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So far Eric Rhoads has created 38 blog entries.
18 02, 2018

Which Kind of Arrows Do You Shoot?

2018-02-13T13:20:08+00:00

I’m shivering — my flesh has goosebumps. Frost and shiny reflections of ice on my porch take me outside long enough to grab a couple of fallen trees for the fire to warm my skin.

Nestled away in their cozy covers, the family sleeps while I sit in my favorite recliner, one my wife found along the road. We took it down to its solid bones, adding new muscles and a fresh skin.

Snap, crackle, and pop accompany the flames, the only sounds present other than the tapping of little doggy paws on the wooden floor of this old stone Texas ranch house as Tucker, our new 11-year-old rescue, paces awaiting breakfast.

Touching Memories

Wrapped in history — an Afghan blanket knitted by my grandmother “Mema” and given to me on my 17th birthday, keeps me warm emotionally and physically. Knowing her delicate and frail hands infused each strand of yarn with her love makes me tear up when I think about how much she is missed and how much she touched my life with important lessons.

Thinking back, there are those who are in our lives, and those who touch our lives. There is a difference. Someone can be in your life for a great length of time and not leave their mark, while a brief encounter with someone else can have a profound effect.

Some impact is premeditated, some is accidental (though I’m convinced there are no real accidents).

Angel Drops

Looking through a microscope at my own history, I can point to brief moments where an impact was made by the angels dropped into the winding country road of life. Looking back, I can see moments where someone briefly appeared, dropped off a lesson at the exact right time, then departed.

I can also see times when someone kept putting the same message into my life, over and over until the timing was right for me to hear it. As I say in my Art Marketing Boot Camp, it is repetition that sells products. The same is true for lessons, especially when there are teenagers involved.

Grandmother Calling

When we were kids living at 5311 Indiana Avenue in Fort Wayne, Indiana, our phone (Kenmore 7463) would ring and Mema would say, “I just wanted you to know that Billy Graham is on TV right now on Channel 15.” She must have done it a hundred times, and though I rolled my eyes because I thought I had better things to do, she never stopped … and I miss those calls today. Somewhere in the middle of it all, the repetition helped me understand the importance of what she was trying to tell me.

At the fire I’m tending, the flames are now reduced to embers and will soon burn out. We all need to fan embers to bring new flames and new passions. It is that repetition of messages that brings out the flames. But sometimes a fire starts with only a brief spark.

These angels may have a specific lesson to give, but mostly they help others discover what is inside of themselves, and help them see things in themselves that they couldn’t see before. These angels offer encouragement, build confidence, and help us become better.

Any Life Left?

Actor Will Smith has a viral video that asks, “Are the people around you contributing to your life, making you feel better about yourself, or are they sucking the life out of you?” He asks, “With whom are you spending your time?”

Rarely do we know the impact of our words, whether they are encouraging, hopeful, sharing ideas — or snuffing out the flames.

Random Meeting

Years ago, I was visiting a radio convention and I was stopped by a man I didn’t recognize. He introduced himself, told me that we had worked together very briefly, and that I had said one thing to him in passing that had encouraged him to go out and buy his own radio station. He told me he had never considered it or believed he could do it, but my words of encouragement gave him the confidence, and today he is a station owner with several radio stations. He told me I had changed his life, yet I had not even remembered saying it.

Did you ever say something to someone and then wonder where those words came from? Something just came out of your mouth, unplanned? You just blurted it out?

Unpredictable Words

I’m convinced that we are vessels, placed in circumstances at certain times when angels are needed, and that those words that fall into our brains, unpremeditated, are placed on our lips to help people in need of those words at those times.

It probably sounds crazy. I get that. Yet the more years I’m alive, the more things I experience that I cannot begin to understand, and sometimes I believe we are the angels, or perhaps they are speaking through us.

I also think those words that come to us can be from a positive source — or a negative source. It’s like the little devil on the left shoulder and the angel on the right shoulder. Both enter our heads, and we have to have enough discernment to ask ourselves, “Are my words going to be used for good or evil?”

Sometimes our messengers help us see a bad situation that we would rather not see, rather not face. Yet negative messages, no matter how helpful, are rarely received well. This is where relationships end, especially with those who want to avoid those who snuff out their flames. It’s a delicate balance.

A Painful Letter

Several years ago, I felt the need to write a letter to a family member because I saw things going on that he did not see. They were, in my opinion, so harmful to him, and I loved him so much, that I felt he needed to know, even at the risk of losing my relationship with him, to save him from such deep pain and the coming train wreck. After I hit the send button, I knew there was no turning back. The result was not what I had expected. He did take the action recommended, but he has not spoken to me since, and years have now passed. I miss him terribly, and I’m not convinced it was worth the sacrifice of not having him in my life. Now I wonder if it would have been better for him to face the train wreck and learn the harder lesson on his own, without my pointing it out.

A well-meaning push to help someone avoid pain may seem like a good thing to do, yet pain and adversity are often what others need. Adversity is what results in growth and turning points. I had not considered that, and only hope that time will eventually heal the wounds.

Words can cut like powerful swords and create deep wounds, or they can be be like glowing bricks that build greatness in others.

Which words will you use?

What do you see in others that they do not see in themselves, and how can you help them see it?

E-Words

I’m convinced more than ever that the only kinds of words that flow from our lips should be words of love and encouragement. Yes, there are times when discipline or correction is needed, and times when someone needs to be pushed off the tracks before the train of adversity crushes them, yet it all has to be done with love and care.

I’ve also discovered that the only words that penetrate the shield of the human brain are positive words, and they sometimes have to be used to help someone discover something in themselves.

Cutting Words

Families and relationships only break because of negative words that have come from our lips, negative actions, usually in a moment of deep passion or anger. Those words never leave us and become our story. Though we all should learn the magic of forgiveness, our egos get in our way.

Words linger inside our spirits. Words bounce around inside our heads for a lifetime, and each time they bounce, they either make us feel better or feel worse. Over time the impact of those words reverberating builds us up or tears us down. I carried words that I found hurtful with me for decades, and I did not heal till I shed them and forgave the speaker of those words.

The words “I’m truly deeply sorry that I’ve hurt you, and I beg your forgiveness” can repair decades of hurt, even though they are the hardest words for us to say.

Valentine’s Day Massacre

As I write this, words I’ve spoken that have caused damage come to mind, words where forgiveness is needed. What about you? As you read this, are you realizing words that you’ve spoken that cut down others like the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre? Are there words where you were cut down, words you allowed to hurt you? Can you forgive and move on, or make a call and try to heal the wound?

Are You Reflecting?

I’ve also realized that certain people have only negative bullets loaded in their verbal arsenal, and no matter how much we crave their love, crave for them to change, they will not. Often avoidance is best, yet sometimes it’s not possible. We cannot change others, only ourselves. Yet you can make a decision right now. Are you going to spend the rest of your life as a reflector or a deflector? When negative arrows are shot at you, do you reflect them and shoot negative arrows back? Do you let those negative arrows penetrate you? Or do you approach them with love, and simply deflect them so they don’t rule your life?

The only arrows we should carry in our quiver should be golden arrows, and when people shoot dark, negative words, we should not pick them up and put them in our own quiver.

Hurt Me, I’ll Hurt You Back

Human nature, our reptilian brain, wants to hurt others when they hurt us. It’s built into our DNA, but to evolve to a higher level, we must resist the urge to return pain. We simply need to tell ourselves that they must really be hurting, must have deep anger because someone hurt them along the way, and pray that they one day evolve to a loving and giving spirit.

It’s so natural. I can have a family member scold me or yell at me and allow it to ruin my day, and push those negative boulders downhill to others, which in turn ruins their day and makes them push the pain along even further. Eventually those boulders will build, and grow, and create damage of epic proportions, impacting hundreds of others.

Crushing Others with Your Bad Day

Or, when I’m wounded, I can stop that boulder, take a few minutes to understand what I might have done to create that anger, and not push that boulder any further. Sometimes I have to take a walk, or go out into the wilderness and let out a primal scream to stop pushing. But if I push it forward, I’m hurting others even though I’m really just trying to heal my own pain.

That’s why our words matter.

Are you pushing along negative boulders that will roll down the mountain and crush others along the way? Or are you pushing out warm sunlight that encourages and warms the soul?

How do people feel when they leave your presence?

Today, let’s practice. After all, small steps lead to big actions. So, ask yourself…

  • Who in my life needs to know I believe in them? Who can I encourage?
  • Who needs to see something in themselves that I see and they don’t see, something that will help them soar?
  • Who have I wounded who needs my sincere apology?
  • Who do I need to forgive so I can let go of the negatives inside myself?
  • Who shoots only negative arrows? Who do I need to avoid?
  • Who is there who shoots negative arrows and I can’t avoid them — but I can decide to return only positive arrows?
  • What wounds from the past am I clinging to that I need to let go of, that are getting in the way of my progress?
  • Who can I turn to that I know is always encouraging, and how can I spend more time receiving their encouragement?
  • Who desperately needs to hear words of encouragement from me?

If you think about what you’re grateful for every day, then think about three people a day you can reach out to and tell them how much you appreciate them, how much they mean to you. Or leave them with some words of encouragement. Your own life will change for the better. Before long the negative clouds will disappear from over your head and you’ll be flooded in warm sunlight.

This week, my plan is to put only positive arrows in my word quiver, even in negative circumstances. My goal is to find a way to deal with those negative circumstances with positive words. It will be harder, but it will make a massive difference in outcomes.

If you’ve read this little Sunday Coffee note this far, I am grateful for your time. I want you to know that I believe in you. Even though we may not know one another, I want you to know that your big, impossible dreams are not impossible, and that giant walls of adversity can be overcome. Even if for some reason they cannot because it’s too late, know that the words you use to change the outlook of others will change your own outlook and make the unbearable more bearable.

Imagine how your life would change if you made just one change in the type of words you use.

Warmly,

Eric Rhoads

EricRhoads.com

 

PS: If you received this because someone else has sent it to you, I do this every Sunday morning, and it can come to your inbox directly if you subscribe in the sidebar. Mark it as “important.” If ever you cannot find it, it might have ended up in a spam or promotions folder. Simply take it out and mark it as “not spam.” That will help make sure you’re seeing it. I also post it on my Facebook page each week. I hope you’ll follow me there. It’s a good place to see more pictures of our new dog, Tucker, pictures of our insanely crazy life, and a chance to interact a little more. And of course, I welcome your comments below. And I’m always flattered when people pass this along to others because they felt they might enjoy it.

Which Kind of Arrows Do You Shoot? 2018-02-13T13:20:08+00:00
11 02, 2018

When Moments Matter

2018-02-09T14:06:03+00:00

This soft Sunday morning on the back porch sees a deep and thick fog covering intense backlight from the rising sun, creating a tunnel like those in a movie scene where they “walk into the light.” Color is absent; the yard is reduced to shades of gray. Distant gnarled and twisted oak branches are silhouetted and are lighter in the distance, darker and bigger as they come close. This morning would be a good painter’s lesson on perspective, atmosphere, and values (the scale of light to dark).

The morning is nearly silent, sound dampened by dense fog. Birds gossip in stereo. The old swing hangs still and low to the ground, as if waiting for its next rider.

I’m wringing my my hands from the chill, but my mug radiates heat to warm my fingers between keyboard strokes.

Like every Sunday morning, when I try to sit quietly and give honor to my past week, today I reflect on a difficult but important moment, something over which I scoured my brain for new lessons on life. As good as these lessons were, they were hard.

A Difficult Week

Last week I mentioned that I was heading to Portland to visit my friend who had had a stroke that left him unable to speak, unable to move anything but his eyes, and those only up and down.

Upon leaving I told my wife that I was dreading this trip because I knew it would be painful for my friend and for me, yet I was looking forward to being there for him, because that’s what friends do.

Stressed About What to Say

For the entire plane ride, I ruminated about different scenarios in my mind. What do I say? How do I say it? I can’t ask questions, I can only monologue. Do I give him encouragement? Is it false hope, or can he possibly recover?

Upon arrival I was greeted by one of my other close friends, Jackson, who drove down to Portland from Seattle to support me and to be there for our friend Sean. We discussed all the approaches we might take and finally decided none of that mattered, that the only thing that mattered was showing up, being there for a friend, and his knowing we loved him enough to make the trip. All we could do was let him know we supported him, we loved him, and we believed in his ability to fight the biggest fight of his life.

A Gold Nugget Moment

My time with Sean was brief, maybe 20 or 30 minutes, because he becomes exhausted easily, and because he had to be prepared for another surgery that afternoon. And though what I said would be too personal to share here, I feel that was among the most important 20 minutes of my life, and the two days of travel for 20 minutes with him and his wife was well worth the time and the money.

What Would You Do?

I learned a lot on this trip. A lot about my friend, a lot about strokes, a lot about his wife, a lot about what happens to people in this situation, and a lot about myself. This experience made me turn inward and ask myself what I might do if I were totally lucid but trapped inside a body that couldn’t move or communicate. Ultimately, no matter how hard I try, I can’t answer that question. Though I think I would have the will and the fight to continue, it’s really impossible to know.

A Flood of Appreciation

What I do know, however, is that I felt a flood of appreciation for each breath I take, for each step, for the warmth of the sun on my face as I was walking over to the hospital, and even appreciation for every ache and pain, every word I can utter, because I know my friend cannot experience any of that.

I also realized that life boils down to brief moments.

As I take inventory of the best, most memorable times in my life, it’s not decades or years or even special months or weeks. It’s a collection of brief moments.

Celebration of Memories

I’ve had so many wonderful moments I can celebrate. The moment I realized I was in love with my wife. The moment we married. The moment our triplets were born. The moment we celebrated their first birthday. The moment we put them in preschool. And so many more.

Moments, I realized, don’t usually happen randomly. Though there are random and memorable moments, some of the best come from an orchestrated effort.

For instance, the effort to go visit my friend, which will remain among the most special moments of my life. The effort of my good buddy Jackson, who spent the two days with me catching up on our lives, our families. And laughing and joking like old friends do, which is something our friend, lying in a hospital bed, would encourage and appreciate.

I can’t begin to document all the special moments. Many are forgotten, but they come up again through reminders as I talk with an old friend or my wife.

What I Should Have Done

My regret, however, is not taking the time to create new special moments with my good friend, whom I had not seen in person for over three years and talked to only occasionally. In hindsight, I wish I had made the effort to get on a plane and spend a weekend with him while he was well and strong. I had considered it, but did nothing about it because of all the usual excuses, like time or expense.

Though I’m not one to look back with too many regrets, I have decided that I need more moments with those who are important in my life … my wife, my kids, my special friends.

I’m also in a state of heightened awareness that one moment could bring you or me down. Therefore the gift my friend unknowingly gave me is a harsh reminder that I cannot wait to get more important things done and make the most of life.

Embracing What We Have

I need to use the gift of time and health for the things that will hopefully change the worlds where my passions lie.

I realized that though I’m active, and busy, and doing a lot, I’m simply not doing enough. I don’t want to look back, trapped in a body unable to speak, or six feet under, knowing that important things that required my special skills did not get done.

In Search of Understanding

I sometimes wonder how people like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk accomplish so many things and change the world so much. They have special gifts, incredible vision, and ideas beyond what others could even think of. They believed in their ideas and their passion and executed their visions and were driven to make the impossible happen. I wonder how they got so much done, and I’m going to start to study people like this to understand how I can do more.

I’m not here today to be morbid. I sit here on the porch in celebration that my own problems are small, that my own aches don’t matter, that I’m still blessed to breathe, move, and live. I’m grateful for that gift, and not one moment can be wasted.

Each of us, including you, possesses a special gift.

Discovering Your Passion

It took me decades to discover a passion for art and to realize that my primary goal in life is to help others discover and embrace painting, sculpting, or any form of art-making, or even collecting or appreciation.

Don’t Wait for Answers

Though I teach artists how to market, how to set goals, and how to plan, all of which are important, I also have to say that random events have always led me to the things I need to be doing. The key is action. One can’t sit around and wait for answers, because they don’t come from waiting, they come from action — any action that then leads you to something you never knew you would discover.

Accidental Magic

My entry into radio was not premeditated, but accidental, at a time I did not know what I wanted to do. The same is true for my entry into painting, and later creating art magazines, art retreats, and conventions. Even my art marketing classes started as an accident. But they all happened because I was taking actions that led me to discovery of these things.

A Deeper Purpose

This week in Portland, my friend said he had discovered Sunday Coffee and asked me why I did it, why I bothered to take the time, since it wasn’t really about art and was not about promoting my business. I paused, hesitated, and said, “I think it’s about helping others think about things they might not have thought about, and discover things inside themselves that they don’t realize are there, and hopefully help them believe in themselves so they can make their own lives as good as they can be.”

Pick Just One Thing

If you had just one thing you needed to get done, needed to accomplish, and you had to get it done now, so you knew it would get done before your unexpected last breath, what would that one thing be? What are the baby steps you can take to make that thing happen?

What is your special gift? You may not know what it is, but those close to you can tell you things about yourself and your special gifts that you probably don’t realize you have. And then, how can you use that gift to change the world around you?

An Agreement Together

Let’s make an agreement. Let’s not waste one more minute on things that don’t provide moments, memories, or good value to ourselves and those around us. You and I both know that it could have been your good friend instead of mine, or it could be us. Our time may be long or short, but since we don’t know, let’s make each tick of the clock one tick closer to greatness.

Here is some great wisdom from the movie trailer for 15:17 to Paris.

Once you discover who you really are, you begin to discover you have been given authority over your life
But you can only do that through the struggle of life
Most people are born to struggle
Most people go through life avoiding pain
When you’re working on a dream, at some time a transition takes place
You learn how to leap higher
You start challenging yourself to dig deeper
Something in you that you never activated lies dormant in there
Don’t try taking shortcuts
Do what you know is right
You’ve been chosen for this great work

 

Respectfully,

Eric Rhoads

 

PS: I know this is a tough ask. Especially since you don’t know my friend. While I was in Portland, I learned that he had used up all his comp time and is no longer getting paid by his employer. That is not evil or unexpected, it just is what it is.

Secondly, his stroke came the very day he and his wife closed on a new house. Now they can’t make the house payments, and all of their small savings is going to hospital bills. And they need to be able to afford to make their small house payments.

 

His wife is an artist who has been trying to launch her own art career but now finds herself with bills that will burn all of their savings, and it’s looking like she will have to find a way to care for her husband in facilities, probably for the rest of his life. Insurance can’t cover everything.

 

If you would find it in your heart to give just a couple of dollars, together we could help an artist and her husband get through some of their massive expenses. No pressure from me. And don’t put yourself out; I don’t want to take food off your table. I know every dollar is precious. But if you can afford a couple of bucks, anything will help: https://www.gofundme.com/share/similar-campaigns/sean-demory-stroke-medical-expenses

 

PPS: Early valentines day greetings to everyone! Have a great day! It’s gonna be a big day for us because we always get about 200 registrations that day since its our last day for early bird price on the Plein Air Convention. So wish us luck with the mad rush 🙂

When Moments Matter 2018-02-09T14:06:03+00:00
4 02, 2018

The Recipe for a Great Life At Work and Beyond Work

2018-02-02T13:14:20+00:00

A warm orange glow dances across the blades of grass and lights up the trunks of my oak trees on this crisp morning. The warming sun and my hot coffee have removed the chill here on the back porch. I’m wondering if spring has begun or if it’s only a teaser before the cold Arctic blasts return. I’m hopeful it will be an early spring, not uncommon here in Austin, and a great time to paint fields of blue and orange when the Texas bluebonnet season arrives.

Most of my mornings start out thinking about three things I’m grateful for. Today it’s breathing in the fresh air, the ability to walk through the yard, and the gift of saying “I love you” to my wife and kids. Sadly, as I ponder last week, these gifts are reinforced.

A Cryptic Text

I knew something was wrong when I received a text from one of my closest friends that read, “Eric, it’s Jen please call me. I’m using Sean’s phone.”

The grim voice on the other side told me that Sean had suffered a massive brain-stem stroke, was on a respirator, and was paralyzed completely, only able to move his eyes.

One of my dearest friends, Sean has worked for me three times. I gave him his first job at age 19, when I was just 22, and we’ve been close since 1978. Sean loved his job in radio and always resisted the idea of someday retiring. I remember him telling me that to him, retirement would be like death, because it would keep him from what he loved doing.

Now, Sean is facing the biggest challenge of his life. I’ll be on an airplane to visit with him this week. But his stroke serves as a reminder that everything can change in a split second, and that when you and I look back, we want to make sure, if we are able, that we are doing what we love every second of our lives.

Please Let Me Work!

A few years ago I met Rick, an artist who had owned a giant business, and who had sold it for a large amount of money. After selling it, he told me, “I can never spend all this money, and every day I wake up bored and wishing I was still running my business because I loved being there with my employees and my clients. I’ve realized that is more valuable than money. I may be rich, but I would rather be going to work every day.” Though Rick is thankful he discovered painting, he misses running the business he built, his true passion.

A Giant Smile on My Dead Face

Though I have never really considered retirement or even slowing down, Rick’s situation reinforced my decision to work forever. I cannot imagine taking my active brain and giving it no outlet for my ideas. I too would be bored, so I decided that my goal is to be carried out from my desk, at a very, very old age, with a big smile on my face because I was doing what I loved. Or maybe it will be in my studio, or painting plein air, which I always find time to to do.

So Why Do I Think Retirement Is a Bad Idea?

Giving up eight hours a day, five days a week, for 40 or more years is a giant sacrifice. My belief is that those 80,000 hours should used only doing something you love, or on a mission you are so driven to accomplish that it never seems like work. The very idea of just showing up, burning 80,000 hours doing something you despise, seems very wrong.

I know many people do it. Some feel trapped because of financial pressures or because they feel they can’t find anything else. Some make the best of it, others show up every day hating their work and looking forward to the day they retire.

Of course, there are also people who don’t have a choice, who have to retire due to age restrictions in the company or industry they work in. Or maybe health conditions force them out, like the surgeon whose hands can no longer operate, or the construction worker whose body can no longer lift heavy materials.

The Reality of Work

I discovered the hard way that boredom, the lack of excitement and energy, is what drives the desire to escape. I’m a living example. When my business celebrated 20 years, I realized I had repeated one year of experience 20 times. I was bored out of my mind. (Thankfully, I had painting to keep me challenged.)

But when I made a conscious effort to reinvent myself, something magical happened. The boredom went away and I was again excited about every day, because once again I was doing what I loved. Though reinvention took me two or three very hard and intense years, now my to-do list of things I hope will change the world could keep me excited for the next 30 years or more.

No More Golf, Please!

Retiring friends tell me all the things they look forward to doing, things like sleeping in and more golf or tennis. Yet I usually get a call at the one-year mark. “I’m thinking about going back to work. I’ve never been so bored. Got anything?” Most tell me they wish they had never retired.

Chained to Their Jobs

Most of the people I know have worked in jobs they’ve never loved and been so reliant on the income that they were unwilling to take chances and find what they do love. Though paid well, with great benefits, they spent a good part of their lives looking forward to retirement. It’s why I tell my kids to find something you love, and make your interests or your hobby your work. “If you are unhappy more than 51 percent of the time, you’re in the wrong job, and it’s better if you’re not unhappy more than 5 percent of the time.”

I’d Rather Just Paint

Just yesterday a friend told me he was trying to decide it he would stay with his company for another five years. When I asked what he wanted to do, he told me, “I could probably muster up the strength for another five, but it would be hard. I’d rather be painting.” I told him he had answered his own question. But his reluctance was the money … could he survive? It seems that is always what handcuffs us to our jobs.

A good way to bring clarity is to ask, “If you got hit by a bus today, would you be happy that you’ve done what you want to do?” The answer is usually no. And if it is, maybe it’s time to pursue your dream.

What Is Worse Than Retirement?

During Christmas week I encountered a friend who had been retired about five years. When I asked what he was doing with his time, he said, “Other than investing, absolutely nothing. I have no hobbies, I don’t play golf. I tend to read a lot and think about when I was a somebody.” When I asked him if he was happy, he said, “I wish I was still working. I should never have retired.”

I’m not anti-retirement, I just hate to see great minds go to waste by sitting around. People were not put on earth to be unproductive and to let their brains atrophy. We all need a purpose, and if we can find a mission or a project or something we can get excited about and it requires retiring to do so, I’m all for it.

Now if you’re the person who wants to sit and rock for the rest of your life, I’m not judging, more power to you. I’m simply saying it’s not right for me.

An Untapped Resource

The world has missed a huge opportunity by putting people out to pasture when they reach retirement age. Though some have health or memory issues, most are vibrant, healthy, and have a lot of life left in them. Best of all, their mature brains are very wise and capable of doing great things. It saddens me that our culture seems to think someone over 65 is of little value anymore, when in fact this is where you find the best work ethic and the most experience. I’d like to see the world embrace this untapped resource.

No E-Mails, Please 🙂

So before you send me an e-mail to tell me about how busy and productive you are and that you are living your dream, you are, well, the point. Living the dream is what this little missive is all about. If you’re retired and your brain is engaged and you’re doing what you love, then retirement is what it should be.

Being Curious

As a young man of about 12 I remember wondering what I would do for the rest of my life. Though I had a lot of interests, none struck me as a lifetime role. I was very concerned that I had not figured it out, and the pressure seemed to be mounting, even at that age. But then, because I was curious, I found radio, got on the air, and ended up as a DJ in some big cities, which led me to station ownership and beyond. Of course, that was my first career and I’ve had many since, each of which I loved, and each of which had its time in my life.

The one critical factor is never waking up and dreading work. Yes, I’ve had a lot of those days, but the majority have not been a chore. That is the ultimate measuring stick.

I’ve had to turn to God on a regular basis to find out what’s next, to find a purpose bigger than myself — which is why I’m on this path to help people discover painting. But I have always found it.

Being Stuck

At 17 I was working at Challenge-Cook Brothers, a cement truck factory. I had to be there at 5 a.m., the factory was loud and hot, and the work was back-breaking. My co-workers, most of whom were in their 50s, used to talk about how much they hated their jobs, how much they could not wait to retire. It was one of the first important lessons for me. I too was complaining to myself, but I decided instead to seek ways to make the work fun and challenging, which resulted in inventing some new processes to save the company time and money. It was also a lesson in knowing I did not want to be doing this for the next 30 years of my life.

Being Trapped

Amazingly, most of the people I worked with were smart people who felt trapped. Trapped by house payments, trapped by families to support, and we talked about dreams they had been afraid to pursue because they might lose everything. Though I had not been in their shoes, it was an eye-opener: most would never know if they could have succeeded because they did not try.

The Message to the Rest of Us

My dear friend’s tragedy led me to think about never wasting another day and trying to survive, and to stay as healthy as possible so it might not happen to me. And though I seem to get a lot done, it’s a reminder that big dreams are yet to be accomplished, more people need to be helped through my work, and we should never waste a single second because that second might be our last.

Make Your Kids and Grandkids Read This

One day you’re 17 and you have dreams. Then suddenly, it seems like overnight, you’re married, then having kids, then your kids are going to college, then your career is nearing its end, and often, too often, there is much to do and it seems the time left is short. My grandmother used to tell me this, and I never believed her, until it happened to me.

Life is never long enough. Never ever spend a day doing what you don’t love. Yes, of course you have to do your taxes, go to school and learn, but once you’re in the world, you are responsible for your life. How you burn those 80,000 hours determines if you look back and say it was worthwhile or a waste. Don’t let anyone force their dreams on you. Don’t pursue anything unless it’s your dream. And if you don’t yet know your dream, be curious, try everything, and you might stumble into your life’s work. But if you don’t try different things and instead just wait and hope, you might end up forced into a dead end job that traps you.

Choose big dreams and chance them. You are perfectly capable, no special advantage required. Sweat overcomes advantage. I know kids with rich parents who never did a thing with their lives, and poor kids who became billionaires because they worked harder than everyone else.

It’s not about money. Money is only a tool; it helps, but it’s not happiness. Again, I know unhappy billionaires. Life is about rich experiences, making great memories, and changing the world with your ideas. Yes, YOUR ideas. There is no substitute for hard work. Smart is nice, but smart without application isn’t smart at all.

Find a Passion

I’m driven to write this today because I keep running into miserable people who are bored and feel trapped. Action and curiosity will work to your benefit. If you have time, try something new, go to an event you know nothing about, volunteer, find something to get excited about. If your body moves and your brain works, you still have a gift to contribute.

That’s why I love painting, and especially plein air painting. It’s an engaged community, you can make loads of friends, you can be outdoors with others, you can travel the area or the world, and you can be creative. It truly is the new golf. Best of all, you have something to challenge you (it’s not easy, but anyone can learn it), and if you want, you can make some extra money or even a great living once you get good at it.

Be productive. Be happy. Do what excites you. You won’t regret it.

What about you? Are you bored? Are you spending your time doing what you love? If not, why not? Don’t wait even one more day.

The Recipe for a Great Life At Work and Beyond Work 2018-02-02T13:14:20+00:00
28 01, 2018

The Baby Steps to Giant Dreams

2018-01-27T05:45:00+00:00

Purple-gray hills are peeking over the tops of the trees of my very rough, unkempt, natural backyard, which is filled with gnarly live oak trees, prehistoric limestone rocks, sage-colored prickly pear cactus, and dusty orange and rich green cedar trees.

Sneezing wildly as I sit in the open air on the long, covered back porch, I can’t take it any longer and move inside. No, it’s not my cold; that’s gone. It’s the cedar, part of a well kept secret in Austin, Texas. It’s called “Cedar Fever,” and it’s an allergy most of us get it after living here three years or more. Usually it begins around Christmas and lasts until early spring.

Though I prefer to sit on the porch on Sunday mornings, listening to the sounds of birds, distant barking dogs, and the rustling of treetops, I’ve walked down the little path through the tall grasses with dried leaves crunching under my feet as I made my way to my little studio building.

My Little Studio in the Trees

The studio is a 12 x 16-foot building, with a porch of almost the same size, tin roof, and dark brown slatboards. I’ve got a fireplace on the porch for sitting out on cold days, though lately it’s been too cold, even with the fire. Last week we had a couple of rare 16-degree days — an opportune time for the heat to go out in our house and a chance to appreciate what we had.

I feel blessed with our little slice of paradise in the woods surrounding Austin (they call it a “green belt”). I started to say I also feel lucky, and there is some luck involved, but I think too many people hope to get lucky instead of making their own luck.

Is Luck on Your Side?

I hear about luck a lot. Probably every week some artist tells me that they’re having bad luck selling paintings — that they’ve had some years where they have been very lucky, and others where their luck has run out.

Perhaps there is an element of luck we all experience. I suppose if you put yourself out there enough times, you’ll have some good results and some bad. But it’s hard to raise a family or pay bills on luck alone.

The Cycles of Art Sales

Art sales do ebb and flow based on economic conditions. Dozens of artists pine for the good old days before 2008, when they couldn’t paint enough and their incomes were soaring. Then it dried up for most of them, and for many galleries. With the simultaneous growth of online shopping, it was the perfect storm.

There Is No Such Thing as Luck

Dan Kennedy, a marketing guru I follow, once said that there is no such thing as luck in business and that though some may accidentally do something right and have some success from time to time, great success is based on understanding the principles of great marketing. He points out numerous stories of those who flourished during recessions or the Great Depression, and that those who embrace good marketing essentials can succeed in any economy.

Though I believe he is right, it crossed my mind that it might not be true in the art world, because problem “boulders” roll downhill and crush those in the way. Before 2008, people were getting huge mortgages and houses they could not afford and money to fund furnishings and paintings. When that ended, the massive purchasing dried up.

When I asked Kennedy about this, he said most people had been riding a success wave and that because they had not employed the right marketing essentials, they were vulnerable once that wave ended. I suppose that wave was luck … just riding the wave of a great economy.

Surfing When There Are No Waves

A great marketer, therefore, isn’t someone who can just ride a wave when the world is flush with cash, when people walk in the door with wads of money to spend. It’s the person who knows how to employ strategy to succeed and how to be flush with cash even when times are their worst. Plus, those who understand great marketing essentials will make considerably more during a wave.

A couple of weeks ago, when I was in Santa Fe, the dealers there mentioned that business hasn’t been this good in years — and they had big smiles on their faces, which made me believe they were not blowing smoke. I’m hearing from some artists that things are getting much better, though many are still not seeing the success they want.

It’s hard to know what will happen with the U.S. economy, though all the indicators are looking very strong. It’s very possible that you, if you sell art (or anything else), may be able to surf a wave again.

Artists Ready for Anything

Yet if I can prepare artists (or others) to catch the wave when it’s strong, and to keep riding high when things are horrific, then I will have prepared them for anything. Because we all have to survive no matter what the economy is doing, and you should never have to be vulnerable again. You see, there are always people buying art, even when the economy is bad. There are just fewer of them, and it’s important to be one of the artists those few are buying.

A wise mentor, my dad (who turned 91 last week), reminds me constantly that you shouldn’t increase your lifestyle spending when times are good because you may need that cash when times change. But you should also use those times when you’re flush with cash to build your knowledge and awareness.

A War Chest for the Unexpected

It reminds me that artists who ride the wave will gain a great advantage by keeping a war chest of ad dollars that will help them capture art market spending when others are unable to do so. I once wrote about a gallery that was built during a recession because of this principle.

But … all the cash in the world is of no value to those who don’t know how to use the essential tools of marketing. It seems to me that we are doing a lovely job of training thousands of highly accomplished artists in schools and ateliers today, yet few, if any, are teaching marketing essentials. Frankly, few professions have the vision to teach these business essentials. Even doctors get great training but stumble when they try to go out on their own because no one ever teaches them how to run a business. Artists who are selling art are running a business, though few like to admit that. Anyone who is self-employed in any craft is running a business.

My Struggle to Learn Marketing

Some people think that marketing comes naturally to me, and that I have a “talent” for marketing, but that isn’t true. I struggled for years because I misunderstood marketing and had to learn it by trial and error. And I didn’t like it; I would rather have been doing something else. Though I had some great mentors in marketing, it was not until I flicked the switch in my head that I finally told myself I had to master the art of marketing or I’d never eat consistently. Once I made that decision to begin a lifetime of getting better at marketing, I started to see a shift in my income. It was a slight shift in the beginning, but it grew over time, the better I got and the more things built on themselves.

‘Can I Help Artists with Marketing?’ I Wondered

Frankly, I had all this knowledge from decades of good and bad experience that I was putting to use for my own business. Then one day I was speaking with some artists who asked me for advice, and they told me I should be teaching artists, which frankly had never crossed my mind. I decided to try it and made a presentation at a small art event that was met with good reviews.

Then, when I launched the Plein Air Convention, I thought it might be a nice add-on for artists, but the convention already had all of the time scheduled. So I added it at 6:30 in the morning, thinking that only a few serious people who wanted to learn marketing would show up. I was blown away by the interest when most of the people at the convention showed up, and I’ve been doing Art Marketing Boot Camp since then.

Watching People Thrive

Because of the success so many artists are having as a result of attending the classes or watching the videos, I’m now encouraged that any artist can become a world-renowned brand — or at least big enough and well known enough that they dominate sales in top shows and get sought after by top galleries. Or, for those who don’t want that but just want to add an extra $1,000 a month, that too is possible. I’m trying to teach principles so artists can live their dreams and, most importantly, have consistent income even when times are bad.

How Do I Start?

The question I get most is, “Eric, I want to market, but where do I begin?” The very first thing is to have a strategy before you implement any tactics. Most people think that if they buy an ad, or do some posts on Instagram, that will build their career. But that’s like getting in the car and driving, hoping you’ll show up somewhere interesting.

Start with a Yellow Pad

The absolute first step is to define exactly, in detail, what you want your life to look like. You start with your must-have essentials, like how much to pay your bills and meet your monthly needs. And then start your dreaming process: where you want to be in two years, five years, 10 years, and for the rest of your life. This then helps you define your strategy, and from the strategy, you create specific tactics. It’s important to know the difference between strategy and tactics.

Frankly, whether you’re an artist or anything else, this is an essential first step. You have to define your life before you start shooting arrows at random targets — that won’t get you to where you want to be.

Which Kind of Artist Are You?

There are two kinds of artists … those who paint for pleasure and only for themselves, and those who sell their artwork or someday hope to. It doesn’t matter if the art is representational, abstract, installation art, photography, or selling potholders or handmade aprons on Etsy. It’s all art, and if the intent is to sell it, artists would serve themselves well to learn some of the core essentials of marketing. There are lots of people who teach it, myself included, and lots of styles and ideas, and any study of marketing and sales will benefit anyone who wants to sell something.

Prevailing Over Depression

The other essential is your mindset. Most of us tend to have a pack mentality, which means we believe what others are telling us. If all the artists out there tell us business is bad, nothing is selling, the world of art is coming to an end, we tend to believe it. A young man named Kellogg heard all of those things as he was starting his new company when the Great Depression hit. Had he listened and given up, his family would not be reaping the rewards of decades of dominance in the cereal category. You have to be an independent thinker and believe there is always someone who will buy your art, no matter how grim things look. With that mindset, you won’t stop trying. Though it won’t be as easy as when you’re riding a wave, and though you do have to work harder during lean times, you will prevail. But the time to learn about marketing is before things get bad.

It’s Horrible. No, It’s Wonderful

In just the last two weeks I’ve talked to several artists. Some of them told me how awful business is, how they are not selling, how they are having trouble surviving, and how every artist they know is experiencing the same thing. Others I spoke to in the same week told me that their art sales are booming, that it’s better than it’s ever been, even better than before 2008, and that all their friends are experiencing the same thing.

The optimists were not artists who were “better.” Almost everyone who told me one or the other of these things was a high-quality artist, and some were in the same styles or genres of art and the same regions.

Making 2018 Soar

Since we’re still early in the year, there is ample time to impact your success in 2018 and beyond. Start with your mindset, move to your needs, then start to focus on your dreams, and define what you want the rest of your life to look like … whether you’re young or old. Then study like a madman … others who know marketing can save you decades of experimentation and pain. A few hours invested to watch a video or read a book once in a while can help you take control.

I’ve Changed My Mind

When I was a younger man, I used to think that if you dream it, it will come true. Though I still believe mindset is the most important starting point, I have realized that the ship doesn’t move unless you put coal in the furnace, and unless you learn to steer it, it will just drift and you’ll go in whatever directions the waves push you. You have to have a destination and a chart to get you there, and you have to always be prepared for course correction in the times you get off course.

Jumping in Head First

In the last five years I’ve seen a massive change in my own life because I immersed myself in new learning in the areas I felt I needed to master in order to accomplish my dreams (most of which are not financial in themselves but require money to accomplish, such as the museum I want to build). You can become a master at anything with about two years of intense study.

Five years ago I started buying every course I could get my hands on or could afford. I started reading every book I could find on the subjects I wanted to master. I read four books over the Christmas break, and usually about two or three a month. I listen to probably 20 podcasts in most months, and I attend probably three or four educational events a year. Though I’d rather sit around and hope that things will happen, and though I’d rather not spend money I often can’t afford to spend, and time I can’t afford to spend, I know the necessity of immersion when I want to learn and master new things.

I don’t want to be so presumptions as to tell you what you need to learn, or what is important for you in your life. Only you know those answers. But I do know a lot of people who know what they want but don’t know how to get there, who get frozen with fear.

Little Bitty Steps

Big goals are overwhelming. Tony Robbins would say to start small. Rather than saying “I need to lose 30 pounds,” set a smaller, less overwhelming goal, like “I’m going to take a walk every day.” This is true for all goals. Rather than saying you want to be known at the level of a famous artist like Joe McGurl, which would be overwhelming to consider, start out by telling yourself “I’m going to study one hour a week.” Then do something like read a book, watch a video, or paint one extra hour.

Repetition Not Only Sells Products, It Sells Your Brain

I honestly can’t say that you or I will become exactly what we dream. But I can say that if you shoot for it, you and I will get further ahead than we are now, and any progress is better than no progress. I do believe that if you tell yourself something over and over, you will start out doubting it, then will begin doubting it less and start seeing indicators that it might be possible, and if you keep telling yourself it’s going to happen, your subconscious mind starts leading you in that direction. I have found this to be true in my own life, and I know lots of others who tell me it’s happened to them.

Woohoo! I Get to Buy Something Cool!

The greatest satisfaction of my entire life, other than my family, has been coaching artists, teaching them the principles of marketing, and seeing their lives change. Just a week or so ago I sent out a note about an artist who followed something I created and exceeded her annual goals because of it, and bought a new truck. When I called her she told me, “I did not believe it would work, but I was desperate to make something work and thought, what do I have to lose?”

Are You Sick Enough to Make Changes Yet?

I want you to have exactly the life you imagine, and I have belief in you, no matter how horrible your circumstances were when you grew up or what they are now. I know that when things get bad enough and you get sick enough of those circumstances, and when you decide to change your story and move in a new direction, you will get there. The only thing it requires is determination to start down a new path, strong desire to get to where you really want to be, a strong, motivating reason that the new life you dream of will accomplish something important in your eyes, and taking action, which involves learning and taking some baby steps every day.

Not only do I want you to live your passion, your dream, I want you to be ready to ride this coming big wave, and to be able to thrive when the wave ends and economic downturns occur. Because it’s as predictable as the sunset.

What is one baby step you will take toward defining your dreams?

What one thing can you do today … right now …  to move you in the right direction?

What one little thing can you do every day for just five minutes that will move you toward your dream?

What is one thing you can watch or read to help move you forward?

Baby steps, my friends. Baby steps. Because babies grow into adults and do great things, and I know that is deep inside of you.

I’m here to help, if I can.

 

Eric Rhoads

PS: A couple of months back I wrote about the pressure I was getting from my family to get a dog. Yesterday we adopted Tucker, an 11-year-old terrier who is cute as a button and had to leave his home because he did not get along with a new baby. Our family is filled with joy over this new family member. I’ve posted some pictures on my Facebook page if you scroll down a bit. Though I’m restricted by Facebook by the number of friends I’m allowed, you can still follow me (I hope you will).

 

The Baby Steps to Giant Dreams 2018-01-27T05:45:00+00:00
21 01, 2018

The Art Barriers We Create

2018-01-19T12:26:13+00:00

My palms were sweating. Should I go in, should I not? Do I belong here? “Maybe this is only for special people,” I was thinking.

The sounds of noisy Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale were silenced as the glass doors slowly closed behind me. Immediately I was overwhelmed, seeing walls and walls of shimmering gold-framed paintings that matched any in a museum. This art was different from any I had found in a gallery before, and though I had an untrained eye, I could tell it was somehow better, higher quality than anything I had seen.

The Silver-Haired Dealer

Suddenly an elegant woman in her 60s approached me. Her long silver hair shimmered in the light streaming through the window. “I’m Pauline,” she said, “and I want to tell you you’re welcome here and can take as much time as you want. A lot of people are not used to art and have a lot of questions, and I want you to know there is no such thing as a silly question. Please ask at any time.”

Immediately my shoulders relaxed. She was right, I was totally intimidated in this environment because I knew nothing about art. I felt out of place in any art gallery, but especially this one, which had a lot of older art.

I wandered freely and soon was staring for long periods of time at the amazing paintings in her collection. I found myself in a trance.

The Passing of Time

I’m not sure how much time had passed, but I’ll bet I walked around gazing at the museum-quality pieces in the gallery for more than an hour. Every time I was about to leave, something else caught my eye and I’d stay longer.

Just as I was about to go, even after saying, “Thank you and goodbye,” this long-experienced art dealer thanked me for coming in and said, “Was there anything in particular that caught your eye?”

“As a matter of fact, there are two things that I fell in love with, but I don’t know anything about buying or collecting art and I’d be totally intimidated to buy anything this good.”

She walked me over to the paintings and told me the stories of the artists and the artwork, and, because I was looking for a special anniversary gift, I ended up walking out having committed to purchase both paintings, planning to pick them up a couple of days later. Both were small — one was an English countryside painting of a cottage, the other a couple of costumed figures in Venice.

Pondering My Purchases

Over the next two days, I could not stop thinking about those paintings, I loved them both very much, yet, as silly as this sounds, I could not stop worrying about the responsibility of owning such fine historic pieces of art.

Was I ready to become a collector?

Was I capable of properly caring for paintings that were well over 100 years old?

Was I willing, and responsible enough, to be the caretaker of these fine works of art, knowing that they needed to live on for generations?

I even worried about them because of the neighborhood I lived in, which was OK, but had seen some break-ins. Would these paintings get stolen?

Upon showing up at the gallery to collect them, I told Pauline that I was backing out. I simply was too nervous about the responsibility, and though she was very gracious and let me out of the sale, she also tried to address my concerns.

Stuck in My Brain

A few more days went by, and I could not get those paintings out of my head. Though I was afraid to set foot in that gallery again for fear I might not be welcome, I went back, and ended up paying cash for the landscape painting.

Today, 28 years later, I regret not having bought both, and I no longer own the one due to a change in my family situation.

That art dealer, Pauline Pocock, has since passed on (her son carries her legacy forward), and I’ve always regretted not listening to her. Though I had been intimidated by the responsibility of ownership, I should have listened to her about the joys of ownership as well as the potential increase in value. Both of those paintings would be worth a lot today, and living with the one I had was wonderful.

Galleries Create Barriers

Like it or not, there has always been a barrier between consumers and art galleries. Though not all people are intimidated by galleries, many still are, and that is often rooted in feeling insignificant because they know nothing about art. I have a billionaire friend — who has a significant collection — who once told me, “I won’t go into any art gallery. They intimidate the heck out of me.” Yet this is a man who managed thousands of employees and did amazing business deals galore.

Another Life Goal

Though I’ve told you of my goal of teaching 1 million people to paint, one of my other life missions is to help people feel more comfortable around art, to help them consider the idea of entering a museum or an art gallery. To help them feel at ease, and to know there is no special secret code you have to know to be around art.

Dragging a Friend to a Museum

Recently I was in New York on some non-art-related business and I took a colleague of mine to a museum to kill some time between meetings. He wasn’t really happy about it, but knew I loved art and went along with it. I showed him some of my favorite things, told him some stories about the art or the artists, and he was fascinated. This man told me, “Eric, I haven’t been in a museum since I was in grade school. I’ve never even considered going into a museum. It’s not on my radar. But since I’m in town this weekend, I’m going to go back. I had no idea what I was missing.”

A single visit can open someone’s eyes to the world of art, and some will become interested at a deeper level and may become collectors.

Though my kids often would whine when I dragged them to museums, the outcome was usually positive and they didn’t want to leave at the end of the day. Almost every podcast interview I do with artists reveals a family member or friend who took them to a museum or bought them an art lesson, leading to a lifetime in the art world.

What about you?

When was the last time you dragged someone into a museum kicking and screaming?

Though I hate to admit it, art isn’t on the radar of most people, yet that discovery can be life-changing.

What if each of you (about 40,000 now) dragged four people to a museum in 2018? 160,000 lives would be touched, and you could help them get comfortable by educating them.

Museums are dying for fresh faces. If we don’t do this for them, who will?


Eric Rhoads

 

PS: I don’t ever want to see a world without art galleries. Though more things are moving to digital, the paintings I recently saw in the galleries as I visited Santa Fe would not have spoken to me, would not have stood out, would not have given me the same impact or desire had I just looked at them online. Galleries play a critically important role of showing art, introducing us to new artists, and helping others find great art. So, take someone to a gallery, too.

The Art Barriers We Create 2018-01-19T12:26:13+00:00
14 01, 2018

The Suffering Artist

2018-01-12T09:08:26+00:00

The dark, narrow spiral stairway was so tight that my shoulders rubbed against the walls as I climbed. The surrounding walls were gray, with crumbling plaster that hadn’t been painted for over a hundred years. The thump of my feet on the worn wooden steps echoed against the walls. Looking up, I could see a small landing, an old wooden door cracked barely open, and a blinding light streaming through the crack.

Arriving at the top, I walked into a room so small there was barely space for a single metal-framed bed and a modest wooden chair. I had to squeeze to scoot in and shut the door.

I Can Hear Pain

An eerie feeling fell over me as I stood staring at the bed, which was flooded with streams of pink afternoon light through the wavy glass of the old window. Closing my eyes, I could hear the groaning, the crying, the wailing, and the footsteps of caregivers tending to the patient, who spent his final days suffering on the very mattress I was staring at in disbelief.

The myth, the stories, the romance all came alive at that moment, when I realized the man had lived and died in this simple, humble room.

I was shaken, and it all became real to me at that moment. I stood quietly and stared while I soberly envisioned the last moments of his life.

Minutes later, I was walking through the streets of this small village in a trance, passing scenes immortalized in paint … a courthouse, a cafe, a church, a field … until I reached the grave of this man and of his brother, who died of grief shortly after. The markers on the simple grave were for Vincent and Theo Van Gogh.

My visit to Auvers-sur-Oise made Van Gogh come alive for me like never before.

A Miserable Artistic Existence

Every artist I know is aware of the the tragic story of this starving artist, the man who painted with passion, misunderstood because he did not follow the style of the day, the man who struggled, starved, and led what many think was a miserable existence and a life of addiction to alcohol. Some say he was insane.

Biographers know about the life of Van Gogh through his letters, where his angst and pain were revealed in detail. And we as artists hold him in high esteem as someone we admire because of his passion, his struggle, and his suffering. Van Gogh has become a sort of role model for those of us who call ourselves artists.

The Struggle

Painting and sculpting are hard. Though the techniques can be learned with practice, the search for one’s own voice is where the struggle lies. Like a good country song, it is the pain, and life experiences, that help us find our voice, help us express what is truly inside us, help us go beyond rendering to become true artists.

Deep Painting Passion

In a soon-to-be-released podcast with Alvaro Castagnet, the world-famous watercolor artist, he passionately told me that technique, though important, is not what makes great art. It’s the mood, the feeling, the reflection of our lives, and not doing what’s been done a thousand times before. It’s standing out and finding your unique self. Vincent Van Gogh is the poster child for painting something beyond rendering a pretty scene.

The Bravery to Feed Your Own Soul

Van Gogh broke through. He had the bravery to do something that fed his own soul. Although he knew how to do pleasing paintings that matched the times, Vincent instead followed his own spirit. He could have conformed and would have struggled less and made a living. Yet, to him, there really was no choice but to paint from his heart and passion. Though it is believed Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime, and it was not until his sister-in-law, Theo’s widow, was an elderly woman that his work was released, sold, and became appreciated, he ultimately became world-renowned only because he followed his own muse.

Van Gogh is indeed a role model because he painted for himself and did not paint to please others. He wasn’t thinking, “This one’s going to be a big seller,” he was trying to please no one but himself. I learned this about Van Gogh from artist Dena Peterson, who had to paint like Van Gogh for the movie Loving Vincent, and who studied all of his letters for the production of the movie and the recent release of her video How to Paint Like Van Gogh.

No More Little Red Barns

In my art marketing video series I speak about the well meaning galleries that ask for more paintings of little red barns, knowing they sell well — which is fine, if that’s what you’re passionate about and pleases you. But it is my belief that there has to be a bigger purpose to your art than sales alone. Your painting is your voice, and one that could live on for generations beyond you, telling your story, communicating your ideas. Other than writers, who else can say their work can have such a long-term impact?

Amazing Historical Paintings

Just this week while I was in Santa Fe planning for April’s Plein Air Convention, I visited several galleries, some with historical paintings that looked as fresh as the day they were painted. Each of them told a story, evoking emotion in their viewers. Like rare first editions of books, these works carry high price tags, because so few artists have ever perfected their craft through a lifetime of study and experimentation, painted to please themselves, and painted with mood, emotion, and story. Those who are caregivers of these paintings own the best art has to offer.

Emotional Breakthrough

Whether you’re a painter, a sculptor, a musician, a writer, or frankly, someone in any position, including parenting, those who are remembered are those who strive to be the best in their craft, who communicate with powerful and emotional stories, and who please others most because they have pleased themselves with a passion for perfection.

These traits lie within each of us, waiting to be discovered.

What if, next time you pick up your brush, your clay, your tools, you push your limits, squash the little voice in your head that is holding you to the past, and seek to be free?

Paint like no one will ever see it, so the only person you’re pleasing is yourself. You’ll have breakthroughs unlike any you could otherwise experience.

Paint your joy, your pain, your fear, your angst, your faith, and your anger. Paint what hasn’t been done. Seek your own self in your work.

Will you try? Will you be willing to take chances, to ruin good paintings, to make mistakes, to be bold and find new approaches? This is your year to break through beyond the average, beyond the expected.

I know it’s in each of us, including you.


Eric Rhoads


PS: This was an amazing week for me. I was in Santa Fe in preparation for the convention and I had the privilege to see a lot of art and meet a lot of art dealers. What made it especially amazing is that the overall mood is excellent. Everyone reports that their art sales are booming. That’s good for all of us. I want to thank Joe Anna Arnett and James Asher for showing us all the cool painting locations and introducing us to so many dealers.

It was also a good week because we made three big announcements having to do with our future. First, PleinAir Magazine Editor Steve Doherty is retiring. I’ve written something about Steve here. I’m deeply grateful for his time with us.

Though Steve is impossible to replace, we managed to hire an new editor for PleinAir Magazine with more than 20 years of experience in art publishing. Kelly Kane has served previously as Editor-in-Chief of Watercolor Artist magazine and Content Director for The Artist’s Magazine, Drawing, Acrylic Artist, and Pastel Journal. She has interviewed many of the preeminent artists of our time and written numerous articles about painting, drawing, art education, and art history.

Another big deal is that we launched a new weekly newsletter called American Watercolor. We have been seeing a renaissance in watercolor painting and decided to show our commitment with a new publication. Because Kelly is deeply connected in watercolor circles, she is also the newsletter’s editor.

The Suffering Artist 2018-01-12T09:08:26+00:00
7 01, 2018

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

2018-01-05T09:31:32+00:00

Last week I talked about the stories we live … then I saw this Monday Morning Memo written by my friend Roy Williams, which was worth sharing.

Listen

I am, by profession, an ad writer. I tell stories about people and products and services.

You do, too.

But because I get paid for it, I spend a lot of time considering — and measuring ­— the impact of stories.

Some of the stories I’ve told have made people an enormous amount of money.

But the most important stories I tell, by far, are the stories I tell about myself, to myself. Those stories are the source of my identity and the foundation of my purpose in life.

But we’ve talked enough about me.

I see something good in you and I’m calling it out.

Is it okay for me to do that?

Let us stare together into the eyes of the truth:

Whether good or bad, your current circumstances are temporary.
Success is temporary.
Failure is temporary.
Your future depends on your choices.
Your choices depend on what you believe.
What you believe is not determined by what you see and hear, but by how you interpret what you see and hear.
How you interpret what you see and hear is determined by the stories you tell yourself, about yourself.
Who do you believe yourself to be?
What do you believe about this world we live in?
What does the future hold?

Your mood, your attitude, and what happens to you next will be greatly impacted by your answers to those questions.

“If you want your baby to die with a name, you need to pick one now.”

The newborn had inhaled meconium during birth, the most the doctors had ever seen. His lungs were 95% full of it. The father and the baby rode with lights and sirens to Dell Children’s Hospital 30 minutes away, with the grandmother riding the back bumper.

The doctors at Dell looked at the x-rays and slowly shook their heads in disappointment.

The grandmother stayed with the newborn while the father went back to see his wife.

The mother was puzzled when the nurse showed her the baby’s birth certificate. She and her husband had been torn between two names for their new son and had agreed to choose the name after they met him.

The husband walked into the room.

She said, “I thought we agreed to talk about it before we chose the name.”

“Honey, Lincoln died. But Gideon overcame impossible odds. When they asked me his name, I said: ‘This boy isn’t Lincoln. This boy is Gideon.’”

When the specialist at Dell met with the parents the following day, he was holding two sets of x-rays. Holding up a film in his left hand, he said, “I have no explanation for it, but this baby…” Then he lowered that film as he raised the one in his right, “isn’t this baby.”

Gideon will be 8 years old on March 15 and he suffers no after-effects at all.

You may believe that what happened was going to happen anyway, and that belief in the power of a name is superstitious nonsense. That would be the logical, scientific belief, to be sure.

But do you really believe that beliefs have no power?

Beliefs are what separate Democrats from Republicans, Hindus from Muslims, stock market Bulls from stock market Bears, and scientists from storytellers.

Your beliefs are what make you who you are.
And your beliefs are determined
by the stories you tell yourself
about yourself.

You are not responsible for the beliefs of others.
You are responsible only for your own.

During his time at Walden Pond, Henry David Thoreau observed, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” And I agree with him.

I also agree with Jack Kerouac. “But why think about that when all the golden lands ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you’re alive to see?”

Did you experience 5 years of life during the past 5 years?
Or did you experience 1 year of life 5 times?
Don’t let 2018 be the 6th straight year of 1 years’ experience.

Do something new.
Tell yourself a different story
about yourself.

And believe it.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves 2018-01-05T09:31:32+00:00
31 12, 2017

Misguided Resolutions

2018-01-05T09:26:54+00:00

The horizon in the distance looks as though bags of large and small marshmallows have been dumped out in piles, while being lit from the side by an orange-pink light. Shadows of purple, the absence of light, make up their underside. These soft, billowing clouds line the edge of the still, mirror-like ocean and make their way up to the sky, which shows a greenish-yellow glow, something only an artist truly notices. Silhouettes of palm trees pop up in the distance, and a couple of hundred mega yachts surround me in the marina that has been my home for the past 10 days during our Florida visit.

Trophies of Accomplishment

Amazingly, these trophies of accomplishment sit quietly at their docks, being attended to by their crews of one, two, or three, sometimes more. They are continually washed and polished in anticipation of an owner’s visit that rarely comes. They float there, waiting, in hopes that someone will put them to good use. Yet most sit and sit, never to be used, like a boneyard of status symbols.

Beating Myself Up

The old me might have walked though this marina telling myself “someday” I too will own one of these mega yachts. Then later in life, I’d beat myself up and go through the marina bitterly telling myself, “You haven’t done it yet, someday will never come, you’re simply never gonna make that happen. Face it.” Yet the new me has learned to manage my negative self-talk and has a whole new perspective on life.

Unrealized Dreams

I’m not sure how many positive self-help books I consumed as a young business guy and throughout decades of my life, hoping that someday I’d have the ability to write a check for the mega yacht, the jet, the giant house, the fancy cars. And I saw success, experienced some of those things in a small way, having built and sold a company at a young age. Foolishly I made, and spent, what seemed like a fortune at the time. No one ever told me it wouldn’t last. Then I spent a lot more years trying to make it happen again, but never quite got there. I finally had to make a difficult admission that I got what I had because of incredible luck, and because of the help I was given. I was not a wunderkind after all. Just lucky.

Designing a Life

Following my lucky period, I had to figure out how to create my own luck, how to design the life I really wanted and discover what I was really attracting. You see, the trappings are cool, but they are often merely monuments to oneself, and I came to the realization that I was not attracting them because they were not that important to me. I had the benefit of seeing, through the lives of others, what was required to get them, and most of those things were a turnoff to me.

My wife recently returned from a Tony Robbins event and said it was filled with people who had achieved great wealth and success and who were there to figure out how to get happy, because these things were not creating happiness. These people had toiled to get them, only to find out they didn’t make them any happier.

Lessons in Life?

Perspective, and just life, play wonderful roles in understanding what we do and don’t want, and what I’ve realized through the journey up to this point is that there are some important life lessons worth sharing, especially as we enter this new year.

I’m not a fan of new year’s resolutions because they are all too often just party chatter and not serious goals. We come up with things we want without much thought, perhaps on the way to a party in case someone asks, but haven’t really given them a lot of thought. Yet our lives deserve deep thought and deep planning.

Define Life Exactly

In my first Art Marketing Boot Camp video, I worked to help others define their ideal life. To invent what they want it to look like — because we often set high goals and work toward those goals and are not satisfied when we get there. I see marketing as a tool to live the ideal dream life, but it has to be your dream, not simply objects we see in The Robb Report or other luxury publications that are supposed to define success.

What Billionaires Know

In my life I’ve encountered people who became billionaires. Some allowed the money to change who they are, but others never changed. One I know stayed in the same middle class house he bought 30 years before; he drives a 10-year-old Honda and never flaunts his money. Others have the jets and the big houses, but put them to good use by sharing them with friends and family and living joy-filled lives. One man I know has it all but became such a nasty person on his way to success that he cannot find people willing to spend time with him to share it all.

Money and the gifts money can buy may define success for some. For others, money is merely a tool. For instance, a private jet allows them to be home to tuck their kids into bed at night rather than having to catch a flight the next day. Because their business demands so much travel, it’s just a time-saver that reduces stress. Things like private flights may seem glamorous, but most of these people work incredibly hard to keep up their lifestyle.

Success is a personal thing, and only you can define what it is for you. But to get there, you have to spend some time truly understanding what is important.

Important Questions

What makes you smile? What makes you laugh? What in your life was the perfect moment when you said to yourself, “I’ve never been happier”? If you were taking your last breath, who would you want surrounding you holding your hand? What would your regrets be? What do you want to spend your time doing? When are you in your peak state of mind? If you had only three days left, what would you do with them?

What makes you sad, discouraged, miserable? A great starting point is to determine what you don’t want in your life. I talk about that here. If you design your life to avoid those things, you’ll start with a great foundation. Setting standards for what you’re unwilling to do is the first step to happiness.

Adversity Created Who I Am

In 1999 I went to Silicon Valley with a big idea, raised several million dollars, started a company, invented and perfected a form of Internet radio technology, and thought I was living my dream … and I was, kinda. After all, I love being creative, I love surrounding myself with the best minds and kindest people, I love things that change the world in their own little way.

Yet I was not fully happy because I had not thought about the strings that tied me to things I did not like doing, like the constant efforts to raise more money; answering to others, especially people who had a different vision than my own; and having pressure to succeed because I didn’t want to let others down. I loved the art of it, but I did not love all the aspects of business. That experience ended badly, but as a result of it I was able to design the next stage of my life, which has gone beautifully because I knew what I no longer wanted to do, and the things I loved.

The harsh reality is that there will always be aspects of our lives that we don’t love but still have to get done. I’ve managed to surround myself with incredible people who happen to love those aspects that I oversee but don’t enjoy doing. It’s taken me a lot of years to get to that point, but it’s helped me focus on doing what I love.

Advice for Artists

For my artist friends who want to just paint or sculpt and don’t want to be businesspeople, the goal is to find ways to either learn to love the business aspects by finding tools and guides to help you through, or eventually, to find others willing to play those roles for you. In my case, I had to do many things myself, and I got good at them by changing my attitude toward them, telling myself I was going to be the best. Once I got to a point where I could afford to have someone help take them on, I passed the torch, yet because I know the different functions well, I’m better at guiding the overall process.

I Was Stuck and Didn’t Know It

We also can’t look backward at the things that hurt and make them our story. We all tend to get stuck. I know I did. I had set out for Silicon Valley to make billions, and I failed. I repeated that story in my head for at least 10 years, rather than looking at it as a time that helped me define who I am, helped me learn important lessons about myself and others, and gave me tremendous experiences. I allowed myself to feel wounded, fall into a deep depression, and stop taking chances. As a result I probably burned 10 valuable years until I pulled myself out of the funk I did not realize I was in. I got stuck in my story. Finally, I had to decide what my new story would be and how I was going to rewrite it. That’s how you design a life.

How Will Your Story Change?

We get stuck in our stories. We blame others who wronged us — and often it’s some pretty awful stuff. We blame our parents, our exes, our teachers, our friends who betrayed us, and we keep blaming and living out the story. Often, though we don’t know it, we like having a story that provides us an excuse to not move forward. But why would we want that? Instead we need to brush the old story off and realize it helped mold us into who we are today. Then we need to move forward.

It took me a lot of years to realize I was stuck and not moving forward because I was afraid I’d have another failure. We’ve got to stop giving ourselves excuses, stop blaming others, stop telling ourselves others have what they have because they had some advantage.

Now Is the Best Time

It’s time, right now, tonight at the stroke of midnight, to plant your flag in the ground and declare that this is your time, that this is your year, and that nothing will get in the way of your living the ideal life. Not other people, not past wounds, not fear, not restrictions, not money. It took me a lot of years to understand that I always got what I wanted most, though often those things had been hidden deep in my subconscious.

Stop the Insanity

The most important thing I can share on this eve of a new year is that you have to manage what you put in your head, because what you put in is what you’ll get out. Stop listening to the negative spewing of others about things you can’t control. Stop telling yourself those things make it impossible for you to succeed. Stop making excuses about why success isn’t possible. Stop beating yourself up.

Instead, focus on what puts a smile on your face. Spend your time around people who lift you up and avoid those who bring you down.

Action Matters Most

Focus on believing you can accomplish your big dreams, and understand it starts with belief but happens because of a focused action plan, and doing something every day toward that goal. Positive thinking is nice, but without a plan, it’s folly. I have a friend whose dream is a cabin in the woods by a lake, and he keeps thinking positively about it happening. Thirty years has passed, and he is still dreaming.

When I asked about his plan, his answer was, “It will happen because I wish it to happen.” Though I applaud his focus on having a goal, there has to be action toward that goal. It might be saving, it might be changing his circumstances, it might be making a commitment, putting a down payment on it, and forcing himself to move ahead. I don’t think he really believes in it, because if he did, he would be taking action.

Opening the Floodgates

My life changed once I realized that I was on this earth to use the gifts I’ve been given to help others live their dreams. Once I focused on that every day, the floodgates opened. It was like a light switch … the light came on when I stopped making things about me and started making everything about others. Once I set my goal to change the world in my little way, once I started to realize that I needed to be more generous with others, I saw a change in my attitude and my performance.

My Wish for You

As we enter this new year together, I want you to know that I have a wish for you … and that is that you realize your big dreams. That you live a rich and full life, with a big smile on your face, and that you are able to avoid most of the things and people that bring you down. I know that you may be lost, may have pain, may have anger or fear, but I want you to know that there really is light at the end of the tunnel and that you can pull yourself through the most difficult things you face. But you need to understand that no one else will pull you through; it lies on your shoulders. You can do this, no matter how daunting it may seem. It may happen slowly, it may happen fast, but it happens when you’re willing to make up your mind to make a change. We’ve all heard Einstein’s definition of insanity, which is expecting different results without changing what you’re doing.

If you’re stuck, if you’re lost, find a mentor who has managed to get through their issue to succeed on the other side. You may have it on your shoulders, but you need not do it alone.

And if your story isn’t working for you, write a new story. Write your obituary — figure out the things that you want to have happen in your life from this point forward, so you know what you have to get done in the time you have left.

Last, don’t let society dictate what is and is not possible. If you’re older, don’t let anyone tell you that you should slow down or stop because of your age. If you’re younger, don’t let anyone tell you that what you want to do requires more wisdom or time. You can “beat the system” because there is no system.

Do what brings you joy.

In 2018 may you be blessed with miles of smiles, surrounded by people you love and want to be around, filled with realized dreams and the ability to help others change their lives and the joy of knowing you did it on your own.

 

Eric Rhoads

PS: Don’t forget to reward yourself. Remember to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. If you’re all give, and not doing something special to recharge your own batteries, you can’t be as effective. You deserve rewards. I like to start my year looking forward to a trip or an event so I have something think about, to plan, and to get me through rough patches. You can find lots of excuses not to do it, but you don’t need an excuse to pamper yourself.

 

Misguided Resolutions 2018-01-05T09:26:54+00:00
24 12, 2017

The Christmas Truce

2018-01-05T09:26:54+00:00

A thin mist is in the morning air as fog hovers over the shimmering water. Distant pine trees are lined up perfectly like proud tin soldiers, though their usual green color appears as a muted bluish gray.

In the distance, beyond the trees, the sun is gradually peeking through over the Atlantic Ocean as its pink rays reach out in all directions, as though a chorus of “Hallelujah” is about to be played at the moment of sunrise this Christmas Eve morning.

There’s a subtle sound of water sloshing against the sides of the dock, and the pinging of rocking sailboat masts in the marina around me is singing out with the rhythm of the moving water.

I’m enjoying coffee, sunrise, and warm air from the shore overlooking a large bay, a distant island, and the ocean as we visit family in Florida for Christmas.

I have to admit something I’m not very proud of.

I was not really looking forward to spending the holidays with family. Though it should be a joy-filled time, and it is, it can also be filled with angst because of a few family issues that never seem to go away.

We all have family issues … they cannot be avoided.

The dynamics of different personalities, new family members imported and bringing different traditions and expectations, clashing styles, unhealed wounds, unrealized potential, frustrations, arguments, aging parents, health, and the tensions of Christmas are all part of that family dynamic.

Why, then, with all these issues, do families gather?

Why not just avoid all the drama, the people who don’t live up to our expectations, the people who annoy us? After all, in the rest of our lives, if there are people who behave badly or don’t live up to our ideals, we simply avoid them.

Estranged Family

I know there are families who do not gather because of their wounds. I know of families estranged. I have friends who have lost communication with one of their sons because an overly protective, domineering spouse decided they are evil people. The parents see things differently, and only the actors in this play know the real story. Yet hearts are breaking because the child they raised, and a new grandchild they’ve never met, are no longer in their lives.

I’d like to say this could never happen to me with my own children, but only time will tell, I suppose. We’re still dealing with high school and have a lot of life ahead of us, God willing. Yet I’ve seen it in my own life in other ways because people cling to the past, to a moment when we’ve said or done something, perhaps out of love, maybe out of anger, maybe with good intentions, maybe not. So avoidance is the best medicine, or so we think. Yet unresolved issues are begging to be resolved, and hearts continue to break. It’s so insane.

Holiday Magic

The magic of Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Thanksgiving, or Easter, or whatever moments our families gather, is that we are reunited, we reconnect, we break bread together, and we hope to put our issues aside for a few moments to honor the good memories of the past. It’s a time of miracles.

A Brief Moment of Sanity

On Christmas Eve 1914, during the First World War, German and British soldiers who were hunkered down in the frozen mud of the trenches put their differences aside and walked out between the battle lines, and played football — in honor of Christmas, the one thing they held in common. Though they didn’t share a common language, they laughed, shared food and drink, and then, when the time came, returned to their role of killing one another.

Though it seems odd that they could find a brief spot of joy in the midst of horrific devastation, they called a truce in honor of Christmas. None of them were there because they wanted to be; they were there because of differences between leaders they would never meet and countries in which they had no say in decisions about war.

At Christmas, families should call a truce.

Though disagreements and uncomfortable moments will happen, we can create a truce in honor of the institution of family. A bond bigger than our problems. A chance to enjoy the dynamic of the whole, not the individual.

Christmas is a chance to heal. The mere existence of Christmas is rooted in the birth of a Savior who taught forgiveness. Whether or not that’s your take on the holiday, forgiveness is never a bad thing (after the discomfort of making it happen).

Anticipation and Angst

So here I am in Florida, about to spend a few days surrounded by people I love, some I like very much, and some I tolerate or who tolerate me. We can choose our friends, but our family was chosen for us. Sometimes I have to work hard to keep my mouth shut, to be non-judgmental, to be civil, because I’m as imperfect as those around me.

Some, I know, say this is a time to resolve the issues of the past, when the family is all together. Though all things need resolution and opportunities to do so should be taken, there is also magic in just putting issues to the side and trying to have a good time first. From those good times, perhaps healing can begin as we realize maybe this or that person isn’t so bad after all. Not every moment together has to be a battle to resolve old wounds.

Envision Christmas as It Should Be

My friend Lee Milteer, who trains people in life and business, reminds us that we get what we visualize. I have found it to be true. If I am headed to a meeting and I rehearse positive outcomes and exact details in my mind first, things tend to turn out the way I envisioned them.

So why not envision Christmas as a time when wounds are healed, when bygones are truly bygones, when joy overcomes all issues?

I’m often tempted to expect the worst, but tonight, as my family gathers, I’m walking in fully prepared to expect the best.

Stop Judging, Start Listening

My job isn’t to judge others. Everyone has their reasons for their issues, and rather than judging and responding, my way of honoring Christmas is to open my arms, receive people as they are, be open, and listen. And if any decide to dip into their anger about the past, I’m not going to fight back or get sucked in, I’m simply going to be there and accept the joy of being with those I love. Remember my motto: no drama.

What about you? What is your expectation?

Maybe if you expect the best, the best will happen.

Merry Christmas.

Eric

PS: I need to take a moment to say a few words of gratitude to some people. First, my wife, who tolerates the worst of me, which no one else ever sees. Second, to my triplet teenagers, who offer unconditional love between hormonal rages. Third, to my supportive family members and parents; I’m blessed to have all of you in my life. Next, to my team at Streamline, who work so unbelievably hard so we can make people’s lives better by helping them discover the many products, magazines, newsletters, and training we offer. And, last but not least, to my friends who read this blog, and who attend our events and consume our magazines and videos. Thank you. Just this week, thanks to Fine Art Studio Online, we’ve added 41,000 additional readers. That was very generous of them to offer. And PleinAir remains the #1 selling art magazine in America (Barnes & Noble), for which I’m grateful. And the Plein Air Podcast, I just learned, is up to 158,000 listens after just a year, with about 18,000 per episode. Though my head wants to swell, I’m totally humbled.

The Christmas Truce 2018-01-05T09:26:54+00:00
10 12, 2017

Wag More, Bark Less

2017-12-07T09:45:12+00:00

Fog has softened the sage-colored live oaks in the backyard to a slight purplish tone as they fade into the distance, where the view of the mountain is nothing more than a white cloud.

Toasty reddish-brown is the color of the field of weeds, which is blending into the foggy purple background, while the trunks of the trees are barely visible.

A pattern of sound, “dat dat dat dat dat dat dat dat dat,” quietly sets the mood as the sprinkles strike the tin roof of the porch, which is about 120 feet long and 12 feet wide. The entire front and back of the house is a giant covered porch.

My Dream House

I can remember being about 15 when I started working on my dream house plans in my mind. One day, I thought, it would be cool to have a big wide porch that wraps around the entire house, with a tin roof, so I can sit safe and dry during rainstorms.

As children we would play in our two-car garage and open the door during storms to see the rain coming down, watch the lightning, and hear the rumbling thunder — we used to say, “God is bowling again.” A smile comes to my face as I think about that time — some memorable moments in that little brown house at 5311 Indiana Avenue in Fort Wayne. We moved there when I was about 2 and stayed there until I was a junior in high school.

My Own Personal Zoo

That little garage raised chickens for a science fair project my brother did, we raised a mountain lion cub there until we had to donate it to the local zoo, and it was home to my dog Pepper, who I got from a litter at my grandmother’s sister’s house in Tennessee. When we first got Pepper he wasn’t allowed in the house, so he lived in the garage at night and would howl endlessly. My dad, who’d insisted Pepper was to live in the garage and that it would be warm enough, was the one to let him in the house on the first cold night. “Just for tonight,” he said, but Pepper owned the house from that point forward, and all slippers and couches became his chew toys.

As I write this, my eyes tear up because I’ve squashed the feelings of losing my first dog, my first best friend. One day we were all playing basketball in the driveway. Pepper was jumping to get the ball as my brothers and I passed it, but he had one bad habit we were unable to break. He loved to chase cars.

The Roar of a Sports Car

As we played, a sports car with a loud muffler went by, and as I flash back, I think he slowed as he passed our driveway, and then zoomed off with Pepper chasing and barking. Then he slammed on his brakes so Pepper was in front of him, swerved over, and ran him down.

Pepper picked himself off the pavement, staggered painfully over to us, and died in our arms.

I cried for months and remember being in school and trying to hold back the tears, much as I’m doing now.

MURDER

This was premeditated murder. My brother hopped in his car, chased the car down, and saw it was a neighbor boy who lived way down at the end of the street. He just laughed and said he was tired of the dog chasing his car, so he decided to teach him a lesson. This boy’s parents owned a local cemetery, and I always wondered how someone could intentionally take the life of an animal like that, then laugh about it.

Maybe he’d become desensitized, or it was a basic lack of respect for life, or maybe he was just a spoiled brat who had a lot of issues. In any case, none of us were ever really the same after that day. A harsh reality of life was brought to light by this kid’s evil deed.

That was our last family dog. We simply could not endure the pain of losing another. And it was not until many years later, when Laurie and I got married, that I had a dog in my household, when we got two, Pooter and Leo. We’ve not replaced them, again because the pain of losing them is too great. I remember crawling inside a smelly cage at the vet and holding Leo for his final hours, and lying with Pooter, who lived to be 17, when he finally passed.

Comforting the Pain

Those who don’t have or never had pets often don’t realize how attached we get. When I see notices of passing pets on Facebook, I always try to reach out to comfort people because I’ve lived the same pain.

The kids have been pushing for another dog, something they want desperately. I wrote about it once before. But with college looming in two years, and the promise of more travel as the birds fly the nest, we’ve been resisting.

The Fine Art of Dogs

Maybe dogs are on my mind because this week artist Joanne Mangi stayed with us in the world famous artists’ cabin, where artists stay when they visit to shoot videos. She painted an amazing fine art portrait of my assistant Ali’s dog, Sam, for an upcoming pet portrait video. Joanne has six dogs, something I envy. What I love about her dog portraits is that they are fine paintings, like a fine portrait, that you would be willing to hang in your home. Nothing cheesy (no dogs playing cards).

Focus on the Good Times

It would be better to focus on all the times I laughed as a kid as I played with my dog, as he walked with me through the park, waiting for me to throw the ball. Though avoiding pain is a good reason to not get another, the joys of life with a canine friend can outweigh the tough moments when we have to say goodbye. Our pets lift our souls, stay at our side, rely on us to care for them, and show they’re happy to see us when others don’t.

What is that saying you see on bumper stickers? Wag more, bark less?

Wouldn’t it be great if you and I could be more like our dogs? Always happy to see others and expressing it. Enduring loyalty no matter how they are treated and complete, unconditional love.

That’s my mission for today. I’m going to wag more, bark less, encourage more, play more, and let those around me know that I’m endlessly loyal. What about you?

Wag More, Bark Less 2017-12-07T09:45:12+00:00