The Unpredictable Plant explores notions of faith and creativity and examines the intersections of church and culture.
The Unpredictable Plant
A new creative equation
I initially didn’t think I’d be nervous to listen to another person read poetry I’ve written to a room full of people, but my goodness, I was freaking out when it happened last Sunday. For somebody like me who has spent a good portion of his life speaking and performing in front of people, it was a surprisingly strange experience taking in something I’ve created while it’s being presented by another person.
You’d think it would be more difficult performing the piece myself, but it wasn’t. It was far more difficult for me to view it being presented from behind the scenes - primarily because I had to give up control of something that I had invested in with my time, energy, heart, and thought.
The video above is a recording of Jaime sharing the spoken word poem I wrote for the first Advent service at the church I work at, and though I could be somewhat biased being the author of the piece, I think her approach was fantastic. Honestly, she brought those verses to life a way that I don’t think anyone else could have.
Either way, the experience of being the former part of the writer/performer equation has taught me something profound about creativity. Namely, that powerful things can happen when artists are willing to share what they’ve created with other people, because positive transformation happens when distinct creative voices are allowed the opportunity to shape and compliment each other.
The doubly exciting thing is that I’ve written four other pieces that will be shared at our next four Advent services, by four different people! So as you can guess, I’m anxious to see more people voice the words I’ve written. Simply because it’s an amazing gift to work with other creative types to make Jesus known.
Even if I know I’m not the only one who’s in his late 20s and single, there are moments when it feels as if I am. It’s the sort of feeling you get when you constantly listen to: The Smiths Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds Joy Division Maybe my problem is that I retreat…
"In a sense I am defending here the historical prerogatives of the literary nonfiction form, to charm and entice by way of a voice that can speak in more than one register, that can tell an anecdote, be self-mocking and serious by turns, and analyze a conundrum."
I’m 27 now, which as far as I can tell, implies that I’m supposed to have a career. But finding a career has always been a troublesome task for someone such as myself. I’ve never been a practical thinker. I’m more of a dreamer. I tend to be unstructured. I tend to enjoy organized chaos. I like new things and become restless when things begin to feel old.
So as you can imagine, being like this doesn’t typically lend itself to finding a solid career. “Alas! Woe is me, woe is me,” cries the cry of all those deemed ENFPs by the MBTI profile assessment test.
But I’m actively figuring out my propensity to dream, and learning to be comfortable with who I’ve been created to be - with all the implications of that high functioning, extemporaneous, wiring for the foreseeable future.
Yet the strange development is that I’ve just started a new job.
And it’s work I could see myself doing for a long time.
So I suppose that means that I have found a career; that after all the imagining, all the praying, all the effort and ache it took to find work in a discipline I love, I have finally arrived at the foot of the canyon of careerism and have jumped headlong into its wonderful abyss.
But how did I get here?
That’s a great question, and I feel compelled to answer it, because I keep having conversations with other people who seem to be going through what I’ve gone through.
What I’m really talking about is that difficult to synthesize thesis/antithesis of being young (well, youngish), optimistic, and having lofty ambitions regarding what you are meant to do with your life but never feeling like you are anywhere near that beautiful dream becoming a reality.
To be honest, I couldn’t even fully articulate what my far-fetched dream looked like in the real world until a month ago. I just knew way down deep in my digestive system that God had something for me that would light me up and I shouldn’t settle until I find it.
And then all of a sudden, there it was in front of me. The dream had become a stomach busting reality.
Communicate the grace you have been given. Disseminate the gospel’s good news. Glorify Jesus with words, words, words. Be creative because a wondrously creative God created you.
It still feels hyperreal acknowledging in writing that I get to do the above for work. But nevertheless, I do get to do the above for work.
But the question still remains: how did I get here?
There’s not a systematic answer I can give to that question. The narrow road of my calling has been fraught with many transitions, sufferings, losses, and joys, and figuring out something like what you are meant to do for a living is more of a non-linear sprawl of a movement than a manageable step system.
The only answer I can give is that you should never allow yourself to be convinced that you are crazy for expecting big things from God. Keep showing up for opportunities as they present themselves no matter how impractical they seem because they could lead to something great. Keep trying to do the things that make you come alive and seeing what happens, because you never know what could happen. Get a day job and do what makes you come alive at night if that’s what it takes to grow in your craft. And be patient, darn it. Don’t think it will all come to fruition in a day, because it won’t. It typically takes time for very beautiful things to happen.
Basically, do what those in the hip hop game do. Which is never stop hustling.
Oh, and pray your face off. Pray, pray, pray. Then pray some more.
God has great things in store for the people that relentlessly pursue him. And it’s a shame when people give up in their pursuit of God, because more often than not, they were just about to stumble into something beautiful right before they quit.
"An idea for a short story about people in Manhattan who are constantly creating these real unnecessary neurotic problems for themselves, because it keeps them from dealing with more unsolvable terrifying problems about the universe."
I’ve always appreciated Woody Allen’s writing. It constantly engages fundamental aspects of human existence in such morose, comedic, and intelligent ways.
This scene is a brilliant example: the notion that people create needless problems to avoid having to address terrifying questions about the universe, and the place of humans in it, is so profound. It caused me to really wonder about the degree to which I let needless neuroses distract me from asking important questions about who I am, who God is, and how these things relate.
Maybe that’s why we’re told to appear before God with fear and trembling - because he’s that amazing, that massive, that holy, and it’s the only response one can have when coming into contact with someone as amazing, good, and loving as he is.
Sadly, Isaac Davis - Manhattan’s focal point - moves quickly in this scene from riffing on ideas for an existential short story to an attempted answering of the massive question, “why is life worth living?” He answers it with a list of things and people that bring him comfort. But really, these ‘comforts’ are only distractions. They don’t completely resolve his existential quandary because they’re all subject to decay.
Yes, even the songs of Sinatra are subject to decay.
So what’s the point of it all, then?
The point is that when asking questions about the universe and our existence, we have to stay focused. We can’t allow ourselves to be distracted by comforts or worries. We have to be willing to experience fear and trembling, because it is often a precursor to discovering something or someone that truly makes life worth living; often a hint that we are beginning to encounter something or someone that may be unsolvable, but nevertheless knowable, and eternally good.
Teen Daze’s most recent effort Glacier is officially released in October, but you can listen to an advance stream if you follow the link above. I’d suggest you do so. It’s an insightful blend of atmosphere and groove, airy synths and icy keys. Mostly chill wave textures, with a touch of soul in the beats. Great work, Daze, great work.
Searching For The Truth (Or Why I Got Into Punk Rock)
I’ve rediscovered my affection for all things punk rock this month and it has been great. It has moved me to consider how this form of music was an essential factor in the formation of my creative identity.
Now “punk rock” means a lot of different things to people who love it, so let me begin by explaining what it means to me. In a word, I believe “punk rock” means “determination.” In a sentence, I believe punk rock means “determination to make music regardless of one’s circumstances.”
This isn’t to say that I think everyone should define the term as such. Because another important aspect of punk is its adaptability. Ask a question like, “Who’s more punk rock? Iggy and The Stooges or Television?The Clash or Joy Division? Sonic Youth or Black Flag?At The Drive In or Refused?” You can’t answer, really. None are identical, but each of those bands express the core elements of punk.
Which is why I’ve decided on the definition I’ve shared here. It accounts for the one thing that characterizes the punk paradigm for me and why discovering it was so profound when I was younger.
When I was in high school, I lived in the suburbs of a small city that tended to be boring if you weren’t super into sports. I wasn’t interested in the same things as the popular kids, and naturally, couldn’t relate to the music they were listening to.
I also had no formal training in music at the time, but I knew that I wanted to be a musician. Even if my grade seven band teacher humiliated me in front of a classroom of my peers because I couldn’t read musical notation, there was something in me that defied his criticism and said “this is what I want to do.” So I quit band class after that year and forged out on my own. I picked up my dad’s old bass guitar and started learning to play music like TheRamones, The Clash, Refused, and At The Drive In.
Playing that music always seemed to come easy to someone like me and there was something in it that resonated deeply within my soul. Within that paradigm all you needed was enough determination to grab an instrument, turn your amp up as loud as it could go, hit the strings like it was five minutes until the rapture, and sing your heart out until your throat hurt (and then sing some more). And if you kept working at it, you’d eventually discover your own style and voice.
As I get older, it’s so easy to forget why I got into music in the first place: for the unhindered joy I felt when things were played loud and fast and chaotic and it didn’t matter if all the notes sounded great together or if I was singing on key. Whatever the truth was, I was was searching for it in music those days, and punk rock helped lead me there. It showed me that I was wired for music even if some people said I wasn’t. It taught me that passion as a musician is as important as ability. It helped me see that all you really need to be excellent at creative work is enough resolve to work at your craft until something powerful is produced.
There I was, on a rooftop with friends. Gazing at the city skyline, dragging on cheap cigarettes. Attempting to answer the conjecture laced with nicotine, “How did I get here?” I managed to feel beat-poetic watching the sun descend behind buildings, my smoke halos of rebellion rising up into dusk. This would surprise anyone who…
Converge Magazine posted another one of my articles. Have a read and let me know what you think. I’m interested to see how people will engage with this one!
Miles Davis once said, “You have to play [music] a long time to be able to play like yourself.”
He knew what he was talking about.
In the past I would have never used the word ‘discipline’ to describe a core aspect of my creative work, but experience has taught me a great deal about its value.
I don’t know about you, but it’s scary how easy it is for me to neglect my strengths and simply get by in my craft by doing what other people are doing or sticking with what’s comfortable.
For example, every awesome album I hear I find myself saying, "I want to sound like that." Or every great piece of writing I read, I’m tempted to say, "That’s the sort of writer I want to be." Or every gifted preacher or speaker I listen to, I think, "I’m going to use that illustration or phrasing one day."
In other moments I’ll find myself thinking, "Yeah, I’ve written something like this before. But nobody will notice." Or, "Sure, I could probably come up with a better lyric or hook here, but this is good enough."
There is always some point in the creative process when I have to stop and ask myself if I’m going to put a ceiling on my work by trying to impersonate someone else or allow myself to stay comfortable, or, if I’m willing to try and break through that ceiling with purpose.
When I am willing to spend forty five minutes tinkering with one small paragraph in an article in order to communicate more clearly what I want to say, that’s when I’m writing most like the writer I was created to be.
Or when I am willing to spend an entire night in my basement turning the dials on my guitar pedals to get the sounds I hear in my head to come out of my amplifier, that’s when I’m most creating music like the musician I was created to be.
So don’t be fooled as I have been in the past. Discipline is fundamental to creativity. It may take time to develop your own voice and grow in your craft, but it’s certainly worth the effort.