Kevin – eldest son – is graduating in three weeks from UCLA. I’ve been trying to figure out what to do for his graduation present. I’m conflicted, naturally, as he is heading off to Google and will probably be making more money than I do next year.
Overcoming that is the richness of the experience that I had parenting him. That role has attenuated over the last four years. But there are wonderful memories. They start with keeping the Legos sorted in the drawer organizers so that he could exercise his imagination knowing exactly where the perfect piece was waiting. They include the two boys whacking each other on the butt with tennis rackets after stuffing their Pokémon comforters into their one-piece jamies. They peak with him lecturing me on morality at dinner at UCLA during his sophomore year – myself taking great satisfaction that he had internalized the lessons that I offered him a decade earlier as we struggled through a destructive divorce. And they conclude with me becoming aware of his painful struggle as IEEE president trying to manage a 300% increase in membership, and wondering why he hadn’t called for advice.
My first intention was to put together a scrap book, but the memorabilia ends with elementary school. I considered buying him a piece of art, but that’s such a personal choice.
As I considered this problem over the last two weeks, I’ve had occasion to ride down into the crafts section on the Santa Barbara Art Walk, looking for Olga Hortujac and Rio, two new presenters. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw what appeared to be Native American banners. That came with a strong pull to stop and take a look, but I pushed it off.
Yesterday, though, when I stopped to explain my quest to Steve Richardson, he recommended that I visit Neal Crosbie’s booth. His directions were explicit, and I found myself at just the booth I had been passing.
The first thing Neil asked me is what I did, and I told him “Love people.” Pause. “But if you mean ‘How do I make money?’ – writing software.”
Neal does primitive drawings with crayon – not pastels, but actual wax crayon. They are demanding pieces: crude stick-like outlines filled with delicate detail that is overlaid with chaotic sprays. The visual focus of each piece is a blocky figure with expressive eyes and knobbly knees.
Neal writes an aphorism onto each piece. Fittingly – as he labels the figure “Coyoteman” – most are tongue-in-check. That Amerindian god seems to channel through Neal. We spent a half an hour together while I picked two pieces for my son, laughing merrily. How good a time we were having was related to me later by Steve, who told me “the laughter in that booth went all up and down the Art Walk today.”
Primitive art has the quality of not imposing specifics on the viewer. It is thus a potent means of expressing relationships.
So I have these two pieces for my son.
The first “Fuck It Cross the Great River” evokes our scouting experiences, my pride in the courage he demonstrates, and an exhortation to project his virtues into the world.
The second “Art is a Form of Hypnotism. You’re Welcome” encapsulates my hope that he will learn to swim in the deep pool of mysticism that I navigate.
Congratulations on your accomplishments! I am a very proud father.