Saturday, January 12, 2013

Pure Originality

One thing I think about a lot is the issue of originality. Even though there’s never anything new under the sun (thank you Solomon!), there's still this expectation for original thought, creativity, and work. A bit of a paradox, perhaps.

Since being in college, I've not only learned to read large amounts of written material speedily-- I’ve also developed this voracious desire to read the same way on my own free time. In other words, after finishing my most challenging semester yet with three book-heavy lit classes and 19 units, I’ve spent much of my Christmas break… reading. Yes, I too find it odd and sometimes metaphorically slap myself for using my eyes instead of engaging in other activities. But, keeping it real, wintertime doesn’t afford a lot of other opportunities. Rain and snow aren’t ideal elements to walk in, even though the bike has reared its head from the shed half a dozen times. So I read. And read. Non-fiction is most easily devoured, so I find myself speed-reading blogs, articles, books, online community discussion boards, and even one author’s recent Oxford essay. Just a little light reading, right? As an English major, I’m thankful that it has finally become easier to skim material for important nuggets and, in general, consume the written word with less effort than I first thought possible. This isn’t necessarily a good thing since, as with any passion or hobby, it can become an all-consuming pastime. I’ve considered not only how much time I’m spending reading and the content of what I’m reading, but also the value in the ideas I’m absorbing and, finally, the balance of consuming vs. creating. I’m all about gaining knowledge in order to better understand a wide range of philosophies. Broadening my perspective has been one of the most valuable things about my university experience. But I can’t help thinking that, as with all things, there comes a point…

Now I’m going to say something really shocking: I’m getting weary of C. S. Lewis.       

It's two-fold. 1) Ever since it became en vogue to quote him extensively within Christianity (an explosion since the age of social media), I can’t help thinking we treat him a little like God—or at least the Apostle Paul. Now, there’s good reason for this. He’s a literary and apologetic genius and has contributed much to the faith. He’s probably even more articulate and poetic than Paul, but… he’s not the same person. What I’m saying is Lewis’ words shouldn’t be revered as much as Scripture (though we could easily segue here into discussing why the biblical canon should or should not be closed). He experienced spiritual conversion, yes. But he didn’t have the revelation Paul had, and he definitely didn’t die for the sins of the world. In fact, he believed and proposed some things that would surprise much of evangelical Christianity. So, let’s just ease up on quoting him if we can. Now and then is fine; but backing up every single argument with a Lewis analogy… I just feel it lacks creativity and doesn’t produce the same authority as Scripture. 2) Because I do admire C. S. Lewis greatly, I find it easy to hunt down every word he penned and eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Possibly even dessert. Trust me, the temptation to glean insight from this man’s brain through some kind of literary osmosis is a difficult one. But after an entire course on Lewis in 2012 and “just-for-fun” readings of his novels since AND commentaries on his novels by other scholars, I’ve grown tired. It’s nearly idolatry, which is why I’ve decided to ease up. After all, he is human, and he had sinful shortcomings like the next guy, and he had a terrible radio voice. To quote my brother: QED.

Now to the heart of all this. Originality.

After all this reading and internalizing ideas, I came to the conclusion that I want to create and contribute as much as I consume. More if possible. But I know there’s a balance. We should be learning our entire lives, and much of that will come from reading. The internet offers us more good resources than we will ever be able to take advantage of. And that’s my point. There comes a time when I want to place the book down, exit the forum, and live my life. The only way someone can be original is if they absorb knowledge and then run with it. Uniquely. As a creative writing student, if I’ve heard one thing, it’s that the only way to become a good writer is— to write. You can spend your entire life reading self-help books on techniques and tried-and-true advice, but until you actually sit your rear down to write, you’ll never grow proficient. The same goes with anything. I don’t want to be known as just a Lewis scholar, or an expert on Dallas Willard, or any great impersonator of someone I admire. I want to be Bailey Gillespie (insert your name here), influenced and molded and shaped by this or that person, but ultimately just Bailey Gillespie. My burning desire is to know the Christ's truth (not only the ultimate truth of the gospel but the little every day truths that require discernment) directly from Him. And that’s what can be equally as frustrating; because, although I would rather run straight to my Father and have his audible voice downloaded to me, God tends to use people to communicate his truths. He used the authors of the Bible, after all. But I want to be searching for his heart on all things instead of the quick go-to of a particular author—even one I greatly respect. 

One issue I have with writing is its detachment from the flesh and blood of the bodies around me. Even the best writing in the world, the kind that uses images and concrete descriptive language to pierce your soul, is not the same as having a face-to-face conversation with someone precious. I love that... and hate it. So often when I write, I feel lost in the void because everyone now has a voice on every topic. When it comes down to it, the only purely original thing I can offer is myself. More and more of late, I have had this odd desire to simply meet with people— talk with them, hear their stories, cook with them, laugh with them, play music together, pray, go on walks. Maybe it's just "senioritus," but maybe it's more. Those are the times I feel most unique since the context we find ourselves in is by its very nature unique, based on who we’re talking to and where and when and why. The online archives of information will grow and grow until they're antiquated and supplanted by new material, just like a lovely musty library. They'll always be around. But the fleeting moment of conversation between two uniquely-designed human beings—that will never come again. This is why it’s so important to me. In that moment of truth, I may have been fashioned by the philosophy of C. S. Lewis or Dallas Willard or Elisabeth Eliot (or Mark Moore!), but who I am in that moment determines what I truly believe, what I am truly made of.

So, let’s keep learning, friends. Let’s keep hunting for truth and seeking understanding. Let’s be inspired by authors and artists and pastors and entrepreneurs. But let’s not let our own voices drown. Let’s not forget to make the time to talk with our own friends and family… and Jesus. This is our only chance to create a legacy and to invest in something vital that transcends this life into eternity: relationships. Okay, I’m off to eat and most likely read some more tonight (but hey, I created a blog post, right?). However, I no longer want to compare myself with Oxford professors and then beat myself up for not being as smart. I’m going to be content with my own identity and make what I can with it. I’m going to live out life myself and see if I can find out whether what I’ve learned is actually true. How about you?     

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Life Lessons from a Pack of Rice (Who Knew, Right?)

For those of you who don't know, I own a pack of rice. 

Okay, that's already a lie. My dad actually owns it, but I've since claimed it for my own. Last Christmas I grabbed a large olive green t-shirt, white rice, and some thread and made one of those hot rice packs that you microwave and keep in your bed during winter. It wasn't fancy-- like something you'd probably find on Pinterest-- but it was very practical. After all, I assumed it would spend most of its life relaxing on the cab seat of a Dodge Ram; but that was before I stole it and began putting it to better use. This green pack was an improvement from the last, which was filled with yellow corn and never failed to evoke a response from my apartment roommates. "Do we own chickens?" was a common one, as well as, "Ugh... something's burning in the microwave. It must be Bailey's." I loved it, even if they didn't. Though these heating packs are generally intended to reside in your bed and ward off frostbite, they are also handy in a pinch anywhere else you might become cold. It's became sort of a fifth limb of mine this past year, or a self-inflicted tumor that molded to the shape of my belly (that's where it feels comfiest). I am forever dragging it all over the house, out to the car, up to bed, etc. like Linus and his beloved blanket. Six minutes and 30 seconds gets it just the right temperature, and there's a perpetual beep, beep, beep that comes from the kitchen at all hours of the day. This drives my dad nuts since every time he opens the microwave door to heat up dinner, there's a steaming empty piece of Fiesta ware inside (which means that there is a warm, contented daughter somewhere in the next room, hugging this bag of rice in the fetal position). 

Then it happened. I lost it and about needed therapy. I don't know how you can grow addicted to a shirt full of white rice, but it was legitimate: after tearing my room apart looking for it, I found myself craving that warmth on my core all throughout the day and especially at night. When the rain and snow and hail and wind did its thing outside the windows, I shivered extra shivers remembering the steamy rice that once was mine. I couldn't even resort to the corn-filled pack as an alternative because it had been lost for months already. It was the depths of despair. For two weeks I suffered, as my knees knocked and teeth chattered in the brutal winter air (believe me, 66 degrees inside is brutal when you're used to walking around with a personal heating device). Then, after one more encouragement from my mom, I checked the cracks around my bed again for at least the third time. My rice pack had not been there before... but it was now. YES! It was Christmas all over again, but not only did I find it but also found another surprise: my yellow corn one. They were both sleeping dormant in my bed, and I didn't even know it. Instantly, the microwave plate started to circle around, as if spinning for joy at my discovery. Six and a half minutes later, the rice was hot, and we were back in business. 

There's one more thing you should know about this pack. A few months back, it somehow got a small hole in the fabric. Normally, it would be too tiny to notice, were the olive green fabric still functioning as a shirt. However, it's not... and the hole is the exact size of two rice kernels. This means that every time I lift up the pack, it sheds a few. I now leave a trail wherever I go in the house. I find this extremely amusing, but the rest of the family (after picking up pieces of white flecks from the furniture) does not. It's like a miracle of Jesus: no matter how many kernels my rice pack loses, it's still as full as ever. :)

Now for the awful reality: this rice pack has revealed some startling truths about its owner.

1) I can be a procrastinator. This is evident in how I have yet to fix the hole in the fabric, despite the fact that it's been leaking rice for two months now. I would rather apologize for the white trail I'm leaving than fix a simple problem.

2) I don't dress weather-appropriate. (Certain family members might say this could also be classified as 'I don't listen to motherly wisdom', but we'll just let that lay low.) It's obvious, even to me, that if I actually wore warm clothing, I wouldn't have to drag around a hot pack of rice. But I'd rather wear one layer plus the rice's added warmth than wear three layers and be without it. I am going to have to take a vacuum to my car soon though...  

3) I lack thoroughness. This could also be classified as 'I don't listen to motherly wisdom,' except that I did indeed search my bed high and low for the rice before finding it. But there are many other aspects of my life that affirm the reality that I could up the ante in the thoroughness department. 

4) I'm cheap. It's not a surprise; I've known this for a while. Even though I have the extra shirt fabric in my dresser drawer and other options at the store, I will most likely be using this one faded green pack for years to come. Yes, it will still be leaking rice, and yes it will still get lost from time to time. But just like Linus' blankie or that one stuffed animal we've all had since childbirth-- the rice is here to stay. You can't just throw away family. 

Well, folks... the end. I hope you've enjoyed these helpful life lessons derived from a handy-dandy shirt of rice. This post was intended to show that, even in its most mundane moments, life is always winking at you and trying to get you to notice and maybe even laugh if you're up for it. Plus, I just hung out with two of the cutest babies in the world, and their smiles were enough to dash any hopes I had of any melancholy, meaningful post on abstract concepts of eternity for my blogosphere. Sometimes we all just need to smile more. And I didn't even check the grammar because it's not fun to proofread at 12:36am. So, take care my friends and have a be-au-tiful day. :)