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The Wisdom of Graham Merritt: Living Well, A Man’s Greatest Asset & How To Deal With Critics As An Artist.

From: The Desk of Maverick Brenton.
Subject: Critics, Comfort and Protecting Your Greatest Asset.
___

During the night just passed a storm had hit us – leaving the air damp with the smell of fresh rain, wet grass and a coolness that is uncommon in my hometown.

As I sat quietly drinking coffee just outside our kitchen window, I listened to the sounds that every new day brings:

Birds chirping, leaves rustling and drunks abusing each other on the street – nothing out of the ordinary for a Saturday morning.

With Christmas over, the new year had just begun.

A change of plans had me coming home from where I’ve been, a little earlier than expected – to spend a month with family before embarking on my next adventure.

My mother told me that the man whom I was waiting for, was a nice old guy.

She’d met him in the pharmacy where she works, numerous times, and apparently I had met him many years ago.

This man was coming to look at an old caravan we had for sale and with everyone else away, I was the only one at home.

So here I am drinking coffee on the couch, waiting for him to arrive.

Five minutes after sitting down, he pulled up just outside our gate in an old beat up wagon.

Out he got, real slow, walking with a limp.

I made my way to the gate, smiled and extended my hand towards him.

“My god, haven’t you grown lad!” He said, grasping my hand.

His handshake was very firm – old man strength.

“Have we met? My name’s Maverick.”

I swung open the gate as I asked the question and he made his way inside.

As he turned to close the gate, I noticed a cancer on his left ear that had disfigured the ear – my eyes glanced away as he turned back to me.

“I’m Graham. Last time I seen you, I think you were about this tall.” He said, holding his hand next to his hip.

“You’re looking at about fifteen years then mate – long time ago that was.”

Graham smiled, then looked me up and down before turning his attention to the caravan next to us both.

“This her?”

“Yeah mate.”

He began circling the van and scanning it with his old eyes – I followed him around and answered the questions he fired at me.

Having lived in it myself a few years ago, I knew the van well.

“Gas?” He asked, pointing at the fridge inside the van.

“Electric.”

He nodded, then kept looking around.

“This pops up yes?” He asked, pointing his old fingers at the roof of the van.

“Yeah. Come out and I’ll show you how.”

We walked outside the van now, and I showed him how to unclip the roof – there were four clips that had to be unlocked for the roof to pop up.

After I showed him this, he began circling the van again, kneeling down occasionally in a very slow manner, to check the tyres, the suspension, and a few other things.

I looked at the skin cancer as he knelt.

And it looked painful.

“You tried Black Salve on your skin cancer? It works well from what I’ve heard.”

The man looked up at me, then got to his feet with an effort.

“Nah. Got something else on it.” He grunted, standing up fully.

Now he circled back around to the gate – then stood quietly, looking at the van and licking his dried-out lips.

I didn’t say anything for at least a minute, just kicked a few rocks on the ground and scanned the street for those drunks I heard earlier.

“You here for the holidays?” He asked.

“Just spending a few weeks with family, then heading to the top of Queensland.”

He nodded.

“What do you do?”

His eyes were old and I could tell he was curious about me.

As he asked the question, I felt the same uneasiness I feel whenever somebody asks me what I do – then an anxious knot developed in my stomach.

So I looked at the ground for a moment, then looked back up at him – ready with my usual answer.

“Used to be in construction mate…now I’m a writer.”

He smiled and didn’t say anything, which was a reaction that I wasn’t expecting.

I’m used to being asked what I do for work, what I do for money, how I survive, even after I say that I write – they think it’s my hobby.

Due to years of brainwashing, most people can’t fathom making money without a job.

Tell em there’s another way and they will look at you like you’re on crack.

This man wasn’t like everyone else though.

I could sense it.

“What do you write?” He asked.

“Adventure novels, essays on life…things like that.”

Graham nodded and sat down in the doorway of the caravan.

I watched, unsure what he was doing.

Once he got himself comfortable he looked up at me.

“That’s fantastic Maverick. I’m a Professional Sculptor, Painter and Writer.”

Right then I knew it was time to listen because coming across other artists wasn’t something that happened every day.

Here was somebody cut from the same cloth.

So I sat down on the ground next to the old man and his little visit quickly became a very interesting conversation about life as an artist, the importance of staying debt free and how to make the most of life.

Over the hour that we shared stories, Graham spoke of many things that resonated with me deeply.

His experiences of life and the conclusions he had come to in his old age – made me think deeply about how I was living my own life.

What he told me, motivated me to live harder, write harder and experience this life more deeply than I currently was.

Above everything else though, it gave me the courage to keep going with my work.

Here was a man who served as living proof – that what I wanted was possible.

So today I will share with you, some of the advice he gave me.

And I trust you will find value in it.

____

After I sat down, Graham said nothing for a moment – he was thinking about what to say next.

The man could tell that I was insecure about my work.

Like all people who make the decision to walk the road less travelled, pursuing careers as Entrepreneurs or Artists, I struggle with doubts about what I do.

It’s in these moments of doubt, that we must recall the words of Stephen Pressfield:

“The counterfeit innovator is wildly self confident, the real one is scared to death.”

The doubt, the fear and the uncertainty of the path – it’s all good stuff.

It means you’re
doing something right.

And it’s infinitely better than the comfort of a boring job that just pays the bills.

Sitting quietly and wedged between the doorway of the caravan, Graham’s mind raced to organise the wisdom he was about to give me.

Knowing from experience how to learn through a conversation with a stranger – I sat quietly and waited for him to begin.

We both knew exactly what this was:

It was a shove in the right direction from a master to an amateur.

After two minutes – it began.

“How long have you been writing for Maverick?”

“Since I was five, but I only started taking it seriously one year ago, when I left the construction industry.”

He nodded and didn’t take his eyes off me.

“Great. You finished anything yet?”

“Finished a novel and quite a few essays.”

Nodding again, he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees.

“Are you getting anything published?”

“I’m sending my novel out now. And the essays are on a blog – which is gonna take years to come together into what I imagine, but I’m fine with that.”

Graham took a deep breath and scratched his chin.

“That’s very good. You’re not afraid to put yourself out there. Success as an artist is impossible unless you can do that.

He paused for a moment before continuing.

Here’s a little story for you to think about:

Many years ago, my wife quit her job in finance, to become a writer and help me with my art exhibitions.

She was on six figures a year, and very unhappy. Had no time for herself and her writing, she used to say.

So she quit and moved to where I was, a little town where I had a gallery.

And for years I never seen her write a damned thing – I thought she had given up on it before she even began.

Now until recently, when she died, I believed she had given up on the writing.

But.

I was going through some of her stuff, sorting things out, and you know what I found mate?

Perplexed by the man’s ability to tell a story, my eyes were glued to him and I had completely forgotten about the world around me.

“What did you find?” I asked, curiously.

He looked at me with a serious face.

“Fifteen exercise books filled with short stories. Hundreds of them.

Shaking his head, he gazed out onto the road for a moment, then back at me.

“All those years she really was writing – late at night when I was asleep. But she never showed me, she never showed anyone. All because she was too afraid of what people would think.”

Beneath his deep and gentle voice, sadness formed – a sadness that I felt.

As he was thinking about what to say next, I thought about what I had just heard.

And I wondered to myself:

How many people have let their dreams, their passions, their true interests just die, out of fear of what the crowd may think, if they chose to pursue them?

Too damn many.

The pursuit of anything that isn’t “normal” will earn you both fans and foes.

People will judge you – that’s just a part of the game.

Your job isn’t to convince them why you are doing what you are doing and idiots cannot have their minds changed so don’t bother trying.

What’s your job?

Your job is to do your fucking work, nothing else.

Now when Graham continued, he confirmed what I was already thinking.

“As a writer or Artist of any kind, you will always have critics, always.

But you can’t hide your work from the world, in fear of what the world will think – you gotta put yourself out there and learn how to deal with those critics.

My wife, she just couldn’t do that, so her stories never went anywhere.

Nobody ever read them, they just sat in a big cardboard box, in a big wooden cupboard.”

He was quiet now – thinking deeply to himself.

I leaned back, resting against my palms.

“What will you do with them?”

“Ah, nothing mate. Keep em in the box..”

His tongue licked a dry lip.

Then he leaned back against his palms too, still wedged between the doorway of the van.

“I’ve dealt with critics all my life. It’s just part of being a creative.

Every exhibition I’ve ever had, there’s been people there who didn’t like my work and people who did like it.

At the end of the day, some people are gonna like what you make, and most people won’t – now the key to making a living from art, is just finding the people who like what you make.

Ain’t much more to it.”

I nodded – taking a mental note of his advice and knowing that I would face the same challenges in my own career.

Then I pulled out my phone.

“Graham, do you mind if I take a photo? I’m gonna write about our conversation.”

And to this he laughed, before staring with an emotionless face at my camera.

I snapped a picture – then put the phone away.

We were both quiet for a moment, until he looked up with a question.

“Where are you going in Queensland?”

“Bundaberg. A little beach town. I’ll stay there for a while, then keep moving – I like to always be moving, it helps me stay creative.”

Graham laughed and nodded in agreement.

“I was just like you when I was younger. I’ve been all over this country – travelling is good for the soul and it’s important that you do it.

I don’t know how people stay in the same place, working some boring job, doing the same shit for half of their life – time just goes by, then they die.

I’ve been everywhere. Seen many things. Had a great life.

My eyes narrowed in on him when he said this.

It’s not often I meet people who share my perspective.

And I wanted to hear more.

“What do you think about normal careers?

“You mean what most people do with their life? Get a job and do the same thing for 50 years?

“Yeah, what do you think about that?

He started licking his lip again, then leaned forward with his elbows resting on his old knees.

“I’ll tell you what I think about that in a moment.

First though, do you wanna know why I went travelling around this country and why you should too?

“Sure I do mate. Tell me.”

With a smile, he licked his dry lip once more before speaking.

“Well I’d been in the same place, Melbourne, for too bloody long and suddenly a thought pops into my mind one day, while I was working on a sculpture.

It went something like this:

If I went to France and somebody asked me what Australia was like, I’d be able to tell them what Melbourne was like – but I didn’t know shit about the rest of the country because I’d seen nothing.

So right then and there I decided, I’m gonna go see it all, and I did exactly that.”

He spoke those words with an energy that made me want to pack my bags right then and there.

The man was proud of his life.

And you could tell he had no regrets – only memories that he cherished.

He had done exactly what he wanted to do, he had lived exactly as he decided to live.

Just like you should.

Now what he said filled me with the desire to travel more.

I think he sensed the excitement, too.

“So you wanna know what I think about this conventional career business don’t you?”

I nodded quickly, like a curious child.

“I couldn’t do it mate. No way.

Over my life I have worked numerous jobs and acquired many skills, but spending my whole life doing the same thing every week? That’s no fun unless you truly love it.

Now I’ve got three kids. All of them are very successful, but they’ve all been doing the same shit for the last thirty years. And not because they love their work – it’s because of the money.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“The money keeps them comfortable. They don’t want to give it up. And that’s the problem with picking careers based solely on the money.

Eventually, when you have plenty, you stop caring about the money and you get bored because you don’t really love your work, but you can’t walk away from it because you love the money too much.

So you become unhappy and lost – like most middle aged people.

And that’s the position these kids are in. I just wish they would get out of their comfort zones and try new things. There’s so much more to life than work, even if you truly love your work.”

I didn’t say anything to him now.

He had something else to say, and it was on the tip of his tongue – so, I waited.

After a moment it came.

“Here is a good question you can ask yourself:

If you didn’t need money – what would you spend your time doing?

I thought to myself for a quiet moment, as he gazed at me with his old dark eyes.

“Well I would do exactly what I’m already doing. I wouldn’t change a thing – if anything, I would just work more.”

Graham smiled at my answer. I think he knew what I would say.

“And there you go – so keep doing what you’re doing.

Don’t go chasing money like everyone else. The money will come to you eventually. Then you’ll be making a living doing exactly what you want.”

After he finished speaking, I nodded and slid closer towards the caravan.

It was approaching midday because the sun was now high in the sky, and it was stealing my shade.

Leaning against the caravan, I looked back up at him.

“I think most people are deep in debt too, so that keeps them stuck. Do you think that’s true?”

Graham laughed and shook his head – knowing exactly what I was talking about.

“Seen that countless times mate.

People turn themselves into slaves just so they can drive fancy cars, live in fancy houses and do their fancy shit.

You see that thing? He asked, pointing towards his old car.

“Yeah?”

“Paid cash. Nobody owns me, and it takes me from A to B.

I’ve got no use for some fancy ride that complicates my life and takes my focus away from my work.”

It was obvious we both shared the same passion for financial freedom.

There was fire in his voice.

“My biggest asset is owing nobody anything. Don’t ever allow somebody else to own you. It’s no way for a man to live. And the stress is with you all the time, you can’t escape it unless you’re asleep.”

I nodded, then answered him.

“I’m the same. Pay cash for everything in my life. And I don’t owe anything either – couldn’t imagine living like that.

All I want to do is travel, write and experience life.”

Graham pulled out his phone to check the time as I spoke, then he pocketed it.

“Then that’s what you gotta do young man.

I have no doubt you’ll encounter people who try to pull you away from your writing and send you down more conventional paths – but don’t listen.

Just keep going. Don’t quit on it. Eventually success will find you.”

Those words, I let em sink in deep because he was exactly right.

During the first year of pursuing my work as a writer – I dealt with many people giving me their worthless opinion and telling me I was crazy for leaving my old career in construction.

Only the people who were happy and living the life they desired, encouraged me.

So now I say nothing, I just work.

___

Sitting against the caravan I had no idea what the time was or how long we had been talking for.

He didn’t seem in a rush though.

After a pause, he gave that damn lip another lick – it was dried and cracked and made me cringe looking at it.

“You want some lip balm for that lip, mate?”

He shook his head quickly and said nothing.

I didn’t ask again.

“So, are your kids happy? With all their money and success, are they happy?

Graham tilted his head a little. Thinking.

Then after a moment he answered – with an answer that will stay with me until the day I die.

“I think they are like most people their age Maverick: they’re in too deep to even think about what could be different, or how things could be better, or if they are doing what they really want to be doing.

Now they’re well off, very well off – I mean, my son owns four bloody Porsche’s and lives in Dubai, running a construction company for the Arabs.

My other son runs some internet company and works all the time.

But whether they’re happy, or unhappy?

I don’t know.

I think they’re stuck in the lives they have – and comfort will do that to you.

The last seventy years on this planet has taught me that happiness comes from living life well, it does not come from accumulating things, money or power.

Do work you love, find a woman who loves you and stay out of debt: that’s what I reckon.”

I nodded, feeling inspired by his wise words.

I’d seen lonely rich men before – Kings with everything, but nothing.

So I already knew money wasn’t the answer to true fulfilment and there were other ingredients that went into it.

He got to his feet now. Slowly but surely.

I got up with him.

And when he finally made it to his feet, I hit him with one final question.

“What would you do if you were me? How did you deal with all the self-doubt when you were starting out?”

Graham looked at me quietly. Then he smiled.

“I’d go back inside, sit down at the computer and write. That’s what I’d do.

You could have written a whole chapter in the time we’ve been talking!”

Again I nodded, without saying anything.

Graham turned now and made his way towards the gate.

When he reached it, he stopped and pivoted around like somebody with a bad neck.

“Tell your mum I wanna buy this caravan too. It’s perfect for me.”

“I will let her know. Thanks for taking the time to teach me what you did.

He swung open the gate as I spoke, walked out, then swung it closed before looking up at me with a smile.

“Thanks for taking the time to teach me what you did.”

___

Your man,
Maverick Brenton.

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