Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Pushing Past the Bull...oney

One of the benefits of old age is an accumulation of wisdom gleaned over years of living the life.
One of the negatives of old age is an assumption that when criticisms surface it’s just ‘an old
man’s take’ on a changing world. It’s like being caught betwixt and between your reality and everyone else’s.

Having said that…I think living in our world today is like riding a roller coaster blindfolded and without a safety harness. It’s a kaleidoscope full of fluff and deception that can make your stomach spin. An environment where everyone seems to be angling to get into your pocketbook, influence your mind and move you in their direction.

Simply look around and you’ll realize you’re in the consumer bullseye for everything from music to skin cream. It’s isn’t your parent’s black and white monotone world any more. This is where age hampers that realization because it is neither good nor bad; it is simply a fact of life. The world is changing at such a rate that the only constant is change itself.

So despite risking the chance I’ll be labeled an old man mumbling I’d like to examine a few aspects of the world we live in today. Let’s look at it honestly and without valuation. Then decide what you like, are willing accept or want to change. And ultimately how do you learn to deal with it.

National and local news outlets have become a cash-strapped commodity meant to attract eyeballs and no longer advance the art and science of journalism. The honorable world of journalism as I knew it growing up no longer exists.

National news is now mostly fluff. It’s an ad-filled half hour of sound bites designed to make us worry more about our health (via the pharmaceutical industry), believe politicians (via their lobbyists) and fret about the fate of our planet. Weather reports are disguised as news. Self-promotional business packages are fed to the news departments who are too understaffed to create their own news segments.

Print newspapers are struggling to find their way in this new era of instant ‘breaking news.’ Yet some of the most egregious offenders are the pretend internet news sites that offer up a mixture of advertisements disguised as news articles along with meaningless pap mean to titillate the senses and collect eyeballs. Magazines fare no better.

Cable is a stumbling dinosaur. It’s inflexible scheduling and viewing options are being threatened by mobile devices, streaming video, internet options, apps and a growing consumer dissatisfaction with the bland tasteless programming being offered.

The world of politics has become so jaded with vested interests and partisan politics that consensus is nearly impossible on most relatively simple policies.Worst yet, money talks and yet nobody is actually listening.

Alvin Toffler called it the ‘third wave.’ In retrospect, he was dead right and couldn’t have been more wrong. With the arrival of the microchip and digital information technology our world was about to change…exponentially. Between 1990 and 1995 there was a tidal wave of digital products and new experiences that were to affect almost every aspect of our daily lives.

I was one of the first believers and converts. I read everything I could on this new computer technology. My kids had a Macintosh at home to do their grade school homework. They would be prepared for a whole new world opening up before their very eyes. It was my business to make sure that Sharden Productions, Inc. was using this new technology to stay ahead of the game. I devoured the new magazines and collected articles of relevance to my new ventures into cyber space.

I tried to ride that North Shore wave of bites and bytes but it kept pushing me further and further behind until I was back among the masses, lost amid the conflicting claims and acclaimed benefits of this new technology. Now I’m content with my Windows 7, won’t touch Windows 8 and am suspicious of Windows 10. 

So what happened to that ‘new economy’ as predicted? The promise of the information revolution has been shattered into a million pieces of economic and social reality.*

The new economy wasn’t a ‘new economy’ after all. The old mantra of ‘e-business or out of business’ was premature. More money has been lost in computer technology ventures than has been made. On-line shopping hasn’t erased bricks and mortars. We still crave the ‘touch and feel’ of hands-on shopping instead of the ‘fill my cart’ and ‘press here to pay’ buttons on our computer screen. Only a few companies now stand at the pinnacle of success while hundreds if not thousands of others are still struggling to stay alive in a constantly changing business environment.

Despite the ‘new’ which is increasingly looking like the ‘old,’ there is still hope. High-energy entrepreneurs with new ideas can still get their turn at bat. While the old days of ‘garage to global’ are almost over there are still a myriad of opportunities for those daring pathfinders willing to take a chance and risk it all for a chance at that mythological gold crown in the cyber sky.

The Internet was supposed to create a world community. It did and it didn’t. The term community has taken on a new and interesting moniker in the digital age. Community is now defined as any group of any size with any common interest. Just peruse Facebook and look at the numerous and sometimes bizarre groups gathered there.

The other side of that ‘community’ coin has proven to be spot-on. I am now able to review playbills from the Knightsbridge collection of theaters. I can check in with fellow western writers from Australia. I can wander down Streetview over the old familiar cobblestone streets around the Amsterdam train station where I used to hang out. The planet and universe has morphed into my world with a simple click on my keyboard.

The digital age was supposed make us all smarter. Not true. Today’s kids aren’t really tech-savvy as much as they are just button-savvy. Few of them know or even care what’s going on inside their smart phone or video game console. They just know how to turn the machine on.
Fortunately my grandchildren have their screen-time rationed at home. Outdoor activities, reading and sports take precedent over video games and television watching.

The Internet was also supposed to make us better informed. This takes me back to my earlier comments about the news media and the rocky road they’ve put us all on just to get some semblance of news.

Despite the many failings of the new Information Revolution there have been some wonderful changes to embrace. This reached home when I returned to my two original westerns written back in 1974 and 1975. With new scanning technology I was able to change those old gray pages into screen pages which I could easily rewrite and manipulate. About that same time, Create space, a company owned by Amazon, became one of the first POD (print on demand) publishers in the world. It has become a true double-edged sword.

The old prediction that anyone and everyone could become a publisher has proven to be true. Unfortunately along with the ease of publication came a tsunami of books, both print and electronic, that has totally engulfed the reading world. Without the East Coast guardians of print to check for editing, plot development and other pre-publication standards, the quality of these new books flooding the marketplace is questionable at best. It’s nearly impossible to find footing in this new flood of vernacular mud and it’s only getting worse.

The new task ahead for any writer will be to manage and maneuver through this sludge pile of distractions to try to find footing and grow an audience. Working smarter and harder will be the new moniker for these new publishing explorers.

Despite the failed predictions of the new Information Revolution there have been many improvements in our lives. There is much to embrace and welcome as change. But in the end it all circles back to the very core of our being and what makes us happy and content as human beings. Those old truisms born of older generations have never changed they’ve just been covered with a vapid cloak of ‘new.’ The old is still the most honest.

·         Your health is your own responsibility and no pill will take the place of common sense.

·         Most, if not all, of the true treasures in life are free and found all around us.

·         Often times the simpler the life the richer and more diverse it is.

·         The answer is not out there. It is inside your head.

So for all the changes swirling around us the old can still be relevant and important in our lives.
Self-direction, self-control and personal responsibility are still the monikers of all of us to wear. It’s a brand new world. But then it’s always been a brand new world just depending on which generation you’re talking to.

I want to embrace some of the new, hold on to some of the old and have fun doing it. Life is too short for anything else.

*Many of the points of the ‘Information Revolution’s Broken Promises’ were taken from an   article by Karl Albrecht which appeared in the March-April, 2014 issue of The Futurist Magazine.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

California State of Mind

The beauty of this great country lies in its diversity of people and places.

I was on the East Coast recently to savor the salt brine of the Chesapeake and the closter phobic cacophony that is New York City. While both were replete with their own virtues and charms I once again found myself dreaming cross country to the land of wild dreams, mythical goddesses and eternal sunshine.

Perhaps it started in the mid-50’s when well-to-do families started to fly off to Hawaii for vacation. Maybe it was the mid-sixties when the Beach Boys and their surfing music introduced us mid-westerners to the California beach scene. By the time ‘Beach Blanket Bingo’ came along we had all been inundated with beach party / surfing movies starring Annette Funichello and Frankie Avalon. Most of my friends and I totally bought into that fantasy image of California sun, sand and beach bunnies. We were hooked. California has been doing that to out-of-staters for years.

The migration to California has been going on since the great depression and continues to this day. For the snowbirds it’s like watching the seasonal migration of the wildebeest in a Disney nature film; clean, sanitized and kid-friendly. Despite its roller-coaster economics and left-leaning politics, California continues to attract old and young alike.

For some reason the state seems to hold fast to its long-held moniker that ‘whatever happens first on the coast will eventually move to the Midwest and then the other coast.’ Whether it is massive housing developments, movie magic, new computer technologies, solar initiatives, fashion trends or otherwise innovative, invasive or surprising new trends in all sectors of our lives, many of them seem to happen first there. Perhaps that’s why I like the place so much. As much as I like the Midwest, California speaks to me in a voice that is fresh, exciting and at times provocative.

It’s the perfect climate for a writer trying to uncomplicated the lives of so many people who compete for space in his head. ‘Debris’ is now complete and my character’s stories have been told. By the end of book two some of the folks had left the scene while new ones were already waiting in the wings. In book three they took their own prominent place in this continuing drama. Now all that’s left is the editing and publishing.

There are more novels to write and a couple of plays just waiting to burst onto the stage. California is the perfect natural setting for such ventures. Its manicured golf courses and clear blue skies belie an undercurrent of mystery and intrigue and confusing lives. What more perfect setting for the creative mind and I get to swim right up the middle of it with pen in hand.

After another summer of discontent the healing has begun. A chapter has closed in our lives and adventures await. The warm sun beckons. The mountains are calling. The ocean is just over the horizon and I get to ruminate all those stories swirling about in my head. It’s all good.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Lovely Lady Died Today

My Mother-in-Law grew up in a world ruled by men but raised two daughters who pushed well past those boundaries. Now there is a granddaughter and two great granddaughters who are pushing those barriers out even further. The tracks of our lives continue just as the seasons come and go. A great grandson was born one day. Great Grandma Charlotte died the next. The circle of life had come around again.

Charlotte Faye Schumacher left few trappings of success behind. The house had been sold, her possessions either given to the children or sold at an estate sale. Her material goods kept shrinking with each move from the farm to a house in town to an assisted living facility to a nursing home. Now there was nothing left but for a few mementos passed out to the grandchildren. Nothing left but for the memories…good memories of a life well-lived.

In the end this wonderful woman left the world a much better place through the four children she raised and nurtured into true citizens of the world. They are all good people who followed a legacy born amid those old Nebraska sand farms of the ‘30s and ‘40s.

Row 2, farthest Left in overalls

Charlotte with her Dad

Despite dealing with sometimes crippling anxiety and bouts of depression Sharon’s mom held on to her faith and worked through her issues. Her own mother had died when she was just nine years old and her father died when she was eighteen.

She once told Sharon “You wouldn’t understand what it’s like to lose a parent unless it happens to you. Denis understands.” Charlotte and I shared that commonality of a single parent household. It was a common bond seldom talked about, but understood. We also shared a deep and abiding love for her daughter.

Occasionally we’d talk about growing up without a mother as she followed her father picking berries in Oregon and operating a bar in Nebraska. We related to one another that way and spoke a language unspoken but understood among survivors.

When she graduated from high school in Nebraska, Charlotte taught in a one room school house. She had no formal training. She just took a test and began teaching. She told us her secret was to stay one book ahead of her class. It seemed to work.

Charlotte & Delbert Schumacher Wedding
Then she met a man who was to be her rock for more than sixty-five years. Sharon’s mom used to tell folks she didn’t know how to cook when she first got married. She didn’t mention it was the end of World War II and there were no stoves available. So every morning they had cereal for breakfast. For lunch they had a sandwich. In the evening they went to her Mother-In-Law's for dinner.

In 1957, she followed her husband from Nebraska to Wabasha, Minnesota. She moved there without ever seeing the farm Grandpa Delbert had bought. When Charlotte arrived she found there was no kitchen sink in the farmhouse, but ironically the barn was in excellent shape. I guess that’s what counted in a farm family.

Charlotte told people she never adjusted to living in Minnesota but all my kids can remember were the thrills of finding baby kittens in the barn, tractor rides with grandpa and calling for Shep and Brady, her two favorite farm dogs. It wasn’t ‘Dick and Jane on the farm’ - but it came darn close.

Late in their retirement years her husband developed Alzheimer’s disease. For over two years she cared for her husband at home, tending to his every need. When it was time for him to go into the nursing home, she faithfully visited him as often as she could. They went to mass there every Sunday. She did what she had to do for the man she truly cherished. I Sat Down with God Today.

Sharon and her parents, Charlotte & Delbert

It was her daughter, The Girl with Seven Suede Jackets, who used to tell me of her nurturing upbringing on the farm. Sharon has spoken often about high school class trips and weekend jaunts with her mother acting as her personal chauffeur. She talked about their special trip to England, just the two of them.

Later on in years Sharon took her own grandchildren down to see great grandma Charlotte before the end. At times it was witnessing courage in the face of crippling angst and anxiety. They learned as Sharon did about one generation respecting the next.

Now the only remaining thread in great grandma Charlotte’s life are the four lives she left behind. From them, the many grandchildren and great-grandchildren that are a part of her legacy.

A great grandson was born the day before Charlotte died. In time he will hear the tales of life on the Wabasha farm from his own grandmother. He will learn of its tradition of hard work and faith that is his legacy. And he’ll be able to thank great grandma Charlotte for those memories and lessons in life.

Her legacy lives on in her two daughters, a granddaughter and two great granddaughters born of that same steeled resolve. 

Maya Charlotte LaComb and Charlotte Jane McMahon never knew their great grandma Charlotte very well. But her sterling examples of hard work, perseverance, compassion and caring is a legacy they are sure to carry on.

Charlotte Faye Schumacher could not have wished for anything more.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Smelling the Barn

 At the end of an ultramarathon (one hundred miles or more) veterans have a saying to describe the rush of adrenaline they feel coming in the home stretch. It’s called ‘smelling the barn.’ I smelt the barn a couple of weeks ago but it wasn’t at the end of an ultra or Iron Man or even a plain old marathon. It was a simple one mile knee-jarring, breathless jaunt…chasing after two fleet-footed grandchildren.

After forty plus years of running I had resigned myself to a treadmill at the gym and an occasional trail run. Mountain climbing in Palm Springs didn’t count because I can pace myself there and fake looking out over the horizon if I needed to take a break and catch my breath. My old addiction to running had been replaced by a new passion for writing.

Now I was doing a one mile fun run with Brennan and Charlotte and they were out-pacing me every step of the way. It wasn’t the barn I smelled but rather my own chagrin at not preparing enough to outlast those two mini-gazelles. It was over before it even began.

Contrary to our agreement at the beginning of the race that we were going to go easy on Papa, both Brennan and Charlotte decided that this was no different than a playground sprint. Their competitive spirit kicked in and we/they were off to the races.

Competition runs deep in both the LaComb and the McMahon households. During the winter months, the Colorado kids have Black Diamonds for breakfast (defined as a very difficult ski slope based on length, width and gradient) and double-black diamonds for dessert. Maya, the eldest, already has two fourteeners (ascending a mountain over 14,000 feet in height) under her belt. The kids have been doing triathlons for several years now and been on soccer and gymnastics teams since they were tiny.

The Minnesota munchkins have begun doing triathlons also as well as short races the last couple of years. To put it in perspective, the Colorado twins are six and a half as is Brennan. Charlotte is four and a half. Maya comes in as senior at nine years old. When I was their age I was just learning to climb aboard my fifty pound Huffy cruiser and maneuver that boat around the neighborhood. I never engaged in group sports and didn’t start running until I was twenty-one. What is this younger generation coming to?

It must be a generational thing. Brian and Melanie both ran races when they were youngsters and engaged in other sports. Now this third generation seems to be picking up the pace. I couldn’t be prouder.

Truth to told, I just have to keep up with those youngsters.


I recently shared with my kids a desire to attempt the C2C (Cactus to Clouds) mountain hike next spring. I invited them to come along with me. Both kids politely but firmly pointed out that it’s one of the toughest climbs in the continental United States according to Backpacker magazine. They didn’t say it but strongly hinted that it’s not for the faint of heart or weak of knees. They didn’t say no. They just didn’t encourage me to do it.

No matter, if I think I’m in shape I’ll attempt it after my birthday in March. If a four-year old can run a mile flat out, her grandfather can certainly slug it up a mountainside. At least that’s the carrot I put dangling out there. Now if my breath is deep enough and the knees hold out I just may have a chance.

There’s tradition to uphold and all that…right?