1971: Your Move

It’s a story that’s been handied down through my mother’s family for generations – two Cornish coal-miners filing a lawsuit against the public works administration for building the sidewalks too close to their butts. It’s tempting to dismiss the tale as urban legend but when you consider how the family physique combines a long torso with stubby legs it’s easy to believe the legend as fact. It also explains why running – especially long distance running – was always such a challenge for me as I have to cover twice as much distance as my longer-limbed buddies.

It was a condition that would be the bane of my entire running life but even though I’ve never been much of a long-distance runner I never stopped trying to do better and by the time I was seventeen I could turn a decent time for a mile run. It was enough to get me through football season and as a teacher’s aide for physical education class when I was counting laps for my students more often than running them myself, but the situation jumped up and bit me in my own low-slung Cornish miner’s butt when a lapse of judgement saw me signing up for a 200 level physical fitness class during my first semester at the University of Alaska.

The class first met on one of those grey drizzly days common to Alaska but the classroom was comfortable enough and before long I was joking with my classmates and looking forward to fifteen weeks of casual activity. Then our instructor walked in and reality scratched the tone arm across the 33 1/3 LP record of my life. His name was Coach Svenningson and he was built like the Bizarro version of me:

  • His legs were as abnormally long as mine were short.
  • Where I was stocky he was rail-thin.
  • Where I was endomorphic his body fat percentage easily went into negative.

At least he didn’t have that frustrated drill instructor mindset found in some coaches and was soft-spoken and occasionally smiling as he passed out copies of the syllabus and highlighted some of the fitness activities we’d be doing. At first we’d be doing a lot of stretching and warm-up work and the last part of the term would involve a lot of handball but most of the semester would involve running.

It was definitely not what I wanted to hear.

Up until this time I had been somewhat of a dilettante when it came to athletics – or anything for that matter. Whether it was drawing, football, judo or shooting I was good for at best two months before I’d get distracted into something more interesting, which worked in quite nicely with the nine-week grading periods that broke up the school year but college was a whole new animal and I’d have to stick with this class for twice as long as usual.

Fortunately this particular set of concerns fell by the wayside as all my studies commenced in earnest and for the first few weeks the physical fitness class was just one academic blur among others as we sedately worked our way thorough Coach’s preparatory program of calisthenics and stretching.

…and then there came D-Day, or rather R-Day: the dreaded day we were to start running, which wasn’t all that dreadful because it entailed some easy laps around the gym (which I could handle) followed with laps around the Beluga1 annex which I assumed that I could learn to handle…but looking forward I could see that when we started running outside any measure of “handling” on my part was theoretical at best.

Given the university’s geographical location less than two degrees south of the Arctic Circle running outside meant dealing with conditions cooler, wetter and a bit less sunny that I was used to for autumn. I was granted a very minor respite when we were given a choice of several trails to run but the shortest was two and half miles long so I’d have to more than double my heretofore best effort. In the hyperlogical mindset of an eighteen-year old male all I could was cling to hope that the support and traction provided by my brand new blue Puma® running shoes would carry me through the course.

…then we were given a sketch map of the course and I knew I was screwed. The run would start at the Beluga but then almost immediately went straight up the slope that separated the upper and lower campuses before crossing Yukon Road and making a loop over a rolling forest track2.

Even though we were still inside I shivered. I was going to be engaged in my least favorite form of exercise while

  • Covering twice as far as my best distance
  • Negotiating one big slope followed by several smaller ones
  • Wet, sloppy weather that could turn into snow at anytime

I decided that no running shoe (no matter how cool the logo) would get me through that distance so immediately after class I went to the administration building to drop the class, but as I was picking up a drop card I ran into a friend from high school who was in the process of dropping out of all his classes and going home. It startled me – he’d been a stellar student athlete all through high school and was the last person I’d expect to quit, but as I looked at him filling out forms I had an epiphany: no matter how hard my classes were or how homesick I became there was no way I was going to spend four more years taking the easy path in life.

…which is why – despite all my doubts – I tore up the drop card and showed up at the next physical fitness class and lined up at the start point of the 2 ½ mile trail.

I started up the hill, thinking that if I could get through wind sprints in football practice I could make it up the hill, a thought my body stoutly rejected as I barfed at the top of the slope. As I crossed the road my legs wobbling and feeling more like Jell-O than flesh and bone and for a moment I considered hiding in the trees until I could fall with the pack on the return trip down the slope but all I could think of was my former classmate dropping of school so I kept going, albeit at a brisk walk rather than a run.

It was more of a barely-controlled forward fall than a brisk walk and I found myself wheeze-singing3 a song I’d heard just before I left for class that morning: “Your Move” by the British progressive rock bank Yes:

Take a straight and stronger course to the corner of your life.
Make the white queen run so fast she hasn’t got time to make you a wife.
‘Cause it’s time, it’s time in time with your time and its news is captured
For the queen to use.

 Diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit didda.
Diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit didda.


My run during the next class wasn’t much better, though I did manage to avoid throwing up and during my third time around the trail I was able to manage a slow jog for part of the course. As I’d go through the lyrics my mind would fill in the bass drum that slowly marked time along with the flawlessly blended harmony.

Don’t surround yourself with yourself,
Move on back two squares,
Send an Instant Karma to me,
and Initial it with loving care

Diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit didda.
Diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit didda.

After the third or fourth circuit around the trail I began to think about the message of the song – the game of chess as an allusion to a romantic relationship, something that was extremely interesting to me now that the Petite Blonde at church was becoming my Best Friend

‘Cause it’s time, it’s time in time with your time and its news is captured
For the queen to use.
Diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit didda.
Diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit didda.

Before long I was jogging for the entire course and then one day I found myself running for the entire two and half miles….and once I was able to painlessly4 run the trail I found myself appreciating the golden explosion that is autumn in Alaska:

  • the brilliant golden fall colors
  • the sounds of birds calling to each other
  • the slightly sour smell of unpicked cranberries after a frost

…and then it came time to switch to other fitness activities and while I thoroughly enjoyed learning to play handball I felt a vague sense of loss. Running remained my least favorite form of exercise but I’d finally been able to figure out why cross-country running was so popular among some of my friends in high school…and mulling the lyrics to Your Move helped me figure out the direction a budding romance was headed

Most importantly it was the first time I took on a very difficult/almost insurmountable task and stuck with it all the way through to a successful completion, and while my future still held instances of me “getting out while the getting was good” I’ve been able to look back at the two-and-a-half mile trail and draw strength in hard times. As a later mentor would say I’d taken the first step into adulthood by making myself do something difficult even though I didn’t want to.

 


 

Notes:

  1. The Beluga was a large white inflatable building nicknamed for the white whales that inhabited Alaskan waters and was situated just to the west of the Patty athletic complex. It housed the university’s hockey rink but during the off-season it provided shelter for tennis and jogging during inclement weather.
  2. An area now taken up by the Reichardt building, Troth Yedda Park and assorted student housing cabins.
  3. “Wheeze-singing” entails quietly singing through the gasps and wheezes of the belabored breathing brought on by heavy exercise. It was a sort of a Zen exercise I developed to focus my attention away from the pain and discomfort of running in high school long before portable stereos had been invented.
  4. …well, less painfully maybe.

 

 

This is an extended version – the one I listened/sang to lacked the more electric & energetic section that starts up after the fade-out.

 

Two And A Haldf Mile Trail (2)

The  closest I could get to finding a picture of the 2 1/2 mile trail at the time I was running on it. While this is definitely a photo taken in Alaska the trees look a little tall for Fairbanks. It was a share of a share of a share on Facebook so I don’t have a proper credit but please contact me if you know the photographer

 

 

Midnight Son Update 24 OCT 2019

There’s a lot going on with:

  • preparing the manuscript for e-book formats
  • lining up publishers
  • evaluating freight options

…. so this will be a rather abbreviated update…

As it looks now the e-book will go out on Monday the 4th November 2019 with printed books following in the mail by mid-December. This of course assumes that there is no extinction-event level asteroid-impact on the Yucatan Peninsula nor any opening of a massive interdimensional rift sending us all back to the Middle Ages.

In the meantime we’re still hammering out logistics and composing surveys that will come out next week. As we compile this information please bear in mind that I am new to KickStarter –which means there is a chance for a wrong key stroke or click on the wrong space.

…so if there are any doubts about correct contact information please get ahold of us right away!

The Eye of the Kickstarter Storm

(…AKA the latest update to the Midnight Son KickStarter Campaign)

If you’ve ever experienced a hurricane you know that halfway through the storm there’s an oddly quiet period when the winds die down and everything seems eerily calm. Unfortunately you are experiencing passage of the eye of the hurricane, a pivot point around which the storm spins and a period of near-normal conditions that will disappear as the hurricane continues to move.

We’re at a point like that now – the tumult of the pledge portion of the campaign is over and it seems like nothing is happening while all the accounting and number-crunching is going on but soon the pace will pick up again after accounts are settled and fulfillment begins. Fortunately I am a little more mobile (love those cortisone shots) and I have a great resource in my friend and Traveller guru March Miller who is providing invaluable advice/service in coordinating with printers and planning the logistics required for fulfillment.

It’s all on track and on schedule – and even though “on track” and “on schedule” are words rarely associated with hurricanes they fit perfectly in this situation.

Thanks again

 

David

My Personal Board of Directors: Charles R. Marriott

One of the best moves I made on the 17th of October 1972 – the day I decided to start keeping a journal, and though I’d had several false starts during high school I’ve been able to keep writing ever since that day forty-seven years ago. I started out using a blank book, then switched to typewritten pages during my bicycle penance and eventually made the jump to digital media in 1986. At one time I would write at least weekly but since I started blogging I add to my journal maybe once a quarter. I’ve never begrudged the time and effort in all that writing, my only regret being that I didn’t start and continue when I first got the idea in the fall of 1969; had I done so I would have had more information with which to write about Charles Rodney Marriott.

Thought I only knew him for nine months, Marriott definitely holds a seat in my personal Board of Directors, and by that I mean that group of adult men who advised and coached me through the rough spots and junctures in life and in general made up for the lack of guidance from my own family. I shy away from the word “mentor” as the only Mentor I knew of was a member of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents – a Tower Comics character of minor interest, being one of the second string of heroes ignored in favor of everyone’s favorite Dynamo. I learned the meaning of the word when I reached college but the definition was confusing – the idea of someone actually taking time with me was utterly foreign. It was also a word used overmuch and without a lot of real thought by people that I should have been able to trust, so I’ve adopted the “board of directors” to use instead.

Charles Rodney Marriott was a former Marine hired as an English instructor at Kenai Central High School in the fall of 1969, having served for thirty years and retiring as a warrant officer after having served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. As a service brat I was happy to have him as an instructor but looking back it was an unusual choice on the part of the school district given the unrest over the war in Vietnam and changes in society in general.

It was a time for interesting changes in our own little academic world as well: that fall the English classes were radically re-organized for sophomores, juniors and seniors. Instead of taking one class from one teacher for the entire school year students were to enroll in a different module every nine weeks. There were some guidelines – you had to take a set number of classes in three categories (literature, composition and oral skills) but other than that, students were free to put together their own program. Marriott was my instructor for two classes: Newspapers & Magazines during the second nine week grading period and Motion Pictures for the fourth.

I wasn’t sure what to expect out of the Newspapers & Magazines class other than we each would be getting copies of Time magazine and the New York Times national edition each week. I assumed that we’d just be reading articles and making reports on what we read so I was surprised when he showed up for the first class pushing a film projector into the classroom. We then spent the next week watching movies about the production and dissemination of propaganda. The films were ‘50s era productions made by the Department of Defense to counter Communist propaganda but despite the hyperbole they were effective in teaching us about propaganda techniques such as “Glittering Generalities”, “Jumping on The Bandwagon” and “Poisoning the Well” that are found in propaganda from both sides of the political spectrum – but I was truly baffled when the films stopped as I had no idea what we’d be doing for the other eight weeks of the grading period.

That’s when we went back to those issues of Time and the New York Times; we took the propaganda techniques we learned about in the films and tried to find examples in the news stories…and were collectively horrified to find those tricks and techniques in all the stories. We expanded our search to other publications and found that the pattern continued, and Mr. Marriott would have us discuss what we found while managing to stay fairly objective about what we found.

It was at this point in my life that I stopped taking news reports at face value and started to analyze each message as best I could as a sixteen year old from Sterling, Alaska. Even now I mentally filter every new story I watch or read through those analytical tools, tools that eventually got me starting to seriously think about intelligence and security careers in the military.

(OK, OK so it really all started with Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuriyakin from The Man from UNCLE but Marriott’s class was a BIG plus!.)

As he was one of a team teaching the Motions Pictures class took from him later in the spring he didn’t have quite the same impact but he still would take time to talk to me personally about my life and my future plans involving military service – I think my status as a Navy service brat made it a little easier for him to be candid with me. Unfortunately a low grade classroom scandal about R-rated cartoons a student drew on a chalkboard prevented him from gaining tenure and he left KCHS rather precipitously after just one year, not even leaving a photo in the yearbook at his departure.

I saw him just one more time when he stopped by the locker room during two-a-day football practice the following August and for the next almost-50 years I had no idea what happened to him until I started research for this post. It turned out that he married Ruth Kilcher (pop star Jewel’s grandmother) and ended up living less than twenty miles from me when we lived in Knoxville until he passed away in 2005. Finding that out was a little tough to deal with, knowing that as I was teaching my teen-age sons about analyzing news stories for propaganda techniques the guy that taught me literally lived just over the river and through the woods. I would have loved introducing my sons to him.

…and I hope that as he read those local newspapers, magazines and watched local TV coverage he may have seen the stories that were written about our “family of artists”. I hope he was able to connect the dots and figure out who I was, and able to feel a measure of pride and credit for the contribution he made in my life.

     (Special Thanks to Glenn Tauriainen for assistance in research for this story)

1964: One For The Road

We were living in Sterling for no more than a week when it became apparent that I wasn’t the only member of the family who missed Anchorage. From the middle of August to the end of September of 1964 we made the trip three times, for reasons ranging from coordinating Church programs to getting medical treatment at the Elmendorf AFB hospital to retrieving some odd item left during the move while crashing at night with mom’s best friend Jeanne Johnson, though Mom let me stay with my best friend Mark instead.

However, because of the recent Good Friday earthquake the trips could end up taking more than just the time required to transit the 276 mile round trip. A good portion of the highway curled around Turnagain Arm, the branch of Cook Inlet that extended to the south of the Anchorage basin. The trip around Turnagain is one of the most beautiful stretches of highway in the world and takes in majestic spruce covered mountains with countless waterfalls as well as a few rivers and several major streams crossing under the highway to feed into the arm…and there’s where an element of chance entered in.

During the earthquake the ground level around the southern end of Turnagain arm dropped six feet and in the process guaranteed the eventual death of Portage, a small hamlet/railway station at the south end of the arm. The abrupt drop either destroyed or severely compromised all the bridges over the aforementioned waterways so as part of the recovery effort temporary bridges were erected to the side of the old ones and anchored on raised berms that put the driving surface an extra six feet above the original road bed to prevent damage from ocean waters that now flooded the highway during periods of high tide. it also meant that if you failed to consult the tide table when planning a drive around Turnagain arm you stood a good chance of being stranded on one of those elevated bridges until the tide receded.

…which was how we ended up stranded on a bridge late one August night. My mother, four sisters and I ended up spending four hours crammed into a our white Ford Falcon station wagon, though by that time the mud from transiting the regularly flooded highway had our car looking more than white. It could have been worse – August still gave us extended daylight hours and we were able to pass the time with a stack of comics and a box full of home-brewed root beer we’d been given as we left Mark’s house.

As Mom had forgotten her wristwatch on the trip we were clueless about when we could leave the safety of the bridge and it was a little scary when a set of disembodied headlights appeared off the end of the bridge, lights that slowing coalesced into the front end of a Alaska State trooper’s cruiser. The officer parked and walked up to talk to my mom sitting in the driver’s seat, slowly playing the beam of his flashlight though the interior of the Falcon while enquiring about situation.

Suddenly the flashlight stopped and the trooper asked “Mrs. Deitrick, is everything OK with you and your children?” to which my Mom breezily answered in the affirmative.

“‘Are you sure everything is OK?”

I started to duck for cover – Trooper or no trooper, one thing you never did twice was contradict my mom, but in some random act of sanity she resisted verbally blasting the officer, and glanced back to the spot where the officer’s flashlight was shining…on my five-year-old sister Heather guzzling from an Olympia beer bottle. There was a moment of awkward silence then we all started laughing and explained that Mark’s mom hadn’t removed the label when she refilled the bottle with home-made root beer. She had been a war-bride from Helsinki and had grown up with Finland’s much more relaxed attitude towards alcohol so the thought of removing the labels had never occurred to her.

The trooper got good laugh as well, and after clearing us to proceed he left with a copy of the root beer recipe that Mark’s mom had given us, a recipe that my family also tried shortly after getting back to Sterling.

We just made very, very sure to remove all the labels from the bottles before we used them ourselves.

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

Kickstarter Update 26 SEP 2019

   This is all going much faster than I had imagined. When we kicked off the campaign earlier this month I assumed time would drag much like it did those few weeks before a childhood Christmas,  but the opposite has proved to be true. It seems like I just blinked and >BLING< we have just over a week to go …which means I’m starting to plan the fulfillment phase of the campaign.
   As is the case with most other book publication campaigns I will be signing books as part of some reward levels, but my signature will include something extra in that along with an inked signature I will be embossing my logo. It’s a mark I adopted just a little less than forty years ago and for the last thirty I have incorporated the image into my “tag” when signing artwork. In dimensional work I use an actual physical construct  cast in polyurethane resin or cut from paper.
   I came up with the embossed version when my son Sean showed me a personal seal he’d obtained in Japan where such things take the place of legal signatures in official documents Obtaining a seal is a rite of passage for young adults in that country with each one being unique and almost impossible to counterfeit.  I thought it was a nifty idea especially when I discovered my forged signature on prints and cards sold by third parties – so now when you see my hand-written signature accompanied by my embossed logo you can be sure that it is genuine.
   As for the logo and any inherent symbolism: first and foremost I wanted a symbol that was bold and immediately recognizable so any meaning is secondary, even speculative. Besides, if ATT can use a Death-Star image for their mark then I can use a mark that looks like a pocketknife, a reversed letter “D” in cursive, or whatever you want it to be.
As usual, thanks again for your support. If you haven’t done so already please share the Midnight Son  link with your friends and family.
Best wishes,
david
DeitrickLogo

One Week Down!

(…the latest update for my Kickstarter campaign)

It’s been a great first week in the campaign. We’re funded 201% which means the project is a go which means:

  1. a) I have to start planning for fulfillment
  2. b) I can start thinking about a second volume.

Once again I want to thank you for support – and also ask you continue to spread the word about Midnight Son both in person and on line. Advertising is effective to an extent but no communication is more effective or convincing than personal communication.

I hope you all have a great weekend!

Thanks again.

 

david

Why I Write (Part Three)

“We’re not your classic heroes. We’re not the favorites.  We’re the other guys – the ones nobody bets on!”

The quote above is a line from the 1999 superhero comedy Mystery Men, a film which tells the story of the Shoveller, Mr. Furious and other lesser superheroes with unimpressive powers who are called on to save the day. It also happens to be one of my favorite films that I rank above other metahuman fare such as Tim Burton’s 1989 version of Batman and Paramount’s 2011 action flick Captain America: The First Avenger. I prefer Mystery Men because I can more readily relate to the everyday nature of the group, because it’s everyday people that I am interested in.

In my life I’ve seen a noticeable change in the quality of life and social mobility which has morphed our society into a very uncomfortable pyramid where the people at the top made a LOT more than the people at the bottom – or even the middle. I’ve heard countless debates over how that situation came about, but at the end of the day I’m pulling for the little guys; the people that do the actual work. It’s because of that preference that (in the words of my fellow paratrooper John Taylor) “I speak to the common man”. I’d much rather read about a lineman than a quarterback, a sergeant instead of a general and a paramedic over a surgeon.

I think there’s something special about stories from everyone’s life and that the “special” has as much to do with the way the story as the story itself. Midnight Son is basically a collection of vignettes from the life of a lonely boy coping with the vagaries of childhood set against changing locales and living conditions – it’s only through the addition of pacing, description, and a sense of both humor and drama that changes “What I Did at Summer Camp” to “Billy and the Bear”. It is my hope that as you read my stories you’ll think about your own experiences in the same way.

Why I Write (Part Two)

I always thought actress Marilu Henner to be something special, but prior to December 19th 2010 my opinion had more to do with her role as Elaine in late Seventies sitcom TAXI, but on the episode of 60 Minutes that night Ms. Henner revealed that she had hyperthymesia or total recall memory and can remember details from every day of her life. That announcement had me sit up and notice because my memory is fairly close to that level of recall – it may not be total comprehensive details of every single day that come to mind but I can come pretty close when I stop and concentrate.

I call it my razor/laser memory and it’s a trait that runs in my mother’s family, through my sisters and me, and on to my children. Like most talents can have either a positive or negative factor in life: It’s endearing that my younger sister can still remember the army card that I swiped from her hand that made it possible for me to win our marathon RISK game on the evening of March 22d 1970, but when that razor/laser prevents a person from “forgiving and forgetting” it can be quite devastating.

Unfortunately the “rememberee” that gets a false impression or skewed perception is in for real trouble because those mistaken memories can just as persistent as was the case when I spent fifty years trying to correct my mother’s take on a cheating incident I was accused of in sixth grade. Faulty perceptions are a major hazard because a person’s frame of reference can change so many times, especially in youth and adolescence and with family members as individualistic as mine total agreement on past events is a rare thing.

…so what does this have to do with my writing? I was in my mid-forties before I learned that not everyone had the same pretty-close-to-total recall when I happened to speak about a sketchy incident from school that an old friend had thought (hoped?) to be forgotten. Fortunately the vast majority of people that I share these memories respond in positive manner in much the same manner they’d react if I’d pulled out a photo album, especially when I stress that what I remember was influenced by my perceptions at the time.

Writing was the next logical step – I’ve always been a fan of what they now call “non-fiction creative writing” as penned by the likes of Tom Bodett, Bob Green, Garrison Keillor and Jean Shephard and I was an early fan of observational comics like Robert Klein and Dave Steinberg so it is no surprise that I took this path when I started seriously word-crunching again.

(more to follow)