Run to Start – Shed Skin to Finish

Crawl, walk, run – a principle that governs the universe for all able-bodied humans born into mortality.  We might add to this sequence another step “run far” or “run fast” (pick your poison).  Whether a four-minute mile or an ultramarathon, both are preceded with a vast amount of practice and effort just to get to the starting line.  As an artist, I’ve put in countless hours trying to figure things out, but at age 39 the starting line is exactly where I’m at.  The first leg of my race was a portrait of a snake.  The inspiration behind the 8×10 oil painting is posted below.

Gus

I’ve been heavily influenced by a lot of people, but none as subtly profound as Petty Officer First Class Alvaro Hurtado.  We called him “Hurt” and oftentimes “Gus.”  He was not the most vocal leader, wasn’t the model of physical fitness, and not the most dynamic instructor.  My initial impressions of Gus were therefore somewhat ill-mannered and careless.  My biased judgments, however, were futile unproductive thoughts that set me up to eat a massive piece of humble pie.  As far as influence is concerned, Hurtado was a sniper who put a slug in my forehead – as if it were routine business.

Each person we meet is like a mine laden with gold awaiting extraction.  The gold is there for the taking.  Unfortunately, most people are too lazy to do the panning, sluicing, dredging or underground blasting.  As time passed I saw Gus not for what he wasn’t, but for what he was.  I discovered what I needed to see, gold.  I noticed that the GOLD he possessed, I lacked completely!

His attention to detail and quest for perfection stood out in many ways.  For instance, the cover to his working uniform was starched and pressed to exactness, as though the cover itself was standing at attention.  While many Sailors at the command frequently shoved crumpled uniform items into a gym bag, Gus made time to fold his t-shirts “boot camp style.”  His penmanship was flawless.  Each letter was strict and upright with textbook spacing and consistency.  Surely a significant amount of time and effort went into mastering his craft.

Every time a Sailor checked out of Naval Expeditionary Medical Training Institute (NEMTI), Gus was the one guy to always ensure they left with a token of gratitude.  It didn’t matter how low they were on the totem pole.  He wouldn’t have it any other way.  Sometimes he gifted a paddle which was painstakingly wrapped with his personal tools and talent.  Others received a glass case containing contents that symbolized their role as build team leaders.   Shadow boxes were carefully prepared for retirees.  Markers were made available for others to sign a few words of good wishes or fond memories on the back of each parting gift.

I shall never forget the day that I stood in the back of the flag room holding a paddle that had just been presented to UT2 Samuel B. Kellogg.  As the room cleared out, I proceeded to convey to Kellogg what a remarkable gift he had just received.  I went on to express my judgment that Hurtado had a heart unlike anyone I had ever encountered, a heart that I sought to emulate.  Somewhere in that dialogue, I choked up.  I don’t recall if I was able to conceal the tears that streamed down my face, or if I even tried.  One thing is for sure, I decided then and there that I needed to be more like Gus.  I needed to ensure he left NEMTI with a personalized gift.  I also determined that I needed to carry the torch to the best of my ability, that all departing shipmates were worthy of a few hours of my time so they too might receive a customized token of appreciation.

My talent lies in the realm of creative arts.  As a child, I was somewhat exposed to fine art.  I knew innately that oil painting was something I wanted to do at an extremely high level.  I dabbled in many creative endeavors.  I received a formal education in visual communications and web design.  I excelled at photography and could hold my own with a can of Krylon.  Unfortunately, when it came to oil paint I never took the bull by the horns.  Oil painting requires many hours to execute a realistic representation.  Every stroke of the brush must be deliberate and precise.  I supposed that I could not offer a better gift to Hurtado than a painting, a perfect metaphor for everything I admired in him.  I knew I wanted a subject that would require me to pay close attention to detail, form, shape, color, texture, and edges.  I pondered for many weeks.

The solution finally arrived during Hurtado’s final presentation at a CPO 365 PME.  His words led to a discussion in which our Senior Enlisted Leader Master Chief Haskins talked about the growing pains of personal development.  Therein he made the comment, “When we grow, it’s like a snake shedding skin.”  BINGO!  At that moment I knew just what to paint.  As a result, I presented to my friend, my brother, and shipmate, one of my first ever oil paintings on a very, very long journey to mastery.  This piece is entitled “GOLF – ROMEO – OSCAR – WHISKEY” the phonetic military alphabet for the word “GROW.”

I will forever pay tribute the name HM1 Alvaro Hurtado for showing me a piece of manhood that I lacked entirely and for causing me to grow out of darkness into light as depicted in this painting.

IMG_1908

Photo: Work in progress – 2nd of 3 layers applied.

 

Try to Lose Some Sleep

1986 Changed my life. I remember being exposed to the Beastie Boys’ album “Licensed to Ill.” I didn’t know what half of the lyrics meant. I didn’t understand to what degree the vulgarity extended. There was something in the beat and feeling of the music that spoke to me. I could ignore the lyrics, but I couldn’t ignore the genre.  I could scarcely listen to anything else.

My world of make believe included hours and hours of rapping in my mind. I wasn’t really “rapping” – I had no command of the English language. I would pretend I was on stage in front of thousands of fans. My verses had a ton of repetition using only the handful of words I could get to rhyme…but my “fans” didn’t seem to mind so I kept my songs on repeat (therein lies a great lesson – maybe for another day).

I grew up on East Coast “Boom Bap” Hip Hop (so VERY different from today’s mainstream sound). I loved the “underground” scene where rappers (properly referred to as emcees) did it strictly for the love. Money and fame didn’t matter, but authenticity and originality did.  I wanted nothing more than to be “that guy.”

Unfortunately, it was out of my reach. I was too poor and wouldn’t even know where to begin even if I did have a few bucks. I made my first track with a kid down the street from me in 1997. He had a pretty decent home studio that he set up in his bedroom. He made a quick beat and we both sang over it. I’m embarrassed by it now, but it was so cool back then. More than ever I knew that someday I would have my own home studio.

I started in 2014 with a few iPad apps. I was amazed at how far technology had come! In 2015 I got a midi keyboard (MPK49) and FL Studio software (it had come a long way since 97′) but I didn’t fall in love with it. A month or two passed and I purchased a “Maschine Mikro” by Native Instruments. This was MUCH closer to what I was looking for. The studio continued to grow, turntable, audio interface, microphone, mixer, crates of records and studio monitors (speakers). Many days consisted of a short 10-30 minute session of sampling a record, chopping it into a beat and laying over some drums, some days I scored, other days I failed miserably, but I rarely took my foot off the gas. I learned a TON, but I knew I was just scratching the surface.

My Maschine Mikro served me well. But as of last month, it is in “nursing home status” – ready to die. After many, many hours of playing, the buttons now stick (as expected for an entry level product). Which brings me to today. Meet Ableton Live w/Push 2.

Bose

When I make a large purchase I study it out carefully. I sleep on it. I debate. I consider every option from every angle. I downloaded every major DAW (digital audio workstation) and took them for a test drive in an effort to find the next adjacent step for my musical growth.

Ableton Live came last. I had ZERO hope that I would want this DAW.  But, none of the others really impressed me, so I had to try it. Boy, was I wrong! I knew within the first five minutes that this would be my present and future platform for music production.

THE APPLICATION: We have a sign hanging in our home that reads, “DO WHAT YOU LOVE.” I strive diligently to apply this. I have learned a better way to explain it. “DO WHAT KEEPS YOU UP AT NIGHT.” Music production gets me excited, to the point that I can hardly sleep. It makes my heart beat faster. It makes me happy to know I am making my own dream a reality. I want to give back to the underground scene everything I took from it and more. I want to keep it alive because it is so much a part of who I am.

THE CHALLENGE: What gets you so excited that you can’t sleep at night? What activity do you do that causes you to skip eating because of deep satisfaction? Find it, do it, commit to it! Doing the thing that keeps you awake at night will add a new and unbelievable dimension to your life. Stop procrastinating!

Three Lessons From Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong earned the distinction of being the first man to walk on the moon. What can we learn from him?  Here are my three takeaways.

Armstrong joined the U.S. Navy in 1949 as an aviator and flew combat missions up until 1952. In the last two years of that service, he flew 78 combat missions over Korea. He transitioned to the U.S. Naval Reserve and remained there for eight years until resigning from his commission in 1960. During his time in the Navy, Armstrong logged a total of 2,600 hours in flight, including 1,100 in jet aircraft. He later became an astronaut and the rest is history.

(1)  Find passion in what you do. Would Neil Armstrong have landed on the moon if he did not find a passion for being airborne? Would he have had the confidence to go into unknown territory if he had not risked his life in 78 combat missions? He not only went into outer space but did so with the intent of walking on the moon. I wonder if the thought of “moon walking” ever occurred to him during his first combat flight over Korea. Try not to think about just “getting through the day” but how everything we do can lead to something much bigger than initially supposed.

(2) Contemplate boundaries. Armstrong’s accomplishments reveal so much about boundaries, both literal and perceived. The early colonists in 1775 (at the time of the Navy’s birth) were virtually landlocked.  To the west, they were smothered by thriving forests. To the east, they had the ocean (a mighty long swim before finding a substantial land mass). They may have viewed either direction as their “outer space”, an unknown distance of unexplored territory on one hand and uncharted fathoms of a deadly ocean on the other, not to mention any number of unsympathetic enemies found in both human and animal form. We ought to take inventory of our boundaries, again both literal and perceived. Strive to gain and maintain a firm grasp on the territory in which you may legally operate while keeping in the back of your mind the possibility of breaking out and doing the impossible. America’s early settlers weren’t thinking about exploring the far side of the moon any more than Niel Armstrong was thinking about the world wide web. What possibilities do we presently overlook?

(3) Take a trip for yourself. I personally will never travel to the moon, at least not in a physical sense.  That does not mean I can’t let my mind wander (preferably not at a red light).  For me, it is important to take creative mental expeditions. Refuse to let your mind grow stale. Feed your brain with daily “combat missions.”  Don’t just “veg out” in front of the TV and let others do the thinking for you, don’t be a couch potato.  Find ways to do some mental moonwalking such as book exploration, blogging, journaling, meditation, yoga or some type of art or music. Do whatever it is that sets your mind free and allow yourself time to think outside the box.  Yes, there are infinite prospects to your left and right – just be sure to “look up” from time to time in order to find those overlooked possibilities.

 

Photo by possan

Beating a dead horse, or mule, or whatever…

Mom…dad…aunt…dead, all this year.

What was it like on their deathbed? They all knew it was their time to go. Were they thinking about selfies? TV? How to discipline others? A mediocre lesson? Enemies? The business card they meant to give away?

ANSWER: Nope

They were thinking about the sum total of their lives. They were thinking about bricks! They were thinking about their pain (and thirst). Something happens on our death bed. We let go of all the stuff we thought was important.

A good friend once told me, “You only have to make it until you die.” This helps me stay cool, calm and collected. I try not to carry the “stuff” with me along the way. I can only control what I can control and eventually the clock hit’s zero.

“After the game, the king and the pawn go into the same box.”
Proverb

Knowing what I will eventually become makes it easy to keep yellow flags in my pocket. It is also worth questioning if my perspective is even correct. I love children’s art! There is something so pure and authentic in EVERY single doodle they create. Often I would ask my young children, “What is that?” after they come running up to me to show me a masterpiece.

In the child’s mind, the picture doesn’t need any explanation. “It’s right there dad, duh…can’t you see it?” But sometimes I can only see what looks like scribbles. The child is not concerned with line, form, shape, value, color, and texture. They can only limit themselves to the expression of their idea, their way.

I wonder how often we view the world equivalent to a child’s artwork. How often do we impose our will upon others when trying to lead “the right way.” We might be making a ruckus in an attempt to lead others “our way” when in reality what we are waving around is childlike “artwork.” We might be saying, “Duh…it’s right there, can’t you see it?” But, did we present our vision with enough artistic elements? Did we use complimentary colors, formal balance, and proportion?

THE CHALLENGE: As a leader, know the rules. Know what is stated in black and white. This will give you the power to direct. It will provide a common framework for all to understand. Avoid being abstract when assigning tasks or giving orders. Be direct, be clear, be firm. The more you do this, the better you lead. The better you lead, the more bricks you make. The more bricks you make, the more satisfied you will feel when it’s your time to pass.

Photo by Kerry