My friend, Jeanine, once asked me, "What is your gift, and how are you using it?" Such a big question to answer about oneself. How does one answer that? It's hard to answer without feeling bragadocious or arrogant.
The more I thought about it, the more I found myself answering that question about other people. Last year, I made Jeanine a picture answering that question about her. And as she read all of the things I found amazing about her, she was overcome with emotion. I was able to make her aware of the gifts she gives daily to her friends and family, and how much we appreciate her for that. The list contained gifts both significant and seemingly insignificant - but all - invaluable to those who are closest to her and love her most.
Almost a year later, Jeanine and I spoke about that very question again, this time, in a different context. And through our conversation I realized that my gift is my ability to nurture those I care about in my life. This next year is going to be a challenge, but she has the support of family and friends to help her get through what life has decided to throw at her.
Inspired by Jeanine, I've decided to begin a new project. Each week, I will send her a painting inspired by words that evoke empowerment, positivity, and hope. Each painting will represent one week she has overcome breast cancer. For me, it my way of supporting her and investing in the gifts she possesses.
Of all the animals on the planet, I would have to say that I find the monkey the most intriguing. After all, I have one named after me. Aside from the fact that they are relatively close to being human, their mix of humanity masked in fur and mischievousness make monkeys undeniably captivating. There is a strange connection one feels with a monkey because of its human-like qualities, yet there is a sense of apprehension, too, because, well, it's a wild animal.
Despite the fact that they are wild animals, monkeys are a symbol of our own humanity as well. Case in point - the San-saru that reside at the Toshogu Shrine in Japan teach us that one should hear, see, and speak no evil. And think about all of the ways we use monkeys to describe our own shortcomings and pitfalls:
Monkey on my back
Monkey see, monkey do
Funny as a barrel of monkeys
I'll be a monkey's uncle!
If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys
Make a monkey of me
Even George Michael found the monkey to be a muse for his classic 80s hit, Monkey. Oh, yes. Why can't you do it? Why can't you set your monkey free? I want to know.
In my line of work, I bare witness to the shenanigans of the corporate jungle on a daily basis. Such inner workings of corporate America has even inspired a book. It is the subject of this book that inspired these series of monkey paintings I did for my friend, Alfonso (a.k.a. "T-Bone"), back in 2006. With "Who's Got the Monkey?" on my brain, I created these paintings for him as a reminder that when people pass their "monkeys" to him to handle, he can eat a banana and do his monkey dance, or, alternatively, fling poop at someone's head. Lucky for me, he doesn't fling the poop when I pass the monkey (well, not all of the time). Thanks, T-Bone.
"I am not nearly so interested in what monkey man was derived from as I am in what kind of monkey he is to become." - Loren Eisley