Art And Humility

Yesterday I got to read an original poem at the Salem Arts Fest. My creative writing teacher had submitted it without me knowing, and then asked me if I could read, so it was a really cool surprise. It’s the best poem I’ve written, I think, and I had been missing it. It somehow got lost in the disorganized mess that is my computer. I’ve been working on getting all my poems into one place, and now I have my favorite. Of course I was also very happy to see my teacher. I hadn’t seen him in a little over a year. I took almost every one of his classes. He’s super fun and nice, and he made me a much better writer than I otherwise would be. The most important thing I learned from him is to be ambitious, experimental, unafraid, and unpredictable in my writing. I actually didn’t take a fiction writing class from him, but what I learned from him is definitely how I’ve got as far as I have with my novel.

My dad and I spent several hours in Salem yesterday. We checked out a few other performances, got lunch and went on a quest for a bumper sticker since mine has officially been destroyed beyond recognition. Unfortunately the bumper sticker quest was unsuccessful, but that’s beside the point. Despite spending several hours in one general area, we failed to run into Mark and the other poets. Eventually it started raining, and with about an hour until our reading time, my dad and I hung out in Old Town Hall and watched a dancer and a jazz band. As the time grew closer, I became more and more nervous. Everyone was still nowhere to be seen. I was supposed to read at four-fifteen. At four-ten, no one had come upstairs. I prayed and said “Lord, If I’m meant to read my poem, I’ll be in the right place at the right time.” At four-thirty, while the final band was setting up, no one had come upstairs.

At that point I accepted defeat and my dad and I went downstairs. As we were heading to the other end of the gallery that had been set up down there, I ran into Mark. He said, “Hey! There you are! We were just about to start!” I have incredibly bad stage fright. I love playing music on stage because it makes me happy that I can play music that people like. Any other kind of performing is a different story. When I’m playing music, it’s like the world disappears and it’s just me and the song. Reading poetry or giving any other kind of presentation or performance is different in a way that I can’t explain, and don’t exactly like. On top of that, I had been freaking out for half an hour because I thought I had messed up, but I nailed it. I read it loud, and I read it well. Once we were all done we had a little nostalgia fest, and then we went home.

On the way, I had a thought. I wondered why God paid attention to prayers like mine. It’s not like reading my poem had any impact in the grand scheme of the universe. It didn’t matter. Then I realized something. It mattered to him because it mattered to me. I think it also mattered because I was doing it for the right reason. On my own, I wouldn’t have volunteered to read my poem yesterday. I was doing it because I wanted to see my friend, and because he asked me to.

My dad and I watched a really creepy movie the other night called Devil’s Advocate. It’s about a lawyer who is tempted and to a large extent, messed up by the devil. There’s a scene in which the devil tells him that his favorite sin is vanity. It’s probably the easiest to fall into because I think it’s a natural distortion of self-preservation. I don’t think self-preservation is a bad thing on its own. Without any desire for self-preservation, humanity would not exist. It gets distorted, however, when it goes outside of the self and actual necessities, and is a result of a distorted notion of what brings about happiness.

I used to want to be famous. To some extent, I still do. Everyone does. It’s in our nature. However, it’s not my ultimate goal anymore. It might be a byproduct of my endeavors as a writer and artist, but if not, that’s fine. I used to want a lot of money, mostly so I could do whatever I wanted to and not have to worry about it. I would still like to have a lot of money, but I want a lot of money so I can give a lot of money away. I don’t need money or recognition to be happy. I’m actually a pretty happy camper. Still, I think vanity is the most difficult sin to overcome because its opposite, that being humility, is the hardest to understand, and the hardest to practice. There are a thousand ways to explain it, and it’s still difficult because on one hand, we have to know that we are very small, and on the other hand, we matter a lot to God. At the same time, God is both the most powerful, glorious being in the universe, and the most humble.

I think humility is hard, partly because we tend to ignore or interpret some of Jesus’ teachings too abstractly. I don’t think there’s actually a whole lot of explaining to do when it comes to his teaching about the first and last. To be first in God’s kingdom, you have to be last in this life. I’ve decided to start taking that very literally. I often forget to, but I’m trying. A month or two ago I went to Mass at the Cathedral in Portland Maine. I believe we were there to celebrate mother’s day with my grandmothers. Obviously there were a lot more people there than there usually are at my little church in suburban Massachusetts, and by the time I got to the cup to take communion, there was barely anything left. I made sure to take as little as possible so my aunt, who was right behind me would get some. Then I thought to myself, “Next time I’ll make sure to ‘park’ myself more strategically so I’m sure to get it.” Then it hit me. If I did that, I might be depriving someone else. It would be better to make sure I’m the last in line. It’s not always as obvious how to put this teaching into practice, but I’m trying to make it a habit to try.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

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