Winter, oil on canvas, 36 x 36 inches
OK, so it happened. I was warned, and didn’t act quickly enough. Nothing like a friend thinking maybe you’d died to get you off the dime.
A couple months ago we were in New York, on Long Island, visiting my marketing consultant. I’m her favorite pro-bono client, the sort of privilege you get when your daughter happens to be a spectacular designer. I’ve been futzing over a new logo/identity, which she usually lets me muddle through on my own until I go astray with type and such. Then she shepherds me back in, (i.e., takes over and gives me a file when she’s ready). Anyway, she pulled up my website to see where we were currently, (yeah, I know - wouldn’t you think she’d be current, checking in every few days?).
Dad! You haven’t posted anything since 2015! People are going to think you’re dead!
I gave her my best hangdog look.
Knock it off! You don’t get to use cancer! That’s history. Over. Time to move on!
I admitted I knew that, but was trying to worm my way out of my complete and utter negligence of the publicity side of my career. She got me to promise to get back to updating, to journaling, to keeping current.
But I didn’t. I thought a lot about it, but I didn’t do it. We lost my younger sister Cindy this year. If you knew Cindy, you’d think it impossible, something as puny as cancer taking her. But cancer’s not puny, and despite strength and courage unimaginable to me, to say nothing of a will way stronger than iron, Cindy is gone. The earth should have cracked at her passing, the universe should have split. But as loss so often is, it was quiet, leaving us all deflated and heartbroken. It’s taken some time for me to regain focus.
I have some vague recollection of posting a while back about habits, and how mine are nearly all bad. And over the past few years, since before 2015, I’ve gotten way out of the habit of posting anything, out of the habit of a lot of things.
So, I’ll catch you up, briefly. See if I can’t get a habit started again. Sometime a while back I was diagnosed with cancer in my vocal chord. If you’ve known me a long time, you’ll remember a voice that could really holler. I was loud. As a child I was asked by innumerable teachers to get everyone’s attention. In high school, the adorable little girls next door, Amy and Julie Hoffman, told their mother they were afraid of my brother Todd and me. They’re so loud, was their explanation. I could stop my dogs in their tracks at 400 yards, occasionally terrifying innocent bystanders (even some not so nearby) in the process. Yeah, that’s gone. But I’m still here. Two surgeries to extract the cancer, two more to rebuild my voice as much as my throat would allow, and then, once I was convinced I was going to live, I had my knee replaced. It would have seemed a waste of money otherwise.
And I lost my mind for a bit. Or more accurately, was kind of lost in it. I was unable to digest a book, paint well, and seemed to have suffered almost a complete loss of my sense of direction. I didn’t even know I had a sense of direction, I was just never really lost, comfortable still when others were sure I (we) was, or might have been, lost. A midnight paddle, for example, and portage and more paddling through the Adirondacks that left my brother-in-law a little fuzzy on how we’d arrived at our campsite. That sort of thing. But after my medical adventures, it was gone, along with the rest. And a few other oddities, skips of perception, etc. Finally after a couple of really strange and disconcerting episodes scared me to the doctor, my GP, my wonderful GP, ran a few tests and confirmed two things- 1. The anesthesia required for five surgeries, over so short a period, had been, “a severe insult to my brain”. 2. Outside of the cancer, I was insanely healthy. Not healthy like a 55 yr old guy, but maybe 28 to 30. (This is not to claim anything affecting my appearance, which is all of the current 58. Or more).
And the cancer seems to have been dealt with. When will my mind be my own again, I asked. Well, that’s a tough one, he said, (or something along those lines). You need to be active, to sweat a lot, to make your system circulate, and it will come back with time. But there’s really no telling how long it will take. A couple years. Maybe more. So get busy, he said, with life, with living. Don’t think about it.
Hard not to think about. And I’m hard headed. I was raised to work, so I kept painting. Poorly for a long while. They made beautiful flames when they burned.
I went to Alaska and ran a remote river with friends. I walked the dogs. A lot. Exercised. We welcomed an amazing granddaughter into the world. And after the kids gave me permission, I convinced Darby we should move back to the Pacific Northwest of my youth.
And then, seemingly in the blink of an eye, Darby got a job that really excited her, in Portland, OR, my home town. Next thing I knew, she was there working, we bought a house I hadn’t seen other than Zillow, and with the help of friends and family, we packed up a truck, loaded three cats and the White Devil into Darb’s truck, Uly in the cab with Todd and me, and off we went to Oregon City, OR. A trip we all swore we’d never do again, but I knew I had to repeat it a few months later with the rest of our stuff, with my buddy Paul Driscoll along as co-pilot.
Damn. What a pain in the ass. Seriously. But we’re here now, and I love Oregon as much as I did when I was a kid. More for all the years of missing it. The whole place is new to me again, and I hope to explore it until I drop, 35 or 40 years from now. Rivers to run, mountains and coast to hike, and steelhead to chase. At least that’s the plan. I’m not new to the idea of plans going awry, of punches to the head, but I’m making plans anyway.
And granddaughter No. 1 has been joined by a little sister, and a cousin. That’s the downside of the move - them so far away. But it’s actually quicker to fly back and see them than the drive was. And I don’t have to drive through New Jersey traffic. And the other part of this plan is grandma and grandpa’s ultimate summer camp. Hiking, horses, rivers, rafting, paddling, ocean…. they’re not going to want to go home. And until they get out here, or if they don’t, we’ll be back there frequently.
So out of the blue, I get a call the other day. I didn’t recognize the number, and didn’t answer. But there was a message, and it’s from an old fishing buddy- like way back old, college days. I call him back, we catch up a little, and he said, Yeah, I was on your website, and I saw that you hadn’t posted since June of 2015. I was afraid you were dead.
So this is the first attempt at re-establishing the habit. To let you all know, I’m not dead. There are a few updates tucked in here, on the Artist Statement page. And the painting above. I've been working a lot, with a bunch of pieces finally coming together. More soon. I think. If not, Emily, give me a swift kick this time. I can’t have anyone else thinking I’m gone.
ps- (do blog posts have ps’s?)- This spring, something has cleared out more of the cobwebs. I suddenly have more ideas than I can keep track of. Like it was pre-cancer. I have some summer travel in between, but I’ve got to find a larger studio this fall. So much to do. Big stuff. Stuff I’m really excited about. I’ll try to remember to keep you all in the loop.