Two Sentimental Slobs

My father had many qualities, some good, some bad. One of them I like to remember him by was his unusual sense of humor. That’s why I keep one of the birthday cards he sent to me nearly twenty years ago when he was still going strong in his eighties.

On the front cover are two people. One on the left is a man eating a bowl of ice cream covered with chocolate sauce and sporting a cherry on the top, looking a little guilty. On the right, next to him is a trim woman with longish hair chomping on a carrot. In small print it reads “SOY” and “WHEAT GERM” on a table in front of her.

Above the two people it reads: “Happy Birthday!”

Below it reads:

“Do you know why people who eat health food are so slim and trim?”

(Card opens up):

“Because health food tastes like shit.”

In small print in all caps at the bottom, in parentheses it reads: “Enjoy your birthday cake!” – Dad

I laugh every time I read this card. It’s especially funny because he manufactured healthy snack foods like soy nuts, granolas, sunflower seeds.

Humor permeates mementoes, letters, greeting cards and advertisements I have saved over the years. The power of words, oral or print have always been of interest. Keepsakes that are humorous are a good counter measure today considering the eco-anxiety experienced around climate change, and climate denier Donald Trump threatening to run again.

One other keepsake was a photograph of the marketing communications department at Data General circa 1980. The original group of eight including the director – five men wearing button down long sleeve white or blue shirts and ties, and three women dressed in colorful print dresses are posed together for a group shot. Four of us sat in folding chairs and four others stood behind them.

The funny part was that each of us posed for the shot wearing the same Groucho Marx glasses, oversized mustache, latex nose and fuzzy eyebrows. I remember driving into Boston to Jack’s Joke Shop near the Commons to pick up and pay for eight Groucho Marx plastic disguises (and add them to my expense report).

I found a variation of the same schtick in a small black and white advertisement (that I’d kept) a few years later clipped from New England Ad Week called “Getting Ahead in Business”. It showed one Al Pirozzoli, the company president of a Connecticut advertising agency InComm, Inc. standing with fourteen staff members each holding a paddle with the likeness of the boss covering his or her face. The caption read that this group photograph proves the old saying that people who get ahead in business tend to resemble the boss. Mr. Pirozzoli expressed “pleasure at the family image” projected by the agency personnel.

There’s also a typed letter I received when I turned fifty from a longtime friend from my college years. The letter is headlined “Crossing the River Styx” and it’s contents is as relevant today as it was twenty years ago. I was speaking with this friend and told him of my “saving affliction”. He confided in me that he’s the same way and considers himself a sentimental slob.

These are just a few of the goods that make up my own private time capsule. My cache includes creative expressions that remind me of times past and people I knew. These memories define where I’ve been and who I am.

Psychologists and neuropsychologists who study memory know that visual and auditory cues are all that’s needed to trigger a whole boatload of memories from the past: be it a chance encounter with a person at a cafe visited in France, the whiff of brisket or cup of coffee.

I’ve been fortunate to travel and collect cultural items from my travels too. Old maps, advertisements, menus, business cards, a letter or card too remind me of people, places and things enjoyed. It’s a reminder to look for and savor life’s journey, and to not take life so seriously all the time. My roots are in being creative and resourceful and I don’t want to forget those times. I want to savor them again and again.

A marked man

So much of one’s discretionary income is designated towards personal presentation, how one looks, dresses, behaves. One’s likes and dislikes, values, beliefs and affiliations may be expressed in one’s individual presentation. To friends. Family. Lovers. There’s your hair cut and facial grooming. there’s your body weight and physique. Your hands and fingernails. Clothing. Jewelry and other wearables. Posture. Your odor. Oral language and written communications too. So many choices, so many options for different occasions, events and experiences. Most of these elements are transient while others like skin and eye color, a birthmark and height are features you are born with.

How we present ourselves is another way to talk about our identity. It was impressed upon me at an early age that how I presented myself or was “packaged” influenced interpersonal relations, how I was perceived and my success in the world.

As an independent information researcher I would work with different databases and directories. It is the concept of ”identity” that explains one of my favorite databases: a biometric tattoo database used in law enforcement and criminal proceedings. (Note: I have never used it; I have only read about it and its applications.)

First started by the FBI, it originally contained tens of thousands of images of prisoner tattoos. It has expanded beyond prisoner mug shots and now includes tattoos from all kinds of people: criminal suspects, victims of abuse, murderers, rapists, gang members and other criminal types. It’s a collection of symbols, designs, acronyms, faces, drawings. The tattoos are signs of a person’s identity, rank and status. The tattoos make a statement of one’s affiliations, associations, aspirations, as well as evidence of loved ones and symbols of religious and spiritual devotion.

I think I first became interested by visual search and recognition technology one summer while visting the FBI Forensic Science Lab in Washington DC with my family. We didn’t see the tattoo database but we did see the paint chip database along with extensive shoe footprint and tire tread databases. With the motor vehicle database paint chips were cross referenced to car and truck vehicles, makes, models and years. A vehicular accident like a hit and run that scrapes off a little paint can help investigstors narrow down the vehicle type from the accident. If there’s a good tire tread captured that too can be used. Then the motor vehicle registration-specific database (that only licensed private investigators, insurance personnel and police have access) can be utilized in an attempt to tie an individual to a crime scene. How cool is that?

Tattoo recognition technology uses algorithms to accelerate tattoo recognition and identification of suspects, prisoners and criminals as well as victims of abuse. Anil Jain, a computer science and engineering professor at Michigan State University in 2009 is credited with developing Tattoo-ID, a forerunner to the FBI database using a grant from the FBI.

Originally the tattoo database was used strictly by medical examiners to identify suspected gang members (with particular use when these suspected gang members were dismembered beyond recognition or killed in some other gruesome way) by usual identification means. But use has skyrocketed since an estimated 30% or more of law-abiding Americans now have at least one tattoo. A 2006 poll found 40% of Americans ages 26-40 had at least one tattoo.

Today use goes beyond identifying dismembered corpses. Tattoos are a good way to identify victims of crime or when natural disasters occur (likely to increase in need as more violent disasters occur more often and more innocents drown or are swept away etc. ) The U.S. State Dept has used tattoos to ID certain people and deny Visas. While DNA testing along with facial recognition gets all the attention, tattoos are skin markings using inks, dyes and pigments which are telltale signs as well. They are often very individualized like a scar or birth mark.

There is a ”tattoo language” or multiple tattoo languages. Gangs each have their identifying specific designs, images, symbols that silently communicate certain meanings. Rank and type of crimes committed are expressed in tattoos exhibited or worn. Sometimes tattoos are given out as punishments and reserved for particular parts of the body. Polling indicates that a lot of Americans wear tattoos to express gratitude about a significant event or to commemorate another person or event or experience.

Aaron Hernandez, the former star New England Patriots’ tight end who killed himself in prison had tattoos all over his chest, back, neck, arms and fingers including a five pointed star on his neck, a symbol of the violent gang, the Bloods. Some of Aaron’s tattoos were used as evidence in court that contributed to his conviction by the prosecution to prove he killed Odin Lloyd in 2013. Hernandez was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Whatever happens in one’s life a tattoo is available to express it. But if one decides on receiving a tattoo it is bound to the body which is in a constant state of change and movement. Some believe its an art form and for some others a means of expression or both. Is it a way to wear one’s heart on its sleeve (for all to see?) or to protect oneself from harm or something else? I’m less interested in the origin and more interested in the messaging or branding done that tips investigators, writers or researchers to more fully understand the individual.

Beware of Bambi


The anti-vaxxers of 2021 aren’t the first ones to spread misinformation to undermine public health. Vaccine hesitancy has existed in some form or another for nearly 200 years writes Tara Haelle, science journalist writing in “The New York Times” (Sept 2, 2021). Just twenty years ago anti-vaxxers contributed to stopping the use of a FDA-approved vaccine used to prevent Lyme disease, a crippling tick-borne disease. The three dose regimen called LYMErix was bashed by anti-vaxxers who stoked public fears including the untruth that it caused arthritis. The lies were responsible for poor sales which led its pharmaceutical manufacturer Smith Kline Beecham to take it off the market so writes Sue Halpern (no relation) staff writer at “The New Yorker” (August 19, 2021).

Lyme is a crippling, painful disease borne from borrelia spirochete, a bacteria carried most frequently by deer. Ticks are the size of a poppy seed yet can unleash great havoc on the human body. The symptoms: joint pain, fever, body aches, chills, heart palpitations, myocarditis and brain fog are many of the same symptoms which are common to those suffering from Covid-19. I find it amazing at how such a tiny, tiny being can cause such debilitating pain and suffering, let alone death, when untreated.

I admit it: I’m dreadfully afraid of contracting Lyme disease because of its devastation to the human body. Recently while vacationing in rural central Virginia I came prepared to prevent those little ticks from feasting on me. I wore my ex Offico pants treated with permethrin. I tucked the pants into my socks so no skin was exposed and made a conscious point to walk in the middle of the trail and not brush up against any grass or greenery. When I finished my hike and was back safely inside, I checked my body for ticks with a magnifying glass and had someone else check my back as well before taking a hot shower. Ticks don’t like hot water. I follow this protocol whether out walking for an hour on a trail or taking a short 100 yard stroll. A good friend younger than I can hardly walk up a flight of stairs today as he failed to take precautions when out mountain biking in Massachusetts; he was diagnosed with Lyme six months after the tick bite. The damage had already been done. I shudder to think what living with Lyme might be like for me.

Due to climate change the heat, hot and humidity which occasionally defines New England weather conditions has increased in number of days making New England even more attractive for ticks to thrive. Mosquitoes too like hot and humid weather. Deers may be beautiful graceful creatures but Bambi’s an innocent perpetrator weaponized to inflict great pain and suffering. Tick-borne diseases alone are bad enough but climate change also brings other debilitating diseases like Dengue fever to New England. (Dengue fever virus is in the same genus as West Nile virus, Zika virus and tick-borne encephalitis to name a few). Humans are the primary host for Aedes mosquitoes that bite and spread infection.

“As long as you live, keep learning how to live” says Seneca, a Roman philosopher born in 4 BC. Climate change is upon us and with it horrendous hurricanes, wildfires and drought and other threats to our health and well-being. Ticks are like terrorists. They’re out there and they cause harm and even death, but there are proven and effective treatments available to ward them off. No need to be paralyzed by their threat. But be informed of one’s surroundings.

Life is different today. There are new threats to contend with: terrorists, infectious diseases, hackers and scammers too, the blazing sun, drunk drivers, gun-toting vigilantes, lying politicians and salesmen, and misinformation https://Youtu.be/L4aNmdL3Hr0 spread by misguided bad actors.

Staying safe and living a meaningful and purposeful “good life” is not a binary choice between “freedom” and the wisdom borne out of science. That choice is just how anti-vaxxers circa 2021 have learned to frame the vaccines produced for Covid-19. They make it out to not be a health issue at all. It is a tragedy since death is largely preventable by simply following social distancing, wearing masks and receiving a vaccine, and being knowledgeable about how to navigate digital information. It’s a small adjustment to be made to preserve your life and your life with loved ones. I liken it to wearing a seat belt while driving, not drinking and driving, or wearing a helmet on a motorcycle or closing a match book while lighting a match. Pretty simple. It saves lives. It could be your own or your child’s.

The Original Social Distancing

Only after I bought my regular Old Spice stick deodorant did I read the copy on the back, above the list of chemical ingredients: CONTAINS ODOR-FIGHTING “ATOMIC ROBOTS” THAT “SHOOT LASERS” AT YOUR “STENCH MONSTERS” AND REPLACES THEM WITH FRESH, CLEAN, MASCULINE “SCENT ELVES”

Huh? Did Marjorie Taylor Greene or a Q Anon follower become copywriters for Weiden+Kennedy while I was cycling ? Weiden+Kennedyhttp://www.wk.com is the ad agency of record for Old Spice and is most famous for their excellence on the Nike account. They know how to separate money from consumers and build market share for their clients. But is this copy actually humor intended for Old Spice’s target audience, or an example of how influential unhinged, wacko, far right language has become mainstream and taken over American culture? I don’t know the answer. Maybe you can weigh in on it.

Atomic robots shooting lasers definitely grabbed my attention. I wanted to know more about how this messaging came to be so I wrote an email inquiry to the agency, but I haven’t heard back yet. Perhaps after a sprint in their Nikees they’re busy fighting off the atomic robots themselves.

Another two possible explanations for the Marjorie Taylor Greene-like copy was to take my mind off of the suspicious-sounding chemicals I had agreed to apply to my underarms by virtue of my purchase. For the first time in a long time I read the ingredient list and didn’t take much comfort in learning it consisted of chemicals I can hardly pronounce nor comprehend: Dipropylene Glycol, Propylene Glycol, sodium stearate, poloxamine 1307, fragrance, PPG-3 myristyl ether, Tetrasodium EDTA, Violet 2 and Green 6. Should I be worried about these ingredients moreso than the atomic robots?

I didn’t know what to do so I went back to the anti-perspirant aisle at the store and looked closer at the other brands and their ingredients: Arm & Hammer, Ban, Tom’s of Maine, Schmidt’s. I discovered no other brand had atomic robots or stench monsters, but Arm & Hammer did include Dipropylene Glycol. The Arm & Hammer brand has always struck me as an upstanding no nonsense brand, the type of product that “Consumer Reports” would approve. I felt a little better.

The truth is when it comes to deodorants there actually are conversations and controversies about ingredients as there are in many cosmetics, sunscreens and shampoos. There are honest discussions about whether plant and mineral-based odor fighting ingredients are superior to all other ingredients. There are claims that some chemicals in deodorants cause cancer or cell mutations. Others insist aluminum can be absorbed into the skin and increase one’s risk for breast cancer. (There are no credible findings that support these positions I read). But even these kind of controversies are still a far cry from “odor-fighting atomic robots” and “stench monsters”. I got to thinking …

When I was in high school in the 1960s, sweating (without protection from a deodorant) led to “body odor” or B.O. If you had it, 10 foot social distancing was the norm and more importantly, it would undoubtably ruin your chances of finding true love or getting your dream date for the prom. Now it’s 2021 and Old Spice has upped its game as the humiliation and scandal from B.O. is apparently no longer effective to selling deodorants. Advertising copy was more unadorned when I was a kid: “Old Spice brings superior protection power to an even higher level with a new formula for generating greatness … it delivers 48 hours of protection”.

Reflecting on all of this messaging brought me to this conclusion: words still carry a lot of weight in this video-obsessed world. They have power in the marketplace whether one is selling deodorants, political candidates or causes. I believe consumers need to be vigilant, educated and skeptical of what they read and hear because in today’s “attention economy” sensational attention-grabbing headlines are often created to simply “cut through the clutter”. While I thought the attention economy only applied to social media and online marketing, it apparently plays out in consumer packaging, political stump speeches and social causes too.

Remember “We’re going to build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it” ? If it sounds like something coming from the mind (or mouth) of MGT or someone else extraordinarily wacko, it probably is said to grab your attention through the latest media cycle. Don’t react! Check your sources, trust in those that provide news based on verifiable facts because there’s a sucker born every minute. Don’t be the next one.

Prout’s Neck

Maine is my new favorite place to be. Previously it was magical Martha’s Vineyard having spent four summers there during my college years following Sweet Baby James, working at the 20-bed Martha’s Vineyard Hospital pharmacy, celebrating birthdays at the Black Dog Tavern when it first opened up in Vineyard Haven. I remember swimming buck naked at Moonstone Beach near John Belushi’s house up island near Menemsha, smacking my lips eating the best key lime pie ever and romancing my first love.

In recent years, while many friends swarm in on the Cape during the summer months, we made Narragansett, RI our regular go to place only an hour away. Walking the town beach is the main draw for us, not baking in the sun. We enjoy the troubadours set up on the sidewalk by the beach after dinner or lunch after Crazy Burger.

Actually any time at the beach on the coast (any coast!) conjures up spirited memories of times past. Living on the water seems to be everybody’s dream unless doing so results in calamitous beach erosion, corrosive salt water causing debilitating rust to anything with a motor, flash floods, mudslides, hurricanes or torrential rainstorms washing away one’s safety, security and dreams. Water untamed can destroy, we know this for sure, even moreso as the planet warms up and disastrous weather events occur with more frequency and more destruction. Churning ocean water can destroy as well as be the subject for an oil painting.

Earlier this month we trekked up past Portland, visiting two sets of cousins and discovered new experiences of bountiful uniquely beautiful Maine. We enjoyed the good life on a sparkling 26 foot Mercury Marine boat tooling around Casco Bay with a crisp blue sky overhead saying good riddance to the grey clouds and dreary skies of Massachusetts from whence we came. If not for the soupy fog bank we wouldn’t have had to abort our trip to Eagles Island, off the coast of Harpswell, and the summer home of Admiral Robert E. Peary (1856-1920). He’s the same Peary known for scaling the Arctic and North Pole. He was the first of several venerable unsung Mainers we were to learn about that weekend.

Shortly afterwards, off the boat we walked over to the surprisingly rich Portland Museum of Art (PMA) at Seven Congress Square. We viewed other famous Mainers including the painter Winslow Homer, Andrew Wyeth (who had a summer house in Cushing, Maine) and his father N.C. Wyeth’s illustrations and paintings. Not all art on display was of Mainers’ creation, as the PMA displayed several world famous originals by Renoir, Monet, Gauguin, Picasso and others.

Winslow Homer, considered one of Maine’s treasures was actually born in Massachusetts. But our hosts drove us out to Prout’s Neck http://www.proutsneck.org in Scarborough where Homer had a studio and eventually built a house. It’s a most private community with famous families that summered there for generations including members of the Rockefeller family and those of the Carnegies.

“Weatherbeaten”, a Winslow Homer painting proudly on display at the PMA looks like it was drawn from Prout’s Neck’s view of the sea with strong cresting foamy waves crashing against the large dark squared rocks. You could smell the briny and crisp ocean spray mixed with crinkly sea foam, feel the jarring yet rhythmic ebb and flow of the waves below. Multiple senses at play simultaneously: sound, sight, touch. It was this sensation http://www.barbarastroud.files.Wordpress.com that resonated, carrying me away to the other moments of ocean scenes from my past: waves crashing at South Beach in Katama after a storm, the Big Island in Hawaii, walking on Little Sands Beach in York, Maine, Duck Island in the Northern Outer Banks of North Carolina.

I guess the coastline of Maine provided a solace and relaxation with family that I sorely needed after the ravages of the past year and a half. It’s a place I’d like to return to again and again in person, to hang out in, to reclaim some of what’s lost by only banging away on my iPad. Maine 2021 had a feel to it that made me reminisce of the summers of my past, knowing full well that the summers of my youth are unlikely to occur again in the midst of climate change as the world is different and will become even more different as global warming continues unabated.

Getting away with murder

The world news was followed daily by everyone in our family. An occasional letter to the editor or letter to a State Senator was written in response. The newspaper was the media of choice moreso than TV. News of all kinds was followed: world news, Federal and State politics, along with business, medical/health, global trade, Israel, sports, the plight of the needy and poor, along with editorials, opinions and investigations too.

Over time it was the story behind the news story, the one that explains how the report all came together that really interested me. Hearing from investigative journalists who give voice to the voiceless and expose those in power making them accountable are some of the most compelling stories. I like learning how professionals plan and plot a strategy to dig up and expose the truth, and encourage readers to pay attention to the meanings of the story. It’s fast and furious yet painstaking and laborious. Good quality, fact-checked investigative reporting reveals how humans continue to act poorly with each other and with wildlife with which we share the earth. We continue to ravage earth’s beauty and bounty without consideration or mindfulness about what’s at stake.

This past month I watched a couple of presentations online: one in particular exposed the dangers of the wildlife trafficking industry. Yes, it’s an industry claiming over $10 billion in trafficking parts of animals: ivory, rhino horns and tiger bones in particular are in great demand as status symbols and alleged medicinal cures. The Chinese are considered big players in this phenomenon but they’re not alone with other southeast Asian countries and to a lesser degree America too.

Of the three investigative journalists profiled in the report produced by the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJNwww.GIJN.org) the work of Jhesset Enaro of the Philippines Daily Inquirer, a daily English-language newspaper, spoke of the dangers inherent in exposing the poachers of endangered species in the Philippines. She spoke of the difficulties in building trust amongst the people who are witness to the atrocities and have threats made against them. Apparently Philippines is a known endangered species wildlife trafficking haven as it is both the source of and destination for endangered trafficked wildlife parts. But there is no agency within the Philippine government that tracks organized wildlife crime! Apparently there are too many people profiting from it for the government to get involved; what else could be the reason?

Because of journalists like Ms. Enaro and a number of non profit enterprises and news media monitors bring attention to the far-reaching problem. Ms. Enaro explained how the bad actors in wildlife crime tend to be the same criminals who are drug smugglers, money launderers and illegal arms traders. It matters to expose this reality and bring the poachers, smugglers and their salespeople all to justice because they’re raping the land, killing helpless endangered species and funding rebellious and illegal armed groups who in turn rape, kill, torture law-abiding people all over the world. These are not good people and they getting away with murder.

The endangered species are not the only ones endangered. Investigative reporters and photographers alike are threatened by their subjects and governments officials so reports others in the GIJN program. Rachel Bale, executive editor of National Geographic explained how to discover good stories and Foeke Postma of BellingCat, an independent international collective of researchers, investigators and citizen journalists using open source and social media investigation spoke of his work. BellingCat www.BellingCat.com reports on subjects like Mexican drug lords and crimes against humanity along with conflicts worldwide. Mr. Postma explained how he used Instagram and other free social media accounts to investigate and expose the truth about the wildlife trafficking problem. This was pretty illuminating work that teaches others how to use social media to embark on investigative reporting on one’s own.

Of course investigative reporters like these three are a different breed than you or me. And they’re not the only ones who put their lives at risk to create a headline story, for journalists in mainstream media outlets are dispatched to war zones and trouble spots all over the world. Writers too like Ernest Hemingway are drawn to difficult locations to snag the inside story only possible by taking up residence in a war zone.

By listening and watching well-produced programs like those from GIJN I can continue to learn and grow. And by hearing from investigative journalists in the field, I can learn tips and new ways to handle old situations in my own research work. As a researcher I know everything is not found online and to get the story sometimes one has to get into the field, talk with people face to face.

It’s not all about raising awareness of course as there are organizations like the “Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime” that includes best practices to follow and experts to consult in order to expose and fight back against organized crime.

Overall, I like research and reporting but you won’t find me risking my life or limb for the sake of a story. But I really appreciate learning the means that investigative journalists like Jhesset Enaro and Foeke Postma go through to uncover the story behind the story connecting it to other broader and penetrating issues not evident at first. They’re providing a service that we can support and spread the word about.

Happiness, where are you?

“Happiness, where are you? Come out, come out, where ever you are!”

Though retired I’m still ambitious. I strive to accomplish a lot of things each and every day but find true, long lasting happiness eludes me. While happiness seems to be on everybody’s wish list, I wonder if it’s been made up by greeting card companies, politicians, consultants and marketers.

To believe happiness is something enjoyed on a regular basis seems ludicrous or wishful thinking, or just a cruel joke. That’s not to say that I’m morose, nor misanthropic. To the contrary, despite numerous obstacles and challenges (or perhaps because of them) I feel I’m the road to fulfill my rightful place in this world. I find that satisfactory.

But it takes me a lot of discipline, time and hard work to stay on track. Fortunately, many of the “toys” that society glorifies as tickets to happiness don’t do it for me nor have they really ever been of interest. The fancy big car. The latest big ticket consumer electronics technology. A hot new game. I don’t have it and don’t miss it. In fact I usually run the other way when they are first announced. Instead, I gravitate to new knowledge and new thinking having to do with well-being and faith. That way I can continue evolving and developing my being, beliefs and behavior.

I’ve been motivated to find “meaning” and “some comfort” in life. It has to do with some of my mother’s tough luck life I’m sure. So I sought out ambitious tech startups always in motion, always changing, with freewheeling cultures and with no processes in place. When I was working I also sought some financial success and I found that high tech startups paid better than traditional marketing positions. I worked to accumulate enough money and we generally lived below our means: just in case an unfortunate, unplanned emergency might be thrown our way.

But even those frantic activities in the startup work life has its limits where everything seemed so urgent and had to be immediately addressed. I had to be in three places at the same time. It seemed exhilarating …. but to what end?

Change occurs constantly and nothing is permanent say the Buddhists. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche writes in “The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness”:

“If you truly want to discover a lasting sense of peace and contentment, you need to learn to rest your mind. Only by resting the mind can it’s innate qualities be revealed”.

In Judaism, sitting with oneself enables inner healing (and awareness) and affirming one’s fundamental goodness says Rabbi Alan Lew in “This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation”.

As a young boy I gravitated to making art as a solitary activity and means of self-expression. Doing this was an escape from the competitiveness, criticism, teasing and demands faced at home and at school. I didn’t know what I know now that artwork was healing. At the time it just felt like a good, secure place for me to spend time.

Art allowed me to make a mark without comparison to anyone else. Art of my own choosing, my own creation, was something I could believe in and be proud of. And as it turns out I was pretty good at it.

As much as I enjoy completing artwork, it’s still challenging to break away to do the hard work of art be it hand lettering and calligraphy, or illustration/pen and ink drawings. I don’t do stone sculpture any more. I know the hard part – transferring the vision in the mind’s eye to the blank piece of paper or the block of stone – without making mistakes like an errant irreversible mark. Swiss sculptor Antonio Giacometti wrote about this sometimes paralyzing phenomenon during his career in the 1900s. So like Giacometti, I procrastinate and lie to myself until I feel “in the mood” before getting down to business and doing my art. Like the Nike advertisement: I wish I could “just do it”.

My wife has a simple unadorned printed 3”x5” card on her desk that says: “don’t be swayed by external circumstances”. I try to keep this foremost in my mind. The key to finding happiness in life is within if you make the time and have the courage to face it. A sense of happiness may be attained by cultivating self-awareness and resolve, being comfortable in one’s skin, maintaining a positive outlook in response to adversity. Others find a sense of happiness by providing compassionate care to others. Finding happiness is not simple; it’s complicated like so many things. At this age I’m learning the art of living and with it comes some happiness.

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