Three letters, one word, a question.
The place to begin.
The place I begin.
I’m not sure what I am beginning to write here today can be called or how its form can or will be defined by those outside myself. I only know it is what I am writing in this moment, what I have to write for myself today, and that I suppose already answers the three letter, one word question for this writing, at least in part.
But the answer to the question ‘Why?’ is never as short and simple, as succinct as the word itself. It would be fantastic if it were; our lives would be so much simpler, we could all pack up and go home because there would be nothing else to do. But our lives would also be colder, emptier, dimensionless and dull.
Because ‘Why?’ is the spark that ignites all fires that follow. It is the fuel that keeps the fires of our curiosity and creativity burning. It is the question that can only be answered by another question, and that other question is the same as the first, yet it is never a direct copy of the ‘Why?’ which preceded it.
‘Why?’ is a contradiction; simultaneously self-contained and encompassing all that remains outside of it, ‘Why?’ is unique and universal. We all have our personal ‘Why?’ that starts us off on our own, individual pathway; a pathway always and only paved with ‘Why?’and though the scenery to each side might differ from person to person, situation to situation we can recognized the common ground we each are traveling on as our paths cross, lending the sense of universality to the road we are all traveling on.
As a child I thought all roads in the world are connected, this despite having grown up on a cul-de-sac in a 1960s American subdivision, experienced many dead-end roads including the one my father grew up on in a holler in an old mining village in the Appalachian foothills of southeastern Ohio and the working class street my mother’s parents bought into the American dream on which ended at the fence of a factory producing glass television tubing in the days before flat screens LCD and HDTVs. In my childish way of thinking it was simple, if you came to end you just circled around and followed the road back the other way; or if you’re feeling particularly daring or disregarding of fences, borders, creeks or mountains, you just jumped across and continued beating out the pathway, your own road, with your feet. This didn’t seem ‘dead’ to me then and nearly half a century later, despite being quite jaded, still doesn’t. My ‘why?’ drove and continues to drive me ahead.
As a young adult I moved to Germany. It never failed then, and still doesn’t today after nearly twenty years living back in the States, whenever I meet a person, typically male, who hasn’t been to Germany I am asked “What’s it like to drive on the Autobahn?” The question is usually asked with a curiosity that is equal parts fascination and trepidation. No matter how honestly I reply: “Not much different than driving the Interstate through more densely populated parts of the US, like I-95 through Connecticut or the New Jersey Turnpike.” The questioner is hard pressed to believe me. He wants to believe the road is different, when in reality it is the same road, with the same purpose, but with different scenery on each side.
Why did the chicken cross the road?
To get to the other side.
Why did the chicken want to get to the other side?
So he could cross the road.
Who gives a shit?
All of us, to a point.
If I were pressed to select a symbol, a sign to represent ‘Why?’ at first I would most likely choose a Möbius strip. This would be the simplest representation of what appears to be such a simple word. But as reality would have it a Möbius strip is too simple of a sign to represent the tangled, winding pathway that is ‘Why?’. Twenty-five years ago when I first began focusing my painting practice on non-representational abstraction I often painted lines that wound around the picture plane, regardless of the width of the line, whether it was crisp and clean, or drippy and flowing, confined by the edge of the canvas or paper, or raced off the edge continuing in parts beyond, the lines always appeared to connect somewhere. They had neither a visible beginning nor a visible ending - like the Möbius strip - but they crossed themselves in multiple locations, tangled, wound up at times tightly and at other times loosely. On second thought, if pressed harder I wouldn’t choose the idealized symbol, the Möbius strip, to represent ‘Why?’ but my own tangled up, continuous line.