“So, who knows where the action you take will lead? What effect will happen 70 years, 80 years later? And who else will be affected by it as well?”
Sitting here trying to see the future of my daily blog commitment, as with a laptop in my lap, I’m one of the hundreds of unintroduced faces gathered. Simply me. All Richard, for better or worse, living my past, present, and future.
In a way, one small part in an expanding and endless story. A narrative personal to each participant of a grander mass, as surrounding me, a gathering of hidden stories ebbs and flows.
Yep, as usual, and in my poetic, narrative, and romantic style, you’ve got me. And, just as promised, a free flow of observations, feelings, and discovery as I figure out how to ask, and bring to you perspectives regarding the big WHY.
So, as I try to find any form of center in the middle of blurred masses at a BYU event titled Art After Dark, I’ll be transparent as I contemplate my decision to enter another daily blog commitment (This time, however, with no limitation of stopping in a year).
The reason for tonight’s affair? A retrospective installation featuring the works of Maynard Dixon. A man who in his own life explored the inner workings of, at first, The West, and then onto the internal struggles he faced.
I look around. An isolated subject I am, as staring at the diversity of the night’s patrons, I’m filled with something I can only identify as an overwhelming sense of curiosity. Yet, this is not my first rodeo, I’ve done the exercise of meeting a stranger 1000s of times now. I guess the big why, is starting to hit me as daunting—and I’m not even deep into it yet. So as I sit paused, taking it in, the security guard’s eyes on me, it hits me. As beside her, a modern sculptor: In bold red letters, it reads the word… LOVE.
Love? A fitting beginning for this new blog challenge, and a word that for over a decade I have discussed with so many people. The people I’ve grown to fondly call strangers-now-friends. But for now, I’ll just leave it as that. We’ll have plenty of time to further study the meaning, pain, and power of it. And albeit it, the word will be part of the journey we are going to take together, I wish to stay true to the cornerstone of the new RadstoneBLOG: Our community quest to explore the path to wherever Why is taking us.
Alright! Enough of my musing. Let’s get to today’s storyline.
Around me, more than enough people to approach. But just how do I narrow down a reason for a story, other than an artistic review or community narrative of the event? Then it hits me. Find someone at the front of their life and someone more toward the end (please forgive me Matt; it goes for me too), and ask each the “Why”.
I stand up. Stash the laptop, and to the middle of the crowd, I go.
It’s cramped with countless shoulder-to-shoulder groupings. Some are deep in conversation, others wandering the galleries, many watching the band perform Eagles cover tunes. An environment where I’ll be the guy who interrupts. But a commitment is a commitment, and for the sake of our blog journey, I tune in to my listening self.
“So, who knows where the action you take will lead? What effect will happen 70 years, 80 years later? And who else will be affected by it as well?
– Stranger-now-Friend, Matt
Tell me your name once more? I ask him.
“I’m Matt,” he responds. By his side, his wife, who choosing not to be featured, stands rather curious, but seemingly supportive.
We chat about generalizations for a short time. Of the interest he and his wife have in Maynard’s paintings and photography.
“My wife and I took a trip down to St George three or four years back. I like to take pictures of different geographic formats. I took several at the time and I said to myself, these look like Maynard Dixon pictures. The washed-out colors in midday. I think that subliminally, subconsciously, I mimicked it because it looked like something that Maynard painted before.”
I’ll admit, I’m not a big fan of Dixons’s scenic and western paintings. But when you look into his urban and lifestyle studies, a whole new perspective comes forward. And one, in particular, is truly haunting. Especially when reflecting on the outcome it provided to him. A story that perhaps can inspire us to have faith, even at the darkest times. A portrait of three faceless people shrouded in capes. A painting titled: “Shapes of Fear”.
Dixon himself considered it one of his greatest works. A piece that, in 1930, at the peak of the depression, is an ominous depiction of three robed figures. So severe was his concern for what was going on in his world, Dixon recounted, “I felt like there was a vise around my neck when I painted it.,” He was at an all-time low, and as finances hit rock bottom, he entered it in the San Francisco Art Association’s annual exhibition. Wins the Harold L. Mack award; and then the Henry W. Ranger cash award from the National Academy of Design show in New York. “The prize money saved my life,” Maynard journaled.
“Shapes of Fear”
– Maynard Dixon
Matt recounts Maynard’s life at the time he created it. “I don’t remember the name of that painting. It was interesting reading the bio about it. It was painted during the depression, and Maynard and his wife (Dorothea Lange) had to board up their art gallery. They lived there and sent their kids off to be boarded by another family that could afford to help them out at the time.”
Makes you wonder what was going through Maynard Dixon’s mind at the time, and in thinking about that, I ponder the effect the story has carried forward.
Matt elaborates, “So, who knows where the action you take will lead? What effect will happen 70 years, 80 years later? And who else will be affected by it as well?
Amazing how the legacy of one Maynard Dixon and his real-life story can teach us all. And taking this thought in, I challenge each of us to reflect on the influence we have on the world to come.
Matt continues, “It’s likely he didn’t even paint it to sell it. You know, introspection, whatever it is, whatever brings art to, you know, to the canvas. It’s what he was up to. But yeah, I thought that was quite interesting. On what it did, how it got him moving his family again on to the next chapter.”
We redirect our conversation. The premise of not knowing the outcome of a moment becoming a bridge to the question at hand. I transition the topic. Matt, in looking at it all, the world now, the history behind us, the people in front of us, the people beyond us, however you wish to answer, let me ask, Why?
“Well, in the context of where I am now, I say, why is because of color, light, and shadow. That’s why I’m here. Because I wanted to experience it again. So that’s really a short answer on what my night’s about tonight.”
I respond with an amendment. If you look at everything that’s out there now or the people beyond this building. Beyond the state as far as we want to look, is there a why to that? Is that even answerable?
“Well, yeah,” Matt replies. “So looking at the crowd that’s here, why in the middle of winter they need something to do, and maybe that’s why they’re here. I don’t know if too many of them really give a crap about me or Dixon, to be honest with you. That’s my sense. So but I know it’s quite a young crowd. Not too many older folks like me, even though I’m still 25 upstairs.”
At first a rather general observation. But if you mindfully consider the deeper meaning of the generalization, perhaps Matt is sharing great wisdom. Maybe, suggesting the importance of face-to-face human interactions. A premise to consider as we get deeper and deeper into a digital existence. I’ll just leave it at that for now. We’ve got 100s of days ahead to continue that dialogue.
Per Matt’s wife. All the while she has sat close. Listening. Observing. And in a moment, and something she may not even know, she is teaching us. I’ll elaborate in a moment.
We share our handshakes and back to the crowd, I go. In quest of the younger point of view.
“Whether you’re religious or not, I see God as a creator who created us and brought us here. My way is to create, and I think creating is such an individual thing for each person. And I think it’s really important. Like we make our differences in the world by how we, you know, act or treat another.”
– Stranger-now-Friend, Savannah
Jack and Savannah are their names. Two students, each with their unique pasts and outlooks. But in them, and as we got to know each other, they calmed me with synergy hard to explain. A certain wisdom in their eyes that could not be ignored.
Savannah goes first in defining her version of why. “One way I’m as you’re saying, like speaking to us, and like discussing this, I just kind of had recently on my mind has been a lot more about creativity. And it might have a part to play that I’m an artist, but I was listening to what you were saying.”
Okay, I did share some of my perspectives with them before asking them the why. Something that all of you who have been with me for a while has helped me to develop. Concepts I continue to expand upon in the evolution of this project.
Back to Savannah, “Whether you’re religious or not, I see God as a creator who created us and brought us here. My way is to create, and I think creating is such an individual thing for each person. And I think it’s really important. Like we make our differences in the world by how we, you know, act or treat another.
Some people do it through songs, including for dance, and you know, all those different ways. And some people do it through art, and that’s what I like to try and do.”
Her openness regarding spirituality touched me. So much so, I told her of my Jewish upbringing, my baptism to Christ, and how my family reacted to the decision. And in her opening statement, “Whether you’re religious or not, I see God as a creator who created us and brought us here.” I challenge us all to lean into our version of higher power for the moment when we are seeking greater peace, even purpose.
I remember one guy I walked up to one day and this is reflective of you guys, your beliefs, and or our spirit, you know? Okay. Yes. And I can’t even show you a picture, but we had this amazing conversation.
Jack kicks in. “Yeah, so my why is kind of like, I’m at the end of my college career right now. And I’ve been thinking a lot about the why. It’s one of those questions they always talk to you about. Like as you’re going to school. They say, do something you love and all that. So I’ve been thinking about that a lot over the past few years. What I want to do with my life. And I think I entered my university career with the idea that I wanted to be a doctor. And I think the idea was that I wanted to have a career where I could make money and I would be happy. But in my own life, I’ve had a lot of family members that were very wealthy and were very unhappy people. You know, they suffered not only depression and things like that but also substance abuse. And they just kept searching for ways to make themselves happy. So for my life, it’s all about finding something that makes you happy and that you enjoy doing. Something that you can spend your time doing that whole time. I studied history, and it’s like, well, what do you want to do with that? I don’t always have a good answer. When people ask me that, I tell them I studied history because I’m a history nerd. I love thinking about it. So, yeah, I just try and dedicate my life to things I love doing and not worrying too much about the logistics and what’s going to happen next. Even though those are always the questions you get at this point in life.”
I’m 62 now, and after a life of ups and downs, Jack, I have to tell you, there is wisdom in your council. But I’ll add one more level. Throw in a little purpose and you’ve got the secret combination. Someone once told me, if you find something you love doing, even on the days you hate doing it, you’ve found something you can keep doing.
I mentioned the idea of purpose above, and also earlier suggested the lesson taught to me by Matt’s wife. So in closing today’s entry, I feel the need to be vulnerable in sharing gratitude. First to Matt for getting the why ball rolling, then to Jack and Savannah for their precious and youthful wisdom, each of whom has, in my hopes, built us up. But with respect toward a participant who wishes to be unknown, I have to pay tribute. To Jack’s wife. Whom, when I asked if she would like to share her thoughts on the big why, chose to be supportive rather than be recorded. Stating, “I like what you are doing, but why hits a little too close to home for me today.”
In that, her words are a palpable motivation for us all. A catalyst for each of us to lean into in every relationship we have, and in every thought driving our actions. The fact that no one fully knows what’s under the skin of our co-humans. So in praising the bravery of her statement. In acknowledging the empathy she extends to us in supporting the big why, she cannot go unmentioned. Celebrated as I ask us all to extend a good thought and if you will, even a prayer her way. Or better yet, toward all those we pass each day.
Talk tomorrow my friends,