Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Rug Munching

I truly have no idea how this all got started. 

It began as a straightforward story of a woman in her mid­ 30’s moving to Palm Springs.  Juliet was recently divorced and Palm Springs was as far as her bus ticket would take her.  She got settled in and went looking for a job.  Her interview went well and Juliet got the job at a real estate brokerage firm.  What happened next surprised even me.

Right from the start, I had some suspicions about her new boss, Natalie.  I couldn’t pin down my feelings but something was tugging at my subconscious never­the­less.  There was something about this woman that didn’t quite resonate or compute in my brain.  I envisioned Natalie as beautiful, smart, outgoing, and ambitious.  I assumed she would be like the other women in my life and I would find her very attractive in person.

After the interview was over Juliet went to shake Natalie’s hand and got a big hug instead.  Being in Palm Springs that certainly was not a strange occurrence.  It happens all the time although mainly it’s between gays and some straight folks.

This didn’t end with just a hug.  Instead, Natalie’s hands slid down the length of Juliet’s back and ended on her sweet cheeks.  They rested there for a moment but it was enough to send a flutter through Juliet and shivers through my fingertips.

Now that I didn’t see coming!

What happened next was even more confusing to me.  Juliet’s initial reaction was one of shock and surprise.  However, she quickly recovered, made the appropriate small talk, and exited the interview.  However, later on, as she reimagined the deft touch of her boss, Juliet’s reaction was one of arousal and confusion.  Now there were two of us facing a new dilemma.  Was that touch an unwelcomed advance by her new boss or a wonderful sensation unlike anything Juliet had ever experienced before from a man or a woman?

I was suddenly faced with a very assertive lesbian boss and the confused object of her affection.  How did I get the three of us into this situation?  I’m about as straight as a state fair ruler.  It was only my overactive imagination that went a bit off cue and threw all three of us into this confusing situation.  And this was all happening in book one of Debris;  A trilogy.  So where do I go from here, I asked myself?

I know a fair number of gay couples.  Many of them are good friends of ours.  Lesbians, not so much.  Therefore, it was with more than a little trepidation that I began examining the sometimes fascinating, confusing and often exaggerated lifestyle of the lesbian and those who lean in that direction

I was vaguely aware of lesbian pulp fiction as far back as the late fifties.  Since grade school, I had been haunting drug stores for the latest paperback westerns to buy.  While searching among the detective stories, romance fantasies, and tales of adventure I would occasionally come across something quite different from anything I had seen before.  Those particular book covers always had two ladies on the cover, one eyeing the other who was usually in some state of undress.  I knew it wasn’t an ‘oater’ but it didn’t look like a bodice­ripping romance either.  Who knew those two ladies were in love...with each other?

Unfortunately too much has been written about rug munching and carpet cleaning and not enough about real love and affection and child­rearing and honest emotions shared.  I wasn’t about to soil my writing with cheap tabloid gossip or titillating paragraphs.

I wanted to present an honest examination of two women struggling with their feelings amid a background of biting office gossip, male interventions, and honest confusion over emotions felt.

I had three stories to tell.  The initial realization that there were honest feelings between these two women.  The confusion and challenges facing Juliet when her self-image as a straight female was challenged.  Finally, the obvious conclusion they were both forced to face.  My guiding caveat was that love is love no matter what the gender or sexual orientation.

Much to my surprise and chagrin, as their storyline continued the ladies took over their own lives.  I simply became a third party furiously writing down comments and statements and feelings are they arose between the two of them.  At times, I felt like a voyeur taking it all in and unable to stop what was going on...not that I wanted to.

Curiously enough, it’s been twenty-five years since a young writer named Leslea Newman wrote a book entitled “Heather has Two Mommies” to better explain same parental gender families.  It was the first of a number of books that brought to the forefront the issues and conflicts over what materials concerning LGBT identity and lifestyle should be available to young children.  Many miles have been traveled since then...even if it is still a new pathway for me.

Over the years, I’ve been chased by Apaches on a moonlight night.  I’ve escaped an ambush by Charlie in the steamy jungles of Vietnam.  I’ve made love to some wonderful women and only ended our relationship with a simple ‘The End.’  Nevertheless, I have never shared an intimate moment or a warm bed with two women who were very much in love.

It was a new experience for all three of us.  

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

High Flight

‘High Flight’ was the first poem I had to memorize and repeat to my class at Cretin high School more than a few years ago. Yet even today it is still a magnificent piece of writing that captures the pure joy and serenity of flight.

Ever since grade school I had been fascinated by World War Two; go figure. So it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to gravitate toward that poem for my class full of macho post-pubescent teen-agers.

The poem had been written by a poet and American aviator named John Gillespie Magee, Jr. He died in 1941 as a result of a mid-air collision over Lincolnshire, England. In fact, I was able to visit his gravesite at Holy Cross Cemetery when I was in Lincolnshire visiting my pen pal/ girlfriend, Wendy, who lived there.

I thought about that poem and the wonder of flight a couple of weeks ago when I went up in an old 1940 Stearman biplane. It was a birthday gift from my kids.

As I climbed into that open cockpit, strapped on my goggles and wiggled in my earplugs I couldn’t help but think about those World War One aviators and their flying coffins of canvas and bailing wire. The engine exploded with an ear-pounding roar and a blast of hot air. It was only as we taxied past the corporate jets that I realized there was only a two-inch wide seatbelt that held me in place.

After we were airborne my apprehension lasted only a few seconds. Then the need for photo-graphs distracted me from my world on a gyroscope, threatening mountains which seemed just feet away and the blast of air that punched me in the nose every time I leaned out to get a shot. But it was well worth the aerial dance.

Windmills North of Palm Springs, CA

Hiking Trails

Downtown Palm Springs Golf Course Aerial View

Aerial View of Palm Springs CA Main Street

My Favorite Hiking Trail from above

New Palm Springs, CA Development

My Palm Springs Neighborhood

Indian Canyon | Palm Springs, CA

San Jacinto Mountains | Palm Springs, CA

Down Valley from Palm Springs

High Flight over Palm Springs, CA

Somehow my kids always seem to know what will arrest my interest and capture my imagination.

Thanks, guys.

Now with permission I want to share the magic of ‘High Flight.’

High Flight
by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, --and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of --Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew --
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Rumble In the Jungle

It seems for every right, there is a wrong. For every left turn, someone wants to swing right. For every change made, some folks cling to the status quo. I read an article recently about some neighbors who were complaining about those little free libraries that have popped up around the country. One old goat was quoted as saying: “They’re a distraction when I’m driving by and who knows what kind of riff-raff they bring into our neighborhood.”  It’s NIMBY at its most ridiculous.

Now the contrarians have hit the world of writing. Actually they’ve been trying to upset the apple cart for some time now. Back in the Sixties, they waged the censorship war and lost.

Leading the charge against censorship, publishing entities such as Grove Press and Evergreen Review began to question our collective take on the issue of morals. These literary first-offenders opened a frontal assault with books such as ‘tropic of Cancer,’ ‘Naked Lunch,’ ‘Story of O’ and ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover.’ While none would be considered great works of literature, they were testing the freedom of expression in this country and abroad. ‘Howl’ by Allen Ginsberg and ‘On the Road’ by Jack Kerouac took readers in directions they had never gone before. It was the 60’s and politics and culture and new views of American society were being offered up to the American reading public.

Now Indie publishing has upset that apple cart once again. Struggling to nurture and master the craft of writing is like trudging through a jungle full of hidden perils and challenges. There are more than enough financial hindrances and distractions along the way. Now some gnat has decided (for the sake of selling magazines, I assume) to challenge the notion of what it means to be an author. But he certainly isn’t the first.

Back in the 80’s there was a protracted battle going on over the legitimacy of ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Star Trek.’ There were those writers who didn’t think this new take on space adventure fit into the science fiction genre. Then another argument arose over whether fantasy was even a legitimate genre. Most agreed that ‘slipstream fantasy’ (the kind of story where you can’t tell if the fantasy is something that really happened to the character or something that he misinterpreted) was legitimate. But the rest of the genre was left up to debate.

But it got even sillier as time progressed. Some female writers of romance novels hated the idea that a man would dare write in the romance genre. One well-known male writer in the mystery field said that women shouldn’t be writing mystery novels at all. Then there were those mystery writers who held in distain others who wrote ‘cozies’ (like the stuff Agatha Christie wrote) and even other authors who felt that hard-boiled writers such as Raymond Chandler were destroying the genre with their gore and unnecessary violence.

This gnat in question recently published an article about writing and publishing.  His essay asked the question about who gets to claim the title of author in this brand new world of self-publish-ing. It was an article obviously meant to generate discussion among the New York literary elite as well as Ivy League coffee house patrons as to what really constitutes the auspicious title of author.

According to this small-minded elitist, there is a ‘stark contrast between being a writer and being a professional author.’ The problem with his argument is that most of my colleagues who write and publish don’t pretend to be professional authors. We want to make money with our writing but that isn’t our main goal. Instead we share the pure joy of story-telling.

That author in question would like to ‘see the process simplified, in which you are either a writer or a professional author. If you earn your living from our writing, you are a professional author; anyone else is just a plain old writer.’ He’s even come up with a financial threshold of one thousand dollars as an entrance fee.

The main problem with his lame argument harkens back to the question of who gets to bestow the title upon whom.

If a student in high school or post-graduate studies makes a film, is he or she a film-maker? Or do they have to wait until they’ve sold their film to Hollywood to earn their title. If a person paints a picture do they have to sell their work before they’re considered a painter? If I speak at toastmasters, am I not a speaker even if I didn’t get paid for my presentation? If I take a picture with my camera, do I have to sell that photo to be considered a photographer? If I write and publish a novel do I have to wait for a certain amount of sales before I get to call myself an author?

It’s my observation that the majority of these silly disputes are really about change. The problem arises when new writers, fresh to the field, start to believe these arguments and are indoctrinated with all kinds of ‘shoulds’ and rules and guidelines created by other writers to guide their own vision of any particular genre. In short, it’s a failed attempt by some of the elders to control the creativity of the newbies.

In the past, traditional publishing exercised almost total control over the creative process and kept the doors locked to anyone who didn’t conform to their own vision/version of publishing and creativity. But now Indie publishing is allowing the creatives to break out of that artificial world and to explore a brand new world of writing and publishing on ‘their own terms.’ The gate-keepers of old have been pushed aside and they’re fighting back.

That gnat seems to take the moniker ‘professional’ as the only righteous title one can carry if one wants to write, paint, sing, act, make films or do practically anything else of an artistic nature. There are enough come-ons, book shepherds, advice traps and money-pits that a novice in this jungle has to avoid without having to think about one’s proper title in the process.

To quote from an article I recently read (with apologies to its author who remains unknown and thus can’t be given him/her credit.)

‘Writing isn’t about doing what everyone else tells you to do. Writing is about doing what your creative voice wants you to do.’

Amen to that.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Sharon's America

Truth be told, I’ve spent the last forty-three years observing Wabasha, Minnesota…sometimes with a jaundiced eye. In a couple of past blogs Wabasha Shuffle and Flying Low Level to Elgin, I tried to distill my observations of this small town in Southeastern Minnesota into reflective bites of family history. In fact, those ties began even before July 31st, 1971 forever tied the knot to that place.

It was more or less as a passive observer that I initially embarked on this memorable task. We first shuttled our family down to the Schumacher farmstead in the late Seventies. Before that I always imagined that with kids it would be a reenactment of those ‘Dick and Jane visit the farm’ story books. It didn’t quite work out that way. It was still a working farm and as such not a playground for children…or so we were told. Never-the-less, the kids and I would sneak off to the barn and hog shed and back-forty whenever we could. Brian and Melanie would hunt for feral cats and I’d make sure they never picked one up.

Like so many small towns, Wabasha has gone through its normal ebb and flow lifecycle.  Over the years, I’ve seen storefronts boarded up and stagnation take the place of progress. I remember over-hearing the infamous old men in the coffee shop complaining about their dying main street. Many of the old farmers weren’t able to see beyond their own acreage and some of the city elders only saw the downturn as the normal course of events.  Of course, their answer was always, more or less, to wait for something to happen.  But it seldom did on its own.

Fortunately, there were a few visionaries in town who had other ideas.  These were forward thinking folks who had taken a different outlook on the old place. Townsfolk who believed there was a future in that old river town once again.

It was one woman who had a vision of a place downtown where townsfolk and visitors alike could see eagles up close and learn about their habitat.  This one woman who through hard work and perseverance over several years was able to attract enough money to build the National Eagle Center. It is now a world-renowned museum and interpretive center dedicated to the eagle and other wild-life indigenous to the Upper Mississippi River watershed. It attracts thousands of visitors each month year round.

Lark Toys was recently voted ‘the best toy store in Minnesota.’  It has a full-scale carousel with hand-carved animals in the middle of its shop and mini-golf out back.

There are a slew of new restaurants in town, loft-style apartments and guest quarters over the downtown stores. In the wintertime the Coffee Mill Ski and Snowboard Resort caters to locals and tourists alike. One of my favorite stops is the Eagle’s Nest coffee shop which used to be an old garage. Talk about local flavor.

There are summer concerts ‘under the bridge’ and SeptOberfest, which runs from mid-September through October and draws visitors from around the country for juried craft boutiques, German food and fun activities for everyone.

Wabasha is on the move again.  But we’re now watching it from the sidelines.

Over the decades, our road trip south morphed into just my wife and I driving down those familiar miles of corn and wheat and milk cows. Gradually we moved from visiting the family farm to a house in town.  Finally, it was just Wabasha as our destination and an assisted living facility for her mother.

Sharon’s old farm house is gone now. After one hundred and twenty years as home to just two farm families it was torn down when a new owner came along. A few pictures still capture the old place before progress and a bill of sale took it all away. The four Schumacher kids are gone now. One in particular led the charge away from the old homestead and their rural way of life.

It began with a Notre Dame nun named Sister Mary Richard. She told a promising freshman at St. Felix Catholic High School that there was another world beyond Wabasha’s city limits. She convinced this young woman that there was a college in her future and travel and a world far beyond her father’s 250 acres and the farm boy down the road.

My grandchildren never got to visit great grandpa’s farm.  They never went searching for feral cats in the out buildings or fed the piglets in the hog shed. They never scaled the barn loft and played hop-scotch across the hay bales stored up there. They never rode on great grandpa’s tractor or watched him bale hay.  But they might remember their Nana telling them it was a wonderful place for her to grow up.

They won’t remember Wabasha or witness its rebirth. By then they will be grown-ups themselves and through their parents focused attention, their Nana and Papa’s influence and their own pedigree they will most assuredly take their place on the worlds stage.

At some point they’ll revisit the Schumacher family farm if only through old photographs and vapid memories. They’ll probably be regaled with tales of Wabasha, good and old. It’ll become an integral part of their heritage and much like old family tales handed down through the generations it will provide a glance into their past.

That’s what we do for our grandchildren; leave a legacy of our past and hopefully directions for their future.