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Death as a Means to an End

New York City performance art public art


Most people fear death, and rightly so! For—no matter what you believe—no one can be sure what awaits us beyond the beyond.

Of course very few of us think about death on a regular basis—that would just be morbid.

But we are constantly reminded of death. On a daily basis we hear of mass shootings, police shootings, bombings and other terrorist attacks around the world, and—if you live in a large city like I do—subway deaths and other freakish and fatal accidents.

Over time these events can build up a level of anxiety and dread about the world we live in, but for most of us, these events are something that happens to others—we are not directly affected by them, although we may sympathize with the victims and their families.

Death hits closer to home when it’s someone we’re familiar with. In the past year we have lost many talented individuals, some of whom I’ve been a fan of for over 30 years, such as David Bowie and Prince.

Even though I had never met them personally, they were such a huge part of me, my life, and my creativity that their losses were deeply felt.

Fortunately, I haven’t lost any family or friends recently, though some of you may have.

Just this past weekend my wife and I attended a brunch at a friend's place. As we arrived, I asked the hostess if there was any special occasion for the brunch. Her response was not at all what I had expected. One of her friends had "dropped dead" while at dinner with her husband. She had a massive heart attack where she started losing sensation in her hands, feet, chest, etc. They rushed her to the hospital, but, sadly, she was gone before they reached it.

This was a "wake up call" for my friend. She'd been planning on doing a brunch with her friends for a while, but kept putting it off. Until this tragic and unexpected heart attack. Her friend’s passing made her realize that if you want to do something, you don’t wait! You never know how long (or not) you have!

The point here in talking about death is that there is a power in reframing death. You have the power to change how you look at death, and use it for good.

I often use this idea of reframing negative thoughts, ideas, or emotions, and art is one of the best ways to do so.

Last fall I decided to create a public performance piece called WakeUp2015 on my birthday. The idea was to walk solemnly in procession along the High Line park in New York City while thinking about someone you’ve lost in your life, and what that person would want for you in your life.

This process has a way of taking the fear out of the everyday things which hold you back, and giving you a new perspective on what you should be doing with your life. Alain de Botton, the British philosopher, recently made a great video with similar conclusions.

After last year’s event, several people shared with me how this was the first time in a long time that they had had the time to just relax and think. They were able to achieve clarity about their life and the path they were on.

It was after these discussions that I realized that WakeUp needed to be a recurring event, so I could potentially reach and help more people find clarity in their life.

Join me for WakeUp2016. You can learn more about what’s involved, and sign up to receive email updates on the website.

If you know someone who would be interested in taking part in this event, be sure to share this blog post with them!


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