Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Poolside Wisdom

We’ve been coming to Palm Springs on and off for the last twenty years. Over that period of time, I’ve met some pretty interesting folks. A place like Palm Springs seems to attract a wide variety of folks from all over the quirky spectrum. By quirky I mean, interesting, unique and not someone you’d find in most suburban neighborhoods.

One of the first persons we met was a retired medical director of a large hospital system in town. He’d been a Green Beret medic in Vietnam and had read my book ‘Love in the A Shau.’ His questions and comments on the book indicated he had read it thoroughly and approved of my descriptions of life for the average soldier in Vietnam. I couldn’t have asked for higher praise than that.

Then there was St. Joseph of Starbucks. St. Joseph was a semi-retired single guy who haunted Starbucks from roughly 4:00am when they opened until about 7:00am when he went to work. I’ve written about him in a couple of blogs. He seemed to be the local councilor for homeless folks, grand inquisitor for local events, and group coordinator for all the strays that seemed to gravitate to the coffee shop in those early morning hours. He was a colorful character worthy of a novel treatment or stage presence.

There were several folks in the Palm Springs Writers Guild who deserved mention for their excellent self-promotion and marketing skills.

Then there is Ron, the pool man.

I’ve talked before about my ‘coffee and chat’ sessions from last summer in Apple Valley. Sharon liked to whimsically call them my ‘playdates’; a moniker I grabbed with pride. Those were impromptu get-togethers with friends in lieu of larger gatherings or social events. These informal, ad-hoc cerebral salons began casually enough but pretty quickly evolved into meeting these friends at least twice a week in a variety of safe locations.

It was always at a safe distance and covered a wide variety of different meeting spots like a coffee shop outdoor patio, a regional park, my back patio or a nearby lake.

I fully intended to continue this new tradition when I returned to Palm Springs. Unfortunately, the Palm Springs Writers Guild was only hosting ‘zoom’ meetings and because that audience tends to be older, they were reticent to meet in person.

It fell to our pool man for me to rediscover the joy of the salon. In this case, it was an impromptu talk about chemicals one afternoon that led to his conservative leanings. After a couple of these discussions, Ron and I fell into a pattern of noontime discussions around the pool twice a week. I think he timed his visits to coincide with our having lunch outside each day. It became a familiar pattern.

I was happy to find someone to continue my coffee and chat sessions even without the coffee and pastry, mandatory for my regular C & C sessions last summer. What differentiated these Southern California cerebral celebrations was the vast political difference between Ron and me.

Ron listens to conservative talk radio each morning as he peruses the internet for his daily stock purchases or sales. He is a lifelong Republican and thought Rush Limbaugh was a saint. Sufficient it to say, we don’t’ agree on a lot of political topics…..except we’ve found that we both have found room for a lot of middle ground. He calls me a centralist and he means it in the nicest way.

What I’ve discovered here under the palm trees and warm winter sun is the same hunger for an exchange of knowledge, ideas, theories, thoughts and opinions all exchanged in a respectful manner. Despite the deep political divide between us, Ron and I are no different from any of my wonderful C & C friends back in Minnesota.

It’s great to have found someone like Ron to help feed my need for intellectual stimulation and exploring new thoughts and ideas. It’s a wonderful use of my time in an era of political stagnation, lemming attention to social media and distractions all around us. This is one of the simpler things in life. Different surroundings but still a great salon.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

The Aging Process

A lot of us are getting older and we can’t do much about it. Every seven-and-a-half seconds another baby boomer turns fifty. At that rate, by 2030, the senior citizen population in the United States is expected to reach eighty million, outnumbering the population of young people for the first time in history. Seems to be happening to a lot of folks I know.

There are unprecedented changes confronting America as advanced age goes mainstream and more and more of us catch it. One book on the market puts it out there plain and simple: “The reality of aging will force us to come to terms with the fact that longevity doesn’t mean eternal youth. America is a society in collective denial of aging. We appreciate vintage in wine, not people.” *

Vaccination clinic in the Coachella Valley

For a while back in January and February, Southern California seemed to be at the epicenter of the corona virus epidemic. Death and dying was a daily, hourly, every couple of minute occurrence, at least in Los Angeles County. The on-going mantra seemed to be: ‘Don’t get sick here because it might kill you.’

Hardest hit seemed to be the elderly who have a host of their own health issues anyway. The virus is an unfortunate addition to the challenges many of us face during the aging process.

I recently got a notice of my 60th high school reunion. Either by fortuitous foresight or a slip of the computer keys, the sender reminded us oldsters to: “Mark your calendars! This may be our last reunion so please plan to attend!!! Sounds like someone has written us off after the tender age of 78.

Growing older is a process that has a form and function of its own. We can only control it to a certain degree. Most of us had a pattern of behavior set before us from our parents and grand-parents years ago. Now it’s our own generation that is dealing with the myriad of issues associated with growing old. Some folks maneuver through their life changes with grace and calmness. Others with a sense of sadness and finality.

For most of us, it’s become a journey in which health has become more important than wealth and we are more aware of the concept of time passage. There is a coming recognition of life’s end and for some a reflection on a life lived. During this journey, many turn to religion, ‘making up for lost time’ or ‘making amends for past sins committed.’

One business executive I know, when told he had six months to live, wanted to keep working until the end and he did. Another decided that all traveling was off the table after age seventy. Others downsized after a lifetime of material accumulations and moved into senior housing.

Many decided to slow down their lives as most past generations have done. They’ve taken to heart the old mantra of ‘acting their age’ and have accepted many of the limitations placed on them by past generations (if only in their own heads.)

My prejudice toward growing older is simple enough. It’s too easy to follow past generations and the traps they left behind. To be fair, for many of them it wasn’t a trap but rather a recognition that after a lifetime of hard work, there awaited the reward of being able to slow down and do little to nothing.

That usually translated into watching a lot of television, a heightened interest in sports (Monday morning quarterbacking), distrust and disdain for politics and worst of all, a gradual isolation from the ‘real world’ that continued on around them. It’s almost as if retirement had sidetracked them from the ever-changing rhythms of modern life.

There’s a reason why senior retirement communities like ‘The Villages’ and ‘Sun City’ emphasize their tons of leisure activities and self-imposed isolation from the real world outside their guarded gates. It’s a collection of like-minded individuals who want to continue on with their well-earned leisure lives and damn the obstacles ahead like the aging process.

It’s interesting to note that in the last ten or so years, a plethora of books have been written about finding ‘new life’ in retirement and how to handle old age. Unlike the generations before them, many in the boomer generation have embraced this new attitude toward growing older.

It’s not the Frank Sinatra version of ‘Young at Heart’ but rather a sober, rational analysis of options available and choices to be made. Primarily it means staying engaged in the world around you and keeping your mind and body active.

While our bodies change and the world continues on, mind still matters. An active intellect can help ward off negative thoughts and offer a wide range of options for anyone even as their body inevitably slows down. Friendships, new and old, can refurbish the soul and reaffirm life’s beauty and charm.

All through her youth and middle age, my mother loved to dance. Then as her body slowed down, she turned to cards to keep her mind active and activated. Now that was one smart lady. I’m not much of a dancer but these feet can still take me up a mountainside and my fingers can still keep tapping computer keys. Mind and matter; we’ve got to keep them both moving.

    *‘Aging in America’ written by photographer Ed Kashi and writer Julie Winokur which began as an award-winning story published by the New York Times Magazine.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Across the Great Divide

I’m tripping over the tangled roots of retirement again… and loving the stumbles. Some folks my age find themselves facing an uncertain future in retirement. They’re limited by their economic, physical and social resources. Their past is history and little on the horizon looks promising. So it’s not surprising that a lot of folks in that predicament turn back in time and try, in one fashion or another, to relive, revive or review segments of their yesteryears that brought them pleasure and pleasant memories.

Then there is another group of folks who feel they have their feet set solidly in the present but relish a return to times gone by and the adventures lived or imagined there. I’d put myself in that latter category. Like one of my favorite songs, ‘Across the Great Divide’ by Kate Wolf, I want to keep crossing borders and boundaries and explore past interests and loves.

I have always had a lifelong interest in folk music. First brought to my attention by the Kingston Trio then Tom Paxton, Bob Dylan, P, P, & M and a whole host of musical artists. Now that genre of music has branched out into a much wider umbrella called Americana music. Musical tastes have moved on with the decades and today what I consider good music might be akin to calling pen and paper ancient but still effective. Nevertheless, the music still touches me like no other.

Granted, there has always been a limited interest in old time music. But that narrowing of the audience has never dissuaded me from telling a story if I am truly interested in it. So it was about a year ago with the subject of folk music, retirement and unrequited love, lost and found. I decided to write a play loosely centered on the concept of new ‘old time’ music. I would call my play ‘Tangled Roots.’

Folk music or more aptly called ‘Americana music’ is as old as this country itself and before that the counties where our forefathers came from. It embodies the American spirit, the Great Depression, riding the rails, an awareness of civil and social causes long before the general public was able to grasp those attacks on freedom and liberty for all.

It includes but is not limited to:

Folk music, Delta blues, Chicago blues, Country Western, Swing, Hillbilly, Zydeco, Appalachian Music, and so forth. It is often bunched together under the title: Roots Music.

I was eager to explore this new kind of play. It would be an intermingling of singing, musical demonstration and an intriguing background storyline for the characters involved. It would be a concert, musical theory class and coming-of-old-age saga wrapped up in a small theater. Black Box would be perfect.

The storyline was simple enough. An aging folk singer who never quite made the grade in Greenwich Village finds employment elsewhere and abandons his dream as a singer-songwriter. He is now facing an undetermined future in his retirement. In his mind there is nowhere to go with his life. His fellow band members are of little help. They’ve grown tired of playing their sets at retirement homes, cheap bars and free summer concerts. There’s no money to be made and little appreciation from their mixed audiences. So along with the conundrum of one’s future life there are no encouraging signs on the horizon for the path presently taken. Add in the first inclining’s of romance and all the elements were there for my storyline.

So it begins and ends with my main protagonist.  Music was his life back then and he wonders if he can go back to that carefree period when he was young and hungry and eager to take on the world. He can still play the guitar and sing the songs. He thinks he can still pen a tune if given enough time and coffee. Whiskey and wine won’t do it anymore.

He wants to explore this option but he is all alone. The other band members see a future only replete with repeat performances and shrinking audiences. Most of them would rather spend their mornings at the coffee shop and evenings staring at the tube. Then a mysterious woman steps into his life or at least the fringes of it and another layer of confusion, conflict and contrasting lifestyles is added to the mix.

There is a lot more work to do before my fingertips tap out ‘The End.’ Aside from workshopping the play to work out the rough parts, other production challenges abound. There is the challenge of finding an actor who can sing and play the guitar. Finding other actors who can back him up might even be even harder. Selecting a musical lineup that shows a good sampling of that musical genre will be daunting. Then there is the challenge of securing a small venue like a black box theater.

None of these obstacles changes the fact that the core premise of the play is sound. I believe there is an audience out there for my storyline. Now the fun will be to put the whole package together. I still believe that many folks still care about old time music. At least some of us old timers do.

Now I just have to prove it.