Chapter 2: Ratatouille in the Pet Sematary



Years ago, I attended a conference in Seattle where Belief Agency’s Jesse Bryan and Invisible Creature’s Don Clarke delivered a lecture on creativity entitled, “Why Jesus Creates Art.” At the start of their lecture, they rolled out a large, full-body-sized mirror and hit it with a hammer, shattering it and leaving it broken and cracked with glass all over the ground.

When we first started talking about what it means to be a creator, I referenced Ed Catmull’s book on Pixar Animation (editor's note: Levi talked about Ed's book in his first post, which you can read here), and the way that he and his workforce act – perhaps unbeknownst to them – as reflections of an ultimate Creator. We all do this in one way or another, vocationally or not, when we use what we have at our disposal to imagine, or to problem solve, or to fix, or to make.

When Catmull describes what his animators do in the studio, he speaks of their art as “creating something out of nothing,” and explicitly states that it is not as though they are merely excavating something beneath the surface of a blank page. Rather, they are breathing life where there was none.

While I love that idea, I’m hesitant to subscribe to it fully. It’s true that there’s an element of “bringing something out of nothing” to telling a story that has never been told before, but I’m of the persuasion that only one person has ever truly done that. Perhaps you'll come to the end of this exploration and decide that it has been a question of semantics, but I’d like to introduce a different perspective from another successful storyteller: Stephen King.

I’ve fallen in love with Stephen King over the years. My mom doesn’t get it. Most people still only think of him as “the horror guy,” and even though Pet Sematary was my introduction, I’ve come to see him as a master of the craft of writing itself. His take on authorship seems to me a more participatory role in and among stories that write themselves. In his book On Writing (which I'd recommend whether you write or not), he articulates the formation of his characters as similar to bones which must be uncovered:

“During the course of an interview for The New Yorker, when I told the interviewer that I believed stories are found things, like fossils in the ground, he said he didn’t believe me. I replied that that was fine, as long as he believed that I believe it."

I like King’s definition of creativity because although the end results are the same – bringing something into the world that wasn’t here before – his definition seems more in tune with the idea of "begotten" than "begetting."

When it comes to our stories, I see Scripture articulating the idea that there is a plan we have been invited into. I have no idea what King or Catmull believe about who Jesus is, but as I'm considering and contrasting what I hear as two distinct viewpoints, the humility of entering into a story that is already running as opposed to writing one ex nihilo is intriguing to me.

For what it's worth, this is an analogous comparison – just two ideas that got me thinking of the otherness of God. I fully understand that to say you're creating something from nothing in relation to computer animation is actually viable, and not the same as saying that you've created a living, breathing human being out of thin air. All I'm getting at – and the question that came to me in relation to the difference between who I am and who the great I AM is – is this:

Do I, as a Christian, err on the side of art as Ed Catmull's created things or Stephen King's found things?

The broken mirror is a go-to reference for me. The essence of what I understood when it shattered is that though we are reflections of a Creator, we are not perfect reflections, and we are not perfect creators.

We cannot speak life into existence, for instance.

We cannot form substance in a dull and formless void.

Though I may dream up characters in a script or draw them onto a page, they have not been created without any prior inspiration to pull from. I'm writing a blog I've never written before, but I'm using technologies that allow me to type it out, and garnering other inspirations and paying forward other words (not the least of which, I hope, inspired by the very Spirit that hovered above the face of that deep so long ago, and began what would set my wonder in motion).

Yesterday, I watched the moon rise over the Sandia Mountains from my favorite walking park in the city of Albuquerque, and I was struck by the point of these thoughts. The point, here, is not so much the way two storytellers have chosen to describe the ways they craft their art, but the fact that neither of them – and none of you, and certainly not me – will ever speak that moon's rise out of nothing into the majesty that it proclaimed from the mountain. I can create as a broken mirror according to what I see through a glass, darkly, but no one will ever say of me, "he formed me in my mother's womb," or, "he knew me before all we can fathom as knowable existed," or "he spoke and I was."

God, though. God speaks and worlds appear. His very words animate true life. His paintings are alive. His words accomplish all they set out to, and his art is beautiful.