On Gilberto, Gibran, and Star Trek

CIMG_1292offee, jazz, and a little Sunday morning philosophy…I am restored.

If you are unfamiliar with Astrud Gilberto, do yourself a favor and spend an hour or so with this lovely Brazilian bossa nova singer probably best known for The Girl From Ipanema. Anything she does is delicious, but I particularly like her rendition of Agua De Beber. The lyrics are a little cheesy in English–your love is the rain, my heart is the flower, give the flower some water to drink–thankfully, Astrud sings it in Portuguese.

Water to drink. Agua de beber. A metaphor that begs the question, what restores you? Coffee? Jazz? A fabulous painting? The Sunday crossword? The love of a good [fill in the blank: man, woman, ginger tabby]? A five-mile run? The smell of old books? Harry Bingham’s latest Fiona Griffiths novel? A full-bodied pinot noir? A full-bodied [fill in the blank: man, woman, well, er, maybe not aIMG_1591 ginger tabby]? Conversation with friends? Whatever it is, it’s important to know how to restock your shelves because a life well lived periodically depletes the warehouse.

One of my art school pals asked this morning on Facebook: What are five things you would tell your younger self? Most of the responses went something like, I wish I had finished school when I was 25 instead of 50, bought xyz stock so that now I’d be a millionaire, gotten married, not gotten married, been more confident. The money thing is tempting–not because I need more bagatelle, just the freedom to make art–but, ultimately, I wouldn’t tell my younger self anything. She did fine and I don’t have regrets. Do I think my life has been flawless, that I was always kind to the people who deserved it? Hell, no. Have I experienced hardships and tragedies? Yes. More than some, fewer than others, but, yes. And I wouldn’t change a thing.

First, who’s to say a straight line to anything is better than an organic, circuitous path? A straight line might get you there faster, but all the experiences and relationships you’d miss, even and especially the painful ones, are probably more important. In his book, The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran says, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potters oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirits the very wood that was hollowed with knives?” Our capacity for happiness and empathy come from struggle, not harmony.

Second, everything we are has been formed by the experiences we’ve had and the choices we’ve made. I was 54 when I went back to school for my second master’s degree. I had an extremely successful career as a banking executive, but decided after experiencing my sixth merger that perhaps the world needs fewer bankers and more abstract painters. Perhaps. Being a 60-year old emerging artist certainly has its challenges, but my work is completely informed by all the left turns, digressions, and rambles that compose my point of view. There’s a great episode (heck, what am I saying, all the episodes are great) of Star Trek TNG where Captain Jean-Luc Picard has an out-of-body, ghost of future IMG_0675Christmases experience with Q-as-Jacob-Marley while undergoing heart surgery. He questions the actions of his former, reckless self, but eventually comes to understand, “There are many parts of my youth that I’m not proud of. There were loose threads–untidy parts of me that I would like to remove. But when I pulled on one of those threads, it unraveled the tapestry of my life.”

And so it goes. We empty our shelves and then we restock. Maybe art is a matter of taking honest and accurate inventory.

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