Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The Bear State

Old reliable Wikipedia tells us that:

The California grizzly bear (Ursus arctos californicus) is an extinct population or subspecies of the brown bear, generally known (together with other North American brown bear populations) as the grizzly bear. In California, it was particularly admired for its beauty, size, and strength. The grizzly became a symbol of the Bear Flag Republic, a moniker that was attached to the short-lived attempt by a group of American settlers to break away from Mexico in 1846. Later, this rebel flag became the basis for the state flag of California, and then California was known as the "Bear State."

It’s an iconic image that immediately resonates with a lot of people; native Californians and out- of-staters alike. I’m a recent settler to the state and then only on a seasonal basis. Nevertheless, I can still feel the vibe that is California. The state, because of its size, population diversity and overall draw to a lot of people, always seems to be going through some kind of drama and trauma. It’s no surprise that Hollywood and other fantasy factories are located there.

It seems that almost every day there’s another incident being played out in Sacramento, San Francisco, or the forests of Northern California. An attempt to oust the governor failed but opposition to mask mandates continues on. Forest fires have slowed down but an offshore oil spill continues to ruin beach activities and wildlife. Drought conditions haven’t gotten any better and water restrictions continue. California is so large that every five years or so, there’s a call to dismember the state and separate it into north and south or other variations of the same theme.

This summer was a scorcher with continuous waves of rising temperatures which would begin around 110 degrees then grow daily until it was hovering at 123, peaking for a day or two then slowly diminishing to a somewhat tolerable 100 degrees for a week or so before the next wave started to swell up again. That pattern of rolling, ever increasing heat waves, did wonders for the vegetation but wreaked any notion of outdoor activities during the afternoon hours for most residents.

Unfortunately, Covid restrictions continue on, showing little change from last season. It’s ‘masks on’ whenever entering a store and a lot of restaurants are still on limited hours. Surprisingly and despite Covid restrictions, Palm Springs is starting to open up again. Parking lots are full, the airport is bustling and downtown is crowded each night with tourists and locals alike almost desperate to go back to their old routines and mingle with the masses.

Just before we left last season, Sharon and I were fortunate enough to meet some of our new neighbors. Over the summer, they shared their own encounters (via Ring doorbell) with some other neighbors; coyotes and a bobcat that seem to have taken up residency nearby.

Coyote video


Bobcat videos



That may account for a dramatic decrease in the number of bunnies scampering about our yard as compared to last season. I love sitting outside at night and staring up at the stars. Nowadays, it’s always a question of what’s lurking on the other side of my wall. There’s a rumor going around that a cougar was sighted just two blocks away about a month ago. I’m still going to sit in the dark but close enough to my back door if I need to seek shelter there.

Our birds survived the heat and our hummingbird family grew from three to seven flighty, flirty tiny creatures. They’re not too happy that we’ve invaded their turf but we’ll find a way to get along.

Unlike other hipster hotels like the Ace and the V, the Saguaro Hotel remains closed. Sharon and I used our social membership there two years ago to use their facilities during off hours. Even if I can’t go there, I do want to return to walking the berm every day.

Local hiking trails still abound and are calling me back once again.

There will be new trails to explore and more distant attractions like Joshua Tree, Laguna Beach, and Idyllwild to add to that list.

It’s a different environment for me here among the bobcats, cougars, coyotes, and bear-state mentality, but the workload continues on unabated. I have a plethora of writing projects that are screaming for my attention.

Waleed, the skinny hippo, is almost ready for the next stage of production; creating colorful panels for my children’s book. Then I’ve got three nervous nuns I’m trying to help navigate a new and confusing ‘real world’ environment. ‘Agnes’ will have to wait a little longer before she and I begin our wondrous affair set in the turbulent sixties and my imagination. The mystery of Henry Miller and Big Surf has been solved but I’ve still got to find the time to get it out to a larger audience.

Finally, now that I’m back on home turf, I don’t think I’ll have any problem getting volunteers to workshop one of my latest plays ‘Widow’s Waltz’ for their fellow audiences. There are even more projects waiting in the wings but they’ll remain there for the time being.

As much as the surroundings may change in this bear state-of-mind, and now with some growling at night, the workload continues on and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Polly and Waleed

This spring initially looked pretty bleak for me on the writing home front. Theaters still hadn’t reopened. Book clubs still weren’t meeting in person. Putting together small or large gatherings for script reading proved a challenge and ultimately undoable.

Those detours and roadblocks to my scheduled vernacular summer pushed me back to the writing table. It meant rehashing and rebuilding past novel ideas, first drafts of plays and more blog ramblings. Then around mid-summer, two writing projects in particular proved an interesting yet very palatable contrast. They seemed a bit odd on the surface but worked out perfectly well in the long run.

Between creating new blogs, rewriting, and tightening up several plays and finding the right marketing venues for my new mystery novel, I found myself jockeying between a polyamorous affair and a skinny hippo. As the two story plots unfolded, it turned out that Polly, the main character in ‘Polly’s Amorous Adventures,’ had serious issues with her sexuality. Waleed, (a very skinny hippo) on the other hand, had serious issues of low self-esteem. These conflicting yet similar issues turned out to be a marriage made in writing heaven…if your mind works that way.

‘Polly’s Amorous Adventure’ proven to be a very successful play when it premiered in California in 2018. But I felt it might have even stronger ‘legs’ in the Twin Cities if I could find the right venue for it here. Vida, my editor, upon reflection of the plays past performance, felt that Polly hadn’t yet fully examined the idea of a woman exploring her own sexuality.

Vida explained that this was more than just an extension of the woman’s liberation movement of the 60s, newfound sexual freedom that came with the pill or the more recent MeToo movement. While it encompassed all those ideologies, it also examined a woman’s respect of and appreciation for her body. And this was not just a sexual thing but rather a mental, physical, and psychological analysis that drove deep into a woman’s psychic.

Adding this new dimension to the script proved a challenge with various characters dealing with the subject matter without lecturing about it. I choose several characters like Polly’s girlfriend Hazel, and her mother as my primary vehicles of information for the audience.

All the while I was mending and re-stitching the script for Polly, I found myself dealing with a skinny hippo that was afraid of his own shadow. That particular storyline began more than fifteen years ago with the story of a skinny hippo entitled: ‘Skinny Hippo.’ A Google search revealed several skinny hippo entities so my story title changed to ‘Waleed, the skinny hippo.’

Vida and I went through the sample drawings of over 100 illustrators from free-lance sites such as Fiverr, Upwork, and Freelancer. We narrowed those down to four illustrators. From those four finalists, we ordered four sample panels and finally came up with two illustrators whose versions of skinny hippos seemed to suit our imagined primary subject matter.

We made several passes at editing my original text to try to get it down to a child’s reading level. Then we had to figure out just what ages it might be most appropriate for. Sharon and I attended the Minnesota Children’s Book Festival in Red Wing and got a lot of great ideas for children’s books.

We studied book sizes, placement of text, full panel drawings, half page drawings, isolated images on the page, multiple images on one page and other assorted techniques to drive the colorful impressions home.

Waleed and Polly made for a strange yet similar subject matter. We touch on issues of self-esteem, self-identity, bravery and being different. As the ‘Wise Fish’ tells Waleed, “Different is good. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.” The same can be said of Polly.

Now I’ll have to wait to see if my audience agrees with my lovable little hippo and my lovely lass seeking her own identity.

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?