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Asking for Help

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I can’t.

I won’t.

Never do.

I’d rather be lost for an hour in a store than get directions from a clerk.

It’s a man thing is what I am told.

By whom?


Anyway, the other day I thought it was time to change, maybe.


              Kay had asked me to stop by the store to pick up some brown sugar.  I was late in my rounds in the city, so I marched right on in and looked for a clerk dressed in red.  I found three at the front, all huddled up in an informal conference – two white guys and one black.  The black guy looked like the leader, so I put my arm around the guy, interrupting the confab in the unspoken spirit of customer rights, and asked, “Excuse me, sir, but can you tell me where I can find some brown sugar?”

               His face lit up and he said, “Mister, you just found some!”  Then he shook my hand.

               The two white guys were both on the floor in fits, rolling around, slapping each other, and pointing to me as the most gullible and clearly ignorant fool who ever did walk in to an open trap.


               I could see how good natured the leader was, who hugged me and found me also enjoying the moment with everyone else!

               And I said to myself, “Looky here, Billy Boy of Clint, Texas, this is the very reason you don’t go around asking questions!!”

               Since that day?

              I have met that red shirted magnificent leader many times since at the front of the grocery store.  We shake hands, laugh and carry on, and enjoy that day all over again.

               My point?

               I got a letter from a man today that addresses that question.  Can you find yourself hidden inside it?

Dear Bill,

Do you know how hard it is for a male, this male, to ask for help?

When I was in the car repair business I always asked questions when something looked like it could kill you. 

How do I set up the tanks for the acetylene torch?

How do I put that car on the lift so it won’t fall off and kill someone?

Will that electric welder shock me if I do this stupid thing over here?


When I worked for an airline, I asked plenty of questions.

How close can I get to that jet engine before it sucks me through?

Learning to be safe on the ramp around almost everything that will kill you raised lots of questions that HAD to be asked.

I spent 50% of my life around work that demanded I know when to seek help.  I owned 1/3 of a motorcycle dealership and we raced on national level.  I have walked the banking at Daytona, Talladega, and Charlotte.  I wrenched on the bike that our racers rode “out there.”

I always knew when to seek help for what I knew I didn’t know.  In all of the above it was life or death.

Airplanes and racing motorcycles have something in common.  Every important nut and bolt are safety wired.

Every pilot and motorcycle racer have something in common.  When they push “start” they trust that all the right questions were asked, and all the safety wires were replaced.

I did all of that for 17 years.

So you probably understand my fury.

You probably understand how angry a man can get who doesn’t figure out until he’s in his fifties that ART is life or death.

Asking feels like imposing.  It goes against everything a boy raised in the 1950’s thinks.  I was taught to be self-sufficient and a self-starter.

I know good and well what the difference here is, though.  It is easy to find your voice when the injury or death you want to avoid is physical.  This isn’t that though.  This is the soul’s business.  How does that part of a human (who is a visual creature) find “the voice.”  Beyond drawing it, or painting it 10,000 hours’ worth, so it can be seen, how does one communicate that ache to the right person with the knowledge you are seeking?

Since we are both born of artists I’m sure I make perfect sense to you.  Whereas I am sure others reading this letter would think – complete insanity.

Answering the Question:

Robert Henri told the readers of his book, The Art Spirit, “not to draw the muscle and bone of the arm, but the spirit of life in the arm.”

               Manhood, independence, work, growing hair on the chest, the need for speed, mastering a garage of tools, getting all things mechanical figured out, even being able to fix or repair anything, gets a man to an end.

               End of what?

               Muscle and bone.

               The next step is where he needs help.

            But who is there to take him to ‘the spirit of life?’  And if he knows someone who can use tools to get to it, say to draw as Hank Williams could bend a guitar string, is he able to ask for help?  It is one thing to master what you can see, to be able to draw the nuts and bolts, but how do you make a race car breathe?  How do you put pink under her skin, the model you draw?

               Who can learn to find the inexpressible in a motorcycle seat?

               If you need to learn how, don’t hesitate to ask, but beware: these things are not found next to the brown sugar on aisle six.


From the pen of Soren Kierkegaard
circa 1846
Copenhagen, Denmark

‘Whoever does not wish to sink in the wretchedness of the finite is constrained in the most profound sense to struggle with the infinite.’

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