How does one begin writing about a man’s life? Do I open with talking about how time takes everything – your memory, your bones, your stories? Or do I start more simply. Do I start with his room? A bright white room in a big brown building on the top of a hill that no one can see. Behind a fence no one knows is there.
Do I tell the story of how he was surrounded by books? Overwhelmed by them. Confused by them. So he painted his way out. Between headlines and photos of people who used to breathe at the same time. Or do I mention his shoes? Black and yellow and new. And how he uses the word abandoning and says, I am more than a paintbrush?
Perhaps I begin with his voice? Or maybe focus more on what he has to say. Everyone must have a point a view. It must be more than pretty. It must be more than about form. You must have a theme, he tells his students. What is my theme?
I am supposed to write about who he is. I have 400 words. But I want to tell the story of how you get to happy. And it might take longer than that. Because no one else seems to know the way. He thinks he found it between coffee cans of orange brushes and a stack of newspapers no one wanted to throw away but no one reads anymore either.
He studied math. He was good at it. But he needed something a little less predictable. Something with a little more mystery. Something time could bite into and shake around, break down and toss to the side, for someone else to pick up, spread out, and say: a treatise about life. And memory. And loss. Brilliant! When really it is just a piece of garbage someone else found value between the tears.
He painted the news. He made it look like something it is not: full of precision and order, less ads, and more words. Words that don’t always fit together. But I don’t want to write about the news. And how it’s not always accurate. Or anything other than sad. People defending themselves and their name and their right to poke your eye out because it was the wrong color. People defending their right to say all the right things because it gets them further than when they don’t.
I don’t want to write about wedding announcements or obituaries and the people you share your life with and the people you leave behind. I don’t want to follow a formula that is a lede and quote, some background, and a little more detail before you get bored and I blow my way out the back when you’re not looking.
He says he paints in response to events. I write because I feel like it. Because the words have to go somewhere. Or else they stack up and spill over at all the wrong moments. Because there was an opportunity. And someone had to take it.
He tells me he hesitates before painting. I know this feeling. He says he pushes things aside that make him uncomfortable. He walks away from them. Then they call him back. And he listens to what they have to say. And he copies them on the canvas. And then he leaves them for good.
I think I will begin with his shoes.