(I wrote this blog on October 5th, 2011 when I was 21 years old. Not much has changed. Except that perhaps, I've discovered that I don't need a middle ground... I'm happy exactly where I am)
Everyday I take the stairs and become better acquainted with my building. On the second floor an old man and his lone cat run a used bookstore that overlooks the lake. The third floor is painted a rusted orange color. On the fourth floor, galleries hold open houses at night.
Bernardo's workshop is situated on the fifth floor. I treasure every morning when I pass by his shop and the blinds are up and I am able to glimpse him at work. Directly over the lake, the back wall of his office is comprised entirely of windows. They form a half moon of light. Through the glass you can see Buckingham Fountain and Grant Park. Most mornings when I cross the fifth the floor, his blinds are shut. But yesterday, when I was walking back up from my lunch break, the blinds were open for the first time in a week. Inside I saw a man holding a bike in the center of the room, he looked about ready to leave. Purely out of spontaneous curiosity I knocked on the door. To my surprise, he let me in.
The luthier, or violin maker, Bernardo has an earring hanging from his right earlobe and an open, warm face. I asked him if I could take pictures of his studio. It is my belief that are a rare few places as fascinating as an artists studio. Filled with as many blank canvases as finished pieces, a studio embodies the beauty of art far better than any finished piece. Every stage of creation is represented in a studio. When I walked into Bernardo's shop and ran my hands along the the wood stacked so neatly on their shelves, I realized I was witnessing all that comes before the music. On his desk, lying near his varied tools, was a photo of an old man sitting beside red roses.
While I was taking photos, Bernardo told me that the little witches he strung up above his desk were made by a friend of his in Cuba. I asked him if he had ever been there before. He said "Yes, and it changed my life." I asked him where in the country he traveled and from the sounds of it, he has been everywhere. On his third and final trip he married his wife in Havana. "That is why the country is life-changing," he said with a smile. He said that unfortunately, he had run out of coffee otherwise he would have offered me some Cafe Cubano made from one of the ancient espresso machines on the window sill.
The dolls reminded me of a little cafe across from the border fence in Agua Prieta, Sonora. The proprietor was from Cuba and almost every afternoon our group went to his little cafe to sip on mocha frios or espressos. It is very odd to be sitting on Mexican soil in a Cuban themed cafe across from a gigantic spindly fence through which you could see small-town Arizona.
I have been thinking about Bernardo and Dave, my boss, as well as the entire building of artists. While beautiful, it is certainly a rag-tag building. Like a well-cherished toy that was once your grandfathers, I think the artists love the building for the history, for all the people who have loved and worked in it before, not because it's functional or efficient.
I think part of the buildings dilapidation comes from this brutal truth: artists simply don't make very much money. The lack of money probably translates to low rent and not enough money for building renovations.
Dave gives me professional advice daily. His main story is how when he was twenty trying to decide what to do in his life he made a pact with himself that it didn't matter if at age 47 he was broke, poor and alone, if he was still making films it would be worth an entire lifetime spent not working in the steel mills of Indiana.
He tells me, "But look at me now. Here I am, older than I ever thought I'd be, broke, poor and alone, but still making films. And is it worth it? All I know is that I have stood at the base of the tallest waterfall in the entire world, ten feet from a wild gorilla and gone to the Academy Awards. You just have to make a commitment to yourself and say that no matter how desperate it gets, how terrible, you are still doing what you want to do."
Well, I think I am a coward. Because although I want to spend my life making documentaries and seeing places like Angel Falls, I do not want to be fifty, broke, poor and alone. Maybe it is materialistic but I don't want to spend my life afraid for the next month, not being able to support whatever family I may have. I don't need much, but I want enough, and not many people in this building have that. It is possible that I don't love art enough to dedicate so much of my life to it's creation, or it could be that I see wealth in varied ways. The wealth of companionship, of being able to provide, as well as the wealth of creation. And honestly, I don't know which I value more. I can't truly say whether I'd like to "Cop out and play it safe," or go out on limb like Dave and have it not work out. Maybe there is a middle ground, but I am not sure where that is yet....