Onto Forever

two lane blacktop

somewhere in Nevada

eyes gritty tired

an all night run

dark Great Basin

lit only by starlight

a silver sliver moon

lights a road of silver

leading nowhere

leading somewhere

all night radio DJ

clear channel AM

Del Rio Texas

steel guitar and fiddle

whiskey drinking songs

like it was in 1959

no smokes left

ashtray overflows

nothing in front

nothing left behind

sadness long ago

sadness still to come

somewhere to nowhere

nowhere to somewhere

running from god

running from life

all I loved left behind

never arriving anywhere

she cried when I lied

sisyphus without a rock

no mountain to climb

only unending roads

both hands on the wheel

into desert darkness

onto never forever

My Road to Creativity, Eighth Excerpt: The Basics

I realize I messed up and skipped this particular excerpt. Sorry and Happy Holidays to all. 

Not knowing how all this would eventually shake out, and rather than uproot my kids from school and their life, my family did not join me. So a small bedroom in a three bedroom house with two other graduate students would be my new part-time residence. A single bed. A desk. A book shelf. A meditation cushion. This would be my life for the next two years while I worked towards my masters degree in Graphic Design. 

Both scared and excited, I was signed up for three studio classes that fall quarter by my advisor who thought I should just do an undergraduate degree. I demurred and pursued my goal, hoping that I would get admission in the spring.

I walked into that first studio that first morning wondering what the hell I was doing in a group of eighteen and nineteen year old kids. The instructor, who was probably younger than me, came in and gave me a look, like, ‘who the hell is this old guy?’ I felt like a fool. 

Thankfully there was a woman in her early thirties in the studio which helped temper my angst to a degree. We managed to connect and become design buddies as she too was feeling out of place.

My boss at the construction company held the door open for me to return if this adventure did not work, something I considered many times during the first month or so until I got my feet on the ground and found I loved doing design, albeit, very basic stuff. Baby steps.

I went back home every weekend until the rigorous studio work load started to pile up on me. I found that design school was cerebral as well as heavily based on doing a lot of time consuming design work. I was working on projects well into the night as it was and was needing time on the weekends to keep up. 

The younger students were light years ahead of me. I was struggling. Again, my struggle with creativity was hampering me and I seemed to have to work twice as hard, if not more, to keep up with them. While they had any number of good ideas for any given project, I had a hard time finding one. Unlike my art studies at Mount Mercy, my instructors didn’t help me other than giving me the basic knowledge of design. Other than that, it was up to me to create the needed graphic images that were needed, most of which were abstract creations that busted my brain. I constantly was blocking myself by overthinking everything. As soon as I did that, I ran into a wall. I didn’t trust myself or allow myself any freedom of my thinking. I looked at what few design publications in the library. I looked at other design disciplines like architecture for inspiration, inspiration the kept eluding me. But I kept working, doing the best I could do.

There was typography, symbology, precision drawing with drafting pens, t-squares, triangles, cutting and pasting, interspersed with understanding how people see and interpret information. Then there was basic composition, how to arrange text and image on a page, information hierarchy. I especially liked the composition part, something I never got or understood from my art classes. And, back in the pre-computer era, there was how to prepare a piece for the printer, needing no small amount of understanding.

The first quarter was over. I managed to pull straight B’s. Not good enough. The next quarter was harder. This was it. I had to present my work to the graduate committee at the end of the quarter. I worked hard on my projects, harder that anything I had ever attempted before. It paid off. My work was better. 

Scared out of my wits and sweating, I went in front of the committee at the end of the quarter to present my work. They accepted me into the graduate program . . . I was accepted . . . I kept repeating that over and over, trying to actually believe it. I did it.

My Road to Creativity, Thirteenth Excerpt: Rapperswil, Switzerland:

I left from Cedar Rapids, to Chicago, then overnight on Icelandic Air to Luxembourg. After a nice airline dinner and a cognac, It was a long night of intermittent uncomfortable sleep and I arrived the next morning in a jet lagged sleepy haze. I hadn’t yet discovered sleep aids. 

The guy that I sat next to had rented a car and offered me a ride into the city. I found my hostel, a small room with a sink, a communal bathroom down the hall, and the communal shower in the basement. 

I spent two days in Luxembourg walking around and exploring. Some folks spoke English, but most spoke only French or German. The architecture was completely different from what I was used to, much of it was built maybe centuries ago. There were posters everywhere. For me, it was a visual dream.

The two nights I was there, I noticed a mint green motorcycle with a rider in matching leathers cruising the streets as I walked around the downtown. When I returned, the green clad rider was still going. It was interesting.

I took the train to Zurich, then to the town of Rapperswil, located on the northern shore of Lake Zurich, a fairytale Swiss town of centuries old buildings. My hotel was built in the sixteen hundreds, all updated with modern, functional rooms with austere basic furnishings. 

There was an old schloss (castle) on the top of the hill about two city blocks from my hotel with a clock tower and an ancient bell the sounded out on every hour, ten bells at ten o’clock, eleven bells at eleven o’clock, twelve bells at twelve o’clock and so on all day and all night long. I wasn’t sleeping all that well to begin with and with the bells all night long, getting sleep was almost impossible.

I found most of the shop owners spoke english except for the Italian pizza place at the end of the street by the castle where I had to use charades to order their delicious pizza. Most lunch was bought in the butcher shop and the cheese shop with delicious fresh bread from the bakery often eaten in the park with some of the other students.

The three weeks of the workshop were amazing with the three well known designers and, sadly, the only name I can now remember was Fritz Gottschalk.

Of course there were projects. It was interesting working without all the goodies I was used to, there were no t-squares, triangles, exacto knives, copy machines, dummy type. All I had were a drawing pad, pen, and pencil. Most of us went to the stationary shop for more supplies as the days wore on. 

For one project, I deconstructed the castle. I had my camera and did a series of black and white shots which were developed at the stationary shop. I discovered that, for the most part, the castle was all based on the golden mean, the Fibonacci sequence. It was well received from the instructors. I was starting to understand how to see things more clearly as design shapes. However, I couldn’t get my head around what to do with this discovery.

It was fun just to sit around and listen to these guys talk about their design philosophies and their individual approach to visual communication and design. All us parochial Americans were fascinated by the fact that there were four different languages in Switzerland: German, French, Italian, and Romansh (a variation of ancient Latin spoken in the eastern part of the country). If a publication was to be nationwide, it was required that it be in all four languages presenting issues none of us had ever thought of.

We visited Fritz Gottschalk’s house for drinks and snacks one afternoon. The architecture was modern with concrete walls and copious glass looking out into gardens and courtyards. The inside was stark with modern abstract art and a state of the art kitchen. The stereo was all top of the line. There was nothing in that house like furnishings or appliances that did not reflect the overall design concept that Gottschalk had his house. As hard edged as it was, it felt warm, inviting and comfortable, like everything was particulary placed and organized to add to the ambience. Nothing more, nothing less than what made it all that it was.

We visited various places through the area. I particularly loved the Klee Museum in Bern. Then there was the poster museum in Zurich, a short train ride from Rapperswil. Then there was the old architecture everywhere we went. The cities were wonderful Thee were underground jazz clubs, great food, and small shops of every conceivable thing you might need or want. There were no major food markets or malls. Switzerland was immaculately clean and tidy. Some locals we visited with explained that there were a lot of people in a small country so everyone took care to respect themselves, their property, their community and everyone else. If someone was out of line, they would be asked to shape up by the community at large. It was an interesting concept we could all learn from.

One weekend four of us rented a car and did a road trip to Innsbruck Austria, discovering the no-speed-limit autobahns. An interesting note, upon leaving Switzerland, things became less tidy. There were junk yards, the highways were lined with tall grasses and weeds, a big departure from the orderliness of the Swiss.

The workshop was over and the three weeks that had sped by were inspirational and added a lot to my design vocabulary, but, when all was said and done, it did not give me any new creative edge but only further frustration in, that what I saw, I couldn’t seem to emulate with my own work. I still had not found the elusive formula for creating great design. I kept on finding out how hard it was to move from my left brain thinking of predictable and methodical building construction to right brain creativity.

But biggest thing that remained with me more than anything was that these three designers lived design, their life was design, everything around them was design. They were creative geniuses in my book. Two dimensional, three dimensional exhibit, and even stage set design all intermingled with the symbolism and the amazing typographic design, all of which both energized and frightened me. I wanted to be like these guys. But, as energized as I was, I left the workshop frustrated with myself.

The next day I took the train to Basil to see my friend. She met me at the station and went to her tiny apartment where I crashed on the couch and slept without that damned castle bell chiming every hour day and night. 

My Road to Creativity, Twelfth Excerpt: Assistant Professor:

I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a little un-nerving to step into a design studio with twenty dubious students. I was given a syllabus for each of the three studios I was teching and dove in. My major professor had become a friend and mentor and, thankfully, was there to guide me in that first while.

As a teacher, I was expected to do research or some sort of design work of my own choosing. There was little chance for any free lance work in Ames  so I began to design and silk screen posters for different events in the Design College. It gave me a chance to initiate and do my own design. I had learned to silk screen in grad school and liked the process. However, I still stumbled with creating anything grteat and some were better than others. Whatever, it kept me actively exploring and designing. I was not what I considered to be a great image maker so my posters tended to be more typographic with bold abstract shapes moreso than any actual recognizable images.

After a year of teaching basic design, typography, and symbology studios, I finished out the year although my student evaluations left something to be desired. The students challenged me as a newbie. I had dealt with much tougher clients and sub-contractors in my construction days and wasn’t cowed, but I was scared to death, hoping it didn’t show. It did and the students smelled blood. I struggled on and I believe, in spite of everything, I imparted good design information and skills whether they knew it or not.

Having only a one year contract, I had put together a teaching vitae and was ready to send it out for teaching positions at other schoolslate that winter but I was offered another year at Iowa State and accepted. 

Earlier that spring, my mentor suggested that I consider doing a three week design workshop in Switzerland that was offered through Kent State University to further my education and add to my resume. I got the information on the workshop and with the money I had saved that year of teaching and living in my austerely, I could manage to afford the trip and workshop tuition. I decided to go. The University travel agent set me up with all my flights and other travel arrangements. I got my passport. I had only flown four times before when I was in the Navy and never international. But my excitement overcame any nervousness.

I contacted my friend who was in Basil and would meet her after the three week workshop in Rapperswil, just west of Zurich on the shores of Lake Zurich. I left for four weeks in Switzerland in mid-June. 

My Road to Creativity, Eleventh Excerpt: Back to Reality

I spent the first part of that summer assembling a portfolio, one much more professional than what I had when I decided to apply to grad school. Then I started a job searchas a designer. The Iowa economy was slow and jobs were non-existent. I had friends in Los Angeles and went out there looking for work. I received a lot of encouragement but I heard the same story as I heard back in Iowa, I needed experience, maybe I should free lance. I had not a clue how to find free lance clients. It was discouraging. Secretly, I assumed most people I talked to were wondering what a guy my age was doing just starting out in, what I would find out later, was a young person’s field.

It was early fall when I interviewed an advertising agency in Des Moines. They were interested in me and wanted to hire me as a production coordinator to oversee their free lancers and the production of materials. It was a far cry from what I thought I was capable of and wanted. Pay wasn’t great, but I would at the very least be able to learn more about the printing process and meet other designers. I needed income, no matter what and this was in a design related field. I accepted their offer.

I managed to find the work interesting. I got involved in the Des Moines design scene, met other designers, and made good contacts with printers and other associated sub-contractors. In many ways, it was like the construction business. 

Several of the young free lancers in the agency’s stable were two year graduates of a local junior college. They had good concepts to design problems, but their design wasn’t necessarily very good and I found myself guiding them to be better. They were usually accepting and grateful, respecting my education and age. In some cases I felt like their father, but all the same, envying their youthful design freedom.

After a while I was given some actual design projects. I was again cowed by actually having to produce actual creative work. I had a huge design vocabulary, but was unsure how to, or afraid, to use it. I was beginning to think that my job as a production coordinator would be the best I would be able to manage.

That summer, I got  a divorce. With my design obsession, being absent for most of the time the last few years, we decided to move on. One of the biggest regrets was being absent from my children and missing so much of their life. It was a big penalty I paid and it sucked.

The first week in September in 1983, I got a call from the new chairman of Art and Design at Iowa State asking me to teach there for a year as a temporary assistant professor of graphic design to fill a position by a faculty member who had to take emergency medical leave. I was offered twice the salary I was presently making. I jumped at the chance to add to a teaching resume which was something I truly loved more and more, finding I could guide the young designers I was mentoring. I started at Iowa State a week later.


My Road to Creativity, Tenth Excerpt: Graduate School II


I continued on, but in May of 1981, my mother died. This shook me to the core and I missed the end of the quarter and spent early summer settling my parents affairs and trying to avoid the depression and fear that was lurking all too close in my psyche. 

I did manage to do an independent study that summer. It helped me take my mind off everything else that was going on. My woman graduate student colleague left the program to continue her studies at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Basil, Switzerland, one of the most prestigious design school in the world with one of the leading designers and teachers, Wolfgang Weingart. I was envious.

Fall came and I was back at the University full time with a teaching schedule, now teaching beginning typographic design. I was given the syllabus so that took away some responsibility and work. I liked typographic design as I wasn’t much of an image maker. Structurally, I could integrate type and image on a page, but my work was stiff and very formal, lacking the dynamic elegance I wanted, but really didn’t understand how to achieve it. The great designer’s work I admired for that ‘dynamic elegance’, I could not manage.

I was due to graduate spring the next year and needed to decide on a thesis project. My major professor had a call from the Iowa State Fair Board for help to redesign their fabric exhibit hall and he thought it would be something that I could do as the project. I was familiar with spatial design from my construction background and, not having any better ideas myself, I took it on. 

It was fun. I photographed and measured the space dimensions. I was back in my element of construction drawings. I researched anything and everything I could find about exhibit design: how people wander through space, how they see space, how to create flow to guide people in a subtle way through a given space. My project was my coursework and I spent every available minute other than my teaching load. There was a structure to it and I relished in having that. I was able to apply my new design criteria and vocabulary together.

 I worked with the architecture professor on my graduate committee about model building. I had my plans, built my model, photographed in with a closeup lens with scaled cutouts of people. It turned out better than I could have imagined. 

Then there was the written part which I dreaded but forged on through. I did not type so it was all hand written. I hired a wonderful secretary in the Art and Design office to type out the transcript. The next hurdle was presenting this to the Fair Board and then to my graduate committee.

I did the Fair Board presentation and they loved it. Their only problem was budget which had nothing to do with me. I went to the Iowa State Fair two years later and saw that they had actually incorporated as much as they probably could afford. IT was great to see people moving through a space I had designed. I felt proud. 

The Graduate Committee meeting was set. As protocol, I brought treats, what, I cannot remember. There  were five members on my committee, including representives from Graphic Design, Interior Design, Architecture, along with the Chairman of the Department of Art and Design. It was like entering the lions den, the gates of Hades, the ocean of Jaws. I had a slide show, drawings and all my backup research materials as well as my newly gained knowledge. I was unanimously passed. I graduated spring, 1982. I was forty-one years old. 

The Awakening of Russell Henderson

I am excited to announce that my new book, “The Awakening of Russell Henderson”,  has been uploaded to Kindle and should be available for purchase within the next few days. The print version will follow soon. Please check it out. I will greatly appreciate it if you would share this with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, Linkdin, or any other social media. Thank you.

From my Publisher:

When the author Ed Lehner submitted this book to AIA Publishing for consideration, I was delighted and snapped it up immediately. It’s a wonderful story and beautifully executed. Lehner manages to make a character that some might consider a bigoted red-neck into an innocent. Russell is the way he is simply because he’s never examined the beliefs his parents instilled in him. The road trip he undertakes in a rare moment of spontaneity is more than a journey to see some of the beautfil American countryside, it is a journey into himself that has profound ramifications for himself, the woman he meets on the way and his whole family. This is an uplifting story, skilfully told so that you never want to lay the book down.

DESCRIPTION

When Chicago investment-banker Russell Henderson—newly divorced and suffering from depression—makes a spur-of-the-moment decision to go on a camping trip to explore the Western United States, he steps outside his usual safe mode of operation and opens up a wealth of new, and scary, possibilities.

Somewhere in Iowa, he picks up a woman hitchhiker, who challenges everything in which he believes. This sets off a chain of events that involve an American Indian sweat lodge, a Tibetan Buddhist Rinpoche, and a road trip through stunning countryside. His relationship with the woman becomes more complex, and deep self-reflection eventually leads him to step outside the confines of his upbringing and discover who he truly is.

Part road trip, part romance, and fully visionary, this is a delightful story that both inspires and entertains.

My Road to Creativity, Ninth Excerpt: Graduate School

There were only three of us in the master’s program so our studio classes consisted of  independent study assignments which required me to do research into both present day and historical design styles, most which were based on the Swiss Design, a rigid but elegant system dating back from pre-world war two. 

After the first world war, Europe changed, cultural norms and politics were shattered from previous centuries of monarchial rule to democratic societies. New art forms emerged challenging the rigid rules of the elite, new poetry and prose from new writers emerged, all changing forever how one would see and understand the world. Russian designers like el Lizzitsky and Rodchenko, influenced by the Marxists created a new hard edged design dynamic.

The Swiss in their neutral, aloof country took all this and formulated it into what was known as Swiss Design which was hard edge, moving away from the more artistic posters of Frenchman such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

I found all this exciting and absorbed anything I could find on this time period, all of which was limited at that time. There was no internet or scholarly tomes on history of graphic design. What information existed took digging through what journals and books I could find in the library. I loved the research but when it came to doing actual design, I clutched. It grabbed me in the chest like a huge clamp to where I could hardly breath. 

The pressure was too much for me. I worked day and night sketching ideas I found sad and banal. Eventually, suffering through creative agony, I would shamefully show and discuss my work with my major professor who encouraged me and directed me towards solutions that turned out to be rather good. I started to grow and gain some confidence.

On the other hand, my two other graduate school colleagues seemed to come up with great solutions with ease. I felt intimidated but forged ahead, feeding off of them and all my research.

Spring quarter came to an end and I presented my work with the others. I felt like a failure compared to what they had done, but I received good grades and moved on. I continued my studies through the summer doing more independent studies and attending a design conference in Chicago, hoping some great enlightenment might rub off on me. 

I bought new Nikon FM camera and began photographing everything I could find that I saw as good design. I hung those photos in my workspace, trying to understand what it was that I saw in them as good design. I waded through what periodicals I could find. While I started to see and understand good design, when it came to doing it, I still froze and creating my own design solutions was like pulling teeth.

In construction work, I knew how to put a building together. There was a logical method to all the aspects of understanding the foundation, the structure, scheduling, and so on. It was formulaic in many ways. I was looking for a formula for design and there was none. There were basic principles and understanding, but there was no cut and dried formula. It took creativity in thinking and in action. I was struggling now as I did as an undergraduate.

Running and meditation had become spotty and after a while, totally disappeared from my schedule. All I did was immerse myself in work, work, and more work. I rarely got home to see my family. There was singular goal for me, become a designer, a good designer. However with everything else slipping away, I still managed to still keep up with writing in my journal. But I had read nary a novel or anything. nothing other than design tomes, 

Fall quarter came and I was given a teaching assistantship along with a shared office in the Design Center which held the departments of Architecture, Landscape Design, Urban Design, and Art and Design which was the umbrella for Graphic Design, Art and Crafts, and Interior Design. That and I would receive a small monthly stipend. 

The stipend was a blessing as my savings were being eaten away. The last few years in my construction job had been bountiful in terms of earning money, I earned a lot of money. My wife was still working and I was living a meager existence, but still, outgo was greater than income and any money I could earn was a blessing.

The young woman in the program and I were tapped to develop and teach a foundations course for freshmen. She was a brilliant artist while I had had the basic understanding of the gritty foundations and together we created what we thought was a good syllabus for the quarter. It was a great experience. We each had a section of twenty students. We sat in on each other’s studios and shared our thoughts and ideas. We had a successful quarter. I found that I loved teaching and the experience fueled my design juices. 

I was loving academia. The University was a giant bastion of knowledge, engineering, agriculture, science, and, of course, design. It was like I was absorbing knowledge by osmosis, just by being here. There was a dynamic energy I felt deep down in my very being.

But now with a teaching schedule taking up a goodly part of my time, I had to work even longer hours. I never made it home anymore. It was hard, but I was more determined than ever to succeed.

But by the end of fall quarter, I was run down exhausted, and a mess after spending so many nights trying to get all my work finished. I hadn’t had a decent nights sleep in forever. I got a bad cold and cough, but I completed my work and went to bed for a week. Not very welcome at home anymore, I was alone and miserable.


My new novel to be available soon

THE AWAKENING OF RUSSELL HENDERSON: ED LEHNER

Coming Soon

When Chicago investment-banker Russell Henderson—newly divorced and suffering from depression—makes a spur-of-the-moment decision to go on a camping trip to explore the Western United States, he steps outside his usual safe mode of operation and opens up a wealth of new, and scary, possibilities.

Somewhere in Iowa, he picks up a woman hitchhiker, who challenges everything in which he believes. This sets off a chain of events that involve an American Indian sweat lodge, a Tibetan Buddhist Rinpoche, and a road trip through stunning countryside. His relationship with the woman becomes more complex, and deep self-reflection eventually leads him to step outside the confines of his upbringing and discover who he truly is.

Part road trip, part romance, and fully visionary, this is a delightful story that both inspires and entertains..Categories: Contemporary FictionLiterary FictionMetaphysical & Visionary FictionRomance Tags: Buddhismroad tripromance