Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Coming Around Again

Not that I’m dating myself; okay, I guess I am. But it always amazes and amuses me when movements, ideas, and changes from my pass suddenly reappear, not as aberrations but rather as great new ideas for ‘today.’ These new phases range from music to food to drink to work habits, where we like to live and beyond. 

For example, a number of business journals have been touting the four-day work week. It’s supposed to revitalize the work place with new ideas, energy, and a change of pace. Many claim it’s the wave of the future. Or is it?

Back in the early seventies, I was a new product manager at the Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting when the state of Maryland decided to give the four-day-work week a shot. State agencies, of which we were one, were given the opportunity to try it out in a trial basis. It sounded like a good idea and I thought I could use my ‘free Fridays’ to begin testing my skills at the craft of writing. 

Long story short, I outlast my group by about two weeks past the last dropout. What we all found very quickly was that the ‘free Friday’ couldn’t make up for the exhaustion we felt after working four 10-hour days straight. For most of us, eight hours was just fine. After eight hours, our brains started to slow down, the office was empty of fellow workers and distractions ran amuck. It just wasn’t worth it in the end.

I recently read a book that documented the efforts to revitalize the cities after the heavy migration out of downtown beginning in the 1970s. Saint Paul was city life on the verge of major changes when I was growing up there. By the end of high school, I couldn’t wait ‘to get out of Dodge.’ Then my daughter became one of the early pioneers venturing back to the cities after 50 years of steady doldrums and decline. Now city-living is, for many young adults, the ‘in thing’ to do. 

Growing up I remember a lot of our neighbors had gardens in their backyards. That is, until major grocery chains made it much easier to buy food already packaged, processed and ready to eat. Now homegrown has regained its appeal and posh.

During prohibition, it seemed like everyone and their neighbors were making hooch in their garages and basements. Now we call it craft beer and it’s become big business. ‘Hey there, Delila’ is a simple, catchy ditty written some time ago that has had over 86 million views on YouTube. What’s the difference between that simple tune and some ancient gospel song that’s been sung over the centuries.

I began life riding my 100 pound (well, almost) Huffy bicycle. From there, I graduated to my French Peugeot 10-speed racing bike. A hybrid and touring bike came later. Then a mountain bike (first called klunkers and created on Mount Tamilpious in California). 

Last winter, I tried out (a rental) my first E (electronic) bike and I was hooked all over again. Now a new purchase should take me well into the future. It’ll be interesting to see what ‘new’ ideas, innovations, and concepts are going to be ‘reappearing’ in the future to dazzle us with their new approach to an old, tired but true, improvement in our lives.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Great Conversations Don't Just Happen

It was a casual catch-up luncheon with one of our neighbors. The outdoor setting was great with mountain views, blue skies and two pesky roadrunners running around our tables begging for food scraps. But what struck me was the relaxed conversation that seemed to go on forever and that said, without apology. Prices had gone up; staff help was hard to find and it would have been cheaper to stay home and eat there. It was the conversation that made the two and a half hours enjoyable and worth the price.

Great conversations usually don’t happen by accident. That meal at the country club wasn’t planned or choreographed; it just happened. Usually, a great conversation needs interested parties, a relaxed setting, and cerebral mindsets willing to venture through various subject matter. It also needs a social infrastructure where co-mingling not only occurs but is encouraged.

It can happen any place in the world. Perhaps in a pub in Ireland, England, or Scotland with a pint of Ale. Sharon and I had that with Melanie when we visited her in Ireland during her Study Abroad program there.

It can be in a Paris cafĂ© with a tiny cup of strong black espresso, meant to be sipped for hours on end. I had that in Paris after my sojourn from Denmark. It is the sharing of ideas and facts and history shared with a perfect stranger I’ve never seen again.

Back in the day, families went out on Sunday afternoon to visit other families for conversation and coffee. Intellectuals, bohemians, and the like had their salon. Children and adults sat around the campfire and told stories. My buddies and I loved to go tramping through the woods with good boots and a thermos.

The military has its bullshit and bravado sessions. Workers have their shop talk and techies talk code. Conversations come in every shape, form, configuration, and stated purpose. It can be two friends sharing, lovers intimate cooing and delightful banter about nothing in particular. Coffee shops used to be the ‘go to’ spot for such happenings but now many of them, including a global giant are removing seating inside and just encouraging drive-thru and grab-and-go traffic. Undeterred and with the threat of close contact indoors, I found a solution outdoors.

It started for me about three years ago when my ultra-conservative pool man and I actually found common ground in that swampland called politics. Our sparing back and forth led to some very interesting and revealing (on both our parts) conversations. I thought it would be interesting to try to continue that cerebral banter once I got back home.

My early morning chat sessions began with six friends and associates I simply wanted to talk to. So, I came up with the idea of a C & C; a coffee and chat session. It was always outdoors and usually first thing in the morning before our regular lives took hold of our day.

Then it grew last year with eight and now ten folks whom I meet-up with to chat about anything and everything. It’s neither formal nor structured. Some are only once or twice a summer while others are much more frequently. But they all bring something different to the table.

Different folks, different backgrounds, different perspectives. We’ve managed to avoid talking about politics unless our views are in close alignment. Even then I’d rather talk about something fun, enjoyable, stimulating, thought-provoking or satisfying.

These sessions are different from the ones I had around Dinky town many years ago. They aren’t the other legendary gathering spots like the Blue Moon Tavern in Seattle, The Neutral Grounds in New Orleans or Civilization in Cleveland, Ohio but their content is the same. A place to meet, share thoughts and ideas and feel comfort in the security of honest conversation with a friend. Life’s too short to go without either one.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Long Time A-Brewing

The Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting was a great place to work back in the early seventies. The station had started in downtown Baltimore in the late sixties and by 1972 when I joined the firm, they were newly established in their headquarters building outside the beltway.  Sharon and I bought a house nearby and she went off to teach each morning and I went to work nearby.

Having never conquered the ability to just work one job a time, I found myself slowly becoming more and more engaged in learning the craft of writing. That subtle obsession slowly morphed into novel-writing each evening after work and finally the creation of two western novels over a two-year period of time.

As par for the course, Sharon encouraged me to try to get them published and I demurred and put them into a filing cabinet instead. They never came to gestation until about ten years ago. When my first novel morphed into a trilogy called ‘Apache Death Wind’ and the second novel was reborn as ‘Apache Blue Eyes.’

Now going back even further in time, 50 years to be almost exact, I wrote a parcel of poems and song lyrics during the mid-to-late 60s. Those faded gray pages sat in the same filing cabinet until this last fall when coincidence and circumstance brought them back to life. Such is the writing style of someone who never discards anything written even in jest.

A while back I wrote a blog entitled: Ode to a Broken Down Palace. It was about the first apartment building I lived in near the University of Minnesota. The building was designed and constructed around the turn of the century for a prominent Minneapolis industrialist.  By the time I moved in, almost sixty-five years later, it was a rundown boarding house chopped into several apartments.

That period in my life encompassed what I now whimsically call my lost years; roughly from 1961 to 1971. It began with my high school graduation on May 31st, 1961 and culminated in my marriage on July 31st, 1971. Ten years of wandering and wondering about my life as it unfolded in twists and turns; some expected and others not so much.

It was during that latter period, in an old tired musty apartment, that my creative juices really started to flow. From roughly the fall-winter of 1967 through the spring of 1970, I found myself going through a furious writing phase.  Poems, song lyrics, outlines for novels and mind-stories poured forth, all captured with my ancient L.C. Smith typewriter.

My new job at KTCA television entailed some script writing and other journalistic endeavors. But more importantly it meant I was interacting with a plethora of wildly crazy, creative, free-thinking folks. It was the mid-sixties when almost anything was up for grabs and challenges. I was living the life and not focused too far beyond the next day.

People were coming in and out of my life. Some were fleeting moments whose names are still etched in my brain while others have long since been forgotten. The Triangle Bar became my refuge from reality; a place to toke in the shadows along with the stoners, drink cheap schooners of beer and leer lustfully at the University Coeds all lined up neatly at the bar.

Thoughts and scenes, feelings and emotions were coursing through my veins and piling up in my memory bank. I found a wonderful outlet for expressing those sundry images and imaginative scenarios on paper.

Writing poetry was incredibly liberating along with the song lyrics for which I had absolutely no skill whatsoever. Almost every night, I’d be hunched over my L.C. Smith, pounding away at words and verses, sentences and paragraphs that kept rushing forth.

It was like a euphoric rush of emotions spilling out of my consciousness. Most nights, I became incredibly high on endorphins surging through my brain matter. Good, bad, terrible and some not so bad material was captured on’ now’ old gray sheets of paper. That episodic flash of creativity ultimately lasted for only a short period of time. The resulting pile of papers were assembled, bound together and filed away. Then life took a turn for the wonderful and they were forgotten for almost sixty years.

A new relationship had gained traction, this one for good, and I was on a new path toward the future. Fortunately, those old stapled pages of poetry followed me around the country before finally settling into a filing cabinet in the basement along with other forgotten dreams and storylines.

The idea of creating a book of my poetry evolved out of a play I had written during the pandemic. ‘PTV’ is a semi-autobiographical play about my own early television experiences. There were some wonderful personalities and characters that lived in my world at that time. It was the mid-sixties and the vortex of the social, sexual and political upheavals of the time. I thought it would be neat if I could write some songs reflective of that period and the events taking place in and around the station.

I decided the first step in that process of song-writing would be to peruse those song lyrics and poetry I had stashed away for all those years. I began to study the material for anything I could use for ‘PTV.’ But the more I perused those ancients’ words, I realized they really captured a ‘time in my life’ and weren’t appropriate for the songs I wanted to write today. But, I thought, they could stand on their own as a testament to the times and my life back then.

Hence was born the idea of a new book of poetry. I wanted this book to be different from so many others that encompass black words on white paper and the author’s feelings hopefully found somewhere within. To that end, I selected thirty photographs from that period in my life. Vida has stylized them as watercolor, pop, watercolor/ink versions of the original images.

The idea here is to present an image, representative of that period, but mixed with enounces that leave much to the imagination. I hope those images, along with the words of my poetry, will stimulate the reader’s mind to wander and self-examine.

After more than fifty years of dormancy, it will be interesting to see those words carved from another life and time back in print again.

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Best Season Ever

The long-revered Palm Springs winter season has gone by the wayside. The pandemic put a nail into the plethora of activities and gatherings that usually occurred each season. But even before that, the ‘usual winter season’ was changing. Twelve years ago, when Sharon and I first began coming out to the desert, it was always ‘4:00 in the afternoon’ someplace and outdoor activities kept us mixing and mingling most days.

It's been a slow recovery after COVID for a lot of folks; us included. This season was one of the rainiest, coldest and windiest seasons we’ve ever experienced here. We did a lot less entertaining. I’ve spent little time hiking mountain trails and even less time bike riding and swimming. Health issues prevented us from going to Florida for Sharon’s brother’s wedding reception in February.  On the other hand, we were so lucky to have the kids out here on several occasions.

Family and friends gathered here to celebrate my newest play ‘Widow’s Waltz’ which was performed last November.

Both families came out for Christmas. Several months later, Brian, Melanie and I celebrated my 80th birthday with a spectacular road trip down the PSH from San Francisco to San Diego.

Then in April, Melanie and family came out here to celebrate spring break. So, the social part of our time spent in the desert was a mixed bag; family time was great, seeing lots of friends, not so much. Now on the flip side of that altered season, in terms of writing, it was a veritable bonanza. It was the most prolific writing season I’ve ever experienced.

When I began my new writing career, I had no idea where it would lead me. My first two books proved a very satisfying experience. I was off to the races and learning the craft of writing.

Then I experimented with playwriting. That also proved a worthwhile endeavor. So much so, that I’ve written eighteen plays thus far and have had five of them produced both in Minnesota and California.

Fast-forward almost fifteen years and my writing desk is overflowing with projects. It includes novels, novella’s, plays, children’s stories, blogs, poetry, screen-writing, a comic strip and still-stumbling songwriting. My writing is like a pinball bouncing off of one genre to the next.

After premiering ‘Widow’s Waltz’ in California last fall, I wrote a second play dealing with local issues relevant to the desert, some very complex characters and several intriguing plotlines all situated down ‘By the Salton Sea.’

‘Broken Down Palace’ is a new book of my poetry which will be published in the near future. I have over thirty photographs which my editor has stylized to add another layer of mystery to the poems.

A second book in the ‘Waleed, the Skinny Hippo’ children’s series has been written. The theme is ‘being afraid’ and I hope to have it illustrated soon. ‘Sweet Pea & the Gang’ has proven to be a real challenge. It needs to find an audience before it can advance.

‘Playground for the Devil’ is my latest novel which has been placed in several book stores with limited success. It needs better marketing and more hustle on my part. Juggling writing with marketing has always been a tough road for me to travel.

‘Agnes; Memories of First Love’ is my first novella on the Amazon Vella platform. Feedback has been very positive but it hasn’t broken through the other novellas piling up there yet.

Three of my plays, written during the pandemic, are still searching for the right venue to be performed. ‘Tangled Roots,’ ‘PTV’ and ‘Wake; the Musical’ all need musical accompaniment and more fine-tuning before they’re ready for the stage.

‘Frenchy’s Eats,’ was a very special play for me to write. It is a personal narrative of my parents' back story and my early childhood and its repercussions on me and my family today.

‘Habitat for Humility,’ is a new movie script in development. The storyline deals with a mutual attraction between a divorcee and the proverbial shooting star who has just crashed into reality. There is simmering sexual tension, conflicting class status, a jealous boyfriend, an abusive ex-husband and a scheming but well-intentioned sister. Writing the screenplay will be a piece of cake compared to the complexity I will have to face navigating the world of movie-making – if – it comes to that.

So overall, I’ve got enough on my plate to keep me writing and editing for a very long time. And the ideas keep bouncing around inside my head. Like I said, it was the worst of times but, boy, was it the best of times too.