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.

 

Police Each Other, Be a Dan

A bit misguided in my youth, a friend and I fought boredom one night by swapping around the neighbor’s trash cans.  Dan, my neighbor from across the street was a prison security guard.  He had no reservations seizing us with a tongue made of razor blades!  I’m grateful he was there to correct me!

Fast forward…

I don’t recall much about my 5th-grade experience.  After all, that was back in 1989.  My strongest memory is of twin boys completely disobeying the teacher.  They walked to the front of the class at will, threw chalk, knocked down the erasers, fired spitballs and cut the line.  They had no boundaries.  They were the most popular kids in school.  I saw they experienced a level of freedom that I longed for.  I was painfully shy.  I had no popularity to speak of.  I strongly considered following their lead.  Something inside me told me not to.  I listened.

Fast forward…

The twins continued down their path of rebellion.  Just four years later one of them decided to continually push me from behind for nearly a half mile on the walk home from school.  When I finally decided to stand up for myself he punched me in the face splitting my tooth in half (all for no rhyme or reason).  To this day, I am unable to floss without discomfort.

Fast forward…

In high school, the twins persuaded me to make a choice that was not congruent with my beliefs.  Nothing sinister or cruel, but enough to lead me astray.  It was a pivotal moment in my life.  It came at a time that I should have been forward thinking in all matters pertaining to my education and future career.  I often wonder how my life would have been different if I hadn’t listened, or if there was a Dan available to tell me to stay true to my beliefs.

While the twins and I don’t keep in touch, I don’t have hard feelings towards them either.  I’d be happy to spend time with them and catch up on the years that have expired since our interaction.  Still, I didn’t have to lose a tooth.  Plenty of cars drove by before I got sucker punched.  Plenty of school kids were watching the entire event transpire. No one stepped up or stepped in. Where were the “Dans” at?

Fast forward…

Today I parked my car at the beach, which happened to be on a military base.  A pickup truck pulled into the parking lot and the driver gave me a dirty look as he passed by me.  I’m not one for confrontation but I could tell the driver thought he was special and probably needed to get knocked down a peg or two.  He confirmed my suspicion when he got out of his truck and started to urinate in the parking lot.

I approached him and rather forcefully censured his misfit behavior, particularly for missing the urinal positioned just 30 yards away and for ignoring the fact that women and children were in the area. Despite his simple reply of, “Roger that” – I could feel his ego peel back to the nub like a filleted fish.

fish

Nobody is more comfortable peeing in a bush than a Marine.  That’s not the real issue here.  The real issue is the young man’s lack of respect for social etiquette.  Military members are expected to act with integrity on and off duty.  He clearly was not.  The real issue here is the PATH that he is going down.  If he can issue a dirty look and urinate in a public setting, what is he willing to do when the sun goes down, when the door is locked, and when nobody is watching?  That’s not the kind of guy I want around my daughters.  It’s not the kind of guy that should leave the bar with keys in his hand.

THE CHALLENGE:  One great lesson the military has taught me is to “police each other.”  What would the world look like if there were enough REAL men and women willing to STAND UP and SPEAK UP when they see something wrong in the world?  Try it.  You may have to fillet some feelings, this in turn might get you punched in the face, stabbed, or shot.  Who cares!?  You will feel good inside.  Most important, you might just make an impact on someone going down the wrong path, someone who is willing to listen, someone who might blog about you 30 years down the road.  Have the courage to BE A DAN!

Photo by Kathy

 

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