Of Diving Boards and Bombers

Sometimes when I look back over my life I think about fear and the role it’s played. A couple of weeks ago I met Bob, a 93 year old veteran of World War II. As we talked fear was a topic in our conversation. I realize compared to a WWII veteran I have nothing in my life even close to his experience – but when I consider times I have felt fear my mind drifts back to 1970, to one of the days I let something small become something very large.

It was a hot summer day at the outdoor community pool in Roseburg, Oregon. I was seven years old standing on the end of the diving board about 8 feet above the water.

At that point I was the only child at the pool. All of the other kids had long ago passed the swimming test and gone home. I could see my mom standing outside of the pool area. She was looking through the chain link fence waiting. My teacher was to the left of me standing on the edge of the pool. She completed the tense little trio – we’d been there for nearly half an hour and my teacher’s patience was just about gone.

All I had to do was jump off of the board into the center of the deep end and swim to the side where my teacher was standing. If I did that I passed the class and could move on to the next class, leaving the mean teacher behind. Jumping off of the board toward the side of the pool disqualified the try, the jump had to be into the center of the pool.

At the time I was so terrified of this! The free fall to the pool was the beginning of what I was afraid of, then to be in a place where I couldn’t breathe even if I want to… suspended between the bottom of the pool and the surface for how long? Didn’t matter. Even though I was a pretty good little swimmer, I was so afraid. It was more than I thought I was capable of. So I wasn’t going to even try – it was just too big of a risk. My fear had robbed me of any confidence I might have felt in my ability to swim.

Oh I tried bargaining my way out of it! I told the teacher I’d just jump and catch the edge of the pool so my head didn’t go under – everybody would win! It was a brilliant idea! I spent 15 minutes trying to sell her on the idea. She wasn’t buying it. I had tried several times to sell this approach, But she had had it. She had started to get angry.

She explained it was NOT a good idea! She forbade me from doing it, forbade me from even trying it. It was just too dangerous, I might knock myself out on the concrete edge. I could really get hurt.

I remember the reflection of the white clouds in the smooth cyan surface of the pool as I fidgeted with my feet on the end of the board. I just hoped somehow this situation would resolve itself…

The teacher was distracted for a moment! My big chance! I took two quick steps backward on the board, turned to my left and jumped, and grabbed the edge of the pool on the way down. Success! I was alive and I had jumped off of her stupid board. My hair was even still dry! Maybe we could go get lunch now!

This is when the yelling began – both adults raining down their fear and anger in harsh words. My teacher accented her yelling by moving closer to me with aggressive body language. As I clung to the side of the pool I wondered if she was going to hit me. I wondered if they would stop. They yelled for so long! Worse. My mom seemed to be on the teacher’s side yelling in harmony with her. Now betrayal was added to the humiliation. I tried to be brave but a kid against two adults was just too much.

I thought I had done well. I thought I had conquered my fear. I was sure any leap from that board, while not perfect, was progress. The adults continued to yell, I was defeated in so many ways. To think I had overcome my fear in some way… faced with the reality of their wrath, it broke my heart. I hid my face between the edge of the pool and the water hoping they wouldn’t see the tears.

Fear had turned something small and achievable into a larger terrifying thing.

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When he was a boy, Bob dreamed of flying. To him soaring over the earth was what life was about. After graduating high school he went directly into the air force. They trained him and he became a navigator. His first assignment was navigating in a C-47 flying out of England to drop paratroopers in Europe. One transfer and Bob was a navigator fighting in World War ll. Flying over the beautiful European terrain with the huge engines droning outside of the cabin, suddenly explosions appeared all around them. On they would fly through the anti-aircraft fire from below. With a plane full of men the stakes were high. Eventually they would reach their target and the paratroopers would jump. The crew would then return to England with an empty plane.

Men became family under those conditions. Not only the crew he worked with on the plane, but the crews from other planes all became best of friends – their brotherhood forged in the stress and camaraderie of war and their love of aircraft and flying. After many successful paratrooper missions Bob was transferred to a B-17, then a B-26. His missions were now to drop bombs instead of men.

One day half a dozen B-26s were flying a bombing mission in loose formation. As they flew, the B-26 flying next to Bob’s plane suddenly exploded in a direct anti-aircraft hit. Bob remembers the flaming pieces of the wreckage falling towards earth. Five of Bob’s brothers, men he loved, were gone just that fast. He pauses the story here. The emotion of that moment rippling forward through seven decades to catch him again. “I still think about them.” he says as emotion chokes his voice. Then he let’s silence swallow the story for a while

I asked him what affect that had on him other than the devastating loss of his comrades. He told me he had never felt fear before he saw that burning wreckage falling toward earth. After that he realized the fear was with him every time he walked to his plane.

He said he realized at that point he was mortal – the reality of the anti-aircraft fire they had been flying through for many missions suddenly meant more and he was afraid. Every time he went up for a mission he could feel that fear clutching at him. He turned and smiled at me and said “ taking off got harder and landing back at base felt better every time”.

I told him I admire his courage. He quickly dismisses it. “No courage”, he said with a smile. He continued “you just keep putting one foot in front of the other and you get through it”.

Is the ability to “feel the fear and do it anyway” what makes his generation”the greatest generation”? I have a hard time finding words to share the awe I felt as Bob told me stories from his life. What a great guy. A hero. I hope I do as well with the hard things life has for me. I want to feel the fear but do it anyway – to simply put one foot in front of the other. It has added up to some pretty great things in Bob’s life. It’s evident in Bob and his stories. I’m grateful to have met him. Thank you Bob – for your service to our country. For your stories and your willingness to chat with a stranger.

Courage turned something large and terrifying into something smaller… something Bob could conquer one step at a time.

That inspires me.

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In 1970 after I got out of the pool I cried in the locker room, I cried on the way home with my mom. In my mind all of those unrealistic fears I had experienced on the diving board cemented themselves into a very large healthy dislike of swimming. it was almost thirty years before I found the motivation to put on swimming trunks and get in a pool with my kids. I let the lingering ghosts of a seven-year-olds fear stop me. Most of my life I have opted out of opportunities to swim. Did I let the fear win? In this case I think so.

Bob faced real fear. He had witnessed first hand what could happen – and it happened to men that he loved. However he was there to serve. He had a job to do, People were counting on him. He didn’t back down, he faced it. He felt the fear but he got in the plane and he did his job. That’s heroic to me.

I’m left evaluating my life now. Are there unrealistic fears tucked away in the attic of my mind? Are they preventing me from enjoying my life more? Of living more to my potential? Something to think about indeed.

Courage my friends! And on we go.

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Testing 1,2,3 Testing

Here’s something you may need to know – BMX is Bicycle Moto Cross the X is a cross, get it?) It took me a while to pick up on that… – Anyway it’s a bunch of people racing pedal bikes on a dirt track with bumps and banked curves and jumps.

A couple of posts ago I talked about how my dad was “all thumbs” when it came to fixing things – By the mid-1970s I had become very proficient at fixing bikes. This was at a time where owning a BMX bike was the “cool thing” but sadly, the expensive thing. I got caught up in BMX madness because one of my neighbors was in charge of turning an empty overgrown field into a track for the city-wide BMX races. I ended up going to the track just about every day, driving water trucks to spray down the track, building banked curves, and riding my bike like a madman. I broke my bike frame practicing on the monster jumps we had built into the BMX track. With the big citywide race just around the corner I was out of that race for sure. I had no money for a new frame but found a broken down girls bike in my dad’s shed – it belonged to my sister.

There’s a major difference between a girls and a boys bike frame. The boys frame has a bar from the gooseneck area back to the base of the seat stand. I had no idea why – I did know it gave you something hard to crack your tender parts on when you came off of the seat.

Boys Bike Frame (now I kind of wish I had thought of that pad on the bar 40 years ago!):

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Girls Bike Frame (no bar between the seat post and the gooseneck):

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I promptly liberated my sister from her bike and stripped it down to the frame and started finding spare BMX parts to round out the look and functionality. What about the “boys-bar”? I was sure i’d be able to jump much higher and farther with the lighter girls frame so I dove into the project. Serendipity was working on my behalf! A week or so later I unveiled the finished bike. I was so proud! It was so cool – bad to the bone! (except for the obvious fact that I was riding a girls bike). Nothing a lot of swagger can’t overcome.

It looked good but did it work? I couldn’t wait to try it out. I built a jump on the sidewalk in front of my house about eighteen inches high (around 46 cm) and jumped a few times. It was working great! – smooth as butter, However my tests were missing something… what I needed was a sense of danger.

I gathered kids from around the neighborhood and had four of them lay down side by side on the sidewalk next to the 18” side of the the ramp. I rode back, came at the ramp full speed and jumped over them easily. Now to be extra impressive I got the girls in the neighborhood and put them on the end furthest from the ramp. Now I had 8 kids I had to jump over – four kids and four girls! – missing might smash one of the cute girls, but it was a risk I was willing to take – danger was my middle name!

I built up extra speed for extra danger and I jumped over 8 people easily. Just one thing I noticed after the jump – my handle bars were closer to my seat. I was momentarily puzzled, but I brushed it off and went for another jump. I was out of kids – I did have some sense – and decided for the last death defying jump to simply measure 14 kids and put a board on the sidewalk. Then no cute girls would be harmed in the testing of my new bike.

However, a couple of the kids wanted to be a part of it so they laid down next to the ramp again. I rebuilt the ramp another 6 inches higher to give me more air on the jump, and get me over the top of the kids. It was still a pretty big challenge . Honestly I wasn’t sure I could make it. The kids I had been jumping over stayed around to witness this amazing feat unfold.

Super fast… up in the air… cleared the final board by a couple of feet (I could have fit another cute girl in there easily)!! The neighborhood was awash with excitement! I was the hero of the day!

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Just one small thing – my handlebars were only about 6 inches from my seat! I couldn’t pedal because they were in the way of my legs moving. I was so puzzled by this! I stopped amid the crowd of kids to look at the new configuration of my new BMX bike… and here’s what I found: The frame was bent right where I’ve circled above. Well it wasn’t bent so much as the weld had cracked! I suddenly realized! That’s what the bar on the boys bike is for, extra support when jumping over kids/girls! Now I knew.

I suddenly came to myself amid the adulation – I was still the hero so I got back on my bike to ride away. Sitting on my seat with my handlebars in my lap was not very hero-like, so I pushed the handlebars foreword to bend the frame back into shape. Now that my girls bike looked cool again I started to pedal away in victory. That’s when the weld broke all of the way. I was quickly a hero laying in the street with a bad-to-the-bone girls bike laying around me in pieces.

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All of this came flooding back to me as I talked with Ron about life. We met at a store I frequent – he was the cashier and I was at the front of a long line. Our conversation was brief. He had told me he was trying to start a second career as an author. I’m a big person and the main character in his first book is a large man too – so he struck up a conversation. To be honest I thought he was selling me a book. He just wanted to know how tall I was for reference.

I asked him what his first career was and he told me that he had started forty years ago as a technical illustrator/writer for a company in Los Angeles. The big project occupying most of the company at the time was designing/building fuselages for the first 747 planes. The company he worked for supplied the fuselage – then other companies put their components on to complete the aircraft.

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But before they could do any of that Ron’s company took the first six fuselages and destroyed them- They were trying to see how much abuse a fuselage could take under the most extreme circumstances. His eyes were kind of sad as he said “so many man hours for each one! It just took so long to build one and then we found that they had only been built to destroy. According to Ron the fuselages were dropped from great heights, were set afire, bombed, and one even had tanks try to drive through it.

I could relate to the pain in Ron’s eyes as he talked about his creations, his teams creations being destroyed. I thought of the last time I destroyed something while testing it for flight (thinking of my girls bike flying over that jump decades ago made me smile). But then I realized it had the same result as Ron’s 747 Fuselages. I learned a lot, but in the end all of my work was destroyed.

We’ve all seen footage of crash-test dummies, of cars being tested for safety, and even though it caused Ron pain – I’m glad engineers and others are working on safety issues far in advance. I hope Ron finds great satisfaction in his first career every time he sees a 747. I wish him the best for his second career and hope nobody tests his book with flame, a bomb, or a tank.
He’s a good guy – likable and excited about his new life. I wish him the best.

P.S.

I’ve been a dad for 27 years – and I have a daughter and a grand daughter who I love more than air. If some clown on a girls bike tricked out to be BMX thinks he’s going to jump them in an attempt to impress them… well let’s just say I see the other side of this story now. I’m glad it worked out where nobody was hurt in my adventure. Most of those kids make great Facebook friends now.

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Who Should I Be?

My dad was a restless, ambitious man. By the time I reached puberty I had attended 9 elementary schools across the country. Utah, California, Oregon, Wyoming, Florida and back to Utah in time for the 7th grade. I know, there aren’t nine states – trust me, the math works – but that’s a long story maybe for another post. I’m not a shy person at all in my old age, and I’ve always pointed to the fact that every 6-24 months we were packing up and moving to a new place, a new school, and I had to start all over again with new friends – learning how I fit in. Then just as I figured out how I fit in, BAM, time to move.  So I got good at talking to new people because I did it all of the time as a child.

You see my dad suffered from “Grass is Greener Syndrome”. Yeah it’s a thing – but I made it up – at least the name. The next move was always going to be IT – our Shangri-La, the Xanadu of prosperity and happiness.  Dining on honeydew and drinking the milk of paradise! So by the time I entered the 7th grade I had no idea where I fit.

As if junior high school isn’t awkward enough – add to the fact that I was joining hundreds of kids that had known each other most of their lives in one way or another. I was desperate to fit in, to belong, to have just one friend. The way I set out to do this is by attaching myself to a group I might fit and transforming myself into what I thought would fit in that group. That kind of artificiality backfired on me in so many ways – and I just could not understand why nobody would be my friend!

In fact it turned out that some of the groups became my tormentors. Sigh – nice to look back on that as ancient history, but it was terrible to live through.

My point is this. In my experience when you say and do different things to try to fit in, things that aren’t true to who you are, you lose track of who you are, and generally people are put off by the uncomfortable feeling of you pretending… it’s a lonely place and I didn’t know the solution for many many years.

A few weeks ago I was driving up a highway that runs kind of northeast out of Moab, Utah toward Monument Valley. I was stopping by the Colorado River that runs along the bottom of that canyon to make images like this:

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While I was standing there sweating in the heat while working my camera to make this image – I heard the oddest sound echoing down the canyon. I could have sworn it was a trombone! I had seen something “brass” as I was driving just a few minutes earlier. I wondered if that was where it was coming from so I jumped in my car and drove toward the sound and this is what I found:

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A french horn concert! As I pulled off and parked I said “well there’s something you don’t see everyday!” and laughed at the absurdity of me talking out loud to myself. I wondered if the heat was finally getting to me.

I walked over and motioned to my camera, asking if it was ok it I made photos of them – they nodded their agreement and kept playing. The music was amazing. I’ll try to explain it in text…

One horn would be playing a pulse – a quarter or maybe a half note every measure and the other horn would be playing way above it in this melody that wove in and around the first horn’s foundation. Then slowly the second horn would start to imitate the pulse of the first horn but higher in a tight harmony so it was hard to tell which horn was making which sound -the second horn would continue the pulsing while the the first horn dropped into the lower note range and would begin to weave a harmony lower than the second horn was playing…

I hope that gives you an idea at least – it was mesmerizing and completely beautiful. They were playing off of the sheet music and I heard no mistakes – they knew their instruments well!  And in the acoustics of the canyon walls the music gave me chills even in the heat of a Moab summer day.

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Ray and Erica met ten years ago or so when they both showed up for an audition. They both got parts and ended up sitting next to each other – and Erica’s husband got a part too and ended up sitting directly in front of them. Over the course of the next several days they talked and worked together and became friends. They have been close ever since. I wondered out loud if it was based on the bond of the love of the french horn. They both laughed politely, but didn’t answer my question. They adjusted their music and began playing again. They were there to play music – not talk to curious people who happened to stop and want to talk.

On their next break Ray explained to me he had wanted to try playing his horn in the canyon with all of the rock walls – he was curious how that would sound. He had come up to practice a week earlier and once he heard the amazing sound it created he called his pals – Erica and her husband – and arranged a group outing. Erica’s husband was there, but far below in a river rafting expedition. they had stopped for lunch and were playing noisily in the river below.

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Suddenly it felt like 40 years ago – to my mind the rowdy party below were the jocks and other tormentors (the “cool” kids) of my earlier life. Here I was with the band kids and for a split second I felt self-conscious about it. The jocks always tormented the band kids and the kid who didn’t fit in very well – there it was again. That ugly expectation that had been programmed into me by so many unfortunate, ugly experiences in the locker rooms and hallways of youth. This irrational fear was but a fleeting feeling washing over me… just for a moment, and then I was ashamed for letting that fear have power in my life again…

And then I was back to myself – back to the present as Ray and Erica lifted their horns to their lips and filled the canyon with music again. Echoing and reverberating and touching my heart. It was beautiful. They were doing what they loved in a beautiful place they were learning to love.

They were bold about who they were, giving the gift to the “cool kids” along with the rest of the world. There was no apology in them. They were proud of their talent and aware of the beauty they were creating. And seriously, why shouldn’t they? If what you create is beautiful to you – and someone doesn’t like it – too bad for them! right? A lifetime of being a commercial artist has taught me you can’t please all of the people all of the time – not even close.

In that canyon I learned again – be who you are. Be genuine and people will respond. Share what you have with the world, stand in your power, and the world will respond in kind. The people that love you and your work will gravitate toward you. You will enrich lives and many will love you.

If I had a time machine and could go back and teach a younger me those things that have taken me a lifetime to learn… I wonder if the younger me would even listen. Doesn’t matter, I have no control over that now… lessons are learned and on I go.

Here’s what I can do. I can tell you that those painful experiences of youth helped forge me into who/what I am today. It’s all part of my life path. I’m grateful for the things my life path has taught me through both pleasure and pain. And I can stand in the power of who I am and be confident that I can bless the lives of people I come in contact with by simply being me.

I’m grateful to know more of who I am and the contributions my uniqueness makes to the world. I’m sure that you being who you are makes the world a better place too.

Let’s go be true to who we are!

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Sometimes things work. Sometimes they break.

Yesterday my son spent the day with his girlfriend – it was a grand tour of celebration. Her brother was married yesterday and my son was caught up in the festivities.

Throughout the day he guessed they drove 200 miles or more.

Today he got up and drove 50 miles to be at work at 8:00 am. Worked his day – working hard for his meager salary. He’s still at that age where his strong body is worth more than his still to be educated mind. But he puts in his time and gets his check and pays his bills. He’s learning as he goes.
Once work was over today he got in his car – 50 miles away from his shower, girlfriend, home and the car will. not. start. Time to get it towed.

Yesterday the car took him 200 miles in air conditioned safety. Today 50 miles was all it had left. Time for something new – at least for a while…

For most of us this is just life in the twenty-first century. Sometimes things work, sometimes they break. We pay people who know how to fix things a lot of money to put our life back on track…

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Meet Lexi. Two years ago Lexi was an intelligent, energetic high school student. She took AP courses and loved to play softball. She played for her school team and hoped that the game she loved would also pay for part of her college.

She spent a lot of time in the mountains. The town in which she lives is nestled into the mountains and bordered by national forest on three sides. She loves the outdoors and spent a lot of time there with her friends.

One day about 18 months ago she and her friends were out “knocking down trees with big metal poles”. Yeah, that’s what she said. I’d like to have that conversation back, because as I write this I can’t picture what she and her friends were doing for the life of me – but she said that’s what they were doing. We’ll have those details another time perhaps.

They were winding down for the day and one of her friends tossed her metal pole to the ground and somehow on the way it hit Lexi in the head. It knocked her out. Her friends thought she was playing because there wasn’t a mark on her – not even a bump where she had been hit.

She pointed to a place at the top of her neck where it meets the back of her head several times while telling me about this, I imagine that is where she was hit. They were far away from their homes and medical help – but her friends got her back to the hospital.

Part of life in the 21st century. Yesterday Lexi’s brain was studying for ACT and AP tests, she could play softball and run. Yesterday she could read a book in a couple of days with excellent comprehension. Now Lexi was paralyzed for 30 days. When she awoke she couldn’t talk, walk, stand, or even think of reading… Time for something new- at least for a little while…

Sometimes things work. Sometimes they break.

A car is one thing, but it’s not supposed to happen to beautiful intelligent high school girls. So we pay people to put her life back together.

She’s grateful to doctors and medical staff for their help. She had to start at the beginning again. Walking first, then learning to talk, then slowly learning to read again. Coaxing her brain to accept the new information that’s important to her.

She is quick to give credit to all of those who supported her through prayer and fasting. In Lexi’s mind there is no question… The person responsible for putting her back together is the Lord. But it’s a slow process. As she learns to live again, she learns patience and perseverance.

She took the ACT and her AP tests while recovering – barely able to walk she studied and took the tests. She passed all of her AP tests! She scored a 26 on her ACT.

We know where to turn when our car breaks. To Lexi the only place to turn with a broken head, a broken brain, a broken heart, a shattered life – the person that knows how to fix that is God.
She’s grateful! In a remarkable statement she showed her amazing spirit, she’s grateful to be where she is, for the miracles that have gotten her here.

I’m inspired by my time spent with Lexi. I’m glad I’m so grateful to have had this conversation. God bless Lexi! May she continue on to full recovery.

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The Adorable Logic of a Two-Year-Old

Meet Kait, she’s a two year old friend that comes to see us from time to time.

The first thing she does when she comes in the door is runs and grabs my finger and starts pulling me to the back door saying “om… om…. om!” (of course we’ve learn that this is short-speak for “come!” I would like to think she likes me enough to share her experience with me – but not really, she can’t open the back door by herself. As I open the door she starts to yell with excitement “shicken, shicken!!” Then she sees them and the excitement takes her right out of the door.

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I love having chickens in our backyard – delicious eggs for sure, but they are just kind of calming to have around. Love having them, don’t necessarily love them – they are not pets. Kait runs up to them and tries to pet them–but they are chicken you see and run higgledy piggledy to escape. Kait then runs and gets some chicken chow out of the feeder and tries to feed them by hand… of course they’ll have none of that because, you might remember, they are chicken… of everything for the most part, and especially unpredictable two-year-old girls.

To wind up her whirlwind tour of the backyard Kait heads for the chicken coop. She lifts the door that leads into the laying box and checks for eggs. Yesterday she squealed with delight as she found three eggs – two green and one white. I knew the younger chickens had donated their share for the day. Kait picked all three up and carefully moved to the back door where she went in and carefully put them on the counter. Adorable! I’m not going to lie – she’s adorable.

An hour later I saw her open the door to the laying box again and find it was still empty. It didn’t seem to change her mood at all, she went on playing in the planter pots on the patio…

A couple of hours later I was completing a honey-do on the deck and Kait came out of the back door again. She was so excited yelling “egg, egg, grumpa, grumpa! egg!”. She had a green egg in her adorable little hand holding it high for me to see. I wanted to, but I’m glad I didn’t interfere – I figure an egg more or less isn’t going to kill me, so I chuckled/laughed at her, I confirmed that indeed it was an egg “you have an Egg Kait!!!”, and watched.

She went back to the coop, opened the door to the laying box and saw the empty box again. Very gently sat the egg back in the box – let the door slam shut and brushed her hands together with a satisfied look that comes from a job well done. With nary a glance in my direction she ran over to where the chickens were gathered in the shade and started babbling happily to them.

What motivates a two-year-old? I’ve no clue, but I sure love hanging out with them to see what two-year-old logic comes up with next!

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Those Darned Socks!

My dad was a bit of a miser. You know, a cheapskate. To his credit he did start working to pay the bills of his household when he was twelve years old. First a paper route and then other jobs including a stint in the Army. Money wasn’t a frivolous thing ever – it was never for fun, it was serious business.

I remember one day my siblings and I were dying!! We needed ice cream STAT!! So we went to him pleading our sad case and pointing out that cones were only $.15 at the local burger joint – ANYBODY could afford four kids at $.15 each! He declined – there just wasn’t enough money this month he said. And we were dismissed.

I’m sure he felt bad that he couldn’t give that to us – I still wonder if sixty cents would have put us in bankruptcy…

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I went into the living room on my 8th birthday and there was a Schwinn Stingray! I could hardly believe that bike leaning on it’s kickstand was mine! I wanted a bike so bad! But this was too much – it overwhelmed my eight year old mind – and I think my first sound after the shock of it all was “WOW Dad, How much did this Cost?!!!”. Yes, I had been indoctrinated well. I felt a little bad that he had spent so much money on me when an ice cream cone was a stretch.

So an eight year old with a new bike – can you guess what happened next? Maintenance! And plenty of it – it started with flat tires (we lived in sticker bush central it seemed) and then other things to fix as my new bike caught the attention of a school yard bully. He seemed delighted to take it from me to wreck it… my beautiful bike rammed into a brick wall while his cronies held me and made me watch…sigh. The trials of youth. I’ll tell you that story another time.

Nevertheless I was often the owner of a bike that didn’t run! Of course you know who I’d take it to…One of my dad’s mantras was “oh, I can’t fix anything, I’m all thumbs when it comes to tools” . So just ask for money to pay the bike shop to fix it. Right? hah! I knew better than to even ask.

So I learned to fix it. It wasn’t that hard, but there were a few sticking places – I learned as I went–mostly by mistakes. But I kept the bike functioning and ridable. Sometimes I would gather pop bottles to recycle for money for tubes and goosenecks and other miscellaneous parts. I made it work, and I was really proud of that bike because it was my best friend in a lot of ways – we had learned a lot together on many different levels. My financial creativity got a good start there – it served me well in business twenty years later as I ran my own freelance art studio.

I grew up with the saying:

Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do, Or do without. Keeping that bike running and many other opportunities to work for Dad made that saying a part of who I am.

 

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Kathy is the grandmother of 13 grandkids – and several great grandkids! I didn’t think she looked old enough to be a great grandma. And she doesn’t. She married at 16 – but that’s a story she didn’t tell me.

One day not too long ago she was pushing a lightbulb into a sock. Her grandkids were so curious why someone would ever do that! I’ll bet you know–don’t you my internet friend? Why would Kathy be pushing a light bulb into a sock?
She pushed it clear to the toe of the sock and the white of the bulb showed through the hole in the sock. Kathy paused her story and held up her fingers to show the size of a dime as the size of the hole in the sock. She took a needle and thread and started sewing the hole shut – she was darning the sock.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING??” the grandkids were horrified at the answer “i’m fixing the hole in this sock” Kathy said.

Grandma! You don’t fix that! – you throw the sock away!! They instructed her. They were quite sure she was doing it wrong. She took a minute to try to teach them – she said, “but the hole is so small, and the sock is this big. Why throw all of that good stuff away just because of one small thing that can be fixed so easily. Besides it only takes me 5 minutes to darn the sock.”
They sat and watched her darn that sock – trying to talk her into throwing it away the whole time. I could tell she was proud of that small accomplishment – fixing that sock instead of giving in to the pressure of her grandkids.

She paused her story and looked at me and said “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without”. BAM – we were connected – I told her I was raised on that saying and she said she’s from that same generation – and she kind of feels sorry for the “throw it away” generations that are following us.

My conversation with Kathy, seeing how important these concepts are to her still… brought my thoughts back to that stingray and all the other bikes I’ve built and maintained over the years since. I thought about the gardens my dad would plant and then make me weed – and how excellent that food tasted when the harvest started coming in. As I thought about it later I realized I was remembering the sweet taste of “make it do or do without”.

I’m with Kathy – there is value in working with your hands far beyond any monetary savings. I feel a little sorry for those who make it to adulthood not knowing that sweet feeling of having “made it do”. Fixing stuff rocks! I hope they get to learn that – all of the kids in the latest generation…

I hope their dads take them for ice cream every now and again too.

I’m so grateful for a dad that took his thrift and work ethic and taught me – whether I wanted to learn it or not. Grateful. Thanks dad.

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Going with the Flow

In 1967 my family lived in Provo, Utah where my dad was attending BYU. The house we moved into had a huge gutter in front of it between the sidewalk and the street. The gutter was a foot deep and was wide enough that I had to focus pretty hard to jump from one side to the other. I don’t know where the water came from or where it was going – but every time I wanted to play, the dark green rushing water was there. Pretty awesome house – I loved it.

The driveways of our neighborhood started in the street as concrete arches over these deep gutters. I remember driving home one evening and someone had missed the driveway backing out of their house and the back wheel was in the gutter. My dad told me they would have to wait for a tow truck to come and get them out.

My best friend Paul and I found all manner of things to float in the water. We’d throw sticks in and run next to the water cheering our “boats” on. The water would gurgle under the driveway of our neighbor carrying our boats with it. And that would be that – we’d never see those sticks again! We would run to the other side of the drive way and wait, but nothing ever came out the other side. Sometimes we’d see them 3 or four inches under the dark green surface, sinking and being swept away all at the same time.
One day I went to my dad to ask him to buy me a cool toy boat. He said “finally a use for that junk mail” and opened an envelope and pulled out a sheet of paper. He carefully folded the paper in magic ways – I had no idea what he was up to until he handed me one of these:

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I ran out and showed Paul my new boat! Soon we were both back asking my dad for a second boat. Another piece of junk mail made the transformation into a toy and we ran back to the waters edge.
On your mark, get set, GO! The boats dropped and we were running and laughing – our boats were amazing! We got to the driveway arching over our river and saw them disappear into the darkness under the arch. I was sure that somehow the magic of the origami was going to protect the new boats! So we ran to the other side of the driveway” waiting expectantly to see our boats emerge. After a five year olds eternity we looked at each other wondering what could have happened to our boats! Sadness started to descend as we laid down on the warm concrete of the arch and stuck our heads down over the edge to peer back into the dark to see if there was any trace of our junk mail regatta. We were pretty sad to have lost our cool boats on their maiden voyage… – and we ran back to my dad to explain why we needed a couple more. For all I know those boats and all of our sticks are still there, because we never saw them again.

Over the years of my educational journey I’ve picked up phrases like “go with the flow” It always meant “conform” and make sure you’re doing it like others are doing it” to me. It also reminded me of my lost boat, so it was a phrase/concept I wasn’t really fond of. Then last week I heard it again and it had nothing to do with water…

My wife and I stopped for a sandwich at a national chain restaurant last week. It had to be 43° in that place! What is it with air conditioning in this world! As soon as it gets mildly warm outside you have to wear your winter gear inside! Oh, that nearly turned into a rant. Sorry. Back to our story…
My wife and I were chatting – comfortable small talk, you know– and all of a sudden it was like the sun had come up! I’m telling you I could warm my hands on the cheerful coming from the human being that had stepped up to our table! Bright, energetic, and happy with a capital “H”! Kirsten introduced herself and asked how she could make our day better – she took our order and brought us food and beverage and she would check back to make sure we were ok. You know… she was a great waitress. (do we still call them that? or is she a “server”?). Call it what you want – she was good at it – she was seriously making our day better!

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My wife and I chatted about what makes people happy. I’ve always had the notion that one must work hard at being happy. No matter how naturally it came, it was always some form of work to be that happy. …like running up a down escalator, the flow was always toward sad, and to go against the flow was, well, work!

So the next time Kirsten stopped at our table I asked her “is it genetics that makes you this bright and cheerful and positive? Or are you working really hard at it?” (you know, like a duck – all calm and collected on the surface and paddling like a maniac underneath)
She chuckled at my duck analogy, but then the smile ran away from her for a moment and she said “I’m generally pretty happy, but today… well today it’s taking a lot of work”. I told her I was sorry she was having a hard day and she replied “I just decided it’s just as much work to be happy as it is to go with the flow” And there it was! That phrase! That thing we’re all supposed to do – go with the flow – don’t rock the boat baby!

I was so grateful and impressed that she was working hard to make it look that effortless. I love the idea that she feels she has a choice. She doesn’t have to let her life’s boat flow underneath the driveway into that dark place. She’s actually figured out how to move upstream in the flow – to be happy on a day when the flow would make it so easy to go the other direction.
I told her how much I appreciated what she had chosen that day, and asked to take a photo – see that smile? Hopefully we managed to brighten each others day. Kirsten gave me a reason to smile –
And determine: Am I going with the flow or making decisions and defining my own destiny.

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Hammering with a Crescent Wrench

My grandma always used to tell me the story about when I was two years old…

It seems I would go get the badminton racquet and the birdie and bring it to her. Then she would throw the birdie at the racquet that I was holding and I would hold really still and let it hit. Sometimes I would try to swing the racquet, and would miss the birdie. I would look at her very sincerely and say “You’re doing it wrong Grandma”. She told me that story every time I saw her like I had never heard it before…

Fast forward ten years and now I’m driving my dad crazy. I love my bike and it’s pretty clear to me if I wait around for him to fix it, well it’s probably not going to happen. So I had gotten pretty good at fixing my bike, building new bikes out of bike parts scrounged from around the neighborhood, I just kind of had a knack for it.  It was fun to think of something in my head and make it real using tools and parts etc.

My theory at that time was crescent wrenches are awesome because you can do just about anything with them. In fact, when it was time to work on one of my bikes–often my only two tools would be two crescent wrenches!

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The part that drove my dad crazy (beside the fact he could never find his tools) was the fact that I would use a crescent wrench as a hammer all of the time! Why get up and go find a hammer when I had a perfectly good pounding device in my hand already? He was not a handy man, but he had that “the right tool for the right job” mentality. To me, if pounding on it with a wrench got the job done – well that was good enough for me. The job was done, and I saved a few steps.

Besides, Dad would get decades more use out of his hammer that way!

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I talked to Mike on a dock in Tacoma – I had stopped and parked the car after driving past the Glass Museum.  I had heard good things about the museum, so I parked and startede to walk back. On the way I started talking to Mike and never did make it to the museum.  I thought it worked out great just the way it happened.

He was sitting in just the right spot for me to take this photo, so I asked him if he minded. He was cool and gave his consent.

While I was setting up the shot I casually asked him “What kind of fish do you catch here?”.

“I don’t know” he said, “I’ve never caught one.”

And with that he started reeling in his line, and up and out of the water came a chartreuse spinner that had been sitting on the bottom of the inlet. He looked at me to make sure I had seen what he was fishing with, reached back and cast it back out and let it sink to the bottom. Then he turned and smiled at me and went back to just sitting there holding his pole. His spinner just sitting there on the bottom.

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While I took a few photos I had to ask him why he fishes with no bait. After all, he was clearly not even using the spinner in a way that would attract fish.  He replied “my doctor told me to fish, but I don’t like to catch them”.

He suffers from anxiety attacks… stress related he told me. He went to the doctor and was told that he needed to find ways to relax. At the time I still couldn’t get over the fact that he’s using these tools in all the wrong ways – so I asked him if it’s working. He answered that he had been “fishing” for about an hour at that point, and he had been sitting there the whole time. Before he went to the doctor he couldn’t sit still for longer than 10 minutes.

“So it’s working… I guess” he said offhandedly.

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He put his pole down and stood up to get a 7up out of his cooler. We stood there and talked for a while. He works in IT for an IT security firm – he mentioned he had to be to work at 4:00. He lives just down the dock in a condo there, and the company he works for is using some commercial space on that same dock.  He loves Tacoma and living and working on the water like that. In fact, his whole life was going great until the anxiety attacks started. Now he comes down to fish several times a week – “it’s a nice way to sit and think about things” he said, “and it seems to be working.”

Using the tools of fishing to relax, without any of the worry of actually catching a fish – it’s almost like Mike’s pounding the stress out with a crescent wrench.

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And I Thought of Africa

Why is it when a “homeless” person starts to approach we start to feel uncomfortable? I think about that after I’ve spoken to one of them, wonder why I reacted the way I did as they came up to me…

I have this thing about expectations – and I wonder if it’s linked to that. When they make that little move that lets you know they are heading your direction, I find myself wondering what it is they want – what is it they think they need. Is it more than I want to give. It’s hard for me to think about refusing them, letting them down. Am I concerned with how I will be perceived?

I’ve been taught all my life that when someone asks for help you give it. If they ask for money, you give it. Simply asking for the help/money is enough to justify sharing what you can with them – and the question as to their motive and what they actually do with the money is between them and God.

So I try to give where I can –

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A few years ago Matt and Lynne decided to go on a mission for the Mormon church. Imagine their surprise when they were asked to go to Africa. They decided they were up for the adventure and got on a plane and left their family, their home, and the lifestyle that they knew and headed out at their own expense for two years of a grand adventure.

They were assigned to a “village of 80,000” in Matt’s terms. Dirt roads, one room huts where entire families live, no sewer system, and every day the women head into the jungle to collect wood and water so the family can live another day.

Oh, did I mention 90% unemployment? Yeah. 90%.

Matt and Lynne rented a house there, one of 15 houses in that town with indoor plumbing. One day their landlord told them he was going to start a business in their front yard and soon a truck came and dumped a huge pile of rocks in the front yard. Matt holds his hands up to indicate the rocks were about the size of his head.

Later that week two women showed up with a 5-year old, a newborn, and two hammers. They had no food or water. They sat down on that pile of rocks and started breaking them into gravel – as soon as that pile was all gravel someone would buy the gravel from the landlord to make concrete… and you thought your job was a thankless task.

Matt and Lynne were working at home that day, and as the hours moved on, the “pink, pink, pink” of the hammers striking rocks continued. The child played and tended to the newborn, the women broke rocks into gravel, and Matt and Lynn felt more and more sick with each passing hour about the working conditions of these poor women.

Finally they had to do what they could. They took some refrigerated bottled water, a couple of “biscuits” (small cookie-like wafers) and a banana out to the women. After some charades (neither group spoke the other’s language) they convinced the women to let the child and the newborn sit in the shade of the porch. Then they watched as the women enjoyed the food and the water and continued with their work.

The next day Matt and Lynne were surprised when five adults and four kids showed up. Still just two women breaking rocks, but more people hanging out. The men had taken over the porch and sat there in the shade playing card games. When Lynne took out some food and water for the women, there was a scuffle over who actually was going to eat the food and drink the water…

Then the next day Matt and Lynne were dismayed to see 20 adults and several teenagers and many children hanging out in their front yard, with only two women still breaking rocks. The teens were running around the house trying to look in the windows (if they saw anything good they would break in and steal it Lynne told me) and there were more men than could fit on the small porch.

Word had spread of the charity, and every day more people were showing up to receive their share.

At this point in our conversation Matt and Lynne both throw their hands in the air at the same time, they both sit there shaking their heads silently at the memory. Even now they feel helpless in the face of all that poverty. Mike tells me he knows they are rich in comparison to any of the people of that town, and Lynne chimes in that they would love to help all of them if they could – but just two people helping a community that grew exponentially every day was just more than they could do. The need was too great, their resources nowhere near large enough, and so they had to ask everyone to leave.

The crowd left and it returned to two women and a child and a baby working in the brutal heat. Matt and Lynne couldn’t figure a way to help them without it getting out of control again.

Lynne and Matt and I spoke for two and a half hours – I can tell there are hundreds of stories of people they encountered, the need of the people and the small things Lynne and Matt did to help. Everything they did helped, but there is always the feeling of “we just wish we could have done more”.

It’s fascinating to hear the adventures that they have had. It’s heartbreaking and humbling to hear of the poverty of the people who live there.

Since our chat I’ve been approached by a beggar. He came up to me.  He asked for money – I gave him what I had. It wasn’t much. Hardly any help at all…

And I thought of Africa…

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Models

I ended my last post talking about finding a model and copying it, adapting it to your needs. I’ve been thinking a lot about that word “model” since then.

For my eleventh birthday my dad bought me a membership to the “Model of the Month” club. For one year I got a package once a month with a new model to build. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I learned a lot about the mechanical world by assembling engines made of plastic and tiny rubber hoses. Helicopters, cars, battleships, aircraft carriers, funny cars – I modeled them all. I’d dream about the real world and how these amazing machines were used.

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For a school project on Vietnam I put together this paper mache landscape with a Huey Cobra flying over the top. The cloud to cover the coat hanger mount was the part my teacher went on and on about. I got a very good grade on that, and found that overall models were very good for me. They taught me a lot and got me an A in the sixth grade and that’s all right by me…

Then just the other day I heard that word again… on NPR I heard this line “So and So is the model of a compassionate doctor.” There it was, that word. but different. Now it’s not a smaller thing that represents a big thing – it’s a role model. It’s the very definition of something that I want to be… a goal to shoot for.

Which brings me to the most popular use of “model” – those images we see in our magazines. I think that meaning of “role model” seeps into us, and we look at those people, at their pretend lives, and we feel a restlessness with our own- we want a model life too! Those images breed discontent with our lives – make us want to buy something to fill the void that the model has actually opened up by being a model…

It’s crazy. Crazy I tell you.

I’ve worked with aspiring models for many years now – it’s more than making beautiful images of them, I get to know them… their fondest hopes and their terrifying fears. So many have this intense desire to simply be validated… and being in front of the camera gives that to them for a moment. Others use it unapologetically as an escape from the stress of life. In front of a camera it all goes away for a few hours.

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I got to know Hali on Facebook. Her mom was my friend, her mom’s friend was my friend, and they both gushed about how beautiful this girl is. How I simply must shoot with her.

Then one day Hali’s mom posted a very sad status update. Hali’s fiance had passed away very suddenly and very unexpectedly. All of her plans for the future shattered in one phone call. Can you even imagine? My heart aches just writing about it. To love that deeply and have it torn away…

And then mom and mom’s friend talked her into a shoot with me. Just like that it was scheduled and I was… well I had no idea what to expect. I knew she was beautiful, but what would we talk about? What if I said something that made her cry? I was grateful for the chance to give her a couple of hours to shoot and think about other things, but I wondered what would happen in the gaps… the places where we weren’t shooting.

Hali is amazing. Those three words don’t even come close. The reality of who I met, of who I worked with that frigid day makes those words completely ineffectual.

There was no dancing around the touchy subject. Jonathan was spoken of by name, with pride and love and heartache. Tears would flow out of her beautiful eyes, and she would not try to hide them, she cried with strength… she seemed to embrace that reality, faced it. The tears would flow for a minute, and then would be gone and we’d move on with what we were doing.

We laughed a lot – talked and joked and froze and made beautiful images. I tell my models that “by definition” anything they do is perfect. I need that kind of confidence to make images of strength and beauty. And here is this girl who has had her entire reality ripped away from her… and she’s just remarkable in that brutal cold wind, the very embodiment of confidence and grace and strength.

Her images are amazing.

I didn’t tell her, but it moved me to tears watching her model – watching her be that strong, that confident, that beautiful, knowing what she was facing in her life.

Later when I was working with the images in Photoshop the tears came again. Not tears of sadness, or of pity. Tears came as I wondered if I could be that strong, If I could handle that kind of adversity with grace. If I would have the strength to cry without being ashamed…

And I realized…. this is a model. A model of the kind of person I hope I am deep inside. A model of the personal strength I hope I have.

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