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Don’t Let Comparison Kill Creativity

25 Oct

Words have power.

Certain declarations are like pins pricking the balloons of creativity that are meant to float up into the sky and show the world something beautiful.  Instead, they are left lifeless and deflated on the ground.

“They are so talented, I could never be as good as them.”

“I may as well smash my guitar after hearing that guy.”

“After reading that, I feel like giving up on writing.”

“That’s a tough act to follow.”

“There is nothing new under the sun. Everything has already been created.”

I have said those things and more often I have thought those things. It’s impossible not to at times, especially in a culture where everything is a competition. We make art a contest.

I mean, isn’t it? After all, this is a dog-eat-dog world. There is not enough spotlight for everyone, only the best rise to the top, right?

I wrote a blog a few weeks ago asking the question,  Does Good Art Deserve Recognition? It was amazing to hear the feedback I got from writers, singers, musicians, etc. Most people want to live a child-like and care free existence where they are creating out of joy, but along the way life catches up with us and we began to feel chewed up and spit out by the system, we begin to compare ourselves with others and feel deflated. Our dreams become grounded.

We don’t need to stay there.

I say, it’s time to stop making art a competition. Everyone is unique, we all have something different and beautiful to give the world. We know this as four-year-olds, we learn it from Barney and Sesame Street, but somewhere before we hit middle school we stop believing it.

But we can go back there, tap into that pure flow, in the place that exists before the pressures to perform took over.

What we have is a unique expression of what it means to be a human being. We don’t have to hoard it or be ashamed of it.

There is enough beauty and color, enough pain and suffering, enough story in the world to reflect it in six billion different ways.

Is there a place for critique? Definitely, we all have a lot to learn. But if you pick something apart in the middle of it being born, it loses the spontaneous life in it.  Is there a place learn from others who may have years more experience at their craft, or a different perspective? For sure, diversity is a wonderful thing. But we can’t expect to be them. And we shouldn’t need to. The world doesn’t need another them.

So let’s stop using our words to negatively assess and compare our gifts with others.

Let’s stop judging and start living.

I recently read some of the best advice from Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet. He is speaking of poetry, but it applies to anything creative.

“You have asked if your verses are good. You ask me. You ask others. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are disturbed when editors reject your efforts. Now, I beg you to give up in all that. You are looking outward, and that above all, you should not do now. Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody.

There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you to write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart. Acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all– ask yourself in the stillest hours of the night: must I write? Delve into yourself deep for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple ‘I must,’ Then build your life according to this necessity; your life even in its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it.”

“Believe that you can change the world. Your dreams have been living in a code of silence. Find your voice. Make a noise.”-Katie Herzig

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“Sleeping at Last”- The Soundtrack Of My Life

2 Oct

No, this post is not about overcoming narcolepsy, but heavenly music. I get very passionate about good art, and I tend to say “You need to listen to/watch/read/see this… it changed my life!” In homage to my favorite music group, I decided to share why.

In 2007 I was laying in my little house on Fruitdale Street trying to go to sleep. I was tossing and turning, thinking too much like I tend to do- imagining future scenarios and all the things left unsaid and undone of the day. I grabbed my Ipod and scrolled through my music, of which several artists I didn’t know because my friend had shared some music with me. Sleeping at Last. Hmm. Seems fitting. Hopefully prophetic.

I put my headphones in and listened.
It was soothing, lovely. I began to drift off to sleep at last as they had promised when suddenly profound truth rung in my ears, waking me up.

We are made of love and all the beauty stemming from it. We are made of love, and every fracture caused by the lack of it. (Needle and Thread, Keep No Score)

Immediately, tears flooded my vision. But they were tears of joy.  I soared through the rest of the album Keep No Score, completely raptured, no longer tired.

When heaven meets the earth, we will have no use for numbers to tell us who we are or what we’re worth. (Heaven Meets the Earth, Keep No Score)

We’ll say the one thing everyone should hear: You were meant for amazing things.  (Umbrellas, Keep No Score)

When, a few months later, my friend invited me to see them live, I jumped at the opportunity. It was a beautiful experience. Nearly five years later, I still consider them my favorite artist.  I always judge a song by the depth of the lyrics first.  Every song I hear from Sleeping At Last seems to be the epitome of the revelations of beauty and truth I am beginning to see around me.  The way they are written stands alone as poetry. That’s not even mentioning the incredible beauty and complexity of the music, something I cannot even begin to express because I am not a musician.

This past year Sleeping at Last embarked on a creative endeavor, “Yearbook,”  to release an EP at the beginning of each month for an entire year. Three written, played and fully produced songs every month. The beginning of the month was always filled with exciting anticipation. And they always delivered, not one song was mediocre in sound like they just got busy and were just trying to fill space. I am always quoting Sleeping at Last lyrics on my blog, and telling people to listen to them, so I decided to share a collection of my favorites lyrics here, and what they have meant to me.

The World is ours if we would only let it be. (Hurry, Ghost)

On a bus crossing the desert in Western China in 2008, God spoke to me “I want to give you the world” in the middle of some intense broken-ness and questioning. When I got back to the U.S., I had these things spoken rolling around in my head mixed with all the things I thought to be true about myself. I was suffering jet-lag and went to watch the sunrise and cry. I had my Ipod on shuffle and that song came on and I immediately knew God was confirming, yes, all things are mine.

Say all the things that you really want to say, the truest of forms will show, finally you’ll find your soul.  (Say, Ghosts)

I had the line to this song in my head when I decided to let go finally express how I really felt to someone.  It was a turning point in my life because up until that point I had feared rejection so bad I always kept my mouth shut.

Love is tension and thrill that begs to be ours. (Tension and Thrill, Keep No Score)

This sparked my current belief that love as both tension and thrill, beauty and pain, and you must embrace both in order to see the whole thing in its fullness.

Wake up, wake up, I think that the world’s asleep. We are surrounded by color and light, and we don’t even know it…. death is the only thing that makes us alive, forcing focus on light that we have inside.  (Volcanos, Keep No Score)

This speaks for itself. This is really the theme of countless poems, and this whole blog, really.

Put down your weapons and close your eyes, cause you and your enemies are innocent tonight. The war you’re fighting has already been won. (Dreamlife, Keep No Score)

When I heard this song, I was just leaving a movement where everything was focused on militant Christianity- we are in a moral war and we need to fight for the hearts of the youth of America. It never sat right with me, and towards the end I began to see the holes in the entire thing. God began to show me everything had been accomplished through Jesus, and the idea that the war has, indeed been won, was one of the most liberating in my life.

Religion is a breeding ground where the devil’s work is deeply found…. and fear ties knots and pulls them tight, and leaves us paralyzed But in the end such tired words will rest, the truth will re-route the narrow things they’ve said. The marionette strings will narrow and untie, and out of the ashes love will be realized.  (Naive, Storyboards)

This song, for me, sums up what has been going on in the church and leaves me feeling hopeful that despite all the bondage and lies, truth and  love will be realized.

If time is money, then I’ll spend it all for you. I will buy you flowers with the minutes we outgrew. I’ll turn hours into gardens planted just for us to take, I’ll be reckless, building castles in your name. Since we’ve grown, we’ve longed for concrete things, honestly nothing’s felt more sure than when you are next to me. So let’s cut down the red tape and gather up the pieces of our youth. Cause there’s nothing in the world we could fix without some scissors and glue. (Next to Me, October EP)

I love this whole song, really.  In a world with lots of drama in relationships, it captures the child-like-ness of love, something I adore about my relationship with my boyfriend.

The next few songs speak for themselves. (As they all do, I just felt no need for commentary.)

When it’s all been said, and this empty dictionary is all that’s left, I’ll try to change the world in a single word. My hands are shaking ready or not, invisible ink is all I’ve got, so I’ll concentrate and pick from these barren trees… some call it reckless, some call it breathing. (Accidental Life, April EP)

The only birthright in this life is the breath that we take. (Birthright, March EP)

Life is a gorgeous broken gift, six billion pieces waiting to be fixed, love letters that were never signed, sent to where we live. The sweetest thing I’ve ever learned, is that I don’t have all the answers, just a little light to call my own. Though it pales in comparison to the overarching shadows, the speckled light can reignite the sun and swallow darkness whole.  (Emphasis, November EP)

It was recently announced Sleeping at Last will have a song the soundtrack of the newest Twilight movie. While I can’t really stand those movies, I am excited for them (I keep saying them, but it’s really just one guy now, Ryan O’Neil) to have this kind of exposure. The world needs to hear music like this, even Twilight fans. 😉  Yes and Amen.

All this to say, our future is a blank page that we choose to pour ourselves into when God presses play. (All This To Say, Storyboards)

Does Good Art Deserve Recognition?

18 Sep

“Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle, curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf. We must take a wider view, see the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what’s going on here.” – Annie Dillard

Last night I wandered streets of a small town, bustling with people “crawling” for an art crawl, they wore boots and brightly colored scarves in celebration of the air finally turning brisk. I had just driven ten hours with Becca, several through the mountains of Tennessee, the scenic road running along a river dotted with yellow rafts filled with people squeezing out the last moments outdoors before the cold sets in. I was feeling both tired and invigorated, drinking in all the smiling people, old friends, art and music going down warm like the glass of pinot grigio being handed to me.  It felt like a welcoming party for the autumn for being in North Carolina for the next few months of my life.

I followed friends into a coffee shop where a girl was singing passionately, her face bright with emotion and meaning. A man accompanying her on the piano sang along at times. When they announced they were going to do The Civil Wars I melted with happiness.

It was a nearly perfect duet. Only Joy and John Paul could have done any better. I looked around at the twenty or so people in the cafe, eyes wide at the beauty filling there ears, a slight smiles reminding them of some memory, some person.

I don’t have a choice, but I still choose you.

In the midst of it all, I thought what I can’t help think when I am faced with incredible genuine talent,

“Why aren’t they famous!?!”

The thought was normal, but in the moment it felt almost profane.

Whether they are famous or not has nothing to do with the beauty they possess in their voices, their instruments singing along.

And then tonight I saw a play. It was written by an eighty-year-old man.  His wife played the only character, the entire performance a two hour monologue. But I was enraptured. I went on a journey with this woman, crying and laughing. I peered into her soul, saw her pain, her reasons for being, and ultimately walked with her out of the door of the prison in her mind.

Afterwards, we talked to the genius couple that made this play come to be. The man spoke of how hard it was to market it, as all he knew was the old school ways, and they were thinking of canceling the next few shows. Again, the question arose in me, this time more urgently.

“Why doesn’t the world know about this? This is such incredible talent! This is such an important message! We need to get as many people to see this as possible!”

I wonder how many times I have said that. It’s a natural reaction, to want to share beauty, to try to as Annie Dillard said, “take a wider view and describe what’s going on here.”  It compels us, it’s part of what makes us human.

But can our desire for masses to behold these works of art actually rob something from us as we behold them?

This is so close to home because I see myself as an artist. Not in a pretentious way, but rather in the simple fact my purpose is to create, to string words together to try to create image, emotion, to  allow Something Else to breathe into it and reflect on what it means to be a human being and beyond. It’s obviously hard when I feel like no one is listening. I am sure this has been the conflict of creators throughout the history of humanity; like a new mother, we desire to show the world our baby so everyone can know how special he is.

Jeff Goins, in his e-book “The Writer’s Manifesto” says,

“This is natural, of course. This desire to be heard. To be acknowledged as an artist. But ultimately it corrupts the art, the pure desire to create.”

But I still get this sense of righteous indignation, the idea that those with amazing creative talent deserve a huge platform.I am sure you know at least a handful of “should be” famous people. They play in dive bars and coffee shops, paint in their basement, sing in the their shower, act in front of a handful of people in a warehouse-turned-theater. Often, they are struggling, the “starving” artists who can barely pay their bills, and yet they keep creating.

 

 

In a culture that cranks out auto-tuned robots and uses sex and CGI to sell instead of creativity and good story telling, it’s easy to get bitter real fast.  But there has to be a better way.

We all want beauty. It’s easy to rant about how “arts and entertainment” shouldn’t be in the same category, how society as a whole just wants fluff and no substance, how culture is dying and being replaced by clones, but I’d rather try to see the hope.

People, all over the world, are creating because we love to. We have songs and books and plays and sculptures inside of us and nothing will stop us: not being broke, and definitely not anyone telling us that what we are doing has already been done or that it’s not marketable.

Side note: That is never good advice to give someone- it kills dreams and stops people from even trying. People who say this usually have given up themselves. Don’t ever listen.

Every year I have been alive, I understand more how important art really is. It reflects how we try to make sense of the world around us. It is our mouthpiece of dealing with pain, overwhelming emotion, beauty that muddles our minds. It shows us who we are and where we are going.

It’s our “feeble attempt to express the inexpressible.”

Maybe the amount of people that experience art does not determine its value,  maybe it is valuable because it was made in the first place.

How many people have given up because their talent was never recognized, they never got paid for what they thought they were worth? How many of those people are now bitter at the world?

I don’t write this because I have it all figured out. Even as I write this I hope I will be recognized. It’s a choice every time I post to choose to not allow my view of what I’ve written be judged by the amount of facebook likes.

If I write for the praise of people I may as well give up right now. Accolades are addictive, you can never have enough.

I wrote this because I’ve listened to the music and watched the scenes play out and I’ve felt the frustration of wanting the world to experience what I had in those moments. I wrote this because my fingers literally start twitching and I know if I don’t get it out I’ll spontaneously combust.

So I’ll keep on writing until the day I die, whether it’s an audience of one or a million.

I will leave behind the facade and bare my heart because that’s who I am and the world doesn’t need another copycat.

I’ll know I create because I was created to create and every day I will choose to believe that is enough.

Art Is Home

23 Jul

notes build like bricks
to create structures to be filled
with souls who find home there

words mix like swirling colors in paint cans
making drab and old weathered browns
new blush reds
and starry-eyed blues

we live inside art because we need to know
our slight hope of excruciating beauty
really means something

that this doesn’t have to fade with childhood
this belief fireflies glow because they need to
light up the black
that willow trees push their way through thick layers
because they have to see the sun

and we’ll know the best thing to fill time and rooms with
is hysterical laughter
and songs that walk through walls

we live inside creativity because
if we don’t see newness
in each morning
we cave into death

we know if we begin to think it’s all been done before
we may as well cripple our legs our gouge out our eyes

so we swing wide the front door
ignoring locks and alarms systems
we let our hearts become a canvas
and our minds a sketch pad
we allow words written across our limbs

and then we know

we live inside beauty because
we need to know beauty lives inside us

Art By My Dad

19 Aug

My dad, John Frederick Luby III, is a talented, multifaceted man. The older I get, the more I appreciate him.

He is musician, a writer, a great thinker, an artist and a man of God. Here is a painting he did of my little brother Robert.

robart

Robert has downs syndrome and is one of the most happy people I know. He doesn’t worry about life. If he is mad, he gets over it quickly. He is an example of love and simplicity.

I love my family. I am going to go visit New Hampshire in a couple weeks, just for a week before stuff gets more crazy the end of September.

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