Facing the Fear of Creating

God is all over my next book. How could I write about creativity without talking about The Creator? But more than just writing about God, I’ve begun each and every writing and editing session with prayer, asking for discernment, inspiration, and the words He wants me to share. I’ve been in awe of the ways he has showed up. Recently, however, he asked me to do something I wasn’t sure I was capable of.

I interviewed a dozen “Creative Sparks” for this book; real people doing real things to incorporate creativity into their very real (and busy) lives. Among those creatives: a yoga instructor, two professors from my alma mater, a woman who’d waited nearly fifty years to submit her beautiful poetry, my brother who picked up woodworking tools he’d inherited from our mother to begin carving in midlife, and a nephew who always knew what he wanted to be and never gave up the pursuit of it, not even through grueling cancer treatment.

As I worked on final edits a month ago, it became clear to me that there was to be one more “creative spark,” an artist whose work I was personally drawn to. Not only that, I was to actually create the type of art this person practiced. My publisher didn’t tell me to do this, nor did the editor request it.  We were so close to completing the first edits, they wouldn’t have dared. We’d moved things around, deleted over-used words and phrases, and heavily edited entire sections of the manuscript.  No one insisted I face my own fear of failure by attempting an art form I’d never done before. In fact, the editor gave me an easy “out” when I mentioned my uneasiness about taking on an art project so close to deadline. She insisted it wasn’t necessary for me to create anything more than an additional creative spark profile.

But the prompting from the Holy Spirit was as real as the fear of the unknown and the possibility of failure. What if I messed up or destroyed precious pieces of memorabilia by undertaking an art form I knew nothing about?

It dawned on me then— that is exactly what I ask readers of my book to do—open up their minds to creative possibilities, try new things, and allow for the possibility of failure, all in the name of discovering their true nature, their God-given potential, the creative self within them. How dare I suggest something I was not willing to do myself? I knew that I must do it.  I needed to step outside of my comfort zone and create a mixed media piece.

Perhaps it’s the former dumpster-diving coupon queen in me that accounts for my attraction to mixed media art, with tiny bits and pieces of “trash” incorporated into a work of art. Maybe it is because I have lost so many pieces of my own life through the deaths of mother, husband and grandson in the space of three years. Whatever the reason, I considered the art form I’d seen displayed on the walls of Upcycle Dubuque, a unique and innovative creative reuse store that displays the work of local artisans.

It wasn’t the first time I’d seen Allison Poster’s art. I’d seen it displayed at Inspire Café two years before. Fitting, considering I was there to speak about the legacy of creativity, my mother’s art, and the creativity that resides within each one of us.  When I noticed the beautiful art on the walls, I moved closer to study the mixed media pieces, something deep within me resonating with the images of butterflies, angels, trees, and hummingbirds on old mirrors and windows, and a framed image of a hauntingly sad girl in a birdcage. I was fascinated by the artist’s use of broken and crushed glass, bits and pieces of old jewelry, and repurposed old frames. I snapped a photo, shared it with my daughter, picked up a business card, and messaged the artist to tell her how beautiful I found her art. We agreed to meet in person someday. That someday had come.

Not only did Allison agree to be my final “Creative Spark,” she offered to help me with the creation that was fast taking shape in my mind, a piece directly correlated with the theme of the book, in memory of my creative mother. I’d use small things of Mom’s that were hidden away in drawers, where I never saw them. I sorted through a box of her holy medals and discovered a broken rosary with a blue cross that represented her deep Catholic faith. I’d add newspaper clippings about Mom, pieces of a pillowcase she’d embroidered, and the last chalk pastel drawing that remained on her easel after her death. Then there was the yellow rose painting I’d done at age 16, the same age my youngest daughter is now. I’d sat next to Mom in her workroom as I’d painted it. What better way to immortalize the “magic pencil” I’d found in my mother’s empty house than to include it? I’d ordered hundreds of similar pencils on eBay to give away when I did presentations on creativity, but remained fearful of losing the original. Everything included in the final product had meaning for me, including the words I chose from a vintage poetry book about mothers, the small wooden oval with crosses created by my brother, and the tiny glass owl my son Michael created in the very workroom where Mom and I had sat working in companionable silence forty-five years prior.

mixed media

I smile every time I look at my mixed media memory canvas, which is often. It hangs on the wall near my writing chair. No longer fearful, I’m looking forward to creating a similar piece in honor of my husband.

Not long after I finished this piece, I met with a new friend who’d lost his wife the year before. I realized as he talked how often he used the word “can’t” or the phrase “never” in our conversation. I suddenly realized there was more to my creation than I’d imagined. I asked him if he’d seen the photo of the art piece I created to represent my book’s theme. What I said next was as much for myself as it was for him, and readers of my book who have lost someone important to them:

“That’s what our life is like; little bits and broken pieces. Everything we went through and experienced up until the moment our beloved took their last breath. There are ugly moments we’d rather not remember and beautiful ones. There are precious memories. There is a pattern to our life that has made us who we are. Your life is a mixed media collage. Whatever you add to the collage from this point forward is up to you. You can keep moving those broken parts around. You can add similar pieces. That is your comfort zone, and there is nothing wrong with that. But God might have something more for you. God’s plans for you are so much bigger than you can imagine. He can use you in so many ways if you let him. You can grow in him and share in the masterpiece he wants to make of your life’s collage.”

mixed media close-up

 

 

 

Mother’s Day Masterpiece

I’m speaking at a church this morning; about mothers, creativity, and faith, as I culminate months of writing about the same topics. The message I hope to convey is that God has given each of us gifts, and it is up to us to use them.

Ephesians 2:10 “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

My mother knew this. She lived it every day as she raised ten children, practiced her faith, and injected creativity into all aspects of her life.

momin1974

While she produced many pieces of beautiful art, in the end, her life of faith had been her greatest masterpiece, the legacy she left behind for her children and grandchildren.

mom woodcarver

While I still have work to do to meet the end of May deadline, in honor of my mother on Mother’s Day, I’m sharing a small piece that comes at the end of my book, a brief, illustrative moment with my mother at the end of her life.

 

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It was an unseasonably warm October day. Mom and I had conversed comfortably in the car on the way to and from her radiation appointment; about my recent blog posts that mentioned her, the LIVE sign I’d purchased, and her concern over her cat being attacked by some feral felines. I’d assumed if she’d wanted to discuss more serious topics, she’d have brought them up.

Back at her house, I helped her out of the car. She swayed a little as she stood, and I grabbed her arm to steady her. She clung to me as we made our way to her back door. Mom expressed the desire to stay outside, so I settled her in a chair before getting her coffee and cigarettes. Setting them on the small white table in front of her, I asked if she’d be alright if I headed home to make supper for David and the children. She assured me she would. I can remember leaning down to kiss her cheek, and while I’m certain I would have told her I loved her, I can’t recall actually saying the words.
Once inside the car, I started the engine before glancing back at Mom. She was looking straight at me, a smile on her face. She raised her hand slightly, giving a little wave. It was that one small gesture that undid me. My throat filled with tears and I could barely breathe. I looked away so she wouldn’t see me cry. My mother is dying, I thought as I headed down the driveway. My mother is dying. I sobbed all the way home.
There is so much we didn’t talk about that day. In fact, we hadn’t mentioned death or dying in any of our conversations since her diagnosis. I’d been with her when the doctor informed her she had lung cancer, had heard her whispered “I wondered what it would be.” We never talked about fear, or even faith, which surprised me, considering how important her religion was to her.
More than six years after her death, in early 2017, when I re-read letters Mom had written, her Memory Book, and the odd notebooks and partial journals I’d inherited, I realized she’d already said it all, had managed to impart her faith and knowledge in the life she’d lived. There was nothing more to say. Her last lesson was in facing death with dignity, grace, and the firm belief she would soon be joining both our father and Our Father.
She surprised me, this mother of mine, appearing in this manuscript in ways I had not imagined, her words neatly written in her perfect penmanship. It was a delight when my father unexpectedly made an appearance in the ninth chapter, and healing when a poem about my grandson erupted from the ashes of grief.
As I culminate months of writing, in my mind’s eye, I see my mother sitting outside at that little table, a cigarette in her hand, a cup of coffee in front of her. Her face is lit by a beatific smile, her eyes filled with love. She lifts her hand, giving a little wave.
“I love you, Mom,” I say this time, waving back.

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