Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Dangling Participles and Empty Promises

Her e-mail came out of the blue, and cut straight to the point.  “You did become a writer” it said…and that was it. After fifty years it was one line and then she signed her name and said she wanted to be ‘friends’ on Facebook. Rather curious, I thought. My interest was piqued. Yet it never turned out the way I thought it would.

To this day, I still don’t know why.

But that brief exchange several years ago did get me to thinking about other folks who have somehow given me one impression then failed to follow-through or delivered something entirely different.

Case in point:

A skipper I met once had a habit of recruiting crewmembers for his sailboat on Lake Superior.  When we first met and he asked if I would be interested in ‘crewing’ for him, I was thrilled at the thought of sailing Gitche Gumee.  He promised to call but he never did. When I met him a second time he asked the same question and again I responded in kind.

It was only after I commented on our meeting to a mutual friend that I was laughed at and told that ‘the skipper’ had a habit of recruiting anytime he met someone new.  He had never once followed through with his promise of taking new recruits on the high seas. Turns out it was just a social crutch he used to spice up his conversation instead of contributing something of substance.

Then there was the fellow I worked with on a local cable program.  This city employee was bright, gregarious and could spin a tale and talk-the-talk on a moment’s notice. He was a delight to work with and always came through when taping a cable program featuring various city departments.

The problem was his total inability to ever follow through on anything and everything he promised to do.  His word meant less than nothing. He couldn’t be depended on tie his own shoes even if he promised to do so.

I came to appreciate his talent as a cable program host and understood that it came right along with his lack of follow-through.  Those were his two intrinsic characteristics that I had to deal with whenever we worked together.

Another case in point was an occasional visitor of ours to Palm Springs.  She loved the area and was always talking about purchasing a condo there. We would often check out ‘open houses’ on the way back to the airport. She talked and talked but never once seriously made an offer to buy here.

I came to realize it was just part of her routine dialogue and she never meant a word of it.  The sad thing is that I don’t think she even realized what she was saying. It was like a farmer at the coffee shop complaining about commodity prices…something they do without even thinking.

Several folks in Palm Springs have a routine greeting for us upon our return to the desert.  “We must get together for lunch sometime soon” they all exclaim. But it never happens. I’ve come to accept that it’s just an evasive comment that has become a habit on their part. In much the same manner of meeting someone new at a party and declaring an interest in getting together soon… even though you both know it will never happen.

I am fascinated by some people’s inability or unwillingness to keep their word or simply follow-through on promises made.  We sometimes see false bravado in young men or small children. It’s part of their growing into adulthood. How is it that some adults haven’t been able to shake off that habit of somehow believing what they say to be true when we (and I suspect they) know it isn’t so? It turns out that speaking one’s mind and meaning it are not always intrinsically connected with the truth.

And as for that first cryptic message from an old friend, I was never able to decipher her true intent.

Her message had come at a most opportune time since I was in the midst of writing my first novel “Love in the A Shau.”  (First edition).  Turns out that she, along with several other women, were my avatars for the female protagonist in that novel. I thought her initial message might be an opportunity to get her perspective on that period in our lives and hopefully more research material for my book. It didn’t turn out quite that way.

I sent her a long letter outlining the background of my story, the characters I was developing, and my enthusiasm for the project and requested her input on the project.  Then I awaited her feedback.

Her response a few weeks later was simply a two-line e-mail, which read something to the effect: ‘I am back in town now.  I got your letter and photos. Thanks.’

While I wasn’t expecting a long dissertation on my project, I had hoped for more than her cursory response.  A friend of mine explained it best. He said: “What you sent her was ‘an invitation to respond’ and what you got…was her response.”

My interpersonal radar has gotten much better over time.  I’m more adept at detecting false bravado and bull…oney from my fellow man. The other sex is something entirely different. I would be remiss if I said I understood why some folks say what they do and then act entirely different. If there is a message hidden among their semantics, I am missing it entirely.

So I guess I’ll just continue to plod along making friends where I can and hope that what they tell me in the course of normal conversation has some basis in truth and we can go on from there.

I like to think of it as being open and honest…or at least my version of that reality.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

In the Garden of the Sun

Palm Springs is unique in the world for its growing collection of original, refurbished, and brand new Mid-Century Modern homes.  It’s part of the ambiance of this place along with its growing hipster attractions, Hollywood highlights, the smugness of El Paseo and a cache of consignment stores.  Not to mention the closeness to high desert solitude, mountain culture and an ocean only two hours away.

Photo Credit: Modernism Week Magazine

Actually, this is the third rebirth of a movement that first began in the early forties with a curious assemblage of very talented architects.  These men (sorry, no women) brought with them a passion for mixing the various elements of California-style living within the desert environment.

Beginning in the mid-40s, architects originated a design movement specific to the greater Palm Springs area.  It became known as Desert Modern. Their buildings featured ground-breaking techniques such as post-and-beam supports, floor-to-ceiling glass walls and a wide array of colors to match the surrounding mountains and desert. Now famous architects such as William Krisel, E. Stewart Williams, Albert Frey, William F. Cody, Richard Neutra, and Donald Wexler were among the masters of this design.

The second rebirth began in the seventies when Palm Springs Tourism made a concerted effort to draw gay visitors to the valley.  These DINKs (dual income-no kids) seemed most likely to appreciate the arts, the cultural and musical scene here, the draw of Hollywood nearby (two hours away) and the open-accepting culture that is a major characteristic of the city. It worked.

Not only did gay men and straight couples flock to the desert to enjoy the amenities of Palm Springs they also discovered hidden architectural treasures among the many mid-century modern homes here.  Some of those jewels had grown long in the tooth and cried out for rebirth back to their glory days. Very soon these homes were being picked up for $100,000, remodeled and then sold for upwards to $300,000 to $400,000 dollars. A trend of ‘Valley Fever’ had begun and continues to this day.

The Modernism Week event officially began in 2006.  It was a focused attempt to highlight the many examples of mid-century modern design during a several week period that also added attention to many different aspects of architecture and design.

Following the success of both the 2005 Palm Springs Modernism Show & Sale and the annual symposium organized by the Palm Springs Art Museum’s Architecture and Design Council, a group of local design and architecture aficionados created Modernism Week’s signature event in February to showcase the world-renowned midcentury modern architecture of Palm Springs.

In 2009 Modernism Week became a California 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization.  Since then, the organization has established an annual Scholarship Program for local high school seniors pursuing college educations in the fields of architecture and design; and continues to provide financial support to local and state preservation organizations and neighborhood groups in their efforts to preserve modernist architecture throughout the state of California.

Our neighborhood, Indian Canyons, once again hosted five homes this year on the modernism tour.

What was most fascinating about the homes on display was the unique approach each homeowner took to display their vision of modernism.  Some spoke homage to the garishness of 50’s Hollywood while others took refuge in the quiet elegance of artistic excellence. In their own unique way, each homeowner tried to show an exuberance of color and light and unique design.

We were docents again at a home down the block.  It was a fun way to meet more of our neighbors and get to peak into the ‘lifestyles and furnishings of the rich and stylish.’  Unlike last year when every home was a showcase for designers, the homes this year were more ‘livable’ instead of just being museum pieces.

Still it was an adventure to see how the other half lives.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Ergo Ego

Ego always seems to get a bad rap.  It would be great if we felt confident most of the time…without going too far. But then if we go too far in that direction some folks might feel we’re being egotistical. It’s like this fine line between pride and being proud, accomplished verses feeling entitled, lucky or earned, real verses imagined.

It’s a mind game that only mixes and muddies up the reflective waters lapping around inside our heads.  I was raised by a generation of folks who truly believed it was wrong to’ feel good about oneself’ and that giving children praise was wrong because it might ‘go to their heads.’  Thus, love, affection, and praise were withheld for the betterment of the child.

Nowadays parents are being accused of being over-indulgent and willing to give awards just for showing up.  Recently a losing Super Bowl player couldn’t grasp the concept of losing because ‘he only likes to win.’  Is that ego talking or just an over-inflated self-image propagated by self-serving agents, ESPN, and advertisers?

I think, within reason, they got it all wrong.  I now believe that in reality the ego is what allows us to differentiate ourselves from others. On one hand a healthy ego can give you physical boundaries and a sense of worth. But when it’s out of balance, your ego can lead you to define yourself by external qualities and circumstances, like your material goods or physical appearances.

We can’t ‘not’ have an ego.  It is a function of consciousness and as such won’t go away. It is a part of who we are…like it or not. Ego allows us to see ourselves separately from others.  However, this becomes a problem when we allow ourselves to identify too closely with external aspects of our lives at the expense of our internal, essential self.

It’s when we come to believe that our thoughts, anxieties, success, and failures are who we really are that the problem arises.  Those are simply external manifestations of outside forces colliding with our true selves. In short, we have to avoid the trap of self-definition in order for the ego to be of benefit to us. Now tell that to the legion of Hollywood press agents.

Meditation can be a powerful tool to become an observer of your own mind.  You then begin to recognize what it is in you that is essential, as opposed to what you’ve acquired through culture or family or as a part of your persona.  It means stripping away the veneer, the fa├žade, the trappings of success and the accumulation of material things. What is left is the true you.

Yet it can be difficult to see beyond what is in front of our eyes.  A classic example is the young man who thought he had hit a home run (in business or society) when, in fact, he was born on third base. Most folks I know who were born with that proverbial silver spoon have no real idea of what ‘being hungry’ is really all about. Certainly on an intellectual level they can espouse the value of hard work, sacrifice and taking risks. In reality, most wouldn’t be able or want to give up their present status in society or know how to earn it by themselves.

I believe ego allows those accustomed to hard work the confidence to believe that if they work hard, they just might get lucky.  They see little to no down side to their daily struggle. It, in fact, defines who they really are.

A healthy ego allows them to balance ego with opportunity, pride with being proud and real verses imagined.  It’s a life-long road trip inside our head. As with any journey there are detours, side roads, distractions and almost daily obstacles. It’s recognizing feelings of inadequacy, failure, loss and sadness as the price to pay for living each day to its fullest.

My hope for my grandchildren is a healthy ego tempered by hard reality, caring parents, and perhaps a few words of wisdom from Nana and Papa.

A small price to pay for getting to know and accept the true you.

·         Some of the ideas and comments made were inspired from an article by Nora Isaacs which appeared in the March 2014 issue of Yoga Journal Magazine.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

East Jesus on a Slab

Draw a circle around Palm Springs and you’ll find the high desert and Joshua Tree are just an hour away.  Swing the other way around and you can be in the artist community of Idyllwild in the San Jacinto Mountains in the same amount of time.

Two hours will get you to Los Angeles, Laguna Beach, or San Diego.

But head directly east past the Salton Sea and you’ll end up in East Jesus and West Satan.  It’s a ‘lost world’ replete with fascinating character studies, RV slummers and a few stragglers who look like human residue scrapped up from the bottom of civilized society. It’s a step back in time and void of any semblance of the world as we’ve come to know it. East Jesus is next to West Satan in the community of Slab City which is just a stone’s throw away from Salvation Mountain. We passed the Fountain of Youth trailer park on the way into town. I think you get the picture.

I can thank my editor for our visit to that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle namesake.  Vida was in town for just a few days and wanted to visit Salvation Mountain and Slab City. Little did we know that East Jesus, West Satan and the twenty-four hour free library would become the celebrated highlights of our tour package.

One of the perks of having family and friends come to visit us in Palm Springs is their interest in dragging my wife and me out of our comfort zone and into worlds we would seldom visit on our own.  Last year, my son Brian guided me through slot canyon in Mecca and Sharon’s brother had us go down to the Salton Sea for the first time. Now Vida wanted to trek up to the Colorado Desert to visit an encampment of Mad Max look-alikes. Of course, I was game. Sharon took a little more talkin to.

The Salton Sea was cloaked in a shroud of mist and smell and dead fish on that day.  Fortunately it was cool in the morning so the smell wasn’t overwhelming even if the rotting carcasses of Tilapia was a bit disconcerting to walk on.

Further down the road past the trailers of Bombay Beach was the strange hilltop called Salvation Mountain.

The Folk Art Society of America has declared Salvation Mountain ‘a folk art site worthy of preservation and protection.’

But then they would say such a thing about a hilltop covered in paint. The artwork is made from adobe, straw and thousands of gallons of lead-free paint. It was created by the late Leonard Knight (1931-2014). A deeply religious man, Knight created an art piece that encompasses numerous murals and areas painted with Christian sayings and Bible verses. Knight’s philosophy was built around the ‘Sinners Prayer.’

The old mountain carver is gone now and replaced by Jesus People and their small hugging kids. Many visitors bring paint to donate to the project and a group of volunteers has been working to protect and maintain the site.

Just down the road from Salvation Mountain are two former guard huts announcing the entrance to Slab City.

Slab City otherwise known as ‘The Slabs’ is a snowbird campsite in the Sonoran Desert used by recreational vehicle owners alongside squatters from across North America. It takes its name from the concrete slabs that remain from an abandoned World War II Marine barracks of Camp Dunlap.

It’s estimated that there are about one hundred fifty permanent residents (squatters) who live in the slabs year around. Some live on government checks, others just want to live ‘off the grid’ and a few come to stretch out their retirement income. The camp has no electricity, no running water, no sewers or toilets and no trash pickup service. Sounds like a dry run for the apocalypse.

Despite the free shoe tree on the way into town and the free library, most of the residents have sectioned off their trailers, tents and sleeping bags with tires, pallets or barbwire. Free is free unless it comes to their piece of heaven in the desert then even the squatters want their personal space recognized.

The library was an eclectic collection of cast-off books and magazines all free for the taking. The floor was dirt and the ceiling clear blue sky or sheets stretched between sections. The reading lounge was mainly occupied by lizards, tarantulas and small droppings of a questionable nature. The proprietors encourage visitors to bring books for exchange and I will if we ever return.

We were encouraged to visit the art gallery at East Jesus which is next to West Satan. A request like that couldn’t be ignored.

East Jesus has been described as an experimental, sustainable, habitable, art installation. I was told that East Jesus a colloquialism for the middle of nowhere beyond the edge of services. Made from discarded material that has been reused, recycled, or repurposed, East Jesus encourages visitors to imagine a world without waste in which every action is an opportunity for self-expression.

I think West Satan is simply a suburb of East Jesus. I found the art gallery there fascinating and mind-expanding. My wife, ever the one to encompass clear insight into as few words as possible, simply called it ‘bad art.’

Either way it was a fun trip that gave birth to at least this blog as well as other mind images that are still whirling around in my head. Someday they just might start leaking out my fingertips into future storylines. Our visit challenged the notion of ‘what art is’ and dragged the three of us out of our comfort zone for at least one afternoon.

It was at once fascinating, intriguing, sad, mind-expanding and challenging. It was finding iconic and cultural-pop treasures in the middle of nowhere California…just a stones-throw from Palm Springs and the flip side of reality there.

It was tripping out without the acid and a glimpse into the lives of those who don’t want to be a part of ‘any scene’ here in fantasy land or the rest of the world.

I get it. They got it…and want to keep it that way.