After I had officially graduated and spent the next few months working, lounging, and getting used to the idea that I was considered an adult September rolled around and I realized that with the start of the College, I didn’t have anywhere to go like my friends did.
For my entire life, September had officially marked the end of summer and the beginning of another year of school, which would last until June of the following year.
When you are growing up, September is all about going to the store to buy new school clothes, shoes, and school supplies.
It’s was about sharing stories from your summer with friends when you get your school pictures taken and realizing that you are a year older and one year closer to being a grown up.
And so with my first September without school or college I stood and watched from the sidelines as all of the school kids in my neighborhood prepared to go back to middle school, junior high, high school and college.
I realized again that my future was in front of me and I did not have anywhere to go.
Seeing my friends going off to college every day, pursuing their educations lit a fire under me that would not let me rest.
“Why don’t start college and then decide what you want to be after you have taken your general education courses?”
I got asked this question quite frequently. I just never got excited about going back to school without knowing what I wanted to do; I just did not see the point in it.
Asking a person something like that is like asking a cook, “Why don’t you start backing that cake?” even though he doesn’t have a recipe for it.
I ached to know what I wanted to do with my life but the problem was I just wasn’t coming up with any solutions.
I almost felt like seeking out a psychic or someone with spiritual insight to tell me my future, so that I could get back on track.
The psychic friend’s network looked very tempting but I was too poor to spend over two buck an hour talking to a psychic.
Having no direction, I once again felt totally lost and helpless, and it was very easy to get depressed.
And to make matters worse, the economy was in a recession and my father had lost his good paying job at the factory, which made our family’s situation a lot worse.
But being the strong bunch that we were and still are we stuck together.
During this time, both of my parents found suitable work until the economy improved and we were able to keep our house and car.
Think of the pressure I was feeling at age 18. I was going through what most of my friends went through during elementary and high school.
Practically everyone I knew had decided what he or she wanted to do with their life at an early age.
I had friends that knew early on that they wanted to be teachers, scientists, writers, and were going to college working toward their goals, while I still did not know what I wanted to do with my life.
Here I was, every single day, on a quest for direction while at the same time, feeling the pressure to grow up and contribute to the family financially.
I worked hard during these years, continually searching for my destiny, but never finding it. I tried a “few jobs,” hoping that something would ring true with me, but nothing worked.
Was I just a lazy bum with no ambition or desire to make anything of myself?
I worked at a lot of places, but nothing satisfied me because I did not want to settle for second best. I felt that that I was on the inside and what I had to offer was too important to waste.
The only thing that helped me keep my sanity during this time was the thing that I enjoyed the most in my life, my art.
I became an artist during my senior year in high school. That year, I had to take an elective class to get the required amount of credits to graduate, so I chose art.
During high school, I also took four years of drafting and wanted to go to college to become a landscape architect.
So it was a natural decision to choose art when I was faced with taking this elective; I figured that I was already drawing in drafting class I would just switch to a different kind of drawing in art class.
I was wrong!
The brain is an amazing computer, and after three years of learning how to think like a draftsman, I had a very hard time learning how to use the right side of my brain and “free up” my drawing hand.
By “freeing up,” I mean reclaiming the open creativity that every child is able to use when they sit down to have fun making pictures with finger paints, drawing with crayons, or playing make believe games.
I felt like part of my brain was locked up and being held prisoner. The part that I loved the most as a child, which was the ability to create and imagine anything, was gone and replaced by this hard, cold calculating side that relied strictly upon numbers and lines.
At 17, part of me felt like a 40-year-old man tied down by the boundaries of rules and numbers.
I had to get my creativity back! And so I worked hard at trying to regain that part of myself that I once loved and so easily took for granted.
Like Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist; the problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
Here I was only a teenager working hard to regain the creativity that I thrived on only a few years before as a child.
Where did that fun, creative energy that I once had go?
When I was little kid, I was always interested in playing with boxes and making things with my hands for my GI Joe’s.
My parents bought me toys for my birthday and the holidays, and instead of playing with the toys I played with the boxes.
I loved to create cities for my toys with a few boxes, tape, tin foil and anything else lying around the house.
I loved doing it. Those times were so much fun, but then one day, when I was around 11 or 12 years old, I unnecessarily felt or got the impression that I had to grow up. So I put down my toys, boxes, and took up big teenage stuff like hanging out with friends, watching MTV, listening to music and getting involved with sports activities.
I knew that I had lost something important that I wanted to find again.
I needed Peter Pan to come and take me away to “never, never land,” so I could learn to laugh and recapture that childlike side again.
Art became my Peter Pan and I began to pursue my art with passion, wanting nothing but art every day and every night.
Then one day, as I sat in my art class, working on a still life drawing project I realized that everything was beginning to flow, my drawing hand was, “freed up,” and the hard thinking that I learned in drafting class was gone.
When I first started taking art, drawing simple artistic shapes were a chore and Mr. Davis, my art teacher had to work hard to find ways for me to loosen up and get back to the gift that all kids possess inside in them.
He had to literally show me how to loosen up my hand by grabbing my hand and moving it on the paper showing me how to sketch.
When I discovered how much I loved art, it was like CRASH! BANG! BOOM! I was hooked!
The process of creating a piece of art was totally and completely engulfing, hypnotic, and very addictive; it is something that is hard to quench or control.
When I got hooked on art, I wanted to create art everywhere, from drawing at school, home, church, on napkin in a restaurant or even on the sidewalk outside my house.
Everywhere I went, I was drawing and thinking about what pictures I would create.
One day after seeing a Mc Escher retrospective at the San Diego museum of art I felt so inspired that I drew on the sidewalks with chalk as I walked back to my car.
Discovering art was also like the moment I realized that I could read music when I was learning how to play the trumpet in junior high.
I remember sitting in music class one day with my trumpet in hand, staring at a sheet of music realizing that I could read the music without any notes or help.
No longer would I have to write the letter of the keys to play above each line of music. Everything just clicked, it was like a switch was turned on and my passion was ignited.
It is awesome when you realize that you understand something after you worked hard at trying to learn how to do it for such a long time.
I fell in love with something for the first time in my life and did not want to let go.
I began to paint, draw, and study art feverishly.
Whenever I had a free moment during my day, I took out my sketchpad and pencil, and drew.
I would spend my lunch time everyday sitting in the library with Cliff while he proposed his love to his latest girlfriend, as he was always known to do I was always copying paintings in art books from Matisse, Braque, and Picasso with my pastels into my sketch pad.
I loved it! I spent many school nights staying up too late painting and drawing, that’s how much I loved it.
One of the best things about discovering art in high school was the new groups of people that I met, and the girls who never paid attention to me suddenly realized that I existed for the very first time.
During this time, I was living like a bohemian before I even knew what that word meant.
I remember coming to school not knowing that there was paint still on my legs or hands.
When Cliff pointed it out, I did not care, I told him that artists always walked around with paint on them and that’s why I did it.
That’s where I discovered what passion was and it helped me endure those tough times of search for an elusive career that would help me pay the bills.
So I continued painting while I searched and that’s when I was joined on the path by my friend and fellow artist Joe.
I met Joe before I started my freshman year in high school, about the same time as he was rebuilding his life after years of struggling to overcome a drug addiction.
Joe started attending my church and we clicked as friends easily even though he was in his 40’s and I in my early teens we talked a lot and became good friends.
When I met Joe I didn’t want to be an artist because I wanted to be a baseball player and was not concerned about painting landscapes or still lives.
Joe brought a gift into my life; he brought with him a sense of, “anything is possible.”
If I wanted to be a professional baseball player he said, “Do it, because this is the only time in your life to really go for that goal.”
He also introduced me to new ways of taking care of my health and mind like using herbs remedies, fasting and new exercises like kick boxing, Kung Fu and Yoga.
My parents and sister also grew to like Joe and they invited him to our house on many occasions for dinner, conversation and fellowship.
Joe was different and interesting. He was always talking about big things to come in his future and did not give a damn if anyone shot down his dreams.
“I used to be an artist with a lucrative career and one day I will be again!” Joe would say.
Even though we were an odd bunch, we clicked and I instantly embraced him as a brother and I wanted to help him pick up the shattered pieces of his life and glue together the potential I saw in him and that he saw in himself.
Joe was a Chicano artist that expressed himself in color and shape.
By hanging around him and falling in love with the many early abstract artists from the twentieth century, like Picasso, Matisse and Braque I began to develop my own style of art and develop into the artist that I am today.
As I began to paint and draw more and more Joe became inspired by my growth as an artist and started to paint again for the first time in years. During this time we spent many Saturday’s in Joe’s art studio creating new paintings that would fuel our creative passions for years to come.
When we worked on our art together, we were like Picasso and Braque, Cezanne and Pissarro, Van Gogh and Gauguin or any other great partnership throughout art history where two artists work together to explore new creative ground.
During our many painting sessions, Joe introduced me to different types of music from his generation and also educated me on his creative, social and political influences from when he was going to school in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.
And he also enhanced my understanding of culture by introducing me to art shows where rich and poor people mingled together under a mutual love of art and culture.
I found the art shows that we attended exciting, interesting and amazing because it was a whole different world beyond the social hangouts and education routines that I was accustomed to.
In my middle class family that only knew the daily routine of work and rest, the idea of throwing on fancy clothes and spending Friday night in a gallery downtown was as foreign an idea to me growing up as taking a trip to the Bahamas or eating Caviar with a fancy dinner.
I still remember going to my first art show with Joe. It was on a Friday night and I dressed up like I was going to church. Joe showed up right after he finished working at his factory job in his old paint stained clothes and shoes making me feel like I was dressed up to attend a wedding.
“Why are you dressed like that?” Joe asked.
“My mom told me that I should dress up for this art show,” I said.
“Art isn’t for well dressed, wealthy people. It’s for the young, old, rich and poor people of all colors, shapes and sizes. You’re going to find this out tonight.” Joe said.
“Don’t you want to change out of your work clothes before we go to the show?” I asked.
“I’m dressed just fine. You’re going to see a lot of people there tonight and nobody will look at me differently because we will all be there for the same thing. Art” Joe said.
Staying true to his style, we left for the gallery anyway and that night is where I had my first experiences of culture.
At the show, I noticed people of all cultures, races, and ages.
Men and women walked around critiquing the art dressed up like they were attending the opening night of a Broadway musical to even street people who came in quietly off the streets to admire the art, watch the rich people, and perhaps get a free meal of munchies like fruits, cheeses and wine that are always offered at new art show openings.
As we walked around looking at the art and talking to other artists, I realized that this was an environment that I loved and wanted to further experience.
Unlike the art show, my usual Friday routine consisted of coming home from school, eating a dinner of pizza or chicken with my parents and sister, and then finishing it up with a movie from Blockbuster Video.
My life was beginning to change and I welcomed the changes.
During this time Joe and I often took trips back to his old neighborhood of Logan Heights, in San Diego where his art career began painting murals in Chicano Park.
While we walked the streets, he talked avidly about his past and pointed to every aspect of the environment, wanting me to take in every part of the culture.
“You’re not going to find buildings, shops, restaurants or colors like this in your neighborhood! Why do we need to go to Paris, France for culture? We have plenty of culture here!” Joe said.
Chicano Park was then and still is one of the toughest sections of San Diego. The area is full of hard-core gang members, drug addicts, prostitutes, bums, winos etc but it is also home to some of the most talented artists you will ever meet.
Chicano Park is a well-known and much loved park primarily because of the many years of fighting and struggle it took to be developed into the cultural haven that it is today.
Joe and many other great artists of his time like, Salvador Torres and Mario Torero are responsible for building Chicano Park and creating the dozens of murals that adorn the highway underpasses.
As we walked through the park Joe played tour guide and introduced me to the many murals covering every subject of life, death and the struggle for Mexican independence to the current struggles of the day.
After the tour we sat under the bridges of Chicano Park painting and drawing and local artists would seemingly appear out of nowhere to reminisce with Joe about the history of the park and encourage Joe to get his art career back on track because sadly at that time very few Chicano artists that helped develop the park were still alive.
Most people can’t wait until they have the opportunity to leave their hometown and move on to new surroundings but when I looked at the wealth of artwork in my own city I realized that inspiration is only a state of mind and you only have to look outside your door to be inspired.
As I walked those streets and painted with Joe at Chicano Park I felt completely at ease in that environment and safe.
Spending time with him at Chicano Park helped me to see that even though it was an unsafe neighborhood, it certainly hosted people there who were good, honest and hardworking.
These people had stories to tell; their lives were rich with culture and passionate and I loved every minute that I spent with Joe in Chicano Park.
I knew that if I wanted to grow as an artist and as a person, I needed this diversity and culture that I had very much lacked before.
It was at this time that I formed my passion for art and worked hard to help Joe restart his art career and sell paintings again for a brief period of time.
As we painted together Joe grew more and more inspired once again. He was improving every day while finding enlightenment, in his art and his culture, and with these improvements came the promise of new art shows and possibilities.
Over the next five years, Joe had many opportunities to advance his career and get back into the spotlight as I encouraged him behind the scenes.
But even though I was happiest when I was painting, when I went home, everyday I reentered the familiar reality of starting a career where I could support myself financially and pay bills.
My parents were still struggling financially while they counted on my sister and me to contribute to the family.
My sister, Becky was in her early twenties and still living at home while she worked and went to a local junior college part time.
At the time Becky was set on completing her education so she could work in the child care field because she had a knack for working with children.
My sister and I are and always will be close siblings and friends that confide in each other and look to each other for strength in times of trial and sadness.
As long as we were living at home, my parents counted us as adults who were capable of earning their keep.
This was the right thing for my parents to do under the circumstances but, it interfered with my internal fight to fulfill my professional and personal desires in life.
During this time in my life I was madly passionate about my art but nobody encouraged me to pursue it as a career because other then it being something that I loved, nobody thought it could turn into a career that I could support myself on financially in the years to come.
Most artists from Claude Monet to Jackson Pollock dealt with the obstacle of financial insecurity while they chased their dreams of lucrative artistic ventures.
My family couldn’t relate to any degree of personal fame or fortune, they only understood hard work at a steady 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job as the formula for success.
The life-long daily “grind,” of 8 hour a day, 40 hour work weeks that my family had followed for generations left my parents dumbfounded as to how anyone could make a living in the creative arts.
On several occasions my dad said on that he didn’t think he would make over a million dollars in a lifetime. And he couldn’t understand how an actor like Tom Cruise, for instance could get paid $25 million per movie. And why would anyone pay millions of dollars for a Monet or Van Gogh painting when they could get a nice print at an art store?
For my parent’s, the priority was to provide for the family first. And anything that had to do with luxury or entertainment was second.
And thus I was afraid to pursue a serious career in art, because I was thought I wouldn’t be able to support myself if I dedicated my life to it.
So instead of setting out to conquer a field of infinite imagination and creative expression I sought the solidarity of a structured, society approved career similar to my fathers.
I was scared to openly proclaim my art driven passions. If I had done so nobody in my circle of influence would have understood me.
In my heart, I wanted to inadvertently defy generations of men in my family who did only one thing for their careers, provide for their families and nothing more.
I was still a kid and had never seen anyone in my family make it in anything other than a steady job.
I was stuck, unable to overcome my fears and move on with my dreams.
I tried an assortment of occupations during this period in my life from cleaning pools, janitorial, customer service, fast food, job coach and personal trainer.
My life really did reflect the meaning of that ancient Chinese curse, “may you live in interesting times,” because since I wasn’t dedicating my life to my art, in a way I ended up cursing myself by searching for the fulfillment that I got through art in a daily job.
In my search for the fulfilling job, I didn’t find anything that was fulfilling, interesting or satisfying and so I fell into a cycle of trying a different job every few months. This cycle kept my life interesting and sometimes entertaining but left me with little real experience and a very bad resume.
As I was going through this cycle the worst of my jobs that I tried was moving pianos for Green Music, in San Diego because every day was like working for a mid evil torturer.
When I moved pianos, I didn’t just use my normal muscles, I used every little muscle and joint that I never thought I had. At the end of every day I was so tired that even my fingernails hurt!
My moving partner was an old guy named Ken who was a cross between the Marlboro Man and the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Ken had been working for Green Music in San Diego, off and on as handyman, technician and piano mover for over 15 years and didn’t want to do anything else because he understood how to perform the job, and do it easily. Furthermore it was the only opportunity he would ever have in his life to be a boss or manage someone else.
He also liked the fact that he could work at his own pace and avoid any set schedule like the other employees in the company.
Working on Ken’s schedule meant that I had to be ready to work 10 to 12 hours a day.
I spent days with Ken listening to his lectures on complicated matters like physics and biology as we drove to our next delivery while keeping my head out the passenger window to avoid choking to death on his cigarette smoke.
After just a few days on that job, and a lot of physical pain, I realized that I couldn’t see myself doing this for another week, or even one month and I didn’t want to end like Ken, with his hunched back and black tar lungs.
This job was literally killing Ken and when he wasn’t moving pianos, he was smoking a pack a day while he worried if he could pay his bills or not.
I knew that if I stayed there, I would end up just like him and that all my opportunities would vanish like a moving truck in the night. So I decided to make a quick exit and find another job.
One day as I was job searching again I evaluated what I had accomplished since graduating high school, and judging from my crappy resume realized that all I accomplished in four years of work were a variety of jobs and no long term work experience.
I knew that if I wanted to settle down and be able to have the financial security I needed to begin my art career I had better use what real skills I had and seriously pursue gardening as a career.
I wasn’t excited about pursuing a professional career in gardening and because I didn’t have the same excitement I had for it in high school, when I did a lot of the work with Cliff.
Cliff was my “pseudo” partner in my gardening business and after he went into the Air Force working outside everyday by myself just wasn’t fun anymore and going back that work made me feel like I was going backwards in my life instead of going forward.
Little did I know that even though I felt like a failure, again, I was moving forward with my life and was about to meet people and gain many more valuable life experiences…..