Creatives Are Driven To Live

OklahomaBill Hybels, a legendary spiritual leader, once talked about a “holy discontentment” and how it drives the spiritual to continually look for ways to help others. Choreographer Martha Graham spoke of an artist’s “divine dissatisfaction” that drives all creative work.

Prose writer Rachel Carson also spoke of this unrest that leads to creative activity, “No writer can stand still. He continues to create or he perishes. Each task completed carries its own obligation to go on to something new.”

Dancer and choreographer Agnes De Mille, known for her original choreography in Oklahoma!, a musical that generated numerous awards including a record setting 2,212 performances, found herself struggling with her “fairly good work” when critics touted it as a “flamboyant success.”

De Mille received clarity concerning this disconnect in her life when she bumped into Graham and shared her sense of dissatisfaction. De Mille started the conversation with a confession that she had a burning desire to be excellent, but had no faith to achieve it.

Graham: “There is vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. As for you, Agnes, you have so far used about one-third of your talent.”

De Mille: “But, when I see my work, I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.”

Graham: “No artist is pleased.”

De Mille: “But then there is no satisfaction?”

Graham: “No satisfaction whatever at any time, there is only queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

Graham and Hybels had hit on something fascinating. Both saw the activity rising from creative discontentment as divinely inspired for the good of others. While artists long for satisfaction with their work, the blessed only receive a drive to move on to another work.

Julia Cameron, known as a artist, poet, playwright, novelist, filmmaker, composer, journalist and teacher, learned through her studies of the human condition that, “Art is a spiritual transaction. Artists are visionaries. We routinely practice a form of faith, seeing clearly and moving toward a creative goal that shimmers in the distance—often visible to us, but invisible to those around us.”

When I meditate on what I’ve observed, whether information from life or scripture, and many times the combination of both, I receive a divine awareness that helps me to understand a perspective that most have never considered. The excitement contained within the moment drives me to share it with others. But they don’t get it.

The only way for people to understand what I’ve seen is to create art that can demonstrate it or move a person to consider something outside of their reality. It therefore compels me to create art, always hoping it reaches the people it was intended to reach.

This continual drive that most of my friends label as passion, breathes life into me daily. It forces me to try and try again so everyone gets the gift of understanding that I received, but my attempts always fall short. The cycle begins again and again. While I can’t complain because of the life that stirs within me, I am always dissatisfied in my feeble ability to communicate such an important understanding.

And there lies the truth of an artist’s dilemma. Filled with life overflowing, always driven, but never arriving with any form of satisfaction. I’ll call this curse a blessing for it is who I am.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

 

 

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A Father’s Day Dream

A Father'sA special day is just around the corner for dads. Some are looking forward to grabbing a beer and plopping down in their favorite chair to watch a sports event. Others will be dragged to a family function more geared toward women than men, yet it will all be in the name of honoring fathers. And, there will be those dads who long to capture another moment of life with his kids, no matter what their ages.

My dad, like myself, enjoyed the latter activity. He loved to spend time building special memories with my sister and me on Father’s Day, but my mom often had other plans. The older I got, the more I realized that dad just wanted three things out of Father’s Day: thanks, recognition, and appreciation.

THANKS

Dad sacrificed a significant amount of his free time to make extra money so I could do the activities I loved. He networked with key people in town to get me a job at the camera store where I bought my first professional camera system and used it to win Kodak’s national composition award.

Dad also supported my love for music and connected me with the owner of the music store in town. Within a few weeks, I found myself playing drums for elaborate parties, weddings and jazz clubs. Dad also supported my ability to perform and encouraged me to create a show of illusions that led to a first place award in the regional magicians competition.

And guess who let me use his professional 16mm movie camera to explore the world of film. It was no wonder that I shot my first documentary for CBS by age 18. Having grown up with a camera pointed at me since the age of 11 months, I felt at ease in production settings.

RECOGNITION

Without understanding what recognition was, I’d regularly share stories about my dad’s adventures with hundreds of people I met. I shared stories of his heroics like the Saturday morning we were driving downtown in our village. The bank alarm sounded and we watched a robber run out of the bank with a large bag of cash. The guy ran right past the front of our car causing us to screech to a stop. My dad told mom to slide over and grab the steering wheel as he hopped out of the car.

Since my dad was a police officer and they’re never “off duty,” he pulled his .38 Special out from his jacket and headed into the Woolworth store after the robber. He shouted to the clerk to call the police and headed down the aisle in pursuit. Police officers arrived on scene within moments after my dad handcuffed the bank robber and led him to the front of the store. He nonchalantly walked back to the car and we continued on our way as if nothing had happened.

I also recognized him when I won my first national and international directing awards. After all, he helped me understand how to capture story on film and even taught me simple, yet profound concepts like these words of wisdom he shared, “It’s a motion picture and the camera is made for movement, so if the actor isn’t moving the camera needs to move.”

APPRECIATION

My favorite times were those spent chatting with dad about life. Our talks were deep, precious and always just the two of us. If we were in a group of guys, instead of conversations about life, we took turns telling stories that fascinated every man leaning in. When in a group of women we’d listen attentively and only shared a few words when we could add value. But those times we connected alone, whether for 5-10 minutes or longer, were priceless.

I saw in my father’s eyes great pride when I took his words to heart. He knew that one day he could release me in the world and I’d stand tall, making decisions that would make him proud. In fact, I remember the day he acknowledged my manhood and shared with others how proud he was of me. But more importantly I remember the day at the cottage when I thanked him for all that he had instilled in my life. His eyes were filled with such an afterglow that I never thought was possible.

My mom told me later that dad bragged about me to all of his friends for weeks after that day. I suppose it may have lasted longer if it weren’t for the plane crash that took his life at the end of summer. Had I known the power of my appreciation earlier in life, I think he might have glowed for years.

I’ll miss dad this Father’s Day, as I recall more stories than I’ll have time to share with others. He was a servant to our family, a leader in our community, a veteran from WWII, and the best storyteller that I’ve met to date. I couldn’t even begin to think creatively if it weren’t for him.

It’s my hope for fathers all across the globe that this Father’s Day they will be thanked, recognized and appreciated. And more importantly, that they’ll be able to connect with their kids in a heartfelt manner.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

A Mere Man

a mere manMy travels took me on an adventure that I’ll never forget. The wisdom I gleaned as the trip events unfolded took me from the somber depths of death to the invigorating honor of eternal life. I saw what few men today have an opportunity to witness and yet it came without pomp and circumstance.

To support a special friend of mine, one who has endured much and was still found with love in her heart toward mankind, I hopped in my car and headed off on what a map program suggested would be a five hour trip. Eight hours later I arrived at the funeral parlor where her father’s viewing had gathered countless souls.

I quietly stepped into the room. The polish on my shoes looked dull compared to the luminous look of joy on my friend’s face. We embraced, as long time friends do, and she scurried me off to meet members of her family that I had never met. Each face reflected thankfulness for my long journey and desire to be of encouragement. But it was I who was encouraged.

One sister attempted to share the value of my attendance, but her eyes suggested that her words fell short in explaining what the moment meant to her sister and family. Her eyes seemed to search for better words, but all she could do was give my hand a gentle squeeze and share a genuine smile.

Her mother received me with open arms and a warm heart. In the midst of her grieving she temporarily set her pain from the loss of her husband aside and showed me compassion. She too was generous with encouraging words and I realized that my presence meant more than any feeble attempt I might make speaking words of comfort.

The generosity of shared love within the room was overwhelming and I quickly forgot I was in a funeral parlor. Somber comments mixed with the jovial soon filled the air as people took their seats and listened to many shared life experiences with my friend’s father. Each talked about their encounter with him and the changes he instilled in their lives. And a few, after sharing their personal growth, pointed out his humorous idiosyncrasies.

Laughter filling the room did everyone’s heart good like medicine. The humble setting was permeated with honor for this man of God. All in attendance recognized his humility. Those who heeded his advice to pray and read the Word of God daily gave amazing testimonies. The number of miracles I heard caused my head to spin.

And yet, he was a mere man.

Eager to hear every life-changing story, I mingled for some time after the service ended. I listened attentively to numerous people and shared few words of my own. My confidence in this man’s legacy was resolute. He indeed was a god-fearing man that was led by the Spirit of the Living God. I had no doubt and I wanted to be a mere man, too.

Moments later I found myself chatting with a woman whose life had been ravaged for the past several years. In a last ditch effort to survive the stream of abuse she endured, she filed for divorce. Our conversation reminded her of what “life” was supposed to look like, which greatly contrasted her present conditions.

Relief came over her face and a glint of hope sparkled in her eyes. It had been too long since she had something to look forward to in life, but on this day hope welled up within her soul. She sensed that the next chapter in her life might be about beauty in place of ashes. She thanked God for our divine appointment and left with great expectations to see what He had in store for her life going forward.

“A divine appointment.” That’s what she called it. Something astonishing had happened and I knew it had nothing to do with me. I felt like a mere man.

Then it dawned on me.

My friend’s father was a man who believed in truth, spoke words of love into the lives of those around him, and made himself available to be an encouragement during their times of need. He was far more than a mere man—He was a man who chose to engage with those that needed encouragement.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

The Misunderstood Creative (pt. 2)

part2(Click Here To Read Part One)

The creative is misunderstood no matter how hard they try to temporarily fit into society. Some think its because they live 5-10 years ahead of everyone else. Others think it’s their unique wiring that gets them in trouble with the logical ones in life. Regardless of the arguments, its better to learn how to understand the creative rather than pointing out their differences as being weird.

Here are some insights that would help the cause of understanding.

6. They Feel Deeply. It’s not possible to create something of great meaning without first experience the depths of the idea to an even greater depth than would be expected. The creative feels everything more deeply than others so they can feel and understand the emotional tug that must be placed within their art.

Many creative people have well intact memories of their deepest experiences that can be drawn from. Those writing about despair are capable of reliving their darkest moments in order to get the flavor of the experience onto paper. The same is true for the highest of highs. The mere thought of a joyful moment will cause a smile to bust open on the writer’s face.

When the average person watches the writer relive a terrifying moment from their life, it’s all too easy for them to consider dropping the subject. But, the writer embraces the moment to capture the right emotions for his creative work. The unpleasant experience is justified in the final emotionally driven story.

7. Give Long Explanations. When you ask a creative a question, he gives a long-ish story in response. The average person would prefer a short concise answer, but for the artist, the point isn’t the answer, but the journey of the experience. The creative will answer in story form so the person asking the question gets a feeling for everything that led up to the answer.

When I was a kid my family ate dinner together almost every night. My mom would always start off the conversation with any information we’d need for later. Once we had been briefed, my mom would ask dad a question about work. In his artistic storytelling fashion, we’d then experience the life of a cop as he told numerous stories of the day’s events. He was never capable of answering her question in a few sentences. Instead, we all went on a journey as junior cops exploring his day through story.

8. They are Their Work. Artistry is a very personal work that every creative does from his or her heart. They are not capable of separating their art from who they are. The voice of the critic makes life a struggle since each critique is a commentary of their self-worth—validated or condemned. When all goes well, the artist shines all the more, but when things turn south the artist must fight for their emotional survival.

I’ll never forget the premiere of “The Ragman.” It was one of my earlier films made on a micro budget. I had to set up the food tables, collect tickets and then put my tux on in the men’s restroom. A critic caught me dressing and wrote his column on my hole-in-the-wall production company instead of the movie. The film flopped in the U.S. and broke even overseas. I was humiliated—a feeling that resided in me for years. As a result, I can now write tear-jerking stories.

9. Off-the-Hook Intuitive. Creatives intuitively know how to flow within their art form, while the average person can’t even understand the how and whys of artistry. Science has tried to create robot art numerous times, but continues to fail at capturing the essence of the imagery. This is due largely to the intuitive nature of tweaking art based on the artistic imperfections of the human condition—something that must be experienced and can’t be faked by algorithms.

I remember teaching a photography class on composition. The lesson was on the golden section versus the rule of thirds. I ran a quick competition with the students. They would shoot their best work using the rule of thirds and I was to shoot my work using the golden section. We showed the great pictures to numerous students outside of class and the golden section pictures won every time. Okay, I probably should’ve mentioned to the students that I was a national award-winning photographer in both Kodak and Polaroid competitions that year, but I wanted them to emotionally buy into the golden section, not just learn its measurements.

10. Love to Play. Life is about movement, action and adventure. Creatives are always learning and exploring anything that raises their curiosity. Research to an artist is a game that’s fun to play and filled with lots of observations. They toss out the stodgy idea of a methodical program and instead plunge into a more interesting way of capturing the essence of what they’ve set out to learn.

I can’t help but notice that during family birthdays a couple people always find ways of acting goofy. The childlike behaviors invigorate the group with life and joy. The artists in the family seem to get younger every year and some of the more logical folks find themselves sitting in chairs and conversing about the goofy ones rolling around on the floor with the little ones. I’ll admit that at birthday parties I’ve flown trips to the moon, gone on deep sea diving excursions and have piloted an airplane in and out of volcanoes just before they’ve erupted—all while sitting underneath the cake table with happy kids.

I hope these thoughts help you to better understand the creative soul. I also hope its stirred your own heart to bring your creative streak back to the forefront of your life with enthusiasm. Life for a creative is always full of play and that very choice leads to a young energetic life.

(Click Here To Read Part One)

© 2017 by CJ Powers