Our drive to Seattle was filled with ideas and inspiration. We tossed around ways of helping, inspiring, and simply brightening others’ days -- all with the hopes of doing “something big” in the The Emerald City. In our travels we’ve been put in our place more than once by planning events that the world tends to take care of itself. Oftentimes, when we set out with one idea in mind, we soon realize that’s not what the world has in store for us, and instead we are met by what is truly supposed to happen. Seattle was no different.
After much discussion about things we could do around town, we decided to head out on the city and make things happen. Our first stop was a taco truck in the Ballard district. Shortly after ordering we were approached by a man wearing a black tank top and sunglasses. Through a torn look on his face he asked, “Do you guys happen to have even a little change to spare?” We didn’t offer change, but asked if he would like something to eat as we sat eating at our table. “Well, I wouldn’t turn it down,” he replied.
We waited for his food and introduced ourselves to the lean, tank-topped man named Ray. For his age, his body looked youthful and full of life, but his face and hands told stories without needing to speak. His arm was canvas to a tattoo faded by the rays of time. He wore a black bandana around his neck and carried a backpack, which he sat on the table as he joined us. Ray halfheartedly mentioned some artwork he was trying to sell, “You know, just some stuff I do.” To our surprise, Ray pulled out some cards he’d begun but were still incomplete. Our jaws dropped.
For a second, we could hardly believe Ray’s weathered hands had created such beautiful drawings. Primarily black pen drawings, they expressed an artistic ability very few possess. We flipped through his unfinished work in awe. Immediately we pulled out two and committed ourselves to buying them at any price. “You want that one?” Ray asked. “It’s not quite done, but I can finish it for you.” As we sat, Ray drew. But more importantly, Ray talked. The fact of the matter was that Ray himself wasn’t quite done being Ray. Much like his drawings, he still had so much to finish. And so much to say.
It’s incredible the details people can feel comfortable sharing if just given the platform. And the time. We heard about the love of Ray’s life, his younger years, life on the street, and his thoughts on a world that tends to ignore “people like me.” He’d battled drugs and moved on. He’d made mistakes, but kept his eyes forward. On this day, his eyes had fallen just a bit -- somewhat dejected. Ray described the challenges of communicating with a world that would so often rather turn their heads. We felt enlightened by each word. As he spoke, he welcomed us into a world that roller-coastered between hope and doubt, love and hate, and community and isolation.
“Nobody wants to talk to you, you know? They just look away thinking, ‘Oh, he’s a thief, drug addict, dangerous.’ And I honestly don’t know how they can say that. I’m just out here trying to make it like anyone else. But people don’t get how difficult it is with so many people against you.” Ray’s words sounded like a plea to those who passed him off as less than the rest. He had a way with his words. He was bright. Determined. Respectful. “The simple things can be hardest to get. People will buy you beer or food, but they won’t give you money. I mean, I just want a shave. You know? I just want a razor so I can shave. I want some pens. I mean, look at these.” He demonstrated how the tips could gob up with ink and smear his work.
Ray continued to draw, pulling out a portfolio of pens, some with business names and logos -- promotional pens many of us toss without thinking. He chose carefully and tested colors on a separate paper. It was apparent: Ray wasn’t about to send an imperfect ambassador of his talents into the world. His natural pen strokes spoke to his abilities as a true artist. Finished with the black strokes, he shaded the drawing of a woman’s face with highlights of pinks and purples. It was nearly impossible to look away, watching a man so gifted in his craft. Ray wrapped up the drawings with some final flicks of his pen and a signature: Floyd Raven. “It’s how I sign my art. My name is Ray, but my close friends call me Floyd. You can call me Floyd.”
Pulling his head back, he eyed the finished piece and settled in his own satisfaction as he held it up to show. “It’s beautiful,” Nate said with a smile. “She’s beautiful.” Shane picked up another card, half-finished. While Ray had completed the outlines of the second half, a nearly perfect invisible line went straight down the center of a figure that resembled Mother Mary. One side of the drawing was beautifully shaded and complete. The other was only outlines -- the centers filled white, an open canvas. Ray was reluctant to sell a piece that was obviously unfinished. He did, however, concede. He liked that it was only half-finished -- perhaps symbolic of how he saw himself, an unfinished outline in need of a helping hand.
We asked how much time Ray had put into the drawing he had finished in front of us. He took a second to calculate and spoke, “Probably about three hours.” “Well, how does $20 an hour sound? Is that fair?” Nate asked. A little surprised, Ray agreed, telling us it was more than he had expected. “Are you sure?” he asked. Shane opened his own wallet and handed Ray a $20 bill for each hour he had spent on the second drawing. We could see Ray’s emotion. “Seriously, you guys. I was just walking around today feeling like I just needed that break, you know? I just wasn’t feeling this city, these people. It’s just been really rough lately. This will really help.”
We had one more proposal for the man we had come to thoroughly enjoy. After all, we’d been sitting together for around an hour and a half talking and watching him draw. Looking Ray in the eye, Nate asked if he’d welcome walking with us to the Walgreen’s across the street to pick up a razor and some new pens. “Are you sure? I mean, really guys, this will more than cover it.” he said holding up the cash he’d earned from his art. Still chatting, we accompanied him to the store. Ray picked out socks, a razor, new pens, Gatorade, and an emery board -- the simple things he’d gone too long without.
As we walked out with Ray, we couldn’t help but think… Just maybe this was a much-needed start to shading his second half.
How will you shade your second half? #ProjectWildness
To Chloe R… You became a part of Project Wildness in a way that we will never forget. Not only did you give to the idea from the start, but you hopped on board to travel with us! Together, the three of us shared some of the most beautiful parts of the country in painted sunsets, mountain top vistas, and stories of strangers that will stick with us forever. Floyd Raven was you in a way -- looking to shade his second half with the best. You possess an artistic ability that leaves most feeling jealous! Your photos tell stories so effortlessly, and your writing flows so naturally. You’ve been such a wonderful part of this project, and thanks for everything you’ve been for us and those around you. You’re great.
To Dick and Mary S… When I was a child, I remember time spent at your place on Woodland Drive. Oddly enough, I also remember the beautiful drawings of Native Americans that hung in the stairway. I was always impressed by those, even as a young child who couldn’t grasp their complexities. For some reason, the drawings Ray/Floyd did reminded me of those that hung in your stairs for years. You’ve always showed an appreciation for the arts and given of yourselves to those around you. Whether those people were family, friends, or the people you served in your work, you did so whole heartedly and without expectation. You and your family have been role models to me over the years in so many ways. I am lucky to have you in my life, and Project Wildness is lucky to have you on board. Thanks for all that you do!
To Loretta and Orrine… What more needs to be said about selflessness and humility than simply your names? There’s so much truth in that that you gave to this project without drawing any attention to yourselves or even who gave what! Your entire lives have been dedicated to service. You’ve served so many in the community and our families without ever expecting anything in return. You simply do good for others because it’s what should be done. In exactly that way you supported this idea. I’ll forever admire both of you for your positive attitudes and dedication to service. Thanks for being a part of my life, and thanks for being a part of Project Wildness!
To Dan and Jessi… The artist in both of you would have been so incredibly impressed by not only Ray’s drawings but by his story as well. What you gave helped him buy new pens to continue a craft he so clearly has a passion for. You supported an amazing man with dreams of having his own place and special people by his side. So admirably, the two of you are lucky enough to say you have this. But even more, you know when to share what you have with others. You made a man’s day. And who knows, maybe you made a difference in his life that will continue for years to come!