Posts Tagged ‘Marlo Thomas’

one of my favorite shows on tv is on the sundance channel.  it’s called “iconoclasts”.   it’s an interview show of sorts.  two “iconoclasts” (” a term that has come to be applied figuratively to any person who breaks or disdains established dogma or conventions”)  kind of interview each other.  the show is just brilliant.  the most recent one i saw was the magician david blaine and the artist chuck close.   i had never heard of chuck close before.  i was very touched and inspired by his story.  a few days later i started leafing through a book i bought a long time ago.  it’s called “the right words at the right time” by marlo thomas and friends.  she asked people to “reach back into their own lives in search of that moment when words made all the difference.”  then published the responses she got from various famous people.  i shared paul mccartney’s response in a previous post.  here is what chuck close had to say…from the book “the right words at the right time”.

Chuck Close


“Handicapped people hate phrases like physically challenged.  We like to call ourselves cripples and gimps.  It helps take the sting out of it. It helps us accept the handicapped part of us.

I became a quadriplegic thirteen years ago, at the age of forty-eight, when an artery in my spine collapsed. I had already had a great career as an artist, with paintings in museums around the world.  I knew who I was. The problem was getting back to what I loved.  The two great fears of any artist are that you’re going to lose your eyes or you’re going to lose your hands.  I always thought of them as equally bad.  Turns out if you’re going to lose one, it had better be your hands.  Which is exactly the way of thinking that helped me in my life, weighing out what makes any situation positive relative to another state of affairs.

My father died when I was eleven, so I think I learned early on that you could suffer a terrible tragedy and still be happy again.  We didn’t have any money but my father was extremely handy and he made all my toys-bicycles from scratch, model trains.  It was very intimidating because he could do anything with his hands.

I’ve always been a gimp in some sense.  When I was a kid I had a lot of problems.  Back then no one thought there was such a thing as learning disabilites.  You were just dumb, or lazy, or a shirker.  I couldn’t memorize anything, didn’t know the multiplication tables, didn’t know how to add six and seven without using my fingers.  I couldn’t even recognize faces.  I was a klutz.  My eyes didn’t converge enough for me to catch a ball.  But art gave me something that made me feel special.  Probably had my father lived, I might not have even tried a lot of projects, but when he died I inherited his tool kit and all his power tools and I got started trying to make stuff myself.

After I suffered the artery collapse, I wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to go back to work.  Lying in the hospital bed, I thought maybe I would have to be a conceptual artist.  I got enough movement and then thought, well, I can paint holding a brush in my teeth.  Eventually I could move my arms a little bit.  I remember my wife and my occupational therapist got me this device to hold a brush.  They put a piece of shirt cardboard in a vise and I tried to draw a grid on it to divide the space into smaller, more manageable sections.  I was totally exhausted.  I mixed some paint and jabbed a stroke at the painting and said, “See, I can’t do it!”

I started crying.  But there was a little piece of me that thought, well, you know, it doesn’t look that bad. My assistant tells me I cried every day I painted in the hospital.  I don’t remember that at all. I just remember those words coming to me when I thought I was lost. “It’s not that bad.”

I’ve been very lucky all along.  People think that if you’re in a wheelchair and you have to paint with brushes strapped to your hands, “luck” is not a word you should be using.  But I am fortunate in many ways. When you’re a gimp, you don’t envy able-bodied people.  You envy people who are one notch above you.  Quadriplegics envy paraplegics.  I look at someone like Chris Reeve; he was dealt a much more devastating blow.  He must look at me and think, well, it’s like he has a hangnail.

I’m not a hero.  I have a wife who fought for me, and I’m an optimist by nature.  But that’s not all it takes.  You have to be lucky with your body, too.  I don’t believe in the punish-the-victim mentality I saw in the hospital.  This was the notion that if you didn’t get better it was because you didn’t have the right attitude. But, you know, life isn’t always fair.  Some people in the hospital refused to go to therapy and would lie around and whine and be shitty to the nurses and they got better.  And some other people had wonderful attitudes, worked their butts off, but didn’t get better at all.

In life, you have to deal with your fear, the part of you that says, “I can’t do it.” You have to rely on the part of you that says, “Well, it doesn’t look that bad.” And you have to keep going even though there are no guarantees.  I’ve found a way to work for myself by breaking everything down to the smallest pieces.  I just keep working at each little unit of the painting.  Today I’ll do what I did yesterday and tomorrow I’ll do what I did today, the same thing in pieces small enough for me to handle.

For people who are handicapped, if you can keep from being destroyed by what happened, or pigeonholed by what happened, you’re certainly going to be different, but you have a chance to be more interesting as a person, because you’re not like everybody else.  I know a lot of people who are paralyzed in other ways, even if they can walk.”

-Chuck Close

amen to that…and i needed to read that again right about now…i find his philosophy very applicable to life…”breaking everything down to the smallest pieces”, making something that seems unmanageable, manageable, your job, your life, your day…keep on keeping on.  people amaze me. and i find it interesting that the “right words at the right time” in his story were spoken by him.  he said the right words to himself.

here’s a video of him that shows some of his paintings.  they are quite amazing.


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