Meditations & Miscellany
Welcome to Creative\\Proofing, a space for hopeful, creative people learning to live wisely by asking questions about the good life: what it is, how to design our own, and how to live it well.
When the world first shut down in early 2020, it felt a bit eerie. Well, it felt a lot eerie. Suddenly things were quieter, slower, calmer, at least on the surface. In the American South, where I live, a lovely spring comes very early, and usually gets chased quickly away by a long, hot summer.
But Spring 2020 felt like another anomaly — a graceful one. It was the longest, gentlest, loveliest spring I remember experiencing in a great while, perhaps ever. It’s almost as if nature in our corner of the world decided to compensate for the trauma and terror going on by providing a cocoon for us, allowing daily walks around the neighborhood, experiencing sunlight and dancing breezes and delicate blooms as ballast against the storm raging through our lives.
I went from going to the office daily to working from home in the span of a weekend. At first, I took it as license to not get dressed or wear makeup. Not knowing whether I could safely leave the house without endangering my family meant that daily walks became a release valve - a way to literally escape the pressure of All the Things (TM). I rarely left my subdivision those first few weeks, except to go with my mother to the grocery store.
But every afternoon, for weeks, I took a walk around my neighborhood. Everyone took a walk around the neighborhood. We did this weird, shuffle-step pass on the sidewalk, unsure how to gauge the safest distance, talking loudly at acquaintances from six feet away. But that spring, oh that spring. Delicate blue sky, bright crisp sunshine, lacy blossoms dancing on trees and shrubs and flower beds. The world beyond the screen, beyond my head, beyond the fear: it made a place for us that spring.
And now, today as I write this, my local county lifts its almost-constant two-year mask mandate and the world watches in horror and grief as a war starts in Ukraine. For the past week, I’ve so looked forward to today — finally, at last, we get to move on with life post-COVID, things can start becoming the new normal. But now we all watch, and wait, and worry, wondering if (or when) the next chaos will hit closer to home.
I intended to write on something else for this issue. I don’t remember what, exactly. But it occurs to me that readers of Creative\\Proofing might wonder what it’s all about here. For a while, the Enneagram featured pretty heavily, then there was some talk about liminality and journeying through chaos, and now I’ve just finished a three-part series on Plato and theology and fiction, and...I can see how it would just seem like a grab-bag of unrelated parts.
And truthfully, this newsletter may always remain something of a grab-bag, a thinking-out-loud space for explorations and discoveries that I only encounter in the writing of them. But I do have a deeper story, a hidden thread that, for me, ties all of these seemingly-random preoccupations together, because I think that everything connects. And when you attend to one, you attend to the whole.
Actually, make that two hidden threads that tie together. One thread runs horizontally, the woof, in weaving terms; the other thread runs vertically, the warp. When we use the phrase “warp and woof” of things, we’re literally talking about the woven-togetherness of a thing, its structure. That weaving creates a cross-hatch pattern, individual overlapping and underlying strings coming together into a cohesive whole, eventually.
It’s tempting, and probably normal, to find a single thread and follow its path, to just focus on it and forget the pattern. It’s tempting to just put my head down and write my little newsletters, and ignore the shockwaves rippling and compounding throughout the world. And just as tempting as it is to ignore “out there,” it’s also tempting to believe that this is all that exists. Just viruses, and wars, and shouting matches, and hustling for a buck, and stoking egos, and working three jobs just keep alive, and getting pinned beneath the thumbscrews of power, or doing whatever it takes to become the thumbscrews of power, or sneaking a few bucks from the till, or panicking at the plus sign on that pee stick, or... or... or...
We already live with destruction and rubble, in a million different ways. We already feel the walls and ceilings closing in on us. We already have the sense of life narrowing in focus to simple survival. Why write a newsletter about Plato? About desire? About literature or theology?
Because I think and live and create at the crossing of these horizontal and vertical threads: at the point where today and the eternal intersect in my life. Because all I can do is point out and live within the illuminations and juxtapositions that arise from the warp and woof of layers of reality woven together. Because pointing out and living with and creating startling, beautiful, and true things is the most hopeful, rebellious thing I can do.
I once came across liner notes for an album by singer-songwriter Phil Ochs, and one thought has never left me:
To face the unspoken unguarded thoughts of habitual hearts
a vanguard of electricians a village full of tarts
who say you must protest you must protest
it is your diamond duty
ah but in such an ugly time the true protest is beauty 1
Though we make and create imperfectly, we make and create in the hope that all things, including ourselves, will become as they were always meant to be. Being creative, making startling, beautiful, and true things is then a defiant, rebellious act against the world as it is. To work on a piece, to create something that never was before this moment, is the refusal to leave well enough alone. It is to look at that dark moment in the beginning of our history, all the dark moments since, and to refuse to let it have the last word.
Creating in prose and poetry, in song and dance, in needlework, architecture, woodwork, and family dinners reminds us, over and over again, that we can trust that this hope is not misplaced, that the truth of the vision of a new Jerusalem is exactly that: true. To be creative, to live between today and eternity, to engage this process repeatedly in the attempt to make sense of what is: these all protest against the dark, and sustain the act of hope in our lives, the choice to see and know that all things will, indeed, be made new.
Blessed are the timid hearts that evil hate,
that quail in its shadow, and yet shut the gate;
that seek no parley, and in guarded room,
though small and bare, upon a clumsy loom
weave tissues gilded by the far-off day
hoped and believed in under Shadow’s sway. 2
So that’s what Creative\\Proofing does: mount a hopeful rebellion within the shadows, weaving and sharing the startling, beautiful, and true.
Let’s be hopeful, creative, and wise — together.