Island life.

I feel the breeze blow through what’s left of my hair and remember my vow to enjoy it. It’s not actually wind, it’s the rush of air that come from falling into the void and waiting for the net, the catching hands, the sproing, thunk! of your opening parachute. You can gnaw through your bonds one by one, and feel only tremors, but then you sever that one pivotal strand and you suddenly fall free, released on your own recognizance. Now you own it.

I own every day, dawn to dark. I alone will decide whether I lie on the couch, or sweat at this keyboard, or wander the streets or sob or cavort. But of course this isn’t really anything new. I have been the boss of my life since I began this job of being human. It’s just that I had forgotten to look at my business cards, hadn’t read my employment contract. I have aways been in the driver’s seat. I just hadn’t turned the ignition key till last Wednesday.

When I graduated from Princeton, I bought this book.

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The South Pacific Handbook was to be the manual for the next stage in my life. I was going to move to Truk in Micronesia. The handbook told me that the women still wore grass skirts and went around bare-breasted and that they used gigantic round stones as money. I would be a 20th century Gauguin, except for the painting bit. I wouldn’t need a real job, I would just build a hut and fish and eat bread fruit and coconuts. I still had a few hundred dollars in the bank from my job at McDonalds the previous summer.

By the end of the summer, however, I was living in the East Village in a 4th floor walk up. Only the local drag queens wore grass skirts.

The South Pacific Handbook has been on the shelf of every apartment I’ve lived in since, a reminder that one can postpone one’s dreams but needn’t forget them. I take it down every year and am grateful that I didn’t risk death by boredom or some horrible tropical disease or scurvy and remind myself that Gauguin died of syphilis. Then I put the book back on the shelf. I never take it to the used bookstore, however, because deep inside me I know that one day that youthful romantic ember deep in the lower basement of my soul will glow bright again and I will book a flight or a slow boat and live that crazy dream.

I’ve been on a metaphoric tropical island for six days now. The sun is shining, I am wearing shorts and flip-flops, and I am just beginning to wander the endless stretch of beach. It’s the island called Greater Dannyiana, a long flight from the mainland on which I’ve been dwelling since I bought the South Pacific Handbook. This place is probably vast, I don’t know yet. It contains a lot of empty real estate on which I can build huts and workshops and landing strips and office buildings. I could turn it into a modern-day Tahiti, filled with chain hotels and alcoholic natives, or I could keep it lean and pure and idyllic. Or, most likely, something in between.

There are monkeys here. I hear them calling from the trees. They tell me I must make a business plan, must take on lots of freelance work, must keep in touch with people who run ad agencies who will hire me back once I abandon this folly. I should write to all the people who run weekend workshops, build a slick commerce website, sign a half dozen book contracts simultaneously. They tell me to stay out of the sun, that I’ll catch some thing from the mosquitoes, that there are lots of wild animals in the jungle. They remind me that freedom isn’t free.

I did make a list of things. And it’s on this computer somewhere. But I haven’t looked at it yet. Instead I made one commitment. I will try to go to a life drawing class every day. I will draw a three-hour long pose. I will draw on a large piece of paper that’s not in a book. I will write nothing on the page except the date. And I will do it with a pencil. The monkey reminds me: I am not used to doing such long drawings, I am not used to drawing with a pencil, I always draw in a book, and I am not a huge fan of drawing strangers, even if they are bare-breasted. The monkey asks me if I quit my job to do this. And I do not answer the monkey. Instead, I pack up my awkwardly large bag with my drawing pad and my pencil and my iPod and my bottle of water and I ride a CitiBike to SoHo and I sit in the basement and I draw.

And then I discover that the reason I feel a breeze in my hair isn’t because I am falling. I am flying.

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28 thoughts on “Island life.

  1. Your feeling describes how I feel about my ‘retirement’. After 34 years at a job I didn’t always like, but as a single mother of 2 girls, I couldn’t leave. Now I am living with one of those daughters, my brand new grand daughter, and son-in-law, 2500 miles away from where I have been the past 25 years and no longer living in the “South”. And every day is what “I” want.

  2. Wow. Powerful. This story just grabbed me somewhere deep inside and flung me in the direction of my own island. Thank you for taking us along on your inner and outer voyage that is the past, present and future of all things Danny. And…GREAT drawing!

  3. These are the thoughts that ran through my head as I read your post. He really can write! Needs to write a moor oh he already did ok a novel Or some other kind of story that starts long before His marriage to Patti.
    Then I looked at your drawing! Please tell me you have done life drawing before!! A suggestion- I’d love to see you take some charcoal and do some gesture drawings of the models. Just a thought. Love your drawing. Xox

  4. You are hilarious!!!

    “There are monkeys here. I hear them calling from the trees. They tell me I must make a business plan, must take on lots of freelance work, must keep in touch with people who run ad agencies who will hire me back once I abandon this folly….
    ….They remind me that freedom isn’t free….
    The monkey reminds me: I am not used to doing such long drawings, I am not used to drawing with a pencil, I always draw in a book, and I am not a huge fan of drawing strangers, even if they are bare-breasted. The monkey asks me if I quit my job to do this. And I do not answer the monkey….”

    All this time since tour shocking last post I wander/fear…if you have second thoughts…the more people were congratulate you the more I worry…now I realized that in fact I was only half right : it is the monkey ” talking “…

    We are so happy to have you “back” no matter what you’ll do next/in the future.

  5. Indeed! Best of luck! The bigger drawings ( I used to go to SPRING STREET STUDIO myself) teach us how to WALK SLOWER AND FARTHER. It is a different kind of drawing and it will change you by the process. HAVE GREAT FUN!

  6. Danny, your discribtion is soooo wonderful! :-)

    “…because deep inside me I know that one day that youthful romantic ember deep in the lower basement of my soul will glow bright again and I will book a flight or a slow boat and live that crazy dream…”

    Now, I blab you MY crazy dream:
    I’ve just ordered a book about California “Gebrauchsanweisung für Kalifornien”.
    I’m sure that, one fine day, I’m sitting on Santa Monica Beach or at the “Boardwalk of Venice”, only drawing beautiful and fast “pastel-portraits” for the visitors and tourists. They will give me some dollars for each portrait, not much – but enough for me (the monkey does not believe it!).
    The people will see me with very long grey hair (like an “old-hippie”….hahahaha) and old Patchwork- Blue Jeans and I will wear a long white beard… :-)

    I’m looking forward for 365 warm and sunny days, the whole year (“California Dreaming”).
    Everyday I’m sitting on the beach, drawing portraits for the people (I’m sleeping in a small hut on the beach (like the hut, where The Doors where founded :-) )

    When I will have earned enough pocket money (by painting portraits), I’ll take a rest for several days at BIG SUR (looking for the ghost of Henry Miller…) and so on… what a wonderful “pensioners life”…

    and offcourse this bloody monkey thinks I’m totally crazy now – but the monkey doesn’t know, – that one fine day – I’m travelling to sunny California WITHOUT the monkey, I ‘ll leave him alone in rainy Germany…:-)
    -Matthias

  7. My husband gave me a ceramic sign a few years ago that says “leap and the net will appear.” Leaping into retirement is one giant leap! It’s fun to read that you’ve already taken another risk and are enjoying your new drawing class. We’re also recently retired and sometimes the process of remaking our lives gets uncomfortable and scary. Yet the whispers of new life and old dreams keep us leaping, monkeys be damned (or loved into a good long nap)! Hearty congratulations on your retirement, Danny!! May your happiness wildly exceed expectations and may even your fondest South Pacific dreams come true.

      • I’m so glad you have said that you are definitely not ‘retired’. That is certainly not the impression I got from your long list of things you want to do!
        I am so glad I have ‘found’ you, and I am never going to let you go. I sorely needed some inspiration to get my drawing head and hand working and you have supplied that in bucket loads. I’m off on holiday for 10 days and will take my little moleskine and watercolours to France and draw everyday. Thank you so much!!!

  8. First, I, like so many others, love reading your posts, especially today’s. I think we all have been teleported to Greater Dannyiana and have shed the clothes, doned the sparkly specks, and are wandering the island. Yes, the monkeys are there, they’re always there, but they know that they have been left behind today as we sing, “You put the lime in the coconut and drink em bot up . . .”

  9. Pencil? Goodness no. For life drawing you need charcoal and BIG sheets of paper – newsprint or something equally cheap. It’s about gesture. And loosening up. And confronting your fear.

    • Same thing jumped into my mind. Probably left over from art college and thinking about John Singer Sargent.

      Some people are great mark makers. I think Danny has a real talent for making beautiful marks. Kind of like having a great singing voice. The looser the medium the better the marks – like his book A Kiss Before You Go.

      He also has a great sense of colour and arrangement. If I were him I would go to a hot house or somewhere with tropical flowers and plants and let rip – do a sort Monet freak out. No boundaries just a pure mark-making brilliant colour celebration.

      He does happy drawings. Maybe that’s why he was attracted to the South Seas. Now that’s a book that I would buy. Not to mention a greetings card or poster.

  10. Danny I’ve been on a leave of absence from my day job for 6 months. Extended another 6 months. Just to see. Test the boat. See if it springs any leaks. See if the monkeys riot. Please keep sending your smoke signals out into the world. I’m watching for them over here on my side of the island. They give me HOPE. They quiet my monkeys. Thank you. I’m cheering your big brave move on!

  11. You are doing this dream SO WELL so far! Giving yourself no time to sit around and fret over what might come next. Go do it, whatever seems a good idea, and OMG… you are SO flying!

  12. I have learned a little phrase that stops my “what about this? what about that?” monkeys in their tracks. Wanna know it? “I don’t know because the answer isn’t here yet.” It’s an answer to their questions and it’s the truth. They shut up.

  13. So inspiring. Today I finished my very last assignment of grad school. I am 53 years old. Now I must get a real job. The monkey is screaming so loud! ..but whacked him in the head with this post. Thanks!

  14. Today get your supplies, open the door to the outside world and walk. You are free to do that. One step at a time see where it takes you. See how it feels. Do it because you can.

  15. I have only recently discovered your books and then your website and blog. You’ve already inspired me tremendously as I venture into visual journaling, develop my latent talent for drawing, explore watercolor, and deliberately make time to enjoy the process.
    Although I enjoyed my career as a science editor, it squeezed my creativity into a corner for so many years. Little time for music, no time for art. Freedom began six years ago this very day. The dream continues to grow as I step up my mosaic technique, sing early music, and play medieval and Renaissance harps. The drawing and coloring itch was always there, tickling me from deep inside. When the student is ready, the teacher appears! Thank you, Danny, and enjoy that whoosh of wind through your feathers as you soar!

  16. You might be interested in reading this book that just launched, “The In-Between” by Jeff Goins…about when you are in-between and waiting for the next big thing.
    sounds like you’ve been ready for this transition and it is already happening easily and creatively. Love that you are out there drawing live models. Keep us posted. I look forward to the next phase.

  17. Enjoy every second of this trip to the Island of Dannyiana…the wind will carry you in the direction you need to go. The big thing is the act of “surrender.” The letting go is the hardest part. But you will ultimately land right where you need to be. Hurray for the next chapter…you’ll soar!

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