I have taught art history for decades. One of the great painters was Vincent van Gogh. He wrote of art, "Art is to console those who are broken by life." Interestingly, van Gogh painted Starry Night while he was at the small town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence where he was hospitalized at Saint-Paul Asylum.
Van Gogh had many medical and psychological problems. Scholars have come up with a long list of possible medical/psychological problems. They range from lead poisoning, Ménière's disease, porphyria, borderline personality disorder, epilepsy, and bipolar disorder. In spite of whatever were his problems, he clearly understood that art helped him deal with his being "broken by life." Out of pain, he reached down to his very being and discovered creativity in spite of the pain. Pain produces gain. Van Gogh expressed it in his paintings, and we all gained.
Another example of pain pushing artist to creativity can be seen in the movie, Flashdance. The storyline of the movie is about Alex, a steelworker, who dreamt about being a dancer. Inside of her was the longing to be creative as a dancer. Therefore, she too addressed where she was and where she wanted to be.
Jennifer Beals' character, Alex, dreamt dreams like Don Quixote. However, like him, she tried and often failed. She tried again and failed again. Nevertheless, as the song, What a Feeling, states, "Take you passion and make it happen." Alex did finally. As a result, she made it happen.
It is interesting that a journey of a thousand miles to becoming a dancer starts with a single dance step. That is a paraphrase of Confucius', "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
Therefore, we have seen how van Gogh, Alex, and Confucius acted in spite of problems, failures, and a vast assortment of problems. They acted. Yes, there were set-backs. Nevertheless, they put one foot in front of the other and moved forward. It was not easy; there were obstacles. Regardless, all three moved ahead and produced a great deal of art in painting, dance, and writing.
I have written about a couple of dances with death that I have had. On one occasion, I feel off a ladder and hit my head on a stone wall, which caused a subdural hematoma (traumatic brain injury). I was in two different hospitals for a total of nearly two months. All but the last ten days, I do not recall anything. I do not recall falling, going to the first hospitals, being in ICU, going to the rehab hospital, and treatment there during the first week and a half.
However, I do recall being put in a self-contained bed at the rehab hospital during the last ten days. When I was finally released from that hospital and returned home, I knew that I had to start exercising again. My first attempt at exercising was walking outside the house and down a short driveway, which is less than 20-foot in length. After I reached the end of the driveway, I had to return to the house. I was exhausted. I not only understood but felt precisely what Confucius meant when he wrote, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." The beginning of my journey was but a couple dozen steps.
Nevertheless, after repeating that routine day after day, it was not long before I was biking nearly 10-miles every day around my subdivision. I have continued to do a 45-minute exercise program everyday on either my bike, kayak, or elliptical trainer for the past seven years since my recovery from the fall.
Recently, I wrote an essay about refurbishing a school desk for Calla, who is a cute little toddler of China, my web administrator. In the process, I discovered that the actress, Jennifer Beals, used that desk.
I saw that movie in the mid-80s and loved it, but I did not fully get the message of the movie. However, in the past few years, I have danced with death a couple of times, returned from Myanmar, which is a military dictatorship, and faced some other personal problems. Now, I do. In reality, I could not have completely understood its message without experiencing the past few years.
If I were to encapsulate my life in a single song, it would be the theme song from Flashdance, What a Feeling.
What A Feeling
My parents moved from Pennsauken, NJ to Pittsburgh, PA. My dad got a promotion, but it meant moving from a middle-class community where I was above average student to the wealthiest community in Pittsburgh and the 19th best school system in the entire country. Even though I felt both dumb and poor as a result of the move, I could faintly hear my dreams but very faintly in a city of steel and stone.
Brooks Oakford and Louie Palmer helped me hear the music of my dreams. With Brooks, he hired me to work for him a couple weeks before Christmas in his candy store, Aunt Charlotte's. He did that when I was still nine-years old. While it was years before his insight in me was recognized by me, I truly benefitted. Louie Palmer hired me as his teaching assistant and allowed me to teach subsections during my senior year in an art history class. Both Brooks and Louie made it possible for me to hear the music, and I heard it loudly.
Another educator, Dean Anne Perry, continued helping me believe in being the best teacher that I could. Of all the deans that I have had over two decades, I benefitted from her teaching me more than all the others combined. Because of Anne, I am dancing academically.
I came alive while dancing with death in the past seven years. While that sounds like a logical disconnect, dancing with death provided me and many others, who have danced with death, a radically different Weltanschauung or worldview. Life is seen from a different perspective, which takes one's passion and will make it happen.
I have a strange quirk; I love to refurbish furniture especially school desks for Jack and Owen, my two preschool grandchildren. In addition, I restored a school desk for Calla, who is my web administrator's cute little toddler. In a flash, while redoing Calla's desk, I discovered that Jennifer Beal's used that desk when Beal's was in school in Chicago where I found the desk.
This single song seemed to explain my coming alive. "Take your passion and make it happen" is so very true. Man, I get it now. I have danced through the last part of my life and enjoyed the experience. Trust me.
However, what is applicable to those artists that I have mentioned, van Gogh, Confucius, Alex, and myself can be true for you. Nonetheless, that feeling and hearing the music often is difficult. Setbacks in life often drown out and muffle the music. Believe me. There are things that I hope to accomplish, which I have not been successful. It is painful. I have tried, been honest, and pursued my dreams both personal and professional. I can rattle off a list of my failed attempts. However, Don Quixote taught me a lesson...dream dreams until you are on your death bed.
Okay, that scene might have seemed melodramic. Don Quixote dies while he is still dreaming. However, the alternative is to give up and not try halfway through one's life. That essentially is dying even if one is not yet buried. Don Quixote is telling each of us to dream dreams, get involved, and help others. If you do, you will hear the music and what a feeling. Watch Don Quixote teach me how I am living my life. He can teach you also.
I might fail, but it will never be said that I stopped dreaming the impossible dream. "Take your passion and make it happen."
Visit the On Seeing the Light page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Connecting the Dots page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Darkest Before Dawn page to read more about this topic.
Visit the The Last Lecture page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Dancing with Death page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Man in the Arena page to read more about this topic.
Visit the "Don Quixote" page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Music I Love and Why page to read more about this topic.
Visit The Mentors and Me page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Confucius Said page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Best and Worst of Times page to read more about this topic.