Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Where I Came From

Old photo albums are great dust collectors. The older the album, the more dust collected. Few of us really peruse or study those old black and white snapshots of another time and place. It’s an era long since passed. A world totally removed from our version of today’s reality. Yet those photos have a multitude of clues as to our genetic, cultural, social and emotional makeup that defines who and what we’ve become today.

If we took the time to study those grainy images of the past it would reveal secrets long held in open view. Ancestry.com and 23 & Me moved the study of our own history to the forefront of our consciousness. But what they reveal is a lineage, not a cultural connection. The photos, if studied carefully, reveal so much more.

Recently, with Sharon’s unexpected illness, I’ve had to spend an inordinate amount of time indoors as I helped her recover. One particular morning after my coffee and Tablet meditation, I glanced up for the one millionth time and suddenly had one of those rare ‘ah-ha’ moments. Sitting in my comfy chair in the family room, I looked up at a collection of family pictures that had been there on the wall for decades and suddenly I saw them in a whole new light.

On the wall were old photos of myself and Sharon as youngsters, our two kids, my Mother and Step-father, Sharon’s parents, a favorite aunt and my Mother’s family plus an array of sundry relatives. They had been there since we repainted the walls and redecorated our family room years ago.

Studying those photos for the first time ‘in real time,’ I realized in my seventy-seven years that this is where I came from. These people were my DNA, my roots, my line of ancestors who brought with them an attitude and aptitude that I inherited to some degree myself. I saw them for the first time as a culture and a work ethic that now courses through my veins. There are no doctors or lawyers or industrialists there. Rather it is a collection of solid middle class folks who formed the backbone of this country. Solid blue with a hint of pale white etching through the edges.

Old family farm photos only hint at my grandparent’s hard scrabble life, dependent on the weather, crop prices, farm help and luck. Ancestry.com and 23 and Me brought only vague and vapid lines of ancestry that I could trace. It said nothing of the personalities and personal lives and times of those people. I could peruse history books and guess at their lives during that period but it was only a guess.

I talked about this idea of direct decedents and lineage in two of my past blogs (LaTullipe) and (Hilde and the Old Man)

Unfortunately, the rural, German agrarian mindset of my ancestors left little in terms of historical research on their life and times. My mother’s reticence to talk about her life growing up or my father’s background left me with little to go on. Growing up, my own lack of interest in Aunts and Uncles who didn’t care about me left little reason to ask questions of them. Nobody was talking until it was too late and early onset dementia or old age fogged up the memory bank that might have disclosed those old revealing stories.

So I’m left with old black and white photos to study and close ups of faces to give me hints as to their mindset. Seven plus years ago, I started blogging. Those weekly brain-dumps forced me to revisit almost seventy-plus years of living. After more than four hundred plus mini-memoirs published online, I’ve been forced to go back and reflect on those many different aspects of growing up.

That journey back in time has been, at times, satisfying, frustrating, and revealing.

It is who I am.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Desert Sojourn

I sometimes think you have to be a shape-shifter, a time traveler and certainly imbued yourself with as adjustable attitude if you want to survive this pandemic in the desert. Many of the trappings of present-day Palm Springs are gone now, at least for this season. What’s left behind is a hint of the trappings of a desert community before money and status and the afternoon cocktail hour clouded the desert sands.

Life in the desert is different now. The pandemic has caused the regular winter tourist season to grind to an agonizingly slow crawl. Nothing is as it used to be. Normally each weekend is filled with carefully planned events, activities, and festivals that cater to a diverse audience of snow-birds, visitors, weekenders and topic-specific folks.

But not this season. Like Minnesota and most other states, California has restricted patronage in restaurants, clubs, gyms and other gathering spots.

The list of annual events that have been canceled, delayed or postponed until future notice is remarkable. These are hallmark events that have long been identified with Palm Springs and the entire Coachella Valley during the winter months.

Events like the Palm Springs International Film Festival, Modernism Week, Coachella, Stagecoach, the White and Diana (LGBTQ) Parties will not happen this year. Closer to home, large social gatherings like our own Indian Canyon Neighborhood parties have been canceled.

I tried to capture a sense of what it was like this summer back in Minnesota in the year of COVID-19. I started with The Great Escape in describing our leaving Palm Springs for Minnesota as the pandemic was closing down most of California and starting to affect the rest of the country.

Then I shared my experiences In the Year ofthe Pandemic to explain how Sharon and I were coping with the myriad of changes thrust upon us by common sense and government regulations. All of which morphed into a number of discovered alternatives to life as we used to know it. Like listening for the birds in a forest. More reading. More writing. More art projects. Now we’re trying to do the same thing here in the desert; searching for alternatives, substitutes and other options for a world turned upside down.

Instead of using our social membership at the Saguaro Hotel, Sharon is hosting friends in our pool for daily workouts. I have taken to walking the berm, biking and hiking mountain trails instead of the hotel machines.

Locally, most of the theaters are still shut down and offer no time frame for reopening. Therefore, I am concentrating on finishing up newest novel (my twelfth) and marketing it. I also have a number of plays that need to be tightened up, edited with a sharp-edged pencil and packaged for marketing (hopefully) next summer.

Neither Sharon nor I have been in a restaurant for the last nine months. Our dinner engagements are now strictly confined to parties of four, usually outdoors under a space heater and with proper social distancing. Instead of Sharon’s past parties for twenty, these intimate gatherings bring more security, calm and great conversation for all of us.

Strangely enough, I am sensing a permanent change of some of our routines with little to no residual sadness attached. Outdoor coffee salons  ‘Playdates’ blog certainly beat indoor coffee shops. Dinner with friends on the porch can equal or surpass restaurants, exercising outdoors can be just as rigorous as indoor gyms. The list goes on and on.

There are still some silly things from the past that I might miss a little:

Sneaking a peek

Brian and me and a couple of libations

Hiking mountain trails with Melanie

Spending time with the grandkids

There are a lot of the ‘old normal routines’ that I sorely miss and want to return to. But there are also a number of newly discovered alternatives that have become even more attractive.

Hopefully, I can go with the best of both categories and improve my day-to-day routine along the way.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Nobody is From Here

One of the many unique things about living in Palm Springs is that nobody is ‘from’ Palm Springs. We/they all come from someplace else. While not unique to other American outposts like Key West, Las Vegas and Taos, New Mexico, it’s certainly different than most rural and many urban communities.

Historically, the many ‘faces/facades of Palm Springs’ seems to congeal into this melting pot of divergent personalities through many different pathways. It might be as a tourist destination or a weekend getaway. Many folks have second homes in the desert and seek a different kind of life style out here.

This ‘not from here’ phenomena continues in the many diverse neighborhoods of Palm Springs. Each seems to attract an eclectic collection of personalities from ‘other places.’ Like a mountain man rendezvous, the folks come from many different directions to gather and socialize and share in like-minded attitudes towards life.

Festivals like Coachella and Stagecoach bring in the masses from all over the country. Local Palm Springs specific events like the International Palm Springs Film Festival and Modernism Week also bring in a plethora of attendees from around the country. You get an even more intimate peek into these phenomena when the locals cross paths with one another.

It might be at an early morning Starbucks run or around poolside or on top of a local mountain hiking trail. Wherever folks gather, the conversation usually circles around to where they came from and how they got here.

This is not surprising, since in the past, the average population of Palm Springs had usually hovered around 47,000 year round. Early on, the demographics were usually heavy in the blue collar, working class ranks. Since the mid-forties and forward, more and more folks have moved to the area on a permanent basis. Thus ‘born and raised here’ started to become the rarity it is today.

I experienced this through my involvement with the Palm Springs Writers Guild. Even after ten years of engagement, I have yet to meet a ‘native Palm Springs person.’ My fellow writers come from across the country with a large percentage from the West Coast area. Sharon found the same thing with her fellow early morning swim class participants.

None of our neighbors are from the area. They come from Texas, the Midwest, the East Coast, the Deep South and the Southwest. The single thread that seems to connect all of them is their disdain for winter weather as well as the inclusive nature of our community.

Our bi-annual Indian Canyon Neighborhood Organization parties are another example of this on a much larger scale. Of the four hundred and fifty homes in our neighborhood, very few are passed down generational abodes. The vast majority are permanent retirement homes or second homes for folks from someplace else.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Living with an Artist: Part Two

Retirement can be a funny state-of-mind. Everyone approaches it a little differently. Some folks embrace the concept with enthusiasm for their measured time ahead; for however long that may be. Others take a more cautious approach, judging time and money spent in return for what?  I found my post-retirement calling pretty quickly and have settled into a routine that satisfies my soul as well as my curious mind.

Sharon followed a bit of a circuitous route but has finally found her focus. I blogged about this some time ago and it just continues to grow over the years. Sharon has become an artist.

In the beginning, it meant creating metal art through welding various forms and shapes. Gradually those endeavors evolved into alcohol ink and acrylics. Then Sharon’s art became a full blown exploration and examination of various painting mediums, methods and techniques. In that process of experimentation, my wife began mixing and matching a plethora of textures, patterns and applications to see the results. She also learned the disciplines associated with the many different approaches to her art.

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.

The residue of her artistic endeavors continue to 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 has to go somewhere.

Over the years, Sharon has taken 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 soon will be represented in the desert.

Sharon recently had an art sale in our backyard.

It was a fund-raiser for her Apple Valley Rotary group and Sharon raised over $10,000 dollars for a local food shelf. Sharon had 93 pieces of art for sale and sold 87 of them.

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.

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.