IV Arts & SALT 2013 (con) Report

So remember in my last post where I said I should go to a Christian con in 2013? Funny how I mentioned that….

A week after I wrote that post, I learned about a consultation that the organization I work for, InterVarsity, was doing to help support their arts ministry. Any staff who either worked with art students, or who were artists themselves, were invited to attend. I’ll report on the consultation in a bit, but wanted to write about the couple of weeks before the consultation.

You see, before I went, I experienced the worst imposter syndrome ever. So much so that I nearly did not go.

Not that this was visible to anyone. I told people I was going and they were excited. My coworkers thought it was a perfect fit. My husband thought it would be a good way to nurture the writer side of me in a Christian setting. Everyone felt I should go to this. And the fact that hotel and meal expenses were paid, I would have been stupid not to go. But I struggled with it. I really did. I really, really did.

There were many reasons, but the main one I want to write about here as that up to that point, I saw genre writing as separate from, “Christian art”. Seriously, when have someone gotten up in church to read a page from Harry Potter during the sermon? Well, uh okay, nevermind, apparently I’m at the wrong church…but that’s besides the point. The point is, the Christian arts seem to only promote those that are done corporately.

I remember last year, I learned there was an Arts seminar thing being held at one of the churches around here. I thought it was cool…until I took a look at the actual workshops. They had panels for worship leaders. Ones for musicians. They had an art gallery for those who painted. For writing, they had a “drama category for writing skits to incorporate into worship”….

…and that was pretty much it.

And then there was last year, where my small group did a study of spiritual gifts. My gift came up as (duh) writing:

“How do you plan to use your gift?” asked the leader.

I said, “Well, I use it a lot when I’m writing stories. I tend to put in a lot of faith elements–”

“No, I mean, how do you plan to use it for the church?”

“……………”

When writing is incorporated into worship, it’s more along the lines of spoken word/poetry that had to refer to God. I remember back at Urbana 09, I read an excerpt from “She’s All Light” during the black lounge open mic. All the other acts were pretty much gospel songs/spoken word/rap that was pretty much psalms. A lot of people liked my reading, true, but still, it made me feel sort of weird, like my science fiction story was the oddball out.

From my experience, singing, playing instruments or performing in drama skits, all worship skills, are valued higher in the church than, well, writing stories. Wait, let me change that–writing speculative stories. Granted, I could write and/or edit church bulletins. Heck, I can even write drama skits if I wanted to. At best, I can write worship poetry, and that’s a whole different set of neuroses. I remember a long time back, before I’d started writing, when a worship leader at our church asked me and my friend to write spoken word pieces to read during worship (because this was an awesome church that had the creativity to do that). This was before I started professional writing, and I had very little experience with poetry, so I pulled some stuff together from a journal and threw in a bunch of “God make stars, made mountains, is awesome, blahblahblah” sentences. And then I read it straight, because, well, it was poetry. It was okay. On the next song, though, my friend came up and read hers. She did spoken word. With attitude. And it was awesome.

And at that point, I realized–I don’t have a gift for writing spoken word poetry. I deeply appreciate it, moreso now than I did back then, but it’s a different set of writing skills altogether.

Here’s the thing. I love stories. I love wrestling with deep truth in them. I love tales of growth, tales of woe, tales that would have you on the edge of your seat. Even my poetry are stories–just in a different format. Stories are my way of having deep conversations with people disguised as narrative. Plus, my characters get to do awesome stuff. I just had one of my main characters in Willow do a flip off the side of a building and nail a bad guy between the eyes with a knife.

That…probably won’t hold up too well if that’s read before a sermon.

I’ve come to terms that my writing life, at least the story part, and my church life, would be pretty much kept separate. Notice I didn’t say Christian life–I’ve have many good conversations in fandom with atheists, feminists, what the church would consider “secular”. I also am quite blessed to work at an religious organization that has as many geeks as it does, so I’m not hurting for that. It’s just that with the actual church, I pretty much have to check my writer side at the door. And that was one of the reasons why I really struggled with going to the IV Arts conference. If it was just going to be a bunch of worship leaders there talking about church stuff, then I didn’t belong.

But luckily, it wasn’t that.To go to the conference, you either had to be a staff worker who ministered to arts students, or you were a staff worker who was an artist.And that included writers. Even genre fiction writers.So I went.

The consultation was two days, and was a more like a Christian retreat, than a con. The third day was called SALT, and was more of a day seminar, where Christian student artists met on Wheaton campus to discuss being an artist and Christian at the same time. I got to meet many other artists–graphic artists, filmmakers, opera singers, tap dancers, harpists, small theater actors, costume designers—all who worked in Christian and secular settings. And I even got to connect with a student who drove up from Urbana because she had written several fantasy novels, but haven’t sent any out yet because she’s constantly revising them. And she had never been to a con before. At that point, I think I went supernova, I was so happy. I dare say this was the first time that my InterVarsity staffworker side and my writing side intersected.

Of course I told her about Wiscon and Viable Paradise. Who do you think I am?!

So in the end, I’m really, really glad I went. It was exactly what I needed. And I came away with my creative meter/spiritual meter refilled. And it got me rethinking the question how do I plan to use my writing for the church? Part of it may involve blogging more about my spiritual journey. As for the church, perhaps I shouldn’t be thinking in corporate worship terms but in relational terms. I happen to know there are a couple of fans who like to play RPGs. I could start up a gamer group at our church.

After all, if there was one takeaway I got from the conference, it was this: artists are bridges between the church world and the secular world. Evangelism works both ways.

===

Edit: And it appears that the arts conference at that church I wrote about earlier is coming back again in April. Again, the workshops appear to be more worship oriented. Hmmm…should I go and represent anyway?

And before you say, “OHYOUSHOULDGOJARSOFCLAYWILLBE THERE”…um, I never was a fan of Jars of Clay. I heard their songs, and they’ve never really stuck with me, so, meh. And this does happen a week after Oddcon. I dunno…

The Difference Between Artists and Writers (or Why Can’t I Dress Like That?!)

So last week I was in the kitchen at my job when one of the younger girls came in and the first thing I saw were her white knit legwarmers.

There are many, many people who should not wear legwarmers. I am one of those people. Put them on me, and it will make my legs look even more like oversmoked hams. This girl was not one of them. They looked good on her. Really, really good. She looked hip and chic and so cool that I was completely distracted from her skirt, which she had made herself out of a Halloween sweater that had a white picket fence on it. She simply cut out the Halloween parts, kept the fence, sewed it into a skirt, and voila.

As I stood there, mind exploding, one of my co-workers came up to me and said. “Nope. Don’t even try it. It won’t look good on you. She’s an artist.

Ooooo! Ouch! Right in the gut!

It just so happened that the Sunday before, I had a chance to go to the Madison ‘Open Studio’ tour. This is basically where all the artists in the town and the surrounding areas open up their studios and homes for the public to come in and see their work and the rooms where they were created. I only had a chance to visit a couple of homes–I only learned about the tour the week before, and the only time I had available was a couple of hours on Sunday. But it was fascinating, going into different homes to see artwork and photographs and textiles–the last was very interesting; the artist showed us her a loom upstairs that she used to weave thick rugs. It was big, all wood and strings and ball bearings, like a cross between a piano, an wooden armoire and one of those photo kiosks you see at the mall (forgive the metaphor, but I’ve been working on She’s All Light all week. My metaphor conjuring is tapping on empty at the moment). I wish I had more time to spend there. Weaving on looms looks to be a very interesting craft.

Anyway, I’m going to all these artists homes and I’m thinking to myself, writers can be considered artists too. Why can’t we have an open studio to show off?

But we all know the answer to that. Writers are artists, in the degree that we create art. The thing is with artists, their medium is all visual. You go into a room and see, with your eyes, a piece of artwork on the wall, you instantly recognize it as art (unless it’s one of those paintings that’s all black, or a statue done by Takashi Murakami. In which you’ll go, “Huuuuuuuuuuuuh?”) For writers, the art we create is mental. We whip up tapestries that can only be seen with the mind’s eye.

So while most artists can have a sketch pad with them, they still need a space of their own in order to make their art happen. Writers don’t need that. Our creating space is in our heads, and it can be as large as the universe or as small as a molecule. It doesn’t have to be concrete. Ideas are our paints, imagination the brush, and entire worlds are the canvasses, stretched out to infinity.

It still sucks, though because really, who’d want to go in and see a writer’s studio? In my case, that’s currently the kitchen table. Granted, I have an awesome view outside our apartment, but I doubt anyone is going to come in to peruse the half written scraps of stories I got on my laptop. Probably the closest I could get to displaying my work on a wall would be poetry–and why would I do that when I could just as easily send it to people in an email?

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against artists. I had genuine fun doing the tour, and I loved going in to see their creative thought processes on display. It’s just that people assume that, being artists, they can dress and act however they want. Them being artists gives them the license to act as eccentric or farm from the beaten path as they can. Oh, they’re artists. They got creativity up the ying-yang; therefore, they can do whatever they want.

Writers, on the other hand, are watchers. We dress normal. Since we watch the world for material, we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves. We make ourselves as unobtrusive as possible. We blend.

Except in the case where we’re doing a reading on our work. Then hey, we can dress however we want. Because we’re reading our art.

I’m looking forward to that day. True, I won’t show up in legwarmers and a sweater skirt, but hey, I’ll find some way to be styling. It’s artistic!

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