Now Available: Water the Mud

Water the Mud: poems by Joel E. JacobsonI’m pleased to announce that “Water the Mud”, a chapbook of 11 poems exploring grace and compassion, is now available for purchase. These poems first took form this past summer when I collaborated with artist Nicole Brown to respond to a series of sermons about Jesus, the stories he told, and the people he interacted with. “Water the Mud” is available here. If you would like free shipping, you can purchase a copy of the book through Amazon or download it straight to your Kindle.

As a side note, this chapbook is not copyrighted, but rather it is released under a Creative Commons license, which means you, the reader, have the freedom to use these poems to inspire your own creative work, whether it be musical, visual, or another poem. The only requirement is to credit the original author. Isn’t that what art is about–sharing and creating rather than hording?

The Red Wheel Barrow, Imagination, and the Christian Poet

It has been too long since I last posted, as bronchitis and sinusitis descended into my system and knocked me out for awhile. Unfortunately, my blog and writing had to take a back seat until I had the energy and ability to write without abandoning my family and my job. Hopefully, this blog finds you in good (or returning to good!) health. I’m pleased to announce that my review of William Carlos Williams’ Spring and All has been published by the Englewood Review of Books. An excerpt:

Originally published in 1923, Spring and All, Williams’s manifesto of imagination and poetry, became one of, if not the most, influential works for mid to late twentieth-century poets. Produced on the heels of the Great War, Williams calls for new forms, new images, new beings, and new cultures because all previous forms and ideas had led us into destruction and death. Today, we again find our American selves faced with war and economic and food crises. In a country where politicians are calling for thousands of math and science teachers, where standardized tests and business skills trump imagination and art, Williams’s monumental work yet again stands at the threshold of form and tradition, begging for a savior.

Read the entire review here. Don’t forget to share your thoughts–is it too much to associate imagination and creativity with Jesus?

Beetle Trees and Creativity

Scientists are predicting that by 2012, most lodgepole pines in the Colorado Rocky Mountains will killed by beetles. I saw this sad reality in Grand Lake this past week, as my family took a quick vacation. We rented a paddle boat and chugged out into the lake. A truly gorgeous morning to be out in the mountains. And on every side of the lake, I saw more beetle-dead tress than living trees. And it made me sad. I hunted up here once with my dad when I was in high school. I camped up here one summer as a kid. My wife and I honeymooned here. And it’s all dying. You can see in the picture that the hill in the distance is covered with dead or dying trees. Forest experts say that the only way to truly kill the beetles is to burn them. I doubt that the forest service will ignite entire regions of forest land in the Rocky Mountains. Sadly, scenic drives may result in a gray and brown rocky landscape, much like McCarthy’s The Road.

As I sat in my paddle boat in the middle of Grand Lake, my family bobbing happily along, I thought momentarily about cultivation. In Genesis, God commands man to take care of the land. Even now, the land still needs our help to be healthy. Nature is equally destructive towards itself as we are, something Emerson failed to acknowledge in his Transcendentalism utopia. Our earth has the ability to restore itself, and we see it as destruction. But forest are healthier when we remove the dead wood. Various animal herds are healthier when they aren’t over-populated. There’s something to be said for intentionally nurturing, cultivating, and caring for our home. The beetle tree problem is just another example of how our world needs us as much as we need it.

And the same goes for creativity. Our natural inclination is to move towards contentment, be okay with where we are. There’s a time for that, but if we, as artists or as people, ever buy into the lie that we have arrived, that we are the ultimate in our field, the moment the beetle begins to eat away at our creative spirit. The same applies if our audience becomes more important than our actual writing, or if success and the American Dream supersedes our art. I don’t say this to suggest that we should ignore our audience. Readers are part of the process, and alienating them doesn’t really help anything. Keeping an audience in mind is different than making the audience more important than the art.

What are some things that you do to stay fresh? To nurture your creativity? To refocus on the art instead status?

Social Networking and the Artist: Part 2

In my last blog post, I highlighted my uses for Facebook and Twitter. Today, I’ll explore Google+ and explain why it’s so valuable to me and all my hats (husband/father, teacher, writer, coworker, friend). I mentioned before that sharing on Facebook is always an over share. If a friend asks how I liked his homemade beer, I don’t really want my students that follow me on Facebook to read that discussion. If a relative asks how potty training is going, I don’t need my coworkers or writing network hearing about all the places that poop can fly. Facebook is very good at keeping people in contact, but the more people you know and more networks you join, there needs to be some boundaries. Enter Google+ and circles.

For starters, why Google+? That has nothing to do with people, sharing, or networking. My best guess is this. In the top left corner, before the Gmail, docs, and calendar links there is +username. In essence, it is Google+me, and Google+you, and Google+people. Google has always been about information, but the Internet is no longer just about information, it’s about people, and connecting, and rights (I’m not sure I agree with what I just said, but that’s how people are viewing it. I’m just the messenger.). So there we have it: information+people=a more complete and powerful Internet. The thought is pretty staggering if you sit and consider all the ramifications of what that means. Anyways, let’s get on with it. Here’s a a screenshot of the user interface once you log in:

I blotted the names in the suggestions list because I don’t know 2 of them, and the third isn’t on Google+. The interface is clean and organized. My apologies to the people who most recently shared as they are on the screen shot. The Google+ profiles are also very tidy and easy to read. Here’s my Google+ profile page:

Again, nice and clean. The real deal breaker for G+ though is the use of circles. Here’s a few of my circles:

You can sort your contacts into circles simply by dragging their name and dropping them into a circle. My profile page above will look different to different circles because of the amount of information I allow to be shared with each circle. People can be in multiple circles as well. But the idea of circles is what allows me to be family, friend, teacher, coworker, and writer. I have the freedom to establish boundaries and appropriate relationships. There is a lot of talk in school districts about interacting with students online, especially through social networking sites. I wonder if Google+ can begin to change this mindset, though there will always be jerks who abuse their role and ruin it for those of us who want the best for our students. I digress.

With circles, I can post pictures of my trip to Tiny Town with my family, and only allow my family circle to see it (okay, my friends would probably be privy to it as well). If I post a tidbit of writing, I can send it just to my writers circle or post it as public. I can still network online with people, but now I can have control over who and what. It’s a beautiful thing.

As a writer, Google+ is more beneficial to me than Facebook (in terms of productivity) because I use Google Docs, Calendar, and Gmail. If you look in the screenshots, I have access to all of those in the black bar running across the top of the screen. I’ve read that Google Apps will eventually be integrated into the Google+ experience. For example, I could be writing a poem and want to share it with my workshop group. Now I have to enter their email addresses and hope that email doesn’t end up in their spam bucket. With Google+, I can potentially create a post in Google Docs and share it with my Google+ circle.They can comment, discuss, etc. and email is never involved. It can all happen right there. My writing group can also start a hangout, video chat, on those days when we are supposed to meet but we are snowed in.

The final uniquely copied attribute of Google + is the  button. Facebook has likes, Twitter has retweets, and Google+ has +1. With Google+, you can really surf the web and +1 whatever you like. You can then view those +1’s on your Google+ account and share them with others. There may be some benefits to +1 over likes, but I’m not sure I really care about it at this point.

Truth be told, I probably won’t completely abandon Facebook, though changing it to simply a fan page for writing resources is right around the corner. But as more people join Google+, my personal interactions (not personable, I’m always personable. Right? Okay, maybe not. Again, I digress.). I am ecstatic about the opportunities that Google+ presents in all facets of life.

With all of that said, Google+ has some areas of opportunity. I would like my blog to automatically post to my profile, along with my Twitter stream. There are extensions being produced that allow for such interaction between accounts, but there is also some malware being created to capitalize on the Google+ craze. So I’ll sit back for a little while and see how the extensions develop. They can’t be as bad and as invasive as Facebook apps can they?

This is my brief introduction to Google+. I really do like the platform and look forward to using it as another tool in the writers toolbox. What have your experiences with Google+ been in comparison to Facebook and/or Twitter? Does Google+ have a place in social networking or is it just trying to be that kid on the playground demanding somebody play with him?

Social Networking and the Artist: Part 1

I’m one of the 5 million who have had the privilege to test Google’s new social network, Google+. I’ve been sharing about g+ quite a bit on Facebook, to the point where one friend asked if I worked for Google. Social networking is an interesting phenomenon, especially for the generation of digital natives (I really don’t like that term by the way, as it isn’t accurate. Kids are supposed to natively adapt to technology. I don’t by it…kids play with technology, but don’t automatically see how it can be used for work.) Social networking is especially important for writers. Writing is an isolating career–most of us write alone so that we can concentrate. I know that I write better when it’s quiet, when there are no interruptions, when I sink into my creative process and frolic with my imagination. With this isolation in mind, it’s important for writers to come up for air, to know and talk with other writers; social networking is a great way to do this. Today I’m going to highlight the usefulness (and annoyances) of Facebook  and Twitter. Part 2 will explore Google+.

The story of Facebook is well documented, so I won’t go into it here. What we have now in the network is connections with over 750 million people of all walks off life. We can connect with friends from high school and college, we can our favorite bands, magazines, businesses, the list goes on and on. If that wasn’t enough, you can play any kind of game to waste as much time as you want. As writers, we can easily network and connect with other writers and resources. The challenge behind Facebook is oversharing. If you are  with family, coworkers, writers, and old school buddies, when you post something about your kids pooping on the toilet for the first time, it could ruin your professional image. If your high school friends talk about all the times you got high together, it could damage some family relationships (regardless of whether or not it’s true). If you have an artist page independent of your profile (which I’m working on), you then have two comment streams to monitor, two places to post updates, etc. On top of it all, the interface is cluttered, busy, and distracting. I haven’t harnessed to full potential of Facebook as a writer, probably because I spend too much time playing Bejeweled Blitz.

Weary of all the extras, I opened a Twitter account and linked it to my blog. Within weeks, I had networked with 5 or 6 poets, 3 journals, and random other people who are interested in my writing. I use Twitter to  short poems, links to my blog articles, and links to other great writing resources. There are so many articles that never would have crossed my radar if I did not  other writers and publications on Twitter. I prefer Twitter over Facebook because there’s less clutter, no room to spare, and nobody is asking me for secret potions to make mutant lambs (yes, you know who you Farmville people are. And for the record, I have never played). It’s easy to keep Twitter strictly business, though I can’t help myself posting about sports from time to time. Congratulations to the National League for winning its second straight all-star game. Woot!

It’s easy to be on information overload, so it’s important to create lists to make it all manageable. My students have often told me that they think Twitter is stupid and boring (another reason why they are not digital natives), but it’s such a great tool for quick links and bits of information. More teachers should find a way to utilize Twitter in the classroom.

I’ve had a better time networking on Twitter than Facebook, and my Facebook profile will soon be converted to a writing page, making that strictly business as well. Which brings me to Google+, the newest hottest social network around. My next post will cover how Google+ can simultaneously serve personal and professional needs without crossing the boundary of over-share.

What about you? How has social networking impacted your writing? Your writing network? Are either problematic for your work flow?

Becoming an Authority (on overcoming doubt)

I just read this essay by Jeff Goins. His main advice is fake it until you make it, but don’t be a fraud. This is also the anthem of new teachers (or experienced teachers teaching a new prep), so I’m very familiar with it. After blogging about poetry, writing, faith, and teaching for almost 4 years, I’ve gained great confidence in sharing my views, showing what I’m learning about writing, and even sharing my poetry online. I’m less worried now about getting published by the big-name magazines, and more intent on getting the best possible work into the hands of my readers. (Side note: It’s not that I’m giving up on the publishing route, but I am trying to maximize my audience. That’s only possible if I maximize my avenues of getting my writing out there.)

Despite this confidence, I’m faced with my own FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt–to use a techy term) as I sit and write book reviews for a journal. There’s something about presenting information through your own channel in comparison to presenting it through another channel you don’t have control over. Now that my writing will be reaching an entirely new audience, I begin to doubt whether or not my voice is reputable and meaningful. I know it’s all hogwash, and I’ll get over it. But there’s always something to hurdle in this game of writing. My next race starts in 3…2…1…

The Church and Creativity

I came across this article by Darrell Vesterfelt on Twitter. In his article, Vesterfelt defines the essentials of creativity as the “freedom to be me, freedom to explore new thinking, [and] freedom to fail.”  Vesterfelt asks what role the church plays in encouraging its patrons to be creative, and concludes that church should “celebrate uniqueness, celebrate diversity, and embrace change.” This is a great question to pursue, but I was disappointed by the lack of an extended exploration of these points. I could argue strengths and faults with all three of these conclusions, but it goes down a semantic road that isn’t really constructive or worthwhile. I am surprised though that Vesterfelt left out that the church should commission, engage, and create art. Music is the most common form of art found in churches today–and quite often, the only art form. Now, the definition of appropriate music in church is varied, confrontational, which is, simply put, stupid. That is also for another blog.

What I mean by art is creative expression–painting, drawing, photography, sculpting, poetry, stories, dance, video (the list goes on and I’m sure I’ve left something out). Some would criticize me for saying the church should participate in idolatry, for tempting people to look at human creation instead of the creator, for putting false images before believers, for using any literature besides the Bible. But to throw out this bath water, you throw out the baby, the baby’s story, the baby’s journey and revelation of God, and the heart of humanity. Here is a great article by David Lamotte on why the church needs art. He writes,

To many people, art is superfluous or even distracting from what is truly important. It holds entertainment value, keeping people engaged, or perhaps pleasantly distracted, but is not substantive, and is certainly not integral. To others, it is fundamental; it is a door through which they enter into divine relationship. My heart breaks for the former category. I mourn that they do not get to feel what I feel when I am transported by a powerful piece of music (or dance or painting or sculpture or photography, etc., for that matter, though I primarily write of music here, which is my own primary artistic expression). Art is a way to worship and to be in relationship with God that cannot be replicated by other methods. It is an essential way to connect to God, and should not be discounted or minimized. (emphasis mine)

I’ve written before that to create, whether it’s a painting, a poem, a building, or a garden, is to imitate Jesus, to fulfill the command to live like Jesus. I believe that science reveals God (and eventually the debate between the Biblical creation story and evolution will be reconciled, further revealing the character of God). Language and image equally (in a severely different manner) reveal the character of God. Why should musicians be the only artists responsible for directing our attention to God? They shouldn’t. Musicians didn’t build the tabernacle, and when you look at the directions to create and build the temple in the book of Exodus, the importance of diverse art is becomes obviously necessary and integral for the worship experience. Here are some other quotes from the article:

Thinking simply isn’t enough [to be called into the presence of God], and one major point of the arts is to move us—to make us feel.

Good art is more evocative than instructive. That is, it doesn’t put something inside us as much as it draws something out. To hear someone else’s story can be instructive, but at the point that it becomes moving, it is generally because their story has intersected with our own.

think there is a strong analogy here to the way in which God relates to us. We are called into relationship with God, not simply as passive recipients of God’s love, but as active participants in a relationship with God that stretches and grows and shifts over time. . . [S]ome people perceive God as the puppet master and our own roles as passive. That is shoddy theology, though. The truth is that we have the freedom to engage, to participate, or to look away.

As children of God, we are connected, and if art reveals that to us, even if it is secular art, it contains an element of the sacred. The arts can reveal certain kinds of truth in ways that our loftiest ideas never can.

The arts have a way of embodying that mystery, and therefore pulling us back from the dangerous and seductive illusion that we understand God, that we know the rules and that those rules are sufficient. They are not.

We need the arts in worship because they are imaginative, and we need imagination in order to transcend the boundaries of our limited intellects and the tendencies of many of us toward self-defeat.

Creativity is the natural flow of things, and resisting that creativity takes energy

But on those holy nights I have described, when spirit moves, humility is the only natural response. It is abundantly clear to the performer that he or she is not the Light, but has been privileged to be the lens that the Light passes through, focusing it in this time and place. When that happens, it is clear to you as the performer that you didn’t do it. Something much bigger was moving.

We need to feel as well as to think, to be invited into dialogue with God, to remember our connection, to answer the call to create as well as to be created, to envision and imagine, and, at every opportunity, to glimpse the divine.

LaMotte speaks from the perspective of a musician, but his ideas are applicable for other art forms as well. Somewhere along the line (Puritanism? Church of England? Baptists? :) art took a back seat to rules. The best way the church can cultivate creativity is to reengage with art and artists, to retrain congregations regarding the ways we can approach God.