out the light I tell my roommate I’m going to think. Something about that just appeals to me. I was thinking earlier this week how over the summer I wanted to do so much. I wanted to read for an hour every day. I wanted to write for an hour every day. But if I had six hours of quiet nighttime to read and reflect… A few summers ago I worked the late shift at the grocery store. I went in at 6 p.m. and worked until 2:30 in the morning. My girlfriend at the time hated it, but I loved it. There’s something about nighttime when everyone else has gone to bed and an echoing stillness covers everything. I love that time. It’s too bad I actually need sleep and I can’t just stay up and enjoy this time.
You know it’s good when it captures someone’s attention. When it mesmerizes them. When it changes their mood for the entire day. The power to change someone’s day. You really have something when you can do that. Today I listened to fellow students reading selections from essays they had written. A couple of them were beautiful. I closed my eyes and listened to their every word, even the ones they stumbled over. I could picture the scene, I could see everything they were describing in perfect detail. I was there. It really changed my mood today. I walked back to my dorm yearning to give something in return to these students. They had blessed me with their work and I wanted to be able to help them in some way. Being a writer myself I recognized their talent. In a sense I was jealous of it and the attention it brought them. But at the same time I so wanted to help them. I know what it feels like to have a work sit in a drawer and go unread.
There’s something about the power of words. So often I feel like I don’t understand it at all, like I’m such a rookie writer, like I just don’t have what it takes. At those times when I read something or hear something like I did today, I just want to be close to that talent. I somehow want to position myself near that skill. I want others to see what I’ve seen. I want others to see another world.
This morning during church I decided what I was going to write here tonight. After filling out a church survey on worship I decided it was time for a little tirade on worship. I was going to type up my dissertation on worship for you all to read. But I don’t feel very worshipful right now, and reflecting on something I’m lacking in seems like a waste of time. Perhaps I’m just running from the problem, but not tonight.
Have you ever felt like life has you down? The immutable weight of the future is crushing your spine and you just don’t want to take it anymore. Melancholy. Pessimism. Depression. It’s really not that severe, it just feels like it. There’s just a lot of unknowns looming on the horizon and I really wish they’d become knowns. I suppose that’s why Jesus told us not to worry. If the lily of the field is clothed in all its splendor then surely God will see that I’m taken care of. It’s a good Sunday School answer, but I still worry.
Have you ever learned something that allowed you to attack your work in a whole new way? I love opening my eyes like that. I love to fiddle with web pages and HTML. It’s a little hobby of mine. I also love to pretend like I’m a graphic designer. The combination presents some special challenges because designing in HTML is like swimming with one arm tied behind your back. It’s easy to think of a cool way of doing something, the hard part is making it work. Today I learned a whole new way of manipulating things. It’s actually not new, and it’s not really that profound. It’s just one of those neat little tricks the pros use. It was there the whole time, I just never knew it. It’s kind of like Geometry. If you think hard enough, you could figure out all those theorems yourself. If only I were that smart. I think tomorrow I’ll be spending the day playing with my new toys.
You know, the more I plan my future, the more it unravels. Last year at about this time I was lining up an internship. I was planning on getting paid well, maybe even working a small job on the side. I had it all set. Then the paid internship became unpaid and my small job on the side became a big job on the side. Then when the summer actually came the big job on the side never materialized and I had to make one up. This year I planned on finding a nice job this summer and living in my college’s summer housing. Today I found out the housing is closed already and I don’t have a place to live this summer. Maybe I should just stop planning things.
The wind blows like an angry old man waken from his nap. The naked branches clash together so high up in the air, the flimsy upper reaches of the trees shaking violently. As I walk by I hear the trunk of the tree creak and groan as its branches pull and the trunk reluctantly gives.
I can’t help but ask what’s going to give.
In a day too full of responsibilities, some conquered, some forgotten–I take great joy in the little things. Maybe it’s procrastination, or as I like to call it, sanity preservation. But I find it more and more necessary. You’d think two days after spring break you wouldn’t be feeling a whole lot of pressure. ‘Tis the life of a college student. (sigh) Am I done yet?
Tonight in my Graphic Design class my professor was talking about a book he had been reading lately that related by tangent to design. The main point of the book was how small things can cause exponential change. It didn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense at first, but he shared a few examples from the book where something small caused a huge change.
The best example he gave was how New York City’s crime rate was dramatically reduced thanks to simple subway turnstile enforcement and painting over graffiti in the subway system. Those two minor improvements caused massive change.