Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Calico Summer

Back in the sixties there was a great surfing movie entitled: The Endless Summer. The movie followed a pair of surfers who literally spent the summer roaming around the world in search of the perfect wave. They never found that mythical wave but they experienced so much more on their global tour. While my summer wasn’t global or wet, it was, nevertheless, a summer to remember. As much for what it was as for what it wasn’t.


The year, and especially our abbreviated season in Palm Springs, had seen a sizable curtailment of past activities such as using the Saguaro Hotel for swimming and exercise. I began walking the berm that abutted the mountains every day to substitute for my weights and treadmill.

Sharon and I had both been vaccinated but weren’t brave enough to have a lot of folks over for dinner engagements, playing cards, bunco or other group activities. It was a quiet season but lacked the human engagement of past seasons.


I did find solace in my weekly chats with Ron, the pool man. Our conversations were lively and thoughtful although Ron often leaned so far right that we usually bump into one another’s philosophies in about the middle of the road.


As much as I wanted and needed to workshop several of my plays, I wasn’t about to meet in person and Zoom meetings just weren’t going to cut it. I had literally and figuratively five new plays stuck in limbo until I would be able to have them workshopped and reviewed by qualified outsiders.

The summer of 2021 began with a very clear list of what I could and couldn’t do.



I was able to return to LA Fitness and get back to some trail running.



I was still able to cut the grass and do yardwork.

My great idea of returning to my Coffee and Chat sessions very quickly turned to disappointment when several folks never responded to my e-mail invitations to meet. The real culprit here wasn’t some form of ghosting but instead my own e-mail system that was (unknown to me) dumping my messages into their spam or junk files. Unfortunately most of those folks never checked their junk files and thus they never heard from me. They were as surprised as I was that neither one of us was acknowledging the other.

On the other hand, several folks did decide (perhaps because of Covid) to eliminate our chat sessions all together. It wasn’t until late summer before I was able to figure out what had put the kabash to so many of my C & C meetups. It’s never gotten back to what it was during the summer of 2020 but it’s still very satisfying to meet with my friends when we can.

Unfortunately local book clubs were still meeting on Zoom. ‘Meet the Author’ sessions in Rosemount hadn’t started up again. RAAC had only scheduled two plays for the summer and a lot of other community theaters were still on hiatus until the fall.

Going into that Calico summer I had several writing projects to tackle. These included:


I did manage to finish my latest novel, a suspense mystery entitled: ‘Playground for the Devil.’ Marketing of that book had just begun along with exploring new venues for distribution.


I wanted to complete a solid first draft of my latest play entitled ‘Frenchy’s Eats.  This began as a complicated experiment whose goal was to explore fatherhood; my fathers and my own, father-son relationships, and the Pandora’s Box of my mother’s up-bringing, marriage, divorce and child-rearing. 


While I still believe one of my plays ‘PTV’ was a good candidate for the Minnesota History Theater, Vida found a critical flaw in my present script. We agreed on a new approach which I believe will ring more realistic from an historical perspective.

Continuing dialogue with Vida convinced me that more changes were needed in Polly’s unorthodox relationships. When it comes to sex, the internet, dating apps, out of the mainstream relationships and new approaches to ‘each other,’ my editor is where I turn to for guidance. This new approach will include Polly owning her own sexuality, exploring women’s sexual freedom and so forth.


One of the major hurtles I had envisioned in casting my dramatic musical, music-making play was the need to find older actors who might portray my main characters. Vida’s simple answer was ‘theatrical aging’ or using make-up to age my actors. That one simple (really simple) answer solved my major mental-roadblock. 

By late summer I had completed most of the re-editing and second drafting of those plays. Then, out of the blue, I found a new round of writing projects to jumble up an already crowded brain. This began with a mysterious woman I hardly knew but grew very fond of over time.


Sharon’s frequent trips up to the Arts District in Northeast Minneapolis got me to thinking about  a mysterious woman who used to live there. While I never knew that woman on an intimate level, there was enough of an memory-image and incident-banking that it kept me wondering ‘what ever happened to her?’ long after we both had moved on with our lives.


After writing a blog (Homage to Glady), I began to jot down some ideas for a story centered on two characters; a woman like Glady and one like myself. My love story would be fiction. But it would be based on real people and real events flavored with a liberal dose of creative artistic exuberance thrown to enhance the good story material. I felt I could tell her story in serialized chapter form with a tight story narrative.  It would be posted on Amazon’s new KDP Vella web site.

About the same time, two other writing projects appeared out of nowhere and began to consume a lot of my writing time. One involved a pachyderm and the other a very pious assortment of humanity.


My editor and I began the arduous process of finding an illustrator for a new children’s book that had been percolating in the back of my head for more than thirteen years.  There were specialized web sites to visit, children’s books to study for format, story content, age-specific text and a book festival to attend. More on that in a future blog.

Then an inquiry from RAAC, the Rosemount Area Arts Council, indirectly spurred on the creation of a brand new play. It was loosely based on the main premise of another play that I had abandoned years earlier.

The original play was entitled: ‘Season’s End.’ The main premise of that play centered on a series of age-related conflicts between the generations. This new version of the same play idea included a new set of characters better primed to fit that storyline.

The main story setting (a country club) would be the same but the characters radically different from my original characters. I plan to add new characters, a musical stream of interest and much deeper character development. Again, more on that in a future blog.

Unlike the beginning of my Calico Summer which started in uncertainty and roadblocks, its ending heralded the beginning of a very active writing period leading into the fall. The illustrators have been narrowed down to just a few select candidates. Glady and I are just beginning to get acquainted (again) and the hushed tone at the country club is promising a lot of confusion, drama and laughter ahead.

I can’t wait to see what happens next.

 

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

The American Dream

One of the reasons I love, absolutely love my coffee and chat sessions, is because of the rich mix of topics that we cover. Granted, these are mature men and women who have had a wealth of life experiences and bring that same abundance of intellectual curiosity and stimulation to each and every meetup we enjoy.

One of the more interesting topics we discussed recently was whether or not the ‘American Dream’ was still alive and coupled with that was the question of ‘what it takes to become successful in today’s world.’ Through our bantering back and forth, coupled with a healthy dose of give and take, my friends and I came to the conclusion that the American Dream as an icon of success was an optical illusion painted by hucksters, business entities and other generational offspring of P.T. Barnum.


It’s not that the Dream is dead just that the Dream itself is a moniker, a capstone and a label that is glued on to this nebulous idea of success in America. American capitalism has painted one version of success but now younger generations have created their own idea of the same icon.



My generation and past generations believed that by hard work, sacrifice and some luck, one could attain the American Dream. For most folks, that was translated into a nice home, a new car in the driveway and other material possessions.   Later generations like those of my kids and grandchildren came to believe that balance in one’s life was more important than thirty years at ABC Manufacturing and a gold watch in retirement.

So the, question in a question, was whether or not one could attain the American Dream in today’s world of high prices, limited resources, constant change, and a need for balance in one’s life.

My friends and I came to the conclusion that while it wouldn’t be an easy road to stroll, one could attain success in one’s life if the influences of American capitalism were set aside and one focused on what it was that made a person truly happy. And that definition could or would be different for everyone involved.


If that included a certain amount of material items, so be it. If that was a focus on family and personal improvement, that was OK too. If it meant no more than quiet times with one’s spouse, partner, family, relatives or friends, that was OK too. In short, if a person achieved their life goals and was satisfied with their life as it is today or if they wanted to strive for more, that was success for them. Their own version of success counted for everything. Other people’s success counted for little in their own lives.



A friend of the family saw this first hand when she began her first job (right out of law school) at a prestigious law firm downtown. She realized very early on that some of the partners who were making more than three hundred thousand dollars a year (almost 20 years ago) were among the most miserable people around the office.

They had the prized corner office, fancy sports cars, premier schools for their kids and member-ship to elite country clubs.  But basically they were working to maintain that lifestyle and image. Inside they were hollow human beings.  It was quite a revelation to her.

On the other hand, I know several folks who have attained that level of financial success but you would never know it because they seem like you and I, leading regular lives and happy most of the time.


You would never know it by looking at him; this friend of mine. Talking to him doesn’t reveal a whole lot more. I don’t know for sure but I’d place serious money on the fact that he is a million-aire and perhaps has even moved past that first benchmark. He is always full of exuberance for his life and lifestyle.

My friend likes to tell his friends that he is ‘cheap.’ While that’s true and he loves to save a buck, he is, as I like to remind him, ‘thrifty wise’ and not ‘stupid cheap;’ big difference there. He seems very happy with his life where it is. The finance success he’s enjoyed is just icing on his lifestyle as he is living it right now.

This whole idea of who seems very satisfied with their life in addition to reaching a notable symbol of wealth came edging back into my consciousness when I ordered two books from my favorite library out in cyber space, ‘Better WorldBooks.’


I’ve been around long enough to personally know a few people who have (by American cultural standards) attained the American Dream. But you’d seldom guess it by looking at or talking to them.

For example, I have another friend who came from modest means and yet has been a millionaire plus for well over 30 years. Now you’d never know it by looking at his lifestyle, the kind of cars he and his wife drive or their other material accoutrements. He takes great pride in the fact that he’s had ‘serious money’ for a very long time but never flaunted it or made it known to anyone except a few select people. He believes there is great strength in understatement. I couldn’t agree more.


What’s interesting is that many millennials believe the American Dream is either dead or unattainable for them. They seem to feel that the Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers have grabbed most of the opportunities for advancement out there. I disagree even after reading two well-written books on the subject.

‘The Betrayal of the American Dream’ and ‘Who Stole the American Dream’ examine the ever widening gap between rich and poor and the dissemination of the middle class in America.

Younger generations than mine want more balance in their lives. They don’t want to become slaves to their jobs. While that is admirable and commendable, it also makes it much harder to gain financial freedom and choice without some sacrifice. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

Just as ‘success’ is a personal goal and achievement, so too is financial freedom. I’m old enough and, and perhaps, foolish enough to believe that one can have balance and yet attain some degree of financial achievement if other rules ‘of the game’ are followed.


These include working past the normal 9 to 5 work day, networking, making financial sacrifices when ‘needs’ takes precedent over ‘wants.’ Any review of ‘Success Magazine’ or other self-improvement web sites can give you a long list of steps to take to become successful in your personal life and financially independent. Homogenized though they may be, it all comes down to working hard, being sensibly thrifty and making smart decisions.

After all these years, maybe Horatio Alger was on to something after all?

 

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Casualties

‘It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.’  Quote by Charles Dickens.

The summer of 2020 was tough on a lot of people. At least on the surface, most folks seemed to have adjusted to the myriad of changes this country has gone through since the pandemic began its relentless march across the globe.


For me, it began in Palm Springs in early March of last year and took almost a year until the spring of 2021 before commerce began to awaken again. This continued a trend already begun in Minnesota in early April when Sharon and I had to self-quarantine and live in semi-isolation here last summer. This summer opened up for us and was much better.

But since early 2020 there have been major and subtle changes that are probably going to be permanent now. There have also been casualties along the way, both personal and in general.

Last fall, one acquaintance of ours, faced with a cancer diagnosis and isolation, choose to end it all. Several others have embraced the comfort of clustered-living and a few drifted back to the  cloistered comfort of their religion. Whatever it took to cope with the many changes brought on by COVID.  Unfortunately, good old American Capitalism also reared its ugly head.

If he were alive today, P.T. Barnum would be having a field day. It’s not that there’s been an influx of na├»ve, gullible pigeons out there. No more than at any other time in history. The pandemic has just brewed up a cauldron of opportunities for some retailers and pitfalls for many buyers.


Organizations that were shut down during the pandemic are slowly starting to reawaken now. Some have embraced a newfound enthusiasm for social justice and economic change. Others have fallen back to their old ways, assuming what worked in the past will work again in the near-future.


For some employers and businesses alike, the pandemic proved the perfect catalyst for change. Past business habits, patterns of employee relations and finances all went into ‘play.’ The pandemic provided the perfect excuse to cut back on services, eliminate assumed extras and just focus on the bottom line. Reduced competition opened the playing field for the larger players to cobbled up market share and eliminate their competitors. Customer seemed to always be on the losing end of the deal.

It was (and still is) the perfect storm for good old American greed. There was a pent-up demand for goods, services and experiences. After a year of COVID-19 induced self-isolation, many folks feel they have plenty of ‘money’ in the bank, checking account or purse. Where there was demand, there were opportunities…unfortunately for us, consumers paid the price.

The pandemic exasperated an already long and exhausting cycle of ‘old world’ business and industry giants that have fallen by the wayside. These include but are not limited to:


Ad agencies and PR Firms

The travel industry

Commercial and Public television stations

Home building

Automotive manufacturing

Colleges and Universities

Retirement

 

I’ve become increasingly frustrated by the attitude among many retailers and the trades that they’ve all lost a lot of money during the pandemic (which is certainly true) and now they want to make it all back ‘in one summer.’ Prices for goods and services have risen exponentially and it isn’t all just because of limited availability or gaps in the supply chain.

It’s a temporary situation; I get it.  Farmers plant when the sun is shining. Retailers plow the fields of opportunity when customers are loaded with cash and eager to spend. Right now, ‘feasting time is upon us.’ Once more products get into the supply chain and folks have had their taste of normal life again, most retailers and service folks will be forced to go back to their regular fair prices, available supplies and a need to please the customer. But that isn’t now.

During the pandemic my wife and I have noticed or experienced other, sometimes subtle, changes. Sharon noticed (not me) that a lot of women her age have gone natural gray in lieu of going back to their hairdresser. Actually I think they still look very attractive ‘au natural.’


My ‘Coffee and Chat’  group which numbered almost a dozen folks last year shrunk to only a third of that number this spring.


My 60th Cretin High School Class Reunion was held in August at an old world classic restaurant in Saint Paul. I personally felt it wasn’t well organized or conducive to general reflective comments of small group conversations. But that’s just me.

I was tempted to criticize the affair for its lack of coordination. But as my wife likes to say: “If you weren’t involved in the planning, then swallow your negative comments.” So I swallowed hard and said it was great seeing some of my old classmates. I was glad I was able to make it because a lot of our fellow graduates are in another heavenly place now.

Looking over that room of retired doctors, lawyers, business executives and other successful individuals, I thought to myself (of course, very modestly) ‘Guess, I did OK after graduating at the bottom third of my class.’ Best of luck to everyone.


I started out this summer with a list of writing projects put on hold and others I wanted to tweak. By mid-summer that old list had been thrown out in lieu of several exciting new projects crowding my creative brain. (More on that in a future blog.)

One result of the pandemic and ensuing change of lifestyle is that I have fluctuated on whether to continue writing my blogs. I can’t decide if my blogs are a pain in the rear to write or are a part of my writing discipline.  For now, I’ll opt for the latter and continue pounding out thoughts and ideas and reflections. Some people seem to enjoy them. I’m always surprised by folks who read my blogs and either ‘like’ them or make a comment. There are more secret readers out there than I realized.

I guess COVID and its myriad of craziness had a few benefits after all.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Glady Goes Vella as Agnes

I think I’ve found a place for Glady. It feels right; not rushed nor expanded too far beyond the facts. Yet it’s the proper place for a lady I never knew very well. I can finally tell a fictionalized story of a relationship that never happened. But could have.



Sharon’s frequent trips up to the Arts District in Northeast Minneapolis got me to thinking about my past ventures into that storied neighborhood and a mysterious woman who used to live there. While I never knew that woman on an intimate level, there was enough of a memory or image-banking that it kept me wondering ‘what ever happened to her?’ long after we both had moved on with our lives.


It was enough of a brain probe that I wrote a blog about her and talked to an old friend who also used to know her. Way back then, we were both fledgling writers at the Minnesota Department of Public Health in the early spring of 1968.


Harry and I go back more than fifty years, He is still one of my most favorite and frequent friends to meet up for my Coffee and Chat sessions. Even though long periods of little communication over the years, we’ve managed to stay in-touch. Harry was a good second image-banker for my recollection of that period in my life, the office setting and the various characters who worked there.



Back then, Harry was a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota and looking for his first job.  I had just return from a self-imposed exile in Europe where I neither found myself nor any clarity in my future. We were both just starting out with our first job, first time exploring that tumultuous period called the 60s and learning to live with our boss, Marie Ford.


After writing that initial blog (Homage to Glady) and posting it on my Facebook page, I began to jot down some ideas for a story centered on two characters; a woman like Glady and one like myself. Harry’s recollections were invaluable in helping me paint an accurate honest picture of our lives at work back then. My love story centered on Glady was fiction. But it was based on real people and real events flavored with a liberal dose of creative artistic exuberance thrown to enhance the good story material.


The story was entitled ‘Glady’ and would be a love story between two opposing personalities. The mind-set, social, economic and sexual backgrounds of these two people was radically different. It was the classic case of two folks who had little in common but enough that they bonded on a level they hadn’t experienced before with anyone else.

Some friends of mine thought it would make a great play. I thought not. Others thought it might be a novel or screenplay. Again, I didn’t see ‘Glady’ in that fictional form. I didn’t feel like writing it out as a novel and I don’t do short stories. A novella might be the route to go, I thought. Then Amazon gave me the answer in one simple generic e-mail.

Months earlier as I was finishing up the self-publication of my twelfth novel entitled: ‘Playground for the Devil’, Amazon sent me a notice of a new publishing approach they were just beginning. It was called Vella and it turned out to be the answer for me to release ‘Glady’ to the world.

Vella is a new feature of Amazon’s KDP publishing arm.

At that point, my lovely wife, Sharon, and Vida, my editor, decided that once again my enthusiasm had gone overboard and a little precaution was probably called for. Therefore, my main character would now be named Agnes and other real life characters would take on fictional names. Glady became Agnes, I remained myself and the rest of the world took on a fictional hue liberally laced throughout the storyline.

‘Agnes’ seemed to fit that approach perfectly. I felt I could tell her story in serialized chapter form with a tight story narrative. It would not be an elongated novel or play but rather a focused story of two lives intertwined and what happens to them after their mutual surprise that they have so much in common. It would be a love story for the ages.

Of course, it wasn’t as if I had nothing else to write about; far from it. ‘Agnes’ would be a detour through guilt and self-doubt. Self-criticism raised its ugly head when I thought about my other writing projects still waiting to be addressed.





I had just begun the arduous process of finding an illustrator for my new children’s book. I had an expanded version of ‘Polly’s Amorous Adventures’ which I wanted to publish in script form. ‘Playground for the Devil’ was crying out for attention and much-needed marketing. There were four other plays that needed to be revised, edited, rewritten, and then scheduled for beta readings. A new play ‘Frenchy’s Eats’ was still stuck in draft form. It wasn’t as if I didn’t have enough on my writing plate to keep me busy for a very long time.


Instead I was focusing on this fictional person (based on a real person) and the imagined love affair between the two of us. Unfortunately it parroted real life in that the mental and emotion forces that kept waking me up at night to run dialogue between Agnes and I pushed me to face the fact that the story had to come out or I was going to be distracted from everything else until it did.


The only saving grace was the fact that I didn’t have to publish it as a novel. Vida, my editor, could upload it to Vella for me. If it caught an audience, that would be great and a couple of bucks in my pocket. If it didn’t, the story would still have been told and I could move on to other things.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Old Man on a Bicycle

I have this love-hate relationship with my bicycles…all of them.



At one point, I thought it would be cool to ride long distance. So, as a younger man, I did a Century (One hundred miles in one day). Then I did a couple of TRAM rides (The Ride Across Minnesota done in a week). Then several ‘Ironman’ (60 miles in a day) bike rides. All those rides were challenging, fun, stressful and made me very sore. Time and commitments intervened and I didn’t ride for a long time. Then the itch came back again.


Europeans have been doing it for years. When I lived in Copenhagen, it was one of the primary means of transportation. Now Amsterdam and other European cities vie for prominence with their own focus on two-wheel transportation.



Magazines and web sites that cater to the biking crowd have gotten very popular recently. Web sites like Cycle Chic, Copenhaganize, Citylab and Planetzien are among the many that frequently carry biking-related articles. Bike sharing outlets like Minnesota’s own ‘Nice Ride’ are expanding their outreach efforts. Bicycle riding has been rediscovered all over again.

Eventually it was my more leisurely paced, time-free, long distance rides that I came to really enjoy. That style of bike touring was more casual and self-directed. It usually took place in springtime after a hard winter of indoor gym visits and treadmill journeys in the basement.

The pandemic and other weak excuses have prevented me from those self-directed tours for a couple of years so I decided this summer to try to replicate what I used to do in a regular basis in the past.


It began as a ‘rediscovery’ bike tour of twin cities. In the past, these bike tours meant revisiting old haunts, abodes, rendezvous and memorable places in my life. It usually began on a Saturday morning, first at some coffee shop in town and ending after twenty or thirty plus miles of meandering wherever my head and heart wanted to take me.

I might begin at the Lake Street Bridge, go down the Midtown Greenway, end up by Lake of the Isles and then find my way back home from there.




Other times, it meant traveling the length of Summit Avenue, ending up in Lower Town and then following the river route back up into Highland Park. Those were just two of more than a half dozen routes that inevitably would return me to my first home in Saint Paul, educational outposts, make-out rendezvous, induction stations, real estate ventures and other debris of my past seventy years in and around the Cities.


Inevitably and not surprisingly, time changes everything and old familiar structures are often the first to taste the ravages of time and decay. The location might be the same but all vestiges of memory points are long gone. But that doesn’t matter because both the Twin Cities and the Coachella Valley have wonderful biking routes that allow one to meander the neighborhoods.





The latest craze that’s gotten my attention are E (electronic) Bikes. Several of my friends have them and swear by their efficiency and ease of climbing tough grades or going long distances. I’m more than intrigued by the prospect of expanding my traveling range around the cities or the Coachella Valley.

Either way, by pedal power or an assist, I want to return to the road as soon as I can. Either in the Twin Cities or the Valley I have my own in-town wilderness to explore. It’s a meandering, relaxed revisiting of old memories, discovering new places and people along the way. But always ruminating about my past lives, present ventures and future endeavors.

I’m still peddling after all these years. As long as I can keep my balance and the old legs and back don’t give out, I intend to keep pushing along and enjoying the scenery along the way. Just like when I was a kid.