How to live forever.

If we want to understand what our earliest ancestors were like, our best evidence are the paintings they left deep in the caves of Southern Europe. When we think of Ancient Egypt, we see the paintings anonymous artisans made on sarcophagi, grand sculptures like the Sphinx, monuments like the Great Pyramids at Giza. The Greeks and Romans are represented by marble statues and architecture too. The Medici, all-powerful merchants live on, long after their last pennies were spent, as sponsors of da Vinci and Raphael. Popes like Julius and Leo, who led armies and converted millions, are instead remembered by Michelangelo’s creations.

And when our civilization is over, what will represent us to the future? When every company on the Fortune 500 has vanished, when the borders of all the world’s nations have been redrawn a hundred times, when our glass and steel towers have tumbled, when hard drives have been wiped and silicon decayed, what will stand as our legacy? Will it be our wars, our laws, our economy? Or will it be Walt Whitman, Bob Dylan and George Lucas?

When I visited the Jewish Museum on Prague and saw all those pencil drawings by children long since consigned to the pyres of Auschwitz, I felt their spirits, felt them enter and inhabit me, felt them live on through those faint marks on paper. Hitler should have been more diligent in burning those drawings too, if he was so hellbent on wiping those children from the earth.

When I think of my grandparents, I don’t think of their success as doctors, their accumulated capital, their role in their community — I think of my grandmother’s garden, designed to look like a Persian carpet, her roses, her topiary of a peacock, her frangipani trees and her cacti. I think of my grandfather’s short stories about his childhood in the stetls of Poland and his experiences in post-partition Pakistan, all written painstakingly at his walnut desk in a cloud of pipe smoke, then hand-bound between shirt cardboards.

My grandfather would have been 106 this week. His body is under Mount Olives in Jerusalem. His house is occupied by strangers. His friends and siblings are but dust. But his stories live on in the archives of the Leo Baeck Institute.

Long after your will has been executed, your real estate dispersed, your Instagram feed expunged, the drawings you make, the recipes you write down, those are the things that will keep your spirit alive.

Art is our way to immortality. Long after your will has been executed, your real estate dispersed, your Instagram feed expunged, the drawings you make, the recipes you write down, those are the things that will keep your spirit alive. Your illustrated journals, records of what you did and experienced and felt, they will be your mark on this earth.

Make sure your family understands that your art is you. It is not to be consigned to eBay or the dump. It is the most precious part of your legacy and it should live on.

Oh, and make sure that the monkey doesn’t prevent you from making those pages, from creating the art that will keep your spirit alive. Don’t kill your memories before they can be born. Be brave, be creative, rock on.

20 thoughts on “How to live forever.”

  1. Draw on… and use archival ink and paper… I treasure my grandmother’s journals, she didn’t draw but her writings, about her daily life, her shopping lists and things to do lists bring me closer to her, and I remember seeing her write in her books when I was little.

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  2. This has been and continues to be my hope. That my children and grandchildren will see the “memory value” in my art journals. One can hope. I treasure the day my eldest granddaughter at 20, looking at one of them said “grandma, this is like reading a book!”
    How wonderful that you got to see the children’s art in the concentration camp! That it’s still there. That they left their marks!
    Thank you for sharing your history with us.
    I love knowing you.

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  3. True words. Hopefully, by the end of the month, I will have completed 1,000 paintings since I re-started my art career in 2004. The majority of the paintings are “out there” in the world, now, but many are still in my studio, waiting for their time to come. My family understands how much my art means to me and that my wish is for it to be kept alive when I’m no longer aorund. Many people may not know, but if you share your art on your Facebook page, you can designate a person as a Legacy guardian, to keep your page active in perpetuity. That’s a little bit of cyber-immortality that is free.

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  4. Danny, this post came just in time, you’re right !!! – but also – unfortunately – the MONKEY is around me these days all the time. This bloody bastard shows me its tongue yelling: “STOP your useless drawings, nobody will care about this and YOU either!” – 😦
    What does this mean? Could it be that monkeys love the “November mood”??? – I HATE this hairy, stinky bastard! Ugh! – Matthias

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  5. Just brilliant and something I must do and not procrastinate about any longer. As we grow older, but feel young, we are apt to put this work off or is it just that wretched monkey again!! Am I just waiting for you, Danny Gregory, and your book to tell me how to get rid of it etc etc….

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  6. It’s interesting to contemplate my journals as my legacy. The act itself of recording my life is reassuring and enjoyable, sometimes it feels like something I have to do. I like to think of someone enjoying them in the future- laughing and maybe feeling as if they are a kindred spirit. Maybe they look at a particularly good entry and go YES! That is it, because they felt or experienced the same… Maybe in the art, literature, music and philosophy I celebrate in there, someone may find something they will love as well: an artist, musician, a spiritual path. Either way, I’ll be far gone, buried upside-down maybe.

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  7. Danny….I think this is the best post you have ever written. That those drawings of children from the Holocaust still exist is like hearing their voices. I will save this post and reread it often.

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  8. Wonderful! I’ve told my kids that my journal is for them to read. I’ve tried to pass along some wisdom and memories. I’ve kept much of their childhood art, as well as my sketchbooks and placed notes where they will find them. They know art and writing are part of who I am. We expect to spend eternity together in heaven, so I’m not interested in these things lasting forever. But I do think they may give them a boost as they go through the rest of this life. You’re an inspiration. Keep on keeping on.

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