In his often cryptic way, the poet William Blake wrote that the exercise of the imagination — of which he was a master, in various mediums — could serve to redeem the human spirit. Only by creating as his Creator had done, whole worlds and refractive universes, did one begin to approach the divine in purpose and nature.

I don’t compare myself to Blake (nor even to Nora Roberts or any other writer you might mention), but I have found that there is a therapeutic, even spiritual, utility to mindful creativity.

And while to many of you, that may seem like a no-brainer, to me it is only after years of struggling against ego and selfish ambition that I can safely say I’ve learned these lessons.

In my youth, I figured I had a penchant for stringing words together, and liked to read good books. Therefore, I was obviously destined to be a great writer. So I majored in English, read more good books, several bad, and proceeded to convince myself that I had what it took. And while maybe there was an inkling of talent there, no more than was given to most people who might consider themselves born with the gift of gab, I lacked the self-awareness, and frankly, the work ethic, to realize any of those dreams early on.

I wrote, but it was derivative. Bukowski, Carver, Hemingway — these were the masters I recognized, and therefore the only work of mine that I would show anyone could have been ripped from one of their wastebasket notebooks. The ones they wouldn’t show people.

In other words, I hadn’t found a voice, and I was too immaturely taken with the idea of being that next Great American Novelist that any attempt that fell short of these standards — as in every attempt I made — wasn’t worth dragging across any kind of finish line. Therefore, I languished.

It was while working for the newspaper that I found some confidence, primarily because I was forced to write every day, almost all day, whether I felt like it or not. And while I’m still shy of that initial aspiration of being a great writer and original stylist, I’ve learned after these last four decades to take pleasure in the process. And so for once I create work I’m satisfied with, or that at least teaches me something about how to make things better the next time.

This is a huge shift for me. Rather than fixating in the glory I almost certainly won’t find in this life, I focus on just making each and every sentence that much better than the last. Mindfully. And so my greatest passion can also serve as a spiritual tool for cultivating character, and as I’ve demonstrated repeatedly in this life, this character can use tons of cultivation.

Two birds, right?

It’s not quite tantamount to writing haikus on the mountaintop with a bearded master and his pet raven. But it’s close.

But by the same token, I also like to create music. I play guitar, some mandolin, a little banjo, and in my teenage years these were also fodder for dreams of becoming rich and famous. But some time in the past 20 years, I learned that while stardom isn’t likely, I’ll always love the sound of a well-voiced guitar chord and some gritty lyrics sung out loud to give it meaning. So I write songs now not to populate the next platinum record of my mega-rock four-piece, but to soothe my nerves after a long squat. And that’s even better.

The funny thing is, I see my kids beginning to harbor those same kinds of dreams of huge success, of egotistical achievement, with their own talents. And I wish I could intervene for them, tell them to forget the idea that you’ll one day be worshipped for what you do. Focus instead on allowing yourself to worship that task, and becoming mindful of all its nuance. This is when true mastery may be achieved, though the jury is still out on my efforts.

But such words from dad seldom do any good. I say them, I try my best to demonstrate them, but in the end, everyone is on their own journey, and has their own lessons to learn. No matter how much we may wish it otherwise.


James Faulk is a writer, family man and cemetery worker. He can be reached at