My family is from an island called Mathraki. Mathraki is located off the coast of a large island about 50 miles wide called Corfu. To get there, you have to take a ferry that makes the trip to Mathraki only once a week. If you happen to miss the 6 a.m. boat going to, or coming from Mathraki, you are stranded until you return to the dock and pay your five Euro fee a week later. Mathraki is made up of anywhere from 40-50 families at any given time. The island is completely secluded from modern society and a government presence. There is only one doctor on the entire island and to see her, all you have to do is knock on the front door of her house. This one mile long mountainous rock in the middle of the Mediterranean is home to many of my great uncles and aunts. When I arrived at Mathraki in the summer of 2009, I could not have imagined how much this little island would teach me about myself.
The boat ride to Mathraki was three hours long and full of choppy waves that rocked our ferry like a dip in the road that would never end. Along for the ride was my mother, father, brother, sister, grandmother, and great aunt. My great aunt, Marietta, would not stop asking me if I wanted cookies or snacks. I felt as though I was four years old as she asked me repeatedly, "Are you sure you don't want something? Do you want any raisins or bread and butter?" Finally, I gave in to her when she asked me if I wanted a sandwich, "OK, I'll eat a sandwich if you have one." She immediately turned to my grandma condescendingly saying, "See he's hungry, I told you he was hungry, look at the poor thing." "Come on let's go get a hot sandwich downstairs," she told me. I followed Marietta down the narrow stairs of the boat to find a young man about my age at the bar. The situation could not have been any more devastating. He was completely surrounded by elderly people demanding everything from grilled cheese sandwiches and coffee, to cups of ice water and whisky. He was the only human being in the room wearing anything other than a white dress shirt and slacks or a black dress and bonnet, standing out like a sore thumb with his dark blue striped, name brand shirt. Despite looking as though he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown he persevered through every picky request and concern his elderly guests threw at him. His interactions with the guests where very direct and soft spoken, "Coffee, OK do you want some milk?" One old man took a sip of his coffee and said, "Hey son, get me some more sugar, more, more! You're a good boy." Quickly he did as I stood there hoping my face wasn't twitching at the madness before me. I realized me and this guy where in a very similar situation, he was trapped in the lower level of a boat trying to please everyone in the room, and I was on the upper level of the boat accepting a hot sandwich from my great aunt to please her stubborn heart. Ironically, both of our lives where full of people, wiser, and more accomplished than us, demanding anything of us just to make their own lives a little more enjoyable. As if conditioned we would swallow our pride and say, "Thank you." As I did when aunt Marietta handed me the cold ham and grilled cheese sandwich.
Our arrival on the island was warm, as my uncle Chris met us at the dock, gave us all hugs, and drove our luggage up the steep hill to my grandfather's house. My grandfather build the house in Mathraki before he passed away. It was supposed to be a vacation home for him and my grandmother when they needed to get away from the busy life of the small city on the island of Corfu where his real home was located. He always wanted me and my brother to go on his boat and fish off the coast of Mathraki, something that regretfully we would never experience. He had a passion for the water and even sailed around the world as a young man, living in many different countries while working on an oil rig. He had an infectiously adventurous and friendly spirit in him, something that fortunately I inherited from him. We were sitting outside under the canopy at a dinner table in front of a buffet of freshly prepared food when my mother and my uncle Chris began talking about my grandfather. My grandfather used to pass the time on the oil rig by drawing cartoons of other fellow sailors on the ship. He would make everyone laugh at the crude drawings he used to make of people he didn't like. From what I heard from my mother his witty and friendly personality was not limited to his colleagues on the boat either. My mother told us about how my grandfather lived in Japan for three years during his travels on the sea. He was one of the most popular karaoke singers amongst the Japanese people because he would sing songs in their native language. My uncle Chris added, "They would cheer while he was on stage, Dimitri! Dimitri!" I learned my uncle Chris and my grandfather would also build models of the boats they sailed on to pass time as well. Exact replicas of the ships they sailed made out of hand carved wood and found objects where proudly displayed around uncle Chris' home. Through the exchange of words I mentioned to Chris that I was going to school for art in America and asked him what inspired him and my grandfather to create such large replicas of the oil rigs they traveled on. He said, "We liked to work on things that took a lot of attention to detail." The longer I thought about his reasoning, the more I thought about how similar I felt about my artwork as well.
During our week stay on the island I would be the first to wake up in the morning, walk downhill to the beach or walk uphill on a hiking trail. My great aunts and uncles always thought it was a little odd though. I was quiet most of the stay on the island and didn't really associate with many of the relatives before it was absolutely necessary or before I starved. I didn't want to be around them, I wanted to be alone, to be my own island and establish myself on it. The island is synonymous with my life. I have never been a predictable person, I always marched at the beat of my own drum regardless of what others thought about me, even family. My absence from the house even got the attention of my great aunts and uncles. Thinking I couldn't understand what they where saying they would ask my mother, "What's wrong with him? Is he sad? Does he not like us?" There was nothing she or I could say, I am just the type of person that wants company on my own terms. If I want to see you, I will go to your house, otherwise, I am going to do my own thing. It's an idea contrary to the Greek custom on the island. People are always around one another and privacy is slim to none besides the occasional nap break. Otherwise, gossip, eating, and laughter fill the day with no end in sight. Despite their discomfort of my own slowly diminishing disinterest, I had my own comfort to worry about. There was so much to do with such a young body. I could walk uphill or downhill. I could collect bamboo sticks or I could collect seashells. There was no sense for me to be around loud noise that could irritate me when, in any direction, I could find peace and solitude just walking along-side a dirt road.
I took a left to a pathway leading to a bright orange church with a large white door. The massive cement structure looked as though it could stand for 200,000 years and only loose it's color to the elements. An archway on the left side of the building contained a huge morning bell with a long rope just above an entry way to the cemetery. As I looked at the wooden ladder leading up to the bell and it's accompanying rope I could imagine a young altar boy who, centuries earlier, must have climbed it sacrificing his young body for the enjoyment of his aged guests for the impending service. Before passing through the archway I looked through a window and could imagine a full pew of worshippers long passed listening to what revelation their God would give them before they proceeded through another day. In the church I saw men with white dress shirts and slacks on one side, and women with black dresses and bonnets on the other side. I passed through the archway and walked to the back of the cemetery. My grandfather's face looked old and tired in the picture on the headstone. He was back to where he began, on an island in the middle of nowhere wondering where do we go from here. Or was that where he always was? By himself on the island he knew as identity, an island he took everywhere with him, an island that never budged no matter what came its way. I thought he was self actualized, as though he had all the answers, but like me, he was surrounded by questions. The only answer we both would find would be buried deep in an idea we both called love. The love for mankind, the love for adventure, the love for art, and the love for sharing. Standing there as I thought about all the lessons learned, and the gifts given to me from the one person that I can truly say defines who I am today. I still owed him a gift in return. Just as he would expect I placed a seashell from the walk to the beach downhill right next to his picture.
art found me
The person I am today was not the person I thought I would ever come to be. I knew I always had a passion for creating visual narrative through illustration as a child. Somehow though, my dream was lost in translation from my move between middle school and high school. I moved from a city 20 miles outside of Washington, D.C. to the small town of Westfield, Indiana constantly looking for my niché therein. I graduated with the standard high school experience of going to football games, weekend parties, prom, and experiences of failed relationships. After high school I felt it was time for me to grow up and find my place in the world. I moved out of my parents house at seventeen years old less than a year after graduation. I then became just another ornament in the landscape of Indiana, moving between apartments and customer service jobs following the lead of my friends, who where doing much of the same thing. After a year and a half living in less than favorable situations with roommates I could only hope I never see again I began living with one of my best friends from high school Kent Hoffman.
Kent was a cancer survivor who lived in Westfield all of his life somehow disconnected from the influences of people in town that had evoked in me feelings of constant pity for their irreversible situations. He was strong and very mature for his age, becoming my influence of reason in the chaos of my impulsive thoughts. We worked together at local restaurant as line cooks, and protected each other like brothers. A few days at the restaurant had passed and I met her, a plain girl with hazel eyes, long brown hair pulled up in a bun, and no make-up. She was pale from being indoors at the restaurant drive-thru under its fluorescent lights since high school. To me Julia was the most beautiful person I had ever seen. Her smile was something I could not get enough of, forcing me to play the role of a goofy boy willing to do anything to get her attention. My friend Kent, being the matchmaker he was, played the middle man in telling both Julia and myself what we thought about one another. Julia and I began dating shortly thereafter. We went to restaurants and met one another's friends giving us more insight into who the other person was and who we identified with in their lives. Julia's friends were very religious in their practice of Wicca. I even witnessed her and her friends burning herbs in a circular garden and taking pictures of each other's oras with a Polaroid camera. Fortunately, this did not frighten me at all and I began to appreciate her more for it. I felt blessed that she was comfortable enough to share her beliefs with me. We began renting an apartment together in the town of Carmel about 20 minutes south of Westfield. Shortly thereafter, I was introduced to Julia's dog Mercedes a chocolate colored Weimaraner and began living with the two of them. Things were great, at that point I began to fall in love with someone for the first time in my life. I started working two jobs and took it upon myself to do anything I could for Julia financially and emotionally. However, my mind began to believe that this was enough to make Julia forget all that she knew in that small town and be my companion for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, this was not exactly how things worked out, we started to get older and our true beliefs began to emerge.
Eventually things began to work themselves out. We both understood that we needed to work with each other so that we could be happy together. Verbal arguments were still a regular occurrence in our relationship but we always seemed to come to a consensus at the end. We began to appreciate one another as individuals and started sharing our outlooks on life with each other. One day we were sitting on our bed talking and began sharing our philosophies on life with each other. Julia told me, "Life should not always be about work and money, I just think that we have our whole lives to grow up. Why do people think that we should spend all of their youth learning how to perform grown up tasks for the future when we should just enjoy our youth while we still have it." I looked into her eyes after she told me that and began to understand her point of view. I then looked within myself, something I am not used to doing unless forced, and realized that my life up until the time had been experienced from the opposite spectrum of reality. I was working hard and trying to pick up the pieces of my life, when in reality, life will never always be perfect. My life was always a work-in-progress. I said, "I never thought of it like that. I feel like if I don't achieve and grow up now, I will never have the energy to do it as I get older." She just smiled at me with that dimple-ridden smile and said, "I know." At that moment I realized the type of drive I had in my soul in wasting no time to find who I was and devote my life to becoming the person I wanted to become.
As our conversation continued I remembered that Julia had a set of tarot cards on top of her dresser drawer wrapped in a purple cloth with a gold symbol on top of them. I asked her if she would read my tarot cards in which I received an immediate response of, "No." I began to press the issue harder asking, "Please, why won't you read my tarot cards?" She told me that she did not want to because of the fact that she was afraid of what the information may tell her and that it may reveal bad news. "It's not going to say anything bad, please just read them to me, just for fun," I said. Reluctantly, Julia brought out her tarot cards and made me split the deck as she grabbed them back from my hands and began to organize them on the bed in a square pattern. She began to turn certain cards over, one by one. Concentrating on the cards with intensity her head fell in frustration as her hair enveloped the cards on the bed in front of her. She looked up at me with tears in her eyes and told me, "See I told you I didn't want to do this." I looked at her flabbergasted, having not a clue what the detailed color illustrations on the cards where telling her to make her so upset. "What do they say?" I asked sympathetically. She looked back down at the cards and continued to turn them over, one after the other. She began to calm down slightly through the reading and become very interested in what the cards had to say. Finally, she turned over the last card and looked at me with a little pain and confusion in her eyes. I waited for her emotions to come to fruition and gently said, "Honey, if you don't want to tell me what they say it's OK, I'm sorry I asked you to read them, I was just curious." "No, I'll tell you what it said," she said politely with an upset look in her eyes. "It said that you are going to meet someone else, me and Mercedes are going to be out of your life and you are going to leave us." "That's not true," I said, "I love you more than anything in the world, there is nobody that I love more than you and I would never leave you, I don't believe it." Ignoring what I had just said she went on, "It said that after you leave us you are going to move to Chicago and go to school." The moving to Chicago to go to school part made sense to me, my parents had been living in Chicago during this period of time for three years at that point. "Well the going to Chicago for school thing sounds pretty accurate, but I don't want to leave you so how could that be true if I can't leave you." Disregarding my reaction again she asked, "Are you good at drawing?" Trying to reassure her that the cards were wrong I said, "Well I used to draw cartoons all the time in my room while I was in elementary school and started making cartoon characters and stories. But I haven't drawn anything in a very long time. I don't even think I can draw anymore." She then told me, "Well they said you are going to go to Chicago and become an Artist." I was in complete disbelief, I had no idea how to respond besides looking at her in awe and confusion. "Did they say anything else?" I replied. "They said that you were going to become a successful Artist."
I was in total disbelief and felt like I had heard the most ridiculous thing in my life. I had never even thought of becoming and Artist after I had failed from the Visual Communication program at IUPUI, it wasn't for me. I always had a love for art as a child but never dreamed that I would pursue it after the horrible experience I had when I began college. The classes did not contain any art in them what-so-ever, it was all computer programming and business, everything I hated to do. I figured it just wasn't for me. I thought to myself for hours about how I had no idea how to becoming an artist even if I wanted to. I asked myself, if I was an Artist what kind of art would I create? I didn't want to think about it, I was happy where I was at, living the simple life with the woman I loved.
Six months went by and Julia bought me a sketchbook pushing me to start drawing again, but there was nothing I could do, I lost all of my drawing abilities I had as a child. We continued to fight back and forth with our problems and frustrations with one another until it was time for the relationship to come to an end. Our opposing views on life did not allow us to coexist any longer. I was searching for answers on how to prepare for the future while Julia was trying to make the best of the present. Julia had just started a new job that morning when we said our good-byes. I drove my 1989 Toyota Corolla down a straight, flat road to her new job at 9 a.m. on a Monday with her favorite breakfast in hand, biscuits and gravy. I handed them over while her brand new coworkers stared at a distance and I said, "I love you." Then I drove to Chicago.