Steal Like An Artist

Steal Like an Artist. Austin Kleon

This was a bit of a surprise. It is considered a modern classic by arty farty types and I thought I would have a look. I was a bit disappointed when it arrived. It’s quite small, not very thick and there are a lot of drawings in it.

I was a bit stroppy because at first glance it looked like one of those Instagram things where people post squares stating the flaming obvious and then flog it as if it were their original contribution to the wisdom of the ages. Things like “Only YOU can be YOU. Be YOU.” or “CALM. You owe it to your heart.” The Internet has a lot to answer for.

However, not for the first time (or the last), I judged too soon. I have found this really valuable – to the point where I am making notes. The central idea is that there is nothing new under the sun – artistically. (Already pointed out in Ecclesiastes. It’s the Circle of Life)

Kleon argues we should all feel free to take ideas from other people who create – artists, writers, musicians, etc. He’s not talking about pinching other people’s work, he’s talking about letting other ideas inspire you and having them take you off on a tangent and stimulate creations of your own. He distinguishes between good theft and bad theft – one honours the original, one degrades it.

Also, he talks about having two work areas. One digital – laptop, phone etc and one analogue – post it notes, drawings, pen and paper planning as these stimulate different areas of his creativity. This is interesting for people like me who spend too much of their time on the laptop.

It’s a deceptively thoughtful book and it’s rare that I make notes from a non-fiction book. That probably says more about me than the quality of the books that I read. If you are looking for a stimulating and encouraging book with lots of practical ideas about how to be creative while being normal – having a job, a life and leaving the house, this is really helpful.

News

Humble apologies for the lack of contact but, as you can see, there has been a lot going on. I know that it is early days and a lot can happen but it seems that we have sold the house and have had an offer accepted on a new apartment. We have spent a goodly proportion of the past few months wandering around the family home that we love and asking ourselves why no one else loves it. We have also spent too much time looking up at the kitchen ceiling and asking “Whyyyyyyyy”?

Well, it seems that there were reasons. I’m never sure how much info to give out with stuff like this but it seems the timing – with the quality of the buyers and the desperation of the apartment sellers, things have fallen into place. We are both in a “holding it loosely” mood at the moment, which we are trying to balance with being mighty warriors of faith. No wonder I am tired. I will keep you posted.

We are also just back from London, celebrating our wedding anniversary. We left with Aged Parent’s warning to “Keep off those bridges – they drive like maniacs.” ringing in our ears (I’m not sure that she realised that there were terrorist attacks – just bad driving and that is how I am leaving it). We had a lovely time. We went to see “Hamilton” which I can highly recommend. I must admit, I had a bit of trepidation about a three-hour rap musical about one of the founding fathers of the USA but it really is outstanding.

Tickets are very expensive but, on FOW2’s recommendation, we were in the cheaper seats at the side and it was still very good. There were a couple of moments when the actors pointed up and shouted things like “It’s George Washington!” and we couldn’t see him but he usually immediately came down the stairs so that was ok. It’s American history with a twist. All the actors were non-white and I was always taught that King George was a quiet, thoughtful person, prone to introspection. Here he camps it up brilliantly – vicious and mean and taking American Independence very personally. The dancing and the singing though – top notch.

Other than that, we walked miles (no, I mean literally – miles), shopped our birthday money from Aged Parent into oblivion and ate our body-weight in Italian food. In other words – perfect.

I have nothing else to report. I have read a lot. Been to the flicks (Avengers – Endgame – possibly one of my favourite films of the year so far and no, I am not kidding). And we have considered all the furniture etc we will need to sell to downsize. However, considering is all that we have done and I feel that it is quite enough for now.

Have a great week

Mrs. Tim Carries On

Mrs Tim Carries On by D E Stevenson

If you made me walk the plank to force me to reveal my favorite kind of book – British Wartime Diaries/Fiction would be in my top three. (Obviously, if you felt strongly enough to make me walk the plank, you might not let me get away with not being able to narrow down past a top three. This would be sad). It has to be female. I’m not interested in seventeen different versions of The Guns of Navarone. You have to be easily able to imagine it being turned into a black and white film with rubble, Spitfires and rushed good-byes on train stations. I love those films. (Not Brief Encounter though. Blimey, they were boring. I cheered to the rafters when he said he was emigrating. I thought he’d never leave.) In these deeply troubled times, there’s nothing I love to read about more than a woman picking her way through blitzed streets in sensible shoes doughtily in search of the last sausage.

Actually, there is not too much of that here. Mrs. Tim is the wife of “Tim of the Regiment” and during the war, they are posted in a Scottish town. There is nowhere near as much action as there is in say “A Chelsea Concerto” (a personal favourite). There are different kinds of pleasures to be had here. Military wives, serving while standing and waiting, packing knitted mittens for soldiers (how do you get your fingers round the triggers?) and planning Children’s Christmas parties on limited budgets. (Shall they have a toy drum or a dear little bus conductors uniform)?

Most of Mrs. Tim’s life is a foreign land to me. Her son is sent away to school as is the norm. She has servants (cue stern but good-hearted cook) and her younger daughter does not seem to need very much care at all – she seems to disappear for days on end and then appear at random for tea-time.

Mrs. Tim and her pals have lunch together and discuss the war but, certainly, in the beginning, there is no sense of fear for the future. You could never imagine them thinking of say… a concentration camp. The war does break in eventually, People are sent away and then go missing and a visit to her brother in London is a shock to the system.

This book is part of a series and we can follow her life after the war. I probably won’t. There’s too much else I want to read. I liked it a lot though. It is gentle with a bit of a kick. All the shooting and blowing up is strictly off screen but you are left in no doubt there is a war on and it is part of everything – every thought, every plan, every relationship. It left me hoping that all goes awfully well for Mrs. Tim in the future and you can’t say fairer than that.

A Good Innings

It is, as my Grandad once told us in a phone call home from his holidays, like “The Riveera” here. The sun is shining and we can almost entertain the possibility of summer. Hurrah.

I wanted to use this space this week to draw attention to the life of Jean Vanier. In contrast to last week’s news about Rachel Held Evans, this is more of a celebration of a life rather than the wrench of the loss of a young wife and mother. Jean Vanier had had what my grandad would have called “A Good Innings” This is true, partly because ninety years old is probably more than enough for anyone and also because his life’s work falls fairly and squarely in the category “good”.

Vanier famously visited a psychiatric ward and was appalled by the treatment of the patients there.

 “I visited homes and discovered a world of vast suffering that I had been totally ignorant of. In the navy, I had been in a world of efficiency; through my studies, I was in the world of intellect. And then I found myself faced by a world of ‘the cry’ and that has turned my life upside down.”

He began to live with people with intellectual difficulties – not as a carer so much as a friend. This change of perspective – treating all equally and recognising the value of all people – was revolutionary. It is an attitude that reflects directly the approach of Jesus and led to L’Arch (or Ark) communities being set up all over the world.

I think that the current slow but sure changes that we are seeing in attitudes to people with disabilities and also their own sense of place in the world is rooted in the work of Jean Vanier.

So how does it work out in practice? My chances of leaving everyone and going to live a simple life in an Ark Community are slim. But little thoughts and changes where we are now can make a difference. When I am shopping at lunch and cannot cruise through M and S at my preferred speed because an old lady in front of me does not seem to be in full control of her walking frame, I can become impatient. When that happens, it helps to ask myself – what right did I have to set the walking speed to 100 mph and maybe it is me that is out of step? Or, if I have to repeat myself because someone can’t hear me or if someone in a wheelchair gets to jump the queue because they can’t actually fit their chair down the till isle. We need to see these as necessary adjustments, not favours.

The challenges are there for all of us every day. When Aged Parent decided that 5.45 am was a perfectly acceptable time to take round a friend’s birthday card. (“I wanted to catch her before she went out for lunch”) I am grateful that her friend gracefully decided that her response was to say “Thank-you”, then inform Aged Parent that Jesus loved her and then celebrate that fact with a rousing chorus of “When the roll is called up yonder”. (I am, unfortunately, unable to furnish you with the neighbours’ reaction at this point)

On the flip side, necessary adjustments do not mean accepting a phone call where someone shouts “I’m disabled! You better find a seat for me on your ****** buses or else!” Nor should physical violence to people who are trying to help be acceptable. I am also reliably informed by medical people that patients who have issues with the appropriate nature of certain Anglo Saxon words are always politely but firmly called out on it. (Even when everyone is sniggering because they have no idea how Nana ever even heard that word.)

Christianity does not escape unscathed. I have worked at a couple of churches where there wasn’t a lift to go to the second floor and it wasn’t considered a priority. I think that kind of attitude is on the way out now. (Please don’t write in with loads of “I think you’ll find it isn’t” stories – I know there is a very long way to go with this.) Vanier’s attitude – informed first and foremost by his understanding of the teachings of Jesus, is an example and a challenge. I’ll be honest, I’m a bit of a ratbag and I’m not sure I’m always up to it. The problem is – I don’t think I’m supposed to have a choice.

Inexplicable

So Rachel Held Evans died. (Please see previous post) She was 37 and leaves a husband and two children – one of them not even one year old yet. She died of complications from flu. The Internet is full of people grieving for her – people who have benefitted from her sisterhood, her writing, or her ministry. I would like to add myself to that list. There are also the people who have prayed unceasingly for her healing.

There are also people who are putting articles on the Internet along the lines of “How does one react to the death of an apostate?”I will confine myself to noting that anyone who reacts with that kind of sentiment when a young mother has died, may possibly have no idea about anything Jesus ever said. (Disclaimer – these opinions are my own as you well know)

Prayer is a tricky subject. Petitionary prayer even more so. One one hand, there is the “Ask Anything And You Shall Have It” gang. On the other, the “Hold The Things You Desire Very Loosely Just In Case God Says No” people. This is all very well and good but when we seem to have been taught that faith is essential to prayer, it is difficult negotiating how to ask for things believing God wants us to have them and then trying to maintain a peace that God knows best and if he says no or makes us wait, then all will be well.

I don’t think any of you are here because you think that I have any answers. I most certainly do not. However, I have had a wander around some books and a few Dallas Willard sermons and have reminded myself of the following…

There is no such thing as a prayer that hits the ceiling and doesn’t reach God. Because God is under the ceiling – with us – involved, laughing, mourning, training, raising an eyebrow and saying “Really?”. Prayer is God’s day to day entry into our lives, as it is our entry into him. If it’s working properly, it is happening often, in our designated places and times as well as on the hoof. But the truth is that, even then, sometimes things don’t go as we ask and I seriously don’t know why.

Faith is also essential for prayer. Faith that we are heard. Faith that our best interests are at God’s heart and faith that God is not too small and that he is able. It is this faith that allowed Jesus to sleep in a boat in the middle of a storm while the disciples screamed at the top of their voices and ran up and down the boat doing hysterical jazz hands. (This is a perfect picture of how I react in a crisis as opposed to how I should react in a crisis) This was then followed by the disciples screaming “Don’t you even care?” (Also me)

We have to square the reality that not all petitions are answered with the equal reality of a caring God. I didn’t say it made sense. The thing that has made it a bit easier for me is realising that my relationship with God is a two-way street. Obviously, I say all the time that Jesus is my friend but I also have to get hold of the fact that I am his friend. He looks at me and sees his friend. This’s who I am to him. That’s what I am worth. And if that’s how he sees me then I have to try to trust his judgment when it comes to how he cares for his friends