It’s always easy to live up to our own expectations when no one is requiring anything of us.
We can happily sit for hours on end, dabbling away at whatever craft or hobby we choose and at the end of the day, as long as no one was hovering over our shoulders or thrusting deadlines at us over a cup of lukewarm coffee, we are pleased as punch at whatever we spewed out. Day complete, we move on to whatever activity was waiting for the evening, and the next day we start it all over again.
Occasionally, demand and requirement can produce some stellar work, mostly because of our inane desire to please everyone and impress people with our style, finesse and output. We want to make ourselves objects of interest, and we constantly seek approval from the people around us. In contrast, there is that person, and we all know at least one, who does whatever they choose without fear or thought as to repercussions, consequences, or an awareness of other human beings in the world they inhabit. Once and a while, they will part the swaths of greasy hair hanging over their eyes and acknowledge that ah, yes, someone is breathing the same air and, oh please, won’t you pay some attention to the quiet, brooding hell I’m raising? For the most part, however, they exist solely for themselves in a space too small for anyone else to occupy; an emotional washer/dryer box in which they can sit and imagine and have their own club with no grown-ups allowed.
Between these people and our generally individual nature, in the end we are creatures of self. We have grand ambitions and hopes and goals and lofty expectations. If we divert even a little energy to focus and become brooding and speak in internal monologues all the time, we will produce work that we will read at parties or set as our desktop wallpaper or give as gifts with the attitude of blessing the world with our brilliance.
If we were smart or clever enough to stumble across humility, then maybe we’d just keep it to ourselves.
Chances are, if we’re honest, we can admit that this detached work for no-one-but-us is perhaps not the masterpiece we envisioned. When placed side by side with those who are making millions of dollars doing professionally what we’re doing in our parents’ basements and corner coffee shops, our grand endeavor s will probably seem a bit like a child’s finger painting of a dog or a horse or whatever that blob with legs could be. We’ll put it on our fridge, swelling with pride, oblivious to the fact that it’s only there to make us feel good about ourselves. People may comment on the colors or the design or express “how sweet it was that you did this all by yourself”. In reality, no one will take us seriously.
The root of the problem lies in the face that we are lazy and scared stupid.
Our first taste of laziness can be easily confused with creativity. Usually sometime in early childhood, age five for example, we discover the joy of doing what we want, conveniently when we should be doing something we’ve been asked to do. We start having homework assigned and our parents ask us to clean up our toys or make our bed. In those times, we are suddenly overwhelmed with creative overload – we want to go outside and do somersaults in the grass or color a picture or invent some new language to speak with our best friend. We vanish for hours on end, causing panic and angry parents and dinner growing cold. Once they find us and scold us and see what we’ve been up to, they are generally still sore but they praise our ingenuity and ask where we got that idea. From this occurrence, a spark ignites in our tiny brains and we see the full spread of potential before us. We call it “creativity”, but that’s just a convenient cover. In actuality, it is laziness and lack of desire to do mandatory tasks that creates a path for diversion. Eventually, when we’re old enough to have gotten tired of the charade, we usually just give up our artistic creative streaks and admit we just don’t like to work.
Laziness is easy to understand, but scared stupid? That’s a pretty harsh assessment of our situation, don’t you think? To illustrate this point, I’d like to bring up the Biblical parable of the talents (bags of gold). There are a bunch of guys who are servants. One day, the head of the house comes to them and gives them each an amount of money based on their skills. Then, the man leaves for a long business trip. Meanwhile, the first two servants invest their money and earn back double what they were given. Wall Street, here they come. The last guy gets cold feet and panics and buries his share in a hole in the ground. After a long time, the master returns and wants his cash back. The smart young men who made a profit turn over the goods and are rewarded for their quick thinking and wise actions. The last guy, knees quaking, wobbles up to the master’s table and shoves the dirty bag of gold towards him. He admits that in fear he did nothing with the money because he knew the guy was demanding and hard. For his foolishness, he was thrown out of the house and left with nothing.
The last servant could have taken some sort of action. Knowing that his master was demanding, you think that would have spurred him to action of some kind, even if that meant fleeing the scene and having some gold and the authorities on his tail. But because he succumbed to his fear of critique and demand, he was scared stupid. Numb to all action or initiative, he ended up looking like a complete idiot and babbling excuses rather than really take responsibility for his actions.
All of this is to say that we are afraid of criticism. We’re dead afraid of being told that our work isn’t worth anything; that people don’t like it; that we’ve wasted our time and energy and emotions for a useless end product. We would much rather live in childish ignorance without a concept of quality or alternative viewpoint than to strive to be better or risk growing from hearing less-than-perfect praise. When that fear shuts us down and meets the laziness we’ve been fighting, laziness takes both qualities and reduces us to passive layabouts who would much rather scramble to meet a deadline last minute than try and produce quality work now.
It’s easy to write when there’s no grade involved and when no one is peering over your shoulder to get a glimpse of your word count. It’s easy to be proud of your words when someone isn’t trying to look at them before they’re finalized and certain. It’s easy to tap out three-hundred pages of the fan fiction to the Twilight series, but when a professor asks for a semester of writing in a genre of your choice?
That’s a feat that seems nearly impossible.
But I didn’t come three and half years to get lazy and scared stupid now.
I’ve got writing to do.
It’s a profession of conflict and ethical dilemma. If you’re not ready for it, pack your bags. No one is saying goodbye.
Joseph Bottum, editor of “First Things”, came to speak to us today. He was supposed to come last week and he ended up coming today because of a delay. For some reason, many people didn’t seem to understand what he was getting at when he told us he was going to convince us of why we shouldn’t go into this business. What a point to make to a bunch of students who have wasted away for three weeks trying to furiously fight our ways into a career in journalism field. Should we go home now?
“Writing, in essence, is masturbatory. You do it by yourself. Your family will hate you. What do you do when you write? It’s a selfish act. Writing is the self-elevation of the self’s point of view,” said Bottum.
It’s blunt and it’s harsh, but it’s never been more true. It may be done with intention aimed at other people’s enjoyment or understanding, but it’s like personal poetry. It’s selfish and closed off. I suppose I feel free to say this because I am a victim of a personal code in my writing. My poetry can be horribly selfish. I don’t do it intentionally. I just mindlessly focus in on my words and on the flow of the language. My heart is on paper, and no one except the surgeon who removed it is going to recognize it.
If you want to appear to be a selfless writer, with only the reader in mind, never put your name on anything. That’s not the world we live in. We live in the required world of accreditation and claim. We give our words to people so that we have our ideas in circulation. Even in news writing, you are jotting down your personal perspective and observations. There is no such thing as subjectivity. Even in pure factual writing, unless copied from another source, there is objectivity. We can’t escape it. We can avoid it and try and be purely neutral, but is there ever such a thing as pure neutrality? Is there ever an option to isolate completely from this horribly public thing? No. Or at least, I cannot find one.
What’s more moral: doing your job as a journalist and taking a photograph of a wounded and dying girl, or stopping to calm her from her screaming? You sign your own death warrant when you’ve committed to this work. I’m not saying to just dive fully into the work and silence all other influences. But how do we, as Christian journalists, have any right to argue that God placed another caregiver on the scene to deal with the hurting? Who are we to pinpoint God’s will? We could be the caregiver. In order to be a totally subjective Christian photographer, it feels like the subject must be silenced and we must make them objects.
If you are writing as a selfish act, it doesn’t mean you are selfish. It’s like stupidity. Someone can do a stupid thing, but it doesn’t make them stupid. Does the repeated act start to have its effects? If I repeatedly write, which is proven to be selfish, does it make me a selfish person? Who am I to write to change people? I have no right, in my equally created humanness, to write with the purpose of influencing people’s lives. My writing or my presence will have some influence of some kind. If I write with the intention of changing the world, I will fall in my pride and my expectations.
Moreover, if this is the end I am resigned to, how do I incorporate my Christian perspective? Am I a journalist or a Christian? Where do those lines meet? This has been the purpose of the course – to intertwine the two and recognize the symptoms of passiveness. Thus far, my solution is as follows. I do the task set before me, I go about it morally and pray that God forgives me.
This isn’t right. Why do we think this way? We’ve been told to be machines. We vomit what we know best onto everything around us, killing everything that grows. We need to get ahead and we need to stay the course. Does staying the course mean putting a cold camera lens in between myself and the starving child, or does it mean snapping a picture and handing the child a piece of bread?
We can’t separate ourselves from this idea either. We must either be truth-seekers through photos or missionaries. Missionaries take photographs, but photographers don’t usually minister. The act of the photo-taking is a ministry in that is offers truth in one of the most permanent ways possible.
This entry was a result of my immediate thoughts after Joseph Bottum’s talk this afternoon. I will add to it at a later time. Right now, I just need to take a deep breath and focus on my video.
I don’t need an ethics class to tell me where I ethically stand. It may help to focus that ethical thinking in one area or another, but who am I if I don’t know ethics? I shouldn’t touch this career with a ten-foot pole.
I’m sitting at a small table with a leaf pattern on it. There’s a soft “whirring” sound in the background. Large windows overlook scarce lunchtime traffic. The atmosphere could be described as… awakening. The air seems to swirl with warm vapors of comfort and happiness, reflecting early mornings and cold winter nights, even though the sun outside finally glows with traces of June summer. And the feelings associated with the chair across the table are bittersweet, since the chair is empty and her mind journeys back to February when it was not vacant, and when the world outside was still so cold. But she smiles on that chair with anticipation, knowing it will be filled sometime again, sometime soon, with a warmth that cannot be drawn from inside a mug or from this radiant sky.
The door opens, and two sets of feet shuffle across the ridged threshold onto mottled tile. One pair is large, sporting size 8 brown slip pumps and a scar across the upper ankle where the kitchen cupboard caught it on a loose screw. The pair accompanying barely size up to the ankle, wrapped in yellowing jelly sandals, bouncing up and down with joy, attempting to graze tiny eyes across the busy counter. Leaving the ground in the strong arms of someone known, the jellies disappear around a corner, replaced by silence in the absence of the jumps.
The occasional break for conversation wafts like the welcome vapors across the small seating spaces, jumbled in the void of faux rafters on the ceiling and chrome on the walls. An intercom crackles as a window opens occasionally, and the jellies are back, then slapping away. Next to the writer, an empty cup holds residue of some unknown delight, a dirty red straw protruding from the smeared rim. It is discarded.
While this place is so comfortable, the door opens to one strange face after another, still void of the one she wants to see. This beautiful day breaks open for newness and discovery, and surprised exclamations of joy and things unexpected. Grinding, whirring, stirring and clanking, clashing with the thwap of a sandal on tiled floor.
As soon as they had come, they have gone.
And she is left alone. The table seems so small as her feet brush the legs of the ajacent seat, and her briefcase squeezes against the wall. There are so many memories in this worn place, with its scuffed leather, chalked stone and varnished wood. The atmosphere is a blanket of the familiar, the known, the loved and the unseen. She could count back on the times she had journeyed to this place, amidst hail storm, blizzards, sweltering summers and dreary storms, both from earth and her own tears. This room had seen her anger, her despair, her joy and consternation, every turning aspect of her emotional facades.
And here she sits now, letting all the moments weigh down upon her as the morning changes, and faces leave their impressions behind.
A line is forming, and she is just another item, just another dollar in this gathering of consumers, waiting for satisfaction guarenteed.
Life is short.
Stay awake for it.