Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Turning Seventy-Five

Even back then I couldn’t understand the hype surrounding ‘turning twenty-one.’ It was simply a number that had little meaning to me. I was already doing what I was doing, legal or not. In fact, the only thing I did to recognize that momentous occasion was to let a friend take me to a bar (his favorite) and drink legally for the first time.

Two weeks later I was inducted into the United States Army and from then on age mattered even less.

Thirty came and we were living in Maryland and loving it. Sharon had a great job with Baltimore County Schools and I was managing the Program Distribution Department at the Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting. I was well into writing my first novel and there were no kids yet.

The mythical forty year mid-life crisis slipped by unnoticed because I was simply too busy with other things. The kids were growing up by the minute. Sharden Productions, Inc. was expanding along with several investment projects plus a full time job in public television. I had little time for anything else.

Fifty years of age came and went and wasn’t even noticed.

Sixty meant I was nearing the end of my working career with no clear substitute on the horizon.

My seventy birthday marked a wonderful celebration when both adult children and their respective families made a surprise visit to us in the desert. It reminded me how lucky I truly was.

Now at the ripe young age of seventy-five I am eleven novels, five plays, four screenplays and too many treatments to count, into my new writing career. I’ve made it this far with no regrets and a deep appreciation for a life well-lived. I’ve been incredibly lucky in my relationship with Sharon and our immediate family, my health and friends; past and present. This new writing phase is just icing on the cake; seventy-five years in the making.

Reflecting back on the details of one’s life often reveals a much larger mirror picture. Old black and white photographs, cryptic notes, official documents, and period relics hold captive a bank vault of stored memories.

I have finally come to appreciate all that my mother did for me, intentionally or otherwise. I am now able to recognize the tremendous sacrifices she made for my sister and me. Sadly, I was never able to see that clearly when I was growing up or in her later years. My biggest regret is that I was never close to her. But then again it’s hard to be close to someone who was never able to show even a hint of love and affection toward her children.

Military service, like living in Europe, afforded me life lessons no textbook could ever replicate. I’ve encountered many people who have taught me about life in so many different ways. Some straight to the heart, other lingering beneath the surface, still others in looks and glances and gestures made. Some I understood, others were confusing but all were learning experiences.

Women in particular made the strongest impact on my life. I’ve often wondered if the dysfunction I experienced at home caused me confusion and distraction on the dating scene. It probably did. The names I remember, many of the details not so much. I’m sure it was a combination of my immaturity, insecurity and over-active hormones that fractured many a friendship. But wonderful teachers they all were.

So, here’s an appreciative tip of my hat to Diane, Joyce, Sheila, Marti, Susan and all the others whose faces and memories remain cloaked in that uncertainty and fog of pending senility. Life lessons each and every one of them and most not realized until I was much further down the road. And, of course, a heart-felt salute to the greatest teacher of them all with whom I’ve lived a full life for more than forty-six years.

It’s been one heck of a ride thus far. Yet there are still so many plays, novels, screenplays, songs, comic strips and who knows what else left to create.

I just hope there’s enough time.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Fractured Paradise

It makes me very sad to see and hear what’s happened to Puerto Rico after the hurricane last summer. It’s a wonderful country filled with gracious people and a sunny climate that matches their disposition. When we were there it was a tropical paradise that has now been fractured but not broken. It’s been hit hard but it will recover, on its own, because that’s the resolve that defines the character of its people.

It was a little over a decade ago that we went there as a family. Of course, that was BC; before children and the lifestyle changes those little munchkins bring along with them.

You know you’ve arrived in a tropical island when there are leaves in the hotel lobby because of the trees planted there. Foliage adorns just about every nook and cranny in the hotel as well as the boulevards throughout the city.

On top of our list of spots to visit was a jaunt to Puerto Rico’s famous ‘Old Town.’

Old San Juan is the oldest settlement within Puerto Rico and the historic colonial section of the city of San Juan. This enclave of narrow blue cobblestone streets and flat-roofed stone and masonry buildings date back to the 16th and 17th century. The area has been totally refurbished, remodeled, and adapted to present-day living. It is at once, charming, seductive, expensive and a true trip back in time.

Old Town is located on a small and narrow island which lies along the north coast, about 35 miles from the east end of the island. It’s united to the mainland of Puerto Rico by three bridges. The entire swatch of crumbling ruins, innovative adaptation, and tourist haunts beckons both tourists and locals alike. It’s a labyrinth of wonderful old buildings, ancient courtyards, back allies and hidden passage ways. Our return several days later in sunlight presented a totally different experience.

Puerto Rico has all the obligatory tourist attractions, many of which we experienced and many we just scratched the surface. I particularly wanted to head north to visit Rincon Beach, made famous in so many of those 60’s surfing songs and movies. Our Puerto Rican excursion back then reminded me of our recent visit to Cuba and the realization that we share this planet with a whole wide world of different people and places. One popular tourist destination made an indelible mark on my creative side and left me soaked with excitement.

El Yunque, pronounced Jun-kay, is an enormous source of pride in Puerto Rico and one of the main drivers of the island’s tourism industry. We took the obligatory shuttle bus from our hotel deep into the rainforest for a walking tour.

The rainforest is a trip back in time to a land of ancient forests, forever waterfalls and stifling humidity. The wet air hits you like a face plant into an oven when the bus doors first open. Your body immediately begins to bubble up tiny droplets across your forehead and dampen your clothes to your body. Despite the oppressive heat and roasting sun overhead, it’s an incredible journey back in time.

Years later, I tried to re-imagine our trek through that rainforest when I was writing my first novel ‘Love in the A Shau.’ The oppressive heat and humidity beating down on me that day had to have been what our soldiers experienced on those dangerous search-and-destroy missions in Vietnam back then. I tried to capture that visceral experience for my readers.

Located on the eastern part of  Puerto Rico, the 28,000-acre forest has over 240 species of trees; 23 of those are found nowhere else. Over 50 bird species live among the forest’s crags and waterfalls. When we looked up, all we could once see was a thick, lush, emerald green canopy of tabonuco and sierra palm trees. But that was before Hurricane Maria obliterated the only tropical forest in the United States and left behind a scene so bare one can now see the skyline of San Juan 30 miles to the west.

Much of what we experienced is gone now, torn apart by the hurricane. “It was like a shock to the entire system,” said Grizelle Gonzalez, a project leader at the International Institute of Tropical Forestry, part of the United States Department of Agriculture. “The whole forest has been completely defoliated.” She said, and then added with a slight smile, “But don’t worry, the rainforest isn’t gone, it’s just temporarily altered. Mother Nature works on a different time scale. It will all come back. It just takes time.” *

I certainly hope the same can be said for the island of Puerto Rico. It’s a wonderful land of beautiful beaches, warm-hearted people, and fond memories for our entire family.

We have another family vacation planned for this summer; ten days in and around London, England. It’ll be a return visit for our two adult children only now with their own brood in tow. For Sharon and me it’ll be creating new memories of introducing our grandchildren to a far wider world than Apple Valley, Minnesota and Lone Tree, Colorado. A good time is sure to be had by all.

·        * New York Times Article dated October 12th, 2017.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Shedding Skin

Things change. People change. And life goes on. Sometimes change is subtle, unnoticed and unexpected. Other times it’s a conscious move to improve or alter reality. Our reality called Palm Springs wasn’t bad at all. It just didn’t fit us any longer. I first noticed the change while on my knees going through piles of collected treasures that had lost their luster. Once I took that first step, other changes quickly began to tumble down like a row of dominos.

The first casualty of change was a boatload of Palm Springs Life magazines that went as far back as the 80s and 90s. They were a veritable treasure trove of the myth, folklore, fame and fabled history of this storied community. The magazines were collected when I was a much younger and more impressionable man. But I’ve grown fingertip calluses and traveled many more miles since that ancient family history. After years of collecting memorabilia from this fantasy place, it’s finally come time to begin purging those treasures in lieu of much needed art space and a different perspective for both Sharon and myself.

I’ve written before about the two Palm Springs that exist side by side. The first one is a familiar vacation spot that tourists and first time visitors alike have come to expect with its clear blue skies, warm winter temperatures and marvelous surrounding attractions. It’s a hip millennial gathering spot at night, has a welcoming attitude toward diverse audiences and is surrounded by marvelous mountains that reach up and kiss the clear blue skies. The old movie stars have long since passed but their cache still remains to this day.

Several years ago, Sharon and I began our transition from ‘that Palm Springs’ to one of our own making. Everything new had become old and routine had become comfortable. Then gradually comfortable became staid and that, in turn, demanded more exploring and self-examination. Change became a by-product of constant seeking and searching. I’m not sure if Palm Springs changed its fa├žade as much as we just peeked behind its mask and found ourselves a new identity.

Our new Palm Springs provides us a much different outlook and attitude. We have new goals and objectives. It’s almost as if familiar and comfortable have become bad words in our new lexicon.

All the things about Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley that impresses first time visitors are now old hat to us. I don’t read the MLS listings the way I used to. I don’t follow current real estate trends and pricing. I care about my neighbors and our neighborhood but not the current state of city politics. I have a highly tuned-in BS detector. I’m not impressed with Bentleys or billionaires, celebrities or L.A. wannabes anymore. The cars driven and homes occupied matter less than the substance of the conversations offered and insights shared. The bloom is off the rose and although I love this place it’s sometimes hip trendy attire doesn’t do it for me anymore. I’d like to believe I can see so much clearer now.

It was this new Palm Springs that gave birth to ‘Love in the A Shau,’  ‘Debris; the trilogy’ and a plethora of new plays. It has meant more involvement in local arts as well as new mountain trails to explore. There are new venues for writing gigs and fellow writers to share the wordsmith’s journey.

Sharon has found a new spot to share her paintings with fellow artists. She has also taken over our kitchen nook and half the garage as her studio space.  Together she and I are on a pilgrimage to discover artist’s haunts throughout the Valley.

Palm Springs and the entire Coachella Valley is a wonderful environment for creativity and the arts. All manners of creative expression find their identity here. Both Sharon and I are fortunate to have found such a welcoming environment for our respective work. The Palm Springs Writers Guild continues to be a safe haven as does exploring the Valley and High Desert for theatrical venues for my plays.

Mountain trails beckon and bike trips abound to explore backcountry haunts all winter long. My office is occupied six days a week. Sharon’s studio is more like seven days a week. We’re shedding our skin of past identities and growing new experiences day by day.

Two communities, two life styles, one shared vision quests in the arts. We are two very lucky people.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Invitation to Respond

It’s always been a challenging question even for someone like me not adept in the game of communication. Do people have a responsibility to respond when you send them a greeting, comment, update or any other form of communication? Some of my friends argue that one comment doesn’t necessarily deserve or require a response. Other friends argue just as emphatically that any communication requires at least some kind of cursory response. They argue that the initial communique is usually meant to be ‘an invitation to respond.’

I’m one of those guys who likes to hear back from anyone I’ve sent a message to unless it’s a simple comment that obviously doesn’t require a response. Every once in a while I’ll send a message to a friend and never get a response. That’s always disappointing for someone who spends an inordinate amount of time on the computer. My e-mail is only one pinke tap away and unfortunately it has become an all too familiar finger twitch at least a half dozen times an hour.

Yet I’m reminded by my smarter, better half that life doesn’t always go smoothly in that arena. There is the all too familiar circle-of-life phenomena in which friends, associates, compadres, girlfriends, classmates, roommates, pals and partners float, land, slide or otherwise come into our lives and just as quickly leave it again. It’s happened to me dozens of times in school, the service, work, voluntary organizations, trips and events. Rock solid relationships held tight by happenstance and circumstance that eventually break apart and slide away like sand on the beach.

As perplexing as people are who don’t respond so too are those who don’t follow through with initial connections. An old friend, fifty years past, wrote me out of the blue one day. Her e-mail 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 suggested we become ‘friends’ on Facebook. Rather curious, I thought. My interest was piqued. After that initial contact there was some lite correspondence over time but nothing that formed a solid bond of communication. It never turned out the way I thought it might. To this day I still don’t know why.

I’m also 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 linked together.

I knew a skipper who had the habit of recruiting crew members for his sailboat on Lake Superior. When we first met he asked if I would be interested in ‘crewing.’ I was thrilled at the thought of sailing on Gitche Gume. He promised to call but he never did. When I bumped into him at another party he asked me the same question.  It was only after I commented to a mutual friend that I was 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. It was just a social crutch he used to spice up his conversation instead of contributing something of sub-stance.

Another case in point was an occasional visitor to Palm Springs. He loved the area and was always talking about purchasing a condo there. We would often check out ‘open houses’ when he was in town. He talked and talked but never once seriously made an offer to buy. I came to realize it was just part of his routine dialogue and he never meant a word of it.

It’s exciting when past acquaintances are rekindled and friendships renewed. Then disappointing when some of those connections dissipate once again with the coming of nightfall. What’s even more disappointing is the realization that it’s the other party who doesn’t want the connection to continue. That’s happened to me on Facebook several times when old acquaintances contacted me then for some inexplicable reason never respond back again.

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

There ought to be a course one could take in relationships, love, communication and other interpersonal social skills. Oh, I guess there already is. It’s called life.  I’ve been a student in that class for a very long time now. No graduation yet in sight.

But if any of my old friends or acquaintances gets this message, please stay in touch.

I’d love to hear from you.