Friday, August 1, 2008

Creativity, surfing and Steve Roden

Steve Roden @ Susanne Vielmetter

Yesterday morning I was sitting in the Pacific Ocean with one of my sons, Ryan, and our good friend Earl. We were enjoying an overhead, fairly aggressive south swell. Sunrise surfing does a soul good (please don't do it, there are all ready enough people in the water.) 
Ryan and I got talking about creativity; creativity as gift, as play. Creativity and faith, creativity and fear, creativity and systems. Creativity and Steve Roden's paintings.

Having a serious conversation while surfing is an interesting activity. In part because the conversation is paced (interrupted) by the rhythm of the waves. You might be at the most poignant moment or simply mid-sentence and a wave comes. It is well accepted in surf conversation etiquette to simply say, "hold that thought" and then drop, paddle and ride only to paddle back moments later (or quite some time later) and say, "ok, you were saying?" This can make for a rather fragmented narrative but it also makes for a highly punctuated narrative. Because each time we stop talking (or listening) we paddle into a swelling, moving mass of liquid that is being hurdled at the shore by systems that we have no control over. And that regardless of all our abilities to track, predict and explain what is occurring each morning, we realize that every wave is a unique, unaccounted for event that one simply receives and celebrates. It is a gift from the universe and the Creator that is there and we can ignore it or receive it and dance on it.

So the conversation on creativity went something like this (well, kind of ... well actually this is a highly edited edition.)

... the Catholic priest and philosopher/activist, Henri Nouwen says, "Does not all creativity ask for a certain encounter with our loneliness, and does not the fear of this encounter severely limit our possible self-expression?" As was shared with me the other day, "fear has nothing for us, it offers nothing and demands much." Nouwen encourages the movement from fearful clinging to the fearless play.

A wave and Ryan disappears, I watch from the back and see his head and shoulders slip across the horizon. He paddles back, we acknowledge the gift that was just sent and continue our conversation. 

... that reminds me of what Annie Dillard said, that we should all jump up, strip down to our waists, run outside and shake gourds at one another to WAKE UP! But instead, she says, we will sit on our couch's and watch the whole parade pass us by on the TV. Here's the fear issue again. Instead of playing out the absurdity of the nakedness and the shaking of gourds under the midday sun we would rather have some sense of control and watch someone else live life and we can simply consume it, no risk, no gifts.

Another wave, big and fast. We both go and both pay. We are reminded there is a cost to participate but even that can be a fearful delight, to let go and to be thrown deep and hard only to emerge and appreciate the simple rush of air in one's lungs. We laugh, regroup and continue. 

... I've been reading Rainer Maria Rilke. He talks about a life of creativity and the necessity to do it with intention, "then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it." "Do not now seek answers which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the pint is to live everything. Live the question now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer ... take what ever comes with great trust."

This one comes to me. I go and for twelve seconds the whole world is about this moment. The light, the sound, the feeling under my feet. Move, shift, here it comes, up, now drop, and it's over. Smile and paddle back out. No one to witness it but myself, and the sky.

... Kathleen Norris talks about this in her book, The Cloister Walk, "The Benedictines, more that any other people I know, insist that there is time in each day for prayer, for work, for study, and for play." "Liturgical time is essentially poetic time, oriented toward process rather than productivity, willing to wait attentively in stillness rather that always pushing to "get the job done." "Imagination and faith are the same thing, giving substance to our hopes and reality to the unseen." "The substance, the means of art, is incarnation, not reference but phenomena." She then develops these thoughts specifically around the language of poetry, "But the sense of the sacred is very much alive in contemporary poetry; maybe because poetry, like prayer, is a dialogue with the sacred. And poets speak from the margins, those places in the ecosystem where, as any ecologist can tell you, the most life forms are to be found." 
"scholars speak with authority, and they must, as they are trying to convince the audience that they have a worthwhile point of view. On the other hand, poets (artists) speak with no authority but that which the reader (audience) is willing to grant them. Our task is not to convince but to suggest, evoke, explore. And to be a poet (artist), which at its root means "maker," to be a maker of phenomena, speaking without reference to authority but simply because the words (images) are given you."

Oh crap, a rouge set, large and coming quick. We all scramble to get outside. If we weren't talking we would have seen it coming and been ready. It is enough to simply get through it and get outside.

... Well if we are going to talk about Norris we have to talk about Madeline L' Engle. What does she say? "It is gift (creativity), sheer gift, waiting there to be recognized and received." "To paint a picture or to write a story or to compose a song is an incarnational activity, the artist is a servant who is willing to be a birth giver." "Faith is for that which lies on the other side of reason. Faith is what makes life bearable, with all its tragedies and ambiguities and sudden, startling joys."
We cannot Name or be Named without language. If our vocabulary dwindles to a few shopworn words (or images) we are setting ourselves up for takeover by a dictator (or a highly militaristic administration.) When language becomes exhausted, our freedom dwindles - we cannot think; we do not recognize danger; injustice strikes us as no more than "the way things are." Language is formed by imagination. If our imagination is so highly mediated for us by pop media, the market place and politics, then our ability to discern, to participate, to discover is limited. Or as William Young reminds us, "Don't confuse adaptation for intention, or seduction for reality." 
"Creativity opens us to revelation, and when our high creativity is lowered to 2% so is our capacity to see ... in the act of creativity, the artist lets go the self control which he normally clings to, and is open to riding the wind. Something almost always happens to startle us during the act of creating (there's the Dillard thing.)
She goes on to say, "You should utter words as though heaven were opened within them and as though you did not put the word into your mouth, but as though you had entered the word."
"We write, we make music, we draw pictures, because we are listening for meaning, feeling for healing. An artist at work is in a condition complete and total faith ... hold that thought! And with that Ryan was gone, pulled toward the beach with a shout and a laugh that was almost as much fun to watch, as it was to do. It took him about 10 minutes to get back, he was caught inside of a large set and I got two while we were separated.

... This reminds me of a story I'm reading by William Young. During an exchange in which freedom and grace are being discussed, one person says to the other, "remember this, humans are not defined by their limitations, but by the intentions that God has for them; not by what they seem to be, but by everything it means to be created in God's image."
But what does this look like personified? What does it look like in practice? Maybe a good model of the artist, perhaps, is Howard Nelson's description of the American poet, Robert Bly. He says of Bly, "He seeks a balance, but one that will be open-ended and dynamic; while he is interested in the still pint, what he is more interested in is the motions of the spirit - and the intellect's and the body's motion - around it." Another model might be the work of Steve Roden.

Hey, we got to go. There is a day waiting for us. 
Do you want to go out again tomorrow?
Sure.
Is there going to be a swell?
I heard it was growing, but more of a south/west.
That's funny, I read on Surf Line that it was dropping.
Anyway, let's just go and see what shows up.
 


1 comment:

Deborah Laurin said...

Sounds like quite the philosophical surfing discussion! In regards to language, you should look up Allan Pavio's Dual-coding theory, he believes that at the base of language is imagery--static (such as the letters of a word) and dynamic imagery (a pictorial representation). An interesting thought to ponder that language would not exist without imagery or creativity.