“I must now go a long way… I must face a fight that I have not faced before. And I must go on a road that I do not know.”—Gilgamesh, Tablet III, 2100 B.C.
“You don’t wanna stay on your farm in Kansas forever and sing that same song over and over to the animals that don’t pay you any attention.”—John Waters on the message of The Wizard of Oz
Roads and doors keep appearing among the 200+ oil paintings I plan to sell in under 2 weeks at over 50% off in my Etsy store before putting what remains of my stuff in storage and starting my year-long life experiment in traveling and making art.
Roads and doors are journey symbols.
Please help me sell all my art in a few weeks to follow my dreams by buying some paintings, and consider also donating to the Wounded Warrior Project for Armed Forces Day (which was Sat.) and Memorial Day coming up next Monday. Warriors are journeyers, too.
There’s something about roads.
There was a time in my life when that thing was fear.
Statistically speaking, driving is a much greater threat to American lives than terrorism. Every time you drive a two-lane road, your life is literally depending on a stranger staying on one side of an arbitrary yellow line.
Roads depend on trust.
At some point, I got over the fear and drove alone from LA to Boston, camping along the way and taking the photos that became this painting series.
Freedom of movement is internal as much as it is external. That’s why Americans don’t just drive for work and adventure. We drive for freedom—although the environmental costs of the habit threaten our security.
We also move around more than people from and in other countries. This reflects an internalization of our freedom of movement. What is legal and infrastructural becomes mental and emotional. We can move.
Moving is supposed to be a major life stressor, like divorce or loss. But we opt into that stress a lot. Maybe because we intuitively sense that not all stress is bad. Stressing muscles is the best way to strengthen them. Moving into fear is the best way to overcome it. Trying new things before you know how to do them is the best way to learn.
Roads represent all those things. Faith in oneself at the wheel—and other people at their own. Forward progress that builds. Navigating the new. And discovery of the unknown, or at least the unknown to us.
Like roads, doors are really rich symbols with lots of journey associations.
The doors that I couldn’t stop painting this fall and winter similarly celebrate faith, change, and the unknown.
The first one in this series, “Door of Light,” built on the images of the smiling face of truth I wrote about last week.
The series also integrates the symbol of the trust dandelion that I had been painting and writing about, building on Cory Doctorow’s writing on information and network phenomena. As i see it, trust is a somewhat unique entity because it sits at the intersection of emotion (we feel trusting or untrusting) and information (we trust based on information, and transmit information about who to trust to others, usually based on personal interaction). Trust moves along social networks like other forms of emotion and information, in a pattern that looks like a dandelion.
As you can see better in the darkness, the trust dandelion on one side of the door frame and the bullseye of science—that is but one eye on the smiling face of truth—hold up the door.
Meanwhile the light of the world creeps under the closed and locked door.
That light is faith. It might be secular—faith in the fragile human goodness of ourselves, others, and the world. It might be religious.
For me it’s religious, and the religious experience my faith stems from includes the gift of this great joke. I had a dream while I was painting this series about the door of light in the darkness, closed and locked tight. The light of the world creeps in gently underneath. Even though, as it turns out, all the locks are on the wrong side.
I think that’s what goodness in the world is like when we trust. We unlock goodness in other people they were just waiting to have recognized.
And anyway believing that makes things more fun.
Journeys and Fights
On National Armed Forced Day this weekend I thought about the veterans in my family. One of my grandfathers joined the Navy illegally at 17 to fight in World War II after Pearl Harbor. The other joined the Communist International to illegally fight Franco and fascism in Spain before the U.S. joined the fight.
Some journeys—like my grandfathers’ when they were young—are fights. Every fight is a journey. But is every journey a fight?
There is conflict in every journey, in every story. But I don’t think every journey is a fight.
A fight is a frame—a particular metaphor we can use to tell a story. You can pick a different metaphor, and it’ll change the way you think. What you believe, and so how you feel, what you perceive, and how you act. You can tell a story of fight, or a story of adventure and learning, about any conflict. “Good Morning Vietnam” isn’t a fight story. It’s story about the power of humor, music, speaking truth to power, and valuing people as people, not as means or ends.
Sometimes I think I need to have a better mission than traveling and making art—a cause, goal, budget, timetable, and the other components of a grant proposal that I’ve had for my life for as long as I can remember.
Then I remember the rules of the road. The year-long life experiment on which I’m about to embark is in part about simplifying. I don’t need a grand plan. I don’t need a mission. I just need to show up to life. The poetry and paintings, amazing human connections, and other forms of magic seem to happen on their own when I do that. It’s how I wound up singing my own songs on the streets of Mexico City last month despite having never busked, been to Mexico, or sang all that in front of another human being in real life before.
I don’t seem to make hardly any money doing any of this yet. And I’m on that like it’s a problem. Come to think of it, that is a problem.
But it’s also what I’m supposed to be doing. So I’ll do it like I mean it and we’ll see what happens.
I have an incredible degree of freedom in how I live my life. It’s probably unprecedented in human history. I can move freely about the cabin of the world using planes and trains, sell products and services globally using the Internet and phones, and do it all cheaply enough to still have money (or credit) to buy paint now and then.
The sacrifices made by people like the grandfathers I didn’t know—and countless other men and women fighting countless wars—gave us this freedom. So I donated to the Wounded Warrior Project this weekend and lit a candle in honor of all our ancestor fighters and travelers who took new roads and opened doors so we could be alive on the face the earth today. As Maya Angelou once asked an angry Tupac Shakur, having no idea who he was: “When was the last time anyone told you how important you are? Did you know our people stood on auction blocks and were sold—bought and sold so you could stay alive today?”