Music: Songs for Beginners

 

After the astounding success of Déjà Vu the four members of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young each embarked on solo albums, occasionally crossing  back and forth between projects when their particular talents were needed. Songs for Beginners was Graham Nash’s own individual venture and while I really liked the album I was a little surprised at the bittersweet overtones in most of the compositions. It wasn’t until years later I learned the melancholia stemmed his recent break-up with noted folk singer Joni Mitchell.

…and when it came out in the summer of 1971 that bittersweet album briefly became a very appropriate soundtrack to an event in my life.

1971

Katy Christiansen was a Professional Girl – not “professional” as in working in an office or (ahem)street corner, but a Professional Girl as defined by columnist Cynthia Heimel: the girl that all the other girls hate because she is perfect, she knows it and relies on it to get through life.

She was also a member of an extended family group that would descend on our congregation every summer. The Christianson’s were one of the more stalwart families in church, and would host various aunts, uncles, cousins and friends as they rotated through the summers to work at their set net fishing site on the east shore of Cook Inlet. They all hailed from the Intermountain West and the kids were especially a most impressive bunch, every one a varsity athlete, cheerleader, or honor roll student. It was only later that we found that in the manner of all teenagers away from home for the first time they were embellishing credentials to impress the locals.

That wasn’t the case with Katy – she was as genuinely outstanding as everyone else said they were. A natural blonde with finely chiseled Scandinavian features, she was graceful to the point of seeming to glide regally through a room rather than walk. I was interested but doubtful; I wasn’t a bad kid, but not a totally good kid either, but with Katy there was no “wiggle room”. Proper belief and behavior were dominant aspects of her personality and she was troubled by any variation from the standard however slight.

She first appeared the summer after my sophomore year but attempts to meet her were foiled by the cloud of cousins that surrounded her wherever she went. It was August before I figured out how to weasel my way through her familial entourage;  the effort left me exhausted and all I could manage as a greeting was something like “Hellorgle borgle argle” before bolting for the back door of the meetinghouse at a dead-run.

It’s amazing what two years can do for a young man’s confidence and when she came back to work the summer after graduation I felt  little stress in striking up a conversation. However, as we talked about our respective plans in life I began to wonder why she’d come back North; while I was slated to simply start school at the University of Alaska in the fall she had a schedule of seminars, photo shoots and conferences that seemed to leave little time for school much less work on a fish site. I also learned quickly to avoid any topic in conversation that came even close to variance with church guidelines for youth.

We seemed to get along well enough that it seemed safe to ask her out on a date. There was no ulterior motive on my part; my romantic life was already complicated, and I was just looking for a time-out and an opportunity to relax – albeit with a beautiful blonde – but just a relaxing evening nonetheless. When I picked her up she seemed a little edgy , but during the drive to the theater  I finally got her to laugh a bit and it seemed like the evening had been saved.

When we got to the Mall Cinema the film had already started, and the theater  packed, so I took her by the hand and led her to what ended up being the last two empty seats in the house. As we sat down I looked over at Katy and was shocked to see a slightly stricken, ill look on her face. She took her free hand and using just two fingers she removed my hand – the one clasping hers and moved it to the armrest between us. There was a theatrical element to her movement – she used just her thumb and forefinger which made the movement look like she was handling a dead fish.

The evening went downhill from there. We left after the first film in a double feature and as I drove Katy back to the fish site the inside of the car felt more like Alaska in January than Alaska in June. On the long drive home later on I replayed the evening over and over but remained totally baffled – it wasn’t until long afterwards that I learned that I hadn’t been a date for Katy – I’d been a project, something to be fixed.1 At some point I had been judged as being defective and she’d lowered herself to spend time with me in hope that some of her “goodness” would rub off.

That stung infinitely more than the dead-fish hand-removal – that somehow embroidered jeans, shaggy locks, a bit of facial hair had made me into a liability, someone to be diverted (but not necessarily saved) from the path to perdition. It was a body blow. I could handle open hostility or contempt, but this?

In the end I sought my usual last resort – I sprawled in the bunk of my loft bedroom and cued up a record on my stereo, which happened to be the aforementioned Songs for Beginners. As I laid there thinking the events of the evening pushed two particular songs to the front in my thinking:

I Used To Be A King

“I used to be a king

But it’s all right I’m O.K. and I want to know how you are
For what it’s worth I must say I loved you as you are

And in my bed where are you
Someone is going to take my heart
But no one is going to break my heart again”

Wounded Bird

I’ve watched you go through changes
That no man should face alone
Take to heel or tame the horse
The choice is still your own
But arm yourself against the pain
A wounded bird can give
And in the end remember
It’s with you you have to live
And in the end remember
It’s with you you have to live

 I also walked away with two convictions seared in my heart:

  1. No matter what they looked like, how they acted or what they did I would never look at anyone as stereotype or anything as a complete person.
  2. I would never bother with another “Professional Girl”. When we were dating My Beautiful Saxon Princess would fret over her slight tummy a la Ursula Andress in the seminal Bond flick DR.No. Little did she know that slight (in her mind) imperfection was the “deal-maker” for me

 

  1. A few summers (and a haircut) later I heard a first-time-around  Christianson cousin loudly enquiring at a church dinner about the “mangy hippy” Katy had gone out on a date with a few years earlier.

Words and Images

For my whole life there’s been  this running gun battle between words and images.

 The ability to write and draw with an equal facility posed no problems in my youth but when it came time to declare a college major I went against my natural inclination and chose visual art instead of writing, I made that choice based on one very important fact: Distractions are not a problem when I make images. While I am painting I can also:

  • Listen to  music
  • Watch a video
  • Carry a conversation

On the other hand I have to be sitting in a monastery to write. Well, maybe not an actual monastery, but the place  has to be pin-drop quiet with no distractions whatsoever.

 Even more confusing?  When it comes  to painting I freely admit I am not stellar material. I’m a good draftsman, a good  sculptor and had I stumbled into  cut-paper sculpture earlier I’d be rich and famous, but I always knew that when it came to traditional illustration I was a “B-Lister” at best.  I compensated for that lack  by working extremely hard, but the fact is that when it came to making images my concept always surpassed my execution.

 I’ve never felt that way about my writing – not that I am cocky about it, just confident. It helped that during all those years focused on images I never completely stopped crunching words:

  • I’ve kept the same journal going consistently from 1972
  • I’ve edited newsletters in just about every religious or secular organization I’ve belonged to.
  • In the service  was the “go-to” guy for writing recommendations for awards and fitness reports.

 …and I borrowed a tool from my image-maker tool kit.  I work hard at my craft. While he might not seem the most obvious choice, Teddy Roosevelt has always been an inspiration for me in the way he fought his childhood weaknesses with hard work and a vigorous life style. As an artist I knew that my only compensation of lack of talent was hard work. If a classmate spent three hours on a project I spent six. If a competing illustrator put twenty hours into a cover I’d spend thirty or forty.  While I don’t spend quite so many hours on my work now, most of what I publish (especially the autobiographical stories) is the product of careful craftsmanship and word-crunching.

 It may be that I overwork my word-crunching at times. I do know that it slows down my output which isn’t a problem until I get sick and lose a week or two, at which point I start to lose followers as well. My original intent with the blog was to have kind of an  A/B schedule, with the “A” stories extensively crafted multi-page productions and the “B” stories  being made up of shorter more off-the-cuff observations.

 Maybe I need an A/B/B/A schedule….but as I’ve already weathered the disco storm once, so on that note I will wish you a good day.

( If you were born after 1970 you probably won’t get the joke…)

Laptops, Hacky-sacks and Soda Straws

Keeping this page going is like kicking a Hacky-Sack. As long as I keep busy and frequently add words and images I attract views and followers. Unfortunately there are times in my life now where writing is not quite – but almost as impossible as keeping a little leather packet full of rice in the air. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I deal with severe autoimmune problems, that between ankylosing spondylitis and rheumatoid arthritis the simple act of walking can sometimes defeat me.  What I haven’t been as open about  is the running gun battle I have with upper respiratory infections. It’s not unusual for me to have up to six cases of bronchitis a year; I’ll spend three weeks fighting the sickness only to get sick again only three weeks after I get better.  To put it bluntly I spend most of my time feeling like I am trying to breathe through a soda straw.

 Both the inflammatory diseases and respiratory problems stem from questionable medical practices of the mid-20th century.  I’m a thymus baby – as an infant I had an enlarged thymus which was thought to cause SIDS ( Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) The condition was called status thymicolymphaticus and while that is now an obsolete term it didn’t keep the doctors from removing that pesky gland with a series of hard x-ray treatments in 1953. The practice was discontinued not long after my treatment – a small comfort now that I’ve lived 64 years with a compromised immune system.

 It’s frustrating because I did everything right in terms of healthy living and I still ended up in the cross-hairs of a disease I didn’t even know about until I was almost fifty. It’s frustrating because I have a healthy dose of transpersonal commitment, a genuine desire to help those around me and other than call friends there’s not much I can do.

…so I write. I hope that I will some up with something that will bring insight, comfort or just a laugh to others. Unfortunately there are times when I can’t even do that (write) and I just have to hope that you’ll all hang around until I can get back to the keyboard.

 

 

2018: Stumble Fairy (Color Version)

2018-09-03 StumbleFairyColor0002Long before I was a college professor, design professional or military officer I was a working man. I worked as a janitor, a grocery clerk, roofer,  carpenter,  ranch hand, firefighter,  landscaper,  inventory recorder,  oil field hand and general maintenance worker for an apartment complex. Other than during my time in the oil industry  I was paid a fairly modest wage, but it never occurred to me to cop an  attitude about my situation…and I don’t recall being on the receiving end of the grief customers heap on people working in the service sector in the new millennium.

What the h*ll happened?

(At this point you’re probably wondering if

  • Did I remember to take my meds today?
  • What does this have to do with the color image I’m posting today.)

Usually I get my copy work done at the local Office Max by a young lady names Sarah, who is has a professional mind-set much like my friends and I had back in the Seventies. Sarah has a BFA in graphic design and is working on another related degree  – and while others a similar situation have acted as though the job is a major step down Sarah always turns in outstanding work. I do what I can to help her out but company policy forbids tips and there are only so many times I can file one those good service nomination forms for her.

However, there is one other way I can show my thanks, and that’s by telling you that she did NOT make the color copy/scan I’m posting today. Sarah has weekends off but I wanted to appease my inner OCD demons and show this image today.

(FYI, she made the scan of Stargirl that I put up a day or two ago.)

To be fair this kind of drawing is tough to scan. One slip with that salmon colored ground tone and the whole palette is messed up and it is never easy capturing the subtle nuances of marbilized paper.

In the future I’ll try to time things so Sarah does all my scans in the future…

 

2018 Stargirl (color version)

2018-09-02 StargirlColorI was surprised to find that I posted the original B/W version of this image in mid-2016. I apologize – my goal was to follow up with color versions as soon as possible. Twenty-eight months does not fall  into the ASAP category.

I’ve been schooled in this subject quite often as of late: setting realistic goals. I thought I was doing better  but as I was limping back to the car after a marathon copy session at Office Max I had to admit that there is still room for improvement. As I said the other day, no matter how many push-ups I try to do, no matter how far I try to walk at the end of the day I am still 65 – and a disabled 65 at that.

I also makes me thankful that we live where we do. The hurricane is a day’s drive to the east of us but the fluctuating barometric pressure still takes a toll on my arthritic joints.

I’d rather not think about how miserable I’d be right now if we lived along I-95 instead of I-24.

2018: Small Victories

Imagine simultaneously dealing with:

  • the Super Bowl on the big-screen
  • Infinity War playing on your lap-top
  • a conference call going on your smart-phone
  • your ailing mother on the landline while
  • your mechanic is on call-waiting with an estimate for repairs to your truck
  • a young child tugging on your sleeve

Welcome to the world of adult attention deficit disorder.

I can’t help but wonder what my life would have been like had Ritalin been available in the early Sixties. At the very least I’d have avoided the treatment that was in place for attention deficit at the time ( a smack on the head with a snarled command to “sit still and pay attention”). While I was fortunate in eventually developing coping mechanisms, the deficit makes it all too easy to constantly run the woulda/coulda/shoulda tapes in the back of my mind.

It took years to figure out that there was problem, then more years to learn that the solution wasn’t a matter of getting rid of the problem as much as accommodating it, and that progress was not going to be very quick or all-encompassing.

…so please forgive me if I take great delight in small accomplishments, like

  • Letting myself off the hook for mistakes made decades ago.
  • Setting aside concern over what might happen in the future.
  • Living in the present and enjoying the day.

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.

New Studio

new studio

This is the new studio – I’m in the process of getting a short video clip that will give you the full 360 degree treatment. Moving up here was one of the best decisions I’ve made in recent years. More light, more space – I guess it’s some sort of graphic design feng shui.

…or maybe it’s just nostalgia. While limited in scope the photo below should give you a good idea of what my attic loft looked like all those years ago.

DaveAtEighteen

Step by Step

It’s starting out to be a good week, if nothing else but for an incredible accomplishment I made yesterday. When I went to work in the studio I took the stairs two at a time alternating left and right…pretty much the way everyone but me goes up stairs.

At first glance it doesn’t seem to be much of an accomplishment but consider the following:

  • Ever since I destroyed my left ankle I’ve taken any kind of step very carefully, moving just one level at a time. I’m building strength – which was one of the main reasons we moved the studio.
  • For the first time in my live I was able to shut the mental tape recorder and enjoy the moment. No running commentary on how fast I could run in 1983 or how many push-ups I could do in 1976. I just enjoyed the moment.