Like so many of us, I’ve been thinking a lot these days about Presence.  That in itself seems to be a contradiction.  We cannot be present in the moment and lost in thought.  But here I am, day after day, contemplating the nature of my mind, it’s insistence on planning, goal setting, list making and evaluating.  
Perhaps it’s not a contradiction at all, but rather a constant shifting.  In order to live in the world, carve out a life for oneself, and reap the rewards of our hard work, we must set goals, plan, and evaluate our progress from time to time.  In order to be present in the here and now we must let all of that go and just BE.  Neither can exist without the other in this life and body we’ve been given.  New discovery, creativity and the pure joy of PLAY cannot be reached without letting go of our busy minds.  Survival, on the other hand, requires thought and planning, and an active mind is required.
What I’ve learned recently, and it’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to learn, is this:  It’s not so much what I PLAN that matters, as it is what I PLANT.  All the planning in the world does not make things happen, and even with diligent follow through and work, your plans are not guaranteed to produce the intended results.  It’s all an act of faith, in a sense, but it doesn’t have to be blind faith.  Presence, that is, the practice of being in the here and now and therefore aware of and receptive to, the signs and signals, gives us vision into the darkness of the future, as well as acceptance of the past.
A few days before my opening reception at Lost Moth Gallery in Egg Harbor.
This is what I have learned from painting, and applied to life.  What I am experiencing at this point is a time of Reaping.  Seeds I planted years ago are beginning to sprout, ripen and fall from the tree.  At a time when I “planned” to go without many luxuries and even some of the basics, in order to live my dream of an artist’s life, I find my world overflowing with abundance.  Love, friendships, support, entertainment, opportunities for learning and growth surprise me daily.  And yes, I’m even selling art.
Live music is abundant, and often the price of a tip jar donation, in Door County.
Elliot Gottleman and Nick Hoover perform at the Greco Gallery open house in Sturgeon Bay.
The seeds that have gestated, taken root, sprouted and flourished all started as ideas.  Often the idea would come to me on a walk, a road trip, a conversation with a loved one, or a dream.  They were ideas that demanded to be given life, despite the fact most appeared to be impulsive whims.  A children’s book, a sketchbook full of masks, an illustrated journal with a cartoon Buddha-like character as it’s narrator… to name a few.  A visual language developed over years of painting, layering techniques learned through trial and error, and drawing skills that grew out of hours of studying so many dog eared art and nature books.  Like my “Mystery Stone” project, I worked on each of these ideas with a compulsive commitment of time and labor, despite the lack of income, interest or even potential for success.  I myself questioned whether anything would come of these projects, I just knew that they had to be given life.  Each was a seed that beckoned a laborious planting and lots and lots of watering and weeding.  I was known among friends and family for my “crazy ideas.”  
One of my many sketchbooks from the 90’s.
A parallel lesson has been learned about my life.  I closed the doors to my store nine months ago and my partner and I walked away from the plans to open a new shop this spring in exchange for working at home, on a shoestring, with the hopes that our art could stand on its own in the world and support a simple lifestyle.  Oftentimes I felt the familiar fears arise, that my goals were too shallow, that my life would feel empty.  That no one would be interested in my idiosyncratic ideas and stories. That my paintings are too strange, and definitely not in fashion.  That this somewhat hermetic lifestyle would eventually cease to fulfill my basic human needs.  But I decided to just wait.  And see.  And be.
Stone Painting and Dog Entertaining go hand in hand.
Now, in the middle of this summer of change, here I am in a lush green jungle of growth.  I have supportive friends, family and fans of my work who are cheering me on, purchasing art and engaging me in meaningful conversation.  Today, as I contentedly paint stones at my table, pet the dogs and listen to some bluegrass, I pause to just BE, and check in,  I DO sense something missing.  That old feeling of anxiety that plagued me for so many years, anxiety over my worth, the future, my place in the world… it seems to have snuck out the door when I was not paying attention.  

Or was I?

Dad’s Cherry Tree planted in the summer of 2011.  Door County, WI.