Tag: Creativity


Muse Playground

I spent a sizeable chunk of today spring cleaning my studio in preparation for new writing hours next week. Dan finds it endlessly amusing (or perhaps endearing? yes, let’s go with endearing) that I claim to have a studio when all I really have is a desk tucked into the corner of our bedroom. However, I take the J.M. Barrie approach. With just a pinch of color and some imagination, I have a magical playground of muses, a bright little world brimming with good ideas and serenity.

Here it is, my corner of the universe where I intend to find magic this coming season:

Bethany's Magic Studio

And here is the view from my window where the muses gather to play:

View from the studio

It may be tiny, but it is sunny, whimsical, and the perfect mix of interesting and organized—exactly what a studio should be. Here’s to good things coming in small packages and to an inspiring fall!

Candlelit moon


Prisoner’s Fancy

Do I have to go to bed, do I have to, do I have to?

And of course I do, even though undiluted summer is streaming through my window with its heavy perfume of honeysuckle and ripe peaches. The grass is still leaping upward all across our back yard. The flowers are still awake, all color and careless joy like children, and daylight is still blazing trails through our giant pecan trees. Just beyond that door, the bright and busy mechanism of life is humming Come play! Come play!

But I am prisoner in my pink-and-white bed. Stuck until morning, no hope of escape.

I lie quietly, indignant and imaginative, listening to the cicadas playing tag. There go the bumblebees too, pedaling their bikes around the neighborhood, and butterflies cheering each other down the Slip ‘N’ Slide. The chickadees, of course, are playing hide and seek, and suddenly, I am with them, perched on the rafter of an old barn.

There are no rules in Chickadee Hide & Seek. Just a lot of swooping and soaring, little feathered torpedoes zipping around cows and alighting like bobble-heads on a power line, our own trampoline of copper filaments and sky. I remember to bring my teddy bears—Fred and Katie, who are married but have not yet learned the juicy details of procreation—and we fly together, impossibly high. We hide inside chimney-tops and behind clouds, where Fred and Katie get carried away kissing (no tongue, though). My little brothers would never be able to find me in a million years; I am thrilled.

The scenery shifts, and I am Bride Barbie. Katie refuses to lend her teddy-bear husband to me for the occasion, but who needs a groom anyway? My long white gown is studded with diamond drops and teensy pink pearls. And draped with satin. And fringed with rubies. And covered with lace. And festooned with ribbons. And plated with gold. I am breathtakingly grown up, even if the only ones who see it are my woodland creature audience, come to watch me twirl and twirl until my veil is tangled in pine branches.

I live in my own stories for hours until I finally grow tired and drift to sleep somewhere in the South Pacific. But the next night, I am back. This time, my bears and I must escape a dismal orphanage, and the night after that, we take a tire swing up, up into space. My stories overlap and twist into complicated candycanes, yarn and fancy fraying together into fantastic landscapes. And night after long childhood night, I weave gossamer threads of imagination into a new home for myself, a place to retreat for those lonely times when summer is locked out of reach.


Shouting in a Meadow

Writing publicly about religion makes me cringe. And hit delete buttons. And back s-l-o-w-l-y away from the computer as if the Inquisition itself were making a digital comeback with online dudgeons and high resolution torture devices and glinty-eyed execution-bloggers.

So I can be a tad dramatic. However, I’m starting to realize how much I still censor my thoughts to stay away from explosive topics like U.S. economy and home schooling and Ashlee Simpson and, of course, religion. I know that whatever my thoughts on the subject, I am sure to offend someone, and the prospect makes my insides wilt.

The thing is, though–I still don’t really know my thoughts on religion. I wrote a while back about the immense loneliness and confusion of finding I don’t like God. Now that I’ve had some time to marinate in that concept, I realize that what I actually dislike is my view of him. The portrait of God in my head is painted primarily in crap, and I was exhausted of sifting through it for the occasional fleck of real color.

Back in January, I indulged my inner heathen and scribbled the following during church (because that’s how I roll, yo), but didn’t show it the light of day for fear of Inquisition, etc. Now, though, I find it incredibly important:

 I can’t hide nearly as well in a tiny church. In this child-sized room, loosely populated by friends and hardly anyone else, I find I’ve lost my invisibility. I can’t fade comfortably into the woodwork. I can’t ignore the voice of reality in my head: “You’re a fraud, you’re a fraud, you’re a fraud”–sing-song, like those infuriatingly perfect Disney princesses.

I feel so out of place sitting in church with my overflowing suitcases of questions. Baggage doesn’t belong here. I don’t belong here. I know where I want to be though: an enormous open meadow, fiercely guarded on all sides by mountains, muffled by waterfalls and wind and the complete absence of other humans. I would SHOUT! my questions, all of them, as loudly as my lungs would let me. And God would be right there. He would answer and put my heart back in place and be real to me again.

Where am I supposed to find God in my claustrophobic world where life is whatever fits between walls and ceilings and floors? My questions are too big for home, for church. They are certainly too big for other people, and I’m floundering under the belief that they’re too big for me.

And then I filled pages with those questions–deep, aching ones that I had to rip out and lay bleeding on the paper.

Since then, not a single question has been answered. However, I’ve been able to step back and see the dung-smeared portrait and survey the multitudes* of people with their widely differing ideas that they call “doctrine” and “truth” even though they’re really just interpretations.

When I first read Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian several years ago, I remember feeling like a huge weight was lifted–that weight being the dogmatic rightness of traditional American churches. McLaren proposed that the church’s tactics were outdated and irrelevant to today’s people. Duh, I know. But it was a revolutionary idea to me at the time, and I lost approximately 300 pounds the moment I accepted that church was not the same thing as religion.

Then I read Donald Miller and John & Stasi Eldredge and Eugene Peterson and went down 15 emotional dress sizes and started smiling when I thought about Christianity… the real thing, not the big-haired pastor kind. But I still have a LOT of pre-conceptions to sort through. I mean, I was practically brainwashed into a certain brand of religion as a kid, and it’s not easy figuring out which of those teachings–if any–have merit.

(Note: Here comes the part with the cringing and the wilting and the slowly dislocating of very important limbs on an html rack.)

Maybe this is common knowledge to most people, but I was in college before I learned that the Bible–militantly defended as a sacred text–is just a compendium of stories and letters and historical records compiled by various groups of men, copied, lost, translated, retranslated, reretranslated, and printed off for people to make of it what they will. The Bible covers thousands of years and many different cultures, yet religious leaders pull out certain lines and call them “precepts.” Mennonites with head coverings? Christians who won’t eat pork? Churches that don’t allow female teachers? All bits and pieces pulled from ancient cultural laws and applied to now.

I’m not saying the Bible isn’t important, though its history does raise a lot of difficult questions for me. I just wonder when church-goers stopped reading the book of Matthew: “You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do.”(23:8-10, The Message) Self-proclaimed religious experts threaten dire consequences for veering from their explanations of “truth.” They warn against any spiritual search outside of the Bible (just mention yoga to a group of Southern Baptists, and watch the paranoia about “New Age” practices; seriously, you’d think yoga involved slaughtering kittens at midnight over a bubbling cauldron of fermented demon juice). They loudly condemn people with different beliefs to a future more horrifying than death. They set up a hierarchy of sins (homosexuality! abortion!) and prescribe rituals for holding onto salvation (morning devotionals! prayer before meals!).

I feel the wind knocked out of me just typing this paltry list. The aggressive application of “doctrine” does nothing to alleviate my soul-thirst. What does refresh me is art. Creativity. Beautiful movies, beautiful music, beautiful books. The great outdoors. Talking to people with giant hearts. Random acts of kindness. Intimate discussions with small groups of friends. Quiet. Sometimes the deliberate peace of Buddhism, sometimes the grandeur of Catholicism, sometimes the passionate worship of Pentacostals, but usually no organized religion at all.

Sometime, I hope to be able to add the Bible to the list of things that fulfill me spiritually. I just need to get further away from the cultural classification of God so I can read each “book” as it was meant to be read at the time and take my own truth from the words.

I just deleted that last line and retyped it a thousand times, by the way, because I’m a scaredy-pants. I know the pastors of my childhood would accuse me of “relativity” and “denying the truth,” and my pants are most definitely scared. But I’m trying to stay real and honest because those rusty hinges in my head are creaking open, and I want others to see the wide, untamed meadows beyond the gates of traditional Christianity–meadows with room for dancing wind and wildflowers and the hard
est questions coiled inside.

* Bonus point for using a Biblical term!!


Arugula Is My Valentine

Valentine’s Day makes me want to start a cooking blog, like right now. Even though I have only recently learned essential cooking techniques like brining chicken and putting arugula on everything, I still feel compelled to invite you to the party in my mouth! (Which I totally do not mean in the way you are thinking right now. Remove mind from gutter, then proceed.)

I already have the blog categories worked out:
~ Vegetables I don’t hate to the very core of my soul
~ Mythical children’s book concoctions (Ever tried Pineapple Butterscotch Ding-Dang-Doo? Or broccoli stew for breakfast, ew?)*
~ Unnatural disasters, part 1: When cakes join the Dark Side**
~ Unnatural disasters, part 2: When microwaves catch the flu***
~ Dirt, upholstery, canned lasagna, and other inedible objects enjoyed by baby girls
~ The proper humiliation of perfectly innocent beverages****
~ Calm down; that chicken’s already dead

Broccoli stew for breakfast, ew

Peach Upside-Down Disaster Cake

Microwave with the flu

Corny martini - dark

Growing up, I didn’t really learn much about cooking… at least not anything I want to remember. (Though if you want a recipe for Super Butter–which includes 3 parts organic grass and 0 parts butter–I can hook you up. Also in my repertoire: birdseed bread, sautéed grasshoppers, and chocolate meringue pie in which both the chocolate and the meringue are replaced by kidney beans. Feel free to gag with me.) In college, I mostly ate canned soup and chewing gum just because I could, and during our first year of marriage, I subjected my poor husband to plenty of microwaved chicken nugget suppers.

Fortunately, I’ve learned a few things since then. Some days, cooking feels like a chore, sure, but most days, it’s a creative outlet–a tasty form of art. Penne al dente melting with fresh mozzarella, grilled zucchini, and cured sausage… Leafy lettuce heaped with rotisserie chicken, yellow pepper strips, pine nuts, kalamata olives, and homemade garlic croutons… Chunks of baguette layered with slivers of prosciutto, hard-boiled egg, and ripe tomato… Strawberries wrapped in creamy white chocolate frosting, dipped in toasted coconut… Food that sings opera and food that plays jazz, food that raps and whistles and sings multiple languages. Food that, just… mmmm.

This isn’t actually a post to brag about my cooking skills because, honestly, they’re nothing extraordinary. It’s more a way of wishing Happy Valentine’s Day to taste buds and tummies everywhere. It’s also to remind you–if your chocolate mousse seems to be lacking that certain gourmet essence, try some arugula on top. It can’t fail.


Raw Art

In college, I had a wide network of friends who blogged right up until (I suspect) the moment they started feeling like adults. I did the same. Once I got engaged, I could no longer find the same 4 a.m., dormitory-buzz, cafeteria-fueled inspiration to write. College gave me a great writing niche, but it also formed a cocoon around my creativity that shriveled once I flew into “the real world.”

Maybe my brain was just too accustomed to being ordered around by textbooks. I had none of the energetic, free-flowing awareness of my own art that I now consider essential. (Just listen to Ben Folds Five’s “Naked Baby Pictures,” and you’ll hear what I mean.) Not that I’ve perfected the whole dancing-to-my-own-rhythm thing yet… Toddlers and laundry and spider solitaire all help ensure that I don’t spend too much time peeking into my brain and extracting best-sellers therefrom. But at least now I know a few untextbooky things:

1) College is over. Yes, really.
2) Now that I’ve been a real-life adult for 3-1/2 years (see above), I have the rights to my own brain.
3) Life is drenched in raw art just waiting to be sensed, interpreted, channeled.

Note to self: Go thou and enjoy.

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