The things I learn ...
Rambling about the art of making little magical moments.
A few weeks ago I had a visit with a NASA engineer. A friend of my wifes from high school. He’s an engineer that works on the air traffic control systems that the FAA uses. He’s also a marathon runner and a single father of twin 11 yr old boys. A great guy. A very active and a very creative mind. Highly intelligent. That should be a given. He’s a NASA engineer.
The reason. Bring him up in is because during our tour of Disney we got on the topic of creative thinking. Disney seems to bring out the best in peoples creative thinking. Imagine that. He was curious about the work I do, drawing smiles. I was extremely curious about the work that he was doing in his little corner of NASA. He is one of the engineers that works on the systems in air traffic control operations. Forecasting and planning years ahead in the safety of aviation, really interesting stuff and of course most of everything he said was way over my head. Still my imagination could see the idealistic visions that he shared with the rest of his NASA family.
One of the coolest things I learned is that for down time and stress release that he is into, aside from running marathons, he is also a master at the art of origami. That’s that. I said origami. When you think about this it makes perfect sense. A NASA engineer playing with the art of folding paper. The instinctive mathematics that goes into his creations. The planning, the per-conceived visions that it takes to turn a simple piece of paper into something clever and interesting. Recently NASA launched a new living quarters to the space station. Guess what? It was folded up inside a payload capsule. Then released into space and unfolded effortlessly to its full size and then easily installed in place on the space station. Origami on the largest scale imaginable created by your local origami artists at NASA.
All of the energy for satellites and the space station are generated by solar panels. Huge unfolding wings of solar panels. That when switched on, systematically unfold into their enormous size and instantly become fully operational, generating all the power they need. So to hear this NASA engineer brag about his master origami skills was just a wonderful example of genius ability and creative thinking to me. The bonus is that he has passed on his artistic skills to his twin 11 year old boys.
He and the twins will pass time at restaurants, in lines at movies or in Disney, in the lines for attractions. Together they will kill time by creating origami critters and little people then leave them n places all over the theme parks, restaurants, bathrooms and any unsuspecting public places for other pope to discover. Passing along their creative magic to others. Little magical treasures. This is something after my own heart. I just love it.
Imagine if you will. Your standing in line at the airport waiting for the TSA and you notice sitting on top of the little stand that you throw all your liquids into, a little origami man made of a metallic checked black and red paper waving at you. It is a good chance this NASA engineer or one of his twin sons were there before you and wanted to leave someone like you a little unsuspecting magical moment.
Isn’t that a great example of passing the creative magic along? It certainly is a great example of using your down time in a positive creative way. If you have any similar ways of creatively killing time or relieving stress, I’d like to here from you? Are any of you master origami craftsmen? Share your stories with me, I’d love to hear them. Please and thank you and have a creative day.
Last night I was doing my typical saving the world one smile at a time routine and I had the pleasure of meeting the Assistant Chief of EMS of Washington DC. Now, there's a true hero. Our conversation quickly turned to me admitting my shame of making a mockery of real heroism by pretending to "save the world with a smile" antics. After all, this man has risked his life saving citizens in life and death situations most of his life. I'm just a clown with a pen.
To add to his greatness, his wife is a teacher of 22 years. She currently is dedicating her services to teaching underprivileged children in the inner city district of DC. There, my friends is a true super hero. Imagine, this woman has the opportunity to do whatever she wants in the education world and she has chosen one of the hardest paths anyone can imagine. That my friends is pure servitude.
It gets better. Their son is a fireman in the same firehouse of his father. The Assistant chief's father was a fireman and his great grandfather helped organize the fire department of some comminity I fail to remember. These guys are true first responder legacies. An entire family history of heroes.
It was a delightful and very interesting time with them. Yet, I felt silly as they seemed so much more interested in what I was doing with my smile making abilities. I continued to attempt to turn the conversation towards their remarkable life saving services and duties, but they seemed to shrug it off as if what they do in life is nothing at all. Remarkable people.
It's families like this that teach me so much. It's families like this that keep me hungry to reach out and give more of myself for others.
In other news.... Ty The Art Guy is now bonded and Insured.
I guess that means that if a kid should swallow one of my markers or someone I draw suffers a life threatening paper cut, I'm covered.
I also have background checks available.
It was after closing hours. The guests were settling into their rooms. The parks, the restaurants the attractions were closing up. The wash down crews and maintenance teams were starting their shifts. Cast members from all walks of life were making their routine stop at the Gas station before they commuted home. I myself am waiting in line to pay for my milk, cookies and a tank of gas.
In front of me is an older man in his formal waiter attire. He's probably in his sixties. He has about five of those "certified foreign language badges on his name tag. "Luisao" it says on his name tag. He, like many cast members is joking with the cashier. They laugh, he leaves, I make nothing of it. I pay for my after work snack and gas and make my way to pump 14.
On pump 13 is Luiso. We both pumped our gas listening to the piped in pop music. He looks up at me and says "This music, it's pathetic. It has nothing." I agree with him and reply that there is no thought in the lyrics. There used to be real meaning in the lyrics. He stares at me and gives me the international shrug of approval. "In my car, I have Pavarotti." Was his reply. I told him all I have in my car is the jazz radio station. He smiled.
He then asked if I was a cast member. I said no, I'm just a caricaturist at some of the resorts. I quickly followed it up with a prideful, "but my wife is a chef in Epcot." Then he told me he was a waiter at Monsieur Paul. " I serve happiness. I've been there 30 years. Which restaurant does your wife workh at?"
"The Garden Grill, in the Land Pavillion. I like that you serve happiness, I like to say I draw smiles for a living. " he smiled at me warmly and chuckled.
Luiso put his pump handle back into the pump and stretched his hand out for me to shake as he said "We are lucky people, you, your wife and I, yes?"
"Yes, Luiso. Yes we are. Travel home safely. There is much more happiness to make tomorrow." I shake his hand. Put my pump handle up and as I'm getting into my car, I hear Pavarroti drive off into the night.
One of my favorite moments drawing a crowd of smiles came way back when I volunteered to draw at Grief camp. This was a camp for kids who had lost one or both parents through illness or tragedy. It was a wonderful operation run by some fantastic people and backed by the Camp Fire Girls organization. I was always flattered to be a small part of it. Each time that I performed at this event I would pack up after I was done and go to my car. There inside the car, all alone, I would burst into tears. After several minutes, those tears would run dry and I would smile a little, then chuckle at some of the things the kids would say while I was drawing them. That is when I knew it was safe to drive without the tears to muddling up my vision. Driving home I would recount the conversations I had with these resilient young people.
The kids were allowed to come back to camp every year until they were eighteen. So, many of these kids would come every summer. They loved it. They loved how special they all were to one another as this unique group at a summer camp just for them. You could tell who the first year kids were compared to the veterans. It was so obvious, and rightfully so. Imagine losing your mom and dad in a fire or auto accident when you were only twelve. The first year kids always had a counselor with them as their buddy throughout the entire camp. I learned later that this was by design and brilliantly orchestrated by a team of young well-trained councelors.
I was brought in on the last big night of the summer camp to draw a crowd of smiles at their big camp dance. It was a street party celebration on the tennis courts. I was always surrounded by kids asking questions about art and drawing and being creative. The common ones, such as “How do I know what to draw?” “People are so hard to draw. Aren’t they?” and “When did you master this?” I would always answer while drawing someone at the same time.
“I’ve just learned to see differently.” Id tell them. “I like to start with the eyes. ”
“Because the eyes have it. And yes, people can be difficult, but some of the most wonderful things in life are people.”
And so on.
One year, one of the these kids I drew was a first-year girl, about twelve, who had just lost her both of her parents to cancer, within a year of each other. She had then been adopted by her mother’s brother, who had gotten her involved with the great folks at the El Tosoro Grief Camp. To her this was a scary, wild, out in the middle of nowhere place and she just wanted to be alone, it was her natural comfort zone to be withdrawn deep inside herself. Her body language showed she couldn’t cave into herself enough. Her counsellor/camp buddy was a young college student who was working on her masters in Child Psychology. She was a future super hero. She did all the talking for this young girl. I drew as gently as I could, careful to make my lines clean and simple. I didn’t want to clutter this up or make anything confusing to the eye. I wanted to make a simple clean line drawing of this young girls face. She was so sweet, and pretty with her huge brown eyes and soft features. She had soft golden-brown curly hair that rested on her shoulders. You could just tell by looking at her that there was someone special inside her shell. She used to be someone who was a walking embodiment of sunshine and joy.
I had finished the drawing and before I showed her, I noticed that we had drawn a crowd of quiet, smiling on-lookers of kids and counsellors. They all seemed to silently give me a look of “well done” so I turned the drawing around to show my little subject and her camp buddy. There was a paus, then the councelor smiled and winked at me. Then the little girl looked up with some encouragement from her camp buddy. She stared at the drawing, then slowly her eyes got a little bigger and brighter. A smile started to grow on her face. A warmth begin to fill her face. A little tear escaped the corner of her eye and she said “I look like my mom.” I got a big hug from her and a very enthusiastic handshake and hug from her camp buddy. She said to me In a whisper in my ear “That was the wedge we’ve been waiting on all week to crack her wall open. Thank you.” Then they walked off to have a what I assume a wonderful little visit.
I went on to finish the night drawing more kids, not too many first year kids, but a bunch of bright, brilliant and resilient young people who are all tackling enormous personal tragedies together. It was one of many remarkable nights drawing at El Tosoro. I’ve drawn a lot of special groups in my four decades of drawing smiles, but never have I been so personally rewarded with my work than drawing at grief camp. That little girl changed me, more so that I helped her. She helped me in ways I will never be able to describe. So thank you young lady. You were my wedge into my wall around my heart. I shall continue to make this world a better place for others as often as I can. I think I owe a large part of that motivation to you.
In recent days, I have looked out into my horizon and stood on the edge of my proverbial plank. I glanced at my past and my present, I turned around on the edge of that wobbly plank that is my current track in my life and I said to myself, “You’re about to be 51 years old. Do you really want to have your sons explain to their future partners in life that their dad is ‘just a street artist at Disney’, which, of course, there is nothing really wrong with that or do you really want to get out there and do something important, something of value? Would you rather save the world one smile at a time, or be a street artist at Disney?”
Well, I want to be known as the a guy who set himself apart from the rest if the world. I want to be the guy that may not have achieved an enormous goal, but he paved the way so that others may continue this mission in life; to save the world one smile at a time! I pondered all of these things as I stood on the edge of the plank and upon answering this question as to where my life was going, I turned around quite carefully and I looked at my users, my doubters, and my critics and I bid them all a polite, “Goodbye, I must be going.” I turned back around and looked into the sun and said, ” if Crystal can do this, then so can I.” And I took a little hop, turned in the air and gave them a cheerful “peace” sign with my right hand.
You see, almost three years ago my wife made a leap of faith to pursue her dream of being a chef at EPCOT in Disney World. Recently, she was named as Epcots Culinary employee of the quarter. She is very well on her way of pursuing her dream. She convinced the boys and I that dropping everything and moving with her on a culinary student externship at Disney World was a great idea and a life adventure we would never forget. She was the top of her culinary school and she new that she would get a full time job at Disney in culinary and make her dream come true.
So we packed up our life and moved to Florida and have continued to survive and thrive despite a few bumps in the road. In fact, during the past year, she has excelled at EPCOT even beyond her dreams. And by her doing that, living her dream, she has inspired me to do the same. I’ve spent the past two-and-a-half years drawing smiles. I’m drawing people from all over the world and being a very small part of a wonderful moment in their lives with my artistic gift. I love my work here at Disney, but it’s time to do more with my art. With greater works of art, I can make bigger smiles and perhaps increase the my influence in others by going out on my own.
“Splash” I jump off the plank and into the unknown. I’ve already met others who share my passion and together we plan to take on our individual missions with our artwork and spread our positive influence in ways we’ve never imagined we could or would before. I can’t wait to share my greater works of art with the world, I can’t wait to share my artistic experience with others as they seek to improve their lives too. I’m looking forward to growing creatively as I help others grow themselves. All of this is possible with the upcoming opportunity that I am taking on in the next few weeks to come. Scared? Yes. Excited? Even more so. Ready? Oh I think I’m more than ready. My wife is my inspiration. Seeing what she has achieved because she believe it could be done has inspired me beyond understanding. Besides, what could possibly go wrong?
More as this work of art I call “my life” develops.
From Ty Walls:
After four decades drawing smiles I often encounter remarkable people. I've learned to create little special moments for people from all around the world with my simple smile-drawing skills. But sometimes, life creates little magical moments for me. This blog is my attempt to share them with you.