What Analog Artists Do When the Power Goes Out

I am an easy-going person and I get along with just about everyone, but occasionally I will run into someone who seems to feel that my face is a face born to slap. When I was younger it would cause me a lot of distress and it’s still not much fun at sixty, but the most stressful aspect did not know what the cause of this rancor was…then one day the last Lego snapped into place.


There are a lot of frustrated artists in the world, people who would like to be creative but lack the skill to do so. There are also people with talent that would like to be working with that talent full-time, but can’t quite make the jump to freelancing. In either case soon after they learn I am a freelancer illustrator I start getting red faces, clipped word and baleful stares aimed in my direction.

Unfortunately on one occasion I had one of these people as a client.  The minute I walked through the door the drive-by sarcastic quips started up, beginning with the “Computers are putting guys like you out of a job” and ended with the usual stale “you want fries with that” jokes shouted out the door as I walked out to my car. I wasn’t in much of a mood for the comments but when I did the math it turned out to be a very cushy assignment. The company made custom campers and trailers for the telephone and cable industry and they needed a dozen line drawings of their product. Between the great shot reference photos I shot in their yard and the fact that I can render hardware in my sleep it was going to work out into one of the better dollar-per-hour rates I had ever made, so I sped home and got ready to start work…but the minute I sat down at my studio desk there was a knock at the door.

It was a representative from electric company; because they had to replace some aging transformers or framistats or whatever in the neighborhood they were going to shut the power off from nine in the morning to three in the afternoon for the rest of the week. I chuckled for a minute, then took my drawings to a desk in another room, pushed the desk close to a window for better lighting, then continued working.

On Thursday I called the client and made arrangements to meet. He had heard about the power outage in my neighborhood and was very brusque, telling me that he was a business man with deadlines to meet and he couldn’t be expected to “carry someone else’s load”–which I assumed meant he thought I was going to be asking for more time on the project. The other shoe hadn’t dropped yet–he had been so caught up in being caustic that it didn’t occur to him that I didn’t need a computer to do the work.

I wished I’d had the proverbial camera with me when I brought in all the drawings, complete and a day early. His expression telegraphed his internal reaction so obviously that all I could think was how quickly I could pay off school loans if I ever got in a card game with with this guy. As I turned the illustrations in and the check was being written his face never ceased its ballet of disappointed twitches and tics …though he did get in a parting shot by rejecting one of the pieces as something he supposedly had “never asked for” and docking me a hundred bucks.

I had my own dilemma to solve as well.  The adult in me was urging a kinder attitude, but the teenager in me was hopping up and down in a celebration of reverse-schadenfreude, ready to trade some extra time in spirit prison in exchange for watching that face-tango for another 10 minutes. Yes, computers are the future, but for now I’m happy drawing with my pencils and pens as an “analog” artist, whether the lights are on or off.


Adjusting to Sixty

Every day I find out some new aspect to being sixty. Not just the physical aspects – but the social, mental and emotional sides of living at this age. For example, while I was working at the Swanson River oilfield in the summer of 1972 I got hit on the head hard enough to make my knees buckle. I got hit on my head a month ago and the two experiences have been very, very different.

1972: We were pressure testing valves that were to be inserted in a line of tubing being put down a well, the test requiring the use of 36” pipe wrenches. In order to get sufficient force to seal everything off correctly we had to use 48” cheaters – pipes put on the handles of the wrenches to increase leverage so we could make a tighter seal.

Being nineteen and invulnerable – and also of tired & careless because I was working the first overtime of my life I wasn’t wearing my hard hat. You can see the equation working itself out.

(W + M) x E = S + T

W:  36” pipe wrench (with an extension much longer than warranted for)

M:  210-pound young man hanging on one end

E:  An environment covered with oil and water

S: The wrench slipping

T: One tremendous blow to the head.

I got up right away, “shook it off” like nothing had happened then put the wrench down and walked over to the water fountain only to collapse just before reaching it, catching myself n the edges of two barrels located next to the door.

I was a little shaky that night but was just fine the next day.

2013: I either blacked out or “instantly fell asleep” just as I was entering the loo. I had no idea anything was happening until I heard a loud bang and felt the side of my head start to really hurt.  I got up right away – only this time my knees also buckled right away so I got to my bed as soon as possible and spent some time there before trying to go about my regular routine.

What’s it all mean?  While I recognize that I am physically not as capable as I was 39 years ago inside of me is a 20 year old saying “WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?” My muscle memory and reflexes still want to follow that old template and it shocks me when I can’t do it. There’s a template in my brain that wants to shift me into “watcher” mode, making sure my wife and children are protected and taken care of. The reality though is that with my age and disability I am the one that has to be watched over with my wife and sons checking on me, following up and making sure that  I “did in fact go to the doctor after all”….

My beautiful Saxon princess is making the transition much better than I am, falling back on the phrase “It is what it is”. Unfortunately I have not been able to be as graceful, falling back on the phrase “it isn’t what I want” but I know that I will eventually make the transition to a life without 36” pipe wrenches with four-foot cheat bars.