Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Marrying Up

My friend was offended when I suggested that some men marry up. He found it hard to believe that someone would marry outside of their own social class. The idea that a man would marry a woman more accomplished than himself was a strange new concept to him. He explained to me in detail how he and his wife were quite equal and complimented each other in every way.

I quickly backtracked. Not because I felt I was wrong but because I didn’t want to offend my friend. He had married well. So had I. I guess it was just my semantics that had thrown him off and raised his defenses.

To clear the air with him, I tried to clarify what I meant to say. I thought there was a balance between my wife and me but it certainly wasn’t equal…in every way. It was a balance between two strong personalities but not a case of plain vanilla symmetry.

For example, I told him, I’m inherently cheap. My wife isn’t afraid to spend money. She likes to meet new people and try new things. I don’t but I don’t mind going along with her wishes. She likes to be in charge (alpha female personality.) I usually don’t care about most sundry everyday decisions of our day-to-day living. My focus is elsewhere. I’m not afraid of strong women. She is a very strong woman.

Fortunately when it comes to both of our core values, we’re in total sync. Whether it is the value of education, personal development, financial goals and objectives or the vapid nature of material goods, we speak the same language.

The internet is replete with articles about how to marry the right person. There are guidelines, benchmarks, tests and self-evaluations to see if marrying someone older than yourself will work out, if mixed religions can flourish together, if cultural and ethnic backgrounds make a difference.

Some guidelines make a lot of sense: Don’t marry potential. Choose character over chemistry. Don’t neglect the emotional needs of your potential partner. Avoid opposing life plans. Avoid a lack of emotional connection. Pay attention to your own emotional anxiety. Beware of avoiding personal responsibility. Finally, watch out for a lack of emotional health and availability in your potential partner.

And yet once you’re done with all the graphs and charts and guidelines and rules, there can still be this inexplicable, unmistakable, hard-to-define connection. And even after many years and countless miles traveled together, the connection can still be there.

How many people marry up and don’t even realize it. It certainly wasn’t intentional on my part. It just so happened that Sharon had many of the qualities that I was lacking… who knew? An ISTJ marries an exact opposite. Talk about disparate ends of the personality spectrum. Yet after many years of marriage we still find similarities as well as differences that define our relationship. Besides, I’m not sure I’d want to be married to someone like me…nay, probably not.

Both my son and daughter found spouses who share their interest in the important things in life but also balanced them out. Their spouses compliment my kid’s their idiosyncrasies and shortcomings. Yes, I can say that, I’m their father.

Finding the right spouse can sometimes be a crap shoot or just the right combination of luck and timing. My high school girlfriend married a doctor right out of college. That seemed to fit her personality.

My college girlfriend married a fellow who became a professor at one of the service academies. That also seemed like a good match for her personality and needs.

Then through a curious combination of timing, placement and karma, I began dating my future wife. Our backgrounds were, in fact, quite different. I was a city boy dating a farm girl. I like Bob Dylan and the Beatles. She didn’t know that friend of mine and wasn’t crazy about bugs. I liked smart sophisticated women. But this was a woman whose level of sophistication was far superior to my own. In fact, an alpha female who was as comfortable in the classroom as she was in the boardroom.  On the surface, someone totally out of my league. Beneath the surface; just the same.

So why has it worked out so well for so long?

My amazing wife and I

Fortunately I’ve never let my ego get in the way of a strong female companion. It must be tough being married to men with large egos. Who would want to be known as the ‘little woman back home’? Even Don Draper’s wife Betty grew tired of that moniker and threw him away.

So marrying up, although unplanned, has worked out pretty well for me. Although a curious mixture, it’s a chemistry that works for us even if it still requires patience, tolerance and understanding.

I’m working on those attributes too.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

South of France

So I’m finally about to complete a journey that started back in 1967 in the middle of a fierce snowstorm in Denmark. Once again I’m off to the South of France where sunshine and warmth and those infamous topless bathing beauties await my imagination and a respite from frozen Scandinavia. Only this time I’ll actually complete my journey to Nice by bus instead of a failing thumb.

The conclusion of this sojourn south has been a long time a-coming. It seems like forever since that fateful day when I decided that Denmark in wintertime was too close to Minnesota’s own version of a white hell. I’ve often imagined what that road trip would have been like if I has actually completed it.
No matter; a lot of living has happened since that eventful day. In fact, it’s been a veritable lifetime of storied adventures, loves lost and found, kids coming and growing up and the ghost of past work lives. Or maybe it’s just mature age creeping forward as time dims those fleeting memories of my youthful exuberance and dreams.

Obviously, I’m in a different place now. Back then it was the Herald Tribune that gave me the latest in U.S. and international news. Now the Riviera Coast has its own web site, the Riviera Times complete with ads, real estate listings, weather and other helpful data. What a short fifty years of change can produce.

We’re on the Provence, one of the river cruise ships operated by Grand Circle. The river trip will take us from Macon to Arles and then the final leg by bus to Nice. It will mean leisurely cruising the waterways of France coupled with walking tours of quaint towns and villages along the way.

The Provence is one of the smaller boats in the Grand Circle armada. It’s much more compact than the larger boat we took on our cruise from Vienna to Amsterdam. 94Locks and a Cup of Coffee. Onboard there are only 45 passengers plus crew verses the larger ship with 130 passengers and a larger crew. But the cabins are much larger than before and the other guests are all pleasant traveling companions.

There’s Wifi on the boat and a currency exchange so I don’t have to go looking for an American Express store to pick up my mail or exchange my American dollars. But after the first morning, there’s a sad realization that I’m addicted to e-mail and news on the internet. The poor Wifi connection onboard strains my quiet morning routine that only the passing countryside with multiple cups of coffee and too many croissants can make up for. 

It was a week and a half that passed far too quickly…but in the end left a lot of indelible memories.
The passengers were a curious and yet unremarkable group of people. It was plain vanilla with plenty of sprinkles to liven up our conversations. There were three sets of Mother-Daughter couples on the boat. Their banter and sometimes exasperated conversations made for great eaves-dropping. At the farewell party, one of the mothers thanked us all for including her in all the activities and making her feel so welcome. Damn near brought tears to my eyes.

There was an ex-military man who hadn’t yet learned to let go. His commanding comments often heightened the chagrin of the other passengers. Surprisingly, there were several couples with no kids to speak of and proud of it. In true modern day travel fashion, hometown folks intermingled with veteran road warriors to share their love of travel. Months earlier, a couple of high-powered business executives had been set out to pasture. Their fidgeting and restlessness made the rest of us nervous until they finally settled down and got into the rhythm of the river. As always, there were several invisible couples just along for the ride.

The small towns and villages came and went. Some were interesting to visit. Others could have been bypassed. The next major city we hit after Paris was Lyon. Lyon is a UNESCO world heritage site. Once the capitol of Gaul under the Romans, Lyon flourished as a Renaissance trading center based on its extensive silk industry.

After Lyon, the small riverfront villages and towns pretty much seemed the same. Our luck changed as we pulled into Avignon. It was their annual two week artistic festival that filled the city with every act imaginable. It was like Minnesota’s fringe festival or similar venues in Chicago and San Francisco. It was a two week performing arts extravaganza centered in the heart of the old walled city. 

After Avignon, it became a downhill run to Arles where we disembarked and climbed aboard our tour bus for the final run to Nice. On the way to Nice, we stopped at Rhone American Cemetery. It was a quiet and somber visit with a tour guide who didn’t mince words as to the horror of war and the sacrifice made by those soldiers in the early days of the invasion of Southern France. 

Strangely as I stood amid the white crosses my mind wandered back to 1964 when I was in the Army and had volunteered for duty in Vietnam.  Now I couldn’t help but wonder what might have happened if my request had been approved.

There have been some cities that for one reason or another strike a chord of interest with me. It’s a feeling that I belong there. I could live there. A part of me is already there. London, Hong Kong and San Francisco stand out among others. Now I can add Nice to that list of dense urban jungles that piqued my interest. 

For reasons that I can’t explain it immediately feels as if Nice is my kind of place. And it has nothing to do with the scant beach attire worn all over town. Nice felt like home even before we climbed out of the bus and were enveloped by the bright sunlight, 90 degree heat and accompanying humidity.

I finally made it to Nice. I’m guessing it would have been different back in ’67 and yet not so much. I’m older now but not much wiser. There’s been a lifetime of living in between my start in Denmark and this final arrival in Nice. It’s good to finally be home. 

Now which direction is the beach?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My Secret Paramour

I had a secret girlfriend back in my foolish youthful days. She was a short black-haired beauty who didn’t speak a word of English. To say her background was storied and strange would be an understatement. Her life read more like some fictional character who wanders in and out of the dark mysterious pages of some foreign novel masterpiece.

I never met her in person. By the time we were first introduced, her life was coming to a sad and lonely end in her villa in the south of France. Her last words supposedly were “Every damn fool thing you do in this life, you pay for.” Her grave is in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Year in and year out, it is one of the most visited grave sites in all of France. 

To wit; she was born on December 19th, 1915. Over her lifetime, she experienced lost love, true love, tremendous heartache, poverty and fame well beyond her wildest imagination. She was named Edith after the World War One British nurse Edith Cavell who was executed for helping French soldiers escape from German captivity. Her last name was Piaf which is slang for sparrow. It was a nickname she received in her early twenties and became her moniker for life. ‘The Little Sparrow.’

Edith Piaf became a French cabaret singer who was widely regarded as France’s national diva as well as being one of France’s greatest international stars. She is still considered by most of her countrymen as a national treasure even after her death in 1963.

She came back to mind when I was in Paris recently and couldn’t help but notice that her records were still being sold at record stores throughout the city and country. I have several of her CDs and playing them still brings back a plethora of pleasant memories.

Edith was introduced to me about the same time I met Susan and began my metamorphosis into a wanna-be hippie, television apprentice, struggling writer and seeker of all things a bit off course. Somehow this little French woman who sang beautiful lyrics I couldn’t understand was able to communicate with me on a deep emotional level that touched my soul…or some part of my body that responded in kind. 

In turn, she became an icon for all those artists, musicians, writers, actors and other creative types who have touched me with their wonderful works of art. It might be a simple song but one with melodies and lyrics that still resonate after all these years. It might be their movie story-telling that inspired me to begin writing screenplays. It might be their character-driven novels that encouraged me to give it a go myself.

It’s fair to say that my love of foreign films, travel, living abroad and most things foreign can probably be directly traced back to that little French waif and her lilting melodies.

The simple ability of one person to create something of such magnitude that it still affects people years later is quite remarkable. I thought about that as I toured Monet’s garden in Giverny, France and then the hospital where Vincent van Gogh committed himself for his depression. I thought about that as I skipped around YouTube late one night, listening to those ‘oldest but goodies’ from the Fifties. I’ve already waxed poetic in past blogs about the influence that the songs of Bob Dylan and the Beatles had on my youth. Edith would be right up there with the best of them.

The subject of creativity is one that has dogged my imagination and tested my patience since the beginning of time…my time that is. As always, there are numerous web sites that explore this subject of creativity. One of the best that I’ve found is called Brain Pickings Weekly.

I also tried to touch on it with another blog entitled: The Ultimate Elixir. Creativity is like some seductive mistress that one can’t get out of one’s head. It’s a temptress that promises emotional euphoria and deep satisfaction but delivers only a temporary respite from the deeper thirst for more. Yet it’s a thirst that can never be quenched and dries the soul outside of its infinite pursuit.

They say for some there is a quiet spot between the madness and greatness of the pursuit. I don’t want the greatness and I fear the madness. I just want that quiet spot; the satisfaction of knowing that I tried…and let the chips fall where they may. It’s a pursuit I can’t walk away from.

Thanks to that scruffy troubadour, the Liverpool lads and the ‘little sparrow’ for showing me the way.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


It came to me one warm winter evening as I walked up Palm Canyon Drive and passed the Greyhound bus stop. An odd assortment of student travelers, elderly passengers and numerous transients were lined up on the street waiting for the bus to arrive. In a flash the phrase ‘Debris from the West Coast’ popped into my head. It stuck there even as I passed the motley-looking crowd and continued on.

Almost immediately a story began to percolate up from my subconscious. I thought about the woman at a consignment store weeks earlier who had announced to her volunteer partner that she was in Palm Springs because that was as far as her bus ticket would take her. I remembered the beautiful woman at Starbucks who claimed to have just arrived from India, having bypassed L.A. and who was looking for work. She hinted that she was as good with her brains as she was on her back. I politely declined to offer any suggestions for her future employment. I thought about the transients who camped out in the desert and only came into town at night to scrounge through the dumpsters. I thought about the oldsters who moved in their cheap trailers to live out the rest of their sad lives.

Then I thought about the Palm Springs neighborhoods where most of the homes have their own shimmering blue pool and many are surrounded by lush golf courses. Palm Springs was the perfect setting for two totally different worlds; rich and poor, cultured and illiterate, ambitious and arrived.
That story idea became a treatment. That treatment then became a rough draft. The rough draft, after five rewrites, became ’Debris.’ My novel became a microcosm of various relationships set in Palm Springs.  Palm Springs was the perfect setting for such a story. It’s your average surreal environment disguised as a resort community, vacation hotspot and the newest hipster’s haven. It’s probably no different than other resort communities like Key West, Las Vegas, Los Cabos or Aspen.

In short, it’s the perfect place for a collision of lives subtly hidden by crystal clear skies, shimmering pools of blue and warm seductive nights. ‘Debris’ is a Roman coliseum of broken individuals each at various points of conflict in their lives and almost all of them seeking some kind of redemption.
Millie is the aging movie star whom time and Hollywood have long since abandoned. She is an icon for all that was the glory and power of old Hollywood. But she is lost in the new Palm Springs.

Juliet is in the desert to find another man to fill out her tepid life. A chance encounter with Natalie, her new boss at the real estate firm, now elicits emotions long since buried beneath her puritanical upbringing and societies standards.

Brett & Payton seem the perfect couple newly ensconced in Palm Springs’ growing design industry until a chance encounter with Kevin threatens the stability of their relationship.

Robert is the half-Mexican kid scrambling to grab a foothold in the construction trade while he fantasizes about a better life. Opportunities and pitfalls await his every step.

Miranda is the troubled young woman who gave Robert a start but now faces her own avalanching doubts about a future in the valley.

The Indian Kid wants desperately to break out of his tribal constraints while still respecting his elder’s traditions.

Other characters keep piling up. Each is an footnote or a chapter liner without whom the main characters couldn’t function or evolve.

The Goldsteins who lost a son in Afghanistan and now grapple with finding meaning in their lives.

Tom Thornton whose eye for Juliet doesn’t rise above her waist and who must deal with a sordid past that is fast catching up to him.

Franee who has it all in money and power and beauty. All except the one thing she wants to control…Robert.

In its original form, Debris was too big as a print book (over 600 pages) and even larger as an e-book (more than 1500 pages.)  For an unknown author such as myself, a book of that size can be a very hard sell. So it was suggested that the original story be broken into two stories and a third added to form a trilogy.

Vida, my Jill of all Trades, has helped me break down the original draft into two separate stories. A third treatment written after the original ‘Debris’ and originally entitled ‘Tahquitz Dawn’ is now the basis for book three of the Debris series.

It will be a challenging and somewhat monumental task to rewrite books one and two and create an entirely new book three. But I think I’m up to the task. If for no other reason than my love of Palm Springs and the creative juices that flow there.

Once immersed in that task, I’ll be able to go back to old Palm Springs and relive the glory and glamor and sordid ‘tales of the city.’ I’ll journey with Robert as he struggles to carve out a place for himself among the rich and infamous. I’ll explore the strained relationship of Brett and Payton and get close to Juliet as she questions her own sexuality. I’ll peek into the lives of other characters that appear and then fade in and out of various chapters.

It’s going to be one heck of a journey. But with the San Jacinto Mountains looking over my shoulder, I’ll feel like I’ve come home again.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Case Against Millennials

Recently, someone near and dear to my heart was complaining about the unfairness between my generation and her own; the millennials. She felt that it had been much easier for my generation to succeed in our world than it would be for her and her friends in theirs. She thought that all of the challenges my friends and I faced such as getting an education, student debt, raising a family, buying our first house and saving for retirement was a cake walk compared to what her generation now has to face. She questioned whether she and her friends would be able to enjoy all the amenities they’d come to expect in American life.

I had to smile because it seemed like Deja-vu all over again. I’d heard the exact same comments from my aunts and uncles, factory bosses and other older adults complaining about the very same thing years ago. Their generation had it tough while we were just coasting along. They knew hardship and the depression and hunger and world wars. We were fat and happy and unmotivated. 

Really! I’m guessing that dialogue has been repeated for decades from one generation to the next and will probably continue to be bantered back and forth well into our foreseeable future. It truly is a generational thing.  Everything has changed and yet nothing has changed. One generation after the next keeps pontificating the same old tired rhetoric and current jargon.

Yet even as these echo-boomers and members of generation Y grouse and complain as we did about the older generation and how things are tougher for them now, I’d like to believe there is a subtle difference. As parents of the millennial generation, we’re still there supporting them, helping out with their kids and listening to their complaints with a smile and answer ‘Yeah I know, every generation says the same thing.’ 

I’ll be the first to admit that some things have changed since I was in my twenties and thirties and its happening in my own backyard. Growing up home ownership was always presented as a great prize of adulthood. But that attitude toward owning property has changed.  More than a quarter of the people who are new to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul are between the ages of 20 and 34. The percentage of Americans under the age of 35 to own a home fell to 36 per cent last year, the lowest level on record. Studies also seem to indicate a very non-committal non-traditional attitude among millennials toward everything from jobs to marriage to home ownership.
Yet for all the differences there are startling similarities beneath the surface. 

We had Vietnam. They had Iraq and Afghanistan. We had marijuana and cocaine. They have meth, molly and other designer drugs. 
The Triangle Bar - West Bank - Minneapolis, MN circa 1970

We had the Triangle Bar and classical music of the fifties and sixties. We had Hippie peace and love and the ghost of Bob Dylan past and wonderful echoes of the Beatles. They have multiple downloads of current trends in music.

We had our neighborhood bar. They have craft beer, food trucks, rooftop restaurants and their own version of the neighborhood gathering spot.

We didn’t harbor the absurd idea that we had to lose our virginity by thirteen just to fit in or find true love by age twenty-one and every other cliché pontificated by Cosmopolitan and Seventeen magazine. Somehow for us it was more pure, a bit naive and less pressured.

Of course, we didn’t have the intrusion of the internet or the scare of AIDs either.

We had telephones on a cord and phone booths and Western Union. They grew up with the Mac, laptops, the IPhone and the internet. 

We had the occasional bad weather. They’ve got to deal with climate change, disappearing pensions and higher prices for everything.

After high school, I couldn’t wait to get out of the city. These new millennials are embracing city life, the warehouse district and urban villages. Where have all the Hippies Gone.

Yet for all the surface differences, little has really changed over the decades. What goes along; comes along…just give it enough time. Below the surface, there really isn’t a whole lot of difference. So many of the circumstances facing millennials as young adults have faced us too. 

Yes, housing is more expensive. The price of goods is more expensive. But salaries are higher and so it the value of many items. Attitudes about social mores and standards are constantly changing and evolving. 

Now, as back then, the only constant seems to be change.

So what is the answer here? Maybe it is to wait another twenty or thirty years until it all comes around once again. At some point in the future, the millennials' children will probably be lamenting the same concerns that they are piling up on us now. Especially my three granddaughters who intend to make this world their own…on their terms and their conditions. I hope I’m around to hear the comments from my own two kids when their children are in that position. I’ll try to remain calm and not roll my eyes in wonderment and suppressed joy at the irony displayed.

Yet in the end, even as things go in and out of favor, the bottom line is still the same. 

If you work hard, you can succeed…no matter what generation you are a part of. The basic tenants of success never go out of style. 

I tried to press hard on that point in my novel Love in the A Shau. My female protagonist, Colleen, says about her old boyfriend: “Daniel was born hungry. I had to learn to be hungry.”

The same theme runs through my (still under pen) trilogy called “Debris.” In it, my protagonist Robert must face numerous obstacles toward success. Hard work, determination and perseverance are his only tools in that quest.

Napoleon Hill said it best in his book: “Think and Grow Rich.” The principles of success haven’t changed over the decades, only the width of ties and length of skirts. Work hard and eventually you’ll reach your goal. 

So that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.