Why We Make Art

“Who you actually are is far bigger than the narrative you construct about who you are,” writes Jon Kabat-Zinn in Mindfulness for Beginners.

At this moment—end of semester, grades in, annual faculty record due, next year’s budget due, meetings to schedule, e-mails to respond to, office to clean, and the thousand and one things to do at home that have been ignored for months but there’s little time before I load the car and my son and I back out of the driveway, aim the car toward onto I-40W, Asheville to L.A.—I am feeling small, worn, reduced if not defeated.

And at this moment, 106 words into the unknown of this essay now two days late: doubt. Doubting my intelligence, talent, strength.

I know this story: I’ve been reading it for decades. Though who “I” was when the story of doubt, my doubt, was first written, I’m not, at this moment, sure, who else but “me” could have written the first draft? [Read more...]

The Marrow of Prayer

Early this year, Spanish researchers published a peer-reviewed paper considering the evidence of social learning in Middle Pleistocene hominids as indicated by patterns of butchery.

In the study, part of the Bolomer excavation under the auspices of the Prehistory Museum of Valencia, researchers examined bones to find that breakages during butchering to extract marrow occurred at unlikely places, indicating a specific intention, knowledge and practices transmitted through the generations from parent to child, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

I tuck in my three-year-old at bedtime under a mural I painted for him of mountains and trees and animals from his favorite storybooks: Owl Babies, Curious George. I turn the lights off, and brighten the dimmer three clicks, just enough to see. Aslan—the lion from the Narnia books I can’t wait to read to Sam when he’s a couple of years older—emerges from the dark with a slightly punk-rock mane on the wall just above my son’s pillow. [Read more...]

If Necessary, Use Words

As a retort to the old saying that “a New Englander never uses ten words when one will do,” I’ve heard it said that “a Southerner never uses one word when ten will do.”

I’m proof of the latter. I’ve got a big mouth and have gotten into trouble using it for most of my life.

“You sure do talk a lot.”
“You shouldn’t have said that.”
“Why do you ask so many questions?”

These are common observations by my friends from other climes. Every time I go out, I swear to myself that I won’t dominate the dialogue. But I customarily fail before I’ve even taken my coat off. There has never been an awkward silence with me in the house. [Read more...]

It Ain’t All Bluegrass, Blues, and Ribs

I know my limits.

Though often I go on saying yes to this, yes to that, yes to the other as if the calendar were merely a hypothesis, as if the body were merely an argument, the most tangible, perhaps, for how far, how long a man or woman can go without rest.

Time is elastic. Exhaustion is an illusion, a trick performed by some agent to keep us from creating at a level equal to The Creator’s output.

And what has The Creator done for us lately? Created this moment, its shadow and light, this moment with its pronouns and conjunctions, connecting this and that, and, with its prepositions, forming relationships, one to the other: by, beside, under, near, inside…

Inside the body: the heart. But what empties and fills the heart, what passes through what we call “heart,” is more than blood carrying proteins, electrolytes, and vitamins, oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. [Read more...]

The Hobbit, the Holy Spirit, and Calculus

It was my eleven-year-old’s turn to pick a movie, and he chose The Hobbit, just as his thirteen-year-old brother had done a few weeks before. The full title of the movie is: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and believe me, I never expected I’d be journeying to the theater to watch it a second time.

I’m very impatient with people who take a long time to tell a story, because I believe my time belongs to me. My aesthetic sense, further, favors an economy of verbiage, excepting, of course, my own pretty, pretty words.

More than once I’ve groaned inwardly, while listening to someone recount some event that matters far more to him than to me, thinking it would have taken less time to live through it myself than to suffer through his interminable telling.

This is petty and selfish of me, and so perhaps, in my Hobbit odyssey, God is teaching me patience for epic recountings. [Read more...]