"I think, writing-wise, I am probably more of a quilter than a weaver because I just get a little scrap here and a little scrap there and sew them together." -- Rich Mullins
Rich Mullins was a man that I admired very much. He was one of the greatest song writers most of you have probably never heard of. His song "Awesome God," was voted the greatest Christian song of the 20th century, and some consider it the greatest Christian song ever written. The thing that really set him apart, though, as a person, was that he really lived what he believed. I mean really lived it.
-At an awards ceremony where he was to receive a prestigious award, he took up a position in the serving line for the dinner that was being served and helped to serve the food. He did not call attention to himself while doing this, and most people failed to recognize him, thinking he was just part of the staff.
-Instead of living the life of a big time singer and song writer, he set up a trust that all of his money went into. He received only the average amount that a single man would make in a year as his salary. He lived in a trailer house on a reservation in New Mexico where he taught music to children (for free). The rest of his money went to charity.
-He said this at a concert not long before his death in 1997, "Jesus said whatever you do to the least of these my brothers you’ve done it to me. And this is what I’ve come to think. That if I want to identify fully with Jesus Christ, who I claim to be my Savior and Lord, the best way that I can do that is to identify with the poor. This I know will go against the teachings of all the popular evangelical preachers. But they’re just wrong. They’re not bad, they’re just wrong. Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children in a beautiful little house where you have no gays or minority groups anywhere near you. Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved and Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken..."
I could go on, but I'm not really here to talk about Mullins. I just wanted to give you some background on the person I'm quoting so that, maybe, you can understand why it's important to me.
I have often thought about his quote about writing. He was one of those people that would be inspired to write a few lines about something and that would be all he would have. Often, these were written on some scrap of paper he had handy. He saved all of these. I imagine that many, probably most, of these little fragments of verse that he wrote went completely unused. However, there would be times when he would become inspired to combine these fragments he collected into a song. As he puts it, he quilted.
In thinking of my poetry, I can completely relate to this. I have fragments of verse scattered... well, I'm not even sure where all I have them scattered. Somewhere, in storage, I have all of my notebooks from high school and college with snippets of things I've written. Someday, I'll find these and go through them, and, maybe, some of them will inspire new things or new combinations, and I will quilt something from them. Possibly joined with some of the things I have in the notebook by my computer or in the file on my computer. Fragments of verse.
My prose, on the other hand, possibly tends more toward the weaving. But I'm not sure. I think I have so many ideas and themes from other places in The House on the Corner that it may be just an elaborate quilt. In fact, I sort of intended it that way, since I modeled it on the imaginations of children. So there are bits of things I took from other places stuck here and there throughout the book all sewn together with my own thread. My big project, though, the one that is still just mostly in my head, is definitely a weaving.
Tolkien, he was a weaver. A grand and glorious weaver. I don't think many people can do what he did. If they could, there would be more of it. Lewis was also a bit of a weaver. Not to the extent of Tolkien, though. Except that he said he was largely inspired by George MacDonald and games he played with his brother when he was a kid. There's Gaiman, but he says that Dream (from The Sandman) is based on his image of Moorcock's Elric. Maybe it's like Tolkien said and all of these things spring like mushrooms from the detritus of childhood and life. After all, Beowulf was a huge influence on Tolkien, and it's sprinkled throughout Middle Earth. Maybe, in the end, it's all just quilting.
Culturally, we tend to have a dim view of quilters. People who take scraps from other works and sew them together into something different. But, really, is that a bad thing? Sure, sometimes, the quilts aren't very good. We can see where the pieces came from and see that the original was better. But then there are the times where we can see what the scrap came from and see how the quilter took something from a work that was not very good and made it better. And, sometimes, the quilter is so good that you can no longer pick out from where the original pieces came.
Really, there are just too many books to sort who's weaving what and who's quilting from whose work. Maybe it's not even important. Not many people can come up with something completely new. Weave something original. As Bono says, "Every artist is a thief." Maybe we would be better at we do if we would just embrace ourselves as quilters and do the very best job of that that we can do. Take the pieces and make new pictures with them. Like a kaleidoscope but with words and themes and ideas.
Not that we should give up on the weaving, but Tolkien spent his whole life in Middle Earth. Those stories began in the trenches during World War I, and he was still working on them when he died in 1973. That's a long time to spend in the same place, and, in the end, many people believe Middle Earth was more real to him than the real world. But why shouldn't it have been? He made it. Most of us, though, aren't going to aspire to something like what he made. Which is not to say that we can't do a bit of our own weaving. It just probably won't end up being a tapestry as elaborate as Tolkien's.
I'm not sure, exactly, what I'm getting at here. I think it's actually more about the question than the answer. I mean, I've been thinking about this question on and off for over a decade and still don't have an answer for it. I do know it's important to know what you're borrowing. No, let's be honest, stealing. But it's okay to steal. That's what art's all about. Making new things from the old. Or, if you're one of those lucky few that does have a completely original idea, like Gibson with Neuromancer (Although, if you take the time to look, you'll see that it wasn't so original, after all... at least, the pieces weren't. It's what he did with them.), count yourself fortunate and weave away.
I suppose what it comes down to is being skillful at whatever you're doing. Quilting. Weaving. Whatever you want to call it. Do it well, and make it yours.
Let me just leave you some of my favorite quilted lines from some songs by Rich Mullins:
from "If I Stand":
And there's a loyalty that's deeper than mere sentiments
And a music higher than the songs that I can sing
And now the night is fading and the storm is past
And everything that could be shaken was shaken
And all that remains is all I ever really had
from "Calling Out Your Name":
Well the moon moved past Nebraska
And spilled laughter on them cold Dakota Hills
And there's fury in a pheasant's wings
From the place where morning gathers
You can look sometimes forever 'til you see
What time may never know
...may peace rain down from Heaven
Like little pieces of the sky
from "We Are Not As Strong As We Think We Are"
We are frail, we are fearfully and wonderfully made
Forged in the fires of human passion
Choking on the fumes of selfish rage
And with these our hells and our heavens
So few inches apart
We must be awfully small
And not as strong as we think we are
When you love you walk on the water
Just don't stumble on the waves