Wednesday, April 8, 2009

What If?

I am kicking myself right now for not breaking out a gold star for a gentleman whose level of trying really warranted one: children's book author and illustrator John Rocco.

As I sat listening him address a group of kindergarten, first- and second-grade kids this morning, telling them how he got to where he is, I was almost in tears. He showed pictures of himself in 1976, at 8, with a basketball and a crazy Italian-kid afro, and, more recently, drawing in his underwear at home in Brooklyn or at a wood table at the former home of his Belgian wife's family in the South of France.

He spoke of his first children's book, one he illustrated at the request of Whoopi Goldberg when she met him in the bar where he worked in Times Square, and his work as art director on Shrek. Then, he showed, with amazing love and pleasure, his labor of love, a book called Woof! Woof! He explained that he came to the idea having been asked to illustrate the story of the boy who cried wolf. His very different version, set in Asia, came to him when he asked a very simple question: What if?? What if the boy didn't have to be mean? What if the story were set somewhere very different than you might expect? What if the wolf loved vegetables? His beautiful book came out of that question as, it seems to me, do all good things.

We rarely stop to ask ourselves the important "what ifs..." What if I didn't make the beds? What if the laundry got put off another day? What if I didn't have to give up my dreams today for unsure dream-offering opportunities down the road? What-the-fuck-ever should really be what-the-fuck-if.

I had to do an exercise today for The Artist's Way, a book I shunned and shouldn't have right after college and am finally getting to. I had to write postcards to five friends. I opted against postcards, figuring the book was written long before facebook. But more important than the means I chose of reaching out was who I chose. At this juncture in my life, I chose five friends from my past and present who have wended around to find their way, who have set aside "shoulds" and "have-tos" and done their thing, often the hard thing, to try to find joy and meaning in their lives. They inspire me. They all get gold stars.

It is a time ripe to take chances as the sure things are no longer sure. Actually, as it turns out, they never were. We were just buying what we were sold, hook, line and stinkin' sinker. They, whoever They are I think we'd all like to know, made stuff seem pretty darn good. I wrote about marketing for more than a decade, so I know. Even those of us who think we're immune are vulnerable.

On this day of Passover, I hope to celebrate freedom, not just for the Jews but for everyone. Would that we all were free to ask, "What if?"

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