Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Parable of Talents

“And remember the parable of the talents, will you now. Do you mean to stand before God, come the Last Day, and tell Him you spurned the gifts He gave you?” The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon

I was reading this morning before I felt I had to get up and start my day -- another day of not feeling like I was ready to get back into the studio and work -- when I came across this passage. I did have a Christian upbringing, complete with Sunday School, and Confirmation classes, and regular church attendance, so the reference niggled at my brain, mainly because of the word, “parable”, but I didn’t quite remember it, so I took to Google, and quickly came up with a reference in the Bible: Matthew 25: 14-30. While I do consider myself a spiritual person, I have had struggles with organized religion from almost the moment I got out from under parental control. I do find a bit of humor in this particular struggle since my upbringing and related education also leaves me with that unique form of Christian guilt, which lately has been about how I approach my work.

Everything about living as an artist is a self-directed balancing act, and I have always found this the most challenging aspect of the whole enchilada. Work vs. downtime; making stuff that you know will sell vs. making stuff that feeds your soul; the work involved with the making and the work involved with the making a living (given a choice, I would make stuff and give it away if only I could); and what seems like a million other pairs of diametric opposites sitting across from each other on the see-saw. I know some would argue that you’re only supposed to be making stuff that feeds the soul, but I think as an artist, I try, but only partially succeed in this. You’ve got to throw a lot of chocolate at the wall before some starts to stick. The stuff that doesn’t stick is not completely unworthy, and in fact plays a major role in getting to the yummy stuff stuck to the wall. It’s chocolate, not crap!

Needless to say, I hadn’t cracked open the Bible in quite a while. Lately, I’ve been revisiting my form of spiritualism, and making some attempts at beefing things up in that department a bit. This is hard for me in that I am not a particularly nostalgic person, nor do I like to waste time trying to answer the big unanswerable questions, like “Why am I here?” or “What happens when we die?” Ironically, the only folks that can answer that question are dead. I also continue to struggle with what to make and why I’m making it. The answers change over time I think. When I first started this particular leg of my life journey in 1998, the answers in the beginning were quite simple -- in hindsight. I was just starting out, so I could get away with answers that were easily satisfying and quite black and white. For example, I was honing my skills, both with my art, as well as learning to live as self-directed person – as an artist and micro business woman. Then, in the more recent past, I used to think I shouldn’t think too much. That what I make “in the zone” automatically has that mystical quality built in. I am merely a vessel for a much larger planetary force. Just do it (the best tagline of the 20th century, in my opinion). The work will speak for itself. The more you work, the more you want to work. That all worked for quite a while.

But, I really have to come out and admit that this is no longer enough for me, nor has it been for quite some time, and more and more I have been thinking I need to start answering some tougher questions and creating in a more mindful spiritual environment. Don’t confuse spiritual with religious. Whether my spirituality translates in some way into religion remains to be discovered. Another gem I recently ran into comes from Twelve by Twelve by William Powers, “…faithfulness to the path given.” That needs to be on a T-shirt. Or embroidered on a pillow. That you sleep on. So I’ve been asking myself a lot lately, “Am I being faithful to the path given me?” The rub is that I think there’s room for improvement, but the how is eluding me.

I’ve also discovered that the less you work, the less you want to work, unless you have a really good reason to work, which isn’t about money in this case, although it may come to that. So this is where I currently am at on my artistic path. I do still believe in that mystical thing that happens once in a while when you are creating – where you really can feel yourself being used by a force greater than yourself for something good. In fact, I think I still believe in all the mantras of the middle phase. I just need all that and something more.

Once I (re)read the “Parable of Talents” I remembered it from my childhood. I’m more impressed now than I was then, which is another truism I’ve discovered – sometimes you’re just not ready to hear or appreciate the message. “Talents” in this case are pieces of money. But in the way of parables, I think you could also use talents to mean the gifts you have, what you are good at, which for me is creating stuff. That part I have never doubted. I’m convinced I was put on the earth to make stuff.

But it’s the what to make and why make that, that is the bigger deal these days. If I can answer these questions more meaningfully, I’m convinced my talents will multiply. As I wrestle through trying to find the way to go and the answers that will satisfy me now and going forward, I cannot help but wonder if I am completely living up to my potential. Have I been doing the work that will multiply my talents? Lately, I think I could do better. So the timing of running into the Parable of Talents could not be better for me and it does make me wonder if there isn’t “someone” looking out for me. I don’t really believe in coincidences. It certainly is easier to bury your talents in order to go the safe route. But if you want them to multiply, you have to use them wisely and prodigiously and courageously. I’ve got ideas; I just have to go into the studio and make stuff. “Just Do It” still does apply. But it should also encompass answering the tough question of “Why?” I’m hopeful I’ll always be able to define and bring to fruition a worthy idea, and that these will always eventually overpower any natural inclination I have for safety.