Edit Life

Photo by Debra DiPaolo


’ve seen the Mona Lisa and the murals of Mexico, the Great Wall and wonders of the world, but the oily scrap art of a tire repairman left a deeper imprint on my soul.

Art affects everyone differently. This is one of the few truisms about art. Among the rabble lined up at the Louvre there’s sure to be a sourpuss or two. And who’s to say they’re wrong in their derisiveness? I may cringe at the commercialism of Kinkade, but a million or so others swoon over the “Painter of Light.” So if the unpolished work of an unknown artist charms me more than Mona’s smile, that’s my prerogative.

But let’s backtrack and circle around to make sense of such a ludicrous analogy.

I used to teach English to a Spanish-speaking kid called Brunito, or Little Bruno. His father (Big Bruno) was my mechanic, a straightforward working-class guy, all callused hands and grease-stained canvas. Bruno worked with his brother Hector, whose main job was repairing tires. Patches, plugs, retreads: if your tires needed attention, Hector was the guy to go to. And I did, frequently.

I got to know the brothers well but never had an inkling that the monosyllabic tire repairman was something of a pueblo Picasso, a genuine artist—and by that I mean he was compelled by his nature, driven by something internal, to create art: in his case, mixed-media pieces made with reclaimed steel belts, burned rubber, and twisted nails. Mainly nails. Pulled from flat tires, of course, and lovingly collected decade after decade.

Hector’s art is not for show, and it’s certainly not for profit. (He charges about three bucks to repair a flat but says he “wouldn’t sell his art for anything in the world.”) In that sense, it is a true representation of the creative process—art created solely for the sake of creation. None of his work has the historical significance of a Picasso, of course, or the mad genius of a Van Gogh, the technical brilliance of a da Vinci. Still, the artist’s purity of motive is a thing of beauty.

The other day while whittling down my to-do list I came to a jarring realization: all my chores were, in a sense, edits—from thinning out my overgrown garden to thinning out my bloated closet. Indeed, the very act of whittling down that list was an editorial process.

As life clutter accumulates, daily existence becomes a battle to prevent our personal weeds from smothering our potential flowers. A cleanly edited life moves more efficiently; it flows. And while I’m not suggesting a return to the cave, I do think the complexity of modern life precludes many of us from realizing our potential. Simplicity opens the door for one’s true self to emerge. As Picasso put it, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”


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