Bummer: What a Flat Tire Taught Me About the New Year

January 6th, 2017

On Christmas Eve, we were on our way back from my parents house after celebrating Christmas with my parents and my sister’s family. About halfway home, we noticed the tire indicator light in our Toyota Sienna minivan came on. We thought it was probably no big deal and continued on to the Christmas Eve service at church.

Of course, once we got home, I saw that the rear driver side tire was just about flat.

Oh great. This was not the way I wanted to spend Christmas.

Well, on Christmas Day, after the kids opened their presents, I went out to the garage to remove the tire and put the spare on.

The flat tire had a screw right smack in the middle of the tread. Maybe this can be fixed without too much trouble, I thought.

So far, so good, right? We will just have to get to Costco first thing in the morning before it gets crowded and get the tire fixed. We’ll be out maybe a hundred bucks or so.

That afternoon I went upstairs and discovered that the commode was backed up.

My first thought was:

You know how things happen in threes? Maybe number one was the flat tire. Number two is the commode being backed up (no pun intended). And what’s next for number three?

Pessimistic thinking, I know. Just waiting for the other shoe to drop. So I get up the day after Christmas wondering what the third bad thing that will happen is going to be. We get loaded up in the car to celebrate Christmas with the in-laws.

Guess what?

The van won’t start.

The battery has been drained because a door was left open all night (the van was in the garage). So I was kind of bummed since it delayed us in getting to Costco as soon as it opened to get the tire fixed.

But here’s the thing.

With all of these situations I have been fully equipped to handle everything.

  • I know how to change a tire. The most challenging part was getting the spare out from under the van and I’ve done this before. (The worst was on a country road long after dark in July when it felt like the heat index was a thousand degrees.)
  • We have a plunger. So the backed-up commode was not the end of the world. Once you have a two-year-old stuff an entire roll of toilet paper in the commode, you keep a plunger on hand.
  • I have jumper cables. I was fortunate enough to have the other car in the driveway. I managed to get it close enough to the van to use the jumper cables.

You may not be spiritual, but…

The point of all this is I have a feeling that God is trying to tell me that in 2017 I will have challenges, but I am fully equipped to take them on.

I will have inconveniences and momentary setbacks. But I have everything I need to manage them. I have the tools. And it and if I don’t have those tools right now, I have the means to obtain them.

So I feel pretty good about 2017.

How about you?

(PS: Costco replaced the tire at no cost to us since it was still under warranty. Hooray!)

Photo Credit: Imthaz Ahamed

Advice for Art Majors: How I Would Do College Differently

June 24th, 2016

There is something of a debate over whether artists who pursue formal education should attend an art school or a liberal arts college with an art program.

I went to a liberal arts school and loved it.

I loved my 4 years at Harding. I would gotten a lot out of AI Atlanta or SCAD or RISD, but instead I went to Harding University, a Church of Christ-affiliated liberal arts college. And I’m glad I did.

I got to interact with a lot of different majors and types of people. I had friends who were theatre majors, English majors, math majors, and more. I got to know people from all walks of campus life. I know college students are their own demographic, but there are so many subgroups on campus.

Memories are made outside the classroom

I gotta say the best parts of my college experience were not so much what happened in the classroom but what happened out of the classroom. Getting to hang out with my fellow art majors just to get something eat or hang out in the dorm. Late night excursions to Taco Bell or the Bulldog in Bald Knob for a hamburger.

And how can I forget the hours I spent at Midnight Oil Coffeehouse?

From their opening week my freshman year until the time I graduated, I was a regular there. Remember Norm on Cheers? That was Midnight Oil for me.

I went there for Bible studies. I hung out with friends. I took dates there. I studied and read and sketched. I loved it so much that did a couple of paintings of the interior. Those beat-up walls. The cool art. Friends setting up to play acoustic sets. That ugly old sofa that everyone loved. This was before Starbucks was everywhere, so Midnight Oil had snarky signs explaining that this was “real” cappuccino, not the kind you find in gas stations.

There was a lot of stuff to do despite living in a small college town in the middle of nowhere.

The funniest off-campus experience I had was when about five of us graphic design majors decided to try the taekwondo studio that was giving free lessons.I attempted to deliver a kick. As I did so, I broke wind.

My eyes bugged out of my head, and we just about all collapsed in giggles.

It was a complete accident but it was hilarious.

There was a group of five-year-olds practicing their moves with their game faces on. They could probably take us all down without breaking a sweat, and we 20-year-olds were giggling because somebody (yours truly) farted.

What I wish I had done differently

My only regrets are that I did not stick around at least one or two more semesters to add some more studies to my repertoire. I wish I had earned a painting minor. Or maybe a second major. (I have a BFA in Graphic Design. I love graphic design, but I love painting even more.) Or a minor in marketing or business.But I was ready to graduate and be done with school. I was ready for the next phase. But I wasn’t prepared for it.

Advice for art majors

I encourage art majors to get a minor in business or marketing. Every artist or graphic designer will have to know how to brand and market herself. At some point you’re going to work for yourself, whether you want to or not! Knowing how to run a business is a must. At the very least, you’ll be running a side gig at some point. I’ve been laid off from two full-time graphic design jobs, and having that freelance design side hustle really paid off. So well, in fact, that when I got laid off a year ago, my side hustle very nearly became a full-time gig before someone offered me a great full-time job as a graphic designer.There is a lot you learn on the job but learning it in the classroom can get you there faster. And the connections you make have the potential to last a lifetime.

Why Fog Keeps Coming Up in My Art

September 16th, 2014

This time of year in Nashville we have a lot of foggy mornings. The sky is gray, and it feels like the sky is just a few feet away from you. In a sense, it is.

The world seems to disappear and reappear right before your eyes. Landmarks and skylines disappears.

My drive into Nashville looked like this one morning recently.

It was pretty and quiet.

I think fog has been such a powerful metaphor for how I’ve felt the past 10 years.

I’ve fallen in and out of love. Moved in and out of my parents’ house several times. Dated a bunch. Finally met someone I thought would be perfect for me. Married her and a year later I became a dad. Six months later, the economy took a “downturn,” I lost my job, and we moved in with my parents for a year. I got a job I couldn’t stand, we bought a foreclosure, and then we had another baby. Eventually I quit the job I didn’t like and tried my hand at freelancing full-time. Then we found out we were having a third baby, nearly lost the house more than once, finally landed at another job.

Whoah.

During it all, everything has been up in the air, unclear. I’ve felt like I was on the road, headed… somewhere. At full speed.

And even now, though things aren’t that bad, there’s still uncertainty in the air, and I don’t really know where I am going just yet. You probably don’t, either.

While things grow more stable (wait until the kids are teenagers!) nothing is completely clear, but that’s okay.

I know it is just fog. There are solid objects out there that I have to watch out for, so I use caution.

I just keep my headlights on to help everyone else out.

Be a light in the fog.

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I Like It.

July 15th, 2014

All too often this is what I hear from people regarding art or design. They have an either/or response: they like it or they dislike it.

I suppose this is natural and a fundamental part of our humanity. If something makes us uncomfortable or unpleasant, it’s probably a good idea to stop doing whatever that thing is.

Yet what makes art “good” isn’t necessarily what makes it pleasant or even likable.

Nowadays the creative process or the theory behind it is what makes art compelling.

Not what it looks like or even how beautiful it is. While beautiful art is making something of a comeback, there’s still a lot of 20th century art sitting around that isn’t necessarily fun to look at, but it has some strong concepts and processes driving it.

But back to liking or disliking something: when you say this, it sounds like you haven’t given it further thought. Sure, you may be going on your instincts, and your gut is often right, but simply liking something makes it sound as if you haven’t critically observed whatever it is you’re looking at.

I want to hear more people qualify what they are liking or disliking. Picasso’s Guernica (1937) isn’t pretty, but it is important, because it makes some pretty bold statements about how ugly total war is.

It is both personal and impersonal: the impersonal war obliterated a town not far from the place Picasso grew up. There’s nothing pretty about it and there isn’t supposed to be. It’s brutal.

The painting moves you because it tells you how terrible war is. Everywhere Picasso turned, the newspapers were full of death and destruction of people, animals, property. He was overwhelmed and outraged and it shows.

And you want to say whether you like or dislike “Guernica”?

That’s about as dumb as saying whether you like or dislike the war that prompted it.

Look deeper.

Not just at art, but the world around you.

We’ve become so dumbed down by a simple thumbs-up. Life is far more complex than that. Develop a vocabulary to talk about it.

Adventures

February 25th, 2014

I’m something of an adrenaline junkie. I get bored easily. I want life to be bold, exciting, colorful.

In college, I spent a semester in Europe. It was a blast. I loved random trips to other cities. The adventure of finding my way around a place where I couldn’t speak the language. Getting lost and eating weird food with my friends.

I spent my 20s traveling a lot. Moving a lot. Hanging out a lot. Dating a lot. Not as “adventurous” as backpacking across Europe, but still exciting in many regards. A lot of ups and downs. I made some art. Fell in and out of love. Found the woman I’d spend the rest of my life with.

By the end of that decade, I had settled down. I had bought a house and gotten married.

Two weeks after my 30th birthday, my first child was born. Needless to say, the adventure of my 30s has been much more domestic. More stressful in a lot of ways. Job changes, more moves, more babies.

I don’t get out much now. An adventure now is fixing a flat tire and trying to figure out how to pay for a new one. Taking my daughter to the art crawl. Watching my child take his first steps. Listening to my little boy talk in paragraphs about sea monsters and pirates.

But what’s funny is that 15 years ago, I never imagined that I’d be at a corporate desk job, painting occasionally, raising a family, and LOVING IT.

Soon we will go on a quest for a new chest of drawers to replace the one handed down from my dad that he had as a kid. It’s in my daughter’s room. It broke, probably beyond repair, and fell on my daughter when she was trying to put away her clothes while my wife and I got the boys ready for bed. That was scary. A crash and “help! help!” from a curly-headed little one holding a chest of drawers on her shoulders.

My life is still very much an adventure, just different. Sometimes a lot scarier. But just as fun and crazy. And that’s part of growing up.

God Wants You to Make Better Art (Uncovering My Own Story Made Me Realize How Much Work I Have To Do)

October 11th, 2013

Last month, I attended a multimedia webinar hosted by Blaine Hogan, Creative Director at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. “God Wants You to Make Better Art” was on a Wednesday night, just after when I would normally have been at mid-week Bible study. So I skipped church, put the kids to bed early, and attended the $10 webinar that Blaine hosted. Hope had a meeting of her own, too.

(You can find a version of his presentation here on his blog: Move More People and Make Better Art.)

STORY

Blaine’s overarching theme was that of story. I thought this was pretty interesting since last year our congregation studied from The Story, a Bible study that puts everything in a continuous narrative from the framework of viewing the Bible as God’s story.

Blaine’s angle was that we look at our own stories, and search for the themes that connect us with those around us.

His own story can be viewed as tragic, starting from sexual abuse as a child, moving to pornography and alcohol addictions as an adult, while following a career path as an actor. “At 18 I had become a professional actor and by 25 I had become a professional addict as well.” But it doesn’t end in tragedy: he wound up finding healing at seminary.

Blaine’s story is one of constant redemption, a testament to God’s amazing grace: He redeems us no matter what we’ve done, what we will do.

God redeemed us once, for all time. I think it has taken Blaine many reminders over the years to understand this. (I need to be reminded of this frequently, too.)

Themes & Metaphors

For the 2012 Christmas event at Willow Creek, Blaine explored this theme of redemption and wanted to make it relatable to people from all walks of life. He saw Christ’s coming as a salvage mission. So the stage set for the multimedia presentation had reclaimed materials such as found wood, and the Christmas story was narrated as one where God was coming to earth to rescue the people he loved.

(Hogan said the challenge for making it accessible to everyone was to avoid dumbing it down or devolving into kitsch.)

Clearly, Blaine’s own experiences cause him to vividly experience the theme of redemption in Scripture. And that’s important. You can’t downplay that. It just might be the most important theme of the Bible other than love — the motivation for redemption.

Newtonian Physics and Art

Hogan talked a little bit about Isaac Newton. Newton’s first law of motion maintains that
An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.
The application to art is that if you want to make art that moves people, you have to make moving art, and to do that, you must deliver a moving pitch, and to do that, you must develop a moving idea, and before that, the artist must be moved first. So, to do any of that, you start with stories. And that’s where Blaine’s own story comes into play, and how he found his themes and put them to work in his own art.

How can your art move people to Christ? Of course, before knowing how to do this, you must start with your own story.

What are the themes and metaphors I can draw from my own experiences to inform my art and make it accessible to everyone so that they are moved to Christ in some way?

So, I set out to uncover my own story.

I had no idea what I was in for.

Some say that to find your own story, you should journal a good deal and find your themes that way.

Thing is, I’ve been actively journaling about ten or eleven years now. It started out as Morning Pages (as outlined in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way) but I got away from that and currently use a journaling template somewhat like Michael Hyatt’s.

It has been a long time since journaling has uncovered much of my themes (and I really don’t want to go back and re-read and re-live the bad parts where I whined a lot a decade ago.) So I’ve been stumped.

I’ve let this percolate in the back of my mind a few weeks, and on a lunchtime walk, it hit me: my biggest theme is one of loneliness and anger and resentment.

This might surprise you. Then again, it might not. Depends on how well you know me.

I’ve long resented my hearing loss, and the way that has held me back in numerous ways. It makes me angry on some deep, vague level. I think this is the root of everything for me. And on some level I’m an angry person. Most of the time I’m neutral. Sort of. Definitely not as mellow as I thought of myself when I was a teenager. I guess the anger and resentment started to surface in my 20s, once I was out of college. I put my fist through a pantry door once. I’ve been to anger management classes but that was 11 years ago, and a lot has changed in my life since then.

My hearing loss has made me angry, resentful, and above all, lonely. I think on some level I’ve been angry at God about this, resenting my hearing loss for at least thirty years.

In college I discovered porn on the Internet. So for a long time, I tried to treat that loneliness with porn. But that only made my loneliness more intense. Which made me angrier. And magnified the resentment I felt toward anybody who seemed to have a connection with anyone other than me, so it spiraled deeper and deeper. This lasted over a decade.

Until last year, I realized what was going to happen to my marriage and my children if I didn’t do something about it. I made a conscious decision, breaking down into tears in the bathroom with my wife, promising that I wasn’t going to look at porn again. It’s the same as cheating on her. Wait. No “same as.” It is.

It hasn’t been easy. There are times I want to load something disgusting online for a quick thrill or simulation of intimacy without the effort. (But I know there is no reward for that.) I’m not about to damage my relationship with my wife and my children and even my parents for the next 30 or 40 years just from a half-second jolt to the lizard brain.

I’ve also got a lot of resentment toward the idea of false praise. There have been significant moments where I’ve displayed my art and heard, “Ooooh, Brad! That’s amaaaazing!” and it rang false. As a result, I have had a hard time accepting praise.

Yet I hungrily seek approval.

Nowhere is this more evident than on social media, where it seems everyone else has more clicks, pins, likes, plusses, or hearts than I. No wonder social media sends me into such a dark funk. I try hard to make a concerted effort to get likes and clicks and retweets, and then after a week or so I throw up my hands and give up, depressed and angry when I look at Buffer’s analytics and see what I’m sharing isn’t getting clicked on. Then I’m back at it again the next week. Again with the spiral, looking for a quick fix that makes me feel accepted.

• • •

Wow. This been cathartic. I don’t know where this came from, nor what to do with it. In many ways I’m still on this journey. As it turns out, my perspective is rather pessimistic and distrustful. There’s no hope or redemption. I’m shocked at my own pessimism. I’ve never looked at myself this critically or deeply. It’s depressing. I don’t like this.

And yet.

Somewhere inside me there is hope. I think my parents instilled some spark in me that is optimistic, that believes there is good in this world, that somebody believes in me.

I do know this: I want to give my kids the self-confidence that I didn’t have. Every day, I make a point to tell them how proud I am of them, and that I will always love them no matter what they do, for the sole reason that they are my children, and there’s nothing they can do to change that. It’s hard, being as preoccupied as I am with my art (or lack thereof) let alone deep-seated doubts about my own merit.

This is not the story I want. Looking in the mirror is difficult when I discover how apparently intrinsically negative I am.

I suppose now I should set about writing myself a better story. But how?

I don’t have any answers right now, but I’ll get there. I just know it involves forgiveness. Probably again and again and again.

See? There is hope. Even if it is just a tiny spark.

Empty (Never Forget)

September 11th, 2013

I painted this October or November 2001. I was so devastated by the 9/11 attacks that I had nightmares for weeks afterward and struggled with any sort of creative output.

It’s the Twin Towers, voided and burning. Empty.

It’s how I felt for quite a while after 9/11.

The day my generation realized childhood was definitely over.

Big

August 29th, 2013

My daughter Annie will be five soon. She’s the oldest of three children, and the only girl. Recently her middle brother was sick, and she did a lot to help her Mama take care of little brother. A few days later, I asked her to watch her baby brother while I put the middle brother to bed while Mama was out.

She told me that when she helps watch the boys it makes her feel “big.”

It was really cute.

At the same time, it made me sad, because I don’t want her to hurry through her childhood. She won’t be a child for long, but she will be an adult for quite a long time in comparison.

When you’re 30-something, though, doing all those “grown-up” things are just a matter of course. You don’t feel any more or less “big.”

At least I don’t.

I suppose adulthood for me is something that came gradually. There was no one moment in my life where I said, “Oh, yes, I’m an adult now. This is what being an adult feels like.”

Not getting my driver’s license, or going to college, or spending a semester in Europe and backpacking around without adult supervision.

Buying a house didn’t make me feel like an adult, though it probably should have. Getting married 2 years later didn’t, either. Neither did becoming a dad, or losing a job, or starting my own business.

Maybe it’s because I’ve never looked like what I imagine a typical adult to be, which in my mind is someone who wears a suit and tie every day and carries a briefcase. Does anyone look like that anymore? I wear jeans every day and have a three-day beard most of the time.

For some reason none of these “grown-up” things ever made me feel like a grown-up. They felt like a matter of course.

It’s almost like I’ve been a spectator to my own life.

And I can’t say if that’s good or bad.

Quiet

April 15th, 2013

I’m Deaf.

I have severe-profound hearing loss.

We found out when I was two.

Since then, I have worn bilateral, behind-the-ear hearing aids.

Not everybody notices right away. When they do, it seems to be a bit of a surprise. Maybe they don’t encounter deaf people very often?

One thing I think some people are envious of is that with the flip of a switch, I can have near-complete silence. I have to admit that it’s nice to get up before the rest of the house, pour a cup of coffee, and sit down in my big leather chair and do some writing — in complete quiet.

Quiet is one of those things we pursue so relentlessly. We live in an age where our pocket or purse alerts us constantly of all sorts of updates about everything from social media messages, to weather, to email, to our current bank balance.

Then there are our commitments to bosses, children, spouses, family and friends that are demanding our time.

We worry about the economy and the government and anything else they can find to report about in the news.

Finally there are bills to be paid and repairs to make that drain our pocketbooks.

It all amounts to a lot of stressful noise.

Of course we want quiet!

What we really want is peace.

And buying stuff doesn’t help, no matter what our friends on Madison Avenue tell us.

I don’t have the answer to the noise, but I do know who has the answer.

I have a gift: making visual art. I want to create art that brings a sense of calm and peace, whether it is paintings or photographs like the one above.

Muted colors, simple, un-cluttered compositions, low contrast.

Do you feel peace and calm when you look at it? Or do you feel frenzied?

Do you feel quiet?