Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Season of Altered Reality

Fifteen years of trekking to Palm Springs has produced a humanistic cauldron of changing venues and evolving life styles for my wife and me. Yet through this gradual evolution from several visits per year to seasonal occupation there was always a comfortable continuity to life here. Desert living had become a comfortable alternative to winters sequestered in Minnesota. There was comfort in continuity…until now.

Not a lot of folks have the opportunity to flit back and forth between two distinctive life styles, renewing acquaintances with friends from around the country and enjoying two distinct and different environments as the seasons ebb and flow. So complaining about a less than perfect season might sound more than a little disingenuous to the average person. I get it and I agree.

There really doesn’t seem to be a lot to complain about when one’s fractured season is less than most others could hope for. But this season wasn’t like all the others and while I’m not complaining…just explaining… the reality is that the old cliché about nothing ever stays the same played out this season like a bad hand of cards.

Our kids and grandkids were out here for Thanksgiving. It’s always fun, exciting, intense and fulfilling when they’re here. Did I also mention exhausting? But after they left things started to go south as compared to other seasons.

Unlike past seasons where familiar routines fell into place and the old organizations remained stoic and unmoved, this year it was different. The Writers Niche, a very comfortable collection of fellow writers who met twice a month, had been disbanded. My friend who was teaching a writing class in town decided to fold up shop. The Palm Springs Writers Guild hadn’t found anyone to spearhead the Desert Writers Expo this year so that also died a quiet death. Writing became a solitary exercise except for the occasional coffee-up with some fellow writers.

Sharon’s mom had passed away three weeks before we left for Palm Springs. Then a friend who had been sick with a terminal illness passed away in November. Shortly after that a family member unexpectedly passed away. We went back to Minnesota early and stayed longer than expected.

The changes, some subtle, some overt continued. Balloon wrangling for the annual Christmas lights parade turned out to be an exercise in exhaustion with an over-active team leader. Our gym downtown had closed and we were forced to find other accommodations. The weather all season was about ten degrees cooler than normal. My plans to hike the Lykken Trail and then graduate to harder climbs was derailed by leg injuries and other commitments. We weren’t able to go on the Desert Horticultural Tour this year nor the Walk of the Inns.

Remodeling projects around the house produced a chorus of weekly chaos that disrupted my normal writing routine. A new HVAC system installed in the middle of winter produced some chilly nights.

Overall it was par for the course. It was a season of change, of a cessation of changing venues and evolving priorities on the part of other people, institutions and events. Yet despite the challenges of a disruptive work schedule I/we managed to find some semblance of order in the chaos.

I started to bike to the Saguaro Hotel to work out in their gym. I discovered several new trails to hike and found a new spot to meditate in the mountains. My renewed attempts at play writing seemed to find success back home. ‘Apache Death Wind;’ a trilogy was published. ‘Debris; a trilogy was being edited.

We got to tour some new spots in the area like Salvation Mountain, Slab City, and San Juan Capistrano and along the Pacific Coast Highway. We visited the Annenberg estate and took a windmill tour. We sought and found a new semblance of order in that chaos of change and the façade of Palm Springs forced us to look anew at our lives there.

A season of altered reality produced a new perspective for life in the desert. It also reminded me of just how lucky we are to live the life we do.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Ode to a Broken Down Palace

Everyone wants someplace to call home. But for me back then the house on Randolph Avenue had long since ceased being my home. After living in Europe it was simply a place to crash while I waited for my life to take some semblance of order. It was where I was raised but no longer belonged.

So finding that sad old relic of better times on University Avenue marked the beginning of another world I was about to enter. A cauldron of cast-offs and bottom feeders which accurately reflected where my head was at and where I was going…in no particular order. Disheveled, messy, chaotic and rudderless yet always angling for a better direction.

The Twin Cities has a long history of collecting enclaves of immigrant families and other bottom feeders who haven’t yet assimilated into modern day society. This apartment building was just such a place. It was Swedes Hollow, the Bohemian Flats, Little Italy and the West Side Flats all wrapped up in a half dozen squalid cut-up apartment units. As time progressed that area around the University of Minnesota, especially around Dinky Town and the West Bank, became my own microscopic version of Greenwich Village.

And as the song lyrics go ‘most of my changes were there.’

It’s become part of my lexicon now. Not because of some foolish notion that it represented my ‘glory days’ or the ‘best years of my life.’ And hopefully not because it might sound like the musings of an old man. It was, instead, a moment in time long since gone but still captured in a few faded photographs and dusty vinyl jackets which help poke probing fingers of inquiry into that slowly fading memory bank cached inside my head. For those places and people and events all help define who and what I have become…and strive to be.

That white ghetto came to represent all those individuals I knew and loved and lost touch with over the years. It was the silly and foolish things I did and thought. It was all those wild aspirations and stumbles I took in the right direction. It was accidents that didn’t happen and a few that did. It was all those seemingly innocuous events that changed my life and laid the groundwork for a lifetime of story-telling in one form or another.

So while some oldsters may lament their sometimes checkered past or lost years I choose to embrace them as a reflective exercise. While some may scowl at rekindling the past by saying ‘it’s best not to look back’ and ‘let the past be,’ it is for me very personal.  It was a time of my lost years.

That’s a lot of accolades to pile on a rundown hulk of a building in a poor part of town. When first constructed around the turn of the century the building was reflective of an expanding and prosperous Minneapolis. The huge structure was home to a prominent businessman and his growing family. By the time I moved in it was owned by a shady real estate investor from Saint Louis Park who would never dare venture into that neighborhood at night. I had to go to his ethnic enclave of real estate ‘bottom feeders’ to sign my lease.

My unit on the second floor had been carved out of a once spacious master bedroom. The building had been chopped-up, divided and then subdivided into probably illegal apartments for whoever could afford the cheap rent.

There was a group of graduate students from Pakistan below me and odd assortments of humanity in the other units who seemed to come and go with the seasons. The building was, at once, a rundown hippie hangout, a nightly excuse for under-age drinking and sexual affairs and a sketchy abode for a wandering soul.

The overall mantra of the place seemed to be “Say Hi,” don’t ask questions and ignore what’s going on unless you think the place might burn down. In retrospect, I think I was nuts to live in such a dump but it suited my lifestyle back then and my frame of mind. I thought of my place as bohemian chic. Visitors might have had a different impression. Shortly after I moved out, they tore the building down and left an empty field.

Three women encompassed my frame of reference for that period.

First there was Sheila who had moved on with her life by that time while I was still trying to find mine.

Then there was Susan who was seeking the holy grail of life’s direction just as I was. She needed focus in her life and together we helped one another search for that shining light. Susan and I used to sit on her creaky front porch and waxed philosophically about life and love and what the future might hold for us.

She was significant in my life for several reasons, not the least of which was that we were both seekers. It was a collision of my time and space with hers. For a long time we were in the same orbit, thinking and living life alike, and traveling that strange road to maturity. We were both hungry. And with similar family backgrounds, we both found ourselves struggling to grab a handhold on that slippery ring called a career.

And finally there was Sharon waiting in the wings until such time as fortune brought us together at KTCA; the Public Television station.

After a couple of months working/writing at the Public Health Department, I ventured down Como Avenue to the studios of KTCA. They weren’t hiring at the time but they were glad to use my volunteer services in the evenings. I learned the craft of television from the ground up. It became my first real job where I never felt like I was working.

As significant as that old television building was in my life, even more prominent was a bar on the West Bank. That den of ear-busting music, sweet-smelling haze and questionable characters figured prominently in one of my first novels entitled “Love in the A Shau.” On the surface the Triangle Bar was a rundown three-two joint with intoxicating music, cheap beer and loud crowds that came to see, be seen or just smoke a joint in the corner. Beneath the surface it was my baptism into another life

During its heyday, the Triangle Bar became the flash point for a burgeoning music scene centered on the West Bank. Since they didn’t card, the bar attracted a lot of U of M students. I’m guessing the term ‘jail bait’ was first coined there.

But beneath that surface melting pot of hippies, junkies, college drop-outs, undercover cops and other assorted flotsam from civilization came a wonderful collection of lost souls and seekers. Every night brought another stimulating conversation with some colorful character who usually gave a false last name, lied about their background but presented fascinating suppositions on life and love and war and college and our future in general. It was a true college education outside of the classroom.

They’re all gone now. Removed like push pins off a bulletin board of icons long since dis-appeared. My apartment on the avenue, the Triangle Bar, the old Public Health Department building on campus, crumbling Dinky Town, Newman Center with its folk music, the Grandview Theater and its foreign films and a dozen other sad-eyed structures all razed by a bulldozer called time. It was a sometimes conflicting confluence of attitude and interest, circumstance and focus, goals and objectives. And ultimately it led me to the stability I found in another human being who was opposite of me in almost every way.

Isn’t life strange that way?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Gift of Perspective

I’m feeling rather blessed in my accumulating age and encroaching mortality. Not only because of a satisfying lifestyle but also an increased awareness of those little ‘blink of an eye’ revelations and occurrences that make a life a life. I’m talking about those seemingly insignificant events so easily missed if one isn’t paying attention.

I’ve always been cognizant of the deep peacefulness and quiet comfort I’ve found resting on my tabernacle or being lost in the middle of a desert hike or surrounded in a chapel of deep woods. More recently I’ve become even more aware of those fleeting events that somehow come together into what we simply recognize as our everyday life.

Northern Minnesota lake awakening

Storytime with Nana

My Tabernacle

In the zone trail running

Morning visitor

Sunset at Crystal Cove - Newport Beach, CA

In the land of the Inca - Machu Picchu

Lake Superior restlessness

Morning coffee

Walking on water

Early morning bike ride

Baby hummingbirds

More storytime

Out of my comfort zone

California coast at dusk

Living that extra moment when all is well with the world and realizing it’s good to be alive.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Eating Green Grass

Google tells us there is simple jealousy and complex jealousy. If you probe those web pages a little further you’ll come up with a plethora of attributes, angles, theories, plausible explanations and some pretty far-out scenarios to explain adult jealousy. For example, some would argue that simple jealousy expresses value and complex jealousy drives you crazy. Another theory is that simple jealousy regulates distance while complex jealousy expands distance. These ivory tower dissertations do little in offering plausible explanations for us layman.

There is a clearer definition and I think the actress Carrie Fisher (Star Wars) got it right the first time. She’s been quoted as saying: “Envy is when you take poison and wait for the other guy to die.”

That’s it in a nut shell. Jealousy is that bile-taste in your mouth when you hear of another person’s good fortune. It’s the knot in your stomach at the sight of someone else’s newest possession. It’s perhaps hoping their good fortune might end sooner than later…and you’ll be around to see it.

I was reminded of these strange phenomena the other day when I was forced to watch one of those inane reality shows in front of my stationary bicycle at the gym. In this case it was one of those ‘The Real Housewives of…’ But it could have been any one of a dozen reality shows meant to garner eyeballs while leaving those respective minds void of any plausible rational thoughts. Some pretend news web sites do the same thing. Buzzfeed and The Daily Mail come to mind.

Jealousy is something we usually attribute to older children and teenagers. There’s an assumption that with maturity comes a realization that life isn’t fair and ‘some people have it made’ while others don’t. That’s the way we’d like to believe life works…but that can be far from the truth. Adults can be as jealous and envious of others just like kids. Sometimes it’s even worse because they can’t or won’t admit it.

We’ve all probably experienced someone in our extended family or circle of acquaintances that seems to be living the good life…without having earned it. They don’t seem to be working very hard or just seem to be lucky all the time. They might be business owners who have inherited the family business and have never worked overtime or evenings or weekends. It might be others who seem to be floating along quite blissfully without a care in the world.

Truth is, it’s been that way all of our lives. We all knew who ‘they’ were back in high school, in college and even in the workplace. We couldn’t help but notice their trappings of success and seemingly easy accumulation of material things. As ‘real life’ teaches us, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the tracks even if our eyes seem to tell us differently.

The media feeds us a steady diet of this Pablum all meant to make us want to be someone else. I have a friend who has an interesting take on the public’s continuing obsession with Hollywood gossip, ‘Entertainment tonight’ type programs and pretend celebrity news channels. His theory is that most people lead very dull lives and as such they love to live vicariously through the lives of their movie/television idols. He claims ‘we want what we can’t or don’t have.’ Does anyone remember ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous?’

Once again envy raises its ugly head but under the guise of admiration or interest. In reality, nice people don’t always win, hard work doesn’t guarantee success and in general life isn’t always fair.

My wife and I have reminded our kids since grade school that ‘life isn’t fair’ and that things don’t always turn out in their favor. I would then add (gently): “Welcome to the real world…now learn to deal with it.”  Now they’re telling their own kids the very same thing.

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work hard all your life for those things of importance to you. It just means there is no guarantee you’ll ever get there. But at least you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you tried and that in itself should be more than enough gratification.

Hard work and effort is still a moniker worthy of pursuit. To have tried and failed is still better than to never have tried in the first place.

For truly the journey itself is the destination.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Sunshine on My Shoulders

 “I went to a garden party to be with my old friends…”
-Garden Party by Rick Nelson

Funny how cactus and sage can bring so many folks together.

With all the hyper-ventilating over the California drought it’s not surprising that a lot of folks are turning to desertscape as an alternative to blankets of green. It’s an attractive and cost-effective alternative to watering their lawns everyday especially during the scorching heat of summer.

Membership in our own Desert Horticultural Society has grown exponentially as more and more people come to appreciate the beauty, convenience and cost-savings of converting their old lawns to desertscape. They realize that a switch from green to brown and beige is more than just water conservation it’s a different mind-set entirely.

For years now, our own Desert Horticultural Society has been preaching that message and it’s finally catching a lot of attention. After we switched from a blanket of green to sand and rocks our home was on one of the society’s annual tours. Since then we’ve had a chance to look at other homes during their annual garden tour each spring. It’s always quite revealing.

The last several years has seen a plethora of creative, inspiring and magical changes in yards around town. In many instances the old standard blanket of green has been replaced by an abundance of drought-tolerant plants and scrubs and vegetation. And the transformation hasn’t been restricted to any one part of town.

From the boulder-strewn neighborhood of Little Tuscany up north to the classic old Hollywood enclaves of Las Palmas and Movie Colony, the changes just continue marching along.If you allow yourself the time and patience to observe the different kinds of desertscape the details can be amazing.

The photos below from the last two garden tours are prime examples of what I mean.

That’s it then. A pretty neat Garden of Eden - Desert style.