Saturday, August 20, 2016

Starting As An Artist All Over Again

Dipping into artistic waters again
A resin snowman
For most of us the simple act of starting ... something ... anything ... is a difficult if not daunting process. Starting all over again, is I have found even harder. Why?  Because starting all over again IS literally ... I believe ... starting ALL over again! 

After completing a mailbox birdhouse I started two years ago, I grabbed a white, resin snowman and started painting, finally, a few months after getting the new "studio" more of less set up. As mundane as this sounds, it gave me an opportunity to explore color again and hone my painters touch! However, as I quickly discovered, it was hardly set up, ready to go, as there were paints and add-on items to individualize my projects in about 20 different places. The question then is ... do you paint or do you spend the time organizing? I chose to paint and as for the rest, organize as you go!

As I wrote earlier about finally being in a Gallery show, I realized that with one exception, it is with items I created from past glories, items created, with one exception, from another time, another place. Even the newest completed item was started two years ago and only completed last month! It has been difficult first to create an artistic home in my new environment, dealing with the thousands of minutiae that involves: new doctors, new spaces, new vehicle, new friends, then getting inspired all over again. If you've never had to do that you are fortunate. Those that have know exactly what I mean.

Creating a new work space has been for me the most daunting thing. As I have slowly started to get inspired and finally paint again, I realize how much more organizing I need to do. To find one item (and discovering others you forgot you had) involves going through bags, and tubs and trays that eats into your "creative" time. It is rewarding in many ways and yet shows you how much disorganization still remains.

Blank fan from Hong Kong - paper masks from Cananda

Then there is the collecting of new items you find along the way ... a blank fan from Hong Kong, papier- mâché masks from Canada, a new lettered canvas design at Michaels, a new paint, new cool permanent ink pens ... the list goes on and on! What's an artist to do? For me at least, it is to now forge on. It is very easy to get buried in the minutia of life and I realized that is exactly what I have done. Seeing fellow artists at work not bothered by the fact their lives were, at least in that moment of time, troubled or insecure, were creating something finally gave me the permission to create again as well.
A new challenge - an A canvas!

The other big advantage of living in Palm Springs, though some might dispute the fact that it is an advantage, is that it is so fricking hot during the summer that no one wants to go outside during the day unless they absolutely have too! In fact, I was told shortly after I moved here that when summer hits, and it did around the end of June, that you close all the blinds, turn on the air and leave it on 24 / 7, strip naked and catch up on all the TV you missed fall, winter and spring.  

You laugh. There is a reason all the snow birds come here beginning around the end of September and have flown home by May ... we don't have any snow to shovel and being outside takes precedence to being inside. Summers though are ... well, let me put it this way, succinctly, HELL! My new air conditioner failed and they finally got it fixed a week later the day it reached 122º. The bags were packed, in fact, it was that bad.

A blank slate of any size is good!

Yet it also creates an enforced creative time, a time that you can finally spend without all the distractions the Coachella Valley has to offer most of the year. Art, music, design, films ... the list goes on and on. There isn't a month that there isn't something to do and now even summer is beginning to draw crowds with events like the first ever Palm Springs Comic-con at the end of August. The 2017 show in San Diego rumor has it is already sold out so for the first time in my life I'm going to go. I figure one day away from a brush and a bottle of paint is worth the stimulation of people that, to be kind, seem to live in another world ... far, far away! And I have been told you wish they did!

The artists life is never easy. Many toil yet few achieve success or recognition. We are driven and maybe at some time and place what we have created will be appreciated and our talent recognized.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please, take the time to explore earlier blogs where the emphasis here and always is to explore the ways design affects our lives ... and always has. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

A Gallery Show At Last

500 Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, CA
One of the things every artist desires is to make it to a bono fide art Gallery, in this case Gallery 500 in Palm Springs, CA. Showing in a gallery is something that I've always wanted and while I did come close at a show in San Dimas, CA, it was spoken of as one of the slowest shows in years. I did manage to sell a few small mini birdhouses.

You can imagine my surprise at an acceptance letter after I showed both paintings and creative crafts ... birdhouses and such with some very talented artists here in the Coachella Valley. The letter said that I had been accepted to show my birdhouses now and paintings later at a new gallery, Gallery 500 that was being constructed. I received that letter on a trip and only after returning realized that of 87 artists submitting their art, I was one of seven selected for the initial opening show!

At a local show in a temporary gallery in Cathedral City from March to May of this year, I had 4 or 5
Pennsylvania Dutch inspired wooden tray
paintings on the wall but when I asked if I could also show my birdhouses, they took one look, I received a resounding yes, then they hunted down a table for me to display them and urged me to bring more. Someone even had a black tablecloth that showed my wildly colored items to their best advantage! I even managed to sell a few!

I imagine that many crafters are like me. Art is something that I have dabbled in since I was a child. My Dad was manager of a shaver shop in downtown Portland, OR that was open half days on Saturday. Around the 5th grade, my Dad, who really was a talented artist but didn't explore his talents much, discovered the Portland Museum of Art had kids classes Saturday mornings. So, for a few years I would go downtown with him every Saturday morning to take classes. In the remaining time after class I would explore the museum.

For some reason Portland had amazing traveling shows. The first one, I remember, that started a lifelong love of Van Gogh, was their traveling Van Gogh Exhibit that seemed to be there a long time. I studied them carefully each week, admiring his amazing use of colors and remembered many of them when I finally saw them again at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam 50 years later!

Blue Mailbox Birdhouse
The Chrysler Collection was next and I can still remember the huge Waterlilies by Monet that hung near the entrance. Its jewel like colors seemed to drench the entire museum with color. They left an impression that lingers still.

Over the years I took an art class here or there but never made it my major though as a Journalism / Advertising major, being able to draw helped me in the days when we had to often draw our own products and hand letter a variety of type faces with India Ink. I broke all the rules and often, got an "A" in spite of it.

I taught my students art as a Peace Corps teacher and was amazed at how their drawings changed from a near Ancient Egyptian view of the world, two dimensional, to three dimensions after showing and explaining the use of perspective.

Returning home, I really didn't draw nearly as much as I had in high school and college. Then I got married, had kids and started gardening losing my interest in art. However, around 52, quitting my job and starting my own graphics design business, my interest in art returned. After wrestling with computer software all day creating catalog sheets, newsletters, price list, etc., I bought a birdhouse at Michaels and finding a

Patriotic Birdhouse
pamphlet on Pennsylvania Dutch designs started painting. First one, then another and before long I had a collection. Never one to stay mired in one style, I experimented.

The turning point for me was going to the Las Vegas Painting Convention taking as many classes as I could. I had resumed an interest in painting, already started with a class in oil painting I was taking in Sierra Madre, CA and broadened my skills in craft painting. Usually the only man in a class ... you can't even imagine the feeling of walking into a room full of women who stare at you like you don't belong ... I learned techniques that gave me better skills and I thrived. For two different years I submitted projects to teach and was accepted only to have serious health issues that made it impossible for me to teach. I regret that opportunity deeply.

While I lived in the assisted living home returning to health, something I wrote about last year, I finally got a chance to teach but discovered seniors can often be as stubborn as youngsters. However, when I would see them clutching their latest creation during the day, it made me proud to give them something to stimulate them and something they were proud of.
Perfect example of modifying - raffia,
trees, behaves were added changing
this item completely!

While the gallery is being constructed I discovered that their store was looking for small items people could buy and carry home. I approached the gallery manager, submitted the items, some shown here, and asked if there were any he might be interested in. He called and said, "All of them." He drew up a contract, I took them over and we priced everything together. I stressed again, after being told of comments at the earlier show, while I did not build them due to issues with blood thinners and sharp tools, I did modify them and painted each and everyone by hand. No, they were not made in China and being resold. There may be some interest as a customer at the shop fingered them and expressed interest as she bought a Coke.

While I was extremely busy with a move to Palm Springs, a divorce and all that entails plus several long distance trips overseas, it has taken some time to rekindle an interest in art. However, a group of us are supporting studio space and when I went over this week to set up my own work table and chair, I sat down and began doodling and chatting with the four other artists there. There really is something to be said about working with other artists. We all have different styles and interests but there is a synergy that I realized I missed. Coming home that afternoon I started, at long last, to get my artistic interest together readying new birdhouse based on my doodles at the studio. I finally appreciate the studio I took such time and effort to create.

I am very excited about the coming opportunity and hope that finally, at the age of 70, I can make, if nothing else, a small local name for myself. My advice ... NEVER GIVE UP! We never know at whatever age when what we have created is appreciated by others! Remember Grandma Moses. She started seriously painting at the age of 78 and lived to 101. Some of her paintings have sold for over $1 million dollars, a sum you can bet she never saw! So ... pick up that needle, brush, knitting or crochet hook, saw or welding torch and get to work! We are all rooting for you!!!

Thank you for reading my blog! Please check out earlier blogs that talk about many things but each and every one with an eye on design ... the designs of modern living.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Triumph Of Greed: How the 2016 Olympics was bought and sold by NBC

If you have ever seen the worldwide coverage of the Olympics in any country besides the United States, you know you have missed, well, the Olympics. I have never been a fan of NBC Sports coverage for a variety of reasons including the incessant ads, the xenophobia and spotty coverage if there are no Americans competing. In Germany, and I learned in China, the Olympics are broadcast non-stop and they show every competition regardless of who is competing.

Last night, August 5, 2016, opening ceremonies for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro showed the greed and lack of world view at its most extreme by NBC. Texting a friend in Hong Kong who asked me if I was watching, I had to tell him it would be hours away here in California. Since he is 15 hours ahead of me, I was surprised that he was already watching as Rio is just four time zones ahead of California.

Opening ceremony fireworks at Rio Olympics
Then an hour or so later when I was watching the evening news, I was surprised that they were showing events including the fireworks at the end of the opening ceremony. We still had to wait about two hours before we would see the start.

7:30 pm finally arrived just as my Hong Kong friend sent photos from his TV showing the fireworks that ended the opening ceremony. Then we waited ... and waited through about 45 minutes of commercials, profiles of some athletes ... an opening that didn't start in this country, or at least in California for 45 more minutes.

Each year of the games, the host country shows some aspect of their country that makes them unique. Who can forget London, the pageantry of China, the color and traditions of Seoul. Rio was no different but it was very hard to follow what we were seeing as NBC had commercials every 3 minutes. I know, I was counting them using the clock on the cable box. I don't know what the IOC made from the bid of NBC but surely, they both made all the money they needed opening night. Imagine, they have 16 days left.

I found myself drifting off because the only continuity you could count on was the ads ... and a not very inspired group either. Finally, around 11 p.m. when they had only gotten to "F" of the parade of national teams, I went to bed. I mean how many times can you stand a few minutes, if that, of events and hearing we will be right back. Ah, NBC a moment is not 5 minutes of ads. Be honest and just say, "We interrupt these commercials to bring you a quick clip of the games!" What's next, corporate logos tattooed on the athletes?

Ancient Olympia, home of the Olympic Games

The original Olympics, in honor of the god Zeus, were held over 2,000 years ago with the intention of defusing the interminable fighting of the various Greek city states. (You know, kinda like what we are witnessing between the Republican and Democratic parties today). They may have invented democracy but maybe too much of a good thing is, well, too much! However, all fighting was stopped and athletes from every city state came to Olympia to compete in sports we would recognize today. It was meant to be a competition of individuals who received in victory merely a laurel wreath and the accolades of all, regardless of where they came from. Now there's a concept in a time where nation medal counts are shown over and over again, daily.

The first Olympics in modern times - Athens, Greece in 1896
When the Olympics were started again in 1896, the original purpose was intended but within a very short time differences in what was acceptable regarding training and medicating, patriotic feelings and corruption reared its ugly head. Political leaders used the games as a means to promote their own national agendas (Hitler). Many think this years games may be the ugliest and corrupt ever. You have state sponsored doping from Russia, mismanagement preparing for the games in Brazil, the uproar of the impeachment of Brazil's president, pollution that makes Flint, MI look tame, the $16 billion cost of these games, money many felt should have been spent on improving the lives of the locals and a nation where 63% of its citizens could care less. Throw in the threat of Zika, crime and pollution and you have a story any editor worth his salt would eject you from his office should you have written such a fictional story.

Rio's trifecta of issues - Protests, Zika, Mosquitos
However, I find it hard to forgive NBC. The endless ads, the even more endless and often boring interviews that ignore events going on all around the interviewer while the rest of the world gets to see these ignored events ... this is unforgivable.

Recently Forbes Magazine had an article discussing the crippling costs of the modern Olympics. In the recent era only Barcelona and Los Angeles came out even or even showed a profit. The reason? Both cities were able and used facilities that they already had. China's estimated cost to host the Summer Olympics is said to have been $40 billion dollars. Just to maintain the famous "bird nest" stadium today costs over $1.5 million dollars a year. Photos show portions of it that have failed and fallen away! Forbes solution was to have cities compete for individual events ... swimming in one city that has the necessary facilities, track another, pollution free harbors for boating events, etc. However, the games are "supposed" to bring the world together in one place and following the Forbes formula would defeat that. The costs to a country today though, begs the question, can the host really afford the costs? If they do, at what cost? Doesn't this just smack of design ... how we design events in our lives?

Enjoy the games but you might want to keep the knitting, wood carving and other hobbies you can do in front of the TV nearby or in your lap. It looks like you will have plenty of time to work on them. At least you won't have to worry about getting more chips, a beer or a trip to the potty and miss something!

Thank you for reading my blog. We design our lives and often for others as well. Please check out earlier blogs ... all address the way our lives are designed!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Does ANYONE Write A Letter Anymore?

In the process of moving to Palm Springs this year, I came across a box filled with stacks of old letters; most of them were from my college and Peace Corps years and talk about college. then living and teaching in Africa. Most were to my mother, who had saved them, but there were also letters from friends and family as well. What struck me was that after all these years, some nearly 50 years old, was the memories they brought back. It was then that I resolved to begin writing letters ... you know putting a pen to paper and handwriting letters to friends and family. There is nothing that holding a letter in your hand can compare with. Reading a short, often misspelled and grammatically incorrect email does not compare with the experience. Yes, an email can be printed out and saved but it just isn't the same. There is a coldness, a lack of personality in the perfectly formed letters devoid of variation, eccentricity.

I think letter writing has become a lost art! Writing a letter is a time of reflection. It is a way I believe to take stock of our lives and both sort out events and to give those events meaning. Think back a few days, weeks or months, when was the last time you received a real letter, one that was not a bill but a personal message from a friend or relative? In the same token, when was the last time you stopped your life and reflected on what you had done? Recently or in the past? We are the designers of our own lives as much as we are creations of events that surround us. To me, at least, writing a letter is a way to make sense of my life. I finally realized that the lack of doing this simple task, reflecting, made it hard at times to understand who I am.

On a recent trip to Hong Kong I learned that my aunt had passed away and I was suddenly overcome with grief ... both at her passing but also the realization that I wouldn't receive anymore of her chatty, newsy letters. They just recounted what she was doing but provided a link both to family and her life. They would end and she would not be a part of my life any longer. In losing her I realized the others that I have lost over the years ... aunts, grandparents, uncles, friends ... people I cared about who no longer are a part of my life.

What to say?
More than just my mother's younger sister, my aunt played a key part of my life. I remember her wedding at my grandparents house where I was the ring bearer in the 50's. Her family and ours were close and I remember baby sitting her two oldest children on our numerous visits to her home or hers to ours. I was at her house when I learned that my father had passed away at the age of 40 and I was a teenager of 16. I vividly remembered the funeral for her husband who passed away a few years later. She and her children were at my wedding.

While visits were few and far between in the intervening years, we kept in contact and finally made connections again after a trip to Alaska and then last Christmas when I went to visit my cousin and her. Every holiday we received a cheery letter wishing us a happy Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas or even 4th of July while recounting the small and sometimes big events in her life.

Letter writing in the 21st Century
When I had resolved to write a letter, by hand, I went in search of stationary befitting this. Imagine my surprise when I found that letter paper and matching envelopes were as hard to find as chicken teeth. A search on Amazon revealed few choices and on my recent trip to Hong Kong, I could not find a single box of stationary despite finding many stationary stores. Cards and envelopes were in abundance both here and there but letter stationary?

Letter bundles are a link to our past
The argument I hear from friends and relatives is that they wonder what to say, they don't have time. Really. Its amazing that they can send quick short notes in email oftentimes frequently during the day but can't sit down long enough to compose a letter.  I can remember Doris Kearns Goodwin, the wonderful American historian saying during a talk that historians were worried about history if everyone writes just email and there are no letters to read and gain insights into figures of our history. Yet, as the scandal of Hilary Clinton's server has shown, while you may hit delete, delete, delete, once on the Internet words and photos live forever. Sitting in front of a computer and staring at a LED screen is hardly romantic or as much fun as reading a letter, seeing the penmanship and the choice of paper. Even the stamps and date stamp has an element of telling a story.

While a "letter" may live forever on the internet,
retrieving it may not be as simple as letters tied in a bundle and kept safely in a closet.

There is something though to be said for the handwritten note ... something that no email can ever say or show. How else can you say or even express the simple words "I love you?" It isn't just the idea of the note that counts, it is the time it took to create it.

I urge every one of you to challenge yourselves, by writing a letter, giving yourselves the time and chance to see what events have recently and in the past shaped your lives. I think it is quite clear here with the quote from Hillary Swank, one of today's finest actresses who says:

Thank you for reading my blog and I hope that you will read those posted in the past. Like a love letter to life, they are all a reflection of how we and events shape and design our lives.

Alan Krug

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Shopping Till We Drop: A tale on four continents

Night Market on Temple Street, Kowloon, Hong Kong
It was only on my second visit to Hong Kong that I realized what fun street market shopping can be. I think the national sport there is shopping. I sure know Chinese shoppers love the Cabezon Outlets in the middle of nowhere on the way to Palm Springs, CA. To tell the truth, after looking at prices in the multitude of upscale malls in Hong Kong (they are like fleas, just about on every corner), I can see why they shop! The difference in prices pays for the trip and then some. The irony? Most of what they buy in the good ole USA was made in their home country, China!

Vendors in Liberia, West Africa
My first real experience with street shopping was when we moved to New Mexico and we would travel to the Mexican border and see the markets there. To a boy from urban Portland, OR, where such things didn't exist back in the early 60's, it was a novel experience. It was when I spent two years in Liberia, West Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer and the kind of market I was used to was nearly as rare as chicken teeth, that I began to appreciate street markets. In fact, we were given a set number of plane flights to our village ... a 30 minute flight, or a 12 hour road trip. We learned to divide those flights so that we could shop at the Monrvia Lebanese supermarket, make a mad dash to the airport, fly home and our students would be waiting for the mad dash home and the refrigeration of frozen items. If something was not put away at breakfast, coming home after school four hours later we would see the mold already forming! We had a kerosene refrigerator that actually could freeze things. To entice the boys to get things for us, we would give them an ice cube. In a land where it never gets much below 70º you can imagine what a treat that was. When we were cut off from our supply of kerosene, we nearly had to abandon our post because we couldn't keep food or medicines refrigerated. The roads became impassable and we couldn't even be flown out.

Street market in Monrovia, Liberia
However, vegetables and fruit were purchased locally. We would give the houseboy 50¢ and he would return with far more than we could eat! Tomatoes, cucumbers, oranges, mangos, onions, grapefruit, papaya if in season. We had an avocado tree behind the house that bore twice a year. Back in 1967 few in the states even knew what they were. More for us.

Our dirt path of an airstrip was lined with mango trees and we would gorge on those until we were yellow and they were gone.

Sidewalk shopping in Merry Olde England!
Of course sidewalk sales and then flea markets, patterned after the old and honorable versions in Europe became the rage. I can remember on my trip home in 1969 visiting the ones in Rome, Florence, Paris and London. It seemed like you could get anything. Haggling was expected. Never good at that the locals would often intervene for me to get me a better deal!

It seemed to take longer for it to catch on in the US but when it did, it took off like a rocket. Every weekend you would see, and still see, signs posted on telephone poles, taped to walls and other signs announcing a yard sale. Many would place ads in the local paper and now the Internet telling of a sale. I've been told that people pick a neighborhood they like and cruise them every weekend looking for the yard sales. One lady in West Covina, CA bought a painting for $50 that turned out to be a Jackson Pollack valued at $5 million. So, you never know!

Not to be left behind, Pasadena seemed to jump in with both feet. Pasadena City College (PCC) held
Rose Bowl Flea Market
their swap meet or "flea market" every first Sunday of the month. Not to be outdone, the Rose Bowl, that venerable bastion of American Collegiate Football Glory held their Flea market on the second Sunday of each month completely surrounding the stadium, and then some, with vendors offering everything! Looking at much of it I would think, "Well, my junk can become your junk ... for a price!"

We are not talking about a few thousand attendees, we are talking about 100's of thousands of attendees some of which drive from hundreds of miles just to sell and buy!

However, it is in Hong Kong and maybe much
Piggies in all their glory
of Asia, I don't know, that the street and markets seem to flow on just about every street and alley. Just coming down the street where I am staying you pass meat markets with pork, beef and fish hang or freeze in ice. Flowers, fruit or every kind and stripe are for sale. Spices, dried items and even candy are sold. This would freeze the blood of an American food inspector. I could just see them falling to the street frothing at the mouth. No one seems to get sick so you do have to wonder. There is no doubt that it is fresh ... but you wonder "fresh" for how many days? Even my Chinese friend has his doubts.

Considering the many malls in Hong Kong that are selling upper and super upper scale brands, there is something to be said about looking at, fingering, haggling with the street vendors. No one seems to take umbrage to this and in fact is expected! If you go to the Temple Street Night Market you can find just about every brand at a discount. On close inspection though, you know
Temple Street Night Market
without a doubt its an impostor but that doesn't make it any less fun. Everything is there ... clothes, computer items, paintings, watches, purses of every color and design, shoes, shirts, pants, and accessories for the home, Bose speakers that are simply not, Polo Shirts that well, lets say sell for merely a few bucks when the mall sells them for $100 each ... you get the drift. Everyone knows and that's the fun.

Night Market jewelry. Does it really matter if its "real" or not?
Only open nights from 6 pm till midnight it is often a relief from the heat and humidity of day time. There are many restaurants as well so you can eat, shop and people watch! Is it real? Is it fake? Who knows and after a lifetime of worrying about such things, I finally realize if you like it ... who cares? I remember so many things I really liked on all my travels but never bought. When I'm gone, someone else can worry about that. After watching Antiques Roadshow you may find out that, well, you really never know!
Shopping at the Peak

In fact on this trip I ended up at The Peak, the mountain that overlooks Hong Kong and Kowloon across the bay and actually went shopping. This amazing area with views of the city, that are breathtaking, has not one but two shopping malls. While much of it is most likely cheap stuff you could purchase at the Night Market, I found some treasures that were what I was looking for ... Christmas gifts, a robe for Halloween that while inexpensive is amazing in its intricacy. As I've discovered both here and at home, Chinese shoppers know the cost of everything. They are also not shy about asking for a
discount, something that I remember drove merchants crazy when they moved to Southern California in large numbers in the 70's. As I have recently learned, it doesn't hurt to ask and have been surprised over and over again at the response. There is one or will be one soon!!!

If you have never been to one or perused a sidewalk sale, now might be a good time to try. There is usually no pressure, remembering, of course, that you never pay the asking price. Lowball it and see what happens. Remember, you could be lucky like the guy on Antiques Roadshow who bought a Windsor styled chair on the way there only to find out his $30 purchase was an original 1700's Windsor chair, one of about 6 that was worth $30,000. Gasping he grabbed his chair and when asked what he was doing said, I'm going back to see if there are any more!

Thank you for reading my blog. I truly believe design is an important part of our lives! Please read earlier blogs that cover how design shapes and yes, rules our lives!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Joys of Coloring "Within" The Lines

An adult coloring page

I think we all remember grade school and those pictures we were given in Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd and who knows what other grades, to color? Activities that I realized much, much later (as a teacher in the Peace Corps and found myself doing the same thing) were to give the teacher breathing space between subjects. We were given a page to color with whatever crayons we had, with the admonition to "color within the lines!" I think if I heard that once I heard it a thousand times. Maybe that is why I am so anal today with my adult paintings and crafts ... I am always trying to keep between the lines still!

I know this has been the rage in the United States now for the past few years. You can't go into a craft store today without seeing hundreds of "adult" coloring books along with colored pencils, markers, even fine tipped Sharpies in colors we never had as kids. Back then, they were like a Model T Ford, you could have them in any color as long as it was black. Though I did use a few items when I was teaching my seniors at the home, I never much relied on those pages without some kind of motive ... Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas decorations. I did note that they all seemed to enjoy doing it but I rarely tried them myself. I felt that I wasn't that old ... at least not yet! I was an "artist" for heavens sake, above such trivial pursuits.

As you can see above, this changed when I visited my sister last month. You couldn't help but notice all the coloring books and markers, Sharpies and such on her coffee table. As we talked and caught up on the past 20 or so years, she colored. Conversation didn't seem to slow her down and we had some deep conversations about our lives, the turn of events and such.

Ready to be colored
The following morning, we both got up early, made coffee and chatted. I looked at her variety of books, found a page design I liked, tore it out of the book and tentatively colored away. It was while I was getting absorbed in this rather mundane task that I was sent a text message with a link and watching that a moment on my iPhone turned to my sister and said, "Let's watch MSNBC. Something has happened in Florida." That something, of course, was the shooting and killing of 49 patrons at the Gay night club Pulse in Orlando, FL.

We sat glued in front of the TV all day watching developments as more and more details came out. Other than taking my dog for a walk, we were glued to the TV barely leaving even to eat. The more we watched, the more I colored finding in that simple task a kind of comfort that seemed forever broken in just going to a club and dancing with friends. Nightclubs such as Pulse were always considered a safe haven for the LGBT community. Now that safety was forever shattered.

I asked my sister about her new hobby. Never really artistic or at least not as much as me, I watched her and realized that whoever thought this up hit the motherlode of need and emotion for adults today. I find that just daily living is stressful. What you may have had planned can change in a minute. Illness, doctors appointments, a stolen vehicle and all that has to be done with that. The list goes on and on! While some of my sister's pages were interesting, some were amazing in their colors and execution. I urged her to have a few of the pages framed. While the design might not have been her's, the colors and the way items were colored were hers exclusively.

Look at the blank page above. If you gave this to 10 people each one of them would use colors so very different from each other that the finished product would look different. In some ways that difference would become their work of art.

Is this art? I don't really know. I do know though, that it obviously brings comfort to millions of adults that don't knit, paint, sew or garden maybe living in a climate that you can be trapped indoors for months at a time. I was thinking about this very thing when everyone warned me that summer in Palm Springs was hell. I was told, close all the blinds, turn on the air, strip naked and catch up on all the shows and movies you missed in the fall, winter and spring in Palm Springs. If you think I am kidding, when I returned home my A/C, not even a year old, was broken. I lived with a struggling single room unit for a week before it was finally repaired the day it hit 122º. So, yes, it gets that HOT and the concept of "hell" is very, very real!

However, I have a "studio" chockablock full of canvases and unfinished wood things that are begging to be "colored" too. Yet, as I colored alongside my sister sharing markers and discussing colors, I realized that by 7:00 or 8:00 at night my mind began to shut down and while I may not have wanted to go to bed, this might just be the activity that I might find satisfying. If for no other reason than a way to try out color combinations for my birdhouses! And the best part? NO ONE HAS TO SEE THEM EXCEPT YOU!!!

Looking for a new, artistic activity? You just might find, as I did, a way to wash away the stresses of modern living if only for a few hours. All you crafters, let me also add, it gives you a chance to try and broaden your palette. I know it sure did mine.

Thank you for reading my blog. I believe that art is but a part of the design of living. Please check out my earlier blogs where I discuss how we design our lives!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

If Artists Were So Lucky

My best friend and I have been having roughly the same argument over the past decade. About what you ask? Well, my feelings that sports figures make too much money. I always mused how can a man or woman who is playing a "game" demand and GET the sums they are being paid to play said games. A million, ten million, twenty-five million a year to play ... baseball, basketball, football, soccer, tennis; games we all played as kids and often played for our PE requirements in high school.

The most valuable soccer teams and players in worldwide soccer
We had a particularly heated "discussion" the other night after a few Margaritas when I brought up the topic of the 10 most valuable soccer teams and players in the world. We were watching Argentina beat the pants off the Americans in the Copa America Championships at the local watering hole. I had read the article on the left that afternoon at lunch. It was an eyeopener.

Later that evening, I spotted an article online talking about art and how the market was red hot right now. They mentioned a series of new museums where billionaires show off what they have collected over the years as they have reaped their fortunes.

Suddenly it dawned on me there were three things at play here:

  1. You have the artist, usually a poor starving creature, that in death might become famous. Van Gogh certainly comes to mind where an unsigned painting of his, recently re-discovered, is worth $25 million and he never made a dime.
  2. The collector who literally buys low and reaps the rewards as the years go by. Think of Peggy Guggenheim with all her Jackson Pollack's today worth hundreds of millions. One Jackson painting now being display in Iran from the Shah's wife's collection was appraised at $250 million.
  3. And finally the collector to be that amasses a fortune and then wants to do something with it. You could think of Carnegie, Rockefeller, Getty, Broad and possibly today Magic Johnson. 
I had to consider, what is the difference? And artist toils away for up to decades often in obscurity. A successful athlete, probably less than 1% of all players in the market has at best 10 - 15 years of potentially high earning power. If you watch ESPN enough, the talking heads prattle on about some of these athletes with terms usually used to describe a painting, or book, or music ... men and women who are artful, inventive in their moves, have a vision of each play, willing to try new moves. Wouldn't that describe paintings directly from the mouth of some docent?

The difference of course is that as a friend said, "Never invest in something that eats." The lifespan of a star athlete is as long as the next serious injury ... and event that will end his career instantly. The sad thing is that many will end up bankrupt in 8 - 10 years, about the same amount as lottery winners. With crippled bodies and with or without college degrees (ever seen the writing of O. J.Simpson?) many are almost functionally illiterate. For every Magic Johnson 20 or more will be poor and bankrupt in a few short years. While many artists toil away, unless they breathe in too much solvent, or fumes from some other material they use for their art, they generally have a longer lifespan. Picasso died in his 90's painting almost till the very end and was one of a very few artists, like very few athletes, that became extremely wealthy. Sadly though, not as wealthy as the patrons who bought his art and later had it appraised for far more than they paid for it! Supply and demand. It is the same for the world of art as the world of sports.

One of the guys in my old church group would repeat, and often, when discussing the world, politics in particular, "Money turns the crank." I realized as I apologized the next day, that who am I to judge? No one is putting a gun to anyone's head to reap those millions bouncing a basketball, hitting that home run or barreling down a football field in front of thousands of screaming fans. Sports, like any kind of art, takes us to another place, a place where the burdens of life are momentarily put aside allowing us to appreciate what we ourselves cannot do.

Ultimately though, great artists like great athletes can only offer the world their talent. Their talent is what makes them unique. Or, as George Orwell says at the end of ANIMAL FARM, "Some animals ARE more equal than others."

Thank you for reading my blog. Please check out earlier blogs that discuss how we and many others design the lives we live.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

How Dogs Change Our Lives

While I did write about my dog Maggie, my current companion, a friend sent me this and I found it was TOO good to pass up. I howled at each set of cartoons and if you are an animal lover, especially if you have a dog, this will certainly resonate with you.

Is this design? Well, let's put it this way, we design our lives in a variety of ways and pets of any kind are part of the living we design. Think about it. Painting, gaming, working, petting....

Here is the bachelor leisurely at dinner. Remember before, eating in peace and now after? Don't leave anything out on the counter either. A friend dog-sitting discovered the last piece of cherry pie he was hungering for had its tin licked miraculously clean on the kitchen floor. We had to pump Maggie's tummy after she took off the counter at least several pounds of Christmas cookies and eaten them bag and all. She looked like she had saddle bags along her ribs before we had her tummy pumped out.

Ah yes, what you car looks like after your companion rides shotgun with you. I had to replace a stolen vehicle and wanted a light color fabric here in the desert of Palm Springs. Watching Maggie, who's a black lab rapidly greying shed hair on the rental car seats I decided that black fabric was just fine. Brushed today she sheds today as well! That lovely Mazda dove grey fabric would look like hell in no time at all!

Luckily, as a man I have no stuffed things ... well, except for a stuffed duck that squeaks. Yup, that too is torn apart after one too many games of tug-of-war. After all she is a retriever!

Remember those days of disposable income before a pet? I don't either. Instead its bags of food at Petco, bills for shots, Vet bills, doggy poopy bags since free plastic shopping bags are a thing of the past ... and of course doggy treats. She even knows where they are and if mentioned goes to the kitchen and waits.

I can remember my iPhone took all kinds of scenic photos ... now it is replete with photos of the dog ... begging, sleeping or playing tug-of-war. They just are so cute!

The lifetime of your electronics. I must admit mine doesn't hurt them per say, but she has a habit of walking through cords disconnecting the plug outlet and hours later, when using say an iPad or more critically your iPhone, you find the battery power is less than when you plugged it in. A quick look finds the charger laying on the floor as she patiently looks at you laying beside it.

Yes, remember those Star Trek binges on Netflix, or gaming for hours on the Internet or tossing back a few with your buddies? Well, with a dog those days are pretty much over. If you are sitting there watching TV a cold nose nuzzles you and reminds you its time for a walk. Not just any walk either ... but a loooong walk where every tree, bush, telephone pole or hydrant must be meticulously inspected today and every day, forever! Mine has taken to looking for lizards. For a 9 year-old dog she is wickedly quick. Because retrievers look up like humans, lizards are not safe on walls either! The lizard population here at the complex is diminishing or disappearing before she can find them.

I don't know about you but, well, I wouldn't want her any other way. I have created a life for the two of us. She is one of the sweetest dogs I have ever owned and is loved by all. However, just like having a child changes your life, there are more than a few similarities living with man's best friend!

Thank you for reading my blog. Please check out earlier blogs that discuss a wide variety of topics that all record the designs of our lives.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Father's Day 2016

My GMC truck was stolen here at the condo
so this is the replacement, a very red Mazda CX-5
The last 6 months have seen many changes in my life. In fact more in these months than probably the last 20 years. I went to court December 4, 2015 for my divorce and freedom, I moved from the Assisted Living Home I wrote about earlier in Alhambra, CA  to Palm Springs, CA, January 4, 2016. Well, truth be told, my life will never ever be the same.

It was only in talking to a friend regarding "my" feelings about being a father on Father's Day, telling him what being a father meant to me, the events in Orlando, FL, a visit to my sister, our first face to face meeting in nearly 20 years and the email where my daughter revealed that she had married two months before, that I began to reflect on all that has happened to me in the last 18 months. He urged me to write them and express what I told him. Since I have not heard from my son and the email from my daughter was a reply from a Christmas message, well .... I respond here.

I was delayed in knowing what I was. I had a plan ... college, work, marriage, a home and two children. When that was all achieved, well, there was no more plan. I wanted kids. I can remember each of their births like it was yesterday. The son that popped out like a cork caught by the doctor before they both sat on the floor, to the daughter with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. The labors were mercifully short. Four hours for the son, 2 ½ hours for the daughter. The first thing they saw when opening their eyes was me as I held each of them in my arms. I cried then at their birth and I cry now at my loss. I realize I can't ask for forgiveness, instead ask for understanding. You see, that at the age 69 it was revealed that I was Gay.

My childhood was, to say the least, difficult. Rather high maintenance, something I only realized a few years ago, my mother didn't know what to do with me. It was difficult for her and in reflection my father was actually more of a mother. He died at 40 when I was 16 to a blood condition that I inherited and nearly died of at 55.

After graduation there was a sidestep into the Peace Corps, then returning in the 1969 recession ended up at K-mart and a transfer a few months later to California in 1970 where I have remained ever since. I married in 1977 to a wife more than 10 years younger who became a teacher. We have been married 38 years now. My divorce petition, for obvious reasons, was filed in October 2015 but still drags on.

I loved my children and became, to the best of my ability, a good father. I drove them to the doctor, twice weekly when my daughter was diagnosed with asthma for her allergy shots, soccer games, swim meets, for years to their grade and later high school ... many of you know the drill. It was a pleasure watching them grow and mature. In fact if asked, I would say having them and helping with their ability to be independent was the hallmark of my life as a man. My mother once told me that she never held me, "I wanted you to be independent." In fact the hours of rocking them, being with them, always on call for a hug, shoulder for tears was what made them independent. They had a safe place and warm hug to go to. I never did.

Living on my own has not been easy. Because I came out as a Gay man, I lost much of my family and friends, in fact friends I have known for 40 years and more. It seemed to make little difference that I was the same person after it was revealed; the fact that a 69 year old man was Gay was all it took.Yet the few friends and family I've kept have been incredibly supportive, understanding and kind.

One of the reasons I moved to Palm Springs was that it was a safe haven, though after Orlando is any place safe? In fact, so many of the men I've met here had similar stories. When you are in the closet, you feel that you are all alone. Because men don't talk, oftentimes, we never know. Despite the fact my doctors said that there was no reason to tell people I was Gay or what my HIV status was, it was none of their business, I think that finally, Orlando brought it all to a head. The truth be told, LGBT people have no choice, IT JUST IS. I have yet to meet someone who choose to be Gay. Why would you? History has shown over and over again being different "in that way" can lead to irreparable harm. The time, though, for all of us has come to speak out.

A friend sent me a link to MSNBC and watching it on my phone I turned to my sister and told her to change the TV channel to MSNBC. All day we watched as the story unfolded. Yet 10 minutes into the horrifying news I turned to her and said, "He was gay." Comments by the ex-wife, the crazy father and people that knew him point to this fact. The most homophobic people are usually deeply closeted gay men or women who in protecting their secret seem to make a crusade in outdoing their "straight" friends in denigrating their LGBT brethren. How many homophobic ministers or politicians have been exposed that, like J. Edgar Hoover, had skeletons in their closet? Only their skeletons were in fact living, breathing lovers of the same sex.

Fatherhood is a privilege. While for some it is easy to procreate to know those that can't and want children is an overwhelming sadness. I believe that children temper us, forcing us to think of another besides ourselves. You learn that love is limitless; there really is something besides yourself. Holding my babies I realized how helpless they were, how dependent they were on me and their mother. A good parent puts them before self even when the desire to be alone, to sleep, to have fun is trumped by the lack of sleep rocking a sick child, putting off that fun party because you can't get a babysitter, doing things for them instead of yourself. Your entire life changes. I can't begin to tell you how many friends expecting their first child would chat after the birth and recount what we had told them was true. It isn't a long time in actual years though, there are times when it seems like it will last forever. There is sacrifice to be sure yet the final product, we hope, is worth the price.

While the society I grew up in seemed to portray TV father's as bumbling idiots little good except for bringing home the daily bread, sociologists will tell you a father is important in the raising of a child. They allow a bit more freedom to children, they are or can be a firm presence when necessary and teach their sons and daughters what it means to be a man or woman, Gay or straight.

Happy Father's Day. Every father worth his salt, I congratulate you today. You know what it takes and hopefully took the time to do it right!

Thank you for reading my blog. I encourage you to read earlier posts because I believe design and the design of living go hand in hand.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

You Can't Go Home Again: You may not want to either

Palm Springs right now is hot. VERY hot. After days of living a kind of monastic life hiding from the heat of up to 115º and unless it was pee & poop time for my dog Maggie, who I might add seems oblivious to the heat concentrating instead on catching lizards, we hid inside! Anyway, you lay low, very low when the temperatures climbs to 115º.

Brookdale - Alhambra, CA
Last weekend, bored out of my mind, I  mean how many movies, how much TV and how many books can you read? I decided to visit friends in my old stomping grounds. Well, one after another was busy, not home so with Maggie, riding shotgun, I decided to visit my old assisted living home, Brookdale Alhambra.

I entered there a little more than a year ago in a wheelchair. After a series of medical issues I was placed in this facility after leaving both the hospital and a therapeutic care facility. I could walk but barely. While I never liked the home I did make some good friends and so since no one else was around, I decided to visit friends and see if anything had changed.

NO ONE wants to go into assisted living, even if they know, deep inside, they are unable to care for themselves completely. Facilities such as this merely warehouse you until the inevitable or they are no longer able to provide for almost hospice like needs. So, some walk, use canes or walkers or are in wheelchairs, sometimes getting around alone but often being wheeled about by a caregiver. It has a specific design management of residents and often, the residents are not happy.

Brookdale lobby - the death watch awaits
Brookdale Alhambra is one of a chain of residents with homes in 43 states managing (they say caring) for over 110,000 residents. Or as they say in OUR BRAND PROMISE: "Our brand promise tells prospective residents, family members, referral sources, partners, the media and investors that Brookdale is different and special. We are the industry leader and are changing this industry - something that no other senior living company can say." Ah ...  let me count the ways.

As one of the few that was able to leave NOT feet first but actually move and drive away, this facility, and you have to question all the others as well, was not up to snuff.

Simply entering the lobby was the first clue. As you later learn, the same people sit in the same chairs and snooze away there all day. It is depressing at first sight. If you sit in one of the "designated" spots, fights would break out. Until humiliated into action, the director finally replaced the burnt out bulbs in the lobby chandelier. It was a dreary place with a half hearted attempt to decorate monthly themes dictated by management in Tennessee.
From the garage to the lobby.

Typical Brookdale carpet
The place was filthy. Originally a motel built back in the 70's, the doorways were too small for wheelchairs. The red carpeting looked like it came over on the Mayflower and had been cleaned about as many times. There were two elevators, small things that could barely hold two people and two wheelchairs. For many it was the only way either to the lobby on the main floor or to the dining room one floor above. The entire structure had three floors. In case of a fire we were told, only on asking, to just stay in our rooms. The doors were fireproof. I was told by those in the know, they weren't. The other elevator went down to the garage and you went across the garage to the lobby and more carpet that caused many of us to trip, was removed and then put back into place so we could trip some more. All in all not a very safe environment for those with even the slightest disability.

It was good to see old friends. Some of the staff was still there (I moved out in January 2016) and many of the residents I knew, or at least those I wanted to see. I have talked to another resident who left because he just couldn't stand the place. They were both surprised and pleased to see me. We caught up on events ... people who have passed, new staff and what has been going on or more likely not going on.

Panorama of the dining room
Entry into the dining room. The metal
sash was so high wheelchair residents had
to enter backwards
Seeing that so little had changed was depressing. The lobby was a dreary as ever, the walls and floors were scuffed and the carpet still filthy. When they all said to come to lunch at 11:30 I followed them down, sat down with them at their table and answered questions. They were interested in my new life in Palm Springs, my trips, the moving and setting up of my condo rental.

However, as I talked my eyes wandered about, remembering the seating of everyone, noting that the chandeliers still had burned out bulbs and wondering if the carpet would ever be fully cleaned or replaced. A carpet in a dining room with seniors that dropped things all the time? Really?

When these issues were brought up at the residents council meeting, you could write a book on the list of reasons why it couldn't be done.  Case in point. The light switch that controlled the lights over the table I and my partner sat had a timer switch. Why, no one knew. It was nearly impossible to keep on and would shut off while you ate, if you could get it turned on. I pointed that out to the director finally and man oh man what a stream of excuses. It turned out my partner was a retired contractor and just looked at her. I said, "Michelle, you go to Home Depot, buy a normal on / off switch, take this one out and replace it with the new one. Five minutes tops." She didn't know what to say. However, that evening, we had a new switch.
Typical dining room chandeliers

The lighting in the dining room was so bad in certain areas that the cook had to bring out a stool and tried to replace some of the bulbs. I don't know, saving electricity? Since they were all CFL's wasn't that the point? They used less power? Maybe they were trying for a romantic ambiance or hiding the food.

However, it was when they brought the food out to choose from, that I nearly retched. It was the same crap and to a man or woman all opted for either a grilled cheese or hamburger that was actually pretty good. Nothing had changed and while I was offered lunch several times, I just couldn't. It looked that bad. I don't eat white rice to this day!

Our evening entree - beans and hot dog or slabs of tofu

We were supposed to have two entree choices ... one western and one Asian (at least 70% of the residents were Asian) but over time rice was offered on both entrees and they would serve items a good many of us were not supposed to eat.

One night was so bad, I got up and walked to a pub nearby that served wonderful craft beer and had a menu that was palatable.

Drip dripping away
For awhile there would be a daily menu. But when items were changed from what was printed that was dropped. Then they would place a sample of each meal for us to choose from. I can't tell you how many times many of us  would choose something else. For me the big problem was foods that had Vitamin K in them. If you are on blood thinners, you can't eat broccoli, spinach, cauliflower or drink cranberry juice, grapefruit juice, green tea and such. Guess what was on just about every lunch and dinner? Finally the servers would take out the offending vegetables and we would have flecks of them remaining with our carrots, corn and whatnot.

And if this doesn't turn your stomach while you are eating, you have a much better constitution that I do. Sitting near the kitchen dirty dishwater would creep in from the kitchen. This occurred more than once in my 10 month stay.

To be fair though, I will say that for a few months at least, this probably was the place for me to be. A series of pneumonia episodes laid me low and soon after arriving there, an orderly that checked on residents day and night found me unconscious on my bed, unresponsive running a 103º temperature. I was taken to the hospital where I remained for nine days. My lungs had completely filled with fluid.

Yup, salads were lettuce and dressing
For a home that "is different and special" getting fresh fruit and vegetables was a chore. In fact, you snooze, you loose. A few people would take all of the fruit if either apples, oranges or bananas were placed on the counter to take. Evidently they counted them because if the 5 or 6 of each were gone, there weren't any more. The same could be said about the salads ... something you had to ask for and then verbally make if you didn't want literally lettuce and dressing.

Yet, at the same time there were amazing shortcomings as well. Many of the bathrooms had had new fiberglass shower stalls installed yet not one of them had handholds. Bringing this up to the director I was told to get a suction cup type from Walmart. And, that would be when?  With no driver and fighting to even get to doctors appointments trips (though promised in the literature) getting anywhere was out of the question. I was told on and on why they couldn't be installed. When I slipped in the shower I had to page for help that took at least 30 minutes. I was naked and wet and couldn't get a good enough handhold to get up. After my last hospital bout, I found that two new handholds had been put in my shower even though a million reasons were given to me why it couldn't be done. Then later they went from room to room to see who did and didn't have shower handholds.

One night I woke up in the common restroom laying on the floor twisted in my walker. I pushed and pushed my alert button yet nothing happened. Luckily I had my cell phone with me and called the lobby to send someone to get me. I couldn't get up. Thirty minutes later, I know I was watching all this on my iPhone, they came to rescue me. I never used that walker again.

Crafting class
There were high points. As a crafter I had always wanted to teach. The several opportunities I had were laid low by two years in a row of illnesses. So, I volunteered to teach a class at the home. Even at 69 I was a youngster. Some couldn't speak a word of English, some did their own thing but I would get a crowd of 8 - 10 every week. I was given just about no budget so had to make do with what I could find around the home. We did have fun and I would see my students carrying around their latest project all day after class.

There were things to do and residents could participate or not. One of the biggest hurdles though was that everything was in English and many of the residents were Chinese. Some of those spoke Mandarin, others Cantonese and while the written language is the same, the spoken part is totally different. Still, many were game and I enjoyed working with them. I quickly learned seniors were little different from kindergarteners. I finally relaxed and let them do their own thing. Even at an hour, and oftentimes more, it was exhausting but exhilarating.

Even Christmas got short shift. Whatever
was found in closets and the decorations
made by my class, were the decorations.
When staff tried to take credit the class
vocally added that many of the decorations
were theirs, items printed by their teacher, me!
I have no idea what the other Brookdale's are like. Friends here in the desert took me to a facility of theirs here in the Coachella Valley and the difference, at least from the outside, was like night and day. However, I can easily understand why seniors don't want to go to them. You are ripped away from your surroundings, your support system ... church, shopping, friends, family are suddenly gone and you enter a kind of regimen that revolves around your meals and medications. It wasn't until after dinner, unless you just decided you wanted to miss a meal and could, that you had some truly free time and then, well, it was bed time!

Seeing all this after moving away, setting up my own digs as a bachelor, traveling again, experiencing freedom for the first time in many years, I realized how we design our lives. We all fall into a rut and truth be told, resent those that have, like me, broken from the past and are willing to forge a new life. Each person has to take their own path. With or without a lifetime partner, there are times in our lives when we need to start all over again. Renters next door sold everything and have moved from place to place now for six years. Husband and wife, older than me, seemed very alive and were wonderful people to chat with! So, as I saw firsthand it can be done.

Assisted living may be in my future again, but this time I hope that I will have more of a choice and that can help me make a decision that will be best for me.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please check out earlier blogs. All have a common these of how our lives are designed and how we respond to that!