I first found Joyner on Rihanna’s Instagram feed. Eventually I made my way over to his account, and I’m glad I did.
If you’re religious, when you first look at the video for “Devil’s Work” you may think “blasphemy”, but I think “brilliance”. This song reminds me of the Psalms. For those of you not familiar with the Psalms, it’s a book in the Bible featuring various poems or songs. The writer? King David, and others. The audience? God.
In reading the Psalms, I’ve always been captivated by the authors’ emotions. Although plenty of the psalms praise the divine, many express emotions such as frustration and disappointment. Listening to the “Devil’s Work”’s lyrics, I couldn’t help but think, “What would the Psalmist say after years of grief–the death of his heroes still fresh in his mind?” In light of the chaos and evil that seems to be thriving, too many of us are left behind, struggling to make sense of it all.
I’m trying to get my writing mojo back, and a part of that process for me involves getting caught up on my reading. Simultaneously, I figure it can’t hurt to share what I pick up along the way.
Last winter I bought a ton of books, but didn’t have time to read them. Fortunately, in 2019, the tables turned.
Every now and then, I’m going to share with you my insights into the good, bad, and the ugly side of my reading material. And so, whether you’ve read it or not… This time around I’m covering Elizabeth Gilbert’s last book.
I know I’m late to get on the Elizabeth Gilbert love train. Last year my therapist loaned me her copy of Eat, Pray, Love. (I haven’t finished it, but I need to return it.) Prior to that, though, I first laid my eyes on Elizabeth via one of her TED Talks.
I thought she had a refreshing take on life and creativity, and when Big Magic was released, the hype was hard to ignore. The subtitle alone was enough to grab my attention: Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear.
Ohhhhhhh boy, I thought. I NEED this book. Although I think of myself as a creative person, I’ve let fear and procrastination keep me from creating anything substantial for years. (When I think of all the time since I first graduated that I could have spent writing a book, it’s a damn shame.)
As I approached Big Magic I was curious about Elizabeth’s approach. Within the first few pages, I found it incredibly easy to root for her premise. Regardless of your area of creative interest–whether you’re pursuing the arts, or your drug of choice involves math or science, when you create–when you MAKE something–you are taking a risk and daring to demonstrate your willingness to approach The Unknown. Putting yourself out there is scary. To dare to extend yourself is a powerful thing.
Ultimately, Big Magic is a prolonged pep-talk. Divided into SIX sections, and at 272 pages, the book’s length combined with its tone made it a quick, comfortable read. Throughout her book’s pages, Elizabeth encourages readers to boldly greet their creativity, embrace, and enjoy it.
She also includes a few curious concepts. For instance, consider The Shit Sandwich. Whether you’re pursuing your dream full-time or dealing with a day job, in the segment entitled, “Persistence”, Elizabeth asks the ultimate question: “What are you passionate enough about that you can endure the most disagreeable aspects of the work?”
When I first read those words, I smiled both inside and out. I could truly relate. As my last full-time position came to a close, I found myself questioning everything. Among other things, I actually remember thinking to myself, “None of this is worth it.”
As the book went on, I found myself supporting just about everything Elizabeth has to say. But there was one exception: In the segment entitled “PERMISSION”, I found her usesing some that really bothered me. Actually, it was beyond bothersome: I found it offensive.
When it comes to making things, Elizabeth says, “…in the end, it really doesn’t matter that much. Because in the end, it’s just creativity.” I was on high alert after reading that. And that statement wasn’t the only anti-creativity bomb that she dropped.
Now, to a certain degree, I get it. There are times when people can take their creativity too seriously. As a result of their delusions, creatives can become overly stressed. And a part of me realizes that Elizabeth was probably trying to get certain folks not to worry too much and just enjoy the creative process. That said, regarding making music, Elizabeth wrote that, “Music is nothing more than decoration for the imagination. That’s all it is.”
And when I read those words, I nearly threw her book away.
Not only have there have been studies, but there are books that exist about the power of music and the effect that it can have on human beings. Regardless of which resources you choose, the authors’ statements are backed by science.
Plus there’s the fact that I’ve always taken music personally.
As a child, my mother sang in church. I remember very little about going to rehearsals with her. But one thing I could never forget is that I used to cry when she sang.
Music moved me that deeply.
That level of emotion stirred in my spirit again recently when I was watching a pianist on Instagram–of all places–playing Mozart. (Shoutout to Chloe Flower, Cardi B’s pianist.)
I’ll spare you from more ranting, but in a nutshell, when people say that art doesn’t matter, it makes my blood boil. And even when I’m not that angry, it makes me struggle to take them seriously.
Fortunately, after her comments on how unimportant art is, Elizabeth returned to her regular self. She discussed a few other relevant points, including the horrible myth that people buy into which states that artists can only create in the face of personal tragedy.
In general I felt comforted by Elizabeth’s words. These days, in spite of opportunities to shine brighter, creatives can be plagued with the temptation to doubt their own authenticity. Yet among other things, she reminds us, “…you are already creatively legitimate, by virtue of your existence among us.”
Overall, Big Magic offers readers lot of common-sense advice in a refreshing package. I enjoyed how Elizabeth framed various aspects of creativity. For instance, at one point she discussed the idea that one’s craft has to be formally studied in order to succeed professionally.
If you’re a writer, you know the drill. Supposedly, in order to be a writer, you need an MFA, or you MUST go to journalism school. Yet in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
Would I read Big Magic again? If I have time to, maybe.
Would I recommend this book?
Eh…As I said before, It’s a quick, comfortable read. I like Elizabeth Gilbert. She’s seems like the type of person I’d go to lunch with. I like what she has to say about art and inspiration. Big Magic is light, warm, and mentally provocative.
Yet again, I can’t forget about the passages in “Permission” where she said art was useless. That section threw me off so much that I actually caught myself wondering about the kind of debates Elizabeth might have had with her editor.
Eventually, Ms. Gilbert encouraged her readers to “relax”. That’s very well and good, but I feel like she could have made her point without using statements that seemed to be so needlessly opposed to the book’s main objective. There are ways to tell people that they shouldn’t take themselves too seriously thatdon’t involve insulting their calling.
After some freelancing success and a hiatus away from all things writing-related, I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not I lost my mojo. Over the past few months, I’ve certainly felt as though I’d been torn away from my talent. I figured now’s as good a time as any to get to know and show who I am again.
Let me begin by getting you up to speed: During the last few months of 2018 I had a day job*. Although it looked good on paper, in reality, the position truly wasn’t for me. Currently, I question whether or not I should even have it on my resume. There were signs from the beginning that things weren’t meant to be. A bad contract and horrible reviews of my workplace should have been enough to make me be cautious, but I was desperate to be employed. (Note: Desperation ALWAYS leads to bad decisions.)
As time went on, I found myself perpetually stressed. Yet through it all, I longed for a sense of normalcy. Every now and then I tried to keep up with friends and acquaintances via my social media accounts. But by the time Christmas Holidays rolled around, I was mentally and physically drained. In the end I learned that when it comes to finding work, I can afford to be cautious.
Since then, in the wake of the new year, I tried to resurrect an old piece of writing. Last year I’d successfully pitched yet abandoned an essay. Writing articles can be a nerd’s dream, and this one was no exception. Looking back, I know that I’d conducted some amazing interviews, and I still believe in the vision behind my original concept. Therefore, when I first went back to my work, I didn’t anticipate any problems.
And yet, as I attempted to revise and refresh my article, I couldn’t help but notice that something was missing. There are times when you write, and your material touches you personally. You may have done an incredible amount of research, and received quotes from amazing people. You may even turn to friends for great writing advice. Yet when you try to assemble your work and and support it by adding the veil of your own perspective, you may feel as though you’re not doing it justice.
That’s the challenge that plagued me while working on my latest piece of writing. In spite of the good intentions behind my attempted revival, something just wouldn’t let my soul rest.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that I can write. But as I worked I couldn’t help but have doubts about my story’s substance. I hate the idea of being inadequate in a realm that I was born to succeed in.
Meanwhile, as I tried to sort out what was wrong, I’ve had a few epiphanies related to fear and procrastination.
A few weeks ago I thought I’d finally begun to understand where my resistance was coming from. On Twitter I’d written to a fellow writer:
Today I think I finally started to figure out how notto be afraid of writing.
The sensation didn’t last, but the reasoning behind it stuck with me.
One day I realized I was at my best when I stopped wrestling with my doubts. As an artist I’m at my best when I surrender and accept my fate. Writing is what I was meant to do. It’s all I’ve ever wanted since childhood. Yet whenever I’ve caught myself fretting over the fact that I had to write something, instead of focusing on the fact that I got to write–that’s where my internal hell began.
When it comes to your life’s mission, time spent worrying is better spent working.
And then, another revelation. One afternoon when my anxiety was at my most aggravating, it hit me:
I get it! I understand why some artists are driven to substance abuse.
Or, at the very least, I felt as though I understood why some of them had mental health issues.
There are times when feeling the weight of your life’s calling can really mess with your head. On one hand, you’re in a position where you’re able to create and share something amazing. On the other, impostor’s syndrome is darkening your door.
You’re powerful enough to do this, but how dare you?!?
Right now, it seems as though my life is at a standstill. Whether or not it’s the calm before the storm, time will tell.
Ultimately, though, I’m convinced that when you reject what you were meant to do, you’re rejecting YOURSELF. In order to heal this rift, the first solution that comes to mind is a spiritual one. I need to give myself space daily to think intimately about how I regard myself. No matter how much I may have attempted to avoid it in the past, the fact is that I love writing–body and soul. What sense does it make for me to hate my one true love?
In the days to come I look forward to settling down to work, and genuinely embracing my reality. Let’s see what happens next.
For more on mental health and the writers’ journey, read Alicia Elliott’s essay On Burnout.
*I’m looking for a new position. If you know anyone who needs to have something written, get in touch!
We talk about “Black Excellence” and regard it as this beautiful, indomitable force in people of African descent. But what if it were a product? What would its ad campaign look like?
Those questions inspired this week’s video.
I won’t share much about my creative process. Instead I’ll point out something very important: I didn’t shoot any of the images. They’re all from Unsplash, and I’ve credited the photographers at the end of this post.
Interestingly enough, this project reinforced a few things.
1. I can create decent content.Huzzah! (That’s the first time I’ve used that word, and it may be the last.) In the past I’ve dabbled a bit in video, and I podcasted off and on a while ago. I miss those days.
2. It’s important to get in the arena. If you think of yourself as a creative, you can’t afford to keep your gifts to yourself. Kudos to Brené Brown for quoting Theodore Roosevelt, who said
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
I once said ages ago that mistakes make magic. You can’t create large, great things without making smaller projects first and risking failure. To some my video may look simple, but I’m pretty damn proud of myself for putting it out there.
3. “Do what you can with what you have” isn’t an empty phrase. Most of the work for this project was done my phone. Can you imagine what’ll happen once I have a whole suite of tools?
4. Representation will always matter. A lot of folks have experienced this, including me: Every now and then a white person will ask why a particular type of media has a label that references my ethnicity. (I remember some on social media flipped out when blackish was first broadcast.) Meanwhile in other avenues images of white people are considered the default. People of colour don’t see ourselves in the media as often as they (we) should.
The photos I used spoke to me in one way or another. Ultimately, their message was powerful.
“I am here, living this life, taking up this space.”
The joy that cannot be diminished in spite of hatred and heartbreak. In spite of unexpected evils that seem intent on rising up due to nature’s cruelest whim. I am here, as are you. And we shall not be stopped.
I was feeling a little poetic earlier. I’m thankful that deep down, my sense of hope is alive and well.
This summer, I worked with a group of teenage ESL students. I remember the first time I taught them our national anthem.
Everyone was ok with what we were doing, except one young woman. I’ll call her Emma.
After we sang “O Canada,” I had the students work through an anthem-related activity. Once we were done, I couldn’t help but notice that Emma looked downright uncomfortable. While her classmates did other tasks, I took the empty seat beside her. We had a quiet conversation.
Emma was adamant. “An anthem is like a vow…” Technically, I knew she was right. However deep down, a part of me was stunned. Emma went on: she wasn’t from Canada, and didn’t want to disrespect her own country.
I dropped the issue. Days later, though, I had students do an activity that brought our anthem to mind. Once again, Emma was uncomfortable. And I was confused. Her reaction was unlike any that I’d encountered before. As far as I was concerned, Emma didn’t have to take the anthem as anything beyond what it appeared to be: A song.
One day after class, I approached my TA. I told him about Emma. His response?
He wasn’t going to stand in the way of anyone who didn’t want to sing “O Canada”.
Did I mention that my TA was Indigenous?
Instantly, I empathized. In the wake of his reply, it’s almost hilarious how quickly my attitude changed.
Looking back I can’t help but be intrigued. Two different perspectives can reveal so much about the meaning of a piece of music.
For one person, an anthem is a promise–when you sing it, you are declaring your devotion to a country. If you sing the anthem of a country that isn’t yours, you are being disrespectful.
For the other, an anthem can be a symbol of oppression. The first time I was present when a Native student didn’t stand for “O Canada”, I was curious. But I didn’t feel offended.
On one hand, I’m proud to be Canadian. Yet I’m not so proud that I don’t see my nation’s flaws. I understand why our past and present moves some of us to take a stand. Negative reactions to NFL players’ peaceful activism have been very telling.
Why should people be expected to entertain others at the expense of their humanity?
Yes, a national anthem is a song. But it’s more than that. It IS a vow–an expression of devotion and pride. And yet, to those who face injustice, its notes might not sound so sweet.
No one should feel obligated to be comfortable with a system that doesn’t value them. If you have strength and courage enough to protest against injustice, I salute you.
NOTE: I started to write a disclaimer for this post, but then I erased it. Honestly. What do I have to apologize for?
My main focus in this post is on trends that I’ve noticed among certain Christians. If this post doesn’t apply to you, then trust me. I’m not talking about you.
Whether they care to admit it or not, there are Christians out there who practice a little something that I’ve come to call flat-earth faith. They believe that if their worldview is altered in any way–if they go beyond the boundaries of a) what mainstream Christian teachers have taught them, and b) what they’ve chosen to believe about humanity–then they will be damned. Literally. Hence, a lot of people are content to adhere to what they think they know regarding the state of the world and humanity.
For example, concerning man’s purpose: Many Christians take the command that we are not our own to a very serious extreme. They reject any line of thought that focuses on the “self” as evil. (I wish I had a dollar for every time a Christian dismissed something perfectly normal but related to self-care or self-help as a supposed example of how selfish and depraved human beings are. I swear–I’d be a millionaire.) They also aim to lead a righteous life, aka a life spent doing good and being kind to others. But this isn’t necessarily done for the sake of it. Rather, a number of Christians adhere to their code of conduct so that in the afterlife they can spend their time safely with God in Heaven, instead of Hell.
But there’s also something else that drives believers.
Remember the controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins? For those of you who don’t, here are the Cliff Notes: A few years ago, Rob Bell dared to suggest that Hell isn’t as hot as everyone says. In other words, he doesn’t view it as a literal realm of fire and brimstone. Mr. Bell also theorized that in the afterlife, heaven isn’t a Christians-only zone.
In response to this, certain folks were furious*, denouncing and disowning Rob left and right. Some even dared to declare him UNChristian. But why?
Because the hope of hell is what their faith is built on.
Once you remove hell from the equation, the current Christian paradigm is broken. It becomes doing good for goodness’ sake–or Jesus’ sake, if you will–and where’s the fun in that?
I’m being sarcastic, but really. What I said isn’t that far off from the way some Christians actually think.
These folks are addicted to the story they’ve chosen to believe regarding humanity’s purpose and destiny. There are other lies that fuel some folks’ faith. In particular, the idea that kindness is a Christian virtue, those who aren’t Christian are “lost” or otherwise hopelessly unhappy and missing out on one of life’s greatest secrets…And the idea that God loves them more than other humans.
Deep down–and sometimes even up front–a number of Christians value their exclusive status as God’s Chosen People. They count on it to serve them–if not here, then in the afterlife. In their minds, the point of this existence is, ultimately, to be good enough to secure a spot in heaven, otherwise what is there…?
As far as I’m concerned, PLENTY.
*That TIME article mentioned some of the pushback Rob received. I didn’t link to some of the more conservative sources out there, mainly because I don’t want trolls to pay me a visit.
I’ve been thinking about the future of my page. In the days to come, I’d like to dig deeply into self care and spirituality. But before I move forward, I really feel the need to take a look at what I’m running away from.
I’m going to begin by offering an honest look at my thoughts on religion. And I’ll be frank with you–a part of me is terrified. For one thing, I know that what I have to say is bound to upset people. I can think of certain long-lost friends who will be offended. Once I speak up, I know that I risk ruining some personal connections.
(On the other hand, some of my people will read what I have to say and go, “Uh huh. Uh huh… NEXT!” I salute them in advance.)
Spiritually, right now, I’m in an interesting place. I agree with the idea of God or a Higher Power. But I don’t subscribe to popular religious teachings surrounding man’s universal purpose, or the way that said Higher Power operates within society.
A part of me can’t help but feel bad. I still admire certain people that I’ve known who are traditionally religious. Meanwhile, I’ve been completely put off of others. Either way, folks’ religious leanings are tied to their values. And in our current political climate, I notice that some have used their faith as an excuse to uplift their fellow human beings. Still, others feel content with oppressing them.
It feels weird to give myself this space to share what I think. I feel the weight of the fact that spirituality can be a very personal and controversial thing. But the more I free myself from religion, the more I value myself. Deep down, I know that I have every right to give myself room to breathe.
Now that I’ve had my say, I’m bracing myself. Let the release begin.
Over the years my thoughts on religion (Christianity) have evolved. I’ve been working on putting some of my feelings into words.
Meanwhile, not too long ago, I’d heard that Rob Bell had released another book. And then I discovered this interview.
I listened to it in podcast form, and I’m sure it’s worth watching.
Religion has a disturbing amount of influence in our society. And that influence begins with how people choose to interpret the Bible, and how seriously they choose to take their interpretations of its ideas.
In addition to self-care and other topics, I know that I’ll write about religion again. In the meantime, I’ll see if I can resist going too deeply into my thoughts on Christianity’s favourite book until I’ve read Mr. Bell’s.
Every time I feel like going off on social media, I remind myself that I ought to channel my energy into a blog post. This is one of the rare times when I’m attempting to follow through.
Have any of you seen this?:
I was following a contact’s thread on one of the confederate statues that was taken down the other day, and that’s when I saw a question. This isn’t an exact quote, but someone asked
What makes a statue historical, vs racist?
Immediately, I was furious. And stunned. I don’t want to waste time arguing with strangers, but it took everything in me not to respond.
Oh, I don’t know. Maybe the fact that the so-called heroes of the confederacy fought for people to remain enslaved?
If America was Germany and the confederate monuments were of Adolf Hitler, would there even be a question?
So long as people insist that everyone has a right to everything, and that their bro’s feelings are worth more than actually doing what’s right, racism, sexism, islamophobia, homophobia and other evils will continue to have a place in this world.