Tuesday, August 29, 2023

A Kid's Idea of Vacation

I know, I know. It’s a generational thing. This summer, the Colorado kids went on vacation to Costa Rica while the Minnesota kids were Ireland bound.

Actually, it wasn’t that big of a deal, both families had already lived in London and Paris for a couple of weeks back in 2018. To put it in some perspective, Charlotte, our youngest grandchild, was eight when she traveled to London for the first time. Conversely, I was almost twenty-five before I went overseas. But I guess it’s all relative if you look at our stair-stepping generations.

Back in the early nineties, Sharon and I had a preview of later family trips when we took Brian and Melanie to London for the first time. It was part of a group travel package we had put together for friends over the Christmas holidays.

Since then, our two kids, together or separately, have travel throughout Europe, Asia, South and central America and circled the globe. So, I guess the fact that our grandchildren are now globe-trotting too shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. But still.

I’ll try to put it all in perspective from my generation to theirs. I didn’t leave the state of Minnesota until I was twenty-one and drafted into the United States Army. I hadn’t gone airborne until I was twenty-two and flew in a turbo prop airliner from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Sharon’s first jaunt out of Wabasha, Minnesota was to Washington, D.C.

Now two generations later; my how things have changed. I thought about that as I was flipping through a Snapfish book of our family’s London-Paris trip of several years ago. I remember Charlotte, upon entering our townhouse with her brother and cousins, scrambling up and down four flights of stairs in our London VBRO. They were right at home in Paddington.

Living in London for almost two weeks was a wonderful experience for our entire family. We were ensconced in a four-story townhouse in the Paddington neighborhood not very far from the tube. It was particularly interesting to watch the five grandchildren take in their new surroundings with their innocence, curiosity and adventurous attitude in tow.

Surrounding us were row houses, public housing, apartment buildings and the English version of condo complexes. The atmosphere was all very urban, urbane and ripe for big city living. If you’re going to pretend big city living, one can’t do much better than London. And kids always give the trip a whole new dimension. As seasoned world travelers themselves, Brian and Melanie now got to watch their own kids have the same experiences in London for the first time.

There were tours of the National gallery, the British Museum and The Tate. The grandkids soared high over the Thames in the London Eye They discovered Harry Potter hideaways, strolled along the Thames, took in a show in the Theater District and wandered the lush green parks.

Things have changed a lot since our first family trip to London. The adults had their phone apps which told us when the next tube car would arrive, where to find the closest restaurants, shops and entertainment. If we got tired of waiting, we can just dial up an Uber or Lyft. For daily use of the tube, we had our Oster Pass which got us on all buses and the tube throughout the city.

It was a first for all of us, Charlotte included, when we boarded the metro liner for Paris via the Chunnel. It had been a long time since I wandered the streets of London back in the sixties and later on when Melanie led our group around as a thirteen-year-old tour guide and Brian played cool with his trench coat.

My, how things have changed from my generation to theirs. I can’t imagine what their kids (my grandkids) will expect for their ‘family vacation?’

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

The Ultimate Filter

Our mind is the ultimate filter. The newest cliché in a long list of ‘feel good’ labels is mindfulness. It comes after a long list of mind-altering techniques, with or without chemical enhancement, to see more clearly the world around us and thought patterns inside our head.

Starting in high school, I was always intrigued and curious about how to see the world in a different perspective. Back in the day, that would have included fueling up with Mary Jane, (marijuana), magic mushrooms and LSD. Mixed media concoctions made me uneasy. I wanted to journey inside my head sans chemical enhancements.

Then I stumbled upon Carlos Castaneda and I was hooked. Granted, his approach to cerebral Valhalla was with magic mushrooms but the journey mesmerized me nevertheless. Reading western novels introduced me to the concept of the ‘vision quest’ used by many indigenous people to find clarity in their ancient world.’

Despite my own divorce from organized religion in the early-sixties, I was mesmerized by a hip, chain-smoking priest who really caught my attention. Malcom Boyd was ordained an Episcopal priest after a successful career in advertising and television. Malcom’s approach to life wasn’t your semi-hippie ‘transcendental meditation’ approach that held my attention. Rather, it was his attention to detail. Malcom spoke openly and honestly about real feelings, real emotions and real consequences in my own very real world. A world that most nuns, priests, and adult councilors up until that point didn’t seem to know existed.

Time Magazine dubbed him “the coffeehouse priest” when he read his prayers accompanied by some of America’s best-known musicians. He long served the cause of civil rights, commencing with the Freedom Ride in 1961.

About the same time that Malcom was telling it like it was, another book told us we could lighten up a bit and be our best supporter. The Beatles made a splash when they went to visit the Dali Lama and practiced meditation and yoga. Then the ancient practice of sitting cross-legged and contemplating one’s naval became in vogue.

Down through the decades, we’ve been introduced to a myriad of new-age dynamics that are guaranteed to change our lives. A recent trip to the library introduced me to this years ‘best seller’ and finally it seemed to make some sense. Without audiotape box sets, podcasts, U-Tube lecture series or in-person seminars, there seemed to be a rather simple approach to getting inside one’s head.

A quote from a book I recently read said it best: ‘Until we look directly at our minds we don’t really know ‘what our lives are about. Everything we experience in life goes through just one filter – our minds – and we spend very little time bothering to see just how it works.’

I would suggest that once people get a taste of it - it’s so completely fascinating, because really our life is a clear manifestation of what our minds are telling us.’ Good, bad, right or wrong, it’s all there for our perception, acceptance, denial, rejection or embracing.

Coupled up with these mind relaxing techniques are steps to facing our anxieties and learning to live with them. Almost all of the books refer to nature as an all-encompassing, all around us, every day, every time, kind of therapy.

I tried to touch on this subject in one of my blogs about my ‘secret garden’ and other quiets spots around my home. Each area provides a very peaceful daily dash of zest to my life. The journey inside one’s head is a life-long affair. Most of us don’t even know it in our lifetime. A few of us made that discovery a long time ago and are still exploring where that pathway might take us. Carry on, fellow traveler, carry on.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

On Being A Poet

Poetry is more often than not a personal expression of feelings, emotions, thoughts, fears and ambitions. It’s amazing that so many people are willing to expose themselves in words, phrases, verses and stumbles. I’ve often wondered what it is in one’s mind that trip-flares those mental images to come exploding out on paper or the computer screen. What was the catalyst there?

For me, it was Dinkytown back in the day. Grey’s Drugstore, the Ten O’clock Scholar, Vecchio’s Pizza, Al’s breakfast, and a dozen or so squalid denizens of commerce became the perfect environment for my own cerebral wanderings.

After a less than satisfying experience of living in Europe and then back to Minnesota, I was still finding my way inside my head. By then, the West Bank had become a hippie haven. I loved my new side hustle as a volunteer at the local public television station and was just beginning to tip my toes into that vast cauldron of cerebral exploration called writing.

Into that Pandora's box of life puzzles, I slowly, tentatively began to write out snippets, verses and mind-story poems to satisfy some kind of craving inside my soul. My creative cave was a studio apartment carved out of a dilapidated, rundown former mansion on University Avenue near the University of Minnesota.

Fast forward some fifty plus years and I’ve got a new book of poetry just published and a sense of great satisfaction in finally exposing some of those thoughts, aspirations, doubts, and fears into print if for no one else but myself. Which begs the questions, why does ‘Broken Down Palace’ matter so much now?

The origin of ‘Broken-Down Palace’ was innocent enough. After spending about three years writing poetry and song lyrics, I found a wonderful distraction with blonde hair, a ready smile, brilliant mind and a very deep connection at a level I had never felt in my life before. My collection of poetry and song lyrics was set aside and life moved me in new directions.

Last year, I realized that one of my many aspirations not yet reached was to write music for three plays I had written during the pandemic. They were all musicals and I knew exactly what kind of music I wanted for each song in each one of the plays. When I returned to Palm Springs last fall, I took my old gray collection of poetry along. The idea was to wrestle lyrics out of those poems and use them to create songs for my plays.

After perusing my poetry, I found those poems wouldn’t work as lyrics for the specific songs I had created for each play. But I discovered something else in the process, that my poetry wasn’t that bad, even after 40 years of hibernation. What I had created was a real honest reflection of my life back then. It was the people, places and things that permeated my daily life. The words and verses truly reflected ‘where my head was at back then.’

Not long after my book of poetry was published, I happened to attend two recent poetry readings which shed light on poets and poetry. As my screenwriter friend, Bob, likes to point out; poetry is a very personal thing. The two poetry readings could not have been more different.

The first was at a host’s home in South Minneapolis. The poet was a gifted woman who worked in Chicago for an organization promoting and cultivating poetry readings among the masses.

The second reading took place in Saint Paul. There were four poets at that gathering and each had their own approach to poetry writing and reading.

What struck me about both readings was the diversity and differences in the type, style, and content of the poems read. It was a good reminder that poetry is, in my mind, a very personal exercise in communicating. I don’t much care for the rules, regulations, standards or proper way of writing poetry. I’m guessing many readers can see just that in my work.

I’m not sure I’ll be publishing a second book of poetry. I think I took the best of the best and am satisfied with that first run. It was a fun, satisfying exercise in self-fulfillment. The poems speak for themselves and I’m on a different track now, heading toward the great vernacular unknown.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Old Camp Grounds

My wife hates it when I write about the old days or revisit my past in some blog. I’m not sure why this bothers her since I’ve still got my feet stuck firmly in the present. Now, with social media sites like Facebook (and specific groups within), any of us can go back to revisit our hometown or familiar ‘old haunts’ with just a couple of simple key strokes.

There’s even is a group page for my community, a nice but rather non-descript third ring suburb which began as Lebanon Hills and then back in the 70s was re-crowned Apple Valley. You name the hometown and there’s probably an ‘Old________’ Facebook page for it. Recently, I saw that an old acquaintance of mine, who had left Minnesota years ago, has found a group page just focused on the small town where she was born and raised. I’ve done the same with several ‘Old Saint Paul’ Facebook group sites. We’re both now privy to the old camp grounds and can reflect on how its changed over time.

Revisiting one’s past can be part of reflecting on a life lived for so long. Not all of us get the opportunity to do that. It also helps explain just how we got to where we are today. Despite what my cloaked-in-black advisors told me back in grade school and high school, thinking about oneself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Pride isn’t the sin we were once told it was. I came, I saw, I conquered some of the time. For that, I get to look back in anger, forgiveness, pride, and deep, deep appreciation for the life I’ve lived thus far even if most of the landmarks are long since gone.

The fact is that so many, if not almost all, of the landmarks, monuments and structures that played a background part of my youth and young adulthood have vanished. It’s a past history that only exists now in old black and white photos, old documentaries and textbook illustrations. It’s the result of decades of growth and change and evolution and bringing with it an erasure of any physical evidence of those places that once encompassed my life as I grew up.

Granted, we’re talking about a period of over eighty years. My grade school is gone. My high school has changed its stripes. My college is now a university and my first employer (minus time spent on the University of Minnesota Minneapolis campus) has decamped for downtown St. Paul.

Normal evolution and urban development have erased any and all vestiges of those times past. It’s almost as if they never existed in the first place. Beginning with early homesteads on Smith Avenue, Exchange Street and Randolph Avenue. The first two are devoid of any housing stock and the third has increased in value a thousand-fold over time.

My hippie hangouts in Dinky Town have been replaced with towering student high rises and a ‘tiny Target.’

KTCA, the old public television station on Como Avenue has moved downtown. The Neuman Center moved off campus and the West Bank has changed colors and flavors since I hung out there. My old favorite bar is now an off-site treatment center.

But it’s not just local landmarks that have disappeared. WTVS, the public television station in Chattanooga, Tennessee bears little resemblance to the Southern enclave of rednecks and cowboys when I came there as a ‘Yankee’ back in the early seventies. MCPB, Maryland Public Television, has evolved over time and now my time period spent there is now considered their ‘Camelot years.’

Each new generation has created, found and/or changed any semblance of what used to be. My old hangouts, dens of iniquity, lodging, love-making, entertainment and employment are but dust in that memory bank called my past life.

Now when my grandchildren ask me about the fabulous fifties, the turbulent sixties, the seventies and beyond, I can only smile. It’s all there (or some of it) in those Facebook group sites and in my mind. But I don’t have any real landmarks we can visit anymore.

There are only old photos, sketchy memories and true embellishments that only a Papa can spin to the delight of eager and receptive young ears. It was the best of times and…