Friday, October 30, 2015

Water color

Call it a niche hobby — designing emblems or marks for swimmers' grand endeavors.

I created one for Annabel's English Channel crossing earlier this year.

More recently I did one for Katherine's attempt of the Catalina Channel between Santa Catalina and the Southern California mainland.

The latest (left) is Lisa's, for her planned crossing of the wide Monterey Bay in the near future.

She wanted something that commemorated the process more than the achievement, and gave me a grocery list of inspirational possibilities:
  • Paddleboarder — we’re a team. I doubt I'd be distance swimming without him. 
  • I have my sights set on Monterey Bay, which, apparently is a super difficult swim. What do I know, I'm just a dreamer. I swim in Santa Cruz, I swim in Pacific Grove. Just thought it would be cool to swim from one home beach to the other. Really nothing more to it.
  • Moss Landing twin smokestack: I see them from both Lovers Point and Cowells.
    It's halfway. 
  • I'm a birdwatcher. It’s an unofficial sub-group within the Kelp Krawlers. We’re the ones too slow to keep up with the “A group,” they’re the fast triathletes who swim all the way to the buoy. 
Katherine's request was more open-ended, but specified
her love of garibaldis, the state fish. I tried to depict the
night-to-day nature of the long Catalina Channel swim,
and the iconic start (though the swim doesn't actually start
from Avalon or its casino) and finish near Palos Verdes.
  • We’ve been training in Monterey Bay, San Francisco Bay, and Carmel Bay: Santa Cruz to Capitola, SF to Berkeley, Berkeley to Treasure Island and back, Carmel Bay double-crossing. In addition to Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge, the Berkeley clock tower. Carmelite Monastery became beloved sighting landmarks this summer. 
  • The yin and yang of breaststroking. Breaststroking as a handicap (slow, energy inefficient), breaststroking as an advantage (chop, tracking). 
  • Filipinos aren’t known in the sport of swimming. 
  • I LOVE Pelicans and cormorants. Instead of frog-kicks I’d like to think I kick more like a cormorant. 
  • Sharks. Seals. Otters. 
  • Our ocean monsters: Jellyfish...sharks... hypothermia. 
  • The Monterey Canyon
As much as I like to show my own process, I have little to show for Lisa's mark. Katherine's came quickly, starting with a representational human arm and head, and anatomically correct garibaldi. But I had done a fair streak of realistic and anatomically correct stuff, and was growing tired of it. Time to pare it to the barest shapes.

Repeating the paisley shape through water, light and eyes, I sought to bring the image together. And … done.

With Lisa's, I was stuck in the yin and yang, and didn't know whether to extricate myself or keep working with that idea. I like the yin yang symbol for its power to say so much in compactness, and like to play with the idea when given the chance.

I did the only rational thing. I left it the hell alone, letting it work itself out.

Annabel's English Channel mark
Meanwhile …

I had been playing with a marker, trying to get some illustrations done as fast as I possibly could because I didn't have a lot of time, wanted something different, and wanted to pursue saying more with less, doing less to say more.

I drew the simplest, scribbliest shapes, scanned them, then played with them in Illustrator™®, moving them in front and behind, making some shapes transparent, others solid, chopping them up, tweaking, tweaking.

It is raw and uneven and spontaneous and childlike.

It has become the new fun thing. Until the next thing comes along.

Then, while swimming, I saw my way out — by diving headlong into giant kelp.

I had been resisting kelp as an art element of Lisa's logo, even though it's really the unspoken common element in her grocery list.

I couldn't help thinking the Monterey Bay Aquarium had perfected the use of giant kelp in its logo, and ruined it for everyone else.

But the kelp's natural flowing precise elegance, its repeated pattern of bulb and frond, beckoned me. I had to use it.

The kelp became the sea in Lisa's logo, the words the sky. Originally it looked like this:

But Lisa asked that it read "One breath:"
"One breath as in one breath, that very first breath, can mean the difference between hyperventilating or being able to swim comfortably in cold water.

"One breath as in it takes just one breath to inhale cocci...

"One breath as in using the swim to breathe life into an otherwise unknown cause."
And the strawberries? They refer to that unknown cause.

Lisa is raising money for a scholarship to honor her former husband's late father, who engineered several strawberry varieties for a major berry producer in California. Lisa says she can see strawberry fields from some of her training swims.

Moroccan (top) and Tunisian flags
Algerian flag
I also got to design some swim-related flags for Sakina, honoring Arab and swimming culture at once, with these versions of the Algeria, Moroccan and Tunisian flags that Sakina wants to put on swim caps.

Algerian Berber flag
Besides bubbles, the symbols became sea shapes to reflect Sakina's Southern California ocean playgrounds.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Wisdom of the age(s)

Two lessons emerged between last week and 28 years ago, when this cartoon was published.

1. Politicians never really fall from grace.

Joe Biden bowed out of presidential contention for the 1988 election after revelations that he plagiarized from a speech by Neil Kinnock, leader of the British Labour Party at the time.

I know: Quaint, right? After the long sordid parade of political wrongdoing we've put up with since? That's what derailed Biden's political hopes?
(By the way, I ran this 'toon earlier in this blog, but the statute of limitations has run out, so it's OK to reuse.)
By the way, the joke in this 'toon is that I have Biden plagiarizing Richard Nixon's infamous line when he lost the 1962 race for California governor: "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore." If you didn't get it, you're way too young.)
The point is, we did have Nixon to kick around, and we had Joe Biden.

Back when I was way too young, I meant this cartoon to be the nail in the coffin, my don't-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-way-out goodbye to a marginal figure in the political panoply.

I could claim that I used Nixon's stolen line to mean that Biden would bounce back and continue his political career, rising ultimately to vice president, but that would be giving me way too much credit.

I'm not that smart, then or now.

Biden did bounce back. It was only last week that he finally bid farewell to his lifelong dream of becoming president. Biden bowed out of contention without having ever really stepped in.

Biden never went away, and will not go away, for good or bad. That is the way with politicians.

Even after politicians fall by election trouncing or personal transgression, someone will always make sure they land safely and comfortably, pick them up and put them in a place of prosperity and patronage. If the evil rival party has taken over and booted your butt, your butt will always be covered by some benefactor with a board on which to put you, with generous stipend and travel expenses and speaking fees. Or your party machine will keep you in office, if that's your desire.

I've seen it time and again with politicians, locally and nationally. No matter what they've done, they land somewhere safe, and benefit despite everything.

Be politicians, my children.

2. Occasionally it's good that politicians never fall from grace.

Joe Biden achieved elder statesmanhood, having served as a longtime Democratic Senator from Delaware. He amassed the foreign policy experience that made him viable as President Obama's running mate, which made them viable for two terms.

He became the wishful hope of those who wanted another option in the Democratic race, an actual flawed human, a well-intentioned gaffe generator, who hugs women in official ceremonies a bit too gladly, who bears the burden of having buried his first wife and toddler daughter long ago, killed in a car wreck, and having buried his eldest son Beau, who died of brain cancer.

Biden was the antidote to the say-every-stupid-thing-that-comes-to-mind Republican front-runners Donald Trump and Ben Carson.

But now we really won't have Biden to kick around anymore.

I wouldn't worry about him, though.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Harrison Bergeron Effect

Guys like Rafe Esquith could really screw up a new teacher like me, once upon a time.

Afire to become an energetic, creative, effective teacher as quickly as possible — I said new teacher, after all, not young teacher — I devoured every book Esquith wrote about his teaching practices and philosophy.

He is an amazing, too-good-to-be-true teacher at a public elementary school in a low-income neighborhood of mainly Korean and Latino communities near downtown Los Angeles. Or was.

After being removed from his classroom last spring after a career of some 30 years, Esquith was fired this month by the Los Angeles Board of Education.

Now he is part of a $1 billion class action suit against the district, alleging that it uses intimidation and baseless charges to fire older, higher-paid teachers. The district confines suspended teachers, the suit alleges, to so-called "teacher jails," administrative rooms where teachers can't teach and do little or no work at all.

The teacher jails are designed to break teachers' spirits and make them leave, the suit says.

The district has not responded to the lawsuit or to Esquith's firing, citing personnel privacy.

News reports indicate that a joke Esquith told to his class mushroomed into an investigation of alleged inappropriate touching of minors, suspect material on Esquith's home computer, and mishandling of funds for a nonprofit group that helps pay for theatrical plays his class stages.

Maybe I should back up a bit. Here's how amazing Esquith is (or was; or will be again, I hope; I'm using present tense, nonetheless):
  • His class of fifth graders each year produces and performs a full-length Shakespeare play, as the Hobart Shakespeareans (Hobart Boulevard is the name of the school).
  • The plays have attracted high-level attention, and Esquith has been able to secure theater lighting and other equipment that transformed his classroom into legitimate theater. He has support from actors Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf of The Lord of the Rings) and Hal Holbrook, among others, who continue to stand by him.
  • Esquith teaches a group of students to play musical instruments, and they form the band for the Shakespeare play, performing rock music they choose as appropriate to back up the play.
  • Keep in mind, this is all after-school stuff: He teaches a full day of school in general subjects.
  • He teaches math through baseball, showing students how to keep score and calculate batting averages and earned-run averages and other statistics, and takes them to Los Angeles Dodgers games to hone their skills.
  • He gives all students jobs as part of a long arc in teaching them responsibility. With the classroom currency, students can rent or buy their desks. The closer the desks are to the front of the room, the higher the rent, and students with money-management savvy can buy up desks and charge rent to other students.
  • He provides after-school and weekend tutoring not only for Hobart students but for high schools who had moved on from Hobart.
  • Esquith leads students with a simple guiding principle: Work hard. Be nice.
Now you will understand the context of this "joke." Esquith was reading "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" with his class (which by itself is unusual for fifth graders today) and got to the part where a character appeared on a stage naked except for painted stripes on his body.

Esquith apparently told the students that if they weren't able to raise sufficient money to stage their Shakespeare play that year, they might have to perform on stage just like this character. Someone — a teacher, apparently — took offense, and one thing led to another, which led to Esquith's dismissal.

His work has attracted notoriety and national acclaim. His books reveal a world in which Esquith seemingly works 24/7 for his classroom, where Room 56 appears far and above what his colleagues can (or are allowed to) do, and has led to tensions not only in his school but across the district.

I asked Esquith as much after reading most of his books.
"I may have misread important parts of your book," I told him in a 20-questions letter, "but I get the idea that your relationship with some or many teachers at your school (and with the administration) is tense and often cold and combative; I don’t see how many or any teachers at Hobart can compete with you, and I wonder about the fallout from that, and how and whether you team up with your colleagues; moreover, upper grades must often seem a letdown to many of your students. I’m certainly not criticizing your work; I’m just wondering how others can carry on the quality you exhibit."
Esquith answered me. By phone. In addition to all the tasks he undertakes, all the entitities and interests that require his attention, he took the time to call me.

Many of his answers have blurred in memory, but he was as on fire with encouragement of me as he appears in his books. He told me to work within the system as a new teacher, and get my feet under me, eventually working toward creative ways in my teaching career. Rafe Esquith took time out to give a stranger a pep talk, to raise me up the way he emboldened his students.

For better or worse, my teaching career didn't go far.

I found it extremely challenging to carry out the duties of teacher as outlined by the principal of my school, let alone try anything that was not directly related to testing. Don't tell anyone, but I did read children's novels to my class — after lunch, with the lights turned off so students would have a calm place, but also so the principal wouldn't be able to see right away that I was reading unauthorized books, should he pop in unannounced. He had advised me that reading novels would take away from the language arts instruction I needed to provide students.

Sure, I recognized I was just starting out and not to beat myself up about not mastering my new profession right away. But it was hard to remind myself that my warm-hearted colleague, who helped me immensely my first year, had been teaching for 30 years and knew a lot about being a teacher and an adult leader of children.

I will never forget having a really bad day — and it seemed everyone on campus was having a bad day — and carrying the world on my shoulders when I retrieved my class after lunch recess. While I was grousing to my students about not standing in a straight line, after all these days of instruction and expectation, I looked over my shoulder to see my kindly mentor playing follow-the-leader with his class, hopscotching and imitating an airplane as he led his students to their class. He had, in his wisdom, defused the tensions of their day.

If I couldn't see my way to that kind of spontaneous wisdom, how was I going to come anywhere close to the level of Rafe Esquith and what he could do? Esquith was inspiring and defeating at once; he gave me the same elated depression I get from great illustrators when I gaze too long at their work and wonder why I can't do that.

Should allegations against Esquith prove true — and would we ever know? I wonder — then all bets are off, of course. Action against Esquith was part of a new quick-response program to ferret out child abusers and molesters among the Los Angeles school district's teachers.

Getting rid of molesters is paramount, but I suspect the program was used against Esquith in what I call the Harrison Bergeron Effect.

The title character of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s short story, the gifted and athletic Harrison Bergeron was literally weighted down and hamstrung by devices meant to make him equal in ability with the rest of society, whose minds were too distracted by their own devices to raise a care of thought about him or anyone else. All were burdened equally and made equally ugly in this future world — except for those in charge.

I suspect that the district not only didn't want to pay Esquith the salary due him, but that they wanted to bring him down because they couldn't elevate all the other teachers, all the resources and nurturing, to his level.

Remove arguably the most famous public school teacher in the country, and the curve is no longer skewed.

As a short-time teacher, as one who had to unlock repressed memories from childhood in order to muster a spine as teacher, I suspect that public education began as good ideas and good intentions. When I was a kid, I suspect that teaching was still a creative art, and that the most creative teachers could thrive; I'd like to think that my brilliant sixth grade teacher, Loren Jackson, was the shining example of public education, not an outlier, that he demonstrated his creative lessons in full view and favor of the district supporting him.

Since then, I suspect that the good intentions layered and folded in on themselves, and money and power corrupted as it always does, and that public education now is a playpen of money and power and internecine war and byzantine rules, and the relentless demand for data and pressure from worldwide perception, that students, frankly, get in the way.

The very people public education is supposed to help, for the sake of our future, is the least important part of the machine. Great teachers are great despite the system, not because of it.

The system seeks to grind Rafe Esquith to dust, and I hope he emerges free to teach again, dignity returned, for fortunate children to come.

I hope you agree. Don't think of Harrison Bergeron then, who broke free of his encumbrances and danced as his body bid, only to be killed by those in power. And no one could muster a care or thought for his death.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Eye of the storm

The view from our campsite, Richmond and Albany across the water, ferries constantly to and fro.
Much too much is unfamiliar.

Did they move the parking lot? The entire parking lot?

Is it this ferry landing, or the other one, do you suppose?

This trail wasn't always this steep, was it? This can't be the road we turn onto: It's blocked! It seems like this should be the road, though.

Just enough, though, remained in memory: The wide iron gates of the U.S. Immigration Station, the white clapboard buildings just beyond, between which we would ascend to our campsite on Angel Island. The fire road between the buildings had angled up much more sharply than last time, and climbed far higher than it used to before leveling off, but at least we knew it was the right road.

The oak tree, with one massive limb that swung close to the ground and invited climbing — which our son did and broke his thumb falling off — was still there at the campsite. Last time we saw this site was 15 years before, on a backpacking journey that barely suited our daughter, who announced during the backpacking journey just before that she did not like backpacking.

Weary but happy, we could finally drop our 4.5 gallons of water we didn't need to bring (though I really, really thought we did). And I suddenly felt the proper blowhard, having told another couple backpacking elsewhere on the island that the raccoon was king here, and if they didn't have a secure way to close the hasp on their critter container, the raccoons would be on site long before sundown to take their food with casual abandon.

Our campsite now had a diamond-plate metal box with a twisty-turning handle that had to have been raccoon proof because it took me a bit to figure out. A raccoon showed each of the two nights; a single raccoon, late into the evening, and didn't seem to have the heart to try for our stash.

We slept out under the stars, like young people, without a worry. A third night on the hard ground, though, might have killed us.

The altitude and latitude remained fixed. Our attitudes alone had changed.

Fifteen years ago, we loved our time in this place. Angel Island, barely more five miles in circumference, walkable and bike-rideable on a paved road close to the shore of San Francisco Bay, contains more California history than any comparable small space.

It has so much to see that it's difficult to see everything on a day trip, unless you come with a bike or rent one, or take the tram, or harbor no inhibitions about skittering around behind a guide on a Segway™®.

Backpacking is best. The sites are uphill near the fire road, hidden away. By late afternoon campers become king of the island; after the raccoons, of course.

Angel Island was a hunting place, and source of fresh water, for Miwoks and Costanoan. It was the place where the Spanish began a survey of San Francisco Bay, where the federal government built defenses and recruiting forts for the Civil War, world wars I and II and the Cold War. You can walk over gun battery placements from a century ago, and see the tops of the Nike missile silos, still fenced off.

The immigration station at the northeast side of the island held onto the huddled masses more stubbornly here than at Ellis Island off New York and New Jersey, particularly Chinese immigrants, who faced law banning them, and byzantine procedures to trip them up during processing and invent ways to keep them out. The immigration station also housed Japanese and German prisoners of war.

Five years after our family backpacking trip, I returned with our son and his Boy Scout Troop, where we were happy to have taken part in the most meaningful service project in my time in the Troop. The state parks system asked us to move materials in the Immigration Station's detention center so that it could begin refurbishing the building.

Scouts were able to linger over the carvings on the wooden wall, made there by immigrants who expressed their bitterness and frustration in poetry.

Ten years later, Nancy and I came upon a painted-and-fixed detention center, made up in ochre along the first floor, and cream-white on the second. We were too early to go into the building, which has become a museum, but we could walk down the covered staircase leading from the second floor, down into what was the administration building.

The covered staircase was not there when the Scouts did their work. The empty space of the administration building is now a series of concrete terraces, filled with decomposed granite. Etched into the concrete walls are large words denoting the time when this was a place of anxiety and separation and longing and tortured hope — words such as courage and sacrifice, frustration and confinement and segregation.

Despite a construction crew's heavy machinery whining and snorting early in the morning, doing something to refurbish the Immigration Station hospital, the place was at peace, a tiny village of long-ago tortured souls, with the gentle water of the bay lapping along the small cove.

Deer showed themselves at almost every turn around the island, does with their yearlings, young bucks wandering unattached. At Camp Reynolds, the Civil War fort that mostly trained soldiers to engage in various Indian wars, a group of elementary school students, all in blue Union Army kepis, raised and saluted the flag on the great sloping parade grounds, the Golden Gate Bridge arching and hazy-blue in the distance. Another group of students would take their place for an overnighter the next morning. Besides kepis, that bunch each wore blue sweatpants with stripes of red duct tape down each leg.

Nancy waved in the direction of our son in San Francisco, the city gray and somehow small in the haze. Then she waved toward across the bay to our daughter. We always measure our outings by how our children would like it, or how they had liked it long ago.

As the fog slid like a glove over the Golden Gate, the foghorns became the principal roar above a constantly roaring bay, one low and rumbling and insistent on the San Francisco side, the next answering higher pitched, almost a scream, from the Marin side.

Tatters of fog scattered soon to rake us, then were gone. Even for a historically moderate month in the Bay, October burned warm and uncomfortable.

Forsaking a climb to the highest peak, Mount Livermore, we stumbled back to the campsite after an island circumnavigation on our second night, having passed through the concrete shells of Fort McDowell, built for World War I and used through World War II, and used for the happy task of processing soldiers back home at the end of World War II.

It's the creepiest part of the island. Maybe it's because the buildings' eyes are opened, and you can see clear through them to the blue bay. The Civil War fort is mostly shuttered and battened. But shapes pass behind the open windows at Fort McDowell. Shadows and flutter. Signs warn about the structural doubt of the buildings, but the signs are posted far inside, so you have to go in to see them. The halls of the fort hospital are long and empty, waiting.

We longed for a beer that late afternoon, but it would have been another three mile trek.

We got beer the next morning, letting the first ferry come and go — we didn't see much point in hanging around Tiburon, not our crowd — and watching the water world slowly pass in Ayala Cove while we sipped in front of the cafe. Our packs were nearly empty, except for half a jar of peanut butter and a couple of tortillas, and two granola bars, just in case. We used all the water.

In the quiet morning, we could still hear the Bay's thrum, and the first and last sound — a beacon, warning somewhere with a low blast, another answering almost an octave higher.

We'll be back.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Never-ending Story


No good deed goes unpunished.


Just when you thought it was safe to go up on the roof …

Rats IV!

Performing my minimum monthly requirement of house maintenance, I swept biomass from the edges of the roof. The oak tree that dominates our yard seems to shed its weight in branches and acorns and nutlets and thousands and thousands of little husky shapes (but no leaves) on the roof, where it piles up against the screens over the gutters.

The screens serve no other purpose except as a place for the biomass to bank like snowdrifts.

Unreasonably confident it will rain long and hard this winter (Go, El NiƱo!), I swept off the debris as the first step in clearing out the gutters. Which I'll do next week. Can't rush these things.

The roof has odd pockets where the roof planes don't quite meet. They're very hard to reach, unless you're a branch or an acorn or a nutlet, in which case there's plenty of room, make yourself at home! Unjamming these spaces requires a questionable balancing act and a certain twisty-pully motion with a broom to clear.

Which I was attempting to do when out rolled a ball of lint.

Which first rolled down the roof slope until it reversed direction and climbed the slope at great speed and over the crest and gone.

A rat.


I was so sure I had made the house rat-proof, after numerous campaigns, rat after rat after rat, and here was a speeding fur-bearing bandit to declare, um, no.

With dusk dwindling, I grabbed weapons from my garage supply of rat defenses — scraps of metal screen and steel wool — and fashioned yet another woolly guard which I stuffed into the odd roof nook with a broom handle. I wondered without success how I would fasten the out-of-reach screen to the walls beneath the roof line.

Though I got some work done yesterday, I mostly daydreamed about the rat, and hit upon a plan to fasten the screen which, of course, proved unworkable as soon as I got home to look at the problem again.

"Just reach in with your drill and some grabber screws," said the kindly, knowledgeable man at the hardware store. "You've got long arms! You've got a cordless drill, doncha?"

He sold me some grabber screws (drywall screws) and washers, and I went home, hoping my cordless drill worked. It hadn't before.

Dusk dwindling again, I endeavored to reach in with a regular old hand-powered screwdriver and a grabber screw, hoping the screw would stay on the screwdriver for the long stretch into the odd space.

Leaning in as far as I could go, I saw it — a rat, nestled dead in the gutter. I think it was dead. I'll check today.

Not the same rat. Maybe. Probably.

The little barrier of screen and steel wool remained up. The hardware store gentleman said steel wool was a good choice. Rats hate it. Maybe the rat hated it so much, it died of bitterness.

With darkness falling, I set a trap for now (I've become good at this, wearing rubber gloves so the rat wouldn't smell humans, and putting just a tiny dab of peanut butter on the snap trigger so the rat would have to work for the food) and decided to see what sunlight would bring today.

Wish me luck. Wish the rat(s) likewise.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

OK, now it's over

The Giants did as I figured.

Though I didn't figure them to fall short in so painful a way, they did. No World Series repeat this year.

The Giants did me a favor.

They freed me.

I crawl out now from under my self-imposed tyranny, of following the Giants' every move, every triumph and torturous pratfall.

I am relieved of the sweet burden of having stayed with my team for the last seven months.

I cast aside the nightly yoke of watching the Giants perform dinner theater for me, of tracking them surreptitiously by radio devices at work. I am pardoned from trying anxiously to follow the postseason by text at church: "Score?" I'd type from behind the hymn book where the choir sits at Mass. "3-2! Posey just doubled in Pagan," my wife would answer from her seat in a far-off pew.

As much as I enjoyed hanging on every pitch through the crisping fall last year, as the Giants clawed their way to the national title — and two years before that, and two years before that — I needed a break.

The Giants did too, I suspect.

This hot-and-cold pattern has gotten so routine that I've decided the year after a championship is hard on the Giants, and makes me appreciate all the more those teams that win back-to-back titles. Not only have the Giants played longer than all but one other team in their championship seasons, they wear themselves out the following season with pregame ceremonies commemorating their glory.

I don't know how other teams do it — I've heard more than once that the Giants "do it right" — but the Giants' ceremonies are exhausting, to fans and players. They cram festivities too full of pomp and circumstance, and speeches and novel ways to deliver trophies, and orgasmic variations on The Natural's theme song — that the players lose momentum come game time.

Time for the Giants to rest up, take month-long naps, refrain from celebrations. Time for me to be normal again.

No more baseball until April. No more sports, for that matter, certainly not football, which has more and more become a sad microcosm of our American ills — corporate cartels, violence and its encouragement, celebrity worship and soap-operatic bad behavior, reported breathlessly and daily in the media.

No baseball playoffs. I'm not a baseball fan; I'm a Giants fan. I have no interest in other teams.

It's sort of like being facebook®™ friends with people because of one common interest, and then being ushered in pictorially to their children's proms or their parents' birthday barbecues. I wish them well, of course, but I have nothing invested in those events, nor is it my place.

Time for other fans of other teams to enjoy the drama and take up the burden through the long, cooling autumn.

Although I'm glad the New York Yankees are already eliminated, and hope the Los Angeles Dodgers go quickly. It's a Giants thing.

Now I join the masses who wait 'til next year, with the potent stuff of daydreams to get me through winter. Rightfielder and charismatic leader Hunter Pence, benched first with a broken arm and then with muscle strains that kept him out most of the season, will be back. So will sure-hitting second baseman Joe Panik, out the last months of the season with back injury; fans hope, anyway.

Rookie Matt Duffy, who came up from Double-A as a bench player and soon owned third base and made everyone forget about the contributions of Pablo Sandoval, who fled to the (American League East last place) Boston Red Sox, is most likely to raise fans' hopes.

The Giants have late call-up rookie Kelby Tomlinson, a skinny Clark Kent, who took over for Panik at second and might likely get turned into an outfielder because the team will want his bat. Leftfielder and leadoff hitter Nori Aoki and first baseman Brandon Belt, both felled by concussions, will be back, though if I had to bet I'd say Belt will get traded for some pitching.

Catcher Andrew Susac should return too. Boy, the Giants crumbled with a lot of injuries, losing outfielder Gregor Blanco and his good year; centerfielder Angel Pagan, hurt during big chunks of the year; outfielder Juan Perez; and utility infield Ehire (yeah, the broadcasters can't pronounce it, either) Adrianza, who had finally, finally, finally figured out how to hit in the Major Leagues before he went down with a concussion.

Four season-ending concussions. You'd think this was football.

Still, the Giants stayed hopeful right into the last week, losing to the hated Dodgers at home and officially getting eliminated from postseason play. The Giants had to watch the Dodgers use their home turf for celebration.

The Giants finished the season ignobly, taking the last game into the ninth inning with a 3-0 lead before the last-place (by 24 games) Colorado Rockies broke out with seven runs and marred a day already heavy with the retirement of relief pitcher Jeremy Affeldt (and yet another ceremony). The Giants also watched veteran starting pitcher Tim Hudson retire, having given him the opportunity to win a World Series ring last year after 17 seasons in the majors.

Someone else will take Hudson and Affeldt's places. Someone good, we hope.

We'll make do with old episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man (just as bad as I remember; worse) and look out the window, until April beckons again.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


Three things stood out to me after the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon last week:
  • It's the 45th school shooting in the United States this year. Forty-fifth.
  • When the shooter announced his plans and his anger on niche social media, some people responded by encouraging him, and even recommending weaponry.
  • Umpqua Community College is only 15 minutes from where my in-laws used to live. A young father, who sang with my mother-in-law in their church choir, recommended we take a look at the campus where he teaches, telling us it's lovely. And it is, nestled in a bend of the North Umpqua River, hilly and thick with trees, and Oregon green. Students, I thought, are lucky to go to school here.
Though Will McAvoy is fake, a creation of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin for the defunct cable drama The Newsroom, he speaks the truth via Sorkin. His shows, including The West Wing, work as oracles through which Sorkin reminds us we're screwed up and need to fix things. And can fix things.

"The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one," McAvoy says in the powerful opening moments of the first episode, destroying the assertion that the United States is the greatest country in the world.

Do we recognize there is a problem? I'm talking primarily to those who run the guns in this country, who control the money and the message about guns, and to those who own the guns that the legal gun runners run, and buy into the gun runners' message.

Is that a problem, that a shooter could walk onto a college campus and kill eight and wound more before killing himself? Does that seem wrong – really, really wrong?

Do you recognize a problem with forty-five school shootings this year, a year still young? Do you see a problem with parents sending their children into a safe haven for learning — a hilly campus sparkling with aspen leaves and the whisper of a river flowing by, this time — that becomes a killing ground?

Do you recognize that more and more people now think twice about sending their kids to school, or going to the movies, or shopping at a mall, or eating at a restaurant, because the idea is born now that a shooting could take place.

Do you who make the guns and buy the guns, who promote the guns and buy the votes — you who stir the fear and stand your ground and bristle in the fear — do you see nothing wrong with guns so available, with people who are angry or out of their minds using guns to punctuate their fear and phantoms?

Nothing at all?

To you who howl now at the gun runners, who are furious at yet another shooting — and to me and people like me in the middle, still wondering what we could possibly do to effect improvement — do you see a problem in everyday gun deaths all around you? At least twice a week my hometown newspaper reports a shooting death in the greater metropolitan area.

Eight dead in one fell swoop, wring hands. One dead in a dispute outside an apartment, ho-hum.

Do we recognize a problem? Do we?

The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. If we don't see the problem, if we don't yearn for a solution, then we become OK with sending our children, our families, ourselves, into harm, the price we pay for the questionably constitutional right to bear arms.

If we don't recoil at the thought that anonymous people over the Internet encourage others' violent intentions, as if it's another video game, what's wrong with us?

We move on, scab over, and hope for the best; and if not, oh well.

The majestic flag that flutters on the soaring flagpole where I work has been lowered to half staff. It's no easy task: It takes a skilled maintenance worker maneuvering a hydraulic lift, and it requires a windless day. But it's done, to honor the dead in Oregon. From where I work, I can see three other flags lowered too.

I get the gesture, but I'm not sure I agree. The dead deserve honor and remembrance, of course, but you can see where this is going if we don't recognize this as a problem. In fact, if this is our tradition now, I think the flags should be set to half staff most days, and if a day occurs in which no one is shot and killed within the immediate vicinity, then the flags should be raised to full height.

It'll be like the shop steward's sign "____ days without an accident." We can note the days no one died because of guns.

The first step.

Thursday, October 1, 2015


Detritus defines me.

Though the space in front of me, the path ahead, is always clear, it's only because I've pushed aside so much miscellany into piles that teeter beside me.


It's true of the desk where I'm writing now, my desk at work, and this blog.

These piles of stuff are important, I reason — I have always reasoned — yet not important enough, too vague, to put somewhere safe. There the junk sits, beneath my elbows, in case I need it.
I never do.

It's a problem that will remain with me for life, a problem that plagues those around me by association. Though I can't seem to do much with the real piles, I can dispatch the virtual, starting now.

Out of the 532 posts I have written since the end of 2010, 41 are drafts. They are aborted starts, malformed bits of anger and angst, or whole rants that served their purpose in the writing of them, but then seemed not worth giving daylight.

I present them to you, in the briefest form, and then purge them from my hard drive and my life.

In chronological order:
The first known corruption of the
beloved shawn turner illustration brand
  • "Let us now praise a fantastic consultant," was going to be about a great guy and the savior of all things computer, Michael Zolen. I drew a really cool caricature/logo of him, but he didn't want it published once he saw it. So you'll never see it. But it's really cool. And he is a great guy. (Jan. 25, 2011)
  • "Why I hate iFreelance" (March 15, 2011) was my diatribe against one particular online freelancing site, but I suppose it applies to all. I had just resumed my freelancing career, tried to be like all the cool kids and market myself through social media.

    iFreelance is like a casino, except the house always wins. Always. It's supposed to be a marketplace for freelance illustrators and designers, which sounds reasonable, but it's literally a global market: You pay to be able to bid … someone asks for a bid on a project, proposing an unlivable fee and ridiculous timeframe, and no rights to the creator, and the world's illustrators and designers bid on the project. Oh, do they bid! Artists in the United Kingdom see the bids hours before their American counterparts, and make their pitches way ahead of time. Even with an early start to the day, scanning the list of bids, I'd find many of jobs already won by UK.

    I'm not sure how logo designers created their marks in a day, except by combining existing shapes with type and calling it good.

    I didn't post the rant because, believe it or not, I got a job off the site. It was a fun job, but the client never responded to my followups for additional jobs. Probably he found someone far, far cheaper.
  • "Rogue's Gallery: Logos I don't like" (July 29, 2011) was about the Washington State Cougars logo (just abominable!). I ran out of steam being snarky. Better you shouldn't see it.

    The same with "Logos only a mother could love" (Aug. 4, 2011) in which I didn't get very far tearing down someone else's work. The particular kind of contempt wears on a person.
  • "The hour that the morning comes" (Dec. 7, 2011) came from a James Taylor song, and appeared to be some kind of reminiscence about swimming in the early morning during the time I was a teacher. It was probably going to go somewhere else entirely, but I don't know where.
  • "Ghosts of Christmas Past" (Dec. 8, 2011) was merely an excuse to post one of my old editorial cartoons. I get so few legitimate windows to run these cartoons, which cover the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations (and, in California, the George Deukmejian/Pete Wilson era). Even this excuse seemed flimsy. Here 'tis:
  • "The darker side of comic strips" (Dec. 8, 2011) meant to explore the work of Stephen Pastis, creator of the strip "Pearls Before Swine," and Francesco Marciuliano, artist for the strip "Sally Forth," because I had come upon Pastis' blog and Marciuliano's alternate work, which fascinated me for its bitter and bizarre views that don't appear in family comics. Except I didn't have anything to add except, "Look how weird these guys are!"
  • "No no, Noriega" was another thin attempt to post an old cartoon. Former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega had made the news, having been returned to Panama. It was Christmas time (Dec. 30, 2011), I got lazy and didn't finish the post; here's the toon:
  • "Did not … see that coming …" (Oct. 30, 2012) was a totally wrong synopsis of my beloved San Francisco Giants, whom I wrote off shortly before they won their second World Series in three years. So you won't see it.
  • "All aglow" is an upbeat showcase of work I had done, except the client didn't want me telling the world it spends money on such frivolity as holiday cards (Dec. 12, 2012), so I didn't run it, and you won't see it. It's nice work, if I do say so myself. Merry Christmas.
  • "Anatomy of a swim" is a pictorial story of my regular open-water swims, which I'd still really, really love to do, but it's ambitious and since Jan. 13, 2013, I still haven't figured out how to make it happen.
  • "Where are they now?" was going to be a glowing report on people I knew in high school and the amazing things they do now, and how I knew them. Really interesting to me, perhaps, but an unwarranted invasion of privacy, so I didn't get far. I still am amazed at what people grew up to become (Feb. 22, 2013).
  • "Someone else's shoes" (March 11, 2013) was going to be about Aaron Swartz, a young brilliant man, a computer programmer and Internet freedom activist who killed himself when the federal government indicted him for data theft and his backers said the government was trying to prosecute him into silence.

    I try to have something intelligent to say about topics, or at least arrange words just so to appear smart, but this man and this matter were too much for me to say anything smart about.
  • "Drunk with ideas" (March 25, 2013) would have been a long showcase of work I had done for a chain of brewing magazines, but I decided later to publish the work in small batches. Get it? Batches?
  • "How different is your loving life?" was my first attempt to demonstrate the ridiculous emails I get. The title of one from May 22, 2013 comes from a sexual come-on that appears to have originated in a language other than English. I eventually wrote one or two posts about the same thing.
  • "Water floods my dreams now" is not really the title of this Aug. 14, 2013 post, because I never came up with one for this reminiscence about open-water swimming. You will probably agree I have written quite enough about open-water swimming, and it was OK to let this one drop.
  • "Tell me more!" from Aug. 20, 2013 was another attempt to rant about my emails. Eventually I wrote an actual and complete rant or two.
  • "Swim post" was me making fun of swimmers, always bad form. Be glad you didn't see it, on Aug. 25, 2013 or any other day.
  • "Great moments in television" was going to be an Aug. 25, 2013 remembrance of the wonder of TV I felt as a kid. True wonder and excitement, when I wasn't jaded. I might still write this one someday.
  • "So round, so firm, so fully packed, so free and easy on the draw," was a half-baked examination advertising and the lying liars to make it, Oct. 3, 2013.
  • "Nejib Belhidi" was about a Tunisian long-distance swimmer who likes to organize global swims for peace. I just didn't have anything thoughtful to add on Oct. 29, 2013.
  • "You just missed him" was about a young nephew who died tragically and suddenly in a motorcycle accident. For many reasons, it felt false for me to talk about it; though I will tell you, he seemed like a great kid, and he had many friends who grieved for him. March 4, 2014.
  • "First-world Pet Peeves 2" was a sequel about me whining. Who needs that?! Not you. May 6, 2014.
  • "Whither logoest thou?" is really a placeholder for some logos I had done for a client. I may still come back and write it, May 7, 2014.
  • "Art in Everyday Life," is the title of a book I found in a community center, and was going to be an examination of public art that's all but hidden away in a part of my city I don't normally, and wouldn't normally go. But I felt myself too strange in this strange land, and had no business writing about the artwork and the people who make it. Amazing, though, what hides behind walls most people will never see. May 28, 2014.
  • "Cosmosis" was going to be me talking about Neil deGrasse Tyson, the rock star astronomer. Like he needed more publicity from me. I had nothing. June 2, 2014.
  • "Baseball leavins," was just more hand wringing about my Giants. Better I should spare you. July 5, 2014.
  • "Vocal fry" was going to be my take on the peculiar way I hear some people talk. It's a thing, look it up. But I realized, after reading more about it, I didn't know what I was talking about, and no amount of typing was going to make it any better. July 18, 2014.
  • "Owned" is still one I'll finish about our dog. I'm still taking notes. July 21, 2014.
  • "Mother tongue" is about language nowdays. I'm still working on this one from Aug. 19, 2014.
  • "Veterans Day Redux" was to be about Veterans and how they're treated, but not being a Veteran, I shut my own mouth Nov. 20, 2014.
  • "Who is this Shawn Turner you speak of?" is yet more examination of my strange emails, of which I have waxed on plenty. Dec. 11, 2014.
  • "Charlie Hebdo fallout" was not the post I wanted to write about the killings of cartoonists and editors by terrorists at the French satirical weekly. So I didn't post it Jan. 12, 2015.
  • "Playing possum" was simply a false start for another illustration post I eventually completed. Feb. 27, 2015.
  • "This is the day!" I was going to say something April 2, 2015 about Trevor Noah, the new host of The Daily Show taking over for Jon Stewart. Like I was going to say something no one else had already said.
  • "Named by a poet" was a swimming blog post that became something better later. My opinion anyway. May 3, 2015.
  • "Places I remember" and "I've got mail," July 27 and 28, 2015, were false starts to other posts I wrote. "I've got mail" was another rant over email, and began with one of those fake threats I get from people who want me to open the attached document so the document can create some kind of trojan-horse havoc on my computer. The threat went like this:
    do i even know you?
    why did you send me this email?
    you are full of shit.
Whew! That's over. Thanks for sticking through this, and now I can move on. Build another pile maybe. I've got time now.

As Hawkeye Pierce said, it's not much, but it's really nothing.