Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Secrets to Any Relationship

Sharon and I
One of the joys of being married to a very smart person is the wonderful abundance of advice, suggestions, comments, and snide remarks made in an effort to make me a better person. Most long term couples do that to one another. Some more than others. The trick, I believe, is to listen intently, assess the advice given and then make up my own mind as to its validity. Unfortunately (for me) my wife is usually right about 90% of the time. So I have to listen…I’m not stupid;  just slow at times. Sharon insists her record stands at 110% of the time but that’s yet another discussion.

For years Sharon has preached that most men are clueless because they ‘just don’t get it.’ The secret, she insists, is NOT in giving big presents, hosting elaborate events or making expense gestures. Instead it is in those little ‘everyday things’ that go right to the heart of any woman. A kind act with no reciprocation expected, helping around the house, a single rose given for no reason or any one of a million or more little signs that you care.

I would extend that ‘caring state of mind’ to anyone you’d like to be closer to; a friend, a colleague, an associate or someone more intimate than that. It’s really quite simple. If you want to make a good impression on someone, make an honest gesture. Anything less can be seen for what it immediately is. It really is ‘the little things that count.’

I’m reminded of that almost daily and I’m not talking about my other half whispering it in my ear. Palm Springs as well as the other desert communities down Valley has its own set of rules for hosting and entertaining. It’s a gathering of desert folks that enjoy informality and casual dining along with evening entertainment, usually cards or games. It’s informal and yet appreciation of their guests is built into the behavior patterns of the hosts.

The same is true for the guests invited. It’s the little gestures that show true appreciation and acknowledgment of what their hosts are offering. Common curtsey dictates bringing a gift, a bottle of wine or something to snack on. It’s acknowledging the effort your host has made for a pleasant evening. It never hurts to pitch in and help set up, serve, or clean up afterwards.

A couple of years ago, I had an interesting conversation with Rosie who was the manager of our fitness club here in town.

She commented that this has been an unusually busy season for her members to have surprise visitors coming in from cold weather parts of the county. Not surprisingly, these new-found friends are quite interested in partaking of our unseasonably warm weather during the heart of winter elsewhere.

One member even commented: “I just heard from my brother whom I haven’t spoken to in years. He wants to visit with his new bride and I haven’t even met her yet. What am I going to do with them for a week in my small two-bedroom condo?” She’s decided to spend appreciably more time at the gym while her self-invited company lounges by her pool.

Living in a warm weather locale during the winter months makes one attractive for visitors and occasional guests who love to drop in and savor the warm weather, blue skies and gorgeous mountain views. The same thing is happening to our friends who now live here year-round. They too have seen a steady influx of guests from back home.

Unfortunately every once in a while some of these newly implanted house guests have an attitude that your home has become their resort away from home. They’ve drunk from the carafe called “A Palm Springs Lifestyle” and swallowed it entirely. It’s an interesting paradigm and yet nothing could be further from reality.

What seems to be missing for these occasional house guests is the simple realization that it’s your ‘home’ they’re staying in. It’s not a Motel Six or some cute B&B they read about in Vanity Fair. Some of them don’t seem to understand that it’s not rental property or a vacation home. It’s your home…period…and as such should be treated that way.

While all of us here are incredibly fortunate to have a place to stay during the winter months, most of us have worked darn hard to earn the right to be here. It’s not something we take lightly or for granted and as such we’re very protective of it.

I’ve stumbled upon a simple test that is a pretty good indicator of how our guests are going to perceive their stay in town. It occurred over a couple of years with three different couples.

After picking up our guests at the airport, I drove to the exit gate to pay for parking.

1.      Without saying a word, the first couple whipped out some money to pay for parking.
2.      Once past the gate, the second couple spoke up in the back seating about offering to pay for parking but went no further than that.
3.      The third couple just kept talking in the backseat and didn’t even notice that I had paid for parking.

It turned out to be the perfect metaphor for how these three couples saw their week in Palm Springs as our guests. The first couple saw it as a wonderful opportunity to enjoy all that Palm Springs had to offer and a willingness to show their appreciation for opening up our home to them. They didn’t hesitate to pay for their fair share of our expenses that week.

The second couple appreciated their week in Palm Springs and wanted to reciprocate by taking us to dinner a couple of times.

The third couple enjoyed their week in Palm Springs.

Comparing house guests with a marriage partner may be a bit of a stretch. But the power of those simple gestures can’t be underestimated. I keep hearing that all the time. Some of it has sunk in while more work is probably needed for a complete reformation.

“I keep trying.” I argue. 

“Yes, you are,” Sharon responds.

It’s the little things that count. I have to remember that the next time we’re invited over for dinner or I think to make ‘that simple gesture’ to my better half.

So goes the game of life, hospitality and friendship.

And true love.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Having Arrived

William Krisel sketch of a 'Pod House'

Our Indian Canyon Neighborhood has two neighborhood parties a year; one in the fall and another in the spring. It’s a great opportunity for everyone to get together and share local news, gossip, city and community events. Volunteer opportunities abound with the annual Festival of Lights (Christmas) parade and for Modernism Week. It’s a chance for many neighbors to get involved in their community once again during the season. It’s also a chance to see old familiar faces that went north, south, east, and west during the summer months.

For an introverted writer such as me, it’s a wonderful opportunity to observe and make mental notes on some of the diverse, eclectic and fascinating folks who live around here. As accomplished as so many of them are, there doesn’t seem to be any ‘one-upmanship or haughty attitude among the lot. I’ve come to believe that the one common denominator among these folks is their casual attitude toward success. Few if any are trust fund babies. Most have earned their place in the sun. A lot of them are DINKs (duel income, no kids). In short, they’ve’ arrived’ but don’t feel the need to call attention to themselves. I admire that quality in anyone but especially with this group.

When our neighborhood was first planned, it was the city’s southernmost development and considered quite a distance from downtown. Originally built in the late 1960’s, Indian Canyons is comprised of primarily midcentury modern custom homes designed by such noted architects as Dan Palmer, William Krisel, Stan Sackley and others. The first residences were situated around a golf course, now called the Indian Canyons Golf Resort.

Everyone was excited about visiting the party house for this fall. It’s known in architectural circles as the “Pod House.” It’s an original design from the world famous desert architect William Krisel. The house consists of a series of octagonal forms clustered together. It’s been remodeled several times and has been updated but still manages to stay true to its original desert form and function.

These neighborhood parties are a casual affair in dress, demeanor and conversation. No one is trying to impress. A few of the uninitiated who come with that ‘I’ve arrived attitude’ very quickly realize there is always someone else with a bigger house, more exotic collection of cars, better beach house, mountain chalet or condo in the Big Apple.

Success comes in many shapes and forms. L.A. is notorious for its A-lister parties where perceived success is everything. There, in the smog bowl, people feel the need to show their success through their opulent homes, a herd of vintage cars in the driveway or art pieces on the walls. Other folks wear their success through implied or real power and influence. Fortunately, few of those A-lister types show up at our parties.

Instead there seems to be a common pattern among the folks here in the desert to downplay their success. They’d much rather go about their business in a very subtle way and not call attention to themselves. I like to play the speck on the wall observing all the goings-on and making mental notes for future novels, plays, etc.

Sharon loves to mix and mingle with the crowd. There’s usually a parcel of good-looking, sharply dressed dapper young men all schooled in the fine arts of food, fashion and architecture. And every one of them safe. Sharon, of course, is in her element; working the room like a scene right out of ‘Hello, Dolly.’

There’s always someone new to meet and usually they come with an interesting story to share. For example, at one of our first parties I met a new neighbor of mine. Turns out, he is the chief pilot and head mechanic for Disney. The mouse has six corporate jets hangered in Burbank and they circle the globe on a daily basis. The first time I met him at the fall party he had just flown in from Paris and was in Dubai before that. Another neighbor was in ‘the movie business’ in the sixties and seventies. “I was in most of those awful B-movie biker films, playing sidekick to the chief villain,” He told me with a laugh. “Usually I got bumped off by the end of the movie.” Now he acts and directs in local theater productions in his retirement.

Sharon met a fellow artist whose work graces galleries on Rodeo Drive and New York. They like to huddle in the corner and talk ‘art talk’ most of the night. Another non-descript individual is a big L.A. developer.

I’ve always told my kids not to brag about themselves. ‘Let others talk about you,’ I’ve coached them, ‘they will probably embellish what they say. If you said the same thing, it would sound like bragging. If they talk about you, it sounds better than it probably is.’

I believe you show people who you are by your actions, not your words. Talk is cheap. Actions are seen and believed. My neighbors seem to abide by that rule. Nice bunch of folks.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A Challenge to Live With

I wanted to call it a handicap or a disability but that seemed rather insensitive to those who suffer from real physical and mental challenges. While not critical to life or limb, it’s still a serious issue for those of us affected. It’s often ignored or simply categorized as being lazy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Undiagnosed and untreated, it can be a real detriment to success.

I’m talking about the inability to concentrate or focus on any one subject for any appreciable amount of time. It borders on ‘attention deficit’ but not to the degree that it could be considered an illness or a disease. But for me and others, and coupled with a somewhat addictive personality, I find it very difficult to focus on anything for any length of time. And I always have.

In my ‘How to Get Started Writing’ workshop I teach participants that the key to success in writing is to write. ‘Tush in the chair’ and go to work. But one familiar refrain is always: ‘How does one stay focused for any length of time?’ For me the answer turns out to be short concentrations of time spent on the subject matter and then purposeful separation to recharge my creative batteries.

It was almost by accident that I discovered early in my television / video production career that a simple walk down the hall or escape to the coffee pot gave my mind that much needed respite to get uncluttered and recharged for the next task on hand. Unlike a lot of my colleagues who could sit at their desk for hours at a time, my seat-warming periods were brief at best. So, the answer for me was to break up that concentration with scheduled breaks and planned distractions.

When I finally shifted my energies to writing fulltime in lieu of retirement I knew I faced a daunting task ahead. How does one write a novel, play or screenplay when the very act of writing demands focused, concentrated time-on-task? The answer came to me very quickly, that is, to do what I’ve always done all my life. Multiple tasks piled up upon one another.

For as far back as I can remember, I have always had multiple projects, assignments, tasks, duties or jobs going on at the same time. Perhaps instinctively or more likely as an act of survival I was always working ‘at something.’ My Mother, ever the silent teacher by example, did that by working all day and ‘doing something’ every night. Sitting in front of the boob tube after school wasn’t allowed in our household.

I tell my students they must find their own ‘space’ and ‘time.’ By that I mean they should find a spot where they can do nothing but concentrate on their art. Then they should decide what time of day they are the most creative. It varies with every individual and no one time or space fits everyone.

I discovered the secret to organizing my own ideas a long time ago. When I began writing I had an office in the basement of my home. At the time, I was working fulltime for public television, running my own video production/distribution business, managing two apartment buildings, overseeing other investments and trying to be an involved father. That office was where I conducted my regular business.

But right around the corner in the laundry room was a countertop. That was my writing area and all I did there was write…and nothing else.

Finding the right time to write is the second critical component here. Whenever is the best time for you (and not someone else) is the key question. My most creative time is early in the morning or at least by 9:00 am after my quiet reading time and breakfast. When I was still working fulltime it was whenever I could find the time. The best time and place and artistic style is out there for anyone to find. It is a journey inside your head to find what best suits your lifestyle.

If you can set up a time schedule, a routine, that’s great. But just having a place to work will help adjust your mind to your art. It can be an office, the kitchen table, some bedroom space, garage space or even a closet if it’s big enough. Coupled with time and space and, for me, a scheduled break in the action this formula helps keep me focused and productive.

When Sharon decided to focus on her art, our kitchen table became her new tablet of choice. That area and the garage was where she could sit or stand and do what she does best; being creative. It limited a lot of dinner parties but sure helped her create some nice pieces of art.

One of the most satisfying aspects of teaching my workshop is having participants share their personal stories and antidotes about the challenges of writing. The main message I try to get across is that not one approach fits all of us at any stage in our lives.

Whatever your personal challenges, learn to deal with them as best you can. Find the avenue most suited to your personality. Find what works best for you. Find that spot where you are comfortable with yourself and your selected process. Proceed with the task ahead in a manner that best satisfies your need to produce and be satisfied with the outcome. In other words, be yourself and live your life to the fullest.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Colorado Soiree

It was another quick jaunt to Colorado while Brian and Amy slipped away to wine country. For Sharon and me, it was time to bond, travel and connect with the Colorado kids. Oh, and to spend an afternoon with a furry rodent of questionable character.

A new sheriff was in town and the grandkids couldn’t have been more thrilled. It was six days of non-stop activities that left Nana and Papa totally exhausted and the kiddos exhilarated. A small price to pay for building grandparent memories with lots of experiences, events and silliness thrown in for good measure.

The storm of activities was slow in coming. Our first day in town was quiet since the grand-children were in school. After that, it was our typical harried, multi-tasked, quasi-organized rush of excitement for all of us.

The last time we were in town, the kid’s first event of the day was a huge swim meet that witnessed a gathering of all the aquatic tribes. This time around, we began with a grand tour of the greater Denver Metropolitan area. Yep, the kids are all in traveling sports teams.

Maya, our eldest grandchild, switched from soccer to Lacrosse last year. She’s quickly grasped the fundamentals of the game and acquired the skills to make her a valued member of her team. So mimicking the ‘Oregon trail,’ first thing Saturday morning we set off for the community of Littleton for Maya’s Lacrosse game. Even that early in the morning, the sidelines were filled with semi-awake, coffee-clutching parents yelling encouragement at their kids.

As quickly as we arrived the game was soon over, and we had to scramble to find our next venue. Spencer’s soccer game was in yet another distant suburb; this time it was in Centennial.

Doesn't anyone drive a car anymore?

Finally it was cris-crossing back across the metro to Aurora, Colorado for Samantha’s soccer game. During it all the kids were troopers. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Nana’s rule of ‘no screen time’ was relaxed a bit so she and I could concentrate on Saturday morning traffic and the distance of our travels.

Fields of Plenty

Dynamo on the Right

At every game while we huddled in our camp chairs buried under thermos blankets, the kids who weren’t playing were clustered around books and devices. Visiting urchins came and went and no one seemed to notice the chill in the air. The adults watched each game with intensity usually reserved for major league sporting events.

Ever the ‘reading hounds,’ we had to, once again, visit the newest library in town then begin the first of several art lessons.

Nana had the kids back working on their favorite art project; alcohol ink. Just as Brennen and Charlotte had quickly grasped that creative process back home so too had the Colorado kids. Collectively, all five grandchildren have now spread their creative wings and come up with some fascinating works of art. Pastel drawings were next on the list of paintings to explore.

After a morning of focused painting, Nana offered up options for lunch and entertainment. Much to my chagrin, there was a unanimous request to go to Chuck E. Cheese. It had been many years since we took the Colorado kids there. Little had changed since our last visit.

Ready for Action

More Tickets, Please!

It was just as noisy, chaotic and messy. The demographics had shifted but kids are kids. Our grandchildren had a wonderful time and that was all that mattered.

The rest of our soiree in Colorado was a non-stop mixture of garage sales, piano lessons, more art classes, reading, relaxing, and fooling around. There were games every night, a special assistant breakfast cook to Nana each morning and ‘coffee with Papa;’ one kid per morning.

Another Satisfied Customer

The days and nights were non-stop as were the grandchildren. There’s a reason why only young people should have kids. It was exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. Our goal has always been to give the kiddos lots of experiences, time with their grandparents and a little advice thrown in when each grandchild gets to go on our traditional ‘Starbucks with Papa.’

We know that realistically there is only a limited time available before our grandchildren ‘grow up’ and move on with their lives. It’s a limited time capsule Sharon and I have tried to embrace and embellish and hold dear to our hearts and theirs as well.

Where else can a couple of old folks teach and learn so much at the same time. We are truly blessed.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Hiding the Brush Strokes

It always looks so easy because the media wants us to believe it is. House flippers flip and make a fortune overnight. Writers pen the great American novel without breaking a sweat, directors create a one of-a-kind film just as planned and songwriters simply pen a classic on a whim. We want to believe that a playwright’s magic on Broadway was a simple journey from pen to stage.

Few of us truly understand the panic, fear, exhilaration, heartbreak and hope that goes into creating a work of art. We don’t want to hear about the years spent toiling in the graveyard of broken dreams, spent efforts and abject failures before something, if anything, ever happens from all that soul-crushing effort. It’s all made to look so easy.  We seldom, if ever, hear about the many miles traveled before success is reached. Instead every artist is presented as an overnight success.

It’s called “hiding the brush strokes.” Ignoring the harsh reality that in real life there are no guarantees and nothing is owed. Those with grit get it. Those lacking that ‘something within’ keep dreaming and hoping then wonder why nothing ever happens. Without real effort and sacrifice and usually some failure nothing is accomplished.

Dustin Hoffman spent ten years toiling in off-Broadway plays before ‘The Graduate’ launched his storybook career. George Lucas went through hell to get his first feature ‘THX 1138’ produced. When it crashed as a commercial failure, he wrote another movie initially called ‘Friday Night in Modesto’ and finally produced it as ‘American Graffiti.’ Even that success didn’t guarantee any support for his next feature about space ships and large furry sidekicks.

Dinkytown Scholar Coffee Shop

Bob Dylan paid his dues in Dinky town and Greenwich Village before a planted review by Robert Sheldon rocketed his career into the folkie stratosphere. The Beatles spent two years toiling in the graveyard of Hamburg’s strip clubs and dive bars before Brian Epstein plucked them out of the ‘Cellar’ and made them stars.

Closer to home and more personal, the examples are all around me.

I’ve seen Sharon start with her welding and metal art classes several years ago then recently expand to alcohol ink painting. From there she has experimented with acrylic paints and a host of other mediums and techniques to constantly challenge herself.

She is taking classes here and there to share ideas, glean tips and advice from the professionals. She is constantly learning, improving and growing her art.

After several years, she now has some of her select painting on display and for sale at a design store in Minneapolis. A small step but a start.

Ever the educator, Sharon has shared that same philosophy of discipline and perseverance with our grandchildren. Very quickly, they’ve become attentive students of Nana and have begun exploring various artistic mediums themselves.

The Colorado Kids' Gallery
3rd Place in his age category at the MN State Fair

1st Place in her age category at the MN State Fair

My art is the written word. My mediums are primarily novels, plays and movies. Each presents its own unique set of challenges and opportunities for story-telling. Through good fortune and lucky breaks, I’ve had two plays produced by the Second Act Players in Rosemount. Each was a wonderful learning experience and another opportunity to express myself.

But there were ten self-published books, an Investment Guide and numerous treatments before those two initial plays paved the way for more playwriting opportunities.

I teach in my workshop on ‘How to Get Started as a Writer’ that the key to writing is to write. I make the point right up front that there are no guarantees and no promises. I can only point the way for my audience. I remind them that there are three things needed to become a writer.

Desire…but they won’t know if they have it unless they give it a try.

Perseverance…they won’t know if they have it unless they try.

Talent…they won’t know if they have it unless they give it a try.

The key here is to write something every day, almost every day or whenever they can. If they do that they will begin to feel a passion that gets them out of bed each morning. They will have begun traveling on that long road to becoming a writer. That’s called showing your brush strokes.

As with any kind of art, nothing is guaranteed or comes easy. That’s life. But what a gift it is to create something, anything, that’s been swirling around in your brain for oh so long.

Let’s face it, there is no better way to live than to do whatever it is you love to do. Isn’t that what life is all about.