gerhard richter, vienna
Talking with some friends a few days ago, telling about some shit some guys I know got into, one said, "It sounds like you have some rowdy friends." I confessed I do like rowdy people. Why? "Because they are living people. I like living people. I don't like somebody saying to me, We didn't see you in church last week, brother." That makes me want to say, How did I already know that? But that kind of talk provokes more talk and I don't want any talk with the self-righteous. I'd rather hear somebody tell about outrunning a Virginia trooper on Delhart Road in a race for the state line. Or going through Dead Man's Curve sideways at 100 mph side-by-side racing a Mustang at 1 am. I'd rather hear about somebody 18 attacked by his daddy in the bowling alley parking lot, turn and kick his daddy's ass in front of 30 of his friends and thank the town cop for pulling him off him before he killed him--meaning it. I don't mean I think it exemplary behavior, but it's real behavior. It's acting out. It's acting out frustrations, angers, resentments, that in some people's cases are too powerful to bottle up with a tight ass a needle could't penetrate hit by a fourteen pound sledgehammer. The bottled-up people don't do anything rowdy, they don't act out. In my way of seeing, they don't live their lives. Tiger Woods's Nordic wife reached her acting out point when she bashed his car windows with a golf club.
One day talking with my friend Justin, who plays golf very well and has thought about starting the stairsteps to pro. He said he wanted to be as good as Tiger Woods. A few weeks before, he was talking about how when somebody gets to the top, the press and everyone else has a passion for knocking them off the throne. I said, "Then you'll be knocked down by the people around you in a world of people you already knew you couldn't trust." This wasn't like scolding conversation. We were just talking. I and he both knew that he wasn't going to take a shot at being the next Tiger Woods. He was using the old-time method of exaggeration as a measure of feeling involved. His feeling inside was he wanted to be the best. It's a good carrot on a stick, good motivation. I'd guess it's in his horoscope that he wants to be the best at everything he does. I threw in the reminder that the top is the loneliest place in the world. On top of Mt Everest you can't breathe, so you don't stay there long, it's not a good place for a party and it's colder'n the grave. At the top is where you're cornered and there's no place to go but down, down the scary slippery slope of the inevitable. Some can't handle it, some can.
My way is the middle way, the way of the Tao. Stay away from the top and stay away from the bottom. They're just conditions. Miserable conditions. The middle way is a condition too, but a zone where we can make for ourselves non-miserable conditions if we want; we have the option. By the bottom, I'm thinking: junkie in a dark abandoned house with AIDS. At the top, like Jackie O, one of many peak positions where one has no private moments that aren't invaded by the imaginations of paparazzi and gossip journalists, overseen by extensive security, and the servants one's only connection with the outside world. I don't want either end. One of the aspects of childhood I hated most was having no privacy. I knew even if I kept a diary it would be read while I was at school. So I couldn't be honest in a diary. I couldn't be honest with anyone, but complained to many, reaching out. Fail. Like somebody drowning with one hand above the surface grasping for a grip on the air. One aspect of why I live alone is the first part of my life was so without privacy it became a need. German abstract artist Gerhard Richter noted that attempting to paint with a camera and someone watching, he cannot paint with the freedom he needed. He was talking about how painting is not a social art form like acting or dancing or making music. Painting and writing are not performance arts. They are private arts and the finished image or writing is the art form, not the making of it. Except in some post-modern cases.
Artists are rowdy people in the spirit. When Justin told me I get the same thrill from writing and painting that he gets from hunting, I remembered a time Don Smith was attempting to missionarize me into climbing rock cliffs with him to experience the thrill he gets looking death in the face. Hearing him tell of the thrill, I was hearing the same thrill I found in painting. Painting, I start with a blank canvas. Writing, I start with a white blank page. That's the ground. Once the painting starts, it's like flying. You don't want to crash. To crash would be to screw everything up so it can't be redone, and lose the spirit for it too, end up with something I don't ever want to see again. Physically, that's just a canvas with paint on it that can be painted over. No big deal. Emotionally, it's devastating. Not devastating like wanting to stomp around and cuss, but quietly so. In this way, in my art forms I see the same qualities as what I hear from my "rowdy" friends who like to ride the daredevil edge. Art is that daredevil edge. I've an idea every artist would affirm that. Not every, of course. Allowing the exceptions that prove the rule. My rowdy friends who ride the edge would be artists if they'd had different experience younger. I don't mean better or worse. The will to art I suspect comes from the same place as the will to spelunk, to go back into a cave's network of tunnels with confidence you can find the way out. As an artist, I connect with people who spelunk, kayak over waterfalls and swim through underwater caves.
Some of my most favorite stories are John Long's, the extreme adventurer who writes first person accounts for outdoor adventure magazines. He's what Steve Martin would call a wild and crazy guy. I first encountered him in his collection GORILLA MONSOON. It is magazine article length accounts of one mad adventure after another, the kinds of things there is only one character in this world who would do them, him. It was one act of what I can't help but call bravery like being president and stepping out of your bullet-proof car. Long has something way beyond luck. It is fearlessness. The book has been out of print for years. Seems like with just a little bit of the right promotion it would pay for itself. I feel like he is an artist. There definitely is an art to kayaking a high-speed canyon river and pulling your weight upward by your fingertips repeatedly all the way to the only resting place, the top. It's a real issue when you get someplace where there is no hold you can make to go forward or sideways--dead end. Then you have to retrace every memorized step upward back down to the beginning. A canvas satisfies my adventure spirit like this writing satisfies the same spirit. Every time I start one of these essays or whatever they are, letters to my friends, I step out onto the tightrope and walk from one end to the other in the course of writing what I've come to call an "entry." I have a safety net in that if it turns out so terrible I delete it, no problem.