Happy New Brent!

He moved in with his family in the late winter of 1967-68 and despite his best efforts had little effect on the community of Sterling Alaska. His name was Brent and as was the case with many extremely short young men he had an attitude, styling himself as one tough customer destined for a lucrative (but extremely short-lived) career as the premier cat-burglar of that glittering metropolis to our north, namely Anchorage. That was just one of the reasons why we never really clicked as friends, but as fitting for the times we developed a détente of sorts: If there were no other guys around we’d hang around for an afternoon with the unspoken understanding that subsequent references to the day’s actives would include several comments about how the weekend was ruined by “putting up with that douchebag for the afternoon.”

Sadly enough New Year’s is the “Brent” of holidays. Unless you’re in Scotland or any other location with a high proportion of Scottish “lads and lassies” December 31st and January 1st are holidays that are celebrated because nothing better is going on. Oh, there’s a big glittery ball dropped in Times Square and everyone and his brother is conducting some sort of countdown involving events of the past year, but it’s a rare person older than thirty that’s actually awake longer than thirty minutes into the new year.

…and then there are those pesky resolutions. I’ve gone full circle with New Year’s resolutions, starting with vague goals set as a teenager, New Year’s commitments made as a young man (the writing of which resembled an operations order more than a plan for self-improvement), the New Age-y New year aspirations of middle-age and finally back to vague goals made as senior citizen that aren’t that much different than the ones I made as a high school senior. Most of it entails just keeping on with what I’m already doing every other day of the year:

  • Writing
  • Making Art
  • Walking a couple of more steps each day
  • Showing love for My Beautiful Saxon Princess
  • …and at least for today wishing everyone a Happy New Brent Day!

Late Night Lament Revisited

(With apologies to Moody Blues percussionist/poet Graeme Edge for stealing his title – it was just too perfect for this post. This was composed a few nights back when I woke up in searing pain at 2:23am – I will try to edit it down to something understandable)

While experts say that late night use of personal electronics interferes with sleep, I’ve found that they can be either a blessing or a curse. I’ve kept track of the efficacy of painkillers over the years and found that they fail 12% of the time, which means that I face a one-out-of-a-dozen chance of waking up in pain that is not eased, making that particular night seem much, much longer than the few hours it actually covers. It’s that point that I’m glad to have a smart phone or tablet handy to provide some distraction.

Most of the time it involves listening, as in :

  • Listening to old radio programs; classics like Dragnet or 21st
  • Listening to LT Theo Kojak bellow “CROCKER” while working a homicide case.
  • Listening to Gordon Lightfoot or the Moody Blues take me to simpler, less stressful times or a more spiritual place.

Most of humanity has no concept of living in chronic pain and I have to laugh at those who suggest that I wean myself off my meds and just pray more. It’s hard to understand a life that entails living in the present and just wanting to escape the pain for a few minutes. You think it’s tough enduring the commuter coyote sitting next to you on the train? The one with earbuds in and singing along with their iPod for the entire trip? Try coping with level 6 or 7 pain in your back, hips and knees for hours on end.

It’s even more difficult because of the years I defined myself by the miles I could walk, the mountains I could climb and the adventures I would find on my way. Now my adventures consist of laughing along with the cast of NewsRadio or listening to Days of Future Past in the middle of the night while I watch the moonlight and shadows make a new landscape and pray that blessed sleep will soon come and let me roam in spirit over those new forests and oceans.

Adding a Little Light to The Subject

I guess you could say that this is the last Christmas present I’ll ever get from my mom. Her estate was finally settled and after I paid off some bills my Beautiful Saxon Princess and I decided to put a little bit of the legacy into the house itself. With the first disbursement we had our space-tub (whirlpool therapy bath)  installed in our master bath but this time I wanted to fulfill a fifty-year old wish.

As I’ve written before my bonus room studio bears a strong resemblance to the attic loft I grew up in back on the ranch in Sterling.  As much as I loved “living on the roof” I always wished there’d been just a little bit more window space but Dad wasn’t quite confident enough to try making a skylight or dormer window so I made do with the sunlight I DID have.

… which makes it all that cooler to finally get a similar change made in my current studio. Having it adds sunlight and a cross-breeze when so desired but the change has messed with my spatial perceptions a bit. The VELUX brand window can be opened and comes equipped with two screens: one for the sun and one for the bugs. It  was purchased through Home Depot and installed by Ruggle’s Realty Services based here in Clarksville, with actual installation taking about a day.

Sunday Will Never Be The Same

Spanky and Our Gang was just an inch-and-a=half too successful to be considered a one-hit-wonder but their presence in American culture was cut all too short when lead guitarist Malcom Hale died unexpectedly in the fall of 1968. With tunes like “Lazy Day” and “I’d Like to Get To Know You” the “sunshine pop” band’s positive message provided a welcome respite during those times when social upheaval dominated the news media, but  I will always remember them best for what was arguably their signature tune “Sunday Will Never Be The Same”.

…which is probably why I’ve been playing it a lot lately.

Sundays are definitely not the same for me at this stage of my life, when making sure that my I-Phone is plugged in and charging has a higher priority than making sure my shoes are shined and trousers ironed for work tomorrow morning – or simply being able to make it from my bed to my papa chair prompts the same sense of accomplishment that completing a 5K did when I was younger. That same physical limitation has also transformed church attendance from being almost a habit into to an eagerly anticipated/much appreciated opportunity for spiritual transfusion on those rare days when we can get there.

…but then again some things are not so different. It’s distressing to see heated demonstrations devolve into street violence, but at least the anti-fa and alt-right aren’t bombing each other like the Weather Underground was in the habit of doing fifty years ago.

Life has stayed the same inside the walls of our home as well. Even though my Beautiful Saxon Princess and I are battling our respective autoimmune issues our feelings toward each other are just as warm – no, even warmer as they have always been and we have children and grandchildren around us that share those same feelings, all of which make our home a haven from the craziness

Sunday may not be the same – it’s harder in some ways but in it’s better in the ways that matter.

 

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.