A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 116: the Power of Crap


“Camoufleurs”, 2017, Watercolor

When your favorite thing about a new artwork is the title you came up with, it may be a sign that you’ve created crap.

“Camoufleurs” is just that for me. But in point of fact, putting a picture of it here on my blog is the dangerous part of my Creating Dangerously theme for 2017. It’s a risky biz.

Artists are the same as everyone else: We like to put our best stuff out there, the things we think are well-done, maybe even impressive. We all like to look our best to other people, right? Social media has made that de rigeuer. Facebook and other formats have given us all a chance to present our best and sometimes even manufacture a life that looks far more awesome than the one we’re truly living. We talk about the right way to take selfies, how to get more Likes and Followers, how to gain more attention. Certainly, this doesn’t come by putting our less-than-stellar selves out there for all to see.

But painting “Camoufleurs” made me wonder about the power of Crap, the power of the stuff we tend to hide away. I wondered, do we need to be more up front about our failures so that we build more bridges with each other? Many studies have shown that too much social media can lead people to anxiety and depression, because they look at those carefully manufactured lives of their friends and feel like, by comparison, their life is crap. Maybe if we were more willing to be real, to embrace the struggles and disappointments, to share some of them, we would all begin to feel like we were all in this together, that no one has the perfect Facebook life, and that we’re all simply mistake-prone people collectively trying to do better.

Maybe that is all just way too philosophical. Maybe it is worse: Quasi-philosophical, or Pseudo-philosophical. I was aiming for a beautiful watercolor painting of flowers. What I got was a messy, camouflaged assault on aesthetics. It looks like Rambo was trying to explore his sensitive side. Maybe I should have followed my first instinct to dispose of this failed attempt. But then what would I have to be pseudo-philosophical about?

I’m not advocating that all our failures and short-comings be plastered all over the place. That might be far too pathetic. I’m advocating authenticity for the sake of community. I’m advocating the occasional warts-and-all share in order to create an atmosphere where it is okay to not be beautiful and impressive all the damn time.

Frankly, you’re not helping anybody if you’re putting your fake life on display. It is all as “magical” as that not-so wonderful Wizard in Oz. We all need more real, don’t you think? I know I do. And I know I appreciate the people willing to be vulnerable enough to live life in its truly haphazard state, be it online or right in front of me. When I find out how someone else is fighting the same battles as me, feeling as beat down by things, living day-to-day because Big Picture is just too tough, I feel a connection. That is encouraging. That helps us feel we are really and truly in this together.

Don’t be afraid of your Crap. It may just be what someone needs to help them feel less crappy about their own life. And it may be just the way you learn, together, how to wade through the ugly in order to find what is truly beautiful about life.

By the way, I’m selling “Camoufleurs” if you want it. Just $400 unframed (not including postage).

I know – I’m full of crap.



Faking It

554150__the-wizard-of-oz_pIs it better to be able to do something well or to just look like you are able to do something well?

There are times I feel that I have no idea what I’m doing but I’m really, really good at faking it. A great part of my own personal angst in life centers on this theme. I have been and am now involved in many things that I feel completely under-qualified for and under-skilled in. In the unlikely event that I might write my autobiography, I have a ready-made title: Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain!

Of course, you recognize that reference; “The Wizard of Oz” is permanently embedded in our communal pop-cultural cortex. There are many subversively profound adult issues hiding in this unforgettable children’s story. All the Big Questions are there: “Who Am I?”, “Why Am I Here?”, “What is the Meaning of Life?”, “Why Do Flying Monkeys Freak Me Out?”. Likely there is something in the tale of the Yellow Brick Road that resonates with you; maybe it is the search for personal courage; a longing for home; a life journey with unlikely fellow travelers. Certainly, there are many aspects of the L. Frank Baum classic that draw us in and reach us on a deeply personal level. For me, it is that moment when Toto pulls the curtain back to reveal the true “wizard”: the Kansas snake oil salesman who is feverishly working levers, pushing buttons, spinning the whazzit, pulling the thingamabob. We find out then who is behind all the impressively Technicolor pyrotechnics, booming voice and freaky floating green head.

As a child, I was always disappointed by this pedestrian man and his pathetic circus tricks. Just like I could never accept that Dorothy’s adventures were just a dream – that my favorite character, the Scarecrow, was just a lanky farmhand – so I never came to terms with a common shyster pulling off the Great and Powerful shtick. I didn’t get it. He certainly never became one of the beloved denizens of Oz in my imagination.

Isn’t it ironic, then, that as an adult I find myself more and more able to relate to the most uninspiring character in “The Wizard of Oz”? Like the pseudo-wizard, I have often found myself transported into situations where I have had to rely on an ability to make things up as I go along. The first time this happened to me is when I was less-than magically transported to Wisconsin to serve as an intern pastor for a small church in a small town. Arriving there for the year, I came with two – count ’em, two – sermons under my belt, written for a seminary course. I agreed to serve there knowing I’d be expected to craft two sermons every Sunday! So from two to potentially 104 (52 Sundays x 2… do the math). My first message for that church was handwritten on notebook paper as I sat at a picnic table at the local park. I had no office, no computer to work on, many books still packed… Making it up as I go along, indeed!

This should have been an omen for my so-called professional life to come. Amazingly way back then all the way up to this very day – as I continue to put messages together to preach to the current church I serve – I have the same thought running through my head as I had almost twenty years ago when I get up to speak: “What Am I Doing Here?” I never finished seminary, do not hold the coveted Masters of Divinity degree, often have never had a proper study, am lacking in many commentaries and other resources, yet I’ve prepared and preached hundreds of sermons over the years. You’d think all that experience would make me self-confident and assured of my abilities. Instead, I remain convinced that one day a little Toto dog will appear in my life and reveal That Man Behind the Curtain and people will see that it’s just unimpressive, pedestrian me: someone skilled in the fine art of faking it, that is all.

Why do these thoughts assail me? Maybe I just have a terminal case of the humilities. Yet I feel a lot of the same things in my other job, as a personal support worker for an adult day program in Ottawa. We serve adults with a variety of developmental disabilities. I work with many gifted people who bring a great deal of talents and experiences to the table. Over the last few months I have become the designated guitarist and song leader in the place. To me, this is another example of the ludicrousness of my life for the simple reason that I cannot play the guitar! There are a couple of exceptional guitarists at the program, guys who can really, really play. Yet there I am, a few times a week, chugging away in my own extremely unexceptional way on that guitar. I know about 12 chords, my strum patterns would make a guitar teacher cringe, and I could teach someone what I know on the guitar in about a half an hour. Again: “What Am I Doing Here?”

What causes me anxiety in these situations is that people seem to really enjoy what I do. They are genuinely moved and gratified for what I do for them. Yet in the back of my mind is an image of myself putting on a show for people – pulling levers, pushing buttons, spinning the thingamajig; wowing folks with a pretence of competence and skill; a patina of shiny impressiveness covering a poorly-made pot with feet of clay.

I do take comfort in one thought, however: That pseudo-wizard of Oz turned out to be a nice guy trying to do his best in a very unusual situation. In fact, he helped Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion find exactly what they were looking for. Somehow, even though he was not who they thought he was, he turned out to be exactly what they needed. In fact, it was his ability to fake it that drove the heroes of the story on to confront their fears, take the risks, deepen their understanding of themselves, and gain self-confidence. Ultimately, he may have been a bit of a disappointment but what came of all his pseudo-wizardly machinations was profound.

He didn’t really have the chops to be the Great and Powerful Oz but what he did have still motivated people towards something Great and Powerful in their lives. Considering this gives me some insight into the answer to the question: “What Am I Doing Here?” I am a common man with common abilities, nothing more. Yet, when you think about it, it is the common people who have all effected us the most in our life journeys. We all have humble and unexceptional examples in our lives who have had a lifelong and exceptional impact on us and our growth as human beings.

Maybe, instead of being filled with anxiety about being exposed as That Man Behind the Curtain, I should embrace that role. Maybe instead of considering  it as “faking it”, I should realize that it’s more like taking what little skill you have and using it to the max. Instead of angst and self-loathing, maybe there should be joy and wonder that someone so common can still be used for uncommon purposes.

Here’s a link to classic “Man Behind the Curtain” scene: http://youtu.be/NZR64EF3OpA