Thursday, July 30, 2015

You really like me!

July 30, 2015

Marissa Bacchi
Editor in Chief
The Women of Distinction Magazine

Dear Ms. Bacchi,

I can't tell you what an honor it is to be a potential candidate for inclusion in your 2015 edition of "Women of Distinction."

When I received your email of Friday last — My birthday! So auspicious! — I really didn't know what to think.

Your email shone above the barrage of emails I get every day. It was — dare I say? — distinct!

I mean, the chance to represent women, my state — and my profession! — in your edition. Such a surprise!

Really, really surprising!

"Attention," you greeted me, and boy! (pardon the expression) You got my attention.

Didn't even have to call me by name.

"The Research and Editorial Committee are looking to select potential candidates for our up-coming edition," you explained. "We primarily focus on ones current position and industry, however we are also interested in; community development, criteria from professionals associations and trade journals.

"Based on our research we believe your profile fits our criteria and would make an excellent addition to our publication," you said.

First, kudos to your crack Research and Editorial Committee! "Research" isn't part of its name for nothing. You have found out something about me that perhaps I didn't know myself.

Shawn Colvin, Sean Young … now I realize how small that leap really took to determine my womanhood. And that's without bothering to Google®™ "Distinctive women named Shawn or Sean," as I'm sure your Research and Editorial Committee did. Or else, how would it have discovered me, a potential Woman of Distinction, representing the Golden State?!

Forgive my impudence — the last thing I'd want to do is mar this occasion — but shouldn't it be "The Research and Editorial Committee is looking," since the committee is one thing, the group rather than the people cromprising it? Unless it's two things, of course! Perhaps you have a Research Committee and an Editorial Committee, and why not?! You probably need both. But shouldn't it then read "The Research and Editorial committees," "committees" being plural and then lowercase to indicate the multiple distinct (there's that word!) groups, under recognized English grammar and style rules?

"Upcoming" doesn't require a hyphen, either. Oh, forgive me! I'm a jerk sometimes, and that was such a knee-jerk reaction. But you wouldn't be surprised, of course, because your Research and Editorial Committee (or Research and Editorial committees) would know I have been in the writing and editing industries.

"Ones current position" should be "one's current position." You should have a semicolon in front of "however," and a comma should follow "however." A colon, not a semicolon, should precede your list of bonus ways I might win inclusion into your distinctive publication; you don't even really need a colon: Addition of the word "your" there would suffice.

Should it be "professionals' organizations?" Or maybe just "professional organizations," which is how I typically see it?

I'm not going to niggle about the lack of a comma after "Based on our research," because I suddenly figured out what you're doing: You're an editor in chief of distinction! Well done! Your distinction shows through in this novel bit of editing. Why follow rules, indeed!

I have so much to learn!

"You will be featured and highlighted for your achievements and future (as opposed to past) ambitions," you told me, "along side (more daring grammar!) other distinguished women. Each candidate will specifically represent their profession, giving readers an upfront look at what makes you a leader in your industry."

See, I would have gone for "Each candidate will represent her profession, showing readers what makes her an industry leader," following the musty, dusty rules rules of proper pronoun use and parallelism, but what do I know?!

I would have dived right in, too, and edited for brevity, as Strunk and White advised, but why?! They're musty dusty men, after all. Time to hear me roar!

Use as many words as you want, that's my new rule! Thank you for blazing new trails.

Heavens! I have until Aug. 20 to give you materials that will determine my inclusion in your magazine. Not much time, is it?

But you have been kind not to let me forget. Thank you for inviting me to subscribe to your magazine, and your second email calling attention to my candidacy for your special edition. You didn't have to tell me twice, but I'm glad you did, calling me "Dear    ," this time. You shouldn't have!

"We look forward to hearing more about you!" you concluded, and I've got your request at the top of my to-do list, just as soon as I register with you. I'm sure you just need my absolutely correct personal information for the plaque and the monogrammed swag.

To be honest, I don't know what more I can gather for you, realizing how much you already know about me.

Again, thank you for this honor, Ms. Bacchi. It's a brave new era for me. Like I said, I can't tell you how honored I am. Really, I can't.

Yours in womanhood,

Shawn (as in Shawn Johnson) Turner

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The first honest car commercial

People who buy cars based on commercials are the biggest suckers of all.

I'm sorry, but someone had to tell you.

You bought sizzle. You bought the illusion that:
  • your car will somehow create a new empty lane — hell, your own freeway overpass — by which you can speed away from life's eternal traffic jam
  • every coastal highway will empty completely, so you can hug the hairpin turns at high speed while the ocean sparkles for you alone
  • similarly, every city is glass and gleaming and completely empty, while your car glides along its sheening streets, every pane reflecting city lights, to the one place where everyone is — a swank nightclub
  • your car pulses with power and can turn any highway into Le Mans, which is the biggest lie of all: Any car lets you race dangerously along our streets and byways. The commercials leave out whether you should
  • your car can fly
  • you drive more safely, with devices that let you see cars and objects behind you, or the car beeps on approaching cars, or will brake for you if you get too close to a car in front of you or bring you back into your lane if you drift — which makes me wonder if you should be driving at all if that's what it takes to safely convey you
  • you need an enormous truck — damn the gas bill! — to pull your Enormous Boat up the Steep Mountain Grade and Haul Stuff, even though you don't have a boat or haul all that much stuff, it turns out
  • getting this car makes you cool, either because a sports figure says so, or an animated stuffed monkey mocks you if you don't drive the cool car in the coolest possible way, or your car rises out of the ocean to escort you to a tropical beach party
Shame on you!

Finally comes the first honest car commercial. You might have missed it. Built on ephemera, car advertising must constantly move onto the next message before the structure of the last commercial collapses and your attention wanes.

This one should have stuck around longer. Watch and see why.

Sure, it still perpetuates the classic car illusion, suggesting in an irrelevant fantasy setting that drivers can race along the city streets like stunt drivers (by the way, if the commercial warns at the bottom, in teensy type, "Professional drivers on closed roads. Do not attempt," you are being sold a pipe dream). But it contains the truth I've never seen in any other commercial — the real reason people want a new car, especially one like this.

To screw the other guy (or girl).

"While others go in circles … and repeat themselves," the narrator intones as similarly silver BMW, Mercedes Benz and Audi cars chase each other on a vast dry lake bed, "we choose to carve our own path in the pursuit of exhiliration."

The Lexus — the better car, driven by a better person, even though the car is the exact color of the others and indistinguishable at high speed — races into the center of the circle, cutting off one of the cars to get in.

Let me repeat that: Cutting off one of the cars.

"The 306-horsepower Lexus GS," the narrator finishes, practically panting, "Experience the next level of performance! And there's no going back!"

The Lexus skids to a sharp left turn inside the circle and races out of it — cutting off one another of the cars.

The last shot, from overhead, reveals that the cars have together carved the Lexus logo into the desert dust.

At last, something real, authentically applied: A new car can truly make you superior. As such, your place in a lane is more necessary, your destination more important, your presence more notable.

You may not be able to race like a stunt driver on surface streets (peculiar phrase, by the way), at least not for long distances, because everyone else drives at the speed limit and eventually you have to too. But you have unlimited chances to cut off people at the last moment and roar away — until you again meet up with law-abiding citizen drivers. And you take those chances, time and again.

Your car is your permission. Your ordination. The rest of us understand, shouting huzzahs in the confines of our car, "Typical *%&##@ (fill in the name of the car)!"

We know you by the one special feature that marks your ascent, no matter your brand or the color you chose — patented virulent anti-turn signal™® technology.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

In defense of caricature, via
The Sacramento News & Review won't apologize.

Nor should it.

But the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Sacramento demands an apology, for the weekly newspaper's cover caricature earlier this month of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.

The NAACP last week accused the paper of echoing the denigrating, hateful (and frankly, all too easy to find) parodies of African Americans in the Jim Crow South to depict Johnson.

“The NAACP is outraged at the racist SN&R cartoon lampooning Mayor Johnson,” the organization announced in a news release. “Caricaturing images of the Mayor with a crazed and violent look reinforces what many believe is the persona of many African American males."

Absent an apology, the NAACP said it will boycott the newspaper.

The cover art, and six vignettes by illustrator Hayley Doshay of Kevin Johnson's face — each bearing the same shocked expression and large beads of sweat, but each looking in a different direction — accompany a story on the latest in newspaper's efforts to get access to emails the mayor exchanged with an attorney over his shakeup of the National Conference of Black Mayors in 2013, when he presided over that group.

The newspaper is following accusations that Kevin Johnson has used taxpayer money and city staff to conduct business outside of city duties, including crippling the national mayors' group, and that he has skirted public records law by conducting city business by private email. Similar accusations have been made of Hillary Clinton, using private email to conduct business as U.S. secretary of state.

Johnson has sued the News & Review and the city of Sacramento to block access to some of the emails.

A Sacramento native, Johnson is charismatic and energetic, a community organizer who parlayed a career as a point guard in the National Basketball Association to transform a lagging city high school into a private charter school.

He sprung from that accomplishment to become mayor, and is now in his second term.

A high-profile, polarizing figure, he will largely be remembered as The Man Who Delivered the Sacramento Kings a Shiny New Downtown Arena Paid with Tax Dollars and Skyrocketing Parking Fees. But he may face the fallout of the cost city taxpayers face when the arena is built — and is already dogged with accusations that he overstepped his role to engineer approval of the arena, among other questionable practices in his time as mayor.

As a public figure, he is as ripe for caricature as he is vulnerable for a free press to question his actions on behalf of — or despite — his constituents.

The caricatures are not of Kevin Johnson, a black man, as the NAACP accuses. They are of Kevin Johnson, a mayor whose official actions and use of his office have come under intense scrutiny; a mayor who happens to be black.

The News & Review furnished photos that it said the illustrator had used as reference. Except for the facial expressions, the image is very similar.

Responding to the NAACP's accusations, the News & Review announced:
The illustrations of Mayor Kevin Johnson in SN&R’s July 9 issue depict him as sweaty and nervous while reading about his lawsuit against this paper and allegations of email misuse.
"These illustrations are based on an actual photo of the mayor.
"We refute the NAACP’s assertion that the illustrations are in any way racist, violent, or perpetuating negative stereotypes, or that our coverage of the mayor is racially biased. Such accusations are unfounded and without merit.
"SN&R has a 26-year history of supporting the NAACP’s mission. We look forward to continuing and strengthening that support in the future."
That's the nature of caricature, exaggeration for effect. Kevin Johnson doesn't get a pass because he's black. If caricaturists bowed to every group and individual offended by the portrayal of public figures — President Obama's ears, Donald Trump's hair, Gov. Jerry Brown's beetled eyebrows, Sen. Mitch McConnell's turtle-y head — the noise would be constant and the editorial pages would be empty. And we'd have nothing to laugh at.

The joke ultimately may be on the News & Review, I'm afraid, and the newspaper probably knows it: Kevin Johnson is built with a bit of President Reagan's Teflon®™, and this plague might pass him by. The shocked look and beads of sweat may be wishful thinking, while the mayor calmly plots his path to the governor's office.


In other news:

Searchers found the body of the young man who drowned last week in Lake Natoma — found his body a couple of hundred yards from where he was last seen. The current flowing out of Folsom Lake into Natoma must have moved his body, where it was found downstream from the boat launch where I take off most mornings to swim.

Rest in peace, Paul Liu.


Someone came into the museum where I work yesterday and asked politely why the gigantic flag that flies in front wasn't struck to half staff.

"'Why?'" I repeated, because I didn't think I heard him correctly.

"Yes, because of the Marines killed in Chattanooga," the man said. A man shot and killed four Marines and one sailor at military centers last week.

I heard him correctly, then.

City crews had planned to, I explained, but high winds prevented them.

The man was satisfied with the answer. The winds, he said, are indeed blowing hard.

As are we all.

I agree that the flags should be lowered in the memory of those killed. I'm not sure why nearly a week passed before official word came to lower flags. But neither am I sure why such an outcry arose over flags remaining high and flying, except for the constant scoring of political points that qualifies as news anymore.

I no longer understand the protocol for lowering flags nationwide, but if it's now for fallen members of the armed forces, the flag should be lowered most days of the week in honor of our soldiers and sailors and marines killed in ongoing conflicts.

Maybe if the flag was held at half staff more days than not, we'd remember that we are more often than not a nation at war, and do something to change it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


First, thank you: When I reached out last week in this blog, seeking advice on helping a Ghanaian swimmer help others learn to swim, I imagined I was casting a message in a virtual bottle, letting come what may. But it reached you directly and you reached back quickly, with heartfelt help and mindful advice.
Many of you pointed me to the same person, co-founder Dan Graham of Nile Swimmers, a United Kingdom charity based in Sudan. Dan gave me a frank and thorough background on the scope of lifesaving efforts in Africa, successful but woefully underfunded against pandemic drowning. He advised me of the challenges and pitfalls of providing help remotely. Dan, in turn, pointed me to three organizations already doing similar work in Ghana, with whom my Ghanaian acquaintance might harness his efforts.

I'm hoping the next steps bring a good result soon …
It is no longer cold in my beloved Lake Natoma. At nearly 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the water is far warmer than I can remember over the four years I've swum here.

The current is strong, though. Water officials said they would slow releases from Folsom Lake into Lake Natoma in this drought, but it doesn't feel like they have. I have learned to swim against the current by hugging the north edge of the rocky ravine, a weather eye out for the canyon edges, which jut out over my head at times.

I'm finding eddies, some strong enough to swirl around and push me forward, then fighting against the rush of water as I round a rocky point, until the water relaxes and lets me into the next eddy. It's sneaking to the edge of Folsom Prison by the long route, but I'll take it. I have no choice.

Once up to the prison chain, I plow sideways into the middle of the channel, and feel my body fly back down the ravine where moments ago I had been climbing half-foot by half-foot.

I've been taking this for granted, I realize. The numbness I feel in in my hands in the winter water has this summer reached my head and heart.

Each morning this week, I have been swimming past a body, somewhere below in the green water.

A 22-year old man drowned in this water last Thursday. He and some friends tried either to swim across the lake or into the middle, and got tired. Kayakers rescued two, one swam back to safety on his own. The 22-year-old man disappeared. Recovery crews have yet to find him.

On my way up through the current toward the prison, I pass the rocky island near where rescuers last saw him.

He is one of six people in the last three weeks to have drowned in the rivers and lakes around Sacramento.

The other five drowned along the lower American River, or at the confluence of the American and Sacramento rivers, where the current can sweep unsuspecting swimmers over unseen drop-offs below the surface and pull them under.

The Sacramento has long been a river of industry, its bottom crowded with concrete slabs and poles and cables and downed trees and junked cars — there to catch a struggling swimmer.

The Sacramento Fire Department reports that an average of eight people drown in Sacramento's rivers each year – four times the national average. This year the terrible season started early, with a drowning in late and warm March at the rivers' confluence. The number of drownings has already exceeded the average.

Drowning, widespread far away, is also prevalent here, where we would expect the resources to prevent it.

I had been numb to it all, until that man drowned near where I swim. Now I mark his passing, looking shoreward to see if anyone has come to mourn him, looking to see if recovery teams have resumed their search that early in the morning.

Now I wonder how I could help stop the drownings. I have been blessed to be able to swim, blessed to have had help since childhood to overcome my fears and respect the water; blessed to have practiced open water swimming, first as a Scout leader, then with new friends passionate about the sport, who would not let me give up because of new old-guy fears.

I have been blessed to have time to swim my lake, to learn its ways, to learn to relax and be patience in current and high chop.

But I have lost touch. In the television news stories, I have heard experienced swimmers describe Lake Natoma as "extremely cold," and I have forgotten that for many people who rarely or never go into the lake, it can feel cold even in high summer.

I had forgotten that not long ago, helping Scouts learn canoe rescue techniques in Lake Natoma, the cold (64 degrees F) shocked me head to toe, arrested my breathing, chased away rational thought, began to induce panic.

Though I'm as snarky as the next skins swimmer, I'm not militant: If a wetsuit is what it takes for someone to swim the open water, I bid welcome.

I had forgotten, too, how frightening moving water can be, how futile it made me feel.

The city and county are taking new water safety steps after this horrible string of drownings, including new signs posted near the most dangerous landmarks along the American and Sacramento rivers, and rangers talking with beachgoers about the perils of swimming.

It already provides life vests on a rack at swimming holes along the two rivers, including the dangerous confluence. Many people, unfortunately, ignore the offer.

I'd like to do more, and as usual with most of my public whinings, I don't know what. I'm not trained to teach others to swim, and I'm not even sure encouraging more open water swimmers is even the answer. Though I do encourage anyone halfway interested to give it a try, as safely as possible along the shallow beach at the lower end of my beloved lake.

I would not swim where most have drowned, where the currents and undertows are swift even at low levels. Most of the victims weren't even swimming, but wading until they got too far out to come back. Only in a few instances have drownings resulted from hubris, swimming beyond ability and knowledge.

Knowing is key — knowing how to swim, knowing how to relax in the water, knowing where the life vests are, knowing where the water is dangerous. The education is often in English and many who drown here don't speak English.

I can do something. The numbness needs to go away.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Ask, tell

My Mitty-esque idea for helping a cause.
Now for something completely different:

In which, rather than blather about questionable conduct in my own life, I ask you for advice about an important part of someone else's life.

I need your expertise – experience with similar problems and solutions, resources I can look into, alternate solutions I don't even know about.

Here's the story:

One fallout from facebook™® and its best page ever, "Did you swim today?" (about which I've blathered ad nauseam) is meeting people reaching out for this and that need.

One person I've met this way is Kabutey Emmanuel McCain. He lives in Accra, the capital of Ghana in West Africa, along the Gulf of Guinea.

He swims, but mostly he teaches people how to swim.

Inability to swim is epidemic in Ghana, I've come to learn, where people move by water to get places — along the coast, across lagoons, up and down rivers.

Drowning is a big problem during normal times, Kabutey says, and goes underreported in his country because of burdensome requirements to get official help.

These aren't normal times — Accra is recovering from last month's massive flooding in which more people drowned and scores died when a gas station exploded where people had taken shelter from the rains. It's one of those tragedies we don't hear much about in the West.

Kabutey is trying to help people swim, and teach them to rescue others, normal times or no.

Someday, he says, he'd like to run swim-and-rescue programs throughout Accra and beyond its borders. Right now, he and some friends work in their neighborhood, using the community pool or a friend's pool when the weather permits, teaching the neighborhood children.

His is a shoestring operation on a broken shoestring budget. He would like to get some cardiopulmonary resuscitation mannequins to teach lifesaving skills … transportation money to get him and his team around Accra … and means of publicizing his programs.

I met Kabutey through facebook®™ when he was asking individual DYSTers (what swimmers on the page call themselves) for help.

Some sent some. I learned how cumbersome it is to send even a few items and a bit of money from California to Ghana. Though the bit of money reached Accra fairly quickly, the items took weeks and weeks.

This method of sporadic and individual giving was not going to help anyone accomplish anything, I realized – neither Kabutey his goal nor his donors goodwill.

Kabutey needs another way to go about this. Namely, he needs
  • another resource that's more dependable than a small random hodgepodge of people, or
  • a wider audience
  • he needs to be able to manage fundraising on his own
So now he's trying crowdsourcing. I don't know much about crowdsourcing, except that it's a way for a lot of people to give a little in a fairly convenient manner, the little adding up to a substantial sum to help people solve problems just like Kabutey's.

He could manage and monitor it, having access to a computer and social media.

I've offered what I can, which amounts to writing copy and maybe supplying graphics for the cause, including the logo above, which Kabutey did not ask for. I live in my own world of imagination, but even there, my pockets aren't deep.

He's trying, created in part by actor Edward Norton. It seems like a good fit.

But requires that he have a U.S. bank account, meaning someone else would have to manage fundraising operations for Kabutey, rather than him managing on his own.

He can't post any information about his needs on crowdrise until he secures a U.S. destination for the money.

We're back to where this started. I'm uneasy, frankly, about setting up an account for this purpose, because I don't know the ramifications, the pros and cons.

So I need your advice and suggestions, people and resources I can consult:
  • Have you ever set up an account for a similar person, or know someone who did, who can tell me the perils and pitfalls?
    • Is there a way to set up a third-party account?
  • What are some other means he can use to meet his needs such as:
    • Grants
    • Existing funding sources in Ghana or Africa
      • Sources that serve Africa specifically
      • Sources that serve swim instruction, lifesaving and drowning prevention specifically
  • What ideas do you have about helping serve Kabutey's needs that I don't even know about (my ignorance being epic)?
I welcome any and all ideas and resources I can pursue, and thank you for your consideration.

Right now it feels intractable, but my gut tells me it isn't.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Bless the beasts

Sarah Green loves pelicans!

I love pelicans!

But wait! (I protested in the guarded confines of my head) I don't know how the hell I can fit a pelican into the shirt design for Sarah's charity swim, the Humboldt Bay Critter Crawl.

(Thanks, Dixon Lanier Merritt — and sorry for thinking you were Ogden Nash.)

After all, the swim in far northern California benefits the North Coast Marine Mammal Center — seals and such. When asked if I could create the design, I pictured a seal in acrobatic swirl, enwreathing the swim's name in the bubbles of its wake. Or harbor seals and sea lions forming the words, or hidden in the words. Something like that.
I am thinking about expanding the concept to a larger population of ocean *critters* - water inhabitants, pelicans (a personal favorite) and other sea birds
Said Sarah,
. . .  swimmers swimming among them, Humboldt Bay, maybe The Fisherman statue from Woodley Island.
Having swum the inaugural event last summer, I knew the statue — knew it not only for its rough-hewn figurative style, but as a beacon ushering me to the finish line. It's a memorial by Eureka sculptor Dick Crane to Eureka's fishermen lost at sea; I already thought of including it in the shirt design.

But a pelican … !

They're lovely. When I see them, I feel I know the ocean is wild and thriving, and that they guard the water somehow, scooping in tight formation through the wave troughs. Ungainly and clownish on land (curse our anthropomorphic tendencies!), pelicans rule the sea air.

Now the challenge was to give bird and beast equal billing, using two colors (the screenprint ink and the shirt color). I tried and tried and tried, and sketched and sketched.

And sketched, trying to fit them into a seamless whole.

The filigree of pelican wing had to fit into the warp and woof of wave and fin — I just didn't see how.

I took a different tack as a result, trying a second solution, thinking I'd see the first solution out of the corner of my eye in an unguarded moment.

For the completely second solution, I decided the common element in this swim was in the eye of the beholder — swimmer human, swimmer pinniped and avian fisher extraordinaire.

I would focus on the eyes, and began sketching that idea.

The image taken together would be like a doorway, the eyes being windows of various and sundry souls, and at the top would be the landscape, the sweep of the north Humboldt Bay with The Fisherman in the foreground and the lush forest of Arcata Bay in the background.

It would be a kind of map for the 4.5-mile swim from the mouth of the bay into the marina at Woodley Island, done on a generous tide. It is a grand event, and I recommend it. You want a warm crowd applauding your finish, appreciative of your physical and fundraising effort (and relieved they don't have to swim the cold water)? This is the event.

Despite throwing energy into the other concept — or maybe because of it — the solution for the other still eluded. I batted the two ideas back and forth.

Maybe the pelican's wingtips could diverge into the rough diamond patterns of choppy water, and within the positive and negative spaces the words and a seal would emerge.


I returned to the second idea, which I could see more clearly. I just had to make others see more clearly that these are the eyes of a pelican, a human and a seal.

It was getting close … I felt it was time to start messaging it on the computer at this point.

Back to the drawing board on the first idea.

I was getting nowhere fast.

The solution came, fittingly, on a long swim. It's counterintuitive, but my habit of counting strokes actually frees some part of my brain to see ideas in the jade depths of my beloved Lake Natoma.

Voices of reason sometimes also bubble up from the dark water. One voice told me, "Stop being so literal." I had kept the bird in the air and the seal in the water, neither to meet. What I really needed to do is fit the shape of a swimming seal into the curve of the pelican's wing, leveraging the yin and yang of positive and negative shapes.

Swim done, I was back on the computer, moving around sketch fragments until the seal's body formed the void of pelican flight, and everything else took shape, literally. Wingtips repeated and echoed in the shapes of liquid and the embrace of kelp, holding everything together with nothingness.

A towering stormcloud became at once the world in which the two could exist, and the swimmer's environment, sea and sky.

While I was at it, I finished out the second idea too, just in case.

The next challenge was creating a related image for the swim cap, perhaps by isolating an element of the art, because the T-shirt art would not reduce well.

I tried and tried and tried.


Nothing jelled. Until, without my looking the solution jelled on its own:

Stop being so literal, the voice repeated.

In other news:

The Boy Scouts of America, pending ratification by its national board, has agreed to allow gay adult Scout leaders. About time!

New President Robert Gates called on Scouts to change its policy, after it had agreed to allow gay Scouts in the organization.

"We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be," said Gates, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. secretary of defense, in calling for a change.

Not exactly a warm welcome. More like a "(sigh) … if we must," but whatever. At least it recognizes this isn't 1955 anymore.

I'm curious how my old Troop would treat this. It's chartered to a Catholic church, and under the decision, if ratified, each chartering organization would be able to decide whether to allow gay adult leader for its Scouting units.

Religious organizations account for some 70 percent of Scouting's chartering organizations.

Our charter organization had an arm's length relationship when I was involved, probably still does, providing rooms for meeting and a shed space for equipment.

Except for one former pastor who wanted to know why he didn't recognize all the Scouts and why they all didn't attend Mass (uh, because they're not all Catholic? And I'm pretty sure some are agnostic?), the parish didn't pay a lot of attention to the Troop. We took part in Scout Sunday, which amounted to carrying the colors to the altar at the start of Mass, and feeding cookies to parishioners and showing them how to pitch a tent after Mass; and we gathered food for the food locker once a year. Other than that, we were invisible.

I'm going to guess someone with pull will pay attention and my old Troop won't be one of those including gay leaders.

It's always 1955 somewhere.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Christmas in July

Wherein we witness the many ways the once-exalted brand of shawn turner illustration®™ — this flounder-eyed man-child, this innocent updated Opie — has been corrupted for nefarious and questionable gain.

Just this half of 2015 alone!

Against his will, Poor li'l Logo©® (as we like to call him around the office) has been twisted and manipulated, sliced and diced, discolored and stained, all to make some ephemeral point, now lost to time.

Everything the mark has stood for — whatever the heck that was — has been washed down the gutter.

The shame!

On the up side, I get to trot him out, trussed and polka-dotted, for your amusement, like little gifts you weren't expecting.

You're welcome.
 First, he was shorn and torn of spectacles,
to reflect the real me. He lost the handsome too,
if you ask me.

 He was made to reflect the state of his creator's
constant confusion over the Interwebs …

And its intrusion. 

By the way, my email is now 96 percent junk,
and the weirdest kind of junk now. The spambots and phishers
have decided I'm old. The sex peddlers have withered away, so to speak,
and in their place are advertisements for all the various drugs to
combat old-guy diseases; for the lawyers I can get to sue
people for my becoming old; for the arctic secret that frees me from crow's feet;
for the products I can use to sealmy garage floor, since I'm old
and have nothing better to do; for enticing travel packages that would enable me
to go to Ireland and Puerto Ricoonce I'm done sealing the garage floor;
for on-line college degrees as I open the second chapter of life;
and for warnings about the end of days ushered in by Obama
the Antichrist, since I'm old and scared and more likely
to buy that particular brand of snake oil.

I have to click carefully through the morass lest I delete actual,
real emails from real people, with important stuff to say to me.

Of course, the first half of the year has signaled the return of the Giants,
full of hope and bluster and street cred. They won three
World Series titles in five years, and all the marketing blathered about four.

I didn't bite. Just bring on the games, I decided.
I'm not greedy for another championship.

Just bring on the games, I said.

Oh, my! I know I said I wasn't expecting the Giants to
win another championship, I also wasn't expecting them
to lose all their existing rings in a fire sale.

They limped into the season.

Then they got better. Hot. Best-in-the-League hot for a while.
 This is my mood now. The Giants have limped along the last month,
having lost eight of the last nine games. Key players got hurt (a malady
that absolutely no other team in Major League Baseball has had to suffer)
and remaining players got worn out from covering the slack.

I'm trying to enjoy the season for enjoyment's sake.
Just win a few more, Giants. Boy, the
All-Star®™ break couldn't be coming at a better time.

Poor li'l Logo©™ has become the poster child for
my angst, from childhood fears and how man-children
like the creators of MAD®™ Magazine saved me
from those fears.

 And adult angst over the mad, mad, mad, mad, maddening world,
wherein ideas and beliefs, no matter how puerile, like the cartoonists
of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, become some madman's justification to kill you.

Angst over political discourse, and the realization that someone in a suit,
with a U.S. flag lapel pin, can declare the sky is falling,
without any care for facts, and many, many others will believe that
so-called leader.

By the way, the sky is falling. Can't you feel it?!
It hasn't been all bad, of course. PlL™® (our nickname for the
nickname of Poor li'l Logo®™, when we become too tired to say
"Poor li'l Logo™®©") got to swim, like me.
And have fun, like me, when I got to read stories to students.
And celebrate, if half-heartedly, slow advances in the human endeavor:
Progressive thinking in the Boy Scouts, realistic thinking among
drought-stricken Californians, and the inevitable heartbreak of baseball.
(PlL™® worked hard that day!)

Poor li'l Logo©®™!
What's next?!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Sovereign state of mind

Twenty years ago last weekend, I declared independence.

Like all revolutions, it was messy, poxed throughout with romantic puffery, and deficiently planned. Also, it fell short.

So far, anyway. Trying is still a hell of a lot of fun.

And, like all revolutions, it sprang from an epiphany, a vision so gleaming and complete, a Brigadoon from the mists, that I had to do or die.

Or die.

The epiphany came at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, the ocean crashing through dark rocks upon the sloping beach, and our son, not yet three, completely drenched, still trying to best the chasing waves, still squealing with delight, win or lose.

"somerset" for our street.
"somerset" for "somersault,"
with a playful "e" for good
measure. "somerset" dissected
into pronunciation guide form,
reinforcing the idea I'm a writer.

He was freedom. He was the tiny master of his fate, calling his shots. I was his logistical support, unhappy at work, and feeling the press of wanting to be happier so he and our daughter could be happy, of figuring out ways to be more available as a dad.

This high-contrast image from a photo of that camping trip became the symbol for that independence, a business called somerset words and pictures co. (yes, lowercase.)

It took two more years from that trip to make somerset words and pictures real.

In what passed for a business plan, mostly in my head, I would write advertising and promotional copy (I had become active in a club of graphic designers and illustrators, where writers were rare and needed) and slowly build a transition to freelance illustration, for which I wasn't trained or known.

The idea was that I would write when the illustration gigs slowed, and vice versa. Also, I could write and draw and design all on one project.
Paul Vega designed my card, in which one end
folded over to hide my address and reveal
my business symbol, our son. Bob Dahlquist
set the type as only he can do. Ironic, I know,
given this is the stuff I was proposing to do
for a living. But it's true, I got by
with a little help from my friends.

I'd always have work!

That was the plan.

My friend Bob Dahlquist and I still refer to the validation of The Culligan Man, from the early days of my independence when I'd drive around town on some non-paying errand, wondering what hell I had just made for myself.

I'd see service and delivery trucks idling at the stoplight in the next lane on those hot non-paying summer days, and think, "That driver has a good job. A good steady job that pays. Just drives around getting stuff to stores. Fixes stuff. I could do that. I could be a driver."
I still owe our daughter a symbol
to represent what she has meant
to my declaration of independence,
resolute determination. To be fair,
she made it onto my stationery.

Our financial guy probably also thought I should be a driver, or anything other than what I was planning. He mustered all his stern emotion to tell me what a terrible decision I was making. Twenty years on and I still hate that moment, hate his impudence.

He was right, of course. I guess. I won't deny it has been a struggle, almost always. I am not a business mind and I lacked a good business plan.

I have always needed someone to scout gigs for me, especially when I was in the midst of a meaty project. At the height of fun is when I needed most to search for the next project, which I found out many times the hard way.

At moments somerset soared, with good contracts which bolstered the illusion I was doing something right. Mostly, though, it has been small jobs which I had tried to string together as frequently as possible into something substantial: My real business plans.

Over time I took a variety of jobs elsewhere, even became a teacher for a couple of years, with another year of teacher school.

All along, I kept the business, in sickness and in health, maintaining steady freelance relationships, finding new ones on occasion.

somerset words and pictures became shawn turner illustration. Copywriting had grown frustrating, my work too often unrecognizable from the words I submitted. Clients couldn't tamper with illustration, I reasoned, until one client actually did. For the most part, clients hire illustrators because it's something they can't actually do. Everyone, of course, is a writer.

Despite it all, I won. This is my victory party, my anniversary celebration. I got to be around the house as our kids were growing — in a corner of the badly converted garage of our first home, in my own space with its own closable door in our current home — and go to their games and recitals and orthodontist appointments.

It was often madness, trying to avert their attention on weekend mornings and begging them for an hour or two so I meet a deadline; getting up at 4 a.m. for quiet time and space; screaming curses into the closed confines of my car when the world had fallen around my shoulders — curses aimed at The Culligan Man.

The back of my card.
I have gotten to do what love, pursuing my passion. I would wish it on anyone — do what you truly love, follow it, work hard for it, focus on it, but plan. Plan your work and work your plan. Trite — but true!

I won. I'm delighted, win or lose.

Happy Independence Day.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Fair stood the wind for France*

This is what Annabel Lavers sought:
"The trio of the Amazon, Unicorn and Lion! Mixed with ocean waves! For instance, I loved the imagery in the Guinness advert with the horses within the waves. Don't want much do I??? I like strong, bold, clean lines. Projecting the power of all of those things??? Does that make sense??"
And she sent me the advert (commercial) she mentioned, of surfers taking the waves, their white froth become charging wild horses.

Could I do something like that?

I've never met Annabel but feel I have, through the magic of facebook®© and and almost global community of swimmers who communicate daily through it. Over the years — yes, years — I have gotten to know Bel (as some call her) as a serious swimmer with a fun, infectious spirit.

Serious, as in, this summer she's going to swim the English Channel, the great iconic snaking 21-plus mile endeavor that fewer have conquered than have climbed Mount Everest. She has amassed a team of stalwart Amazon swimmers to support her, and would I create an image to commemorate it?

This is the result.
I saw Annabel from the start as a fierce mermaid, giving the water as good as it gave her.

I have met many mermaids through facebook®©, who own the rivers and seas and bays and cold mountain lakes. Bel is a mermaid.

The image had to be compact and comprehensive, capturing at once this epic journey.

For some reason, I thought immediately of horse brass medallions, several of which my mom collected while she and dad were stationed in England.

At first, I wanted to convey something incised and raw and rough. Clearly the idea got away from me a bit, but I wanted to keep the close arrangement a medallion might require.

Early drawings suggested a swimmer overreaching the start (near the Cliffs of Dover in England) and finish (Cap Gris-Nez, if a swimmer is lucky, in France), the shortest distance between the countries.

Except, swimmers don't swim the shortest distance in that channel, but in a reverse-S route, swept this way and that by the changing tides.

The figure would be in the swirling vortex of wave and water — would be the vortex itself. Swimmer and water would form that S shape to which swimmers must resign their efforts.

But who is this swimmer, a thing of the waves?

The mermaid idea took shape. She was playing with the landmarks, as if amused, queen of the water surveying her sea:

Forcing the mermaid into the reverse-S prevented her from attacking the swim. So I stopped being so literal, and this figure emerged:
Except she looked like she was shopping for cake, a decidedly un-Channel like thing to do — before the swim, anyway. Finally she became this:
A fighter. The goal literally in her hands.

From here I scanned the image and worked digitally until the finish, solving spatial and elemental problems on the computer, trying to keep the lines simple but loose. The letterforms were part gothic blackletter, part rough incision into soft metal, part sass.

The first finished piece was more organic:

I simplified the undercurve of her tail in the final work, then added color in many variations, including the look at the top.

In the end, it became, subconsciously, horse-brass-meets-Alfons-Mucha.

The battle is joined, Annabel: Godspeed, and have a blast.

* The poetic way I know the English Channel swimming season has begun — especially when a British swimmer is in the water — is when swimmer Paul Smith, a French history professor at the University of Nottingham, posts simply "Fair stood the wind for France." It is the first line of "Agincourt," a 16th Century poem chronicling Henry V's victory over France.

'Tis the season for epic swims, several English Channel crossings having already been completed for the summer, as well as the Strait of Gibraltar; North Channel crossings are soon to come, as are Lake Tahoe crossings (go, fast Karl!) and a planned attempt by Simon Dominguez to the Farallon Islands from the Golden Gate.

Godspeed, all.