kenton is so colorful, he can afford to wear a little black

Posted on Monday, July 9, 2012

Though dressed in black from hat to boot, Kenton is anything but dark.  His smile is bright, his energy infectiously refreshing.  There are not many moments I don’t see him either laughing or making others laugh.  I ask this rowdy prisoner why and how he is constantly content.  He confesses, “I get such a high on making people happy.”  It’s that simple.

While smiles can range from extremely wide to a slight grin, Kenton averages a healthy expression.  Just like us all, he’s had his share of bad days, from a spill on his bike to unwanted endings to intimate relationships, but the difference with Kenton is his optimistic attitude.  If we all experience darkness, why is it that some of us come out and others stay trapped?   Kenton is youthful, but speaks with confidence and wisdom –


 Bad times never last.  Unless you really love them, they don’t stick around.


In full agreement, I think of my favorite mantra: “This too shall pass.”  I think more about impermanence.  Sure moments come and go, but can we ever escape ourselves?  Kenton recognizes the power of the self and the influence it holds.  Instead of blaming sadness on tough situations or feeling like a victim, he mentions the power within in a simple and honest way. You get tired of having a messy apartment, you clean it up.  Once it gets to the point of being too bad, you find a way.  No matter how bad.  Action comes from within.  Movement comes from no longer allowing ourselves to sit in the dirty apartment, the unhappy circumstance.  Time and desire push us to our best selves.

We sit in a garden surrounded by bright roses and native California flora.  Kenton stares at the blossoms and compares them to humans.  “The sad ones die and wilt and the happy ones sit and enjoy the sun.”  He has a point.  Let us be like flowers – simple and radiant, making others happy just by our existence.  I think to myself, I want to be a sunflower, raising my head to the light.  I want to be a daffodil, bowing in humility.  I want to be a rose – still and beautiful.  And I wonder, what kind of flower Kenton would want to be?

Part of Kenton’s happiness comes from doing something each day that makes him happy.  He says it can be a few minutes sipping a favorite cup of coffee or, on some days, spending hours writing and recording a new song.  Creativity and self-expression drive his happiness, fueling him and those around him.  His San Francisco apartment is filled with spray-paint constellation art, a rare coin collection and a modest but impressive collection of first edition, first printing books with authors like Dave Eggers, Richard Parker and his recent love, Jack Kerouac.  His coffee table holds a keyboard; a guitar rests against a chair.  As a musician in the band Hoxton Mob, I ask Kenton why music is so important in his life.   “I used to have an ego about it, like being a vegetarian, an atheist, a non-conformist.  I almost don’t want to have that title.  I just love music.”  He comes back to his admirable and honest driving force, “I like making people happy – it’s not about getting my name out there.  It’s not about the selfish, egotistical crap.”  I nod in full understanding of the intention to create from passion rather than with an alternative motive.  Lead with the heart.  Lead with love.  Surprise yourself by the way people are affected.  In fact, Kenton, who proudly wrote and created a full holiday album talks about the joy of making the album and says,

 I like to blow my own mind.

 How would our music sound if we didn’t care what others heard?  What could our writing teach if the thought of other’s opinions were not a factor?  What would the world look like if we all set out to blow our own minds instead of trying to impress others?  If we start by making ourselves happy, think of the happiness we can extend to others.

It’s official – Kenton’s positivity has seeped in deep, very deep.  I’m inspired by his words, “If people were as overwhelmed with happy things as they were with bad things life would be a great place.”  In this moment, am overwhelmingly happy – and I remember that this too shall pass.  I notice the sun beginning to tire and know that our conversation will soon end.  Before we say our goodbyes, I ask this rowdy prisoner, who admits he still has a lot to learn, what one thing he would teach others?  Kenton gazes off for a moment, recalling the mantra he used to hear before getting off the phone with his father.  He smiles wide and says, “Keep smiling.”


feature image, Through Low Clouds, provided by Thomas Nelford


  1. In your bouquet of writing, this one is eye-catching, strong and yet gentle. Beautiful piece!! It does what good writing should…brought a smile to my face, conjured up a vision in my mind’s eye, and prodded me to dwell on the person, the piece and the moment. Lovely.

  2. I agree totally, it is hard to catch Kenton having a bad day, even when he gets his car towed!

  3. Sheryl, thank you for your words. I am glad this piece touched you. I continue to be amazed at the inspiration I feel with everyone I know, meet and am lucky enough to write about.

  4. Very true, Clara. And it’s a rarity to be lucky enough to know someone so optimistic.

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