“Just do it” – not said but definitely lived by TR
Along with starting my largest art project to date, the particulars of which I’ll be announcing in the not-too-distant future, I have begun working out again. It’s been a good, long while since I have with anything approaching the current regularity. Despite my having a fairly physical occupation, it hasn’t been enough to keep the numbers on my floor scale from creeping up. Time to put in some (at least mentally) if not somewhat physically painful effort – primarily that of overcoming the typically more dominant, obstinate me that would rather not get all sweaty on a run or at the gym in favor of relaxing on the front porch with my wife and a second morning latte. What’s wrong with that?
I think back to yesterday’s post, which opened with the borrowed statement,
“I’d rather look back at my life and say, ‘I can’t believe I did that’, instead of saying, ‘I wish I’d done that.’ ”
At the close of the post, I wrote,
“I just know – I feel it – there are others of you out there [whose] identity seems set for life. And yet, you have this as-of-yet unrealized, God-given potential in some as-of-yet unexplored arena – an arena that perhaps seems gated by cold, heavy, locked iron bars. Whether just to yourself or out loud to others, you’ve uttered, “I’m going to (fill in the blank)… one day.”
It got me thinking about Theodore Roosevelt – both his words and the way he lived his life. If you’ve never read Edwin Morris’ Pulitzer Prize winning biography The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, pertaining to Roosevelt’s life from birth to his ascendency to the presidency, I highly recommend it. It portrays a person who practiced what he preached when, in a speech at the Sorbonne, in Paris, April 23, 1910, he said,
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face if marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
Pollice Verso, Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1872.
Why, even after leaving the presidency, TR continued to strive, contend, and explore. Another good read: River of Doubt, by Candice Millard, about an expedition Roosevelt joined to explore one of the most dangerous and least known rivers on earth.
No doubt about it, when you’re a maker with the hopes that one day your creations will go off and live their own lives in the world, be they photographs, musical compositions, your first 8mm short, or (ahem, gulp) your fifth child, you’re taking a real risk. Perhaps not always a death defying, David Blaine-level risk, but a real one nonetheless. More real, come to think of it. Not something contrived for others. Nevertheless, living your life thusly can feel, at times, like willingly entering the arena.
But hey, shouldn’t taking risks – calculated risks – be part and parcel of one’s life? Shouldn’t getting one’s work out there where the art world can pronounce judgement on it, like a Roman Emperor deciding the fate of a wounded gladiator by either displaying a thumb’s up (ironically, that meant death was desired) or a raised fist with thumb tucked in (like a sheathed sword, connoting mercy) – shouldn’t such potential jeopardy, weighed carefully and wisely, be viewed as a kind of magnetic north for one’s life compass?
“Compass”, 2014, 7′ tall, reclaimed wood and paint, private collection, artist: Andrew Ramiro Tirado
Brings to mind my sculpture, pictured above, entitled Compass. One of the last things I did as I was preparing, early in 2016, for an upcoming resignation from my position at the 3D Arts Supervisor for the Art Department of the Colorado College, was make a crate for the piece, which had been both titled and purchased two years prior (by the same dear friend who shared yesterday’s opening quote) but which she had graciously loaned to the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center until March of 2016, at the time of my resignation.
Let me tell you, that year was quite a sea change, having decided, along with my wife, that it was time for me to detach from my challenging and rewarding position at the college in order, when you boil it down to its essence, to take on more risk.
That’s right. Increasingly over the prior years of a generous and stable income + benefits, including tuition remission for my wife and kids, some deep part of me was yearning for greater expression, and part and parcel with that, I knew, came the very real possibility that I might stumble. That I might err. Might come up short. Because there is no effort without error or shortcoming.
Despite still having a plethora of kids under our roof at the time (we still have two, the older three having gotten married and moved out of our home within the last fourteen months), and a few cautious friends and family counseling that I wait at least until after the youngest was through college, a number of internal and external “signposts” signaled to us both that it was time. Time to further enter the arena, as it were.
And scout’s honor, it was precisely as the plane I was on was touching down in Italy the day after my resignation – I was there to assist with an exhibit for the Bienalle Mostra di Architettura di Venezia, the architecture section of the Venice Biennale – that I got a text from my friend Julia in Texas, letting me know that the crate carrying Compass had arrived.
It was as if my internal compass was pointing to true north for the first time in a long time.
A few hours later, in a pouring rain at nearly midnight, I was nearly hopelessly lost with a nearly dead cell phone in a foreign country I’d never visited before, my vehicle’s tiny tires digging into the mud at the bottom of steep hill on a ruddy country farm lane somewhere just outside the town of Bomarzo. The locals – a pair of disinterested cows in the adjacent field, were of no help at all.
And, truth be told, much of the rest of that turbulent year felt about the same – like I was spinning my tires, like I had a faulty compass, leaving me swirling and twirling inside, with my wife holding on to the railing for dear life – and definitely, at times, wondering if we’d made the right decision. Wanting to strangle Theodore Roosevelt and all his accursed talk of doers of deeds.
But by God’s grace we got through it, and knowing all I do now, we both would it all over again.
I’ll close today’s post by quoting TR again, this time along with another of his admirers, Colorado-based conservationist Ed Roberson, whose superb podcast Mountain and Prairie focuses on the American West. The other day, on Roberson’s @mtnprairie Instagram feed, he wrote:
“I happened upon this new (to me) TR quote this morning. ‘Painful effort’ is my new favorite phrase:
‘If you are to play any part in the world, if you are to have great happiness, you must make up your mind that you are not going to shrink from risks, that you are going to face that effort, and painful effort, will often be necessary; and you must count for your happiness, not on avoiding everything that is unpleasant, but of possessing in you the power to overcome and trample it under foot.’ “
Amen. Mine too.
Hmm… speaking of trampling things under foot, it’s about time I lace up my running shoes. I’ll have my second latte afterwards. Compromise!