Ruthless Grace: An Edited Life


As a writer, photographer, designer and general bohemian wannabe, one might imagine my life to be full of creative adventures- flourishes of grand ideas melded with fast-moving execution. Let me assure you, there is rarely such glamor in the actual living of it. Even when times are good and work is plentiful.

As any creative professional knows, especially ones creating work for an audience, much of the adventure and romance of creativity is at least tempered (and most times overshadowed) by the painstaking and often gruesome job of editing which usually takes far longer than the conceptualization and execution put together and is about as fulfilling as peeling potatoes.

Editing is the hardest part about being creative and having creative friends. Some people trade baseball cards or recipes, in college and working in art & media, my peers and I traded essays, articles, sketchbooks, and photo stories to carefully dissect, rearrange, gut or in the worst cases- scrap for salvage like a condemned house. The hardest part was and still is, editing my own work. As evidence by the 100 or so too many images on my website at this moment, I have a hard time paring down my fluff. But becoming, or better-yet, finding a ruthless editor (and all the best ones are ruthless) is the difference between any creative work being great or incredible.

This is going somewhere, I promise.

Sometimes I find myself thinking of the Holy Trinity as a creative team. Jesus is totally the idea guy, he has all these grand stories that leave everyone a little perplexed but nodding along- absorbing his total enthusiasm for the cause. The Spirit was sent to do the work, so naturally he/she/it is seeing to the actual logistics of the project and making sure it actually gets from an idea to a tangible medium- poking and prodding us, the artists, to as a professor once said- just get one damn thing on to the actual paper. Then there is God the father. Sometimes I think of God the father as the universes most ruthless and brilliant editor of life.

An editor’s job is essentially this: to ask “Is this something we need or something we are just attached to?” A good editor will ask that same question a million times before a project is finished.

It isn’t the editors job to make changes, or to force a shift, but simply to get the writer or photographer or designer or whoever to see the difference between what they like about the story they are telling and what they are obligated to include for the viewers sake. Editors make us selfish creatives think about someone beside ourselves, and then to make the wisest choice possible, seeing the bigger ramifications.

Here is the tricky thing about art, which we generally think of as personal expression- at the end of the day, if we are only concerned with telling (and hearing) our own story it’s not going to be memorable and it certainly won’t be beautiful.

Now having said that, I need to clarify that I do not think that God causes bad things to happen, or that he intentionally takes things away to teach us a lesson. Loss is still senseless and horrid and not some twisted process for making a better world. I think.

Also I need to point out the difference between living ones life for ones “audience” and living ones life in gratitude and reverence of one’s audience. The latter is always preferable, unnatural without much practice, but good in the same way that wall art is good. If you don’t know what I mean, go find some mural on some wall in your town and be blessed.

I’ll leave you with this, the thought that gets me through pretty much every edit, big or small, real or metaphorical:

to create is the first and most essentially human act. It is also the first and most essentially divine act.

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