A Sermon for All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, July 22, 2018
Thank you. Good morning. I’m Loretta and I’m a writer. It’s taken me a long time to call myself that and even longer to say it out loud (nevermind in public—that took even longer) But I am a writer, a maker, a creator. And whether you know or not, or care to say it out loud or not, so are you.
When I was asked to talk about Independence and Inter-connection in creativity, I had to think about it awhile. To mull over and fret about the topic and wonder, “Do I know enough about independence, interconnection OR creativity to talk about it to others?
Can I do this?
Then I had to talk it over with my friends. “What do you think? What does it mean to you?
Can I do this?”
If you know my friends, and many of you do, you know their answer was a resounding, “Yes!” and “Go for it!”
And there you have it, independence and inter-connection. And here I am.
Since I’m a writer, that means writing is the main expression of my creative spirit, but remember during this talk when I say “writing” this references any sort of creative endeavor, whether it’s visual art, dance, music, cooking, interior design, sewing, problem solving, building a better mousetrap or the constructing the perfect pyramid of charcoal briquettes out on the grill. Whatever it is, If it’s something you love doing or making, that’s your creative spirit at work.
Let’s begin with independence, and naturally, I’ll start with a story:
In the early 1990’s, a frustrated television writer named George RR Martin returned to writing novels. He’d spent ten years in Hollywood writing for the small screen. Inevitably, as he said in a New York Times interview in 2011, he’d hear the same thing from the suits at the network, ““George, this is great. It’s terrific, it’s a wonderful read, thanks. But it’s three times our budget. We can’t possibly make it. It’s too big and it’s too expensive.”
So he had to cut and trim the scenes and scale back the stories to make them fit the budget, the limits of television production at the time and the demands of producers and executives.
It wasn’t until Martin decided to work independently, without constraints on his creativity, AT ALL, that he was able to produce what has become( arguably, perhaps) the most successful High Fantasy series of books since The Lord of the Rings. (There also happened to come along an HBO television series from the books, that you may have heard of.)
So, Imagine. If George RR Martin hadn’t broken away from the limits set for him, we may have never seen a horizon turn black with a horde of Dothraki Bloodriders, being led into battle by the mother of Dragons, Danerys Targaryan, mounted on her beloved Drogon.
All the people who don’t watch Game of Thrones are going, “Whut? What is she talking about? This is weird!”
And all the Game of Thrones nerds out there are going, “YEAH! Winter is coming! Valar Morghulis!
But for those of us who are NOT writing epic High Fantasy, independence may come down to meaning something much simpler: yourself and time to explore what’s inside you.
Lou Dorfsman, a graphic designer who spent 40 years at CBS said, “Creativity is essentially a lonely art. An even lonelier struggle. To some a blessing. To others a curse. It is, in reality, the ability to reach inside yourself and drag forth from your very soul an idea.”
Did you get that part? You drag the idea from your soul, your mind and no one else’s.
Julia Cameron who wrote one of the seminal books on creativity called “The Artist’s Way” (from which I’ll be drawing heavily this morning) says, “Art lies in the moment of encounter: we meet ourselves and we meet our self-expression. We become original because we become something specific, an origin from which work flows.”
So many artists deal with the fear of being unoriginal, of not being different enough. “Well, it’s all been done before”, we tell ourselves. But what Cameron is saying here is that whatever we create, because it comes from a unique individual, is inherently original and new because what you create, from your own mind, heart and soul has NEVER been done before, because you have never created it before.
Naturally, Neil Gaiman says it better than I ever could, ““The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.”
This doesn’t mean that artists should never monetize their work (get paid) or never “write to theme” or take commissions. I only mean that if you do have parameters set for your work by others, I hope (and wish for you) to be able to set aside some time for wild creativity, unfettered by the expectations and demands of others—that’s how you get to the really, really good stuff.
And finding a way of getting to the good stuff can be difficult sometimes. So another aspect of independence in creativity means I’m allowed (and sometimes that means truly giving permission to myself) to think and create. Knowing that the time I spend thinking, daydreaming, practicing, failing, deleting every word I’ve written over 2 hours, is all part of my creative process and claiming that time for myself is essential for my soul-work. I'm sure this is true for just about everyone considering the busy-ness and craziness of everyday life. But, I am not a happy person when I don’t have or take or make the time to be creative.
And in those quiet (or sometimes even frantic) times of creativity there also comes with it a feeling of connection to something larger than myself.
Julia Cameron calls this connection tapping into the Great Creator, which she calls God, but as she says in “The Artist’s Way,” others may call it “flow, the Mind (capital M) the Universe, The Source, A Higher Power, Goddess, all of which is short hand for creative energy.” She continues, “For many of us, thinking of it as a form of spiritual electricity has been a very useful jumping-off place.”
The poet, philosopher and artist, William Blake fervently believed that his creativity flowed directly from God. And not only that, but IS God. Blake wrote, “This world of imagination is the world of eternity. It is the divine bosom.”
Julia Cameron says “We are the instrument more than the author of our work.” She thinks we should, “Learn to accept the possibility that the universe is helping you with what you are doing. Become willing to see the hand of God and accept it as a friend’s offer to help…”
“Try to remember that God is the Great Artist. Artists like other artists.”
Which leads us to other people–other artists. Because there does come a time when the writer, artist (any creative really) , must leave the quiet corner of the coffee shop, the attic, the office, the studio or the solitude of your own mind.
You just do.
There is a greater world out there that you will have to connect with eventually. Alas, even creatives must order a sandwich, pay the light bill or even (gasp) have a regular job.
Because really, what is all this creativity for? To what end? And here’s a question: Does art require an audience?
In his piece “What is Literature?” the French Philosopher Jean Paul Sartre addressed the question of whether or not writing needs a reader, an audience.
Sartre said a reader “while he reads, (he) creates.” That is the reader or observer takes in what the artist has created and processes it through his or her own brain filters, of biases, beliefs, prejudices, preferences, even capabilities and so on, and in doing so, the reader creates his own version of the work, so that what one person reads or experiences is unique to that individual.
Because, think about it. Even if there IS agreement between some people about a piece of writing or art, there is always sure to be a voice of dissent, saying “Nuh, uh. That’s not what it was about at ALL.” (And thus the English Department was born.)
In fact, Sartre believed that the relationship between writer and reader was a collaboration–That the work itself wasn’t completely realized without the connection between writer and reader. He argued, Without a reader the piece itself is incomplete.
(Chew on that a little while, if you’re still hiding your light (your work) under a bushel.)
Some writers call this relationship between writer and reader “magic.” Stephen King calls it “telepathy,” Something leaves his brain and reaches through time and space via little squiggles on white paper to connect with your brain, years, even decades later and a world away.
Down through the ages artists have reached through the limits of time– across the threshold of death itself to entertain and touch, to teach and heal, inspire, comfort…pick a word. Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t that an incredible gift? Isn’t that… holy?
Creativity draws from us the best of ourselves and in those special instances connects with someone else, who can say “Yes, me too. I understand. I get it. I get you. I see you.”
There’s a hilarious meme out on the internet, that I only just found out
is a quote from a book, “Cutter’s Hope” by A. J. Downey:
“When you find people who not only tolerate your quirks but
celebrate them with glad cries of “Me too!” be sure to cherish
them. Because those weirdos are your tribe.”
I am lucky enough to have found my tribe– a writing group that meets weekly. We gather, we talk, we enjoy refreshments (no one ever knows what anyone else is bringing. Our little potlucks are always a surprise and there is always enough) but most of all, we write. And oftentimes we share, and we cry and laugh and are amazed sometimes at the raw and honest emotions and stories that can emerge from ten minutes of free-writing on a topic or two we don’t always love or even want to write about. Then after an hour or sometimes three, we leave to return to our individual, independent pursuits, but the connections keep us coming back.
The affirmations, encouragement, feedback, critiques, advice and suggestions you receive from well-intentioned (always feel sure of that aspect) fellow creators will be invaluable to your work.
I haven’t even talked that much about collaboration, Collaboration, which I’ve found through helping produce a little publication called Fleur de Lit: Literary Magazine, is a special kind of magic all its own.
So, do what you can to find your people, your tribe. They really are out there and they want to help. And I’m guessing they need you as much as you need them.
Just one side note, about criticism and YES, rejection—because when you put your work out there, it’s inevitable that you receive both. Consider critiques, think about them, but don’t let that stop you or change you too much.
And as far as rejection—take the fact that I’m standing here alive as proof that rejection won’t kill you. Just as it didn’t kill Dr. Suess or JK Rowling, or any other artist you care to name. Rejection does sting, but the wound isn’t fatal and you HAVE to press on with your soul work.
In conclusion, I leave you with a quote from Elizabeth Gilbert,best known for her book Eat, Pray Love. But this is from her latest book Big Magic:
"IF you’re alive, you’re a creative person. You and I and everyone you know are descended from tens of thousands of years of makers. Decorators, tinkerers, storytellers, dancers, explorers, fiddlers, drummers, builders, growers, problem solvers and embellishers—these are our common ancestors. We are all makers. Your creativity is way older than you are, way older than any of us. Now, go make something.”
And after you make something, don’t forget to share it with the rest of us. And when you find yourself asking, “What do I know? What do I have to say?
Can I do this?”
I hope that you remember that the answer is always a resounding “Yes! Go for it!”