This time of year I always seem to find myself more contemplative than ever. It’s almost like I can’t help but evaluate my experiences of last year and come up with a fuzzy idea of a plan that is not really a plan for the new year.
I think everyone does this to one extent or another. I remember back in my less optimistic days, this time of year was only a reminder that time was running out. I would spend most of my time thinking about lost opportunities, and how terrible my year went. Yeah, I was not a ray of sunshine back then, and to be honest, my life was a reflection of my attitude.
Luckily for me, I stopped being a dumb-ass and started to appreciate this thing we call life.
My new year resolutions are not the typical “I want my butt to look better in jeans” type of resolutions (my butt looks great in jeans, btw), they have more to do with realizations I had throughout the year.
The one that is really on my mind is based on our recent trips and around 60 hours worth of conversations on said trips with Klee.
Appreciating every single individual moment that I spend being alive, and really taking advantage of the fact that I am breathing and able to make decisions that impact my life now. Essentially, not waiting around for things to happen, but just living now. Our experience last year was a solid realization that life is extremely short… So EVERY moment is precious.
Remembering that I am unique, but so is everyone else and there really isn’t such a thing as normal. Everyone is weird, but there are those who embrace it, and there are those who hide it. Embrace it always.
Well, that’s all I have so far, it’s still a work in progress and Klee and I will probably have some long conversations about feelings, goals, life, and other fun stuff. Have fun figuring out your awesome resolutions for 2019.
Oh yeah, play more guitar, write more blogs, film more videos, create more amazing art, and try to ween myself off of Snyder’s buffalo pretzel bits, those are on the list as well, so we’ll see how those go for 2019. Just kidding on the pretzel bits, I’m never gonna give those up.
This month is always fun for me, because it marks the anniversary of Klee and I taking a chance on the unknown. It will be about 9 years since we jumped into the Explorer and decided to go on an adventure to push our limits beyond what we had experienced.
I’ll never forget the day that Klee looked at me seriously (it was a very dramatic tele-novella look) and said “I’m going with you”. See, I had decided that I was going to travel around the country and experience a new perspective on life. Despite the fact that my family kept saying I would probably die from eating poison berries, my mind was set.
In fact, even finally meeting the love of my life and developing a beautiful new relationship wasn’t going to deter me from taking this journey.
I had spent my life the same way that many people do, being someone who I wasn’t. I mean, I didn’t really know who I was. I knew I liked certain things, didn’t like other things, got mad about things, and laughed at others… but I wasn’t sure if it was just who I thought I should be, or who I really was.
I had never really taken a look at myself from the outside, or challenged my own thoughts. I just reacted to situations and circumstances in life, but never really asked the question “Why am I reacting this way?”. I think I was under the impression that I didn’t have a choice, that I was “just that way”.
As a result, my life sucked, or at least that’s how I felt. I think back then I was so far down the rabbit hole that no matter what the circumstances of my life could have been, I would have made it suck in my head.
Then I hit rock bottom… and it was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.
It was as if someone had reset the computer in my head, and for the first time in my life, I was questioning why I was settling for beliefs that worked against me, and actually caused me to hate myself.
Cut to 2 years of self examination and I was ready to challenge the world.
Yup, that’s who Klee decided to get in a car and travel around the country with. Some hairy bandanna wearing guy that freaked out her mother.
A guy that she would spend weeks in the middle of the everglades with.
A guy that she hiked shark valley with, even though we underestimated what 14 miles would take out of us.
A guy that she took turns with hugging a four and a half foot alligator named Leroy.
A guy she wrote music with and performed live while his knees gave out because he was so nervous.
A guy that she lived in Key West with for several months while they worked out some of their baggage.
A guy that she went kayaking with for their first time and got lost in the sun for six hours and still had a blast even though they were sunburned.
A guy that encouraged her to interview David Sheely who is the top investigator of the Florida Skunk Ape.
A guy she encouraged to show his art for the first time… and who is forever grateful.
A guy that loves her more and more every day and can’t possibly write down all the amazing things we have done so far.
I’m so happy she did.
So, here we are still on this adventure. We may not be driving around the country but we are most definitely staying true to who we are as best we can every day. What I didn’t know back then, when I planned this adventure was that I would be sharing it with Klee… And that I am ever changing, and so is she… So no matter what, every day is a new adventure.
I talk a lot about ways to empower yourself and investigate some of the patterns we play out in our minds that may cause us to feel like victims. To determine whether or not I am feeling powerful, I ask myself whether a situation, circumstance, or person makes me feel like a victim, or do I feel empowered.
Anything that causes you to feel like you don’t have control over your emotions is a sense of victimhood. I don’t mean expressing those emotions, you can sit down to have a good cry because you know it will make you feel better, that’s empowered crying.
A good way to feel empowered and happy is to spread it like a contagion into the world. I do it through art, but I also have a few weapons in my arsenal against feeling like a victim.
1. Smile at people.
It’s amazing to me how powerful a smile can be.
2. Be positive.
Be conscious about your words and actions so that you can be a positive force, rather than, you know, a drag.
3. Give genuine compliments.
I’m a firm believer in saying what you mean, when you want to say it. That means being genuine. What is interesting is that a lot of people assume that being genuine means being mean, but I find that when you are truly genuine with yourself and others, everything is infused with love.
4. Encourage creation.
Themed movie nights, to adventure walks, to art parties. Encourage yourself and others to have creative fun.
5. Live outside your comfort zone.
6. LOVE real big. QUESTION everything.
In every given moment there is an opportunity to fear, judge, or love. We sometimes have to seriously question our own beliefs and where they came from in order to get to love. The thing is, the more you love yourself, the more you can love the world… So start by questioning beliefs about yourself.
Being an agent of positive change in this world is a label that I’ve proudly given myself. I ask that you also wear it wisely and wear it well. It takes real determination and commitment, but it brings color and wonder back into the world.
I wanted to let you guys in on a process that I do when I’m feeling overwhelmed or dark. I write a letter to myself and then respond from a different point of view. This isn’t something that someone typically shares with folks, but I know I’m not typical, so here it is.
Warning, you may read things that concern you, don’t worry, I’m fine, this is just a way to get the feelings out in their rawest form.
This week has been a tough week for me. I’ve been wading through an emotional cesspool of insecurities and old painful memories. As a result my environment has lost some of it’s vibrant color. I am walking around in a world that I recognize, yet haven’t visited in a long time. It is a dark grey world in which the sunlight is nonexistent. For a person such as myself, an artist who thrives on vibrant colors and light, this is what I imagine hell would feel like.
It’s interesting to me that when your mind takes you to a dark place, it seems like the entire world has conspired against you. It’s like you’re in a movie and the set design is based on the overall feeling of the main character. You watch yourself on the silver screen of life following an old dramatic script that you have rehearsed so many times that it seems like it all comes so naturally. You are the main character, yet no one else is experiencing what you are experiencing, feeling isolated and alone, surrounded by smiling faces, yet totally by yourself.
So, my question is this, what do I do now?”
After a short pause… I read the letter, take a deep breath and respond as best I can.
“Dear Dramatic Self,
Good question! Well, you get off your ass and out of your head. Listen, I understand that sometimes shit happens. You are going through a point in your life that might be transitional. Maybe you feel like you lost a sense of direction, maybe you are going through something emotionally taxing, maybe some button got pushed that hasn’t been pushed for a long time, maybe things just suck right now. No matter what it is, you have every excuse to feel the way you do, but that’s the thing, they’re just excuses.
In my opinion, things that people call emotionally chronic are simply practiced. You’ve spent years practicing how to be dramatic and respond to certain thoughts or situations in a certain way. That dramatic script you mentioned is a real thing, people can follow the same script over and over in their lives without even wondering if they can change it. They can feel like their thoughts are thinking them, instead of them thinking their thoughts.
You find yourself in a rut and what do you do? You sit, slump, cry, withdraw, and replay events over and over in your mind, and repeat. You find something or someone to blame for what you are feeling. Maybe you even pull yourself momentarily out of your funk by putting all your energy into being angry at this person or situation. Yet, nothing changes, this just keeps replaying over and over in your life. So much so, that you think this is just the way it is, “this is my life”.
You believe your story, you shape the world after your story, and discount anything that challenges that story. The story has to be true, if it wasn’t true, then it means you are torturing yourself for nothing.
Well, guess what? It is true. It’s true because you think it’s true, and your brilliant mind is going to do everything in it’s power to make it the truest thing you have ever experienced. Your doubt is going to punch you in the face, your insecurities about yourself are going to knock you down, your judgments and fear about people will come true, and everything you surround yourself with will be a constant reminder of your misery and fear.
Do you know what else is true? That your courage will destroy anything doubt can throw at you. Your determination will pick you up when you fall, stronger and better equipped than ever before. Your hope and unconditional love will present itself to you in overwhelming love and kindness, and everything around you will glow with vibrancy and light, this being a constant reminder of your sense of optimism and hope.
It’s ALL true… Every last bit. The question isn’t who is right or wrong, or what is true or untrue, or what you should or should not do… but simply, what would you rather do? How would you rather feel? What would you rather think? What do you want to focus on? Who do you want to be? And what do you want to believe, right now… in this moment?
We don’t carry feelings in our pocket, or find them in a box buried somewhere. We produce those feelings based on our perspectives and beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. You can believe what ever it is you want to believe about yourself and what is possible for you, and you can do that right now.
Honestly, this moment is all we really ever have, this moment, right now. So make a choice, despite the script you have been rehearsing all your life. Just make a choice.
Now quit whining and pick yourself up like the awesome person I know you to be.
I have a series called the nature of being, or as some people like to call them “Rafi’s Lady Trees.” This year I have really enjoyed reigniting the series as I set a goal to add subtle differences to the message in pieces within the series itself.
The series itself is about being rooted here and now in your world, yet constantly growing and reaching higher than you ever have, naturally and organically. It’s about being flexible and naked to the world and showing yourself as you are, never hiding behind a facade of fear.
I wanted to showcase a unity within the scope of the collection with pieces that showed masculine and feminine intertwined with one another.
These pieces are inspired by the journey that I have been on with my beautiful wife Klee and some of the lessons I have learned about what it means to be in love.
In the past I always assumed that being with someone meant that it was your job to make sure they were happy, and in return it was their job to make you happy.
Yet, this never seemed to work out.
It wasn’t until experience brought me to a place where I started to question the status quo of relationships and love that I realized that I had it all wrong.
It wasn’t about making the other person happy, it was about finding your happiness and sharing that with the other person. This in no way was a guarantee that it would make them happy, but that was alright. See, I found that the only person that could really make me happy was me and it was unfair to try and throw that burden onto Klee… She had enough on her plate just trying to make herself happy.
It was during that realization that I started to understand unconditional love. It meant that I had no conditions or expectations that she would behave a certain way in order for me to be happy, she had the right to be herself. To express herself and continue on her journey of finding out what life was all about for her.
I did the same, and we shared those moments with each other, talking about our experiences and realizations. We also share in our moments of growth as we journey on this road to find what makes us happy and how to enjoy our lives to the fullest.
It is quite beautiful.
I’m not saying there haven’t been moments of turmoil, because we all experience them, but with every moment there has always been an honest revelation and a stronger bond than ever before.
The thing is, we are both growing, learning, changing, evolving, on our own, yet our lives are intertwined because we choose to walk side by side.
It just wouldn’t work if one of us decided to carry the other… and it wouldn’t look as cool in a painting.
Recently I created a painting titled “The Substance Of The Real.” It shows a rather stoic, old century style, statue of a man struggling to hold on to a big red balloon on a string.
The statement for this piece is as follows:
ABOUT THIS PAINTING So many things that we hold near and dear… thoughts, beliefs, or habits, we hardly ever question. Yet, many of those hold no substance. This piece is meant to be a daily reminder to question everything, to look closely at your own motivations, and to determine what is true for you… Not to ferociously hold on to something that you don’t quite understand.
Now, I wanted to clarify something about this piece and my belief in what is real in the world. I know that a lot of spiritual beliefs state that the world is an illusion, and a lot of people will be surprised to hear that I don’t believe that.
I do believe that we live in a delusion… I know, let me explain.
I don’t believe that the world is unreal in of itself. It becomes an illusion when we look at it. We look at the world through our filter of understanding, through the eyes of our knowledge, understanding, prejudices, judgments, love, ideas, opinions, and current circumstances.
That world is unreal in the same way that a dream is unreal, because it’s based on delusion. The world is just there minding it’s own business, open for interpretation, it is our interpretation that is the illusion, and thus the way we see the world is an illusion based on our own beliefs.
You take two people to see a symphony, they sit in similar seats, have the same physical experience, and yet they will have a completely unique experience. One person tells you it was terrible, the other will say it was amazing… who’s right? who’s wrong?
Whoever you agree with the most will be right, and the other person will be wrong.
I like the idea of questioning the whole delusion… Cause, you know, I can’t be right ALL the time, and chances are a lot of what I believe has the substance of a red balloon.
In my opinion, you get to choose how you feel about the world, people, politics, religion, love, relationships, anything and everything.
If you ever find yourself repeating some crappy saying that you’ve just never thought about, I suggest you look at that. Where did it come from, some older generation that maybe didn’t have their shit together yet? Maybe an old racist uncle? A victimized mother? A womanizing father? A corrupt grandfather? A jealous aunt? A hypochondriac grandmother? All people that love me, all good people, just screwed up.
I say question everything, remember that the world you see is your delusion, and that you get to decide how you feel about the world you see. You can choose love, and not hold on so vehemently to those beliefs that are outdated.
I know that a lot of people out there assume that I spend my days blissfully ignorant to the real world, carefree as I float on my cloud across my studio painting feverishly. I assume that when they think this, they are either hopeful that one may chose to live that way, or spiteful that I don’t take life seriously enough to grow up.
Yet, as much as I would love to live that way, I don’t have a cloud that can support my weight.
Here’s the thing, us human beings doing what ever it is that we are doing in our short yet miraculous lives, tend to take ourselves seriously.
Even as a guy who spends his days mixing paint and finger painting, I can easily play the adult.
Have you ever watched kids when they play a grown up? They get all stern and furrow brow as they shake their pointed finger angrily… and guess what, we never stop pretending, we just actually believe it’s true.
I think that growing up and watching the adults around us stress out over the things in their lives, causes us to believe that is the way you act when you are an adult. Responsibility equals stress, or at least that’s what we think it’s supposed to mean.
I’ve found myself stressing out every once in a while when I have commissions and deadlines, which then causes me to become devoid of creativity, which then causes more stress.
I’ve found that in an attempt to have ourselves taken seriously we tend to complicate our lives by pretending to be serious adults. We stress out over things and try to figure out the solutions while focused on the problem.
I could tell you two things from experience, it doesn’t work, and it’s killing your body.
My solution, or at least what I attempt to do every day (which I can easily fail miserably at) is to simply have fun and not give a rip whether ANYONE takes you seriously or not.
Just do you, your way, the way that you want to, in the most funnest way…
Life is going to happen anyway, you are going to solve your problems, or not. Either way, stressing out about it isn’t doing you or anyone else, any good.
You might as well remember and practice how to have fun.
So, I bet you are wondering why there is such a dramatic title to this blog post. The short answer is that I have been feeling a bit dramatic lately, don’t worry just a bit.
You ever get that feeling like you’re being followed around by a doom cloud that you just can’t shake, or disperse, or evaporate, or whatever it is you do to get rid of clouds of doom?
That’s how I’m feeling. I’m pretty sure it has something to do with winter blues, getting sick in the beginning of the year, along with a few other odds and ends that have added up. Either way, I’m not writing this post to lament my miseries upon you, that would be a waste of time.
I’ve had a lot of wins recently, and a lot of failures, supportive people in my life, and ruthlessly mean people that have called me vile things… It’s easy to downward spiral and feel more failures and mean people than ever. Oh yeah, and that my art is sucking more and more every day… that’s easy to do as well.
I’m writing this blog to share something with you, in case you’ve been feeling similar to me. I know a lot of people are under the impression that I never have these types of feelings, and that’s just not true.
We all experience this stuff. We feel like failures, insignificant, or like an impostor in our own life.
It’s not whether or not we experience it or not, it’s how we handle it. Sometimes things are going to suck, and you may not like yourself or someone else very much. In those moments, it’s easy to forget that any other feeling exists… but they do.
Feelings like love, appreciation, confidence, happiness. Stopping and taking in that moment and realizing I’m still here, I’m still breathing, I’m still alive, and I’m going to rock this life thing. It’s remembering that no matter what is going on, you get to choose what you are going to focus on, and how you choose to feel about it.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting outside and going for a walk, anything, doing something to break the spell of the funk.
I’m still standing, and so are you… I mean, unless you’re sitting down, but even then you still rock.
I seem to have always been fascinated by birds, from the pigeons in Chicago with the iridescent neck feathers, to the occasional happy bright red cardinal.
Recently someone asked me “So, why do you paint birds?”
I though about the question for a moment and said “Overwhelming fascination.”
When I was a wee little artist, my mother who was young and dangerously overprotective, didn’t let me go outside much. For years, my entire world was from a large third floor picture window that looked down on a busy street.
I spent hours a day looking out at the people going about their day, the different birds roosting and flying about, the abstract landscape over the buildings, the little bit of greenery that would emerge from fascinating places in the concrete. I also gave everyone personalities and stories, people would have daily novellas play out in front of me, and so did the birds.
But, although I felt that the humans had dramatic stories of heartbreak, turmoil, and moments of happiness, the birds symbolized something powerful.
Birds symbolized freedom and perspective. Because they fly high into the sky, I believed they were messengers who provide humans with a bridge between the mundane daily routine and powerful spiritual life.
I know, I know… I was a weird kid.
Every once in a while I would see someone at a bench feeding bits of bread to the pigeons. From my third floor window I could see a powerful dance taking place between the person throwing the bread and the birds. I could see something beautiful, a powerful connection to something greater, a brief moment of stillness among the chaos of daily life. No one else seemed to notice, they just hurriedly went about their day, barely glancing up or interacting with one another.
Years later, with no window barrier between me and the world, I was part of that chaos. I hurried importantly past people to get to work, or anywhere for that matter. I pounded my fist and certain index fingers at people who drove too slow. I was an adult, I was busy, I had things to do, I was responsible, I didn’t have enough time, and I was miserable.
One day, the overwhelm hit a fever pitch. As I was barreling down the road cursing in my mind at the lady in the car directly in front of me, my heart started to beat out of my chest. I loosened my tie and found that my forehead was soaked in sweat. It was so bad, that I pulled over.
I stepped out of my car to get some air and walked over to a bench.
As I was sitting there, wondering if I was going to die in my stupid suit, on a dirty bench, in a strange part of town, I noticed an old man walking towards me with a crinkled up paper bag.
“Great, he’s gonna ask me for money, just look away.” I thought to myself.
The man sat down, opened his bag, and started to sprinkle little bits of bread on the ground in front of us. Like a scene out of the movie “The Birds” a hoard of pigeons and other birds descended on us.
Didn’t he see that I am an important person? I was appalled at how rude this man was, surely a bird was going to shit on my suit.
Then, my heart started up again, and I breathed in deep… and just relaxed.
Suddenly, amidst the gaggle of birds was a pop of bright color. A cardinal flew on to my armrest merely inches from my hand. I found myself mesmerized and just stared at it, we stared at each other for what felt like an eternity. It then jumped down, grabbed a scrap of bread and flew away.
I’m not sure how long I was on that bench. I just sat there and time seemed to slow down. I could see the world hurrying past me, people waving their fists in their cars, and others looking at their watches every five minutes. I felt like they looked so… so… stupid.
At that point the old man looked at me, I could feel him studying me.
“Taking time to do nothing often puts everything into perspective. Remember that, young man.”
Then he got up and left.
I get visited by that cardinal every once in a while, when I get caught up in hurrying through life. I sound like a crazy person, but it’s true.
Hi guys, here is a short story I wrote a while back, I wanted to share this with you. It seems a little dark in the beginning, but I promise the ending is pretty bright.
The Man And His Shadow
One day, a man was walking down the street on his way to work. His thoughts were on his life as he looked into his passing image in the store windows.
“What has happened to you, you look horrible.” He thought as he turned away from his reflection.
His stomach rumbled a bit in passing the faint smell of delicious coffee and pastries emanating from the small café on the corner.
“If only you had woken up earlier, maybe you would have time to eat, not that it matters, you don’t have a dime to your name. You’re such a loser, you know that?”
The man’s expression soured and his shoulders slumped a bit. He made his way to the bus stop and stood next to a group of people, none looked up from what they were doing.
“You don’t even exist, you could die tomorrow and no one would notice. You are worthless.”
He looked out at the passing cars as people made their way to work. Some were talking on their cell phones, others seemed barely awake, and some were applying make up.
Just then, a man in a beautiful expensive car drove up. He had a smile on his face and exuded a confident warmth.
“Look at that, if you actually had done something right in your life, maybe you would drive your own car instead of taking the bus with all the other losers.”
The man looked up briefly at the crowd and then back at the crack in the cement by his feet. The bus arrived and he fumbled with his change, and felt slightly embarrassed that he had taken as long as he did.
“You do this every morning, you make yourself look like an ass everywhere you go. You are such an idiot.”
Not looking at people, he made his way to the handrail and stood there quietly as the bus took off. A beautiful woman stood at the other end of a group of commuters. The man always looked forward to seeing her, but had never had the nerve to talk to her.
“Are you kidding me, what the hell do you have to offer her? She would laugh in your face, or vomit. If you talk to her you’re just going to make yourself look stupid again.”
He looked away disappointed, and wondered if he would ever meet someone. He glanced at his reflection on the bus windows and noticed something on his shoulder.
When he looked down at his shoulder, there was nothing there. Looking back at his reflection, he could distinctly make out a form of a small person sitting on his slumped shoulders. It bent down and whispered in his ear.
“Not only are you an idiot and a loser but now you’re going crazy too. You should just end your meaningless life now and put everyone who knows you out of their misery.”
He blinked his eyes and the image was gone.
Maybe it was just the fact that he was hungry, he couldn’t afford to start going crazy now on top of everything else that sucked in his life.
After getting off the bus, he watched the beautiful woman walking away, a dream that would never come true. Suddenly, a cab honked it’s horn, startling the man.
“Watch where you’re going you idiot!” Screamed the cab driver.
The man jumped out of the street and looked around, embarrassed.
“Even the cab drivers know you’re an idiot. You might as well walk around with a sign that says “I’m an idiot”.
The rest of the day pretty much went the same for him. He avoided talking to people, and just kind of kept to himself. The conversations he had were either about work or mindless small talk.
That night as he was getting ready for bed, he looked into the mirror and saw the shadowy form sitting on his shoulder again.
Frightened, he looked away. After a few seconds, he felt himself compelled to look again, and the shadow was still there.
“Who are you?” The man asked.
“I am you. A form of you anyway.” The shadow said.
“What does that mean? Why are you here? Am I going insane?” The man questioned.
“It means” The shadow shrugged “that I am the voice that tells you what you think you should hear. I am you, telling you what you can’t do, in order to keep you safely where you are most comfortable.”
“I have been conditioned by you all your life.” The shadow continued “You have told me what to think, what to say, and how to remind you.”
“My whole life?” The man asked.
“Yeah, but our relationship was much different when we were young. I was much brighter then. Our world was one of wonder, exploration, and imagination. We played for hours and loved openly. There was nothing we couldn’t do, and we did everything our hearts desired.”
“What happened?” The man asked.
“We were introduced to fear, limitations, intimidation, by words or actions. You started to tell me to remind you of these things so you wouldn’t get yourself into trouble. All of these fears and limitations were based on other people’s opinions. We believed them as our own because they would keep us safe.
After a while we were just not good enough. We believed we had to be something other than we are in order to be worthy, worth it, or good enough. We consoled ourselves by saying nobody was perfect, but everyone else seemed so much more perfect than we could ever be. So a shadow filled my light, and I became darker. It became my job to remind you of your imperfection.”
“Why does it have to be this way?” The man asked.
“It doesn’t. I am tired of telling you horrible things based in lies. The truth is, you are perfect, you are the most perfect and beautiful version of you that exists in this universe. You are a unique gift to the world.”
The man looked deep in the mirror, and tears swelled in his eyes. He saw that the shadow was actually him. The shadow was the smoke that had prevented the light from shining within him.
The shadow was a lie that hid the truth from him. In that moment he caught a glimpse of his perfection. He realized that almost everything he believed to be true about himself was a lie he believed. The light shone within him, the light that was always so familiar.
He made a choice at that moment based on what he wanted out of life. A choice based on fearlessness and limitless potential. He made a choice, looked at the person in the mirror and said…