Father’s Day

boothHow do you convey what it is to feel pride in your child? It makes one’s own accomplishments pale. Because it is your doing — and so much more.
It is the sum of the love and work you put in over the years, the lost sleep, the dilemmas, the improvisation, the fear that your own failings would leave scars. And it is a second chance at your own life, a do-over that lets you rewrite the decisions you came to regret. It is the high road.
But of course it’s not so simple. A child is not a puppet to toe a well-laid plan. Every child has her own intentions, his own hopes and flaws. And yet when things turn out well, when they amaze, there is no height more exhilarating.
I grew up without a dad and had to write my own handbook. And becoming a father was a scary business at the start. Every setback seemed so high stakes, so unutterably bleak. But I was fortunate to have a boy who rarely disappointed or scared us. Quite the contrary. And now I feel him pass me on the track, surging ahead to make his own brighter mark. For what more could I hope?
Being a father is a dance — step forward, step back; lead, follow; hold, then let go. You are investing your all in a person who is destined to fly away and then (you pray) to return.
And the stakes of that dance are so high. Of all the jobs you can fail at, none is more significant than being a parent. And we all fail. How we dance back from that brink is a test of our mettle and our ultimate effect on the world to come.
When your child is suffering or lost, there is no deeper fear or sharper pain. ‘Take me instead,’ you inevitably say. Because only parenthood reveals the awesome power of unconditional love, of how much even your feeble heart is capable of.

Another human that makes us more so.

Non-stop.

 

plane-interior

I’m writing this on a plane. I write a lot of things on a lot of planes. I write from coast to coast, six hours at a time, seat back up, tray table down. I don’t mean to write. But sitting in one position for six hours with no escape focusses my brain. I just peck something out, close my iPad, think about watching an Adam Sandler movie, then an idea drifts by on a cloud, I pick up my iPad again and write something else instead.

I told Jenny I want to get a plane seat to put in my studio so I can be more productive and wonder if she’d mind coming by every now and then with some Bloody Mary mix and peanuts.

I’d better go, we’re about to land. Now if only I could remember where.

Master of None.

Scan 7

I have always been a dabbler. I have tried so many things, thrilled at the initial excitement of learning a new skill.
Here’s a partial list.
In high school, I learned the basics of how to write computer programs in BASIC. I sort of learned to solder electrical circuits, to make picture frames, to throw pots, to weave, to make silver jewelry and cloisonné.  I formed a Marx and Engels study circle after school. I learned the rudiments of playing the banjo, the piano, the saxophone, the harmonica, the electric guitar and the vibes. I acted in plays and directed them too.
In my twenties, I learned about cooking, photography, carpentry, and construction.
In my thirties, I learned to bind books, to screen print, to ballroom dance, to lift weights, to edit film, to design books, to get around a golf course, and to change diapers.
In my forties, I learned to watercolor, to use a dip pen, to podcast, to properly pack a suitcase, to write in HTML, to use a DSLR, and to make ice cream.
So far in my fifties, I have dabbled in barbecuing, painting in acrylics, gardening, entrepreneurialism, and driving properly.

Despite all this dabbling, I am not especially good at any of these things. I am not an expert, not even particularly skilled. (I can sound like I am which can be useful to dinner parties, allowing me to find common interest with almost anyone, except rabid hockey fans.) And yet there is still an enormous attraction to me in learning something new, in going to YouTube to research instructional videos, in buying specialized equipment, in delighting at those first glimmers of ability.
Some of the skills I have tried to pick up seem like they could transform my life. Many just seem interesting. And many turn out to be a lot harder than I thought, frustrating me until I throw down my banjo in disgust, and wander away, beating myself up at another failure.
But I don’t regret being a dilettante. I think far-ranging curiosity is key to a creative mind. Though recently, I’ve wondered if I need to cool it and stay on track. Time seems to be finite and it’s better to refine what I know.
But then again, I’ve always wanted to try my hand at lithography. And boxing. And After Effects, Oh, and the ukelele. Yeah, the ukelele.

Building Castles.

castle1

I first heard about James Castle at the Outsider Art Fair on Houston Street almost twenty years ago.
A gallerist told me a story that lodged in my brain, one of those stories that I may have misheard and embellished but still seems so touching and relatable that most of it had to be true.
The story was that James was a deaf mute who one day started to make art. He lived on a tiny farm in a remote part of Idaho and knew nothing of the Art world beyond. He taught himself to make art, using home made art supplies. He would draw on any piece of cardboard that came to hand — many of my favorite pieces were on the backs of unfolded ice cream cartons. He made his own ink, mixing soot from the wood stove with his own spittle. He soaked the pigment out of crepe paper to add color to his paintings. He drew with sharpened sticks.
What I remember most vividly about James’s story was his subject matter. Profoundly deaf and unable to use sign language, James lived his whole life with his family, subsistence farmers who barely got by. And so James compulsively drew houses, dream houses, big and small, making hundreds of paintings and drawings of the houses he saw and the ones he imagined.
One day, James’ nephew came to visit. Bob worked at an art school in Oregon and recognized the genius of James’ house drawings. Soon the Castles were overwhelmed by offers to stage exhibits and to buy the art. The family finally had enough money to build James his own little house on the property.
As soon as the house was completed and James moved in, he never made paintings of houses again. His work was done.

Art has that power for me too — not to create real estate perhaps, but to focus me on what’s really important. To communicate with those parts deep inside me that don’t have a voice. To take that yearning and draw it out.
In my case, it’s not as simple as just wish fulfillment. It’s a barometer on how I feel, my degree of confidence or of focus. It shows me the value of what I have, the wonders of my city, the treasures in my home, the beauty of the people who fill my life.  It puts a beautiful gilt frame around the things I have been too distracted to see.
Drawing alone can clear a path through the fog and chaos and help me see what I truly want out of life.
But unlike James, my work will never be done. At least I hope not.