During all those weeks and months away in Philadelphia, I kept up a steady stream of correspondence with Linda back in Geneva. She kept all those letters, and I found them in our house years later.
In the week after the March 18 car accident, I wrote a pained letter trying to make sense of all that happened. “Well, lover-dover, yesterday was a doozy-woozy. Hoping to receive an insurance check to pay for my car, I called into work to tell them I’d be late. I was, the check didn’t come in the mail. It still hasn’t come, and it’s Thursday. They say they sent it Monday. Bullshit. Why does mail take 3 days from Maryland?”
There were ridiculous ramifications at work. “Sooo, they were really pissed at the way I handled calling in, not telling them a day early, etc. I ultimately took $800 of my own money out of the bank to pay for the Arrow. I’ve got fifty bucks to last me thru whenever! God.”
Clearly depressed, I shared the one thing possible to keep my spirits up. “I’m gonna race on Saturday morning I think, if it doesn’t rain. Probably run a five-miler in Philadelphia. I’ve felt good most times in training. I wish I had a little more time to run and other things. I really want to paint. yet when I get time I don’t use it right. I guess I just don’t have time to relax, plain relax. Y’know, I run around so much I just wanna flopp when 9:00 p.m. comes around.”
Then I drew her a cartoon to express my true feelings.
I actually had good reason to be cynical about my work situation at Van Kampen Merritt. A few days before the accident occurred, I’d conversed on the train with one of the guys that I really respected in that office. He’d also transferred from Illinois, and I’d been over to his house once or twice. Our respective circumstances were strikingly different. He was happily married, lived in a big house overlooking a wooded ravine, and had two robust German shorthair hounds that he’d send after groundhogs in the thickets. He was a solidly Christian man of the best kind, straightforward and resolute about life in general. On the morning we met on the train, we talked about stuff in general until he finally turned to me and said, “What are you guys in marketing department doing? The Wholesalers aren’t getting anything we need to sell. If that keeps up, you’ll all be gone.”
He did not say that to be mean. Quite the opposite. But it was a lesson I never forget throughout my career. Pay attentiont to the core business or you’ll be gone. And I trusted him because he’d become a patron of my paintings, hiring me to do two large-format acrylics, one of tundra swans and the other a portrait of a cock and hen pheasant.
I was proud of that work, and desperately wished I was good enough to paint for a living full-time. I had tried in many ways over the previous year to make that happen. Specifically, I helped an older associate from Van Kampen start up a store called the Blue-Winged Teal Gallery. I wasn’t an investor in the gallery, but did help him set up shop and showed my original work there. As an echo of that experiment, I labored all year on a perfect painting of the namesake bird. The earliest watercolor of a blue-winged teal that I produced that year was an airy rendition that I like to this day. As it turned out with the gallery, I sold a few pieces, but not enough to make a living. The place folded after I moved east.
In February of ’83 I’d written Linda a letter confessing the frustrations with how the regular work world felt compared to the joys of painting. “I’m not tired but I’m burnt out, y’know. I’m sick of this job sometimes too, which is something I wanna talk about when I’m out there. Plans versus reality, you might say. Why should it take so much guts to go out on my own, after all? I’m going to paint like a fiend this weekend. Three whole days of unmitigated creativity. Yummee!!”
I added a note about my vacillating health due to all the running. “You’ll be amazed. I’m taking eight to ten vitamins a day. Organic vitamins of iron, a multiple and Vitamin C. Now if I just get some sleep. My dad gets the bed again tonight so I think I’ll hit the floor instead of the couch.”
Like father, like son
As I recall, my father Stewart was out East that February interviewing for a possible job. He was dealing with one of several points in his life in which his career went sideways. That was something he and I shared over the course of our lifetimes. I believe he dealt with ADHD just like me, with a hyper-social personality to match. His interests were diverse, including the game golf and he also loved making golf clubs. And much like me, his distracted fixations on women were similar. Like father, like son. But by that point in life, after some contentious father-son years, we were starting to understand each other better, “Strange to get up with dad at the house. We get along well,” I wrote.
The corporate treadmill
The letter to Linda continued, “I’m gonna try to talk to this gallery owner here in Pa. Sometime this weekend. I’m getting real anxious. I want to paint for two purposes; to express the ideas about wildlife that are waiting for discovery inside my head, and to sell these ideas to those willing to understand them. I’m gonna say it again too. I’m sick of corporate thinking as wonderful as it can be at times… it is also the druid of procrastination and a strange form of treadmill, designed just for people with integrity but no power to purvey it. Telephones, memos, more memos, wives and Vice Presidents, arguments, illness, urban boredom, tunnel vision. God didn’t mean it to be this way. I’m not DEPRESSED just depressed. I’m gonna shake down my own bottle again.”
Those references to wives and Vice Presidents were based on an odd reality and wondering whether there was funny business going on at the top level of the marketing department.
Love takes flight
On occasion, I’d fly back and forth between Philly and Chicago on the company plane as space and time would allow. That gave me a chance to reconnect with Linda, go for runs with my buddies back in Illinois, and try to find some sense of personal groundedness. On the return end of one of the trips, I went straight to the office, sat down and wrote her a love letter. “Quite convinced these funny rocking sensations, flutterings of sorts, that are emanating from my midsection are the after effects of the delicious lovemaking we performed only sixteen hours ago. Think of the power of that. Your soft movements and kisses like thoughts on my neck are undissolved by the distance I have flown. Your love flew right with me, strong and urgent, like a heron passing through early autumn air with the last breaths of summer under its wings.”
Then I noted, “Walked right into the end of a marketing meeting this morn. Apparently I looked oddly calm and resolute. Lynn Rodman asked “If I got engaged or something.” Little did they know I was sweating at the pits and a bit jet-lagged, wishing to be back in XRT-land.”
I confided to her by letter: “Home. Where it is right now I’m not sure, but I’ve always felt that home is where I produce best. One never has the measure to know for sure what is “best” and what is in need of examination, but home is where I live. Ultimately, it is said, the artist must choose between the work of his life or the work of his art–my translation, done badly, I admit–but what I mean to say is that I am always married to my pursuits. And will be for the course of my life and its destiny. Should you join me in that course it is fair to say that I will be inspired by achievement for both of us if possible. But anything or nothing is always possible. Thus it is the artist’s choice and the commonest failing–to give up without having tried.”
Thus my love letters to her gave fair indication of where I was in the search for self, and ultimately, companionship and marriage. I wasn’t quite ready, I tried to tell her, but I loved her along with my art and running and everything else that young man inside me was trying to do.