Embracing Your Voice
For twenty years, I've written songs, sketched, painted and created art that appears to be on the dark side of humanity. This has always been frustrating to me. I have more success at writing a song about domestic abuse and murder than one about the stunning beauty of a sunrise. It's not for lack of trying. Hell, I've written countless songs about the beauty of life, the wonder of creation and the awe of the positive energy around us. Most of which end up, almost immediately, in the circular file to be sent to off-site storage. I mean, I look at them, once they are complete and feel like it came from some stranger - NOT me. And it's not the subject matter at all. There really is a significant shift in my creative flow when I try to force something like that. And that's just it. When I write about those subjects, it's forced. Because it's not me. It's not my voice. The only true exception to this is the small collection of songs I've written about my kids. Those are intimate, beautiful, and wildly free.
When I sit down to write a song, sketch or paint, when I let go and create what lies deep inside of me - it's horribly dark.
This used to scare me.
Especially when I was supposed to be writing worship songs.
I feel joy. I feel happiness. I feel peace. For those who know me, in life I'm actually a very happy guy. I love life. I love to celebrate it with every ounce of my being. What I feel, I feel deeply. So why in the hell do I create such darkness? Isn't that some sign that something is terribly wrong? I used to think the answer to that question was "yes" - but now I know otherwise.
Recently, I had the opportunity to spend the day at the Discouraged Dialogs symposium on art and its relationship to injustice. The range of topics included everything from human trafficking, equal rights issues, disabilities, and gender issues. It was a mind-blowing day in many respects. We were honored to have such a collection of artists in our town and the organizing team did a fantastic job. While the day was amazing in every respect, one thing stuck out to me all day: each of these men and women were brave enough to express their voice. Of course, by the work shown that day, it would be easy, if not simplistic, to assume that each of the artists in attendance were obsessed with female genital mutilation, with censorship, with the problems of nameless, faceless, victims and barbarians, and with injustice of a dozen other forms. The works were deeply, spiritually moving. There were some I could stare down for hours as they stared back into me. This was their voice. This was what they chose to say and I was listening.
In any conversation, there are at least two participants. Whether the conversation is short or marathon, the two people involved exchange their roles continuously. At one moment, Person A is the sender of a message and Person B is the receiver. Naturally, at some point, they change places and the conversation grows in an organic fashion. Art, above all else, expresses...communicates. And to honor that communication, any receiver of that gift should allow him or herself the opportunity for the expression to examine one's soul. It is the responsible and honorable reaction to the intended message. And that, dear friends, is what I love so much about the darker side of art.
Anyone can listen to the beauty of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" and let it guide you into the rapture of the melody, the textures and the languid sense of serenity. But what about Bright Eye's twist on that joy, drowning in cynicism and flailing to grab the rope of dispair with "Road to Joy"? I don't know about you, but my soul breathes deeply with the beauty of another opportunity for examination. Music like this, and art like the conference mentioned above, are reminders of the responsibility of the individual. The beautiful sonnets of Shakespeare are reminders of the wonder of love. The dark art of someone like Chet Zar, are wonderful reminders that the challenge of darkness isn't so much "out there" as it is "in here".
Someone asked me at the conference if I was an artist and my answer, without hesitation, was "yes." When questioned further my answer is an unequivocal explanation that my art, whether it be a song, a performance, a painting, or simply a moment in time, borders on the dark. Sure. Is it because I have such darkness in me? Yes. But it is only because I have the light in me as well that I am compelled to speak of the dark. For in embracing the light, one must also face the darkness. Without that awareness of both, a voice is simply delusional.
Embracing your voice means reconciling what it is inside of you that must speak and why. Your voice is both what you say and what you don't. There's a reason why each of us has our own unique voice - we have our own unique perspective. To come to a sense of peace about why we are compelled to say the things that move us begins with self-awareness and self-exploration. To get to know your voice begins with getting to know yourself. And if that unsettles you, you must first find peace about yourself or else you may never find peace about your voice.