Art as an Act of Faith

Art, I am discovering, is the ultimate act of faith.

Do you see this photo of the path through the woods?  I cannot see where this path ends.  As with Life, I can see only a few steps ahead.  In places where the path is straighter, I can see farther, but what’s around that next bend?  Or just over the hill?

To me, it’s unknown.  And I’m a person who likes to know. 

I occasionally have visions of the future–photographic flashes, if you will, sometimes  accompanied by sounds, smells, and–most distinctly–emotions.  I have met strangers whom I remembered from the future as extremely important to me, complete with all the feelings that flank a deep love relationship.   And I have had strong intuition about certain things around that next bend, both joyful and painful.  But I still don’t know what’s around the bend.

And I still want to know.

Somehow, I feel that I’m more in control of my destiny if I know.  If the flashes aren’t there or the strong intuition or the very serene sense of “knowing” and I still desperately want to know, I will attempt to divine for it.  It’s my way of reaching out into the future, raising a periscope high above the forest so I can turn the looking glass this way and that, and see where the path leads.

It’s been pointed out to me by past spiritual teachers that my persistent need to know is a sign of a lack of faith.  Having faith in the Universe and that I will be taken care of is one of my life lessons, and one I have not yet mastered…but I am working on it.

Two months ago, I began an exercise that was meant to be artistic and turned out to be very spiritual for me.  During this exercise, I discovered that art is an act of faith.  Although I had been a writer all my life, I had never until two months ago participated in National Novel Writing Month.  This year was different–I had room in my life to give it a try and see if I could actually write a whole 50,000 words in 30 days.  And I had a story worth telling–the story of a woman trying to find her purpose in life and a man who would do anything for love.  Two tortured, not always nice characters discovering their dark places alone and together and in the process helping me work through some of my own dark places, as often happens when I pick up a pen or sit down at my keyboard.

Although I had wanted to try NaNo before, I had always had a career, busy home life, kids.  This year, I had an empty nest, a short break in my relationship, and not so much overtime to work in the office.  So I decided to pour my passions into writing as fast and furiously as possible for the entire month of November.  I finished the month with 50,105 words and the next month with another 35,000 words.  Another 15,000 words or so and I’ll proudly be done with THE SECRET LIVES OF LIBRARIANS, the first of the 9th Gate Book series.

While the creative aspect has been a blast, the spiritual aspect surprised me.  The other thing I did completely differently from any writing I’ve done before–instead of sitting down and writing it all out or dictating a chapter, transcribing it, reading it, and then dictating more–was doing nothing but dictating the story.  No going back to analyze and agonize over what I’d already written.   I dictated on my commute to/from work, on power walks, while folding laundry or cooking.   To my shock, I found that I’d written 500 pages entirely on my phone’s recorder app, and in record time.  Oh, the Gods were good to me!  

I was okay for the first few chapters where I could remember everything, but then it became strangely disconcerting.  (Yeah, that’s often the sign of a spiritual lesson, isn’t it?)  I began to feel ungrounded, worried.  Although the story was plainly there in my audio files, like life experience only I remembered, I didn’t have anything to look at to see exactly where I was or where I was going.  I knew I had come a long way–all I had to do was look at the transcription word counts from the audio files–but I didn’t have the actual printed pages to look back at, the manuscript dog-eared or scribbled on.  All I had was the momentum to go forward around that next bend.  I knew how the story started, how it ended, and some things that happened on the way.  But I didn’t know that Lilah had been abducted as a child and how her survivor’s guilt turned her into a self-proclaimed monster or how Daegan would understand calling on his Gods most often when he was in need or desperate or desperately in love and the correlation between prayer and romantic need.  These were things that I discovered as I moved forward on the path, both literally and figuratively.

Then one day, about 80,000 words into the story, I was out with my phone’s recorder app turned on, walking at a nice 4 mph clip, when I came upon the path in the photo.  I didn’t know where it led and I didn’t know what was around that next turn.  Specifically, what words would I be dictating?  What insights would come to me when I turned that corner?  I had just recently heard a lecture by Dr. Wayne Dyer where he talked about having faith when he sat down to write that whatever he needed to write would come in the perfect way, and that’s the way I approached this entire novel–completely on faith that whenever I pick up that recorder and head down an unknown path, whatever I need to know to write about will come to me, that the creativity and inspiration will be there, that the right words will be there and it will flow. 

That I will never turn that corner and find there’s nothing there for me but emptiness. 

Some surprises, yes.  Often.  But that I’ll be okay and the words will come. 

Art itself is like that, like Life.  It’s all an act of faith.  Whether it’s the writer not knowing what happens in the next chapter, the sculptor not knowing the resulting form, the photographer not knowing exactly what will be captured in a split second of the life of her subject, or the musician sitting down to pluck out a few chords to match his lyrics.  Or even the seamstress or quilter with a pattern in her head but still no idea which fabrics she’ll pick or how the end result will look….except beautiful. 

Writing THE SECRET LIVES OF LIBRARIANS has been like that: the faith that what I need will be there when I reach that point on the path.  Even though I have no idea how it looks now.  I don’t need to know the exact words when I put on my walking shoes and head out the door to finish these last chapters.  The words will come as I stroll the curves and twists of the path.  I don’t need to know.  It will come.

And the same in my life.  I don’t need to know exactly what’s around the next bend. 

Because it will be okay.

I have faith.