"Gladiolas-Red 2000" by Makoto Fujimura

"Gladiolas-Red 2000" by Makoto Fujimura

I read this great interview at The High Calling website with artist Makoto Fujimura about creativity and faith. Not much I can say that improves on what he says so well on his own. Sample:

“All of us are created to be creative in some way. We may not call ourselves artists or we may not be a professional artist; but creativity is an essence of being human. When you think about it, things that last in our memories are times when we were part of creating something. And, whether it be procreating, in terms of our families, or generating a business or creating an opportunity of mercy, or creating opportunities for people to hear the gospel—all of these are creative acts. And God calls us to that.”

Enough said. Go read it: part 1 and part 2.

Biomockery: let's study nature so we can kill ourselves!

Biomockery: let's study nature so we can kill ourselves!

I am a fan of biomimicry, but as I have posted before (here and here) and fear I likely will be forced to again (since we are, in fact, we humans, The Smartest Monkeys) I am NOT a supporter of twisting this noble practice for nefarious deeds.

I’ve unearthed from the unsavory depths of humanity’s dark underbelly the latest example of what I am calling “Biomockery”: innovations based on nature’s lessons and guidance used for ill (i.e. weaponry, poison, habitat destruction, havoc-wreaking, and general death-dealing). This one, like my previous post on the topic, comes gift-wrapped from our grinning friends in the U.S. military.

Yes, the Office of Scientific Research of the U.S. Air Force is studying bats (and birds and insects) that can fly in all kinds of difficult weather and still maintain their balance, agility, and adaptability. Why? Why else?! To mimic the characteristics of these supreme fliers in new unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s) – you know, flying robots the military uses to perform reconnaissance as well as attack missions.

But wait! Our fly-boys are getting help from researchers at Brown University and the University of Michigan, so they’re not going it alone. College can kill, too, you know.

My source material states: “Bats, the only mammals that can fly, have fluid wings that are nearly as dexterous as human hands. They are also able to withstand very strong wind gusts. The research teams are studying these two areas in particular…Wing flexibility will be a key component of the future UAV’s.”

Cool. Let’s copy it so we can kill some other people with different colored skin without putting our own skin at risk. Yes, I know this research and implementation may eventually trickle down to the private sector and be used for more peaceful, more mindful, more ecologically sound endeavors – and I know the military has more money than, well, God, so they get to do the research first. But, I’ve said it before and will say it again – “Scientists: please use your biomimicry powers for good!” – and if you decide not to, please don’t call it “biomimicry” – call it what it is: biomockery.

Quincy Jones - a man dressed for action!

Quincy Jones - a man dressed for action!

Austin got some much-needed rain (and some unwelcome hail) in recent days but its not enough to end our drought or to wash away the lingering notes (and hangovers) of our yearly music feast/fest/conference, South By Southwest (SXSW) – or, as the locals and long-time attendees call it, with casual familiarity, “South By.”

I’m just getting around to reading last week’s Austin Chronicle interview with Quincy Jones, this year’s SXSW keynote speaker. Quincy! If you don’t know who he is or only know about a few of the ways he has touched your life musically or otherwise, go read the Wikipedia entry about him. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Amazing, huh? Yes, without him there’d have been no “Thriller,” no “Color Purple,” no “We Are the World.” Etc. etc. etc. And that’s just scratching the surface.

One section of the interview in particular caught my attention. Quincy is talking about the importance of American artists like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane – and he expresses his dismay when recently realizing that most American kids do not know anything about these artists: “They have no idea of the basis of their culture. They don’t know.”

When the interviewer asks Quincy what it is that kids can learn from artists like these, he answers as follows:

“Let me put it like this: The only two absolutes are mathematics and music. Music is the only thing that engages the left and the right brain simultaneously. That’s the intellect and emotion, simultaneously. Nothing else does that. Maybe romance [laughing]. And that’s it. That’s some powerful stuff, man. That’s why it has healing abilities for autism or Down syndrome. It’s a healing process. The melody itself is the work of God. There’s technique for counterpoint, and there’s technique for harmony and all that stuff, and that’s a science. But melody, there’s no technique. That’s straight from God.”

I’ve written songs for a long time and I know what he means: “The melody itself is the work of God…melody, there’s no technique. That’s straight from God.” You simply have to be open to it and ready to receive, ready to channel, ready to capture it, accept it. Boom! And you better be ready…or it slips on by and you (and others) never get the joy of sharing it.

I’ve heard people (Christians?) twist Biblical passages any number of ways over the years, like rotten, writhing communion pretzels with shards of glass baked in, but one of the appropriations that has irked me the most is from Luke 12:35 – “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.” The passage is about readying yourself for God and it is often used in conjunction with dire projections of the “end time” or the “rapture.” Well, fuck that. My turn to co-opt it.

That passage is about being ready to receive God because life is going forward for you, not because the world is ending. It is about readying your temple at all times for God’s visit because God has things to share with you and if you aren’t ready for them you will miss them – not because you’re gonna miss the Good Ship Heavenward cruise blimp, skating by to lift you up while the sinners writhe in fire in Las Vegas and Hollywood. Being “dressed for action” means listening at all times because “melody itself is the work of God,” it is “straight from God,” and if you aren’t listening (and prepared to act on what you receive) then you’ll miss a more crucial joyride: being engaged in the creative process with the original creative gangsta, Big G!

Now, you do not have to be a songwriter or musician or even able to carry a tune to know that if you’re prepared for whatever it is you do in this life that the ideas and opportunities simply flow better. They come more frequently, more fully, more directly from God, the Love Force, whoever or whatever it is you pray to or call to when in need or expressing joy. All of those cosmic gifts, all of that guidance is God’s melody getting passed your way because you were dressed for action.

Quincy’s right. Music has healing abilities. But for real healing we cannot just listen to the “music” of others. We have to make our own in whatever form we feel called to pursue: songs, quilts, bird feeders, landscaping, rave production, teaching physics, basket weaving, you name it. To hear the melodies God wants us to hear we have to be practiced in listening and dressed for action not because we’re afraid, but because we’re ready for The Loving.

Book jacket for Hugh MacLeod's upcoming "Ignore Everybody"

Book jacket for Hugh MacLeod's upcoming "Ignore Everybody"

Several years ago, like thousands of others (about 90,000 or more to date to be exact) I stumbled upon a guy named Hugh MacLeod that fired me up about the creative process. Well, I was already fired up about the creative process, so that’s not exactly right. What he did was make me feel like he was talking to me about it in such realistic terms that resonated so honestly that I got “re-fired up” about the creative process.

He was blogging and continually adding to, tweaking and re-releasing a manifesto called “How To Be Creative.” The title itself was tongue-in-cheek because, if you read it (which you should), you’ll see he has no prescription for “being creative” and essentially he is clear that, sure, you might learn something from his experiences, his wisdom, his process – but really what you should be doing is pursuing your own thing in your own way. Doggedly. Consistently. With passion.

Sounds simple and we’ve heard it all out lives in various forms (“march to your own drummer”) but pulling it off is no small feat. Somehow, Hugh makes it fun and (very) funny to read about how difficult it is to do some very simple things to maintain and expand our innate creative capacity. Things like “put the hours in,” “keep your day job,” and “the best way to get approval is not to need it.”

“How To Be Creative” has recently taken a sweet turn, I just learned: it will become a full-fledged, published work later this year. It will be called, ironically (of course) “Ignore Everbody.” I am sure that Hugh will insist he means himself as well. My advice: don’t ignore him. Read his book when it comes out (you can pre-order it at Amazon) and until then you can read “How To Be Creative” in its free PDF format.

As Hugh recently posted: “In a hundred years I’ll be dead. So will you. Before that time comes, I want to keep asking the question, ‘How do we make the world a more fun, meaningful, loving, creative place?’ I can’t think of a better way to spend the remaining time God has given me on this planet, frankly. You?”

Amen, brother.