Friday, January 31, 2014

Enough Is Enough

There is a story that author Kurt Vonnegut once informed his friend and fellow author Joseph Heller at a party that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch-22 [which sold more than 10 million copies] over its whole history. To which Heller was said to respond, “Yes, but I have something he will never have…enough.”

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary the definition of enough is: “occurring in such quantity, quality, or scope as to fully meet demands, needs, or expectations.” What that looks like for each of us depends on our own specific situations but it is probably safe to say that the answer lies somewhere shy of where we think it does.

The tell tale sign that we Americans don’t think we own enough is our national obsession with shopping. For example, the average American makes 38 trips to a mall every year, spending an average of $83.30 per visit, or $1.01 per minute spent at the mall. And with an Internet connection we don’t even have to leave the comfort of our homes to rack up the debt, which Americans do to the tune of $8,000 on credit cards alone.

Referring to the iconic World War II era Norman Rockwell painting titled “Freedom from Want,” David Kamp writes in Vanity Fair: “It was freedom from want, not freedom to want—a world away from the idea that the patriotic thing to do in tough times is go shopping. Though the germ of that idea would form shortly, not long after the war ended.” Wherever we are on the consumer scale we need to try wanting less and enjoying the bounty that is ours. Enough is enough.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Living a Legacy

I am reading a book about the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, and it appears that he qualifies for the billionaire bad boy club by sharing the unenviable trait of being both a genius and a jerk. I hesitate to use such strong language but I am fed up with reading the life stories of so called “successful” businessmen who bullied their way to the top while leaving a path of destroyed relationships in their wake.

Bezos didn’t kick a partner to the curb like Steve Jobs of Apple did with Steve Wozniak and Bill Gates of Microsoft did with Paul Allen but he has apparently alienated scores of others who helped get Amazon off the ground while making billions in the process of laughing [his infamous laugh] all the way to the bank. But what he and his ilk don’t realize is theirs is not the last laugh. The lives we leave behind determine our legacy so how we live is what matters. It is the foolish that think it better to be feared than loved.

In full disclosure, I am a big fan of Apple products and actually cried the day Steve Jobs died, but it grieved me more to read in his official biography how poorly he treated people. And the first software I got for my Apple computer was Microsoft’s Office for Mac but I find it profoundly ironic that Bill Gates is now globetrotting as a philanthropist after helping himself to Apple technology that he later used to monopolize the software industry. I also happen to be a fan of Amazon and hope Jeff Bezos learns to live a legacy worth leaving before it is too late.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Heart of Art

As part of our celebration of my 50th birthday the other day my wife and I visited the Norman Rockwell exhibit at the Frist Center in Nashville and loved it. According to the exhibit, Rockwell was hailed as a “contemporary Currier and Ives” and “Dickens with a paintbrush” and was heralded for the realism and idealism of his portrayals of simple, small town life in America.

One of my favorite Rockwell paintings, which was not part of the exhibit but hangs at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, is the painting of his adopted hometown at Christmastime, which is pictured above. It speaks to me of the beauty of New England, the Christmas holiday, and small town living in general. Rockwell’s ability to capture the essence of any setting was unparalleled, but home even more so.

Rockwell was a master of his craft and as an artist he inspires me to create with heart the type of art that uplifts people and moves them toward their better selves. To me the artist’s legacy is so much more than the impressive quantity of his artwork; it is also the quality of the art he created with such attention to detail. Some may criticize Rockwell’s work as crass commercialism, but I think he preferred people to products and it showed in his portrayal of them.