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Finding the Divine

May 9, 2011

Have you had times when you felt as if you were searching without luck, seeking without finding?

It’s frustrating and it can turn into a quest.  Which can be good or bad.  When do you keep searching, knowing that persistence and diligence will ultimately win out?  When do you learn that, maybe, this time, you are searching in the wrong place or perhaps you’re searching for the wrong thing?

For me, I think a lot of it has to do with ego and sensitivity.  I’m a fairly competitive person and dogging something to its conclusion is something akin to winning.  So what is the goal?  Winning?  No, the goal is finding.  Learning.  The ego says “I’m smart enough and hard working enough.  I can do it.”  And sometimes we have to distract the ego, send it off to a corner somewhere, give it a rest.

As I prepare to start to stitch this novel together, I have had to learn this lesson several times over.  As I headed time and time again down the wrong path, for me, I would think that I could out work the problems, I could be clever enough to out think them.  And I could force something but by “out working” I made my writing become work in the sense that it was a labor and not a joy.  And one of the reasons I write is for the sheer joy of it.

When I first became serious about my writing, I enrolled in a, then, brand new certificate creative writing program at Middle Tennessee State University called The Writer’s Loft, created by Roy Burkhead.  My first writing mentor was the wonderful Cate McGowan who sat me down that first day and told me that I was a writer.  Up until that point, I had not believed it but when she said it, I believed.  The next thing she said was that I was embarking upon a journey of fun and discovery.  I’ve never forgotten that.  It’s such a grand description for the way I feel about writing, when I’m doing it right.  For me.  It’s also a grand description of life.  For those who are fortunate enough to have shelter, to have food and clothing, to have the resources to attempt to create art, life can be a journey of fun and discovery.  That’s what allows some to look at Mondays differently, to look at mowing the yard and cups of coffee differently. We experience the joy of picking up a pen or paint brush or camera or chisel and creating.

So how does one know when to persist and when to pause?  Sensitivity.  For me, there are subtle signs which are invisible to the ego, affirmations that whisper softly beneath the audible range of “out work” and “out think.”  It is in the syncopation you feel and move to when the world is marching to the backbeat.

Ego is the primary reason for blank pages.  The main reason for giving up on your art, on life.  Ego puts on a critic’s fedora and tells you what to write and then tells you that it’s not good enough.  That you’re not good enough.

The ego is what kept me from my writing and I can still find it some mornings, sitting in my writing chair, telling me to get lost.

But I’m learning to be sensitive, learning how to listen and to what to listen.  That doesn’t mean that I’m good at it.  But I’m getting better.  How do I know?  The affirmations are becoming stronger and more frequent.  I’ve put aside the literary pick and axe for awhile, taken off my gloves and am being receptive, being open to what comes my way.  Not forcing my will upon my work but allowing the work to come to me.  Learning when to be patient and when to charge ahead.

This morning I was reading a piece about Michelangelo and how he worked.  Michelangelo believed he was a tool of God.  He did not think of himself as a creator but someone who revealed what God had already placed in the marble.  His job wasn’t to “make,” it was to chip away at the excess until he exposed what God created.  Often, he would work deep into the night, wearing a candle on his cap, shouting at the marble, “Speak, speak!” asking the figure to guide him as he worked.  He was unique in that he did not mark out in advance of the cutting, he worked freehand, starting from the front and working until figures emerged from the stone as his colleague Vasari put it “as though surfacing from a pool of water.” (History and Art for the Traveler by Rick Steves)

This approach has made all the difference in my work.  I believe that there is something there for me to discover.  My job isn’t to make it, rather it is to ask questions, to put words down, then chip away until what I am supposed to find is revealed.  I must shout at or cajole my characters until they tell me their stories and then I must have the sensitivity to transcribe, to listen, then to learn.

Because ultimately I cannot, by definition, create the divine.  Not even my ego believes that.  Even on a good day.  But I do believe that just like everyone who breathes, who has ever breathed, I can find the divine.  It is my prayer that we be sensitive and receptive enough to feel the affirmations, to tame the rhetoric and quiet the conventional wisdom sufficient to hear the figure whisper, then that we be wise enough and patient enough to listen.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Bonnie Johnson permalink
    May 9, 2011 8:23 pm

    Fantastic, Terry. Thanks for writing this.

  2. May 9, 2011 11:04 pm

    Terry, I love this post and the connection to Michelangelo’s process. Thank you!

  3. May 10, 2011 6:47 am

    Many kind thanks Bonnie and Gigi! I truly appreciate your words and am encouraged by them. Have a lovely day!

  4. Suzanne permalink
    May 10, 2011 12:43 pm

    Love it, Terry.

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