I’m home after a week in San Antonio, Texas, at the Christian Worldview Independent Film Festival. If you recall, I was there last year along with the film I wrote, The Wednesday Morning Breakfast Club. We had a couple of well-attended screenings, lots of good feedback, and our movie made it into the final five feature films at the awards ceremony. That was pretty neat. Continue reading
After stumbling about in the rain for a few necessary minutes with a scarf over my head because I couldn’t find my umbrella, I’m quite content to sit indoors on this blustery day and wait it out. (That is, until I have to leave for my other job this afternoon.) I’ve already had two cups of coffee, but I may succumb to number three. It’s dark, gloomy and windy out. That sort of weather just begs more coffee, or if you’re like a lot of my friends, more tea. I’m about ready to close the shades to my office window. I find myself staring out at the rain, going into a trance and not writing. I suppose I can allow that for a few minutes since the last couple of weeks have been quite productive!
I started my second film script for Duke Street Productions once again. This time, the momentum is high. One of the things holding me back was the nuisance of formatting a film script correctly. I hadn’t learned how to do it a couple years ago which caused some timing issues for The Wednesday Morning Breakfast Club. At the film festival in Texas, though, I learned about Celtx—a free program that does the formatting for you. I started messing around with that last week. It’s so easy! So now I can focus on writing a story instead of worrying about whether I’ve formatted the story correctly. (I hate technical details. I’m a big picture kind of person.) Anyhow, I’m now thirty pages into the new script and eagerly looking forward to the next big chunk of time I can use to plow forward. I am very excited about this next project. It’s a story that comes from deep inside of me about a topic that is so very important. I wish I could tell you what it’s about, but we’ve decided it would be best to keep it on the down-low until the script is done and we’re into the planning stage. The title of this next film is under wraps at the moment, but if you’d like to get a general idea of the movie’s theme you can read Severe Mercies, a post I wrote a few months ago.
If you think of me as I write this, please pray. I want to show this story well. I hope that a small part of God’s character will be revealed accurately through this story. My hope is that unbelievers will feel compelled to give Him more of their thoughts and believers will be reminded that God’s ways are always perfect.
That is all for this week. I need to work on a Union Gospel Press assignment. That is, if I can tear my eyes away from the rain drops falling outside.
Believe it or not, I’m still thinking about all of the things that happened at the film festival now two weeks long past. Sigh. The most exciting part about the film festival was showing our film to receptive and appreciative audiences. It was fun to hear the audience roar with laughter over the funny parts, and (hopefully this doesn’t sound sadistic) cry over the sad ones. Afterwards, so many people told me how much the story meant to them and complimented me on my writing skills. (And acting skills, believe it or not.) I, like the humble person I am, did not struggle one ounce with pride. Being a little facetious there. No, any time I am placed in a situation where my talents are on full display and when people recognize them, I am constantly pounding down that slithering serpent of pride. It will pop up at the most inopportune moments. Thankfully, I had two loads of laundry, a messy room, a dirty bathroom and cooking to do when I got home. Nothing like household chores to take you down a notch or two! Anyway, as I was pondering my pride and my creative streak today, the topic of self-expression resurrected itself in my mind. Creative people like to express themselves. They like to do things no one has ever done before. They like to think themselves entirely unique. And, of course, like every dangerous idea, there is something quite true in all of that. It’s just not the whole picture.
Being creative or doing creative things is sort of like walking a tightrope. You can either fall off one side in a pile of self-absorbed narcissism, or you can trip off the other, running away from your creativity in fear that it might get out of hand. It’s quite difficult to actually stay on the rope, praising the Great Creator for the wonderfully, beautifully, quirckily-made person (you) He’s put on this earth and using the gifts He’s given you to glorify Him without stressing and straining over the results or getting all tied into knots when people don’t recognize them. This is the tension I face every day, and I suspect I’m not the only one. And so we come to the title of this post: Self-Expression? Phft!
“I feel that the essence of dance is the expression of man–the landscape of his soul. I hope that every dance I do reveals something of myself or some wonderful thing a human can be.” (Martha Graham, Dancer) But this is what God says about self-expression, “A fool has no delight in understanding, but that his heart may express itself.” (Proverbs 18:2, King James 2000 Bible) Oh, dear. And ouch. So, how do I make sense of this? God obviously created people with personalities that are separate and distinct from each other. Does He then expect us to walk around with our mouths shut to avoid talking the way we particularly talk? I can’t imagine that’s the case since He explicitly commands us to speak His truth in love. After all, He gave us the very voice boxes that distinguish our voices from other voices. I think the crux of the issue is in subject matter and motivation.
Self-expression is a term that I’m really beginning to hate, since it describes the part of me that I don’t like at all. It’s this horrible urge to discover (which in the old use of the word basically meant to uncover or reveal) my inward parts so that everyone can admire me. It’s the essence of pride and self-delusion. Why? Because, apart from God, there is nothing in my heart worth admiring. It was a barren wasteland since birth until God spoke and a stream of living water sprang up in the desert. Expressing God, not myself, is my full-time job now. Or at least it ought to be. And we creative people need to get that and own it. If we make movies, write novels, take or paint beautiful pictures for the purpose of self-expression, than we’ve grandly missed the point.
As I’ve been thinking through this matter, six areas of practical application suggested themselves to me. I’ll list them here in the hopes that they might help someone beside myself. In a way, they’re sort of resolutions. Resolution-making is always a little frightening, because there’s a real possibility that you could fail to keep them. But you have to start somewhere. So, here goes:
1 Remain Contentedly Misunderstood I’ve gone through my entire life feeling like an odd ball. I suppose many creative people feel just that way. The temptation for us, then, is to retreat into our inner sanctums and conduct a lofty pity party for ourselves, bemoaning the fact that no one understands us. So what! The fact is, I barely understand myself and neither do you. How can I possibly get upset when my friends and acquaintances fail to understand me? (Besides, God said our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked above all things. Who can know them? So, perhaps the fact that no one understands me is actually a blessing in disguise. But that’s a whole different blog post right there.) The point is, my job isn’t to help people understand me. My duty is to understand people. I love how St. Frances of Assisi put it, “O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; To be understood as to understand…” I will be misunderstood. That’s how life is. That’s okay. If I’m wrongly interpreted, God will set things to rights when the right time comes.
2 Express to Understand, Not the Other Way Around This is closely related to the first resolution and many things I’ve already said. But it bears repeating. If my writing subtly slips into the habit of trying to reveal my “creative genius,” then I’ve stopped glorifying God and simply become another tortured artist looking for accolades. Tortured artists are really boring. Remember the Cannes film festival in Mr. Bean’s Holiday? Remember that awful movie that played for ever and ever at the end? Remember how bored the audience was?
Need I say more? My rule of thumb has been that I must write to understand, to think, to consider God’s truth from all sorts of angles. Then I need to get out of the way and show it to people in a way they can grasp and hang onto.
3 God Does Not Need Me Yes, God wants to use me for His glory, and He gave me many talents that I can use for His glory, but He doesn’t need me or my abilities to accomplish His will. It is a privilege to serve Him. He’s doing me a favor by letting me serve Him. It’s not the other way around. In fact, as soon as you or I begin to think of ourselves as being indispensable to God, He’s quite likely to whisk us out of the way and put someone a little more humble in our place.
4 Let God Smash Your Passions to Bits I recall my dad preaching a sermon called, “God Wants You, Not Your Talents.” It made quite an impact on me, and I’ve often thought about what he said. When God gifts us in some ways, we sometimes think the only ways we can serve Him are through those particular gifts. I have several talents. I’m a musician. I’m a writer. I guess I’m an actress. (Boy, that feels like such a weird thing to say.) But I’ve had to recognize that God may put me in a place where I can’t use any of those things. I might do more good for His Kingdom, someday, by flipping hamburgers or being a janitor at the local high school or locked in a vegetative state in a hospital bed. Am I okay with that? Are you? Those are hard questions for me to handle. But I have to. I believe I must be willing to take my passions—writing, music, filmmaking—place them on a virtual anvil, and smash them with a hammer if that’s what God wants.
5 Hold Onto Fashion With Very Loose Hands This may seem like an odd thing to say, but it goes along with the whole self-expression bit. And we creative people can fall for it hook, line and sinker. After all, we wouldn’t want to be mistaken for the nondescript masses all around us, right? We, of the developed world, take our clothes very, very VERY seriously. Too seriously. We want to show that we aren’t conformists. So we spend exorbitant amounts of money and time on just the right clothes to prove it. Back in the ‘60s my dad’s hippy friends used to buy brand new jeans, cut ‘em up with scissors and send ‘em through the wash about twenty times and then put them on so they wouldn’t be mistaken for their materialistic parents. The nonsense continues and you can see it all around if you open up your eyes and look. In the grand scheme of things, fashion is an issue about the size of an eighth of an inch. Self-expression by way of fashion statement is a luxury of the developed world. Most of the world’s population is simply looking for something, anything, to cover their nakedness and a mouthful of food to soothe the hunger pangs that are always with them. If I could put aside my desire to be thought well-dressed long enough to seek after God the way those starving people look for food and clothing to shelter them from the elements, I would be much better off. And so, here is my next resolution within a resolution: You will from this time forth, never hear me make denigrating remarks about the floppy, denim jumper. From the way I’ve spoken and the way I’ve heard other Christians speak about less-than-fashionable clothing in the past, I get this feeling that if we were all suddenly transported to the Jordan River and stood beside John the Baptist, we’d all be a little embarrassed by his, ahem, odd clothing. And that’s sad. So, if a young lady can wear a denim jumper with thanksgiving and without pride, then God bless her. Perhaps more “conservative wear” is slightly behind the times. But just remember, our kids are going to look at our old pictures twenty years from now and laugh their heads off at our “fashionable” clothes anyway. It. Doesn’t. Matter.
And last but not least…
6 Resolved to Focus Less on Originality and More on Truth Freedom comes when God is the prize and self gets forgotten entirely. In the same way, the best creativity happens when we’re not stressing and straining to say something creative. Creativity happens when we’re eating and breathing truth and trying our best make it known. Like C.S. Lewis said, “Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”
Film Festival in Retrospect
Well, I broke my promise of blogging a couple of times last week while we were at the film festival. Bother. I had the best of intentions, but boy, were we busy!
Here’s how the week went. Sunday, myself, Justin and Mr. Cade (who played Virgil in the movie) flew out of Chicago and arrived in San Antonio in the afternoon. After picking up the rental car and driving to the rental house, we hauled all of our junk inside and then waited until Seth, Harmony and Rowan arrived at the airport. They came in later that night and my friend, Lynette, flew in the next day at the same time as Stacey (who played the lovely waitress, Megan). There we all were, a large portion of The Wednesday Morning Breakfast Club team, together again. We all oohed and aahed over the baby. It was the first time I’d seen Rowan in the flesh, and I found him quite satisfactory.
Monday night, we met up with the crew from Wanted (Stacey’s next movie project) on the river walk. We had a good talk and commiserated with them over their Kickstarter campaign, which at the time seemed to be losing a bit of ground. Oh, how we felt for them! I recall shedding more than a few tears when it looked like our own campaign was doomed to failure.
Tuesday, the Filmmaker’s Guild began and lasted through Thursday morning. We had the opportunity to get a lot of good Biblical teaching plus go to workshops where we learned some more of the nuts and bolts of filmmaking. I think the most memorable workshop for me was the one on writing by John Fornof who has written for Adventures in Odyssey and other neat stuff. Not only did I laugh my head off at his amusing presentation, but I also had a lot of writing techniques confirmed to me—ways to make the characters likeable, etc… Plus, I believe Mr. Fornof is more of a Charles Dickens nut than I am. And any friend of Charles Dickens is a friend of mine.
On Thursday afternoon, the Film Festival began. All of us breakfast club people looked forward to Friday and Saturday with great excitement. Our first showing was Friday night. Stacey and I donned our waitress outfits again and handed out the survey cards as people came in. My clever brother designed them to look like guest checks at a restaurant and the attention to detail was not lost on the audience. When I finally took my seat, the room was packed and people were sitting on the floor. I listened as the people around me roared with laughter over the funny parts and sniffed during the sad ones. (Every time I sit in on a showing of the movie, such a unique sensation comes over me. “Huh. I wrote that,” is about the only thing that comes to mind. The movie has sort of taken on a life of its own and I find myself laughing just as hard as everyone else. That probably looks weird or conceited or something, but I can’t help it. I have to remind myself that I did actually write the thing.) That night we found out that Wanted had reached its goal on Kickstarter!
Our second showing on Saturday went well, too. There were probably two hundred people or more in the room. The best part about showing the movie was all feedback. I had person after person pull me aside and tell me how much the film meant to them. One family, like me, had spent many years caring for an elderly relative so the story especially resonated with them. One gentleman told my brother, “I have to go right away. I need to call my mom.” Praise the Lord! That is exactly the sort of impact we had hoped to make with the story.
Though we didn’t walk away with any awards, we still made it into the four or five films (I can’t remember exactly) that were finalists. That was exciting! I would be hard pressed to say what parts of the festival I enjoyed the most. It was all such a blessing and an encouragement, especially meeting so many new friends and getting to know the old ones better.I was quite unwilling to leave when the time came. But there will be another one next year, God willing. So, I’ll have to contain myself until then.
I’ve been sitting at the computer, procrastinating for the last half hour. Yes, I do procrastinate. Thursday is the day to write a blog post but my mind is quite blank. All I can really think about at the moment is the fact that I need to finish packing for my trip to San Antonio, that the sun is shining outside, how much I really want to eat a large quantity of chocolate and how stuffy my nose is. But my bird, Cora is staring at me with her beady little eyes, seeing to it that I write like I’m supposed to instead of doing other things—chiefly, eating a large quantity of chocolate. So, here I am. I’m afraid this will not be a very cohesive post. My apologies. There’s no one thing I really want to write about. So, I’ll just tell you what I’ve been doing the last several days and what I will be doing in the next.
Last week, I went hunting for more writing jobs via Google. I discovered Cairn Press is looking for personal essays featuring the subject of rejection. Those essays which they do not reject will be published in an anthology and the authors will receive compensation. (Yay!) Provided my essay on the topic of rejection is not rejected, I could make some more income. I’ve also been working on my next film script. I decided about six pages in that I really needed to start the script at a different point in the timeline. I was trying to be all “lets avoid the flashback thing,” but decided I just needed to approach the script the same way I approached the story it’s based on. So, that’s settled.
The past several months, I’ve been interested in turning old newspapers into useful creations. Last week, I finally got up the courage to give it a try. My first basket looked dreadful and I tossed it out. The second basket I made looked quite a bit better. But I realized that it kind of looked more like a Doctor Seuss hat than a basket. Tuesday night, I finally met with success!
This afternoon, I teach from two until about seven. Phew. Friday, I’ll frantically finish up my packing in the morning and meet with some writing/musician friends in the afternoon, then take Cora to my brother’s house for an extended visit with the nieces and nephews while I’m in Texas. The kids all like Cora, no matter how ornery she can be. The advantages of being dinky and yellow. Saturday—more packing and wracking of my brain to make sure I don’t forget anything important. Sunday—Texas! I really hope it’s characteristically warm. If I get there and it’s forty degrees, I will feel like I’ve had a cruel joke played upon me!
I’ll do my best to take pictures and share my experiences here a few more times during the film festival week.
It has been yet another interesting week. My car broke down again, stranding me in Kalamazoo overnight. So much fun. Thank God for my aunt who let me crash at her house. As I am sick of car trouble, I assume you must be too. Therefore, that is all I shall say about it!
The time is drawing near for the Christian Worldview Film Festival in San Antonio. This year, my brother, myself, Seth Haley, Harmony Haley, and Baby Haley will be taking The Wednesday Morning Breakfast Club there. We just got the film schedule this week and it looks as though the movie is going to be shown twice. At one of the showings, they’ll also be playing our extra feature, “The Hoary Head.”
I cannot tell you how much I’m looking forward to this. There will be warmth, good friends, things to learn, the San Antonio River, a possible visit to the Alamo, and best of all, I will not have to look at my ornery car for an entire eight days. On a more serious level, though, I’m looking forward to sharing the film with a big group of people once again.
There are quite a few big things coming up for me, actually. The film festival would be the first thing. When I get back, there’s a recital that some of my students will be performing in. Then, in May, I’ll be doing a mini concert for a Ladies Tea at a church in Otsego. After that, another recital for my students. I’m going to be quite busy in the next few months.
Also, it thundered this morning. There’s snow piled all over the place and it thundered. Michigan is so weird.