Artful Living : Curiosity > Passion

Curiosity has been neglected, even though there are few things in our arsenal that are so consistently and highly related to every facet of well-being — to needs for belonging, for meaning, for confidence, for autonomy, for spirituality, for achievement, for creativity. 
— Todd Kashdan, psychologist 

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People talk a lot about  finding and following your passion these days, but I have to side with Elizabeth Gilbert on this one. Liz – author of Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear – claims that curiosity, rather than passion, is the key to living an interesting, creative life. 

Following your passion is a romantic pursuit, and if you have a passion – particularly one that somehow easily translates into helping you pay your bills – then by all means go for it. But not everyone knows what their passion is, and even if you do know, passions aren’t really known for their powers of sustainability. I think I’ve had about 150 different passions in my short lifetime. Maybe a couple have been consistently present this whole time, but it’s taken me almost 30 years to really identify those.

Passion or no passion, everyone can be curious. Most of us came by this naturally as children. It’s a capacity we can and must recover in ourselves if we are to realize our creative potential as adults. Remember that game you could spontaneously launch into while riding in the car as a kid? The Why Game

Why is the sky blue, Mrs. Betty? 

Well Sarah, the blue light from the sun collides with molecules in the air and….

But why?

Well the Earth orbits around the sun, and …

But why?

The game could go on forever. It was a playful way to be a pain in the ass without getting in trouble, sure, but I was always somewhat genuinely curious about the answers to all those why questions. I’d surprise myself sometimes by how far the string of questioning could go, and sometimes it’d take me into territory I’d never previously thought to enter. The questions themselves were vehicles into new realms of ideas – and more questions.

Creativity isn’t only about expression. It’s just as much about discovery. And to discover, we must ask questions. Curiosity fuels the art of asking questions. It renders your experience of the world interesting and opens our eyes to the value, depth, and complexity of all that you encounter. It feeds into the art of paying attention, kicking our sense perceptions into high gear and prompting us to collect whatever new information we can about ourselves, another person, topic, place, or activity. 

Eventually, following the trail that your curiosity takes you on may lead to finding “your passion,” and that’s wonderful. Though even if it doesn’t or if it just takes a while, you’ll have had an engaging journey with tons of material for creativity, understanding, and maybe some new friends collected along the way. Even the great Albert Einstein claimed to have little in the way of talent, only passionate curiosity…and look where that got him.

Interesting people are interested people.  Conversely, bored people are boring people.

Are you interested in the world around you? What about the world within you? You never have to be bored again. Get a little curious, pay a little closer attention, and you’ll unlock layers of interesting realities that’ll keep you occupied for years to come. Really. I don’t think I’ve been bored in over 10 years.

Curiosity teaches us a few more things that are essential to artful living. First, curiosity requires humility. To readily seek out more information, you have to admit that you don’t have all the information. Saying “I don’t know” can be so liberating and can lead you into a rewarding process of investigative learning. Additionally, curiosity can form in us a habit of perceiving the unknown with positive regard rather than with fear or disdain. Our life can expand as we follow our curiosity rather than shrink around increasingly rigid boundaries of what’s right or wrong, safe or unsafe, for you or against you. The expert on this, Elizabeth Gilbert, even goes so far as to claim that a creative life is “any life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.” Finally, curiosity forms us in the way of empathy – which begins with asking yourself what it might feel like to be another person. Connection through this curiosity about each other must start with curiosity about ourselves. We must have some honest grasp on our own felt experience to have something with which to relate to another’s experience.

So how do you cultivate curiosity?

Here are two practices that might be helpful:

  • Midrash. I borrow this term respectfully from the Jewish tradition. One type of midrash in Judaism includes investigating a scriptural text by asking every possible question one can come up with about it. This process inspires theological creativity, often resulting in the rabbis writing additional parables and stories to fill in the gaps  of a text or to shed new light on it. No questions are prohibited and no one right answer is expected to surface. The text is the beginning of generative conversation in this tradition, unlike in Christianity where it tends to be the end of conversation, purported as the final word. I find this approach fascinating and invaluable not only in relation to sacred texts. I think this is a practice with which we can engage many things. Are you confused about a situation? Sit down and write out as many questions as you possibly can about it. See where it takes you. Working on a project? Don’t understand a pattern of behavior you keep repeating? Not sure what to believe about something? Making a big life decision? Don’t understand a friend or family member? Midrash it. It takes some practice to build up these curiosity muscles. Sometimes I’m appalled by how few questions I can come up with initially, but stick with it. It’s worth the effort. 

 

  • Beginner’s Mind. The great Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart, once said, “Be willing to be a beginner every morning.” This wise instruction is an echo of the Zen Buddhist concept of beginner’s mind. Think about how you approach subjects or activities when you are a beginner versus when you feel like an expert. What’s different about the two postures? A beginner’s mind lacks preconceived notions, prejudices, and judgements. It is present to the moment, open to the experience, and ready to learn. This mindset breeds curiosity, creativity, and forming deeper connections with those around you. An expert’s mind is fixed. Its perceptions are not easily altered, and it is all but shut down to change, novel observations, or new lines of questioning. Where in your life would you benefit from a renewal of this beginner’s mindset? Perhaps write Meister Eckhart’s quote on a notecard and place it somewhere you will see it each morning reminding you to approach your day as a beginner. See what opens up for you! I'll be doing the same.

*offer good through Jan. 28, 2018


The above text is an excerpt from my in-progress manuscript of a book about artful living through lenses of creativity, connection, and community. More excerpts to follow in this blog series titled Artful Living.

Notes From My Phone* Reading Event

I had the privilege of participating in this event with 2 of my favorite people/writers at Centenary College here in Shreveport, LA on October 24, 2017. Music was played (by me), poetry recited (by Jennifer Strange), and books read (by Michelle Junot).

Below, listen to the audio of Michelle reading from her most recent memoir (a self-portrait constructed entirely from content in the Notes app on her iPhone) and from the panel discussion among the 3 of us about all things art-making, vulnerability, work and "real" jobs, the value (and confusion) of liberal arts education, health, etc.

Hope you enjoy!

Sarah Duet performed original pieces at Michelle Junot's book reading. Sarah graduated from Centenary in 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication: New Media. Song Titles: 1. The Times They Are A-Changin' "by Bob Dylan (cover) 2. Allow 3. Lover of Leaving 4. Mercy Make Acquaintance. Sarah is a writer, artist, and musician.

Alumna Michelle Junot reads from her newest book, "Notes from my Phone*." Michelle Junot is the author Notes From My Phone* a self-portrait in her twenties, and of and the floor was always lava, a collection of essays exploring childhood and memory. Her writing has been published in BmoreArt, Welter, Industry Night, The Avenue, Reject, and Baltimore STYLE.
Michelle Junot

Michelle Junot

Michelle Junot majored in Communication: Professional Writing as well as Dance at Centenary College and then headed to the University of Baltimore where she earned the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Publishing arts. She did the writing, design, and publishing of her first book, and the floor was always lava. Then she slacked off and only did the writing part of her more recent book, Notes From My Phone*, published by Mason Jar Press. She has also published essays in several magazines and currently teaches graphic design and works as Director of Alumni Relations and Assistant Director of Communications at University of Baltimore School of Law.

Sarah Duet

Sarah Duet

 

Jennifer Strange

Jennifer Strange

Letter from Birmingham Jail

   Message me  to make an order of this print! I've still got a small inventory of 12x18in. posters that go for $20 each.

Message me to make an order of this print! I've still got a small inventory of 12x18in. posters that go for $20 each.

"Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? ... Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators."' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust." -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (An excerpt of "Letter from Birmingham Jail")

"Little Wolf, Big World" (Project Preview)

So, as some of you know, I've started working on writing and illustrating a children's book! With so many friends and family who either have young kids or are about to very soon, I've begun thinking a lot over the last year or so about how I might contribute to welcoming these little people into the world. How can I help provide nurturing spaces for children to start learning the world around them and for parents to learn their children and themselves in their new roles as "mom," "dad," etc.? What can I make and give that can add even just a hint of the beauty that helps love grow?

 A very early mock-up of the book's cover. We'll see how things develop!

A very early mock-up of the book's cover. We'll see how things develop!

I'm finding numerous answers to those questions, and this book project is just one of them. The progress will be slow and steady, but I'm keeping track of much of it on my Instagram feed under the hashtag #littlewolfbigworld, and I'll also be updating the blog periodically from this point forward. In the meantime, as the book itself is developed, I've opened an online store full of prints and other home goods that feature the characters and scenes from the book that folks can purchase. You'll find a collection of illustrations for Kids & Nursery, Coffee & Kitchen, Home & Family, and my Iconography series all available at society6.com/sarahduetCheck it out if you're curious! 

And on a personal note, I've been finding the process of working on this to be quite enjoyable, and I think healthy for me as well. As a person who tends to take things pretty seriously, focus on complexity, and think in primarily abstract terms...it's a good exercise, I think, to immerse myself in work like this  that requires a foundation of delight, simple communication, and very concrete ideas. It's been refreshing thus far and I think a valuable complement to my more introspective creative process for songwriting, painting, etc.

I'll keep you posted. Thanks for stopping in,

sd.

 Remember all that snow we got this winter in Shreveport? Well Lowe the Little Wolf and his fox friend Ferdinand got some time to play in it!

Remember all that snow we got this winter in Shreveport? Well Lowe the Little Wolf and his fox friend Ferdinand got some time to play in it!

 Baby wolves need nurseries, right? So here's a view of Lowe's.

Baby wolves need nurseries, right? So here's a view of Lowe's.

 Ferdinand playing on his  Index Drum (indexdrums.com)  and Lowe the Little Wolf sporting his  Space Bees  onesie! Local Shreveport makers will hopefully be making periodic appearances in this project.

Ferdinand playing on his Index Drum (indexdrums.com) and Lowe the Little Wolf sporting his Space Bees onesie! Local Shreveport makers will hopefully be making periodic appearances in this project.

Gandhi

Another piece in my icon series is complete. Gandhi's life, words, and wisdom are truly a valuable and needed gift to humanity. Ironically, a stigma is placed on Gandhi in some Christian circles, which deeply grieves me. Gandhi was deeply influenced by Jesus and devoted to embodying His way of being in the world...so much so that he adopted a daily practice of reading the Sermon on the Mount and has written that, "Jesus was the most active resister known perhaps to history. This was non-violence par excellence" (Gandhi on Nonviolence, p. 55). Though Gandhi claimed no one particular religion solely as his, I wonder if in many ways––especially in terms of nonviolent resistance, peacemaking, care for the poor, communal unity and equality, renouncing of empire and worldly power, and the study/embodying of Jesus' words and practice––if Gandhi looked more like a Jesus-follower in the world than many of us modern-day Christians do. At the very least, I see value rather than danger in learning his story and hope that more folks might come to share that perspective as well.

What you see in the illustrated icon:

  • Gandhi pictured in the white, homespun cloth that eventually became the only clothing that he wore (and made for himself) as part of a protest to British rule in India in which he encouraged the Indian people to wear no foreign textiles.
  • His hands in the namaste position with which he consistently greeted others. Namaste literally translates as "I bow to you." It is also rumored that when Albert Einstein asked Gandhi what exactly his greeting meant, he explained it as follows: “I honor the place in you where the entire universe resides. I honor the place in you of light, love, truth, peace and wisdom. I honor the place in you where, when you are in that place, and I am in that place, there is only one of us.”
  • Waves of salt water in the background that symbolize the water of the Arabian Sea where Gandhi led people in the Salt March of 1930. This was an active, nonviolent protest against the British salt monopoly in colonial India and an essential part of the revolution that led to independence for India being granted in 1947.

If you're unfamiliar with Ghandi or just curious to learn more, here are a few good places to do that:

   GANDHI   was released as a major motion picture in 1982 and won 8 Academy Awards. This may be the best way to get a vivid, holistic picture of Gandhi's life and to get an introduction to his wisdom and practices. There are many options for online viewing of this movie. Don't be intimidated by its length...there's an intermission, and it's well-worth your time.

GANDHI was released as a major motion picture in 1982 and won 8 Academy Awards. This may be the best way to get a vivid, holistic picture of Gandhi's life and to get an introduction to his wisdom and practices. There are many options for online viewing of this movie. Don't be intimidated by its length...there's an intermission, and it's well-worth your time.

   Gandhi on Nonviolence   (Edited by Thomas Merton) is full of quotes from Gandhi's writings and speeches as well as commentary by the Trappist monk Thomas Merton.

Gandhi on Nonviolence (Edited by Thomas Merton) is full of quotes from Gandhi's writings and speeches as well as commentary by the Trappist monk Thomas Merton.

 I haven't read this one yet, but it's on the "read ASAP" list.  Gandhi's autobiography  is widely renowned reading...sure to inspire, instruct, and encourage.

I haven't read this one yet, but it's on the "read ASAP" list. Gandhi's autobiography is widely renowned reading...sure to inspire, instruct, and encourage.


Influences: Lisa Congdon / Art Inc.

 Lisa Congdon's new book has officially been added to my  Arts & Creatvity Bookshelf .

Lisa Congdon's new book has officially been added to my Arts & Creatvity Bookshelf.

 Visit Lisa's website:  lisacongdon.com

Visit Lisa's website: lisacongdon.com

I've recently discovered Lisa Congdon, fine artist, illustrator, and author, and she's quickly becoming a big influence on my work. Lisa found her identity as an artist in her 30's and has built an amazingly successful career in the last 10-15 years or so through smart, hard, and dedicated work. 

She shares in-depth details of how you can make a living by making visual art in the book Art, Inc. (The Essential Guide for Building Your Career as an Artist)There is more practical guidance in this book than in most resources of a similar sort, which I expect I'll go back to and reference as needed. The design of the book is also excellent, which I appreciate as the book is indeed about art/design. (It only makes sense I suppose, but this is not always a given.) There are other books in the "Inc." series including Creative, Inc. , Blog, Inc. , Craft Inc. , and Mom, Inc.

Hear/see more about Lisa Congdon's life and work in the videos below:

MLK, Jr. Icon

In honor of Dr. King's courageous and invaluable contributions to our society and as a personal commitment to continuing the work of realizing his dreams for our lives, I made this new graphic icon to share with you today.

Also, below is a far-too-small collection of Dr. King's words in hopes that we might reflect on them honestly today. And that in our reflection, we might be moved to act in some way. Maybe this year more than many in our recent history, I think it is clear that we have a long way to go in making Dr. King's dreams a reality. So may we be challenged and emboldened by his example, and may we be the "creative, dedicated" ones who help this hurting world to get better, little by little...

I hereby pledge myself – my person and my body – to nonviolence, peace, and justice for all people everywhere.

Therefore I will keep the following commandments:

I will meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
I will remember always that the nonviolent movement seeks justice and reconciliation – not victory.
I will walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.
I will pray daily to be used by God in order that all people might be free.
I will sacrifice personal wishes in order that all people might be free.
I will observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
I will seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.
I will refrain from violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
I will strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
I will listen with respect to those who love and teach me.
— MLK, Jr. (Pledge of Non-Violence, 1963)
As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond...either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force.
— MLK, Jr.
Almost always the creative, dedicated minority has made the world better.
— MLK, Jr.
God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty.”
— MLK, Jr.
We must use time creatively in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.
— MLK, Jr.
Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.
— MLK, Jr.
Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.
— MLK, Jr.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
— MLK, Jr. (Letter From Birmingham Jail)
Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.
— MLK, Jr.
I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. . . I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.
— MLK, Jr.

Christmas: The Weary World Rejoices

 by Sarah Duet, 12/25/14

by Sarah Duet, 12/25/14

I've been thinking a lot about Mary & Joseph this Christmas. About what it might have been like to pause in their journey...with so much behind them & still so much ahead of them...to celebrate a moment so special, yet surely still so difficult. To see & embody a fulfilled promise like that, while undoubtedly full also of questions about what was actually happening. Weary and tired from travel and labor. 

I'm realizing that Christmas is indeed a time of both weariness and joy, while people feel one or the other of those realities more fully on any given year. We are a weary world, and we have reason to rejoice.

Here's to remembering we're not alone in our weariness, and to taking time today to choose joy & gratitude where we can.

Merry Christmas, friends. Peace.

-sd.

Album Art: December Cinema Vol. 1 by Matt Kidd

 Recent album artwork I made for Matt Kidd's Christmas EP.

Recent album artwork I made for Matt Kidd's Christmas EP.

I had the distinct privilege of working with one of my favorite artists recently to design the album artwork for his new Christmas EP. Matt Kidd recently released December Cinema, Vol. 1, a beautiful ambient-instrumental collection of 5 traditional Christmas songs: 

  1. The First Noel
  2. Oh Come, Emmanuel
  3. What Child is This?
  4. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
  5. Silent Night

You can grab 2 of the tracks for free on Noisetrade or find the project in its entirety on iTunes, Bandcamp, and Spotify.

Get yourself a little Christmas present and add some new tracks to your holiday playlist this week? Matt was wonderful to work with, and I'd love for you to both support him and get to appreciate these songs.