Sunday, December 2, 2012


Limitations abound in boat-building.  If it isn't a fiscal cliff, it's time, weather, illness, name it.

Depending on the climate you live in, a hurricane might whip through, or a tornado.  An arctic blast, blizzards, earthquakes or blistering heat--all stop you in your tracks.  This is true for a lot of creative work, although maybe the writer has the least to contend with (other than computer crashes, or a broken finger...).  Still, larger than life events sap time and resources for creative projects.

Limitations.  It's a fact of life, of humanity.  How do you keep your motivation, creativity, hope?

The work on our boat came to a halt over and over.  We kids didn't always know why, or care; we had bigger fish to fry--there were trees to climb, crabs to catch and baseball cards to clip to the wheel spokes of our bikes.  We didn't realize why an adult might come home from a 12hr. work day in Manhattan and not want to pound a few nails in the hull of a boat.  Nor did we realize that money ran out sometimes (prompting an increase in the regular lecture entitled "Money Doesn't Grow on Trees"). 

Pesky things, limitations.

Something seems to signal the universe when you're about to do something great, even if it's overcoming a hurdle to create a Christmas card; limitations fly in from every corner of the galaxy, conspiring to thwart your project.  It's the opposite of synchronicity.  That little voice in your head starts screaming at you why you can't.  The basement floods, the water heater goes out, the kids come down with colds.  Your spouse is diagnosed with cancer.

A limitation hit me this week.  I hit a wall, and picked up a book to read, instead of write in my normal writing time. was on limitations..."embracing the gift..."  WHA?! 

I was startled into writing: what is possibly 'gift-like' about a limitation?  It took surprisingly few brain cells to come up with a quick list:
  • They cut me down to size;
  • They enhance interdependence and collaboration, and counter individualism;
  • They perfect humility in me.
Humility.  Not exactly the driving engine of our culture. 

My father was the typically complex human, who could be arrogant and humble, critical and affirming, all in the same afternoon.  He had his faults, but his humility was not to deny them, just keep building a boat.  Maybe he was nuts ("Where's my hammer?"); maybe he was selfish ("Pass me the nails.")  Maybe he was Don Quixote in Suburbia ("I can't right now--I'm busy.")  Some said he was stubborn, some called it noble.  He didn't stop to figure it out, at least to my knowledge; we didn't discuss it around the dinner table.  He wasn't asking anyone's opinion; he just built his boat. And there was something beautiful in that--a freedom, a uniqueness, something that demanded more of us than, say, "Let's build a birdhouse!"

It is not easy to attempt great things, while almost everyone around you is telling you you're nuts.  You might fight fear of failure; you might not live up to expectations.  I think I've asked this already elsewhere, but why start something you probably can't finish?  Is it worth the effort? 

Exploits like these can be pretty shaming adventures, and who wants that?  Better to keep head in the sand than raise it and get a whack. Or so goes conventional wisdom.

"Humility is eliminating facades and embracing vulnerability--allowing ourselves to be seen without social convention, and presenting ourselves in all of our nakedness...being comfortable with ourselves, our true selves, and being who God calls us to be because we have let go of living up to the expectations of others...

"As creatures, we were made in the image of God, which imbues us with profound dignity.  The reality of our nature, too, is that we each carry a brokenness that affects how we deal with others.  To deny this truth is to perpetuate the suffering that comes as a result of our limitations."  (The Artist's Rule, Christine Valters Paintner)

Expectations and Limitations.  Profound dignity and brokenness. 

Here's to the stubborn and noble in all of us. 

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