I Am The Axe-Man!

Ax-man

Every weekend my Star Pupil and I try something new and this week it was use of an ax. It was a skill that really wasn’t on the schedule but a box of tools I recently gave him unfortunately included a sort of multi-tool-on-steroids that inexplicably included an ax blade…and as anyone with kids will  tell you glaciers can be moved by hand before you’ll get a five-year-old boy to change his mind about something like this.

After a safety briefing we spent about forty-five minutes in the shop chopping away and eventually produced the sundered one-by-two you see in this photo. The process could have been faster but one too many roadrunner cartoons convinced him logs literally jump into with one direct chop with an axe held straight on. I’d demonstrate alternate chopping at an angle but then he’d politely correct me and attempt to bludgeon the board in half.

We finally succeeded in parting the one-by-two and now he’s out with his mom visiting friends while I am busy hiding every other cutting implement before he gets back.

Velma Howell 1935-2019

(It seems like the punchline to an old Henny Youngman joke, but I actually was asked to deliver the eulogy at my mother-in-law’s funeral over the weekend.)

Leading the way into any endeavor involves what we referred to as “spiritual growth” in the mission field and “good training” in the Army, both of which are innocuous terms for an experience that will terrify or put you through an emotional wringer. Being the first to marry into the Howell family brought on plenty of spiritual growth for me. The first time Velma laid eyes on me was at the gate in Dulles Airport twelve hours before I was to marry her oldest daughter Lori and I think the prospect of relinquishing her eldest to some wild man from Alaska was causing some concern.

She was quite vocal about the situation and would cycle through admonishing, questioning and teasing me, which was beginning to wear thin when it all came to a head a week later here in Huntsville. We were out buying paper goods and plastic ware for the reception and as we were driving around town Velma decided to share her philosophy on family relations. She said ” I like to think that I have gathered my family into a shiny bubble away from the world and its influences, where we are all happy all the time and nothing bad ever happens.”

As I sat in the back seat all I could think was “This chick is nuts”

It was an understandable reaction, given all the wisdom and insight I’d gained in my twenty-four years on earth as the oldest son in the family that put the “fun” into dysfunctional. Most of my family experiences involving shiny things also included pop-tops or lines on a mirror so I had no way of knowing that what Mom was really saying was

  • She loved her family and wanted the best for them.
  • She loved the Lord and wholeheartedly embraced every aspect of the Gospel

That was the pattern for her entire life. She was born and raised in southern California first San Bernardino then Colton where her family first met the missionaries when she was quite young – a trend that continued until she was almost twenty-one when she snagged one particular missionary by the name of Elder Howell as he was headed home. As a young lady she worked awhile as switchboard operator but once she was married her life’s work was being an excellent mother for her five children and supporting or serving alongside her husband in his callings as stake president, mission president and counselor in a temple presidency.

Outside of her family the Gospel was her whole life and she led a life of worship and devotion that is an example to us all. Look up the term “stalwart saint” in the bible dictionary and you’ll probably find her picture. Sometimes that degree of devotion can cause a person to become overly serious with that stern Bruce R. McConkie eagle-eyed look but Mom was able to keep a pleasant demeanor – and laugh.

She loved to laugh and could be quite a tease – but there were other things she loved as well.

She loved:

  • ice cream,
  • quilting
  • flowers
  • ice cream
  • birds
  • kaleidoscopes
  • Ice cream.

More than anything else she loved her husband Parley and was at this side whenever she could  be there…. in fact the words Parley and Velma Howell should be just one word “PARLEYANDVELMAHOWELL”.

I will miss her laugh and I will miss her.  Regardless of our faith we all have that inner Cro-Magnon straining to howl at the separation of death. But because of that faith we know that Mom is blessedly free from pain and much happier now that she was in the shiny place she always sought in life.

So…Run free Mom. We love you,

 

 

Music: Ghost of A Chance (Rush)

 

Teaching at Lincoln Memorial University was a good news/bad news type of situation. On one hand the school’s expectations weren’t too high, I had a tremendous amount of freedom in the way I handled my class and there were  a few fairly competent students. On the other hand the pay was terrible, the administration gave scant support and most of the art majors avoided my class because I actually expected them to work.

I just told myself I was fortunate to be teaching somewhere.

Capping it all was the miserable commute: while the school was located only 50 miles to the northeast there were several ridges and valleys to transit, and I spent as much time going up and down as I did moving forward. My schedule also had me returning to town in the middle of the evening rush hour which made the last 5 miles as tedious as the preceding 45.

It was a wet, sloppy evening in early November, I was tired and cold, and it was a strain to see through the rain and slow-moving traffic. Struggling to stay awake and alert, I turned on the radio and tuned into the local classic rock station – which like every classic rock station ever had a playlist shorter than a five-year old’s attention span.

I was surprised – instead of hearing the inevitable “Freebird” or “Stairway to Heaven” a young man was talking about Carl Gustav Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious, a topic which caught my attention in the same way dog whistle rattled a collie. I’d discovered Jung in graduate school, became intrigued with this work, and worked at integrating some of his concepts into my thesis project but just as I was piecing together what was being said, the speaker stopped, and the song he had been so long in introducing started to play.

Electric guitars shot out a very basic but compelling tune which repeated  like a car alarm, accentuating the tension and stress of the surrounding traffic. Negotiating this nerve-wracking commute had my pulse pounding so hard I could hear it in my inner ear and when a vocalist suddenly started to sing it took me a moment to hear past the thub-thub-thub.

Like a million little doorways
All the choices we made
All the stages we passed through
All the roles we played

 There was no mistaking that voice: Geddy Lee, which meant I was listening to the Canadian rock trio Rush, most appropriate for my situation as I didn’t have the soundtrack for Mad Max in my CD player. Lee continued to sing, his voice getting more forceful and strident:

Somehow we find each other
Through all that masquerade
Somehow we found each other
Somehow we have stayed

 Voice and instrument continued to build to a point of frenzy, then suddenly it was like cresting a mountain or going into free-fall:

In a state of grace

Languid guitar chords lead into a restful interlude devoid of the song’s previous intensity::

I don’t believe in destiny
Or the guiding hand of fate
I don’t believe in forever
Or love as a mystical state

 The cardiac pounding in my ear eased off as I relaxed a bit

But I believe there’s a ghost of a chance
We can find someone to love
And make it last
And make it last

Guitar chords echoed and a feeling of calm continued to envelope me, but then the chaos abruptly renewed with strident vocals and crashing guitar chords once more

Like a million little crossroads
Through the back streets of youth
Each time we turn a new corner
A tiny moment of truth

The quiet, calm returned:

In a state of grace

I believe there’s a ghost of a chance
We can find someone to love
And make it last

This time when the pattern broke  the lead guitar began an improvisational guitar solo that caused my heart to sing as well.  It  also helped me  tune out the lurching/honking/swerving and I was startled to find myself on the last leg from the freeway to my home, free of the tension and chaos of rush hour as the song returned from the solo to the calm of the dreamy interludes:

I believe there’s a ghost of a chance
I believe there’s a ghost of a chance
We can find someone to love
And make it last

…which transitioned into a measure or two of a slightly mournful, slightly wistful echoing guitars. I pulled into the driveway, turned off the engine and sat listening to the tick-tick-tick of the cooling engine. Rush was not a particular favorite group of mine; while I had respect for their talent and dedication, their music and their message usually did not resonate with me … but I had no doubt that at this point Ghost of A Chance was stealth scripture – truth given in an unexpected manner that would have otherwise been ignored, and at this very low point in my life it contained a very important message for me.

Tomorrow morning I would get up bright and early and face another week head on:

  • submitting job applications to colleges sure to ignore me
  • canvassing art directors who routinely told me I was too old
  • worshipping in a congregation that cornered the market on cliques
  • teaching students who regarded study as a process akin to hustling free t-shirts at a concert

….but right now as I walked in the door…

You know I read somewhere that the onion is a distant relative to the opium poppy. Maybe that’s why I felt calm and happy as I walked into the house,  maybe I was getting a contact high as Lori was browning onions in preparation for making soup, but I knew there was more to the warmth I felt. I drew it all in as I shelved my teaching binder and hung up my coat: music was softly playing on the stereo and my sons had their yearbook open, scoping out the young ladies while conducting a post-game wrap-up of the Oldest Game Ever. Wrapped in the warmth of my family I felt the very essence of joy.

It may be that life was getting the best of me, that the academic and creative arenas in which I fought daily were more than a forty-year man could handle, but as long as I had this wonderful home and family as a place of refuge I had a chance, albeit a ghost of a chance.


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“Ghost of Chance” Songwriters: Neil Peart / Geddy Lee / Alex Lifeson

 

 

Lonely Nights….

Good morning mister sunshine, you brighten up my day
Come sit beside me in your way
I see you every morning, outside the restaurants
The music plays so nonchalant

Lonely days, lonely nights.
Where would I be without my woman?

It was several years before the Brothers Gibb switched to size small jockeys and started shrieking “Ah-ah-ah-ah stayin’ alive” that I first heard their earlier song Lonely Nights. It was the middle of an Alaskan winter, I was a senior in high school in between girlfriends and feeling lonely as only a seventeen-year-old can know…and I had no idea that there would come a day where I daily dealt with an even deeper state of alone-ness.

Please excuse the pun but I am not alone in this matter. The 11 January issue of THE WEEK magazine contains an article that hit very close to home for me, an article entitled:  “An Epidemic of Loneliness”. It cites multiple studies from around the world that all conclude that a LOT of us are lonely and it doesn’t do us one bit of good.

Connections have been found between loneliness and:

  • Mental issues like insomnia, depression and
  • Physical issues like increased risk for heart attack and weakened immune system
  • Social issues like increased political polarization.

There are plenty of reasons for this increased state of isolation to include the breakdown of the family unit, the often-transient nature of work and the emotional pitfalls found in social media. I’ve seen it in my own life – thirty years ago in addition to my family and local friends I had a circle of about twenty people I would routinely correspond with but now contact from anyone other than my Beautiful Saxon Princess and one or two friends is very sporadic.

I’m not going to snivel about how lonely I get slaving away in my studio, but I would like to suggest that you take a moment each day and think about those friends and relatives that might be shut-in or otherwise isolated. We live in perilous times and while so many of the terrors that lurk in our lives seem insurmountable (taking away my old aerosol cans won’t make a bit of difference to the ozone layer) this a problem that individually we can actually do something about.

It brings to mind a story I heard of  a man who’d walk along the beach at low tide to pick up stranded starfish and throw them back in the water. He was told “ You’re just wasting your time – there are thousands of stranded critters! Do you really think you’re making any difference?”  to which the man replied (after replacing yet another starfish):

 “I made a difference to that one!”

OK – so my inner hippie is showing, but please, please pick up the phone, tap at your keyboard or write a letter to that invalid uncle, your old room-mate who’s now a single mom, your high school buddy who’s now a widower – anyone that you know who’s fighting to get through each day alone.

Dog King John & the Stolen Syrup Page 5

Latest installment – but lacking captions, logo etc. I don’t have a 11″X17″ printer/copier so I had to tile the image from multiple smaller prints – hence the  are also some obvious mismatched areas  I’m also trying to brainstorm a way to enhance the  aerial perspective as seen  out the window without the linework washing out completely in some places.

2019-01-01 dkj page 5 draft

Almost Michael

I came sooo close to naming him Michael.

He’d kicked first during Battlestar Galactica but finally arrived at just after six the following morning of January 1st. People ask us if we won any sort of prize for the first birth of the year but in Provo, Utah a.k.a. Babys-R-Us we were lucky to place sixth. It didn’t matter – one look at that little guy and I knew everyone else had lost that day and I had won with the smartest, best-looking choose-your-own-superlative baby in the entire world, everywhere since the beginning of time.

The Michael-impulse quickly faded away and we named him as planned: “Conrad” for my best friend and “William” for a revered mentor. Mother and child spent the day recuperating while I wandered around a daze trying to adjust to the fact that at 25 I was now a father, a role that both delighted and terrified me. Four decades later I am still delighted and terrified – raising brilliant children is a daunting, often exhausting task and I studied and worked at “dad school” even harder than I did at grad school.

I wouldn’t change a thing. After marrying my Beautiful Saxon Princess the best thing to come into my life were my children – and four decades after narrowly avoiding “Michael” my eldest son Conrad William Deitrick is everything that I saw in him that first day.

Class Update

TheGuySIngularIt’s a busy time of year and I get to have my Star Pupil with me in the studio a bit more often than usual. After our last session Jaybug has developed a passion for sculpture, which for a five-year old usually means he will stay on task for seven to ten  minutes at most. However, It’s been a little different this time around and I know for a fact that we’ve had three episodes of Dynotrux air since he started pushing Super-Sculpey this afternoon.

3 x 23 minutes = 69 minutes or an hour & change.

It’s amazing.

I am not sure what to make of it.

I’ve had fourth-year art school students that can’t focus for that long….

Class Portrait

When NSCC kicked me to the curb last summer my Beautiful Saxon Princess told me that the only thing that had  changed was  the size of my classes. –  before I had anywhere from  25 to 30 students but now I just have one – my grandson Jayden.

I couldn’t agree more. Jayden is just the latest in a succession of kids growing up in my studio. We had a great day in the studio today learning about sculpture and sculpting tools and as  we were finishing up BSP decided to take pictures.

Initial shot

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Attitude Adjustment

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Final version….

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