Monday, November 21, 2016

Pointless Beauty




by Christina Aitken

This is not the post I started out writing for my first contribution to CWD. I wanted to write about hope, despair, about where God is or isn’t in the hard times, and what that might mean for us as writers. You know, one of those ‘how do we tackle the big questions in our writing’ posts? But the words came out stilted, and it turned into a long computer session where hundreds of words stumbled onto the page but few survived the edit. Then it occurred to me: not all words need to make a grand point. They may simply create cracks in the world where, as the late Leonard Cohen wrote, ‘the light gets in’. Words can create respite and beauty in the midst of chaos, despair, and in plain ordinariness. And beauty does not necessarily demand purpose.

Some years ago I blogged about one of my favourite Tim Winton novels - Breath, released in Australia in 2008. A screen adaption was filmed earlier this year to be released sometime in 2017. The novel pays homage to ocean and surf, and Winton paints his devotion masterfully. After reading the novel, I was struck by the way Winton finds beauty in the fleeting, the untameable; in purposeless, finite moments. He does so through the eyes of a young male protagonist, Pike, who lives to catch the perfect wave. Set in the 1970s, Breath examines social attitudes and roles of the time. Looking back on his boyhood, middle-aged Pike reflects on 'how strange it was to see men do something beautiful. Something pointless and elegant, as though nobody saw or cared.' Winton plays with the idea that surfing is not just about adrenaline and thrill-seeking; it can be about searching out beauty for its own, pointless sake. For the complex characters of Breath, spiritual connection with the sea allows ‘light to get in'.

While cultural expectations and norms have changed somewhat since Winton’s take on the 1970s, the promotion of profitability and purpose over the aesthetic remains. The financial marginalisation of the arts in Australia’s education budget suggests a continued devaluing of creative expression. As writers, we can lose ourselves in the purpose-driven aspects of the craft, as we chase word-counts and contracts, publicity and sales. I am not suggesting that we do not need these things; they are a necessary part of the journey for writers who want to share their work and make money. But we need to keep our eyes open, so we do not miss the pointless but beautiful moments that feed our souls and inspire our writing - even if they do not translate into publishing contracts.

In a way, it is about not losing sight of first love. Imagine a surfer who knows everything about the sport but never paddles out to experience the serenity of hanging out the back to wait for a glossy left-hander - it wouldn't happen. There is a kind of beauty in the writing process itself, reflecting synergy between us and the creative essence of God-within-us. Let's be open to the beauty in small things; the comforting weight of a dog’s head on our feet; the soft palette of a sunrise; the feel of a child’s hand holding ours. These moments nourish us and our writing, and perhaps, they create cracks where light gets in.


Christina lives by the sea with her husband and two children, cat and seven chickens. She has published a handful of stories and poems and contributes articles to a local magazine. Christina draws extensively from real life for her poetry and is working on a verse novel.


6 comments:

  1. I enjoyed your post Christina and loved the way your crafted your blog. The title was intriguing. I would never call beauty pointless since I think its big 'selling point' is of course giving us a glimpse of our Creator and what He is on about - Beauty, Truth and Goodness. :) Thank you for reminding us that there is beauty in the writing process itself. I think we writers are especially blessed because all of our life is our playground and nothing that happens is a waste since we can write about it - even the tough seasons. And yes, beauty is certainly part of that - and no nothing is wasted. Love the idea too of the moments that create the cracks that allow the light in. Purposeful beauty perhaps? :) All the best with that verse novel Christina. Must be both challenging and satisfying to write one.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Anusha. I agree that beauty is not pointless. I think that our delight in those things/moments/words etc is a reflection of God's heart within us, the source. I find it interesting that Winton described it as pointless (but not worthless) and I think that is a reflection of our society that places greatest value on economic merit. When I was thinking about this post, I kept hearing the last election's mantra of 'jobs and growth' ringing in my ears!

      The verse novel is coming along much more slowly than I'd like - I need another camp nano to boost it. My problem is that I think I can capture moments fairly well, but plotting is not a strong point :-)

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  2. Lovely reminder Christina that beauty has it's own reward. For me, it reminds me of God's beauty and creativity - and that he creates us to be as well as to do. It's a great reminder in a society that focuses on doing - or 'image' rather than substance. Thanks for your thoughts - and welcome to the CWD blogteam :)

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Jenny. The distinction between doing and being is a helpful one, and the idea that being can be more transformative (at times) than all the running around 'doing' that fills up most of our time is something for me to reflect further on. Balance is so important.

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  3. Hi Christina,
    I've been interested in transient, non-permanent acts of beauty for a long time, challenged I think by what you've mentioned here, that there's such a cultural bias toward the profitable and long-lasting. Thanks for highlighting the power of small, beautiful things and fleeting moments. If we miss these, we miss a lot.

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    1. Thanks Paula, I agree that we can miss so much, depending on our perspective. Whenever I participate in a poetry or photography challenge (when you have to write/take one each day), I am always amazed by what I see when I take time to look. It is not just time though, there is a kind of openness to perception that I don't usually have.

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