Saturday, September 22, 2012

Henry Matisse, OCD, Poetry, Marriage, and, of course, T.S. Eliot

photo credit goes to Lee G. V.
Much of the beauty that arises in art comes from the struggle an artist wages with his limited medium. --Henry Matisse

This week I've been obsessed with the home decorating blog, The Nester. When I say obsessed, I mean that every waking moment when I am not doing something productive (and sometimes when I should be doing something productive), I am reading that blog. You think I'm joking--I'm not. I'm just a smidge obsessive compulsive, and I go through phases. Next week I will decide to be obsessed with something else, who knows, maybe fly fishing. No, not fly fishing. Why would anyone, ever, be obsessed with that? Anyway, point being, one of the things The Nester writes about on her blog is the above Henry Matisse quotation. She was thinking about it in terms of creatively (and cheaply) decorating one's home, but it's sparked off all kinds of other thoughts for me. Thoughts that I can't stop thinking about when Tiny is up teething in the middle of the night.

Naturally, I immediately connected the Henry Matisse quotation with writing. I thought about the sonnet, and how in that extremely limited medium there has bloomed such incredible beauty. Think about it: when you're forced to put your thoughts into a rigid rhyme and metrical scheme you have to get creative! You might end up using words you had never thought of before. You might discover that there's a better way to express a thought because you can't write it down the original way you had intended. Or you might find that there are whole new layers to an emotion just because you're having to fit it into an ABAB pattern. While I love to write free verse as much as the next writer, I think we've lost something when we automatically assume that's the most suitable form to use, most of the time because we're too lazy to challenge ourselves to write in a limited medium (though we claim that our thoughts just can't be confined by poetic form). The funny thing is that we find that the best free verse poems contain some form of rhyme and meter.

You see, as a culture, we've come to misunderstand and abuse the word "free". How many times have we heard (or said!) the phrase, "It's a free country; I can do what I want." This is the excuse we give for many, if not all, of our indulgences, excesses, and sins. And no, I'm not going to give the "freedom isn't free" speech here. But I will say that true freedom does not exclude structure or rules. In fact, structure and rules both enhance and underscore freedom.

This brings me to my next "big thought" about the Matisse quotation. After I stopped thinking about creativity and a limited medium in writing (would I get much farther in writing a book if I just wrote one chapter at a time about a very specific topic?), I started thinking about it in terms of my marriage. Because if there's anything more limited than one man and one woman together for the rest of their lives, I'm not sure what it is. Now, I can see that limited medium as a restriction of my creative freedom and, five years in, decide to get creative and move on to a different relationship or, I can see it as a chance to make something unexpectedly beautiful by challenging myself past the normal. I think a lot of people believe that the only purpose of marriage is to be with someone who makes them happy, just like a lot of writers think that the only way to truly express their emotions in poetry is through free verse, but this is a one dimensional way of thinking. Because when we force ourselves to accept and even revel in a limited medium, we move past the surface of who we are as people.

When I chose the limited medium of my marriage, I have to figure out how to be happy when I live with a person who will not always make me happy (because he's human, not because he's not wonderful). When I chose the limited medium of my marriage, I get to challenge myself to make new memories with my husband every year instead of just reusing the old memories with a new person. When I chose the limited medium of my marriage, I get to learn how to fall in love with him all over again day after day, instead of falling in love with someone else on the days when he is not lovable and I'm too tired or jaded to be loving. It makes me wonder how beautiful of a thing the Man and I can create if we just stick with it, struggle through it, and get creative.

Then I thought about how, in God's eyes, we've been granted a limited medium in the life that he's given us, just so many years in a very restricted human body and mind, and how he's told us that the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life (Matt. 7:14). But I'm not going to wax eloquent about that, because honestly, thinking about writing and marriage in this new way is making my thoughts spin off in all these crazy tangents and it's keeping me up at night! I'm sure you can tell... I'll just close with this: maybe instead of being frustrated by the limitations that we see in our lives and seeking to rid ourselves of them in the quest for some kind of misconstrued freedom, we should see them for what they are: a dare to create something beautiful. It works for the little things (up in the wee sma's with a teething baby leads to middle of the night writing) and the big things (like marriage or dealing with a debilitating physical limitation or, in general, having our lives turn down an unintended path like motherhood or the loss of a job). So the question is: do we dare?

Do we dare disturb the universe?


  1. I never would have thought of that quote that way. I love this. Thanks for the challenge.

  2. I know I commented on this. It must have been on FB. That bothers me that you don't have all your comments on this new setup. But it's ok because my comments are not that earth shattering or important.