Music: On The Way Home – America

 

It’s an old joke.

The world sees a sixty-five-year-old man but inside there’s a twenty-three-year-old yelling “What the HELL happened?”

It also happens to be very true.

Age ambushed me. For most of my adult life I looked and felt younger than my peers and on occasion younger folks. When people found out we had kids in middle school their response was “ What – you fooled around in high school and had to get married?”  I ate right, exercised – my only health issue was carelessness about  sleep.  I was going to be that senior citizen that would draw comments like: “How does he do it? – he’s stayed so young!”

I wish.

I was in my late 40s when my body started to cash all the checks my ego wrote in my youth. Then there were the tests, and among other things I was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a chronic and (very) painful autoimmune disease similar to rheumatoid arthritis1. All of a sudden it was like there was a pull-date stamped on my fourth-point-of-contact, a pull date that had expired.

I’m fighting it like I have I fought every other challenge in my life, but I don’t think this will be one that I come out on top of. That doesn’t mean I’m planning on checking out anytime soon, but if you saw what mornings were like for me you’d wonder why I keep going. Medication helps to an extent, but I rely on music to help me survive each day. I have a Sony Walkman loaded with 891 songs set on shuffle and each morning as I am trying to move I’ll plug in the earphones for inspiration.

First up at bat this morning was “On the Way Home”, a Neil Young tune that was first released on the Buffalo Springfield album Last Time Around. It also shows up on the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young live album, Four Way Street, but my favorite version, the one I listened to on my Walkman this morning was a cover by Gerry Buckley and Dewey Bunnell ( AKA America) on their 2011 release Back Pages. In his review of the album, music critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote that Back Pages was “a visit with old friends that can still do something unexpected after all these years.” My initial reaction when I listen to Buckley and Bunnell’s version of “On The Way Home” is much the same, but then…

Maybe it’s just the box in life I currently occupy. Maybe it’s Mr. Young’s always-enigmatic lyrics. Maybe it’s the hot wings we had for dinner last night – but “On The Way Home” triggered some “non-mundane”2 ideas in my mind as I struggled to get up. Morning is not my friend but rather a painful contest between gravity and will — but morning is also when I have the most insight. The non-verbal right side of my brain is in charge and mental and emotional walls have yet to come all the way up – the walls, barriers and masks we hide ourselves behind as we travel through our waking life.

As I listened to “On The Way Home” the song’s allusions to a journey had me thinking of more than just a trip to church, to college or back home to Alaska. I was just on the cusp of a wonderous insight into how we’re all on our way home in our journey through life …and then the orderly left side of my brain fired up and that thought evaporated.

Now I won’t be back till later on

If I do come back at all

But you know me,

and I miss you now.

Somewhere in those lyrics  was a germ of a vision that kept the fear, anger and fatigue at bay this morning but I’ve been awake too long now and the vision is gone.

 

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Notes:

  1. A condition that has nothing to do with ankylosaurs or any other large reptile.
  2. Sometimes words get so used that they lose their utility. Such is the case with “special” and “spiritual”. For now “non-mundane” is the placeholder used to describe feelings and conversations that I’d previously refer to as ‘spiritual” before that word got worn out.

The Telephone Game

Remember playing “Telephone” ?

A dozen people would sit in a row and whisper a brief sentence one to another, with the entertainment coming from the way the  message is garbled when arrives at the end of the line of whisperers. It was a party standard when I was a kid but a bit more challenging now – there’s more than enough distortion in a sixty-year old’s ear-drum before the message is even started.

Sadly there are people who practice this procedure in real life, and they play it with no “game” in mind.  You can call it gossip, back-biting, or fake-news-at-a-personal-level – there are individuals purporting to be close friends or relatives  who inexplicably prefer to pass on distortions  instead of truth.

Unfortunately I’ve recently had that sort of activity aimed at me and I’ve found it’s easier to retrieve pillow feathers in a windstorm than stop the damage.  Please, if you hear something that “David said” that really doesn’t sound like something this particular David would say please double-check with me.

 

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.

 

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.

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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.