“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear… I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”
- Henry David Thoreau
It’s mid-day and the sun has been playing hide and seek with us for most of the morning trying to make up its mind as to which side of the bed it woke up on. We’re getting an odd mixture of both at the moment as I find myself in the middle of a sunshower. I sling my bag up over my shoulder and make my way up a soft curving, slightly inclining, one of a kind, two-block stretch of road. This corridor, banked by spanish revival architecture, original stucco and tile-roofed buildings sweeps upward like a broad stroke on a blank canvas. The Paseo has been making its similarly definitive and lasting mark on this town for nearly a century now.
The historical backdrop adds a renewed element of mystique and intrigue to a place I’ve frequented countless times before. There’s something pilgrimage-like about my trip there that day. While The Paseo has always played a prominent role in the life of our community, it has never done so in a mainstream sort of way, nor influenced from a place of power and prestige. It has done so in a much more subversive fashion, as the arts tend to do, effecting the center from the margins, which are where most, if not all true movements occur.
The arts spark change and fuel forward progress in society and culture making bold claims that challenge widely accepted norms and values, fight injustice and stand in opposition to dehumanizing ways of life; the arts initiate conversation and provoke civil public discourse, demand reflection and response, even stopping us in our tracks and shutting our ever-spouting mouths when we should be still and listening instead.
The role of artists in our community are of a prophetic nature. They paint a picture of the world as it really is, not in some fanciful wishful thinking sort of way, but in the most brutally honest way possible, and then, then they paint a picture of the world as it could and should be and call our attention to the difference. Art leads us to hang our heads lamenting all that has gone woefully wrong with our world in one moment and throw-up our hands in ecstatic celebration of all that is good, true, and right in the next.
History tends to portray artist as these well-respected, sanitized and whitewashed, untouchable highbrow elites, but in reality they are an unusually normal, gritty, raw and wild, defy-the-status-quo bunch whose work disturbs and comforts, dismantles and puts back together again. They walk the tension filled line of critique and creation. Working against the world, in some respect, for the sake of the world.
The countercultural and culture creating movements that have come and gone through The Paseo over the years live on; they breathe deep and beat like a drum; heard quietly booming in and through the likes of Dustin & Laura Oswald from their modern day grotto: Bombs Away Art.
Dustin & Laura are a well-suited and complimentary couple; high school sweethearts who would eventually find their way back to each other; a great pair and even better team. They grew up in the same small town of Apache, OK “running creeks” as they say, speaking of their Huck Finn-like childhood with such fondness.
Life in a rural country setting evoked Dustin’s imagination from a young age. There’s something about the look in his eyes as he describes his playful existence that suggests while running wild and free through a wide open field of head high wheat or swinging fearlessly from limb to limb in a densely wooded stretch somewhere along a creek bank beyond the back forty that he just might have met his muse for the first time. And in that moment, she returned the favor by introducing him to his own true self. “When inspiration touches talent,” says the master of storytelling Robert McKee, “she gives birth to truth and beauty” and an artist is born.
To be sure, Dustin’s calling is that of an artist, which in his own words means to “illustrate ideas.” I couldn’t help but think of those nonconformist movements of old when I read “Bombs Away Art is rooted in punk rock and the DIY attitude and believes in the sacrament and respect of living beings and of being human. It was conceived through observation of violence and the fragility of life and embraces the philosophy of engaging every moment of living without dead time.”
“We are on the frontlines right now....It’s a fight against narrow close mindedness.”
Dustin, dressed in all black from head to toe which appears to be more of a uniform than a fashion statement and covered in tattoos that I’m certain are chalked full of significance and story, leans forward in his chair ever-so-slightly and with a hushed intensity says, “We are on the frontlines right now.” I asked, what’s the war? “It’s a fight against narrow close mindedness.”
And in that moment I fully understand Stephen Pressfield’s words for they are being embodied right before me: “The warrior and the artist live by the same code.”
“For our City to flourish, everyone must be welcome. Everyone gets to be who they want to be. Yes, the urban core is inclusive, but it’s surrounded by resistance to those ideals.”
Laura chimes in, “For our City to flourish, everyone must be welcome. Everyone gets to be who they want to be. Yes, the urban core is inclusive, but it’s surrounded by resistance to those ideals.”
The “frontline” for her, in this season of raising children, Oliver who is eleven and Sidni who’s eight, begins and ends at their local public school: Cleveland Elementary. Here she humbly shows up day in and day out to help carry the load alongside of teachers who are in her estimation “overworked and underpaid.” Her passion noticeably peaks as she speaks to these concerns. While there is no visible reward for her labor, you can feel the immense gratification she takes in the manner in which she is spending her days and investing her life.
Laura is the oldest of six kids which speaks to and explains that rocksteady demeanor and sense of responsibility she has about her. It’s not cold or rigid nor stuffy or legalistic in the least, instead there's a warm and trustworthy, free flowing and grace-filled security found in her very presence. Motherly through and through. Her maternal instincts are apparent and natural; skills, I imagine, she gleaned and learned firsthand from her very own.
Laura still maintains that slow paced and rhythmic lifestyle that her childhood afforded. There’s nothing rushed or hurried about her. She knows what the rivers know, that we will get there someday. The kind of person who is sympathetic to be sure, but not quite sure what the rest of us are so anxious and uptight about. She is one of the most genuinely content people I've encountered in some time, which is her own measure of a meaningful life.
She’s “present and paying attention,” a phrase the couple repeat often as a bit of a mantra; present and paying attention to the beauty in seemingly small moments. She’s learned to be essential without being overly simple. For to portray life as simple might just be a little (or a lot) dishonest. Because as we all know too well, that life, real life that is, is anything but simple. It’s layered with complexity and nuance, damn near void of black and white certainties but certainly full of a helluva lot of grey, and riddled with a kind of tension that will pull you apart at the seams if you insist upon attempting to wrestle it to a point of resolve.
There’s not an ounce of existential angst within her. While she claims that she’s not always on this unending search for the deep and transcendent, but it would appear to me that the deep and transcendent seem to be on the search for her. A.A. Milne, in “The House At Pooh Corner” calls them hums: that ever-illusive and intangible part of life that we are all attempting to put our fingers on the pulse of. “Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is go where they can find you.”
These hums can be heard up and down the halls and in and out of the rooms of their home in the Cleveland Neighborhood where they've lived for the past six years or so. “I love our house,” beams Laura. “It’s just the right size with a big beautiful backyard. We remodeled it over the course of a year and it is definitely our home, not a cheap ripoff or emulation of something we’ve seen someplace else. It’s ours and it’s us; full of art and funky wallpaper. Cleveland is a good and natural place for us to neighbor. It continues to change: full of young families, playing kids, walking dogs. In the midst of the busyness of the city it’s our little enclave.”
“Over the process of two years we relocated the entirety of our lives to the urban core.”
Their journey is similar to that of many other urban dwellers: “For us, life began to increasingly take place in the city. We were living in a far NW Suburb,” Laura said with a bit of disgust and disdain, not so much as a judgement statement of the suburban context in and of itself, but as a reflection of her state of being and the condition of their life at that time. “Over the process of two years we relocated the entirety of our lives to the urban core.”
There’s a recurring theme taking place here: men and women of all kinds, at all ages and in all stages of life turning and returning to the heart of the city in search of a more healthy and holistic way of life - one that is integrated not compartmentalized, aligned and not disjointed. We want to be the kind of people we’ve always dreamed of becoming, and we want a lifestyle and community of kindred spirits that support that pursuit.
While The Oswald’s vision of the world is large and lofty, there’s a smallness and narrowing of focus all the same, an “Essentialism” if you will. Perhaps it’s a straightforward as putting your priorities in place and then sticking with them. “Not everything is important,” asserts author Greg Mckeown, “life is not a set of equal activities.”
For Dustin, success entails “utilizing my full potential in every aspect of life: as a husband, father, artist, and creative. To be able to do that you have to be present and paying attention.” And there it is again, present and paying attention.
I often say to myself, “This is your life, don’t miss it.” Our life is going to be full of a lot less glamour than we might have hoped for. It’s going to be different than we might have ever guessed or imagined but exceedingly better. Different but better, different but better: Remember that and repeat it often. Your life will be counted a success, if and only if it is a success by your own standards. Anything else is an act of conformity. And nobody has time for that. ⊙
The rediscovered Cleveland Urban Conservation District is lined by beautiful Venice Blvd. The neighborhood is anchored by one of the hottest schools in OKCPS (Cleveland Elementary) and an amazing neighborhood association. The home’s styles vary from traditional Colonial Revival, American Prairie, Baja, and many others. Cleveland homes can typically be found listed for $100-400k.