Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Picture Clues

It’s been one of those mysteries in my life that remained unspoken and never talked about. A vacuum in my memory bank that’s never been filled-in. Granted, I was too young to understand all of its ramifications but I still feel cheated even today.  Yet to be honest I’m not sure how I would have reacted if I had understood what it meant not to have a father in my life growing up.

There were no pictures or other mementos of him ‘ever’ in our house. It was as if he never existed in the first place. By the time I had finally matured and became curious about my lineage those memories of her distant past had become a fog clouding my mother’s mind. About the only thing I could be sure of was that I once had a father and he died at a (relatively) young age. End of story.

Or so I thought.

Curiosity raised its finicky head about the same time I posted a blog entitled ‘Something for Judy’ on my Facebook page. In perusing an old box of photographs of my brief encampment on Smith Avenue with my first play date named Judy, I came across some photos of my father and myself. Of course, I’d seen those photos before but back then my eyes were vacant and mind-closed. This time around I looked at those glimpses of my past with a much different minds-eye.

There are clues in those pictures…in the clothes, mannerisms, posture, location and a hundred other nuances that spoke volumes about the man that gave me life. By reading into them with the inquisitiveness of a writer and a curiosity of past traits passed down to me, there are answers (unconfirmed, of course) in what those pictures were saying.

So without being maudlin or clinically antiseptic, I began to study the clues some unknown photographer presented to me. There were stories in those images that said so much and yet revealed so little. I did my surgical inspection without the benefit of any oral history pasted down from my mother. And I was cognizant of her refusal to recognize that part of her past life. If there was any prejudice, hard feelings or hidden shame in their relationship it had slipped away with her last breath here on earth.

So who was this man that was a part of my life for less than two years then was gone forever? Who was this Arthur LaComb whose lineage could be traced back to Quebec, Canada but little else beyond that?

For one thing, he seemed to like to dress me as he dressed. Today he’d be called fashion-wise, nattily attired or very smooth. Back then perhaps even labeled a ladies’ man. That trait ended with him.

My grandmother (on his side) was in our lives for a brief period of time but she was certainly never a part of my life afterwards. My sister said she visited us once then disappeared after her son died.

From research on Ancestry.com, my wife discovered that my uncle (his brother) lived in Los Angeles until he died in the mid-70s. Obviously, uncle never bothered to ever get a hold of us when we were growing up.

My father was in the service (the Navy I believe). Story goes that he hurt his back and got discharged but I never got a clear answer what happened to him.

He was a smoker and liked to hang out in bars. My mother commented on his drinking only once or twice and left it at that. A cousin once said he was a pleasant drinker and funny when he got drunk…as opposed to a mean drunk, I suppose.

Turns out, I have a half-sister. I think her name was Beverly. I knew my father had been married once before. This came up when I saw a picture of a young girl with us way back when. Then my mother remarked once back in the eighties, “Oh yes, you have a half-sister who lives in a trailer park in Florida. She came to visit us once.’ I guess I was in the fourth or fifth grade at the time but I don’t remember her visit. We never heard from her again. My mother never explained why she also disappeared from our lives and I was too young to ask or care.

The story of my parents' breakup has been clouded by time and my mother’s selective memory. As the story goes it was a Catholic priest who declared that their marriage wasn’t valid because my father’s first marriage hadn’t been properly annulled in the eyes of the Catholic Church. The priest declared that therefore they couldn’t live together...in sin. My mother, being a devout Catholic, complied. She said there were no jobs for a short order cook after the war and thus my father had to move away. That was in 1945.

When I asked my mother if my father ever wrote or sent money to her over those years that he was gone, she said no. That, in my book, was desertion. She didn’t say it was. She just couldn’t argue it wasn’t.

The story of his death is also a vapid cloud that kept changing tones and colors as it was retold over the years. It seems in the winter of 1948 my father was traveling back from the west coast to be with us for Christmas when he stopped in Missoula, Montana.

He had a massive heart attack in his hotel room and died there. Hell of a way to die; alone and unknown. Supposedly his cash and other valuables were rifled from his room before the front desk was notified. My Mom said he had Christmas presents for us. My sister remembers getting a pretty doll. I’m told I got a gun and holster set. My father was buried in Missoula, Montana in a pauper’s grave. My sister took a train out to visit his gravesite once. I never have.

So for all intents and purposes, my sister and I lived with our mother as three separate individuals until I went into the service and my sister got married. It was just the three of us under one roof and managing our lives the best we could.

At a very early age my aunts made it clear to me that I was better off without my father around. Even at six years old I got the picture. They didn’t like him very much and they carried that animosity over to my sister and me. I could never figure out why we were stigmatized for the sins of our father.

Growing up, I was vaguely aware of other nuclear families that had a father and mother. But we had our home on Randolph Avenue and that was our abode; minus all the trappings of Ozzie and Harriett and the Cleavers. It never registered to me what a real family might be like.

I’m grateful for those old pictures of my dad and me. Not because they answer any questions. They certainly don’t. And my mother’s refusal to talk about that part of her past has left a huge hole in that part of my life. Despite that I can’t complain.

I’ve had a good life. I’m married to a wonderful woman, forty-five years and counting. I’ve got great kids and wonderful grandchildren. It’s been ‘all good.’ And for a very brief period of time back on Smith Avenue in old Saint Paul it looks like we were a family… a family just like everyone else.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Finding Your Inner Voice

Creativity can manifest itself through living in a good marriage or having a committed relationship. It can be the right way to raise your kids or caring for others. It means being yourself…whoever that might be.

Albert Einstein said it best when speaking about creativity. “Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing it is stupid.”

We all have it. We just need to find it. If one looks at creativity not just in terms of the arts, music, crafts and all of its many manifestations but far beyond that, it is another world welcoming us to explore. Creativity can be found in our ordinary, often times mundane acts of living.

It means creating a lifestyle that embraces all that is important to you, your soul and your inner cravings for your purpose in being alive. It means living by those principles that define who you are as a person, a spouse, a lover, a parent, a guardian, and a member of the human race. Living creatively can and should be your motivation for personal evolution, growth, learning and therefore, thriving in a complicated world.

Finding our inner voice is different for each one of us.  It is what we, not others, want us to be. Too often we carry the baggage of our parent’s expectations or the well-meaning but tempered advice of teachers and coaches. Often times we have sub-consciously learned to be what others expect of us…not how we truly feel inside. As a result, we often downplay or disconnect from those parts of us that are truly unique to just us.

Businesses have been doing this for hundreds of years. Over the centuries, they have failed to grasp huge opportunities for change and innovation. An attachment to old habits, greying assumptions and fat around the waist have clouded their perception of change all around them. Then occasionally some business comes along like Apple or Netflix or Fitbit or GoPro to challenge the status quo and cause massive upheavals.

As with any responsible enterprise it is our duty to find what it is that interests us the most. We must listen to our inner voice and answer its calling. To do this we must learn how to support our creativity. That means to take the time to daydream, doodle, imagine, and ponder those many ‘what if’s’ that seem to hang around  the edges of our consciousness. Life-changing habits come from thoughts and energies beyond that which we normally access during our daily lives.

Then we must take those thoughts, ideas, concepts, and ‘what ifs’ and put them into concrete form or action. The tragedy here is not to try and fail but to do nothing at all. Each of us has an intuitive nature. We must harness the energy of and the power of that intuitive self in order to become limitless in our inner exploration.

You must first accept where you are in life and never regret the journey you took to get there. You should slow down and smell the flowers. That means eliminating toxic people and situations that do nothing but harm your self-worth. Practice the art of mindful living and appreciating your good fortune when intuition comes into your life.

It means breaking away from centuries-old assumptions, questioning old habits that hold us back and honestly looking deep within ourselves for the truth there. Creativity is a whole body and mind experience. It is a way of life not just an idea or an ambitious goal. It is preparing ourselves mentally and physically for the journey deep within ourselves that reveal truths about us we never knew. It is a mind-set that in turn is a road map that in turn is a guide to eternal truths…our truths about who we are and what we can become if we so desire.

Welcome to your inner journey. It’s going to be a wonderful, at times confusing, and ultimately satisfying trip. It’s better to jump on that train now than to wait at the station for another-life to arrive.

  • Credit must be given to the following authors who wrote articles in ‘The Edge’ Magazine, June, 2016 on this subject matter. Theresa Nutt, Alley Brook, Jeanne Henderson, Lisa Sellman and Nick Seneca Jankel.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

First Rock & Roll ... Then What?

I have to extend my thanks once again to my coffee clutch friend. He’s the one with curious insight and probing questions that always cause my mind to go wandering. This time it was an innocuous observation that throughout history we have always experienced brief periods of extraordinary creativity. Turns out some of those life-changing events took place during my watch. His comments got me to thinking. He was right. Yet without focused attention I probably would have just taken for granted some of those earth-shaking times I lived through.

We’re all aware from history books of the Industrial Revolution and that period when notables such as Alexander Graham Bell invented the lightbulb and the Wright Brothers conquered flight. There have been revolutions of many ilk’s and forms. There have been mass migrations and the cessation of civilizations. Some inventions have changed our lives for the better and others have caused it great harm.

In the early 1950’s I was only vaguely aware of the advent of television and the infiltration of music into my life. The subtle, almost innocuous penetration of music by way of the transistor radio and then audio tapes and CDs continued throughout my lifetime.

By the mid-50s that mental and emotional penetration began to take shape in the form of Rock and Roll and all of its extraneous manifestations. Rock and Roll was the eternal elixir for many of us. It was an imagination-induced formula that led to all kinds of mental meanderings and wishful thinking. Most of it harmless.

Like a fast moving stream of consciousness, this new kind of music flowed and dispersed and re-converged in many forms; pop, country, folk, folk-rock, country-rock, metal, heavy metal, and so forth. The styles, idioms and messages were almost too numerous and convoluted to pin down. The only constant was a tug at our emotional minds and accepting hearts.

As earth-shaking as Rock and Roll was to our musical consciousness, the Sixties proved even more disruptive and revolutionary. Revolution was the code word for changes in attitudes toward women’s rights, our sexuality, challenging the political establishment, civil rights, and more. There were life-changing seismic changes in our society that could not be turned back and are still felt even today.

In retrospect, it changed me into the seeker I am today. Like some innocent unnoticed incident that began to build up over time, it gradually morphed into a mindset and a focus, an interest and a passion, an observation and a conclusion; none of which was dependent on the prevailing wisdom of the times or mindset of the masses.

Then that cloak of many different colors was further enhanced by the new economy and its challenges along with benefits. The new economy, fueled by the internet and computer technology, caused another seismic shift in the way we thought about and conducted business…and our lives.
The code word here was ‘the new economy’ or ‘fast company.’ The second coming of the internet age proved just as grandiose, overblown, exaggerated, and truly ground-shifting and many iterations of all those clich├ęs just listed.

  • The internet was supposed to create a ‘new economy.’ That never happened or at least not in the reiteration that was projected.
  • There would be a new world community. While it’s true that small select groups with similar interests have found one another. On the whole, the world is still a broad and vary diverse gathering of dissimilar individuals.
  • The digital age would make us all smarter. Not necessarily. It just means that we get to exercise our fingertips each day and get easily distracted.
  • Digital technologies will narrow the wealth gap. It may have done other things but narrowing the disparity between the haves and the have-nots has not been one of the results.

Along with those technological changes, the political climate also began to change from its first hint of disservice in the Sixties to the full blown cynicism it sometimes experiences today. On a more personal note, the publishing world I’m currently enmeshed in is changing on an almost daily basis. And the changes just keep chugging along.

What the future holds for me (considering Moore’s law of change) continues to be a mystery slowly unraveling itself one day at a time. So much of it is in my head and what I choose to embrace there. What do I write?  How do I get published? How do I let the world know I exist?
Where do I go from here?

It means continuing to share my kid’s world and understand my grandchildren’s world as it evolves and changes. Ultimately for me it means respecting the past while embracing the present and future…and waiting to see where it takes me.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Smelling a Bigger Barn

Triathlons are the newest craze among the healthy and fit. Now that three-event endurance challenge has even trickled down to the younger set. Hence it came to be that over two Saturdays; once in Colorado and again in Minnesota, my wife and I found ourselves as support crew for several young enthusiastic triathletes. We were head cheerleaders as all five of our grandchildren who completed in triathlons this last month.

After forty plus years of running I have resigned myself to a treadmill at the gym and trail runs weather permitting. Mountain climbing in Palm Springs doesn’t count since I can pace myself there and fake looking out over the horizon if I need to take a break and catch my breath. So it was with more than a bit of envy and tremendous pride that I watched our grandkids blast through their events with a youthful enthusiasm and unwavering zeal that made even the placid volunteers look in wonder.

For me these triathlons represent not only an admiration of their physical endurance at a young age but more importantly an appreciation for my grandkids’ love of exercise and the great outdoors. Instead of preaching ‘less screen time’ both my kids are providing alternatives to the numbing brain-dead zombie rituals other children have with their hand-helds. They’re giving their kids, my grandchildren, a love of the sport and nature as well.

At the end of an ultramarathon (one hundred miles or more) veterans have a saying to describe the rush of adrenaline they feel coming into the home stretch. It’s called ‘smelling the barn.’ At both triathlons there were youngsters as young as four years old participating. Triathlons are no different than hundred milers for them…a little more variety but just as grueling…hence it should be called ‘smelling a larger barn.’

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. The Minnesota munchkins began doing triathlons last year as well as short races the last couple of years. Their parent’s theory: ‘Start them young with a plethora of outdoors activities and it will become a mindset and very natural to them for the rest of their lives.’

Maya, the eldest, already has two fourteeners (ascending a mountain over 14,000 feet in height) under her belt. The grandkids have been on soccer and gymnastics teams since they were younger than young. How many seven-year-olds play eighteen rounds of golf or go on a mile run with their mom?

To put it in perspective, the Colorado twins are seven and a half as is Brennan. Charlotte just turned five. Maya comes in as senior at ten 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. 

Perhaps it’s a generational thing. Brian and Melanie both ran races when they were youngsters and engaged in other sports. We’ve done some trail climbs in and around Palm Springs and now this third generation seems to be picking up the pace. I couldn’t be prouder.

Truth be told, I just have to keep up with those youngsters. There’s tradition to uphold and all that…right?