How Much Is Enough?
August 1st, 2004
This morning sitting on the beach I confessed to myself...
[Tommy forgive me, for I have sinned...]
...that I have experienced a little bit of disappointment since turning fifty last year. It's hard to be as aware of the world around me as I am and not realize that there are a lot of people my age who have a lot more security, both financial and otherwise, than I do.
How did I get to this point in my life and be so seemingly behind the curve?
Holding my gaze out to the Pacific's horizon, I remembered Carlos' 60th birthday party a few weeks ago. He and my good friend Chris share a home just a ways down the beach from where I was sitting. Chris had asked me to design the invitiation for the party, which I did with a lot of enthusiasm and excitement because I like Chris & Carlos so much. True too is the fact that Chris always gives me so much freedom to do what I do that it's great fun working on special projects for her. And perhaps as important as anything else, she always compensates me generously without my ever having to ask. You'd be surprised how much that means to me.
As I was thinking about the invitation and how much I enjoyed doing it and how nicely it turned out, my thoughts drifted to the tropical flower arrangements that I did for Carlos' party the night before it all went down. Chris bought the flowers and I just poked them into vases but she was thrilled and that made me very happy.
And then there was the party itself that Chris had invested so much time, energy and brilliance into. I was there taking pictures - yet another way in which I was involved in this milestone celebration for a much revered and loved man.
So I'm sitting there on the beach this morning thinking about how far behind the curve I sometimes feel and yet was filled with a kind of odd contentment about it all. I don't think I know too many other people who can design the invitation for a party, arrange the flowers for it and then take the pictures of it as well. So how far behind the curve am I really? Am I keeping pace with everybody but just moving along on a different path than they are? Or is that just a clever way of assuaging of my disappointment at not having more to show for my fifty years?
I realized sitting there in the sand this morning, that in sharing these thoughts it might appear that I'm fishing for compliments - trying, in a not-so-veiled way, to bring a little reassurance into my life that I have value and am doing OK inspite of my lack of financial assets and security. But no one really, could tell me more about what I do and how I do it than I've already told myself. So no, I don't think this is a fishing expedition. (It'd be good bait if it was though.)
These gifts of mine don't exist in a vacuum - expressing themselves without a little bit of consciousness on my part as to the value they have. I do the things I do because they give me pleasure in the doing and they satisfy a very deep need that I have to express myself creatively and artistically. Because I've been surrounded by artists all my life, I kind of know and understand when it is that my expressions measure up and when they don't. Outside reassurance is usually the least of my concerns, because, well, I always know when the work is good and when it isn't. All of the kudos in the world won't turn a poorly executed flower arrangement into something I'm proud of. And I kind of think that's true of most artists.
What this is about and what I realized there at the water's edge this morning gathering shells, is that I'm trying somehow to bring my life into perspective. I look at Chris and Carlos, two people who I like a lot and admire immensely and wonder how it is that the outward manifestations of their inward value got to be so different than mine. Did I do something wrong somewhere along the way that I can't even afford to rent an apartment in Laguna Beach, let alone own a home there?
Or can I look at Chris and Carlos as two people whose richness is simply expressed in different ways than mine? Are cars and homes and travels the only way we have of measuring accomplishment and success? If we don't use the material things to determine all that, then what do we use? I can go toe to toe with anybody when it comes to family, having a most beautiful one myself and being a dad and grandpa and all. But how do I escape the inevitable comparisons to people whose work has been compensated so differently than mine?
How did I end up with talents that reach so far and wide and benefit the lives of so many other people and yet still find myself struggling to make ends meet?
The ocean, always so full of answers, remained curiously silent on the matter this morning inspite of my heartfelt confessions that should have at least merited a penance or two and a directive to go and feel sorry for myself no more. Actually, come to think of it, she did exact a penance. She took my sunglasses that fell from my head as I was reaching over to pick up a shell under a foot of rolling water. My favorite pair of sunglasses that I had managed somehow to hang onto for over three years now, gone, just like that in a mass of black mussel shells colored almost identically to the sunglasses. After almost an hour of searching in vain for them I gathered my shells and went home, squinting into the bright summer sun all the way and thinking about the two hundred dollars it would take to replace the sunglasses. Two hundred dollars that will have to be robbed from Peter to satisfy Paul the sunglass seller.
Perhaps if I were a Buddhist the lesson would be clear; possessions are transient while what we hold inside of ourselves is with us as long as we choose to hold it. And inside of myself I have this extraordinary love of life, as simple and sometimes challenging as mine is. I do the things I love to do - I write and I crochet and I take pictures of beautiful people and I help my friend Judith with her garden in the desert. I visit my friends Paige and John in San Francisco on less than a whim because it gives me such joy being with them. And I pick up the phone whenever I want and am lifted up to the highest of my highs by hearing my sweet Auri's voice.
In many ways both big and small, I've created a life for myself that while sparse on the side of material possessions, is full to overflowing with beautiful, fascinating and loving people. It's a lifestyle that allows me plenty of time to be with the people I love and am loved by. And a lifestyle that allows me to have breakfast and a walk on the beach almost every Sunday morning of the year.
But is that enough?
Would I feel anymore complete or happy owning a home on the beach in Laguna than I do by just going there as a guest? Perhaps. I couldn't really say unless I had the chance to experience it. Would the resources to travel to exotic destinations more frequently make me feel more like a peer to those who do? I'm not sure because maybe earning those resources would mean less time to go and explore. But my friends Eleanor & Bernie have managed to find the time in their busy lives to travel often to some of the world's most beautiful destinations. So working hard and traveling often don't seem to be mutually exclusive.
Somewhere inside of me is the desire to be at peace with where I'm at and with what I have rather than always be longing for what others have. Here in this bastion of privilege where I live, the incomparable Southern California stretch of beach cities, there's a lot of wealth and a lot of outward expressions of it. It's hard not to be drawn into the comparisons when the expressions of privilege are in front of me at every turn.
Sometimes being an artist feels like a curse. I guess you have to be an artist to understand how compelling the urge to create really is and how frustrating and empty life can be when the opportunity for self-expression is missing. I understand that some career choices just pay better than others and that I've chosen a path that isn't very often paved in gold or platinum - but rather in bronze, if even that most of the time.
So yeh, that's me up there on the podium of life, wearing a bronze medal around my neck and looking always sideways out of the corner of my eye at those who stand higher with glimmering gold and silver medallions resting on their chests. It's not that it feels unfair - it just feels frustrating.
Somewhere over the past few months, a new creative urge sprung up from inside of me somewhere and I began crocheting beanie caps. Oh great Tom, another artistic pursuit that carries with it very little promise of financial reward. But what the hell - I'm enjoying this as much as I've enjoyed anything I've done creatively or artistically and it's satisfying yet again, the irrepressible need I have to make interesting and beautiful stuff.
Chris, bless her heart, came into the office the other day, saw a few of my beanie caps lying there and bought three of them on the spot. That's my Chris - always supporting my artistry in one way or another. I think she gets what it's all about for me and finds her own particular satisfaction in being a part of it.
These beanie caps, which I call Pussy Caps, have turned out to be an amazing adventure so far. I created a website to showcase and sell them and even tho it's summer, they're selling. Kind of makes me excited to see what will happen when the cold weather returns in the fall.
So here's what I'm doing as a way of staying true to my artist's heart. I'm collecting some of the most beautiful and unusual yarns available in the world and working them up into one-of-a-kind caps - each of which will never be duplicated. Wearable art that's fashioned from cashmere, angora, alpaca, llama, wool and silk. Natural colors and dyed colors, some of it handspun and some of it commercially spun. Caps for women, caps for men and caps that would be as much at home on one as the other. Drawing from fifty years of input from countless different influences, I'm creating mini works of art that each in its own way reveals more about my artistry than perhaps anything else ever has.
And for once, I'm pricing my work according to the value I choose to place on it rather than what I think the market will bear. As strange as it might sound, these caps are an important part of the legacy that I'm choosing to create and eventually leave behind. Selling them isn't as important as creating them. It's about expressing my artistry in a very personal way, attaching my own value to it and then letting it go where it'll go. The immense enjoyment and satisfaction that I'm experiencing in all of this is making it easier to walk my bronze-colored path and not be blinded by the shinier, sparklier paths my peers are on.
If I'm going to be a struggling artist then at least I'm going to be one whose heart and soul is completely invested in what I'm doing. I just finished a couple of caps this weekend that are so beautiful and so unique that I just can't stop looking at them and holding them in my hands. That's what I want to feel I guess - a sense of having satisfied my very personal need for creative self-expression. It's a stronger, more compelling urge than most people would imagine. In any case, it's my reality and one that I'm slowly but surely adjusting to.
So yes, I sometimes envy the outward expressions of other people's compensated value. But their paths aren't mine and I would be frustrated and ultimately very unhappy trying to walk their paths to get to where they are. Through choices big and small, I've created this path I'm on and it doesn't seem very likely that I'll ever wander very far from it because no matter what, it really does work for me. The challenge now is to find some peace of mind here and be able to look over at where others are and enjoy the view without feeling like something's missing in my life because I don't have what they have.
Easier said than done of course, but I'm working on it. And as always, from the water's edge, things seem to be a little easier to figure out. One thing's for sure - the view from the sand looking out over the water is the same one for all of us, regardless of whether we own a home there or are just an occasional guest.
Maybe then, it's the view that matters most and not the vantage point from where we're enjoying it. That said however, I really wouldn't mind waking up every morning with a view of the ocean and seeing it again just before I close my eyes at night.
How many Pussy Caps do you think I'd have to sell to make that happen?
From the water's edge as always,