When we become storytellers then we, by needs must become story-listeners. These two go hand in hand by necessity—to truly heal the world, we live in, we have to become listener and teller.
Listen to the preachers, the politicians, the teachers, musicians, the writers, the beggars, the fighters… the best of each has a story that compels us to want to hear more. They frame their tales in ways that create heroes and villains—sometimes they are the hero and sometimes they make us one—whatever they do, listen to how they do it. Listen and grow in the art of storytelling.
Our own story barrel will only be so deep, on our own, but when we begin to understand what others have gone through, whether tragedy, mediocrity or extreme bliss we expand our empathy and we are taught. We are enlarged.
Gaining the experiences, even troubles, of others and learning beyond our own story, will broaden our barrels. It will help us write, draw, explain—villains, heroes, visions of grandeur, depictions of poverty, and all the colors and places in-between.
I’d like to preface the next point I’ll make by telling you that I am the kind of person who often enjoys simply being alone, and quiet, with my own thoughts. Maybe that’s why I needed to write this and why it has become a part of my story.
I’ve noticed that as artists, sometimes we get the wrong thinking and operating going—that in order to be unique or original, means we have to be alone or lonely. I won’t deny that choosing to live true is difficult or lonely—at times. But the reality is: we need each other.
We need each other’s imperfections and quirks, we need the rub of shoulders. In this daily wonder of living and breathing, next to each other, that is where sparks of insight and thought fly. Together is where the wild wind has a place to whip around and through, to slow and spin us and our tales. The tales we need to tell, the epics we need to listen for, they’re right where we are.
Find someone’s story to listen to this week. A great question to start, “So, what’s your story?”. Everyone has one. Feel free to come back and tell me about your experience in the comments, I’d enjoy hearing.
Here is another short “story”—I am writing a compilation of stories called, “Consider the Ravens”:
Perfection kills, that’s it. I could stop and make that the entire post, but I won’t. There is so much more to understand about this disease that we have gained. It comes down from the ancients and has embedded itself in our psyche to the point that we are demoralizing, demonizing, and destroying ourselves (and others) because we don’t reach it.
Idealizing the goals that we have, whether as artists, writers, scientists, roofers, whatevers, will destroy our ability to enjoy and better ourselves. It is the very act of striving for perfection that keeps us from becoming truly perfected. The only true “perfection” we can achieve is to love deeply.
Now that’s the summary. Are you interested enough to read more?
Well, first let me remind you that Raynna and I are working on a project that we hope to release soon. We hope to have it within the next few months, but we might still tease it here and there.
I’ve collected all of the “Thirteen (Fourteen) Commitment” posts, so far, under one link. Please share them with the artists you know. You can find them here. (Note: I will be updating all sections to reflect the, now, Fourteen Commitments.)
Back to our topic at hand: our current culture is deeply influenced by the ancient Greeks, it’s in our governments, it’s in our obsession with body fitness, selfies, philosophies, religion, it’s everywhere. Now, I could spend the rest of this post telling you all about how we got here, but that’s not the purpose, and just researching a little will yield a lot. One of the unfortunate passings down to us is the concept of perfection. A lot of people will tell you it is religion’s (namely Christianity’s) fault. In part this is true, but that’s only once Christianity became influenced by the Greek culture.
At its core, Christianity (when you peel the onion of tradition) has Jewish ideals of “perfection”. These ideals are expressed in completion. Better said, it is the idea that we are growing into what we are supposed to become. It is like bread that, when all ingredients are combined, grows and becomes a loaf. It is complete, perfect, not without dent or dip, rather it has become itself. Here’s where this really came alive for me—the passages below, a discourse on love. One discourse, two different accounts of it. I think they explain each other.
Here’s the first account:
“…’I say to you, Love your enemies … so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven … For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? … And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? … You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43–48 ESV)
Here’s the second:
“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? … And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? … But love your enemies, … and you will be sons of the Most High … Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:32–36 ESV)
So, in a discourse on love, Jesus speaks about perfection. In the same discourse in a different book of the Bible he speaks about mercy (compassion). So according to Jesus, perfection and mercy are the same thing.
In his famous love chapter in the Bible Paul writes about the perfect coming (it’s a journey, a growing, a recipe). Each of these things are dealing with being complete—whole. Love is the ideal of a true Bible-based perfection—it isn’t shimmery oiled up bodies, perfect hair or status.
Now to connect all of this: it isn’t art without wrinkle, writing without hole, equations without typo, roofs without leaks. It is passion working together with the journey toward wholeness.
When we remove the pristine perfection concept from our measuring instruments, not only will we become more forgiving of others—we will be able to do the harder part of forgiving and accepting ourselves.
Now, I haven’t perfected this removal (wink wink)… I am on a journey to better accept my weaknesses and mistakes. Not only that, but I am finding that these things often make me who I am.
Don’t let perfection rob your joy, your passion, your love. Let love inform and mold your journey toward becoming better. We become better in the journey so we can become whole. We work to gather in all of the ingredients of this life and grow toward who we were created to be. So that we can pour out that wholeness, perfection, on others—for others. This is why Biblical perfection will always make us humble, true, and loving.
To fight against my own perfectionism I challenged myself to 30 days of ink only drawing. It’s been awful. I have two days left.
The guidelines I put on myself are: I can use watercolor and any other form of non-erasable media. These are my attempts at arting without a safety net.
Handbook Sketch Book
At first I didn’t like this book, but it is the one I am using for the 30 days of no pencil and it has grown on me. The main difference between the HandBook and Moleskine is the waxy pages. This has a subtle but pleasant texture and I think I might be hooked.
“Hand-book Trav-e-logue Drawing Book 8-1/4-Inch by 5-1/2-Inch, Large Portrait in Ivory Black contains 128 acid-free pages of heavyweight buff drawing paper. The paper has a good tooth which makes it an excellent choice for drawing and sketching work. The hand-bound cover has just the right flexibility. Great for pen and ink, pencil and markers. It accepts light watercolor washes without buckling. It has a durable elastic closure and a very useful clear envelope tucked inside the back cover. The perfect journal for artists on the go.”
“The following year I attended my second Hutchmoot. I found myself in a session by Jeffrey Overstreet. He began by saying “I have a friend who has a tattoo. It reads “Comparison is the thief of joy.” That is exactly what I had allowed. I have to work at things that are seemingly effortless for Joe, so I had stopped seeing my talents as valuable in comparison to his. I had let my own attitude defeat myself. This was a reality check I needed. I’m sure there are others out there that need it as well, so I’m opening up our world for a little glimpse inside to show you that you are not alone.”
I didn’t mean for there to be so long between my last post and this one, but I’m trying to follow my own advice and jump in where I left off.
Have a great week everyone. Create, be happy, create more,
P.S. As I mentioned earlier, Raynna and I have been concocting something that we’re hoping to announce soon, make sure you’re subscribed if you want to hear first. Thanks for being here everyone!
Also, Subscribe to get the free one page PDF: Fourteen Commitments for Artists to Cultivate Inspiration. My wife and I have packed it full for you.
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In my last post, I wrote about the decisions that I had made that have brought me to this point in my life. In it I, also, wrote about the decisions that are being made that will redirect my (and my family’s) path for the coming future as well as the insecurities that I have/am facing as we make this recalibration.
Dealing with insecurities is a reality that most people have to deal with. We only overcome those insecurities through maturity. Maturity comes through growth.
Maturity has nothing to do with getting older. Maturity is simply more time spent on a task or topic, deeper experience and understanding, more depth.
(I am not sure that maturity has nothing to do with getting older, but I agree whole-heartily with the rest.)
Part of that growth is daily use. I most often call this muscle. Muscles are strengthened, hardened, and better equipped the more we use them. Those that exercise often and increase the ability of their muscles are able to utilize them better/longer than those that don’t.
The same is true of writing, drawing, or any other trade that we engage ourselves in. (Yes, there are those that are just talented—the ones that seem to just be able to pick up a tool, what ever it may be, and do incredibly. They are often the excuses that the rest of us use to shy away from our given hopes and dreams.) The more we exercise our art/trade the more we mature it and ourselves. The more we mature, the more confidence we gain. The more confidence we gain, the more we grow in passionate for our trade. The more passion we gain, the more we perfect our art/trade.
When your skills, your understanding, become mature, you will find that although the work may still be difficult, that you make fewer mistakes, start down fewer blind alleys, and that your results are almost uniformly of the quality you seek.
As I have stepped back into this role of artist/writer I have come up against several fears. Among them are the fears of my tools. This may sound silly, but it is a legit fear. For the past ten plus years, whenever I did decide to do some art work it was nearly always digital. Not one hundred percent but mostly. I would sketch it, scan it, and then paint it digitally. Command-Z was my friend. Now, that I have moved back into illustration I am trying to become more traditional—whiteout is my new best friend. I am inking my sketches and trying to learn watercolor. (Yes, I still do paint digitally while I am learning. Though, I doubt I will ever give it up 100%.) The tools are somewhat intimidating. But, I know that once I use them, strengthen myself with them, and become more confident I will look back at my fears as both silly and needed.
Silly, because it is just a pen. My fear comes from making mistakes and having to do it all over again—or from being seen as a terrible artist.
Needed, because it is pushing me to become more acquainted with my tools so that I can overcome the fear.
For the most part, I have applied all of the above to drawing. That is because I am more comfortable as a writer right now. But, many of the same fears apply. Even now as I write this, I am concerned that a better writer will see my flaws.
There are always better—whatevers—than ourselves. Seeing that, understanding it, and moving on toward my goal means that I am maturing. It is no longer stifling me and killing my desire or my passion.
More than that, you can relax. There’s work to do, but you know how to do it. There are problems to solve, but you’ve solved problems like them before. And if the problems are new, they are interesting, not frightening.
Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing ~ Harriet Braiker
Any discussion of perfection strikes a major cord with me. It does so specifically from a theological view. The Hebrew Bible uses the idea of perfection. But, it is never in a sense of flawlessness—well, outside of God. Humans are flawed. We have been since before Adam and Eve ate from the tree.
We were created that way.
It is called choice.
But, God is a coverer of wrong choices. We see His reaction to Adam and Chavah (Eve) in that He deliberately chose against His Law: the day/time you eat it you will die, and chose to cover over the flaw (choice to sin) of His creation.
God views perfection differently that we do. We have a very Latin/Greek way of thinking about it: undented, untarnished, flawless.
God’s view is: dented, tarnish, flawed—repentant—forgiven: perfect. In a few cases we see that God even forgives/covers over the unrepentant—especially when they have sinned through the influence of others.
Perfection can be something that we strive for when that perfection is wrapped up in repentance of sin and forgiveness.
The forgiveness comes from God the Father. Jesus, Christians believe, is the expression of God’s forgiveness covered in human form—God himself enmeshed in flesh. That he is “the lamb slain” from the founding of the world—to cover Adam and Eve—in other words, God’s mercy poured out.
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” ( Matt 5.48 NIV )
It’s a great sound bite, but it isn’t complete (Jesus is actually referring to other Scripture here.) because there is a context to these words. In the Book called Luke, Jesus is quoted as saying:
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” ( Luke 6.36 NIV )
It is the exact same context, but two different words with two different ideas—when taken out of said context.
What is the overall context of the words of Jesus?
“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” ( Matt 5.46–47 NIV )
“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” ( Luke 6.35 NIV )
It can be summed up in one word: love. Throughout the Scriptures we see men and women, who are obviously not blameless/perfect being called blameless and perfect. What have they done to be labeled such?
They sought forgiveness for their flaws—and, they were wrapped in it.
They loved beyond their, and, often, others’, sins. That doesn’t mean that they allowed lawlessness or that God did—it means that they loved God with all of their heart, soul, and strength—yes, even with their bad parts.
One last thing, let’s look at the oft quoted, for marriages and weddings, 1 Corinthians 13.
“For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” ( 1 Cor 13.9–13 NIV )
For Paul, love is the perfection that comes. So, the unfortunate bumper sticker that says, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven” is both fundamentally flawed and profound at the same time. Christians (and other) are perfected in forgiveness. We are a flawed force that is greatly loved by an immeasurable God.