2018: Trip to the Eye Doctor

At my age any kind of doctor’s appointment can bring on anxiety. Everyone is so serious and concerned that I can’t help but think that maybe there is a pull-date stamped on my fourth-point-of-contact or that I shouldn’t be buying green bananas. However, as I was going to see the eye-doctor I didn’t imagine there to be too much stress involvedbut because my last visit had been in 2008 this session was going to be a little more involved than usual.

First:   They’d remodeled /reorganized the place, a fact I found out when I ended up in a supply closet while trying to find the restroom.  The second thing I noticed? Other than the doctor the entire staff was female, blonde and had an “eee” name (as in Kristie, Melanie, Lacey etc.). They were all very professional and courteous, but it was a bit unnerving to be surrounded by a small army of petite tow-headed cheerleaders.

As it had been a while since I’ve had my eyes checked I had to go through a whole battery of semi-exotic tests – some of which I’d never had and some I’d never even heard of. The little blond “eee’s”  would patiently explain the name of the test and what it was supposed to detect/measure but unfortunately when you factor the “geezer element” into the equation it became one of those “in-one-ear-out-the-other” type of situations.

As best as I can remember the tests included:

1)    Looking through an aperture at a circular glowing grid that would turn red, blue or green depending on how I lined my eye up. When the grid turned green there was an incredibly bright flash. A Jimi Hendrix soundtrack would have been most appropriate.

2)    Looking into another aperture at a tiny laser-like red dot while a very faint white circle would periodically appear just below. I was to press a button every time the light came on but as the test progressed the circles got more and more faint. At one point I thought the lights had stopped but then a very faint green circle reappeared, so I started pressing the button at what I thought were the correct intervals.

3)    After they took away the button-remote from that last test they had me look into yet another aperture while they flashed a really,  REALLY bright light, so they could take a photograph of the inside of my eye. As I would be driving myself home I’d earlier declined getting my eyes dilated but after than photo flash I had just as much trouble driving as I would have had they used the drops.

4)    The >PfftT< test – a puff of air shot at my eye to detect for glaucoma, which came close to triggering the same response I’d have to a drink thrown in my face…but I managed a smile instead.

With all those tests I was sure some sort of terrible malady was lurking behind my retinas, but it turned out I am doing pretty good for an old guy2 –  no major defects, no “conditions” waiting to pounce. I’m a little nearsighted but inasmuch as there are only three situations3 when I need help with my vision they recommended single-vision (least expensive) lenses which took only three days to make.

I could do with more doctor’s visits like that.

__________________________________________________________________________________

Notes:

  1. ….until I started to obsess about glaucoma, cataracts, detached retinas and tropical parasites living inside my eyeball.
  2.   I toyed with this vague idea for an eye-pushup joke and Patti McGuire’s Miss November 1976 Playmate fold-out, but it just didn’t work out.
  3. To be precise:  Watching movies, driving and shooting at the firing range

 

 

Vision Fairy

2018-04-03 Vision Fairy

Last Christmas I shared a collection of watercolor paintings I’d created in the mid 1990s as part of a proposal for a line of collectible figurines and as all the paintings were produced in a two month period, Myrmaids ended up a strong,  cohesive body of work. Unfortunately the follow-up project ended up spread across a nine year period and didn’t turn out as well,   so my goal for 2018 was to rework Informal Fairies into something just as nice as my first concept.

That’s when my  wonderful idea was savagely struck down by cold, cruel reality. I’m twenty years older than the David that painted those undersea ladies , and I can’t handle a brush as well. I’ve developed a tremor that periodically quiets down but the truth is I cannot consistently handle a paint brush anymore. I can use a pencil, pen, marker, X-acto knife – anything that can make  contact with the working surface and steady my hand but when I paint there’s a 50/50 chance I’ll end up with something that could have been done by Monet.

…so I have to change my creative gears

This Vision Fairy is the source of all your broken glasses and  lost contacts. She was first  rendered on an 11″X17″ sheet of white paper using various ink pens – Flairs, gel pens, Micron-Pigmas and Sharpies. I had the image copied onto salmon-colored paper which was then colored/embellished with a pencil like a drawing done on a toned ground. I used  colored pencil, Micron-Pigma pens, Prismacolor designers’ markers, and acrylic paint – but the more intensely white/light colored areas are pieces of white paper cut to shape and mounted with spray adhesive – gives it a nice POP that works a lot better when you see the actual artwork.

The marbilized paper used in the background graphic device is also David-made.. Every couple of months I barricade myself in the shop and spend a day making a supply of the stuff to draw on later.

Sketchbook Superman

Big Blue

I’m fascinated by the wonderful yet economical way superheroes are portrayed in cartoons. I have been enjoying Warner’s latest treatment of the DC slate of heroes in  Justice League Action and it  amazes me how such evocative figures  images can be made with such a paucity of line. I try to duplicate the effect in my sketchbook but I inevitably get caught up in extra detail, as in this sketch of a young Superman with an articulated suit like the one Jim Lee came up with for the New 52 DC reboot a couple of years back.

Truth be told I am frustrated by just about anything I try to create anymore. I had big plans for doing airbrush work again, but my age betrays me. It’s bad enough that I’ve forgotten a lot but now I have an intermittent tremor to battle that seems to kick in right when I need the most control.  .

Lost Days

I can deal with most of the challenges of my life but I don’t handle “Lost Days” very well. Days that just don’t start out bad – they stay bad and I get very if anything done during the day.

 I’m told that at my age I should just slow down and enjoy life – and while I appreciate what people are trying to tell me I am hard- wired to be busy. Reading or watching the tube may seem like heaven to you but it’s hell for me.  I will be slowing down right about when the first shovel-full of dirt hits the top of my box.

 It’s very hard to “slow down” when I am:

  • ·       Goal-oriented
  • ·       Driven (to an extent)
  • ·       Competitive in that I constantly try to best my own efforts.

I woke up at 1:31 AM, then again at 4:14, 5:30 and 6:00. Each time it seemed like I was “awake for good” but each time I fell back asleep – hard. I didn’t fully wake up until 9:30 and I ended up staying awake because “distress in the lower tract” …and I am having a particularly nasty AS/RA flare that makes simple movement very painful.

 I won’t get much done – hence the term “lost day”.

 …which won’t be totally lost. I’ll call old friends and write to others. I’ll spend time with my grandson when he gets home. If I can do enough for other people it won’t feel quite so lost.   

2018: Bubble Wrap

It’s referred to as compassion overload.

Sad to say but there are times in my life when it feels like we’re so caught up in just hanging on by our fingertips – while so many dear friends are also locked in deadly combat with Life- that individual tragedies are no longer quite so upsetting. In the words of my foreman at Swanson River: “When you are up to you’re a** in alligators it is hard to remember that your original goal was to drain the swamp”

I wish I’d have ignored some of those alligators when I recently found out Janice Young had passed away.

I had called another friend to check on Jan’s phone number only to find that she had passed away almost a year ago.  I carried on with the conversation, sharing a memory or two then rang off and:

  • finished my lesson plan for the next day’s class at the college
  • checked back on the crew scheduled to remove a fallen tree
  • paid some bills on-line

… then collapsed into my chair and broke down completely.

Jan was gone.

It was the winter of 1975 when I first Jan and her family while I was serving as a missionary in Skowhegan Maine. Her husband Dale had recently retired from the Navy and friendship developed as I talked with him about his career – I was forever looking to connect with sailors that may have served with my own father during his 20 years afloat. As I would visit there were times when Jan wouldn’t move from her chair or her hands would be wrapped, actions that I first took to be unique measures to fight the legendary Down East winter temperature but later learned were therapeutic measures in her battle against the pain and limitations of advanced arthritis.

I also learned that Jan was smart. She had a highly developed insight into human behavior and consequences more commonly found in elderly people with a long lifetime of experience and knowledge to drawn upon.  More than once I found myself on the phone seeking her guidance after a “people problem” had blown up in my face.

My time in Skowhegan came to an end much too quickly but thankfully my friendship with Janice and her family stayed on. Despite too many years, too few visits and too few telephone conversations Jan and her family stayed in my life. I came to especially treasure those occasional phone calls that Janice insisted were for her benefit but were in fact my own pleas for help when once again I was drowning in a sea of human chaos and complexity.

…and now the phone calls are over.

There are too few “Jan’s” in my life now – people that maintain a measure of kindness and sanity around them.  Instead I am surrounded by bubble wrap, albeit a verbal variety of bubble wrap that emotionally insulates and does little other than clutter up my life in the same way that the tangible polyethylene version clutters up my studio after I’ve opened a package.

  • “C’mon, nothing can hurt that bad”
  • “Are you sure this isn’t a subconscious ploy to get meds?”
  • “When the going gets tough the tough get going”
  • “If you really wanted to get better you’d try to have more faith
  • “Good people don’t use pain medication

Empty useless prattle as useless as the other plastic stuff is after my grandson Jayden has popped all the bubbles. Thoughtless words that emotionally fester in my isolation just as  a splinter can fester in a finger if left unremoved.

Eliminating those toxic comments can be as difficult as disposing of or recycling the aforementioned polyethylene packing material. I am left to find relief in doing my best to not make those same kinds of thoughtless comments, but rather to have kind words for those around me who are fighting their own battles.

…just like Jan did.

CPT Ron Fernstedt’s Last Jump

Despite the common uniform relations between active and reserve components of the Army are not always the most cordial, a fact I soon learned upon assignment to 1st Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group (ABN) Utah National Guard. It was January of 1984 and had just been assigned as the battalion S-2 (Intelligence) after four years of active duty and I was finding reception by the other officers to be decidedly cool.

The ink was still damp on my orders when I had an administrative hot potato dropped in my lap, specifically a Line of Duty (LOD) investigation. Whenever a reservist is injured while on drill an LOD must be completed to verify the conditions surrounding the injury and eligibility for future medical coverage. Never an easy task, this particular LOD investigation was a particularly complex and critical situation because of the timing and circumstances of the injury in question. I also happened to be the third officer assigned to the case, the previous two begging off because of conflict of interest, hair in need of a wash or some other flimsy excuse.

It was while I was struggling with this LOD that I first met Ron Fernstedt. The solider in question was a member of his team and as far as I could tell the investigation wasn’t looking good for this soldier. Ron stormed in one day and with his face set (in the way only Ron could manage) and demanding fair treatment for his subordinate. While not nearly as forceful I replied that I was doing the best job I knew how to do and that his sergeant would get an honest and fair investigation.

The room got quiet as our eyes locked. Several thoughts came to mind:

  • My path to the nearest exit
  • Money available for an emergency room visit
  • …and if I ever lost my axe this guy’s face was hard enough to make an excellent replacement

A minute passed, Ron’s face softened an iota and he spoke:

“You’re Deitrick – the new S2 here. You just came off active duty – right?”

I replied with a witty rejoinder: “Urk – yeah”

“They’ve dumped this grenade in your lap with the pin half-pulled and you’ve probably never seen, much less completed a National Guard line-of-duty investigation before”

Again, the clever quip: “Urk!”

The change was imperceptible, but there was change nonetheless. He became just a little less confrontational and a little more helpful as he realized that I had been put in just a precarious position as his team member. He helped me through the maze of National Guard Bureau and Utah National Guard regulations that had me completely baffled and eventually the LOD investigation was resolved in a less-than-total win for his subordinate, but it was a resolution that was totally fair and according to regulation.

It was pattern that in my experience would repeat itself every time I worked with Ron. He had a larger-than-life personality and definitely played to win, but at the same time his actions were tempered with a sense of justice and expertly camouflaged compassion. He had a strong set of standards to live by but wasn’t ostentatious about the matter.

He was like my favorite uncle – he could be a little scary, but I always knew where I stood with him, that he was looking for my best interests and that we were all safe in every sense when he was on watch. He took his Last Jump to a better life earlier this week while standing on his feet –  a soldier to the last – and we will all be a little poorer because of the loss.

Mid-morning Purgatory

Night time seems to be the popular setting for most writing about coping with depression or illness. The dark and quiet hours of the night seem to be the hardest for most people to deal with as they battle their personal demons – it seems to magnify the isolation that comes with chronic illness.

Hell comes knocking on my door at 9:00 AM every morning.

Maybe it’s because I woke up screaming at 4:30 and it’s taken me until nine to be able to walk. Maybe it’s because I just watched most of my neighbors drive off to work while I am stuck here in my home/prison cell. Maybe it’s because I’d rather be bouncing along the street with the joggers instead of hobbling around my studio with two canes

Maybe I can really get tired of living this half-life.  I’m trying to think of a punch-line or something upbeat to add in but to be honest I am so over the platitudes and the “warm fuzzys” about positive mental attitudes and forgiveness. For every kitten poster with “hang in there baby” I’ve got two other flavors to match:

  • Two buzzards perched at the edge of the desert with the caption “Patience my *ss. I’m going to kill something:
  • The guy in the swamp clambering up a tree with the caption “When you’re up to you *ss in alligators it’s hard to remember our original goal was to drain the swamp!”

Yes, I will hang on. I’ll get through the day – mostly because I have Lori to lean on but there are no magic bullets (or posters) to make all the fractures, inflammation and calcification go away. The best I can do is to tell myself at bedtime that “maybe tomorrow will be a better day” and hope that the people around me will forgive my surliness when I hit mid-morning purgatory the twelve hours later.

Time for a change…again

My dad used to say ” a move was as good as a change” but I personally think the opposite to be true: “a change is as good as a move.” Living in Clarksville is nice but I do miss the gypsy days of my younger years when it seemed like I was moving every year or three.  Funny thing: I always felt a bit short-changed at the time because I didn’t have a home town – place where  I spent my entire youth from birth to young adulthood, but after living for extended periods in some places I realized that I like a change of venue from time to time.

All of which has nothing to do with the new masthead illustration. The title is “Solo Kill” and it was painted with acrylics on a 36″ X 15″ Masonite panel. It was produced in 1990 and is based on a book written by Skye Boult  – and  if you search through my older Solo Kill posts you will find that there’s actually an interesting back story to both the book and the painting.

…and yes, it really is a cat flying that airplane.

 

Another Early Frost for a Late-Bloomer

(I’m reposting this from five years ago – it’s been tweaked and added to…and seems appropriate after my fall the other day)

I was not much of an athlete as a kid. I was “adequate” until I turned fourteen at which time I turned into a total stumble-bum. My speed and coordination didn’t develop as quickly as it did in my classmates and I was always the last guy chosen for any kind of team…and even then  I would spend the game exiled to right field where I would wander around like Michael Jackson, wearing a glove for no apparent reason.  The situation got a little better as I progressed through high school, but I was never a first-string player for any sport… dreamer that I am I swore that someday – someday I would do better.

“Someday” was the summer of 1973.  I decided it was time to lose weight and get in shape…and golly-bob-howdy I did just that. Over the course of the following autumn I dropped over 35 pounds through careful diet and frequent exercise – and the results were wonderful. I could run, I developed incredible flexibility and I was strong enough to do push-ups with my girlfriend lying across my back.

How much of all that was due to diet & exercise and how much was my body finally catching up will probably never be known but it really didn’t matter. I could run without looking like I was just stumbling and catching myself over and over.  I could throw a perfect spiral with a football. I could do all sorts of things that are the norm for most young men – but for me they were miracles.

It was wonderful, and I wasn’t about to let any of it go.  As a young adult I stayed extremely careful with what I atet, constantly cycling through different types of diets to keep my weight down. As I grew older into my thirties all the normal effects of aging came on but had little effect on me because I was running, swimming or bicycling every day.

Then I hit a brick wall.

I suffered a back injury during a jump with 1st Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group (ABN) and while I worked my way back on active jump status, I was never quite the same. I had recurring back problems which I attributed to the aforementioned jump injury but in fact I was going through the first phases of Ankylosing Spondylitis, a very painful autoimmune disease of the spine. The symptoms came and went through my forties and I led a fairly average life, but by the time I reached 50 the condition was in full development and soon after was joined by rheumatoid arthritis in my hands, feet and other areas.

I thought I was crippled enough but then in July of 2014 I fractured my right ankle, and by fractured, I mean that I broke the h*ll out of it. It took an angled strip of metal secured with several screws along with two larger bolts nearby  to get it all the bone fragments put back together…and with all that extra metal in me I’ve had to make a habit of showing up an hour earlier than the recommended hour-early when catching a flight because I’ll never cleanly make it through a TSA checkpoint again.

I try not to complain about the way things are:   I had a good run at life and got to do a lot of cool things. I’ve flown a couple of different types of fixed and rotary wing aircraft. I’ve spent time on several types of naval warships and submarines. I hunted moose in Alaska, I’ve SCUBA dived off Guam and I spent several years as a competent rock climber.

I think about all of that – then I cringe when I think about the young people who contract A/S or juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and must face down 50 years or more of constant pain  – where I’ll have to deal with the discomfort for half that length of time. It breaks my heart to think about what lies ahead for them – and for what they’ll never be able to do –  and I feel thankful that I was older  when all the pain and symptoms came on. I remind myself every day to be thankful for what I was able to do at an earlier age…

…but try as I may deep inside there is still that fourteen-year-old stumble-bum, once more wandering around feeling useless, and wishing he could have had just one more good season.

1999: Red State / Blue State / White State

The call came the spring of 1999, shortly before the second of our three trips from Knoxville back to the Kenai Peninsula.   The ravages of Parkinson’s disease made difficult for Dad to make himself understood on the phone, but there was no mistaking the message of his call:

 “Son, I miss you and I don’t have much time left. What would it take to move you home?”

I was stunned speechless. My father was thrifty to a fault and had turned me down once before when I had asked for help getting home right after I finished grad school, but that wasn’t the sole reason for my discomfort. I wasn’t sure if we could make the move back – and It was the first time that Alaska hadn’t immediately trumped every other card in my hand. The truth was we’d invested a lot time and energy to “bloom where we were planted” in East Tennessee.1 Plans were in place to get the boys through their missions, we were finally winding up Meghan’s adoption process and my part-time teaching gig showed signs of becoming a fulltime job. A 4000-mile move was not the simple decision it was when our family was much younger. It would need substantial planning, but fortunately the vacation back home that we’d already planned for the summer would allow us to gather information we’d need for such a move.

We came back from the trip feeling positive about moving but during our first church meeting back I was abruptly pulled aside by a friend whose family was undergoing some rough times. She hissed: “You’re leaving, aren’t you? You’re going home? YOU CAN’T DO THIS TO ME! You can’t leave now. I need you! My whole family needs you! Our whole world is falling apart and you’re the only people I can depend on!”

 …which put the needle on my awkward-o-meter well into the red caution zone.  I knew from personal knowledge that she wasn’t exaggerating – if anything she was down-playing her domestic situation and unfortunately, I was still at a point in life where I thought I was Batman and could save anyone. She was so distraught that I mumbled something vague about postponing the move and for the time being we went back to the exquisite hell that is life for a Yankee in the Southern Appalachians.

…but then the real problem was that we weren’t Yankees – or Southerners. Living on the northern arc of the Pacific Rim took us neatly out of north vs. south // urban vs. rural // mountain vs. flatland // red state vs. blue state rivalries. However, to be brutally honest I couldn’t care (bleeping) less whether I was in a red, a blue or a purple state.  The only state color I ever cared about was the white state – Alaska.

Alaskans are different – and when I refer to Alaskans I’m not talking about snowbirds who try the Great North on as an experiment then run back to Oregon or Ohio when they find out life is hard on a frontier. I am referring to a person whose feelings for the last Frontier cannot be indexed against the size of this year’s PFD pay-out.  Someone whose emotional bond with the state is more a matter of citizenship rather than residency.2

It’s said that you can take the boy out of Alaska, but you can’t take Alaska out of the boy. If you talk to anyone that knows me well you’ll find that I have never completely left – and for the first twenty years of our marriage that was literally the case as education, military and ecclesiastical service prompted moves back and forth between the Last Frontier and the Lower 48. Every plan and/or decision in my life included the end goal of returning to Alaska – we’d never have left Alaska in 1989 if my job situation with Kenai Peninsula College hadn’t been changed by university politics.

By the same token an extended stay in Knoxville after graduate school was never part of my plan – it would be more accurate to say that we were marooned in East Tennessee by a combination of unforeseen setbacks. In the last forty-five years I’ve moved 22 times and lived in 16 different states but at heart I am still an Alaskan boy with an Alaskan license plate on the front of my car.

The funny thing is that I didn’t really think of myself as an Alaskan until I left for college in 1971. Since moving north in 1962 I’d thought of myself as a transplanted Californian – I kept up regular correspondence with my cousins and seemed to make friends easier with other transplanted kids who had been hauled north by parents either serving out at Wildwood Air Force Station or working as petrochemical managers and engineers getting the new North Road refineries running smoothly.

Sometime during the winter of 1970-71 that mind-set began to change – and like most major changes in my life it was brought about by a very minor incident, in this case a story I heard while serving as a teacher’s aide in gym class. While sorting and folding towels Marie (my counterpart from the girl’s class) told me a story she’d heard in her Alaskan history class about a native witch that lived in the area many years ago.  This witch never seemed to age until the day she accidentally left her tribal lands –  her hair immediately began to streak with grey, wrinkles creased the skin of her face and the joints in her arms and legs became stiff and painful. It was all very terrifying until she stumbled back over onto home turf and the effects reversed just as quickly. The story became a predictable series of mishaps involving the witch (or her victims) inadvertently crossing the line.

Of course, I had to turn it into another of my very predictable running jokes, so from then on, I would always call for a shoe check whenever Marie would come into the room, the idea being that she was somehow a descendant of the witch and was able to retain her youth by hiding a small bit of dirt in her shoe that would allow her to still be technically “walking on tribal land”. At the same time though the witch story did more than just supply material for my sense of humor – it also generated in me an awareness that there could be something intangible linking me with the Great Land that surpassed all other relationships.

Maybe that’s why I was so careful unpacking my carryon bag when we got back to Knoxville after that trip in the summer of 1999. I didn’t bring back dirt for my shoes, but I did have a couple of small, smooth pebbles from the north pasture on the homestead where I had always wanted to build a home after moving back. As time goes by the chances of getting home keep getting slimmer and slimmer but I refuse to give up hope and until then those two pebbles will serve as a link.

I’d like to say karma rewarded our sacrifice for staying put to help our friends but unfortunately that was not the case:

  • Martin Landau never made it to the moon by September 13th and in the process tipped the entire Space:1999 continuity over into the ashbin of cancelled TV series.
  • The move back home kept getting postponed  and the next time I saw my Dad he was in his casket at his funeral four years later.
  • Shortly after this story the friend that so desperately needed us to stay in Knoxville informed us that since her “family was doing fine she didn’t need us as friends anymore.”

It was tough dealing with that statement /snub because I had yet to learn to stop crossing oceans to help those couldn’t be bothered to step over a puddle in return. Fortunately, there was something else that helped me move on, an aspect of my life and identity remains the same: Even though our subsequent move to Clarksville kept us in the Volunteer state I cannot refer to myself as a Tennessean, I cannot sing the entire Alaskan Flag song without breaking into tears and the sun always appears too bright and too high in the sky

Regardless of my physical location I am and will always be an Alaskan boy.3

__________________________________________________________________________

 

  1. In his epic poem “Cremation of Sam McGee”, Robert Service states that Sam’s home town was Plum Tree, Tennessee. When planting trees in our yard in Knoxville I made sure the first one put in was a plum tree.

 

  1. I’ve spent my life performing residency calculus – totaling up years, months, days – even hours and minutes that I’ve spent physically existing within the state’s borders. For years I was obsessed with keeping my “Alaskan citizenship”: From 1971 to 1989 I bounced back and forth like a tennis ball between the Last Frontier and various locations in the Lower 48, and for most of that time I was able to keep my Alaskan driver’s license with its wonderfully low number.

 

  1. See blogpost, “The Alaskan Diaspora”.