Kickstarter Update 9: Setting the Record Straight.

One of the best classes in my graduate school experience was a design class taught in the theater department. In that class I learned:

  • The importance of color and lighting in creating a mood
  • How costuming can aid immensely in establishing a character
  • The importance of conducting good research prior the actual design process

When designing for a historical production our instructor would insist on primary sources in our research – for example when designing for Edmund Rostand’s Cyrano d’Bergerac we were to find photos of drawings or paintings from the Baroque period rather than copying imagery from motion pictures. I thought it was an unnecessary step – until I actually compared pictures from the 17th century with 20th century designs and discovered multiple anachronisms and wide use of ahistorical color in the later work.

I’m finding a similar situation in the way people look back at the 1960s and 70s. In 2019 there are a lot less of us who actually lived through those times which leaves production of material about the era to much younger people who don’t always consult “primary sources”. The other day I viewed a YouTube presentation about “ten things people don’t know about the 1960s” and of the ten only three of the items were valid observations. I got the impression that the other seven “things” came after the writer spent an afternoon binge-watching Mad Men and it had me wondering if did something similar when looking back to the 1920s as a high school student.

That’s another reason why I wrote Midnight Son and its upcoming sequel. I’m doing my best to capture the essence of those times and pass the information on to younger generations who would otherwise assume that all men of that day overwhelmingly preferred Twiggy to Raquel Welch…which was definitely not the case.

The campaign is definitely starting to wind down and I want to thank you all for the tremendous support you’ve shown this past month. It’s made a lot of difference to me – as all of this has been going on I have also been dealing with a tear in the meniscus of my right knee and the hustle & bustle of the campaign has been very therapeutic for me.

Thanks again!

David

2019: Fractal-blessings

Even though it has been in use for over thirty years fractal is a word that remains a little ambiguous to me. Oh, I’ve read many definitions to include that by the Fractal Foundation1: A fractal is a never-ending pattern. Fractals are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales. They are created by repeating a simple process over and over in an ongoing feedback loop… Fractal patterns are extremely familiar, since nature is full of fractals: trees, rivers, coastlines, mountains, clouds, seashells, hurricanes, etc.”

 …all of which is incredibly informative but a bit unwieldy to use in composition or conversation so I tend to think of fractals as: lots of little bits that all look alike and are used to make larger things that look like the little bits. I also use fractal as a found word2 for descriptions that lack a more exact term, a situation that has come about since my mobility became limited and my pain level increased. I am very goal-oriented and tend to think of life in big-picture terms, but I have had to learn to set fractal-goals and recognize fractal blessings.

Where I used to meticulously map out each week in terms days filled with interlocking blocks of time filled with work or appointments I’m now happy to make it to the bathroom and back unaided. Where I used to take my comfortable home life for granted I am grateful for the individual efforts of each member of my family. Instead of just plopping into a chair I am grateful for that one perfect pillow that isn’t too soft or too firm. I read and reflect on each name/like under the FaceBook posts.

Instead of a general “it’s all good” I’ve become more aware of – and more thankful for – each good thing in my life no matter how small.

The fractal-goals and fractal blessings.

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Notes:

  1. A for-real  New Mexico-based non-profit organization advocating math and science education through the use of fractals.
  2. See 2019: Found Words

Keeping an Eye on Things

One of the scariest aspects of ankylosing spondylitis is the effect it can have on vision. It’s all tied in with way A/S can mess with your immune system but to be frank the technical details don’t interest me as much as the physical symptoms. No one likes to have their vision impaired but for a visual artist blindness = death. As best as I can tell Iritis is the worst case scenario and so far I’ve dodged that bullet, but general photophobia is also common, and anyone who has known me for long is familiar with my ever-present squint, as documented by every photo taken of me from infancy on.

Sunglasses have been a godsend to me and at 66 I am close to blind in the noon-day sun without them. Sadly enough vision problems impact on my production as well – while LCD screens don’t take the same toll on my eyes that cathode ray tube displays did,  I still have difficulty staring into a screen or working under a desk lamp for any length of time and sometimes that difficulty translates into a gap in posts for this blog.

…and yes, the title is a terrible, terrible pun.

2019: Found Words

Art Appreciation was the class I was least interested in teaching when I first took on college art instruction in the fall of 1988, but as luck would have it was the class I taught most often and eventually my favorite subject to teach. Looking back it should have been no surprise as the course combined two of my academic loves (history and art) but I also enjoyed it for all the new information I picked up on technique and philosophy.

One concept especially interesting to me was the use of found objects – everyday consumer goods, packaging and cast-off items – in work by creators such as proto-Pop artist Joseph C. Cornel. I adapted a modified version of this idea in my own work by recreating combinations of everyday objects from wood, paper and resin and the general idea continues in my work to this day, but since I am more prone now to word-crunching than paint-sloshing I look for found words instead of found objects to use in artistic expression.

Many of these found words I’ve borrowed from foreign languages. While my two sons have been blessed with the gift of tongues, my own foray into linguistics has been tentative at best. I started with German in fifth grade after listening to Wehrmacht troops growl their Teutonic lines on Combat!  and college entrance requirements herded me into Spanish and Spanish II classes in high school. In 1974 my pride earned me a borderline B- in a university Japanese class but for the most part my use of other languages was an occasional word or phrase that added emphasis or humor when needed.

As a teenager and young adult most of those individual words were swear words, and not surprisingly many of them were bogus words that someone had invented1 then passed off as part of another culture’s lexicon. However in the last few years through the debatable miracle of FaceBook I have learned a couple of colorful terms so useful that if not actually part of another language should be declared to be so.

One is kintsukuroi,  a Japanese term that translates as “to repair with gold” and refers to the art or repairing pottery with precious metals with the understanding that the piece is more beautiful for being broken and repaired.  Growing up on a frontier meant using things until they wore out and fixing them when they broke and that mindset has stayed with me throughout my life. When we were first married My Beautiful Saxon Princess could never understand why I prized my patched Levi 501’s over my $502 designer Hash jeans with the star embroidered on the butt pocket. It wasn’t until we went through lean times of our own that she began to understand the concept when she saw how I treasured the cut-off jeans I wore every summer in the late 1990s, shorts that I wore not for comfort but for economy  when I took the money I would have otherwise spent on new trousers and used it in getting our sons launched in life.

Hiraeth is a term I’ve just recently discovered and as I understand it comes from the Welsh or one of the other Celtic tongues. It refers to homesickness for a place that you cannot return to, a place that no longer exists or perhaps never was. As we cope with a heat wave that is excessive even for Tennessee while our current society  warps more and more into a condition that I struggle to understand, this word comes to mind quite often, and I long for a place and time that is much cooler in both temperature and temperament.

As for crapulent; yes it is an English word, but is has a Latin root so I include it with my list of found words. I first heard it years ago on a Simpsons episode and while technically it refers to physical suffering from excessive eating or drinking it’s much too useful in describing a general dissatisfaction with daily life – when I wake up to find the last bit of milk left for my Trix has gone sour, my shoelace breaks when tying my shoes and there is a tax audit notice in the mail nothing describes my situation better than to say I’m having a perfectly crapulent day.

Unfortunately one found word that I wish I could un-find is cultural appropriation, a term used in a pejorative manner when referring to the use of words of items normally associated with another group, as in “only a Japanese person should wear a kimono”  or “only a Native American should do voice-over work for an animated Comanche warrior.” While I understand the importance for respect for all cultures I came of an age when more effort was put into being inclusive  rather than divisive – if certain current social trends continue I wonder if there will come a day when I’m judged too melatonin-deficient to love old school R& B or in possession of one too many Y chromosomes to be a true Joni Mitchell fan.

Whatever.

Until that day comes I will continue to borrow and tailor words from all sources to better communicate with and sometimes bring a smile to those around me.

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Notes:

  1. When I was in fifth grade I was convinced that my sister Robin had invented the word “barf” while my best friend Mark was convinced his older brother had coined the word.

 

  1. …which was serious money in 1977

1977 / 2019 : Then And Now

MiltryBall77 sundayafternoon

In our never-ending war against clutter an occasional gem will float to the surface, as was the case last Sunday when I found a little black & white photo in a pile of papers I was sorting. It dates from March of 1977, it was taken at the BYU ROTC/AFROTC Military Ball, and was taken shortly before we got married. Despite the fuzzy focus it remains one of my favorite photos as perfectly captures not just our appearance but the essence of the moment.

…and even though more than 42 years have gone by the same can be said for the other photograph in today’s post , that “capture-the-moment” vibe is still there. It’s a different kind of moment now, but one that is just as precious to me.

2019: Whimpering

One of the most quoted lines from 20th century poetry comes from the final stanza of T.S. Eliot’s 1925 masterpiece “The Hollow Men”:

This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”

It’s been garbled, misappropriated and bent to numerous interpretations, but it has been on my mind the last couple of weeks. It’s difficult to resist thinking morbid thoughts as I head into the latter half of my sixties but it’s not just a matter of drawing nearer to the biblical “three-score and ten” that has me so pensive – as a thymus baby my crippled immune system runs with a twenty year handicap. Chronologically I am 66 but when I get sick I heal like an 86 year old.

…which is why I leapt at the chance to be inoculated with  an anti-pneumonia vaccine devised for people age 66 and older. With all the problems I have with upper respiratory infections I was happy enough to get the shot, that is until twenty four hours later when I started to run a fever and rapidly lose strength. By that evening I was weak, couldn’t lift myself from the bed and when I woke up the next day I managed to get to my papa-chair but was unable to dress myself for church. It wasn’t until that afternoon more than 48 hours after getting the injection  that I was able to function. As you would expect it was a scary experience, but what bothered me the most was not the fever or the weakness, but rather the fact that I really just didn’t give a damn.

I suspect it is due to fatigue more than just being ill. In the last six weeks I’ve been sidelined with illness four times and while my inner paratrooper balks at describing these bouts as being “seriously sick” the bronchitis I am currently battling has been the least troubling of the recent illnesses, and upper respiratory problems are usually the medical bogeyman for me. All of this has been happening with my chronic autoimmune issues as a backdrop and when combined with idiotic political and cultural quibbling that I can’t seem to escape I find myself totally overwhelmed.

It brings to mind an older gentleman named Clarence that I worked with during the summer of 1969.. He was a veteran of the Great War (World War I) and I was helping him finish display cabinets for the small museum where I was working via the Neighborhood Youth Corps. I was amazed at his skill and knowledge in woodwork but mystified when once or twice each session he’d simply say the word tired. He was evasive when I quizzed him on it but finally admitted it was a sort of mantra he would used when he felt overwhelmed by the world during his seventh decade. His life had spanned from “if man were meant to fly he’d have wings” to watching Neil Armstrong make that first step on the moon and often felt overwhelmed and tired from trying to cope with all the changes.

I now understand how Clarence feels – I am profoundly tired. I’ll bounce back but for now I just want to whimper.

2019: Becoming Pak

protector

Because it is usually displayed as a fairly small image most people don’t recognize my avatar as anything but some sort of alien, when in fact he is a Pak Protector. Pak Protectors are an invention of noted SF author Larry Niven and figure prominently in his Known Space cycle of stories. They are an old race from a world near the core of our galaxy, a world with high radiation levels and crowded conditions that brought on rapid and extensive evolution.

The Pak go through three stages in life with the first two analogous to human child and adult states,  but instead of expiring at our own  “three-score-and-ten” limit they go into a third phase of existence known as  the Protector stage, which is brought on after a breeder ingests a tuber called Tree-of-Life which a contains a virus that acts as an evolutionary trigger. Humanity is descended from a colony of Pak breeders stranded on Earth millennia ago when the Protectors that established the colony died when their Tree-of-Life crops failed. The original Pak Breeder population evolved into modern humans and all primates of our world would transform into the Protector stage if exposed to Tree-of-Life root.

The transformation produces  positive characteristic “improvements” that mirror the negative aspects of aging:

  • Skin thickens into a leathery armor-like covering
  • Teeth fail out and are replaced by a beak
  • Fingernails transform into retractable claws
  • Joints deform in a way that increases leverage available to muscles developing

All these changes make Protectors extremely efficient fighting machines, which is just as well as protection and survival of their family becomes their sole reason for living and their lives become one constant battle with other Protectors living on a crowded world with limited resources.

The most significant change is increased cranium size and brain mass which results in phenomenal increase in intelligence, which is why one of the first remarks a newly transformed Protectors is “I’ve been so stupid”…a sentiment I find myself expressing many times since passing age sixty. The experience surviving to your seventh decade alone imparts a lot of wisdom and if you’ve endeavored to learn from your mistakes you end with knowledge and judgement that would rival Mr. Niven’s creations.

There is a dilemma that comes with that knowledge: what do you do with it? In times past elders/seniors/geezers were accorded a measure of respect and their counsel was considered valuable. It sure doesn’t seem that way now though – most of the time people look at me and just see a member of the “fifty-five-to-dead” demographic with the more extreme voices advocating euthanasia or other marginally less drastic measures to reduce the cost of elder care on society as a whole.

I try not to think about the situation, in fact when my when my autoimmune issues started ramping up in the late 1990s and I was first diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis. I took a page from the handbook of an eleven-year-old coping with the idea of Santa Claus: I embraced the idea of “well, what if Tree-of-Life really did exist” and instead of chronic pain and limited movement looked forward to life as a totally bad-a** senior citizen,

…a feeling that lasted for maybe three minutes at most and I embraced those small Pak traits I did end up with, namely a fiercely protective and supportive love of for my children, grandchildren and eventually great-grandchildren… and a desire to use whatever insights gained from my “I’ve been so stupid” epiphany to help them find an easier road in Life than I walked.

 

 

 

…still a little shaken.

Thank you all for hanging in with me during this dry spell. It’s been difficult to find the motivation to do anything creative after taking not one but two tumbles down the stairs. I will be eternally grateful that bumps and bruises seem to be the worst of it all but to be  honest I am not nearly as brave as I was when I was younger so it’s taking me a little longer than expected to get back up to speed.

A Painful Lesson

Eight months ago I moved my studio from a shoebox sized sitting room off the kitchen to the much roomier bonus room on the second floor. There were several reasons for the move, not the least being the good vibes I get in sitting in a room resembling my attic loft back in Sterling. The move also forces me to negotiate a set of stairs at least four times a day, providing the exercise that is too easy for me to avoid given the chronic pain I deal with.

Sometimes the stairs provide more than exercise. When I went to visit the second-floor bathroom this afternoon I found that there was no tissue to be found anywhere, which prompted me to head downstairs for the hall bathroom. I had no sooner started down the steps when I slipped/tripped/mis-stepped which caused me to fall down the rest of the flight. As I was bouncing between the banister and the opposite wall I kept waiting for that avalanche of pain that accompanies a fracture but evidently judo and jump school taught me how to fall correctly and so far the only damage I’ve found is some pretty ugly bruises.

I’ve been murmuring continual quiet prayers to myself – this could have gone SO badly for me but so far the only damage is to Jaybug’ s eardrums when I set a record for consecutive “son of a bitch” utterances. The incident also taught me one very important lesson:

“Always keep the upstairs bathroom stocked with toilet paper!”

2019: A Fond Farewell for the NDB

Flight training entails the use of several items of clothing and equipment not normally issued to a young lieutenant, and while I readily understood the purpose of the SPH-4 aviators helmet1, and my flame retardant Nomex® flight clothing, other items like the E6-B flight computer2 baffled me. Fortunately I learned my very first day on the flight line that my single most important piece of equipment was my stick buddy – another student I was teamed up with. We sat in class together, studied for exams together, and when we transitioned to the UH-1 we flew together. We alternated between actually flying the aircraft and sitting in a jump seat just aft and between the student at the controls and the instructor pilot who was situated where he could observe. Then we’d swap places and learn from our mistakes.

I was fortunate to draw Scott the Former Cadet as my partner, and while as a rule he was a great guy to work with, there was one time when I questioned his sanity. I was at the controls, but out of the corner of my eye I could see his head slightly rocking, and I began to wonder if he had some sort of nervous tic brought on by the stress of flying. It turned out that he was in fact “rocking out”. Drawing on his background as an electronics maintenance officer he’d figured how to listen to music simulcast over an NDB at the same time he listened to the instructor pilot’s calm, thoughtful, and insightful commentary on my performance3 that day.

So what was an NDB? It was a “non-directional beacon”, an almost-gone old-tech radio aid that used outmoded technology differing a bit from other newer aids to aerial navigation. The NDB’s signal had no inherent locational information but in fact was the instrument flight version of a lighthouse giving a relative bearing to the transmitter with no reference to north or south. Finding your way with an NDB was a multi-step process: you had to find the transmitter’s location on a chart, and after some number crunching, figure out where you were and where you were going.

Recently the FAA announced plans to drop questions about non-directional beacons from the written exam for instrument flight certification, a move that bothered me because as outmoded as they are these NDBs had their benefits. For example in one flying area where I logged a lot of hours the terrain was such that the newer and more sophisticated beacons were less reliable than the older versions. NDBs also had a longer range at lower altitudes and as a bonus could give notice of unknown thunderstorms when electricity released by lightening would “crackle” on their less distinct signal.

For most of my life I’ve had a circle of friends that functioned much like a system of NDBs, a group of people with a wide range of age, background, faith and gender whose positive examples helped me navigate the moral terrain of my life. I started out with most of them being home-grown Alaskans from my youth, but other “flavors” came along during my travels as a student, missionary, soldier, design professional and teacher. These friends – combined with my board of directors4 – formed a network of moral NDBs to guide me in life the same way the actual beacons gave directions for flying without visual reference.

Unfortunately I am now in the 55-to-dead demographic and both the state of the world and my own situation brings to mind the words of British foreign secretary Sir Edward Grey on the eve of the Great War: “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time”. My personal NDBs are getting fewer and fewer as time goes on: some are passing away, some have succumbed to the ravages of different forms of mental impairment but sadly there are those who’ve lost their way and have been unable to keep their principles while becoming lost in a social overcast of catchphrases, buzzwords and political correctness.

Before the term “fix” took on its unfortunate drug overtone, the word was used in navigation as a reference to a point where two star-sightings or radio beams intersected and provided a location on the map. Getting a fix is OK, but what you really want is a “good fix” – three beams intersecting and giving a much more precise location. As I lose more of those moral NDBs it gets harder and harder to get a fix much less a “good fix” as I navigate on my journey through life.

Make no mistake – in my lifetime I have been witness to forms of prejudice and injustice that were sorely in need of redress, and while great strides have been made there is still much to be done.

However, there is something inherently flawed in the way both sides of the political spectrum are addressing these problems. As I listen in on the dialog about those unsolved problems it is especially distressing to hear that chilling maxim “the end justifies the means” uttered most often by those who do not know the source of the adage, namely Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, a 16th century Florentine government functionary and philosopher who first used the words as justification for manipulation and duplicity in his political treatise The Prince.

…and then I wonder if they’ve also missed the work of Georges Santayana when he wrote that “ those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” and are clueless as to how quickly political chaos can devolve into totalitarianism? Only ten years separate the Beer Haul Putsch 1923 from the German government’s national boycott of Jewish business which put the Holocaust in motion. Think about it – ten years ago for us now was 2009, the year that Micheal Jackson died, Barack Obama was sworn in and the Great Recession ran out of steam.

Doesn’t seem that long ago, eh?

As I get older I find that navigating perilous socio-political waters takes a lot more out of me, and just leading a good life doesn’t seem to be enough anymore. Instead we’re called on to prove our “goodness” by negotiating a series of steps that seem to change in mid-stride, but just as the effort is more tiring the emotional response remains the same. My own set of values are well established, so I’ll continue on the moral path I have chosen…

…but it gets kind of lonely sometimes.

 


Notes

  1. AKA “brain bucket”
  2. Nifty slide ruler with a frosted  Mylar(R)  window that allowed you calculate airspeed, ground speed, fuel consumption and the myriad ways the wind could screw up your flight plan
  3. Please engage your sarcasm filter for this sentence.
  4. See Board of Directors Part 1: Richard Bird