Go Paint, Young Man!

by phil on Thursday Feb 7, 2008 12:21 PM

There's this guy that does laser eye surgery. His name is Dr. Dell. At this point in the story, the author usually says, "No relation." But yes, he's actually related to the guy that started Dell Computers. He's Michael Dell's younger brother. What a family, right? I wonder if they still compete with each other. They're both really rich and they're both the best-of-breed in their respective fields.

I can attribute my professional success largely to my mother's urging. She'd always create this pandemic distortion field of insecurity around me. I don't know if this was a conscious effort on her part. She, herself, is really driven, and so perhaps the primitive, reptilian region of her brain just cannot help but barf pleading, urgings, and encouragement through that mouth of hers.

Is there a similar Dell matriarch? I know there's one in the Bush family. At least according to a sketch they do on The Simpson's with Barbara Bush shouting orders at everybody in the family, even George H.W., her husband. Barbara is portrayed as some sort of grizzly, bear-boar mutant. Is there some "Barbara" Dell that's telling Steven J. Dell (the laser surgeon), "You know, I prefer 50 footer boats to 30 footer ones, ya know what I mean?" and "Yes, Mother" Steven would hypothetically reply.

I was sitting in one of Dr. Dell's eye-exam rooms, waiting for this mysterious "other" Dell to arrive. To pass the time, I scanned the room and just let my mind bounce over anything that looked fascinating. There were plenty of contraptions in the room. But I did take note of the computer on the desk next to me. Yes, it was a Dell computer. I thought to myself, "How convenient." He probably got the computer for free from his older brother. It must've also been real nice marketing a surgery practice when someone has done all the branding for you.

What if I had an older, more successful brother. How would my life be different? I picture the family photo, clearly in my head. There's this slightly taller, larger, maybe slightly balding version of me, at the dinner table, leaning on his elbows explaining things to my parents first, and me sitting there, feeling this smallness in me. But also this comfort. I feel, in that moment, for example, that I don't have to be as rich as I'm passively setting out to do right now. I'd feel like I don't have to "sack up" as much. That I can just say, "fuck it, I'm going to be a waiter on the side and pursue my passion in painting."

Painting. That word makes a Gordian Knot in my head. Sure, when I actually look at paintings I am impressed by them. But my attitude toward painting is still colored by cruder attitudes that I imagine were given to me as a child. For example, someone might've said, "that just looks like scribbles by a child" in reference to a Pollock. I cannot actually tell you who, if anybody, said that. So it's almost like I'm looking to blame someone for my latent Philistinism. I mean, in some sense I agree with them: what has any painting ever done for the world? But that's a cheap shot isn't it? Anyway, this whole paragraph is a symbol for that knotty Gordian wrestling over my feelings toward painting.

But what if I had this mythical "older brother" figure in my life. I probably wouldn't give a crap. I'd probably say things with complete, 100%, foot-to-the-pedal relish, "art is life, life is art." "I feel alive when I paint." "Painting moves people in ways that nothing else can." I wouldn't have a drop of doubt in my gushing over the medium.

The sad thing is, I've gotten a lot of compliments about my paintings, and many people have urged me to continue on doing it. So I know I have this underlying "skill" for painting—see, notice how I won't even call it "talent". I do have certain "talents", for example in problem-solving. Yesterday is a perfect case of me rolling in the grass of my problem-solving talent: I spent hours on end, in a trance trying to program little dots to move around like a whirlpool in a video game. So, if you put me in front of a puzzle, I will naturally suck the sap out of it.

What the hell is my deal with problem-solving? The thought occurred to me that problem-solving is kind of a dark craft. It's almost somewhat tragic. The world is attacking you with disarray, and you have to shuffle it all properly to stop the bomb from ticking. And anybody can see the darkness of the craft in the face of someone who's in the middle of problem-solving. They just look angry. People tell me I look angry all the time! When really I'm in a pleasantly pensive, but introspective, and analytical mood.

Which makes me think that my work has to feel like "work." It must require some sweat, some sort of grit, something particularly unhappy about what I'm doing in order for me to be professionally happy. It seems that in the movies when you have the disappointed father looking on at the child's dalliances toward deviant fields, the father is always yearning for his son to do something "hard," like be a shoemaker, blacksmith, businessman, or a scientist. They want something that requires that "grit" or that "darkness" that comes from the problem-solving region of the brain. Is problem-solving a more "manly" task?

Which brings us full-circle again to birth order. It's a fact that boys with older brothers are more likely to be homosexual. This may have to do with testosterone levels. In which case, then, the first born son needs to feel that rapacious, aggressive, manly darkness up-and-down his life in order to feel real.

The weird thing is I actually do have an older brother, but all the pressure is on me to succeed. So maybe that's why I'm somewhere in the middle between an artist and a techie, a.k.a. a god-damn metrosexual designer.

Or maybe I need to stop blaming others.


Rahul said on February 8, 2008 9:38 AM:

Fantastic post.

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