Didn’t Know What I Didn’t Know

Paradise found

“A distressingly large portion of the world doesn’t do you any good whatsoever. In fact, it does you bad. Casts static between your ears, drowns out who you truly are.” — Charles Frazier, Nightwoods

Something changed in me recently. Perhaps it’s being north of 50, but gratuitous inconveniences have become unbearable: traffic, message board vitriol, pollution, loveless marriages, political absurdity. I’m over it. So over it that I left the room …  and by room I mean country … aiming to whittle my life down to a sharp point using the gleaming blade of distance from all that I know best. I now see that I didn’t know what I didn’t know before coming to this beautiful place. I didn’t know that the scourges above can be replaced with solitude, happy couples (and their happy kids), minimal politics and big clean nature. I feel lighter. 

Praying Mantis - Ancient Greeks considered the insect to have supernatural powers to show lost travelers the way home.

“I got a couple friends and my family, that’s all I need,” sings Jake Miller, the talented singer/songwriter son of old friends.

I knew exactly three people when we arrived in Costa Rica – my wife and two sons. But we made a couple wonderful friends Day 1 and, well, it seems that’s about all I need right now. Because, in the past six months, our nuclear family has become tight as a drum. Not to say it’s all smooth sailing. But, being faraway together and in each other’s company a fat chunk of each day is a monumental end in itself. With maybe 5+ years left of real childhood to savor, that is one priority we’re nailing. We found a praying mantis in our kitchen last night. Ancient Greeks considered the insect to have supernatural powers to show lost travelers the way home. But where is home?   

At 29, I visited a friend in bustling Boulder, CO (hey Mike!) to crash on his couch and party for two weeks. I left seven years later. Luck handed me a cool magazine gig, and as the devastating beauty of the Rockies swept me into her spell, I pared things down and traded my convertible for an old Bridgestone mountain bike on which I commuted five miles to work each day, rain, shine or snow.

Pearl Jam at Red Rocks, backcountry camping, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, single track, sweat lodges … looking back, I can mythologize those years with words like carefree and happy-go-lucky, because there was much of that. But, in truth, those years were defined by my heart’s aching quest for love and family, the things I desired most entering my thirties. At the end of that first year in Boulder, I met a fine woman at Telluride Bluegrass. She was camping alone in her pickup which blew me away off the bat. Two weeks later she was living with me and before long, I asked for her hand in marriage. I could write volumes about that relationship, but suffice it to say, while I think the world of her and always will, we divorced after only two years. Seeking the fairy tale, I jumped too soon and, in the end, found myself right back where I started, alone and yearning for a family, only now, with a heart obliterated by guilt.  

Life moves in one direction only and offers minimal value in looking back for too long.

I now have that family I sought, and it’s a beauty – healthy, funny, complex, adventurous! That yearning no longer exists. But we romantics never dream in a vacuum. When one comes true, we replace it with another. Now, I dream of tranquility. 

I’ve found no English equivalent for the melodic Spanish word sencillo. It means sublime simplicity – straightforward, easy, effortless, clear, natural, uncomplicated. Like a Tuscan meal seasoned only with salt and olive oil. It’s just a piece of fish, zucchini and a tomato … but it’s the best thing you ever tasted. Artists Defining Visual Culture 2018

"The People Who Defined Visual Culture in 2018" Artsy Magazine

2018 was a major year for me, not necessarily sencillo but profound nonetheless. Along with leaving the States, highlights included the For Freedoms Billboard campaign, the ArtCenter / South Florida Ellie Award and being mentioned in the same universe as Banksy, Childish Gambino, Colin Kaepernick and JR in Artsy’s “The People Who Defined Visual Culture in 2018.” Hats off to Wyatt Gallery and For Freedoms founders/visionaries Eric Gottesman and Hank Willis Thomas, and thank you and the whole FF family for including me in this ongoing noble experiment. 

2019 is off to a smooth start with my first Costa Rican commission in motion (below) and talk of exciting stateside activations in the Fall. Still, I must confess, looking forward, I fear irrelevance. My physician brother, ever a voice of reason, recently prescribed this dose of wisdom, “The only person you need to be relevant to is yourself.” Those are marching orders for the year(s) ahead! 

First CR Commission

First Costa Rica commission and live painting gig 2019

may the time for stepping over puddles
and onto soft ground
be fast in coming
may a certainty formulate
where before a question lingered
so that targets know the points of arrows

Brussels 2003

Pura vida!

41 thoughts on “Didn’t Know What I Didn’t Know

  1. Thank you for sharing your adventures, Stu! They are so inspiring. I’m really enjoying reading your words of wisdom. I’m at a point in my life right now where I’m trying to figure out my life, after raising 2 wonderful children and then going through a divorce last year. But, I’m reminding myself to stay positive and move forward each day. Best of luck to you!

  2. Stu, what an inspiring blog. Family and friends is what it is all about. As you get older, like me, you realize you only need a few good friends. Yes, acquaintances are important too, but who you can rely on is most important. Many times your good friends become your family. So enjoy your new life with my daughter and grandchildren. My support and love are always with you.

  3. Stu – your words provide more clarity to how you feel than any medical procedure or device could possibly do. Love that you guys are embracing simplicity, each other and a different way of life. Miss you guys and love to Jodi and boys, and of course you too!

  4. We miss you all here in Miami but my heart smiles every time I read your words and hear your voice knowing how happy you are. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. I love you!

  5. Stu, I am so happy for you. You are a wonderful person with so much love to give to the world. Costa Rica and Pura Vida embody your life energy. Always wishing the best for you! xx

  6. Stu,
    As always, your words of wisdom, family, art and happiness are awe-inspiring. No one deserves the amazing life you are living more than you!

  7. brave move to aim for a simpler life, city living can be quite intense…and what a bonus to spend such amazing interesting quality time with your family…as you said before the kids leave and make their own adventures! looks really beautiful too….enjoy, love from a hot and windy Cape Town xx

    1. Ilaria!!!! What a delight to hear from you on the other side of the world. Miss you and Julian and all the Capetown mad hatters. When will we reconvene … cuz I need your sparkles.

  8. Good stuff, Stu. The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. Our lives are so needlessly complicated. Glad you are focused on what is important to you. Great lesson. Pura vida! Jeff

    1. “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” Def gonna steal that! Love to you and your gorgeous fam?

  9. Stuart: very inspirational! We met once at your home across from the Mikesels. I am so glad I am getting your updates.
    Thank you!

  10. You really got me thinking about sencillo now…it’s like saudades in Portuguese. No equivalent! Much kudos to the bearable lightness of being. Love to the beautiful family. So nice you see you guys so happy.

  11. Hey Stu, well said and what fond memories of our 20s in Boulder. I guess not much has changed – still riding to work and living the mountain life but exchanged your sweaty body on our couch with dirty kids and dogs.

  12. Ah, that’s what I needed to start the weekend…Within the chaos, with eyes and heart on the main thing. love you all

  13. Beautiful Stu- many people come to Costa Rica and don’t get the sencillity of it! Thank you for sharing- I’m really enjoying reading your blog 🙂

  14. Loving it. Loving you!
    Thinking of snorkeling Puako here with just you and your sweetie and before that surfing Tunnels on Kauai with mates together. I believe my twins were concieved there on that trip Stu.
    Would love to find you all in CR sometime. Done 2 trips many years apart and oh so different.
    Your writings tap into my needs and yearnings now too. Although on the other side of one ended marriage and becoming more difficult mid teen kids.
    Where to from here? Treading water for now.
    Aloha and a hui hou Stuart and sweet real family.


    1. Aloha Bru!!!! Thanks for the look-back to those lovely days in Hawaii. You’re deep in real life now, but that’s what we signed up for as parents. Keep that gorgeous heart open and this ride will calm down. Then you can come get your pure vida on. Nos vemos pronto!!!

  15. Good morning, Son…… How wonderful to start my day reading the comments of those that love you. “THE MAIN THING………” Blows me away. Stay well. Enjoy your Mom who is there to share your sencillo. Hugs and thumps to all.

    love, dad

  16. My dear brother, it seems to me that you’ve never been more relevant. Continue to follow your heart as it knows the way…

    I love and miss you,

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