I found a painting just outside the apartment a while back.  

It was leaning up against the wall, a stone’s throw from the street in the crowded, industrial, vibrant section of Brooklyn that is my neighborhood.  The wall it was set against belongs to an old warehouse; rusted razorwire curls along the top, broken tiles and tarpaper, and yet the wall is full of color.  From edge to edge, half a dozen different artists have filled it with images and designs, realistic and abstract, from street level up 15 feet till the wall ends.  It’s a nice touch of color against the usual gray warehouse facades.

Maybe the person who made the painting put it against that particular wall because some of the designs it implements reflect similar forms, because the grafitti inspired it.  Which seems likely.  But that’s not the most interesting aspect of the painting to me.

What’s interesting to me is that you can really only see half the painting.  For whatever reason, the artist had started to erase it, to paint over it with plain white, maybe to reappropriate the canvas for a new work, or maybe to blot out a painting they hated.  The painting is a record of two very different modes of thought, of creating and destroying, even the very instant the choice was made to save it.

That was the painting I found, a swirl of blues and greens, a peaceful, creative design — partially painted over with white paint.

My heart went out immediately to the artist when I saw it.  Who hasn’t been there?  Who hasn’t obliterated a work we felt, in the fury of the moment, was terrible?  When was it we learned the lesson — did we? — to withhold that fierce judgment and see what different perspective the next morning, or the next week or month, might bring.  

And how long did it take after that realization to grasp the deeper lesson that judgment of that kind is never useful, that we haven’t the faintest idea how anyone, or we ourselves for that matter, will regard those ideas at a later time?   Of how they might serve us then, or how the perspective upon them might reveal still other insights.  The question then becomes — Why on earth would one throw away an idea?  That is more the act of a petulant child, having a tantrum.

It is something that can be seen in the work, attitudes, and lives of the masters.  There is a deeper kind of evenness with which we can learn to regard ideas.  They are merely ideas.  Now go on from there.  

Who knows what really went through the mind of that artist?  The mystery of it!  What halted their hand?  But at least twice someone thought that painting was worth saving, once when the act of erasing it was stopped, and then once again when the painting was placed out on the street, carefully, for someone to see, appreciate, maybe even take home.  Someone thought that the ideas were, at the very least, worthy of being seen, of being, even if only in a small way, a part of the conversation.

That painting lives with me now.  It is a reminder to me that the act of saving one’s work, and releasing it into the world, requires a certain bravery, but that doing so also lets us, in some way, take part in a wild, strange ecosystem, and that this act has gifts, that for all its terrors there is a kind of expansiveness, and a curiously nourishing fulfillment, in letting go.

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