Still Rising (Daily Biscuits #64)

jon  cooney

Seattle, United States

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This one started by using the stencil I made for Still Snowing : Daily Biscuit #38. I like to sometimes reuse the stencils I make because I end up creating a very different painting from the same basic design. It was made with acrylic paint on 100lb. bristol fine art paper. Naming it “Still Rising” has to do with how my day went today. It started out with me feeling extremely heavy with the world this morning. More so than I’ve felt in a long time. Making changes in life and confronting obstacles that have been in your way since you were born are not easy to understand, recognize, and overcome. I believe it is a life-long process. Although it seems like a struggle sometimes, like it did this morning, it’s not a struggle, it’s simply life. Life is joy and life is sorrow, straight up. Please tell me of someone you trust as having wisdom who tells you any different. And knowing that the woe is just part of the cycles of life, I knew that this morning’s massive feeling woe was the culmination of the past couple weeks. Probably the hardest couple weeks I’ve had in three years. I knew I had to just keep aware of what was going on and that it would pass. So Marisa and I had breakfast and took a long walk around Berkeley. As we walked I started to feel better and got some perspective on things. I did a few things throughout the rest of the day and then went with Marisa and my friend Adam to go the screening of the “The Driver”, a short film in which I play the leading role of the driver. It was filmed awhile ago and I was feeling a bit embarrassed about having people view it while I was there, because I do many silly things throughout the film and wasn’t sure how it was going to all go down. Three other short films were showing there as well, “The Albany Bulb : A Documentary”, “Rantz”, and “Ed Reed : A Jazz Singer”.

The night went really well, the screening took place on the top level of Albany Church in Albany, CA, and was packed to full capacity. Richard Boch and Ed Reed had been interviewed on KPFA a couple days ago so I think that little bit of press helped get the word out about the screening. There was a nice mix of people there. Richard’s son Benny who is 12 rocked out on piano and vocals and had a friend playing drums. They mostly jammed out really good covers of Beatles tunes, very impressive quality for kids who are 12. After my film showed I was asked to come up and take part in answering a couple questions, which went fine. I guess I’m mentioning all of this because the more you relate with others and share yourself you can become acknowledged and feel a part of something. This morning I wasn’t feeling like I was a part of something. So then the real reason for why I began this rant of a post, is that the short documentary my friend Richard made about the jazz singer Ed Reed played. Ed is 81 years old. He grew up in the Watt’s district of L.A.. One of his neighbors was Charles Mingus and he would hang out and watch him play at his home, and became friends with him and learned a lot about music from watching him and talking to him. I’m loosely telling his story here, but that’s ok, you can find out the details if you like, I’m just working from memory here. He ended up going into the military, and then spent roughly 40 years in drug addiction. I believe heroin was his main thing. He had two convictions and two parole violations which gave him a combined four different stints in prison. I believe he was in San Quentin. So in the late 80’s he gets sober and starts to help others in recovery. He’s developed and arts and healthy living course that he teaches to people, and is now over 20 years sober. His whole life he sang, but up until 2007 he had never made an album. In the film he mentions someone asked him at a jazz camp, so where are your albums, and he said he didn’t have any. So here he is in 2007 making his first album as a jazz singer at age 78. After 40 years of addiction and years and years in San Quentin prison. He then made a second album, and he said he is now in the process of making a third. In 2008 and 2009 he was named as one the most talented up and coming jazz singers by DownBeat magazine. He said as he answered questions tonight that he never dreamed his life would be like it is now. He said when he was using that he thought he’d end up dead and no one would remember him. And now he’s a world-renowned jazz singer making his third album at age 81. To see him in person he could maybe pass for 61. His energy and power is immense. The way he talks in the documentary and looks at the camera is stunning. He’s not trying to be cool, he’s not pretending to be anything he isn’t. This is a man who lived his many sorrows, and now unexpectedly is being rewarded with his many joys. That’s truth. Not that any of us should have to go to San Quentin so that in the end feel joy. But we all have to recognize, acknowledge, and face our obstacles in our life. And today it took someone like Ed Reed to put my obstacles in perspective. To make me realize that I have a lot to give and that I need to keep facing my obstacles and know that’s my work.

And though it may seem like it’s a struggle, in reality, it’s natural. It’s as much a part of life as laughing at funny things with my girlfriend, or being in the audience tonight while 150 people laughed at my character on screen when I was saying silly things. I by no means am saying we are supposed to wade in the sorrow and enjoy the heavy. I’m just saying don’t deny the heavy. You have to be with it just like you are when you’re digging an evening with your family, or taking a walk down your street. Because if you don’t allow yourself to listen to what’s happening with the “heavy”, you neglect a part of your true nature. Ed says a few things in the end of the documentary about that he is able to sing about all aspects of life because he’s lived them. I don’t remember exactly what he says but he mentions that we are afraid in our culture of talking about death, and acknowledging that we all inhibit sorrow, and the more can recognize it and face it, the more joy we can have. And to end this long post here, I guess I started saying all this because instead of feeling bad about how I felt this morning, and how I’ve “struggled” the past couple weeks, I need to see what is really being said to me. What is the obstacle in my way? It’s just the next thing for me to experience, and almost always facing it brings me joy. And in our culture it’s seems so many people attach themselves to what type of car they have, and how big their frickin’ t.v. is. I like cars and televisions, but the comparison of what others have and the progress others are making is just one big distraction from facing your own obstacles. The more we can put our individual energy into working on ourselves and empowering our own true nature, we will experience more joys than sorrows, and we will be able to help those around us tenfold compared to all of us creating our own little private boxes we live in, wondering if we’ve yet become successful. So I call this painting “Still Rising” because I hope to be rising my whole life. Ed Reed is 81 and having the most joyful time of his life. I’d love to be 81 and still have my life be unfolding in unimagined ways. And I believe the only way to do it is to face the obstacles in our way, the things both inward and outward that confine us.

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