Tuesday, December 27, 2016


Two things hit me hard today. One, Carrie Fisher passed away today, which is a terrible loss to the world that needed her indomitable spirit desperately. If you only knew her as Princess Leia, take a second and Google some of her other life accomplishments, and some of the impact she had in a Hollywood culture that vastly favors men. Most importantly, look at how she talked about her mental illness candidly and with no apologies for touching on a subject so many view as taboo.

Second, I read another article about the Ghost Ship fire that happened in Oakland at the beginning of the month. It was an event that highlighted a lot of issues within the Bay Area, and urban areas in general. Gentrification, lack of artistic support, and no value for the creative people trying to eke out a living in an increasingly expensive and unsafe environment.

These connected in my mind, but I'll get to that in a second.

This particular article focused on this from a faith-based perspective, which I appreciate because I feel like very few people in the Church really harp on creativity. Sure we go on and on about doctrine and the fine points of theology. No one seems to mention the fact that we happen to believe in an inherently creative God, and it should follow that all our human creativity is God-breathed. It is an act of seeing something that does not exist in the physical realm and making it exist, whether it is a painting, a sculpture, a dance, or a book. Isn't that kinda what God did in Genesis? Bringing beauty and wonderous sights out of nothingness and making them real?

The argument goes that the Church should very much create a space for creative people. For those who living on the margins of society, because American society still has that great old Puritan legacy of art being "frivolous" or even better, "dangerous". Because it is ALWAYS dangerous to a black and white society to have people seeing things in the gray areas of life.

As it happens, creativity and mental health issues are often linked, though not how people usually think. Research shows that people with relatives who are mentally ill in their direct genetic line often display traits of being highly creative. The author of this article describes being creative as displaying the neurological openness that often characterizes mental illness but also having the positive intellectual traits that help navigate the chaos of all that stimuli and translate it into creative thought.

What links the two is the ability to see things beyond what others see. To connect ideas that no one else would think to connect. To create art that makes people take a step back and wonder, "why have I never thought of it that way before?" That is the beauty of viewing art. It takes us outside of ourselves and shows us new perspectives.

The beauty of creating art is often the same. As a writer, I create worlds that didn't exist before I dreamed them up. They may or may not make sense, but they're real to me. I can picture them. Or, I create versions of the world as I see it. I create people who end up doing things that I do not expect them to, even though I'm technically the one who is making them exist. In a rewrite of the novel I hope to publish, I realized that I had to completely rewrite the entire sequence of a relationship because I had both characters doing things they didn't actually want to do. When writing the new plot line, it became so easy to come up with how they would handle the situations that I barely had to put any thought into it. It just happened naturally.

This seeing of things is a theme throughout artistic expression. I was reminded of this, one of my favorite spoken word poems:

Carrie Fisher was another who spoke openly about living with bipolar, in a candid way that often made others much more comfortable discussing their own struggles. She was a highly creative person, with a devastating wit, and she used it to break down barriers that many took for granted. Talking about these issues so often paints those with mental illnesses as somehow bad for not being able to control what their brain tells them to do. She didn't care. She put them in a light that said, "this is what I have to deal with, and so I deal with it because I have no other choice." She is the perfect example of hitting the bottom and coming back stronger than ever.

Here then, is my question: Why aren't Christians talking about this side of creativity? The creative nature of hitting the bottom and coming back better falls into our entire belief system of the redemptive nature of God. It is a narrative that the American Church somehow suppresses, though. Particularly in the case of a drug addiction or mental health struggle. I don't get it. The amount of times I've heard either that there is no help for those people, or that they can somehow work their way out of it without help, "they just need a little bit of God's grace and mercy" is astounding. I'm not denouncing God's grace or mercy. I am simply pointing out that maybe, just maybe, God created us as a community to help those people complete His redemptive work in their lives through support, not judgment of things they cannot control.

I am fairly certain that Carrie did not believe in God the way I do. I don't actually think it matters. I find God even in the places He is not looked for - which, by the way, is another reason I believe the Church needs to support the artistic community even if they don't believe the same way. God is not restricted by the four walls of the church. I find God even in the work of those who vehemently deny His existence.

I find God's redemptive nature in Carrie's story. I find His passion for justice and an understanding of His beauty that few have. Carrie fought against those who criticized her appearance as she got older, speaking out against those who somehow expected her to stay 19 forever. She provided women with a strong female role model who lived outside of the box, something many female creators have valued highly, myself included. She proved that we don't all have to fit the mold of what people expect from women. We can be ourselves, loud and messy and brilliant, and that's okay.

This is where I see this connecting. Creative people are so often criticized for not fitting the mold. For not thinking the same way that most do, for seeing the world in a different light, often a light of their own creation. It baffles me. Why is this criticized, when this is the beauty of life? Why are we as a culture so afraid of people who see wildly radical things and have the audacity to believe they could be real? Why do we find it necessary to stigmatize anyone whose brain works differently?

I say this not only to the Church but to the world at large. I just think the Church has less of an excuse. If you say that you believe in a creative God, value what He values. Put down the Evangelical Puritan beliefs that produce the boring sameness of "art" that makes the rest of the world mock you.

Sit down and listen to those who are already creating new, innovative things. Listen to their perspective. Support their endeavors. Don't force them to live in the shadows, in communities that feed their souls, but put their lives in danger.

The same goes for those with mental illness. Sit down and listen. Let them tell you how their mind works, and hold off on suggesting ways that they can make it listen better - unless you have a background in psychology. Support via a kind ear often means more than anything. Letting them get their story into the light without judgment is the necessary first step to them meeting it head on.

I was not able to deal with my depression until I stopped denying that I had it. That denial took up much of the energy I didn't have, and made everything worse. I couldn't meet it head-on and flip it the psychological bird until it was out and I could see it in front of me, separate it from my identity and force myself towards optimism. I choose to find joy in situations that are devastating. I choose to find hope in hopeless times. I choose to find love, no matter what.

Maybe that's another form of creativity. Choosing to look at the world through a positive light, even when the world is anything but positive. In that case, it was a rough 2016 for me as a creative person. But perhaps I can, like Carrie Fisher, hit the bottom and decide to come back stronger and more beautiful.

Until tomorrow.

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