An Update on my February 2016 Resolution

Of the last 685 days (since my heart attack), I’ve worked out on 627 days, beginning the second week of April – those early months were light. I worked out exclusively under supervision by the Cardiac team at the University of Missouri Hospital. After 12 weeks of observed/monitored exercise, I was cleared for doing it on my own.

By September 2016 I tried to do a heavier workout every other day. In January of 2017 I began to do those workouts daily. I am up to 359 days (including today) of “full” work outs – 45 to 60 minutes of elevated heart rate and an average of 4.6 miles of walking/running. Maybe that doesn’t seem like much. Even to me it doesn’t seem like a lot… but when you factor in my medications and how they change my energy and recovery, as well as the time it takes to get to and from the gym, shower, coordinate schedules with my wife and kids and teaching… yeah, it’s a major commitment.

In the past when I was more of an athlete and worked out consistently (before we started a family), my endurance and strength were much higher than they are now. But I’ve always been prone to overuse injuries – both rotator cuffs have problems from those years in my late 20s/early 30s when I lifted weights. Now I work on weight machines for only a small portion of my workout and try to keep impact to a minimum. I generally cycle through squats at 80% of my body weight (I press between 180 and 210 lbs), pectoral presses at 120, 100, and 80 lbs, curls at 100, 90, and 80 lbs, abdominal crunches at 150, and tricep presses at 150 and 130 lbs. The most important part of this work out is the squat portion, since my hips, knees, and ankles are pretty weak and painful. I’ve definitely grown in strength, endurance, and bodily comfort over the last year. I feel better than I have in 5 or 6 years.

Most of my workout time is spent walking, running, biking, or using an elliptical (I cycle through the different exercises over a few days). I also do some rowing and stair stepping from time to time.

So what’s the point of sharing this? I don’t have any big triumphs. I’m not reaching my ideal weight. I’m not prepping for a marathon. I’d be one of the first to be cut down in the Zombie Apocalypse. I still struggle with eating right (though we are mostly vegetarian in our daily diet as a family). I still love beer and carbs. I’m not sure that all of this effort is really helping me physically. But I do feel my awareness of my self and my experiences of living are more present in my mind these days. I do think it makes a difference for my heart health. Beyond all of this, though, the time spent working out is time for reflection and thinking about what interests me. It’s personal time. It’s mental health time.

Now if I could only manage to sleep more…

Advertisements

Of Peacocks and Bovine Interlocutors

About this time last year my wife informed me that I was going to be joining two of my friends for a couple days in the wilds of Missouri for an early new year refreshing session.

Bobby and Billy, two of my surest friends of the last decade, put together a little jaunt to a secluded farm AirBnB location. In spite of my trepidation at forgoing my social media habit, I jumped in the car with them.

IMG_1634

It was a few days of quiet time in the brisk air, solo contemplation, good food, good beer, and serious conversation about the deep issues of life.

IMG_2278

It was life-giving. I’m thankful for these guys, and so many of my other friends. Even though we have families and responsibilities and stresses, there is a core of intentional care there.

IMG_2234

In many ways I’m not a great friend. I’m barely hanging on sometimes. I need to be a halfway decent teacher and dad. I wish I was better at both. I wish I was a better husband. But times like this, when I can be honest and straight with people I trust… they make a huge difference.

I’ve been fortunate to have had times like this with a few solid friends throughout the years, and I’m grateful. I’m thankful.

I look forward to the next time, when the peacocks roost in the trees and the asparagus spits on a midnight grill.

IMG_2245

IMG_2219

And when the bull makes a visit, in more ways than one.

22549579

One Year After

It has been a year since my heart attack. Since my cardiac arrest. Since the trauma I don’t remember and that my family saw. Since members of my family kept me alive until the EMTs arrived. Since the radical changes of diet and lifestyle. Since the shift in horizon.

img_2048

Three days before that I lost my big sister; a life of incredible value and service, gone. Two months afterward my estranged step-father died; a life wasted in self-concern and alcohol.

How would people have summed up my life one year later, if it ended that night?

img_2049

Since I didn’t go, I have to assess it myself. I know my life has been valuable. I know I have taken deep draughts of experience and thought. I have been astonished. I have been disappointed. I have known love and sacrifice. I have seen things that made me cry in sorrow and weep in happiness. I have tried and failed, then barely hoped and succeeded. I have yearned and yearned, in spite of cheesiness or irony. I have worked so hard and received so much through no merit of my own doing. I have believed and doubted. All through I have attempted to be honorable and careful, passionate and present. Sometimes I have succeeded.

img_0200I am SIMUL IUSTUS ET PECCATOR.

I am AGATHOKAKOLOGICAL.

I have tried to understand what it all means. I still don’t. But I think I have some sense of how it feels.

~

It feels a little like these songs (click the titles to listen):

 

At Last

I can say that I’ve lived here in honor and danger

But I’m just an animal and cannot explain a life

Down this chain of days I wish to stay among my people

Relation now means nothing, having chosen so defined

And if death should smell my breathing

As it pass beneath my window

Let it lead me trembling, trembling

I own every bell that tolls me.

 

Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

Driving home I see those flooded fields

How can people not know what beauty this is?

I’ve taken it for granted my whole life

Since the day I was born.

Clouds hang on these curves like me

And I kneel to the wheel

Of the fox confessor (on splendid heels).

And he shames me from my seat

And on my guilty feet

I follow him in retreat…

What purpose in these deeds?

Oh fox confessor, please,

Who married me to these orphaned blues?

“It’s not for you to know, but for you to weep and wonder

When the death of your civilization precedes you.”

Will I ever see You again?

Will there be no one above me to put my faith in?

I flooded my sleeves as I drove home again.

 

A Widow’s Toast

Specters move like pilot flames

Their widows toast at St. Angel.

Better times collide with now

The tears are warm, I feel them still.

They’ll heat to vapor and disperse

And cloud our eyes with weary glaze.

You raise your glass and may exclaim,

“I’ll put my hands on the truth, by God!”

But it’s faster, love, than you and me –

Faster than the speed of gravity.

That’s how it catches you from falling

And how it always, always, always slips away.

Specters move like pilot flames

Their widows toast at St. Angel.

Better times collide with now

And better times

And better times

Are coming still.

Neko knows what to say.

~

I find attention, clarity, and rightness in teaching. I find wonderful confusion in my art-making. I find solace and laughter in my wife. I find a strange wine of joy and frustration in my children. I feel both lost and found. I feel both at home (warm, in bed), and far away in the dark (clouds, wind). I’m in orbit around a great truth and yet my tether is strung out miles from safety.

Believe it or not, all of this is so much better than the 3 or 4 years before the heart attack.

I know that some would want me to declare something, some truth, some more faithful words, some thoughts that sound more spiritually centered. I’m sorry.

Today, I want to take the lessons – the cumulative astonishments of being – as they come. I want to have joy and camaraderie in my students. I want to be gentle and full of wonder with my children. I want to continue to cherish my wife. I want to be a better husband, father, son, brother, artist, teacher, mentor, helper, and friend.

No regrets. I have not loved every moment, but I have been given such grace and love. I’m thankful.

~

img_0164

Becoming The Student: Jacob Luis Gonzales

“Right now I have a Left Ventricular Assistive Device (LVAD) helping my heart function. When the doctors at Barnes Jewish Hospital originally put this device in my body they said I had a 50% chance of living with it until July 2016, and I recently heard this a couple of weeks ago. This forced me to think about what I want people to remember about me if I do pass away. ” – Jacob Luis Gonzales, January 2016


Above: Conversations With Jake. Digital drawing, created in Procreate on an iPad Pro using an Apple Pencil. October 2016.

I’ve been wanting to work up a portrait of Jake for a while. The last year + of his life has been extremely hard. He went through 13 major (life-saving) surgeries over the summer of 2015, was resuscitated over 75 times, experienced fevers as high as 108 degrees, and has had to relearn how to do essentially everything. 

But I don’t want to just make some inspiration porn. Jake doesn’t need that. No one does.

I want to encourage you to hear his own voice, his own story in his own words. First, go read through some of that narrative at his blog. Second, consider donating to his on-going care. He needs help, from more complex stuff to just the basics. Go to his Go Fund Me page to directly donate. If you’d rather help out in a different way, I’m selling some artworks to help Jake and Ali: go here to see Situation and Circumstance Overcome – if you like it, order it, and I’ll give 100% of the sale to the Gonzaleses. Here’s what it looks like:


Lastly, if you are local and a friend, consider making time to go hang out with Jake and Ali. The time I spent drawing Jake was full of laughter, real talk, sharp wit, intense remembrances, and some solid sports and movie talk. They’re awesome people. 

Thanks for being a part of project, Jake (and Ali’s feet!).

WHENEVER/WHEN

I’ve got a new show up at Imago Gallery and Cultural Center in Columbia, MO right now. The show, titled WHENEVERWHEN, is a group of abstract pieces I’ve been working on over the last year, including after my heart attack.

I’m posting some details and a few full images below. Please come see the show at Imago; my talk will be at 6pm on June 10th. Imago is located on the corner of Broadway and Hitt in downtown Columbia, MO.

Sballou-illicitIllicit. Oil, oil stick, spray paint, oil pastel and colored pencil on panel, 26 by 26 inches, 2016.

Sballou-theunfolddetailThe Unfold (Detail). Oil, oil stick, and colored pencil on panel, 26 by 26  inches, 2015.

Sballou-osmoticOsmotic. Oil, oil stick, spray paint, oil pastel and colored pencil on panel, 26 by 26 inches, 2016.

Sballou-sigilSigil. Oil, oil stick, spray paint, oil pastel, colored pencil and bas relief on panel, 16 by 16 inches, 2015-2016.

Sballou-sigildetailSigil (Detail). Oil, oil stick, spray paint, oil pastel, colored pencil and bas relief on panel, 16 by 16 inches, 2015-2016.

Sballou-benticondetailBent Icon (Detail). Oil, oil stick, and colored pencil on panel, 26 by 26  inches, 2015.

Click here for more info about these pieces and a few other images of them in process.

Back To It

Last month, while I was in the hospital, my oldest daughter (Miranda Grace) wrote this note to me:

image

Her Wording:

“DeAR DDAD’ I Hop you can mac it THRTHW UL UV TiHS DAy LOVe MiRANdA TO DAD”

Translation:

“Dear Dad, I hope you can make it through all of this day. Love, Miranda. To Dad.”

Man. A 5 year old shouldn’t have to think that, let alone write it. This note has been breaking my heart the last week or so. I don’t know where it was the previous weeks, but she pulled it out at a meal a few days ago and said she wrote it for me in the hospital (my wife confirmed this). I’m working on a painting of it now.

I’m pretty sad that Miranda and my other kiddos had to see me have a heart attack. I’m sad they had to see me in the hospital and very weak for the last 5 weeks. I’m thankful to have survived and thankful I’ve been able to grow stronger again. I’m slowly coming back. We’ve made huge changes in diet and everyday routine.

But tomorrow I’m going back to it. Back to teaching. Back to the Art Department. Back to grads and fellow faculty. Back to our awesome office staff. Back to demonstrating that making images, translating experiences, and providing points of access for others are important. These are activities that human beings have engaged in for many tens of thousands of years. No matter how much things change – shifting modes of communication, the weirdness of politics, the coming transhuman singularity, etc, et al – the need to create and speak across the gulfs between individuals will always be a key aspect of the human equation.

I’m glad to be getting back to all of that.

If you see me, make sure I’m taking it slow and easy, though.

Dying and Living

    

I am still in a danger zone, but resting with friends and family today, especially my Alison. 

 
Hospitals are certainly not perfect, but I would have died without one and without the actions of my wife and my cousin Mechell who acted so swiftly. So many important moments we never remember – but others do, because they acted when we could not. Our lives are not our own only. 

We live on to love and make art and ask great questions, even if only for a short time – and even the longest life is a mere half-half-breath of the universe. We perceive our realities through such feeble – yet remarkably robust – senses. That contradiction is what makes us know and dream of God, or find great joy in Keats, or learn to (start to) understand Nabokov, or sing in protest with Miss Nina Simone.
Living on means recognizing the value in every human life. It means rejecting the thinking that sees that sentiment as merely sentiment and not a life value. Living on means understanding privilege and working against it when it creates enclaves of inequality. Living on means looking for of gains for everyone – from the streets of Cidade de Deus to the house next door. And if you don’t believe that, maybe you’ve not lived and lived close enough to death. 

 
Untitled Work in progress, oil on panel, 24×24 inches. 

Living on means paying attention. My students at all levels learn that my classes are about awareness and attention, far more than they are about specific skills.

Many thanks in these hours close to death goesto my wife, Alison, my cousins Chris and Sarah and Mechell, and my Aunt Beth, Aunt Cathy, Aunt Sue and Uncle Roger (who helped coordinate things and met Alison at the Hospital). 

Of course, my Mom and Pastor Dan have been there nonstop taking care of my three rambunctious kiddos. Couldn’t recouperate without that vital help.  

  

Also, the example of Jake and Ali Gonzalez of how to live honorably in proximity to death. And the dedication and passion of Deborah Huelsbergen, who has taught me to love me students more than grades or curricula.   

There are so many more I could shout out to, like my brothers Daniel (and fiancée  Sharon!) and David (that’s his knitting above) and my sisters Stacey and Denya… Denya knew how to live and love close to death most of her life. And when death took her last Sunday, it could not take the values she gave to her daughters, to me, or to my kids. 

We live close to death. Do we believe it? Do we seek to redeem the time? Let’s make the most of it. 

 

PS: it also helps to keep Mr C nearby with random hamburgers….

  

So a Spider and Alien Went to the Hospital

Photo Jul 14, 7 24 03 PMThe hospital. Why is it a massive cow? I don’t know.

Photo Jul 14, 7 25 29 PM“This is a sew-er. It’s not for sewing up shirts or anything like that. It’s for it’s for sewing up skin. I call it a Dragon’s Tooth.” – Miranda Grace

Photo Jul 14, 7 26 32 PMThe tools used to perform surgery on the Spider and Alien. “Alien’s nose needs to be sewed. Its nose is too big. Its nose holes are too big so the Tylenol drops into them. We don’t need Tylenol slurping in there…. This thing speeds the spider around and makes the animals very upset when the doctor takes it off.” – Real dialog from my kiddos.

Photo Jul 14, 7 23 53 PMThe two Doctors in action.

David and Patch

David-and-Patch2014David and Patch (Professor David Oliver’s Mandala). Acrylic and gold on panel, 30 by 30 inches, 2014. Click the image for enlargement.

Professor David Oliver is an amazing person. He is a husband, father, and grandfather. He is a professor and mentor. He is passionate about life and justice and hope. He is dying.

Diagnosed with Stage IV nasopharyngeal carcinoma in 2011, he knew his days were limited. An expert on aging who had built a long career in Gerontology and understanding end-of-life issues, David knew that he could apply all he’d studied, learned, and implemented to his cancer. In the years since the diagnosis he has produced a series of videos that detail his cancer journey on his blog, written a book on demystifying death, and won awards (along with this wife) for work on improving end-of-life care.

David’s story is certainly inspirational (you can read more at The Huffington Post here), but it also has a personal angle for me. David was my mother-in-law’s mentor nearly 40 years ago when she was a student at the College of the Ozarks and he was a professor there. Over the years they have continued to have a warm relationship, and mom was dramatically influenced by David’s character and understanding. As providence would have it, his career journey led him to the University of Missouri. When I arrived to teach here in 2007 he was an early advocate for me, meeting with me and encouraging me. The mentor came full circle in impacting our family.

I knew I wanted to make a portrait of him for my Becoming the Student series, but I didn’t want to impose, figuring he had better things to do with his remaining days than pose for me. But when he emailed me one day last month to talk to me about a lecture I’d recently given, I ventured to ask about making his portrait. He said that he probably only had a matter of weeks left, and that we’d have to act fast, but that he’d be happy to be a part of it. The next morning I was sitting in his living room making the painting you see above.

Photo Dec 20, 2 01 44 PMDavid and I pose with the portrait in progress, November 2014.

While I worked on the portrait we had a great conversation about education, travel, teaching, and family. After, while I worked to add in the mandala structure, we exchanged emails which added to our dialogue. Here are just a few nuggets from our time together:

On travel:

“Travel is the greatest education.” David has been to hundreds of major cities around the world over the decades, but has spent time in Istanbul, Barcelona, Copenhagen, among others, in the last few years. His eyes twinkle and voice grows excited while recounting past travels through Europe and Asia with family.

On experiencing cancer:

“I can’t tell you what cancer feels like, but I can tell you about how the treatments feel. I chose the non-aggressive path.” David had to make big choices about the sort of care he would undertake to fight his cancer. Though he has had rounds of chemotherapy and surgery, he chose to limit them both. Ultimately he went with palliative and hospice care over more forceful options. “My voice is my life” he told me, so he decided not to have surgeries that would have resulted in a loss of his ability to speak.

Photo Dec 20, 3 41 55 PMAbove: the piece installed above the mantel at David’s home.

On the goals for palliative care and hospice:

“I want to be at Home, surrounded by Others, be Pain-free, and Engaged as long as I can be. That acronym spells HOPE. It’s pretty simple, and that’s the exit strategy. I want to be a role model for another way.” By entering hospice early and focusing on his HOPE model, David has been able to spend a lot of quality time with family and even go to events like basketball games for his beloved Mizzou Tigers.

On Patch:

“I’m a spectator in my own body – I call him Patch. But I’m thinking, feeling, acting, and taking advantage of every moment I’ve got left. I have millions of moments to experience, so I’ll let others worry about Patch. Patch is off doing his thing; the hospice team is taking care of him. I was able to let him go. I think people who continue to treat their body view themselves as one holistic entity… they’re not able to separate to understand what’s inward. There are many things in the body that are happening and you can’t stop them. But I am not my shortness of breath or anything else that may be happening to Patch. I’ll just let hospice patch him up.” Calling his physical body by the name Patch is a way for David to both embrace the care that body needs and reinforce the distinction between his identity and his body. That body is passing away, but David sees his inner life as separate from the vicissitudes forced upon his “shell” by cancer, medications, pain, and general breakdown. David has found a way to grasp his embodiment without seeing it as absolutely necessary to his personhood.

David-and-Patch2014_angleAbove: The portrait shown at an angle to show the change of reflected light in the gold leaf.

~

My notes about this piece:

The most significant material I have used in this painting is gold leaf. Gold leaf is a traditional medium to suggest the divine and sacred. I also chose to build a complementary-colored mandala as the field upon which the portrait is embedded. Additionally, I centered the transition between David’s physical portrait and his inverse, transcendent manifestation around the Crown Chakra. The Crown Chakra is is associated with meaning and identity in the context of divine consciousness and enlightenment; the part of us that passes beyond this mortal coil. Surrounding that arena of transition and transformation are laurel leaves, traditional symbols of victory and attainment. This piece is meant to connect David’s personal associations (his name, his body, his visage) with broader, more universal conceptions of moving from one state to another – higher, entirely other – state. I combine Eastern conceptions encapsulated in the mandala with Western notions included in the idea of the memorial portrait. In some sense this is an apotheosis artwork (as an example, see The Apotheosis of Homer by Ingres).

The painting is meant to suggest that a binary group is being presented: David and Patch, bright gold and dark black, transformation and deterioration, transcendence and impermanence, immaterial and material, contemplation and dissolution, enlightenment and illusion, and the circle and the square… there are many others that could be named. These all speak to ancient alchemical oppositions.

~

I am honored to be able to celebrate this humble and gentle man. Even in the last days and hours of his life he is encouraging, hopeful, loving, and inclusive. He has been given the great gift of applying his life-long study of aging and dying to his own direct experience, and he’s drawn others into it with joy. I’m so thankful I got to include David in my portrait series.

Thank you, David!

PS: And a thank you to Debbie, David’s wife! She crafted this beautiful handmade textile piece for my new son:

Photo Dec 20, 3 32 03 PM

Every Brushstroke An Opportunity to Help Change a Life

il_570xN.276209062Situation and Circumstance Overcome, Oil on Panel, 16 by 20 inches. 2003.

Eleven years ago I created this painting. Over the years many people have asked me to create copies of it for them. There are more than 15 versions of this piece scattered across the US. Now you have an opportunity to get one of your own AND help support the adoption process for two of my good friends, Aarik and Brooke Danielsen.

il_570xN.276129237Detail of Situation and Circumstance Overcome.

The original piece is one of the most important artworks I’ve created. Its quality of construction, unique place in the story of my art making, and the personal significance it holds cause me to value it highly. For $400 you can have your very own version of this painting. I will donate every cent of the sale price to the Danielsens’ adoption fund.

I am taking up to 10 orders and I will deliver the finished works by July 2015. If you want to have a beautiful, evocative work of art for your home and help give a child a home they deserve, please consider ordering one here. I love the Danielsens and am excited to give anything I can to their adoption journey. If you follow my blog, you know how close adoption is to my heart. I hope you’ll give me a lot of work to do; every brushstroke will be done with love and joy, and in the knowledge that each one is making a real difference to a real person.

To find out more about the Danielsens’ adoption and learn more about how you can help, check out their blog here.

If you have questions let me know.

il_570xN.276209106Detail of Situation and Circumstance Overcome.

PLEASE NOTE THAT THE SAMPLE IMAGES ABOVE ARE EXAMPLES OF THE ORIGINAL PAINTING. Copies that I create will have variation, but will maintain the overall composition, color, and general surface structure of the original, and will be created exactly to the scale of the original.