It’s Such a Perfect Day*

Perfect Day?

Behold the Perfect Moment / Perfect Family / Perfect Life*

In this recent photo, a gorgeous family camps on a faraway beach in paradise, savoring the sunset in front of their beloved yellow VW bus. Aaron’s the only man Adrienne ever had, and she loves him at this sun-kissed instant just as she did when they met as teens 25 years ago. He tattooed their vast life adventures across his lithe body and muscular arms with which he pulls his flaxen-haired squad in close. Together, they read, surf, cook, laugh and explore magical places: Thailand, Rome, Yellowstone. The world is theirs to conquer.

Now, let’s take a closer look. Just hours before this pic was taken, Aaron spent the morning at the hospital in excruciating pain, prodded and poked in his belly, where cancer raged. Thinking he might expire that very day, he told his wife, “I’d rather die camping than bubble-wrapped in a hospital bed.” So they geared up and drove. This photo does not show Adrienne’s panic attack en route to this beach. Nor the Fentanyl patches on Aaron’s back. And how, just minutes before, she got the VW miserably stuck in the sand, nearly sabotaging the excursion. As that glorious sun set behind them, their universe was totally unraveling. 

The truth is rarely evident to our naked eye. 

Local vibes

Jodi and I came to Cost Rica for an ex-pat “Bucket List Year” with our children. This wildly successful experience showed us a simpler way to be, to raise kids, to spend our days. It shifted our priorities so deeply that we remain for a second year and have started construction on a home. While our future remains a beautiful mystery, we are in for the wild ride … and invite you to join us.

Tropical Thanksgiving
Earth Day
Jodi’s surf team places 2nd … out of 2 teams!

Our life looks pretty peachy in pics and on social media these days: sunsets, fitness, waterfalls and giggling kids. But, let’s be clear … bounteous as our circumstances are, I often wake feeling lost and untethered lately … unsure and unclear on my next move … as a dad, as a creative, as an American. Thing is … self doubt does not photograph as well as me surfing with my kids.

Work in progress

Parenting two complex, ever-clashing kids is rough and getting rougher, particularly negotiating the ADHD minefields of our youngest. Are my intuitive fathering choices in this complicated moment wrong, too angry and judgmental … even psychologically damaging to the kids and their longterm view of me? Are we misguided to invest in a dream sanctuary immersed in natural splendor far from the bustle … just to fill it with two kids who fight viciously and constantly? Hardly pura vida. Thank god for Jodi’s level head and constant reassurance.

PAMM Artist Talk and For Freedoms Town Hall Nov 7, 2019. 
For Freedoms Town Hall to a packed house.

And then there’s the massive question of purpose.

Being north of fifty and far removed, literally and figuratively, from all our lifelong reference points, Jodi and I constantly reflect on whether we are doing enough for the world (we are not). And what crisis to focus our energies on (there are so many). I recently presented an Artist Talk and For Freedoms Town Hall to a diverse packed house at the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM). Fellow artist, Zoe Buckman, and I explored How Success is Measured in Activist Art vis-à-vis our practices. The evening then pivoted to a Town Hall discussion that quickly became very emotionally charged and highlighted painful racial fissures in the local community. Afterward, I received very conflicting messages: general praise from the white audience and disappointment from the black audience. To me, this dichotomy exemplifies the racial disconnect between well-meaning liberal citizens. And it reveals a blind spot in my attempt to be of greater service as a connector and champion of societal fairness. I am grateful for this wakeup call, because one of my priorities, as I enter this next phase of life, is discovering how a middle-aged, middle-class, white guy can best add value to these critical conversations.

Please watch the PAMM video, and share your feedback – start at 35:00 to miss all the lengthy intros. Or, start at 14:40 to hear Zoe Buckman’s wonderful talk before mine. 

 

Aaron Surfboard

Aaron & Adrienne – an exemplary love story.

In today’s Insta-world, we often work overtime to make our lives appear golden … viewed with a tad of envy, even. The tricky part is that much of what we see is, in fact, exactly as it appears. In the photos above, what you actually see is an extraordinary 25 year fairy tale starring four people who cherish and love their lives and lean into one another to savor and suffer all that life has to offer. You see a seasoned couple whose flame still burns hot and who prefer to stay home, drink wine and crack each other up instead of going out on the town. And you see two wonderful boys, raised to be adventurous gentlemen by fearless parents who understand that time is precious and the cameras are rolling.   

Fare thee well, amigo.

Thank you, Adrienne, for allowing me to share your story of devotion and loss. Your journey with Aaron illustrates the power of life’s deepest connections and complex illusions. I cannot for a minute understand your current pain, but I will tell you that your radical courage and fierce honesty are what Jodi and I hope to infuse into our new home on a hilltop overlooking the Costa Rican sea where Aaron’s ashes roll with the waves. We aim to create a place where all can be vulnerable and safe. Where children and friends, old and new, explore ideas and nature. And work together to fix what’s broken in ourselves and our world. No illusions. No masks. Just room to exhale, contemplate, cry, laugh and escape. 

Our CR slice of Pura Vida
Our slice of Pura Vida

In his book, In Love With The World, Buddhist monk, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, writes, “We are all transformed through love and loss, through relationships, work, kindness, and tragedy. But we get scared of change, because when we identify with a pattern of behavior, giving it up can feel like death itself.” For Jodi and me, as our patterns of behavior continue to change radically, I welcome this ego “death” and the annihilation of the labels that construct my identity: artist, activist, entrepreneur. Though I imagine this “death” is part of what is making me feel lost. Still, I embrace it, because I am not those labels. Nor are you your labels. We are just people doing our best to find light in a dark world. 

Zoe Buckman and I interview one another in a recent Cultured Magazine piece.

Finally, check out this insightful piece in Cultured Magazine, where Zoe Buckman and I interview one another about the evolution of our practices and life goals. This article is honest and unadorned, and I’m proud of it, for that is what I aspire to be. 

 

*No such thing

What I Learned in My Bucket List Year in Costa Rica … by Leo Tolstoy

Stu & Tolstoy CR 2018
Our bucket list year just ended, and our lives will never be the same. What did I learn with my wife and two young sons in a remote corner of the Costa Rican jungle? Having also checked War and Peace off my bucket list this year, I’ll let Leo Tolstoy, in his own sublime phrasing, answer that question for me.

“We imagine that when we are thrown out of our usual ruts all is lost, but it is only then that what is new and good begins. While there is life there is happiness. There is much, much before us.”

We tend to pick a lane and stay in it long after it feels stale, often for a lifetime … never manifesting the precious things we vow to do “one day.” That is folly. Jodi and I have dreamt of this year abroad with kids for decades, long before we met one another. And we are showing our sons that dreams can be real if you are bold enough to make seismic, disruptive changes. Leaving Wall Street to pursue art, fearing I’d be mocked forever, remains one of my best decisions. I want my children to understand that they control their destinies, and even when they don’t, their dilemmas and “failures,” be they academic, social or internal, are fertilizer in their fields of self improvement and, eventually, inner peace.

Tolstoy

Tolstoy, born in 1828 into an aristocratic Russian family, fought in the Tsar’s army in the hairiest winter war conditions ever. His surroundings and reference points could not have be more different than our tropical paradise. Still, his characters realize something I too gained clarity on this past year – Love grows, evolves and expands. I leaned in and loved my kids and wife hard this year, through ecstasies and agonies. And felt that love boomerang back to me. I am truly happy. Because happiness is the flower that grows from loves seed. We’ve been motivated this year not by the accumulation of wealth, prestige and visibility but the pursuit of kindness and wellness, both ours and others. This paradigm shift cannot be overstated. I found the people we encountered and befriended intriguing and exhilarating. Because, if you somehow found your way to this microdot on the map called Playa Grande, you have an interesting story to tell. One which includes a conscious choice to step off the hamster wheel, walk away from people and places rife with stress and chase your bliss. Being surrounded by productive people who chose joy as a lifestyle changed our game at a cellular level. I intend to keep it that way, wherever I go from now on. 

“It is not beauty that endears, it is love that makes us see beauty.”

I’ve been with my wife fifteen years and love her more now than ever. The very first time I saw her, I thought she was cute, because she is. But today, her physical beauty is a minor ingredient in my deep and abiding admiration. The essence of my love resides in her unwavering courage and selflessness throughout our journey. She meets the daily challenges of raising our children with preternatural gentleness and patience. And she’s always game for good times and world-wide adventures. She got certified for SCUBA this year and is chomping at the bit to explore that magical universe with me and our kids. Through the prism of our time-tested bond, her physical beauty shines more each day.

Jodi and Bodhi Arenal 2019

Kai Avid Reader Award 2019

Playa Grande road

“There is no greatness where simplicity, goodness and truth are absent.”

There is one road in and out of our little beachside town. It is a fine, smooth road, though unlit and a bit scary in a hard rain at night. Just last week, a beautiful yellow line was added down the center of this black road, making it far more safe and easy to navigate. I derive a surprising amount of satisfaction from this nondescript yellow stripe. It signifies security, progress and visual symmetry. More and more, cleansed by deep nature and tranquility, I see greatness and find joy in such simple things.   

Bodhi Galapagos 2019

“He was always in a hurry to get where he was not.”

Sure, we need to herd the kids off to school each morning in a furious, last minute, “where’s my homework” rush … but in general, our pace has slowed markedly. We’ve irrevocably pivoted away from rush/grind/rinse/repeat/die to a more gentle, experiential and connective manner of filling the hours in a day. Yes, we have the financial freedom to do this, no small thing, but we each can review our relationship with money and ask ourselves if the system we are part of really serves our values of a happy, healthy, well-balanced life. If it does not, perhaps it’s time to find a new system. Most folks forget that the hamster wheel actually goes nowhere. 

Kai surf contest Tamarindo 2019

Tamarindo surf contest 2019

“Oh, how happy I am to have found it at last. Yes! It’s all vanity, it’s all an illusion, everything except that infinite sky.”

Early on in our stay here, Jodi asked me who and what I missed back home. It surprised me to realize that I missed nothing and no one. I say that with no arrogance and no judgment, for I love my friends and family with all my being. Naturalist John Muir, a kindred spirit who escaped into nature, said it best, “I am learning to live close to the lives of my friends without ever seeing them. No miles of any measurement can separate your soul from mine.” In fact, many of the folks I love most I haven’t seen in years. But that’s ok. I no longer hold any guilt around that unavoidable truth. Living a healthy lifestyle under “that infinite sky,” makes us giddy as puppies. So, we’ll see you when we see you … hopefully soon!

“Yes, I may very well be killed tomorrow.”   

I lost someone I love this year. Whether you live to 54 or 94, life goes by in a nano-second. Still, most of us tend to postpone our bucket lists until the end of our lives. Let’s flip that script! If there’s one take home message I can share, it is this – Pick up your bucket right now, walk down to the ocean, and begin pouring your dreams out into reality … before that option no longer exists.
  

PS. To learn more about and follow this journey in photos, both past and future, visit my Instagram @stuart_sheldon

Pura Vida!

 

Where You From? Where You Been? Where You Going?


Standing shoulder to shoulder as our kids sprinted down field last year, I casually mentioned to a fellow Miami soccer/surfer dad that we were looking to move to Playa Grande, Costa Rica. “Whhaaaat!” he blurted … then grabbed his phone and started punching numbers. “My oldest, best friend lives there,” he said, as he raised the phone to his ear. A few seconds later, he barked, “Hey Frank! My good buddy’s moving to Grande; you gotta talk to him,” then thrust that phone into my face. “Ummm, Hey Frank …” 

Life is one giant road trip of random encounters, each holding the power to change you forever. That call is why we live where we live, a few streets from Frank in a jungle by the sea.  

Dawn, Nathan and family
Nathan, Dawn and family … from Brighton, England to Costa Rica

6 months from Canada to Costa Rica in this van
6 months worldwide in this van

Meet Dawn and Nathan.

Like many of us over the years, these gonzo, gorgeous Brits talked a big game of mixing it up and living abroad. But when they pulled the trigger, they went MASSIVE. Wiry, with Obama ears and laugh lines acquired on many a pub stool, Nathan and I met early on at our kids’ Playa Grande surf camp. Beat up longboard under his arm, he won me over instantly with his cheeky smile. What I did not know was that one year earlier, he and Dawn had sold everything, shut down their businesses, packed up two kids (10 & 12) and moved their entire life across an ocean to Canada, where they immediately bought a van and drove six madcap months across the US and into Central America, finally landing in our little slice of paradise.

Seven months into our Bucket List Year, one thing I’ve noticed over a lifetime of travel, is there’s always someone far more hardcore than you are. Dawn, describing their adventure in her gravelly, ever-smiling Lauren Bacall voice, told me they wanted to “follow our hearts, learn, grow and be inspired in a tropical environment … with a language we felt we could figure out” … as if learning Spanish from a dead stop was no biggie. 

Where to next?
Where to next?

The hillside town of Taxco, Mexico
The hillside town of Taxco, Mexico

El Salvador hotel room that “resembled the corridor of 1970s psychiatric hospital”
El Salvador hotel room that “resembled the corridor of 1970s psychiatric hospital”

Along the way, they survived their first ever earthquake, a whopping 8.1, that lasted one whole minute, as the four of them stood trapped on a cantilevered balcony in the historic hillside village of Taxco, Mexico. “We clung tight to a pillar, watched the buildings collapse around us and honestly thought we were going to die,” said Dawn, still incredulous. 

Their “most crazy day ever” took place at the El Salvador/Guatemala border, when their car was seized. Dawn describes it this way – ‘No way back, no way forward, no luck with bribes, hassled by rug dealers and scammers. We found ourselves in a hotel room that resembled the corridor of a 1970s psychiatric hospital.” She was forced to sit alone with her kids fighting off local street drunks in a tiny dive restaurant while Nathan took an eight-hour round trip to the capital to beg the El Salvador Minister of Transport for a permit to take their car through the country. But they made it happen … and now Dawn’s sparkly, blue-green, pura vida eyes and recently shaved head greet you when you enter The Libelula Lounge, the lush glamping B&B they created with vision, fortitude and sweat. 

Libelula Lounge and Lodgings
Libelula Lounge and Lodgings

Glamping in deluxe air-conditioned African tents
Glamping in deluxe air-conditioned African tents

Live painting at Libelula
Live painting at Libelula

“Seeing all our life experiences and our passion pulled together to create an expression of ourselves is incredibly exciting, daunting and challenging. But to know we had a dream and followed it is wonderfully liberating and energizing. It installs strength and confidence and a deep sense of knowing limitations are only what we choose to place on ourselves,” says Dawn. For Libelula’s grand opening, she and Nathan commissioned me to live paint a piece and, in light of their insane journey, I wanted to celebrate intrepid travelers everywhere. Those with the courage to leave their comfort zone, make space for life’s beautiful mayhem and trust that their best selves will emerge even better on the other side. 

Where You From? Where You Been? Where You Going? 

If you’ve spent significant time on the road, you know these three questions form the mantra of each new encounter, the reference points to engage, learn and share with the human being in front of you. The kindling for friendships that may blaze for a minute or a lifetime. 

Libelula Commission. Where You Been? Where You From? Where You going? Latex and acrylic paint, 1937 World Atlas on wood panel, 36x72" 2019
Libelula Commission. Where You Been? Where You From? Where You going? Latex and acrylic paint, 1937 World Atlas on wood panel, 36×72″ 2019

In this artwork, against a background of gleaming blue ocean, the horizon fades to serene infinity. Before us, lies the perfect wave, a spiraling tube that echoes the original moment the universe spun itself into being. If privileged to enter this sacred vortex, one’s thoughts evaporate and a rare moment of absolute clarity arises. No past. No future. Only NOW exists. One experiences literal “tunnel vision.” It is this moment of pure immediacy that I strive to live within at all times, for it is the only point in time that is not an abstraction.

The tube is collaged from pages of a magnificent 1937 World Atlas given to me by a crazy Aussie many moons ago. If you study the collage closely, you’ll find every country that is home to someone wonderful I’ve met since moving to CR, each an ambassador of life’s big pivots.   

Original Libelula sketch
Original Libelula sketch – I must admit, I’m delighted with this piece and how it matches the original idea.

Mad adventures from England to Central America
Mad adventures from England to Central America

1937 world population
Check out the 1937 world population!

Finished piece installed
Finished piece installed at Libelula

“Waves are toys from God,” says pro surfer Clay Marzo, and I say whoever plays with the most God-made toys wins. Dawn summed up their ongoing mission as an opportunity to “see our children flourish in life from the experiences they have had, follow their own dreams and be able to deal with all that comes their way.”

Henry Miller, one of my creative heroes, said, “One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.” Right now, in this grand place, immersed in fierce beauty, a bountiful sea and people I greatly admire, I am indeed looking at things in a new way.

Father and daughter make it to paradise
Father and daughter – destination reached

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!

King of The Jungle

The King Is In The Castle

“Dust everywhere… and out of that emerged this beautiful boy with the bluest eyes I’d ever seen, holding his hand out to help me to my feet.” – Marie Lu, Legend.

We ate sushi and spaghetti for Thanksgiving last week with a giggly group of old and new friends in the remote Costa Rican surf/yoga mecca of Nosara, a place my wife and I hold deeply sacred. Sitting alone on my board the following morning, Black Friday, I stared into the vast blue and recalled the last time we visited – twelve years earlier – utterly broken and terrified we’d never have children. 

Nosara Thanksgiving 2018
Nosara Thanksgiving 2018

Our Sausalito, CA Houseboat 2006

Three miscarriages in one year had turned the lights out on our typically shiny, happy life. The third, at 19 weeks, shut our hearts down completely. All we wanted was kids. A few weeks before Christmas 2006, we opted to bury ourselves deep in Nosara’s jungle with hopes of healing. Sunlight dusted the sky our first morning, as Jodi slept, and I paddled into the warm, buttery ocean. I stared into that same Pacific void, taking deep circular breaths. And got magnificently lost in the ocean’s bounty for the next three hours, until my arms were spaghetti, and I came in to meet my wife for breakfast. Jodi sat immersed in Overcoming Life’s Disappointments by Harold Kushner, and she handed me a passage that read, “When we open our hearts to pain and suffering, we begin to heal, not because suffering is redemptive but because opening our hearts is.”

Tell Me Again, 70"x48" Acrylic, paper, antique maps, linen on panel 2005
Tell Me Again, 70″x48″ Acrylic, paper, antique maps, linen on panel 2006

When we returned to Sausalito, Jodi told me she was ready to try again but that this was the last time. If our fourth pregnancy did not work, she simply could not handle another attempt physically or emotionally. That was a tough pill to swallow, but I swallowed it in silence. 

The fourth pregnancy with Jodi on bedrest with her dog and manservant in our houseboat.
The fourth pregnancy – Jodi on houseboat bedrest with her dog and manservant.

Opening our hearts

Watching my squealing boys jump into the bean-shaped pool last weekend … and paddle out by my side into the forgiving surf … and engage smartly with interested adults, I felt music in me … a soulful bass line that thumped in my open heart. A rhythm born of both agony and ecstasy beneath a melody sung in the voices of children. My children. 

Before we ever met, Jodi and I dreamt of living abroad with our future families. We had no idea that the family part would be such a struggle. But that struggle produced in us both a hyper awareness, not intellectual but cellular. Akin to a blind person who one day gets to see. Every color, every shape, even the most mundane, becomes sanctified. One simply wants to keep one’s eyes open and see see see. 

Really Good Food - acrylic paint, 1950s Betty Crocker Cookbook on wood panel, 48x32” 2016
Really Good Food – acrylic paint, 1950s Betty Crocker Cookbook on wood panel, 48×32” 2016. Available.

Yes, the world is a mess, but my gratitude burns hotter than ever … for the privilege of fatherhood and the love of a fine woman. And living parents. And friends who keep me laughing. And the opportunity to live simply in unspoiled nature. And the ability to transform whimsy into works of art. Mine is a full belly that has known the pain of hunger. 

Art Basel 2018

Find my work at Pinta Art Fair during Art Basel Miami 2018

For the first time in a while, I won’t be attending Art Basel Miami this year (I’ll be surfing). But I invite you and your friends to find my paintings at the Pinta Fair in Wynwood. 

Gratitude not Attitude!

A Hole Is To Dig

 

A Hole Is To Dig

We’ve been in the faraway jungle nearly three months, and one enormous benefit I’ve noticed is how much less decision-making I face each day. I did not realize how previously burdened I was with constant choices, some big, most small … but all relentless and so often, pointless. Now, with the nearest stoplight one hour’s drive, choices are far less complex, i.e. which protein to put on my rice and beans or which of my two pair of shoes to wear, flip-flops or sneakers (flip-flops 96% of the time). Last Saturday, my youngest invited me to dig a hole on the beach with him. That decision was simple. 

Father & Son Dig a Hole
What is it about digging a hole on the beach?

As my wife and Kai paddled out to surf, I joined Bodhi on the cool, camel-colored sand. Game face on, my son took to both knees and immediately provided me very specific instructions on where I was to dig and where I was to place the excavated sand. I obeyed readily, delighted to be engulfed in my little captain’s zeal.

small father/son moment as a metaphor for a life well lived

Scoop by glorious scoop, my cheeky partner and I aimed at a goal and labored manually and patiently to achieve it. We enjoyed the beauty of sun-kissed nature together. The deeper we dug, the more the muddy, wet, layered truth of the world revealed itself, eventually unveiling the water that flows beneath everything. And, at last, when the time came to exit, the sea reclaimed what is and will always be hers.

These uncluttered, familial moments in nature are the whole point of living on a rural, remote coast of Central America. This slowing down and noticing is the thing itself. And Bodhi is my chief noticer. My lover of all things wild. Coiner of the phrase, “man-madey,” as in, I don’t like this wooden walkway, it’s too man-madey (in Muir Woods). Bodhi, on three separate occasions, requested three separate laminated Costa Rica Wildlife Guides, when he could choose any book he wanted. He rightly demanded last week that we stop the car to look at a family of monkeys swinging in the trees on the roadside near our favorite surf break. And those happy monkeys were worth the extra ninety seconds. 

Ellie Award Page

Speaking of happy monkeys, I’m thrilled to report that my For Freedoms, How Was School Today? billboard won an inaugural 2018 Ellie Award. “The Ellies celebrate the individual artists who are the backbone of Miami’s visual arts community,” says presenter, ArtCenter South Florida. I’m truly humbled to be recognized for this effort and to be included among a crew of fabulously talented creators. Amidst loads of local and national press, we even got loved up in ARTFORUM, a first in my long and woeful career. I started painting nearly twenty years ago to fix a broken heart. Thankfully, my heart is full. Now I paint to fix the world (which is slowly breaking my heart again). Thanks to all who supported the Kickstarter campaign and joined in the largest creative collaboration in US history. For Freedoms is really changing the game and actually might have real impact on this election, as this article so elegantly posits.

Curbed For Freedoms article
Brilliant analysis of the impact of our billboards nationwide.

While How Was School Today? speaks to the gun issue, you can now find my second For Freedoms Billboard, The Best Words, at Florida International University bus stops. This work is based on an actual Trump quote, “I went to an Ivy League school. I’m very educated. I know words. I have the best words.” It is a call to students, hungry for truth and knowledge, to recognize the value of their words and use them to propel society morally forward and not drag it backwards into darkness. 

For Freedoms Billboard at FIU. Based on original painting, The Best Words, Acrylic, electrical tape, vinyl on wood, 2018.
For Freedoms Billboard at FIU campus. Original painting – The Best Words, Acrylic, electrical tape, vinyl on wood, 2018. Available – DM for details. 

Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, 2018
This painting’s debut – Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, 2018

The fact that the whole world appears to be digging itself into a deep dark hole is all the more reason to sit on a beach with one you love and dig your nails into the wet dirt. Your head empties out with each handful, and the conversation tends to flow languidly sideways. 

When I got home from an early morning surf today, a small Gray Fox (Zorra Gris – I looked it up in Bodhi’s guide) stood in the garden. It’s quiet eyes and soft, metal-colored coat reminded me of an adorable dog I wanted to pet, and I immediately wished Bodhi was with me. He’d feel so deeply and purely exhilarated by this moment. The beautiful animal and I silently contemplated one another for a few earnest breaths until he turned and disappeared into the deep green. 

Pure Vida! 

Tamarindo surf day

Kai surf Oct 2018

PS. Speaking of choices, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE VOTE … NO EXCUSES … and make sure everyone you know votes.  Our society, lives and well-being depend on it.