When you are tuned in via a creative process that works for you, surprising things come through. Writing is one medium that does that for me. I start noodling some ideas around—often, two or three seemingly unrelated ones that have caught my attention. It helps to ask questions like What is this really about? and What am I trying to say? In the course of the writing, insight sneaks in.
I want to say revelation, but keep choosing the word insight for its modesty, its unwillingness to make demands. Maybe it’s like when bakers or brewers rely on wild yeast, rather than controlled addition of packaged yeast. I picture wild yeast as dust motes floating invisibly on currents of afternoon air warmed by low streaks of sunlight. Where does wild yeast even come from? Can bakers and brewers count on it being there in the air, waiting to dive into their dough or mash, to mate with their flour, rye or barley? Is that the appeal: the risk, the lack of control, the mystery?
Reveling in the leavening of wild yeast. Courting the wild revelation. Or being courted by it.
An artist friend has recently enjoyed significant success with her work. She just closed a magnificent gallery show that was received with awe and enthusiasm. Patrons snapped up her photographs and pottery bowls, poured over her coffee table book. New doors opened, leading who knows where. Money is coming in. She made the work from deep in her soul and longings, often (I’m guessing) with utter release of any conscious purpose at all, let alone outcome. She did it for her own exploration, healing, curiosity. Her journey descended into the darkest Underworld, through which she carried her art as a talisman.
Jon Stewart told Terry Gross in an interview that his team fact-checks everything with the rigor of journalists, not out of journalistic integrity, but because things are funnier when they are true. Truth moves us more deeply than falseness. We recognize truth innately, just as we recognize lies. My artist friend’s work is true as well as beautiful. Its beauty may derive in large part from its truth. Or maybe it’s the other way around. She has the courage, perhaps the need, to be that honest.
I don’t sit down to write expecting revelation. I come to the page as a supplicant, a seeker, a questioner. I knead the dough of thought, feeling, and idea, and let them rise together into something greater than their sum. I might toss in a few insights or theories to see if anything happens. Insight is the yeast to court the revelation of truth. Releasing expectation helps me to recognize truths that come from somewhere beyond my own consciousness.
I would like to have that kind of honesty as an artist. And if I do already, this is a reminder to keep at it. Isn’t that what so many artists advise? Their way has been to stick with it, to make their art as a fierce, daily refusal to give in to inauthenticity and materialistic shallowness. Their art is a beautiful resistance of the two-dimensional stories of celebrity and wealth and fame that nurture and inspire no one. A demand that we know and respect the places around us, not so we can claim them as belonging to us, but to help us understand that we belong to them.