Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Late to the Dance

I turn 79 in a couple of weeks and for the first time in my life; I think I might be getting older.

It’s no big deal or a kind of denial in its most ardent form or some old guy pretending to be young again. It isn’t some middle-age crisis come late to my life…missed that one totally. And it isn’t my creeping soreness getting out of bed, the inability to run mountain trails long and hard or the challenges of even a slow mountain hike. To be honest, it’s just the realization that I’ve been around the block more than a couple of times and it’s been one heck of a journey…even if it’s been a few steps behind everyone else, most of the time.

As I’ve ruminated about in past blogs, I started out well behind the pack in grade school and didn’t pick up much steam in high school. My background and upbringing and nuclear family probably had a lot to do with it. But the fact is I was never near the head of the pack. It didn’t bother me that I was ‘stuck in the middle’ like a lot of my buddies.

There was a detour in the middle of college for two years of military service. Then an escape to Europe for a fantasy adventure that turn cold far too soon.

By the time I was stumbling through my first series of jobs, my high school classmates were all getting married, having kids and beginning their stellar climb up the corporate ladder.  I was literally a day late and a dollar short but still plowing ahead.

Then slowly I began to gain some traction on the rest of the pack. I found tremendous satisfaction working in television and video production and began my own business in that field in 1980. Real estate came shortly afterwards and only ended recently. Along the way came two kids, five grandkids, a fair amount of traveling and a much better perspective of world affairs.

Then at the ripe age of 65 when I didn’t see a future for me in retirement, I choose to become a writer instead. That gig has lasted almost fourteen years now and it’s been an unmitigated blast. It’s taken me to the jungles of Vietnam, the canyons of the old West, the dark backcountry of Big Sur, the façade that can be Palm Springs and hanging out with a skinny hippo.

Old age means I can read old Playboy magazines and not be embarrassed by it. I can listen to classical music (music from the 50s and 60s) and not have to explain why. I’ve earned the right to do what I damn well feel please; within reason, the law and my wife’s permission. And I can still tease my brain with ‘what if’ and not feel bad about it.

I can still fantasize about hiking the C to C (Cactus to Clouds or Skyline Trail) from the bottom of the Coachella Valley to the top of Mount San Jacinto but understand it’s probably not going to happen. Instead, I get to appreciate the photos that Brian and Melanie took when they accomplished that magnificent feat several years ago.

I can revisit the idea of long distance bike rides and be willing to admit that an electric bike might be the answer for that challenge now. I can still go to LA Fitness and work on this old tired body of mine. I can still search my tablet each morning, coffee and treat in hand, for writing ideas. It’s never too late to begin a new novel, play, screenplay or novella. If ‘Waleed, the skinny hippo’, is successful, I may even have a new series of children’s books to ponder.

It would seem upon honest reflection, that for me, almost every step along the way has been just a couple of steps behind everyone else. Always wondering why others in my class ‘got it’ long before I did. Moving to Europe when I hadn’t toughened my boots on local travel first. Wondering why those heart-throbbing, gut-wrenching romances in high school, college and beyond never quite measured up to the romantic notion that movies and books had painted in my brain. Having young children about the time my buddies were talking high school and college and becoming empty nesters.

But after seventy plus years of playing catch up I’m quite content where I am, still trudging along, catching fragrances along the way, and enjoying the journey.

Still late to the dance and OK with it.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

My Secret Garden

OK, it really isn’t a secret garden.  And it certainly has nothing on that wonderful example of early nineteenth century English children’s literature by Frances Hodgsen Burnell. It’s just my little contemplative corner here in the desert.

To be honest, it’s nothing more than a couple of Adirondack chairs (estate sale specials) in one corner of my small orange grove. Nevertheless, it’s a place to go when I want to get lost inside my head and escape my daily routine. The orange trees are neighboring a couple of lemon trees; all of which are going through an off-season this year. So, while the grove isn’t as thick as usual, it still provides enough greenery to close me off from the rest of the world, literally and figurative.

Whereas last year we harvested an abundance of lemons and oranges and limes, this year the output has been relatively sparse. This last summer brought an onslaught of high temperatures and with it a steady growth of the grove. Yet even with trimming this fall; it’s still a secluded corner in our side yard.

It’s a different spot than the rest of our back yard. Unlike our two recliners where Sharon and I can sit back and enjoy a setting sun, a rising sun and the occasional cloud on the horizon, my plum-colored chairs block out all of that scenery. If I want to see our mountains constantly changing color, tone, depth and character, I wouldn’t go hide in the orange grove.

We also have three stone benches that are surprisingly comfortable for a slab of stone. But in truth, they are more for decoration or stone art than a comfortable resting place. That leaves our two (depending on sunlight and the time of day) orange/pink/salmon-colored chairs purchased at an estate sale for ten dollars each as a quiet third alternative.

I started retreating to my orange grove almost by accident. I had just gotten my first stack of old Playboy magazine’s online and wanted a comfortable place to get lost in my past; real and imagined. I found the Adirondack two chairs and surrounding orange grove so relaxing and away from anyone and everything that I began to sit there whenever I was in the mood. My surroundings are nothing special.

To my left

Straight ahead

Or to my right

Then again, it’s not the view I come for. Instead it’s the quiet that surrounds me, an occasional bee or hummingbird out snacking or tiny lizards scampering about my feet. It’s another world where I’m cut off from the real world, at least in my mind. It’s a wonderful place to reflect and refresh my perspective on life.

And how fortunate I am.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Fighting Complexity

Between the wash and the spin cycle there’s a story to be told. It’s a tale of progress, lack of imagination and sadly, an overt attention to the bottom line.  Two examples probably tell it best.

The first example is our washing machine in Palm Springs. We bought it about ten years ago, a top of the line Maytag we were told. Last year the mother board went out and we had to get it fixed. OK, you say, things like that happen. True, but I would add that we only use it for six months out of the year and then about once a week when we’re in town. Now compare that to our older (as in 40 years older) Maytag washer and dryer in Apple Valley that are still going strong. Sometimes newer isn’t always better.

Welcome to our ever-changing world where nothing ever remains the same. The only constant is change and in our capitalistic society the illusion that newer is better. Alvin Toffler wrote about these phenomena years ago with his best-selling ‘Future Shock’ and ‘Third Wave’ books. Riding on the coattails of those social and cultural benchmarks were several books examining the slow demise of the American Dream?

Not to be undone, there was recently an article written in Financial Advisor Magazine that warned about ‘The Coming Shock That Will Transform the U.S. economy’. The basic gist of the article was that there is a new wave of transformative change sweeping over the U.S. economy. Think of it as ‘Future Shock,’ ‘Third Wave,’ and ‘Death of the American Dream’ all on steroids. This teleshock, or the rise in telecommunications, is the major impetus for these changes.

There seems to be a pattern here. Another social, economic and cultural change is happening in the country. In this case, the author states that ‘among the big losers will be the American upper middle class, especially those with jobs connected to information technology and those who can work from home.’ The article then adds on a less than hopeful note that ‘The teleshock is likely to continue for a considerable period of time, perhaps longer than the China Shock.’ To add a little icing on that cake of despair, the article ends with: ‘It is conventional wisdom that “software is eating the world.”’

Now, don’t get me wrong, because I think much of what the author says is true. My only complaint is his implied conclusion that this means the end of the world as we know it. Telecommuting is happening, hiring practices are changing and jobs may become even more competitive. Welcome to the new world of commerce. The same goes for manufactured goods.

While it’s true that many appliances go out long before they should, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use them. The cliché that ‘they don’t make them like they used to’ is probably true. If you asked any good auto mechanic or appliance repair person they could probably tell you which products are good and which items are just plain crap. All it really means is ‘carpe diem’ or buyer beware.

If ever there was a need for due diligence on the part of consumers, now is the time. Cars, machines, computer technology, foods and personal health all become one’s personal responsibility to accept, reject or chose selectively. Granted, it gets really scary when you think about the Boeing 737 that needs a Harvard PhD in computer technology to fly.

While you can’t return to days of old, you can learn to live smarter and better if you tone down the hype that many media sites are spouting forth each day. Lifestyles are personal choices and the consequences follow in remarkably familiar patterns.

  • ·       Several lines were taken from an article in Financial Advisor Magazine entitled: ‘The Coming Shock That Will Transform the U.S. Economy’ by Tyler Cowen. November 4th, 2021.