2018: Pushing the Envelope

Much has been said and even more has been written about the “bulletproof” mindset of an eighteen-year old. Granted, there are variations in terminology ranging from “Hey y’all – look at this!” to the more basic “Hold my beer”, but ultimately it can all be traced back to the “It-can’t-happen-to-me” mindset that gives us fighter pilots and cage fighters.

I wish I could say age eventually corrects such dysfunctional thinking but even in my crippled state my inner paratrooper lurks, though at sixty-five living on the edge is more likely to involved hooking one too many plastic grocery bags through my fingers than flying through thunderstorm cells or diving without calculating decompression times before hand. Pushing the envelope usually involves handling actual envelopes while paying  bills rather than test pilots consulting performance charts and the limits indicted by lines on graphs (which is where the expression came from!)

In my case there is one situation when my ego has most definitely been checked at the door : when I first get up – or more precisely try to get up in the morning .  Morning is not my friend and when I first stir in the morning there is a fair amount of weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth and crying-like-a-hungry-puppy coming from the general direction of my over-sized papa-bear chair.

(I started to write “crying like a little girl” but that would be unfair as I wasn’t even close to being as stoic as a little girl would have been)

I keep telling myself that I can still win, that pushups and miles will defeat the disease-dragons I fight each day, but to be coldly honest there is a day coming when I won’t be able to ignore the pain and stand up.

A day coming when I won’t be able to take that next breath.

…but until that day arrives I will keep adding plastic bags to my grip on grocery day.

 

James Albert Smith (1933-2018)

Like so many other rites of passage, the whole idea of “talking trash” to peers didn’t occur to me until fifth grade at Woodland Park Elementary School, located in the wilds of deepest, darkest Spenard (Alaska). Central to the art of verbal dueling was developing a good defense, even if it was something as simple as “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me!”, when you were receiving fire, as in  “You were such an ugly baby your mom fed you with a slingshot”. I figured that the anxiety brought on by “words” would ease off as I got older but unfortunately there have always been statements that could definitely shake me up:

  1. “Surface winds on the DZ have dropped momentarily to light and variable.”
  2. I’m sure it’s just a mole.”
  3. “We have some questions about some of the deductions on your Schedule C.”
  4. “I’m going to raise my sons the same way I’ve watched you raise yours.”

That last comment was the most worrisome, and when my friend Delton spoke those words to me I slept poorly for a week, convinced that one or all of his boys would end up in an asylum or jail based on some faulty parenting technique he’d observed me practicing. I always wondered if Brother Smith’s chuckle-in-response was covering up a similar reaction when I made the same statement years ago.

That’s because no other man (including my own father) had as much influence on my growth as a parent as did James Albert Smith. He continued to laugh the idea off, maintaining that he’d never done anything that remarkable while raising his kids, but he never caught on to the fact that it wasn’t the things that he did, but the things that he didn’t do that made all the difference in the world.

He didn’t get a caribou

Growing up on the Kenai Peninsula I was surrounded by hard men – carpenters, mechanics, roustabouts and commercial fisherman who were veterans of World War 2 or the Korean conflict. A moose hunt  with them was more like combat reconnaissance patrol than a hunting trip. I couldn’t help but inwardly smirk as I watched Jim casually load up his boys on a fall morning in 1971, one rifle for the three of them and all of them in street shoes, however as I listened to them interact upon their return later that day I realized that the trip had less to do with steaks and more to do with forging bonds between a father and his sons, that he was spending more time teaching than hunting.

He couldn’t grow corn.

I witnessed Jim’s efforts at vegetable gardening over the course of three summers and it never ceased to amaze me that corn stalks always took up a  fair amount of space in his plot. It didn’t seem to matter that the growing season is too short, the soil too wet and daytime temperatures don’t stay warm enough for corn to thrive. It wasn’t until that third summer that I finally tumbled to the fact that his attempts had less to do with having fresh corn-on-the-cob for dinner and more to do with giving a little bit of Davis County ambiance to help his homesick sweetheart cope with the cold and dark  winters so far away from home.

He didn’t kick my fourth-point-of-contact

I have it on good authority that I can be somewhat of a dumb-a** at times, and I was in that mode of thinking when I once caused a great deal of distress for one of his children. At the time I was literally living on the other side of the continent and figured I was home free from any sort of parental retribution. I wasn’t prepared for the flinty stare he met me with when we finally did meet up in person two months later, a flinty stare which lasted all of twelve seconds before he broke into his trademark grin, slapped me on the shoulder and started quizzing me about “those fancy new graphic design classes you’ve been taking”.

It was truly amazing watching him in parental mode.  My own parents were firm believers in the percussive discipline school of child rearing and while my presence no doubt had a tempering effect on his conduct I was always impressed with the positive, low key manner with which he  counseled and corrected his kids…and when I told him that I was trying to adapt those traits into my own parenting style he just brushed off the statement and changed the topic of conversation to a short story he was working on.1

Despite time and distance the warmth never wavered – he was the only person I’ve ever known who had a grin that could be heard on the phone.  He was always interested in what I did, though to the very end he kept urging me to switch from design to copywriting2.  When I recently shared with him an illustration I created for The Friend his reaction was to tell me that my work was the best part of the magazine, a comment that meant more to me than all the other certificates and ribbons I’ve been awarded in my entire career.

I just hope when this life is over he’ll say the same thing about my parenting skills.

___________________________________________________________________________

Notes

  1. The plot involved father and son cobbling together a hovercraft out of the wreckage of a plane they’d crashed in.
  2. Writers ae usually paid better and are selected more often as supervisors

What I Look Like Now…updated

DRD2018

Taken earlier in the year. It’s amazing the way a person’s appearance can change with age – I remember watching a J. Edgar Hoover biopic miniseries years ago and taking issue with the way they used two different actors to portray him at different stages of life. Now I see current photos of friends from long ago and some of them don’t even look like the same person.

It’s hard to look at my own image and be subjective enough to make a determination. There have been some definite changes:

  • I’m a bit better-padded a lot more padded now.
  • My hairline has receded a bit
  • I finally got my front teeth fixed
  • I have that  big-a** scar to the left of my nose, a legacy of basal cell carcinoma

Things that are the same

  • My squint
  • My smile
  • I started going grey in my twenties so hair color can be a constant
  • …and while we’re talking about hair – it  could still scare a comb to death

Title Page: “Dog King John and The Stolen Syrup

2018-08-01 DJKSS CoverTitlePage

Title page for the aforementioned book I’m writing for my grandchildren. As you can see here and in other images from the book the linework and type are not perfect – and there’s a reason for that. I’m producing this in the “old-school” manner much like we did forty years ago. I’m using my computer strictly as a stat camera/typositor – all the drawings are done with pencil, pen and template as is the line work and graphic devices. I’m placing the type by hand and designing “by eye”.

You’ll also occasionally see stray construction lines that I’ve left in.

Some people dress in period costume and live in restored villages as a means of “living history”. This project it my way of doing so as well.

2018 Stargirl (color version)

2018-09-02 StargirlColorI was surprised to find that I posted the original B/W version of this image in mid-2016. I apologize – my goal was to follow up with color versions as soon as possible. Twenty-eight months does not fall  into the ASAP category.

I’ve been schooled in this subject quite often as of late: setting realistic goals. I thought I was doing better  but as I was limping back to the car after a marathon copy session at Office Max I had to admit that there is still room for improvement. As I said the other day, no matter how many push-ups I try to do, no matter how far I try to walk at the end of the day I am still 65 – and a disabled 65 at that.

I also makes me thankful that we live where we do. The hurricane is a day’s drive to the east of us but the fluctuating barometric pressure still takes a toll on my arthritic joints.

I’d rather not think about how miserable I’d be right now if we lived along I-95 instead of I-24.

2018: Monday Morning Mystery

Two of my favorite television programs are NBC’s mid-1970s Ellery Queen series starring Jim Hutton and BBC’s Poirot starring David Suchet. While they vary in tone a bit they are both mystery shows that hold the solution to the very end of the program and presented when all of the suspects have been gathered together. It’s fascinating to see these two characters  combine attention to detail, careful observation, and logical thinking to solve very baffling mysteries.  I’d like to think that I’d do likewise in their place…and I had an just such an opportunity to do so today.

Lack of air-conditioning means that I spend little time in my shop during the summer months, my time out there consisting of quick trips to do the laundry or fetch a tool. It was while I was doing the latter this morning that I was met with my own mystery. In line with my borderline OCD I keep my work area neat and my tools carefully stowed (though I  have not gone so far as to draw silhouettes in each tool’s specific spot). That’s why I was dismayed to see my primary work bench totally cluttered and both tools and hardware scattered on adjacent work spaces as well. While it’s true that my warm-weather speed-runs to the shop can result in a little clutter, it’s never in the chaotic state I found it today.

A bit mystified, I started putting tools up, then I stopped, looked again and solved the mystery – and the solution can be found in this photo:

shop after Jayden

2018: Studio Deitrick

Due to a very fundamental misunderstanding with Dad we spent most of the summer of 1987 without a studio. “Useful studio space” was one of the deal-breaker conditions  to be met before we assumed house-sitting duties while my folks served a mission in Nova Scotia, but evidently there was a generation gap in the definition of the word “useful” and we were left to work out of an unfinished/unheated garage. Nevertheless I had clients to service, so after squeezing my drawing table into my old loft bedroom, I divided my long Alaskan days between marker renderings and carpentry, taking care of both my clients and construction chores.

It was a happy day in mid-August when Lori and I nailed the final bit of trim, hung the last of the curtains in the windows, and had an impromptu party sipping New York Seltzer, eating poppy-seed muffins from the Soldotna Safeway and listening to the Peter Gabriel blockbuster album SO.  I was feeling great relief at having the wherewithal to go into full production, but there seemed to be another intangible presence dancing along with us to “Your Eyes”.

For the preceding three months it felt like a member of our family was missing, and it was only after three sets of verbal volleyball that we figured out  what had been missing:  Studio Deitrick.  The studio had become a part of our lives in the same way writers described the Starship Enterprise as being as much a character as Kirk, Scotty or Uhura in Classic Star Trek.   For years most of our life revolved around that particular kitchen of the mind – no matter what else was happening, we all eventually congregated in the studio. In addition to serving as delivery room to countless works of art, our children grew up in our studios, we entertained in them, and all my prep time for thirty years of college teaching happened in Studio Deitrick.

…but then something happened in the early summer of 2015 and Studio Deitrick went away. Even though the house we bought had a very similar floor plan to our previous rental, there was no room for a studio as such and I was left to cram what I could into an extension off the back of the kitchen…and when I was done  nothing clicked. Oh, I got the room into a semblance of order but there was no magic and it remained nothing more than a converted breakfast nook …and the three years I spent in there were the three least productive years of my life.

It was only after we started making changes when I lost my contract with Nashville State that the Studio came back into existence. As we sat in the sitting room that we’d organized from the old studio space it just felt capital-letter R Right. When we trudged up to the new studio in the old bonus room it felt capital-letter/bold, underscore/Italic R “right” – the strongest impression of “rightness” any of our studios have felt since leaving Sterling in 1989.

That extra member of our family has come home.

It still has that vibe now. No doubt the resemblance to my loft bedroom back on the ranch has a lot to do with the feeling, but even on the worst days when that flight of stairs seems a thousand feet long, I continue to feel a calmness of certainty when I sit down at my desk.

Does that mean that our troubles are over and all of our challenges are being solved?

No…but for the first time in years I feel hope.

New Studio

new studio

This is the new studio – I’m in the process of getting a short video clip that will give you the full 360 degree treatment. Moving up here was one of the best decisions I’ve made in recent years. More light, more space – I guess it’s some sort of graphic design feng shui.

…or maybe it’s just nostalgia. While limited in scope the photo below should give you a good idea of what my attic loft looked like all those years ago.

DaveAtEighteen

2018: Third Parent

Ranch2003Dad

It was a buzz-word as common to the 1970’s as paradigm was to the 1980s. Gestalt – it’s a German word that first became popular in the 1890s Berlin throughout medical circles. It refers to the idea that something can be more than just a sum of its parts. It’s used mostly in psychology, but I have found the concept to be true in other aspects of life:

  • In Sports when members of a team collectively accomplish much more than they could separately.
  • In Art when mixing several colors can make a painting more effective than just black & white.
  • …and in residential architecture when a home becomes more than a collection of rooms.

I grew up in a Gestalt home.

The house we moved to in August of 1964 was definitely a whole comprised of many parts. It started out as a three-room cabin built in the late 1950’s by the original homesteader Jim Hovis.  Family growth required a largish addition to the front of the original three-room cabin followed soon after by a row of three bedrooms built on the north side of the house. When a double garage was built on to the south end of the house, clapboard siding was added to the home’s exterior giving the place a unified, almost gentrified appearance. For a time it was the showcase home of the whole Sterling area – while everyone else was living in log cabins, Quonset huts or trailers the Hovis place looked like it had been scooped up from a neighborhood in the middle of Anchorage and dropped down along the east end of Scout Lake Loop.

We had no idea of the building’s history when we moved into the place at the end of the summer of 1964 because we had more pressing matters on our mind:

  • My older sister and I were very unhappy about the move to the Peninsula and were convinced bears would soon eat us.
  • The previous renters had completely trashed the place and it took our whole family six months of steady work to get the place into shape

On the other hand Dad was pretty happy about getting the place for a low price and comfortable terms. Mrs. Hovis had become ill enough to require relocation to the lower 48 which meant that  Mr. Hovis had been a “motivated seller”.

We really didn’t understand the convoluted construction details until Dad and I started work on my attic loft bedroom and had to remove portions of two other roofs under the one that was seen from outside of the house. When plumbing problems took us into the crawlspace we found even more indicators of start-and-stop construction, most notably three different types of foundation.

It was just after that discovery that Dad finally concluded “in for a dime/in for a dollar” when it came to additions/modifications to the house. We finished my loft just before Christmas 1966 then in the fall of 1970 Dad and I started converting the inner portion of the double garages into additional living space. I don’t think there ever was a specific goal for the remodeling when we started, but by mid-1973 we had a cozy TV room just off the kitchen and another nicely finished space that alternately served as a bedroom and/or home office. Fourteen years later the remaining garage space was converted into a studio where I could continue my career as a freelance illustrator while my parents served as missionaries on Prince Edward Island. The last major change was a new garage on the south end of the house that my folks were able to add using the inheritance Mom received when her stepfather passed away in the mid-nineties.

….but in and around all of those physical changes other less tangible modifications were made to the home and surrounding pastures. During the next 50+ years three generations of Deitricks grew up, and all the love, hate, hope, tears, sickness and health involved in that process imbued the house and land with a benevolent spirit that would sometimes echo and other times mend what we were feeling at different times. The ranch became a haven and refuge and for me I knew that no matter how physically or emotionally damaged I may be, all I had to do was push my fingers down into the dirt to be cleansed from whatever ailed me.

Very soon all of that will end. Both my parents have passed on and circumstances are such that the property will be sold, and the home likely destroyed. Over the decades the quaint idiosyncrasies of a continually modified homestead cabin have become liabilities; shifting foundations, sagging rooflines and questionable wiring have transformed what was once a showcase home into an oddity.

British author Brian Aldiss wrote that the only unchanging aspect of life is that change happens. Children, grandchildren and great-grand-children will move on to find other places for imaginary adventures with Klingons, halflings and Cybermen and a new family will move in for their own story of a half-century. Life will go on, but for me there will always be a little bit of my heart missing. Even though it’s been fifteen years since I walked through that clunky, squeaking door I still miss it and mourn our Home’s eventually passing.

It’s like losing a third parent.

Ranch1976Al

 

 

2018: “…the number you are calling has been disconnected or no longer in service.”

(I try to keep to a schedule with this blog: new material is posted on Tuesdays, visual art is posted on Thursdays and re-runs show up on Saturday morning…which means something like this should be published on this next Tuesday the 19th. However, given the content of todays repeat it seemed more appropriate to run this today as well.)

This last week has been a little odd.

Granted, life is always a bit different when illness is involved – and I have definitely been sick for the last couple of weeks.  Three times a year I develop an upper respiratory infection with a cough that keeps me from both working and resting until the illness has run its course. I’ve had both the flu shot AND the pneumonia shot, and I am regularly dosed with antihistamines, antibiotics, steroids and vitamins, but in the end,  I have to just ride it out and cough until I don’t cough anymore.

Another pattern played out at the same time. Other than teaching at the college, going the church or visiting the firing range I spend a lot of time alone in my studio here at the house. While there are times I’ve had buddies that would regularly stop by and visit I am kind of  in a friend-famine right now so other than my Beautiful Saxon Princess I am on my own.

The situation makes me kind of sad,  but it does motivate me to reach out to others in the same situation, so I spent a lot of time this last week trying to get in touch with old friends. Most of my answers involved voice mail but this time I found another disturbing trend – more and more calls were met with “….the number you called has been discontinued or is no longer in service”. Granted with the constant battle between cell phone providers people tend to change numbers much more often than they change their underwear, but the sad truth was a lot of those people I tried to call are dead.

Dead. Four letters that just slap you in the face.

Even the most faithful will duck and dodge the topic of death  and I confess that quite often I energetically  shove it to the corner of mind…which is why it is very odd that in the last week I’ve inadvertently tried to call:

  • Bonnie Gamage
  • John Prowse
  • Sandy McDade
  • Janice Young
  • Bernie Koebbe
  • Richard Bird
  • ….and my mom

All of these people have passed one – some a number of years ago. When I first tumbled what I was doing I assumed that  senility had set in, but then the proverbial light-bulb flashed on above my head:

Several times in my life I’ve participated in programs that have a specified time span and a population that passes through in waves. In each instance, be it military duty, educational programs or missionary service I’ve encountered the same phenomenon:

  • Starting out I hardly knew a soul.
  • When I got to the middle  I could connect a name with a face to everyone in the group
  • As the end came near I was back knowing very few people.

It’s turned out to be true of life in general: As child my circle consisted of just family and a few friends but during mid-life at the peak of my career I met and interacted with (ultimately) thousands…but as I am entering my “senior phase” I’m back to a fairly small circle.

…a circle that is getting smaller with each day. I think that trend is part of the reason the eulogies/memorials I’ve written have had so many readers: it taps on basic – almost primal – emotion.  I’ve been blessed with some marvelous experiences in life and I’ve done just about everything except get rich, preferring to count my riches in terms of friends rather than dollars. When I write these memorial pieces  I’m not just observing a passing – I’m mourning the loss of my true wealth.