SAME / DIFFERENT
Chris and I spent this past weekend at Hutchmoot. If you're wondering, "What does that word mean?" we don't really know either. But at the urging of another songwriter friend, we registered for the event and drove back down to Tennessee for four days of... well, we weren't quite sure what to expect. Something about art and faith and music and writing and God.
Indeed, the conference wove those things and more into a beautiful experience. It was put on by The Rabbit Room, a collective of artists and musicians and authors who love God and authenticity. These are people who strive to see holiness in every facet of life, who aim to make excellent art that may or may not fit within the confines of contemporary Christian mass-market culture. At Hutchmoot, we met leatherworkers, coffee roasters, potters, and poets. People who read Lewis and Tolkien and Buechner and Berry. Who then discuss it in ways that make me want to do that, too, instead of another Instagram or Netflix binge (because there's only so much goodness one can find in The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story... goodness, perhaps, but yes, only so much).
There were many sessions and workshops offered throughout the weekend, and looking back at my notes feels a bit like a word search - I'm combing for meaning, and just when I start to take hold of a thought, I'm drawn to new ideas or phrases that jump out every few lines. For now, I've managed to catch one of them by the ankle and am hanging on as I follow it through different doorways and alleys.
I went to a session entitled 'Til Death Do Us Art: Navigating Marriage and Creative Calling.' *(apropos, no?) Three couples shared their journeys in pursuing creativity while upholding a marriage covenant. I wrote furiously as they reflected on how their relationships navigated both successes and dark nights of the soul. They talked about sacrifice, ideals, work-life balance, and coexisting in their innovations.
One of the observations that struck me was Jennifer Trafton pointing out that she and her husband have similar giftings and careers, but at times their needs are vastly different. They are both authors. Yet the gift of creating with words meshes differently with each of their personalities. Jennifer shared her pre-marriage dreams of being wedded authors working side by side on their projects in a perfectly moody coffee shop. In reality, that dream implied both of them would have the same needs in the way they approach their work. One prefers to work in the hustle and bustle of a place filled with people; the other needs complete silence. One wants immediate criticism and construction when asking for feedback; the other needs reassurance of what is good and positive before examining what could be better.
This was a "me, too!" moment. Surprises like this have filled much of the last year of Chris and I learning how to better co-write with each other. We both write songs and play music. This can conjure fantasies of curling up on the couch together every night with a guitar and our journals, offering melodies into the air and penning song after song while sharing secret smiles and romantic glances over a cup of tea. At least, this is how younger people at our shows have described it to us when they find out we're married and swoon in delight and cry "I wish it would happen to me!"
In actuality, it often looks like staring at the ceiling in frustration. It looks like one of us (...me) leaving the room to take a breath before (...um, sometimes before) tears or anger take over. We've had some of these same revelations - I need to hear what's working well in a song before we start ripping it apart in order to know there's some good worth saving, while Chris would rather focus on its weaknesses first. I like going outside to the porch for a change of pace, but passers-by and lawn mowers and bugs distract Chris from inspiration. I want to make up lyrics with a melody over pulsing piano chords, while Chris writes pages and pages in a notebook on a quiet living room floor. Each time I wanted him to create like I did, it ended in disappointment and yet another discussion on where we'd fallen apart. Not only would Chris not act like I wanted him to, I tried to lovingly give him what I wanted - which was not, at times, what he wanted.
In other words, as Jennifer said, "we have similar gifts, but our needs can be vastly different."* None of those missteps were wasted - we were learning from each one. Hearing another couple share similar differences, though, is making me realize how often we seize the things we have in common with other people and assume they will need the same things we do. I think I do this far outside the confines of marriage - friendships, business relationships, church dynamics, you name it.
I recently had a conversation with someone where we were trying to work out a plan for a church. After our initial conversation, details changed, and I was trying to understand what the new expectations were. The conversation did not go well, at least from my perspective - I felt hurt and misunderstood and disrespected. After I took some time to breathe and calm down, I thought about each of our needs that weren't being met. Our similar footing of wanting to facilitate musical worship for the church subconsciously led us to assume that the other would communicate and act in similar ways. I desired patience and clarity; he desired immediate action and agreement. Neither of us was giving the other what we wanted, and it was jarring.
I think similarities make it even harder to experience dissonance. It's one thing to not "click" with someone we categorize differently than ourselves ("okay, she's an engineer, I'm an artist; of course we think differently"). But when we share a passion or a gifting with another person, we are allowing a bit of ourselves to be seen, involuntarily putting some vulnerability forth in the "me, too." When we then try to give that person the things we want and need and they are ill-received, it feels violating. We may run back to our burrows, nursing that tender part of ourselves that feels most precious. It's tempting to hunker down and not put ourselves forward again. But oh, that is not the way to life, joy, or peace.
So many things come back to expectation and communication. When I expect that someone will need to be treated the same way I want to be, I unfairly put pressure on her to respond the way I would. When she doesn't, and I don't push through grounded communication (albeit intimidating) to find out why, I run the risk of writing the person off or unfairly judging her actions and motives.
Fellow Hutchmooters likely just experienced a weekend full of "me, too." New friendships were formed and seedling friendships were watered and tended. This is beautiful and holy and needed. We should celebrate these similarities and connections. As we grow to know more of these people, perhaps we should proceed with a thread of awareness - not caution, even, but realism. At some point, the new friend will probably say something confusing. The creator I look up to may not give me the response I'm hoping for. The fellow songwriter will approach his craft far differently than I will and contradict my process. If I expect the difference to occur, it may help soften the collision when it does. It won't necessarily mean that they're wrong or I'm wrong or even that something's wrong. It's just the journey of creatures who are all uniquely made, working out our salvations, responding to God and the world in our own ways. If we pause to ask, "what do you need?" and listen for a response, we can determine how to better meet that need if we are able. Then, we can pick up our paintbrushes and pens and instruments afresh and get back to creating art together. Which seems to be exactly the spirit and point of Hutchmoot.
Thanks for a communal weekend of creativity, Rabbit Roomers!
*'Til Death Do Us Art' Presenters were: Jennifer Trafton, Pete (A.S.) Peterson, Joe and Gina Sutphin, Randall and Amy Goodgame
**A word on wants and needs - I've used the words somewhat interchangeably here. Really, at the core, most of these are wants. It's wise to figure out what works best for our creativity and relationships; if we're able to fulfill those desires, wonderful progress can be made. If not, let's be careful not to let them be "needs" so mortared that they keep us from making art or engaging with people at all.