Thirty seven years ago my friend, artist Larry David Dunn, gave me an etching he made for my 35th birthday. It’s called Gypsy Wagon. When he handed it to me, he said, “It’s a portrait of you. You travel with your own light.” The wagon is small, wooden, and sturdy, with a slightly sloped roof. It has a window with four panes, wooden wheels, and wooden spreader bars for hitching my horse. The ground around the wagon is bathed in a warm light that comes from the full moon above. It is one of my most precious possessions.
When LD gave me the picture, I was recovering from very tough times. Instead of light, I felt troubled and afraid. I couldn’t imagine that I was emitting much light. I certainly didn’t see how I could be traveling very far given I was recently divorced, and what little money I had went to pay the bills. I pondered how he saw me as a small, sturdy, wooden wagon surrounded by a warm glow.
Nevertheless, I bonded with the piece, as if its light could lead me out of the darkness I felt; as if I was self-contained and sturdy enough to shine. A few years after LD gifted Gypsy Wagon to me, I sold the house that had represented the American Dream, but now consumed my energy and money. I moved my family across the country to an apartment in San Francisco. There, I became a stand-up comedian. Standing on the tiny stage at a place called The Holy City Zoo, I got my light back.
Three decades, other houses and apartments, the death of my son, and the births of grandchildren have gone by. I’ve traveled to 30 countries: some to teach and live for awhile, and some just to hang out in order to get to know my global neighbors-to connect my light with the glow of the universe. If I’m lucky maybe I can make a few folks laugh.
Each time I unpack, Gypsy Wagon is hung on a prominent wall where I can see it. In my current home, a charming cabin on a mountainside in Lake Isabella, CA, in the lovely Kern River Valley, it hangs in my bedroom next to a world map.
The map and the Gypsy Wagon are the first things I see in the morning, and the last things I see at night. This morning I took it off the wall to pack it, because I am leaving again. Next month I’m flying to Europe to connect with former students and friends I’ve met traveling. My goal is to head north through Italy to Prague, Czech Republic, where I plan to teach for a few months.
I thank LD for Gypsy Wagon, for seeing my light when I couldn’t. I’m impressed with his prescience. I’ll do my best to spread as much light as one sturdy wagon possibly can.