Moving Forward by Moving Back

Bridge over Outlet Bass Lake

Bridge over the Outlet, Bass Lake

From December 31, 2012: The Ox

Okay–so it’s arbitrary. A change on the calendar that means nothing but what we want it to. But I like these marker times… not the holiday stuff, which makes me feel profoundly alienated, but days where I can check where I’ve come to on the ascending (or descending) spiral… where I… we… all of us, have come to occupy the same space again, a place–which is not the same at all.
Years ago… pretty sure is was Martin Buber (I was in thrall of him in my 20’s), said something to the effect that ones life is never over so long as one has the capacity to begin again. This year I made one of those life change moves… from a little too expensive efficiency at 13th & Morris in South Philly, to an old, unheated warehouse on N. 2nd St… sharing space and life with some 20 others… all many decades younger.

This was like… and has proved in one other profoundly significant way, a move back by moving forward… or the other way around. I lived in a commune from 1966 to 1970. Here I was again.

At that time, I was painting… in oils. Had many hours and courses in art behind me–from children’s classes at the Art Institute in Chicago… where (like the Nelson-Atkins Gallery in Kansas City years later, I was able to wander the halls and bond with the art as a child… with almost adult privileges. Sunday at La Grande Jatte … was like something in my second living room (all the museums in Chicago were like that, thanks to an unmarried Great Aunt who lived nearby).

I gave it up… for 8 years or so, to make pottery. And then… some dumb ass wish to be respectable (?)… merged with a genuine passion for intellectual pursuits… I gave it up.

After moving into the Ox… even before–the first view from the roof, I knew… that with space to work, and tools. I moved quantum leaps forward by moving back.. this time, without the pretensions, the inhibitions of what it meant to make ‘art.’

In June, I walked to New York from Philly with Occupy Guitarmy.. and everything I saw made me want to go back and start putting things together. THINGS. Objects. Street junk. It was an act of pure pleasure. With no sense at all of where this would take me. But I kept doing it. And found that I was .. surprised, startled… by what was happening. What I was making. It began to sink in… that yeah (still hard to use the word)… I was making ‘art’ … and it was, like .. ok. I mean… maybe better than ok

It’s become an obsession. On a day when I make progress on a piece, or finish one, or begin another… I’m happy! I mean… as happy as I’ve ever ever been in my life! And on days when I don’t… ?

So here I am. End of this arbitrary number (2012)… having begun again. Half way through my 72’nd year. Thinking… this time, it’s to the end. It’s all the way. Maybe… before 2013 has passed… I’ll be able to think of myself as an ‘artist’ without irony, without self-consciousness. Not just all those museum images.. it’s family. Really talented family… never felt quite up to snuff. Mostly, cause I was trying to do what I thought OTHERS judged worthy. Now… I’ve found my own way. I’m so glad I lived long enough.

On Being a Late Bloomer


In April, 1988, standing in our kitchen in NE Philadelphia, it came to me that for the rest of my life I would follow whatever course best served my desire to write. And by that, I meant–to make art, to be an artist, though I wasn’t yet ready to accept that name for myself

I was 47, two months short of my 48th birthday. It wasn’t that I hadn’t done these things before, I had taken courses in art from childhood, at the Chicago Art Institute, Nelson-Aitkins Gallery of Art and Kansas City Art Institute. Later, majored for for time at Wichita State University. I had written stories and poetry from the time I could write, but this was new. This was something else. Like a conversion experience. A sense of accepting a calling, making a commitment. If I could live to work another 20 or 30 years, I told myself, I would have as much time as many who had begun in their youth–to leave a body of work.

Maybe it was the feeling that time was running out. Or was it that to my mind, being an artist was something too grand, that I wasn’t worthy? I thought of what Cezanne had written: ” Why so late and with such difficulty? Is art a priesthood that demands the pure in heart who must belong to it entirely?”

Yes. I thought. It does.

Though not so sure about the “pure in heart” stuff. A bit too 19th Century.

But with humor, yes. And this new sense of freedom from any judgment not my own–this was what I was going to do.

It will be 27 years come April. Some of them–pretty rough going. But I can call myself an artist now–a novelist, a poet–and not cower in shame lest I be found out as a fake. And I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life.

I kinda like this, being a Late Bloomer–of just warming up when most people are winding down, of not having to hang it up, rest on the laurels of what I accomplished in my youth. Life is just beginning. Every day. Every day, a new beginning!