Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Summer of Strange Occurrences

Sharon broke her right arm three days before leaving Palm Springs this spring. Thus began a rather disjointed (pardon the pun) and disruptive summer for both of us back in Minnesota. Of course, her broken arm was her good arm. So, suddenly sporting a cast for more than five weeks, made her feel unbalanced and (understandably) it was difficult it for her to navigate steps and stairs. The accident also made it more difficult for her to continue her painting projects.

So began a summer of adjustments for Sharon’s new situation and a real challenge for her to continue painting as she had in the past. It also involved two trips weekly; one to Edina and another to Red Wing to deal with therapy and rehabilitation. You do what you have to do.

My Coffee and Chat sessions also went through some adjustments as a couple of folks disappeared entirely and others found more interesting ways to spend their time. The core friends that remained formed a tight bond over the summer. Over the ensuing months, we had some fabulous conversations; solving many of the world’s problems in just one sitting.

I finally got an E-bike and wanted to restart my beloved long distance Twin Cities bike rides. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a suitable e-bike carrying rack so I had to confine my rides to Apple Valley and its surrounding communities.

A sibling gathering up at Lake Vermillion proved a wonderful opportunity for Sharon and her sister and two brothers to finally find time for themselves sans kids and grandkids. A grand time was had by all.

Sharon and I managed to find time for a long weekend in Colorado. At this stage in their lives, Brian and Amy have three kids knee-deep in all kinds of school activities and sports. It was a quick taste of their crazy, hectic wonderful life raising three kids in today’s hurry-up lifestyle. Now we can just sit on the sidelines, cheering our grandkids on and enjoying their success.

A move script outline that had laid dormant for years finally rose above the rest of my other writing projects. Starting to write ‘Habitat for Humility’ proved much harder than I thought. Movie scripts differ from plays in their organic composition; demanding many more subtle nuances from both the characters and the subliminal story lines.

‘Broken Down Palace,’ My book of poetry, finally came out to great response among friends. It was a project six months in the making and I was glad to have it finally done.

My very personal play ‘Frenchy’s Eats’ took a lot longer to finish and is now in the recrafting stage.

My latest play, ‘By the Salton Sea,’ was not accepted by last year’s venue (out of 130 submissions) so I hope to present it to other venues instead.

After months of searching, I was finally able to meet up with a musician who seemed interested in helping me create a sound track of nine songs for my play ‘PTV.’ After our initial meeting, I have high hopes of collaborating with him to craft songs that fit the time, place and mood of my play. If that works out, I have more musicals to score.

Through my old illustrator, I am creating a second book in the Waleed series. This one deals with ‘being afraid’ and facing one’s fears. A friend encouraged me to do an audio version of Waleed, the Skinny Hippo. So, I hope to have audio versions of both books soon.

We’ll be returning to Palm Springs early this fall. Last year’s play ‘Widow’s Waltz’ has been nominated for six different awards by the Desert Theatre League. The awards banquet is October 1st. It would be a real thrill to see my play win some awards.

After a summer like no other, I hope Sharon and I can get back to our respective passions of writing and art.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Crossing Over

Most of us, whether we’ll admit it or not, have areas of interest that might surprise a lot of other folks. Where this subject matter comes from is less important than the depth to which this focus can grasp and hold tight to our reflective consciousness. Some people might call them our ‘hot buttons’ or for others, their ‘touchy subjects.’ No matter the moniker, the subject in question often seems to capture our attention and hold it tight.

I am guilty of a number of these inquisitive infractions. For whatever reason, my attention is often drawn to a wide variety of subject matter. ‘Class in our society’ is certainly one of those areas of interest. In my mind, it ties in nicely with ‘The American Dream,’ ‘Class Consciousness,’ and (the old favorite of mine) ‘risin above your raisen.’

Over the years, class in our society has been addressed in movies, song, and in literature. It’s a subject matter that has long since fascinated me on a very personal level. Around the turn of the century, one of the first manifestations of this was through the tales of Horatio Alger; a rag-to-riches story, for young people to absorb. Cloaked in Protestant colors of hard work, sacrifice and determination, it was the banner under which thousands of youngsters pinned their hopes and dreams for a better future.

Perhaps the thin fabric of my own upbringing had a lot to do with my later fascination of the subject. Growing up, it certainly wasn’t the glamor of wealth or accumulated material possessions that caught my attention. Instead, I think it was the place American society had sketched out for me as a child based on my social, economic, and cultural upbringing.

Both my grade school and high school administrations had slotted me into educational tracks based on my test scores. My family structure certainly didn’t help advance any educational chances at success. There were sometimes understood and other times openly stated assumptions that I would follow a pre-ordained path and certainly never give any thought to ‘rising above my rasin.’ My mother and father did just that. My grandparents the same. That simply was the way it was and always had been back then.

One of the chapters in a recent book about class talked about working class folks who, usually inadvertently, get a taste of another life outside of their own realm of existence. The example was a young woman who was taking college classes at night to get a promotion at work.

What she found to her amazement was her newfound ability to grasp the material and delve into it at a deeper level than she ever thought possible. She was encouraged by her teacher and fellow students to continue her pursuit of knowledge. But this is where it got complex and ugly.

Her boyfriend didn’t like the time she was spending in class and not with him. Her parents worried that she was hanging out with ‘those’ people who would give her ideas about her own class and status in life. She was treading where few of her family and relatives had ever gone before. And it made them all very nervous.

‘Educating Rita’ as a wonderful example of these phenomena. Educating Rita was a 1983 movie starring Michael Caine and Julie Walters. A woman takes night classes at ‘the university’ and finds to her amazement that she has the knowledge and talent to succeed there. But forces in her life all seem to conspire against her. Think of this romance/drama as the American Dream without the violins and background music. Instead you’ll hear the scrapping of fingernails on a blackboard and the vision of the future that can’t be reached.

Another good example of this idea is the movie ‘Rudy.’ Based on a true story, ‘Rudy’ does a good job of examining the complex and confusing roles that class places on folks seeking to break out on their own mold and for those who watch them leave the fold.

One of my first novels ‘Love in the A Shau’ painted a picture of just this scenario with my main protagonist. I also touched on this concept briefly in several blogs: ‘Damming the Intellectuals’ and ‘Rising above Your Rasin’ as examples of social and economic crossovers.  Another blog entitled: ‘Book of ‘61’ talked about the caste system at my old high school.

That caste system (let’s be honest here) at Cretin High School was neither good nor bad, right nor wrong. It was simply a recognition by the administration that some students were better prepared for a college-bound track of studies than other students. Test scores were the primary indicator of this placement but I’m willing to bet that socio and economic factors also played a role in that determination.

In life, class is a worn-out pathway we are forced to follow until such time that we consciously select a different route to travel. It is a conscious, and perhaps at other times, a subconscious decision to follow our heart and head instead of directional cues from those around us. It might mean leaving behind friends and family who choose to stay in place.

But in the end, it is being true to oneself and seeking fulfillment where it means the most…to you…consequences be damned.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Views From Afar

One of the many fantasies that infected my young mind growing up was the idea of road trips. I can still remember wandering through the Saint Paul Union Depot when I was going to school downtown. I felt tiny among the passengers crowded around the wooden benches waiting for their trains and marveled at the sight of those large black locomotives and passenger cars pulling out of the station.

Later on, in my teen years, the appeal of the ‘open road’ got even more attractive. It didn’t help that the language, angst and music of the times only served to reinforce that iconic image. The Beats were always moving around the country. Adventurous kids my age were exploring the great outdoors and endurance events captured my imagination.

I’m told that when my sister and I were still in diapers when my mother took us out to California by train for a promised job that never materialized. Marlene got sick and our mother brought us back to Minnesota. As legend has it, I was fascinated with train travel even back then as a toddler. So much for California train travel until recently.

I’ve always had this fascination with ‘riding the rails.’ It’s one of many fantasy journeys like circumventing the globe on a tramp steamer that I never did fulfill. Sharon and I got our first taste of Amtrak travel several years ago when we took a trip from Annapolis, Maryland to Manhattan, New York. We’ve done that trip several times since then.

Switching coasts, San Diego’s Old Towne transit hub was the starting off point for our last steel-rail venture. Old Towne is the second stop for the Amtrak Surf liner that travels from San Diego up the coast to Santa Barbara. Old Towne Station presented a fascinating cornucopia of transportation modes. Commuter trains, regional rails, buses, cars, Uber, bicycles, skateboards, sore feet and of course, Amtrak, all converge on that web of tracks along with the less fortunate who gather there.

I quickly realized that the only way to travel by train is in Business Class with reserved seats. Call it an age thing but Coach Class seemed like steerage on the Titanic; a backwash of humanity and crowded quarters. It may be cheaper but it isn’t worth it.

While peering out the window I was like a kid in a candy story. Every scene that flashed by filled me with excitement. The highly concentrated coastline rolled by from La Jolla, through Ocean-side while skirting the back of towns in Carlsbad and Dana Point. Then the train swung east toward Santa Ana, Anaheim and finally Los Angeles.

By the time we got to Union Station our time schedule was way out of whack but none of us cared. L.A. was the half way mark and from there we headed northeast. It was one city melding into another; all of them forming the industrial underbelly of the region.

Finally, business and industry began to thin out and we were pushing east through rolling foothills and finally came upon vast agricultural fields of plenty. Fullerton, Van Nuys, Oxnard, and Chatsworth were all farming communities.

Then as pending fog began to creep ever closer to the shoreline we were back to the beach communities at Ventura and finally Santa Barbara.  A sleeping transient greeted us at the depot.

We only had one overnight in Santa Barbara and the now fog-bound city never revealed its beautiful beaches or blue ocean while we were there.

Rain, drizzle, fog, and dirty train windows hid the foam-splashed beaches on the way back south. It was a marvelous trip never-the-less.

We’re imagining another train trip in the near future. Traveling the length of the state sounds pretty interesting. It would mean hugging the coastline with its spectacular views and a wealth of story ideas thrown in at no extra cost. It would be retracing old jaunts through the Golden State from my younger years. Rail research that appeals to the kid wrapped inside this old fashioned traveler.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Fast Friends and Fragile Friendships

Now here’s a classic ‘elephant in the room.’ Those individuals you’ve known over the years, the ones most think of as friends, who you see differently. ‘Acquaintance’ and ‘friend’ can be two very different vernaculars. As I continue on with my ‘coffee and chat’ sessions, it’s become apparent that I’ve really lucked out with the folks I’ve chosen to meet with. I know a lot more folks than those chosen few but these friends remain among the best.

Friendships are like life-experiences, collected and treasured for the moment, while others are vaguely remembered before turning to dust. A few old relationships slip into some corner of your brain and remain there for the rest of your life. Generally speaking, the majority of friendships are scattered back into that dustbin of old memories; good and sad mixed together.

High school friends, Army’s buddies, first job comrades-in-arms and the like all fall into that latter category of ‘fast friends’ for the moment. Then graduation, discharge or job transfers end the close relationships while life keeps marching forward and another one takes its place.

Whether they’ll admit it or not, a lot of folks like to search ‘Facebook’ for traces of their old friends, past acquaintances, co-workers, boyfriends, girlfriends and lovers. It’s a safe way to scratch through the fog of time and find out ‘whatever happened to’ with some degree of accuracy.

Last year, I wrote to an old friend I hadn’t heard from in some time. I got no response. We were best friends in the early years. We shared the drama and trauma of high school, attended sporting events together, and often times double-dated. Then he went off to the monastery and I went to college. We got reacquainted at our 50th class reunion. My wife and I saw him and his lovely wife several times before he began ghosting me and that was the end of that friendship.

Sharon and I have several friends who are going through major life changes now. It’s almost as if the writing is on the proverbial wall. Fewer get-togethers for the theater and other outings. They are moving on with their lives; new interests, and consciously or otherwise, shedding the cloak of the past to wrap themselves in new life experiences. Some old friends, as we used to know them, are slowly changing even as Sharon and I both move on with our own respective lives.

This last summer, I was able to solidify my ‘coffee and chat’ sessions with eight solid partners with whom I can share general, specific, bland, sometimes outrageous, interesting, and occasionally intimate details of our respective lives. We met at the beach, my back patio, park shelters or wherever we could put down our camp chairs.

Will they all last? Who knows? I certainly hope so. We all seem to enjoy the meet-ups and the sharing that goes with it. For now, I want to enjoy the moment, savor the sharing and keep plowing new ground in hopes of solidifying the friendships that have grown from this shared experience. Just another angle of everyday experiences in the wider spectrum called life.