How I Became an Accidental Artist

In her TEDTalk, Alexa Meade tells us she came to art in her 20s, with apparent certainty and resolve. I, on the other hand, came kicking and screaming.
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Click here to watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.

I became an artist by accident... figuratively, and literally.

Although I had published three books in my 50s, they weren't born out of any great artistic yearning inside of me ... I bumped into a guy on a street corner who happened to be a book agent. The same street corner I was run over by a car a year earlier, for the second, of the three times in my life, proving, I'm either invincible, or the luckiest woman alive.

I grew up under the Hollywoodland sign in the 1940s. Both my parents were artists, my father, a film editor, and my mother, an airbrush artist at Walt Disney Studios during the Golden Years of the 1930s, working on such classics as Pinocchio, Fantasia and Bambi. You might say I had a genetic predisposition, but I opted for an amalgam of the two, choosing a job in New York as a film producer in advertising.

In her TEDTalk, Alexa Meade tells us she came to art in her 20s, with apparent certainty and resolve. I, on the other hand, came kicking and screaming, leaving my fingernail marks all over a three-decade, six figure career, when I was suddenly laid off as a director of broadcast production at an edgy little ad agency, because we lost our only TV account, my 20-year marriage ended and 9/11 happened... all in the same month.

Sometimes you have to lose what you think is everything, to find your reason for being. You know that Road Runner cartoon where Wylie E. Coyote is chased off the cliff and keeps running in thin air?

I ran in thin air for the next seven years, I was a floundering fear ball. Nobody was hiring anybody in my old career, at least, not a 57-year-old woman. I was running out of options, terrified and alone, jobless and broke. Then in 2008, just as I was getting back on my feet again, reinventing myself as video journalist, I was filming on a Brooklyn street asking folks who they thought won the first presidential debates, when an SUV came out of nowhere and ran me over, for the third time in my life. I didn't walk for a year.

As I was lying in the street, with my broken leg, my broken camera, a few feet away, an interesting thing happened. A friend noticed, "Hey, this thing has been on the whole time." The screen was hanging by a thread, but miraculously, still worked. When I got to the ER, my head strapped to the gurney writhing in pain, "Where's my camera?" I asked the orderly to film me."If you cut off my Prada pants I'll never forgive you," I said. I told the doctor as well as all the nurses, "You're gonna be on Oprah!"

Weeks later, when I watched the tape, there was this remarkable little movie, a hilarious documenting of a horrendous event, although I still can't watch the moment of impact, the pixelated screen when it broke while filming a colored tile wall behind the musicians, was like an abstract painting. I'd found my art. More accurately, it had 'accidentally' found me.

Mel Brooks was right, "Comedy is tragedy, plus time." And perhaps the gift of all my travails, actually liberated me.

Like Alexa, I had became my own canvas and YouTube was my gallery. And when I turned the camera on myself, to this day, it separates me from what I'm going through, long enough to be able to laugh about it. It became my art and my therapy and I discovered when I was doing it, the pain of my rehabilitation subsided. And I learned those books I wrote about the healing of humor and laughter were a part of all this too.

I became frighteningly prolific, shooting thousands of hours, documenting everything. Music on subways, chance meetings, boxers, parades, revolutions, old folks, the older the better... anything that moved. I called them "Schlockumentaries" and put them on YouTube. Everybody has a story and all we want is for someone to listen. The lines are blurred as to where my camera ends and I begin. It has been hysterical and profoundly sad. I have laughed till I cried and cried till I laughed.

There you have it, my raison d'être, my passion, my crazy art. New York City is my blank canvas. I never would have scripted this. I'm 69 years old and feel as though I'm just beginning the journey. Picasso didn't hit his stride till he was in his 60s and Grandma Moses painted well into her 90s. Then lo and behold, my films started getting noticed with millions of YouTube views. I started winning awards and getting invited to film festivals, where I was the, 'oldest first-time filmmaker' there.

So here's my advice, if you find yourself at a crossroads and don't know which way to turn, ask yourself, "What would I do if I was really rich and didn't have to work... and travel doesn't count?" Then do it. Do it 10,000 times, and let me know what happens.

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