Ten years before, I was a 20-year-old college kid with barely a worry on my mind. I was absorbed in the learning, new experiences, and…well…the self-absorption that often goes along with being 20 and a college kid. I was having the time of my life.
Ten years after, I am a 40-year-old Dad, happily married, some semblance of a career, and two (mostly) happy, healthy daughters. My life is full and fortunate, even as I can get consumed by the weight of my responsibilities, and occasionally long for the opportunity to be self-absorbed again. I am having the time of my life.
The temporal fulcrum for these reflections is my Dad’s suicide. I was 30, and, candidly, don’t remember much about my life at that time – at least for a year or so. It’s all a bit scrambled. (I have written more about my experiences in previous blogs.)
As I reflect this year, however, 10 years out, I am drawn to the memory that we often celebrated my Dad’s birthday by watching the Nashville marathon, which happens to run right by our house. It’s always within a few days of his birthday. We aren’t a “running” family, but we would gather a blanket and some food and have a picnic in celebration of Dad and in awe and inspiration of the runners who passed us, roughly 20 miles in.
This late in the race, some runners are still cruising along just fine, but others are hitting a wall. You can see the stress on their faces. You can see bodies slowly breaking. Some are even bleeding. You wonder where they are going in their minds to overcome the trauma of their bodies. You wonder how they will ever make it to the finish line. And yet, most of them do, in fact, in one way or another, make it to the finish line.
10 years. 20 miles.
In remembering my Dad, in living with suicide, I can take cues from these runners. Indeed, I have to run my own marathon (we all do). At times, I have relied on my body to take me places when my mind and my heart would go nowhere. At other times, I have relied on my mind to transcend when the trauma invaded my muscles and bones. But, like these runners, I keep going, keep running (hopefully toward my life and not away from it). Sometimes cruising; sometimes struggling.
10 years from now, I will hopefully still be running this marathon. My pace may change. The mental and physical tools I rely on may evolve. But, I will be running. There is no other choice. I want no other choice.
I will be 50. It will be the time of my life.
excerpted from Creating Matters: Reflections on Art, Business, and Life (so far)
Sometimes our “finished” work can actually be what prevents us from creating new work. We get stuck. We stop listening. We stop learning. As artists and creators, we often believe our work is inherently precious and valuable and meaningful because…well… it is to us. Well, it’s not. And, thinking so is a trap and counter to the idea of the creative process.
The most important lesson I learned as a developing artist was accidental, and if I hadn’t been forced into it, I would have almost certainly continued to hang on to my every “masterpiece.”
I had never built anything. I had never worked in a woodshop. I don’t measure things particularly well, and don’t pay that much attention to detail. So, building things was not exactly in my creative wheelhouse. So, of course, when I decided to build something in my first sculpture class, I went big. I’ll spare you the details of my early efforts at conceptual art, but the piece did make it into the student show!
Enter ego: Yes, I am Artist. Brilliance. Can you feel that!?
I went home for the summer while the Student Show wrapped up and when I came back, there was my masterpiece, sitting in the hallway. As I stood looking at it, one of my teachers approached and said: “You have to get that out of here.”
Apparently, everyone didn’t feel it should be a permanent installation in the studio hallway. And, apparently, it didn’t fit through any doorways I could reasonably get to. Hmm…what to do!?
The answer was back in the sculpture studio, where it all began…and, it was a “saws-all”. After the initial horror of the thought of destroying my piece, I plugged in the saw and gingerly started to cut. Within moments, I must have looked like the artist version of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I ripped that thing to pieces…sawing…splintering…crashing…cutting…and almost certainly bleeding.
And, in the final act of destruction, I dragged my masterpiece piece-by-piece outside and slung it over the side of the dumpster. Holy crap that felt good. It was humbling…and then completely liberating!
I have created more freely since that day.
Fast forward fifteen years or so, and I was helping start Zeumo. While we were still struggling to get distribution in a number of large school districts, we were presented with a new opportunity: “We need this kind of app in hospitals.”
We were failing slowly in education and had to be humble enough to acknowledge it. We also had to have the courage to try something else, to keep iterating. Long story short, we seized the opportunity and, having invested countless hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars with a vision for helping high school students, we took the proverbial saws-all to the education app.
Humility is not about accepting loss or defeat. Humility is about owning the process of exploration and finding the strength and energy to keep doing it. It’s about putting failure in its proper place in our art and in our lives – right at the heart of what we are creating.