Of all the things ex-U.S. President George W. Bush might have become after leaving the White House, a visual artist seemed one of the least likely. Art requires a certain depth of feeling and curiosity about the world – a couple of traits that Dubya didn’t exactly overdose on while in office.
But in his post-presidency golden years, George Junior has apparently become quite the amateur painter. The general consensus is that while Bush might have, you know, lacked certain presidential skills, he’s pretty decent at the easel.
Bush spends much of his free time painting portraits, landscapes, cute little puppies, semi-pornographic nudes, etc. (okay, he doesn’t paint nudes. I think). Art commentators have described his work as “sophisticated” and “warm.” I’ve seen his paintings, and while I’m no expert on painting, some of it’s pretty damn impressive.
Bush took up painting after leaving his job as president in 2009. He’d never painted before, and described his first stab at it thusly:
“For the first time in my sixty-six years, I picked up a paintbrush that wasn’t meant for drywall. I selected a tube of white paint and another labelled Burnt Umber. While I wasn’t aware at the time that it was a color, I liked the name, which reminded me of Mother’s cooking.”
Anyway, America’s 43rd president, now 75 years old, has found a second calling in the artistic arena, and I applaud him for it.
I’m also somewhat inspired, and maybe a little envious.
Inspired because Bush, like many others before him, is living proof that it’s never too late in life to take up something new, something you can be passionate about, something creative that brings you joy and uplifts you, whether it’s painting or building furniture or cooking Salvadoran cuisine.
Envious because painting sounds like a nice, relaxing way to stir those creative juices, as opposed to writing, which is the creative equivalent of diving naked into a pool of rusty razor blades.
I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I remember. I wrote stories as a kid, wrote for the school paper in junior high school, joined a career program in high school that let you work with professional news reporters, studied English and journalism in college, and spent just about my entire professional life writing for various newspapers, magazines and websites, up to this very minute.
And it’s still a grind, still an exercise in slow torture.
I should be writing fiction right now instead of dibbling and dabbling away at this blog. There’s some free time between professional writing assignments. The chores are done. The bike ride is out of the way. I should spend the next couple hours writing fiction. That’s what you’re supposed to do. Use your free time to write. Make some free time to write.
I should be writing a sequel to my novel “Voodoo Hideaway” (buy it here or here or here). I should be writing a Novella-in-Flash that I’ve been meaning to do, with the idea that I will enter it in a contest in January on the off chance it might actually win something and get published. I should be writing short stories to submit.
But the thought of it turns my brain to jelly. I either have a hundred ideas for fiction, or none at all. I can’t figure out which. Writers go through these phases, these blocks. I’ve been in this one for a while now. Every sentence seems to require superhuman strength. Every idea is like a boulder I have to push up Mount Fuji. Trying to write a paragraph from scratch is like trying to kayak a raging river, against the current, with a grand piano on my back, and a monsoon howling in my face.
Goddamn, but it’s such hard work. Such hard, grinding work. I’d almost rather do anything creatively right now than write. I’d rather paint – and I would, except I have negative talent for painting and drawing. I’d rather play music, but I can’t play a single instrument since giving up the cornet after 9th grade because I sucked at that, too.
I could be a woodworker! Except I lack every conceivable woodworking skill, and don’t have any tools, anyway.
I could design clothes! Except I don’t know the first thing about it, and would probably design everything in black, anyway.
I could be a YouTube creator! Nah, f**k that.
I could be a TikTok…nah, f**k that.
This too shall pass. I’m sure of it. It always does. One day I’ll sit down at the keyboard and the words will just flow flow flow out of me. I’ll get on one of those hot streaks that let you pound out a novel in six weeks, and a short story while brushing your teeth. It’s only a matter of time.
A few weeks back I devoted a blog to my disillusionment with social media in general and Facebook in particular (this is a recurring theme in my life). In retrospect, maybe it came off a little harsh.
At the time, I was reacting to a slew of negative Facebook experiences – trading insults with people I don’t know and never will, seeing another avalanche of lies and misinformation about COVID-19 and last year’s presidential election, living in fear of being hacked, and reading fresh reports of Facebook’s determination to run roughshod over the rest of the social media universe.
I still think Facebook sucks, on a variety of levels with varying degrees of suckiness. I have stepped away from it for most of the past month – other than a couple attempts to promote my writing – and haven’t missed it one little bit.
But as bad as I think it is (and I do, I do), I realize now, after stepping away from it, that’s it’s not bad for everyone. Plenty of people find value in it. Plenty have forged genuine friendships that evolved from the digital world to the real one. Plenty find comfort in exchanging pleasantries on it.
I have developed some good relationships on Facebook, mostly with old school mates. I have gotten some nice feedback on some of the things I’ve written, or some of the things I’ve experienced.
Facebook, like any social media, is a personal experience. You can make of it what you want to. You can either use it as a platform for something positive, or dive into the toxic wasteland that always lurks just below the surface.
I’ll never again become actively engaged on it, other than to pop in every so often to pimp books and my blog and whatnot. That ship has already left the port. For people like me, the less you engage on social media, the better.
It ain’t for everyone, but then it doesn’t have to be.