When I was young and studying to be an artist one of the most common training tactics was to draw still lifes. These static renditions in graphite and charcoal were merely academic and provided little more than a lesson in line and shadow, which is fine and necessary for any budding draftsman. But the term “still life” has always troubled me — at its very core it is the penultimate contradiction in terms.
Nothing in this world can remain breathless in one position and be considered truly alive.
In much the same way, I know too many valuable people who are living a still life. Most have been beaten down by experience, robbed of any sense of wonder or imagination. The hunger to remain curious is one of our most essential vitalities. Without it we are little more than a static plate of fruit — a mere lesson in line and shadow from which someone else may learn to draw.
So much of my life has been spent with both hands out in the dark, finding my way to a better place. I know many with a similar uncertainty in their footing, each step taken in trepidation and still knowing it will always be better than standing still.
Every day I draw a new road to follow on the map of my life. The path we each chart is unique to us alone and is well documented.
The permanence of my path is set down in ink on the landscape of my experience. The wonderful thing is that I am allowed to choose which way to go and chart an utterly original course to get there. In the corner is my legend — the key that tells me true north and the increments of my journey.
The cartography of a person’s life can be seen in their face with every mile laid out in stark relief for anyone to see. If you want to understand the kind of life you have lived do not use a mirror. Instead look into the eyes of someone who knows and respects you. That will always be your finest reflection and the truth of your experience.
When I express enthusiasm for anything, it is clear in both my gesture and expression. That behavior is a steadfast part of my countenance and anyone who sees my face reads my map clearly. The geography of my good and bad experience has led me straight to this point and no better guide is required than my own exuberance. When someone else’s face lights up, I see so many rushing rivers and thoroughfares of dynamic experience, either already lived or yet to come.
For many people, their smile is the biggest part of that enthusiasm. But a smile is no mere curl of the lips. For me the eyes are the smile. They project a magnificently subtle intensity and give tremendous context to a sparkling face. In much the same way we are drawn into the smile of the Mona Lisa.
The atlas of my life is neatly folded, kept close and well-worn from over use. As tattered and stained as that map may be, it remains a beautifully rich and flawless portrait of a life well traveled.
In my darkest and most desolate times the cartography of my past experience has always been a guide, a reference for the positive direction in which I have been journeying and the roads I long to chart.
It is not now, nor will it ever be, a still life.