September 8, 2014

An Imaginary Conversation at the Iowa State Fair

Photo by Doug Kerr

“Hello, miss? Would you like to sign up to win an iPad or a flatscreen TV?”
“No thanks. It’s against my religion.”
“Really? What religion are you?”
“I’m a Christian.”
“Well, so am I!”
“Your sign says different.”
“Americans for Prosperity isn’t a religious group. We’re an advocacy group trying to educate people about how to improve the economy.”
“You cannot serve both God and money. That’s in the Bible.”
“It’s a reality of life that you need money to live. We’re not worshiping money, just trying to make sure that the rules of the economy are fair so people get to keep most of what they’ve earned.”
“Which people? Jesus said, ‘Whatever you’ve done to the least of these, you’ve done to me.’ My understanding of your organization is that it primarily helps people who already have a lot of money at the expense of those who don’t.” 
“I see. I think that’s a common misconception. You see, AFP is really about helping all hard-working Americans keep more of their money. We want a good environment for business so more people can have jobs. Wouldn’t you agree that’s a good thing?”
“When you don’t pay people enough to live on, when you expect them to come to work sick and work crazy schedules at a moment’s notice and prevent them from standing up for their legal rights, either in a union or a court of law, is that loving your neighbor as you would love yourself?”
“I can see we’re going to have to agree to disagree. Have a nice day. Enjoy the fair.”
“You know, God’s grace is free.”
“Hello, sir? Would you like to sign up to win an iPad or a flatscreen TV?”

August 11, 2014

Poem: Ron Clayfoot

Graphic by S. King, photo by Evo Flash
I knew your god
Before his ascendence.
He once ruled
The golden kingdom of my childhood
And was not beloved.
I watched schools crumble in his wake.
I saw brows furrow at his guile.
He was not beloved.

When I first learned
How he was worshiped,
Adored, idolized, revered,
In lands beyond
My childhood home;
The world turned sideways.
I wondered what
These people saw
That made them raise a god
From an imperfect man:
A statue of fool's gold
With feet of clay.

August 9, 2014

When the World Gets Ugly, Create Beauty

Collage by S. King. Photo credits here.

"And now I see with eye serene the very pulse of the machine."
- William Wordsworth, She Was a Phantom of Delight

For the past couple of years, I have been wondering about the purpose of creativity. I've posted about it in this blog here, here and here, and in comments on other sites. Even though I claimed to have found it in that second post, I didn't really believe what I wrote there for more than a few hours.

I've been pretty pessimistic about the usefulness of creativity and how it's valued in the world today, particularly in business. I see a lot of lip-service paid to being creative when what people are really measured by is how many units of widgets they produce and how well they can squeeze more numbers into the business' bottom line. Innovation, customer satisfaction - sure, those matter, but not in the short term. And management cares most about numbers adding up in the short term.

Yet we're taught from an early age to be creative. What are we supposed to be creating?

My obsession with finding a purpose to creativity reached its nadir with this Twitter exchange. I was sitting at my desk in the office, trying desperately not to sob as I typed those responses. I finished off an entire box of kleenex. I couldn't imagine ever reaching the mental state that Hugh and Jeff shared where they were excited about the possibilities of creativity.

Then last week, I was despairing over the state of the world in general. I'm sure I wasn't alone in this. With war all over the globe, poverty and disease rampant, the world was looking pretty ugly. Equally as ugly were the attitudes of many people I saw. "Screw them, I do what I want," "Every man for himself," and perhaps ugliest of all, "Those people aren't worth helping."

What do you do when faced with a world that doesn't care how mean and ugly it is? Can anything be done?

Yes, I realized. I can do something, even if it's something small. I don't have to be ugly. I don't have to let ugliness thrive in my presence. Just like when I take the time to weed my little garden plot even though the rest of the yard is still a jungle, I can make the effort to fight entropy, even if it's in a small way.

Many people are blind to the possibilities around them. They see things as they are, and look no further. Creativity lets you see beyond what is and envision what could be. You can see the beautiful house hiding in the shabby relic. You can see the party decorations lurking in recycled trash. You can see a delicious recipe in a pile of random leftovers. You can imagine a song, a picture, a dance, a party, where none existed.

That's what creativity is good for: to create beauty in an ugly world. Creativity won't make you successful or popular or powerful, but that's OK. It will do something more important. Creativity will help make the world a more bearable place, and bring some small measure of joy to those around you.

Even if no one acknowledges your creative efforts, know this:

You are making a difference. You are making the world more beautiful.