The Incoherent Blues

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As I rode the streetcar home last night, a streetcar busy with revelers heading downtown to party in the various bars and clubs, a louder-than-expected noise rose from the front. The sound was vaguely human and from its rising volume, I could only assume was approaching my area in the back.

Suddenly, an awkwardly rampaging bear of a man burst through the crowd, intent more on maintaining his feet than malevolence. It was just one of the many street denizens that populate Toronto, and this one was exceptionally inebriated, and loudly so.

Proving the theory that if you fall in all directions at the same time, you will stay on your feet, this tottering mass of humanity somehow lurched itself to a seat near the back of the streetcar, announcing to everyone—real or imaginary—that he had arrived.

His volume remained ear-splitting and mentally crushing, yet despite sounding like he was irritated with someone or something—Why are curse words so easy to enunciate under even the worst of conditions, while every other word remains a garbled mess?—he remained relatively harmless.

Had this been the extent of the interaction, he would have remained white noise in my background (I’m not sure, but perhaps I should be ashamed to admit that), and I would have blissfully gone back to contemplating the photos I had just taken at a hockey game or taken in the sights that passed outside my window.

But something changed.

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From somewhere within the mental and chemical maelstrom that struggled to maintain its physical if not social integrity behind me, beauty arose in the form of music.

Even though the man himself remained incoherent, magic happened when he placed a small harmonica against his lips. Riffs of Blues music poured forth in brief bursts.

Between these bursts, he continued his bilious bellowings; there was no attempt at lyrics to the best my ear could discern.

But the man mountain’s inner song rose slowly, incidental music to a life of struggle and dysfunction, signs perhaps that at one time, this free-range citizen was more free spirit.

The tide of revelers ebbed and flowed around the music man for several minutes as we continued our way across the city, most doing their best to ignore the intruder other than to throw incredulous glances or bemused smiles to one another.

Eventually, the music stopped as the human-encased chaos plunged out the back door into the night.

And if only in the smallest way, he left me changed as what otherwise would have been a self-indulgent ride across the city became a wondrous duel between incapacity and limitless capacity.

I hope he found repose.

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You are your own inspiration

An actor friend recently expressed “I don’t wanna” about leaving town for an upcoming gig. I assumed it was less about fearing the gig and more about leaving home, but I wanted to let her know it wasn’t about wanna or even hafta.

Enjoy.

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Failure is not an option…it’s a skill

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I used to be terrified of failure. If I couldn’t know that I would succeed at something, I would put it off and potentially never do it.

And this was true in all aspects of life.

Driving. Dancing. Playing musical instruments. Talking to girls and later women. Athletics.

I became the best I could at one or two things—the things for which I seemed to have a natural aptitude—to avoid having to worry about being asked to do any of a thousand other things.

To me, failure was not an option. (I could spend months discussing why, but I won’t…at least, not here).

It has taken me a long time, but I have finally realized that I was only half right.

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Failure is not an option…it is an imperative.

It is a skill that I must practice time and time again in all aspects of life.

At its simplest, if I succeeded at everything to which I turned my hand, I would stop doing it.

I succeeded. I achieved my goal. What more could I hope to accomplish? Everything after that is pure redundancy and repetition.

When harnessed, however, failure and imperfection can be that thing that drives me forward, when purely creative urges do not.

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Failure is my teacher. Failure is my drill sergeant and mentor. And yes, failure can be my devil.

Perfection is an illusion and is therefore unattainable. This means that even at our zenith, we have failed. So what?

Even if we do not strive for perfection, but for an attainable, measurable goal, we are likely to fail if for no other reason than once we have achieved that goal, we instinctively move the goal posts. Our best is always a thing of the past and acts as a goad for us to do better.

Herein also lays the further challenge of failure in Art. There typically is no real metric other than external opinion. Rare is the individual who targets using 7.83% magenta in his next painting.

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Wile E. Coyote is about the only artist I know who can actively test the realism of his Art. He has achieved his goal if the Roadrunner runs into the cliff wall painted to look like a tunnel. Ironically, his downfall was the hyperrealism he achieved such that the painting actually became a tunnel. In succeeding, he found failure.

Where I used to fear failure, I now embrace it. I use it to stretch myself and my skills. I use it as a lesson plan.

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But for this to work, I must envision failure as something internal and self-defined rather than something external and based on the opinions of others. There lies madness.

Yes, I rely on feedback garnered from others to determine my degree of success, but I do not allow others to define that success.

It is my Art. I define it and in doing so, define myself. And to do that, I must fail and fail again.

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(Images are property of owners and are used here without permission, which may be an epic failure on my part.)