2018: In Praise of Middles

My father said it best:

“Between the optimist and the pessimist

The difference is oh-so-droll

An optimist the doughnut sees

The pessimist: the hole”

That idea/meme (or slight variations of that idea) have popped up in countless other times and places in my life. My particular favorite version came from engineer and SMOF (Secret Master of Fandom) “Uncle” Timmy Bolgeo: “ An optimist may see a glass of water half-way full while a pessimist see it as being half-empty, but show that glass to an engineer and he’ll see a storage facility with 50% excess capacity”,

I’ve decided that I am neither a half-empty or half-full person.

I like things in the middle.

The thought came to me as I opened a little carton of yogurt this morning. Actually that wasn’t my first thought – my first impression was a feeling of annoyance with the French, because before they introduced their six-ounce containers of Yoplait to America in 1977 we were all happy with hefty eight-ounce cartons. I’ve always wondered if that six-ouncer was passive-aggressive retaliation for all the French jokes we told in New England, but I digress,

Open a carton of yogurt and the first thought is “Do I really want to eat this too or will the poached egg take me all the way to lunch”. Your last thought is mild annoyance as you try to scrape the last ½ ounce from the embossed risers and ribs on the bottom of the cup.

….but in the middle?

Mmmmm!

It’s the same way with vacations. We were blessed with a two-week vacation back home to Alaska during both the summer of 1997 and the summer of 1999. Both visits played out pretty much the same:

  • jet-lag and nostalgia over-dose for the first few days
  • packing-anxiety and teary-eyed anticipation of parting AGAIN for the last few…

…but for four or five days in the middle of our stay it was glorious. We still had plenty of money left in our trip-budget, our friends and family had finally been able to adjust schedules to accommodate individual visits and the specter of departure was too far away to loom very effectively.

I think it makes for a healthy philosophy for life in general. Rather than fuss about what I didn’t get in the past (half-empty) or what riches I might amass in the future (half-full) I think I’d rather concentrate on the blessings I have right now.

In the middle.

…the light went on!

JaydenEnrouteOralSurgery

Sharing a home with a five-year old was not something on my radar even just a few years ago – but at this point I couldn’t imagine life without him. I’m a little weepy this morning – he’s had some dental problems and right now he’s undergoing oral surgery. I’m sure he’ll do fine but between my paranoia and an overactive imagination  I still get edgy…

(my daughter sent this photo to me from the trip to the oral surgeon’s office)

 He’s an amazing young man and extremely curious about the world. Any five-year-old asks a lot of questions but he is extremely detailed in his enquiries. For example, he likes to have the lights on during the day. Lots of lights. ALL THE LIGHTS. I finally sat down and tried as best I could to explain the idea of electricity and paying for utilities, but I wasn’t sure he had a grasp on the subject until later on in the afternoon.

 After I finished my impromptu lesson I turned off all the lights in the room and we parted ways, Jayden to his bedroom and me to the studio. I was a little perturbed when I returned to the room later on in the afternoon and found every single light turned on…but then I noticed a quarter, a nickel and three pennies in the middle of the table and realized that Jayden had most definitely understood our discussion we’d had earlier in the day – the discussion about paying for utilities.

Update: Dog King John Page 2

2018-08-04 DJKSS Page 2

Page 2 of the Dog King John book.

Page-numbering in this book is a little different. Pages that are numbered (1,2,3 etc.) tell the story of the syrup hijacking.  Pages that are lettered (A,B, C etc.) show maps, diagrams, historical notes and other information that expand on the story. I’ll post the numbered pages but I’m holding back the lettered pages to keep the project  special for my grandkids – they’ll be the only ones completely “in the know”, at least  for the time being.

2018: Monday Morning Mystery

Two of my favorite television programs are NBC’s mid-1970s Ellery Queen series starring Jim Hutton and BBC’s Poirot starring David Suchet. While they vary in tone a bit they are both mystery shows that hold the solution to the very end of the program and presented when all of the suspects have been gathered together. It’s fascinating to see these two characters  combine attention to detail, careful observation, and logical thinking to solve very baffling mysteries.  I’d like to think that I’d do likewise in their place…and I had an just such an opportunity to do so today.

Lack of air-conditioning means that I spend little time in my shop during the summer months, my time out there consisting of quick trips to do the laundry or fetch a tool. It was while I was doing the latter this morning that I was met with my own mystery. In line with my borderline OCD I keep my work area neat and my tools carefully stowed (though I  have not gone so far as to draw silhouettes in each tool’s specific spot). That’s why I was dismayed to see my primary work bench totally cluttered and both tools and hardware scattered on adjacent work spaces as well. While it’s true that my warm-weather speed-runs to the shop can result in a little clutter, it’s never in the chaotic state I found it today.

A bit mystified, I started putting tools up, then I stopped, looked again and solved the mystery – and the solution can be found in this photo:

shop after Jayden

2018: Studio Deitrick

Due to a very fundamental misunderstanding with Dad we spent most of the summer of 1987 without a studio. “Useful studio space” was one of the deal-breaker conditions  to be met before we assumed house-sitting duties while my folks served a mission in Nova Scotia, but evidently there was a generation gap in the definition of the word “useful” and we were left to work out of an unfinished/unheated garage. Nevertheless I had clients to service, so after squeezing my drawing table into my old loft bedroom, I divided my long Alaskan days between marker renderings and carpentry, taking care of both my clients and construction chores.

It was a happy day in mid-August when Lori and I nailed the final bit of trim, hung the last of the curtains in the windows, and had an impromptu party sipping New York Seltzer, eating poppy-seed muffins from the Soldotna Safeway and listening to the Peter Gabriel blockbuster album SO.  I was feeling great relief at having the wherewithal to go into full production, but there seemed to be another intangible presence dancing along with us to “Your Eyes”.

For the preceding three months it felt like a member of our family was missing, and it was only after three sets of verbal volleyball that we figured out  what had been missing:  Studio Deitrick.  The studio had become a part of our lives in the same way writers described the Starship Enterprise as being as much a character as Kirk, Scotty or Uhura in Classic Star Trek.   For years most of our life revolved around that particular kitchen of the mind – no matter what else was happening, we all eventually congregated in the studio. In addition to serving as delivery room to countless works of art, our children grew up in our studios, we entertained in them, and all my prep time for thirty years of college teaching happened in Studio Deitrick.

…but then something happened in the early summer of 2015 and Studio Deitrick went away. Even though the house we bought had a very similar floor plan to our previous rental, there was no room for a studio as such and I was left to cram what I could into an extension off the back of the kitchen…and when I was done  nothing clicked. Oh, I got the room into a semblance of order but there was no magic and it remained nothing more than a converted breakfast nook …and the three years I spent in there were the three least productive years of my life.

It was only after we started making changes when I lost my contract with Nashville State that the Studio came back into existence. As we sat in the sitting room that we’d organized from the old studio space it just felt capital-letter R Right. When we trudged up to the new studio in the old bonus room it felt capital-letter/bold, underscore/Italic R “right” – the strongest impression of “rightness” any of our studios have felt since leaving Sterling in 1989.

That extra member of our family has come home.

It still has that vibe now. No doubt the resemblance to my loft bedroom back on the ranch has a lot to do with the feeling, but even on the worst days when that flight of stairs seems a thousand feet long, I continue to feel a calmness of certainty when I sit down at my desk.

Does that mean that our troubles are over and all of our challenges are being solved?

No…but for the first time in years I feel hope.

2018: Third Parent

Ranch2003Dad

It was a buzz-word as common to the 1970’s as paradigm was to the 1980s. Gestalt – it’s a German word that first became popular in the 1890s Berlin throughout medical circles. It refers to the idea that something can be more than just a sum of its parts. It’s used mostly in psychology, but I have found the concept to be true in other aspects of life:

  • In Sports when members of a team collectively accomplish much more than they could separately.
  • In Art when mixing several colors can make a painting more effective than just black & white.
  • …and in residential architecture when a home becomes more than a collection of rooms.

I grew up in a Gestalt home.

The house we moved to in August of 1964 was definitely a whole comprised of many parts. It started out as a three-room cabin built in the late 1950’s by the original homesteader Jim Hovis.  Family growth required a largish addition to the front of the original three-room cabin followed soon after by a row of three bedrooms built on the north side of the house. When a double garage was built on to the south end of the house, clapboard siding was added to the home’s exterior giving the place a unified, almost gentrified appearance. For a time it was the showcase home of the whole Sterling area – while everyone else was living in log cabins, Quonset huts or trailers the Hovis place looked like it had been scooped up from a neighborhood in the middle of Anchorage and dropped down along the east end of Scout Lake Loop.

We had no idea of the building’s history when we moved into the place at the end of the summer of 1964 because we had more pressing matters on our mind:

  • My older sister and I were very unhappy about the move to the Peninsula and were convinced bears would soon eat us.
  • The previous renters had completely trashed the place and it took our whole family six months of steady work to get the place into shape

On the other hand Dad was pretty happy about getting the place for a low price and comfortable terms. Mrs. Hovis had become ill enough to require relocation to the lower 48 which meant that  Mr. Hovis had been a “motivated seller”.

We really didn’t understand the convoluted construction details until Dad and I started work on my attic loft bedroom and had to remove portions of two other roofs under the one that was seen from outside of the house. When plumbing problems took us into the crawlspace we found even more indicators of start-and-stop construction, most notably three different types of foundation.

It was just after that discovery that Dad finally concluded “in for a dime/in for a dollar” when it came to additions/modifications to the house. We finished my loft just before Christmas 1966 then in the fall of 1970 Dad and I started converting the inner portion of the double garages into additional living space. I don’t think there ever was a specific goal for the remodeling when we started, but by mid-1973 we had a cozy TV room just off the kitchen and another nicely finished space that alternately served as a bedroom and/or home office. Fourteen years later the remaining garage space was converted into a studio where I could continue my career as a freelance illustrator while my parents served as missionaries on Prince Edward Island. The last major change was a new garage on the south end of the house that my folks were able to add using the inheritance Mom received when her stepfather passed away in the mid-nineties.

….but in and around all of those physical changes other less tangible modifications were made to the home and surrounding pastures. During the next 50+ years three generations of Deitricks grew up, and all the love, hate, hope, tears, sickness and health involved in that process imbued the house and land with a benevolent spirit that would sometimes echo and other times mend what we were feeling at different times. The ranch became a haven and refuge and for me I knew that no matter how physically or emotionally damaged I may be, all I had to do was push my fingers down into the dirt to be cleansed from whatever ailed me.

Very soon all of that will end. Both my parents have passed on and circumstances are such that the property will be sold, and the home likely destroyed. Over the decades the quaint idiosyncrasies of a continually modified homestead cabin have become liabilities; shifting foundations, sagging rooflines and questionable wiring have transformed what was once a showcase home into an oddity.

British author Brian Aldiss wrote that the only unchanging aspect of life is that change happens. Children, grandchildren and great-grand-children will move on to find other places for imaginary adventures with Klingons, halflings and Cybermen and a new family will move in for their own story of a half-century. Life will go on, but for me there will always be a little bit of my heart missing. Even though it’s been fifteen years since I walked through that clunky, squeaking door I still miss it and mourn our Home’s eventually passing.

It’s like losing a third parent.

Ranch1976Al

 

 

Sketch Cards for Dog King John

2018-06-03 GrandKid Cards JUN 2018

As I’ve written before I take great delight in my role as “papa” (AKA grandfather,  abuelo, old geezer) and even though six out of my seven grandchildren live far away I work hard to keep in contact with them. One of the ways I do that is by regularly sending drawings to them as postcards, starting out with one a month to my sole grandson and eventually expanding to a half-dozen every two or three months.

With these particular sketches  have fun and let my imagination run wild  – for example for my granddaughter Hazel I went through a six month run using yetis as a theme. The Yeti is/was Hazel’s own personal boogey-man and over the span of that half-year I worked to change the yeti’s image from something scary to a comedic figure.

Lately I’ve been using the cards as a design forum for my book project Dog King John and The Stolen Syrup. I want to keep the details consistent so I’m using these drawings to work out details before working on the actual book art .

…some of the cards are just cards though. The younger grandkids don’t really understand the book-thing – for them I come up with something quasi-educational like the “fourteen-flounder” card above

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.