Monday, November 11, 2013

The Briefcase

Seems there's a bit more controversy than usual this year about Veteran's Day and how and whether to celebrate it. However you choose to mark it or not seems a very personal decision to me, but I can't get behind the idea of telling others how they should treat the day. It's only a day, after all, and everyone has their own family history. But I find I do have a problem with other people telling me that marking the day ends up celebrating war. Not in my family.
I've mentioned before that my dad was a WWII vet; he served in the Navy on the USS Kitkun Bay. The Kitkun Bay was in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Battle of Samar and other battles in the South Pacific that aren't talked about now, but at the time were big news. The Kitkun Bay took at least one kamikaze attack and suffered a lot of damage, though fortunately not as much as her sister baby flattop the Gambier Bay, which was sunk, like many other ships during those battles.
My dad joined up when he was 17, though he lied about his age. He was young and cocky and a lot of guys were doing it; it seemed like the right thing to do at that time, under those circumstances. He went from this young man:
To this, taken shortly after he was discharged:

I've talked before about the kind of father he was: silent, moody, unwilling to put up with noise and frequently yelling. I had always thought he was unnecessarily harsh (at least until I had my own kids and found myself bellowing much like he had when provoked). He had a dark side which was always, unrelentingly there with him, wreathed around him. I couldn't understand it, as a kid, but I was aware of that darkness and learned very early when to quietly dodge around him and wisp away like a ghost.
He didn't talk about his time during the war, not until much later when he was closer to his own end. Veteran's Day wasn't something we celebrated, but I know he marked it in some way on his own. It wasn't a happy day, certainly.

Earlier this year, during the summer, I got a call from a lady I didn't know, claiming to have my dad's old briefcase. She had come into possession of it through a convoluted and very unlikely set of circumstances, and had looked into it after being asked to throw it out. Inside the briefcase was a treasure trove of old papers and photos that my dad had carried around with him for decades. I had grown up with that briefcase, but we were never allowed to look inside it and it was strictly off limits. He carried it with him all of his life through many moves; even when he lost all of his other possessions, he managed to hang onto that old case. I had thought it was lost for good after his death, since his second wife had kept it and we'd lost track of her. I arranged to go pick up the briefcase from Judy, the sweet lady who had found it and kept it for me, and we went to visit and there it was, sitting on her kitchen counter, the heavy black leather case that immediately brought back the scent of my dad and the memory of his hands opening that case with his permanently bent and broken little finger.

There were a lot of the usual things you might expect in it, though there was almost no record of his life with us as a family, but there was a surprising amount of things from his time in the Navy, including his discharge papers and photos he'd taken, like this one:
as well as magazine articles, newspaper clippings, and then old yellowed newsletters from the Kitkun Bay, printed and distributed while he was on board.
If you click on the pictures you may be able to enlarge them enough to read them a bit. There were a lot more of these in his briefcase. And in one manila envelope in the bottom of the case, were some letters from me to my dad, with my address and others to contact if he needed to in case of emergency, during a late period in his life when he was homeless for awhile. He did end up coming and living with us for awhile to get back on his feet, and he had his case with him. I thought at the time he used it for job hunting, but he also must have been carrying around these older documents and photos.
When my sis Leslie saw this last photo, of the hospital ship, she gave a little gasp and said 'he's just a baby!', which was my reaction as well. That injured soldier is just a kid. Look at how young he is. He served in a war and was injured and who knows what he saw and endured. He was lucky to be alive, of course, but even ones who lived were never the same again. My dad carried that darkness around with him until he died. He would have been a very different person, and a different dad, had he not been on that flattop and gone through those battles.

So when I hear or read about people saying that Veteran's Day or Remembrance Day glorifies war, I say they and all of the merchants who have sales may be missing the point. It isn't about that stuff at all, of course. It's not a comfortable holiday, actually. For me, it means to pause and contemplate war and how damaging it is to all of us. Pause and remember these kids, then and now, who serve their country. We may associate Veteran's Day with old men now in their uniforms, hanging out and maybe having a parade, but they were this young when they went through hell.Whether they volunteered or were forced or are pushed into it by economic necessity, at the very least they deserve our respect, not just for today but all the time.

Monday, November 04, 2013

changes in attitude, changes in gratitude

Yeah, so it's been very busy around here. That's not new, of course, I have just felt out of cope for much of the time. It's so wearing at times to be a responsible adult and try to Do Everything You're Supposed to Do on time, in a good way. Sometimes I just want to run away and play, and it's not happening very often, it seems like. The state of the house and yard tell me I'm not keeping up with all of the 'supposed to's' as it is. I'm constantly wondering how other people manage to keep up with everything.
Latest news:
Not so good news: Paul is losing the company he's been working for and was very happy with, but the company is closing, so he's on the job search again. Here's hoping he lands something good sooner, since being us, we have no big financial cushion to land on. Being an artist and a games programmer/designer doesn't tend to lead to long term job stability and comfortable money cushions; at least it hasn't for us. I keep having to adjust my attitude to stay positive on that front.

Better News: I have been hired on a long term contract basis with the non-profit Boldly Me, for which I've been doing art and photography for awhile. Boldly Me has the stated purpose of building self esteem and public awareness for those who feel different. They hold classes and events and provide support and counseling and suchlike for anyone, really.
Though it originally started as a support structure for people with physical differences who needed support and a place where they could just be themselves and fit in, lots of people kept asking if they could join even if they didn't have any obvious differences, if they just felt different on the inside and felt like they didn't fit in. So Boldly Me became more broadly inclusive. It's been growing by leaps and bounds since it started about a year and a half ago.
I first got pulled in because I've known Alanna, the founder and leader, for years; our boys are good friends and we've known each other at least 10 years. When she first started talking about her dream a fair number of years ago now, I tried to encourage her. Alanna has always been a Person Who Gets Shit Done, and once she decided to go for it with Boldly Me, of course it took off.
I'll be their Program Manager for Print Media and Publications, along with being their pet photographer and general artist. Someone called it being their 'Media Goddess' which I rather like. :) I've been doing this sort of work for them already and enjoying it a lot, so that's a very good fit. And it's a great group of folks and a good organization, so I feel like I've landed in a really fortunate situation work-wise. I've never really worked for a non-profit group before, in a situation where I believed in the work and the cause, so it's a new experience to me, and a positive one. I always figured I had a good work ethic before, doing my best to do good work because I felt like it was the right thing to do and I wanted to be proud of the work that I produced, but this work, being for a cause and a purpose I find worthy of respect, adds a different kind of satisfaction to the actual work. I still strive to do the best job I can, but it's been very rare in a job situation to be valued for my opinions and viewpoints as a contributing member to the core values of the group, not just as a hired graphics wrist. My duties are more diverse and involved in helping shape what the organization does and how it accomplishes that, though I am hesitant to say that because it feels so strange to realize that I will be having an impact from within the group. So that's a very good thing.
This new development has had the odd effect of making me realize how much I've been holding myself back in work I've been doing; being hired to design logos or do graphics work is fine, but it's very easy to just do the job and not get invested in who or what it's for. Most of the paying work I've done in the last few years has been for things I didn't really care about, honestly.
It made it easier to focus on family, for one thing; most companies now demand your life be at work and I had already decided that wasn't where my priorities were, so screw that. So it's been a lot of small one-off jobs, really.

But increasingly in the last couple of years, I've been doing pro-bono work for Boldly Me as well as Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation. I've kind of realized how reserved I was being with it all; I hesitated to tell people even though I really believe in what both organizations do. I've been keeping all of my various worlds separate and silent, and now I'm questioning why that was, like I have had to hide the different aspects of myself from different sets of people in my life. And yet I love all of the varied sets of people I'm lucky enough to have in my life, even if they haven't intersected much.
I kind of feel like, what the hell, why shouldn't I just talk openly about it all? If you believe in something you should be able to speak openly about it, right? What have I been afraid of? Being judged? Being laughed at for helping out causes and people I believe in? I have been realizing that I've still been carrying around some of those old fears from pain I carried when I was younger, and falling into them without even realizing it. My own self-identified, comfortable identity as an 'artist' has increasingly not been enough to define who I am now, as an older person trying to raise boys in a challenging world. It's not enough anymore to define myself as an artist or graphics person, or as any one thing; adaptability is the key for me and the boys and Paul, I think.
Anyone who knows me will be nodding when I say that I have always been prone to self denigration (shut up, Jeff) and a strong and healthy self esteem has never been one of my firmer qualities. But you know, I feel like I'm getting closer and closer to being more fine with who I feel like I really am and who I want to be and merging the two into a stronger, whole person. It feels weird but right. And it feels weird but right to now join up with a non-profit that helps hurt people get stronger in their self esteem.