My family thought I was a genius early on. I knew my ABCs when I was 18 months old. I tested off the charts in grammar school. I had my first art show when I was five.
Heavily influenced by my aunt Debra, who was a budding artist herself, I began drawing when I was two. Three years later, my parents helped me put signs up around the neighborhood to advertise my first show. When the day came, I hung all of my drawings and paintings on the backyard fence and clothesline, and waited for people to arrive.
I had to go to the bathroom. I asked my friend Colleen (who lived next door and was my first girlfriend) to watch things so I could go pee.
When I returned, one of my paintings was missing! “What happened to the picture that was hanging here?” I asked incredulously. It’s not often you see an incredulous five year old, but there I was. “Someone bought it, here’s 30 cents,” she replied, handing me the money.
I couldn’t believe it! The idea of selling the paintings never even occurred to me. Debra had art shows, so I had art shows. I didn’t know the point of her shows was to sell art, and I was very upset that one of my favorite pieces was gone! I didn’t want 30 cents, I wanted my painting back! My mother tried to console me, telling me not to be mad at Colleen, explaining: “That’s what’s supposed to happen at art shows.”
There are moments in our lives when pure, innocent naivety is lost forever, when everything we know about the world is shattered in an instant. You blink and it’s already happened, there’s no going back.
I had art shows every summer for the next four years, each one bigger than the last. Each show got a progressively larger write-up in the local newspaper. When my mother called the paper to tell them about my first show, they sent out a reporter named Jim Quirk. The first year he wrote a couple of paragraphs, the next year he wrote a whole column, and the third year he brought his camera. My show got nearly half a page in the Middleboro Gazette, with two photos of me with my art!
Debra had moved away to Chicago to pursue her career, and I was immersed in the wasteland of the public education system, which spent so much time and energy suppressing free expression and creativity. My second grade teacher was a bitter, spiteful, lonely old woman, the first truly mean person I ever knew... and I just stopped creating.
Twenty years later, I dropped out of college, quit my job, stopped wearing underwear, filed bankruptcy, bought some paint, paper and brushes, and started creating again. My muse was rusty and the art was raw, but it was almost as if those twenty years were just a nap. I started painting right where I’d left off!
I had pursued other artistic avenues in high school and college: drama, photography, journalism (I was editor-in-chief of Riverside Community College’s student newspaper) and on a whim, I applied to and was accepted into San Diego State University’s Telecommunication and Film program.
I had a lot of fun, college was a blast! But my father became ill with chronic fatigue syndrome, and I didn’t have enough money to finish my final film. In the Bachelor of Arts program, each year gets progressively more expensive as each year’s film project gets larger and more complex. I was counting on money from my parents to make my final film. When it didn’t come through, I had to switch to the Bachelor of Science program, which didn’t require a senior film.
I had been so ready to make my student film masterpiece. My buddy Jim and I wrote the script, and were quite proud of it. “Anything for cheese” was hilarious, with a trick ending and everything. We were heavily influenced by Quentin Tarantino’s early films (which was obvious in our script). Too bad the film was never made, it would’ve been great.
I didn’t even want the degree by that point. I felt it was a worthless piece of paper, a simple certificate certifying regurgitation of curriculum, and I resented the rigidity and blandness of the film program and the lack of creative spirit of many of the professors. And, of course, I was pissed because I had to switch to the BS program. My whole focus had been to make my final film and bring it to Hollywood. I had a connection there. Back in high school, I lost my virginity to a beautiful redhead whose father just happens to be a big director in Hollywood. She and I remained friends, and I knew that all I needed to do was put some good films together in a “reel”, as it’s called, and show it to her dad.
But it was not to be.
In my frustration, I got into a huge argument with the head of the film department, yelling at him in his office that he was a horrible professor and his department was a waste of my time. He told me he thought I should move on.
So I did. A few days later, I literally walked out. It was the final semester of my senior year. I can still remember opening the door, stepping into the hallway, leaving Spanish 3 behind me (one of only two classes I needed to graduate). I knew there would be no going back from the path I was choosing. I remember each step feeling lighter as I walked away from my old life into the bright shining light of the unknown.
Living on what was left of my student loan money, I rented a room in a friend’s house and began to create. Art, music, poetry, prose… creation poured out of me as if it had been there all along, just waiting for the dam to break. I smoked a lot of pot and listened to a lot of Miles Davis. I deftly delved deeper into the muse. I only left my room to eat, take an occasional walk, and watch the Simpsons. I spent the rest of the time being what I’ve always wanted to be: an artist, writer, creator. Within a few months, I put together a book of poems and prose, artwork and photography.I called it “The Meaning of Life (A Juxtaposition of Truth)”, and you can see it here: http://www.mindswell.org/Meaning_of_Life.htm