Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

What Highly Creative Women Know: Part II

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

It is our creative potential that is the image of God.

Whether we are writing, or cooking, or singing, or gardening, or absorbed in an experiment there in the lab, during the time of creativity, we are open to a wider world, where words are clearer, chords sharper, colors brighter, and new angles on old problems come to mind with ease.

As a writer and as someone who preaches, there is a moment that you get to in the writing, or in the preaching, where the words flow on their own, as though they have a mind of their own. You are no longer in control. You are and you’re not in charge. Another force has stepped in. They are your words, but they are smarter and wiser than anything you could have come up with on your own.  You don’t have to be a writer to experience this force. Great cooks are possessed by a spirit of their own also. (What we call the Holy Ghost in church circles. LOL) You know intuitively without having to taste the dish you’re cooking that a dash of this or a smidgen of that will have people coming back and asking for seconds. The same applies to creative business types. Where others see sure failure, you see – with some modifications to the design– how the project can be turned into one of success

You are in a zone. The creative zone. Where you glimpse a wider world and touch the outskirts of Transcendence. Tapping into your creative side does that. You get a sense of what it’s like to live beyond your limitations.

We’re all born with a creative side from birth. It’s a birthright from God, and it’s not given just to poets and dancers. Each of us is born with a little artist in us. It’s what it means to be created in the image of God. It explains why we are drawn to certain colors, laugh the way we do, and do things the way we do them. There’s this potential within us to tap into a force that is larger than ourselves to do extraordinary things. Somewhere in growing up, however, we are talked out of our creativity. We become sensible.  The creative side goes underground. Worst, it gets misdirected. Rechanneled.

One of my all time favorite lines comes from one of my all time favorite writers, Toni Morrison. Morrison is always writing about creative women, it seems to me, in her novels, especially women who are creative but have little to no outlet for their creativity. ”Artist without art form” is how she describes women like the unconventional Sula Peace in the novel Sula. Sula’s community regards her as evil, bewitched, and a loose woman.  But what Sula really is is a smart, gifted, woman with a razor sharp mind who lacks direction and discipline. And as such, she is a woman who is dangerous to herself and to all those  she loves.

“In a way, her strangeness, her naivete, her craving for the other half of her equation was the consequence of an idle imagination. Had she paints, or clay or knew the discipline of the dance, or strings: had she anything to engage her tremendous curiosity and her gift for metaphor, she might have exchanged the restlessness and preoccupation with whim for an activity that provided her with all she yearned for And like any artist with no art form, [Sula] became dangerous.”

Everytime I read that line from Sula  my mind drifts off to all the girls and women I know who have no creative outlets. Those who never wondered what their minds were capable of beyond remembering the names of old lovers. Those who never learned what else their bodies could do other than to give birth to babies. Those who were never told that their hands were capable of something beyond the mundane tasks of surviving. Without art they have no imagination and are forced to believe in their own limitations. Bereft of any other form for releasing the pent up physical energy inside, they substitute art for screwing, passion for lust. The only zone they know about, if they are lucky, and the one they are a slave to, is sexual ecstasy. It will take years for them to figure out just how counterfeit that is. Sweet, but shortlived.

MissyI had the pleasure of attending two spoken word poetry jam sessions over the past couple weeks. (Lord have mercy on my old soul.) While men dominated the mike for the most part, it was good to see the few young women who came up, take the mike, and strut their floetry. Tattoes on the neck. Rings in the belly button and seared into their tongues. But there they were. Honing their craft. Finding their voice. Speaking their minds.  Expressing themselves. Giving birth to unknown sides of themselves. Trying to find their zones. I felt like a dinosaur. A sister from another planet. I could barely understand a word. But I felt the Spirit. And I saw it. Yet another face of God.

What Highly Creative Women Know: Part I

Monday, July 28th, 2008

Here I was ready to sit down and share with all of you here on the blog a new inspiration of mine, a business I’ve been dreaming about lately, and I haven’t been able to write a thing from all the distractions.that have bombarded me in the last two hours.  Emails. Phone calls. Knocks at the door. Each one of them urgent. 

Perhaps God is trying to tell me something.

Don’t waste your energy on the dream, Renita. Don’t bother writing about it, and getting your hopes up (or those of your readers) because it’s not in your future. Move on.

Finish what you’ve started. You always have these creative outbursts and run off on tangents when you’re behind on other deadlines.

my fairyOr, perhaps I’m being tested here in the infancy stage of the inspiration to see how much I want it and if I can stay the course. If I can’t ignore the email notices on my computer, I probably don’t have the stamina it takes to stick with a business.

Or, if you’re like me, perhaps this new burst of enthusiasm is not about what you and I think it’s about. After all,  we’ve never been short on ideas. We are creative, and creative types are always dreaming and making connections and finding inspiration. We are creative and smart enough to do lots of things. We could do anything we put our mind to. We have what it takes to be a writer and minister today, and a clothes designer and restaurant owner tomorrow – with a little retooling. That’s the way that it is with creative types. That’s the way that it is with creative types who are also driven. But do we want really want to change the course of our lives?

A better route to take perhaps is to use this new surge of adrenaline to take off on this other project to do what we’re supposed to be doing right now. After all, creativity is creativity. Meaning that creativity is a spirit that shows up and has the power to fuel all areas of your life.

Ask yourself: Exactly what about this new idea that inspires you? What did you fall in love with and why?

Could it be that what you’re taken with is the idea of being taken with something? It’s like falling in love with falling in love. You had a new idea and you missed having a new idea. You stumbled on a new passion, and you missed what it feels like to feel passion.

So, what are you saying to me? That I’m not in love? That this is not my calling? That this is not what I’m supposed to be doing? That this is not God?

I’m saying nothing of the sort. I’m just saying that just because you feel something doesn’t mean you have to do something right now. Sit with the inspiration for awhile. Bask in it. Let it renew you. Let it fill you with dreams. Let it cause a secret (perhaps, even naughty) smile break out on your face as you go about your day.

If it’s a good fit, something you’re supposed to do, something worth pursuing, something God says yes to, the Universe will take it from here. Soon enough, but not too soon, there will be other signs. “Yes” signs. (If you look hard, you’ll notice the “No” signs when they present themselves too. )

You don’t have to rush off and start tearing up your old life to accommodate the new. Some things will fall apart on their own. Others will do so with little pain to all involved. That’s one way you know it’s Divine.

For now it is enough that you are awake. Conscious. Inspired. Listening for God.

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 So, those of you who are creative types, or those who want to be more creative, what frustrates you most, where do you find inspiration, and how do you move from inspiration to implementation?  Better yet, what do you struggle with as a woman who is creative or longs to be creative. I plan to write all this week about women and creativity (and the Creator who is the source of all creation) and look forward to answering some of your questions.

Beware of Tar Baby

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

The Uncle Remus story of Brer Rabbit and Tar Baby illustrates how not to behave when baited. The story came to mind this morning when after staring at my computer screen for thirty minutes trying to form my blog topic in my head, praying to God for inspiration, I accepted a request for an interview which I should have at the time refused. I should have followed my first mind, as my Aunt Dora would say, and not taken the call.

Here’s how the story goes: Brer Fox decided one day to set a trap for Brer Rabbit. He made a little doll out of hot tar and turpentine and set it beside the road where he knew Brer Rabbit would pass. Sure enough, along came Brer Rabbit, and he hollered out to the Tar Baby. The Tar Baby, of course, was silent. Irritated that he was being ignored, Brer Rabbit yelled out again to the Tar Baby, who still remained quiet. His dander rising, Brer Rabbit angrily demanded why the Tar Baby just sat there grinning at him. When the Tar Baby still remained silent, Brer Rabbit socked him. Immediately his paw was stuck in the hot, soft tar. Now enraged, Brer Rabbit took a second swing and became even more stuck. In a struggle to get free, he put his hind legs up against the Tar Baby, and of course, he was sure enough stuck now. Brer Fox jumped out gleefully from hiding and claimed his victim.

Putting aside for the moment that there’s more to the Tar Baby story and much that can be debated about its origins, let’s just agree for now that the moral of the story is pretty obvious: when you pass a tar baby in the road, walk on by. Not an easy thing to do.

So, here’s a lesson to take away with you at the close of what was a stormy week here in the south and after a stormy week of politics.

In order to manage difficult people and difficult situations, you must learn to manage yourself.

Call it Tar Baby. Saboteurs. Distractions. Call it The Unseen Enemy. Call it whatever you like. Just be sure you recognize it when you see it and try your best not to fall into its trap.

Here’s what happens: a person throws out some enticing tidbit – a comment, a behavior, a style of interacting—in order 1) to make you behave in ways you otherwise would not, or 2) to make you behave in ways you’re known for. Regardless, the point of the bait is to make you react in a manner that throws you off course from what is your true focus.

Tar BabyAt its core, baiting is a power play and is almost always covert in nature.

But don’t be fooled: baiting doesn’t always have to be sinister in motive.

Baiting can be done with the best of intentions, like the woman this morning who introduced herself as a writer wanting to interview me for an article she’s writing on the black church, but who not long into the conversation began sending signals that what she really (or is it also) wanted to know from me “who writes about such things” is whether she should keep or dump her boyfriend. What? Where did that come from?

I’m a minister, right?  Ministers help people with their problems, right? And here it is the Lenten season. Didn’t I just promise God yesterday at Ash Wednesday service that, instead of giving up red meat and delicacies, I would try being nice and pleasant for Lent as my gift to Christ?

Ok, so I think I responded gently and with a pastor’s heart. Now I won’t tell you that I answered the woman’s question. But I did manage to hide the fact that I was shocked and a bit put off by the fact that interviewing me for her magazine wasn’t the sole reason for her interview.

But here’s the second lesson of this week. 

For about thirty minutes after the conversation I sat in my study fuming, storming, and railing for agreeing to this interview and for letting myself be sideswiped. Eventually I calmed down and went back to staring at the computer. And in the minutes it took me to take the woman’s call and fume at the Universe, I had given away my creative power. I lost the passion and focus I needed to write about what it was I going to write about. 

For those of us whose work thrives on creativity and focus, tar babies in the road pose a serious risk to the completion of our work. Granted, it’s not possible always to avoid or perhaps even completely ignore the baits others throw in our direction. But the difference between the woman who succeeds at her work, and those who only dream of succeeding but never fully complete a project, is that the former learns how not to let Tar Baby subvert, wreck, undermine or destroy those rare moments of inspiration which creative work depends upon.

Oh yeah, lesson number three: No matter how much folks slap you on the back and congratulate you on what you did manage to produce despite the distractions. You know in your heart there was a better piece of work in you that got away.

Lost in Cyberspace

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

I am admittedly addicted to checking my email. Even though I know better. Email is a blessing and a curse. It allows me to stay in touch with folks time and obligations might otherwise rob me of reaching out to. But email has also robbed us as a society of certain manners and expressions of civility in our attempt to stay in touch with each other.

For one thing, email has killed the handwritten letter. Heck, hardly anyone writes personal letters anymore, certainly not the ones that come to you through the postal service. My friend, Barbara Heard in Chicago is the only one among my friends who still writes hand written letters. Every time I leave Chicago after a visit to her church there at Trinity UCC, I can count on receiving one of Barbara’s lovely, handwritten letters thanking me for my visit and my presentation at the church. Barbara is so dependable about writing handwritten letters that I tend to pout and feel unappreciated until her beautifully written note arrives.

There’s also the fact that if it weren’t for check writing and book signings there wouldn’t be much reason for me to pick up a pen and write. Which is a shame because I was the darling of Mrs. Daisy Henderson, my fourth grade teacher, who frequently posted pages from my writing tablet up on the board as a model for the rest of the class of perfect penmanship.

Not only has personal letter writing fallen on hard times since the advent of the computer, but technology also has created poor writing skills. I am reminded of this every time I read a paper by one of my students. I know this every time I sit down to help my daughter with one of her writing assignments. Computers allow changes to be made too easily and can make writing a mindless activity. My daughter is impatient with me when I urge her to think of a better, more thought-ful way of communicating the thought she just typed. “Typing is easy, writing is hard,” I tell her. Communication that requires her to take the time to build her argument one sentence at a time rather than blurting out facts, type out the words instead of abbreviating them, use punctuation marks and indent paragraphs rather than leave words running into each other – it all feels prehistoric to her.

Yep, technology has changed the way we communicate with each other. In this age of text messaging, email, and cell phones, we think of communication as an immediate priority. Messages tend to be choppy, full of acronyms and misspellings. Contact is the priority, not communication. It is not about building relationships, setting the stage for meaningful exchange, explaining what you mean, introducing your self and your cause, or asking permission before entering each other’s personal space. .

I’m as guilty as the next person of abusing technology, I suppose. But I do love hearing from people. I love quick, easy banter about the bible, love, and friendship. I love hearing from people who love and hate things I’ve written. What amazes me are the people who write thinking that just because they have your email address there’s no need for introductions. Opening their email leaves you feeling like someone’s just barged into your door without knocking.



Dear Rev. Weems,
So, what would you say to someone like me who doesn’t believe in women preachers?

Delete.

I am teaching a bible study class on women in the bible. Can you recommend some books I can use for my class?”

Yes, but why would I? Emailling me is not a substitute for going to the library or bookstore or clicking google and doing your own research.

I’m writing a paper on black women and the church. You were recommended to me as a resource. I would like to talk to you. Can you give me a time when I can call you?

Excuse me? Just like that? Whatever happened to “Hello, my name is…”?

Of course, there are the rude, nasty notes sent anonymously to your mailbox, blog, or message board, bent more on ridiculing you than dialoguing with you.

Pasted in one of my old journals is a handwritten note from Toni Morrison written to me back in the 70s, thanking me for a note I had sent praising her for her third novel, Song of Solomon. In another journal is a letter from Alice Walker, typed on “Ms” stationary, which she sent in response to a short story I’d sent her. In her letter she patiently lays out her reasons for suggesting that I choose some other profession than writing if I planned on making a living. (God bless her for even bothering to read the sophomoric short story I sent her.) Then there’s the barely legible letter from one of my elementary school teachers who was old, but had lived long enough to read an article in Ebony magazine about her former student and was writing to congratulate me on my achievements. I pull out these old letters, along with those of family and friends I’ve managed to keep, and reread them like the treasures that they are from a bygone era.