Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Up, Down, or Level

Here we go again, another season in the desert. Only third time is still no charm. It’s just a repeat of the last two seasons living with Covid. The names have changed from Delta to Omicron but the results are the same. The ever-present hospital crisis, labor shortages, food chain disruptions, a lack of social gatherings and old habits now curtailed because of the pandemic.

Beginning in late fall and early winter of 2019, Sharon and I could all feel that something was going on. Despite the half-hearted reassurances from the government and confusion on the part of the media, it was obvious that things were amiss both abroad and probably in our own back-yard.

Fast forward just a couple of months and a world-wide pandemic was upon us. After a couple of months basically sequestered at home, we grabbed a Suburban rental and headed back to Minnesota.

After a limited summer in Minnesota, our return to the Valley was delayed by a surprise illness. Sharon and I didn’t get back to Palm Springs until early December of 2020 instead of our normal November return. That abbreviated season was limited in our social engagements, work-out venues, and a return to ‘so-called’ normal activities.

The summer of 2021 (seemingly) promised hope with its diminishing returns of infections. Then chaos returned with a vengeance and it was deja-vu all over again with a new virus named Omicron.

Over the years, a lot has changed in the Valley and many things have stayed the same. We’ve been here during some horrific wind storms, infrequent torrential rainstorms, too many minor earthquakes to count, social changes, and economic ups and down.

I could probably trace my time in the desert by the number of books, blogs and plays written during the winter months spent here. But there’s another equation that is just as pertinent. That would be the activities that used to be a big part of our life while residing here. Over time, a lot of those same organizations, events and past patterns of behavior have changed, evolved or adapted to the times.

There were a number of mountain trails I’ve hiked in the past and the tram road challenge I’ve tried to traverse. Time, age and a lack of exercise have narrowed that list down to just a few now. I could review the many gyms I’ve used for periods of a year or more. Covid shut down a lot of those places for extended periods of time. Now my own hesitancy of entering small enclosed spaces has kept me away from all of them.

The Palm Springs Writers Guild has gone through many different mutations; changing leadership, members, activities and purpose. I joined several writers critique groups over the years and participated in almost all of their book fairs. Sharon even taught selling techniques to members before the book fairs. Like any organization, that one has evolved and changed with the times.

Script2stage2Screen, a theatrical venue in the desert, provided me a wonderful opportunity to stage manage a number of their scripted plays and even had one of my own (Polly’s Amorous Adventures) produced there. That also closed down during the pandemic and only recently took tiny steps toward reopening.

I was on the board of the Indian Canyon Neighborhood Organization for several years. Sharon and I were docents on a number of their home tours during Modernism Week and even wrangled balloons during the Annual Palm Springs Winter Parade. Now their monthly and annual meetings are all on Zoom.

Sharon began her new painting career in NordeEast Minneapolis at the old NKB, Northrup King building, several years ago. She brought that enthusiasm and continuing growth to the desert and set up our garage as her new studio in the shade.

As mixed and varied as our experiences have been, I think it’s fair to say they’ve never been down or level but always, to some degree, a constant refinement, improvement, and adaptive stance taken. Unlike a lot of other retired folks here in the desert, I don’t think we’ve ever plateaued or lessened our involvement here.

Twenty years is a long time to observe other individuals and couples who reside here part-time or all year round. It doesn’t take much detective work to notice that some folks have slowed down and now totally embraced their retirement lifestyle while others have definitely declined mentally and health-wise over the years. If you’re going to slow down and ‘take it easy’ then this is definitely a good place to do just that.

Granted, the desert doesn’t hold an ace in terms of comfortable places to slow down. I have a number of friends and acquaintances who have moved into Over Fifty-five Senior complexes or straight up Senior living environments. To a person, they’ve embraced this new stage of life for themselves.

I’ve had a rather productive period during our third restricted season in the desert. A plethora of new blogs were published, a new novella, a new children’s book and five plays revised and rewritten. Several play rejections have simply steeled my determination to continue plowing ahead in creating and marketing new product.

I guess I’m still of the opinion that unless you keep moving forward; age, time, and the universe just keeps conspiring to slow you down. As the clichés go, a body in motion is a body still alive. An inquiring mind is still an inquisitive mind and a desire to improve is still a goal worth pursuing.

Level and down are not viable options if you want to outpace the facts of life. It’s an accelerating and rising life that makes the tired bones and sore joints worth getting up every morning.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Waleed Rising

It started way back when with Tarzan, Sir Lancelot, and the Battle of the Little Big Horn. While in my pre-teens, I thought I wanted to be an artist.

So, with images I could copy or pictures in my mind, I took colored ink pens and began to draw. The results weren’t bad nor were they particularly good. Several comic books and many draw-ings later, my mind wandered off toward other cerebral distractions. I thought perhaps I’d try drawing words on paper instead of cartoon images.

Now fast forward some fifty or so years and another kind of image came back to my mind. This time it was a skinny hippo and he had a story to tell.

Waleed came into focus last fall. But truth be told, he’d been hiding in the shadows of my mind for a very long time. The exact origin of the story line has long since been lost among the crags of my foggy memory. I do know it started out about fifteen years ago.

It was a rather simple story of a hippopotamus that wasn’t like all the other hippos. Waleed was skinny and feeling very unsure of himself because of his slender physic instead of the robust form of the other hippos. Once planted in my brain, the storyline began to grow and take shape. Without a lot of fanfare and deep thought, the story evolved into a children’s moral tale or fable with a wise old fish, indifferent fellow hippos and one sad little guy.

Years before, I had initially worked with an illustrator who created one cover illustration which I loved. Unfortunately over the ensuing months, nothing much happened in terms of creating this children’s story. So eventually we terminated our effort to produce the tale of a skinny hippo.

Fast forward to last summer and a drought in my writing projects. My editor, Vida, suggested we revisit my children’s story about the little hippo that couldn’t. Only this time, we went the internet route and found five web sites just for freelancers of every ilk and talent. It was a veritable wishing well of illustrations of every form, function, style, technique, and skill level.

Initially, Vida and I found 92 different illustrators over five web sites to review. That, in turn, was whittled down to four I really liked. Finally, we settled on two artists who seemed to meet my criteria of a drawing of a cute and cuddly little skinny hippo.

Waleed, in Swahili, means ‘he who hides.’ That, in turn, seemed the perfect male name that best described someone who was an introvert and afraid of his own shadow. The name matched perfectly my loveable tiny hippopotamus.

I also wanted it to be authentic in that I wanted to place the story in a real river (the Pangani River) near a real area (the savanna near Mount Kilimanjaro) with real animals (elephants, giraffes, etc.) on the plains and with real fish (Jipe Tilapia and the Oreochromis Tilapia) in the river.

The final winner was an artist out of Bangladesh who goes by the artist’s name of Shamima. Her drawing of little Waleed won my heart over.

After deciding on Shamima, we asked for a fully illustrated panel that showed Waleed, his fellow hippos, an African background setting and other animals. That panel came back and then we asked for the full set of twelve panels to tell our story.

The first set of panels (illustrations) were close to perfect with just a small number of changes and revisions needed. The second set of revisions came back and we were off to the races.

I 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. Last fall, Sharon and I had 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. We also decided that the accompanying text would be more interesting if it were in both English and Swahili, the language of places where hippos reside - like Tanzania. So, we found a Kenyan translator by the name of Hannah and we were off to the language races.

The translations are quite interesting.

Waleed, the Skinny Hippo  |  Waleed, Kiboko Mwembamba

A bilingual fable in English and Swahili  |  Hadithi ya lugha mbili katika Kiingereza na Kiswahili

My two cohorts in this project are, quite literally, worlds apart.

Illustrator:  Jubayda Sagor (Shamima)

Shamima is an expert children’s book illustrator and digital artist. She lives in Bangladesh.

Translator:  Hannah Kwirikia

Hannah Kwirikia is a native Swahili speaker and translator who lives in Kenya.

The building blocks are in order. Now the real job begins of designing and creating this book for children. It will call for a totally different marketing approach than from my adult novels and plays. The packaging, the marketing, and distribution will be a whole new ball game.

There’s already some thought given to future stories of Waleed, the skinny hippo. Our world offers up numerous moral tales for children. Although most adults think they’ve got all the answers already, I think there are truisms and honest facts about life that children, along with many adults, could well be reminded of.

Waleed just might be the little hippo that shows all of us a new way of looking at life.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

No One Ever Calls

In the glitz and glamor that can be Palm Springs, there are a lot of very lonely people.

Unlike many other small towns and communities, this city and its surrounding Coachella Valley seems to attract a wide range of folks seeking something they can’t find in their own neighbor-hood back home. On the surface, it’s probably the clear blue skies, turquoise swimming pools and lush green golf courses. A mirage, really, that continues to perpetuate this image of the rich and famous and want-to-be. But a lot of folks seem to be looking for something more substantial…. companionship, love, affection, and the attention of someone else.

The predominance of gay singles and couples, along with a straight population, does nothing to change that equation. Loneliness can creep into anyone’s life. Palm Springs, even more so than like communities along the coast, is a melting pot of individuals all of whom bring their own unique blend of life stories to the mix. Over the years, Sharon and I have gotten to know some of those folks.

The first question usually asked of a new single or couple in town is simply: “Where are you from?” It seems that almost no one is from here. That’s where the similarity to our neighbors back in Minnesota takes a sharp turn from normal and average to the uniqueness of this place.

The good folks at Palm Springs Tourism bless their heart; do their best to promote the many attractions of the Valley. Truth be told, it’s a great place to visit and enjoy. But living here alone and burdened by past life events, doesn’t make the skies any bluer or the mountains any more appealing.

Since Sharon and I have been coming here for over twenty years, we’ve met, interacted with and lost track of a lot of folks over the years. Some are still great friends and others have moved on with their lives. Reflecting back on that plethora of individuals, I can’t help but be struck by the number that carry some kind of baggage with them.

Yet on the surface, most folks would never guess this is the case. Homes and hovels, cars and carriages aside, these individuals all carry the burden of past life stories with them in their daily lives. Holidays seem to bring a lot of that sadness to the surface. So on any given holiday, these folks are grateful to be invited along and not left behind to spend the day alone.

Sharon and I have, on a number of occasions, held holiday celebrations and made a point of inviting single neighbors or friends or acquaintances over to share a meal with us. We’ve also invited folks over to celebrate birthdays and other anniversaries at our house.

Unlike our neighborhood back in Apple Valley, this place is another kind of repository of lost souls, people seeking something in their lives and others just looking for a smile in return. It’s different from back in Minnesota but the folks here are just as real, just as genuine, and just as in need of that little something else; be it a gesture of kindness or a willingness to just listen.

I hope to oblige.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Don't Touch My Avatar, Please

I would betray my age if I told you that I don’t understand the hype surrounding Bitcoin, Metaverse, Block Chain and those other darlings of the new cyberworld out there.

Recently, the Business Insider web site reported that a woman reported being groped by a  stranger while working as a beta tester on a new meta platform. The platform creator defended itself by saying the woman hadn’t enabled safety features. I guess nobody thought to mention that it was a ‘virtual world’ and the groping was from one digital bit or byte to another. Unless the woman felt it vicariously; it must have just touched her fingertips. Great imagination on her part, though.

All of this came to mind when I was purging my ‘blog idea’ folder and came across an article in Futurist Magazine published in March-April of 2014. The article was entitled: ‘The Information Revolution’s Broken Promises.’

Its main premise was that many of the predictions, promises and visions for this new ‘cyber’ world either didn’t happen or didn’t pan out as promised. Only after the revolutionary euphoria began to fade along with our own critical judgments did a more sober perspective start to emerge of this new information revolution. Now fast forward some several years and I’m wondering what if anything has changed.

Before this latest convulsion of the Information Revolution, Alvin Toffler was warning us about radical changes taking place in many aspects of our society. The vocabulary has changed. The old players have either left, changed their persona or been replaced by their juniors, but the hype remains the same.

For example, is metaverse just another one of the Information’s Revolution’s broken promises or are there real treasures (fortunes) to be found in today’s digital landscape? Author Neal Stephenson is credited with coining the term "metaverse" in his 1992 science fiction novel "Snow Crash," in which he envisioned lifelike avatars who met in realistic 3D buildings and other virtual reality environments.

Since then, various developments have made mileposts on the way toward a real metaverse, an online virtual world which incorporates augmented reality, virtual reality, 3D holographic avatars, video and other means of communication. As the metaverse expands, it will offer a hyper-real alternative world for you to coexist in. If you’re of a mind to.

Inklings of the metaverse already exist in online game universes such as Fortnite, Minecraft and Roblox. And the companies behind those games have ambitions to be part of the evolution of the metaverse.

Bitcoins have been described as a new kind of currency for the digital age. Now there are a slew of similar trading icons in the digital playing field. Other icons have appeared on scene and I must admit I don’t understand most of them. Block Chain, NFT Collections, NFT sales of virtual land and Meta real estate are just some of these new trading currencies. They have impacted online banking services and transactions, the sports betting industry, and currency exchange just to name a few.

Aside from these esoteric and often times exotic enounces of internet 3, there have been major advancements made in many areas of our lives and economy. Wind farms, solar panels and now storage panels are all harnessing the natural energy forces all around us. Solar is capturing more of the sun’s power to electrify our homes and businesses. New batteries are storing that power for future use….taking many households and businesses totally ‘off the grid.’

Tesla and Rivian are gaining ground against the old gas-guzzling chariots of our parents. Even the German ‘people’s car’ is no match for today’s electric vehicles.

My old area of interest, mass communications, is another example of the steady advancements made in the way people connect with one another or share information. From Guttenburg’s bible to the printing press to the telegraph to radio and onward.

In the beginning, the pony express carried our messages long distances. Then the telegraph hobbled that effort. Radio beget Television which beget Cable which beget Netflix and Amazon who together championed streaming services. Along the way, reel-to-reel tape morphed into Beta and VHS video tapes which, in turn, morphed into the Walkman, the iPod, iPad, iPhone, tablet and other personal devices.

Of course, along with those advancements come the camp followers and hucksters. Now (after a quick review Business Insider) we’re back to being inundated with articles like: ‘Seventh grader saves his allowance and invests in rental housing (or Bitcoins or NFTs or the metaverse) to generate more income than his parents. If he can do it, so can you.’ (Sign up here).

Instagram has been accused of having an adverse effect on teenage mental health. Tik-Tok isn’t far behind. In reaction, the Chinese government decided to limit teen-age use of online activities to three hours a day. Down through the generations and with each new decade, we’re told it’s a new world out there.

2008 was the culmination of years of fiddling around on Wall Street. We were told back then that it was different this time. They said real estate never went down. They weren’t making any more land. Equity in your home was meant to be spent and not wasted just sitting in your portfolio. All the experts agreed that ‘this time was different.’

Or not.

I understand the hype behind ‘it’s a whole new world out there.’ But I do believe many of the basics still count for something. The trouble with touting the basics is that they aren’t new or sexy or earth-shaking. The basics are not prone to over-caffeinated hype and exaggeration. Thus, they’re not very sellable.

In Norman Lear’s book : ‘Even This I Get to Experience’ he talks about a conversation he had with a Harvard professor who lamented the current narrow focus of the younger generation. He called it ‘The most rapacious societal disease of our time: short-term thinking.’ Lear went on to reflect on the professors comments.

The professor explained: “There will be a time very shortly when young people-very young people- will be looking into computer screens. They will be looking directly into screens, not to the side, so there will be no peripheral vision; they won’t be looking over the top, so they won’t see what’s ahead; they’ll be staring straight ahead into those screens, blind to everything ahead and around them.”

Money managers and financial product traders will be selling, buying, and swapping financial products around the world. With that narrow focus, like a horse with blinders, they will have more control and hold more power in those split seconds than we can today imagine. And all of it entirely focused on short-term gains.”

Unfortunately, many of today’s politicians and business leaders are following the same old game plan. It’s sometimes hard to see past the hype and colorful façade to the reality behind it. But a more proper perspective and long-term thinking is critical to seeing a clearer path ahead.

What’s old is new again and some things never change…for the good and the bad. So it’s back to: Buyer beware…all over again.