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See that guy in the desert?
Ok. Not really. I honestly just liked the image.
My calendar, the one in my kitchen with the Hubble photos, the stars, and the big, red, fiery galaxy, says today is April something or other. The year 2020. It suggests today rests in the heart of spring. That, today being a weekday, I should be off at my corporate day-job, and that instead of sitting in the quiet gloom of my peaceful little house, I should be pounding my life away in a turbulent office, selling machines to men I’ve never met.
I’m here. At home. Working. Writing. Painting. Listening to the birds. Watching my cat, Bacon, scale the woodshed. Waiting for my son to thump down the stairs and ask for his morning breakfast of apples and Cocoa Pebbles.
I gotta say…
This isn’t how I expected this year to begin.
And honestly, I’m torn about how it’s going. Like a piece of paper. Right down the middle. Half a sheet wants the quarantine to end tomorrow (but not for life to return to normal.) The other half wants this situation, this peace, to last…forever.
I should probably explain.
Part I – The Day Job
You see…it’s like this. The corporate life I described, the selling of industrial machines…it’s been my life for twenty years now. Every day, I abandon (I mean, used to abandon) the comforts of my little house to journey across a major city, drop my son off at school, snare meals when I could, and park my butt in the same chair in the same office, doing the exact same work I’ve always done.
Soulless work, as it happens.
Machines. Metal. Money.
Easily performed from the comfort of my kitchen? Absolutely.
And so now I ponder…
All the years I’ve put in, all the hours in traffic, all the money thrown toward fuel, meals on the go, daycare, school…
All the time lost, the driving, the wear and tear on my trusty car, the exhaustion, the working all day just to collapse in a heap and do it all over the next day…
Because of Coronavirus, because of a disease which has disrupted the flow of everything, suddenly I’m awake. I’m alive. I’m breathing. I’m at home, doing my work in a pool of sunshine, dressed comfortably, glancing out the window at a car I haven’t had to refuel in a month, peering over at my son as he merrily reads his first Tolkien novel – The Hobbit.
Again…this is not what I expected.
As I sit here, basking in soft music, I ask myself – what have I been doing all these years? Why, if I could’ve been doing this work at home (I could have…and been far more productive than while in a distant office) have I garbage-canned two decades of life? Why have any of us, with our wifi, laptop computers, and cell phones, played this absurd game?
I don’t have the answers.
But I do know this:
Now, instead of arriving home after dark every night, a hungry child in tow, an empty bank account, my gas tank on ‘E’, and my shoulders sagging…
To be fair, I’ve always painted. Always. On weekends. During holidays. I took entire vacation weeks, not to leave the house for a sandy beach, but to lock myself indoors and make art. Or write books. Or both.
And now, I paint every day. Without losing hours to a daily commute, I’m free to step away from my corporate work at day’s end and immediately begin creating. Suddenly, what was once weekend adventuring has become my primary source of everything. Income. Happiness. Stress relief. Freedom. I’ve regained a huge chunk of my life. I feel alive.
…because of Coronavirus.
Yes, that same thing which has killed tens of thousands, that disease which fills the supermarkets with Coronazombies, has somehow become a boon to me. And that’s a little messed up, isn’t it? That I should experience a renaissance while thousands of others are struggling. That I should be at peace while my neighbors just up the street can’t pay their mortgage.
A better man might feel guilty. He might look at himself in the mirror and say, “Your peace of mind comes at the price of others’ pain.”
But I don’t have it in me. I can’t feel guilt for no longer wanting to participate in the corporate merry-go-round of work-sleep-work. If I could (and I may yet find a way) I would give a portion of my pay to those who actually need to go into work. To the builders. The makers. The laborers. They should make more. And maybe when this is over, they will. But for me, who can literally do my work while loincloth-clad and sitting atop a grassy hill in the middle of nowhere, I question the whole point of offices. Of cubicles. Of traffic. Of executives flying across the world every day…when the meeting could’ve just been an email.
And I’m grateful to, at least for the moment, have escaped it.
I’m just sorry it took a pandemic to make this possible.
Part II – Love Distance Love
In case I made it seem like it’s all strawberries and cream, allow me to elucidate.
There’s a girl, you see.
And she lives 770 miles away.
It’s how life goes, isn’t it? For every see there’s a saw. For every up, a down. In this case, for as fortunate as I’ve been to awaken to a better life because of the quarantine, I’ve been unlucky in this crucial way.
I have no way of seeing the love of my life.
For many reasons, it’s impossible right now. Her city and mine have enforced rigorous lockdowns. We both have children who need us to stay put. While I’m locked away in artistic hermitude with my one son, she’s virtually imprisoned with her entire family, seven people, in a small rural household.
In the best of times, long-distance love is hard. Actually, hard isn’t the word. I prefer the term ‘routinely heartbreaking.’ The one person I want to see more than any other (my son notwithstanding) is the one person I can’t get to. Folks online wisecrack that their marriages might not endure the quarantine, that they might go insane spending all day with their spouse, their kids, their domestic life…and here I am, wishing I could just have a few hours, a few days, a quick break in the fabric of Corona-tude in which to hold hands with my love.
So for all my pontificating about how legendarily wonderful it is to have escaped corporate servitude, I’m torn. Like paper. In half.
With the pandemic, I’m free to live, to breathe, to exist outside the wasteful and traffic-riddled rituals of office life.
But with the quarantine, I can’t do the one thing I most desire.
I can’t look her in the eyes. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not likely for a long, long while.
I used to joke with her that we were like a military couple. One of us would get a moment’s leave from our batallion and use it to spend a few days with the other. But now it feels like a war has broken out, and that the best we can do is to write each other letters from distant battlefields. Words on a page, photos on a phone…they’re quite lovely, yet hardly a substitute for a moonlit walk, a kiss, or a shared meal.
First-world problems, right? That’s what I tell myself. People are out there struggling to pay their bills, mourning the loss of loved ones, and dying…and I’m sitting here in shorts, working from the most pleasant office in the world, soaking up the morning sun.
But even so…
…this strange balance of good fortune and heart-rending separation…
…I won’t say it’s easy.
Part III – Artistic Liberation
Ultimately, all this time alone might be accidentally ideal.
If I can’t yet see my girl, and if corporate life doesn’t have to be its typically grueling thing for the moment, I have but one choice…
More than ever before.
It’s been three weeks so far. Three weeks of isolation from everyone in the world except an eight-year old boy (who, much to my amazement, is a quiet, thoughtful bookworm.)
Three weeks of artistic hermitude.
And it promises to last a while longer.
While the world ruminates, and while everyone who’s not me craves a swift return to normal societal life (‘Why?’ I would ask) I’ve essentially started an art commune. In my kitchen and garage. For one. Paintings are flying off my brush, and flying off my walls. Thank goodness for art-lovers, collectors, and people who support local business. With their support, I’ve reached a joyous place.
I get to create.
I get to support myself with my creations.
I get to improve my craft, and enjoy the sort of peace I haven’t felt since…ever.
When corporate life reboots (And being the capitalistic nature of America, it will) I won’t have to go back. I’ll have a choice. With the strange set of circumstances surrounding Coronavirus, and the partial crumbling of yesteryear’s surprisingly fragile economy, I’ve been impossibly fortunate. I’m as grateful as one human can be. I also feel a sense of great responsibility, not to rest on my laurels and soak up the freedom, but to work harder than ever. To paint more. To write better books. To educate my son without indoctrinating him. To make no waste. To leave a tiny footprint (carbon or otherwise) on the world.
To both thrive and honor this existence.
Yes, maybe I am the guy in the desert. Maybe I really am striding alone atop a sandy dune.
But it’s ok.
Despite everything, I count myself as one of the luckiest guys in the universe.
However, if anyone wants to kidnap my girl and bring her to me, the first ten paintings are free…
Stay safe out there.
Join my one-man art commune here.
MARCH 16TH – MARCH 26TH
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It’s 11:30 PM on a Monday night. The wind howls against my glass-paneled door. The branches of an old oak scrape against the roof. A little black cat named Bacon makes figure-eights around my ankles.
My concentration never breaks.
I’m in a zone, and nothing in the world can touch me.
It’s on nights like these, with a glass of scotch in hand and a Hans Zimmer soundtrack thrumming, I’m happiest. My rickety wooden easel stands before me, and my paintbrush flies. I can’t quite remember the exact moment I decided to start making art again. As a kid and a teenager, I’d done the same, but many years have passed since then. I’d almost forgotten what it feels like to shut the world out and make pictures.
What am I doing here?
Recapturing my youth?
Striving to be the next Van Gogh or modern-day Michelangelo?
Gunning for likes on Facebook?
Nope. None of these.
The music drops off into a somber violin piece. It’s something by Olafur Arnalds. I’ve just messed up while drawing the curve of a woman’s lower lip, and my eraser is on the move. Lower lips are hard sometimes, especially when drawing them from a side-view perspective. But I’ll get it right. Another sip of Balvenie, and I’ve fixed it. Instead of pouty, she looks deadly serious. Just wait til I add her horns:
I don’t have to do art. I want to. I do it because I love it, I think. But sometimes, just sometimes, I feel like an imposter. I’m not classically trained. I don’t have a specific job in the field. No one will ever ask me to illustrate their comic book, draw their company logo, or paint a portrait of their dog. It’s a good thing, too. Commissions can mean big money for some artists, but I just can’t do it. I can’t. I paint what I want to paint. If that’s not good enough, so be it.
And I definitely don’t want to paint someone’s dog.
It’s late now. Late, late. My kid, the G Man, has curled up on the couch and fallen asleep with his favorite book in hand. It’s a Calvin & Hobbes anthology. Everyone’s kid should read it. The art is neat, Calvin is hilarious, and there’s a bit of philosophy paired with every little panel. Bill Watterson (Calvin & Hobbes’ creator) is pretty much a genius. With a few pen strokes and splash of philosophy, he’s made his art come alive. He fills a need we didn’t even know we had.
And maybe that’s why I’m painting. To satisfy some philosophical need. To ponder my existence while I paint. To separate myself from the world so completely that nothing else exists besides my tiny atmosphere of music, liquor, and art.
My phone is silent. I don’t want to hear it ring…or even vibrate. The world can go ahead and end. I’ll be happy if I’m the last to know.
I don’t have cable TV, satellite, or Netflix. I don’t want to consume everyone else’s creativity. I need to embrace my own.
I’m tired. I’m tipsy. The bones in my hands sing with pain from pounding on a punching bag earlier in the day.
But my paintbrush is steady.
Truth is, when I decided to start creating again, art wasn’t my first choice. Some thousand years ago – or maybe it was only fifteen – I decided the best way to escape was to write books. Long books. Sloppy existential fantasy books no one would actually want to read. If I’m honest, I did it to escape my marriage. My life. My responsibilities. Everything.
But writing didn’t bring me peace. Turns out, while making words is great for the mind, it tends to injure the soul. Long stretches of solitude tucked away in a black room can unsettle even the most steadfast heart. And the time commitment, often several months for even the most pedestrian-length book, is all-consuming. It hurts. Sometimes a lot.
Art, on the other hand…
In a few hours, one can draw something beautiful. And one can be at utter peace while doing so.
Given a full night, an artist can conceive a surreal world and splash it onto a canvas. While sipping wine, listening to music, and carrying on a rich conversation with anyone in the room.
And in a week…well…
Art can be whatever its maker desires. It’s a quick commitment, short and satisfying. It’s a month-long project, with each session bringing a creator visibly closer to the ecstasy of completion. It’s a study of pencil strokes, the movement of watercolor across paper, or the feel of broad lashes of a brush thick with scarlet paint.
I’m no fan of poetry. At least not the kind that uses words. But perhaps art is poetry of another kind. The poetry of motion. The passion of turning shapeless blobs of paint into visible, touchable emotion.
Ages ago, I paired with a fellow artist to create things I’d have never thought of on my own. It’s just another reason making art is sometimes a more powerful elixir for one’s self than writing literature. Writing or painting by oneself can be self-restricting. It can lead one to fall into a creative vacuum.
But art made in the company of other artists…it’s like a conversation in a crowded room. It’s fluid. It allows ideas to flow uninhibited. If you’ve never tried it, invite your friends over to paint with you. Pour something delicious into a glass, silence your phones, set Spotify to random, and fall into your art together. Doesn’t matter how seriously you take it. Chances are, you’ll feel all your stresses melt away.
Maybe that’s the reason. Maybe…
Melting the world, escaping into a 16″ x 20″ piece of stretched canvas, forgetting about your pain, your job, your mortgage. Maybe it’s not about the actual art, but the catharsis. The quick creation of worlds more appealing than our own. Or the exorcism of our fears by painting something terrifying…and realizing our imaginations are more powerful than reality.
It’s morning now. I’m crawling out of bed, and I’m slow to greet the world. My head hurts, my knuckles are sore, and it’s cold in here.
I don’t really want to wake up.
But I know if I do, there’s a canvas downstairs awaiting me. It’s blank and ready to be filled with shadows.
Once I pick up my favorite brush, I’ll be hooked. The sun will rise, the music will play, and I’ll fall away from this world.
…and into my own.