Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Who Married Whom

I know it sounds terribly self-serving; comparing the spouses, partners, and significant others in other people’s lives. One could easily ask oneself: Who am I to compare, analyze or otherwise scrutinize the partners other people have chosen to live with for the rest of their lives? What’s the difference between romance and the real stuff? Why do I even broach the subject?

What can I say, I have an overactive imagination. I also came across a fascinating article in a local tabloid that deals with recovery, renewal and growth. The meat of the article had to do with choosing the right partner for life, the question of who chose whom to marry and what makes a relationship work over time.

It’s one of those age-old questions that people often times ponder but seldom discuss in public. ‘How did those two individuals end up together?’ and better yet ‘what was the glue that kept them together for so long?’ One has to fast-forward any length of time to see if and how it worked out. For those who went the distance I’m always fascinated as to how and why?

In high school and college, a lot of the girls I met seemed enamored with men who had ‘to be in charge.’ They wanted the guy to tell them where they were going on a date, what they’d do afterwards with no discussion required. If those handsome young men expressed great insight into their own destiny and claimed to know exactly what their future held for them, the women practically felt their limbs go weak and hearts start racing.

I could never resolve that conundrum with those women. On one hand they claimed equal rights for just about everything…which they should have. Then these same women turned around and their hearts would go all-a-flutter for those ‘father-like-figures’ who made it very clear they were in charge. I guess for those women it was easier to defer than to challenge.

I always thought it made more sense and was more respectful to let the woman decide on options for a date. Or at least to let the two of us decide on something mutually agreeable. A lot of those women back in my tender years seemed to see that approach as weak and compromising. But it was my approach so I never changed.

Conversely, I find it fascinating that so many men I know are very uncomfortable around strong women. It’s usually masked by bravado and a higher-than-normal volume of control. But behind the façade is a man who needs to be in charge and is not used to a woman challenging him on that role.

Like it or not, ‘who’ we end up spending our lives with says so much about who we are. It reflects our tastes, values, expectations and outlook on life. If the relationship lasts it probably did so because you compliment your partner and don’t complicate their lives. It’s an unspoken, mutually understood, often camouflaged form of communication which works very well and has for years. It was probably based on trial and error and triumph and failure and the enduring commitment to another human being.

Photo courtesy of Jerry Hoffman

I’ve always been attracted toward women who fit several criteria. Even back in high school, the standard was set and I’ve never deviated from it. They had to be attractive although I’ll admit that was probably more a hormonal reaction than anything else. They had to be pleasant to be around. ‘Comfortable’ was a word I wasn’t embarrassed to use. Finally, they had to be smart. Not just your average intelligence but way above that average mark. Why I was attracted to women much smarter than myself I’ll never know but it was real and firm.

If asked, what does it takes for a relationship to work down through the generations, I’m guessing the answers would be as varied and numerous as the persons asked.  Without love and friendship in our lives, life would be pretty empty. I’ve been incredibly lucky and have had a lifetime to attest to that.

I recently came across some of Sharon’s old grade school papers, class records and other educational materials. From approximately second grade on, she was leading class projects, had numerous leadership roles throughout grade school and high school and was organizing fund-raising efforts (pagan babies, anyone?) before it became the fifty’s equivalent to Cabbage Patch Babies…well, sort of.  Her list of accomplishments goes on well beyond college and into her academic, business, and political career.

When I first met Sharon, she was working as a nighttime receptionist, going to school fulltime, heavily involved in extra-curricular educational activities on campus and held several leadership positions. Measuring her stellar academic career to mine was no comparison at all. Comparing her outgoing charismatic personality to mine was also no comparison.

Sharon is an ENFJ; off the charts. I am an ISTJ; off the charts. So how is it that two very different people met, connected and have been happily married for over forty-five years? I thought it was because I proposed to her. Turns out, it was because she chose me. Reflecting back, it had everything to do with her choice in a future husband more than my proposal.

I’ve been lucky. For any number of reasons, not the least of which is my wife’s enduring patience, I’ve been married for fifty-two years and it’s still going strong. I married a very intelligent, people-savvy woman who continues to challenge my lifestyle and other associated idiosyncrasies. We have two totally different personalities…on the surface. But for us it works and remains part of the chemistry that has held us together for all these years.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Brand Power

So, my friend, super smart and intuitive, asked me a pretty simple question. “What is your brand?” He asked while preparing me for an interview with a local newspaper. He and some other friends were prepping me for a meeting with the Arts and Cultural Affairs editor for The Desert Sun. Interest had been growing for my new play about to be performed by Script2Stage, a local theatrical group. It was a great venue for my newest play as it had been for my last one that had been performed there. I was lucky to get in with over eighty plus submissions for just eight programming slots.

I always thought promoting ‘Widows Waltz’ as a play was easy enough. It had a great storyline, a lot of local interest and the right atmosphere for its performance. On the other hand, the idea of talking about myself as the playwright seemed daunting and a real challenge. So, when my friend asked me the million-dollar question, I answered him honestly by saying: “I don’t know. The ideas just come to me.”

“Not acceptable” was his blunt but honest response. “Audiences don’t want to hear that your ideas just came out of nowhere,” He snapped. “They want to know who you are, how you got started writing, what your plays are trying to say, and frankly, why they should care. In other words, just what is your brand?” With a barrage of honesty like that, I had to take one deep breath and it got me to thinking. Just what the heck is my brand?

My hesitancy to promote myself as a brand probably comes from the discomfort I feel with the vapid abstract packaging that so many in this industry wrap themselves up with. When I answered my friend that I didn’t really know where my ideas came from, I was being honest but only on a cursory level. Given a little more thought and reflection I could probably make a pretty clear assessment of where these ideas of mine come from. The easy and most honest answer is everywhere.

At its most basic core, I am a storyteller, plain and simple. The format, genre, style, and depth of my stories are all dictated by the ‘meat of the material’ and how far I want to devour it. Plays have less bulk than novels but call for more from the participants. Children’s stories are easy as long as there are simple messages contained within. Poetry is easy if you’re willing to be brutally honest with yourself and share your soul with perfect strangers.

To a degree my writing defines me; who I am, what I care about and where my head is at in that particular moment. I don’t write for others. I don’t write to become popular. I don’t follow trends (even if I could recognize them) and I frankly don’t give a ding-dong if people agree with me. I share what’s on my mind and hope that I might connect with someone out there and give them a reason to read what I’ve written. If they like it, feel good, inspired, educated, or simply feel it was with their time, then I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. It’s really as simple as that.

They say the devil is in the details; maybe yes, maybe no. The details certainly explain some things about my subject matter and yet leave others in the clouds. I am eighty years young (because it sounds better than old). My wife and I spend half a year in California because it suits us and defines us at the same time. I started writing in lieu of retirement because retirement would have shortened my life span by decades. I write in different formats and genres because I could never, ever, just write about on subject matter, even if I wanted to. My mind doesn’t work that way, never has.

My personal narrative can best be found in my weekly blogs. They are probably the best way to communicate my personality, attitudes, and feelings about things. They are the portals through which I can explore my thoughts, feelings, and emotions. It’s all there; unwashed, unclothed, and free of restraint. So, if I have to have a brand, it’s buried someplace in those weekly ramblings.

I guess, in the end, those details, shortcomings, strengths and flaws all define what my brand is. An older gentleman (liberty taken there) who has to write almost every day, spends winters in a warm place, writes what he wants to write about, has trouble marketing his own products and couldn’t and wouldn’t stop even if he wanted to. Yeah, I guess that’s who I am.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Into The Deep

I suppose you could call it reflecting, reliving, or reclaiming your past. I guess I’d simply describe it as reflecting on my life through my rearview mirror.

For many years I considered mind games such as ‘what if…’ and ‘but if not for…’ to be exercises in futility. They were simply excuses to ponder one’s history and guess what might have happened back where and when. It was nothing more than living in the past. Now I see it differently.

My most recent publishing effort, although not completed yet, proves a wonderful example of this. After a lifetime of dancing around the edges, I’m finally ready to release my first steps into the world of writing, some fifty-plus years after the fact.

This new career of mine as a writer began with a collection of poems written back in my dark ages; cold, confusing and offering but a glimmer of what might lie ahead. But even before those vernacular camping exercises, there were some tantalizing clues along the way.

Photo courtesy of Jerry Hoffman

The voices first came whispering to me in the early morning hours before the rest of the world was awake. With a satchel of newspapers strung over my shoulder, there were miles to trudge before breakfast. The parables came in music and song and words of wisdom that no one else had bothered to share with me. They spoke of wondrous things that filled my malleable mind of twelve with dreams of imaginary places.

The messages came through a salmon-colored transistor radio, one of the first to be sold in my town. In summertime, it hung from my shoulder and shouted great songs into my ears. During the bitterly cold winter months, it was buried beneath layers of clothing but with enough volume to etch through the layers and still reach my ears.

Photo courtesy of Jerry Hoffman

In a world devoid of parental guidance and direction, the words spoken carried tremendous weight. It was a world of someplace else. It was cool cars and hot chicks. It was love gone wrong and finding the girl of my dreams. It was us against them. It was a whole new world opening up right before my ears. It was a language that spoke to me. A language I understood while most adults didn’t.  I got it. They didn’t have a clue. I knew what cool was even though cool was out of the realm of my placid existence.

Photo courtesy of Jerry Hoffman

The words and music continued on as I grew and changed and grabbed hold of my vapid future whatever that was at the time. It carried me through grade school, high school, and beyond.

Now years later, I realize the words and music were all manufactured and manipulated and packaged for young minds made of putty and clay. They were singing the songs but few had actually lived the story. Yes, there were cars but they were rentals. They had the chicks but that never lasted very long. They themselves were more often than not fragile, broken and dysfunctional just like me. They brought forth their message but (figuratively speaking) died in the process. Welcome to the real world of rock and roll and music from our youth.

Literally and figurative, they are all gone now. They’re either dead, disappeared or sadly still trying to cling to some semblance of what they once were. What does remain is a body of work that still resonates within my soul. Even after knowing the reality behind the music’s creation, it still speaks to me. It still draws picture-stories in my mind. It still stimulates my imagination in ways that no other medium can. The torch-bearers are gone but their message remains.

Photo courtesy of Jerry Hoffman

There were a number of other events in my younger years that propelled me into what and where I am today. Those were life-altering events such as being accepted into Cretin High School, returning to the College of Saint Thomas, living abroad, getting married, starting my own business, and finally decided that in lieu of retirement I’d give writing a chance.

Perhaps it was Tinkerbell who stole that moniker from me not that long ago. Reminiscing on 80 years stumbling around this great planet of ours, I’ve come to the conclusion that there were a lot of things I never accomplished in my youth and growing up was one of them. Finding a stable home life like that of ‘Ozzie and Harriett’ or ‘Leave it to Beaver’ gave me a false impression of what ‘real home life’ was supposed to be like back then. It wasn’t to be part of my backstory.

Most of my youthful aspirations were never meet. I never traveled around the world on a tramp steamer or shipped out of New Orleans to cruise the Southern Hemisphere as a rambling vagabond.

My rambling around the countryside like Woody Guthrie was provided by Uncle Sam who limited my ventures to California, Louisiana and Virginia.

I never did the ex-pat thing very well. The first time around in Europe, my job in a Danish laundry didn’t leave a lot of time for exploring the countryside or other countries.  On my second venture East, I applied for work at the BBC but a Yank in London had a real uphill climb to be accepted there.

Mix an ISTJ (off the charts) with an ENFJ (Sharon is too) and what you get is an affirmation that opposites attract. Domestic life ensued and fifty-one years later I’m retired and busy with other things.

My youthful naïve dream of becoming a writer started in the early 70s with two typed up westerns which then took a hiatus for another fifty years until it finally became a real and new vocation and career for me starting at around age 65.

Now I write full-time, drawing on my imagination and anywhere else I can steal an idea. Perhaps it started with those transistor radio voices or cooking up poems in the rundown palace I first lived in independently. I guess it doesn’t hurt to still have a little youthful exuberance attached to the task of churning out storylines for my blogs, plays, novels, etc. Looking in my rearview mirror isn’t a bad way to see the road ahead.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

My Footprints

I’m a lucky guy. I’ve left my footprints on sandy ocean beaches and the languid back waters of the old Mississippi. I’ve hiked mountain trails looking for mountain goats and viewed spotted owls while traipsing through state forests up North.

The migration to California has been going on since the great depression and continues to this day. For the snowbirds, it’s like watching the seasonal migration of the wildebeest in a Disney nature film; clean, sanitized and kid-friendly. Despite its roller-coaster economics and progressive politics, California continues to attract old and young alike.

For some reason the state seems to hold fast to its long-held moniker that ‘whatever happens first on the coast will eventually move to the Midwest and then the other coast.’ Whether it takes the form of massive housing developments, movie magic, new computer technologies, solar initiatives, fashion trends or otherwise innovative, surprising new trends in all sectors of our lives, many of them seem to happen in California first. Perhaps that’s why I like the place so much. California speaks to me in a voice that is fresh, exciting and at times provocative.

Years ago, upon my return to the desert, I tried to capture the tabloid/soap opera drama of some of the folks I knew or imagined living here in the desert. The results were my ‘Debris’ trilogy of books.

More recently I’ve been lucky enough to have two of my plays produced here and another one (I hope) is in contention.

There’s a quote I love that goes something like this: “At some point in one’s journey, you realize it’s time to head back home. It doesn’t matter where you are in the journey, the Gods begin calling and you must return home.” I think there is something about that mysterious force called ‘home’ that calls to all of us. It happens twice a year for Sharon and I.

In Minnesota, there’s a new advertisement running from a local grocery chain. Their ads remind us that they are a local brand; home grown. ‘Born and Raised in Minnesota’ they like to say.

When I first saw that ad my first response was typical of someone who has been a ‘local’ home grown boy here all my life. “Like who cares?” I asked myself. Turns out upon some reflection, I do care, because to a degree, Minnesota also defines me and the person I’ve become.

I’ve always seen Minnesota as a nice state, a safe state, a pleasant place to live and a great place to raise kids. Three out of the four seasons are pleasant enough. But let’s face it, the winters can tough even for a lifer such as myself.

Our tenure in the state has been pleasant enough. We’ve raised our kids here, now watch two out of five grandchildren every chance we get. My career and extra-curricular activities grew in the state and my version of retirement takes place here six months out of the year.

But gradually my tenure in Minnesota became challenged by the West Coast drawing my other half. Now that I’m part-time Californian, my perspective about my home state has changed. I love California. It appeals to my restless youth, errant and wandering mind, free soul, sometime corrupt and tranquilizing imagination.

I have a long and storied history with California. It’s like Leonard Cohen’s Hydra calling me back once again. Its part delusional, part opportunistic and part magical. But mostly it’s a comfortable relationship that seems to bring out the flip side of me that a lot of folks never see. It is at once my friend, advisor, irritator and councilor. It forces me outside of my Midwestern comfort zone.

My venture (that I can remember) to the Golden State was in 1964. Fresh out of basic training, my first assignment was at the Presidio of San Francisco. Life at the Presidio was a Camelot-like existence that ended all too soon eight months later.

The second time to bask in that warm California sun came years later in 2000. Sharon and I were staying at a friend’s condo in Palm Springs. It was our first introduction to desert living. Thus began a twenty-year intermittent love affair with that diverse community and all of its surrounding amenities.

I live in two different worlds now and I’m comfortable in both. One is progressive, adventurous and sometimes a bit outrageous but always leaning forward. For half a year, I wear my Southern California flip-flops as comfortably as any other seeker. But I also live in the Midwest and I’m darn proud of that too.

I’m born and bred Minnesotan with a strong streak of California to taint my mind. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Both states have become home in more ways than one. They’re like a cradle upon which my imagination gives birth to creative, frivolous, silly and sometimes enlightened ideas, concepts and storylines. It’s the flip side of that routine called your average lifestyle. If ever there were a balance in my life, it would be called the Minnesota-California connection.

I’m home now for the summer but that warm California sun will soon be calling me back. What can I say; it works for me.