Tuesday, November 16, 2004


Lessons from the Interregnum

Paula dropped the other shoe on GraceReign today, the second half of a long post on God and creativity. This was an eye-opener for me. That God relishes our creativity is still a new idea to me and it needs all the help it can get to grow through the weeds.

I mentioned in my previous post how I turned from God in about 1980. Sometimes I think of that interregnum--1980 to September 2003--as dead time, but the truth is that God was looking at me even if I wasn't looking to Him, and He taught me some valuable things.

The most valuable are centered on creativity. A friend of mine told me when I was in high school that talent doesn't count for much in the art world. You have to work at it. I didn't really understand what he meant. At the time I built gliders of my own design, but in art class I just hid and did stupid things. I discovered a fascination with ceramics and made some interesting things in that class, but it requires infrastructure that I didn't have at home. I pretty much work with what I have and don't dream beyond that.

A few years went by. I gave up building the airplanes because I moved around a lot and lost the simple infrastructure for that. There were other reasons I didn't understand at the time. Eventually I ended up in Los Angeles, in debt, looking for work. While looking I did more experiments in sand sculpture.

This was perfect for me. The tools and equipment required were simple, portable and cheap. The most important aspect of this was that the sculpture was effectively invisible. Not many people were on the beach in October and November, and the sculpture dissolved overnight so I wouldn't leave tracks.

Invisibility is important for one who believes he lives only on sufferance. No one wants me around so I'd better be quick, efficient and get out cleanly. Sand sculpture leaves nothing behind. I didn't know what I was doing but it resonated at a time that awareness of myself was the prelude to destruction. Secrets.

Selective awareness got me through. I was surprised at people's positive responses to my sculptures but managed to ignore this. It's just sand. I stayed focused on not making waves internally.

I enjoyed it, so I kept doing it. It was hidden, so I could keep doing it. Over the years sand sculpture affected me in ways I didn't notice until about 1996, when I realized that through constant practice I'd developed a design sense.

Well, the design sense had always been there. It came out in photography, it came out in drawing, and it came out in writing. I just ignored it until I realized that my favorite activity had gone far beyond its original engineering purpose. Now the block of packed sand could become anything, and I started thinking about it in different ways.

It became an intellectual design exercise. Until then there'd been a strong emotional component, hidden, but there. Now I sought design, and the sculptures became more dramatic but less feeling. They became very technical in nature, with tools that I'd made myself enabling more complex designs. After a few years I realized I missed the emotional part of the process, but it was no great loss. I'd failed everywhere else but could still execute the sculptures.

I didn't know where the ideas came from. They'd come to me in the middle of the night, or while reading, or while looking at something else. I'd make a model in my mind, turn it around, change it, and then finally get a chance to go make it in sand.

Those ideas changed me as they flowed through. They left parts of themselves behind, and making them left new skills behind.

Creativity is God-stuff. If it flows through you, it changes you. Your mind expands; each idea suggests several more and the process is unstoppable unless you are truly draconian in your controls. Because I was so unaware of what I was doing I never saw that.

It's learning, and beyond learning. I made sand sculpture, driven by a desire I didn't understand. I wanted to touch something that didn't exist in our world, so I'd go to the beach and make it! I wanted pure beauty. I wanted something so badly my soul ached, and on the rare times that I pulled a really good sculpture out of the idea hat, I'd ring like a bell and want to live in the place I'd just made.

Paula wrote "I love to watch my loved ones live from their passion. I love it when they are alive." My friend Rich has been coming to the beach for years, watching and helping, and now, with some new understanding, I think that he, and others, are fascinated by this open creative process. Sand sculpture is quick, a very rare opportunity to watch something being created and if you want you can see the whole process in a day.

Lately I've begun to realize that God also loves to watch His loved ones being creative. He's there while I'm pounding sand, He's watching as I make the first cut, and He reminds me to eat so that I have energy to make the last cut.

I'm more aware of what I'm doing now, and I thank God for this. He has brought me back to life. I wouldn't have been here without sand sculpture during the interregnum, during which He was generous enough to keep me well supplied with ideas and an income.

Paula also quoted Will Rogers as saying "Even if you're on the right track you'll get run over if you just sit there." This is very true. Creativity requires movement, and that requires work. The same principle applies to following Jesus. Everything I needed to know about being a Christian I learned from doing sand sculpture.

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