Note To Readers:
I have never labelled myself a “writer”. I enjoy jotting down my thoughts and ideas — usually into a private journal — but I am easily frustrated by the entire process of editing. So, let me apologize ahead of time for the occasional disjointed flow of my words and thoughts.
Saying “Thank You” is often the best medicine. I pride myself in making sure that I thank the people who have shown me kindness. One might argue that I go overboard at times, but I’m okay with that. There are far worse personality traits out there. I will settle for “he’s an over-thanker” any day! (Seinfeld might have called me that.)
I find the physical action of writing words on paper forces me to reevaluate whether or not certain events in my life — my struggles and challenges in particular — have helped me move in the right direction. Reading the details of an old chapter in one’s life story can be very enlightening.
I’ve decided to merge two letters of Thanks into one, this time. Originally, I had written down my feelings in a timely fashion, as they occurred. But an unfortunately timed power-outage erased a few thousand words from my Mac, in an instant… and I figured it might be best to do some rewriting before losing any clarity.
— Bruce Wheeler, July 18th, 2013
Eyes Wide Open, Now
(A Personal Thank You, Built For Two)
Saturday, May 4th, 2013
by Bruce Wheeler
To: Canadian artist Andrew Salgado, for being a powerful (and unexpected) inspiration.
To: A bright, thoughtful Ottawa psychiatrist Name Withheld for his gentle guidance and life-altering advice.
As I walked away from the gallery, last night…
…my head was still buzzing lightly from a second glass of champagne. I had just spent two wonderful hours attending a vernissage for Canadian artist Andrew Salgado, and I was feeling unusually optimistic about… well… everything.
It was unseasonably warm outside for Ottawa, in early May. Pure sunshine all day, light breeze, trees and tulips blooming brilliant greens and fresh yellows. Every pub and patio in the Byward Market was at capacity, tourists clad in shorts and tee shirts.
Salgado’s show at La Petite Mort Gallery — titled “The Smallest Heart’s Desire” — had been highlighted on my calendar for a number of weeks, and I figured it would be a kick-ass exhibit. I had already familiarized myself with his vivid, modern abstract paintings, but I’d never had the opportunity to see them up close. And yet somehow, it had still crossed my mind to bypass the opening night meet-and-greet with the artist. My usual reasons for staying home had all started to resurface — fear of looking out of place, fear of navigating crowds, plus that general feeling of inferiority… blah, blah, blah…
I needed a pick-me-up… and I wanted a mood elevator that didn’t come in a bottle. I’d already garnered enough social anxiety to make my hands shake and my stomach feel acidic. So… I pushed myself. And it payed off. My happy pill was delivered in the form of three simple words from a brilliant painter, spoken quietly in my ear during his Art show. Mr. Salgado leaned over and told me to “Go for it.”
Yesterday: A Sort-of Breakup…
Thursday had been a doozy… I had reached the last of a series of therapy sessions, and I was emotionally exhausted. After a six-month run of appointments with a new psychiatrist, I found the idea of not having him in my life to be impossible. I couldn’t face it.
I had become so used to expecting failure, that I envisioned any future success (or happiness) could never be achieved without his guidance. And I had grown so fond of him… like a friend who is there to listen and support you, despite your perceived flaws. From my perspective, this had been a relationship of close, raw honesty — albeit in a clinical environment. Every week, I was able to sit in comfort and receive emotional feedback from another gay man, in a way that I never had before. And even though the relationship occurred under a professional “structure”, it registered deeply, intimately, in my heart. It was — and always will be — one of the most important “relationships” of my life.
I mean… it had become obvious — both to me and to him — that I truly had healed in a variety of ways. In a relatively short period of time, I had gone from confused, inactive despair to a mindset where I was able to break out of my comfort zone and begin acting on my goals. So… once that inevitable final session arrived, my anxiety peaked a bit. The moment I sat down with him and he asked me: “How do you feel about today being the end of our talks?”… I will just say that my heightened emotion came as no surprise to either of us, and it had to be let go.
The pain I was feeling had been coming from my own skewed interpretation that this wonderful therapeutic “relationship” was ending like a bad breakup. I was fine, physically, but I felt like I had just experienced my first broken heart.
After an hour of experiencing the ebb and flow of tears (more flow than ebb) we said our goodbyes, shook hands and I walked away, wishing I could have given him a big thank you hug. My eyes were puffy and red (my aviators came in handy). In my head, I kept hearing his voice—gentle and reassuring—reminding me: You are making progress, you are overcoming your fears, you will succeed.
But I still had doubts.
Andrew Salgado and the gallery visit…
I can’t help but think that fate played a role in having me visit “The Smallest Heart’s Desire” the day following that last therapy session. The past twelve months had changed me — both physically and emotionally. I had written (over-blogged ?) about hardship and self-discovery and the vital importance of being honest with loved ones. I had come out to my friends online, for cryin’ out loud. I’d travelled from being the “New Out-and-Proud Gay Man” to being the “Troubled Artist Losing His Vision” and eventually just settled into the role of the “Why The Fu*k Did I Throw Away Twenty Years?’ Guy”
Yesterday, it was as though I was teetering on a ledge, confusedly and without wings, wondering “What the HELL do I do NOW?” …and just 24 hours later, I was sipping champagne and reveling in the excitement of someone else’s creativity.
Underneath Andrew Salgado’s broad, dynamic, soulful globs of paint, all I could see was possibility, and the potential for my own Artistic “coming out”. I found myself shaking hands with a well known Artist whose work I had only seen previously on my desktop screen.
It was hard not to feel starstruck. Andrew Salgado has the aura and appearance of a very tall, handsome angel. He stood in front of me and asked: “Which painting stands out for you?” and I could tell immediately: this is one of the good guys. Even though he usually creates huge, powerful (and darkly moving) paintings, he speaks with a friendly, positive energy that comes across as genuine. And in truth, I was surprised that he actually wanted to know about me, too.
So, I made a conscious decision to respond to all questions with full truths, no holding back. I was asked about my Art background, and my hopes and goals for the future. I told him about my vision loss and how it has taught me to try harder. I mentioned how living a life full of regret has gotten me nowhere, and that I refuse to believe that my eyesight means that I cannot still create.
And… I did answer his question about my personal “favourite” at the show. I had felt an immediate connection to his painting titled “Understudy” (oil on canvas). It gave off just the right pulse of emotion to make me stop (and stare) over and over again. Every element of that piece spoke to me…the rich colour, the large scale, the simplicity of the composition… and the beautiful, troubling expression on the face of the subject itself — a male figure, head and shoulders, slouched ever so slightly and emoting a quiet, hidden sadness underneath his masculine features. This is an outwardly rugged man who is masked and vulnerable… and I feel as though I understand him completely.
Before leaving the gallery, I paused outside just long enough to overhear a few attendees having a chuckle over the fact that a child in attendance had asked his parents about “the painting with the erect penis.” (rather funny because the penis in question was not erect.) As it turned out, one of the guys introduced himself as Mr. Salgado’s partner, and the two others were young friends who were visiting from Toronto. We talked for a few minutes, and it became apparent rather quickly that the adage “Birds of a feather…” is true. Each of them echoed the same cheerful, friendly advice that Andrew had given me. They advised me not to hold back when it comes to lofty goals… and keep trying… even if the vision gets blurry.
People come into your life and they either make it better or make it worse. Having the ability to learn from both sides is what makes you stronger. It’s not rocket science. Get rid of the bad guys and don’t dwell on the hate; hold on to the good guys and celebrate the love.
So I am holding on to the memory of my experiences with these two gentlemen…time spent wisely and filled with a certain level of awe… One of them — a single evening with an Artist in the truest sense, and the other — a period of months with a doctor who altered my perception of Hope and Possibility.
Feeling better, now.
With Sincere, Heartfelt Thanks,
Learn more about Andrew Salgado here.