Rekindling the Creative Spark: An Experiment Upon Myself, Part 2: Proposed Treatment


Yesterday,  I detailed a problem not only with my writing, but with my imagination overall: 

I’ve allowed the pump to run dry,  so even if the well has water,  and even if I go up the hill to fetch a pail, I’ll have to do some serious priming to get anything drinkable. 

And if I’m not careful, I might fall down and break my crown 🙂

So what am I going to do? Metaphor aside, an imagination isn’t like a water pump or car engine. 

Well, I  have a few ideas: 

Listen to music that fired my imagination the past, musicians whose lyrics were poetic,  with imagery,  metaphor,  and complexity. 

  • Sarah McLachlan
  • Bob Dylan
  • Peter, Paul, and Mary 
  • Wyclef Jean 
  • Sting
  • Mary Chapin Carpenter
  • Rosanne Cash
  • Maria McKee
  • Leonard Cohen
  • Bruce Cockburn
  • Sarah Brightman
  • 10000 Maniacs
  • Beth Patterson
  • Rich Mullins
  • Jennifer Knapp
  • U2
  • And many others 

Seek out more music by musicians who’ve caught my attemtion once or a few times in the past:

  • Amanda Abizaid 
  • Amanda Ghost
  • Martin Page 
  • Nina Gordon
  • Charlotte Sometimes
  • The Pogues
  • Shakira
  • Sara Evans
  • Annie Lennox, both solo and in that band my auto-correct won’t let me write. 
  • even Guns N Roses

(It occurs to me how white this list is,  with the exception of Wyclef and Shakira. Maybe I should look in some new directions as I seek out new material)

    Seek out new music that may have the same qualities.  This is harder,  because it involves spring through a bushel and a half of disposable pablum. The old stuff comes pre-sorted.

    But this is not just about music. I need to read actual poetry. I also need to constantly read fiction, fiction with imagery, fiction that plays with language. 

    Perhaps most importantly, I need to take better care of myself. I need to get enough sleep. I need to get more exercise,  and I need to eat less refined sugar. 

    I need to clear space my mind. This isn’t about excusing myself from doing the things that need to be done. 

    It’s about clearing out the clutter, watching less tv, wasting less time on Facebook, Slate, etc. 

    It’s about doing one thing at a time. Multitasking isn’t just inefficient; it’s frustrating and depressing, too. 

    It’s about regeneration. But mostly about getting enough sleep. 

    I hypothesize that two weeks of adequate sleep, limited attention-splitting time wasters, and reaquaintance with nearly forgotten favorites will have back to my old self. 

    I’ll collect data and get back to you with the results. 

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    August So Far: Sleep, Exercise, and Rekindling a Creative Spark


    I’ve outlined some writing goals and life goals for August.  I’m writing this on August 7, so I thought I’d report  on how the first week went. 

    I’m still struggling with sleep, but I have determined that 7 hours a night is not enough for me.  My next test will be to see whether I need 7 1/2 or 8 hours. 

    I did manage to exercise three times the first week. I swam twice,  I did chair squats once,  and we took a walk the park once.  At this rate,  I won’t be ready for the 2020 Olympics,  but it’s a good start. 

    As far as writing fiction goes, I’m beginning to wonder whether planning plots is really the best move at this point.

    After I finished my dissertation, I immediately started writing what I thought would be a novel or novella,  but ended up being alongish short story. 

    It’s rubbish, of course,  and by the end I just wanted it to be over. I only finished it at all because giving up so close to the ends would have been a self-sabotaging defeat. 

    And I’m still stuck right there, in a mess of my own making. 

    I get enough sleep to do well at work, but not enough to have any energy or clarity left after we’ve put the little one to bed. 

    Honestly,  I don’t have any desire to write our do anything else after we put Daughter to bed. Most of my experimental cooking is on the weekends, even.

     and I’m not getting to bed early enough to get up an hour early to write or do  whatever before work. 

    Still I’m simplifying my goalsfor August:  Forget everything else.  Sleep matters. 

    As for my creative side, I’ll be taking some concrete steps to refill the old gas tank,  beyond just getting more sleep,  but I’ll talk about those in an upcoming post. 

    Sleep Deprivation Is a Moral Issue


    Well, mine is at least. 

    Some people are sleep deprived because they have to work multiple jobs, maybe 80 hours a week, just to survive. In a nation as rich as America,  that’s a moral issue of an entirely different sort, a matter of basic decency and justice. 

    That is not why I get sleep deprived. I get sleep deprived because I stay up too late. 

    Doing what?  You might ask. Well,  that it’s the thing… It always seems to be something different.

    I may not watch one bit of tv or play one minute of a videogame,  but  something will come up,  something I forgot to do,  something I need to look up,  something I want to talk about, an idea I want to write down …SOMETHING.

    It is not any one thing. It’s a million different things. Which means it’s me. 

    And I am going to fight back, starting today. 

    Starting tonight,  it’s no excuses.  If I miss a night on the blog,  you will know why. 

    If I fall short of another July goal,  that’s okay.  This matters more. 

    Sleep deprivation dulls my wit and clouds my creativity.  It is damp wood for my creative spark,  producing far more smoke than fire. 

    It makes me less effective at work,  shortchanging my department and the students we serve.

    Sleep  deprivation takes me  away from my loved ones now by making me drowsy and grouchy.  

    It will take me away from them permanently if I let it, maybe not this year,  but far sooner than I want to go. 

    So starting tonight, I will fight back. I will start getting ready for bed by  10, and close my eyes by 11.

    I am drawing a line.  Please pray that I will be able to hold it. 

    Jiminy Cricket and The Long Black Coat (Wrestling the Human Conscience)

    The Talking Cricket from Pinocchio

    There are two trains of thought about the conscience among Christians, which I may call Jiminy Cricket and Long Black Coat.  Jiminy Cricket says “let your conscience be your guide.”  Bob Dylan’s song “The Man with the Long Black Coat” says quite the opposite:

    Preacher was talkin’, there’s a sermon he gave/said every man’s conscience is vile and depraved/you cannot depend on it to be your guide/when it’s you who must keep it satisfied.

     

    The Talking Crickett says that, since we are made in God’s image [Genesis 1:26], our conscience can be a good guide to us.  Of course, we have to be grounded in scripture, prayer, and a Christian community so that we don’t become victims of our own self-justification.  But our consciences can form a significant part of what guides us.

    This aligns, largely, with John Wesley’s four-legged stool approach to interpretation: Scripture, Reason, the Church Tradition and Community, and Personal Experience. There’s a good, brief, comparison between John Calvin and John Wesley’s views of sin, salvation, and human will available here.

    People who hold to this train of thought tend to also believe that those who are outside the faith, who have no faith, or who have only vague religious beliefs with no commitment, or who are of a different faith, can follow their consciences to generally good effect.

    With the caveat, of course, than nobody’s conscience is perfect and true, and even the most faithful believers need other sources to keep them on-track.

    And deep inside, I know this is true.  I know my conscience and reason guide me.  I know that people of other faiths or no faith are not conscienceless sociopaths.  I know they feel it, too, when they do wrong, just like I do.  Deep inside, I know I have to follow my own integrity, if I am ever to follow God.

    The Long Black Coat says that we are fallen, despicable creatures, that our righteousness is filthy rags [Isaiah 64:6].  Our consciences are, to quote Dylan, “vile and depraved.”  Not just flawed or imperfect.  Vile.  Disgusting.  Depraved.  Totally evil.  John Calvin called this “Total Depravity,” the inability to do anything except pure evil without God’s grace.

    In this case, nobody’s conscience is worth listening to.  As God said to Job, “Would you discredit my justice?  Would you condemn me to justify myself?  Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like his?” [Job 40:8-9, NIV].  Who are we to contend with God?  What is our conscience, our limited, self-justifying sense of justice, compared to one who sees all, who knows all?

    And deep inside, I know this is also true.  I know how easily I justify things, how easily my conscience can be calloused to my own weakness, my own laziness, my own wasteful, hurtful wants.  I know how easily my conscience can be seared to the suffering of others half a world away or just down the hall.  Out of sight is out of mind, and busy-ness is the true opiate of the people.  My conscience may be my best earthly guide, but that doesn’t make it ideal.  Far from it.

    So where does that leave us?  The facile answer is “We listen to the Bible” (generally as interpreted by our denomination, and this is by no means exclusive to Calvinists).  But the Bible was written over the course of a thousand years, finishing up almost two thousand years ago.  It’s not an owner’s manual.  It is not, contrary to bumper sticker churchianity, “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.”

    The Bible is a narrative woven from a multitude of narratives, sermons, poems, genealogies, histories, prophesies, and laws (there’s even a census or two thrown in for good measure).  Don’t get me wrong: I believe 100% that the Bible was divinely inspired, but that doesn’t mean it’s self-evident.

    We could submit our will and conscience, instead, to other humans.  This is as common among Protestants as among Catholics.  Though we have no Magesterium, celebrity pastors like Mark Driscoll lead their congregations with theological iron fists.  Even small-scale preachers find themselves leading congregations, sometimes blindly, because the people don’t want to struggle with the meaning of it all.

    But I see no reason to prefer the conscience of a medieval power-structure or rock star megachurch preacher to my own.  Mine, at least, is in the hands of someone uncorrupted by wealth and power (I’d have to have wealth or power to be corrupted by it).

    So where does that leave us?  It leaves us with no easy answers.  Job, Gideon, and Abraham had direct contact with God.  His face to face word overruled their objections.  If God or one of His angels ever appears to me, then the answer will be obvious: I’ll put my objections aside and follow, regardless.  But until then, I’m going with Jiminy Cricket … but I’ll be wearing my long black coat as I go.