Voyager

Having recently reached the age of 65 and Medicare, I sat down to figure out how far I have come. The Earth rotates at a certain speed every day, (actually faster at the equator). And the Earth moves at a certain speed around the sun and the sun moves at a certain speed through the galaxy. The galaxy rotates at a certain speed and moves in a certain direction and figuring in the expansion of the universe we can estimate that I am moving at a speed of 2,237,000 miles per hour. (I am thinking of installing a seat belt on my desk chair). That is pretty fast for an old guy like me.

So let us figure a little more. There are some 8,760 hours in a year, and naturally a leap year is a day longer at 8784 hours. If we add up all 65 years worth of time. that comes to 443,784 hours that I have lived. Okay, so now we can times the hours by the mileage and that comes out to 1,209,163,176,144 miles. I have traveled over a trillion miles by just sitting here on this planet. I don’t think I will even try to figure in the miles added by traveling in cars, trains, buses and airplanes or just walking.

Even with that large number of miles, it is still nothing as to how far light travels in one year. That distance is 5.878 trillion miles. So now we can see that the distance I have traveled in my lifetime is still barely over a fifth of a light year. The newly discovered planet in our closest star system, Alpha Centauri, is 24.94 trillion miles away. I guess I will not be going there anytime soon. I could have made it to the Oort Cloud, that vast conglomeration of icy and rocky objects orbiting the cold distances around our sun, leftovers from when the solar system was formed. But why bother. The real journey has been here on this planet and being barely aware of our travels through space. Still, it is good to keep track of these things, and actually, if you think about it, the frequent flyer miles points would be killer. (Below, an old illustration of mine showing some interstellar travel.)

Rob and Bjo

One of the great things about being a Star Trek fan is that you meet the very best people. Whether they are artists, writers, editors, actors or the rest, they have been by far the most intelligent set of people I have met in my lifetime. Bjo and John Trimble are prime examples of this. As science fiction fans from the beginnings of the 50’s, their accomplishments in fandom are legion. Bjo is noted especially for helping start a letter writing campaign that saved Star Trek from being canceled after the second season. The third season took the series into syndication and made it available to a wider audience and eventually rebirth as new movies and television series. I met Bjo at my first SF convention in Salt Lake and innocently asked her for an opinion on my early science fiction art. Bjo is a talented artist in her own right and proceeded to give me an unvarnished critique of my precious work. It is a tribute to my thick skin as an artist that I didn’t give up that day and decide to become a bank teller, but it was good for me to know where I stood and I learned much and was able to improve. Over the years we became pretty good friends and eventually close enough that they were comfortable with staying with us on their trips to visit relatives in Montana. When they visited they were kind enough to let us have some dinner parties where we would invite other friends, (and fans of Star Trek), to mingle one on one comfortably outside the hectic environments of conventions. One night Bjo complained that she was having difficulty with her laptop and our son, Rob, never one to be awestruck by famous people, proceeded to give her some assistance and advice on using the electronic beast. I had to smile, here it had come full-circle, Bjo instructing me in getting things done and now Rob, my son, instructing her in getting things done. Life is just too darn interesting when you mingle with Star Trek people. (Below, Rob and Bjo at the kitchen table.)

Star Trek

On the night of September 8, 1966, I eagerly turned on our recently purchased color TV, anxious to watch a new show. I had read about it in the TV Guide, which my parents subscribed to. Among the usual fall previews of sitcoms, cop shows and dramas, it highlighted what looked to be an interesting space adventure. Being a big fan of the then currently active American space program, it sounded like it might be fun and from the opening theme music to the conclusion of the hour-long show, I was hooked. It was, of course, Star Trek, and the first episode that was shown, was the ‘Man Trap.’ Here was a bunch of humans already exploring space, to heck with the space race to the moon, these people were out there now. I rarely missed an episode over the next three years and when the Apollo 1 fire killed the three astronauts on the launch pad and the space program ground to a halt for a year and a half, I had Star Trek to see me through. I found it ironic that the TV program ended a month before we actually landed on the moon for the first time. Sadly for me, I had bigger fish to fry as I started at Utah State University that fall. The American space program and Star Trek receded into the background as I struggled to learn all I could about being a commercial artist. After I graduated four years later and started my first job at the Hansen Planetarium I finally ran into my first real science fiction and Star Trek fans. It was a revelation to me, I never knew that such things even existed.

To say that Star Trek seriously impacted my life is an understatement. I would have never painted SF subjects, especially Trek. I did cartoon books, traveled to SF conventions all over the U.S. where I displayed and actually sold my art. I met incredibly talented artists and writers, editors, cartoonists and actors and a whole slew of fascinating people. I even started writing my own versions of exploring the universe in a series of novels. My mind was opened to the future possibilities of humanity, leaving our planet and exploring a vast and wondrous universe. I still believe in that future even though times lately have been a bit strained on our increasingly crowded planet. The desire to look ahead and imagine better things and then do them, is something that we will always need, Star Trek taught me that. (Below, me on the bridge of the Next Gen Enterprise, waiting to give the command to head out into space.)

The Carrington Event

On September 1 in 1859 something devastating occurred on our planet. A solar coronal mass ejection from the sun hit the Earth squarely in the teeth and created the largest geomagnetic storm on record. This event was named for a British scientist, Richard Carrington, who observed the flare beginning on the sun and then studied the world-wide after effects. Because of this gigantic solar flare, aurorae were seen around the world as far south as Cuba in the Caribbean Sea. The only electrical operations at the time were telegraph systems, which promptly failed and many reports of sparks and fire arcing from the circuits were recorded. The Aurorae continued for three days and were so bright that many people reported they could easily read a newspaper in the middle of the night. So, what would happen if a large flare hit us in these modern and technological times? In 1989 the Canadian province of Quebec was without power for a half a day after a smaller solar storm hit the Earth. In 2012 a solar storm at least as large as the 1859 event erupted on the sun, but the flare missed the planet. These days if we were hit again, all radio communications would fail and unprotected astronauts in the space station would be in danger. GPS systems, cell phones and all satellite communications would be affected. Most vulnerable would be power grids and the storm surge could blow out large electric transformers. These transformers are difficult to replace and could prolong the effects of such a storm for days and weeks. Imagine no electrical power to do anything, to heat and cool, to light and power stores and factories, no TV and radio and no connection through cell phones and the Internet. So, are we doomed? With adequate warning by sun monitoring satellites we have the ability to forecast dangerous solar storms. With an advance warning we could turn off electrical grids for the short time that the storm will be most powerful. Satellites could be put into a sleep mode until the danger has passed. While potentially catastrophic, we could survive a large solar flare like the one in 1859. Our sun is the source of light and heat for our planet; but we understand that it can get a little cranky once in a while. We just need to keep an eye on the sky for future danger. (Below, Frederic Edwin Church’s 1865 painting “Aurora Borealis.” Some speculate that Church took his inspiration from the Great Auroral Storm of 1859.)

Middle Class 102

When wealth is evenly distributed between all classes, then people have more time to look around at what is wrong with things and begin to expect changes in their society. In the ‘60s and ‘70s when taxes on the rich were highest and the middle class strongest, things began to change. A large civil rights movement started, women began to demand equal rights with men, an anti-war movement against the fighting in Vietnam grew, stronger consumer protection laws were demanded, and a environmental movement to save the planet began. Not to mention a large-scale youth rebellion in the ‘60s with young people trying to throw off the constraints of their parents morals and ideals. As a teenager and one of the millions of post-WWII babies in the ‘60s, I was delighted, frightened and anxious to see all these changes occurring around me and I eagerly went along with them. After I graduated from college in 1973, I got a job and then got married and along the way I acquired a son, a house and two cars. I worked full-time for 40 years, even surviving the great recession living the middle class life. Then it all ground to a halt, I lost my job and no one would hire an older (more expensive), worker. Where were my father’s jobs and prosperity? He had retired at age 65 and has never had to work another day in his life, whereas I am still trying to keep my head above water. What the heck happened?

Having a middle class is a choice, the actual, standard model of capitalism, is one of a small ultra-rich class and a very large, poor underclass, (think the Victorian age in England). When Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1981 he began to cut taxes on the rich with the idea that with greater wealth, the rich would create more jobs for everyone. But surprise! The rich just kept the money for themselves. This has gone on now for 30 years and good-paying jobs for the middle class continue to disappear at an alarming rate as the rich continue to cut costs and maximize their profits. Not to mention the continuing high taxes on the remaining middle class to support the working government. The Reagan era conservatives also greatly feared the on-going social changes in the country and began to work to stop them. Killing off the middle class became the primary goal; drive the working middle class back to being the poor working class and create less contention with more control. And it has worked, there is a growing group of one-time middle class, white working people (now poor), who are terrified at being left behind and will follow anyone who says they can fix the situation and bring them back into the cherished and prosperous middle. It isn’t going to happen folks. Candidates backed by rich donors are not going to change the tax laws, especially when the same wealthy people are funding those getting elected. We stand at the end of an era, whether on not we continue on this path is a decision that must be made soon or we are all going to be poorer for the results. (Below, my current middle class house, let’s hope we can keep it.)

Middle Class 101

One interesting thing about growing old is that you have been a witness to a lot of history. Of course, at that time you usually aren’t aware that what is happening around you will become historic. But, from a distance of 20, 30, 40 and even 50 years you can see a lot of the processes that shape events and create consequences. Also, by having a father that is still alive and almost 90 years old, you can stretch your view of historic change even further. My father was born in 1926, so he was rather young when the Great Depression with its 30% or more unemployment affecting the country began. Heavy government intervention and a whole lot of programs to help put people back to work created a temporary life raft for many affected. During that time, my Grandfather lost his job and had to survive by part-time work, growing their own food and by mutual support among friends and relatives. They were all poor and hung together to make sure that nobody went under. There was not a lot of what was called the middle class and when WWII came along and created opportunity for everyone to work and make enough to survive, things began to look a lot better. My father was drafted into the Navy right after he graduated from high school in 1944 and learned a lot of useful skills for war but not for civilian life.

War creates a lot of change and is very expensive. Taxes on the rich to help pay for war and the availability of jobs to help win the war, created a movement of wealth from the top down to the working classes and helped bring people into the middle class. After the war my father eventually learned enough to become a machinist, what was then called a tool and die maker. It was skilled labor and it paid very well, he was able to get married and start having children. I was born in 1951 and soon after, my father was able to build a house. In the later 50’s a local recession and lack of jobs forced him to move to Utah where he was able to buy another house and 15 acres of a small farm from my mother’s sister. With the cold war fully in swing, there were many government contracts in Utah and plenty of work for his expertise. And, unlike my parents, me and my sisters and youngest brother were able to grow up in a financially secure and happy environment, free from want or need, all products of a strong middle class. (In my next blog I will look at the effects of growing up in the middle class and the aftermath of late 20th century politics to reduce the middle class.) (Below, my mother, Janet, and my father Bernard and me, about 10 months old. Behind us is the very small 2-room house (?) that they lived in while my father and grandfather build their main house from a purchased kit. And me getting a bath outside since the plumbing in the little house was rather inadequate.)

Lost in Canyonlands

After taking a paid tour through part of Canyonlands once, many, many years ago, we were excited and impressed by the backcountry of this Utah national park that almost no one ever gets to see. So we bought a four-wheel drive vehicle in order to journey down these less traveled roads for ourselves. I had spent some time traveling the backcountry with my father and a geologist friend of his, hunting for rocks and fossils, so I was no novice about the dangers of being far from civilization on roads that could scarcely be dignified with the term. Eventually we ended back in Canyonlands and one fall day after we established ourselves at a motel in Moab, we started out. This time our plan was to navigate the Shafer Trail, a narrow, dirt, uranium-mining road carved down the side of sheer cliffs and into the interior of the area before it became a national park. It was build during the uranium mining boom in the ‘50s and was now largely unused except by crazy backcountry tourists like us. After taking the paved road into the park we found the small marker sign pointing out the dirt track. Very soon we found ourselves driving under overhanging ledges of sandstone. After that was a series of excruciating switchbacks which took a bit of nerve and low gear to get safely down. There was a long, straight road over what is called the White Rim that led to the Colorado River and we pressed on eagerly. When we got to the river we were surprised and disappointed, the Colorado was still another 1,000 feet down! We sat on the rim, had lunch and considered our position. We were too far into the canyon to drive back up to the top and so decided to continue down more switchbacks and very rough roads to finally make it to the river. The problem with backcountry roads is that if you drive very fast, you risk damage to your tires, so slow and steady always wins out. (Remind me to talk about the two flat tires on Nine Mile Canyon road.) After many more miles of washboard roads we finally made it a potash mining operation along the Colorado River and thankfully found a paved road that brought us back to Moab, late, tired and hungry. All in all, the solitude and unbelievable grandeur of these wild places was always enough to keep calling us back again and again no matter how difficult the road was. (Below, we consult the map while on the White Rim. Rob and Lynne before we take the plunge and Rob sitting on the edge looking down on the Colorado River, and driving his concerned mother crazy.)

Travels with my Aunt

Last Saturday I received a phone call informing me that my aunt, Martha (Goodwin) Mudd, had died. She was the youngest of 7 children by my grandparents Samuel and Rosemarie Goodwin. I got to know my Aunt a little before my father and mother moved us out to Utah in search of employment, and from visits to and from Illinois. When I was older and on my own, several trips east were always rewarded with a stay at my Aunt’s. She always told me stories of her travels with her husband Patrick. First around the United States and then overseas. Her descriptions of national parks and big cities around the country encouraged me to follow suit after I got married to Lynne. The travels abroad and tales of palaces, great cathedrals and historical places encouraged us to follow in her footsteps. Whether she was visiting Scandinavia, Russia, Europe or Asia, I was always impressed with her stories and especially her account of visiting Croatia to locate the city of her mother’s parents and relatives. They were noted gourmets and always took us to the best restaurants, not the most expensive, but the ones with the very best food. They also instilled in our only son, Rob, a great love of good food and faraway places as well. My aunt was also an excellent artist, the first active one in the family. She signed her paintings, M. Goodwin, preferring to use her maiden name. So when I became an artist, I was obliged to sign my work, M. C. Goodwin, but I have never been bothered by this, preferring to honor her achievements as the first. While we never got to travel abroad with Martha and Pat, we did get to show them around our area with places like the Golden Spike National Monument, Ogden, Salt Lake and much of the back country of the Wasatch Mountains. Martha and Pat were very excited to visit us during the construction of the museum and with hard hats firmly in place, eagerly and fearlessly climbed through the half-finished building listening to Lynne’s descriptions of future exhibits. Returning a couple years later Martha contributed more then she could afford to help the museum move forward. My Aunt was a wonderful, positive influence on my life and my family’s, she will be greatly missed. (From left to right, my cousin Connie, me, Martha and my son, Rob at the museum a few years ago).

Bones

Last year I wrote a blog on how great it was that we had gone 70 years since we last used the atomic bomb and how wonderful it would be if we avoided using it again for another seventy years. This naive statement was written, of course, before the national elections pulled fully into its current focus. Sadly and recently, one of our presidential candidates reportedly asked in a security briefing, not once, but several times, that if we have nuclear weapons, why don’t we use them? This faux human being asked why we shouldn’t just kill everyone who doesn’t agree with us instead of talking to them to see if they might actually have some real grievance. And speaking from his high and mighty privileged and white authoritarian outlook, he could see no reason why we shouldn’t just bully and blast everyone in our path to get our way. In 1941 the highly authoritarian military government of Japan felt very much the same way. The U.S. had halted oil and metal imports to Japan and the leaders there were afraid that their expansionistic plans would have to stop. Concerned for their ideas of racial purity and the belief of their superiority, Japan had, for years, been expanding their control over the other ‘inferior’ Asian races and had vowed to create a vast Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, (for themselves only), and now the U.S. was in the way, (and yes, it was a very provocative move by the U.S.). But now the only thing to do was to blast them. (Fortunately they did not have atomic bombs to attack us). But it did take four years of an appallingly horrific war and the development and use of nuclear weapons to finally bring down the Japanese military and their centralist world view. I have walked the paths that lead to the last remaining building from the atomic bombing 71 years ago in Hiroshima. I have stared at the bare bones of that pitiful and decaying wreck. I have hoped that we would never again visit such death and destruction on anyone else. But the alleged comments of a presidential nominee have chilled me to the bone and given me a sense of deepest foreboding. Darkness creeps ever closer to our lives again and I am greatly afraid for all of us. (This photo of the Genbaku Dome was taken in Hiroshima during our visit to Japan in 2007).

All the color that moves

“Starry, starry night, paint your palette blue and gray, look out on a summer’s day, with eyes that know the darkness in my soul. Shadows on the hills, sketch the trees and the daffodils, catch the breeze and the winter chills, in colors on the snowy linen land.

Vincent van Gogh was born on this day, March 30, 1853. I have heard him described as mad, a genius, confused, brilliant and mentally ill. Perhaps he was all of this. Vincent came from an upper middle class, religious family. He worked at many things in his short life but didn’t settle down to become a full-time painter until his late twenties

“Starry, starry night, flaming flowers that brightly blaze, swirling clouds in violet haze, reflect in Vincent’s eyes of china blue. Colors changing hue, morning fields of amber grain, weathered faces lined in pain, are soothed beneath the artist’s loving hand.”

Many impressionist painters of that time worked outside in nature trying to capture the moment. I think that Vincent was trying to do this too. But outside, things are always in motion, the light changes, the clouds move and the trees sway. The color and the textures flow and swirl around the canvas, there is always the sense of movement in Vincent’s paintings and it seems like he is always trying to keep up with it all. It is never ‘still life.’

“Starry, starry night, portraits hung in empty halls, frame-less heads on nameless walls, with eyes that watch the world and can’t forget. Like the strangers that you’ve met, the ragged men in ragged clothes, the silver thorn of bloody rose, lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow.”

Like any creative person, there is a great deal of frustration in trying to achieve your vision. The song that does not play just right, the novel that doesn’t quite read the way you wanted, the painting that doesn’t match that inner vision of your mind’s eye.

“For they could not love you, but still your love was true, and when no hope was left in sight, on that starry, starry night, you took your life, as lovers often do. But I could’ve told you Vincent, this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.”

As an artist myself, I have sometimes had to deal with the mental frustration of trying to get things right and achieve a more perfect vision of my ideas. It can be quite emotionally debilitating, it can easily wear you down and it can really mess with your mind if you are not careful.

“Now I understand what you tried to say to me, and how you suffered for your sanity and how you tried to set them free. They would not listen, they did not know how, perhaps they’ll listen now.”

Vincent took his own life in July, 1890. In just over 10 years, he created more then 2,100 pieces of art, 860 of those were paintings that are now some of the most sought-after art in the world.

(Don Mclean wrote this wonderful tribute song about Vincent van Gogh in 1971 that never fails to move me. This portrait of Vincent was taken during my visit to the National Gallery in Washington DC last spring. It is another one of his paintings that the colors simply will not hold still.)

Vincent