Tuesday, November 26, 2019

A Passion for Art

Sharon hadn’t touched a paintbrush until well into her retirement. In fact, art theory; its creation and the emotional undercurrent within, wasn’t even on her radar when she left academics in 2014. Then a new passion began calling for her attention. Aside from her role as ‘Nana extraordinaire,’ Sharon found her muse in colors and tones and textures and abstract visions that call to her inner consciousness.

Like running was for me and writing is now, Sharon’s art is her new positive addiction. It’s an inner drive to create and make something out of her imagination. It’s given her purpose, focus, energy and a drive to add more to her already busy life. She’s doing what she loves to do; bypassing the notion that retirement means ‘slowing down and relaxing.’ I get it. I’ve found my own elixir in novels and plays and screenplays.

Unfortunately, this past summer my latest play put the brakes on Sharon’s inner drive to create. ‘The Last Sentinel’ proved a huge distraction for Sharon and her art. But after twenty-five hundred truffles and great attendance numbers later, Sharon was ready to bounce back to her true love of creating art.

Fortunately the teacher in Sharon helped her quickly morph back into guiding her five grand-children through new techniques and processes for making gauze art, abstract impressions and the old favorite alcohol ink. Both Minnesota and Colorado proved apt backgrounds for lessons in these new approaches to creativity. 

While not as frequent as in the past, Sharon’s classes in Norde East Minneapolis and the Palm Springs Art Center still prove fertile proving grounds for new approaches to her art.

This summer, Sharon’s art traveled to Hawaii and Colorado where she conducted more classes for her grandchildren and introduced a traveling companion to coloring books. It was both relaxing and therapeutic.

A ‘must see’ each fall for Sharon and other artists is perusing the winners of the Minnesota State Fair art contest. Even though Sharon hasn’t yet made the cut, Brennan and Charlotte, her two Minnesota pupils, have both won coveted prizes three years running.

Sharon has finally agreed to display her art around the house.

It’s a fitting tribute to her new-found passion which has been less than five years in the making. I and the children and grandchildren could not be prouder.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Staying Relevant

One of the frequent laments that Sharon hears from other women here age is the fear that their spouse is ‘getting old’ on them. It’s a real concern that the man in their life is closing down to the real world. They fear their partner’s opinions, attitudes and reactions reflect a continuing disconnect from everyday reality. Many of these men see a world that is changing all around them and they don’t like it.

Growing up I noticed the same thing. A lot of older folks (I guess that would be anyone over 30) seemed to be out of touch with the reality of the day. Granted, it was my reality but they still seemed to be living in their own secluded, isolated little world. As I grew older, they did too and in the process, I could see a gap growing between my daily life and the new routines they’d created for themselves.

News correspondent Tom Brokaw celebrated this generation by calling them ‘the greatest generation.’ He hero-worshipped their struggles during the Great Depression, their heroic actions in World War II and their resiliency during the post-war recovery.

This was the generation I was supposed to look up to for guidance, inspiration and an idea of what one does when one has lived a full life and is now retired. I was of the boomer generation which was followed by Gen-Xers, Millennials - and so forth. Each generation supposedly possessing special and unique qualifications that made them something special. But it was the ‘greatest generation’ was started it all. Supposedly, started it all. I beg to differ.

While most of us morphed into adulthood and were facing daily challenges and struggles with our jobs, career advancements, relationships, world events, politics and living in our community, many of the ‘greatest generation’ had divorced themselves from that past life of theirs.

I had the feeling that they’d been through all of that before and now they just wanted to enjoy their retirement and abstain from the daily rigors of earning a living and living a life. They were retired or near it and wanted to shed themselves of the challenges most of us were facing on a daily basis.

They were no longer working their nine-to-five jobs. Their kids were out of the house and the grandkids were scheduled between card games, salon appointments, group outings and grocery shopping. They had created for themselves a calm, orderly way of life, purposely devoid of the harsh realities most of us still faced on a daily basis. It was their comfort zone and they were sequestered there for the duration.

On the surface, it seemed a well-deserved retirement schedule forged out of long hours at work and raising a family. My only argument against that supposed plateau of peace and serenity was the separation from the rest of us working stiffs. Moreover, it hurt mainly them not us.

The downside of that entrenched isolationism on their part is that they were not staying relevant to the world around them. The world continued on and they stayed in their old place, stuck in the past even as it became more and more irrelevant. Business, communications, and world events continued to morph and evolve and they stayed in their isolated happy place.

Monday morning quarterbacking became a favorite game to play because they had the time. Old men gathered at the coffee shop to talk at one another and seldom if ever listened to what was being said. If and when they did happen to listen, the conversation usually centered around bitching about taxes, local and national government, believing the propaganda all the political parties were spewing forth on the air waves and in print. It was seldom if ever positive and more likely a sad lament of times past and the failures of future generations rather than their own.

Now I am, and millions more like me are, of that senior generation. The boomers are getting older and some, unfortunately, have morphed into that same isolationist routine of living. The corner coffee shop is full of old men bitching about taxes, politics and politicians and the futility of trying to talk sense into that younger generation. Here we go all over again.

Staying relevant to the world around us seems to be the only answer for my generation. To stay informed, involved and committed to something is far better than to remain entrenched in yesterday and the glory of one’s past. The world cares little for our opinion. They do respect our action. And in the end, our actions may be the only thing that counts.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Ghosting is Another Word for...

You can fill in the rest of the sentence yourself. Some folks see it as an easy way out. But in fact, it is short- sighted, mean-spirited and doesn’t meet the standards of a confident person.

Over the years, I’ve had a few friendships that started out promising enough but then the other party decided to end it with a series of excuses that finally convinced me that we were no longer salon companions. It wasn’t an honest way of ending our friendship/relationship but at least I (finally) got the point.

Breaking up is never easy to do. In the past most folks had the courtesy to speak their mind face to face or by the telephone. Nowadays some people have taken to ghosting. I guess it’s easier and requires less conscience then the old fashion way of owning up to reality and taking the honest way out.

I first heard of ghosting when Charlize Theron dumped her then boyfriend Sean Penn by simply disappearing from his life. Apparently it’s rampant among millennials too. Statistics show that nearly 80% of millennials have experienced it. Along with new age Tinder and Snapchat, ghosting comes with the territory.  It’s one of the paradoxes of this new fast-paced digital culture.

Centuries ago in another time and place, it was rough when my high school girlfriend broke up with me. I remember her gentle sentences were laced with the standard catch phrases like “we should date other people” and “we can still be friends.” But even then, at the height of my immaturity, I could sense her honesty and willingness to face our future and conclude there was nothing there. It was high school and the whole process of ending a relationship was new to both of us.

Beacon Hill
When my college girlfriend broke up with me atop Beacon Hill it was a straightforward surgical cut. “It’s time for both of us to move on with our lives and the best of luck to you.” The breakup was short, clean, and honest, nothing like the ghost busters of today.

Ghosting happened to me several times this summer and yet it’s always a surprise when it does. If I were polite I’d agree with the argument that folks who take to ghosting are simply avoiders. They probably avoid any kind of confrontation at all costs. They certainly don’t want to deal with their own uncomfortable feelings. A quote I read says it all: ‘The emotional maturity that comes with giving the person you’re dealing with an ounce of common courtesy is not in their emotional vocabulary or repertoire.’ Well spoken.

Since I’ve started spending more time out west that old ghost of relationships gone south has raised its familiar head again. I’m always seeking out opportunities where I can use my writing or speaking skills. Some proposals have been met with silence while others are warmly embraced if the details can be worked out…at least at first. Then the ghosting happens.

It’s been nothing as dramatic as a termination of employment or cancellation of a contract. The folks I was dealing with simply refused to answer my e-mails inquiring about my play offerings. Their venues have done some great work and it would have been wonderful to work with them. Yet for reasons still unknown, they decided otherwise.

Before this most recent incident, another out of town venue had requested several of my plays to review. I heard nothing back and inquired several times as to their status. Again, it was easier for that group to pretend I didn’t exist rather than send me a simple ‘not interested’ e-mail. People are strange.

My theory is that a confident director or artistic director isn’t intimidated by a playwright in their midst. Both playwright and director know who is in charge and ultimately who makes the creative decisions surrounding the play in question. Yet it seems to me that part of their job is to communicate their decision and if that includes rejecting a play then the playwright deserves the courtesy of being told just that.

“It’s so Hollywood,” my Palm Springs friends have told me even as I tried to explain that some of these past ventures were with Minnesota folks. “Minnesota Nice” and all that I argued but to no avail. Perhaps they’ve taken the refrain that my old boss used to recite whenever given the chance. “It’s just business” he said when he fired me. He got canned six months later and I’ve always wonder if he thought of that trite phrase when it happened to him.

Of course, there are a dozen reasons why partnerships, joint ventures and other assorted collaborations come to an end. Members of the proposed venture may have changed their mind about their goals and objectives. Perhaps this particular venture no longer fit their criteria. There could have been a time shift or time crunch for future productions. Their production objectives may have changed and no longer fit my qualifications. They might be trapped inside their own paradigms of what theater is supposed to look like. Or simply stated, I didn’t make the cut. The possible reasons are many and varied and probably legitimate. Any and all were probably sound reasons for ending (what I thought was) a budding artistic relationship.

Perhaps it was a good lesson for me. People with no spine always try to dodge the bullet but usually shoot themselves in the foot or blame the other party for their predicament. If they didn’t have the courage to tell me face to face that ‘it was over’, I doubt our joint ventures would have ended well.

They’re like the little old man behind the curtain in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ I’d like to call them cowards behind the curtain but perhaps I missed their motivation for not responding. Either way, it was still ghosting.

At least my old girlfriends (bless their hearts) had more class than that.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

California, Here I Come

I have a long and fractured romance with California. Its part delusional, part opportunistic and part magical. It’s like Leonard Cohen’s Hydra calling me back once again. But mostly it’s a comfortable relationship that seems to bring out the flip side of me that a lot of folks never see. It is at once my friend, adviser, irritator, and councilor. It forces me outside of my Midwestern comfort zone.

Marlene and I on the beach - 1946

The first time I stepped foot in California, it was off a Great Northern Railroad passenger car from Minnesota. The year was 1946.  I was three and my sister two. Along with my mother we had ended up in Carmel, from the Twin Cities. My Mother, by then separated from my father, had been encouraged to come out west to become a housekeeper for a past client out of St Paul’s Summit Avenue.

When we finally arrived on the coast, broke and hungry, my mother was informed by the old woman’s son that she had gone senile and would no longer have use of my mother’s services. My mother was literally stuck on the beach with no place to go and two kids in tow. She got the next train back to Minnesota. So much for California dreaming.

My second time in the Golden State was in 1964. Fresh out of basic training, I was on my way to my first assignment at the Presidio of San Francisco. Along with three other trainees, we were crossing the country in a 1960 Buick that could go 120 on the open road. When the front end of the car started to drift off the road at 120 mph, I slowed it down to 99 and crawled the rest of the way through Nevada.

Life at the Presidio was a Camelot-like existence that ended all too soon eight months later. Nevertheless, it gave me wonderful material for three future novels to be written.

The third time to bask in that warm California sun came back in 2000. Our family was staying at a friend’s condo in Palm Springs. It was our first introduction to desert living. The dye was cast and we were hooked.

Thus began a twenty year intermittent love affair with that diverse community and all of its surrounding amenities. As much as the state changes and evolves, and stumbles and leaps ahead of others, it remains a pathfinder in so many areas.

Vintage California hints of a glorious past and an ever-evolving future. The Coachella Valley is no exception. Alongside its staid traditional communities down Valley, Hollywood East still provokes memories of a rich and tawdry past; full of tinsel, illusions and entertainment. It’s a diverse, irreverent, creative, and wonderful playground for mind expansion.

That inland ocean, the Salton Sea and its surrounding oddities like Salvation Mountain, Slab City and Bombay Beach provide a post-apocalyptic landscape to inspire the imagination. The mountains, canyons, and desert expanse paint a background tapestry of wonderment.

It’s become home in more ways than one. It’s a cradle upon which the imagination gives birth to creative, frivolous, silly and enlightened ideas, concepts and story-lines. It inspires me and mocks me at the same time. It’s the flip side of that routine called lifestyle. If ever there were a balance in my life, it would be called the Minnesota-California connection.

What can I say... it works for me.