My first serious encounter with Eastern though happened while I was in art school. I don’t remember exactly how or why, but a copy of the Tao Te Ching fell into my possession. There is a fuzzy memory of seeing it in a bookstore, becoming intrigued, and buying it. There’s also a sense of longing and loneliness attached to that memory. I know that I wasn’t happy in that place, at that time.
At 19 years old I was becoming disillusioned. Getting into art school had been a dream. I had some expectation that I’d find my tribe, people with the same passions and interests. Yet I felt like an outsider. When you’re that age you tend to think there’s something wrong with you. You might entertain a notion or two that there’s something wrong with everyone else, but they have numbers in their favor. There’s no basis for thinking that the problem might be the culture.
How could I have what I’d worked so hard for, and still be unhappy? I was doing everything that I was told I was supposed to do. Hard work and following my bliss got me there, but it wasn’t everything I’d been led to expect. Attending church and reading the Bible regularly left me similarly empty. While I didn’t become a hard core convert to Taoism, I took some comfort in the knowledge that there were other paths available.
That became relevant at the end of my first and only year of art school. It had been drilled into my head that there was only one path to becoming successful as a commercial artist. One. By the end of my first year, I understood that I was not going to meet those necessary metrics. My work was good, and getting better, but I wasn’t getting faster. Speed, the ability to grind and turn out good work quickly, was the key. No one presented any other paths. So I left art school to look for something else to do with my life. It wasn’t making me happy, anyway.