The day after my 63rd birthday is a bit of a melancholy one. I just heard that a long-time friend, one who is very close to people I love a lot, has 48 hours to live. He is 63.
The brilliant, gifted, funny, sensitive, lovely, at least as we’ve seen him from the outside, Robin Williams commits suicide today at the age of 63.
My father, who was not like Robin Williams, died at 63.
The news—well, never mind the real news—the financial news has all of us at the age of 63 focusing almost solely on retirement income. My inbox from AARP tempts me to keep my calculator handy– how many hours at how many dollars will it take to not worry. The financial advisor asks: “How long do you think you will live—let’s say 90….?” In the meantime the paints dance alone in the dark. I am not there to guide them. The poetry is silent. Will they stay that way? For how long? Ninety?
Then a day like the day after my 63rd birthday happens. And I feel the waste of so much time—so much focus on fear.
Last week in Ashland I saw the Stephen Sondheim Musical Into the Woods. “Into the woods to get the thing that makes it worth the journeying…..”
The Proustian message throughout that play is learn who you are. And you have to know what you want in order to do that. “But how can you know what you want till you get what you want and you see if you like it”?
”If you know what you want,
Then you go and you find it
And you get it –and you give and you take,
And you bid and you bargain,
Or you live to regret it….
Why you do what you do,
That’s the point,
All the rest of it is chatter.
If the thing you do is pure in intent,
If it’s meant, and it’s just a little bent,
Does it matter?
Into the woods–you have to grope,
But that’s the way you learn to cope.
Into the woods to find there’s hope
Of getting through the journey.
Into the woods, each time you go,
There’s more to learn of what you know……..
Ann called me this day after my 63rd birthday to ask me how many paintings I will have for the upcoming show that we’re all diving into again. Of course I hadn’t thought much about it (I’ve spent too much time with that damn calculator). But with the bum foot I thought- sure I’ll have some work ready. it’s a great opportunity to focus on painting and to work small. Then she said she’d put me down for five paintings!!! FIVE! What pressure–sweet pressure perhaps?
Exhibiting artwork is an opportunity to find an extension of self. (No, it is not about how to get your framing costs back.) Whether conscious or not, successful or not, resonate or not, your interests, your choices will lead to an accumulation of personal expression. Pay attention. You’re telling yourself about yourself all the time. Listen.
Allow yourself to be inspired by anything. But don’t choose until it excites. Then allow for change. If it’s scary, definitely pick it. “You decide what’s good…. out there in the wood.”
”Art is the triumph over chaos.” Writer, John Cheever.
To the point and in honor of Mr. Williams: “We’re not laying pipe! We’re talking about poetry. How can you describe poetry like American Bandstand?….Poetry, Beauty, romance love, these are what we stay alive for …. ‘That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse— That the powerful play goes on and You may contribute a verse.’ What will your verse be? John Keating (Robin Williams, quoting Whitman) The Dead Poets Society
Next year maybe I’ll ask “Will you still need me, will you still feed me…..?”