The Arrival

Timing is everything.

The irony of course being that it’s only after you realize you’ve done nothing to manage life’s significant events that they tend to yield the most serendipitous harmonies. That’s about how you could describe the events of January 19th, 2015. When the day started, Liz had begun experiencing some mild contractions. At least she thought that’s what they were, not having experienced the real deal yet. Our official due date was still 4 days out, although the baby could have come at any time. But with the plumbing and drywall repair scheduled for the morning, and the dentist appointment set for the afternoon, these uteral quirks would have to be chalked up to what they were: distractions.

The plumbing repair did go surprisingly well, given that it had all the makings of something far more serious. A long-ago rodent (or squirrel) had decided to make a nest for itself around an attic drainage pipe. While occasionally bored or hungry, it also decided to nosh on the pipe, creating cracks for condensation to collect and drip down onto the downstairs ceiling in the convening years. At least the varmint was festive about it, having packed his nest with wrapping paper and Christmas tree garland (feet and feet of it), pinched from the holiday decor stash of some previous home dweller. But with the pipe fixed and the drywall sealed and mudded up, the contractions had by now intensified and the dentist appointment had been called off. As the last bit of drywall crumb was being swept up, Liz turned to me and said, “we should probably go to the hospital.”

We scrambled about the house for an hour or two, making sure we had everything we needed, should this turn out to be the actual arrival. Sort of like going on vacation, with the added realization that the new souvenir you’d be bringing home would need constant care and feeding.

We reached the hospital by 6:30pm, the contractions now worthy of timing, and hand squeezing. But it was a popular night to have a baby, as there was no room for us in triage. So they sent us down the hall to the family waiting room. There, beneath the drone of nightly news from a nearby TV, Liz hunched over a chair, anticipating each painful wave as cow-eyed hospital visitors looked on with concern. After an hour our patience had worn thin. We marched back to inquire, but before we could protest, we were promptly ushered to a free room.

As Liz prepped, I started working through the catalog of things I was going to need to say and do over the next several hours, realizing I’ve always been pretty lousy as a coach. I only hoped the circumstances would inspire me beyond hand-patting with an occasional “there, there.” When the nurse finally came in to check conditions, she informed us, that despite the pain, Liz wasn’t dilated enough to be in “active labor.” There was no way we were going back home, so it appeared a long night was ahead. This was further confirmed when it took two nurses about 30 minutes just to get an IV drip in (her veins apparently like to roll away). As I watched the vitals on the baby monitor with a cautious optimism, I knew one way or another, those heartbeats would soon be on the other side. And yet, something about the flux of the beats (from the 160s down into the 140s) began tickling my calm.

I asked one of the nurses if I was correctly reading the monitor and she confirmed everything looked good. We were in the normal range. And yet, despite the affirmation, the numbers looked… off. Almost, as if by watching, I was willing the heartbeat downward. I tried to ignore the unease. This wasn’t the time to second-guess the process. There was far more labor and delivery left to go. But about ten minutes later, the head nurse nurse came back, herself unimpressed by the EKG readings. The baby needed to make more overtures that he was indeed planning to show up. So she had Liz move to her side. And within 30 seconds the baby’s vitals crashed. In a flash the world seemed to end.

True terror is not merely the arrival of an unfortunate circumstance. It’s when that circumstance drops onto what would have otherwise been a moment of joy. It is the unsuspecting theft of happiness, when darkness willfully and irrevocably obliterates the light for no other reason than to destroy what is good and right when it’s most fragile, and when you are the most unsuspecting. It is chaos set loose.

The nurse had Liz quickly try more positions to no avail. The heart rate continued to drop, falling under 100 beats per minute. Darkness pressed further onto our little room. There was no pivoting back to the calm of the previous moment. The nurse looked at me directly and with barely a change in her voice said “a lot of people are going to be coming in here very quickly.” I was grateful she was not panicking, but her chill, emotionless tone set my teeth on edge. This was for real. And within seconds the room flooded with other nurses and techs. My chest tightened as I retreated to a back corner of the room, pacing, praying with desperation as the monitor gasped for life. 60 beats and falling. The space between each beat like a long, cold agony. He was giving up.

“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. Save him please. Save my baby” was about all I could choke out, as my own lungs felt like they were collapsing, every limb turning to rubber. It flashed in my brain the irony that moments earlier I had shuffled away the thought of asking the nurse if I could pray for her this evening, and here I was praying aloud for this team of strangers scrambling to save my child’s life.

Almost as soon as the crowd had rushed in, they had rushed my wife out. I trailed behind, still in prayer, feet clomping the floor in weightless futility, all but everything in front of me a blur, surreal, not even there. How could we have traveled such a hard road to get here, pushed aside all of the fear and doubt, all to lose everything within a matter of minutes? Would he survive if he was falling away so quickly? Suffer brain damage if he did?

I was given some booties for my shoes, but before I had even secured the second one, I was told I couldn’t be in the OR. Not in this case. Liz was being put under general anesthetic and there was no time for me. I would have to wait. Out here. In the sterile and quiet hallway. I was quickly abandoned at a small computer station. I collapsed onto the chair and looked down at my trembling hands. In each, a cell phone – Liz’s and mine. I had sent a happy text to a group of family and friends earlier in the evening to let them know we were here and in process. Now I needed their prayers. I opened the text app on Liz’s phone and desperately tried to type out a message. Most of it was legible, but I discovered it is nearly impossible to text a clean message when you’re in meltdown. Thankfully it was understood and replies came in that people were praying. “Without ceasing” one friend texted back.

I had time to call one person – for whatever reason, the one man who popped into my head was my boss, Adam She. Something within told me “Adam first”. He answered and I had barely enough time to tell him what was happening. He would pray. I had to go. It was 9:33pm.

I was taken by another nurse to a recovery room, presently being vacated by a happy mother and father with their newborn. I slumped into another chair, tears streaming down my cheeks. I wonder what they must have thought, if they thought of me at all. They were brimming with quiet joy, mother with baby in her arms being wheeled out by a nurse, the proud father alongside. The reality of a thousand and one parents this very moment across the state. Not me.

I looked down at the cell phones again, the stupid booties on my shoes. As I thought through the worst of it, I realized the next nurse to come through those doors was going to have one of two expressions, that in an instant I would know from her body language what the truth was. In silence I spoke to God and I simply let it go. A pastor’s story from 20 years back dotted my memory. He had experienced a similar birth-related complication for his daughter and in his most desperate moment had felt the overwhelming peace of God that “surpasses all comprehension.” Rarely experienced, and yet, here it was. It didn’t blot out the pain. It wouldn’t preclude any tears to come, but it flowed over me. He was still worthy of all praise, no matter what came of this. I would live my life in thanksgiving regardless. If I had to lose my only child, my firstborn son, then God’s grace and holiness were more than enough to fill the void. It is the peculiarity of faith—that in the face of true terror, light will still flicker in the darkness for those with eyes willing to see. Even if it’s a light we had not expected. Even if the hope of it is dim.

Within moments the doors flung open and the nurse who had admitted us rushed in, tears in her eyes… a weary smile on her face. He was here, and crying. Liz was fine. We were finally a family. Ten minutes after that they handed my son to me—a rare occurrence that the father would be the first to hold the newborn, as Liz wouldn’t come out of the anesthetic for another 30 minutes. He was a tiny red faced burrito, still a little frustrated looking for having his evening so rudely interrupted with being born. I took this photo in that moment.


Timing is everything. Looking back on that day, it’s amazing to think that so many pieces of it happened in just the right way, at just the right moment. As I survey the past year, all of the previous moments that led to this one also had their own purpose. Maybe not as perfectly timed as a movie, but story-worthy nonetheless. Even the terror of this evening had been given its place – allowed to happen so that God might vanquish it when I was powerless enough to let Him. He rescued our son through the hands of a team of doctors and nurses who didn’t hesitate to act for a second. And more importantly, God had shown us that indeed, the darkness would not prevail.

It seems a universal that our prayers in the moment of rescue are never quite as fervent as the ones we pray to be saved. I was no exception in that moment. But the waves of thankfulness broke over me again and again over the next several days, especially as I recounted the events of that night.

Gabriel James Hansen arrived with much fanfare on January 19th, 2015 at 9:40pm. 7lbs, 6oz. of miracle. He was given back to us after I had given him up to God. I only pray we can remember to hold him with the same fluid grasp for the rest of our lives.


Liz & Gabe New

You dirty rat, you killed my dryer!

So today was interesting. One of those average, hum-drum vacation weekends at a beautiful mountain cabin (yes we know, stolidly dull) turned wholly exciting come laundry time this afternoon. Let’s just say the heat setting we chose on the dryer had an extra dose we were not expecting.

The cabin belongs to my employer and she graciously allows us to use it from time to time to get away. After the last few frazzled weeks spent in pre-production and production, we looked forward to a very even-tempered, non-life-threatening escape from “normal” life. But hey, we can’t all live our lives without the onset of fiery tragedies, can we?

What should have tipped us off were those first showers the other morning, when we buried our faces into clean towels and smelled… smoke? We brushed it off as the last guests not having properly washed the linens, but had I used a bit more of my “Sherlock Holmes” intuition, perhaps I could have inferred this one before the danger struck. In any event, here’s how it went down…

Liz had just started the first items drying in the dryer about noon today. I dropped off a few clothing items to add to the wash and went back upstairs. But when I looked out the windows and saw plumes of smoke billowing from the side of the house, I thought: “that’s a little heavy for dryer steam.” I bolted onto the deck, peered over the railing, and sure enough – it was not the pleasant aroma of dryer sheets that met my nostrils. At first I thought maybe it was the air conditioner, because I had just notched the thermostat down a degree. So I raced inside and turned it off. I raced back out. Smoke continued to billow. I rushed around to the side and clambered under the deck. Smoke was definitely flowing from the dryer vent. Panic set in and I flew downstairs, where Liz was still setting up the wash, oblivious to the danger. I opened the dryer, yanked out the clothing and saw flames–yes flames–licking up behind the small grate in the back of the dryer. Terror! “We have a fire!, we have a fire!” I yelled. And all I saw in my head was this beautiful cabin igniting in flames.

But I remembered also seeing three fire extinguishers in the garage yesterday, so heart racing, I flew to the garage, fingers fumbling for the right key. I rushed in, grabbed the first extinguisher I saw and ran back to the basement. Liz had tossed some water into the dryer by now, so it was smoldering, thick white smoke filling the space. I pulled the pin on the extinguisher, aimed and–

Nothing. It was empty. Gaahh!

I couldn’t see past the smoke clouds, so I blew them away, which only made the flames shoot up again! I blasted out the back door and raced to the garage again, hyperventilating, legs rubbery with fear. I grabbed the next fire extinguisher, pulled the pin!–Nada. I grabbed the third with a prayer, pulled the pin… and Yes! I flew back to the basement, smoke choking the air, alarms blaring everywhere. I stuck the nozzle into the drum and blasted the flames. It was out. We then rushed outside and blasted the vent under the porch.

The house phone rang, with the fire department on the other end. I had to bustle outside again to hear over the shrill beeping of the alarms, cordless phone signal crackling out of range. I told them we had the fire out, but it was best to send a truck just to be sure. Things had mostly calmed by now and the next several moments were comprised of missed calls, dropped calls, the owner calling the neighbor after getting the alerts on her phone (while in Texas!), the neighbor and I hauling the dryer to the porch, and finally the arrival of the Fire Department – three trucks and the captain, no less! They checked for heat in the walls and began airing out the basement. Aside from the horrible smell, reports all looked good. We had averted a major crisis. That only left the dryer. We were still unsure if it was something we had caused.

The fire department unscrewed the back, pulled off the venting and what you see in Exhibit A spilled out onto the cement. A massive clump of charred dog food. The Captain said it was likely a rat, from somewhere in the house: “an inside job,” if you will. The little scoundrel had been stowing away for a big winter. For the record, Natural Choice brand dog food burns fast and burns smelly!

There’s no telling how long this situation existed. I’m almost certain the last folks to use the dryer did have a small fire in there (the smelly towels) and it simply subsided when the load was done, thankfully contained in metal housing. Still, those flames could have easily ignited something else. If I’m not mistaken, the dog food was practically sitting on the heat coils.

After some further investigation, we found the supply in question across the hall in the basement pantry. A rather ambitious little varmint for sure, making his way up over (or under) the house from one side to the other, crawling into the dryer and hiding his secret stash. But that’s what you get living out in the woods, as we can attest to back home. Nature has a way of foiling your best attempts at peaceful living.

Ask us about the possum carcass underneath our porch two weeks ago, cooking up in the 95 degree summer weather. mmm.

Ripoff Artistry, pt. 5

Say Cheesey

We’ll close out our series of movie poster ripoff artistry with a look known as the “Sears Portrait Studio.” I can’t claim coinership on the phrase (although I can claim the word “coinership”), but it is fitting. There may be no better sublime hilarity than Steve Carell capturing the beautiful tragedy that is the portrait studio photo; the world of yearbooks, Christmas cards and church directories, where normal people live quiescently frozen in a state of grotesquery. The problem is that once wasn’t enough. Judd Apatow apparently thinks it’s a golden goose of a design, since most of these films are his handiwork. Or maybe it’s NBC comedians. There’s some connection there. Still, it looks like we’ve had enough of these to fit us for a while.

Ripoff Artistry, pt. 4

Love, Squared

Nothing says sweet love like a good romantic comedy, and apparently nothing says “romantic comedy” like people in boxes. This seems to be a trend of late and it’s a curiosity. Maybe it means in spite of our best efforts at love, we’re still hopelessly boxed in by our own self-interests. Or maybe it means there are just too many protagonists and the only other option was to line people up in a Scream actor stack. It’s also apparently a fun trend to give your movie a completely non-descriptive name like Love Happens or perhaps… This One Time, Whadd’ya Know?, or Can’t Beat That!

Jim Carrey, Call Your Agent

Something strange has happened to Jim Carrey. As least, something strange has happened to his movie posters. There must be a clause somewhere in his contract that states: “When Mr. Carrey, or his likeness, appears in films which are labeled FANTASY (appealing to, but not limited by a fantastical tone of time, location or character), and as such his character is that of a ghoulish nature, (i.e. being villainous or scoundrelly), the likeness of such a character will henceforth be rendered on all movie posters and associated key art in a three-quarter side pose with outstretched arms, raked fingers and a devilish grin or scowl.”

Ripoff Artistry, pt. 3

This One Goes to 11

This next installment happens to be my favorite progression from original to derivative, given this one has been extrapolating for decades. And the best part is that it didn’t even start with a movie.

Back in college, while designing, I discovered the stark, bold effect of red on black and white (or what have you). Every designer knows it’s a key color juxtaposition when you want to make a statement. Pop culture distiller, director and rock-and-roll media designer Mick Haggerty knew this full well, and is credited with the original artwork for the Smithereens album 11. One might not think twice about the album artwork, but it’s truly a wonderful piece. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought so, with Haggerty’s album cover serving as a kind of splinter, consciously or not, in the minds of a few movie poster artists. Of course, I may be giving too much credit. Likely there was only one true inspiration and the rest just did their best at photocopying a style. Still, one can’t help look at the poster for Ocean’s 11 (yet another Soderbergh film) and ask: “seriously?”

Interestingly, these all seem to be crime-related/cops & robbers flicks. Must be something about black silhouettes walking against red and white that just says “stylish dudes with guns and attitude.” I threw in the Pacino/Deniro film at the end as an afterthought. It’s not entirely the same, but it does borrow heavily from the style. Looking forward to the next iteration!

smitherkill (click for a larger view)

Ripoff Artistry , pt. 2

Anatomy of a Ripoff

Our next installment of the art of movie poster design “inspiration” comes courtesy of Mr. Spike Lee and his 1995 film Clockers, which for what it’s worth, is a pretty good movie. But the resemblance of the original artwork to the brilliant Saul Bass design for Anatomy of a Murder set off more than one whiff of impostery and sent a few movie historians howling. To his credit, Spike (or the studio) had the artwork changed to something less… impressionistic. The bullet holes were left as they were.


The Wrong Identity

It’s nice to see movie poster mooching open to A-listers as well as the smaller, independent fare. Here’s an example of the designer basically phoning it in. The Bourne Identity, is a fantastic film, so if you’re going to copy the artwork this blatantly, the least you could do is try harder on the script. Unless this is the symptom of abysmal filmmaking: tricking the viewer into renting it. “For some reason, this image reminds me of other great action films I’ve seen. Let’s rent it!” But who’s to say, I’m just picking at the poster. Maybe 88 Minutes is a work of original genius… though I highly doubt it.


Nicht So Gut

I’d like to think the poster for Soderbergh’s film is more of a tribute to the great Casablanca, than a cheeky ripoff intended to skate under the noses of people who have never seen the Bogey film, much less its movie poster. Since there is a very fine line between homage and theft (the poster for American Teen was brilliant for example) I’ll go ahead and give it points for fun creativity. The film on the other hand… ehhh… It looked good.


Ripoff Artistry, pt. 1

An Education in Copying

In honor of this year’s Oscars (which have already passed, sorry) I thought we’d take a closer look at one of this year’s Best Picture noms: An Education. But I’m more interested in the key art than I am in the actual film. The film may or may not be good – I don’t know. It may make it into our Netflix queue… or not.

What’s of particular note is the striking resemblance the poster has to a film from 1999 called A Walk on the Moon, starring Diane Lane and Viggo Mortensen, also which I have not seen. But movie posters often stick in my head, so I knew I had seen this look before, remembering Diane Lane being part of it. I was surprised to notice just how similar the two posters are. Better yet, both films are set during the same decade and deal with illicit relations, so apparently we’re establishing that head spooning on the ground with a woman in a flowery dress ought to be associated with domestic disenfranchisement during the 1960s. Noted.


This led me to consider all the other movie posters I’ve noticed over the years that bear a striking resemblance to one another and I thought it’d make a good blog series. I realize there are probably far more examples than I’m posting (not to mention the oft regurgitated concepts like floating heads, the actor stack, etc. ), but over the next few posts I’ll share some of the best, or worst, examples of ripoff artistry. As someone currently designing a movie poster for a friend’s feature film debut, I understand the hard work it takes to create an image at once iconic, intriguing and descriptive. But of course when that fails, you can always steal someone else’s idea.

Swinging for the Fences

I remember spotting this little little bit of impostery on the video shelves back in the day, marveling at how the key art designer for Late Last Night must have said, “if I add some girlies in the corner and flip Emilio so he’s holding the martini with his right hand, no one will be the wiser .” Of course, the coup de grace is the review tagline just inside Estevez’s armpit that reads: “Much better than Swingers.” Obviously.


Costner Did Better than This

PostmanIt occurs to us that a new business model has emerged from the USPS. No longer the vanguards of “come sleet, come snow etc., etc.”, it now appears the Post Office is more interested in letting mail sort-of-kind-of get there whenever it’s convenient. We’ve had no less than three separate instances in the span of two weeks where relatively important pieces of mail did not arrive when even common sense had favored them with a “late” allowance. How a letter going twenty miles south of here takes more than a week to get to its destination, or why another item sits and waits across town in a sorting facility until a “2-9 day delivery window” expires, is beyond my understanding. How about a envelope sent “Priority” across the country, missing for a week and a half?

We can only imagine this is the new streamlined method of delivering the mail under budget cuts and rollbacks of service. Sounds like a model for success. Can’t wait ’til they start running healthcare.