A beautiful woman came and sat at our table. We have known her for many years. She was married to a good friend of ours who died one year ago on New Year’s Eve. Anna is an artist and a mother. A few years ago she ran away, back to the country of her birth, Denmark. She took virtually nothing with her: a few photos of her sons, an unbelievably small amount of money, and a little red book that contained the addresses of the good people in her life. From her new home she divorced her then-husband and married another Dane. Not long after that he suddenly died. He was still young. Anna has loved well and is loved by all. Her grown sons adore her. “Do you still have the little red book?” I asked. “Yes, of course,” she said, “and there is something very special in it that has meant a great deal to me.” She took the book from her purse and showed me a page with the cryptic quote attributed to Jack London:
“I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out
in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in
magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.”
Jack London was a man of courage. He held that “it takes courage to go, and courage to stay.” His wanderlust had him cram several lifetimes into his 40 years. His books of adventure and human struggle are still widely read. The Call of the Wild, is one of the best dog stories ever written.
In the holiday season people come back together for the sake of family and friends. It’s a time of joy and happiness and in some places even peace. It’s also a time to reassess and review our lives and the lives of others. To all of the Anna’s of this world, we say, “Good going.”
PS: “Imagination is everything. Imagination is the voice of daring.” (Henry Miller, also from Anna’s book)
Esoterica: Jack London (1876-1916) wrote 50 books in 17 years. His principle was to keep going to new locations in order to gain inspiration and a sense of place. He started as a journalist in San Francisco, traveling to the South Pacific, the Klondike, England and other places. An alcoholic, he died by his own hand at his ranch in California.
The following are selected responses to the above letter. Thank you for writing.
Anna’s little red book
Are people like Anna, that you write about, really live persons? (PDR)
(RG note) Anna is quite dramatically alive. She let me make a photocopy of her little red book. It’s amazing the small things that become important to us. I noticed JRR Tolkien’s quote there too: “Not all those who wander are lost.” With regard to Jack London, there is scholarly controversy as to whether he actually said or wrote what is known as his “Credo.” It is almost certain he wrote the first line. You can find out more about it at http://london.sonoma.edu/credo.html
Not worth living any other way
by Radha (Linda Saccoccio) NYC
“The call of the wild” is really the call to live. The inspiration that allows us to be unique and live our lives our own individual way to the max. For years beginning in the confusion of puberty only to continue into the impositions of adulthood, I have felt like a wild flower trying to survive without being caught up in someone else’s choice of destiny for me. I feel that organic quality needs a full spirited life to nourish it. That is where I am at now, I am choosing things that keep the originality (not yet spoiled) in early childhood more fully alive daily. The amazing thing I have found is that initially this can really create a stir, until people realize that i am really committed to this and it is who I am. It takes a bit of strength, determination and honoring who we truly are. Even though I have to face resistance and anger because of my choice to live fully, I don’t think my life is worth living any other way! What would be the point? Hats off to Anna…
Another little red book
by Joy Cooper, West Virginia
We lived in Calgary, Alberta, Canada for three wonderful years. One rainy day we visited the Heritage Center, which showcases buildings and costumes of Canada’s history. When we entered the Mounted Police cabin a young Mountie dressed in red was reading something. He put it away and I teased, “Are you reading something modern?” He pulled it back out. It was an original copy of the Mounted Police handbook bound in red. It outlined the duties, everyday chores, and behavior that were to be followed. I loved the entry about what to do at the end of the day when lodging was secured. First, take care of the horse. Brush him and feed him a portion of oats, tend to any injuries, etc. Only then could the tired Mountie have dinner and a rest! Soon after, I read Robert Service‘s poem, Clancy of the Mounted Police. One of the verses says, “In the little Crimson Manual it’s written plain and clear; that who would wear the scarlet coat shall say good-by to fear.” It continues that they “read their Crimson Manual, and find their duty plain.” I bought a red-bound diary, which is now my “Crimson Manual.” There are life-rules in there, and quotes including the Service poem, and references to the good people I’ve been fortunate to cross paths with. I’m adding the Jack London quote today.
A different view
If you would indulge me I would like to re-write the story of Anna. Anna was a very beautiful woman whose husband was a little older than she and was no longer able to pay her the attention she needed. Although he adored her she was unable to put her ego aside. Fleeing to her homeland, she sought affirmation of her worth through a younger lover. Although in time her children were able to forgive her deserting them, they were left permanently damaged. In a misguided attempt to ‘live life to the fullest’ she has lost everything of any real value. If this were in fact the reality of Anna’s life would you have used it as an example of how to live rather than merely exist?
Now, lets take the story from another perspective. Anna, a beautiful woman, has after much hard work and internal struggle, came to the conclusion that she does not need to be a ” brilliant blaze,” or a “superb meteor” to truly “use her time well.” She does not equate her self-worth with her physical beauty and therefore does not look for affirmation from the outside world. Although from the world’s perspective she lives a quiet and uneventful life, it is actually very full and rich. She adores her husband and children and finds great fulfillment in her work. Again, this is not a life our society would hold up as an inspiration. However, to all of the Anna’s, who show great courage in finding a way to do their work, while caring for their husbands and children, who do not need the applause of the world to know their worth, and whose lives are rich and full although never to be held up as examples of ‘living life to the fullest’ I say, “Good going!”
(RG note) My daughter Sara and I agonized about the inclusion of the word “beautiful” in the first line of this letter. She was anxious to leave it out as she felt it lightened the point and made the letter a bit too frivolous. I ruled and kept it in as I thought most of the readers would understand beautiful as in “a beautiful person.”
Community of artists
by Kyle Nitzsche
I found The Painter’s Keys site a couple of months ago and have truly enjoyed and been inspired the thoughts and approach to life as expressed in the twice-weekly letter, as well as by the community of artists that has been created. It’s deeply meaningful to read the responses to the letter. I am a serious, albeit amateur, oil painter, by which I mean I work hard, love my art, and enjoy the process of working through problems and putting in time, effort, creative spirit and joi de vivre into my work. I hope to approach one or two galleries in the not too distant future, but, I’ll hopefully take everything as it comes without too much concern and fuss.
by an “Anna”
I received your e-mail while wrapping a copy of The Call of the Wild for a friend for Christmas, and thinking about my unusual year. The quote and some key poems have been in my little (red!) book for almost 30 years. Serendipity?
by Catherine Yakovina, St Petersburg, Russia
I think that full freedom is not exist. Every person depends from the society. A person must think about relations. Moral and lows do not give full freedom for a person too. I think it is not too bad. A lot of talented films show a terrible consequence of full freedom. People must be more kind and clever that they could have full freedom.
Just like life
by Dale Pruden
I enjoy reading what I have grown to understand are your ” life lessons,” and appreciate how much art imitates life in the communication you get and give to various people. At the end of the day it is all so very much about attitude and being able to “work” your own little world. I do art as a most enjoyable hobby, but it so often reflects my highs and lows. When I do not put the time in, it shows, if I rush it, it shows, if I am unfocused, it shows, and in those sweet moments that I am focused and loose and let the work develop, it shows. You get out what you put in. I also agree with you that selling your art is also an experience where you must adapt to the environment, and if you are loose and having fun, it definitely attracts an audience, even if they don’t buy. Just like life.
Life’s a race
by Russ Wright
I’ve been an artist for 20 years, but mainly making a living in the advertising world. I had taken off painting for 5 years to pursue photography — at the time I really hadn’t felt that I was producing any kind of consistent style with my painting. A year ago a restaurant owner that was hanging some of my photos offered to hang some of my paintings. I thought this was a good time to have a fresh start with the brush again. I set a goal to do 10 paintings in 10 weeks. The goal was met, the owner of the restaurant was so impressed, he bought all 10 paintings. He then offered to hang new ones in another establishment of his. I set another goal, and once again he bought all 8 that I had produced. So this past year has been about setting goals. My girlfriend, Kim Rody, the Dallas Fish Artist turned me on to your site and books. I must say I have become a faithful reader and follower of your thinking. We both are having a challenge to see who can finish the next 50 paintings first. She is gloriously leading at the moment. I hope to gain some ground during the first month of the new year.
by Sarah Sibley, Rattlesden, Suffolk, UK
I’d just like to say thank you for using my questions in one of your letters. It’s so nice to hear from so many artists. Up until now I didn’t know any artists except from my art teachers. Ron Carwardine emailed me a few days ago. He has a lot of respect for you and your work. Katherine Gordon is sending me a copy of her book The Mechanics of Art as a gift. Her website is really good www.gordongalleries.com I recently read The Dreamway. Was the woman an artist herself? I thought one of the statements was the perfect definition of feeling inspired — “Many on the Dreamway can be seen to be holding onto a great warm unexplainable something.”
(RG note) In The Dreamway I did not ask the woman any questions. I just listened to what she had to say, and recorded it on a tape recorder. I never saw her again.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 95 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2001.
That includes Wayne Westfall who wrote, “A friend passed your website on 2 me. Great inspiration and comments from viewers. u help make art more accessible 2 all. Congrats and a blessed season 2 u.”