Spoons

Spoons

It should be no surprise that summer is my least favorite season. Despite the years I’ve spent in Tennessee I am still an Alaskan boy at heart with climate preferences like those of a golden retriever – I’m happiest when it’s no warmer than forty degrees and my feet are wet. I’m also one of a very small group of people whose autoimmune disease symptoms became more painful when the weather gets warmer….which means that as summer heats up I feel progressively worse – when July rolls around my days involve a lot of just laying around reading and trying to mentally “will” autumn to appear in August.

Despite my penchant for speculative subject matter in my art my taste in reading material is fairly mundane. Currently on my Kindle you’ll find the following books:

  • Confederates in the Attic
  • The Year 1000
  • The Mound Builder Myth
  • The Color of Law
  • Empires of the Sky
  • Drums Along the Khyber

Most of these books are historical works, but sprinkled among the titles from times past you will find books about spoons, specifically spoon theory –  an idea that has very little to do with silverware and everything to do with communicating the challenges and discomfort brought about by the  daily battle with  autoimmune diseases. It’s a wonderful concept brought about by Christine Miserando and you can read about it at length at http://www.butyoudontlooksick.com.

Spoons are markers used in allocating/assessing how much you can get done in a day despite the dramatically reduced energy level and equally elevated pain levels that come with autoimmune problems like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or in my case anklysosing spondylitis. You start out the day with a dozen spoons, and every action – and I mean EVERY action will cost you one or more spoons. The allocation of twelve is purely arbitrary but I found I was able to calibrate my spoon expenditures rather quickly. Getting out of bed costs one spoon, getting dressed is another one, climbing stairs takes two spoons and going to church takes three…so it’s not hard to see how you can run out of spoons rather quickly.

I’m barely scratching the surface of this marvelous communications tool and I highly recommend you check out Ms. Miserando’s website and read her ideas first hand.

 

 

 

“…let’s give him a big hand!”

Living with an autoimmune disease like ankylosing spondylitis has meant living with chronic pain and impaired mobility, but I was surprised, yea alarmed when the muscles in my hand and forearm started to uncontrollably spasm and twist into a claw-like flex. Dark thoughts of tetanus came to mind and at one less-than-lucid moment I wondered if I’d become mind-controlled by the Skeksis from Dark Crystal but good sense returned and I began to research for a solution to my manual woes. It turns out that the flexing and arching and “owwing” is a real thing – it’s known as a carpal spasm and can be brought on by overwork and/or the lack of sufficient calcium or magnesium in my diet. By limiting my time at the drawing board and knocking back an extra yogurt each day I’ve been able to curtail the attacks to a large extent.

…which is just as well.

Since my childhood there has been a dramatic increase in the use of hand gestures as part of human communication far beyond the sign language between cowboy and Commanche that I witnessed each week on television. Simple movements such as an index finger drawn sharply across a larynx (“killed”) or a hand cupped to an ear (“listening”) have been joined by American Sign Language for use by the deaf, gang signs adopted into general street use, and other communicative gestures borrowed from sports and military. The use of nonverbal communication has increased to the point that it is no longer safe to just idly wave your hands. For example while coming to grips with these carpal spasms I have:

  • Been slapped by a deaf lady for signing an indecent proposal
  • Accidentally called out  a gang member
  • …and I may have inadvertently flipped off ET

The one time I did try to respond to communicating via hand signals it turned out that the lady in question was just trying to dry her nail polish…which is why despite years of conditioning via the military I now walk about with my hands in my pockets.

1971: Descendant of Beowulf

(I had to simplify things for the title to  this last peek at my upcoming book – I had so many friends, cousins and sons that I had to resort to sketching wiring diagrams before typing up the titles) 

It was a commercial made up of clones with Robert Redford’s doppelganger putting his best Sundance moves on Katherine Ross’ twin sister while a sound-alike band sang a jingle set to the tune of Santana’s “Evil Ways”:

You got a smoke that’s something else Win-chester.

A whole new taste and straight your way.

It’s something else Win-chester”.

Cigarette advertising on television was officially banned as of January 1,1971 but the R.J. Reynolds tobacco company was pushing the issue with Winchester – a small cigarette-sized cigar that used a loophole in the new law to continue their on-air promotion of tobacco products. It was a maneuver that would become more common as we got deeper into the “Me Decade” of the 1970’s, a narcissistic side-step of accepted norms in an effort to increase profits.

Other developments in 1971 included:

  • Broadcast standards for language and subject matter were pushed further with the premiere of Norman Lear’s groundbreaking comedy/social commentary All In the Family.
  • Resistance to the Vietnam conflict increased to a 60% disapproval rating and triggered bombings in the US Capitol with the unauthorized release of the Pentagon Papers, a government document that revealed that the Johnson Administration had systematically lied about the conduct and progress of the war.
  • The Uniform Holiday act put all federal holidays on Monday.
  • To the delight of young people all over the country the age to both vote AND drink was lowered from 21 to 18.

Events for the state of Alaska likewise ranged from the monumental to the trivial:

  • In December President Nixon signed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act into law.
  • Nuclear testing continued at Amchitka Island out at the end of the Aleutian chain.
  • Public television finally arrived in the state with the establishment of KUTV channel 9 at the University of Alaska campus in Fairbanks.
  • …and a new shop building was opened at Kenai Central High School located across the parking lot to the south of the main building. In line with the trend at the time toward vocational education the new complex included an auto shop, a carpentry shop, a drafting classroom, and a student supply store.

1970: Or Classmate of Brother of Friend of Son of Beowulf Junior

(carrying on with excerpts from my next book)

Can they do this?

Can they legally print a picture like this?

It was the LIFE magazine retrospective covering the previous decade and the image in question had been taken during the height of craziness surrounding the Democratic National Convention the previous year and in the middle of the crowd it depicted a shirtless young man “flipping off” the photographer/viewer. It was a photo that captured the essence of the times and while it seems a fairly tame image for current standards that conflict between content and reaction was a perfect metaphor for the era as the media had us all convinced that the freight train of societal change was threatening to derail at any time.

It definitely looked like things were changing, with some changes definitely on the plus side:

  • Earth Day was established on April 22d of that year.
  • The voting age was lowered from 21 to 18.
  • The federal government put an end to commercial whaling.
  • OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) was signed into law.
  • We got Monday Night Football!

…while other changes were not all that great:

  • Both superpowers continued with above-ground nuclear tests with one of the main sites being (gulp) – the Aleutian Islands.
  • The space program stumbled with Apollo 13’s near disaster.
  • Militant groups including the SDS and the Weatherman Bomb were setting off explosions in cities and universities.
  • The invasion of Cambodia dramatically broadened the scope of the war in Southeast Asia.
  • At Kent State in Ohio, National Guard troops opened fire on student protestors with fatal results.

As for the Peninsula; without the influx of fire-fighting money like we had the previous summer, 1970 seemed economically stagnant – at least for young people. The school district was able to scrape together enough money for the high school to insure that the cafeteria where we’d been eating sack lunches for the past year was finally going to have a functioning kitchen, but other cost-cutting measures threatening to severely curtail operations and activities.

It was in response to a vote on proposed school appropriations that the four-page broadsheet dubbed “The Peninsula Clarion” started appearing in everyone’s mailbox. No one knew who was publishing it, but it was obvious that whoever they were, they really, really, really did not want the school bond to pass.

Parley LaMoine Howell (1933-2020)

1980

“That’s some book-case you’re making David”

 “Thanks”

 “Are you sure you don’t want to add another support on the front:

 “Yes Dad”

(tap/tap/tap)

“You may want to consider adding that support to the front. Conrad is starting to walk, and he may grab onto it and – “

A reply of ultimate snarkiness was on the tip of my tongue but as luck would have it my Beautiful Saxon Princess chose that moment to step in and inform us the coals were just right for barbecue and took her father by the arm to start grilling. I shot a dark look at my father-in-law’s receding form: It was bad enough that in two days I’d be facing a medical board ruling my flight status without getting a critique on every second nail I drove into MY bookshelf…but then he was a civilian paper shuffler and hadn’t a clue about my situation, or ( I suspected) a care.

1991

David, are you sure you don’t want to go with us?’

“Yes, I’m sure”

(pause)

“ Did I tell you that we got a new engine for the boat and new upholstery for the seats?

 “Yes”          

 “Did you see the forecast? It’s going to be perfect weather”

 “I know”

(pause)

“ David are you sure –“ at which point my Beautiful Saxon Princess (well aware of the signs of an impending eruption of Mount David) stepped in with a Bundt cake to distract her father from his efforts to persuade me to join in a water-skiing expedition that afternoon.

I sat back and reached for an unbroken pencil and fresh sheet of paper. He didn’t have a clue – I was hanging on by my fingertips to an MFA program with an open hostility towards middle-aged professionals who also happened to hold reserve commissions in the military. My young family thought of the trip to my in-laws as a vacation but I definitely needed time to work on a research paper on Tlingit raven rattles, a topic that was both politically correct enough to get me through the semester as well as obscure enough to discourage thorough examination.

1997

“David, are you sure you want to measure out the stud lines from that wall”

 “Yes Dad”

(hammer/hammer/hammer)

“David, don’t you think we should measure out from this end”

 “No Dad. Measuring from this end puts most of them under floor joists”

(hammer/hammer/hammer)

“David are you – “ at which point Fate in the shape of My Beautiful Saxon Princess intervened with a tray of sandwiches and drinks prompting me to drop the hammer that I’d been gripping hard enough to emboss fingerprints.

2020

Parley LaMoine Howell passed away a few days ago, joining his wife and sweetheart Velma who’d made her own exit from the earthly stage a little over a year ago. Despite the Huntsville (AL) venue we were able to participate in the funeral via a Facebook Live broadcast (take that mean old Mister Coronavirus) and as we sat in the studio listening to the services several conclusions came to mind:

  • This guy was the bomb! He started college at Gonzaga University on a basketball scholarship, was a pivotal designer for the Lunar Rover used in Apollo program and in three different states was a major factor in the growth and leadership of our faith.
  • This guy was good. In the forty-two years I’d been married to his eldest daughter I’d never once seen him lose his temper or speak sharply to anyone in general but to me in particular when I was acting like a fourth-point-of-contact. He was sincerely Christ-like, and I had no doubt that if he was handed a glass of buttermilk it would revert back to grade A whole milk just because of his proximity.
  • I had sadly misinterpreted his intent those times he had been so insistent. What he’d really been saying in 1980 was “I know your medical grounding is difficult to deal with but you’re still valuable to me”. In 1991 he was saying the same thing about the challenges for graduate school I was facing, and in 1997 he just wanted to make sure our home was snug and well built.

…and lastly:

  • If I was ever going to be serious about weight loss we had to come up with a different way to defuse interpersonal conflict.

“Hello?”

“Anybody there?”

I’m a semi-shut-in (if that’s a thing) so I’m used to my horizons being clipped short and using Amazon for shopping…but from where I stand it’s not just the mall, church of my grandson’s school that seems deserted – it’s feels deserted here as well. I can’t speak for all of my other word-crunching friends but for me personally – I’ve never had such low readership figures, looks, likes whatever you call it. I hope it’s just quirk brought on by the virus and that as time goes on we all get back to reading and commenting.

To better days!

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!

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.

Thanks-that-I-am-giving

I never was a little kid – at least internally. From the time I was able to form coherent thought I was a fifty-year old man in a kid’s body and much more inclined towards pragmatism than my friends. Because of that nature as I approached the precipice of adulthood at eighteen I spent a lot of time trying to develop a good set of mental tools to get me through life, and came up with these half-dozen personal rules:

  1. Taking inventory of my interests and carefully choosing how I’d spend my time
  2. Avoiding trouble and in doing so learn from other people’s mistakes
  3. Thinking through problems the way water always flows to the lowest level
  4. Making everything negotiable when it came to changing myself.
  5. Re-casting challenges as a matter of endurance, then hanging on like a bulldog.
  6. Having faith in the future, that “maybe tomorrow will be a better day”

I figured that by following these guidelines I’d get through life with a minimum of fuss, solving problems efficiently and avoiding the setbacks that my friends encountered, but as Napoleon said “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy”. That inner fifty-year old made it difficult at times to adapt to social trends and mean old Mister Genetics blessed me with autoimmune issues that have had a game-changing effect on every aspect of my life, but I was still able to hang on to #6, that “maybe tomorrow would be a better day”

…but it’s getting more and more difficult to keep telling myself that and I often fear that there are no more “do-overs” in my life, especially with physical issues. I thought ankylosing spondylitis was the major game-changer in my life, but then I fractured my ankle and that became the major game changer…right up until I took a tumble down our stairs and damaged my knee.

Now my game, my life has truly changed and while I may not totally housebound I am pretty close to it and my best efforts have not been equal to the challenge. There are a lot of things I cannot due (not for the lack of trying) and I struggle with wondering if I don’t have that many more “better days” left to me. It’s a bitter pill  to swallow and while it takes effort to combat that bitterness there are two excellent ways to do so:

  • Service – doing something for someone else
  • Gratitude – expressing thanks for what I do have

That second remedy is why I cherish Thanksgiving – and by “Thanksgiving” I don’t mean the traditional holiday with the Pilgrims, Squanto showing them how to fertilize crops with dead fish and all the emotional baggage the holiday has acquired recently. I’m talking about my own personal “thanks-that-I-am-giving”

  • I’m stuck in my house a lot?
    • Isn’t it great that I’ve got a nice place with comfy places to sit and plenty of DVDs to watch
  • We’re far away from family and old friends?
    • What a blessing to have Facetime and Skype to keep in touch with my whole family.
  • An A/S flare keeps me from walking or doing simple tasks?
    • My Beautiful Saxon Princess loves me and selflessly aids me in everything. 

…and (despite what I said before) tomorrow very well may be a better day.

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