People like to use the term “fire in the belly” to define that insatiable passion in pursuit of a dream. I like to think of the term in its relationship to the pursuit of pure joy.
Artists are messengers of pure joy. They inspire folks to view the world in radically different ways. They encourage us to be curious and to take risks. They encourage us to be joyful. As in…”make a joyful noise unto the Lord..” Not threatening. Not fearful. Joyful.
Even when an artist’s work is something I’m not particularly fond of, I find that I am turned away from that experience only to be propelled toward a more joyful one. For this reason alone, if I had a million or a billion or a trillion dollars, I would give it to artists.
I recently heard a story about how Erma Bombeck said she would greet God if she met him face to face after death. The story goes (and I am paraphrasing here) that she imagined God asking her what she had brought back for Him. She said she would tell Him she had nothing to give; that she had used every gift He had given her, and there was nothing in her pockets to return.
I could only sit in amazed silence. To live like that, one must live joyfully.
The other day, my sister-in-law, nieces, a couple of other girls, and my cousins were over for a pizza making party. The children are all talented girls, five to eleven years old and sassy with creativity. Their interests are diverse. One loves music, one loves to ice skate, and one–I’m betting on it–will be a famous television chef.
The girls immersed themselves in the project immediately, and my small kitchen crackled with joy as each girl rolled out her dough in her own way and used toppings to suit her imagination. Every pie was a work of art. I was inspired by their boldness and generosity. They even made “take outs” for their siblings who were not there to cook with us.
There were no rules, just a lazy afternoon, ingredients, and joy in the process. I had done the prep work the day before. I had made yeasted dough from scratch and filled bowls and containers with toppings that I thought they would enjoy. To be honest, I had a pretty joyful experience prepping. I home roasted and sliced red bell peppers, sliced and sautéed mushrooms, chopped roma tomatoes, and sliced black olives. I diced pepperoni slices into quarter chunks and made a fruit salad. As I washed and chopped strawberries, pears, and oranges, then sliced bananas and added blueberries and raspberries, I was in the zone. I could have purchased any number of the ingredients I used–the mushrooms, the roasted red peppers, and sliced olives–but I was painting my picture of children joyously making pizza from scratch. I couldn’t have stopped prepping if I wanted to. I was quite happy.
In 1968, I was in San Francisco for the first time. It was a dynamic time, filled with the presence of flower children and the so-called love generation. I remember being amazed that I could walk the entire city from one end to another in a day. There was no BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), no subways. It was quite a different city then.
One day while walking–and brooding on how difficult life was, a pastime I thought necessary if I wanted to live as an artist–a beautiful man came up to me. He was African and so beautiful that I will never forget his face. In those days, I had no suspicion of strangers.
“Why do you look so sad?” he asked.
I was taken aback, but before I could open my mouth to respond, he was almost singing. “You should be happy! Be Happy!” He patted me on the shoulder and cheerfully walked off.
It seems that this has been a spiritual theme–a command from the Universe, if you will–wherever I go. Live joyfully. Empty the pockets. That’s the ticket I’m supposed to buy.
Creativity is mysterious medicine, generating in us the desire to live with a fire in the belly for joy. We’re inspired by interpretations of life–stories, choreography, theater, music, photographs, paintings, and poetry — that reveal the stages and emotional paths bringing us to the joy that we yearn to experience.
Artists inspire us to get up and do something. Dance something. Write something. Sing something. Cook something new and fabulous—maybe a pizza.
Yes indeed. It is a very good Friday.