L.A.Tte

latte

Late weekend morning and Jenny and I were on bench outside a local motorcycle shop/café, eating breakfast and perusing the Sunday Times (N.Y. — Like a proper NYSnob, I haven’t been here long enough to forgo proper journalism for the local paper). 

We had a croissant and a fresh and elaborately made latte apiece. I am not normally a latte person but when in Rome… (where, incidentally, I never saw anyone drink latte which is normally reserved for infants or the feeble). While reading the Book Review, I absent-mindedly chugged down the contents of my cup. It was warm, creamy, slightly sweet and, soon, disappointingly gone.

I immediately hopped up and went to order another. A young woman with multiple face-rings rang me up and a man with a waxed mustache and neck tats handed me another steaming cup full of ambrosia.

I plunked back down and resumed chomping on the NYTBR. Suddenly I started to feel, well, unwell — pulsing waves of liquid anxiety coursed up my arms, my bowels felt like quicksand, my heart thundered like Secretariat, beads of sweat dribbled down my pate.  It wasn’t a stroke;  it was the effects of far more caffeine than a normal, unsedated person should consume. And I had yet to touch my second cup of well-milked amphetamine.

My point is not to warn you again the evils of the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug. Life would be duller without it. Instead, this episode made me pause to think about my gluttony and impatience. My need to rush into things that seem vaguely interesting and to find immediate solutions to potential problems that have yet to crest the horizon.

When I came to LA, I had an urgent need to furnish my home and my studio as soon as possible. Within days, I had built truckloads full of furniture and knocked out dozens of drawings and watercolors to fill the walls. I had a shelf-full of guidebooks and had visited all of the decent museums. I had contact everyone I even vaguely knew in-town and planned get-togethers.

Something inside me felt imperiled if I didn’t get a move-on. If I hadn’t built a bulwark against the dimmest view of my future, I couldn’t feel safe.

This is an impulse I have wrestled with my whole life, a need to rush to results. Hurry up and wait. I handed in my thesis three months early — my advisor scowled at me and said he wouldn’t be even looking at it till Spring. I envy procrastinators. This isn’t false modesty. It’s the same impulse that had me ruining model airplanes when I was a gluey-fingered kid, that had me making wonky, ill-fitting covers in bookbinding class, that caused my journal to burst into flames in the microwave as I tried to hurry the drying of a watercolor. If I took my time, I might come up with more thoughtful, deeper, better crafted stuff. Instead, I splatter ink, drop glasses, and dash for second helpings.

My commitment to drawing has been an attempt to slow the hell down, despite my twitchy nature. I really do want to do things well and carefully, to stick to it, to focus on the process instead of obsessing the purpose and value of whatever I undertake. When I wrote  A Kiss Before You Go, I forced myself to go slowly, to carefully check each draft, to take my time with the watercolors, to make the best book I could. It was hard and I still managed to get the book out fairly quickly, more quickly that I sometimes think was altogether decent.

Maybe advertising was the right career path for me. Thirty seconds. And all that money at stake meant I was surrounded by people who made sure I slowed down and polish every detail. I was known for making really well crafted commercials, again, despite my nature.

I left my job three months ago and I have been in LA for seven weeks now and already I am impatient. I had committed to myself that I would take six months to a year to figure out where I was going next. To explore, to reconnect with myself, to have an adventure. But the anxious monkey in my head wants another latte, wants results, clarity and purpose. It’s not enough that I am painting and drawing and blogging and writing my next book. He wants the path all worked out, wants an answer, any answer, now.

Screw the monkey. I have to be careful. That’s why I haven’t blundered into going workshops or contacting galleries or shooting all of my online classes videos or writing the five other book proposals I’ve been kicking around. I worry that I am just sitting in this garage and that cobwebs will grow over me but I must sit still.

I am trying to grow a new me. And that takes something the old me has in short supply. Patience. Calm. A long view.

And less latte.

Seeing the light.

lacmaOnce a week, usually on Friday, I check out one of LA’s museums.

Two weeks ago,  I went to the James Turrell at the LACMA which really dazzled me. I’ve seen his piece in Phoenix but missed the show at the Guggenheim. The Skyspace at ASU’s Tempe Campus is a rectangular room with an open donut ceiling. You sit on a bench against a wall and if you are patient, the relationship of that hole in the ceiling to the room you’re in changes. It soon starts to seem continuous with the walls and you begin to notice the shifting colors of the light. Soon the walls and the sky are on the same plane and it is startling and hallucinogenic when a cloud drifts by or a planes slices the sky.

As Hector, one of the museum guards said to me in LA, “His work rewards your patience.”.

Several of the piece in LA were really mind-altering, making me feel like Wile E. Coyote with spinning kaleidoscopes for eyeballs. You stand in a room like something out of Kubrick’s 2001 and gaze into pure color which slowly shifts; when you look away everything is now bathed in the complimentary color as your rods and cones go nuts.

If you have never heard of Turrell or seen his work, I urge you to soon. There have never been as many opportunities to experience his work as there are this year.

Boldly going where I have not gone before.

tommys

I am journaling these days in a way I haven’t been able to in years, just recording the day as it flows past, honoring the moments I am living and trying to be as present as possible.  In doing so, I realize how far I have drifted from my original intentions with my journals, and how sporadic my practice has become,. Now I can easily fill up several spreads a day and it is a rich and fun experience.

I am also experimenting with my line quality, going for a bolder, more immediate feel. i am using Sharpies, my wider Lamy Safari, bamboo pens, and a juicy “Big Brush” PITT artist pen from Faber- Castell.

And finally, thanks to my new garage/studio, I have the luxury of just reaching down into a handy drawer and grabbing a palette loaded with gouache and painting myself a fresh glass of lemonade.

The art of living.

flowers

Life is not an oil painting, sealed behind varnish and clamped in a golden frame, hanging in a white walled gallery in Chelsea, waiting to be bought by a hedge fund manager’s third wife.
Life is not an edition of etchings, a long series of identical impressions.
Life is not a mural, intended as a public display or the backdrop to an expensively furnished room. Life is not wallpaper.
Life is not a bronze sculpture, cold, monumental, an abstracted, idealized image of a hero long forgotten.

Life is a shelf.
A long shelf partly filled with journals. Some of the journals are hand-made, some store-bought, some in ornate covers, some stained and dog-eared.
Some of the journals are completely filled, others are abandoned half-way, maybe to be taken up at a later date. Some of the books are filled with paper that felt just right under your pen, smooth and creamy, bold and bright. Others were experiments that failed or overreaches, made of materials you weren’t ready to master quite yet.
Sections of the shelf may be filled with identical volumes, a type of book that you found comfortable at the time and stuck with it, disinterested in experimentation and change so you kept filling one after another. On the shelf, they may look the same, identical spines all in a row like a suburban cul-de-sac. But inside, each page is different, drawn by the same hand and pen, yet recording unique observations, days that fill up identically-sized boxes on the calendar but were all filled with different challenges, discoveries, lessons and dreams.
Each page of each journal is always different. Some are perfectly drawn and brilliantly written, insightful and illuminating. Others are a failure, with poor perspective and distracted lines. Some of the pages are dappled with raindrops or a splash of champagne, others are drawn in haste, still others crosshatched with great intensity and care. Some contain shopping lists, phone numbers of new friends, boarding passes to far-away places. Some are bright and colorful, witty and bold. Others are intimate and personal, never to be shared. Some pages describe loss and death, others a drawing of a gift you took to a baby shower.
None of these pages is an end in itself. No matter how good it seems at the time, eventually, you turn each one over. Even the ones at the end of a volume are merely leading to the first fresh page of the next. You fill the page, maybe you like what you drew or maybe it was a disappointment, but there’s always another to follow and another beyond that.
You try your best with each blank page, try to make something fresh and beautiful. Some of the time you feel excited and proud of what you’ve made, at other times you are disappointed and desperate. Often, a page you thought was just a turd looks a whole lot better when you come back to it years later. The drawing you thought was clumsy and flawed reveals some new insight and truth about who you were at the moment, fresh energy, naiveté, hope, darkness before the dawn. Each drawing, whether you know it at the time or not, contains truth. You just have to trust it and keep on drawing and writing and living your life.
Life is a process, and every one has the same end result: that last volume, partly-filled, cut off when we thought there was still art left to make. No need to rush to get there. Make the most of the page that lies open before you today.

Black and white habits — they’re not just for nuns.

ironman.080In my thirties, I became a mad iron-pumper.

I repaired to the gym every single day at 7 a.m., rain or shine, Sunday to Sunday, and after a year, I became a muscular beast. I didn’t have a trainer, I didn’t take steroids or HGH, I didn’t wear a little posing pouch or wax my chest. Key to my success was my ironclad will, my insistence on never, ever missing a day, or being even five minutes late to the gym. I utterly refused to give myself an excuse to break routine. I was a brutal and inflexible taskmaster. And, like it or not, it worked.

My sister, impressed by my progress, joined me at the gym. She would be there every morning at 7 too, ready to get to work. Then, one rainy February morning, she called me and said, “it’s a lousy day, let’s skip it for once.” I did, and the next day, came up with another excuse not to go.  The habit was broken and I never went to the gym again.

Soon, I was back to being a 190 lb. weakling.

Obviously, I can have a tendency to black and whiteness (not just in my journals), but, as I grow older,  I am working to be more nuanced in my decisions and commitments. I have joined a gym out here in LA and I am resolved to be less crazy this time, trying to stay committed without needing to be committed. I have a trainer who I see a couple of times a week and then I try to go most days and work out on my own. At first, pushing myself was hard, and I felt nauseated and weak. But one day, my body seemed to remember our bygone 7 a.m. routine and perked up. I felt the old surge of adrenaline through my muscles and it went from being a chore to being fun again. Now I look forward to exercise. However, I’m not a slave driver anymore and if I skip a day here and there, I don’t let it break my commitment to myself and my health. I just go the following day instead and keep going.

Journaling is another one of my healthy habits. At times over the years, I have insisted on a strict regime, like a drawing every morning before breakfast, or filling a whole book in a month or on a week’s vacation. Pushing myself to draw whether I want to or not eventually makes me want to. It also means I make a lot of lackluster pages on the way to falling back in love with my book and my pen.  There have been times when, overtaken by the stress of work and other commitments,  I have fallen completely out of the practice and eventually forgotten how much fun drawing can be, and how important it in helping me stay relatively sane.

But I can recommit.  (Like the old joke says, “It’s easy to quit smoking — I’ve done it a hundred times”). Still, I don’t have a drawing trainer and there are no steroids I can take to make me get instant results. Drawing just takes practice and patience and commitment and the more I do, the better I get, and the more I want to draw. Drawing depends on muscles too and if I don’t use them they atrophy quickly.  WIthin a couple of weeks of breaking my habit, my ability to draw well suffers enormously. Fortunately, picking up the pen brings those muscles back pretty quickly and they don’t forget all the have learned over the years.

There are incentives I can give myself to keep going eve if the monkey in my head urges me to just sleep in or watch TV. This blog is one of them and my desire to keep it a regular thing can push me to do a drawing when I feel lazy. But, no offense to you, my readers, that’s not really enough.  Writing books is another one; if I have a deadline I have no choice but to fill the pages.  The same goes for presentations and speeches.

But the best incentive is art. Going to a museum. Rereading a great book on illustrated journaling or watercoloring. Spending some time with the work of artists I love. Talking to an inspiring friend. Going back through a journal I filled years ago. 

Another carrot is to give myself an assignment. Like drawing every tree on my block, drawing the cars I’d like to drive, drawing from my collection of of mug shots, drawing what I am doing every hour for an entire day.The EDM list is another favorite, challenging prompts that get my gear rolling and make me want to start again. 

My journal is a forgiving companion. It doesn’t wonder where I’ve been or chastise me for the gaps in its pages. It always welcomes me back with open pages and I am grateful for its friendship. Just as exercise keeps me healthy and energized, so does keeping up my art. 

Soon I’ll be thin and wiry and rippling with new muscles. And the most developed ones of all will be in my right wrist and fingers, bulging as they choke the life out of my pen and squeeze every drop of its ink onto the page. Grrr! Aaargh! Grunt!