I received notice this week that a painter friend of mine had passed away. I was one of the few, sworn to secrecy, who knew it was coming.
I met J. when we both lived in the California desert and were respectively embarking on our painting careers. We were at the same time at the same place even though that place was strangely out of character for each of us – knee deep in a gay bar waiting for a drag show to start in a crowd full of leather queens. Dressed in light colored clothes and tall as a palm tree, J’s golden hair, ten kilowatt smile and complete attitude of all inclusivity reminded me of a hip Christian priest even though he was in the room debuting his latest series of paintings all centered around the complicated dressing tables of men who dress up as women to perform. Black canvases were full of jewel colored potions and cosmetics and men with their hair tied up, pre-wig, putting on long lashes and red lipstick. An odd subject matter for a young straight white man who didn’t touch alcohol, was recently engaged and enthusiastic about starting a family. I happened to be in the crowd because the gay community was something I was starting to get accustomed to while dating a woman, for the first and only time in my life. We were both fishes out of water that enjoyed exploring portions of the universe we knew nothing about but which somehow fascinated us. Within a few weeks of meeting, we were both working together at the local museum, and our kismet of a friendship continued.
J. was starting to sell his art in a major way and he told me that the key to his success was that he painted every single day, no matter what. It was all about showing up, and if you earnestly showed up to the blank canvas or the page, the muse would take that as an honorable invitation to appear. He invited me over for coffee one morning at five a.m. before work to show me what he meant. As the sun was coming up over the mountains, the newspaper guy showed up to whack one out of the car window at J. We sat in his garage studio as J. frantically opened the paper, scanned the headlines then threw the stack down on the cloth covered ground and started to paint it like a canvas. After a fifteen-minute spree he had a remarkable piece, swathed in complex colorful layers belying a hint of figuration. It didn’t look much like the more serious piece he had set up on easels around his space and he told me that these were his loosening up pieces that he used as a way to paint everyday while exploring new techniques and visions that might later end up in his more thoughtful and composed pieces. These practice pieces were so beautiful that he ended up selling them on EBAY under an alter ego and started to make enough bank to eventually be able to paint full time without a nine to five job.
He ended up moving to Santa Fe. Before he left we exchanged paintings. Even though our work was very different in concept and style, we had oddly enough both completed a random piece centered around a blue femme. We decided the synchronicity was compelling enough for us to swap the pieces by which to remember each other.
We stayed in touch through periodic email conversations about art but a few months back he started to write me frequently on Facebook. After years of silence, he was suddenly full of life and engaging with my posts, sharing deep introspections on my wall, and writing me private messages with great earnest sentiments about art and life and writing. When I finally asked him what had changed he told me about his cancer but he made me promise that I wouldn’t tell anyone about it. He said he didn’t want pity, or attention, or for people to suddenly act strange around him. He just wanted to do what he had always done: be with his son and paint. I kept that promise until I learned about his passing and am sharing it now only because through the writing of this piece I am honoring the lessons that J. taught me—lessons that he wholeheartedly embraced.
The two greatest things J. taught me were this: one, it is absolutely essential to discover the things you love doing the most and the people you enjoy being around the best and then dive wholeheartedly into doing that no matter what it takes. And two, it is simultaneously important to cease giving your energy to anything that doesn’t serve this mission for your life. There is simply no time to do anything but this. It took me 40 years to figure this out but now that I hear my clock ticking loudly I am listening and completely and unapologetically heeding the call.
Newtopia is one of those things that allow me to explore my passions in life. It is my arena to share discoveries of the most exciting things happening on the international art and literature scene and a place where I can explore the brave new world of human connectivity and metaphysical and energetic psychologies – the top three subjects that make my soul tick. All of us here at Newtopia are here because we feel compelled to express something in this space. After being a part of the original Newtopia magazine, which was a hardcore political and social journal in the early 2000s, we writers (along with a few new ones) re-converged here two years ago to recreate a tribal presence online that would allow us to articulate the things that mattered most to us.
For musician/producer, philosopher and resident esoteric Ronnie Pontiac that means a deep and comprehensive exploration into the roots of our American metaphysical religion, the cultural landscapes of myth and the cultures that lie between what we can see and what we cannot in our great grand groping to understand the universal.
For Lucid Nation singer, original riot grrrl, artist, fastidious activist and global voice of progression Tamra Spivey this means interviews with people on the fringe of mainstream culture trying to make the world a better place or populate it with brutally honest art, writing and voices that further the existence of community, democracy, humanity and honesty.
For noted poet Randy Roark it means taking us on his contemporary travels across the world and through the back pages of his life with all the subtle poignancy of one who looks hard and feels deeply.
For psychotherapist Thomas Goforth it means arming us with all the tools to make our life a personally meaningful one regardless of political, sexual, religious and social identification. (Tom is on hiatus this month but will be back next month to continue on this stellar series of his.)
For Dr. Jane Alexander Stewart it means examining the myths within our stories in popular culture and the lessons we can find in the tales of our contemporary creation.
For radical researcher and exhaustive thinker Brian Griffith it means looking at history, geography, and the stories we’ve been told with fresh eyes open enough to view the value in alternative perspectives.
For Rick Ruiz it means experiencing life in all its various gradients of shadow and light and reporting on things found in those places that most are curious about but rarely dare to look.
For Glenn Brigaldino this means directing a professional journalist’s eye on various parts of our world and society that beg a looking into whether right in our backyard or across oceans and lifestyles.
Newtopia is our place to say the things we want most to say within a structure of respected peers. It’s now grown over the past two years to become home to a multitude of you readers, fans, and followers who, too, have limited time in this lifetime in which to squeeze everything that is of potential interest to you; and for lending us your eyeballs and valuable attention once a month, we thank you.
Newtopia managing editor KIMBERLY NICHOLS is author of the book of literary short fiction Mad Anatomy, a contributing editor to 3AM Magazine and has exhibited as a conceptual artist throughout California for the past decade. Her non-fiction articles have appeared in magazines and media internationally. She was a founding editor of Newtopia in its former incarnation where she was also a member of the NewPoetry Collective. She is currently at work on her novel King Neptune’s Journey and an art work titled The Fool. She has recently embarked on a journey of study in shamanic and medicine lore and wisdom under a series of respected teachers. Follow her daily beat poetry on Twitter @LITGFOA or her arts and literature blog.