An Artist Life- 7 Impressionists Numero Uno

I have been asked by the Eternal Worrier to write 7 impressionists on my life. He had been challenged by the very creative Mr. London Street and has just completed the task brilliantly.  I have enjoyed his stories very much. They are very revealing and quite honest. He paints a wonderfully detailed picture of his life.

My first go at it.

Seamus O’Conner’s First Impressionist   ART


When I was a lad growing up in Chicago I didn’t know particularly well what I wanted to be when I grew up. My father thought I might be an accountant because I was good at math in the 4th grade or maybe an actuary. An actuary (huh). I had no idea what the hell an actuary was. I just thought of a guy sitting at a desk with a calculator and very sharp number 2 pencils in a room with plain white walls and a fluorescent bulb for lighting. He would eat  plain egg salad sandwiches from a brown paper bag for lunch that his wife would make in the morning before she left for her bridge lesson. Yikes. No way Jose. I may have been good at math in the fourth grade, but come on, I couldn’t sit in an office like that  if it had a few nice picture on the walls.

I thought I might be a weatherman because I compulsively stared out the window at the thermostat that was fastened to the red brick wall. The first thing I did in the morning was go look at that thermostat. I would stand there in my pajamas staring at the red needle pondering the distance that needle would travel during the day. I loved the guessing game trying to determine how hot it would be later in the afternoon. When I finally arrived at the kitchen table everyone had spoons in their mouth. They got to the point that they didn’t  notice my nonsense. I heard my brother once quip: “Here comes the ole’ weatherman. How hot’s it going to be today?”

I wanted to be an “Artist”.

What the hell does that mean. I grew up in a house where art was a hobby for the more fortunate folks, those who had a lot of money and didn’t have to worry about real responsibility like supporting a family. When I was a kid in suburban Chicago I knew no one who created art for a living. Not one single soul. I hadn’t even heard of a distant relative.

I remember being fascinated with music and singing. I sang to myself when no one was around. We had a basement that was cold and damp. The walls were solid brick and they absorbed every lick that flowed from my trembling lips. I sang quietly so most people don’t know  this. I was embarrassed to have this ambition. Music was never played in the house. My father had a few records. I think there was a Benny Goodman album and maybe an Elvis sings Christmas carols, but that was it. I couldn’t understand it. I asked my father “why don’t you listen to music”. He replied he just wasn’t interested. This was the late 60’s. The time of Elvis and the Beatles and Bob Dylan and all these great singers, but my father couldn’t give a rat’s ass. Music went in his ear and it came out the other side. There was no connection. The music didn’t rattle him and shake him like I wanted it to do to me.

When I entered my early teens I took guitar lessons with my best friend Brian. We rented these small identical red guitars and took  lessons in an old high school in Evanston. We sat in a circle with people from all walks of life. There were grandmothers, retired hippies trying to learn to play the songs they grew up listening to and then the two of us. We fumbled along playing  folk songs such as “Michael row your boat ashore, Hallelujah”  The tips of my fingers ached after the first class. We were instructed to play every day and the teacher assured us that callouses would form on the tips of our fingers. Not to worry the pain wouldn’t last long.

We made it maybe two weeks. In the afternoons after school we would meet at each others houses. After eating a dozen Oreo cookies and drinking all of our mother’s milk we would sit down to play. With the music book on my knee I pressed three fingers across the strings forming an A chord. I held it as tightly as a could. The strings burned my skin, but I grit my teeth and bared it. I strummed with my other hand. “Michael rowwww”

I can’t take it I blurted out. My fingers are f…in killing me. I looked at Brian. He looked at me. We both looked at the chair by the back door. Our baseball mitts stacked on the seat. Let’s go. If we hurry we can  get in the game at the park.

That was it. I don’t know why it was so short. It wasn’t sweet, but the idea of playing music vanished. It was like my mind divorced itself from the notion that I, Seamus O’Conner, a bloody Irishman who I’m sure had some very healthy musical DNA would ever play music for a living or even for a hobby.

I progressed to my next potential  means of creating “Art”. I wasn’t much of a painter nor did I care to paint. There was nothing about it that interested me or intrigued me in the least, but I was fascinated with writing. I woke up one morning and said to myself that I was going to be a writer. Now I hadn’t written anything, but the idea of being a writer made sense. I started to tell people I was going to be a writer. I remember I was working as a stock boy in a grocery store. This was well before scanners. As a stock boy you had to manually price every single product that was stacked in your aisle when you arrived for work. The equipment used to price the  items was this peculiar type of stamp that allowed you to adjust the numbers in a metal plate. When you pushed down on the handle the metal plate with the correct price connected with an ink pad and then swiveled 180 degrees to strike the appropriate item. You did this hundreds of times every day. By the end of the shift your right had was stained with blue ink as if you had 2 or 3 blue pens snap in your hand as you wrote.

One night I was relating to a co-worker who stood by eating a bag of taco flavored Doritos that he had hid behind the cans of dog food that I was going to be a writer. I went on and on about this. He nodded and listened, A woman appeared from around the corner. She was an attractive middle aged woman with no children and a cart filled with fruits and vegetables and some plastic containers of what appeared to be seeds. I later came to realize that they were whole grains. She looked me square in the eye and said ” I overheard you from the other aisle. If you want to be a writer you must write. You also must have something to write about.” My co-worker snickered. He bent down and put his head right inside the shelf so that when he laughed his ass off no one but the cans could hear him. My face turned red as a beet. I was shaking. She looked at me again turned her cart to avoid hitting my co-worker’s feet and left.

That was it, again. The idea of being a writer didn’t completely vanish from my head, but I never wrote and I never proceeded to follow the dream. I moved on. I went to college. I studied marketing and I worked in restaurants. I caught the restaurant bug and ended up sick with it for the whole of my life.

I love the restaurant life and I love cooking and baking even more and I guess in many ways I am creating art with food (this joy + ride). Today I am unemployed hoping to open my own restaurant. I spend my days cooking with my sons. We make lentils with soy chorizo(one of the boys is vegan). We bake pizzas in our wood burning oven. and most importantly we sit down to eat together on a daily basis with no exception.

As far as art goes. I have taken up photography with a zeal I didn’t know I had. I have taken photographs every single day since January 3th. I am part of a group on flickr that posts at least one photograph a day (the blog camp 365 in 2010 project). At first I was rather shy about this venture, feeling a bit insecure, but now after a half a year I am like a friggin nut. I lie down in the middle of the street to get the “right”angle on a photograph. I walk up to people I don’t know and ask to take their photograph. I took this lady’s photograph in Santa Cruz last week. I  didn’t have to ask her. She jumped  out in front of me and demanded I take her photograph. She posed and gestured like some star and as I walked away she boasted to her friends cocking her head with that mane of hair like an older version of the now hip Lady Gaga.

I have also started writing. I am not saying I am going to be a writer I simply write. I write 3 pages a day. I don’t miss very often. I  missed a day last week when my son and I were in Santa Cruz. I also write my blog.

There is something that I am learning and I am 48 years old. I can say I am gonna be anything, but what am I doing. I think that’s what matter. So today I take photographs, I write, I make pizzas at least once a week with Patrick and James. I make lunch and or dinner every day for my family. We sit down at a table and eat. There is no TV blaring. The computer is off to the side. We sit. We eat. We tell stories.

Some day I hope to write a travel/story/cook book about our adventures in Italy. I remember that woman with the cart full of vegetables and whole grains who said you have to have something to write about and she sure was right and I definitely do.

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