Monday, August 20, 2007

On Enough Said

Harrison Ford.
Karen Allen.
Steven Speilberg.
George Lucas.

Nuff' Said.

On Thoughtlessness: My Children's Sadness

When Marissa died, sunflowers that we had planted were blooming. There were a few neat stories about those sunflowers. This is, unfortunately not one of them.

We saved the seeds from last years batch of sunflowers, and on Mother's day this year, we planted those we harvested. The sunflowers did not all grow. We had about a third of what we planted come up, but one of them--the largest one--was dubbed the "Marissa Sunflower" and we have watched them grow. A few weeks ago, they finally grew heads. Due to the drought this summer, their growth was stunted, and we were concerned that they would not flower before Marissa's birthday this year.

Last night we discovered that someone had come and either broken off the plants at the stalk, or snapped the newly formed buds off of the plants.

Someone thought it was funny. My children were crushed.
It was an ongoing memorial to their sister. Its like sitting on or knocking over gravestones. There were many tears.

My six year old son wanted the persons responsible to have their heads cut off. My seven year old kept asking "How would they feel if it happened to them?"

To process this, I had the kids draw pictures of how the event made them feel. This is the result.

The first image is from my six year old son.

Friday, August 17, 2007

On Perseverence: Still Standing

My apologies for this lengthy absence.

"I wish you here tonight with me to see the northern lights,
I wish you were here tonight with me.
I wish I could have you by my side tonight when the sky is burning.
I wish I could have you by my side...
...Conscience clear, I'm still standing here."
--Still Standing, The Rasmus

"And did you think this fool could never win?
Well look at me, Im coming back again."
--Still Standing, Elton John

You know what it feels like when you just step out of the pool on a hot summer day? The air around you is scorching but you can still feel the chill of the breeze on your wet skin? Imagine for me, if you can, that same chill right through the middle of you. Like someone has taken an enormous paper punch, and removed a perfectly round section of your torso, and the wind is now gently blowing against the wetness that rims what is left.

Now think of the last good case of the flu that you had; the tired bones and the aching joints? Remember how each breath seemed an effort? Every single movement is like running a marathon isn’t it? A week-long spell of continuous exhaustion and dull aching.

And how about that last trip you had to the dentist to get that cavity filled? Yeah! That’s a good one. I’m talking about after the annoying pinch of the needle in the roof of your mouth or under your tongue. I mean when that Novocain has really settled in and is working hard. Complete and total numbness. The only way you can tell anyone is doing anything inside your mouth is by the earthquake vibrating your skull every time that drill touches your tooth. Now, take all these experiences and lets put them into context.

For a father, the death of a child is an exquisite pain, unlike any other. It is a physical pain. The hole is not an imaginary one. Even now a year later, I can feel the breeze pass through my chest when I step outside. My legs feel like they are made from lead, and my joints still ache perpetually. The numbness has subsided some, but I still have yet to regain the feeling I once had. It isn’t imaginary. It isn’t “all in my head.” My first-born child, my beautiful daughter died in my arms, leaving wounds in me that should have been fatal. Yet somehow were not.

But the physical pain is just the beginning. There is much more that comes in the wake of loss. The nightmare can only be experienced, not explained. My efforts to bring my personal tragedy to you do not do justice to what I have lived. I simply hope to prove that the pain is normal, the insanity typical, and the trauma standard. My pain is no worse than that of any other father who has lived through this experience. The difference lies in my perception, and my willingness to share.
Today is August 17th, in the Year of Our Lord 2007. For those just joining us, that means ten years. In just fifteen days, it will have been ten years since the miraculous event that transformed me from a self-centered, drunken, occasionally violent, irresponsible man-whore, to the man who now regularly willingly subjugates his own desires for those of his children, the man who without regret or complaint sacrifices personal treasures to pay the bills, and the man who would without question lay down his life for his wife and children. Ten years have passed since one man died, and another was born.

But it has also been a year since another version of that man died. As I write these words, four hundred and thirty-two days have passed since I was initiated into this terrible club of loss, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate my dear daughter’s upcoming birthday then by getting this ball rolling in earnest.

Time to finish what I started.
I havebeen working hard on my illustration skills. Muscles that have long been sedentary are now awakening, stretching and flexing again. I have a story to tell, and though my skills with the written word are not minor ones, my real strength lies in communicating through pictures. It is now my plan to tell the story of 2006-2007 in a multi-medium format. Much of my work will still simply be written, but the majority I hope to have in a graphic novel format. I hope to better describe feelings, thoughts, and emotions in this manner. Additionally, I hope to expose for the first time some of my poetry, which I have long kept to myself. It does me no good to sit on this stuff. It doesnt do anyone else any good either. Once I have confirmed my employment situation, I will be able to schedule regular time for writing and illustrating. I will present pieces of this work here as they come.

If this experience I hope share with you has taught me anything at all, it is that we survive. The wounds that should have killed me outright, did not. I live with the cold, ache for the rest of my life. I heal, and move on. I, like those who share this experience and survive, take with me the best parts of my loved one, and those parts somehow make me, and all of us that much stronger. We absorb their strength of character, their determination, their love of life. We see things differently than we did before. Our priorities are different, as well as our look at life. We learn who our friends really are, and very much what we ourselves are capable of.

Even with this hole through the middle of me, I’m still standing.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

On Art: My first time...

Here is my first computer colored picture.
I finaly figured I had betterget with the program if I am to fulfill my life's dream of the revisiting of the 1980's post-apocalyptic superheroes inspired by Mad Max movies. Thats right I want to do a comic book before I die.
I have been recently working on getting the tools and skills together to make this happen, and have been exploring online communities for support. One of these is the Online Manga University... some pretty cool folks there. This is a contest entry based on some Warrior Android named Roxxanne. I apologize to all those at OMU whom I may offend with my ignorance.

This is the first time I have used computers to so anything. I did a sketch, inked and scanned it onto the iBook. Then I used Photoshop 4 to color, though I found it to be a time-consuming and irritating process. The results when you look closely at the maginified image are rough to say the least. I will be adding the hand colored version in the near future for a comparison.

I hope to post a few pages within the next month or so with an excerpt. Lots of excerpts huh people? When the hell am I going to get you a finished product?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

On God's Influence: A True Story from my Life

Hello again friends. It seems that life has interrupted my writing again.
I would like to share a true story from my life. This is an exerpt from a rough draft from my memoir. It is the introduction to my work on keeping promises. I hope you like it.

Years ago I was commissioned by a man to paint a portrait of Christ. It is an interesting story really, I was approached after having done some mural work for a local club, and after handing me a check for several hundred dollars, he informed me of his wishes.
“God has moved me to commission this work,” he told me. “I’ve seen what you can do, and I’m confident that it is you that God has in mind.”
I thanked him for his confidence, and proceeded to ask him the usual questions:
How big?
What medium?
What timeline was I looking at?
His answer was very strange at the time.
“Its gotta be big,” he told me. “Its gotta be big and in color. I know you like to do those black and white dot things, but this is in color.”
I nodded.
“When do you want it by?” I asked.
“Well, God has told me that I am going to die in eleven years.”
Inwardly I raised an eyebrow and let out an “Oooooooh-kay.” I heard the sounds of cuckoo birds somewhere off in the distance, but I shrugged it off and let him continue.
“I have eleven years,” He repeated. “I’m not going to bother you about it. God has told me to trust you. As long as I get it before then, I have no time requirements for you.”
I snickered to myself as I shook his hand... this guy is some piece of work.

My daughter was born shortly thereafter. Soon after that I had moved to a town about an hour away to go to college. Following that I was married. Somewhere in that time, my daughter had developed her neurological difficulties, and we moved again to be closer to the medical health professionals of the metropolitan area of Grand Rapids. I graduated college; I got my first professional job. My wife and I had five more children. In short. Life happened.
In the back of my mind I always had that promise. From time to time I toyed with the idea of starting the painting whose commission I had long since spent. I never got around to it, plain and simple. It wasn’t a big priority. There had been no rush. I have to admit that from time to time, I was sure he had written it off. I was just some asshole that screwed him. Again, I have to admit that at times, the thought crossed my mind.
One day, about six or eight weeks ago I was driving down a busy urban street when an old red pickup truck drove by. There was an old man and woman seated in the cab, and I could distinctly make their features out as they passed me by, going in the direction from whence I had just come. There was a moment of eye contact between the driver, and myself and to my surprise I saw the man whose picture I had yet to paint. Finally, with what I was certain to be a sign from on high, I began work on the face of Jesus Christ.

Once the piece was completed to my satisfaction, I put the canvas up—high out of the reach of my small children, and debated on how I was going to get this picture to its rightful owner. We are not a wealthy family by any means, and any extra cash usually goes into the bellies of our children, so the idea of having to drive two hours to deliver this picture was out of the budget, and out of the picture for the foreseeable future.

It became a bit of a joke with me. “Hello, Jesus!” I would say upon passing the portrait. “How's’ it hangin?” What more appropriate thing to say to a painting? In truth, I began to enjoy having his smiling face around. But as time went on, it became a problem of procrastination again. The image was done, but it needed to get to whom it belonged.
One of my wife’s clients had paid her in cash. So there was sixty dollars that the family had planned on using to go north to visit my parents. The Saturday prior to our visit, my youngest son Max, became ill. I called my mother and told her we wouldn’t be coming after all, and that we would have to wait a week. The tank had already been filled.
My mom said that she and my dad would come and visit us, and thus, the next conversation I had with Jesus was a little different.

“Hey, Jesus! How’s it hangin?” I began.
“When are you going to take me to where I belong?’
“Come on, man. You know I don’t have the money to take you there, or else I would have done it already.”
“My son, that’s a bunch of garbage and you know it. I provided you with money to go and visit your parents. Instead, they came to see you. You still have all that gas. Use it to take me home.”
Damn. Jesus was right.
Today was that day. For weeks now, I had been wondering what the reaction would be when I showed up after all this time, Christ in hand. I pulled up to the building I had painted so many years ago, and walked inside. There was the smell of cigarette smoke and coffee that had always been there. There had been some painting and other decorating, but otherwise it was still the same. I waited until the men that were in the lobby had noticed me, and I asked if the gentleman I was looking for still hung out around there. And I received odd looks and silence for my query.
“He passed away this past fall.” A young man with a full head of hair and intellectual looking glasses told me. I felt my heart sink.

It occurred to me at that moment that it had been nearly eleven years since I was first commissioned to do this portrait.

It also occurred to me that I have gone through life with this “it can wait” or “I’ll do it tomorrow” attitude. Now I am reminded of all the fact that there are just some things you cant take back. Most things in life I would say, you are able to get “do-overs.” You don’t like your career you can go back to school and start again. If you don’t like your Dodge Charger, you can trade it in on a Ford Mustang. Even in the more important areas of our lives, we choose who we will marry—and sometimes when things don’t work out, we can do that over as well. We change our majors, we relocate, we make plans and then cancel them If we get into an argument, we can always apologize. If we hurt a loved one, we can always try to make it up to them. . It all becomes part of our fickle culture, our disposable nation. Until one day we make plans to do something with someone, and they are gone.

I never got that picture to its rightful owner before he passed away. In my mind the only right thing to do was to find his closest surviving relative and give the picture to them. A few questions and a dozen gestures towards the east later, I found myself at a small auto repair business a few miles away. I spied a man coming out of the small building nearby and introduced myself. There was no mistaking this as the son of the man who had commissioned me. For a moment, I had the feeling that I was staring at the man I had come to see—only twenty years younger. I told him I had known his father, and that I had something for him but that I had heard he had passed away. We talked for a little while, and I presented the picture to his son. In the end, I guess it was a gift from a father to his son. I was merely the vessel. It had been bought and paid for.

It still didn’t settle within me the realization that I had left a promise unfulfilled. It wasn’t this portrait of Christ that it was about however. It was about another promise, one I made to a little girl on a warm summer day.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

On Art: A Work in Progress Part II

Here is the basic outline of the painting I will be working on. I have will show it in several stages, the first few will be in this post with commentary.

The image is a "self-portrait" of sorts. Well, I guess not of sorts. Its me. I just had a photograph taken, and then I worked it onto the canvas. I however, am not the subject of the painting... the emotion is.

I began with the colors immediately. I have a vision of some Simon Bisley work in this, but it doesnt come out with the blue. It is flat and cartoonish.

I switched to idea being that I could use only two colors of paint for the entire piece. I put that idea aside, and added black and grays. The head distortion did not turn out as planned however, and the face is beginning to look like a tengu.

More coming.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

On Greatness

Happy 4th of July.
Happy Independence Day. The birth of The United States of America.

I sit here early in the morning hours contemplating what it means to be American. I was made an American by birth. I was born in the city of Kent, Washington. Yeah, right up in the Pacific Northwest, that’s the place. I was blessed to be a part of this mighty giant by virtue of nothing other than chance. I could have found myself incarnated into any family anywhere in the world. I could have been born in Australia, or Denmark. Maybe China, or Argentina? Who knows? Doesn’t matter. I am an American Citizen because I was born here.

Americans are great aren’t they? We do great things. We create incredible products. We develop amazing new technologies. Our military is the strongest on earth. We really have it going on, don’t we?

So, as an American Citizen, what have I done that is great?
I dropped out of Art school.
No, wait... I graduated college with a B average and went on to... no, sorry. My mistake. That was someone else.
I came up with a cure for that one disease... oh what was it called? Shoot. That wasn’t me either.
I did spend eight years in the Marine Corps Reserve... does that count?

Let me see... what is really great? Who shaped cultures? Who defined nations?
Jesus Christ did... He was friend to the downtrodden and the poor. He healed the sick and fed the hungry wherever he went. Yeah, but Jesus was a Jew from Galilee, not from New Jersey.
Mohammed. His teachings have become the basis for the fastest growing religion in the world! Oh, wait. He was Middle Eastern too.
Buddha... Crap. He was Indian.
Confucius! Yeah I like... Jeez. He was Chinese.

Maybe I should avoid religion. I know I will look at world peace!
Gandhi! Gandhi brought nonviolence to the worlds eye, and Gandhi was... what? Indian too?
Well Mother Theresa would certainly rank number one in that... You’re kidding! Born in Macedonia?

Well Conquest! Who was the greatest military leader in history?
Alexander the Great? Greek.
Adolph Hitler? Like it or not he made taking over Europe look easy—even if he was a psycho genocidal megalomaniac. Yeah, but he was German. Err, well Austrian.

Let me try writing. Whose work influenced the world?
William Shakespeare—English.
J.R.R. Tolkien—English.
Does anyone see where I am going here?

Please don’t misunderstand. Americans have done great things. Hell, I have done great things. With the children I work with, I mean, my own kids seem to think I am pretty great. I know I did a great job when I chose my wife. And I don’t want anyone to think that I don’t love my country. I do. Eight years of carrying that damned machine gun says so (It was heavy you know.)

What I am saying is this:
We are not great simply by being born great. Greatness is made by determination, strength of character, charisma, and a little luck. The entire world has made contributions that have shaped American Culture—for good or bad. But we as Americans do not hold the monopoly on greatness, pride, or richness of culture. We are leaders in the world community that many in said community have a hard time following these days. Today, on the birthday of this magnificent nation, I encourage you all to take a moment to reflect on true greatness. Those who earned it, and not born into it. I know when I think about it, it makes me that much more appreciative of the Greatness in inherited being born American.
Take a moment to appreciate what you have!
Take a moment to be thankful!
And Take a moment to appreciate all those from around the world whose efforts have made the world a better place. American or otherwise.
Finally, also remember those whose blood was spilled to give us the right to be great.
Semper Fidelis.