A quiet morning here in paradise and I have little fear of my head intersecting a bludgeon later on, but you never know. When vectors start flying the outcome is always a little unpredictable, regardless of the equation. Some bludgeons are emotional, existential, internal.
Today is my brother’s birthday, and as he is no longer around to help celebrate, I thought I’d write about talent. A couple of days ago I was helping my neighbor with her computer and she said some interesting things. She said that I get up in the morning and think, “I’m going to paint that” or “I’m going to write that story.” I agreed. That’s pretty much what I do. She then said she wished she had talent. I told her that there’s not much to talent. The big thing is to keep at something until you’re good at it and take pleasure in it.
My brother was extraordinarily talented. His artistic abilities as a storyteller through comics emerged when he was just a little guy of three. For most of his young life he could happily sit in the corner of our basement drawing cartoons. He did it hours on end. Anyone can draw cartoons if they get a book that shows them how, but not everyone has the mind to put the comic characters together with stories. He had a phenomenal and unique sense of humor.
Combined with this — and this is what artists are “notorious” for — he had a very large dark side. I don’t know when he started drinking. In my perpetually naive state, I thought it was when he was 18 or so, but that’s probably wrong. At a very early age my brother began looking for something he could imbibe that would intoxicate him.
A friend of mine seven years ago — also a brilliant guy who’d fought alcoholism and, for the moment, had won — said that for some people talent is a curse and a burden. I thought maybe that accurately described my brother. Anyone with an alcoholic, drug addict or suicide in their family wonders, “Why?” Maybe that was it. Or maybe it was our family, but I don’t think so. I think it was inside my brother, a mysterious dark force that I will never (god willing) understand.
So here I am. My brother would have been 63 today. When I think of him I don’t think of the sorrowful denouement of his life story. I think of the kid I played with. I think of sledding in the woods near our house in Nebraska. I think of going out trick-or-treating (and pulling tricks on people). I think of walking to school and seeing the snow coming toward us as stars pelting the window of our spaceship. I think of the young father who yelled at the nurse because she would not let me hold his new baby, “Immediate family only,” said the nurse.
“But she’s my sister!” yelled my brother as the nurse walked away, the baby in her arms.
The photo is my brother in 1975, aged 22, at Pine Creek Gallery and Restaurant in Colorado Springs, at a painting show with some of his work and the work of his friends, Daryl Anderson, Rick Berry, Artie Romero and probably others whose names I don’t know. 🙂