I contain multitudes

I am a wiry cowboy or maybe an ex-con, sideburned, sunburned, sheathed in jailhouse tats, wearing Dickies, Vitalis and Old Spice, a hand-roll dangling below my Fu-Manchu, stonily silent, a solid peckerwood who’s 1000-yard-staring through glacial blue eyes.
I am Robert DeNiro as Vito Corleone in Godfather II. Poised, determined, resourceful, lethal.
I am Aimee Mann: thin, blonde, beautiful; cynical, hilarious,profane; part angel, part construction worker.
I am Eminem.
I am Miles.
I am Tyson.
I am the Dalai Lama.
I am Jimi Hendrix: my fingers scrabbling and singing across the strings, my cheeks sucked in, my eyes closed, my shirt a riot of psychedelic paisley.
I am Steve McQueen, leaping the barbed wire fence into Switzerland on the back of a stolen German motorbike.
I am Francis Bacon.
I am Warren Buffett.
I am Jesus Christ.
I am Keith Richards: kohl eyes, turtle skin, brown bony arms gripping my axe.
I am Curtis, holding a piece of cardboard and a cup on Sixth Avenue.
I am Vincent in the wheat field.
I am Arnold, winning Mr. Olympia yet again.
I am Henry Miller, fingering in Clichy, scribbling in Brooklyn.
I am Dy Thomas, blowing a fag end into a BBC mike.
I am a spotty fourteen-year-old with a meager moustache.
I am a bloated middle-aged bald man.
I am a corpse.
I am Chas Eames.
I am Dick Feynman.
I am Wally Whitman.

Last night I was thinking about how hard it is to stay in my own skin. Maybe that’s the way art is supposed to make you feel, to catapult you into another aspect of yourself and let you dwell there a while. Or maybe that’s just what it is to be human and to try to live an examined life.
I’m reacting intensely to all of the things I am going through right now, all of the different audiences I seem to be strutting past. I want to’ be me’, to express that me-ness, and yet it is so varied, so contradictory. There’s me as husband, father, son, and brother. Illustrator, author, blogger, copywriter, professional, and novice. Teacher, student, know-it-all, and idiot. Ad guy, art-guy, ugly American guy, and Registered Alien. Jew, Christian, Buddhist, and atheist. Hermit, tireless self-promoter, success, and failure.
It’s not really that I’m seeking the answer any more. My adolescence is so far behind me, and I have worn out my allotment of mid-life crises. It’s more that I’m perpetually restless, only temporarily satisfied with every conclusion.
Perhaps this is the biological imperative that moves successful organisms towards adaptation and evolution. Those who are content to keep chowing down on a certain kind of leaf or to hang out by a certain waterhole are secure … until the shit comes down. Then it’s only those shifty, scuttling rodents in the undergrowth that make it to the next level. We are the descendants of every successful shape shifter there’s been till now, the freakiest of all mutated freaks, and these days, as the shit comes down more heavily than ever, only the unsatisfiable will survive. So perhaps I’m working my way up to missing linkhood.
Or maybe I’ll just be the first lemming off the cliff.
Or worse yet, somewhere lost in the middle of the herd.

The Way

5th-ave-and-16thI was talking to my friend S. last night while Patti cooked salmon. It’s been a while since we’ve gotten together. S. is a lawyer but he works in the entertainment industry and his boyfriend is a composer so S. is always surounded by others’ art. For the past decade or more, S. has been talking about changing his life so he could do something more creative.
Last night he told me he had hired a career coach to help guide him in a new direction. When S. told him his personal narrative, the coach pointed out how much of S’s story was intertwined with the opinions of others. S. wants to be a good boy but is afraid that doing something creative will jeopardize the opinion others have of him. It’s a familiar story.
One of the suggestions I made to S. was that he buy a copy of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Everyone has heard of this book and many people own unread copies. I’m not much of a self-help book kind of guy but I can say, without equivocation, that the contents of this book changed my life. The cornerstone of the program are the Morning Pages, a discipline that requires you, almost immediately after waking each day, to fill three pages with whatever words come in to your mind. These words are not meant to be read by anyone, not even by you. Yet they give you a chance to skim the crapoff your mind, the doubt and self loathing, the apprehensions and obstacles, and begin each day with a creative act.
I take issue with parts of the book. I think it assumes too much that most people had lousy, oppressive childhoods that sapped the creativity out of them and forces the reader to confront these issues, whether they are central or not. I think it also assumes too much that one’s goal is to become a professional creative person, rather than just infusing one’s life with art. But these are small caveats and so I urge the book on many people.

Almost none of them take me up on it.

My mum did. Like me she has gone through the course several times on her own. Since incorporating the program into her life, she has moved away from here market research business and written a screenplay, a novel, a memoir, and created her wonderful art form, Leafages. She has been invited to speak to many groups on creativity, had one woman and group shows, and her work sells from coast to coast. She even teaches a workshop on The Artist’s Way in her home, spreading the truth that anyone can become more creative to others.
I am not, as a rule, a joiner. Nor am I a believer in much. So please take what I say with a healthy dose of salt. Still, whether you begin this program or another or invent one for yourself, I’m fairly certain that you will find that when you give yourself permission to be creative, your life will change. You will either leave or transform your job. You will open yourself up to new people. You will develop new relationships. You will find that serendipity plays a very active role in your life. You will worry less and appreciate the universe more. You may not lose weight but you’ll enjoy food more. Your body may not look better but your taste in clothing will improve. You may not become wealthier but money will matter less. You may not improve your health but each day will matter more.
As for S., he’s a very nice man, enormously intelligent, and I’m sure his brain will eventually grant him permission to find his calling. As the Buddha said, “There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the Way.”