or living with the infliction of the Art Gene Syndrome
or, THE COMING OF PYGOYA
By Dr. Rodney "Pygoya" Chang, November 2004
- as adjunct to guest speaking and exhibit presentation to teachers that work with gifted students within the
Hawaii Department of Education public school system, January 27, 2005, Windward Community College
"Fine art is about intellectual growth; fine art is about the extension of limits and 'all art' is about the dismantlement of antiquated walls to let the light of the new creative-mind's-eye shine through." "Never before in the history of fine art has advanced technology played as important a role in the growth of creative imagery and content as it does today." " Pioneer Dr. Rodney Chang (a.k.a Pygoya) of Honolulu is the foremost local authority on digital fine art imagery. Pygoya has enlightened and enhanced the world's appreciation of contemporary fine art via his local and international digital art exhibitions and his cohesive global website." Dr. Arthur Ellsworth Nelander, M.F.A, Ph.D. (retired, Professor of Art, University of Hawaii, Department of Art)
I always planned on someday writing my "memoirs." Not for vanity, but to document an eclectic, self-directed life. I have done my best to detour boredom, to not succumb to safe but dull routines. As an islander I have not found much time to lie on the beach like tourists on vacation. I have chosen instead to spent most of my life in midstream, fighting the currents, not "going with the flow." That means, of course, a life filled with challenges, controversy, insight, and action that lead to victories and disappointments. But that could be anybody's story. I thought this chore to buckle down and get it down would be decades from now, God willing. After I got rich, after I got famous, God willing. After I was in a wheelchair but before I got a stroke. Or before I went broke, if circumstances do indeed move in grand cycles. But even if so, to have through planning the dedicated savings as finance to publish. If for no other reason, to promote my then completed "life's works," which apparently turns out to be this series of itty-bitty oil paintings now accumulating since 2003 (samples brought to college gallery and conference). It's been a long round trip from Crayola crayons, watercolor, oil, clay, film, bronze, digital and now back to oil on canvas.
I want to get down here not just another artist's life of struggle but interject a stream of investigation on what made me who I am. This challenge surfaced with a phone call from Susan Kusunoki, at first just a soft voice without a face asking for my time. She knows "time is money" but answered that there is no speaker's compensation. She countered that I should consider it volunteer service for the good of the community. Susan had recently seen some of my artwork for sale in a local Honolulu cafe and thought they were "interesting." Being that she is a teacher of the Gifted with the D.O.E. (Hawaii Department of Education), I guess she identified me as someone her colleagues would like to examine. I agreed, not enthusiastically at first, to submit my brain for analysis that might provide some insight on how to identify hidden student potential within the public elementary school system. I was a public school product. I knew she had made a good choice; I would make a great "lab rat in a white coat."
You see, when she called, I literally did have a white coat on, treating a dental patient in the operatory before taking this call from the receptionist. Sherry, as usual disinterested to get the facts clarified, said "somebody's interested in your art." I smelled a potential sale so I let the patients wait and took the receiver. Instead, no sale but more volunteer work, costing me millions I might say, long term, for selecting to be a "true" artist in this remote city. Not that a tiger can change his stripes; I could not resist my calling. I am a "serious" artist, willing to sacrifice financial gain for the sake of ultimate creative self-actualization. Or to put it in another way, like those ugly caterpillars, to eventually cease to exist by morphing into new beautiful things. Transformation, in my case, would be the self reborn as paintings.
Therefore the motivation to write this documentation comes from having to prepare for my presentation as "main guest speaker" at her symposium for "100 teachers in the Gifted Student program." My first reaction was to reject the offer, why further complicate the schedule of an already overbooked life? Why volunteer to leave my comfort zone? But I warmed up to the invitation as the thought of being forced to review my life provided a deadline to submit my unearthed introspection to them - as well as to myself. What are the threads that wove together this wayward life?
Susan said "You would make a great case study." - she must have read my promo-bio on the wall at the cafe. Almost defensively I muttered to her, "I AM gifted you know." She replied, "I know you are," with an authoritative yet soothing and motherly intonation. I was hooked. She may not have known it, but she had successfully recruited me at that point. Opportunity had come knocking again in life. I now had the chance to take a deliberate look into my past in order to string together events and reactions that shaped who I became. Most importantly, for myself too, to discover how these works she spotted in the public domain came to be. I could, for the moment, again be a psychologist.
So now I write, specifically
for a select audience of teachers managing youth with gifted potential, with
special attention to what life conflicts and events I can recollect that culminated into my
perceived unsupervised role as artist-activist-psychologist-dentist-disco-dancer.
Born into a Mansion
I was born in 1945. In November which, as it turns out, was very important in my educational process. I was "early born" and thereby always one of the youngest, make that immature, among my classmates, K-12th. Not only that, I was small and skinny for my age. This automatically removed any chance to be rewarded for athletic prowess and bestowed leadership in games. I was one of those who if hit and sent to jail in German dodge ball, nobody bothered to save. One hit, game over. Add a history of no preschool or kindergarten, an introvert in an oversized class, and you have a problem student. Even before competing as an artist, I knew rejection.
Let's go back to those first years of emerging conscious perception as a living being. Father was recently back from the war. Luckily he didn't go to Europe, Iwo Jima, or some other war theater were battles compiled mortalities by the truckload. His stint was sitting in a sandy fox hole on a beach head, waiting for the Japanese invasion that never came. For target practice on Christmas Island he and the others shot seagulls, as practice to survive an impending air attack but more so to deal with the monotony of being stranded on an isolated island with nothing to do. For him everyday was Christmas and it got really boring fast. His seven brothers overcompensated upon return from war zones and as a result here I was, born into a house full of pregnant aunts, congregated in a grand old house in Kaimuki (10th Ave./Pahoa Ave; demolished in the 70s and replaced by two nondescript boxy houses). I remember the many women with bulging bellies lying about in the many rooms of this mansion, as mother, wife of the oldest son, went about serving them and laboring over housework and kitchen duty for the overly extended family. I remember her complaining that besides "Mommy," she was "Cinderella" in this God forsaken palace. The first sugar I tasted was some nibble of the chocolates they craved that she obligingly served. "Cinderella," at age 1-2, was my among my first understood words, the beginning of my own fairy tale and storied life.
As a creeping crawler I remember that the house was HUGE, to the degree of being ominous. Not that I had opportunity as a toddler to compare it with other domiciles, but relative in scale to my tiny diapered body with stubs not yet fit to stand me erect. I later discovered it was previously the majestic residence of a wealthy bank president of the 1930s, complete with swimming pool, an outdoor gazebo with sitting for thirty, and stately landscaping (mature royal palms!) all around this corner lot estate. It was Colonial-Victorian, complete with a wrap around patio with white wooden columns, attic, basement, 2 car garage, maids quarters, business office, sewing room, and even a laundry chute to the lower wash room. My grandfather, a Chinatown cook, and his shoe shining, newspaper selling eight sons and daughter, managed to purchase it real cheap soon after the Pearl Harbor invasion. They said the white banker and family ran off to the mainland thinking the Japanese would inevitably invade again. Every nickel and dime they earned and saved was converted into the American Dream. The estate was a steal, a real opportunity for the Chinese immigrant to finally leave the inner city slums and own their own place. Even in such an upscale suburb and residing in the biggest house, my grandparents cultural isolation remained in tact; they never understood English throughout their long lives. Of course their children were bi-lingual but their grandchildren, like me, to their disappointment, only spoke English. Sadly, there could never be any conversation between the first and third generations. Nods, smiles, handshakes, and kisses had to do. These helped convey the love, honor, and respect we were expected to reciprocate.
Crawling about under the towering ten foot ceiling, it seem so far above. My mind took for granted the ornate wall paper, carved wood moldings, and expansive hard wood flooring throughout. What mansion, even in the tropics, would be complete without a fireplace to compliment the Christmas tree lights? The elaborate chandeliers of the living room, parlor, sitting room, and dining room were so grand. They don't make them like that anymore! I can never forget the warm amber glow of the fixtures' glass bulbs, shaped like the flames of candles. There were oversized rattan furniture with cushions to bounce on and this long formal dining table under which I could always count on finding something to eat.
My parents and I lived in the former maid's room on the ground floor. It had it's own sewing machine and built in ironing board. This was adjacent to the sinister dark stairway up to the attic, which later on we were told was haunted. It made for good daring among the cousins during later year weekend returns to aged "Big House." But actually this was just to discourage us kids from going up there and messing with Uncle Tommy's bedroom and highly sensitive HAM radio equipment that communicated in Morse Code. On the other side of the hallway of our bedroom was the huge kitchen. I'll remember always the sounds of Chinese, the clanging and chopping of utensils, and big metal pots gurgling with boiling soups and steaming morsels, all to accommodate the appetites of a multi-family of at least two dozen people strong, eating in shifts. Every evening was a dinner party, for no returning young soldiers and their spouses could yet afford to move out on their own. They were again saving their own nickels and dimes. Indeed Grandpa was king of the house but indebted to support his burgeoning clan. I was considered special by the grandparents, as I was the first born grand son. Lucky me.
This was the social
environment in which I entered life. Vast space, the noise and hustle and
bustle of a bus station, everybody too busy to play with me. So most days I remember being locked up in my
own Alcatraz. I hated the play pen; there was nothing to play with. This
probably was the most boring part of my life. When I did get lucky, maybe a rattler, maybe a rubber ball,
became company. But most of the time,
nothing. I'm pretty sure this is where I started to daydream.
Fortunately the pen was placed next to
an entry door and against the wall with windows. I remember most vividly
the swaying palm trees outside, the daily changing of light and shadow,
the mercurial sky from morning to sunset. It was my mental escape from
incarceration. The house was so big and mother too busy, it seemed like eternity
between feedings, diaper changes, human touch and interaction.
My First Work of Art
Under these circumstances I might have had my first art experience. Remember finger-painting? With nothing else to "work with," I managed to take apart my diaper and what a glorious mess I made. Excrement all over the wooden bars, the plastic bottom padding, my face, my arms and legs, and wherever I could throw it. I even tasted it to get the full experience of manipulating something I had control over. Shit was my first medium. I might have titled it, "Cathartic Liberation from Boredom." Can it be possible that forced activity deprivation leads to compensatory creativity?
Like prisoner stories I have read, I couldn't wait to be big enough to 'bust out of the joint." I attempted all the time to climb over the top. I noted incremental gains; I knew I was getting bigger and stronger and someday would succeed to get myself to the other side of the fence. I knew that the front door was sometimes left unlocked. The hook hung passively instead of the usual horizontal position. My big break came one day when I was finally able to climb the bars. They found me way down the street. Thereafter the door remain locked, I was allowed to roam the interiors, and the pen was relegated to a younger cell mate. When I passed, I remembered to always throw back in any toy.
When I could walk, around age 2, I
remember extended darkness and bumps in an endless night. I had observed my mother
pat perfume on her face, strong stuff from Germany as a gift from a
returning brother-in-law. When the coast was clear, I remember opening the
bottle and mimicking her, but poured it all over my head! The pain in the eyes
was fierce, the taste in my mouth caustic. Only through memory and desperation,
I felt my way to the kitchen where my mother was cooking, as usual, as
Cinderella. She screamed with panic and the next thing I remember was
shrouded with darkness. The emergency room doctor had placed this huge
bandage over my eyes that wrapped completely around my head. For two weeks I was
literally blinded. I learned to "see" with my hands and followed the walls to get about the
house. Everyday was punishment for mistakes, bumps in the wall, falls
down the stairs. Without vision I became more intimately acquainted with
the house. Without knowledge of the concept of numbers, I intuitively remember
knowing the relative steps it took to reach a corridor or room. Before the doctor took of the bandage my parents were
warned that they may find fried eyeballs, sentencing me to a blind man's cane
for life. I didn't know
how crucial that moment was as they unraveled the gauze, layer by layer. I
reacted to the shocking glare of the sunny room due to eyes accommodated to darkness. They all
clamored in relief that I
could see; I thought I had done something wrong and that they were yelling at
me. I was happy to see "Mommy's" face again. Imagine if I was
blinded. No art would ever come to be through my life.
The Palolo Basement
At around age 3 I remember Dad being so proud. We pulled into the driveway of this much smaller house in Palolo Valley. He had managed to save enough, although now with three children, to move out from the "Big House." It turned out to be a dark and damp dungeon of a basement. I cannot recall any windows to this cheap rental space. But now at least we were an independent single family unit. I distinctly reminder how "funky" his first used car was. It was a late 40's Studebaker, repainted a brilliant cerulean blue. It glared like the bright sky. I was proud of our car with an "airplane nose" of chrome, the conical front hood always so lovingly polished by my father. I fantasized an imaginary propeller at the tip. At the time I did not realize it was probably one of the most hideous spectacles on the road. I guess this displayed Dad's either eccentric taste or total lack of any. But most probably we merely got this car because it was the cheapest in the use car lot.
When you're a kid living in a small basement, there's not much to do. The whole place now felt like a play pen. There was far less stimulation than today's preschool classroom environment. There weren't even windows as ventilation for the dampness emitted from the below ground concrete block walls. My older sister and myself loved to climb unto a chair to change the 33 rpm records of the day. I remember Bing Crosby's voice accompanied by the scratchy sound of the dust laden, dull needle. Other stimulation came from color cartoon comics, bought for us by Dad as surprise gifts when he was in a rare good mood. The other significant 'toy' was the occasional gift that enabled the blowing of balloons from a plastic gel that had to be squeezed out of a tube. We learned not to waste by blowing it too big for the amount molded by finger unto the end of a straw. Air holes would open up, defusing our masterpieces into slumping glob. It smelled and tasted strange so we chew it like gum. Sometimes it pleasantly popped in the mouth. Imagine, ingesting plastic, probably carcinogenic.
Any time out from the confinement of my new pen, the basement, was through allotted time alone in the back yard. I remember the tall unkempt grass, perfect to hunt little bugs with empty containers secured from Mother upon request. Here alone, among the tall grass, I encountered my first friends. I would catch bugs and place the lid, bring the jar up to my face and look eyeball to eyeball at my captured audience. The most distinctive and memorable was the pointed headed green grasshopper, affixing itself to the side of the transparent yellow plastic jar, each of us looking stupidly at each other. Such moments of confrontation seemed timeless. No words were needed to convey my awe. So was my introduction to nature and the landscape as a yet budding artist. Maybe the memory of that grassy slope is the kernel of my senior years's fantasy to literally find the time to "watch the grass grow." But no pen size backyard, I want my pasture!
Another significant event happened when Verna, my older sister, said, "I'll show you what I found if you don't tell." There it was, a box full of naked and squirming pink mice, so newborn they were still blind with yet sealed eyes. They were so cute, our first pets! We brought food and water to the box and carefully slid it back under the bed to protect them from whatever grownups might do with such. Well, as children cannot keep a secret, soon enough father was glaring down disgustingly at them. So off they went, in an unceremonious swirl, down the toilet drain. We all cried, witnessing those wiggly helpless things drowning as they got swallowed by the watery abyss. This was our first lesson about death and the cruelty of adults.
I remember my sister leaving the house in the mornings to go to school. Being too young, I had to stay in the basement. I was jealous, anxious to someday be old enough to also escape the basement by "going to school." She looked so important, all dressed up with bowed pig tails and shiny new black shoes, carrying a lunch box and school bag with pencils and books. I looked forward to going to school when I became a "big boy."
Moving Up to Aina Haina Valley and Entering School
My father was proud again and so was I. At age 5 I understood the pride of home ownership. He had bought the biggest corner lot on a street still of dirt and rocks and houses in construction at various stages. Our family moved in first because the house was done. Turns out the World War II veterans got affordable residential opportunities through the federal housing program. He bought at 14K and we 5 siblings, decades later, sold our only inheritance at over $600,000. It must have crossed each of our minds that what if there were less than 5 to split the proceeds?
Aina Haina valley was a nice new sheltered neighborhood to spend growing up. Beyond it was the wilderness of Hawaii Kai and the vegetable and pig farms of Kuliouou. I remember a owl flying among the kiawe trees at night. Back in the early 50s Kalani High did not exist yet. I went to Aina Haina Elementary School and then to Niu Valley Intermediate for the 7th through 9th grades.
First grade was not the fun I thought it would be. It was a disaster. I had not gone to preschool or kindergarten. I was born in November so the youngest 5 year old in my 1st grade class. I had no socialization skills outside of talking to the bugs in the jar and time with the siblings, three of which were girls who had nothing to do with me. They hated bugs, preferred to stay indoors, and played with dolls instead of toy guns. I was afraid and without self confidence in this new environment of chatter, order, and rules. Within the first week I was demoted to "Group 3" for reading. I looked around at the dopey faces, the sometimes accidental wet floor that we sat upon, the soiled hand-me-down little reader books, and knew I was among the less endowed of the class.
I never raised my hand in class, hiding behind my shadow as best I could. I didn't know where to stand at recess and not be noticed. I couldn't understand how others could be so boisterous and fun loving with their cliques, and yet never invite me to come and play. I could never fall asleep in that uncomfortable sleeping bag after lunch. I was an elementary school midday insomniac. Never once (could this already have been the surfacing of extraordinary energy, restless and confounded by a sleeping bag functioning as strait jacket, that fuels such a later adult life?) . Like, where was the mattress? The linoleum floor was hard and cold. Yet all the rest on cue would quickly fall soundly asleep. This inability to get with the program suggested there was something wrong with me, or at least different. I perfected playing sleeping possum whenever the teacher's shoe steps approached. I learned to play with little things in that pulled closed sauna of a bag, without moving it and alerting the teacher that I was not sleeping. It was always a relief to finally get out that bodily pen and get on with the afternoon class that ultimately led to the bell ring signaling release from the classroom.
Second grade was a bit better. I was placed in the class of the most beautiful teacher I ever would have (sorry, Mrs. Himane, you were a close runner-up). And with a name that started with a "C," that always meant my desk is up front, close to the teacher's desk. Miss Rose was a young and anxious teacher, it seemed to me. I must have made her uneasy as she always seemed uneasy when our eyes met. Was it because, as a 2nd grader, it was not self evident that I was staring constantly at her large breasts and angelic face? I'll never know. But she did me no special favor for my uncontrollable admiration. I still stood alone at recesses, alone and embarrassed, without her detection of my need to be assisted into peer bonding. She may have been the role model that started my later life desire to sketch the naked female figure from a live model.
This was also the year that I'll always be remembered as a laughing stock. One bright summer day I didn't have to walk the usual mile to go home. Father had car pooled to work at Schofield Barracks and so Mother was picking me up. I was instructed to wait up front under the school flag pole. When she arrived, she dashed out to stop the bully who has slamming my head against the metal flag pole. I stood passively, daring not to resist his power and size. I must have looked like an idiot, for sure easy prey, to the abusive brute.
I was wearing my sister's girly red plastic raincoat, complete with hood pulled over my head. It was a hot sweltering afternoon; but she did say to "wear the raincoat after school in case it rained." I followed instructions, wearing it in case it did rain. I was fortunate the car arrived in a timely manner and a concussion was prevented. But where was the after school security or at least adult supervision? The flag pole was right outside the principal's office window.
I won the grade level's "Safety Poster Contest" in the third grade! Oh what a glorious moment to have that announced to the whole class, to see that gold ribbon affixed to the poster paper. When the class (and myself) was surprised from the announcement that our class had taken lst place for the grade level and that the poster would be reproduced for a multi-school newsletter, it was the first time I got positive reinforcement for art and recognition from the class. I felt special. I got attention. I had found something that made me feel superior, in spite of my inferior skills in math and reading. Did I become a life long artist that day? But the moment of victory quickly dissipated into resentment when the teacher announced that the fifteen dollar award would go to the whole class. I felt ripped off, the money was my trophy and it went to those who didn't earn it, the classmates that didn't invite me to play.
I spontaneously enjoyed any art or craft activity in school. My favorite moments where out in the classroom's patio next to my easel, working poster paints unto paper, dipping and swirling my brush in water filled mayonnaise bottles to cleanse it for the new color application. At this age I knew of all school activities, art was easy and it was fun. I displayed discontent whenever the teacher "corrected" my picture. She eventually learned to leave me alone. I could see that my efforts were among the better, if not the best of the class. But other students and the teacher didn't seem to notice. Neither can praise can be remembered after taking artwork home.
In the fourth grade my above average interest in art led further to my distinction as some sort of "class artist." Mrs. Himane requested that I use poster paint and paint all eight lower window glass panels with a Christmas scene. It was like I was designated to paint a mural for the ceiling of a cathedral! It was wonderful how daylight shone through the semi-transparent poster paints, almost replicating the effect of colored stain glass. I was proud of my achievement, satisfied with the result of painting during many lunch hours. I didn't have to worry about finding playmates, I was preoccupied with doing some serious art for the classroom. Was this teacher perceptive of the difficulty I had mixing into the crowd at recess? Did she intentionally provide me a refuge through art?
But when we returned from Christmas vacation I experienced a disappointment that influenced behavior for life. Here I was, the chosen artist for the class to bring forth Christmas spirit, now told in front of all that I would have to "stay after school" until all the windows were rid of paint. The class laughed at me. I felt like a duped sucker. In my mind I felt I was unfairly placed in detention. I vowed to myself never again to volunteer or accept special projects. I felt punished. For life thereafter, I always hesitate, think twice, before accepting a proposition to share my creative talents.
I remember Mrs. Chung and the fifth grade. She was perceived by me to be an old, firm Chinese teacher. Most of all, however, is that she took an interest in me personally. I could tell I was the "teacher's pet." I remember her saying in front of my mother, "Rodney is something special." By then I was already playing the dreaded accordion in front of class, an instrument I was forced to learn at home or be forced to go to Chinese language school. "He's a talented artist and such a sweet boy." "Someday he'll be somebody." It was all words, nothing ever came of it as far as class recognition or leadership opportunity. I was still introverted in class and it was OK to her as my teacher. No written comments in the report cards of how "Rodney needs to speak up more in class." The acceptance and special attention made Mrs. Chung my favorite teacher for life. Her confidence in me motivated me not to prove her wrong. Yes, genuine caring by a teacher can provide long lasting redeeming hope to the average student.
During the summer before the sixth grade I got entrepreneurial, attempting to sell Kool-Aid on the sidewalk in front of our lawn. It was 5 cents a packet and the ice cubes and water were free. I sold out, but later 2 different mothers of children across the street came and angrily demanded back the money, my profits and costs from drinks sold at a penny a glassful. "They stole from my purse and I want my money back." My mother forced me to rescind my profits; I felt ripped off again by unjust adults. I resented my mother for not standing up for me or at least reimbursing me what must have been merely spare change to her. Unfortunately that first lesson on income never taught me to later watch my money. I have been robbed blind many times, inattentive to financial affairs, too preoccupied with the birthing of newborn visions.
There is an incident in the sixth grade that still bothers me, fifty years later, when I think about it. In fact it became the basis of a research project for a Masters in Education with U.S.C. It was the Easter art project. We all were instructed to connect the dots on the paper, completing the contour lines that composed a rabbit shape. Then after cutting it out, we had to color it with our set of crayons, then staple the thing together to form a bunny Easter basket with handle, then fill it with commercial Easter basket plastic 'grass.' Simple enough. I took the longest time, using every crayon to make my rainbow rabbit. When all rabbits where collected and placed on the front blackboard easer easel, my effort stood out from the field of naturalistic black, brown, and white rabbits. Everyone laughed at me and teased for not knowing the proper colors of rabbits. The teacher did not correct them; she had no cue on the profundity of the moment for me. I felt abused, resented the others who did everything the same. (Later, for decades, I am that rainbow mutant among a school of fish on the dance floor.) In my young heart I knew mine was the best and that some of them were actually jealous. I never wanted to be like the rest. I wanted to make another rabbit even more shocking. Did I become a rebel artist for life that day? For sure I was convinced that early in life that the majority can be wrong in their judgment of artistic value. In dental school as I describe latter, I measured health professional art preferences. Could the spark for this research stem from a child's reaction and interpretation of this 6th grade ridicule? A quote from my research paper:
use of color and drawing in Korean primary schools is related to the
"fourth grade slump" in creativity. Both sexes conform by the fourth grade to coloring and drawing a rabbit
naturalistically. The graphic data curves indicated that the percentages of
creative color usage for the Western and Korean children are strikingly alike.
(1974, masters thesis, U.S.C.)
By that time, when at home, I realized normal children my age respond to my creativity. I organized games and activities during the summer to keep myself occupied and this attracted others to come over and play with me. I alleviated the boredom and idleness of children on this block without a neighborhood park. They were at my disposal for organized races around the block, by bicycle or foot, competing and arguing with each other to attain my trite ribbon awards made of colored construction paper.
It was worth the detention at home, plus a lickin', for turning our back patio's concrete flooring into a race track for tricycles. Cardboard boxes were stacked in the middle, creating an oval track, wet from windswept rain. With a little mud added, it became for us the old Honolulu stadium where we used to attend stock car racing with an uncle. Round and round we went, with Mickey Mantle rookie cards held by clothespins to trash between the wheel spokes, making for a thunderous noise by ten or so tricycles rounding the corners, sliding into the plants, crashing into each other, just like at the real race track. Father was always at work, day and night, and mother was away marketing, leaving us unattended, instructing us to play indoors on that rainy day. It is a memory I cherish forever, even while doing it knowing the trouble I'd get into later when father came home. A spanking for sure, from a tired and overworked man, arriving late at night from that second job to make ends meet in supporting five children on less than $250 a month. He took out his stress on us many a time but I can understand his plight. One call on the phone by stressed out Mother and we were guilty as charged. Penal punishment would be administered upon his arrival back home from the night shift. We would dread the sound of the Studebaker pulling into the driveway. Faking we were already sleeping was no escape from his wrath.
Besides the usual barefoot football over scalding hot asphalt and piercing gravel and glass fragments, I had that unfortunate childhood of putting a softball through the neighbor's front display window. Of course to the adults it didn't matter if it was a "foul ball," not malicious intent. There were no hope for after school sports program for our gang of street kids, so I organized our own make-believe leagues. For the lst generation growing up on Kimokeo Street, I emerged as the ring leader that could be counted on to create fun. When I wanted to play, I could count on finding a few and instructing them to go knock on doors to field the teams. I had come a long way from the solitaire of school recess.
The best was the Miniature Aqua League. I invented miniature basketball to accommodate the small size of our patio, formerly serving as a racetrack. Two wire clothes hangers where reshaped as basketball hoops and makeshift nettings of strings constructed baskets. Each was mounted on the opposing patio walls of this semi-enclosed space. Then with a tennis ball as the basketball, a schedule of games of teams made up of youth from several streets were played, week after week. That patio was the community center. I felt proud to be the organizer of the game and league, knowing my creativity provided innovative entertainment for all. I can still see the multitude of bicycles parked in front of the garage. I myself got pretty good, shooting a tennis ball from afar and making "all air" 3-point shots.
Besides sports related activities, I also organized a postal system among the neighborhood. I drew stamps and sold them. Each neighbor had a secret mailbox in the yard that their parents were not aware of. I would pick up the mail, "postmark" the stamps, glued to folded messages, with the end of a log cabin construction piece dipped in ink, then deliver the "mail." It was fun playing Postmaster General. These early childhood experiences conjured up to avoid boredom reinforced my confidence in my special creative talents and my ability to entertain. It also enforced my interest in stamp collecting (and making) for life.
Off to Niu Valley Intermediate and Incoming
At least by the 7th grade I knew how to make some friends. Entertain through creative ideas. My grades were still average and my artwork in class only in line with normal expectations, nothing noteworthy. I was still that withdrawn shy student in class, still stuck in the first row because of that dreaded "C" in my surname. Middle school passed uneventful except for a few memories. First, Gloria, my first infatuation. Something kicked in, and she became a magnet of romantic attraction. She never knew of my "puppy love," because I remained too shy to let her know, less ask her out. I was the one that sent her unsigned Valentine cards. Looking back, I can say she was actually plain, studious, veiled with thick glasses, and as meek as a mouse. I guess I saw myself in her; we were the same - hopeless introverts with any social graces.
Then there was that shrimp of a man, Glenn, ducked tailed, greasy haired, with turquoise bell bottoms starched as stiff as cardboard. Too puny to convincingly carry that chip on his shoulder or to win a real fight so he picked on me. "Meet me after school to beef (fight)." Maybe because I was almost as short as him (his friends called him "Wimpy") but much thinner. I had to show up that afternoon to prove myself to who knows who. His gang of smokers surrounded us as we glared, tight lipped, at each other. We kept circling, eye to eye, fists to fists, waiting for the other to throw the first blow. I kept telling myself not to cry. The gang urged us on but nothing ever happened. Bored, they finally dispersed in disgust; neither was brave enough to initiate the brawl. I had survived without a scratch, brave enough to show up but too chicken to give him the lickin' he deserved. Back then I never could figure out why he disliked me so. Fifteen years later, after a high school reunion, I as the famous Disco Doc they all knew, invited all to come to my waterfront bachelor pad (Koko Isle island, in Hawaii Kai Marina). I had a hired DJ with portable disco sound system blasting away - until the cops came in response to a neighbor's call to halt too much decibels disturbing the peace. In the dark, on the deck, it was Glenn. I welcomed him, standing there holding my provided drink. He drunkenly replied, "I know what you really are. You can't fool me, you're still a big show off." I walked back to the party inside, not saying a word, thinking to myself, "My God, he never grew up!" Now I knew it was jealousy. It was creativity interpreted as "showing off" that almost got my block knocked off back in middle school.
At Niu I joined and became one of the artists for the annual school book publication. I also represented the school in the state science fair with a game using magnets. I remember thinking that they were desperate that year for any entry by the school as the game was a joke and I knew it.
During these years I remember a sad home incident. I was drawing my usual knights in armor and battleships with planes attacking and my father came along in a particular bad mood. He kicked away the drawing I was working on, kneeling there on the floor, and chastised with "Why don't you stop this childish stuff and use your time to get your grades up instead!?" It hurt but now I think it might have been right after he reviewed my very ordinary grades in the report card. My older sister always had all "A" and went on to become the Vale Victorian of her graduating class in high school. He couldn't help but compare. I think this may have been the beginning of my resolve to remain in school beyond practicality, to rebel through satirical parental obedience. Of course becoming a perpetual college student placed myself in unchartered temporal waters. Through such abeyance, intrigued built upon the unpredictable conclusion of what I could become. Was I becoming a Frankenstein?
There is one trait of my personality that is still persistent today. For me the concept of "the whole is more than the sum of the parts" means building collections or creating in sets or series instead of the singular. During the elementary school years, I amassed satisfying collections of soda bottle caps, milk caps (predecessors to the 90s pog craze, during which I designed, printed, and sold my own to the fad fueled market), sports cards, matchbook covers, marbles, rocks, coins, shells, and postage stamps (I have recently had the opportunity to produce real USA postage stamps with my designs). In the 4th through 6th grade there were happy recesses as I found boys of similar hoarding instincts, satisfied by taking each others milk caps and marbles through game competition. I became quite adept at both, always returning home with bulging pockets of other boys' treasures. Sadly, after enter middle school, I lost interest in these early life collections. Since no collection exists, some undoubtedly of much monetary value today, their unnoticed disappearance from my life can only mean they were thrown out over the course of the years by my parents to make room for the clutter that piles up in a 3/1 (3 bedroom, 1 bath single family property) housing five children.
These first property ownership experiences however created the mind set for a collectic as well as eclectic life time behavior. In latter years I accumulated rock band trophies, memorized songs to build a band's performance repertoire, pop music 45 rpm vinyl, postcards, phonecards (including my own), dating memorabilia, expensive autograph sports cards, pogs, Beany Baby stuff animals, books, insects, fish preserved in alcohol, artwork, computers, Honolulu Marathon certificates (14), research projects, a personal library, journal entries, authored publications, lists of art shows, museum exhibitions, web site visitor hits, inventions, dance styles and steps, yes- photographed girlfriends come and gone, potted plants, states then countries visited, ways to make or do something better, architectural drawings for my alternative dream house, hypothesis formation and testing, sequential art and psychological theories (that led to the artwork manifested today), real estate properties, stocks and other assets to build a diversified financial "portfolio," et cetera. It was always the thrill of the hunt more than passively reviewing of the acquisitions of the accumulating set that provided personal satisfaction.
The desire to gather stamps led to expanding my early childhood perspective beyond the range of the neighborhood. I was exposed to faceless peers around the world, found through the newspaper's pen pal section, most who also were collecting postage stamps piggybacking their mail. I admit many times first removing the stamp and placing it in my collection before reading the letter (cut apart the envelope section with stamp affixed, leave it in water till the glue dissolves, dry the detached, curled stamp between two books to dry it flat, hinge it in the proper nation section of the album). This I believe set the precedent for my interest in networking on the internet with other artists. Then by using my creativity and sense of devising a set to build (for mutual benefit), I founded the Webists and now collect worldwide artists into my cause, my art "-ism" of Webism. In my mind it is the latest of a series of "-isms" of art from the last century.
I'm a Falcon Now!
Rodney, lst row, left
Like in middle school I knew I could count on some social interaction through volunteering for the high school paper and annual as an artist. It was always satisfying to see my name in print under my cartoons in print. But this was nothing to be proud of as a high school student. The opposite sex cared less about some nerdy graphic artist. The football players and rock n' roll band members got the girls' attention and interest. How was I to compete?
For any teenager the emotional power and the energy of pop music is unrelenting. The music of the day, and its style of dancing, helps create youth's group identity, separating them from generations before and after. My high school days, that of the early 60s, found surf music by the likes of The Ventures in vogue. I found myself, sitting in the school cafeteria, politely listening to student rock group after rock group, banging out mistake riddled versions of "Wipe Out" and "Pipeline." Always the same combination of lead, rhythm and bass guitarists and the drummer. I was so jealous. I got stuck learning the accordion, consenting to ten years of tutored lessons, first introduced by a door-to-door music teacher, a big price to have paid in order to avoid the Chinese language school ultimatum. My parents wanted to offer at least one ("That's all we can afford") learning activity outside of public school and this turned out to be it.
Now how was I to get anywhere in popularity with the ladies, playing such a "square" instrument nobody recognized as "cool" in school? Not by playing "O Sole Mio" or the polka. Creativity and a bent for deviant behavior, I adapted the accordion to formulate a hybrid rock n' roll band. My school was shocked when "The Harmonics," accordionists (my brother also got stuck learning the "squeeze box") in the front line, with the standard complements of the rock band in the back, first took to the stage. Instead of becoming a laughing stock, we rose to fame in the high school circuit, culminating as Battle of the Band winners in 1965 at the Blaisdell Center. Over the course of several weekend playoffs, we took the four-foot championship trophy and cash prize by beating 174 other statewide rock bands! Over the course of 6 years we went 11-1 in talent competitions, did television shows, proms, weddings, carnivals, social club parties, even a record, all adding up to over 600 performances on weekends as full time students. I had become the leader of the band, organizing stage presentation (costumes, uniforms, steps in unison, special effects for competition, musical arrangements, scheduling performance appointments, coaching a winning attitude) and keeping us "booked" ahead for 3 months for over 6 years. Our popularity never waned before I quit to go to dental school on the mainland. We even had a fan club of girls but alas, we were so busy practicing and performing as students that I never had any time for the admiring groupies. Yet that was the mean reason for starting a band, to meet girls! But we, like the Beatles, distanced ourselves from our fans. This became an operational given in my life. I was so busy with work, school and creative projects that there was no time for a permanent relationship. I finally married at 41, after collecting ten degrees. It wasn't easy to find someone willing to permit me to continue to daydream my life away, a habit first detected and criticized in grade school. My mother was counseled, "Your son could be a better student if he would quit daydreaming, looking at the sky out the window, instead of paying attention in class." I remember seeing things lurking in those now long gone clouds, similar to the forms I detect today within the abstract patterns of digital image processing.
I should comment that I invented a football board game that filled lunch hours with fun (and wagering) for myself and many other high school boys. It mimicked the action of real football, THE sport that defined a school's reputation among its rivals. During football seasons, some thirty boys could be found circling cardboard miniature football fields with discs representing players. Action was controlled by spinners with numbers, each team with different ratios for speed of running, percentage of pass completions and fumbling the ball. I provided predictions on outcome between paired team competition, based on the math behind the spinners. I became the "house." Boys signed up for teams, paying according to the relative stats of each spinner that came with specific team sets. I set up the season's schedule of match ups. The thrill of the game was so rewarding that I could always count on designated players to show up during lunch hour for their scheduled games. Again, through inventivity, I entertained my peers. This time however, not the neighborhood but my classmates. Unfortunately, the game became a national hit and made millions of dollars for some unscrupulous game company. With no business sense, I had submitted the game to publishers without first securing any copyright protection. But spotting my game's television commercials during Christmas season prime time (in Chicago while in dental school) strengthened my conviction that my creative potential was indeed exceptional.
It's either make it into U.H. or off to Vietnam
Between band gigs and rehearsals I was able to muster a pathetic 2.7 GPA,
good enough make it into the University of Hawaii.
Because this was during the Vietnam war, marching orders at the
university made it
compulsory for all male freshmen and sophomore students to be enrolled in
R.O.T.C. (Reserved Officers Training Corps). For a family unable to finance a
mainland college alternative, it was either get into the U.H. or be drafted.
So I felt relieved to be stomping around on the grounds outside of
Hall instead of beating the bush as a "grunt" in 'Nam like Forest Gump.
Father's simple reply
to me on whether I should select to continue on in R.O.T.C. in the junior and
senior years was, "I was an enlisted man in the Army. I would be proud to
have sons who are officers." I
anyway fully expected to be in Vietnam after graduation so I reasoned that I
might as well be an officer instead of a private. So I hesitantly signed on and
got my commission as a 2nd lieutenant upon graduation from U.H. with a major in
My early childhood fascination with bugs in that Palolo backyard might
the groundwork for a college degree in living things.
I took too many courses in entomology (insects) and ichthyology (fishes)
because I had an interest in these creatures.
I had no clue as to what kind of job this could lead to after graduation. I did think about working in the zoo or possibly doing
research in the zoology department after returning from Vietnam. My letter from the Army upon graduation revealed my
assignment to the Armor branch of the Army.
That translated to platoon leader of APCs, or armored personnel carriers, known
to get stuck in rice paddies during Viet Cong attacks. I
a safe desk job but I was appointed to become a combat tank commander!
If it was not for Sandy, my earlier found sorority girlfriend, I might not have
survived the times.
Her father was a plastic surgeon, she a cute young woman with a brilliant mind that made math problems cry "Uncle!" She ended up transferring and graduating from the University of Michigan to avoid holding the local degree. During our courtship she convinced me that if ever I was to gain her father's approval, I'd have to be more than the guy who "shovels shit in the monkeys' cage." I had to be some sort of doctor. At the time I thought she was worth it so I settled on the predental curriculum. I still majored in zoology but took an extra year to complete the core requirements for both the major as well as prerequisites for application to dental schools. Sandy was pleased. But too young at heart we eventually went our own ways. Ironically her cursory encounter led to my present day occupation as a dentist in private practice.
Dental School in Chicago
After the U.H. I flew into Chicago to join the freshman ranks for the class of '72 at the Loyola University School of Dentistry. The Army conveyed the coveted deferment, and as it turned out, this let the brutal war bypass my life for another four years. I was proud to be a part of 102 students selected from about 1,000 applicants. I was one of two Asians. There was one black, no female. This was 1968.
In dental school I felt like a misfit.
Being one of two Asians, during an Asian war, in a sea of whites and a token black didn't help.
I learned to tie my first tie and to feel comfortable wear a suit to class every day.
I was proud to be in the "big city" and shivered in amazement
under that magical first snow fall. But
with the commencement of philosophical indoctrination to become a dentist,
I worried about how this identity formation would affect my artistic and creative side.
Even as I had made a commitment to become a dentist, there was a
part of me that refused to be subjugated to a growing preoccupation to the
idealized form of dental anatomy, to salivate over the perfect golden crown. At times it seemed the human body was merely a suspension
system to accommodate the spotlighted stage of dentition. My God, by the senior
year I was starting to
lust over silver and gold fillings' polish and groovy detailing! I
wondered if I could ever go back to
florals and landscapes that so satisfied my soul back in Paradise?
Calling of Art
The artist within would not wait but seized the moment. At the end of the
grueling first two years of medial oriented curriculum (anatomy, physiology,
biochemistry, cytology, oral pathology, etc.) the emphasis changed to self-directed
clinical time. Student dental work was free if a volunteer patient was willing to be a guinea
pig. Suddenly, if I was willing to work extra hard, I could
fulfill my latent dream of enrolling in art school.
Triton College with an art department was only a mile away from the dental school so the temptation
was great to cross the tracks, figuratively as well as literally. So began my goal
of not only becoming a student of art but to pursue a second career and
eventually become a professional artist.
Now enrolled in a formal alternative school of education, I could look
from the outside at my dental peers and accept the fact that I did not share
their common personality traits and values.
Like in grade school, I was a misfit. So I managed to position myself as director of my contrived dental school
reception area annual art show by staff and faculty. Inspecting the yearly
work entries, I gained assurance that my art was indeed superior to that
of other dentists. Some faculty knew I was concurrently in art school but it was
more accepted as I was now a resource of expertise for their annual exhibition,
showcased in the Loyola all campuses newsletter. I was surprisingly amazed at the
apparent psychological need by faculty to show that they had artistic talent,
though stunted at amateur status through no formal educational
development. Most of the works "sucked." My own art starred among such mediocrity. Nevertheless,
I was the self appointed judge and affixed my home made award ribbons on
the best of the lot. Of course my art was never selected, as well as that
of any instructor I didn't like.
Like in grade school, I was a misfit. So I managed to position myself as director of my contrived dental school reception area annual art show by staff and faculty. Inspecting the yearly work entries, I gained assurance that my art was indeed superior to that of other dentists. Some faculty knew I was concurrently in art school but it was more accepted as I was now a resource of expertise for their annual exhibition, showcased in the Loyola all campuses newsletter. I was surprisingly amazed at the apparent psychological need by faculty to show that they had artistic talent, though stunted at amateur status through no formal educational development. Most of the works "sucked." My own art starred among such mediocrity. Nevertheless, I was the self appointed judge and affixed my home made award ribbons on the best of the lot. Of course my art was never selected, as well as that of any instructor I didn't like.
I couldn't resist the opportunity to study my colleagues, "lab rats" for my psychological approach to self inquiry. I secured special credit, an excuse to approach fellow dental and medical students as to why I was requesting their responses to an art evaluation test, concealing the truth that I was fulfilling my desire to analyze who they were, who I was. The art school could not grant such self-directed study so I pursued enrollment at neighboring Rosary (Girls) College. I met with a faculty nun and contended the school should not discriminate against my sex, that I wanted to study fellow health professional students for the sake of learning more of the nature of art and to find peace within. I prayed for acceptance. Then I lied and said I used to be an altar boy. She consented to "directed research" in her office; the female student body never knew (I am probably the only male ever to take a course at Rosary and it won't be found in the school records!), and I dutifully did research on art appreciation differences among dental, medial, liberal arts, and art students. My conclusions after the study proved to myself I did not belong. I did not have a dentist's personality. But I had mastered the same clinical proficiency for the practice of dentistry.
I also found time during these years in Illinois to study clinical dental hypnosis and
also apply it to art research. With studies of afterimages of the retina and later
as technique to evaluate my hypothesis
that art preferences from our subconscious might differ
from what we select while in the conscious state. Upon dental school I
tried to "have my cake and eat it." I applied and got accepted
into both the specialty program of pedodontics (children's dentistry, today a
million dollar a year practice is achievable) and art graduate school.
Unfortunately, the distance between the two schools was over fifty miles.
I was up to the task, positioning myself in a rented townhouse unit in a town
(St. Charles, IL) midway between the two schools. Sadly, driving a hundred miles a
day, to day dental school and night art classes proved too strenuous, even
with my special reservoir of energy. I choose life as a graduate art student
(Northern Illinois University) and quit "pedo," a milestone major
career and life decision. I could have been filthy rich. I was quickly surprised at the long
arm of the Army. Being commissioned through R.O.T.C., I was their man and
I was yanked to active duty without finishing the semester in art school.
Enrollment in an arts program held no value to the military. They
Captain Rodney Chang
I filled out "Europe" in the questionnaire sent upon induction. Why
not apply for a location as war away from the war zone as possible? The war was still on
so I must consider myself lucky to be assigned to a dental clinic in South
Korea, even if that duty station was Camp Casey along the DMZ (Demilitarized
Military Zone, or the no man's land between North and South Korea). I was one of six
dentists attached to the 2nd Infantry Division comprised of 4,000
infantrymen. That was a bizarre place to send a young man. It was
surrounded by barbed wire and nightly roving search lights from elevated watch
towers scanned its perimeters. It appeared like a prison. It was
martial law then, any one walking the streets at midnight could be shot on sight
by the South Korean military. Any shadowy figure could be that of a North Korean
infiltrator. After six months of telephone pleas by my mother, the dental
commander finally surrendered to her nagging and I was transferred down to a
safer duty station and civilization. I spent the rest of my active military tour on staff at the
8th Army military health facility in bustling Seoul. I had my own off base
apartment and a sporty, grasshopper green car. To not waste away
educationally, I matriculated into U.S.C.'s evening master's program in
education. I did my thesis on a comparison between Western and Korean
school children drawing development and color preferences. Interestingly the
classes on base was a snap. I got all A's, beating out all the senior officers enrolled to
promote the opportunity of securing a teaching position in civilian life after
retirement from the military. I lost a little faith in military
leadership after that program. It was here that I learned to "disco,"
hanging out in the shanty bars that Gi.I.s patronize. As choreographer of
my former band's fancy steps for competition and now dance clubbing as an off
duty serviceman, the roots of the future "Disco
Doc" were planted.
Last Dance? Or Play It Again, Sam!
Being stationed here provided another influential turning point in my life. I discovered the dance clubs. To relieve the stress of boredom doing dentistry under military rule, I partied at nights and developed my style of pre-disco that I still practice till the present. Modified of course, to prevent obsolescence. This month (November, 2004) I regrettably turn 59-pushing-60. As much as dance has been a wonderful companion through the decades, I always wondered how long I could last in the Waikiki dance scene. What would breakdown first? Would, at 40, then 50, now 60, the legs go first? Even if the desire was there, would I make an old fool of myself disco dancing among the young? Surprisingly, my dance actually became stronger and stronger! What I lose in agility I make up through long term practice. And finally, after decades of insecurity about how good I look as a public dancer, I finally consider myself a professional. I perform for the passive audience imbibing before they would dance. I now feel like a local dance legend, performing steps of pop dancing from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. When I finally retire from the scene surely some will miss me. So my ego hopes. I am probably the last standing disco dancer possessing Saturday Night Fever and I am proud of the heritage I represent and embody. I wonder if this extended energy to wash, get dressed, and step out to boogie on weekends is one and the same as the restless spirit that was enclosed in that sleeping bag back in grade school? I like to think so. Having run the marathon averaging every other year since turning 30 also helps me stay fit for the dance floor. It's a hip hopping school of fish today, but I am free to dance whatever style specific songs suggest. I take pride demonstrating the historic steps in vogue when songs were at the top of the charts. In such swirls of movement I relive the past and time stops for me. (retired from disco dancing at 60, here dance clips at my 60th birthday party, held in a dance club!)
After my stint in Korea I returned to the cold wintry campus of Northern
Illinois and finished up my masters in Studio Art, with emphasis in Painting
& Drawing. Thereafter I had no other excuse to procrastinate so returned
to my home town to establish myself in
private dental practice. I received a family's welcome and support.
Your Neighborhood Dentist, Not!
I never cared about making money. Maybe because I grew up in a generation who was warned "money is the root of all evil." Maybe because spiritually I am an artist. Generating fees came easily in dental practice but I choose to delegate my finances to strangers who naturally cared less about somebody else's revenue or embezzled the profits. With such self defeating apathy for business administration I choose to go back to school during evenings and weekends, further distancing myself from fiscal responsibility. I still had not gotten my fill for art, for the classroom, now by second nature a safe haven for personal nurturance and growth. The "A"s came easy. After all, my father with Chinese traditional values did say to me "Education is the most important thing in life." I think he later regretted saying this as he watched me endlessly graduate during his lifetime. Possibly, as subconscious revenge for stepping on my art in the past and forcing his generation's values on me, I confounded him by remaining a proclaimed "professional student." Poor dad served as receptionist and bookkeeper, and without pay, during the first years of my beginning practice. I moved back into his house. He labored with the bills as his son scampered off to college courses in psychology and art. I owe him and my mother a depth of gratitude. Although they never could understand me, they persevered with the rebel "black sheep" of the five. They watched disco girlfriends come and go. They watched indecipherable art made accumulate without any sales, not like the good old days of comprehensible florals and landscapes that raised school tuition, before my work got distorted and abstracted by a Chicago art school's influence. I remained student status; the classroom my prolonged chrysalis. All wondered, including myself, what I would eventually turn out to be. A beautiful butterfly or a squashed bug?
In a painting class at the U.H. I asked some esoteric questions about aesthetic theory. The instructor warned me to "paint more and think less" and I would become a better artist. This realization of ingrained art student indoctrination initiated my search to find out "what is art?" outside the corridors of the art classroom. I enrolled in psychology classes guessing art was mental, always taking note what might be applicable to the nature of art when new psychological concepts were introduced in classes.
Why not continue my orgy of courses since the G.I. Bill was willing to finance it? In order to also learn more about myself, to try to discover why they say "dentists have the second highest suicide rate among professionals" (second only to psychiatrists), I entered a graduate program in the Counseling Psychology (University of Northern Colorado) at the Kaneohe Marine Base. Not just out of artistic curiosity, but self preservation.
After so many accumulated degrees it became self evident I could not retire from
college without picking up a Ph.D. Just to also be some other type of
doctor than a dentist was tantalizing. I rationalized that no matter how
good my artwork, the public would always perceive it as hobby results of a
doctor. I needed to have my art doctored with credentials of the highest
order. For me, a Masters in Art in Studio Art was not enough; the Masters
of Fine Arts overrode it. Per chance I discovered Union Graduate School's
learner centered, self-directed course of study. This enabled me to become
a doctoral student and still remain bogged down paying overhead in a struggling
practice. Plus pay the exorbitant tuition for this "university
Da Waiting Room and the Disco Doc
I built my doctoral program around exploratory readings on the nature of art. "What is art?" Surely, it was much more than what varieties end up as the holy grail, or immortalized as art history. That's what the college instructors accepted. I wanted to search for the essence of this thing we call "art." I had a hunch the answers to my quest, in order to be a better professional artist through a sense of purpose and mission, laid outside the realm of formal fine arts education. Through the flexibility of the Union leaner centered program, I was given the green light to attempt to fuse art and psychology into a new field. Armed with masters in both fields (a prerequisite for acceptance into the doctoral program), my doctoral committee consented to my proposal for a phenomenological approach in research for insight into the art process. Creativity could be used to set up learning situations. For example I used fantasy to interview deceased historic artists. That Picasso was a funny guy.
I would be that white rat in a lab coat by day, art psychology researcher in disco clothes by night. Remaining single presented no problem with the obstacle of family responsibilities.
Such a support group from academia gave me the courage to dare to pull off
constructing a discotheque in my dental clinic. Why not, I reasoned, bring
my passion for disco dance and clubs into the office and expose my true self to
my patients? Be authentic. Don't hide behind the white smock. Why not replace the entryway to the perceived horror chambers
of electric (dental) chairs with the merry atmosphere of a dance party? Why not
neutralize fear and pain with pleasure from the then popular tunes of the day?
I did it, did not lose my licensure to continue in practice, and my mother's
stern warnings of a self inflicted impending financial apocalypse from such a
horrific interior design did not materialize. Doom did not fall
Instead, America put me on the national television pedestal and dubbed me "The
Disco Doc." The syndicated
television show beamed around the planet. For a moment I was the most
popular dentist in the world! My doctoral committee nodded their
approval. They said "fly us all over to Hawaii, you are ready for your
final oral defense of your thesis." It was an expensive school.
I had to provide 5 round trips to Hawaii, including one from New York, and hotel
accommodations in Waikiki. I had to pass on this first round!
Fortunately, they could see the cleverness in promoting one's art career even while stuck on the job as a dentist. For the psychologist and artist on the committee I had integrated my conflicting social roles and thereby reduced personal mental chaos. The dental association was informed this was a sociological experiment to study the delivery of dental services, to provide an "alternative health care environment" for phobic patients. I did the stats with a survey of client attitudes as to whether to return to a traditional waiting room or keep the discotheque. 86% choose the latter, I documented the results that provided a satisfactory phenomenological experience that supported my thesis , thereby fulfilling an important part of the requirement for my Ph.D. in Art Psychology. Disco music, dentistry, and dance were pragmatic for the acquisition of the Ph.D.!
Of course just as importantly was the luxury of time set aside to read about aesthetics to incubate my own ideas about the concept of "art." Life was wonderful back then; I was engulfed in a constant whirlwind of hypotheses generated from a "review of the literature." I published ideas on the relationship between a theoretical mental evolution and the behavioral response of art appreciation. I devised a hypothetical formula that might predict how people select what they like. I devised a diagram depicting how the artist and his visual stimulus (artwork) fit into society, one not being able to be divorced from the other. Through the Ph.D. I gain something most professional artists never secure through their education. Like the dental school creates graduates that think as dentists, my customized doctoral internship materialized an ingrained philosophy and theory of art for my need as practicing artist. I now had purpose to make art. Consequently, every piece of art I produce is anchored in much more than what beholds the eye. Within the confusion that is merely abstract for most, is embedded a logic that goes way deeper than the lines or paint and farther out than the limits of designated art history. Through my extended higher education discovery process, I became a freer artist without conventional restraints that restrict other artists to acceptable media and approving public taste. And luckily I didn't have to make a living at it.
Not everything has to visually show up in the art to make subliminal impact. Through such a left brain, right brain developmental process across multidiscipline educational programs not before integrated, the transition from traditional art materials to the computer as tool was an easy no brainer. I did not have the same phobia like most other artists in the 80s that the computer was the threat that could replace their need in society. I instead saw it as an extra brain, or at least an extra pair of hands. After all, Einstein said genius is "1 percent inspiration and 99% perspiration." I am not living in Renoir's or Seurat's time. I am very willing to be inspired by digital image processing, to key in components that can result in randomly conjured imagery, then let the computer do all the work to manifest the completed picture. Embracing such liberating methodology, why then should I slave away to replicate the virtual to a tangible commodity for posterity's sake? I thumb my nose to the work ethic of authorship, the glorification of manual labor as criteria to be considered a worthy artist, to spend nights alone slaving away at a canvas, to not have time to dance. I outsource my designed visionary painters to others who I affectionately as well as sarcastically call my "human printers." They, like the computers, are also hands, hired to assist in the manifestation of my vision.
With the faithfulness of a lover's commitment I continued to dance the nights away in Waikiki. I thought many times of myself as a candle burning at both ends, but still possessed the God given energy and organization skills to manage my time, preventing chaos from derailing my daily accomplishments. Work, school, paint, dance, work, school, paint, dance, etc, with the intermittent other sex companionship. I visualized myself as the classic Type A workaholic. I strived on a treadmill like a white rat in a wheel. I watched money come and go but just continued with the flow until I would be finally "out of school." After entering college in 1963 I finally got out in 1983. Ripley's Believe It or Not! took note of this. By the way I did inquire with the Guinness folks. A formal reply mocked my acquisition of a mere ten degrees. "You need 18 to beat the record." This was another reason to drop out of school, to finally walk away from the classroom and enter the rat race of the "real world," make a living, take my shot at infamy by making waves against entrenched localized traditional "art."
My Own Gallery Too
While role playing as the Disco Doc, I also ventured into an alternative personal lifestyle. Instead of a prominent doctor's residence as refuge after clinical hours, I choose to live in a back street ghetto warehouse. It afforded the convenience of walking to work, saving time lost by most in this city's busy traffic congestion. I tried not to walk those streets after dark. Many of its dwellers had delinquent dental service accounts and where sent to the collector- by me. But for five years I braved the opportunity to offer an alternative art gallery for young experimental artists of this city. As surreal a scene as you could imagine, I'll always remember the golden stretch limousine I rented to take visitors back and forth from the dental building to the gallery warehouse's first opening show. It would be the only stretch limousine some of those ghetto kids would ever ride. Many were aggressive enough to fetch rides back and forth, between gallery and dental clinic, riding with the middle class white guests from the suburbs. The children turned it into their own carnival ride and I didn't stop them. Riding in a golden chariot along with unkempt children on welfare was guests' perfect introduction to the graffiti embellished warehouse turned underground gallery.
The conservative art society of Honolulu didn't have a clue as to what Soho Too Gallery & Loft was all about. But it made for good copy in the local papers. To read about an eccentric dentist forcing himself into becoming a starving artist helps sell newspapers. From within those dreary concrete walls with no windows, only brighten by the monthly revolving artworks, I founded the Hawaii Computer Art Society (1985). Those early efforts to legitimatize digital art still continue through the renamed DASH group, now led by retired U.H. Art Professor, Arthur Nelander, M.F.A., Ph.D.. I also spent time networking with the traditional artists by volunteering to man the presidency of the Association of Hawaii Artists. It was a worthwhile internship but demanded too much community service time to manage the interests of 500 artists. I swore after my term I'd never do that again! It was within this grim yet creative space that I started up as a digital artist on what then was considered more a toy than a real art tool. I still love my first computer lover, the Amiga 1000. The pioneering work I did with this system with only 1 megabyte of ram (!) garnered me a multi-page interview in Amiga Computer Art World magazine with international circulation (1989). It was here that I too found the love of my life, my wife, the former Erlinda Feliciano.
Along Came the Web and a place to Play House again
After hundreds of thousands of dollars spent to establish my art career through gallery and museum exhibitions, here and abroad, I was open to a more affordable and efficient way to continue the struggle of establishing respect for my work. I had financed solo exhibitions in world museums but after the works came down and the lights turned off, what was there left other than my own documented memories? "Fifteen minutes of fame" isn't enough for the long term career artist. Like the actress or singer that stops performing, the artist and his work disappears from public consciousness. If his work had not achieved a certain level of notoriety, after death the works might be relegated to the trash bin, or even suffer the worst fate of ending up in garage sales, swap meets and even on a shelf at the Salvation Army! Heaven forbid that should happen to my work! I would rather burn them all while still alive. I have lived long enough to see all these outcomes come to pass and realize "artists get rich and famous after they're dead" is a myth.
With the advent of the Net I could build my own make-believe online museum to house my art in their original form, that of the digital medium. I write that digital artists have the advantage on the Internet because online, originals are displayed. The art medium is identical with the means of presentation. Here in virtual space all Picassos and Van Goghs displayed at brick n' mortar museum web sites are reproductions! Pirate my work online and you are stealing my originals! This is definitely a reason that original digital imagery is a hard sell within the current traditional art marketing structure. I need patience to wait for the era when signed limited editions of DVDs for playback in electronic wall mounted frames becomes the new popular collectible of the Information Age. I believe that when new generations come of age and have purchasing power, their cultural artistic preferences will shift from century old "masterpieces" to art of the medium relevant to their time and lifestyle. By then "modern art" will be antiques. Within that future social context I see my works doing well commercially. However by then I may already be a historical figure, part of that first wave of digital art pioneers experimenting, struggling for significance and recognition, back at the turn of the century, in an as yet unenlightened society. I am proud to have famous Laurence Gartel as my colleague and friend.
I bothered to investigate the 3D format to add realism to the display experience. Users of my Web site are considered visitors of my "real" museum that resides in virtual reality. To add variety and international range I surround my own work with the best digital art that I can find searching the Internet. Invited discovered artists are delighted to get congratulatory email offering induction of their work into my virtual museum. I love to be a provider of recognition to my fellow artists! I invite digital artists to exhibit. I pay all server costs, do all the labor, and as a result, I truly have a world acclaimed online museum boasting global recognition and attendance. Over a million visitors have come through the home page of Truly Virtual Web Art Museum and this is only the beginning. As you read now, people anywhere on the planet are entering the virtual museum. I plan to place the site in my living trust, force my descendents to maintain the site in order to collect their inheritance. It is only fair that my works should continue to live on as pioneering work made for the Internet's visual arts cyber culture. To formalize things, I dubbed Webism to label a new movement, art "-ism" if you wish, to declare my artistic intention, concepts, and content different from all that came before the advent of the Internet. I am fortunate to have a growing following of Webists, located on every continent of the planet, including a co-founder of DELL computers. Some even flatter me by calling me a "master" and "guru." All of a sudden the world is a much smaller place for me as artist. Through cooperative networking we digital types might eventfully convince the market of the legitimacy of our medium and eek out a living that uses our passion and talent. I no longer feel isolated in the middle of the ocean. Oahu no longer is my restrictive play pen. I have found friends abroad to invent and play global art games together. As a digital artist isolated on an island, I am no longer alone.
is it "Art?"
Photography, declared a fine arts medium for over a hundred years now, still fights for respectability as a collectible. Harvey Read, M.F.A., an unemployed photographer and long time friend now residing in San Diego, just told me so. I however do hope that cultural shifts can accelerate in this ever rapidly changing technological social climate. Every era has its cultural artifacts that derive from the reality of that moment's present day. I am sure digital art will eventual dominate an art world and establishment based within an informational era of technology. Blue chip artwork, also known as masterpieces, will someday become obsolescent to the cultural taste and sensitivity of new generations weaned with i-Pod, wireless laptops and cell phones. In fact, in a scene in "Back to the Future," future kids mock when they discover an present day arcade game booth. They deride the game console with "What, you have to use your hands (to aim and pull the trigger of a wired gun of the game console)? It's a baby's game!" In such a manner might a Dali or Renoir be slighted. "What, he had to paint it with a brush? The computer can do that in a minute!" So the powers that rule supreme today continue their battle to defy the value of anything digital as it threatens their very existence. I can understand their legitimate fear. I have to admit the Picasso and Van Gogh in our Honolulu Academy "Modern Art" gallery look so dated to me, so out of sync with my developed digital aesthetic sensitivity. They really look like cultural artifacts from a distant period, totally irrelevant to contemporary cultural values and my identity. As a digital artist I have harnessed the power and it has escorted me into a creative realm of new found imagery from where there is no turning back.
Devil May Care Attitude or "Just Do It, Baby!"
All this is of secondary concern. Mine is the power to create anew, blind to the status quo forces that attempt to silence me. But I have hope in the ordinary people, that they are not blind to innovation positioned in front of their eyes, adapted to an ever increasing digitized world. Innovation in art is more compatible with today's gadgetry lifestyle than some old painted piece of cloth framed in decorative wood peeling plaster, remnant vision of deceased generations' world views. There are more beautiful things that high technology permits to visualize. For the 80s I fashioned a "Pixelism." Like classical music I compose abstracts more in tune with the amorphous universal spirit of man. No subject matter to limit the scope of interpretation, a free fall into unconscious levels of feeling and thinking, all resurfacing as one through the mystifying aesthetic experience we call the appreciation of art.
Beyond the Reef Beckons as the Sun Sets in My Life
Turning 59-going-on-60 forces me to make hard life decisions. I have done my time as a community dentist; August makes 30 years in private practice, a respectable exit for any occupation. I do feel tired as a dentist, but not as artist. I find myself prone to plan (wisely) a way to relocate my life and family on the continental West Coast. That would secure a better vantage point that provides me a new perspective as to where I take my art as continuing working artist in my senior years. The four seasons -ablaze with fall's colors, buried in wintry snowflakes, immersed in summer forest green- will be inspiring for change not just within my art but for my children's development and expanded personal experience prior to becoming American adults. I think I'm falling in love again, this time with Oregon. Hey maybe I'll kill time taking college courses along with my kids at the University of Oregon and even Lane Community College in Eugene. Maybe I will go for 12 (degrees), just to keep busy and not spend too much time wasting away in McDonald's. Or finally be able to sit still long enough to just "watch the grass grow," in my own pasture, filled with bugs.
Closing: How I See Things Living in the Present
With Comments on My Presence at the Teachers Conference for the Gifted Student Conference
I finally left the college campus at 38-pushing-forty. Like a gypsy without any allegiance to turf pinned to an alma mater, I harvested 10 "sheepskins" into my backpack before time itself warned me, tempus fugit, or "Enough is enough!" I mean, no self delusion could warp the fact that I was then truly into the "middle age" of my life, and had spent, and yes, indulgently, my whole life to that juncture, in the classroom. Crazy or gifted?, people always want to know. Just as frequently, like test questions bundled together, they incessantly quiz, "WHY?" and "Was it worth it?" At 59-pushing-sixty, I still reply that I don't know for sure. The ambiguous answer without clarity, sure to flunk me today in the SAT's essay format, disappoints. But it's easy to walk away without closure from he who remains an enigma even to himself. As for me I am left alone to continue to try to figure out just "what" I am. But because of my mental constitution, precious is the time when there is introspective time to ponder the clinical nature of my affliction. Life continues to be a constant bombardment of alternative scenarios to act upon or reject, chained to an elastic continuum between security and potentially self-destructive behavior.
Ah, for example, do I chameleon-blend in, not "make waves," muzzle my mind like the mask that I wear when delivering "dental work," or provide gentle-dental-care-with-a-flair by "acting out" my fantasy of a discotheque reception area, complete with hired disc jockey and complying dancing patients? Do I keep the 3 girlfriends (in a devised rotational system, albeit "free love" wild 70's) - or "settle down" and marry "the right one" and have kids? Do I take my chances in Vietnam, do my patriotic duty, or run off to dental school and thereby secure a granted deferment to ride out the war? Do I continue, at 59, to now classical, disco dance and thereby resist being overwhelmed by the irritating Brownian Motion stirred up by the day's school of juvenile fish, now hip-hopping in conformity to be the mainstream? In fact, will I even bother to put on my boogie shoes at 60, after "Saturday Night Fever's may have subsided? Do I continue to throw away all my money on altruistic projects that lure me, again and again, close to the edge of financial doom (and now with a family to support - and put through Punahou)? In the past, like a contemporary warehouse gallery (Soho Too, Gallery & Loft, 1985-1990) on a gang riddled back street in slummy Kalihi with no hope for commercial success, or borrowing a million dollars to build a museum for juried-rejected (Honolulu Academy of Arts, 9 times, "Artists of Hawaii" annual) "computer art" on residential zoned property (Na Pali Haweo ridge, Hawaii Kai, "The Pygoya House," 1994) - unfit, as it turned out, for a "normal" family environment? Do I make art from the hypnotic trance or come straight and produce safe florals and landscapes that people buy? Do I make "real" art or risk my art career by committing to virtual, digital art (still non-art to most "experts")? More daring yet, do I defy the stodgy critics, bastardize conventional art work ethics by signing paintings designed but not executed by me? Will "they" crucify me for such blasphemy as an artist? Will I through such an act cease to be considered an artist? Do I pursue my latest invention of a better way to wiped our butts (patent applied for; hint: wouldn't it be nice not to have to use your own hand?), at the risk of becoming the infamous "Do-Do doctor," or the dentist that inadvertently got renown - for his work at the other orifice? Do I throw away my dental practice, call it a career, retire early when sentenced to retire later than most for the lost time in school (20 years in college) and art (turned "pro" in 1982 and to the present), in order to beat the system ( retire before the last child is out of college)? Why pay $40,000 for out-of-state versus $4,000 (x 3 kids x 4-5 years each, not including graduate school) if I just moved there, a place also with a much lower cost-of-living? Life can be tough and frustrating for a guy that's different and with a name like Rodney.
Life for me has been a blitz of insights into alternative solutions to conflicts as they arise in life. I was never one to pick the shortest, easiest, approved, and guaranteed path between problem and resolution. Instead, I seem genetically inclined to add complexity, through uncontrollable flexibility, to succeed with unnecessary difficulty. Why is that? To see what happens? To learn from my mistakes? To learn how life is art and art is life first hand? To make art for creativity's, not art's sake? To continue the phenomenological experimentation of self as a lab rat of life?
What makes me tick? That IS the enigma, the curse of my existence, the opportunity of a life time, the seed for this rewarding joy ride yet troubled life. It is the reason I was identified, selected, to stand (sit?) in front of you today, as if a unique specimen (case study) to be scrutinized under the microscope, indeed a lab rat in a white lab coat.
If you find out something, let me know!
Yes, this is a seminar for teachers that identify and work with the gifted.
No, you may not have the right guy.
When perceptive and resourceful Sharon Kusunoki (Hawaii Department of Education, Human Resources, Gifted Student Program) cold-called me at the office to land me as your guest speaker, another "alternative" life situation presented itself. Do I take off the mask (literally too, as when she called I already had a full day of scheduled patients in the books that needed to be cancelled to accommodate this fixed seminar date), reveal my eccentricities, in front of 100 experts tooled with tests that can separate the gifted from the less desirable insane or sociopath? Do I choose to lose family income in order to momentarily donate my brain to science through this opportunity to learn more about myself, before escalating senior moments blur my effort in staying visionary?
Well, here I am!
I hesitated over the phone, disclosing my insecurity in and revulsion for public speaking, not having advanced much over the decades in performance since that "D" in Public Speaking. I told Sharon "I don't know" if I'd come before you. She skillfully countered with "Well, just think about it." Unexpectedly, what most persuaded me to leave my comfort zone next to the dental chair was the unintentional impact that Sharon had through that short phone call. Ah, the miracles created by good teachers!
She accomplished, although unwittingly it seems (but I cannot judge her competence in psychotherapy from a few minutes as a voice on the receiver), what two psychiatrists could not do for me in prior sessions (even if it was great lying on the couch and spilling my guts out with a tantrum; fun!). In her con to get me, a total stranger to her (she spotted my art in a restaurant and thought it was innovative, did a little research and tracked me down), I became momentarily her student! How could this be, and without a registered enrollment via tuition or professional fee?
As I hesitated (incubating for a decision over this stress inducing situation that could be avoided) with the request to speak here today, I heard myself, almost like an abandoned, lost child, defiantly proclaim, "I know I'm gifted" (Nobody needs to tell me that). God, I couldn't believe I said that; I didn't realize this was still an issue.
In a soft and deliberate demeanor that successfully traversed the static phone lines and my growing tinnitus (which I blame on too many decades of high speed dental drills and blasting disco woofers), she replied with a mother's acknowledgement and acceptance I never got, "Yes, I know you are gifted." Just to hear that verbalized, from an expert in the field that researched the literature, lifted the heavy burden of a lifetime in proving - I'm not crazy.
Or at least momentarily overriding early childhood painful appraisals of what I was, as I searched for who I am. Flash backs from the past -
Grandmother: nicknamed given to me, "Ngong-tin-sue"
(Haka dialect for "idiot")
1st Grade teacher: placement into Reading Group 3 (I was smart enough to know who else were in the group, that we got hand-me-down booklets, featuring Tom, Mary, and Flip, from the other more articulate and gregarious groupings)
Mother: "You're the black sheep of the family.... you will be the cause for my heart attack."
Father: "Stop this childish stuff, get your grades up instead, you'll starve being an artist" (as he stepped on my drawings on the floor); "Act your age!"
High School counselor: "You're not college material, you should go to technical school."
Dental school instructor: "You better watch yourself or you'll find yourself on the shit list and in Chiropractic school"
Art professor: "Stop asking so much questions (about the nature of art) and paint more... if you want to graduate on time."
Certified Public Accountant: "Stop being so creative; you're 6 months from bankruptcy as a dentist."
Office manager (later, forme lst Lady of Hawaii, Governor's wife): "Either the disco or I go!" (I kept the disco interior)
Fellow Dentist, multimillionaire: "I thought you said you would quit art if you didn't make it by 40 and here you are at 50. (loser)"
An assortment of past
relationships: "You're schizo," "I cannot stand being around you,
you make me so nervous, why can't you just do nothing," "You're
eccentric," "I will not be second fiddle to your art,"
"Goodbye, you have no time for me," "I hate you, I hope you
die," "Wouldn't it be a joke if after all these degrees you end up
being nothing special," "You're so in love with yourself you're
never find anybody to love you," "I thought all doctors were
rich, - Goodbye," "You're just like my father and I hate
him," "You're weird," "I gotta get
away from you, you're energy level makes me jittery," "Sorry, I
found somebody else who has time for me," "Just thought I'd call and
see if you're still alive yet," "You're too complicated,"
"You make me feel like a nothing," "Sorry, you're not my
type," and most hurting, "You're crazy and don't even know it."
So, through this maze of mixed messages by "normal" people it's consoling to receive a pat on the back for wellness by an expert. Thanks, Sharon!
But then again, you could be wrong. The doubts always resurface. They always do when the next unavoidable life situation presents itself. They even come through as nightmares. My gift or problem is, when a problem or opportunity arises, it seems my mind leaps to conjure up creative alternative solutions, leading me to accept the challenge instead of forgoing and staying on the current course of life. No not me, impulsively switch horses, dive into untested waters, do it with deviant methodology, survive to be rewarded. For example, the sleepless nights full of angst, questioning the fate of my budding dental career due to the transformation of my normal clinic into a discotheque (1979-1996), all for thrill seeking and a shot at artistic international recognition (which did happen) for pulling off a dare devil stunt like that. An artist needs exposure and publicity. This was a way to get it creatively as an on-the-job as a health provider, confident his clinical skills could weather any storm of criticism.
But through all the trepidation, the highs of living on the edge of normality, even jumping off the cliffs of reality through becoming the "director of a virtual online museum" (play house, make believe?), there is that pay off that continues to feed the fire within to remain rebelliously different/abnormal/deviant/uniquely alone: the victory of novel accomplishment through innovation, conquering conformity with projects of the imagination materialized, by having done it "my way."
More convincing to continue to pay the price of living in a chaotic and risking inner world than Sharon's "You're OK verdict, and in fact, are gifted" and a previous perfect test score on the Rap's Test for Creativity (1980), at age 59, is the documented trail of accomplishments of this life, post-graduations. I remember upon achieving the Ph.D., the final 10th degree, reflecting within that if I died that day (age 38), I had reached the summit of my metaphorical Mt. Everest, that I would go peacefully and contented with life.
Being the rebellious, anti-team player has been rewarding, I believe, also for society. I have done good, I have lived a worthy life. I have contributed to my world, I have impacted culture as a cultural change catalyst that I strived to become after college. I have taken thousands out of oral pain, and done most of it painlessly through compassion. I am leading an attack on last century's old fortress of an art establishment that continues to exile digital artists worldwide, like myself. In spite of my personality idiosyncrasy, I continue to try to be a conventional parent for my three children, by making the conscientious attempt to behave as a responsible adult, even as a part of me refuses to ever grow up..
My life has been enriched with the gift to dare, survive, and succeed by remaining different. I have in the past been diagnosed and placed on both sides of the continuum of normality. This has contributed to personal conflict and confusion as to in what capacity do I function in society. But I believe the life strategy of not listening to others, following my instincts knowing that innovation for the common good and the extension of progress are worthy goals, documenting of accumulating novel achievements to dull ever lurking self doubts of abnormality, reflecting on the past and realizing the enrichment such behavior has rewarded this life, makes me feel blessed for being born the way I am. If I had to do it over, well then, I'd spend my life the same way again. What a joy ride it's been! And I remain humble enough to realize I am nothing but God's will.
In a way I have been my own test tube baby for the sake of unabridged creativity unleashed for better or for worse. I remember when people were in awe just to touch me because I was there, in the flesh, in a Waikiki dance club, as the Disco Doc that they recognized from national television. It's a rare person that can experience how it feels to be an object of attraction, a mysterious enigma, more than a walking, talking celebrity but a dancing piece of living sculpture. Realization of this phenomenon as an emerging experimental artist was invaluable. Such personalized learning enabled me to finally depart from formal education. It led to the realization that life and it's problems and opportunities was a lifelong schooling in itself. The grade was not a letter, not even the financial bottom line, but satisfaction or disappointment on how one's time had been spent on that final day of judgment. I believe I have and continue to contribute towards a better world.
In closing, I want to caution teachers that evaluate students not to inadvertently place latent gifted students on the wrong track. In my case, I was delegated to the below average group, criticized for too much day dreaming and not enough hand raising participation in class. I was never popular, in fact self-conscious of being alone, different. In fact, even to this day, I prefer solitude over the mundane topics of everyday life that preoccupy adult conversation. I fantasize someday to retreat to the rain forest on/at Volcano, a parcel waits for me on the Big Island, or the pastures and pines of Oregon.
From my personal experience, I wonder if a new type of giftedness might not be identified, not one specific to talent or IQ, but distinguished apart from the dysfunctional student labeled with personality disorders. Could there be some hidden link between the identified gifted and others in the "Special Ed" category? Being different can be a handicap and problem students may be concealed "diamonds in the rough" that could be lost forever by erroneous social manipulation that leads to affirmation of low self worth and a sentence of permanent maladjustment for life. I have met many brilliant middle age men that are losers in life. What went wrong? Who's to blame? Maybe it was their teachers' fault?
I say look through the discarded "rotten apples" and possibly, with the proper guidance and nurturance, unpeel and reveal the hidden genius within that can avert a life of disappointment and failure. Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. Might we not make the 99 percent effort to find that hidden 1 percent in our students?
As tangible results of my case study in lifelong phenomenology, I present to you some evidence of my labor of love. As the conductor in the movie, "The Polar Express," states in regards to trains, "It doesn't matter where it is going. What does matter is that you get on." If the things shared, manifestations of my imaginary virtual world, whether "art" or not, awaken your spirit through fresh new vision, then my life's quest to give life to the nonexistent has not have been in vain. In fact, it may signal that the option to "get off" approaches. A protracted devotion of time to higher learning to strengthened self confidence in choice and aesthetic awareness did postpone marriage, raising a family and amassing financial security. I have been willing to pay the price.
But at 60, I finally may be back on track for that projected retirement to leisure. Or hmm, should I go after Ripley's existing record of 17 degrees? Nah, I would have to go back to work to pay tuition, way more expensive today (I checked, $224 per credit for out-of-state enrollment at Lane Community College, OR!). Besides, it may be more enlightening to just watch the grass grow by putting myself out to pasture. Then be stilled to contemplate and meditate, amongst a Northwest palette of crisp autumn leaves, the coming of full circle with the blank canvas of wintry white. Finally, personal consent to "waste the time away." Or "waste away" with time.
Author's Note, 2007- What a difference 2 years make! I'm now 61 and quite personally satisfied with creative projects since this was "memoir" (as lecture for teachers of gifted children) was written. I have no doubt now that it was all worth it. I have no doubt now as to my God-given talents that are being utilized. After this was written, I have since accomplished the following publications. I have discovered UFOs and become a Science Fiction writer as well as artist. "Roswell Encounter Gallery" will be reviewed in that infmaous town's only newspaper and I am invited to do signings of the book in Roswell. The book will be reviewed by some in Hollywood for the possibility of conversion into a screenplay for a movie. I am currently working on a sequel novel about aliens and art. "Pygoyan Oil Cyber-Paintings" is like a life thesis of works compiled and documented for posterity. I am now at peace. I ran 20 miles yesterday in preparation of the Kona Marathon on the Big Island of Hawaii. At the time of this writing I had completed 14. This will be my 20th marathon. I have retired from disco dancing.
www.lastplace.com/page28.htm -Biographical information on Dr. Chang, portraits over time
www.lastplace.com/page49.htm - artist/psychologist/dentist online journal
www.lastplace.com/Journal/phdissertation.htm - doctoral dissertation abstract
www.artingrid.de International artists website, of which Dr. Chang, or "Pygoya" the Webist, is the recognized founder of this global online art movement; try keyword "Webism" in search at www.google.com
www.lastplace.com/PAI/bio99.htm - Online introduction of the artist
www.lastplace.com/ArtPortrait/pygoya.htm- my life time capsule (or life in a nutshell)
www.realville.com/discopower.htm- Disco Doc archives; dance lessons by the Disco Doc- www.lastplace.com/Journal/beyond_disco_dancing.htm
www.lastplace.com/CorporateArtPortfolio/oils.htm- paintings that jolted art history (created by a computer with me as its art teacher, oil on canvas painted by surrogates of me, myself as patron and hoarding collector), priceless, yet apparently not until after I'm dead!