beauty

The Magic Hour

I remember summers as a kid growing up in Ohio. The days were hot and muggy. And long.

Darkness didn’t usually set in until almost 10 pm, and that meant a lot of time was spent outside in the sunshine. There were a band of six of us boys, all close in age, who whiled away those daylight hours together. We built forts in the woods, swung from vines, played with fire and generally acted like we were living in the early chapters of Lord of the Flies.

I remember running and shouting and hitting things with sticks. I don’t remember many moments of stillness, of quiet. But there were a few.

At the edge of the woods we often played in there was a field full of weeds and wildflowers and sweet-smelling clover. I remember one day picking wild raspberries in the woods and crossing that field on our way home. As we stepped into the clearing the sun seemed to hang just above the tops of the trees on the far edge of the field, and our shadows fell long on the grass.

And suddenly everything was brilliant with golden glow.

Every blade of grass seemed to stand out in sharp relief. The trees that bordered the field turned a vibrant green as if they themselves were emitting a neon glow. The wildflowers became like jewels dotting the landscape. In the air, every speck of dust and every flying insect sparkled as they caught the light, filling the air with diamond dust.

We stopped. We were quiet and still.

The world seemed reborn, alive in a way I’d never known. What had seemed ordinary and commonplace when we had passed through it an hour ago was suddenly enchanting and new. Every rock demanded our attention. Every weed deserved mention.

Our pause must have been momentary, but in our boyhood rhythms it was the equivalent of an hour. A magic hour.

That’s what cinematographers and photographers call it. The Magic Hour. Or sometimes The Golden Hour. It’s the day’s last hour of sunlight, and it makes the ordinary extraordinary. I must have seen it before that day, but that was the first time I’d really taken it in.

Even now, there’s nothing like a windows-down drive during the last vestiges of daylight; that kind of magic on a daily basis is good for the soul.

I feel as though, right now I am living in a creative magic hour, so to speak. Everything has come alive for me. Everything I see inspires me or sparks me. I’m moved and motivated. The world seems reborn, alive.

I don’t know how it began. I don’t know when it will end. I don’t know if it’s just a moment, or a season, or a new reality. But I’m going to take it, and revel in it, and thank God for it.

Goods vs. Gifts

Tonight I'm having a bit of a crisis of confidence. I don't think this is an uncommon thing. I don't think it's an uncommon thing in humanity in general. I know it's not an uncommon thing in the life of a creative person. And it is certainly not a new thing for me, personally.

Let me lay it out.

A couple nights from now I have the opportunity to sit in a room of friends (and some would-be friends) and share a bit of what I do and a bit about what I do. It's an opportunity to tell stories and to hear some stories too. The thing is, there will be some in attendance who have heard my stories before. Maybe even a couple times before.

And so the crisis of confidence comes down to the question: Do these people really want to hear my stories again?

I'm sitting here wondering if I should write some new material. (Full disclosure: I'm sitting here trying to write some new material.) But new will not necessarily mean good. In fact, based on what I've been working on for the last couple hours it will be far from good. Instead it will be rushed, haphazard and meandering. It will be first drafts, and first drafts are rubbish. First drafts are simply foundations for beautiful structures. And no one ever digs holes to stare at the foundations of beautiful structures.

Ultimately, the question comes down to the criteria I use to evaluate my work. Do I want my work to amuse or do I want it to revive? Should it surprise or should it provoke? Is it a good or is it a gift? You see, goods have a shelf-life, and their obsolescence is a foregone conclusion. Goods are meant to be consumed, whereas gifts are meant to be treasured. Gifts grow more precious with familiarity and time.

I think art should be a gift, a gift of beauty because rather than a good that should be discarded after it has been consumed or deemed irrelevant, beauty grows in richness and complexity with each encounter, revealing new truth as we engage it anew with the ideas, questions and experiences we gain along the journey.

Beauty stands in stark contrast to the planned obsolescence of the marketplace, aspiring instead toward that which is true, and lasting and transcendent.