Why I Believe I’m Created to Create

This is pretty much the essence of how I feel about writing:

“It feels like a gift from the universe to you. And maybe it is. …(Y)ou’re so far into the thing you’re doing that in that moment, everything else doesn’t matter. I’ve gotten this feeling from other things, but where I get it the most is when I’m writing.

“It’s a relationship with words, essentially. I have one and it manifests itself through my fingers, usually onto a computer screen but occasionally with pen and paper. It’s a relationship in which I feel defined, in no small part because in the act of writing I have been able to define myself, to myself and to others.”

–John Scalzi
The Thanksgiving Advent Calendar, Day Eighteen: Writing

 

Having a Little Faith

In my Twitter bio, I tell the world that I am “created to create.” If you search my blog for that phrase, you’ll find a bunch of posts in which I use it. It’s a phrase that’s near and dear to my heart lodged at the very core of my being.

“What’s the because?” you ask.

(Or maybe you use proper grammar and cock your head while stroking your chin, saying, “Courtney, dear, do please elaborate: What is the reason that this phrase resonates with you so?”)

 
At the end of this post, you will find a link to my Confessions of my creative sins. In these Confessions, I talk a lot about my faith and its effect on my life and my art. Some of this effect has been, on the surface, horribly detrimental to me as a human being and to my expression of my creativity — on the surface. Two things of great import are worth noting here:

1. The detriment was a result of my misunderstanding of “faith” in general and of the principles of my own faith in particular.

2. The detriment has proven itself superficial because I’ve learned so much and grown so much stronger as a result of the dark times. The surface was deadly…but the depths are invigorating, rich, fulfilling, and teeming with life.

I don’t often discuss my faith on this blog; I know that’s not why most of you come here. But if you’re interested in my writing and/or in me as a writer/human, I suspect that hearing the occasional tidbit about my deeper beliefs isn’t going to drive you away. Feel free, though, to correct me on this if I’m wrong. ; )

And, yet again, “What’s the because?” What’s the connection between all of this faith stuff and the Scalzi quote above?

Created to Create

Well, here’s the connection in one shelle du nut:

I believe in God.

I believe in the very first statement of the Christian Bible’s Old Testament: “In the beginning, God created….”

I believe that it’s no coincidence that God-as-Creative-Being is the first thing we learn about him.

I believe that being “created in God’s image” means, in part, that we each are created to create.

I believe that “to create” means to put something into the world that wasn’t there before. That might be a story. Or a painting. An etching in wood. Something made of construction paper.

Or it could be an encouraging conversation with a friend. It could be a hug.

A kiss.

A smile.

When I watch my cat, I see her being exactly what she’s been created to be: She plays, she stalks, she hunts, she revels in sunshine, she interacts with her humans. In every facet of her being, she Is exactly what God created her to Be. When I watch her, I marvel at how easily she expresses God’s creativity at work in her. She doesn’t think about it, doesn’t analyze it, doesn’t worry if she’s “doing it right.” She doesn’t even do. She simply Is, and that is enough.

Pippin and sunshine

Me, I have a hard time being that simple. I have a hard time simply being. But my roots are digging ever deeper, and I am growing. I understand one thing for certain: I am created to create. The cat is Cat when she’s in the sunshine, on her back, with all four feet in the air, looking about as ridiculous as a feline can.

Me, I am Human when I’m in the sunshine of creativity, exposing my belly, baring my vulnerable heart to the world, making a fool of myself by letting others read the secrets of my soul in my written words. When I am Writer, I am expressing God’s creativity at work in me.

Scalzi says, “It’s a relationship in which I feel defined, in no small part because in the act of writing I have been able to define myself, to myself and to others.”

Me, I’m engaged in an ongoing love affair with my Creator. That affair, that Love, manifests itself in many ways — but one of its most significant manifestations is my Writing. When I am Writer, I am being exactly what he created me to be. This defines my Self — to myself and to others.

If you want to read more about how I came to these conclusions — if you want to see me bare the darkest times of my soul — my Creative Confessions are here.

___________

What about you, dear inklings? Any thoughts to share on faith and the writer’s relationship to the written word? Do you agree or disagree that every human is inherently creative? Whatever the roots of your own creativity — whether you call those roots spiritual or not — I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Crippled, Demented, Or Crushed: Still, I Will Create

In a recent perusal of old journal entries, I once again ran across a poetic gem entitled Air and Light and Time and Space by Charles Bukowski (who was born in Germany, I learned via Wikipedia article). The poem describes the mindset of so many people who want to be creative — but then never “get around to” doing anything about it. Bukowski gives a definitive answer to what I’m calling “that self-delusional procrastination.”

You can Google the poem in its entirety elsewhere…but what I’m interested in right now is this part of Bukowski’s answer:

no baby, if you’re going to create
you’re going to create whether you work
16 hours a day in a coal mine
or
…in a small room with 3 children
…you’re going to create with part of your mind and your
body blown
away,
you’re going to create blind
crippled
demented…

…baby, air and light and time and space
have nothing to do with it…

I feel as though I’ve spent most of my life in a desperate search for air and light and time and space. Most of the time, I haven’t even been aware of what I was seeking…but now, I look back at certain hard times in my life, and I find myself nodding in wry understanding. “Oh. I see now. That’s what that was.”

Those were the times I was most depressed. Those were the times I questioned my inherent worth the most. Those were the times nothing I attempted in life seemed to work out. Those were the times my relationships suffered the most. It all happened during those periods in my life when, for whatever reason, I suppressed my creativity because I felt as though I didn’t have the time, air, space, right to be creative.

I’ll talk more about this in future posts (and get deeper into the gritty tale of how I once believed and felt I had no right to be creative), but for now, I’m learning a new conviction: that Bukowski is oh so very right. It’s a lie that my situation has to change before I can be creative. I will make stuff. I will put stuff into this world that didn’t exist in that form before I made it. It’s what I’m created to do: to create. Even at my worst moments, when the will isn’t there, the compulsion is too strong to ignore.

I’ll create if I’m crippled. I’ll create if I’m demented. (This might already have happened.) I’ll create in the tiniest, most cramped space. I’ll create when it’s too dark to see. I can’t help it. I don’t want to help it.

Because the price for ignoring my creative impulse is far too high to pay.

Depression and Creativity

The Depression Part

I’ve felt depressed lately.

Sad. Lethargic. Numb. Angry. Frustrated. Disinterested. Dark view of life. No hope. Blech.

I’ve blogged about depression before. And I’ve blogged about one of the main triggers of depression for me: not exercising my creativity.

When I realized that I was depressed, I said to several people who love me, “Hey, I’m depressed.” NOTE: Telling loving people that you’re depressed is helpful in starting the process of getting out of the depression.

Those several people who love me replied, “Hey, we’re not thrilled about this. Do you know why you’re depressed and/or how we can help?”

This was an excellent response for two reasons.

One, it let me know I’m not alone in this.

Two, it helped me figure out how to handle this.

You see, I had to answer them as follows: “There’s nothing that you can do, really. I have a baby whom I love dearly and deeply. I don’t resent her or begrudge her the time I spend with her. But the fact remains that when I’m taking care of her, I’m not writing. And when I do have time to write, I’m so exhausted that I fall asleep at the computer. There’s nothing anyone can do, really, to ‘fix’ this situation (which isn’t actually broken).

“However, having this conversation with you makes me focus on ways I can exercise my creativity in writing without sacrificing my daughter’s needs. So thank you for talking with me about this. That helped.”

The Creative Part, Pt. 1

And then I went and wrote a blog post, and I felt better. And then I invented a recipe for almond chicken, and while cooking doesn’t do a lot for me, it’s still a creative task, so I felt better after completing that, too. And then I reorganized two rooms and a closet, and the exercise in creativity required for that gargantuan task was a humdinger of a creative exercise, lemme tell ya. And then I made up a song about giraffes for my daughter and videoed myself singing it. After that, I was practically glowing.

So. I’ve felt depressed lately. But I’m on my way back up.

I still feel a ton of frustration that I nod off every time I sit down to continue my WIP (Elevator People). But at least I’m doing little creative things here and there. I think I just needed a reminder not to neglect that part of myself — and not to let exhaustion fool me into thinking I don’t have time for that part of myself.

After all…crippled, demented, or crushed: still, I will create.

The Creative Part, Pt. 2

And then, my friend J.T. posted the following on his Facebook status, and I thought it was utterly brilliant:

“Art is not about talent or skill. Art is about you. Spending time with you, getting to know you. Seeing parts of yourself that you love, some that you hate, but mostly parts that scare the very breath from your lungs. Art is not about technique or style. Art is learning who you are, and being brave enough to show the world. You can’t be bad at art, unless you are simply afraid to try. Art is a terrifying pursuit, because there is nothing more frightening than our own selves.”

~J.T. Hackett, artist

I’ll be blogging about J.T.’s ideas more in the near future. But for now, here’s how I’m relating his words to my depression:

I need to know who I am.

When I don’t know who I am, I get depressed.

When I am not creating, I am not spending time with me, not getting to know me.

When I am not creating, I am not seeing myself fully.

When I am not creating, I forget who I am.

When I forget who I am, I get depressed.

I could flesh this out a bit more, but I think it suffices for my current purposes. More than ever, I see the truth in my belief that I am created to create. To dig more deeply: I am created to get to know exactly who I am. If I am not doing art, I am not getting to know who I am.

If I am not doing art, I am neglecting a main purpose for which I was created.

No wonder that sets me adrift.

I am finding my anchor again.

Cures from the Past

"Castle in Her Coils" by Courtney Cantrell

“Castle in Her Coils” by Courtney Cantrell

"No More Room in Hell" by Courtney Cantrell

“No More Room in Hell” by Courtney Cantrell

"Sea Creature" by Courtney Cantrell

“Sea Creature” by Courtney Cantrell

"Redemption" by Courtney Cantrell

“Redemption” by Courtney Cantrell

I blogged every day this month. Let me show you it.

Hidey-ho, precious inklings!

Today marks the final day of Blog-Every-Day August (BEDAug), my grand experiment to see what would happen if I blogged every day for a month. That month has now passed, and I am pleased to report two favorable results for which I’d hoped:

1. I am, in fact, capable of blogging every day for a month.

2. Blog traffic did, indeed, increase.

Because I enjoy doing things backward, I’ll address the traffic increase first (delving into which posts seem particularly related to the increase, as well as general topics for the past month) and the discovery about my blogging habits last.

Here we go.

Blogging Every Day: Increase in Blog Traffic

I. Traffic Spikes

On one hand, compared to tons of bajillions of blogs out there, my blog doesn’t get a whole lotta traffic.

On the other hand, compared to tons of bajillions of blogs out there, my blog gets oodles of traffic.

The gripping hand (and my hat’s off to you if you get the reference) is that comparing my blog to other blogs is silly. Comparing your blog to other blogs is silly. Comparing ourselves to others is silly. But that’s another story and shall be told another time.

After 1 year and 8 months of this blog and attendant Google Analytics obsessing checking, you’d think I’d be a GA expert by now. I’m not. Stats interest me up to a point (see Keyword Searches, below, which keep me entertained), but beyond that point, I don’t care to delve into all the numbers and percentages and blah de blah. A lack of interest in stats is actually what kept me from pursuing a major in Psychology instead of a minor. That, and the fact that going to grad school didn’t exactly swing my verge.

But I digress. As one does.

So. I don’t understand all the ins and outs of GA. But what I do understand is this: Several times during August, Court Can Write saw happy spikes of visitors. Because I lack GA-expertise, I can’t tell if each spike is related to what I posted on that particular day, or if it’s related to the post on the day before. For the sake of nothing in particular, I’m going to assume the former.

With that in mind, here are the spikes and what I think are their related posts:

Date: August 3rd

Number of visitors: 34

Post: “Glances That Fall Like Sunshine”

Topic: discovering Truth via poetry and changing the world in a good way by focusing on your personal circle of influence

Number of visitor comments: 0

Date: August 9th

Number of visitors: 32

Post: “We Must Disenthrall Ourselves”

Topic: patriotism and the drivel of both Democrats and Republicans

Number of visitor comments: 2

Date: August 17th

Number of visitors: 31

Post: “I Was a Weird Kid and Here’s Proof”

Topic: how my parents bribed my 8- or 9-year-old self into going on a week-long class field trip by promising me that we would go snail hunting when I got home, because I was into that

Number of visitor comments: 0

Date: August 29th

Number of visitors: 61

Post: “In Which Pregnancy and Car Wrecks Don’t Mix”

Topic: how I was in a car accident at 36 weeks pregnant

Number of visitor comments: 6

I’m not sure what conclusions to draw from these numbers. What interests me is that the spiked posts all relate to my personal philosophies or my personal history; none of my posts on the Writing Life sparked as much traffic. This makes me think that most of my visitors would rather read about me than read about writing.

While that’s a ridiculously effective ego boost ; ) I’m not sure what to do with it. Blog less about writing? Blog more about writing? Keep doing what I’ve been doing? Questions…questions that need answers, but I don’t think anyone can provide them for me. I certainly can’t provide them for myself.

Experiments with partially inconclusive results are fascinating but somewhat frustrating. ; )

Ah well. Onward!

II. Google Keyword Searches

Sadly, the keyword searches haven’t been terribly interesting this past month. From what I can tell, the only search strings possibly related to posts for this month were:

º “courtney cantrell” (obvious).
and
º “36 weeks pregnant” — which would bring readers to “Pregnancy Still Isn’t for Sissies” and “In Which Pregnancy and Car Wrecks Don’t Mix”.

Again, it would seem that what leads most people to my blog is stuff I write about me, not stuff I write about writing. Perhaps “Court Can Write” is a misnomer. Perhaps I should consider re-naming the blog “Court Can Live” or “Court Can Philosophize.”

Hmm.

(If you’re curious, other top keyword searches and their possibly related posts were:

º “bachelor in writing”.
º “light bulb metaphor”.
º “alexander and the terrible horrible no good very bad day moral”.

But none of these three were BEDAug posts.)

III. Other BEDAug Blogging Topics

During August, in addition to posts and topics I’ve already mentioned, I also blogged about the following:

º editing
º my short stories
º being created to create
º the nature of sarcasm
º boundaries
º marriage
º zombies
º TEDTalks
º the power of doodling
º vorpal unicorn morphing powers
º my novels
º how to murder a character in a novel
º the Olympics
º famous people
º art
º parodies
º failure
º my Most Official Rules for Living
º relationships
º cats
º book reviews
º other people’s books
º my To-Read List
º reality

Just as a reminder, you can find all of the Blog-Every-Day August posts by clicking the tag “BEDAug” at the bottom of this one or by clicking “August 2012” in the sidebar on the left side of your screen.

Blogging Every Day: My Habits

Once upon a time, back in the dark ages of 2011, I resolved to blog twice per week and keep a cushion of blog posts. I started doing both of these things. I kept them up for a while. I’m not sure at what point these habits ceased, but cease they did.

If I rememory me correctly, blog traffic decreased incrimentally as a result.

As we’ve established here today, traffic has increased as a result of my blogging daily.

Increase in blog traffic is good. Increase in blog traffic means (hopefully) more connection with the readers of my novels and an increase in reader awareness of my novels. Both more connectivity and increased reader awareness are two of the main points of this blog’s existence.

Thus, it would behoove me to continue doing things that help meet these goals.

Thus, it would likely behoove me to continue blogging every day (and to work on my non-existent blog cushion).

Considering that I am about to become the main caregiver to a tiny, helpless human, it is not realistic to think I can keep up this daily blogging thing.

But.

At least until I see myself approaching the point of tearing out my hair, I intend to try. Keeping up this daily blogging thing, that is.

You heard it here first, folks.

Owing Copious Thanks

For my success in this month-long blogging adventure, I owe thanks to the following people:

Judy Lee Dunn, with whom I first started pondering the blog-as-lab concept and who spurred me on in this adventure by quoting Yoda and telling me not to try it but to do it;

Astrid Bryce, who saw my Blog-Every-Day August announcement on Twitter and promised me cookies if I made good on my intentions (Astrid, I’ll be in touch!);

and Joshua Unruh, who joined me in this scheme after I promised to give the month-long blogging challenge some “structure” (whatever that means), as well as deliver him cookies for his successful completion of said challenge. As of this posting, he has yet to finish up Blog-Every-Day August by tendering his August 31st offering, but I have no doubt that he shall do so by the end of the day.

Judy, Astrid, and Josh, I couldn’t have done this without you. Thanks for a great Blog-Every-Day August!

Weak Strengths or Strong Weaknesses?

Yeah, I wish this were my biceps. But it isn't.

Hey, inkling loves,

This week, I read this post by Becca J. Campbell. You really should click through and read, because Becca makes a great case for being honest with ourselves and with each other about our weaknesses…

…but especially telling ourselves the truth about our strengths.

One of my weaknesses is that I tend to be really hard on myself about my weaknesses, enough so that I’ll quietly beat myself up about them while presenting an everything’s-okay face to the people around me.

I work constantly at developing a level of transparency that will prevent me from hiding my self-doubt. It’s a lifelong growth process.

Along with that, I try to infuse into my heart a particular principle I read a few years back (sadly, I don’t remember where):

Focus on improving your weaknesses, and all you’ll end up with are strong weaknesses and weakened strengths.

Focus on building your strengths, and you’ll end up with strengths solid enough to carry you through the weaknesses.

 

My Solid Strengths

Becca’s post concerned our writing strengths specifically. So, in the interest of not beating myself up about my writing weaknesses, here are a few things I consider my writing strengths:

1. I have a good feel for language. This is one part innate talent, one part intensive training, and one part life experience. Although I don’t believe for a second that a person has to be born with a certain set of skills in order to be a writer, I did start writing when I was 8 years old. So I suspect there’s something inherited there. I am also the child of two teachers, one of whom taught English for 30 years. She sent me to school but also taught me at home, so I got it from all sides. And on top of that, I learned a foreign language (German) at age 3, which did all sorts of interesting and odd things to the way my brain processes and produces words. I bring all of that to bear on every sentence when I sit down to write.

2. I see scenes, characters, and actions as picture sequences in my head. If you read Becca’s post (which I think you should), you’ll see that I share this in common with her, and she calls it being a “visual writer.” When I’m crafting a story, I feel as though I’m watching a movie inside my head and simply writing down everything I see, hear, feel, and taste. Sometimes, a scene is blurry, and that’s when I know not to force too much detail into a scene. When it’s clear with crisp edges, I know it’s time to divulge more of what I’m seeing. I rarely have to rack my brains to figure out what something looks like.

3. I’ve experienced Not Writing. If you’ve read my posts tagged “confessions”, you know that there was a period of years during which I forgot that I was created to create. I forgot that I was allowed to be a writer. I sank into horrid darkness and turned bitter, sorrow-filled, and hostile. But now that I’m out of that, I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for the gifts of creativity, freedom, time, and support. I know where I’ve been; I know I never want to go back; and I know that the best way to give thanks for the gifts (and to declare the One who gave them to me) is to apply myself to writerdom with uncompromising passion.

4. I don’t believe in “writer’s block.” Strength #3 pretty much takes care of this for me. I practice gratitude and passion by not allowing “writer’s block” to stop me. When I experience the I-don’t-wanna lassitude or the words-just-aren’t-there frustration, I know that my reaction cannot be simply to stop writing. When “writer’s block” hits, I know it’s a challenge to think and work harder. Is my attitude the problem? Is the story broken somewhere? Do I need to change writing locations? (For more on writing locations, read this post.)
“Writer’s block” never means that I can’t write. It only means I need to rethink, review, revise, or relocate.

5. I have a keen awareness of cause-and-effect (aka “what’s the because?).
Cause: My mom did not go with my dad when his quartet, The Four Naturals, made a recording in Nashville in 1966.
Effect: The Four Naturals didn’t get my mom’s “managerial” advice while in Nashville, so they never went pop, and my family ended up moving to Germany in 1980.
Cause: In 1940, Frances Hair eloped with Wilborn Weger instead of going to college.
Effect: I exist.
Cause: Aaron and I played Rockband together at a church party in May 2009.
Effect: I’m published.
Cause: In my WIP (Elevator People), side character Joplin giggles when main character Went says the word “pickpocket.”
Effect: Ten chapters later, they end up battling a psychopath and a vampire on a planet in another dimension.
And so forth.
Cause-and-effect are what you might call “essential” to life. And to a story’s development. ; )

_______________________
So! There are a few of my writing strengths. What are some of yours? Share in the comments! Or, even better, write your own blog post about your writing strengths and share the link with us!

Making this list required some clear thinking and deep analysis on my part: honest reflection and a stern refusal to let myself slip into self-deprecation mode. Yes, this was all focused on writing…but it was also an act of kindness toward myself as a person. If you’re reading this, and you’re not a writer, I encourage you to make a list of your own strengths in whatever area you like. Let yourself accentuate the positive; show your Self some love.

If you can demonstrate compassion toward You in this way, you’ll be able to do the same for people around you. And blessing others with compassion is a strength worth solidifying in each of us.

All I Have to Do Is Dream

 

Last week, dear inklings, I shared with you my thoughts inspired by Jennifer Brown’s post about “backseat dreaming”.

Jennifer is my Muse once more today. Her post Dreaming Life and Living Dreams reminded me of my fascination with nighttime dreams.

Imprisoned by dreams?

In Living Color

Once upon a time, when I wasn’t writing much, I dreamed in vivid detail and color — every night. My dreams were intense enough that I rarely woke up feeling refreshed. My husband told me that while he had a nice, quite, empty warehouse in his head at night, I had an IMAX theater in mine.

There is no better description.

After I finally realized that I was, indeed, created to create — i.e. after I let myself start becoming the writer I was meant to be — I stopped remembering most of my dreams.

And I started sleeping again, can I get a hallelujah?!?

*ahem*

Anyway, during my years of crazy dreaming, I kept a journal in which I recorded over 150 dreams. And today, my darlings, I’d like to share with you one of the weirder ones. I hope you enjoy. : )

Mortals Akseptans

Dream #67, recorded May 13, 2004

Last night, I dreamed that vampires were chasing me. I wasn’t myself; instead, I was a little girl, about 6 or 7 years old. I was at a truck stop of some sort, next to a lonely, deserted highway. Only a few other customers were in the truck stop. I think I was eating a meal when the vampires came in. I knew they were after me, so I ran outside.

I thought that being in sunlight would save me, but these vampires were immune to the sun. Several of them stayed inside the truck stop, hunting the other customers. Four or five vampires pursued me, and I ran into some sort of tunnel.

The walls were curved, and the whole place was made of metal, so I was running through a long, metal tube. Occasionally, there were large round openings in the ceiling. A male and a female vampire chased me through the tunnel, and the others started dropping in through the openings in the ceiling.

Finally, the vampires surrounded me. As they closed in on me, I turned frantically from side to side, looking for an escape. I caught sight of something strange written on the wall: the words “mortals akseptans” printed in the middle of a sun symbol.

When the vampires saw what I was looking at, they turned away and fled down the tunnel, as though they were afraid of the words. Knowing that they would soon recover and come after me again, I started running in the opposite direction.

I found my way out of the tunnel and ended up in a marshy area. The sun was shining bright, but water was rising all around me, as though I were in the middle of a flood. Suddenly, I realized that the vampires had caught up with me. I was trapped on a tiny little spit of land surrounded by water, and the vampires had only to grab me at their leisure.

I knelt and drew the sun symbol in the sand, then scratched the words “mortals akseptans” in the middle of the sun.

The symbol protected me for awhile, keeping the vampires at bay. But eventually, water eroded the ground and my feeble defense with it. The vampires came closer and closer, and I could see their hunger and desire in their eyes. Several of them were licking their lips, which were wet and red with blood. Then the dream ended.

_______________________

I’ve since Googled the word “akseptans” out of curiosity. Apparently, it is Turkish for “acceptance.” There’s probably something Freudian in there somewhere, but I don’t think I want to puzzle it out. ; )

If you, however, want to analyze my dreams or tell of your own, please share in the comments! I’d love to hear!

Writer, Screw in the Light Bulb Already!

In last week’s post But What’s the Because?, I pondered writerly reasons for blogging or for sharing other types of writing with the world.

Apparently, ideas have turned all theme-y in my brain — because here I am, blogging about them again. This time, I’m drawing inspiration from Patrick Ross’s terrific post about Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon.

Chabon says that ideas are like bright light bulbs filling room after room. The lights entice him to distraction. His challenge is to figure out which one is worth his time and energy.

My experience with these “light bulbs” is different. Here are some of the thoughts I shared when I commented on Patrick’s post:

For me, getting ideas is like wandering from room to room in a ginormous mansion. Sometimes, there’s a bright light that draws me to a particular room. I go in and follow that one light to wherever it leads me. When I’m finished in that room, I leave it and go on to the next bright light.

Some lights are dimmer than others — so I know not to enter those rooms until later (i.e. I put those ideas aside for the time being).

Sometimes, one of the rooms lacks a light. Illumination might spill from another doorway, just barely touching the threshold of the darkened room. But there’s no light burning in that room, so I know not to enter it…

…unless I’m feeling particularly adventuresome and want to challenge whatever might be lurking in the darkness. ; )

Challenge the darkness? Do I dare?

You better believe I do.

I’ve got all the tools I need in that dark room. The skills I’ve learned and practiced. The passion in being created to create. The love for my craft. The fellow creatives God has blessed my life with.

If there’s potential for the light of idea to dispel the darkness, then it’s worth it to me to stay in that dark room and coax the light into it.

I just have to remember who I am and who I was created to be.

Sometimes, all I have to do is screw in the light bulb.
____________________________________

How do you relate to Chabon’s light bulb metaphor?

What’s your greatest challenge in following the creative light?

What is the creative darkness you fear most?

Confessing My Creative Sins, Pt. 1

As a large, flippered, marine mammal once said, the time has come to talk of other things.

But these aren’t easy things like shoes and sealing wax, dear readers. These are hard things, and they’re things it hurts me to talk about. I need to talk about them…but the telling comes with a painful price.

2nd grade short stories

I’m going to tell you about how, once upon a time, I forgot that I was created to create. I’m going to tell you about how I lived in constant fear and about how I did not stand up for my artist-child self. I’m going to tell you about how I didn’t protect her.

Permission

This will be a story in multiple parts. It’ll require dredging up stuff about my past that I would rather not think about.

So, let me put it off just a little longer by sharing with you something I recently read:

“In life…we only have one choice at any given time. The choice to go left or right…forward or backward. The choice to live or to die. The choice to grow or stay the same… .

Just the same as our choice, we have the ability to grant permission or deny it. Permission to love. Permission to praise. Permission to dance. Permission to edify and to justify. Whether in conversations, relationships or alone, we give permission to those around us every single day.

What I find to be most intriguing in my travels as coach and motivating speaker, is how often people give up their choice by granting permission to someone else to make it for them.”
Tammy Redmon of www.tammyredmon.com*

Darling readers, I’ve spent much of my life fiercely defending my belief that we humans are blessed with free will, with choice. And, while I was so vigorously defending my free will, I was also refusing to exercise it. I paid bounteous lip service to the idea of choice, but I allowed other people to make my choices for me.

Created To Create

If you’ve read my About page, then you know the story of how I first realized that my teenhood dreams of authordom actually went farther back than I thought. If you haven’t read my About page, then you should go do that now.

No, really. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

All right! So, now you know about the wordy second grader, the spiders, and the haunted castle. We can move on from there.

My second-grade self knew and took for granted that I was created to create. With all the innocent, stronger-than-steel faith of a child, she trusted wholly in her connection to the thirst-slaking wellspring of creativity. She drank deeply and constantly from the Source. At age 8, age 10, age 12, I had no doubts about what and who I was.

I was creative. I was a word-artist.

When did I start to forget? Ah, it’s impossible to pinpoint. The forgetting didn’t happen from one day to the next. No, it was a gradual clouding-over of vision over the course of more than a decade. I couldn’t have stopped it. I was too young and naive to imagine it could happen to me, much less recognize that insidious progression.

Creative Memory Loss

My late teen years probably saw the most rapid and intense onset of creative memory loss. I was thinking ahead to universities, to majors, to job-after-college. Make money with writing? Not likely, so let’s get a degree in psychology and write on the side.

“On the side” meant “not at all” until my last year of college, when I finished my novel-in-progress for my senior project in English. By now, I’d dropped Psych as a major and adopted Writing instead. One would think this would encourage a prolific pen. Instead, I finished the project, graduated, and let my writing slow to a crawl for a couple of years.

“Real life” left me neither time nor energy for writing. It didn’t seem like a grown-up activity. Forgetting the creativity felt more mature. Not to mention easier.

Who was telling me that being a grown-up canceled out being a writer? The answer: nobody. Nobody came to me and said, “Courtney, you’re an adult now. It’s time to put these childish dreams of writerdom behind you. It’s time to Make Something Of Yourself. Grow up.”

I wish someone had said that to my face! Blatant attempts at control are easy to combat when they’re right under my nose! I could have stood firm under a barrage of verbal criticism, but I didn’t know how to fight the subtle undermining of my creative foundation.

Giving Away Permission

My soul submitted to the shackles one tiny little step at a time. They were laid upon me by society and by unspoken, between-the-lines judgments from various people in my life.

I learned to see my writing as just a hobby. Oh, if anyone had asked, I would’ve assured them that I still intended to publish someday. But I didn’t behave as though I believe that. I behaved as though, in a Top Ten list of priorities, writing hovered somewhere around 9.5.

After I graduated from college, three years passed before I started writing another novel. In the meantime, I wrote poetry. I painted. I moved to the other side of the world.

I did everything I thought I was supposed to be doing.

Read Tammy’s quote again. See those lines about permission? I gave society and other people permission to decide what I should do with my creativity. Everybody had sanction to determine the fate of my artist-child self.

Everybody except me.

To Be Continued…

So, my dearies, that’s the start of the sordid story I’m trying to tell you. I don’t really want to tell it, but I think I need to tell it. And from what some of you have told me and asked me — both in comments here and in person — I suspect some of you might need to hear it.

So keep coming back. I’ll be talking about this for at least a few more posts.

*Quoted by permission.

In Which “Jesus” Works On My Novel

Well, folks. You’re getting a treat today.

Why? Because it’s one of those days.

If you know me in real life at all, you know all too well my penchant for scatterbrainedness. Most of the time, I can focus. Most of the time, I know FAR in advance what I want to do. I don’t necessarily live by a schedule — but I do know how I want my day to progress. And I get squirmy if I plan things and then don’t get them done.

On the other hand, there are days like today.

Today, my darlings, I just can’t focus. I should be writing for you a blog post of beautiful coherence and cohesion, something with a unifying theme. Something that makes sense as a whole.

Regrettably, that’s not going to happen.

Here are three random items instead:

1. Last week, my friend Patricia pointed out that I don’t talk the way I write.

It’s true. I don’t. When you’re engaged in verbal conversation with me, I don’t use phrases like “engaged in verbal conversation.” I don’t start sentences with “regrettably,” and “penchant” is not part of my everyday vocabulary. And I don’t talk so fast that you have to squint at me and tune out the rest of the world in order to keep up.

In verbal conversation, I hesitate a lot. My sentences are shorter. A lot of them don’t get finished. And I say “That’s funny” way more than any human being should.

What’s more, I’m an introvert. So, unless I know you well, or unless we’re among a small group of friends, I won’t talk a lot. I won’t go on half as long as I do on my blog.

I’m a writer, not a talker. Yes, I’m a sucker for great conversation…but with just a few people at a time. Preferably two or three. If I can get an individual to talk to me one-on-one until the late hours of the night, I’m almost in heaven.

YES! Give me that intimate meeting of the minds!

I promise I’ll keep words like “juxtaposed” to a minimum. 😉

2. Jesus reminds us of how important it is to have an actual plot in our stories.

One day, whilst meandering through Facebook, I posted a link to my friend Jessie’s blog.

Jessie had reviewed a book in which the plot was not clear. In my headline above the link, I pointed out that her post was a good reminder of how important plot is in any story. Another Facebook friend commented that at first glance, he thought I’d written “Jesus” instead of “Jessie.”

I kind of like the idea that good storytelling is a divine command. It fits my mantra: Created to create!

3. Once upon a time, Jessie’s brother John admonished me about my habit of self-deprecation.

From 2001 to 2007, the husband and I lived in Germany and worked with a small church there. I could write a whole year’s worth of posts on everything we did, but the short of it is that we helped out however we could (organizing, construction-working, wall-painting, encouraging, mentoring, counseling, etc.) and taught private, conversational English lessons.

Our financial support came mainly from individuals back in the good ol’ USA, so I wrote regular newsletters to all of those fine folks, telling them the whats and wherefores of our lives. And lemme tell ya, those newsletters were long. I had to force myself to condense each one to two pages.

Those pages usually had 0.4-inch margins.

I frequently apologized for the length of those letters.

Then my friend John wrote me an email. In his direct, no-nonsense way, he said,

Don’t apologize for anything you write. If you’ve written a long letter, it’s because you’ve written what you felt was necessary to write. You weaken the message of your letter when you apologize for it.

Well. That made me take a step back.

Long story (ha!) short, I decided that he was right.

I never apologized for a long newsletter again. People kept sending money, so I guess they didn’t miss the apologies.

My friend JT, a university student, has some fascinating ideas for a novel. When we sit and chat about it, he invariably shoots me a warning look and says, “If I wrote this, it would be controversial.”

I tell him what John told me.
____________

Inconsistent vocabulary.

Divine commands for storytelling.

NO APOLOGIES.

What randomnesses of your own would you like to share? Lemme hear ya!

About

Courtney Cantrell, Writer ***

Greetings, my lovely! My name is Courtney Cantrell. I was created to create, so that’s what I do: I make things.

BOOKS! STORIES! ART!

VORPAL UNICORN MORPHING POWERS!

BANGERANG.

I’m into epic fantasy, paranormal, sci-fi, horror.

I do oils, acrylics, pencil, pen, multimedia. Still life, portraits, abstract.

I dance in the pouring rain whenever possible.
This is its own genre. ; )

And I hope I leave my corner of the world
a little brighter than I found it.

 

Here’s what else you can peruse at Courtcan.com:

  • creative writing and all its pitfalls and possibilities
  • updates on my works-in-progress
  • real-life anecdotes and illuminating a-ha!s
  • The iotization of the Greek diphthong.
  • Just kidding.
  • Maybe.
  • If you’re lucky.

A few “stats”:

  • I am the wife of Ed, often blogged-about as “the husband.”
  • I am the mama of a beautiful little girl known here as “CM.”
  • I am the cat-mommy of Peregrin “Pippin” Took Cantrell, a tabby of hobbit-like proportions.
  • By passport, I am an American; but I grew up in Germany, so culturally I’m a mutt (aka Third Culture Kid).
  • I am a follower of Jesus Christ, which to me means that (among other things) I get to have a relationship with the Creator of the universe even though I screw up all the time. (I don’t belong to a religion.)

Let’s talk.

So. Enjoy your courtcan-ish reading (or viewing)! And please, do drop me a line to introduce yourself and let me know what you think of my ponderings:

In other news, here’s an old picture of me:

The Rad 8-Year-Old Writer

___________________

***Photo credit the fabulous Julie V. Personal Style Photography.