“Rodney” 24×24, oil on canvas. Buy Now

An artist is born the moment he [she] gives up.

That’s what abstract painter Brian Rutenberg says on a brilliant podcast I listen to regularly (see it here).  My friend Rodney (“Butch”) is the inspiration for today’s painting. He talks about being “medium brave,” and I’m not sure whether I’ve reached even that because as you send me your stories, I’m questioning what bravery even means. What I know I am is persistent, dedicated, committed. I am also resigned– I will do this daily, passionately, and I will accept the results. I will not be deterred by bad paintings. I have given up.

Another confession: I did not paint this painting. I don’t mean to be pretentious. I don’t mean to be overly spiritual. But the palette knife created the edges and textures in a way I could not. It made the contrasts. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I had given up. I was open to what would happen. The palette knife did the work.

Here’s Butch. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


My First Texas Water Safari


(Would somebody get me out of here!!!)

In Cormac McCarthy’s great novel, ‘The Road’, a father and small son are in a very desperate environment.  At one point, the father is talking to his son about courage, and the need for it throughout our lives.  “Are you real brave?” the son asks the father.  “I’m about medium brave,” the father answers.

Many…very many….years ago, I was younger and in tolerable physical condition, and decided I wanted to do an endurance canoe race called the Texas Water Safari.  This is a grueling race that begins in San Marcos Texas and goes down the San Marcos and Guadalupe Rivers to a small town on the Gulf of Mexico.  Paddlers, in teams or solo, race non-stop for 2-4 days, depending upon your speed and ability.  This means that to finish in time, you must paddle all through the night, on a river that is, in the words of one competitor, “black as the inside of a cow’s belly”.  When I decided to throw my hat over that particular wall, I knew very little about canoeing, and very, very little about that race and the river.  But I thought I was at least medium brave, and medium tough.

I thought that for about the first 12 hours of the race.

Somewhere around midnight, real fatigue had set in, from the incessant 50-60 strokes a minute of paddling, and carrying the boat, full of gear, over or around log jams and dams, and fighting the rapids and rogue currents in the bends.  Alone.  Pain.  Fear.  No other boats in sight, ahead or behind.  My boat-light (an old bicycle headlight) piercing the night, somewhat.  About 3 in the morning, I came onto an extraordinarily dangerous situation.  The river had narrowed a bit, and the current was pushing hard, directly into a huge logjam that covered the river, bank to bank.  On both sides, riverbanks rose up almost vertically 12 to 14 feet…steep and impossible to climb.  I was barely able to get hold of a limb extending out over the river upstream, and stop my boat from crashing into, and worse, under that log jam.  I saw that I couldn’t get over it, or around it, and I really didn’t look forward to drowning beneath it.  I was shaking with exhaustion and fear, soaked and shivering.  I could see no solution that was within my power.

So I quit. 

I actually said out loud, “That’s it, I’m done.” And I was.  Defeated.  I held to that branch and waited.  Then to my surprise, the strangest thing happened.  The thing that happened was….nothing.  Nothing changed.  The night stayed black, the river still poured into the jam, the banks did not shrink down to a scalable size.  Furthermore, a Coast Guard helicopter did not appear over the treetops with some kind of lift to pull me up.  Race officials did not appear and say, “Well, just sign out here.  We’ll get your boat to you later.”

In his song ‘Local Hero’, Bruce Springsteen says “sometimes I can’t tell my courage from my desperation.”  I don’t know about that, but I did know that I had to try, and that it was, for better or worse, up to me.  And as I looked harder, I came to see that all options were not equally bad…the riverbank on the side opposite where I was did have some vines growing up it.  If I could ferry across the river without getting swept downstream, perhaps I could grab some vines…and if those vines didn’t pull loose from the side, perhaps I could pull myself up that bank, climbing up while holding onto a rope that I had tied to the front of the boat.  Then if I could get to the top, I could find a way to pull the boat up onto the top, then carry it downstream of the logjam, lower it back into the water, slide down the bank, climb back into the boat, and start paddling again, 50-60 strokes a minute or so. 

Somehow, that all worked out, and about 55 hours later I pulled into the seawall at the finish line.  I was the 12th boat to finish out of 60 or so that had started, and I knew that something new had been built inside of me.  My logjam experience was not the last great and exhausting and frightening adventure I enjoyed on that first race, or in the races that followed over the years.  But it was the last time I sat waiting for the grown-ups to come save me.  And it was the last time I said to myself, “That’s it.  I’m done.”

I’m almost out of stories. Would you consider being brave and sending me one so I can finish these 30 days? [email protected]

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