I can be a rebel. In various ways throughout my life, in different degrees, I’ve chosen to reject the status quo and invent my own way of going about things. I’m not always a sweetie-pie in the process. I have been quick to walk the other way when I see something unsuitable for me, and although many times this has proven a good decision, I’ve also done it at times with not-so-enlightened motives.
I’ve rebelled against the work-a-day world by insisting on a life of self-employment, no matter what the pit-falls. I am suspicious of a whole host of socially accepted institutions, and would come off as a little too controversial if I listed them here. I’m not a joiner, and start edging my way toward the door if I become aware of the frustratingly messy interactions that bubble up whenever more than a few humans get together to accomplish something. I am aghast at some of the much-loved TV shows and other popular pastimes people go on about. And, as is suggested in my coyote painting, I have had my share of getting wild.
I chose the coyote to stand in for the spirit of rebellion because, growing up in Colorado, we had many wild coyotes roaming around the area. We’d watch them run through the fields as we drove by on the school bus in the morning, and my impression then was that they were smart, untamed, and free. They didn’t need us and were unafraid of us. My dad taught us to respect them for these qualities.
Colorado, and particularly my hometown of Steamboat Springs in the 60s and 70s, were also full of wild people. The people who influenced my youth were my self-made, self-sufficient entrepreneur dad, my free-spirited mom, and a town population of tough ranchers, jet-setting skiers, doped up hippies, adventurous outdoorsman, and town-folk hardened from life in a remote place with a harsh climate. The one thing the different groups had in common was a propensity to party hard and shun convention. Personal independence was not just respected; it was expected. Being surrounded by such a variety of individualists encouraged me to venture forth with my own ideas and ways of doing things with minimal regard for public opinion.
The graffiti covered wall in the background of my painting isn’t too hard to link to the idea of rebellion, but I had a hard time painting it. I think it’s because I’ve seen a lot of art that tries to incorporate the idea of revolution and edginess, but with rehashed imagery that is conventional because of its overuse. I felt like I was betraying my own tidy, smooth Dori way of painting and succumbing to the trends of drippy paint and naughty imagery that has been the hallmark of “avant guarde” painters for a hundred years. In other words, I’m such a rebel I had a hard time being conventionally rebellious! I am also so attached to my orderly way of painting that I had to grit my teeth to leave it a big mess. In the end I made myself throw cares to the wind and spontaneously come up with some top-of-my-head imagery and words that got my point across.
The minute I started this painting I started remembering wild things I’d done, ways in which I’d chosen to go against the grain, and non-conformist attitudes I’d adopted and continued to live by without reassessing them over time. My motives for my rebellion had been almost completely unexplored, as my upbringing had ingrained an unapologetic attachment to my own distinctiveness. Although my childhood had given me the blessing of individualism, it did not well prepare me with skills of community involvement.
I realized that I have harbored a lack of trust in groups of people. From family size to global size I recoil at the thought of people coming together for anything more serious than a round of beers or a swim meet. To me, organizations—whether it’s business, politics, charity work, or any body of people with a mission—have a big sign on the door that says, “We are crazy, and we will make you that way, too.” Occasionally I’ll give a go at getting involved, and after a few meetings I will observe what I will call nutty behavior. They include but are not limited to: overemotional reactions, unrelated and long-winded anecdotal tangents, wacky ideas relayed with frightening enthusiasm, vapid drivel, and of course infighting, favoritism, nepotism, egotism, grandstanding, backstabbing….OK, you see I where I am going. I’ve found the world of cooperation not so cooperative, and many times when I’m involved in it I feel like the coyote in my painting. I’m more comfortable with the training of my formative years in the world of do-it-yourself and have-it-your-way, and I almost always choose to march to my own drummer.
There is something I miss out on, though, when I run from groups or community involvement. Opportunity. There are avenues to take, places to explore, money to be made, projects to expand with, ideas to hash out, and many of them come when groups of people get together. In fact, when I isolate myself from these prospective adventures, I run the risk of becoming small-minded and (if I’m not already) judgmental. The drawbacks of working in a group are challenging, but often worth the effort.
I do have a willingness to be a contributor, and to make connections. Since I grew up with so little exposure to these ideals, I am fascinated and eager to find out about them. The trick to becoming more involved has been to find groups that have a minimum amount of dysfunction. I also have to practice developing a modicum of patience and tolerance. It helps to frame my involvement with a perspective of play—that I’m there for an adventure and a life experience. And of course keeping the ultimate mission in mind puts any challenging people-problems in perspective.
What I’ve found from branching out toward more community interaction is that human endeavors that incorporate teamwork, however faulty and messy, usually have a good intention. It’s not a secret that organizations can become so dysfunctional and ill-motivated that they rank among society’s evils. I’m learning to take focus off of these sad stories and look for opportunities to sing the praises of organizations big and small who make headway for individuals and humanity. Whether it’s the Ma and Pa outfit down the street, or the government organization who gets things done on time and under budget, the major corporation who treats their employees well and delivers a surprisingly personal product, or the non-profit group who shines a beacon of hope in a dark place, I can find the ways people come together and make a difference. Whether I spend my money with them, give my time, or just talk them up, I am embracing a sense of community that breaks up attachment to my old “screw-you-I’ll-do-it-myself” attitude.