On getting up to speed in a straight line (or: finding out what that horrible shape of yours is for.)

On potential, Marshall Arisman, the Messerschmitt ME-262, greyhounds, and motorcycles.

I heard Marshall Arisman say in an interview once that, after trying to start his illustration career by following the advice of every art director that would talk to him, he found his work had little clarity. He didn't have anything that you would consider a "voice". And he wasn't happy.

So he sat down and made of list of things that he had a working knowledge of. It included 4 items: Cows (he grew up on a farm), Deer (he grew up hunting), Guns (see the previous 2 things), and Psychic Phenomenon (his grandmother was a clairvoyant). He set out to make art about these things and he found himself getting hired. In short, once he set out to make work that reflected his own passion and knowledge, everything seemed to click. At least, he was happier.

That's what I've started doing with my sketchbook. I've gone back to things I remember being passionate about and interested in as a kid. Admittedly, this consists mostly of War memorabilia and Airplanes.

 Towards the end of WWII the Nazis put into production the world's first jet, the ME 262. It rivaled our P-51 Mustang, whose top speed was 100 MPH slower than the 262. If the Mustang was the Cadillac of the Sky, Die Schwalbe (The Swallow) was a snarling top-fuel dragster with four 30mm machine guns in it's snout.

Imagine being one of those German pilots. Sitting on what was to the world, a miracle of technology. But it was hard to control, a bucking sunfisher in the sky. It sputtered, and rattled, and shook like it was gonna tear itself in half at 30,000 feet.

But the pilots said there was a point, when it hit the right speed, that all of that stopped. Everything smoothed out, the rattling and shaking went away. The noises ceased. It quit biting at it's harness and it FLEW. Pilot and plane rocketing across the sky at over 500 miles an hour.

And the design of the ship; the unique swept back wings, the triangular fuselage, finally made sense. It stopped fighting itself and every single molecule of the thing reached it's full potential.

I've been riding motorcycles quite a bit lately. It's a kind of meditation, and there are moments when riding a bike that are similar (albeit not heroic and a lot slower.) You're sitting at a stop light on top of a loud, rattling, shaking mess that's dripping oil and popping and backfiring. The light turns green, you get it up into 4th gear on a stretch of road and all of that stops. You and the bike are humming along, the sound waves too far back to matter much. And all the mess and stink and noise is not only worth it, it's a welcome tithe for that rare and beautiful feeling.

I have 2 greyhounds and they're almost comical in their un-dog-ness. They look emaciated. They skulk around and split their legs like giraffes at a waterhole when they pick a scrap off the floor. They can't sit on their haunches like a normal dog. They look absolutely ridiculous when they take a crap. They sleep on their backs on the couch, spindly legs spasming and kicking the cushions, trying to win a race in their dreams.

But take them to a field and throw a ball and all of a sudden, they make perfect sense. They snap into shape and they're a miracle to see.

Greyhounds were born and bred to be moving at 45 miles an hour for 5 minutes a day. And believe it or not, all of that silliness and awkwardness is totally worth it to see them run. And better yet to see the smile on their panting face when they've been allowed to access their purpose.

It is a blessing to see an object at it's potential, even more so when it's a person. It's a rare treat. It's fleeting and momentary and, if you're in an auditorium, it's worthy of a standing ovation. It's also what Marshall Arisman did when he went back to his cows and his guns. He reached backward to find his potential. And he believes he was rewarded for it. Or at least, he was happier.

So what do you look like when you reach your potential? What funny angle or raked front end do you have that might rub people the wrong way until it's bent to purpose? Maybe some personality quirk or interest that is unique to you.

I'm thinking the best thing to do is find it and use it to be your perfect shape.

Then, in your perfect shape, MOVE.

Images: 1. Marshall Arisman 2: The ME-262 3. My dad on his knucklehead (happy father's day!) 4. Beauxregard winning a dream race. 5: A page of planes sketches.

Bonus analogy! This paragraph was cut from the essay above in the interest of brevity. But my interest in dumb humor compels me to include it:

Greyhound are like Transformers: they are a ridiculous shape when they're standing. Too many angles and wheels on their shoulders and boxes and little pistons all over. But, be lucky enough to see one of those guys turn into a speedboat and holy mackerel. NOW that windshield-chest-plate makes sense!