November 25, 2009

Thankfulness

I have a very dear friend who is devoutly Catholic. This does not mean she’s fundamentalist or humorless or evangelical. What is so lovely about her faith is that she counts her blessings every day. Talking with her reminds me of how much I take for granted, which can lead to wanting more and a general dissatisfaction with life. To quote a well-worn phrase, if you see the glass as half empty, you’re looking to fill the rest of it. If you see the glass as half full, you’re focusing on the water you have, not the water you don’t.

I think that a kind of thankfulness is necessary for creativity. A paucity of spirit makes a person focus on what he or she is missing. I think it leads to bitterness, creative blocks, and too much time on the internet flaming other creative people. It may also lead to artists morphing into the kind of critic that all artists dread ~ the one without empathy who’s so focused on being clever and scoring points that he or she doesn’t take the time to try to figure out what the artist was trying to do. The kind in Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain.”

Julia Cameron talks about this in The Artist’s Way. You need a sense of abundance, of play, in order to be creative. Another way to look at it is Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. What Maslow says is that our needs are in a hierarchy, with very basic ones like breathing, food, etc., at the bottom, love and belonging in the middle, and creativity and self-actualization at the top. People can only focus on needs higher up in the hierarchy when the needs on the lower tiers are met. In other words, you’re a lot less likely to want to paint a masterpiece if you’re worried about being homeless.

What I’m Reading Today: Lucy Jane Bledsoe’s “Girl with Boat” in the last issue of Arts & Letters. You know how stories are supposed to move you emotionally? Well, I’m going to grieve for days, but that’s a good thing! (I was runner up in this contest ~ as was my friend Pierre Hauser ~ but it's such a great story I’m glad Lucy won. Congratulations, Lucy!)

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