Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Phoenician Day Traders

They’re modern day voyagers. Like those ancient Phoenician seafaring explorers these folks are searching for that holiest of holy; the grail of a life well-lived and a glimpse of eternal satisfaction. They’re living their lives in search of that as-yet unknown person they want to morph into while always keeping their possibilities open.

I didn’t have my own ‘ah-ha’ moment until recently. But the more I thought about it the more convinced I am that these folks have found their fountain of youth...or are well traveled in their journey toward it. While summering away from the Coachella Valley I miss their interest in the arts, their dedication to the craft of writing, and a willingness to exchange ideas and storylines. Yet it is their focus on improving themselves and honing whatever talent they might have that I applaud the most. Embracing life with its endless possibilities is what it’s all about.

In the land of tailored green space and the infamous cocktail hour these folks have found an oasis of creativity and a youthful elixir to stymie the aging process. It’s a continuing quest to explore one’s world, one’s mind and one’s soul. None of them are resting on their laurels and there are plenty of laurels to go around. They’re an interesting breed of folks; trading each day for a better one tomorrow. Always seeking, always searching, and always opening themselves up to new experiences. In one past blog I labeled them my den of thieves. Today I would label them modern-day Phoenician Day Traders.

Like those merchants of old, these captains of personal commerce are willing to trade their daily lives for the unknown. They’ve adapted that ancient 2000 year-old Chinese philosophy which espouses breaking comfortable patterns of behavior for the sheer terror of new experiences. *

Humans are, by their very nature, messy creatures, full of contradictions and anxieties, petty jealousies, complicated feelings, ambitions, hopes, longings, and fears. Our lives are composed almost entirely of the relationships we have with those around us. So, not surprisingly, we fall into predictable patterns of behavior.

But when we define who we are, we are all too often labeling ourselves according to these passive patterns, unhealthy ruts, and automatic rote reactions. The more a person consciously engages in such moments, the more he or she trains themselves not to always act true to themselves, in order to behave better.

By focusing on what a person is good at, they end up inadvertently doing something else, that is, they train themselves to cut out other things that could lead them in all sorts of unprecedented, unpredictable directions. In short, they are playing it safe and closing off opportunities for new experiences.
Meet the Author Presentation

Chinese philosophy would encourage us to pay attention to interests we have no time for or to choose experiences precisely because they are not what or who we see ourselves as. The whole point here is to get into the habit of expanding one’s perspective and expanding our life experiences. In short, trading each day for a newer experience than the last one. As you cultivate the ability to break from yourself, you will continue to grow and change.

Writers are, by their very nature and genetic makeup, thieves. They steal snatches of conver-sations everywhere they go. In their minds eye, they paint a tapestry of scenarios happening all around them and store that material in their memory bank. They grasp fleeting emotions that they’ve have seen, felt, heard or observed. They peruse life swirling around them with a relish and create their own life stories about people they don’t even know. They abscond with the memories of relatives, parents, friends, lovers, associates and all kinds of fleeting friendships. They are chameleons and that proverbial fly on the wall.

It’s different from the Paris crowd that gathered around Hemingway’s table for drinks and song. It’s different from Ginsberg’s eccentric group that gathered most San Francisco evenings for a salon laced along the ragged edges of drugs, sex and booze. Or my own Snow White and the Seven Seekers all gathered around a breakfast table in Brussels, exchanging cigarettes, small talk and grand expectations for the life ahead. This is a more subtle crowd that does most of its exploration alone or in small hunter-gatherer groups. They are literary-bound wanderers seeking answers instead of redemption.

Desert Writers Expo

Paramount in my quest for learning from these modern day Phoenician Day Traders will be groups like the Palm Springs Writers Guild, the Senior Theater group in Rosemount and the Desert Writers Expo. There are a ton of very talented folks in Minnesota and California. Not just retirees from the west coast or ex-pats from the east coast. There are also a lot of skill wordsmiths and artistic craftsmen from all over the country who have found a safe and comfortable haven in our community here. There are playwrights to stage a meeting and songwriters to share a chorus with.

They’re all this wonderful diverse eclectic crowd of artists who might be seen as a bit strange anyplace else but are right at home here in the desert. Musicians, song-writers, novelists, screen writers and playwrights that I want to hang out with. Like those ancient ones, they are all seekers.

Philosopher Carl Jung captured it best...

“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”

I’m still trying to figure that one out but having a wonderful time getting there.

*Many of the comments on Chinese philosophy were taken from an article by Michael Puett entitled: “Philosophers can teach us about the Good Life.”

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Something For Judy

Judy, Denis, & Marlene

I’m told we played a lot together when I was a young pup. She was a bit older than me but very cute and wore a chin-hugging cap probably in style at the time. It wasn’t the best of neighborhoods and we didn’t live in the nicest of houses but it was home and she lived next door.

Mother, Marlene, and I

Looking for Bugs

Denis & Marlene at the Pacific ocean

Of course, I remember absolutely nothing about that period in my life. In fact, if it hadn’t been for an old photo of my grade school that I posted on a Facebook group page I never would have known Judy existed or was my first play date.

Denis & Marlene on Exchange Street in St. Paul

Mom & I

Turns out, Judy was only in my life for a very brief period of time…none of it remembered by either my sister or I. Then my mother took us and moved a couple of blocks away. Judy disappeared for another seventy years until one photo rekindled an avalanche of memories…on her part. If it weren’t for a couple of old cracked black and whites, this cyber reunion would have ever taken place.

‘Old Saint Paul’ is an interesting Facebook group page. Every day people post old photos of  buildings, relatives, childhood memories, documents, etc. It’s where people gather to rekindle memories of a time and place long since removed from our collective consciousness. It’s a stroll back in time and for many of us a journey back to our youth and all of those memories stored there.

The reunion between Judy and myself took place innocently enough…and quite by accident. Someone on that aforementioned ‘Old Saint Paul’ Facebook page had commented one day about a downtown school that used to be part of St. Louis Catholic Church years ago. I knew the school well. I went there for eight years. So did my sister. But at the time of the posting I was in Sedona and couldn’t comment or share a photo of my school.  I promptly forgot about the message and went out seeking heights to climb and vortexes to cavort about.

St. Louis Grade School | Downtown St, Paul

8th Grade Graduation

Weeks later a similar Facebook comment came up again and I decided to post the one photo I had of my old grade school. That one posting brought a plethora of responses, over a hundred plus at last count. One of the people responding mentioned the fact that she might have known me and wondered if I once lived on Smith Avenue with my sister and mother. She said her name was Judyth but back then it was Judy.

I scoured a batch of old photos I kept tucked away in an old shoe box. To my great surprise I came across several photos of my sister and me with another young girl. My mother had scratched on the back of those three photos: ‘Marlene, Denis and our neighbor Judy.’ I couldn’t believe that after seventy plus years I had encountered the real Judy in the photographs.

I put those three photos on ‘Old Saint Paul’ and got a plethora of positive reactions.

Mother, Marlene, Denis, & Judy

The house on Smith Avenue was the second place we lived in near downtown Saint Paul. I was all of three-years-old and my sister two. Judy lived next door and was about five or six. She said her mother liked my family and allowed her to play with us. I assume we spent plenty of time across the street at the Smith Avenue playground.

All of that is gone now, replaced by a huge hospital complex, one Burger King and several surviving houses facing reclamation.

I still haven’t met Judy in person and I’m not sure if I ever will. Like two ships passing in the cyber night, we played together for a brief period in our lives then were separated for another lifetime. It was a brief poignant exchange of vapid memories held together by fading photographs.

Out of that flurry of viewer’s comments came one from St. Paul’s own self-described house detective. Jim Savach. Jim wanted to know more about the house where I spent that time. I had no answers for him but I did have an old photo of my parent’s small lunch shop.

Frenchy's Eats | Saint Paul, MN | circa 1940s | My Parents' Diner on West 7th St

Frenchy’s Eats was a small neighborhood diner just a couple of blocks away from our house on Smith Avenue. It was my parent’s first and only entrepreneurial venture and it didn’t go well. Mom claimed that the help always gave some of the food away and Dad drank most of the profits away.

What really happened back in the early 40’s to those two kids standing on that porch as well as that tiny diner is forever lost in the absence of any oral history that could have been passed down from my mother’s generation to ours. It never was.

So if it weren’t for Judy and her keen mind and solid memory I probably never would have known about my first play date or the time I spent in the shadow of Saint Paul’s past on Smith Avenue.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Vortex Surfer

Bell Rock Mountain | Sedona AZ

It seemed rather improbable but locals swear it’s true. Slick rock is a lot safer to traverse than shale or gravel. That’s especially important when one is hiking Bell Rock Mountain or any of the other hiking routes in and around Sedona, Arizona.

A previous hiking injury prevented me from ascending the towering heights that day so I could only envy and photograph those hardy souls scaling old withering heights. I think I got a C minus in my one and only college Geology class. That’s too bad because even a cursory knowledge of rocks would have been helpful as I gazed up at some of God’s truly wondrous creations, Red Rock Country in and around Sedona, Arizona.

Located just two hours north of Phoenix, Sedona boasts some of God’s most colorful creations.
Long before the first human stepped foot in the Verde Valley, ancient winds began to blow rose-colored sand grains into magnificent crimson-colored mesas. Around 8,000 B.C., the Paleo-Indians came to the Sedona area via a natural land bridge that connected North America to Ancient Asia. After them came the Hohokam, the Sinaguan and finally the Anasazi known as the ‘Ancient Ones.’ The quest for gold and silver brought the first white explorers around 1583.

Among the many monikers that Sedona likes to boast about are the breath-taking mountains and the vortexes below. Sedona has painted itself as a magical place where artists of every type are inspired to create their masterpieces or struggle to find their muse. I must admit being struck by the sheer size and beauty of the mountains and buttes all around us. Much like the San Jacinto Mountains in my own backyard, the sun seems to paint these mountains with a different personality by the minute.

I can now understand the publicity shots Sedona loves to share with the world. I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures of individuals sitting on some mountain butte contemplating their navel as the sun is setting. The entire region does have a different feel about it. It’s a setting perfect for contemplation and creative thoughts.
It was only after the first roads were built into the Sedona area in the mid-twenties that growth and prosperity soon began to follow. 

Now there’s a new twist in attracting tourists and the curious. Vortex surfing has become big business.

Some locals claim that Sedona has long been known as a spiritual power center because of vortexes of subtle energy located in the area. “The subtle energy that exists at these locations interacts with who a person is inside. It resonates with and strengthens the inner being of each person that comes within a quarter to a half mile of it” or so the literature says. There are male and female vortexes but that would require too much of a definition and certainly a suspension of belief for a non-believer such as myself.

After perusing books on old time Sedona, I came to the conclusion that the spiritual aspect of this place would have been seen as a strange and even silly phenomena thirty years ago. But today it sells hotel rooms and some folks seem to have bought into it yoga mat and sunsets combined. I suspect for most visitors it’s more a trip inside their head than anyplace else.

The whole New Age, spiritual, metaphysical, mind-tripping moniker got started around the mid-seventies after a journalist came out here and wrote about her spiritual experience on top of some butte. New Age hippies followed and soon there were conferences here just focusing on spiritual healing and vortexes and healing crystals. Now Sedona and most of Red Rock Country seems to have captured a large part of that mysterious market. We were told that artists, writers and seekers from all around the world flock to this Red Rock Country for the spiritual uplifting experiences there.

The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon, a scant sixty plus miles north, is another spiritual adventure. I’ve already got a hiking trail to the bottom picked out.

I never did find my own vortex; male or female. Other than a little dust coating my hair and sand stinging my eyes, I just felt the wind swirling around my welcoming body and mind. All the talk of spiritual places and personal vortexes reminded me of some carnival atmosphere but instead of hucksters, I had to listen to hotel desk clerks and tour hawkers.

A closer examination of the criteria for finding a personal vortex can be better explained by one sentence in the local literature…” If someone is at all a sensitive person, it is easy to feel the energy at these vortexes.” I gave it a try…what more can I say.

Northern Arizona provided a wonderful journey back in time and mind. Although the metaphysical spirit never grabbed me, I did feel a certain connection with the land and its past inhabitants. I didn’t have to go looking for my muse since I’ve been chasing that dream for years now. The journey was more a mind-trip than a physical one.

I did find a spiritual place but it was inside my head. It was a journey that filled me with a deeper appreciation for the artistry of nature and renewed hopes for my own imagination running rampant over the keyboard back home.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

From the Shores of Camelot

‘There are Places We Remember…’
-Song by the Beatles

Memories have a strange way of playing tricks inside our head. We hold on to the good, distill the unpleasant until it becomes vague and vapid and we usually forget the bad entirely…over time. What remains at the bottom of that reflective memory pond is a residue of time well spent among family and friends, acquaintances and associates. We usually embellish the good times with a glossy coating that has come to define those unplanned, unexpected events that highlight a certain period in our lives.

Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting Headquarters circa 1970s

I’m not sure why it was that my time spent at the Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting from roughly 1972 through 1977 turned out that way… a simmering cauldron of fleeting moments, events and faces that marked a very pleasant period in my life.

Coming off an unpleasant stretch down south at a very dysfunctional TV station, it was eye-opening and comforting to feel welcomed by so many initial strangers. There were certainly some good times before MCPB and even better times after it. But that particular time period will forever remain a smile on my face and a pleasant return journey inside my head.

What was it about the Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting back in the 70s that many people remember so fondly after all these years? The list of outstanding programs and series could fill a volume of ‘How to do it right’ in terms of public television programming. From ground-breaking series such as ‘Wall Street Week,’ ‘Consumer Survival Kit,’ ‘Hodge Podge Lodge,’ ‘Maryland News wrap,’ and ‘Critics Place’ to regional hits like ‘Duck Carvers’ and historical dramas. ‘Love Letter to Maryland was one of my favorites.’

An article featuring myself

The list goes on and on. All done with creativity and dedication and a thirst for storytelling. That programming was unique among PTV stations and I was proud to be a small part of the action. My own Program Circulation Department was among the first of a long line of entrepreneurial endeavors that MCPB pursued.

Sharon and I in Annapolis

Bob Harrison and I

Sharon and I in D.C.

Sharon and I in D.C.
But for me MCPB was more than just television. It was discovering the narrow cobblestone back streets of Annapolis, the vast plains of undeveloped Westminster, the battlefields of Gettysburg, Intercourse, Pennsylvania, Amish cooking, the Smithsonian, the Capital mall, the Eastern Shore, Chesapeake Bay, Ocean City and all those various weekend jaunts up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

Maryland was where my son, Brian, was born at GBMC along with two western novels that didn’t see a life of publication until some forty years later. Our home was the first of several real estate ventures. Maryland was where I began a lifetime of running (attempted the JFK 50 miler and only got half way) and writing and pondering and growing hungry. And I don’t think I was alone.

It’s become quite apparent that a number of alumni of MCPB feel the very same way. There’s a very popular Facebook group page for sharing memories. There are collectively quite a few.

On Location with FRU

Was it because of management? Most would agree that Dr. Frederick Breitenfeld, Jr. ran a tight ship but a good one. He created an atmosphere of creativity and exploration. There were new avenues to explore in public television production and programming and producers took advantage of many of them. Live drama, events in the field, environmental and consumer issues and craft projects were just the tip of the proverbial programming spear. Producers, directors and department heads weren’t afraid to try new things and found encouragement even after the occasional failure. It seemed to be the mantra of the times.

Back then I always felt as if I was living on the shores of Camelot. My job was to distribute the fine programming that others had created. I could only observe and envy the skill of the directors and conceptual visions of the producers. But living on the edge of all that creativity began to rub off in my own story-telling at night and wishful plans for my own production/distribution business in the future.

Like one of those spur of the moment gatherings; unplanned, unprovoked and unscripted, many of the events at MCPB just seemed to happen when creative people bumped into one another in the halls, at the local tavern or a friend’s house.

It was five years of unplanned, seldom solicited creativity slowly simmering far back in the recesses of my mind. It was concepts and images and ‘what if’s’ that gradually leached their way to the surface of my consciousness. Once back in the old familiar confines of Minnesota those ideas and concepts slowly began to take shape and blossom into fruition. I have the good folks at MCPB to thank for that.

I didn’t realize it back then but time spent at MCPB was my graduate education into a world of possibilities. Even today I’m still learning and growing and failing and starting up again. Just like all those folks I watched and envied and wanted to emulate as I stood on the shores of Camelot.