Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Generation that Love Forgot

Perhaps I should have titled this blog: Why can’t they say ‘I love you.’ It’s been a recurring theme in conversations I’ve had with so many adults my own age. That is, the inability of our parents to show or express love and affection to us growing up. I thought I was the only kid on the block that didn’t have affectionate parents. Turns out I wasn’t alone; not by a long shot.

Mind you this awareness didn’t come to me through research or probing questions. Instead it just evolved through casual conversations over coffee or a beer that somehow drifted back to our childhood. It was initiated by our observations of how our role as parents turned out to be so different than that of our parents. Paramount among those differences was our willingness to show love and affection to our kids and grandkids.

It’s easy to excuse our parent’s behavior (not all but certainly a large number) as simply traditional German or Scandinavian traits handed down through the centuries and continued on with our own parents. It would seem that a part of that ancestral tapestry has always included images of the stoic German and reserved Scandinavian whose warmth and compassion reflected the cold harsh land of their forefathers.

Much as we like to attribute certain traits to specific nationalities; Italian cooking, French romance, English nobility and Asian industriousness this lack of warmth crosses all nationalities. It might still dwindle into a simple cliché if not for those personal examples from my friends that give credence to those inferences of parental shortcomings.

When our conversations morphed into parental roles and responsibilities I realized just how differently I see my role as a parent relative to that of older generations. I haven’t done any Ph.D. research or quantified my findings. But my gut tells it all. Enough of my friends have lamented the lack of affection from their parents to make me believe it isn’t just my over-active imagination or jaded memories that have clouded that part of my past. To me it is real and curious.

So what happened back then to make that generation so cool to their kids? Maybe a key lies in this whole adulation thing about the ‘greatest generation.’

It’s certainly true that that generation suffered during the depression and fought to keep the world free in World War Two. But something was lost along the way for some of them. Perhaps it was the harsh conditions growing up in the depression or pressure from their own parents to find food for the table and shelter over their head. Perhaps losing a loved one in the war or trying to build a family foundation after the war brought undue stress to their lives. 

The causes and conditions could be many but the results seemed always to be the same. That is, the inability of so many of them to become loving parents who knew how to express love for their children.

The outward manifestations (and thus perhaps causes) are many and some very complex. Single parent households (my own situation), elderly parents, a marriage fractured by the war, a labor-intense life fueled by liquor or alcoholic parents.  And those are just some a few examples coming from those adult children willing to reveal their growing up experiences with me.

Some will defend their parent’s actions are’ normal for the times.’ They’ll point to our own inability as children to grasp the subtle signs of affection that may have lingered just beneath the surface as compared to our own full frontal affection as we displayed it today. Perhaps they’re right and our parents did love us…but just couldn’t show it.

Intentions are noble but actions speak louder than neatly arranged words meant to convey affection. Talk is cheap. Visible displays of concern, encouragement and affection take time and effort.

The excuse I’ve heard over and over again is that ‘they’ weren’t raised that way. It wasn’t a part of their culture or heritage. It was the way it was and wasn’t ever going to change.

Taking that argument at face value means that none of us would have ever become caring, concerned and affectionate parents. ..because we never saw it in our own parents. Luckily that hasn’t been the case with my friends who experienced a rather lukewarm upbringing. None of us has let that become the soundtrack of our own lives.

Luckily for our kids and grandkids, that circle has been broken.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Palm Tree Rendevous

It reminds me of what a Rocky Mountain Rendezvous must have been like.

The rendezvous was an annual gathering from 1825 through 1840 at which trappers and mountain men sold their furs and hides and replenished their supplies. The large fur companies held these events at various locations throughout the west and northwest. Rendezvous were known to be lively, joyous places, where all were allowed and none exempt. Kind of reminds me of home.

The Coachella Valley and its collective communities are pretty unique in that as’ the season’ come alive so too does the entire valley. Its composure, complexity and personality seem to awaken from its summer doldrums. Much like the early mountain men who came to trade summer experiences and entertain with tall tales, so too the Valley becomes a mecca for travelers escaping the harsh reality of winter back home.

Personal choices, circumstances and seasonal events all conspire to draw people to the desert during the winter months. For many it is a return to their other lives. It’s going back to the flip side of their second life.

Unlike the other valley cities, Palm Springs morphs into a different kind of animal than its desert neighbors. Among the various cities spread out down the Valley, Palm Springs remains unique in its eclectic collection of melting pots and the characters who brew there.

Down valley is more a culture of ‘the seasonal elite’ where folks gather around their country club scene. They love to swap tales from back home, golf, attend social events, become part of high society again and live the illusion that is the ‘Palm Springs Lifestyle.’

There are more social events than a calendar can accommodate. It begins in early January with the Palm Springs International Film Festival then moves on to Food and Wine Week, the Southwest Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club, Broadway performances at the McCullum Theater, Restaurant Week, Art under the Umbrellas, Modernism Week, Fashion Week and a plethora of social and cultural events. On the tail end of these hedonistic experiences are Coachella, Stagecoach and the beginnings of Splash Summer.

 For the casual outsider, it’s a fascinating smorgasbord of people of similar ages, abilities, interests and opinions brought together in the desert to mix and match and stir up the pot together.  Always a very colorful collection of individuals brought together by a distain for cold weather, old friendships, a love of the desert. Each bringing with them a wealth of life experiences to share.

Unlike those communities down valley, Palm Springs marches to its down tin drummer. There is less of a concentration of ‘casual serious money’ and more ‘real world reality’ performing on stage here.

For many weekend visitors from the coast it can be a quick mix up and a drink. For the younger set it can be a wild weekend or a lost one for that matter. For others, it’s a refreshing change of pace from their normal lives or just an excuse to play golf.

Trendy hotels like the ACE, the Saguaro and soon the Curve all cater toward the hipsters, trendsetters and people in the know. Downtown nightclubs fuel the uninhibited revelers and the more art conscious are drawn to the Art and Design District, the Backstreet Art Gallery and other galleries scattered about town.

Unlike the more refined and cultured blue-hair environment of the Rancho Mirage Library or those in surrounding communities, the Palm Springs library is a gathering spot unique among others. At times it can seem like a world unto its own.

Aside from the usual literary crowd of retirees, snow birds and casual visitors, the library attracts many other seekers. Those include the homeless, the unemployed, the poor, the elderly, local high-schoolers as well as those seeking to improve themselves through self-study. They all crowd the library’s book stacks, magazine racks and computer lab for enlightenment. Parents help their kids with homework or mentor the less fortunate.

When the occasional mood calls my hangouts include Koffi, Starbucks and Ristretto. Each attracts its own curious collection of tourists, local bohemians, camp followers and the occasional visitor looking for companionship.

Aside from the communal gathering spots with a friend I find the most enlightenment in my own private nests about town. It might be a rocky outcropping among the crags and fissures that are the mountains surrounding Palm Springs. It might be a stone bench in back or a wooded trail back home.

Anyplace where I can get lost in my mind and discover the hidden truths lingering there.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Upskirt News

Back in the mid-eighties and early nineties the internet promised us a new economy and a new world order. Those digital dreams generated a lot of grandiose hopes and bright promises. This new digital age was supposed to make us all so much smarter. We would have to think in new and totally different ways than in the past. Like grabbing hold of a stream of water, it was grasping for opportunities as they rushed by us at a million miles an hour…or so it seemed.

But instead of processing information faster and more skillfully, in reality we were spoon-fed visual sound bites that took the work of analysis away. It was simply easier to believe everything we read online instead of thinking for ourselves. The machines were beginning to take over our minds. And yes, that was right around 1984.*

But what happened to real news and information?

Now-a-days award programs, be it music, movies or the arts, are a carefully orchestrated event tailored for advertisers. Recent political debates are an embarrassment. The news isn’t the news anymore. In reality, it’s over-caffeinated empty sound bites macerating as noteworthy information. I visited that theme a while back with my blog ‘Pushing Past theBull…oney.”

Much of what we are fed today as news is clickbait; stories meant to draw readers to paid advertising. The question is how identify this pretentious journalism, how to avoid it and where to find real news that isn’t like peeping at upskirt photos.

Social media along with a vast and ever-expanding supply of cheap and accessible information has begun to congeal under the pretense of news. It’s become a nonstop, 24/7 saturated flow of information screaming for our attention. This new media culture is leading many participants to digital fatigue and a hunger for straight-forward facts and data and the ability to make up their own minds instead of some minion reading it to the masses.

There is a saying now among my elders that learning only begins after education. The digital revolution both helped and hindered that learning process. My real education began after I dropped out of college, entered the service and began that long arduous journey toward adulthood. I’m still on that learning road and hope to be until I die.

New digital technology in the pipeline now will only amplify the ‘smart gap’ but won’t make users any smarter. If anything the gulf will probably grow between the intellectually active individuals who are constantly self-educating themselves and those mentally-passive folks who continue to prefer an environment of mental-escape, vapid entertainment and mindless amusement.

Unfortunately that probably won’t change very much in the future. Without mandated change demanded from parents most public school systems will probably continue their old ways of filling quotas and seeking out more ‘spring break’ and holiday opportunities to break up the school year.

As in the past, a select minority will capitalize on new digital products that will help them achieve life goals. For the insightful there will be a host of cheap and accessible do-it-yourself educational resources to educate themselves.

Before public education and mandatory class time, there were self-educating individuals. They found the means and the way to better inform themselves. They haunted libraries, sought out mentors and advocates to get advice on a plethora of topics. The opportunities to self-educate are still all around us. And it’s still up to the individual to seek them out. I focused on this subject matter with Robert, my protagonist in ‘Debris; the trilogy.’

The bell curve of individual achievement will continue to depend on individuals, on their formative environments and digital information technologies available to serve them. But it is still up to the individual.

A high school diploma is practically meaningless without some hard-core skills learned. A college degree has lost most of its panache and advance degrees are becoming plentiful. Doctorate degrees equate to time spent in the classroom or in front of the computer. In the end it’s the knowledge piled up in one’s brain that counts more than time spent in a classroom.

But knowledge alone is never enough. There has to be a passion, a drive, a hunger, a thirst, a kind of vision quest for some goal to be reached. Education alone is never the answer. It’s simply pushing one in the right direction.

So I’m telling my grandchildren that if they want to get ahead in life to do the following: Read a book. Walk in the woods. Sit and think about nothing. Make a friend. Be nice to strangers. Love someone.

The hard reality of life today, as in the past, is that life isn’t always fair. No one owes you anything. A college degree is only as good as your personal skills. And the harder you work, the luckier you just might be.

At least that’s what I’m telling my grandchildren…and I’m sticking to it

·       *  Idea and some phrases were taken from an article entitled ‘The Information’s Revolution’s Broken Promises.’ By Karl Albrecht and found in ‘The Futurist’ magazine, March-April, 2014.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Our Final Tabulation

We all know our lives are supposed to follow a certain predictable pattern. We’re born, grow up, grow old and then die. In the ‘Lion King’ it’s called the circle of life. It’s also used to describe life on the African savannah in several books. A similar theme can be found in a Christian hymn written in 1907 and made popular by the Carter Family in 1935. It’s entitled ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken.’

So we usually don’t allow ourselves to think about death until something jars us back to reality. It might be a near-death experience, a catastrophic illness or the sudden demise of someone close to us. That’s just what happened to me.

Sharon’s mother passed away in October. It wasn’t unexpected. Her health had been deteriorating for some time. But suddenly becoming an orphan is tough on any adult even one as strong as my wife.

Sharon’s friend Steve was a very successful businessman, Rotary philanthropist and loving grandfather. Last Fall he was fine then one day he became unbalanced on his feet and five months later he passed away from brain cancer.

Kathy was Sharon’s sister-in-law. She broke her ankle last spring. She had it set then operated on twice since the incident. A couple of weeks ago she died suddenly from an infection. In each instance these deaths were a grim reminder of the fragility of life and the need to live each day as if it were our last.

Several friends have commented about bad things happening in threes. I hadn’t thought about it before now. Of course growing up, I knew about ‘the day the music died’ and the fact that Jimmy Hendrix, Janice Joplin and Jim Morrison all died within weeks of one another in 1970.

I usually don’t believe in folk tales, old wives stories or fables. But after these three deaths occurred so close together it got me to thinking it. Those were three life-changing events, expected and otherwise, in less than a month and a half.

Folklorists say that the belief that good or bad things come in threes is an ancient superstition that remains a strong belief among many people today. Americans especially seem to have a propensity to see things in threes. For Native Americans, it’s fours and for the Chinese, it’s five.

“It’s very deep in our culture in terms of religion – the father, son and holy ghost,’ explained Alan Dundes, a professor of anthropology and folklore at the University of Southern California at Berkley. He goes to comment: “It’s in our names. We all have three names. And numerous three-worded phrases like ‘win, lose or draw’ ‘we shall overcome’ and ‘snap, crackle and pop.’

I think it all comes down to your own belief system. The yin and yang of our universe means there will be both good and bad in your lifetime.  Bad luck and good can come in threes, fours, fives and more. It’s all a question of how you want to process these events. If you’re fatalistic it can be grim. If you’re realistic it’s a fact of life. Individual numbers don’t mean a thing.

What does matter is the simple fact that ‘no one gets out of here alive.’ For each one of us there will be an accounting whether we’re present for it or not. We will all have a final tabulation. It’ll either be on our death bed or done by others lamenting our loss. It will be a tabulation of who we were as individuals, spouses, parents, grandparents, friends and associates. It will include who we loved, liked and impacted. It will be the kids we left behind. Then their kids, our grand-children and our legacy with them.

But most importantly we will have to answer whether we made a difference with our lives. Was our existence all worthwhile to others especially those closest to us? And for ourselves, did we make a difference while we were here on earth.

So far, after seventy-three years of living my life as best I can, I think I’m good to go.

So I kissed my wife good-bye, told my kids and grandkids I loved them and went for a trail run.  Life is good. I want to embrace it as long as I can.