Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Finding the Muse Among Us

Leonard Cohen found it with Suzanne.  Bob Dylan found it with Echo. I’m still searching for that iconic image to open yet another Pandora’s Box in my writing. But until such time as it or she comes into focus I still have a seemingly endless reservoir of my memories; real and imagined, to guide me along.

It’s been said that any iconic muse can be expendable as Suzanne was to Leonard Cohen. By the time, Suzanne Verdal realized that she was the subject of such a celebrated song, Leonard had moved on. It could be argued that the muse is bigger than the poet/songwriter, at least in the mythology. The muse is the source of what there is; the inspiration.

It was Jung’s belief that the muse was the poet, or his anima anyway, his unconscious image of the Feminine. It was himself that Leonard saw in the mirror that Suzanne held. All of which raises some interesting questions. Is the muse, any muse, a true reflection of one’s inner self? Is the muse a mirror reflecting back into the soul of its possessor?

Allan Showalter, a psychiatrist has stated: “The key task of a muse is to allow the artist to see his own feminine aspect that is otherwise invisible to him and to be a screen that fits the artist’s projections.” Another biographer of Leonard Cohen explains: “The relationship between artist and muse is invariably one-sided. For example, novelists shamelessly make characters out of family and friends and acquaintances. In this case, Leonard the poet transformed the physical Suzanne into the metaphysical “Suzanne” and made her an angel.

My own mind and the memories locked there within have always provided me with picture stories that paint a tapestry of thoughts and images. Those, in turn, become my novels, plays and screenplays. I’ve often wondered just how much ‘stuff’ is buried back in the deep recesses of my memory bank that I will never be conscious of. Many times there have been images, scenes, acts and actions that seem to bubble up out of nowhere and just spill themselves onto my computer pages. But where they come from? I have no idea.

What released them from some dark craggy corner of my gray matter and nudged them to the surface. Why now after sixty years of pent-up unexplored experiences have the floodwaters of expression spilled out of my collective past and into daily writing excursions? It’s become my drug of choice; a daily infusion of image-making, story-telling and revelations. It is at once my elixir, aphrodisiac, and pill of potential.

The story material seems endless. What experiences did I have with acquaintances past? What about those mindful and sometimes physical affairs with women? What about love and betrayal and success and failure? How did they all play into this alphabet stew that spills out in the words, actions, thoughts, and emotions of my fictional characters?

If there is a muse in my life I am unaware of it or her. Perhaps in my case, the muse is simply iconic of all those experiences we euphemistically call life. For with or without Suzanne, inspiration is where you find it or it finds you. With my deep cauldron of life experiences I should have more than enough tales to share.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

My Hometown

Aerial of Apple Valley
Lebanon Township has come a long way in the last fifty years. There was a land rush here back in the late sixties and early seventies which turned our agrarian township into a residential success. That progress keeps moving along well into the twenty-first century. While still a third tier suburb, Apple Valley continues a tradition of solid sensible growth that has made it an ideal place to raise our kids. Now it continues as a comfortable place to live in retirement.

Back in the day, Orrin Thompson was a large residential developer. He had built over four thousand homes in places like Coon Rapids, Cottage Grove and Bloomington. Lebanon Township was an ideal location for his next big development. His homes back then were nothing fancy but still solidly built structures that reflected the skilled craftsmen he hired.

Old Cedar Ave | Apple Valley

When we first moved to Apple Valley, Cedar Avenue was a two lane black-top roadway that could easily handle the daily traffic of our infant suburb. It edged alongside the bones of the old Eaton’s Ranch. Years earlier that abode to the fifties was the site of many high school hayrides and bonfire soirees. For my Cretin chums and me it was beyond the end of nowhere and about as far from Saint Paul as any of us had ever ventured.

Eaton's Ranch

Cretin Hayride

The ranch was started back in the late thirties as a working ranch and cattle operation. For a kid growing up in the cities it was truly foreign turf. My only memories of those hay rides was freezing my tush off just to be cool and trying so hard to impress the girls from St. Joe’s Academy and OLP.

Back then new urbanism was all the rage among city planners. There was talk of creating small villages throughout the township at first. Eventually the intersection of Cedar Avenue and 42nd Street became the core from which retail and now multi-family housing spread out. It’s called TOD, transit-orientated development, and it seems to have caught on in a big way downtown.

There has always been new construction going on someplace in Apple Valley. Recently what little vacant land remained is beginning to fill in rapidly, especially in its downtown core. It’s been a long time in coming. The 2008 recession and poor financing on the part of various developers dictated a delayed timeline that the city would have liked to have accelerated but couldn’t.

At the heart of downtown is Kelley Park. It’s has been a proven winner since its inception. It compliments a city-wide system of parks and pathways that has shown the way for other communities to emulate. We’re at the stage now in our lives where our grandchildren love to use the park’s splash pad and playground.

Over the years, Sharon and I have served on several city and community organizations. I was on the Apple Valley Planning Commission for five years and spent several years on the cable commission. My previous company, Sharden Productions, Inc. provided cable programming for the Police and Fire Departments as well as a cable magazine entitled ‘Apple Valley Today’ for many years.

Sharon was on the city council for several years and together we’ve volunteered for a number of city events. It’s all part and parcel of being a member of the community. The city still has a good school system and a wonderful collection of neighborhoods.

We’ve been here for thirty-nine years. That’s longer than my childhood in the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul. We’re still in the same home we bought back in 1977 for $49,500 and were just glad we could afford the monthly payments. It’s the only home our kids ever knew growing up.

Our cul-de-sac has changed households many times over but we’ve always been lucky to have replaced them with new friendly neighbors. While many of our neighbors decided to move up in the world we chose to stay in our humble abode. It worked out pretty well for us, socially and economically.

Our home has evolved over the years as the kids grew up and then moved away. It has gone over a number of the obligatory make-overs, remodeling and adjustments. I needed a home office and Sharon’s art studio needed more space.

At this stage in our lives, a lot of our friends and neighbors are shifting over to an easier lifestyle. They’ve found someone else to do the shoveling, cut the grass and rake the leaves. In other words, an HOA or management company to do the heavy lifting. That still isn’t for us. I like my quiet porch and my old comfortable chair. Growing old in place isn’t such a bad thing.

Apple Valley was a good place for the kids to grow up and for us to grow old. Sharon has her art gallery on the walls and hallway. I have my office, my writing space, and a porch for my quiet time.

Our home is a reflection of our lives; ever changing, adapting and evolving. It’s our nest, our cocoon and a place to reflect on a life well lived. It’s our grandchildren’s second home and a wonderful gathering spot for friends. It is us and we are happy here. Isn’t that what it’s all about as this stage in our lives?

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Through No Fault of My Own

I give total credit to my Uncle Milton for getting me into Cretin High School in 1957. I knew even back then that it would be a turning point in my life. I count that event as one of a half dozen significant crossroads in my life. At the time only three or four students were chosen from area schools to attend Cretin. Four had already been selected from my tiny Catholic grade school downtown. I wasn’t one of them. The alternative was a not very good public high school down the hill from where I lived.

As fate intervened some eight-grader somewhere dropped out of that selection process and my Uncle (tight with the administration) got me in. I have forever been grateful for that lucky intervention in his part. It was the first major step for me academically and creatively. I would not be the person I am today if that hadn’t happened.

Turns out there were a number of other significant turning points, milestones and incidents that shaped my life back then and now. Events that happened which had nothing to do with me except everything.

I recently came across some of Sharon’s old grade school papers, class records and other educational materials. From approximately second grade on, she was leading class projects, had numerous leadership roles throughout grade school and high school and was organizing fund-raising efforts (pagan babies, anyone) before it became the fifty’s equivalent to Cabbage Patch Babies…well, sort of.  Her list of accomplishments goes on well beyond college and into her academic, business and political career. When I first met her she was working as a nighttime receptionist, going to school fulltime, heavily involved in extra-curricular educational activities on campus and held several leadership positions. Measuring her stellar academic career to mine is no comparison at all.

Comparing her outgoing charismatic personality is mine is also no comparison. She is an ENFJ; off the charts. I am an ISTJ; off the charts. So how is it that two very different people met, connected and have been happily married for over forty-five years? I thought it was because I proposed to her. Turns out, it was because she chose me. Reflecting back, it had everything to do with her choice in a future husband more than my proposal.

KTCA TeleCenter

It was approximately 8:34 am on Friday, November 23rd, 1993 that my boss called me into his office and told me it was over. He was firing me for obstencively not reaching my yearly financial goal although we both knew that wasn’t the real reason. Politics had raised its ugly head and he was just maneuvering to avoid his own pending dispatch. That ploy didn’t work since he was canned six months later.

That event was significant not because it was the only time I’d ever been fired from a job. Turns out, it was the impetus I needed to focus solely on my business and real estate investments. Sharon said it best when I called her with the news. “OK,” She said, “now you can spend more time with the kids and focus on your business.”

And that was just what I did. Being freed from the toxic atmosphere of the the station allowed me to focus on my new career. I’d like to pretend that I made that decision on my own since it propelled my business to new heights and expanded my range of investments. But that wouldn’t be the truth. I got fired and that event pushed me in a new and much better direction.

It was the same kind of incident that nudged me into becoming a full-time writer. My production company had been producing a series of cable programs for the city. It had become more and more apparent that my contact person at the city didn’t want me to continue. He made every effort to discourage my participation and it eventually worked. I got so fed up with his arrogant, ignorant behavior that I finally called it quits. I was suddenly left with no more contracts, few new business leads and fatigue. It was time to do something else. That turned out to be a full-time career as a writer. Again, I’d love to pretend that I made that decision on my own. But I didn’t, it took a jerk in time to get me redirected.

My novels have covered a number of different genres; westerns, suspense mysteries, coming-of-age, drama-romance, and non-fiction. It was just another lucky turn of events that got me into the YA, young adult market.

My latest novel, ‘Follow the Cobbler’ had been under the editing knife of my editor for several months when she commented that her two (very bright and well-read) daughters had been looking over her shoulder and commenting on the storyline. They thought it might make a very good YA novel with the proper editing.

As the legend goes, they helped my editor with editing the original manuscript of ‘Cobbler’ with a focus on eliminating the too graphic, violent, and sexual parts. Then they created the new book cover and a new title.

Again, I’d like to pretend that I saw the potential in ‘Cobbler’ as a YA novel but nothing could be further from the truth. It took several pairs of younger eyes to see the options available for an entirely different kind of reading audience.

Throughout my life I’m sorry to say there has never been some grand plan or keen-eyed focus on setting goals or even some surgical strategy that wove through the distractions and obstacles of life. Many of those events/turning points happened to me through no fault of my own or, dare I say, no control on my part. They were all the result of lucky coincidence, the alignment of the stars, proper preparation and perhaps something deep inside that absorbed the hit and kept me going.

There are probably a lot more examples in my life where outside events and people made a significant impact, seen or initially unrecognized on my future. Now with the advantage of miles traveled, lifelong experiences and proper reflection I can see the genuine luck I’ve had in so many different ways.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

A Bentley at McDonalds

Palm Springs is a different kind of animal; always has been. Most resort communities sport the ubiquitous gated enclaves of look-alike signature homes surrounding a golf course where every home has a swimming pool in the backyard. Those enclaves of understated wealth are sprinkled with a flavoring of casinos, fine dining, expensive shops and one-of-a-kind amenities meant to separate the cake from the chaff. Palm Springs is all that but much more. Sometimes the ‘more’ isn’t quite what the Chamber of Commerce would like to promote. Yet that is what separates this desert community from so many others.

Palm Springs is unique not only because of its storied history; real and imagined. It’s been around long enough to have grown old and stale then reborn many times over. Through the decades it has attracted both the rich and the poor, the smart and not so smart, the hip and those decidedly uncool and all manners of life form in-between.

Many of the other desert communities down Valley hide behind their miles of stucco walls, ficus hedges and other obstacles to peeking inside. Not so with Palm Springs. What there is to see is out in the open and revealed for all. Natives and visitors alike come to realize very quickly that this is the normal of Palm Springs and not the exception.

Dawn in the desert is a very special time of day of many of its natives. Not only for the beautiful sunrise that paints finger-thin rays of mustard yellow against the still sleeping mountains. Or the fleeting glimpses of coyotes on the golf course returning from their nocturnal hunt. The hours just after dawn seem to draw out an interesting assortment of characters intent on enjoying the cool of morning before the heat of the day.

Rowan Hotel


In the past few years Palm Springs got so dated that it became hip all over again. What was once old like mid-century modern architecture is now all the rage. Tired old motels have been revamped, remodeled, spruced up and now charge ten dollars for a bottle of beer. (But wait, I’m dating myself.) Fifties throw-away furniture fetches a fortune in design stories and replicas fare just as well. Old is new again and thus hip for those born twenty-thirty years ago. A traveler back in time like me can only smile and think about the untold wealth we took to Goodwill way back when.

While most resort communities follow the unwritten rule of retirement; sleep in, coffee on the patio and face the day on the right side of dirt, natives on the north end of the Coachella Valley are different. Early morning in Palm Springs comes to mind as a perfect example of this.

In Palm Springs it takes a lot to turn heads if you’ve been here for more than three deep breaths. For example, there’s something decidedly unremarkable about a hundred and fifty thousand dollar Bentley parked in front of McDonalds or the elderly owner inside sipping his cheap cup of coffee-with refills. Or the classic 1964 tan mustang convertible parked in front of True Value hardware. A hipster arriving at our newest hotel in town ‘The Rowen’ wouldn’t turn an eye with his vintage corvette.

The gardeners and pool boys file in and out of convenience stores for their cheap coffee, unhealthy snacks and caffeinated beverages. At the other end of the healthy lifestyle spectrum, joggers and bikers perform their morning ritual before the rest of us finish that first cup of Joe. If you see a couple with a baby stroller, chances are there is a dog or cat inside instead of a baby.

Garage sale professionals clamor for their place in line before morning coffee. They pass the homeless who have wandered in from the desert to secure their place on busy intersections with their cardboard signs. Runners outpace the sunrise and elderly spinsters exit Ralph’s super market in high heels and make-up at seven in the morning.

Centenarians are on the golf course for their sunrise special and then haunt the coffee shops before most of us are even awake.

The older set is in the Saguaro swimming pool for exercise class before their grandchildren’s generation has returned to bunk down. These women are an accomplished lot who want to spend their time as they please. And frankly, they don’t care what others might think about grandma and grandpa sipping their first cup of Joe at the Casino or country club instead of squirreling their children’s inheritance away.

It’s all part and parcel of life here in the desert.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Living with an Artist

Retirement is a funny thing. Everyone approaches it differently. Some folks embrace the concept with enthusiasm for the measured time ahead. Other take a more cautious approach, judging time and money spent in return for what?   I found my calling pretty quickly and have settled into a routine that satisfies my soul as well as my curious mind. Sharon took a little longer but has finally found her focus.

I’m living with an artist now. Her lifestyle has changed and evolved over the past couple of years. The changes were subtle at first then grew more focused as an interest in the arts became her new found passion. In the beginning, it was metal art and welding. Gradually those endeavors evolved into alcohol ink and acrylics. Now it’s become a full blown exploration and examination of various painting mediums, methods and techniques. In that process of experimentation, my wife has begun mixing and matching a plethora of textures, patterns and applications to see the results. She is also learning the disciplines associated with her many different approaches to her art.

The residue of her artistic endeavors can be seen everywhere; on the kitchen table, in corners, the basement and even Brian’s old bedroom. There is evidence of her art projects all over the place. Picture frames and paints are stacked everywhere.

Sharon can no longer chide me for stacking papers on the floor of my writing room (Melanie’s old bedroom). The artist’s ammunition has come to rest and now even Sharon understands it must go somewhere.

Out west, our kitchen nook has become her artist’s work space and there will soon be a new gallery up in the hallway. There already is a wall of art back in Minnesota.

Sharon takes art classes at the Northrup King Building in Norde East Minneapolis and at the Palm Springs Art Center. Her work is being displayed in a design store at International Market Square and she hopes to soon be represented in the desert.

It has given both of us both a new focus on life…not that the old one wasn’t pretty good too. We are attending art gallery openings, finding new venues where Sharon might display her work and meeting fellow artists here and there. It’s prompted me to explore new venues for my plays both here and throughout the Coachella Valley.

Sharon’s venture into painting is less impressive than her embracing the true spirit of her craft. She is experimenting, succeeding at times and failing at others and trying again. There is a sense of urgency and a crusade that she is on. She is finding her voice, her comfort level and self-expression in her art. Sharon’s art is the story of her thoughts and feelings and moods and ambitions.

Sharon’s paintings energize her and give her a reason to care. It is carrying her beyond past academic success to newfound pleasures of the soul. Now she is passing on that knowledge to her grandchildren.

Family paintings inspired by Sharon

It means fulfillment for Sharon as an artist, an explorer, and a person. It now defines who she is and what she has become. It is a life filled with purpose and meaning.

Been there, done that, doing it.  I know what it’s like. I couldn’t be more proud of everything she’s accomplished thus far and will in the future.